Starving our relationships

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

Sometimes couples come into my office playing a blame game. “He leaves his underwear on the floor.” “She’s too wrapped up with the kids.” “He never wants sex.” Often they even blame themselves: “I can’t express my feelings and that’s why she cheated.” “I’m too needy.” Their focus is on individual shortcomings, on personal sin, although they rarely use that phrase. I try to offer a broader perspective.

Couple problems are just that, I tell them: couple problems. “In here, the relationship” -- I slice the air between them with one hand, as though delineating an invisible presence sitting there on the loveseat -- "is the patient.” After that we often end up talking about how busy they are. Two partners are working three jobs, one just to pay for health insurance. A mother has quit her job because child care is too costly or her job too inflexible, and her husband spends long hours away at the office to make up for the lost income. Survivors of multiple layoffs, working late nights in companies where employee morale has plummeted, come home stressed out and short-tempered. Under so much pressure, it’s easy for couples to back-burner their relationship. Without realizing it, partners lose touch with each other, neglecting the time for fun and intimacy and even the spicy disagreements that keep a marriage lively and strong. Continuing the metaphor, I tell them, "The patient is starving to death.”

Therapy isn’t usually about moments of dramatic recognition, but people’s eyes widen when they hear those words, and then they nod and we are ready to get to work.

Recently, on a trip to Ireland, I found a sculpture that instantly reminded me of the starving patient: Rowan Gillespie’s “Famine,” in Dublin. A dramatic installation on Custom House Quay beside the Liffey, this group of bronze figures – life-sized but stooped and achingly thin – appear to be taking halting steps toward emigration ships. Hollow-eyed, some carrying bundles, one a weary child, the figures stand together; yet in their misery each one looks withdrawn, utterly alone.

I have a picture of the bronze statues in my office now, and it’s not only their desperate starvation that draws me to them. It’s the story they tell. Most of us learned in school that a potato blight caused the Irish famine. But the Irish will inform you that even during the worst years of the Great Hunger, wealthy Anglo-Irish landowners were exporting oats, barley, butter and livestock overseas. Various charitable organizations, most notably the Society of Friends, spoke out against the government’s laissez faire policies, setting up soup kitchens, offering American grains, teaching the farmers to replant their fields, and supporting fishermen, and yet in only six years a million people died while another million left the country. The Great Hunger is one of history’s chilling examples of structural sin, the injustice built into a society’s underpinnings that, though often invisible to its victims, inflicts suffering on a mass scale.

That’s why the picture of the famine memorial seems so appropriate in my office. Here in an affluent area of a wealthy nation I sit and listen to people whose struggles to cover the cost of health insurance, child care, and retirement too often deplete the time and energy they need to relate to those they love. This is life, they tell themselves, and try to make the best of it.

They are trapped in an ethic of individualism that leaves them alone and exhausted. Working so hard at getting through the day, they scarcely have time to consider the possibility that many of their most intimate problems are directly linked to public policy. In a country where health care is not a guaranteed human right, where parental leave and vacation time are shorter than in other industrial societies, where child care is inadequate and expensive, and where the gap between rich and poor is bigger than it’s been since the Gilded Age, ordinary people are suffering at their kitchen tables and in their beds.

Many of us in front-line ministries can do our best, like the Quakers in the Irish famine, to offer comfort and nurture, one person at a time. But it’s time to talk more about structural sin. Until our national policies prioritize the support of families and individuals, our relationships will too often be starving to death.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Blood isn't thicker than water

By Deirdre Good

I'm always astonished that Christian folk don't esteem adoption more highly in the context of "family values." Adoption has been part of biblical traditions about the family for 5,000 years. Moses is thought to be the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter. Better to be an adopted Egyptian son than a birthright Hebrew slave. Paul uses the metaphor of adoption language several times in letters to describe the relationship of a new believer to God in baptism. Infused with the Spirit, new believers could make a claim on God in the cry, "Abba, Father!" In Galatians, Paul sees this claim moving a believer out of the bondage of slavery into the freedom of dependent childhood, since legally slaves could be manumitted through adoption. Jesus was adopted by Joseph, as the gospels make clear. When God declares at Jesus' baptism, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased," it's not possible to determine whether God is announcing an existing relationship or creating a new one through a formula of adoption. Mark's gospel appropriates language of adoption from the Psalms (Ps. 2:7) to clarify the relationship of Jesus to God at the beginning of Jesus' ministry: as elect, chosen, beloved Son.

Jesus was a common name. To distinguish Jesus from others of that name, the gospels of the New Testament sometimes show individuals identifying Jesus by a place of origin, "Jesus of Nazareth," rather than by a father's name. When the gospels of Matthew and Luke do get around to discussing Jesus' parentage, the writers identify Mary as his mother but never call Joseph Jesus' father. In fact, there's only one father in Matthew's gospel and that's the Heavenly Father. Jesus teaches disciples and crowds of listeners about their relationship to the Heavenly Father in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the one the community addresses in the opening petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, the one in the heavens" (I am translating from the Greek literally). In a sense, Matthew's community prays the prayer with Jesus as (adopted) children of the Father.

There's intentionality about this language. It self-consciously explains the relationship of believers to God using the language of adopted children to a parent in a way that would be thought redundant were the children of biological families subjects of discussion. It is just this intentionality that makes families of choice recipients of special grace because they have to articulate rather than assume relationships between family members.

In our household, we've been reading How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman. Groopman intersperses riveting stories of misdiagnoses with reflections on how doctors might, with the help of their patients, go beyond training and rote answers suggested by diagnostic manuals and insurance company policies. One chapter tells the story of a fifty-year-old woman Rabbi, Rachel Stein, and her newly adopted infant daughter, Shira. Sick with a mysterious illness from the moment she arrives in the US, Shira is admitted to hospital and treated in the ICU for an unidentifiable condition diagnosed first as sinusitis, then pneumocystis pneumonia.

Rabbi Stein is plunged into the terror and anguish of a mother for her child without knowing exactly what is wrong. She never leaves her daughter's side. On transferring the infant for a last-ditch, potentially lethal, invasive treatment, a nurse detaches her from the pure-oxygen respirator and begins manual respiration through an ambu bag forcing air into Shira's lungs.

Suddenly, the level of Shira's blood oxygen increases. Watching this first sign of life, a verse from Psalm 27 comes into Rachel's mind, "Hope in God. Strength and courage will be in your heart." Rachel realizes with all doctors and nurses that every clinical event has a core of uncertainty and that no outcome is predictable. She learns all she can about tests given to her daughter and the preliminary diagnosis of her condition, severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID). But she wonders about it. She asks Groopman in the ICU, "What could cause a baby to have so many infections other than AIDS or SCID?" Groopman evades the question but Rachel expresses growing certainty that Shira has a nutritional problem causing her immune system not to function. After 33 intense days in the ICU, with Rachel singing and praying fervently, Shira breathes on her own. She begins to recover. Before consenting to further invasive and risky treatment options, and against all doctors' recommendations, Rachel insists that Shira's blood be retested. This time, the results come back normal. When Groopman and Rachel reflect together later on the harrowing story, Groopman analyses what made Rachel so tenacious: her faith gave her the courage to recognize uncertainty, both her own and the physicians', and thus she contributed to the search for solutions.

Groopman doesn't discuss the extraordinary bond between newly connected mother and child but he articulates it: "Rachel observed Shira's every move. There was an alertness to her eyes and a deep hunger to encounter the world. So, to satisfy this imagined need, Rachel sang and talked to Shira about the wonders of God's creation."

Rachel didn't carry Shira in her womb for nine months but her bond with her adopted daughter was immediate and strong enough to help bring her back from death's door. As biblical tradition about adoption indicates, consanguinity alone does not define a family. To use adoption imagery (for example in a baptismal context) is to describe intentionally what the relationship is between God and the baptized and to declare what rights and responsibilities exist. How is it then that we still tend to think of adoption as second best?

Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary in New York City and author most recently of Jesus' Family Values (Church Publishing 2006). She keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.

Africa and The Bible

By Greg Jones

Just a century ago, in all of Africa, there were merely ten million Christians, and most lived in three countries: Egypt & Ethiopia with their Christian communities dating from antiquity, and South Africa, with its large European population. Today, there are roughly four-hundred million Christians in Africa. Christian growth in Africa has occurred in a context of horrific death, disease, war and oppression. In contrast, since the last major Western wars and economic depressions ended a half-century ago, Christianity in Europe and North America is fighting major decline.

But, lest we assume the Bible is a novelty in Africa, we must remember that Africans have been reading the Bible for a long time! Indeed, Africans have been engaging the Word of God in the Bible for millennia.

Africa is not only mentioned in the Bible, it has long been a place where biblical interpretation has flourished. Indeed, many of the Church’s fathers were Africans in the first four centuries of Christianity. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, Origen of Alexandria, and Augustine of Hippo – were all Africans.

It is easy for us today to forget that just over thirteen centuries ago, Christianity was the dominant religion among civilized folks in Northern Africa and into the Horn. But, with the conquest of those lands by Muslim Arabs in the seventh century, all that changed nearly overnight. Most Christian Africans converted to the new religion, and only a handful of Christians survived to modern times. Apart from pockets in Egypt and Ethiopia, Christianity did not thrive in Africa between the Arab conquest and the early modern period.

When Europeans began to colonize sub-Saharan Africa in earnest, in the 19th century, they brought missionaries with them, to help with the project. As such, the incoming missionaries brought not only the Bible to sub-Saharan Africa, they brought also their modern Western worldview – a worldview more like Thomas Jefferson than Origen of Alexandria.

Most modern Africans have mixed thoughts about the way they received the Bible from the West. On the one hand, it is clear they appreciate having been given the Word of God in the Bible. On the other hand, they remember and resent the patronizing modern Western mindset which came along with it. On the one hand, they admire the way so many Western missionaries ended up living, suffering and dying in Africa for the sake of spreading God’s Word. On the other hand, they remember the way in which those same missionaries disparaged and condemned the African’s culture and traditions. On the one hand, they are aware that Africa figures in the Bible itself, and on the other they know it was only recently that most Africans have received it.

Desmond Tutu describes the mixed feelings with this parable:

When the white man arrived we had the land and they had the Bible. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible. And we got the better of the deal.

Tutu makes a poignant and multi-layered observation here. On one level, the parable tells the painful story of African exploitation and domination by Westerners. The plain meaning is, “We were duped by men carrying bibles.” The second meaning, which goes deeper, is the pride modern African Christians take in their grasp of the truth of the Word of God in the Bible, despite the duplicitous way in which it was first given to them.

Ironically, when the missionaries finally made good translations of the Bible into African languages, the Bible and its message could be heard on its own terms, apart from the dominant modernism of Western missionaries. The fruit of this engagement with the Word of God in the Bible by Africans on their own terms, has been the explosive growth of African-founded churches, institutions and organizations which have merged African culture and tradition with their own readings of the biblical story. Rejecting the West’s demonization of African culture, the newly liberated African Christians followed the biblical principle of upholding all that is beautiful in a culture, and doing away only with those cultural traits which plainly distort the Gospel. The inculturation of the Bible into a truly African context was the thing that needed to happen – just as it had happened in Europe many centuries ago.

As a result of this inculturation of the Word of God, in fairly recent times, denominational differences in Africa don’t mean much. Importantly, outside of South Africa perhaps, there is not a distinctively Anglican approach to the Bible in Africa. African specialist and Episcopal priest the Rev. Dr. Grant Le Marquand tells me that “Western denominationalism doesn’t make a lot of sense in Africa. In East Africa, for example, all the various churches pretty much look the same – if you had a blindfold on you might not tell the difference.” But, he says there are some distinctives in African biblical engagement, in general.

First of all, Africans are generally critical of modern Western approaches to the Bible, including those of the 19th century evangelists who brought them the Bible. Africans identify very much with the worldview of the Bible – finding it reminiscent of their own traditional African worldviews. They believe the modern Western worldview, bereft of mystery, spirits and supernaturalism, doesn’t truly resonate with the biblical worldview. The typical African sees a universe steeped in mystery – a cosmic landscape dotted with spirits, sorcery, animal sacrifice, ancestor worship, and so on – much like the one they find described in Scripture. When Africans were freed from Western interpretations of the text, and Western disparagement of African culture, they could read the Bible themselves. And, importantly, the world Africans encountered in Scripture was closer to their own world than the world of the missionaries. “When they would encounter passages about sacrifice, tyranny, blood, suffering, spirit, healing, etc. – they could deeply grasp it as of their own worldview," Le Marquand writes. "The African noted how closely connected that their world and the biblical world are.”

