Everyone talks about the weather

By Steven Charleston

I do not remember when I first heard the old saying that everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. It is just one of those truisms that seems to have always been there. Until now.

Now we are not just talking about the weather. We are, in fact, doing a great deal about it. We are changing it. And not in a good way. The recent national experience of fire storms in California, drought in Georgia, floods in the Midwest and record heat in New England reminds us that climate change is not a myth, but a formula. With a grim mathematical precision we are mutating our weather patterns into new and unstable combinations. The disasters we have witnessed so far are only the first products of that deadly equation. There is much more to come.

Of course, we have heard those predictions before. For many years now scientists and environmentalists have been sending up flares to warn us about how our behavior was impacting the world around us. For just as many years, most of us ignored those warnings and went about business as usual. Now we are paying the price. But before we spend too much time with self recrimination, we should glance at the global clock ticking loudly in the corner. We are close to midnight when it comes to reversing our situation, but close is better than being there, being at the point of no return. We still have a chance, if we choose to take it.

Will it require whole cities burning down or drying up to motivate that choice? Do we have to lose Atlanta or San Diego to get us moving on environmental action? As people of faith, those citizens in the larger society who profess to have a spiritual motivation built in, now is our chance. We are the people who are supposed to listen to the prophets. We are the community that is already organized to not only offer pastoral care to those hurt by disasters, but equally ready to advocate on their behalf. We have the vision of a holy creation and the network of local ministers to turn that vision into action.

While many, if not most, of us have waited until the evidence of global climate change has literally fallen on us, we have an opportunity now to redeem ourselves by using the resources at hand to do something about it. We have been changing the weather for the worst, not we can start changing it again for the better. Slowing down the effects of global warming is possible in the short run. Stopping it altogether is even possible in the long run. We have the ability to act if we choose to do so. And there are few communities better positioned to make those moves than the people of faith.

Will we stop talking about the weather and do something about it? Will the church lead the way? Will we finally muster the national willpower to put our prayers to work on the environmental agenda that is so obviously staring us in the face? Personally, I believe that we will. As much as the disasters sprouting up around us create a climate of fear and loss, they create opportunities for mission and witness. Our finest hour as the people of God is at hand. This is our moment, our chance. The choices we make will determine future in a way that our ancestors could never have imagined. We have an historically grave responsibility, but one that God would not have called us to if we were not up to the task. The destruction we see around us is not an accident. But then, neither is the fact that you and I have been placed here to do something about it.

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 is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

Reading Revelation:
a meditation on Halloween

By Roger Ferlo

Trick or treat?

Have you ever tried to read the book of Revelation, the whole thing, front to back? Go into a darkened room, light a few candles to read by and to set the atmosphere, give yourself an hour or two, and then read the whole thing aloud. It’s an unsettling experience, perfect for a Halloween night, particularly if you want to scare yourself. The images and obsessions of the book of Revelation have perhaps wreaked more havoc in people’s lives—created more strife, fomented more demonic fantasies, misled more people—than any other book in the Bible. To a hostile reader (and in the history of this book there have been many such readers) the book is absolute craziness—disjointed, inconsistent, violent, madly repetitive. That, you might say, is the trick part. But even its severest critics recognize the power of its cadences, the seductiveness of its symbols, the mad glories of its theophanies, the elemental resonance of its presiding myths. The dragon with the seven heads, the women clothed with the sun, the Lamb upon the throne, what the Dante scholar Peter Hawkins has called “the cubed jewel box” of the heavenly city—these are symbols that have shaped the religious imagination of the west for two thousand years. That’s the treat.

Like all texts with a claim to divine revelation, this one can be dangerous stuff—a seedbed of violence and ideological close-mindedness. To the credulous insider, these are no mere symbols. This book is a map of the future. It is propaganda for the elect. No detail is too trivial, no symbol too opaque for the believer who is determined to read his or her own agenda into this compendium of apocalyptic fantasies from an age long past. The book of Revelation has been used to justify all manner of things. Revolution and counter-revolution. Anti-Catholic polemic. Christian Zionism. Pietistic quietism. Sectarian violence. The book can be a happy hunting ground for bigots and fanatics, and the distortions of its purpose and its meaning are as rampant today as they were two millennia ago. One need only look at the marketing figures for the Left Behind series to be convinced of this book’s enduring and questionable power.

And yet it is the book of Revelation that supplies the readings for the feast of All Saints, the day for which Halloween was supposed to prepare us. Why invoke Revelation on a feast day like All Saints?

The association is not accidental. Passages from Revelation associated with the rites of All Saints Day (and also with the rite of Christian burial) no longer read like the mad fantasies of an obsessive paranoic or a divinely dictated plan for the future. Revelation is at its heart a book of consolation, a vision of comfort for a people persecuted and in distress. It is often hard for Americans to imagine what persecution might feel like—a life lived in fear and trembling, always on the run, always faithful, never sure. It’s the kind of life that the emperor Diocletian inflicted on the early Christians who wrote and preserved this book. They were the first saints of the church, brothers and sisters in the faith, risking all that they had for the sake of a name—the name of Christ that they knew was above all other names, including the name of the emperor himself. For Diocletian, what was at stake was a matter of state control, including control of the religious imagination. For Christians, what was at stake was control of their inmost identity. In putting on Christ in baptism they had been made citizens of a heavenly city, a city not made by human hands, and could do no other than act in the name of the Christ for whom they themselves were named, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

How these people suffered, how they recanted, how they died, how they escaped such persecution—of these matters very little is known to us. But in a book like this, we do know how they imagined their freedom, should it ever come. And even after two millennia, in this startling vision of God’s triumph contemporary Christians can catch a glimpse of their own fears and their own hopes. What these people saw was extraordinary. They were Jews become Christians in a Roman world, members of a heretical wing of a minority faith barely tolerated by a brutal empire. Yet what they saw and preached was a vision of universal brotherhood, a new heaven and a new earth, a holy city coming down from heaven, prepared (in that powerful apocalyptic marrying of things heavenly and earthly) as a bride adorned for her husband. “And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See I am making all things new.” No wonder they wrote all these things down, for in a world of shifting values and imperial terror, they knew that these words of consolation and promise were “trustworthy and true.”

In these parlous times, when innocents are tortured and immigrants demonized, you begin to hear these words in the way they were intended. They constitute the ancient cry of the persecuted and the dispossessed. Knowing what we know about torture and rendition, it’s hard to get these cadences out of your mind. To hear this reading on All Saints Day is to hear a summons to solidarity with all those suffer persecution and unjust imprisonment—whether in the farthest reaches of the first-century Roman empire or in the drug-ridden streets of an Brazilian slum or in the faceless corridors of a secret American prison. When a part of the body suffers—whether Christian or Muslim, Buddhist or Jew—all suffer. Whether we acknowledge it or not, their tribulation is ours. Who knows when it will come back to haunt us?

“Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” No tricks here.

[Adapted from an essay on Revelation 21:1-6, scheduled to appear in the new 12-volume John Knox/Westminster press commentary on the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.]

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).

Communications and the personal touch

By Susan Fawcett

When I went to seminary I had a secret dream. In any conversation, of course, I would have tempered it with a healthy measure of sarcasm and cynicism. Nevertheless, there was a spark of hope that, upon becoming a priest, I'd spend my time doing any of the following activities:

1. Offering brilliant (and sometimes salty) pastoral care to young and old.
2. Writing and delivering humorous-yet-insightful sermons.
3. Creating programs and curricula that would transform lives.
4. Reaching new heights of contemplative enlightenment.
5. Humbly and diligently serving the poor and sick (often, involving the sensitive use of other languages).
6. Being remarkably wise and kind and yet profoundly humble.
7. And, generally saving the world.

Unfortunately, what I functionally spent the most time doing in my first year after seminary looked like this:

1. Event planning
2. Volunteer coordinating
3. Struggling to effectively use six different (and ineffective) means of communication to attract said volunteers and to lure people to come to said events.

I do not need to tell you that this was, indeed, frustrating. It became clear very quickly that none of my programs would work if I didn't communicate, communicate, communicate. So I sent out a newsletter. I contributed material to the weekly bulletin and the monthly newsletter and parish website. I started my own church blog and sent out my own mailings, and filled weekly emails with sassy photos and hip fonts and links to interesting YouTube videos. This work was not wasted. But it did take up a significant chunk of my workweek. Six hours of potential priestly world-saving, down the drain.

It is now a year later and nothing has changed. I still kill precious time updating the youth blog and trying to make the email look smart. I still run out of time to write the monthly newsletter. I still find myself bug-eyed with frustration whenever a volunteer, who has received countless emails and invitations and notices about an event, asks, "Oh, when is that meeting again? Do you need me? What will we be doing, again?" Thank you, friend, for making it abundantly clear that a significant chunk of the time I spend writing things for you is a big fat waste.