In addition to identifying more closely with the Bible’s own supernaturalist worldview, Africans also identify with the Bible’s communal vision of humanity. Africans are surprised by Western individualistic approaches to the Bible. They do not believe individuals are equal to the task of biblical interpretation. Ubuntu is the African notion that a person’s identity depends upon her relationships. Whereas the modern Western mindset seems to be, “I think therefore I am,” the ubuntu mindset is, “I am because we are.”

Finally, in addition to a worldview steeped in mystery, and a communal understanding of human identity, Africans engage with the Word of God in the Bible from within their context of suffering and pain.

With few exceptions, modern Africa is a study in pain, death, disease, war and oppression. Independence from colonial rule did not bring ‘the true law of liberty’ to Africa. As such, all African Christians read the Bible in light of brutal circumstances. It is perhaps this last distinctive which draws them so deeply into the biblical story – which is about suffering and deliverance, oppression and liberation, bondage and redemption.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg"), rector of St. Michael's Church, Raliegh, N. C., is on the board of his alma mater, the General Theological Seminary. He blogs at fatherjones.com.

A few thoughts on leaving home

By Missy Morain

I sold my house in Iowa last week. It was my dream house, a 1917 arts and crafts bungalow, with hard wood floors and lots of natural light. I loved the house. I could even hug it by wrapping my arms around a pillar in the living room and found myself doing that more than I will ever admit. It was a space in which I felt perfectly safe and sane. In selling it I let go of the largest physical tie to the state that was home to me for the first thirty years of my life.

It had to be done. I have lived in Washington, DC for eighteen months and there is no sign that I am moving back to Iowa in the near future. That didn’t in any way make it easier for me. So many parts of me want to go back to the place that makes sense to me and yet at this point in my life I know that is not my path. It is not where God is calling me to be.

Call is a funny thing. I still haven’t figured out how you are sure that the Holy Spirit is calling and when she is not. It makes me wonder about the disciples and their call to follow Jesus. How did they know that it was the right thing to do? Did they weigh the pros and the cons? Did they follow their gut? Was it a combination of the two? Did they think about it at all? The Gospel of Mark says that Simon, Andrew, James and John just left their nets and followed. When I got the call of a job offer at the Cathedral College I did not just drop my nets and follow. I tied up loose ends, bought a condo to live in, packed most of my worldly belongings, got in my car with my pets and drove 1000 miles. Yet I left huge chunks of me behind, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Maybe there is a lesson for me in those Gospel stories (shocking I know), a lesson in how to leave a place taking what I need with me but leaving the other odds and ends behind. The Gospels don’t provide a specific list of what the disciples took with them or what they left behind (other than the nets), but I can take some educated guesses. I imagine that they disciples brought the clothes on their backs and the sandals on their feet while leaving most other tangible items behind. They brought with them their hearts, souls and minds; their questions and their searching for understanding. They took the knowledge of the love of their friends and family and their love of God.

I brought lots of things with me to DC but feel as though I left behind the feeling of safety and certainty in my world. Safety and certainty wasn’t what Jesus assured the disciples they would have while traveling. What the disciples did have to develop was a sense of trust in Jesus and their ministry. What I am working on developing is a trust in my ability to listen to and hear the call from the Holy Spirit. I cannot be sure of what she is saying to the larger world but I have to work on shutting up my inner critic long enough to listen to where the Holy Spirit is telling me to go. I am still going to search for my safe places in the world but those spaces cannot be my center, instead they will be the lucky places that I discover to refresh my soul and to remind me of what the world can be, if only I can listen quietly enough.

Missy Morain, Program Manager for the Cathedral College's Center for Christian Formation at Washington National Cathedral, is keeper of the blog Episcopal Princess. She is on the board of directors of the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors.

After the music ends

By Steven Charleston

The reviews are still coming in for “Live Earth”, the global music event inspired by Al Gore to raise awareness to the dangers of global warming. Featuring a wide range of pop stars and bands who donated their services, the international concert was performed at nine locations around the world. It is estimated that two billion people watched the show in locations as far apart as Brazil and Japan. The goal, as the former Vice President told the Associated Press, was to raise awareness to the realities of global climate change. His hope was that awareness would lead to action.

Is he right? Will consciousness raising translate into practical response? Once people are alerted to a reality, will they do something about it? That remains to be seen. And it raises a fundamental question for any of us who seek to do what Al Gore is doing: motivate people to change.

For many years now scientists, environmentalists and their allies have been sounding the call to action. While “Live Earth” is certainly one of the most ambitious efforts in that direction, it is standing on the shoulders of a long history of awareness building going back over decades. In fact, the timeline of that history could be traced back to other political figures like Theodore Roosevelt and artists like Ansel Adams. Concern about the destruction of the Earth is nothing new. Questions about why that concern has not become policy are perennial. The reviewers of “Live Earth” are asking it. We should be too.

When do we achieve the tipping point on any justice issue? When does public awareness about an issue, whether it is civil rights or global warming, reach its crest and spill over into public action?

A small group of Episcopalians think they have an answer: get the religious community to do what others have been either unwilling or unable to do. To make a bold step from awareness to action, a partnership between the Diocese of Olympia and the Episcopal Divinity School has proposed a national covenant to reduce green house gas emissions in every parish, synagogue, and mosque in the United States. Challenging all faith communities to stand together to make a public witness to creation, they have proposed the “Genesis Covenant”.

The “Genesis Covenant” is a catalyst. It seeks to get national church bodies, such as the Episcopal Church, to commit to a realistic, but difficult set of goals within a set period of time. It envisions a 50% reduction by all religious institutions in the energy use that fuels global warming by the middle part of this century. It offers a network of support, resources, and information to help national faith communities carry out their pledge. And it seeks to leverage similar action by corporate and political interests who will be challenged to follow the lead of people of faith in doing something concrete to effect change.

The “Genesis Covenant” is “Live Earth” translated into action. Like the international scope of Al Gore’s concert, the “Genesis Covenant” has the potential for a global impact. If it succeeds, it could become a unified movement among all of the world’s religions to turn the tide of global warming. Imagine every religious community from Rio to Tokyo, from Berlin to Johannesburg, from New York to Beijing all joining in a single covenant to stop global warming through direct action on the local national level. The same audiences who heard the music could now begin the dance.

Will the “Genesis Covenant” work? Yes, if we have the will to move from hearing to doing. The “Genesis Covenant” is an invitation to people of faith to take the lead in making that happen. It moves us beyond being a concerned, but passive audience into a coordinated and committed movement. It takes the critical step from awareness to action. It offers us an opportunity to demonstrate in practical terms that people of faith can do more than enjoy the show. They can change the world.

(For more information about the “Genesis Covenant” please contact Episcopal Divinity School’s communication office, ndavidge@eds.edu.)

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston has been called "one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church."


In defense of the first sacrament

By Derek Olsen

Proponents of Communion without Baptism (CWOB) present a set of propositions from Scripture to demonstrate the truth of their position. These principles, they maintain, should be normative guides for our current Eucharistic practice. The first is that Jesus’ own meal practice was unusually non-exclusive, inviting the socially marginal and the morally suspect to the table as a sign-act pointing to God’s great eschatological banquet at the end of time provided by God’s extravagant bounty. If Jesus invited all without regard for their status, so should we. The second is that meals with Jesus exhibited a surprising liminality, a fluidity, between the roles of stranger, guest, and host that should give us pause lest we act as gate-keepers for in doing so we may be turning away angels unaware or—worse yet—may reject the very host Himself who is found in the person of the least.

I take these arguments seriously, but I don’t find them compelling to the point where CWOB should be permitted. Some contain methodological flaws while others are absolutely correct but are misapplied when directed to our current sacramental practice.

Many of the arguments for the first proposition rest upon a saying found in both Matthew and Luke: “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). The arguments I’ve seen suggest that the references to “glutton and drunkard” point to a bounty suggesting the eschatological banquet and that the “tax collector and sinner,” therefore, refer to the marginalized with whom Jesus shared fellowship. The conclusion drawn from this is that if Jesus welcomed the marginalized and outcast to his (holy) table we should as well. While I agree with the identifications of bounty and the marginal, I disagree with the conclusion drawn. In fact—I think this text presents an argument against CWOB…

If we examine the marginal here again, we find people on the outskirts of the children of Israel. The tax collectors of first century Judea were the traitors of the age. They not only didn’t resist Roman rule, they aided and abetted in the oppression of their own people by levying and collecting the taxes, typically through force and extortion. Politically, then, they had placed themselves outside of the people of Israel by means of their treason. “Sinners” is a much more generic term but at the very least identifies those who failed to follow God’s Law to the satisfaction of the community, thus—again—placing them outside of the “true” children of Israel. The evangelists nowhere clarify the purposes of the meals but what they suggest by means of verses like Matt 10:7 is that Jesus was issuing a call to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That is, he defied the authorities and gossipers by welcoming those people who were members of the covenant community—the children of Israel—but whose actions had put them outside of its cultic boundaries. The welcome of Jesus demonstrates the mercy of God to those members of the covenant community who had failed to uphold their part of the covenant. Furthermore, an integral part of many of the meal scenes that the evangelists do portray is repentance on the part of the tax collectors and sinners, a desire to return to their covenant responsibilities, to acknowledge the welcome of God in Christ by returning to walk in God’s paths.

If we would try and make an equation between these meal scenes and our sacramental practice, it would seem that the radical welcome found here is a welcome to rejoin the covenant community. The Christian understanding of covenant community is rooted not in the Abrahamic covenant marked by circumcision nor even in eucharistic fellowship—rather, it is found in Baptism. To issue the invitation Christ issued is to welcome the outcast and marginal into God’s covenant community through Baptism.

The second proposition is, to me, the most intriguing. The idea of fluidity between guest and host, known and unknown, is quite attractive. But when I turn to the texts put forward as evidence I do not find this pattern—the idea seems to be placed upon the texts rather than proceeding from them. The best treatment of this notion that I have seen comes from Dr. John Koenig’s New Testament Hospitality. Here—working exclusively with material from Luke’s pen—he appeals to seven “role-reversal” scenes. But I find it in only one, the Emmaus encounter: the unknown stranger issued an invitation to be a guest reveals himself to be the Host in the breaking of the bread. I don’t find it in the other cited passages. Yes, Jesus is present; yes, he takes a dominant position—but it is a teaching position, not that of host. The teaching role is different from the hosting role. Rabbinic literature indicates that teachers were invited to meals presumably for the purpose of instructing those gathered—there is no sign that through their teaching they somehow became hosts. I will agree that the guest-host fluidity appears in the Emmaus experience but I cannot see it as a characteristic of meals with Jesus through the rest of the Gospel record.

The argument against gate-keepers, tying into Jesus’ constant warnings about and injunctions against religious hypocrisy, proceeds from worthy motives but fails in its limited scope. CWOB proponents tend to argue hospitality from the pages of Luke-Acts. But Acts in particular presents an overly irenic picture of early Christian relationships. All of the inner-church struggles are resolved peaceably. No one leaves the Jerusalem Council mad; those who hold wrong beliefs are instructed and quickly see the errors of their ways. The letters of Paul and the Catholic Epistles—especially the Johannine Letters—tell a very different tale. Warnings against false teachers fill the pages of the New Testament. They do so not because of a desire to restrict or control God’s message of love and life, but because God’s message is not any generic message of love and life but has actual content to it! These authors understand the Church to be a covenant community, bound in Baptism, connected in Christ, and with covenants come responsibilities. These include both holding and enacting the basic beliefs of the Christian faith: Jesus is the Son of God who came in the flesh to announce the Kingdom of God and through whose death, resurrection, and ascension reconciled God and humanity. The insistence on Baptism is not about gate-keeping but rather about who we are as an intentional community—a covenant community.

Proponents of CWOB are correct to lift up practices of hospitality and to remind us of the Gospel’s call to share our possessions and our lives with others. Hospitality and the sharing of possessions with the stranger and the wanderer is a theme that runs throughout Scripture and is especially highlighted in the New Testament. Indeed, we are covenant-bound to offer hospitality and, if we follow the example of our God who showers gifts upon the just and unjust alike, this sharing of possessions should be extended without doctrinal tests or requirements.

However, the message of the Gospel is not simply a message of hospitality alone. Scripture also insists upon the reality and the responsibility of the covenant community. True Christian hospitality is a sharing of not merely of things or of time—as valuable as these are. Through these vehicles it is a sharing of what God has done for us, a sharing through both deeds and words, and an invitation for the stranger to remain a stranger no longer but to enter the covenant community through Baptism.

Derek Olsen is completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He is an adjunct professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology where he teaches in homiletics, liturgics, and New Testament. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.


Asking the right question

By Marshall Scott

This past weekend I received my copy of First Things. Now, how I came to have a subscription to First Things is an odd and ironic story in itself; one that perhaps I will tell another time. However, suffice to say that once a month I am struck by the irony again: here I am, identifying myself as “somewhere to the left of Jesus” (and you get to decide for yourself where Jesus is on the spectrum, and just how much room there is to his left) receiving this thoughtful but quite conservative journal.

That, of course, means I received within this edition the article, “What is Anglicanism?” by Henry Orombi, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of Uganda. Of course, blogger that I am, I had already read it. In fact, I had commented briefly on it in other places. (Indeed, I was struck by the irony of Archbishop Orombi’s article being printed in a journal many of whose readers wouldn’t recognize his orders at all, nor the Anglican Communion as more than a “defective ecclesial community.” On the other hand, the archbishop’s opinions are congruent with those of other authors, and the editor of that journal.)

It will surprise no one that I disagree with Archbishop Orombi’s perspective. His recounting of the Anglican tradition, for example, is very one-sided. He recalls the evangelical perspective and the evangelical “heroes” of the Anglican tradition, but makes no mention of the Anglo-catholic tradition within Anglicanism. For example, he honors Cranmer and Hooker, but leaves out Jewell and the Caroline Divines. He leaves out Keble and Pusey and the other Tractarians, and F. D. Maurice’s Christian Socialism. He ignores the Broad Church tradition, and the contributions of Thomas Arnold and Samuel Coleridge. To speak of the Anglican tradition without those participants seems to me simply inadequate.

At the same time, I have to say he is asking the right question. We argue at each other (to argue with each other, all parties would have to listen with respect, and that isn’t happening all that much) about whether the important issue is scriptural hermeneutic or theological anthropology or moral theology or cultural colonialism (or anti-colonialism). But the really painful question is what is means to be Anglican – what we mean when we call ourselves Anglican.

I certainly appreciated the passion of Archbishop Orombi’s article, and I learned from it. At the same time, I found myself little clearer about this central question than before. Much of his evidence – on the importance of Scripture, the importance of revival, the impact on traditional culture, the emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ – is clearly Christian, but it is hardly exclusively Anglican. I honor with him the early Christian Ugandan martyrs, but I recall that they also included Roman Catholics. How much of his exposition delineates those facets of Christian life that we would clearly agree are Anglican?

I don’t want to suggest that this is a problem exclusive to Archbishop Orombi or to Global South Anglicans. One piece of the recent discussion, focused in the Draft Covenant, is the place of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England in the Anglican tradition. In response, many Americans have asked, “Why 1662, and why not the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church?” And yet, that is not so easy a parallel to assert. There is much in the 1979 Prayer Book – for example, the return of chrismation to baptism, or recovery of passing the Peace, or Eucharistic Prayers C and D – that owes more to ancient Christian practice retained in Eastern churches than to Thomas Cranmer. The 20th century liturgical movement drew from early church documents unknown to Cranmer, or to his successors in defining the 1662 book, such as the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus; and as we participated in the movement, so did we. In what sense, and to what extent, do we want to identify those important aspects of our Episcopal life, as distinctively Anglican?

We are all, we Anglicans, antiquarians in one sense or another. We trust Scripture, but we look to our past, to our tradition, for guidance on how to live within it. That is not to reject our valued reason. Rather, it is to model our use of reason on the methods and products of our forebears. It’s in our roots: Cranmer and Hooker and Jewel all looked to earlier scholars of the Church in articulating their statements of how the Christian faith would be understood and practiced in reformed England.

But, there’s the rub: just how are we to emulate them? Do we focus on their products? In that case, we go back to their works, and perhaps update them appropriately for our use. That is what some have done in focusing on the “historical Anglican formularies.” Or, do we focus on their methods? In that case, we look as they did to earlier Christian traditions, including, as with liturgical renewal, traditions that they did not know.

What is Anglicanism? What do we mean when we call ourselves Anglican? That is really the question we face (and it really is one question). That question focuses for me the problem of an Anglican covenant, and especially the Draft Covenant circulated after the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania. I have called that draft, and especially its resort to the Primates with their frequent meetings as the center for addressing issues, a bad expediency based on a false urgency. The Covenant Design Group has asserted a definition or a description of what it means to be Anglican, and then asked us if we can’t all sign on. But, doesn’t that put the cart before the horse? That has been a response I have heard from many quarters: that it is unreasonable to expect all to sign on to any definition of Anglicanism that all haven’t participated in formulating; that the hard work of coming to consensus on what it means to be Anglican needs to be done before we start codifying how we will live together within it

What is Anglicanism? What do we mean when we call ourselves to be Anglican? We need to recognize that these may well be – so far have been – divisive questions. To assert some things may well be to exclude others. To focus on Anglican content may well lose Anglican method, and vice versa. What some will consider clear definition others will consider narrow, excluding restriction. What some will consider adequate breadth others will consider vague to the point of being meaningless. This is not an easy question, and certainly not one to be rushed. Neither avoiding the work nor rushing to hasty “resolution” will serve us well.

The process has promises, perhaps, and risks as well. The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures – our Old and New Testaments – were assembled in efforts to define identity. Arguably, both were developed to define Christians: to define Christians out (of Judaism), and to define Christians in (and heretics out). At the same time, Protestant history shows us the risk: the possibility that in our efforts we become the confessional church that so many of us wish to avoid.

But, that is, I think, the work before us as the Anglican Communion, and as the Episcopal Church. We need to define for our generation what we mean when we say we are Anglican. We need to incorporate as many perspectives and as many voices as possible in the process. We need, I believe, to hold off on defining too clearly autonomy or interdependence or mutual structures until we have made significant progress in that work. We must engage that work, certainly, before we can meaningfully put descriptions on paper and expect most of us to sign off. We must engage that work, knowing the risk – knowing, really, the predictability – that we shall all be changed in the process.

There is much on which I disagree with Archbishop Orombi, in his article and in his actions. But I have to give him credit for this: he is asking the right question.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Pressure tactics from
the Akinola axis

By Jim Naughton

The Global South Steering Committee has released a statement announcing, in essence, that it has the right to ordain bishops in whichever Anglican provinces it chooses, and that its surrogates are entitled to the property of their theological adversaries. They offer no greater justification for this than "because we say so," but that's worked well enough for them so far.

The group's membership includes Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, chair of the committee that is drafting the Anglican Covenant. The covenant, if adopted in its current form, would place unprecedented authority in the hands of the Primates. The recklessness of Gomez and his primatial allies indicates how dangerous that can be. Today the United States, tomorrow, Canada, eventually...

Yet, while this group is gifted at portraying itself as ever on the march, it is now on the defensive.

Rowan Williams, who has been loath to alienate Peter Akinola, the archbishop of Nigeria who leads this faction, has finally risked doing so by inviting all of the diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church, save Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference in 2008, but withholding invitations from bishops of the Church of Rwanda’s Anglican Mission in America and Akinola’s Convocation of Anglicans in North America. In doing so he made it clear that the Akinolists efforts to delegitimize the leaders of the Episcopal Church in his eyes has failed.

The Akinolists’ position was further weakened when Williams agreed to meet with the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in September to hear its views on the current situation, and perhaps to entertain an alternative response to the recommendations made in Dar es Salaam.

The Global South group is eager to make the outcome of this meeting moot. Hence, it has declared that it must ordain new bishops because the Episcopal Church’s response to the Dar es Salaam recommendations has been insufficient. This before Williams has spoken with the House, and before the Episcopal Church’s response has been fully rendered.

But what has it accomplished? Their statement is ostensibly concerned with Episcopalians unhappy with the Church’s stance on homosexuality, but it is unlikely to have much impact on the Episcopal Church directly. There are several clusters of breakaway parishes in the country, but no sensible church administrator would suggest they need anything like the number of bishops that the Akinolists are creating to minister to them. By the time the Global South group is finished using Episcopal ordinations as a political gesture, the breakaway movement in the United States may have the lowest bishop-to-parishioner ratio in Christendom.

The surrogate bishop strategy is one more (last?) effort to make Rowan Williams do Akinola's will by threatening to break up the Communion unless his demands are met. Williams has knuckled under to this sort of tactic before. He has allowed himself to be humiliated, and facilitated the humiliation of the Episcopal Church, by acquiescing time and again in the strategy that Akinola has advanced. .

But this time the humiliation would be much greater, both for Williams—who would be withdrawing invitations to what is nominally his party—and the Episcopal bishops who had their invitations withdrawn. And the humiliation might no longer serve the cause of unity, because the damage to Williams' credibility would likely be fatal. The archbishop may also be aware that Akinola's behavior in Dar es Salaam--where he interrupted the proceedings to consult in person and by cell phone with advisors--has alienated many of the Primates.

At one point it seemed likely that if Williams and the other Primates were forced to choose between forcing out the North American churches or facing a walkout by the African ones, that they would side with the Africans. But Africa is not Akinola. His faction is smaller than it originally appeared, and the archbishop's autocratic nature has given people a frightening look at what a Communion in which he was ascendant, might look like. The repudiation of his leadership by the Christian Association of Nigeria has made it clear that his influence is on the wane, even in his own country. Now it is he who seems isolated within the Communion. .

None of this tells us how Williams will respond to the latest round of brinksmanship. When one strips away some of the woollier theological talk about the nature of communion, one finds a man who deeply committed to maintaining the strongest possible links between churches in wealthy western churches and those in impoverished African ones. And there is no doubt that the actions of the Episcopal Church, and the reaction of several African provinces, have damaged those links.

Whether those links can be be repaired by acquiescing to Akinola, however, is an open question, one being discussed right now in Spain, where Trinity Church, Wall Street, has called together bishops from the Episcopal Church and numerous African provinces to examine how they might continue as partners in mission despite theological differences.

Here is a small wager that the outcome of that meeting may tell us more about the future of the Communion than the latest missive from Akinola and his allies.

Jim Naughton is editor in chief of The Episcopal Café.

Owning your words

By Nicholas Knisely

When Jim Naughton, our esteemed editor-in-chief here at Episcopal Café, approached a few of us with the idea of creating this site, one of the very first things we realized we were going to have to deal with was coming up with a policy on comments left on the posts on this site. We talked amongst ourselves for months weighing the various merits and weaknesses of all the different kinds of policies and moderation strategies that you can find out there. We were concerned about issues of confidentiality, of keeping conversations from turning poisonous and ultimately, should we become successful in creating a place of conversation, dealing with the work-load.

We eventually arrived at our present policy of only allowing comments from people willing to sign them with their real name.

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to write an short essay on why we made that decision and what we hoped to gain from it. This is my third attempt. The other two ended up being rants and not essays. If you’re reading this, then it means I’ve finally managed to put something together that steps back from that edge.

The policy that we’ve set here is not typical of the blog-sphere. It's closer to the policy of a “Letters to the Editors” page in a newspaper than anything else. That’s probably partly because a number of the people who volunteered their time working on creating this site come from print and journalism backgrounds. (I’m not one of those people. But many of us in the initial discussions have.) That may be why I was one of the folks who objected to the policy initially. I was pushing for a comment policy closer to what you can see on a site like “Digg” or “Slashdot” where anybody is allowed to post pretty much anything - but then the community votes to approve or disapprove what you have said. Posts that are generally disapproved of are buried out of most people’s sight. The net result is that while it is possible to see everything both good and bad, most readers will only see the very best comments unless they actively choose to read the lower rated comments. Eventually I came to see (they didn't just wear me down...) that the present policy was better than what I wanted after we all came to some shared clarity about what we were trying to do here.

There are lots of blogs and websites on the internet today that represent a polemical point of view within the Episcopal/Anglican Communion. There are eloquent voices, strident voices, quiet and loud voices using various techniques to make their points and to promote their understanding of what it means to be Anglican and how the Communion as a whole should be dealing with the questions that confront us at this moment in history.

But this blog is not meant to be one of those. Sure we’ll talk about the issues, and we’ll talk about the tensions that are arising out of them. And we’ll probably be covering the various viewpoints presented regularly in the blog-sphere. But this site is meant primarily to be a way to support Episcopalians in their daily life of faith, and more importantly to present the Episcopal Church honestly to people who might not know much about it. As we have said elsewhere, there is a decidedly evangelistic intent about the work we are doing here. We mean to present the Episcopal Church as best we can, glories and warts intact, so that people who are seeking to learn more about us will have a chance to do so without having to figure out a way to filter out the internal and external criticism that, while a necessary and important part of Anglicanism, can be a bar to those not steeped in our ethos and, um, conversational methodology.

And, as a way of keeping that focus, we have decided to ask people who comment to remember that they are making public comments in a public space that is meant for outsiders at least as much as it is for insiders. Insisting that people sign their real name to their comments has so far served as useful reminder of that.