Except that it's not a waste. As much as I want people to care about how we've reformatted the youth program, and started revolutionary new curricula, and built a great theological foundation for some other major change in the parish, people actually seem to care about the other stuff that I thought was just filler: personal stories. Case in point: A few months ago, at the beginning of the summer, I wrote this cute little newsletter article about the intersections between vacation and Sabbath. Short, chatty, with a theological point—A-plus, right? Except nobody noticed that part. They all commented, however, on the story about my own vacation. For three Sundays in a row, half the people in the handshake line after church said, "You're going to West Virginia on vacation? On a motorcycle?!?"

It seems that I had forgotten how important it is to be, shall we say, personal. Self-revelatory, at least a little. Open. Approachable. In short: myself (as opposed to being my job). Interestingly, over the course of this communications-ridden year, it became clear that people were generally far more tolerant of whatever news I wanted to push on them when I was asking about them, and allowing myself to be asked about. Miraculous.

Incidentally, after learning this genius little secret, the communications get easier, because you've finally set aside your own professional anxiety and remembered that the people at church are far more important than the programs at church, every time. Which means that you've shown up as yourself, not as The Priest, in conversations with your parishioners, and that you've begun to trust them, and they you, and you now know who you can just ask to help you, and who you should just remind to come to youth group on Sunday morning. And, an extra bonus, this leaves a little more energy (if not time) for all the humorous-sermon-writing and general-world-saving.

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.

To be staggered, to be stunned

By Ron Tibbetts

I don’t even know her. I must admit I have seen her around, she may even have come to our dinners for the homeless on occasion, but I don’t know her. Our chance encounter this morning changes all of that though. I know she is 25 years old, I know she is thinner than she should be, I know she is an addict, and there isn’t much doubt she is mentally ill.

I know she is bright just by her choice of words, I know she has a cute little pixie look to her face and I know she is starved for someone to care for her despite who she is, where she is and even despite the history of wrong decisions that might have brought her to this day, a prostitute.

I know she hates men. Not all men but the kind of men who use her for her body, the kind of men who see her as nothing more that a sexual outlet, a human being meant only to be used and then discarded. And I know that in 25 years she has learned to distrust, to live hopeless, and to accept addiction, abuse, rape, prostitution and homelessness.

I know she is difficult, perhaps impossible to deal with at times. She is confrontational, a straight shooter not holding back on what she feels, what she sees, and she shares with street fluent language the truth about what she is certain of. It has only taken a few minutes, in this brief encounter to know she is hard beyond her 25 years, skeptical beyond the waves in her long brown hair. Behind the childlike face, with eyes that sparkle is learned deception, abuse, self interest and a lifetime of experience that should, and has, torn away the child inside and left behind a broken and tattered woman.

I have given her no more that one hour of my precious time. Time better spent in a much more productive effort, but she has had that hour of my life. Those 60 minutes that have shaken my heart, she is younger than my daughter, she has disquieted my mind, her story is the story of so many in her shoes, part fiction, mostly reality and it is the reality that is beyond my understanding. 60 minutes that have left me staggered even if only a part of what she shares is true, my legs weaken, my heart cries.

We have shared this time, God’s time, together and I can hope for only one more minute as she begins to gather up her belongings, a blanket, a pillow, a half empty bottle of vodka and a candy bar, and secrets all this away into a tattered and dirty pillow cover. She is ready to move on, to travel over the hill to the “Common”, Boston Common, and to fill her day full of the distractions that will keep her confronting her reality. Those things that will see that rather that hope, she will see despair, rather that promise, emptiness, rather that a sense of joy that she has lived through another night, only the agony of the tormented day ahead.

It is still early in the day, perhaps only 7:30 am. The morning sun begins to reach the narrow street upon which we have met, this child of God and I. The long shadows of the buildings around us begin to creep back, away from the middle of the street, and as this day in the city begins she, in a brief frantic moment, decides our time has ended. She dismisses me with “well I have things to do, I have to go now” I say only “I understand.”

And I do. I understand that we are so very different she and I. I understand that I cannot begin to know the void between us. I have never been resident where she lives each day only an outsider looking in.

I wish I could say “God bless you” or “be safe today”. I wish I could speak those words that would have her have turn away from the life she is living and begin a journey toward resurrection, I really wish I could, but for today that is not to be. She turns quickly toward the steep hill between her and the Common, and in a moment, almost running, she is off. She turns her head over her shoulder, looks back and shouts to me “thank you, God bless you, see you soon I hope, bye-bye” and she waves.

Not waiting for me to reply or even to return a wave, she turns her head forward and focuses on the hill ahead, the hill between her and “her people” the people outdoors.

This is why I do what I do, serve among the poor. This is why I step outside the doors of the church and onto the streets of the city. This is why I risk 60 minutes, one minute at a time, to seek the truth of our world but more importantly the truth of our Creator. I step out to be reminded that we are a world where brokenness is real. We are a world filled with imperfect, fractured and abused people who struggle to make it through the day. It is in this world that our Creator calls us to live. To live out the example of Jesus, to be healers, hope givers, comforters, friends, brothers and sisters.

I step outside the doors of the church to be staggered, to be stunned, to be made fully aware of the struggles of this world where we are called to be. I step outside keenly aware that I will be unsettled and I trust that God will be present in that storm. I think of the dismissal at the end of the liturgy, the time of sending out, of God’s saying to us “I call to you”- “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.

Thank you, God bless you, see you soon I hope, bye-bye.
As once again I go.

The Rev. Ron Tibbetts, a deacon, is executive director of Neighborhood Action Inc., in Boston.

Facing the Facebook world

By Kit Carlson

Yes, I got a Facebook page. I really shouldn't have one. I'm not in the proper generation (I'm at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and age 50 is looming into view). My kids, who ARE in the proper generation -- Milliennials -- have told me repeatedly that Facebook is their world and that I should stay out.

But one of the Michigan State students who is part of the campus ministry here asked me over the summer if I had a page, saying it would be easier for us to do some church business if I did. And I discovered that Facebook has opened its membership to anyone. It has become indiscriminately welcoming. I signed up. My kids shrieked in horror.

For those not in the know, Facebook is a social networking site like My Space, or Xanga, where one builds a page that then links to one's friends' pages. You can send each other virtual gifts, report on your social life, write on each other's "walls" (which are spaces for public messages) or send each other private emails. Developers continue to create all kinds of applications for Facebook pages, including interactive webs that show how all your friends are connected, a map of all the places you've ever been, links to your iTunes library, movie knowledge quizzes, and many, many, many virtual wars between pirates and ninjas, zombies and werewolves, and it goes on and on and on.

So I got my Facebook page, and immediately found myself surrounded by "so great a cloud of witnesses." My colleagues, far-flung friends, fellow clergy, and former professors also have Facebook pages. My seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, has a page. Episcopal Cafe has a page. Our MSU Canterbury group has a page. There are groups for Episcopal clergy and Anglican clergy. There is a group for folks who like the Christian humor site Ship of Fools. There are the groups "There are no Episcopalians down in hell ... hell, no!" and "Episcopalians drink real wine." There is my favorite group, "Praise bands annoy God."

And through it all runs the interlocking, organic web of "friends." Facebook friends can be people you really know and really love ... I can be connected with my friends and former colleagues back in Maryland, send them little notes, share pictures, and check in with them quickly and easily. Facebook friends can be people you only know by name ... some of my fellow Episcopal Cafe contributors are now my Facebook friends, and I can see their pictures and begin to envision them as three-dimensional human beings. Facebook friends can be colleagues you haven't met yet. At our recent Michigan clergy conference, it was fun to meet people IRL (in real life) who were previously just Facebook friends. I have a Facebook friend who used to be a parishioner at my church, but who moved away before I arrived here. A few of my parishioners are my Facebook friends. My nephew in Italy is my Facebook friend. My best friend back in Maryland is my Facebook friend. My crazy hiking lady friends, who are scattered through four states, are my Facebook friends.

And yes, my kids, ages 20 and 18, did become my Facebook friends too. I try not to abuse the privilege. I rarely look at their pages. I refuse to let their friends friend me. I also do not friend youth members of any of my parishes, current or previous. Facebook was their world first. I try not to horn in. And because Facebook is, in the end, a public venue, I try not to post anything that would embarrass my children, my IRL friends or my parish.

But for me, the arrival of Facebook into my life has broadened my vision. I am able to see my colleagues across the church, working to serve the people of God. I am able to hear different voices, share different experiences of faith. I am able to play with my friends at a distance, remembering that life and the church are not always such deadly serious things. I have prayed over my friend list from time to time, holding them in my heart in the presence of God.