We’ve had plenty of push back from potential commentators about this policy. Many are worried that publicly admitting their faith or being open about their beliefs would endanger their careers or to them financially. (NB: This is usually where I start ranting in my earlier attempts to write this piece.) I guess I can hear their concerns and recognize them for what they are. I’m concerned however when that at a moment in history when people are being killed for their faith in many parts of the world, including our own hemisphere, that our unwillingness to be public about our personal faith means we probably have some personal soul-searching to do about how important our own faith ultimately is.

Mostly the policy we set has had the effect we desired. The people who have left comments here have done so in respectful ways honoring the idea that all of us are seeking to serve our Lord Jesus as best we can, even though we may disagree on the details that service should take. Those who are not willing to use their real name have taken their anonymous shots at us on their own blogs, where they are free to use what we have published to further their own missions and agendas. Which is not to say a-priori that said missions and agendas are bad, just that they are not in most cases the same as ours is in this particular corner of God’s cyber-world.

So how’s that? Clearer? Certainly less full of fulminations than my previous goes at it. At least you now know what we on the editorial board were thinking we set this comments policy.

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

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Angelic troublemakers

By Will Scott

Who are you inspired by? Whose life and witness encourages your own? As I look out on the world that seems on the brink of collapse, I have felt compelled to pray more. I have also looked to the recent past through the wonders of Wikipedia to encounter people who struggled with injustice, violence and faith.

There are many people to whom we can turn for inspiration in these dark times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day are two individuals supported by their communities who exemplified Christian commitment and struggle, taking the witness and teachings of Jesus seriously and challenging political and economic evil. Yet there are additional people I’ve been wishing I could invite over for dinner recently: Simone Weil, William Stringfellow and Bayard Rustin.

Simone Weil was an eccentric, passionate, and clumsy intellectual who strongly identified with the working class of early 20th century France. Raised in an agnostic family with Jewish ancestry Weil “lived the questions,” as the poet Rilke encouraged his readers to do. Weil was a pacifist, yet with many of her political comrades, found herself on the battlefield during the Spanish Civil War. Apparently after burning herself on a cooking stove, Weil left Spain and went to Assisi. There, in the same chapel where St. Francis had prayed, Weil had a deeply spiritual experience. Weil’s writings after that became more mystical, but continued engaging political and social issues. Drawn to Roman Catholicism, Weil chose not to be baptized because she was fascinated by other religions. Weil’s work challenges our contemporary compulsion to view faith as the same thing as certainty or as an excuse to ignore the beliefs and practices of others. Her life compels us make the cause of the oppressed, of migrant workers, and low income people our own.

William Stringfellow was an Episcopal lay person, lawyer and theologian. While attending college on scholarships, Stringfellow got his start in activism by helping to organize a sit-in at a local lunch counter. Before long, Stringfellow had moved into an apartment in Harlem to work among the poor. His compulsion to work for justice and reconciliation were rooted from the beginning in his Christian faith and belief in the primacy of the Bible. Stringfellow stood in strong support of women’s ordination, and also harbored a fleeing Daniel Berrigan (for acts of civil disobedience.) As a lawyer, he represented victimized tenants and the impoverished. One of Stringfellow’s closest collaborators was his life partner, Anthony Towne. Stringfellow’s life and theology has strongly influenced the work of contemporary theologians and biblical scholars like Walter Wink, Ched Myers and Bill Wylie-Kellerman. Stringfellow challenges our contemporary proclivity to categorize one another along secular political lines like conservative and liberal, instead encouraging us to find the roots of our efforts for justice, equality and peace in scripture.

Bayard Rustin was an African-American Civil Rights leader who was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. Having worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Rustin strongly influenced the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence. Both as an African American and as a gay man, Rustin confronted injustice, bigotry and hatred regularly, being silenced, beaten, and fired at on numerous occasions. Rustin would likely push us toward a fuller embrace of the principles of nonviolence and encourage different movements for justice and equality to work together. Rustin would want gays and lesbians to stand up for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrants, the poor and others, and vice versa. It was Rustin who said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

So whose life and witness do you look to for inspiration, guidance and encouragement? Whom do you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you ask them? What advice might they give us in our time?

The Rev. Will Scott, is associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. Raised by a school teacher and a social worker in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he is drawn to intentional community, the pursuit of global justice, and the church's witness for peace. He blogs occasionally at Yearns and Groans.

Why I am an Anglican

By Kit Carlson

For many years, I was a serious Anglophile. I loved being an Episcopalian, because we talked like Thomas Cranmer every single week (at least until the 1979 revision of the Prayer Book). I was obsessed with the Masterpiece Theater series on Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and the connection between my local church and the its convulsive beginnings in the 15th Century was really powerful for me.

As I got older, I drifted in and out of churches. As a young 20-ish woman, there was nothing that spoke to me in most Sunday services. But on All Saints Sunday 1986, my husband and I wandered into Our Saviour Episcopal Church, just next to the Beltway in suburban Maryland. We had relocated to Silver Spring, I was pregnant with our first child, and I wanted to find a church we could settle down in as a family.

Our Saviour had a pipe organ. And a choir, one that needed a soprano. It worked for me. We joined.

Shortly after, something wonderful began to happen at Our Saviour. It had been founded in the late '50s as a "white flight" church, spun off from another Our Saviour in the Brookland area of Washington when things began to "change" in the neighborhood. But as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, Our Saviour-Hillandale also began to change. Folks started showing up, immigrants from Africa and China and India and the Caribbean.

It was another connection to British history, its history of empire and of conquest. For if once the sun never set on the British Empire, then it also never set on Britain's national church. There were Anglicans all over the world and as they moved to the United States, many of them made their home at Our Saviour.

Harwood Bowman, the founding rector, had planned for Our Saviour to be built next to the Capitol Beltway, then only a dream, because he wanted folks to come to Our Saviour from "all over." Folks were definitely coming to the church from "all over," from places Harwood had never imagined they might come, bringing their culture and customs with them. It became a Pentecostal church ... not the kind that rolls around in the ecstasy of the Spirit, but a church that looks like the feast of Pentecost, when each person heard the good news proclaimed to them in their own language.

Through these changes, Our Saviour flexed, painfully at times, but accommodated the shifts. When I worshipped there last month, for the first time in years (and for the last time for me as a resident of Maryland ...), it was very different and yet the same.

The congregation was more than three-quarters black. But not because the whites fled ... the old-timers were still filling the same pews. The parish had just grown and changed along with them.

The Mother's Union, another exported British tradition, had turned out to make a presentation. In their matching blue dresses and white hats, they claimed their pride of place as a force of feminine leadership. The sermon -- preached by the new young assistant, who is also the parish's pastor to its Latino congregation -- was free-form, delivered from the aisle, and powerful. The music was traditional (with ALL the verses of St. Patrick's Breastplate) and pietistic, with three hymns from LEVAS at communion, sung with great volume and joy. Some people waved their hands in the air. Others silently bowed their heads in prayer. It was my church. It was a homecoming.

Our Saviour is not a perfect parish. It has had its dissensions, its debates, its struggles over what is going on in the wider Communion and what is going on among its own members. But it is a community that has held together through those dissensions and struggles. It is Anglican in all the best definitions of that word ... international, comprehensive, thoughtful, traditional, yet open to the leading of the Spirit.

I am proud to have called it my church home. It has made me the Anglican I am today.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She was associate and interim rector at the Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg, Md., for seven years.

Uncle Walt keeps the gate

By Heidi Shott

My Uncle Walt died last Tuesday, just a few weeks shy of his 92nd birthday. An extremely pious Roman Catholic, he considered my father’s older sister, Alene, his wife until the day he passed on – 32 years after she left a short note and skipped out of the house like a school girl.

He was a goofy kind of guy, but I always liked him. He played the guitar and sang; he wore moccasins; he liked to play catch. He was a terrible driver. He liked to swim in the lakes in our part of central New York and appreciated my mother’s willingness to swim with him when no one else would. He used Grecian Formula on his gray hair and everybody knew it.

But his outstanding characteristic was his profound devotion to the Church. He made his daughters say the rosary every night. As a small child I remember staying overnight at their house and reading comic books while they fingered their beads and murmured the prayers over and over. It was both extremely exotic (they were the only Catholics in our extended clan) and extremely boring. It seemed to last for hours and hours as I lay flopped on their living room davenport, as Aunt Alene always called the sofa, listening to the cadence of their voices and watching my two older cousins glance at their watches and one another.

Uncle Walt was exceedingly frail when I saw him last at my father’s funeral in 2000. As we sat with our baked ham and potato salad after Dad’s informal service on the side lawn of the family farm, Uncle Walt told me how he drove each Sunday to Syracuse (at least an hour’s drive) to hear the Latin mass. The thought of an 85 year-old Uncle Walt driving on the New York State Thruway was truly terrifying.

He died on Tuesday, the day Pope Benedict XVI released his statement which contends, in part, that Protestant denominations are no more than “Christian communities.” This reiteration of the “Dominus Iesus” declaration of 2000 and the news last week about the lifting of restrictions for the Latin mass may very well have been too much of a good thing for the old guy. He must have died a happy man. Things were finally swinging his way!

No one else in our family was religious, including another uncle who was an American Baptist minister. The rest of us were Protestants merely because we weren’t Catholic or Jewish or Zen Buddhist. So it’s funny that my most enduring childhood memory of spending time with Uncle Walt and Aunt Alene is of those Sundays when they dragged me to Mass and I had to sit alone while they went up for Communion. It was my first experience of exclusion.

“You’re part of our family for everything else. You can wear hand-me-downs from your cousins. You can drink milk from the special Mary Poppins cup. You can fall asleep on our laps after you’ve run around in the backyard and we’ll stoke the damp hair off your hot forehead. But at Mass on Sundays you can’t approach, much less partake of the body of Jesus. Nope, sorry. Not allowed. Stay in your seat and be a good girl. We’ll be right back.”

It seems we Christians…of virtually every stripe…are very good at being gatekeepers of Jesus. When we humans attempt, through sophisticated theological debate or literal scriptural interpretation or the occasional lively claim of divine revelation, to have the corner on the Jesus market, it scares me. I’ve been there and can’t forget the sucky way it made me feel. Implicit in the act of keeping the gate is the notion that the keeper has access to information and power and knowledge and secret handshakes that the rest of us don’t.

I’ve always been tickled by the practice – started in Mormon youth groups, I recall – of determining one’s actions by asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”

Here’s my answer: “I don’t know! I’m not Jesus!”

As a parent of two young teenagers, I’m beginning to realize there’s a day in the not-so-distant future when they are going to shake our hands and say (I hope), “thank you, lovely parents.” Then they will walk out that door. When confronted with the inevitable choices life will bring their way, I hope to God they don’t ask, “What would my Mom do?” I want them to do the right thing because it’s what they know they should do. I want them to remember how we’ve taught them to live and to how we’ve taught them to treat the people they encounter. If they have to pause to ask the question, then I fear for the answer.

Jesus, that savvy teacher, left us such good, simple instructions. If we heed them well and faithfully, we shouldn’t have to stop and think.

There has been a lot of interesting talk about open communion in these parts and I understand (most of) the conversation and appreciate the arguments on both sides. The recent posts reminded me of my college roommate reading aloud a letter from an old boyfriend who was an agnostic and fairly cynical about Christian faith. He wrote that he was attending an Episcopal Church and that he liked the ritual. He “relished” walking up the aisle and taking Communion.

“Eeeuuuwww,” we both said when she read that part. “That’s creepy.”

But now I’m not so sure. Maybe the mysterious act of taking communion was the start of something for that young man. Maybe, as the songwriter Bruce Cockburn sang a few years later, “spirits open to the thrust of grace.” Who am I to say?

But then again, maybe being shut off from something mysterious and holy, something I didn’t understand when I was seven or eight, maybe that fed my yearning for the things of God. Maybe I’m still pondering these things decades later because they weren’t just handed to me. Does it matter how the gift is given? Does it matter how it is received?

But not everyone is an asker of questions. God gifts some people with the different propensities. Some people are like my Uncle Walt whose passion for the Blessed Mother and the Roman Catholic Church was all consuming. His need to keep that gate in place was as clear to him as breathing.

What does the question-asker do with an Uncle Walt?

Seven years ago, at my father’s funeral, I balanced a chinet plate on my lap and listened to him tell me about the Nocturnal Adoration Society. The next day I prayed he wouldn’t kill anyone while driving to the Latin mass in Syracuse.

Then today, I sent some flowers.

A word from the edge

By Richard E. Helmer

The rancor in the Anglican blogosphere has reached yet another new height as lawsuits pending in the Episcopal Church took a turn in recent weeks against dissenting parishes, and a flurry of elections overseas have resulted in the naming of over a dozen new bishops for networks in North America – an apparently major step in the establishment of an alternative or even replacement Anglican Province in North America.