Facebook for me has become a foretaste ... of the heavenly banquet, of the great gathering at the throne of God that will be the culmination of all things. It is a visual and virtual reminder to me that we are all connected in ways we don't even envision, friends at a distance, friends nearby, each of us on a journey through life. Facebook reminds me that it is ultimately a journey shared.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world's first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

O, the mighty gulf

By Heidi Shott

My mom, Audrey, is 84 years old and lives alone in my tiny hometown in upstate New York. For about five years, she’s used a walker because she needs a hip replacement. She can’t have a hip replacement because she refuses to have a heart valve replaced and no orthopedist will touch her unless she does. Last Wednesday morning she was scheduled for surgery to stop intestinal bleeding. But then suddenly she wasn’t.

In the midst of getting ready to go to work and rustling my sons off to school, I called my brother, Brad, to remind him that I’d placed her living will in her purse before I returned home to Maine a few days before. “Well, it doesn’t matter, Heid,” he said with a huff. “She’s refusing to have the operation. She’s afraid she’ll die.”

“You’re kidding me,” I hissed. This is the woman who 18 hours before said over the phone that she had the peace that passeth all understanding.

It had been a long few weeks for both of us – for Brad because he lives next door and is the “first responder” – her go-to guy – and me because I’d come out to New York – a seven hour drive – to take care of her when she arrived home after eight inconclusive days in the hospital. We had a nice couple of hours sitting and talking, my mother reminiscing fondly (now that he’s dead) about her long and bumpy life with my dad and telling me tidbits about neighbors and family members that she forgets to mention when we talk on the phone. Then suddenly, things went wrong. You’ll have to trust me on this, because anything more gets into the realm of too-much-information.

After an initial, highly alarming crisis and a call to her doctor, we tried to settle down to sleep. She called to me in the night and I thought it was my son, Colin, calling. I thought I was at home in Maine…not in the spare room in what we call the “front apartment.”

After shaking off the confusion, I tended to her in the night, twice, three times, and in the morning we tried to leave for the hospital but she was too weak and dizzy to make it the last 25 feet to my car. “Do you want me to call for an ambulance?” I asked. It was a dumb question. She leaned deeply over her walker and I thought, “Shit, this is it.” I called 911 and returned to her, rubbing circles on her back while we waited.

“That feels good,” she said. “It feels good when you rub my back like that.”

I remember my mother rubbing my back when I was small and afraid to go to sleep or when I was sick. “I’ll pull out my old nursing tactics,” she’d say brightly. My mother, an army nurse during World War II, nursed many of the men who survived the Bataan death march when they returned to the states at the end of the war. She told stories of how they would rally for their families and girlfriends who came across the country to see them and then die shortly after the jubilant visitors departed. She told of how she painted all of their toenails bright red while they slept to cheer them up and then had to fess up when a general visited the ward the next morning. “Who did this?” the general bellowed, the story goes. “I timidly said, ‘I did,’ and the General roared with laughter.” And my mother always laughs at that sweet memory. But here she was at 84, dizzy and weak and waiting for the ambulance in the dingy garage of the front apartment. I rubbed her back.

My mother is a Southern Baptist, and we don’t talk much about religion anymore. She thinks I’m nuts and I think she’s nuts and we generally get along fine.

The previous evening, having been away from the piano for more than a week while she was in the hospital, she sat down to play. Between the ages of 11 and 14, when I started hitching rides to a more liturgical church and several years before I found myself at the door of an Episcopal church as a college freshman, I learned a whole lot of Baptist hymns and Gospel songs. Downstairs my mother started to play a song from the 1970s, Because He Lives by Bill Gaither. I know the chorus by heart; it goes like this:

Because He lives I can face tomorrow Because He lives All fear is gone. Because I know-oh-oh, He holds the future And life is worth the living Just because He lives.

Frankly, I’ve spent the last 27 years trying to forget that song and others like it. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus lives or that knowing Jesus doesn’t make life worth living, but because…

And that’s the problem, I thought as I stood in the upstairs hall listening to her play, suddenly I don’t know why I hate that simplistic, unnuanced, goofy music, because, whatever else it is, it is a balm to her in this frightening time of illness and worry. It’s her centering prayer, her compline, her Taize, her Eucharist.

Before long, we were stationed in an acute bay in the emergency room at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Utica. Nurses milled about asking questions. “She was just discharged yesterday,” I said from a chair in the corner. “Shouldn’t you have all that information?” They glared at me. I’m not used to this in a hospital. My husband is an administrator at a small, community hospital on the Maine coast where we know everybody. We’re used to big-hearted people but here my mom was just an 84 year-old female patient who presented with thus and so.

The nurses shifted her in her bed. “My mom’s a nurse,” I gambled. They perked up and looked at her. “You are!” Suddenly Mrs. Stukey was a person.

In the afternoon with my mother finally settled after hours in the ER, I drove back to her place and embarked on some industrial strength cleaning. Old ladies with walkers and bad eyesight who are too proud to pay someone to clean for them are prone to harboring crumbs in their toasters and all manner of splorches on their kitchen linoleum. I also had promised to find her living will, health care proxy, and power of attorney. After cleaning the kitchen, I was rummaging around in the curious mix of junk in her desk…ancient family photos, a TV Guide from last winter, never sent Christmas cards from 1964, and this month’s phone bill…when Brad walked in.

Here’s the truth: my brother Brad and I have spoken more in the last three weeks than we have in the entire time since he left home to learn to fly helicopters in 1973. We never felt we had much in common. We were busy with our own lives and work and families. He lived in Alaska for many years near our older brother. I’ve lived in Maine for most of my adult life. Like most families, ours is complicated in its own Tolstoyian way – the inner workings of which are of little interest to anyone outside the circle. But here’s another truth: I really like him. He sat on the sofa while I went through the desk. I chucked papers and photos at him to look at. We found controversial documents about our dead aunt’s estate and rehashed the drama.

“Come on, let’s go down to the VFW for a beer,” he said when I’d found the papers I was looking for and stashed the rest back in the drawers.

“No,” I said, smiling. “I promised Mom I’d come back over to St. E’s tonight.”

“Come on, Heid,” he cajoled.

“Really, no, there’s a certain type of bar I won’t go to,” I said. “When I was little, Dad dragged me to bars all over the place.” I named a number of them.

“Dad took you into LBJ’s?” he said, eyes wide. “What a dive, I wouldn’t go in that place.”

“Didn’t he take you to bars, too?” I asked. I always assumed my older siblings were dragged to bars as well.

“No,” he shook his head, still stunned at the differences in our childhoods. “No, he never did.”

“C’mon, I’ll walk you back to your house,” I said, and swung my arm through his, so deeply tanned and strong.

A week later Brad and I were on the phone after Mom’s refusal to have surgery. “I’ll come right out,” I said. “I’ll talk some sense into her.” So after making arrangements for kids’ activities and work, with a Michael Chabon novel to listen to on CD, back to New York I went.

With surgery declined, St. Elizabeth’s discharged my mother to one of three fates: eat food and bleed; drink fluids and grow weak; have surgery and return to health. When I arrived at the front apartment, she was obviously happy to be home. Her choice was to drink fluids until she got her nerve up to have the surgery. She had a permanent IV line dangling from her black and blue arm.

Still mad at her for refusing to have surgery, I couldn’t refrain from a snide remark, “What happened to the peace that passeth all understanding, Mom?” I was standing over her. She had lost about 15 pounds in three weeks. She was small and wrinkled in her easy chair, and I instantly felt like a supercreep for jabbing at her faith.

“I was so scared. An anesthesiologist came in last night and said, ‘Wow, you’re a serious heart risk,’ and walked out. It scared the pants off me. I couldn’t sleep and when Brad got there this morning, I told him I couldn’t go through with it.”

Sighing, I sat down on the arm of the sofa. Even if Jesus lives, even if life is worth the living, it can still be scary. And the fact is that right now, life is scary for my mother. Maybe what she needs to be brave is to see the face of Jesus in her children, no matter how imperfect they are. Being cynical about her simple, abiding faith shouldn’t be a part of how I live out my faith…so exquisite at times with its shades of gray and intriguing dappled colors.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” and bent down to kiss her hair before taking my bag upstairs to the spare room where as a little girl I had often slept when my sister – married so young – lived here in the late sixties. Downstairs I heard Mom move her walker over to the piano. She was playing “At Calvary,” and the fourth verse popped into my head:

O, the love that drew salvation’s plan O, the grace that brought it down to man O, the mighty gulf that God did span, At Calvary.

Mercy there was great and grace was free.
Pardon there was multiplied to me.
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

“Preach it, Mom,” I whispered.

Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. She is also communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Heidi's essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Changing others, changing ourselves

By Sam Candler

On a recent Sunday, a group of Jewish high school students visited the Christian church I serve, the Cathedral of St. Philip. The students had made polite inquiries and arrangements beforehand, asking one of the clergy to meet with them afterwards; and it was clear they were with us to explore the presence of God in traditions other than theirs. I was glad they were with us, and I explicitly welcomed them during the parish announcements.

What I discovered during their visit was that our service changed. Our service was different because this group of Jewish students was with us. I do not mean, of course, that we said any different prayers or sang any different hymns, or consecrated bread and wine any differently.

No, the difference was within ourselves. When I said my prayers that Sunday, I heard those prayers differently. When I used the name of Jesus (which I do often!), when I used images of the cross, when I sang about resurrection, I found myself reflecting –ever so quickly—upon how those notes met Jewish ears. As I spoke and prayed and sang, I did not regret a single word. I simply heard them differently. I might even have heard them more definitely and clearly. I certainly realized the power of the name of Jesus again.

That Sunday, I remembered that context changes the way we hear things. Context even changes our comprehension of things. When any two members of a family, for instance, are discussing a third member of that family, the discussion will be quite different if that third member is actually present. When our nation’s leaders discuss other countries, it matters when we know the other countries are listening!

The Episcopal Church has been re-learning this principle during recent years. When Christians are discussing homosexuality, for instance, the tone and attitude of the conversation changes dramatically if gays and lesbians are actually part of the group! And the same goes for global community. The conversation among global western Christians changes dramatically when global southern Christians are present. It is probably the case that global western and global southern Christians are, for the most part, just learning how to have such graceful and truthful conversations together!

Many of the more strident arguments occurring globally are occurring because some people did not realize that other people were “over-hearing” the conversation. Some people did not realize that other people were in the room. Of course, these other people weren’t literally in the room. These other people were listening to the television coverage and following internet coverage on the world wide web.

Context changes things. Context changes both the way we say things and the way we hear things. And it should. Our context is our community, and community is where we have civil and graceful and truthful conversation. One of the challenges of our time is that Americans really do not know much about the people who are listening to our conversations. Those listeners might be Muslims or Jews. Those listeners might be Iraqi citizens, they might be Nigerian Anglicans, they might be Palestinians, they might be Chinese village farmers, they might be gays and lesbians (who are certainly, and thankfully, in our communities of faith already). They are “the stranger,” who is closer to us than we think!

How can the Christian Church meet this challenge of understanding other cultures? We cannot do it by watching television and looking up items on the internet.

The Christian answer is mission. We must be strong and courageous enough to leave our homes and comfortable culture and to travel out in mission to the world. That is where we learn. Last week, that group of Jewish high school students learned much more about the Episcopal Church by visiting one (and staying all the way through our worship service!). They didn’t just google the Episcopal Church or read the latest blog about us.

The Episcopal Church has taught me that Christians are being called to mission again. We are being called to go out into the world in the name of grace and service.

“Get up and go,” the angel of the Lord said to Philip the Deacon (Acts 8:26). And Philip did. Philip dares to speak to a stranger, a stranger in terms of culture, race, and gender. The stranger is an Ethiopian eunuch. But he is reading the same sacred scriptures as Philip knows. Philip is led to teach and to baptize. The Ethiopian eunuch is changed by this encounter, and so is Philip! Philip is snatched away by the spirit and finds himself at Azotus; Philip becomes a new man setting up a new home. The Christian Church was changed by Philip’s encounter with the stranger.

Christian mission is not merely about changing other people. Christian mission is also about changing ourselves. Though missionaries throughout history have differed mightily in their tasks and character, they do seem to share one experience. Every missionary has a story of how he or she was changed by serving in another culture. He or she was changed by speaking Christian words in a foreign context.

“Get up and go,” said the angel of the Lord to Philip. “Get up and go,” says the angel to us today. Go to that lonely teen-ager playing video games that you do not understand. Go to the south! Go to the southern hemisphere, to Nigeria and Brazil. Get up and go to England, to South Africa, to Tanzania, to China and India.

“Get up and go,” and we will all be changed. We will be changed by that spirit of Jesus who said “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler is Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip 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.

The lure of luxury

Do not revel in great luxury, or you may become impoverished by its expense. Do not become a beggar by feasting with borrowed money, when you have nothing in your purse. Ecclesiasticus 18:32-33

By George Clifford

The Christmas shopping season started weeks ago even though Christmas is still almost two months away. Shopping is a passion for many Americans, as slogans like Shop til you drop, Born to shop, and Retail therapy remind us. No holiday, no matter how minor, is now complete without multiple retail sales. Retail purchases comprise almost half of all consumer spending. Credit card debt, home equity lines of credit, and other forms of borrowing finance much of that spending.

With the approach of Advent, Christian rants about self-indulgent spending are as tiresome as predictable. At the risk of falling into that tedious trap, a couple of recent experiences have prompted some reflections.

First, a daily feature in my local newspaper and a seemingly weekly fixture in my mailbox are advertisements for products and services to help me organize my clutter. TV shows intended to help people to sell their house invariably emphasize decluttering. When strolling around my neighborhood in the evening, most garages with open doors reveal piles of stuff, often so much stuff there is no longer room to park vehicles in the garage. Long after the Depression era, many cling tenaciously to every item they own.

How much stuff does one really need? I want, unlike what Jesus had, a place to lay my head at night. I also like clean clothes, comfortable furniture, books, music, and a laptop. But I do not need family business records from the previous century, old photographs in which the people are unidentifiable, a collapsible boat that sinks rather than floats, miscellaneous kitchen and household items that might help in the emergency that never comes, etc. That is not a random list of items. My family of origin inherited all of that and much, much more, enough to fill a large fourteen room colonial with large attached barn. We had so much stuff that one could not enter some of the rooms or use some of the stairways. As a young boy, I watched my parents sort through the legacy and detritus left by the four prior generations who had lived in that house and I decided that I did not want to live that way. My ancestors had so much stuff that it got in the way of living.

I want my stuff to enrich rather than to impoverish my life. Pragmatism is good for the wallet and the soul. Moving every couple of years during my Naval service, I cultivated the habit of getting rid of anything that is no longer serviceable, no longer used, and unlikely to be used in the next year. This not only simplified moving, unpacking, and getting settled but also made for a more spacious, freer lifestyle. An incredible number of military families have boxes they move from one home to the next, boxes that remain unopened and take valuable space in an often too small house. People usually have no idea what these boxes might contain. I have wondered what ties bind people so strongly to these unopened boxes; surely, it is more than simple greed. Whatever the ties, many civilian families also have similar issues given the quantities of stuff and clutter that seem so much a part of contemporary life.

Second, Fortune magazine identified their September 17, 2007 issue as their luxury issue. Some of the articles focused on businesses, like Guicci and Polo, that cater to the luxury market. Thankfully, I have sufficiently strong ego that I do not take my identity from brand names. I was feeling pretty smug until I read what Columnist Stanley Bing wrote:

Now, this topic, while of intense interest to virtually everyone in any economic stratum whatsoever, leaves those of us without even a plan to acquire a yacht or a polo pony in a discursive state of mind. On the one hand, it is great fun to fantasize about owning your own island, driving an automobile whose hood ornament costs more than your brother-in-law’s house, or flying in a plane with your name on its tailbone. On the other hand, the fact that each of these things seem out of reach may leave many feeling covetous, angry, or just plain sad.

Do I find luxury a subject of intense interest? Do I want luxury? Unsure about the meaning of the word luxury (like others, including my former Commander-in-Chief, I sought some maneuvering room!), I consulted the Concise Oxford Dictionary (maneuvering room, not an ocean of choices). The Dictionary provided two definitions:

1. the state of great comfort and extravagant living. 2. an inessential but desirable item.

The first felt vaguely unchristian when I am daily reminded of people desperately in need of life’s basic necessities. I, with complete honesty, can disavow any desire to own my own island or polo pony. However, I do want nonessentials. Indeed, I think that God wants us to enjoy nonessentials because they enrich life, e.g., a good wine, aesthetically pleasing homes, and art. Poverty, thanks be to God, is not the life to which I was born nor is voluntary poverty a lifestyle to which I feel called.

Yet, an issue with which I continually struggle is how to balance my desire for a good life with my neighbors’ rights for the same. To the extent that I can only spend my money once, this is a zero sum game. I either spend my money on myself or on others (whether directly or as a bequest at my death). The Christian wisdom literature captured this moral dilemma with a good measure of irony (Ecclesiasticus 14:15-16):

Will you not leave the fruit of your labors to another, and what you acquired by toil to be divided by lot? Give, and take, and indulge yourself, because in Hades one cannot look for luxury.