It seems that indeed these days everyone has something to be offended about – to justify spitting out a harsh word or two about the situation in the greater Church. For instance, Mark Harris took it in the teeth from comments over at Preludium this week when he wrote about "The Gang of Thirteen, or so.” In a bit of a temper, I delivered a scathing brand of humor over the same situation, and judging by the comments in response, much to the delight of those on this side of the questions at hand in the Communion.

But back at home, I’ve had a particularly exhausting yet spiritually fulfilling week of pastoral extremes as a parish priest: from the beautiful baptism of a child born with a dangerous heart-valve condition, to the dignified death of one of the pillars of our congregation – a truly remarkable Christian and human being.

Most of this would be considered garden-variety stuff by any parochial Christian, were it not that this happens in the context of one of the most so-called liberal dioceses in the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of California. And the church I serve is in Marin County, home of the crème de la crème in the liberal mecca of the San Francisco Bay Area, where the most conservative among us put liberalism in the rest of the country to shame. We are not simply on the edge geographically and politically, we are on the edge theologically as a local church, and (too) often proud of ourselves for this.

We embrace many of the belief and practices that have made the Episcopal Church a pariah in some eyes, and aroused the ire of primates in the Global South and their more vociferous allies in this country. And we’ve indeed thrown our own barbs into the mix of rancor so prominent in the life of the greater Church these days. Certainly I have.

But after a week of pressing pastoral duties, of reflecting about life on the edge, of death and family, of new life and new hope in the name of the Trinity, I find all the rancor in the Anglican Communion right now suddenly strange and petty. Arguments over bishops elected in faraway places seem to bear little or no relevance to Christian life on the edge here, and life with Jesus on the ground where we find ourselves.

At the end of the day, it strikes me that there is merit to each side claiming offense from the other. There are things The Episcopal Church has handled well, others quite poorly. The same goes for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates. The same for all our bishops and leaders. And all of us bloggers have our own limited perspective, our own projections to cope with, and our own motes to see past.

For this reason, I set aside almost all my claims to taking offense. But to my more conservative sisters and brothers (and there are many), there is one accusation I do take exception to. That is the notion, implied or explicitly articulated, that our ecclesiastical and theological position here somehow divorces us from the grace of God, from the hand of God’s blessing. This week in engaging some very liberal and some more conservative members of the parish I serve, I have witnessed the abundance of God’s grace calling us together into community, blessing our individual and corporate life, and empowering all of us together for ministry. I have seen, in human fragility uncovered by vulnerability and death, hearts that are filled to overflowing with the gracious love of God in Christ Jesus, endowed with the awesome fruits of the Spirit, and not at all dependent on divisive points of theology or doctrine.

I dare to claim based on what I see and witness that we are not wayward heretics destined for Hell, but Christians struggling together and lovingly with the tangible questions of life and death in relationship with our faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Once the dust settles and the skirmishes over jurisdiction, power, provincial autonomy, covenant, property, and the episcopacy settle, many of us will re-open our eyes and find ourselves more truly in this position common to Christians across the ages: called to live in our own gifted ways into the incarnate Word, the foundation of our faith, touching the lives most immediately near us with the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And that simply has little regard for our divisions, and radically less for our erstwhile claims to superiority or special consideration for God’s grace.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons have been published at Sermons that Work, and he blogs regularly about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, and church politics at Caught by the Light.

Phantom affairs, unproductive pregnancies: priest's wife tells all

By Sara McGinley

One Sunday not long after my husband, Aron Kramer, started his first job as a priest a woman in her late 70s pulled me aside after church. She looked up at me from her 4’10” height in a way that made me feel small and very, very young and said, “Dear, I want you to know, Miriam has been answering the phones in the afternoons at church. You know how busy it gets. Well, I just thought you should know she told me, a Sara McGinley has been calling Aron an awful lot. You keep an eye out dear.” She gave me a lovely squeeze on the arm, smiled, looked me up and down as if to size up my fortitude and walked away.

Thus began my husband’s affair.

A few months later spring arrived after a very, hard, long winter, the first we’d spent back in the mid-west after leaving San Francisco.

He talked that morning in his sermon about how the world was pregnant in spring. In an 8 minute sermon he used the word pregnant 3 times.

That morning at coffee hour three women seemed determined to coax me into admitting that I was pregnant, seemingly hungry to be the first with confirmation.

One woman even pulled me aside to tell me there was no shame in being pregnant perhaps a bit sooner than one expected. She, after all had been pregnant at each of her three weddings.

Thus began my first pregnancy.

All told I think I was pregnant according to the rumor mill at least 3 times before I actually conceived a child.

Our impending divorce was predicted the day I was caught on the local news getting my head shaved bald.

A friend’s friend was in treatment for breast cancer and when her hair fell out all of her close friends shaved their heads. I ended up in the mix (truth be told, I’d always wanted to see how air feels on a bald head and so I fell in line easily when asked).

The first Sunday after that very public shaving I was pulled aside and reminded that the last woman to shave her head at the church was divorced within the year. “You should be more careful,” I was told.

I’ve had plenty of days as a priest’s wife that I felt imposed upon, days when it seemed that my life was laying wide open for everyone to interpret as they pleased.

Some days it has been exhausting, others just hilarious.

And there have been days when I’m blown away by the seemingly unending energy people in the church have when it comes to caring for me and Aron and our children.

Six months ago when our son was diagnosed with leukemia a stream of warm, hearty, meals and their accompanying desserts found their way to our front door night after night.

Eleven months before that, when my daughter was born and my son was just 18 months old, meals arrived, ready to eat and just in time for dinner.

When my son was born I joked that I had a new part-time job writing thank you notes for the mountain of gifts given to us.

Never did I anticipate asking for and receiving the generosity of spirit and prayer from such a widely diverse group of people.

When my husband and I were married I had every intention of having a high-powered job that took up a fairly huge chunk of my time. I intended to be one of those Christmas and Easter kinds of Christians.

I intended to fake it a lot at church and pretend that I actually knew my way through the church service.

I intended to do just enough not to sink Aron’s career—and absolutely nothing more.

Naively, I thought it would be my propensity to swear and my lack of interest in hymns and cleaning brass that would get people talking.

Instead it was my husband’s affair, mystery pregnancies that produced no offspring, and my exceptionally shiny head that got people stirred up.

The fact that I use the ‘s word’ has caused at least 2 people to start coming to church.

When a friend caught me lip syncing hymns in church and another caught me making up words like “I like Aron, he looks so cute in his funny priest dress thing” to hymns they both started coming to church more often.

If anything, the church has taken me as I am, held me up, shaped and changed me for the better and whenever I start to seem boring they’ve just added a few more exciting details to the mix.

Sara McGinley, irreverent priest's wife and mother of two, writes the blog subtly named, Sara McGinley. She is a lay person from Minnesota who thinks the term 'lay person' is unnecessarily suggestive.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network

By Maureen Shea

Over 20,000 Episcopalians now belong to the Episcopal Public Policy Network! If you’re wondering just what the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) is you may not be alone. The EPPN is the national grassroots network of Episcopalians who call and write their members of Congress and the Administration to advocate for the public policy positions of the Church. Recent alerts have asked EPPN members to write to Congress on Israeli/Palestinian peace, opening our doors to more Iraqi refugees, the Farm Bill and its importance to hunger issues at home and abroad, empowering women, helping orphans world wide, and stopping new nuclear weapons.

With the help of the EPPN, lay and clergy leaders, bishops, and yes, the Presiding Bishop, Office of Government Relations staff bring the positions of the Episcopal Church to our nation’s lawmakers. We were very pleased when the Presiding Bishop testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on climate change on June 7. The policy positions are established by the General Convention and Executive Council, and include the full range of social justice issues - Millennium Development Goals, international peace and justice, human rights, immigration, welfare, poverty, hunger, health care, violence, civil rights, the environment, racism, and issues involving women and children both at home and abroad.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network is coordinated by Mary Getz in the Church's Office of Government Relations (OGR). Also on staff are Alex Baumgarten, the international policy analyst, John Johnson, domestic policy analyst, Molly Keane, office administrator and immigration liaison, and I serve as director. The OGR office is located in the historic Methodist Building on Capitol Hill and we welcome visitors from around the country. OGR is part of the Peace and Justice Ministries cluster headquartered at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City.

The Government Relations staff meets directly with government leaders, works with media, recruits and mobilizes grassroots Episcopalians, builds relationships with Members of Congress and staff, and forms coalitions of both religious and secular interest groups to further the Church’s positions.

The need for the work of justice is best explained in these words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon at Riverside Church in New York:

On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

It is that need for restructuring that calls us to this public policy work. It is that need for restructuring that is the heart of the Millennium Development Goals – our church’s #1 mission priority for this triennium. As we celebrate our 20,000th member of the Episcopal Public Policy Network, we invite others to join in the important task of seeking peace with justice.

Maureen Shea is the Director of Government Relations for The Episcopal Church.

On race: trying to sing a new song

By George Clifford

Two recent Supreme Court decisions have ignited fiery discussions about the role of race as a criterion for assigning children to public schools. The decisions, in one case from Louisville and another from Seattle, appear to have largely reversed the landmark 1954 school integration case of Brown vs. Board of Education.

My initial response to the decisions was one of anger. Then I began to reflect on some of the ways in which race issues intersected with my life and ministry.

I performed my first inter-racial marriage in 1980. Eight other clergypersons had declined to officiate because the man was an African-American and the woman a Caucasian. That was in northern Maine. Since then, I have officiated at many inter-racial marriages and learned that such marriages were formerly against the law in some states. Today, in Raleigh, NC, I frequently observe inter-racial couples going unnoticed in restaurants, shops, churches, and elsewhere. This is a different world than in 1954.

In seminary, my advisor was an African-American. In the military, I worked for several African-Americans and had several work for me. Two of my six ecclesiastical superiors have been African-American (including the current Bishop of North Carolina); a third was an Asian-American. When celebrating Holy Eucharist, they drink from the chalice first; in confirmation, they lay hands on the confirmand; they approve the remarriage of divorced persons; and nobody is offended. This is a different world than in 1954.

Thanks be to God for a new song! God, as Peter learned through his vision in Acts 10, loves all people equally, regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, nationality, or gender. The Civil Rights movement, Supreme Court cases like Brown vs. Board of Education, and important legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dramatically changed life in the United States. Most, if not all of us, have sung this new song in our life and heard it in the lives of family, friends, neighbors, and communicants.

Yet race is often the “elephant in the room” about which nobody wants to speak. When I preach about racial justice, whether in a predominantly Caucasian or African-American congregation, invariably at least one person will tell me that I was brave for doing so.

Why does the topic of race make people uncomfortable? I suspect there a variety of reasons. For some, the problem is one of guilt, over what not only happened in prior generations but events in their own life. Another source of guilt is recognizing that racial bias and discrimination are un-Christian but still widespread in the U.S. Other people are simply uncomfortable with racially formed identities, their own and that of others.

The truth is that we who sing this new song have a difficulty staying on key and in time. Most forms of blatant racism are gone. Now the prejudice is more subtle. Listening to blacks (as well as women!) in the military tell their stories, I always heard them speak of others singing off key notes. But that is not the whole story. In spite of visible successes, like that of General Colin Powell who retired from the Army as the United States’ senior military officer, disproportionately few blacks serve as commissioned officers and even fewer become senior officers.

The military, in spite of its imperfections, deserves its reputation as one of the nation’s foremost equal opportunity organizations. The proportional lack of black officers stems from not only lingering expressions of racism but also from differences in quality of education, access to education, and other factors over which the military has no control.

White liberals, and even a few blacks, criticized the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he started voicing his opposition to the Vietnam War. He replied that he had to speak – the issues of racism and an unjust war were inherently connected. He received similar criticism when he rightly linked the issues of poverty, education, and racism.

In the United States, race remains inherently connected to most other issues of social justice. For example, mandatory school integration prompted white flight. Busing accelerated parents turning to the ironically named Christian schools and then to home schooling. Fair housing laws have achieved marginal results. Sunday morning remains perhaps the most segregated time of the week.

Discrimination based on race is illegal, as it should be. However, racism, along with other forms of injustice, remains deeply embedded in American culture and therefore contaminates most of us. Long, late night conversations with a friend in college started to open my eyes to some of the ways in which this culture and I were racist. Subsequent reading and conversations have opened my eyes further.

One reason that I answered a call to the priesthood was realizing that changing laws and winning court battles were only the first steps, the easy steps, towards creating a more just society. The hard steps lay in changing hearts and minds, eradicating all forms of discrimination and injustice that are incompatible with the gospel.