Maybe one day, in the remembrance of a birth both simple and beautiful, I will find my answers.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains. He taught philosophy at the Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

"Public work" at Ground-Zero

By Donald Schell

For two wonderful days at the beginning of this month, I helped lead a workshop on Music that Makes Community at St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church Wall Street, the colonial church that fronts on Broadway and whose churchyard faces the World Trade Center/Ground Zero site. Sunday after the workshop I sat in the congregation at St. Paul’s for their 10 a.m. liturgy. It was one of the most powerful experiences of our church’s work and worship I have ever had. The murmur of visitors, the impossibility of handling four to five hundred pilgrims an hour with greeters, the pilgrims themselves finding their own way and having their own private reasons for their visit all destroyed any hope that the church could be a place of seclusion, refuge or pious meditation. This was the great work of the church, the public work of liturgy.

When I first visited St. Paul’s in the late 1960’s, it was essentially a museum, George Washington’s Church in New York City. The stunning human losses of 9/11 changed that beyond recognition. When Trinity’s staff saw that St. Paul’s Chapel was undamaged by the fiery collapse of the twin towers next door, they boldly chose to dedicate the historic chapel for the duration of demolition and recovery as a holy place of hospitality to the New York firemen, police, and construction workers at the Ground Zero site. Trinity staff and hundreds of volunteer chaplains from around the country offered rest, comfort, counsel and help for those whose brutal work was combing through hot rubble for genetically identifiable fragments of the dead that grieving family members might bury.

Trinity’s hospitality to a nation’s heroes made St. Paul’s a pilgrimage site. Something like a million and a half visitors a year - imagine an unbroken stream of 400 strangers an hour - wander through to remember, see and reflect on 9/11 displays. As at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C., some do come to pray, but few kneel or make any outward show. Others seem to be tourists, muted tourists who want to include this bit of history in their trip and tell people at home, ‘I was there.’

For any who remember the pre- 9/11 St. Paul’s and haven’t been there recently, I should add that less than a year ago, Stuart Hoke and the other Trinity staff took another bold step to make the chapel’s welcome more evident – hoping to gather people into a circle of prayer, they removed the long forward-facing pews from the 1960’s to make space for a barrier-free oval of chairs around a central altar. St. Paul’s website has a good slide show picturing the changes and giving its rationale at http://www.saintpaulschapel.org/

Twenty of us, clergy and church music leaders from around the country gathered in this open space round the table for our workshop to talk, and reflect and make music, specifically developing a practice of the most traditional and modern kind of church music – singing we learn by ear and by heart, singing without books. All day our workshop sessions, our worship and even our mid-day meal was at the center of a swirling sea of people, all of America, the world. When we were singing we could feel the music touch them (and sometimes we forgot they were there and lost ourselves in music-making and praise). Sometimes we saw curiosity, joy or even healing on people’s faces. It came in swells, both for us and in their response. Sometimes they walked with their backs to us, continuing their quiet murmur of background conversation as they surveyed the 9/11 displays and the story of workers and a city who turned the terrorist attack into a sign of mutual support and courage. Then a piece of sacred song, something hearty or haunting, maybe some improvised bluesy jazz on a text from the Bible, or even our laughter at a shared discovery, something drew their attention and they were with us in church – both the community of people and the place of worship. So it went all day, hundreds of people an hour and flashes of grace and glory as our little group joined our Public Work to Trinity’s.

In the evening I thought of how strangely intimate and public the days were. Trying to describe our experience on the phone to my wife, I said it felt like street preaching on Times Square, or maybe like participating in a life drawing class with a nude model in the main rotunda of the Metropolitan Museum. We were aiming for truthfulness and Gospel, but we were unequivocally doing intimate, heart work, speaking and singing our faith, in a very public place. The work itself guided us from our fear and self-consciousness.

Even two full days of our workshop didn’t prepare me for the joyful wonder of 10 a.m. liturgy in this place of pilgrimage. I sat in the third or fourth row of the oval seats so I could both join in and watch the congregation and the pilgrims on the perimeter. The busses don’t stop just because it’s Sunday, and as a worshipper and part of a larger, more diffuse group, I felt the strangeness (and joy) of it very strongly. We were a hundred or so people, a solid, diverse congregation, and we were together in faith, in prayer as publicly as if we’d made our circle in Grand Central Station.

Marilyn Haskel, the musician, offered us welcome, guided us through the service leaflet, got us singing with piano and a capella and encouraged us. The Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, a Jamaican Anglican priest new to Trinity’s staff presided and preached his first liturgy at St. Paul’s. His sermon and the way he engaged us all was breath taking, bold and comforting, confrontive and sweet. And even as he drew our hearts into the center of the circle to hold one another in our reflection on scripture, he might generously, and without the least notice, lob a word or prayers over our heads to the sea of pilgrims.

The liturgy was an even stronger magnet than the music workshop. Strangers slipped into the circle to join us. Many stopped to listen and pray and seemed to wish they could linger longer. A few seemed perplexed to hear a Gospel of such forgiveness, inclusion and challenge. Many blessed themselves with a touch of water from the front.

I wish everyone thinking about inclusion and welcome in our church could spend a Sunday with St. Paul’s, Manhattan. Having experienced it as a blessed and unequivocal Public Work, I don’t think our liturgy will ever look the same to me again.

Public work, as it turns out, may be a better translation of ‘liturgy’ than the ‘public work’ I learned in seminary in the 1960’s. In the 1960’s and 70’s our church was beginning to make our liturgy shared, collaborative work in new ways. ‘The work of the people’ was a useful etymology. It turned our attention to from the priest’s performance to what WE were making together.

Now friends who teach liturgics and history have been telling us that leitourgia (‘liturgy’) in the first century Mediterranean world was ‘public work,’ more like we think of with a DPT, Department of Public Works making or fixing a road or a bridge. In fact in the ancient world public work often referred to the generous works of public-minded rich people, like the medieval queen of Spain who built a bridge at Puente la Reyna for the pilgrims walking to Santiago or like Andrew Carnegie building libraries across America.

Today in 2007, we’ve found enough shared authority in liturgy-making to begin recovering this other, earlier sense of liturgy as work for or on behalf of the people. What we have to offer is holy, vibrant, and flexible enough that it can truly be public work. At St. Paul’s the ‘public work’ made very good sense. For me every question we can frame about welcoming strangers to liturgy will look different to me after three days of singing and praying at St. Paul’s Chapel.

The Rev. Donald Schell is founder St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, San Francisco and consultant and creative director of All Saints Company, San Francisco.

The cost of bearing witness

By Greg Jones

"Remember Jesus Christ – raised from the dead – a descendant of David – that is my Gospel for which I suffer hardship."

Paul wrote these words to remind the faithful that the Gospel is for real. That Jesus is for real. That God's power to give life, even to the dead, is for real. Paul wrote these very real words of life while he himself was in chains a prisoner of the Romans. Do you think Paul knew when he wrote this letter that he would suffer an even harder fate than mere chains? Do you think Paul knew he would also suffer death for his witness to the love of God in Christ?

Of course he did. Paul knew that witnessing for Christ can get you hurt – and even killed. He knew it, because he used to track Christians down in his former life, and we know he helped to kill at least one.

Paul knew that testifying for Christ was costly, but he knew it was worth it. He tasted the fruit of New Life that the Resurrected Jesus gave to him, and he knew it was worth giving his life in witness.

In Greek the word for 'Witness' is actually the word "martyr." For centuries the word 'martyr' literally just meant somebody who bore witness – like in a courtroom. Jesus used the word to commission his disciples – he said, "You will be my witnesses." He said, "You will bear witness to my love, to my cross, to my resurrection." Jesus commanded his disciples to be his witnesses – and he gave them the power of God to do it well. And they did. And they spread that Gospel all over the Roman world with a rapidity and tenacity that is still astonishing.

And the price the apostles paid was death. The most powerful witnesses to Christ faced crosses, fires and swords – and by doing so changed the lives of thousands who were made strong by their sacrifice. Because of the way they served God as witnesses to Christ, the word 'martyr' changed meanings also. Over time the word martyr took on the connotation of someone willing to pay the price for the sake of their witness.

If you've been following the news, you've heard that the Congress is trying to pass a resolution about the Armenian genocide which happened some 90 years ago. Or perhaps you've heard tell of the Armenian taxi driver slain in her car by an Australian security company doing business in Iraq.

These stories remind me of my Great-Grandfather, the Rev. James Perry, who was a missionary over there – in the Near East – doing humanitarian work for the sick and suffering. He spent years in various parts of the old Ottoman Empire doing relief work. He had a young wife and two infants, but nonetheless he worked to bring help to the suffering in the name of Christ in the face of great danger.

In February of 1920 – as Turks were massacring thousands of Armenian Christians in the city of Marash – my great-grandfather, another American, and two Arab Christians drove toward the city in a relief truck filled with supplies to help the victims and survivors. They were slain by Turks with orders to kill any Christians on the road. The story was front page news in America – from the New York Times to small town papers everywhere.

I can't wait to meet my Great Grandfather. I know I will because he has died with Christ and now lives and reigns with Him. But, I'm not counting my days until then. Because Christ wants me – and you – to focus on today ... to live today ... to endure today ... to praise God and witness to his saving love to this hurting world today. Our work as Christians is not to sit still or to wait or to quibble over words or to serve ourselves – but to give our lives for Christ.

God wants to transform our lives into the life of Jesus Christ for ministry in this world.

I understand if folks don't want this transformation into Christ – witnessing is dangerous. It is costly. But if any want to live eternal lives, we must remember that eternal living starts in the here and now. And eternal living is birthed by doing one thing:

"Remember Jesus Christ – raised from the dead – a descendant of David."

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") became a member of Christ's Body at St. Columba's in Washington, D.C. He is husband of Melanie, father of Coco & Anna, rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

September resurrection

By Missy Morain

October is here and I am glad. I hate the month of September. It hasn't always been this way. I use to love the arrival of September for the promise of cooler and less humid weather and the beginning that it always brings. For the fact that when I was five I got my greatest wish, a baby sister instead of another brother, and for the celebration of my baptismal anniversary. Last year though, I begin to dislike September.

In September of 2006 my sister lost a close friend to a car accident. It was one of those accidents that no one expects and two lives were lost, while so many other lives were changed forever. This September, I was sitting in an airport waiting to go to an Episcopal young adult gathering when my mother called. She told me that one of my other sister's friends, Meggie, was killed in a car accident the night before. Meggie was beautiful, intelligent, and so very talented, one of the most talented soccer players to ever come out of the state of Iowa. In May she had graduated from the University of Missouri summa cum laude with a degree in industrial engineering. She was so full of promise and now she is gone.

I hadn't seen Meggie in years. I admit that she could drive me nuts when she was little. She and my baby sister were always so goofy together when they were little and the level that they could raise their collective voices to could rival a rock concert. Yet, her death still hit me like a knife to the heart, although not until about 14 hours later during the opening worship service for the gathering, right as I was in the middle of the Nicene Creed. I realized that I couldn't force the words of the Creed out of my mouth. Before I began to cry in public I ducked out to sit on the front steps of Grace Cathedral to have a chat with God. I was angry. I was so mad that my jaw hurt from clenching and my eyes burned with tears. I don't understand why these amazing young people die. My grandfather died earlier this year but he was in his 90s. We could say, "He had a good life." Meggie had a good life, but it was too short, and feels as though it is left unfinished. Not because of anything that she hadn't specifically done but because I know there are so many things that she still could have done.

I knew that God was big enough to deal with my anger and I didn't have any reason to hold back so I tried not to. I know that the first heart that broke when Meggie died was God's heart. I know that Meggie is with God, and yet it doesn't really change the way that I feel. I know that it is not supposed to yet, I am still thinking about the holes her death leave in this world, not entirely caring at this moment about the delight in her arrival at the next one.

My anger for the most part has dissipated. In some ways it has been replaced by fear. Fear and frustration. I am afraid of next September. I am afraid of more loss and I know that there will be more. I am frustrated by the ways in which my sisters, who I love so much, are hurting. There is this piece of me that wants to pull back from the world, to disconnect, in the hopes of not getting hurt. Yet, that is not who Jesus calls me to be. I have not been called as a Christian to pull back or to hide, but to step out and face this continual cycle of birth, death and resurrection. That does make me feel better, to know that there really isn't an end. Of course this doesn't mean that I am going to refrain from asking everyone I know to not drive in Iowa during the month of September. It is not going to work, but I am going to ask anyway, perhaps it will save God's heart, and mine, a little extra pain.

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 and works with the Colloquium of Episcopal Professional and Vocational Associations.

Confronting evil

By Jennifer McKenzie

Last night at my church we began a forum series called ‘Evil: Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer.’ There is a technical term in theological circles for this kind of study. It’s called ‘Theodicy.’ Basically, theodicy is the religious-philosophical engagement of trying to reconcile how evil can be at work in the world when we believe that there is a loving, benevolent God in charge. Theodicy takes for granted that both evil and God exist – but what is not taken for granted is that we often lack an understanding of how the two interplay and what exactly our role is in the struggle against evil forces: cosmic, systemic, and personal.

OK, so that’s the intellectual description of our six-week forum. But here’s the real deal: if you want people to sit up and take notice and to come to the darned thing, you have to advertise. And if you are going to advertise a series like that you can’t go putting up a sign that reads, “Theodicy forum.” Because if you did people will respond with either complete disinterest or they will cock their heads ever so slightly and go, “huh?” Either way the result would be the same: no one except a couple of theology geeks would show up. So, the couple of us theology geeks who are taking the lead in presenting this series made the decision to hang an attention-grabbing banner on the fence of the church that reads, “EVIL: Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer.” The word EVIL was in huge bold white letters that spanned the top line of the black banner. The other words were in a smaller font that ran just underneath. We knew it would be edgy but we also knew it would be clear. That was our goal. Our hope and expectation was that we would draw a sizable number of folks from outside of the church – in other words, that this would be a topic of interest to those not even connected with the church so that they would be drawn in for a reasoned, careful discussion of something that is mysterious yet prescient. If the first night of the series is any indication, then our expectations were met. However, the unintended consequence was that the sign has caused a bit of an uproar from within the congregation and staff. People are polarized over this banner that hangs on the church fence in very public view that reads in big bold letters, “EVIL.”

Well, on the one hand, “duh…” but on the other hand, why the uproar? Really. Is it just because some folks think the banner is in poor taste? Or do more folks think that the subject matter is in poor taste? One thoughtful and sincere colleague asked, “Would you have hung that banner up at Christmas?” Well, no. But then again neither would I have hung an Easter banner up at Christmas, or a Christmas banner up at Easter. But that’s not the point, and I think her question gets at the REAL issue: As Christians in this day and age, we want to focus on a God who is loving and benevolent. We want a feel-good experience of church. And I agree that is important – but not in isolation and not in a way that fails to acknowledge the whole truth. I think that the real problem behind the ‘shock’ of this banner is that in the church we tend to want to make nice, and to focus only on the good. But to do so completely ignores the very real fact that evil does exist and that we are frequently co-opted by evil. We are only human after all, and as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “…I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:14b-15, 18b-19)

Archbishop William Temple once wrote, “The church is the only society that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” At Christ Church we have taken that saying and simplified it to say, “We exist for those who are not here yet.” I think this is a really good way for us as a church to understand who we are and who we are called to serve. And, if we take this mantra to heart then we must realize that to ignore the reality of Evil is to ignore the reality of the world that most people live in today: a world of deception, of addiction, of chaotic lives and of subjection to political powers that lack integrity and that are engaged in way of terrorism.

For example, we were privileged last night at our first forum on this topic to hear from Fr. Joseph Garang-Atem, a Sudanese Anglican priest and from The Reverend Lauren Stanley, an Episcopal missionary to the Sudan from the Diocese of Virginia. They spoke to us about the atrocities of the genocide in the Sudan and the church’s response to it. Interestingly, it was the ‘outsiders’, the ones who came to this forum who have never been to our church before, who were most engaged in the dialogue with our guests.

Let’s face it churchy folks, Evil is real and persistent, and it is a force that must be reckoned with – both from within the church and from without. Think about the work of Ghandi who stood against the evil of racism and social class in South Africa and among the people of India and who fostered inter-religious dialogue, who even died for the cause – and while great awareness was raised and changes initiated, racism still persisted. Think about Archbishop Desmond Tutu who later similarly stood against the apartheid that continued in South Africa and in response fostered the work of the truth and reconciliation commission. Neither of these men would deny that there is a force of Evil at work in the world and that there is a clear need for the church to respond.

There is no nice way to say it. If we ignore the reality of evil then rather than embracing the notion that ‘we exist for those who are not here yet’, we are in fact embracing a self-serving attitude of a feel-good religion. And a feel-good religion is a mostly impotent religion that will find great difficulty in offering healing, support, and consolation to the multitudes around the world and just outside our doors who are hurting and even dying in the face of Evil.

The Rev. Jennifer McKenzie is on the staff of Christ Church, Alexandria, Va, and keeps the blog, The Reverend Mother.

The Family Album

By Ann Fontaine

Last week the paternal side of my family gathered for an impromptu reunion. Brothers, sisters, cousins, kids and grandkids shared a potluck meal. We lined up the grandkids for the traditional photo. I noticed a change in the line from the generation of my children. The next generation of children chose to stand beside their first cousins rather than by height. At first my brothers and I said, “Oh, no, that is wrong,” but then realized that the second cousins were strangers to one another and a bit fearful.