Perhaps the recent Supreme Court cases are a disguised gift from God. No longer can school districts view race in isolation from other forms of injustice. To grasp that gift, Christians will need to follow Dr. King’s lead. They will have to engage the political process and push for schools in which the students reflect a cross-section of the larger community’s socio-economic composition. Doing so will more directly and fully address the multi-faceted sin of racism as well as other forms of injustice. Doing so will force people to talk about the elephant in the room, creating the possibility for healing and transformation. Most importantly, doing so will help us to sing this new song that God has give to us with more fervor and more on key.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He was the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

Third Way Biblical engagement

By Greg Jones

The desire to engage with Scripture as a means of communicating with God has been a part of the Anglican tradition since Christianity came to the British isles in apostolic times. Even after the modern period began, with all its concern for historicity, objectivity and science, leading Anglicans like Samuel Taylor Coleridge proposed a 'third-way' of engaging the Bible for modern people, who are simultaneously open to the mystery and power of the Word of God in the Bible. Though Coleridge is primarily remembered today for his poetry, in his own time he was a leading Christian thinker and influential layperson. He was avowedly modern in his willingness to explore new ideas, but he also argued against the materialistic and rationalistic trends of his time.

In the late 1790's, Coleridge read some of the latest critical studies of the Bible coming out of Germany. Coleridge shared the historical understanding that the Bible was not dictated letter-by-letter by God himself. He knew the Bible was a collection of writings originally composed as all books are – by human beings. But as practicing Christian, Coleridge also experienced and believed that the Bible is not like all other books.

He argued that modern people should read the Bible with modern eyes – of course. He said, "to be rightly appreciated the Bible must be read like any other book." But, he said, "the reader with his mind thus open will soon come to realize that in reality it is not like any other book, since more fully than any other does it meet the needs of man's spiritual being."

Coleridge argued that the transformational power of the Word of God in the Bible is lively and active and will offer to open minded readers an experience of engaging with God in real life. In other words, for Coleridge the final evidence of the Bible's spiritual power to transform lives in a unique way is given experientially. He says, "I have perused the books of the Old and New Testaments, -- each book as a whole, and also as an integral part. And need I say that I have met everywhere more or less copious sources of truth, and power, and purifying impulses; -- that I have found words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterances for my hidden griefs, and pleadings for my shame and feebleness."

It has been seen as prophetic that Coleridge was already calling for the Church to look beyond modernism's attitudes and approaches toward the Bible. Given that he was among the first of his generation to become acquainted with the critical methods which would prevail for the next two centuries, it is astounding that he was able to identify the shortcomings of the modernist approach so early.

Nearly two centuries later, in 1974, a Bible scholar in the United States named Walter Wink wrote a small book called The Bible in Human Transformation, arguing much the same way. The then shocking first sentence was, "historical biblical criticism is bankrupt." Wink argued that the prevailing method of engaging the Bible – across the protestant mainline at least – was "a form of scholarship gone to seed but which by sheer abundance of seeds, flourishes everywhere." Wink saw his critique of the modernist vision of the Bible as belonging to "a chorus of voices raised in the name of God and humanity."

To be clear, Wink acknowledged there was much of value to be taken from historical criticism of the Bible. But Wink's essential point was that the method itself was not particularly valuable for the primarily spiritual practice of communicating with the Word of God in the Bible. And it is this primary work of transforming human beings and the world in relationship with the living Christ that is the first business of the church.

Just as Coleridge decried the materialism and rationalism of his day, many Christians in recent generations have decried the imperialism – intellectual and physical – of Western Civilization in general. In the late 20th century a host of non-Western and feminist approaches have challenged the old certainties of Western modernism. Christians and newly empowered women around the world have begun to read the Scriptures through their own experiences of Christ in community, and they have offered a new vision and approach to the Bible that goes beyond rationalism. Certainly, William Stringfellow as a gay man in the 1950's and 1960's, who dedicated his work for the marginalized, and Verna Dozier an African-American woman, offered important perspectives on the Bible as they engaged it in faith. All of these prophetic voices – from Coleridge to Dozier -- pointed out deficiencies of the prevailing norms of Bible study in our church.

Well aware of these deficiencies, many believers in recent decades have sought to fill in the gaps left by the unliving and inactive vision of the Bible put forth by the guild of rationalist Bible scholars and clergy in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Many of us have looked to non-Western Christian practices to fill in the gaps, and some have looked to pre-Modern and even pre-Christian practices – in an effort to form a new-old synthesis. This explains why so many Episcopalians who are intentional in their practice of the Christian faith are drawing upon Celtic Christianity, the monastics, the early church, Judaism, African Christianity, and other far-ranging resources.

Some call this contemporary fascination with things both ancient and modern "postmodern" or "postcritical." I tend to see it as simply the natural variety of a Body of Christ which I believe is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I believe the contemporary Episcopalian is called to draw upon all the resources of our ancient, global, multicultural and inclusive faith tradition – and that to do so will likely enrich our spiritual engagement with the Word of God in the Bible so long starved by the too dry attitudes of Western rationalism and modernity.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") became a member of Christ's Body at St. Columba's in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. He is the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

Slow Leadership

“Life is too short to get too flustered."
--The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

By Ann Fontaine

In an interview with The New York Times , shortly before her first meeting with the Primates of the Anglican Communion, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that if she were rebuked at the meeting, it would not be anything new; she experienced that before as an oceanographer: “The first time I was chief scientist on a cruise, the captain wouldn’t speak to me because I was a woman.” Asked how she would respond if primates walked out on her, she said, “Life is too short to get too flustered.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori is famous for responding to questions with calm, direct answers. And although she says, ”Life is too short,” she seems to have taken her lessons from the Slow Leadership movement to live as though she has all the time it takes to accomplish the work that has been given her to do.

Slow leadership is gaining popularity. It is part of the Slow movement which approaches life with balance. The Slow movement seeks to take control of time rather than allowing the busy-ness of life to control time. It encourages finding a balance between using timesaving technology and taking the time to enjoy a walk or a meal with others. Proponents believe “that while technology can speed up working, eating, dating, etc. the most important things in life should not be rushed.” Slow leadership helps leaders reflect fully on what needs to be done. Then they commit to giving those things whatever time they deserve to do them properly. Instead of reacting to everything immediately, Slow leaders prioritize and schedule activities.

Slow leadership is not about always getting things right but recognizing the power of choice both to act and not to act. In one of the newsletters from Slow Leadership, Getting it wrong to get it right, the author says,

Getting it right, in work or life, nearly always involves a great deal of getting it wrong as well. Success depends critically on how you face up to failure, take the lesson it offers, and start again. Opportunities missed are usually gone forever. The road not taken never shows up on the map again. That’s why rushing through life, obsessed with conventional success and fixated purely on material gain, may produce riches and fame, but very often misses out on happiness and contentment. The New Testament of Christians asks: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?” You only have one trip around the sun. Use it well, or lose the chance of living and learning forever.

It is easy in this age of technology to be distracted by the amount of information available. Communications are instant and there is pressure to respond instantly. Multi-tasking is praised although it has been shown that those who multi-task have little retention of information. One of the discoveries of “Slow” is that people actually accomplish more when they schedule their work time and don’t allow interruptions when focusing on a task. There is little time for reflection unless we make space for it.

Our religious tradition supports a more reflective life. In the Collect for Peace in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 99) we pray, “O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life…” The absolution for the Confession of Sin (BCP p. 117) concludes with “by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.” This is a prayer about a quality of life here and now, not about afterlife. In the Book of Genesis, God creates time in the creation of the night and the day. At the end of the six days of creation, God rests on the seventh. The Ten Commandments call us to Sabbath and the Book of Leviticus recommends resting the land every seven years. Jesus shows us that we have eternal life. Christianity teaches that we live both in time and outside of time, “in the world but not of the world,” encouraging us to live “Slow.”

The Rev. Jan Nunley, editor of epiScope, who first interested me in Slow Leadership ideas writes:

My work in the Church is probably as 'fast' as it gets. I'm constantly fielding emails and phone calls and crises of one sort or another demanding immediate attention. It's just the way the news business is, even in the Church--these days, perhaps especially in the Church! Maybe that's why I have been so attracted to the 'Slow' idea--I've seen where imbalance and impatience lands us as Episcopalians and Anglicans, and it's not pretty.

Sometimes I dream about being in a 'Slow Church'--a fellowship of Christians taking their faith deliberately and seriously, growing in grace 'organically' with their roots firmly in local ground, being the Church in one place and for one place instead of all over the map, spiritually and otherwise. Kind of an antidote to this super-sizing, globe-trotting gotta-do-it-all corporate mega-mentality that we're even seeing played out at the Anglican Communion level, the bitter fruit of globalization that's driving a lot of our conflicts with each other.

We talk about Jesus bringing abundant life, but what we offer instead is too often a pale imitation of the consumption-driven world. A 'Slow Church' would go deeper into the life of God: pray deeper, laugh deeper, listen deeper. We have the resources to do it, especially in the Anglican tradition. We just have to decide it's worth doing, no matter the cost.

I wonder if I can make a covenant with myself to live and lead with an attitude of “Slow.” What sort of choices can I make that would help me take time to live a fuller but less frantic life. What sort of churches and worship might develop with the savoring of our time with each other and God? As I write this essay I am talking with our daughter, watching the Rockies play the Houston Astros, typing, taking phone calls and checking email. I think I need to practice some “Slow.”

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The Eight Principles of Slow Leadership for people who want to live balanced lives and enjoy their work to the full.

1. Right Tempo
2. Right Attention
3. Right Balance
4. Right Perspective
5. Right Direction
6. Right Relationships
7. Right Enjoyment
8. Right Gratitude


Resources:
Slow Leadership:
http://www.slowleadership.org/
Slow Food:
http://www.slowfood.com/
The Slow Home:
http://theslowhome.com/blog/whatisslowhome/
Slow Worship and other slowness
http://www.urbanseed.org/journal/mt/mc/archives/2006/09/seeds_a_taste_o.html

A common orbit

By Sam Candler

I happened to be at an island wilderness area during the summer solstice this year. I could not discern, from my tiny vantage point, that the earth’s orbit had angled it so far toward the sun again (though I could feel the heat!). I had no television or internet access to feature the several scientists who surely explained patiently again just how the earth orbits our large star.

I did notice that much of the natural world knows this season rather intuitively. At the beach, I saw the tide extraordinarily high. Somehow the eggs of the shorebirds laid up in the white dunes hatched just days before those summer solstice high tides reached their nests. At the marsh, the opposite low tides exposed black mud to a rare treat of the sun’s fertile energy.

We hear much about polarities these days. We say that two persons are “poles apart,” in their relationship, or in their opinions. We say the same thing about political parties and church factions; we mean that they could not be more at odds with one another. I heard one good writer several weeks ago talk about “antithetical polarities.” We use the phrase “polar tension” to describe tendencies in ourselves. Palmer Parker claimed in his book, The Active Life, that the active and the contemplative parts of ourselves sometimes represent a “polar tension” that is difficult to reconcile.

But the phrase “polar opposite” began to mean something different to me when I pondered the poles of the earth’s orbit. The earth does not orbit around the sun in a perfect circle, but, rather, in an ellipse. Our elliptical orbit around the sun might teach us something about polarities. Our orbit, being elliptical, has two poles: the two outer reaches of the ellipse. In an ellipse, the two poles represent the more extreme points of our journey.

Consider that the two poles of the earth’s orbit represent extreme points along the ellipse, but they do not represent points outside the orbit itself. In fact, those points are just as much a part of the orbit as any other points are. In the best of our political differences, and church differences, and relationship differences, the same can be true. We may be at extremes, but we are in the same orbit. Furthermore, the orbit would not be the same without those points; it would not be complete.

Orbits, of course, depend upon the mass of the object around which the planets hurdle. Our relationships, too, depend upon a power greater than ourselves. Our church depends upon the mass of a God whose power is great enough to keep us in the orbit. It is God who keeps us in the orbit, not we ourselves.

I know there are times when my wife and I are poles apart; friends have observed that we are polar opposites. Nevertheless, we stay married. We stay married, by the grace of God (and it takes more grace for her to stay married to me!). For me, however, “polar opposites” does not mean that two folks never can relate to one another. The phrase just means that we are not in the same place right now. In a couple of seasons, one of us might just be in the exact place where the other is now.

The church, at our best, orbits gracefully and beautifully around the might star of life, Jesus Christ our Lord. We seek his light daily, so that we might reflect that glory. But every day of the earth’s revolution provides us a slightly different angle from which to reflect that glory. Some of us reflect the light at a different angle. Some of us are at extremes in the orbit, and some of us are right in the middle. No matter where our place in the ellipse, God keeps us in the grip of a power much greater than our own devices. We are part of a vast solar system of grace.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He helped start that city’s interfaith group, and leads regular community bible studies. He is also inspired by playing jazz piano, hunting, astronomy, and poetry. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral Web site.