Today as I look at the dozens of photos of the event I can see small gatherings of relatives sharing stories and edging closer to one another. The children are racing around the yard and playing with the toys getting to know each other in their way. A digital family album is emerging to go with the various print albums that are stored on our families’ bookshelves.

As part of this gathering our daughter added to her compendium of genealogical information. She along with one of my brothers and a cousin in Norway are trying to obtain stories as well as birth, marriage, and death dates. Family stories give us our identity.

My brothers and I are first generation children of immigrants. Our stories tell of leaving home to try new things. They tell of people starting out with no idea of what they will encounter but believing they will find a place to work and dream. The stories tell of trying things before having full information of the consequences. They also reveal that we were concerned with what others thought and how they acted as we tried to fit in and become part of the dominant culture. We lost our sense of being part of the “old country” as new generations were born here. We try to reconnect with those who stayed behind. These are just a few of the messages from our album.

It occurred to me that the Bible is like a family album. Images, stories, clippings, and mementos of encounters with a common story are gathered into its books. The Bible tells of encounters with the Holy and tries to make sense of Divine-Human relationships. The stories are saved to show future generations the way to live as a people of faith. They explore the questions of immortality, community, and the meaning of life. Like the family album we may have stories about the pictures and know the names of the people we are viewing but there is always a level that cannot be seen or understood because we were not there when the photo was taken or the event occurred.

When I read the Bible with this sort of lens - I stop arguing with it or trying using it as a template for life in God. When it contradicts itself, I can see that this is because there were different points of view about events, like when people are interviewed after a wreck and remember totally different versions of the same event.

For instance, Etienne Charpentier, in How to Read the New Testament, says, that the book of Revelation is like modern art, trying to convey ideas through metaphors, feelings, and images. It is not representational or photographic. When we try to apply scientific, rational principles to works of art we miss the point and end up analyzing the paint. We can easily fall into a paint by numbers version of a painting rather than the rich glowing depth of the artist’s offering.

So it is with the Bible. If we study it as our family album we can gain a sense of where we have come from and who we are being called to be as a people of God. We learn how people made choices, what they used as a basis for those choices. While their conclusions may differ from ours we can learn from the process that is revealed. We travel the same path of faith with very different landscapes but our beginnings and our endings come from the same source. Leaf through the pages, savor the stories, learn about your spiritual family.

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.

Meaning of Life 101

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

These days as high school students all over the country tour colleges and scramble to complete their admission applications, one professor says that when they arrive on campus they won't get the spiritual nurture young adults need. No, he isn't a dean at Patrick Henry College

In his new book Education’s End, Anthony Kronman -- a Sterling Professor of Law at Yale who teaches humanities to undergrads -- accuses humanities departments in U.S. universities of dodging their responsibility to help students engage in a time-honored adolescent activity: discovering the meaning of life. Today's students are so driven, he says, that they are missing the opportunity to consider the future "from a point of view outside the channels of their careers." Kronman calls for universities to remind students that a job or profession does not equal a life: "For a young person on the threshold of a career," he writes, "nothing could be more disturbing or helpful." It's time to put humanism back into the humanities, he says, and encourage each student to engage with the books they read as steps on the journey to becoming a whole person.

Instead of encouraging students on a personal exploration of meaning, Kronman says, departments of literature and philosophy are approaching great works of literature and philosophy through the prism of a quasi-scientific, highly specialized "research" model. Academicians, he adds, trapped in "the modern research ideal" borrowed from science by way of social science, believe that "the question of the meaning of life is not a professionally respectable subject. It is not a question that a research specialist can pursue without appearing to be a self-absorbed dilettante..."

So far, so good. What college student doesn't think all-night bull sessions in the dorm mean more than most of what happens in a lecture hall? As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at college and listened to an interview with Kronman on NPR, his comments certainly hit home with me. They brought me back to my own days as a budding Ph.D. in literature, when I happily immersed myself in timeless books, eager to ponder their words and wisdom. After a few years, I'm sorry to say, I concluded that we were spending more time dissecting texts than digesting them, and I dropped out of the program. Fortunately, my love of literature didn't go away. Today, as a pastoral psychotherapist, I often find that the words of Dante or Sartre come to mind as I'm listening to someone suffering a loss or grappling with conflict or simply yearning for something more in life. Sometimes I speak those words aloud and people respond in different ways: they frown, nod, smile, shake their heads, and sometimes quote them again later on, playing with the words and ideas -- cherishing as well as questioning them. We've all had intense experiences like these with books. It's the difference between living and breathing literature and merely developing a critical expertise.

Eager though I was to get my hands on Kronman's book, when I sat down to read it I was surprised and disappointed. Although he speaks of a contemporary "crisis of spirit," he portrays religion as uniformly dogmatic and fundamentalist. "[T]he humanities' loving but unsentimental study of the mortal facts represents a more honest and honorable response to the crisis than either the churches or their critics offer," he writes. He calls for colleges to "reclaim their commitment to the human spirit without the dogmatic assumptions that religion demands." The humanities, he says, should "reclaim the tradition of secular humanism as a confident and credible alternative to the fundamentalism of the churches."

Why paint religion with such a broad brush? Far from being fundamentalist or dogmatic, it's not exactly news that we Episcopalians find plenty of room for intellectual discussion, heartfelt inquiry, and passionate disagreement. For us, a spiritual journey demands living the questions, as Rilke wrote. Great literature, music and art offer nurture and challenge along the way. (My own adult return to parish life took root in the context of an Episcopal congregation's lively adult education class on Hugo and Pascal.) That Kronman ignores Christian humanism is especially puzzling in light of the fact that the assigned readings for his own course at Yale include Dante, Kierkegaard, and Eliot. A church is not a university, of course, but that need not be an obstacle to mutual respect and common dialogue.

Kronman's message is important for all of us who care about young people and especially for college faculty, whose students, coming of age in a time of competition and change, too easily forget that a college education is much more than career preparation. We can all hope that humanities departments sit up and listen. In the meantime, we in the progressive religious community who share Kronman's concerns -- chaplains, parents, parishes -- will stand right beside our young women and men, encouraging them to struggle with the tough questions and walk an authentic path.

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.

Of faith, compromise and onions

By Marshall Scott

When I was young, my father's profession took him at times overseas. He would attend meetings and discuss problems and solutions with folks from far away - such exotic places as England and Belgium and Germany (well, to a young boy they seemed distant and exotic enough). It gave him an interesting perspective on cultural differences.

Once, after a trip to the UK, he spoke of a meeting he had been to, and how it seemed different than those he commonly attended. The resolution of the discussion was a compromise; but my father found it interesting. He told me that in England, unlike America, a compromise was basically a good thing. True, no one got all he wanted; but everyone got something. In America his experience was that, no one having gotten all he wanted, everyone saw the compromise as loss. No one got everything, and so there was nothing one could celebrate.

The Oxford English Dictionary has several different denotations for "compromise." Two (in the Compact Edition of 1971) sound similar, but have some subtle differences.

4. Coming to terms, or arrangement of a dispute, by concession on both sides; partial surrender of one's position for the sake of coming to terms; the concession or terms offered by either side. 5. Adjustment for practical purposes of rival courses of action, systems or theories, conflicting opinions or principles, by the sacrifice or surrender of a part of each.

These sound a lot alike, don't they? And yet they are different.

They are different specifically in intent. The first definition is about coming to terms, with some concession from both sides. The second is about making pragmatic sacrifices to a rival. The first is about meeting of minds and mutual efforts. The second is about suspending conflict and grudging truce. The first is about comprehensiveness, and even communion. The second is about that other connotation of compromise: polluted, infected, stained, and shamed.

Now, I can't say now that the difference my father saw still obtains. Perhaps it was the setting or the topic or the times that made the difference. My own observation is that there seem to be quite enough competitive, convicted folks in the UK as to make "compromise" as distasteful to folks there as to folks here in the U. S. In any case, it seems to have been the first sense of compromise that moved the Episcopal House of Bishops; and the latter that moved the loudest voices on either side of the issues involved.

It is a hard time that way. I have heard again and again Revelation 3:15-16: "15 I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." It is from the challenge to the Church in Laodicea, a church apparently comfortable in the pews. But the call to be either hot or cold is apparently about the faith as a whole, and not a single issue. And while those who quote it most frequently want to portray their interest as "19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me," the tone and context seems more indicative of "21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Separated, verses 19-20 are about, I think, the first sense of "compromise;" while verse 21 is about the second sense. (Indeed, I have come to feel that for some the secret favorite passage is no longer from Revelation 3:14-22, but from Psalm 83.)

And that is the problem with this quotation, and with the second sense of "compromise:" it begins with separation and seeks to institutionalize it, to reify it. It is much like our current cultural and political context, parodied well by Stephen Colbert in his character for The Colbert Report. It’s all about rage and passion, and thought and reflection only undermine strength of purpose.