Questions and answers with Davis Mac-Iyalla

By John Johnson

On the eve of July fourth, I wondered how many would actually attend: A Conversation with Davis Mac-Iyalla. The venue was St. Thomas’ Episcopal Parish in Dupont Circle and the event was sponsored by both St. Thomas’ and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill. As 7 p.m. arrived the sanctuary was nearly filled with some 75 Episcopalians and visitors. I didn’t know who all was there from St. Marks, but I was amazed by the number of non-Episcopalians that attended. Davis spoke to the congregation gathered for nearly 55 minutes before taking questions and answers and the evening was followed by the beautiful Compline service from the Book of Common Prayer.

The altar was adorned with a simple white altar cloth with several black-based candle holders and lighted candles for the evening’s event. The clergy, senior and junior warden were robed in traditional black and white Evening Prayer vestments seated in the first row. Davis, dressed in blue jeans with a cut off sleeveless shirt and rainbow wrist band, joined them.

Davis was invited to be part of the Altar party for Compline after his presentation. The plate was passed as he vested and he was presented with $1000 gift as he concluded his 60-event, 20-city tour or the United States and left for the Church of England’s General Synod meeting. The money is greatly needed because Davis has been hounded from his home in Nigeria and now lives in Togo, where he ekes out a living by running a small restaurant.

Davis sang the Doxology at a reception following the service. For someone who lives in exile, who has been jailed for speaking truth to ecclesiastical power and who has been beaten in Nigerian Police custody, he remains remarkably cheerful, favoring friends with a deep gregarious laugh.

Prior to the evening’s events, I had the opportunity to interview Davis.

Q: What do you think is most important for the Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgenerdered community here in the United States to know about the lives of gay and lesbian Nigerians?

A: We have no access to information about gays worldwide. Most of the gays and lesbians in Nigeria have no idea about the lives of the GLBT community in the U.S. and no ability to share ideas and information. A gay American is no different than a gay Nigerian. And we need to know more about each other.

Q: How would that communication help gay Nigerians?

A: In many ways…One of the connections I have made with the GLBT community in the U.S. is your vocal efforts to secure your own rights. You have the freedom of speech here and I think you should use it to fight oppression in Nigeria and not just with your members of Congress but your bishops and priests and members [of your churches] too.

Q: What would you like Episcopalians or the Episcopal Church to do here in the United States to help the GLBT community in Nigeria?

A: Well, our Archbishop (Akinola) is breaking communion [with the Episcopal Church] by his actions. We want to remain the ties Episcopalians [in the U.S.] so that we don’t feel abandoned. We don’t have anywhere to go but the Episcopal Church. We want to remain in communion with the Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Because] for example, the welcome of the Episcopal Church of everyone.

Q: Is it helpful for activists in the United States or the Western world to raise their voices in defense of those who are being persecuted in Nigeria?

A: Yes! We have had many cases when our friends outside Nigeria help to bring awareness. I strongly agree that people all over the world should be raising their voices. It is helpful.

Q: What has impressed you most about your time here in the United States?

A: I have been welcomed in most of the places I have been. Not everyone agrees with me [about homosexuality] but everyone agrees that it is wrong how the Anglican Church in Nigeria treat me the way they have done. The death threats from church members in Nigeria—everyone basically disagrees with the attitude of the church toward me.

Q: Will you be going back to Nigeria?

A: I have received so many death threats that I am in exile. I am just one person but I want Nigeria to be a better place for GLBT people. I think I can go home one day. That’s why I am doing all this.

Q: What are your greatest hopes for your country in terms of GLBT rights?

A: [Audible sigh]. My hope is that the attitude of the Church and the government will change toward us. And that all of the laws to criminalize Gays and Lesbians will change. My hope is that the Church in Nigeria will be a welcoming church for all of God’s children, GLBT, everybody.

Q: What is the status in your opinion of the Nigerian legislation that would bar the GLBT community or their supporters from speech and association?

A: The new Vice President is an Anglican. The bill did not pass in the last administration. [But many of those who were in the previous Congress were re-elected.] But we keep talking about the bill because this new Vice President is an Anglican and the anti-gay Archbishop [Akinola] can seek favor from the V.P. to reintroduce or sponsor the bill.

Q: Have you heard that Archbishop Akinola plans to do that [re-introduce the bill]?

A: He has never given up his agenda and until he publically withdraws his support for the bill, we still hold him responsible.

Q: Is there anything you would like to say?

A: As I began to get national attention and recognition, in December 2005, the Anglican Church in Nigeria began a defamation and smear campaign against me. I want to say that what was publicized on 28 December 2005 on their [Nigerian Church Web site] is all false. So I am thankful to the Americans to give me the opportunity to tell my side of the story and for trusting me. I have been to 20 cities with 60 events and that’s why I want to thank Americans, the Episcopal Church, other churches and secular groups for letting me speak.

John Johnson, a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Washington, D. C., is the domestic policy analyst for the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations.

What makes a good sermon?

By Susan Fawcett

One of the worst sermons I've ever heard was in the seminary chapel. Several weeks before, the school administration had asked preachers at Morning Prayer to keep their sermons to five minutes or less, in the interest of getting everyone out in time to get their obligatory coffee before 9:00 classes started. And on this particular morning, it was not a student but a professor who ascended the pulpit to speak. The service itself had already run long, and he preached...and preached...and after twenty minutes of discourse on The Faith of Abraham, we were finally released, grumbling about being late to class and missing coffee.

The sermon wasn't bad because of the content, per se. It was bad mostly because it was long, and disrespected our time (not to mention the Dean's request of five minutes or less). The absolute length of it overrode its message.

I come back to that sermon when I'm thinking about writing my own (as I am today, Thursday, without a clue as to what I'll be preaching on Saturday evening). That preacher had written a sermon that made a great deal of sense to himself, and yet he failed to ask himself what kind of sense it would make to the listeners, or whether they'd be able to listen to him with charity. Where is the line between communicating a message that you feel called to speak-as that professor clearly did-and communicating well? And where does sympathy for the listener fall in there?

I myself am one of those people who tend to think in the abstract and have read far more theology than is good for the average person, and so my natural tendency in sermons is to wax theoretical about an idea, tying together words and images to make some sort of emotional and psychological sense of a biblical passage. I like to think that I have been disabused of that tendency over the past few years: my husband is an engineer, a concrete thinker, and a painfully honest critic. We have spent quite a few Saturday nights revising my sermons, and we've got a running list of his typical responses:

You're dancing around an idea but you haven't nailed it. What's your take-home point here?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't speak church. What are you talking about again?"

"I'm getting kind of bored. Can't you tell a story or something?"

"You aren't going to just stand in the pulpit and read that from the printout, are you?"

Far from being offended by these remarks (ok, most of the time), I appreciate someone being honest. Most of my parishioners are so kind that they'll tell me they loved a dead-boring, high-theory sermon when most of what they loved about it was the chance to drift off into daydream land. So this article here isn't really an article: It's a plea for comments about what makes a great sermon. If you preach, what makes you feel good about your sermons? And how do you gauge it for reception? If you regularly listen to sermons, what keeps you tied in? What engages your mind and your soul? And what is it that you wish you could find a kind and charitable way to tell your beloved preacher?

The Rev. Susan Fawcett keeps the blog This Passage. She serves a parish in the Diocese of Virginia, and supports the work of the General Convention publication The Center Aisle.

Union of Black Episcopalians gets together in Houston

The Unition of Black Episcopalians wraps up its annual meeting in Houston today. Before the conference began, Carol Barnwell, director of communications for the Diocese of Texas interviewed outgoing UBE president the Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder (see below.) The Houston Chronicle covered Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon at the opening Eucharist, and Betty Conrad Adam followed daily developments on her blog: The Magdalene mystique.


By Carol Barnwell

The Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder, outgoing president of the Union of Black Episcopalians, believes the organization has work to do. “We have profound influence,” he said in an interview during the UBE’s annual conference, held in Houston, Texas, July 2-6. Pinder credits the UBE assistance in the adoption of many General Convention resolutions on human rights as well as women’s ordination. “We helped get women ordained,” he said. “Barbara Harris is the first Anglican woman bishop and she is a UBE member!”

Five women bishops was honored at the conference’s banquet, Thursday evening, celebrating 30 years of women’s ordination, including Harris, along with Bishops Dena Harrison of Texas, Carol Gallagher of Newark, Gayle Harris of Massachusetts and Bavi “Nedi” Rivera of Olympia.

Pinder described the 1000 member UBE as having a multigenerational ministry. It is also multicultural, he said, with people from the Caribbean, Central and South America, the United States and Africa. “We speak English, French, Spanish and many other languages,” Pinder explained.

A retired priest from Florida, Pinder said his vision for UBE has been to “stay spiritual” but he is not afraid to address the hard issues of money. “We need to get to a financial place where we can operate in a healthy manner.

He expects this conference to consider reshaping the UBE and important partnerships with the historical Black Voorhees College in South Carolina and the Diocese of Honduras.

“Any company goes through review and revisions from time to time to find out where they are. We need to see where we are, who we are, that’s part of the necessary retooling,” Pinder said.

Pinder also expects the UBE to discuss issues within the Anglican Communion at their business meeting on Thursday and indeed, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson encouraged the group to make their voice heard, “whatever your position,” during her remarks to the group on Tuesday. While the UBE has no official position on the issues, Pinder said he personally believes African bishops are wrong to cross boundaries. “Until a family can have a good fight, we don’t need referees,” he said.

Pinder hopes the UBE will help more people of color get into places of power in the Church where the money is being spent. I want a structure where any kid can see the possibility of being anything [he/she] wants to be all the way to bishop, whether they are Black, female or speak Spanish,” he said.

He said the group chose Houston for their annual gathering because he likes to move the “big event” around the country to be visible, to support local Black congregations and let them know they are not alone.

Bishop Don Wimberly was delighted to welcome the UBE to the Diocese of Texas. “Although we don’t have many Black clergy,” he said, “it is part of our ongoing vision to improve that situation and further reflect the multicultural community in which we live and minister.” Wimberly supported the conference with a $20,000 grant and members of the local John Epps Chapter of the UBE hosted the conference, held at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston.

While Sunday’s are the most segregated time of the week, Pinder supports neighborhood churches. “Church, to me, was a training ground [in leadership] … a place to get community news,” he said. And while he believes people should worship where they are comfortable, he believes churches should strive to have multicultural staffs and to meet the neighborhood where they exist.

“The Episcopal Church offers the Black community an exercise in spirituality, an exercise in intellectualism, an exercise in the ability to be a community leader and an exercise in how to serve people,” Pinder said. He admits that recruitment of Blacks for ordained ministry is difficult and said salary is an issue. “A priest brings vision to the people. The people are asked to support that vision through prayer, financially and with their works. Our money belongs to God. It’s the best deal in town,” he said. “Give me 10 percent and you can keep 90 percent. Even the government supports that!”

Leadership development is a key piece for the UBE, which was founded in 1968, Pinder said. “We are a volunteer organization and we need about $125,000 to hire a staff and set up an office. We are gaining technical sense throughout consultations with Voorhees but right now I have a computer and phone at home and one volunteer to keep up with the work,” he said.

Although we are past segregation, Pinder said, “Racism is still with us. We have to deal with it … We are the action group. We can call the Church to be accountable.”

Carol E. Barnwell, communications director of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, is an award winning photographer who writes and edits a monthly newspaper for the diocese's 84,000 plus members. She has served on the press teams of four General Conventions and the 1988 Lambeth Conference, and has covered stories in England, Central America, Africa and Haiti.


Episcopal Q,
Episcopal A

By Roger Ferlo

For those who write for deadlines, what follows is a familiar story. Over a year ago, I received a call from an editor at a prominent church publishing company asking me to write a short book entitled Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers. Since, until recently anyway, Episcopalians have never considered themselves big on answers, my initial smart-aleck response was to suggest that we re-name the project Episcopal Questions, and Yet More Episcopal Questions. But no, this was to be a part of a series that already included Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers, with a United Methodist Questions, United Methodist Answers on the way. Surely an Episcopalian could come up with something.

Now, three months before the deadline, what I’ve come up with—besides my usual schemes of procrastination—is a dead lack of certainty that this kind of enterprise makes sense. Like my Presbyterian and Methodist counterparts, I am organizing my questions by categories, trying to map what my systematic theologian friends might call the Great Loci—those perilous intersections where the intellectual rubber hits the spiritual road. We’re talking about the big words here: Human Nature, God the Father, Sin and Redemption, Last Things. But sometimes it’s hard to discern any differences between the way we handle these questions and the way my Presbyterian friends do, which I suppose is part of the ecumenical point. Questions like “Why is the church so full of ‘sinners’?” seem even more apt for Episcopalians than they do for Presbyterians, given our current state of affairs. “Why are Presbyterians associated with ‘predestination.’?” These days, the Episcopal version would probably have to read, “Why are Episcopalians associated so much with sex?”

But the biggest question is this: Who wants to read this stuff? Don’t get me wrong. How Episcopalians navigate the Great Loci, how we act in the world because of what we believe about the Big Questions is something I care a lot about. But too much church gets to you after a while. For those who know nothing about the Bible except the nonsense they read in newspapers, much less care about the difference between a Presbyterian synod and an Episcopal convention, it must sound like I’m writing in a dead language. The people I’d prefer to reach spend a lot more time surfing Google and Wikipedia—or even this blog—than they do reading books like the one I’ve been asked to write. Does anyone besides church-obsessed bloggers or seminary professors care any more about the difference between Episcopal and Presbyterian polities (there’s a church word for you), or what Calvin or Cranmer or the Thirty-Nine Articles say about predestination? And to be perfectly honest, I can’t even get straight what the word Episcopal means, or the word Anglican for that matter. Since I signed the contract, the words Anglican and Episcopal—which I grew up thinking were pretty much synonymous—have in some quarters come to seem mutually exclusive. I mean, how much of this dirty laundry do I want air in public?

But then, when I look at the questions I’ve come up with, I realize that even people who depend on Wikipedia might get interested. They care more than most people about getting some honest answers, even if they have to come up with them themselves. What makes us human? How can we know God? Does God control human beings? What’s the worst sin you can commit? What’s a sin, anyway? Does God will evil? What’s a trinity? Does God suffer? Do Episcopalians believe that Jesus’ mother never had sex? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Are Episcopalians “saved”? Do I have to be Christian to pray?

These are questions that have some meat to them. The challenge is answering them without resorting to church-speak. I labor under a slight handicap here. In my job as a seminary professor, church-speak tends to come with the territory. My problem is that I am a great lover of what people often rightly revile as “organized religion,” perhaps because I am a great lover of paradoxes and oxymorons. I mean, for Episcopalians, paradoxes and oxymorons are us. Living in a messily disorganized church appeals to me, if only because whenever I experience God it’s usually through the fissures in life’s grand constructs, and not in the constructs themselves. That being said, I find myself trying to answer these questions not as an Episcopalian per se, and certainly not as some kind of Official Voice, but as a life-long Christian who has found in the North American Episcopal parishes I have known a fruitful way to live with God. The peculiar ins and outs of Episcopal thinking and Episcopal worship, our subtleties and hesitations and measured convictions, above all our shared sense that God is with us no matter what sort of mash we make of what the tradition has handed down to us—all this keeps me honest, makes me want to share what I’ve experienced, makes me want to think more cogently, pray more intelligently, act more like Jesus might have acted. God knows you don’t have to be an Episcopalian to do these things, but that’s the hand I’ve been dealt, and for the most part it’s been a pretty good hand.

So here goes.

The Rev. Roger Ferlo is Director of the Center for Lifetime Theological Education at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he also directs the Evening School of Theology. His books include Opening the Bible (Cowley 1997), Sensing God (Cowley 2001) and Heaven (Seabury 2007).

Monogamy, the game

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

Okay, I admit it. I’m addicted to Altarcations, Gawker’s tongue-in-cheek ratings for the marriage and commitment announcements in The New York Times Sunday Styles section. Gawker’s elaborate tally system (the brainchild of one “Intern Alexis”) tallies up status markers -- Ivy degrees, Mayflower pedigrees, high-powered careers -- to decide on the week’s winning couple: Add 2 points if a partner works as a management consultant, 3 if both work at jobs involving the word "banker" or "investment." Magna cum laude? Add 2 points. Bride or groom from New Jersey? Minus 1. Married by a cantor or an Episcopal priest, plus 1. No other clergy merit extra credit. (Who knew?) I got to thinking that summer wedding season is the perfect time to devise our own competition. But how would it work?

Well, nobody’s mentioned anything about interns here at the Episcopal Café, so I invented my own points system. After years as a relationship therapist and a partner in my own marriage, I knew couples wouldn’t win based on what they’ve accomplished prior to their wedding day. Instead, like a shoe or thimble hopping around a board acquiring houses or hotels during a game of Monopoly, the idea would be to earn points over a lifetime in a relationship.

I figured we’d call this game – what else? -- Monogamy. You and your partner wouldn’t compete against each other; you’re on the same team. And unlike the Altarcations couples, in Monogamy you’re only playing against yourselves.

To decide on the rules, I took out my prayer book and turned to the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. Lifting quotes from the beautiful prayer on page 429 is tacky, I know, but it’s for a good cause. Newlyweds – and the rest of us – can take a long, hard look at the prayer, racking up points with Monogamy’s rating system, and your partnership will emerge a winner.

The prayer says: Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.

Your move: Accept that bad things happen. You’ll both face challenges – jobs lost, kids in trouble, illness, boredom. 10 points every time you help your partner get through a rough time without blaming, rushing to impose solutions, or giving up.

The prayer says: Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.

Your move: Know that a relationship, like everything in creation, either grows or dies. Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil affects the weather in Texas, one partner making a tiny change can have a huge impact on the whole relationship. 10 points every time you listen to the still, small voice inside you, the deeper wisdom that can guide you forward as individuals and partners.

The prayer says: Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.

Your move: Remember “It takes a village…”? You two are the village. Your partnership exists not just to accumulate retirement assets and drive kids to soccer games, but to work together to make the world around you a better place. 10 points every time the two of you give your time, talent or money to someone who needs your help.

The prayer says: Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.

Your move: Recognize that nobody’s perfect, including you. Conflict between partners is a given. You resolve some of it and just manage the rest. The ability to admit you’re wrong is one of the most powerful glues in a marriage. 20 points every time you tell your partner you know you’ve blown it and you’re ready to work together to find a better way.

The prayer says: Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

Your move: Realize that you, like every couple who walk down the aisle, are a living expression of hope for the future. Yet chances are that, sooner or later, the day will come when you look at your partner and wonder why in the world the two of you ever got together. That’s the day when the real work of marriage begins. 50 points when you’re willing to discover how you can heal from pain, overcome disappointment, and forge a bond that’s stronger than ever.

That’s it. Five rules. Truth is, tough as it is to earn points in Gawker’s mock-elitist Altarcations competition, it’s even harder to win at Monogamy. The good news is…you get better at it with practice, and you have your whole lives together to play.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Holy action, holy space

Step inside St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and you enter a soaring octagonal rotunda with a mural of ninety larger-than-life saints –from Frances of Assisi and King David to Malcolm X and Anne Frank—dancing above the altar in the center of the space. Stay for a service and you encounter a densely textured event, full of musical and liturgical elements from all over the world, with an Eastern/Byzantine feel that evokes fourth-century Christian practice. There is no organ; there are no pews or altar rail: the lively congregation sings unaccompanied, in four-part harmony, and moves confidently throughout the whole building. St. Gregory of Nyssa is a pioneering church: its innovations in liturgy, design, leadership and outreach have given it an influence far beyond the Diocese of California. Its practices of open communion, lay deaconing and liturgical dancing have outraged some and inspired more.

St. Gregory’s was founded in 1975 by priests Richard Fabian and Donald Schell, who met as students at General Seminary in NYC and discovered a common love for liturgy as a way to engage people in meeting God. With then-bishop Kilmer Meyers, they founded a special mission of the Diocese of California, putting into practice their developing ideas about how to remake church. St Gregory’s has been more than an “experiment.” It has pointed the larger church in a direction that has influenced a generation of church leaders around issues of open communion, lay leadership and participation, and liturgical innovation.

This month, Fabian and Schell are leaving St. Gregory’s and devote more time to the All Saints Company, a not-for-profit foundation established in 1978 to promote liturgical development and new models of collaboration throughout the church. Daniel Simons, executive director of All Saints Company, spoke with them in San Francisco.

It’s been a long three decades. Can you talk about the changes in Episcopal worship since you began working together?

DS: I was ordained about halfway into the Trial Use explorations that eventually led to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, so it was a time of tremendous liturgical change and controversy. We were also taking our liturgy into public places to witness for peace and civil rights. Some of the church's official voices were insisting that we weren't changing our theology, only the language. But the Prayer Book Society and other conservative voices saw otherwise, as did those of us who were most enthusiastic and optimistic about what change would mean for Christian community.

I think the most profound changes were in holy action and in holy space. Asking people to exchange the peace with one another hinted that we might encounter God during a face to face touch among laypeople in the liturgy. Ideas for reordering church space gave people the experience of gathering together for hearing the word and for sharing bread and wine.

When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer became the official liturgy of the church, a lot of people breathed a huge sigh of relief. Many places assumed we now had a new document to sustain a new rubrical obedience. We squandered much of our momentum for the renewal of community and mission... The big, obvious changes tended to stick, but the flexibility and rich options in the new book seemed less and less evident as time passed.

But for the last fifteen or twenty years, at least some people have again been writing new material, borrowing from the New Zealand Prayer Book and other Anglican sources, and amending texts from the 1979 BCP. A welcome hint of freedom has re-emerged, sometimes reductionist, often unsystematic, but also sometimes inspired.

RF: Today there’s broad interest in participation, more lay ministries, and frank liturgical expression of our church’s official ethic. Plus growing attention to non-cathedral music and openness to non-British culture and identity. Optimistically maybe, I’m betting these trends are already re-orientating our liturgical strategy—from conformity toward mission.

A lot has changed. What do you think remain the most challenging areas of Episcopal worship?

RF: Lack of clarity about what we’re up to. Often our services are not so much culturally irrelevant as opaque. We have parishes with thoughtful preachers, timely social programs, and cornucopial coffee hours--where visitors could hardly guess from what we do in church what it is that we think we’re doing in church. Instead they meet a clubby strategy of reassuring a (steeply aging) group of insiders, and reluctance to talk openly or frankly with each other.

DS: What I most regret about Episcopal worship is a formalized, numbed aesthetic and an Anglophile caricature of Gothic revival. It’s a too-settled, status-quo feeling in liturgy that carries smugness: we say people have to “learn to appreciate it.” It’s sectarian and arrogant, it doesn’t touch people’s lives, and it’s why our Anglophile churches in America are relics.

What have you discovered, through work at St. Gregory’s and with other liturgists, that can break through that numbness?

RF: People, look east! Eastern churches offer a wealth of public worship that Anglicans have long admired and incorporated. Massey Shepherd, Prayer Book author and Church Divinity School of the Pacific professor, said if you line up all the world’s Anglican Books of Common Prayer in order of their publication dates they show a steady march eastward. Today we enjoy rich modern scholarship about Jesus, as well as about ancient traditions of worship. Our Prayer Book’s rubrics were written flexibly to guide us, putting these resources to work. So prioritizing and re-tuning rubrics for mission is faithful, as well as urgent.

DF: St. Gregory’s liturgy is deeply and radically traditional. This means shared leadership; real lay authority with lay liturgists, composers, preachers and worship leaders. It means musical richness—in our case, unaccompanied--- from a variety of sources. It mean naturalness rather than recitation; physicality and movement; and it puts the invitation to participate in worship at the center. In a passive, consumerist culture, our congregation sings; people move from their pews, they touch one another.

What do you see as the future of worship in the church?

RF: Today’s controversies continue a two-thousand year contest between reform and sectarian schism. Reformers say the Church is always corrupt, so we must always improve it (Luther’s “ecclesia semper reformanda”). Sectarians say this church is corrupt, so we must now leave it. Open invitation—to Jesus’ table, to baptism, to worship and full participation in making liturgy—charges us crucially today. We cannot simply say “we Episcopalians have always done this,” or “we do what headquarters approves,” or we will go the way of the Masons.

DS: We are always wholly in the presence of God, and always struggling humanly with our fears. Rowan Williams has said that it took sixty years after the council of Nicea for the church to accept that teaching. It would be great to hear our archbishop say, likewise, that it may take three generations to recognize that the Spirit spoke in New Hampshire, with the ordination of Gene Robinson.

Liturgy that welcomes the unprepared as Jesus did, that incorporates us into the heavenly banquet right now, gives us the power, Spirit, and experience to live Good News. It is completely continuous with life.

Praying together and communion make us one. This is not a “unity” based on documents and doctrinal nicety, or the theological platform of a party. When we allow the sacraments their God-given power, when we invite people to participate in worship that touches their lives, we find a fundamental alignment in action that may offer surprising latitude to explore our differences.

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