But "being neither hot nor cold" need not be so stark. Readers may have noticed by now that I love to cook. One of the things I have to work at, still, is noting that some things do better with long, steady cooking at low heat. What comes to mind are onions. Many recipes start with onions that need to be "sweated" - cooked slowly over low heat to bring out the sugar in them, so long hidden by the sharpness of sulfur. Rush to cook them quickly and you either undercook them or burn them; and everything you add to them will take on the flavor of the sulfur that remains or the charred sugar that has been added. It's worth noting that this is also known as "clarifying" the onions; for as the sulfur fades away the onions go from opaque white to translucency, almost transparency. It's not that the onions aren't hot. It's that the slower, more patient process has brought out in them beauty and flavor that you wouldn't know from the raw form, and that no other, faster process would have produced.

We know this well in human experience and in the Christian faith, even if it sometimes gets short shrift. It is, after all, how we come as persons to wisdom, and how we distinguish wisdom from knowledge. It is as William James described in writing of those "once born": a gradual growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord not dependent on one or a few moments of conversion (even though those moments do come). It is what we mean in the Catholic west by "sanctification," what our Orthodox Christian siblings mean by "theosis:" the gradual growth in grace and in awareness of God's presence and God's action that is the result of the Spirit's continuing work in us.

It is, I think, an aspect of Paul's statement that "God is working in all things for good for those who love him:" in all things, and not just in those that move us in passion. It was lived out in the life of Peter, whose passions drove him while Jesus lived. His anger rejected Jesus' prediction of the crucifixion. His rage cut off the ear of the High Priest's servant. His fear denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. It was in quiet and reflection that he understood his mission to tend and feed Christ's sheep, and that he realized that God could proclaim acceptable what his children had long rejected. And yet we would not suggest that either Paul or Peter was 'lukewarm' about faith in Christ.

So, perhaps all of us who are determined, committed, "hot" in our faith in Christ need to reflect again on what we mean by "compromise." Shall we see one another as colleagues to whom we might in good faith concede; or as rivals to whom any concession constitutes surrender? It's an important question for the Episcopal Church and for the Anglican Communion, and for each of us as individuals. Will we be moved by hasty passion, or trust in the slower, arguably harder and less comfortable process by which the Spirit seeks to bring us into all truth? How will we answer the question? The direction of the Church, and perhaps of our souls, depends on the answer.

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, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Earning adulthood

By Missy Morain

Being a teenager in the world today is a mixture of opportunities and expectations. Each person encountered has a different series of expectations and desires, which range from useful to downright ludicrous. At the start of a new school year we as members of the Body of Christ have an opportunity to make new commitments to the young people in our worlds.

Manhood and Womanhood are free gifts from God. Adulthood is earned. These are the two basic premises of the youth formation program the Journey to Adulthood; one of the most popular youth formation programs in the Episcopal Church. This gift of manhood and womanhood like most free gifts comes with some strings attached; much like a “free gift with purchase” offer. That purchase is adulthood. Adulthood is only learned through relational community. One learns to be an adult through others and with the help of others. Our Judeo-Christian tradition provides some of the best models within which to become an adult.

This model of becoming an adult begins in one of the first biblical stories, the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were the first to get this free gift of manhood and womanhood from God but they too had to learn their adulthood. Their time of learning occurred in Eden and their rather harsh introduction to adulthood occurred just prior to leaving. The world of introduction to adulthood is perhaps only slightly less difficult now and yet teenagers are still filled with the fire and energy of creation in the same way that Adam and Eve were. It is no wonder that God chose a teenager, Mary, to be the vessel by which God came into our world. Who else but a teenager would have had the fire, determination, and sheer gumption to say “yes” to God? Who else but a teenager would have been able to say “This is totally going to flip my parents out…sounds like a great idea!”?

We as adults have a special charge when it comes to teenagers. We have to guide with intelligence the young people of our world. We have an obligation not to use this gumption to our advantage, to not manipulate the young people in our midst. We must assist in the learning process, model the behavior of adults and walk with youth in their formation pilgrimage as we continue in our own formation. Maybe through this mentorship we can earn back a little bit of that fire and gumption, earn back that energy to continue to change the world and to continue the creation of God’s world which began back in Eden.

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 and works with the Colloquium of Episcopal Professional and Vocational Associations.

Preparing for death

By Margaret Treadwell

My mother regularly tells me she is ready to die. She says, “Ninety-seven is too old to live when physically you don’t feel like doing anything! I know I could stop eating but I enjoy my food too much. Maybe I could stop being curious about my family and friends?” But that’s just not who I am.” I tell her I’ll support her decision no matter what, and we talk about her faith in reuniting with loved ones in Heaven. We usually end this conversation with the words of her beloved caretaker who tells her, “Mrs. McDonnell, I don’t think when you die is up to you.”

“Maybe all of us have more say about our death than we know,” I muse. I tell her about a colleague whose family members appear to draw a very thin line between life and death. One uncle returned all his library books, checked no more out and died the next week. Another wanted only to spend Christmas with his sister and died sitting in her comfortable living room chair.

“How do you think our family has handled death in previous generations?” I ask. Mother says, “No one ever talked about it. Mamaw (her mother) lived to 94 and we all thought she’d live forever. Daddy was sick so long with Parkinson’s pain that he was frustrated and difficult at the end. I’m beginning to understand him better these days!” So much for that.

But a few days later, Mother calls to tell me about a vivid dream: “Mamaw and my sister Beth (both deceased) came to invite me on a trip to Europe. I told them I wasn’t feeling well with a stomachache and would stay home to take care of Daddy. After they left, I found the front door of his house locked so I couldn’t get in to help.”

Knowing that many people unconsciously preparing for death have dreams about going on journeys, I ask, “What do you make of it?” After a thoughtful pause, Mother says, “I think I made a mistake. I should have gone with Mamaw and Beth.” Taking a deep breath to ground myself in being her daughter rather than a therapist, I say, “I love you, Mom. Remember more dreams and tell me.”

Mother was just as eager to die eleven years ago. “I have no reason to live,” she told me after my father died of the Alzheimer’s disease she had faithfully nursed him through. Without thinking I shouted, “Don’t do that to me, Mother! I don’t have any siblings!” A few days later, I amended my outburst to the phrase I’ve been repeating ever since: “Mom, I support you in any decision you make until you won’t or can’t make a good decision for yourself. Then, I’ll do what’s best for me.”

So far this agreement has translated into my attempts to be emotionally present while physically distant as Mother chooses to remain in her own home where I grew up in Sheffield, Ala. When the going gets rough with health setbacks, Mom pulls through with one certainty: “I do NOT want to move to Washington, D.C.”

Except for weekly visits to Gay’s Hair Salon and doctors unable to relieve her arthritic and other pains, she is thoroughly homebound surrounded by caretakers and hospice workers with whom I keep in touch. Younger neighbors, friends and clergy from her cherished Episcopal church often visit, and she is endlessly interested and invested in their lives. I call her home ministry “Flo’s salon.”

Increasingly helpless in her ongoing fragility to help her have a reason for living, I listen. I try to live in the moment of each long distance phone call to appreciate the gift of being a non-anxious presence with her now. After listening, I ask one question per conversation about her extended family in Mobile, a favorite topic. How did they show love? How did she spend time with her grandparents? How did they play? What about meals together? How did they grieve? Any more family secrets you haven’t told me?

I travel as often as possible to my hometown that is harder to reach than Europe. Recently I celebrated Mom there with my family – husband, son, daughter, their spouses and her three great grandchildren. We had a blast and she let us know when enough was ENOUGH, like the time she turned on the evening news to invite Brian Williams (NBC News anchor) into our midst. He immediately broke up the party!

On our good days, Mom and I are doing great. But I always wonder what more I can be and do. So many of us are pioneering similar situations with our elderly parents that I’m asking you my readers a favor: What questions do you wish you’d asked your parent before he or she died? Did you leave anything undone that you wish you’d done? If you’ll email me , I’ll gather and include your questions and thoughts in a future column, which will be useful to others and me.

Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice. She writes regularly for Washington Window.

We never pray alone

By Derek Olsen

As a student of how the Scriptures have been interpreted through the ages, the reconstruction of early medieval liturgies is one of my tasks. And this task is much more complicated than it might first seem. One of my constant concerns arises from the basic technology of manuscripts—hand-written texts. The process of copying is never a simple one and scribes are sometimes known to be creative in curious ways… To make a long story short, the reality of copied manuscripts means that we can never properly speak in generalities about medieval this or that—we can only talk in terms of particulars. This is what the texts show us was done at a given place and a given time.

The manuscript technology problem wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the division of our sources. I’m never just trying to find one book. When I pull together the pieces of a tenth-century Mass, I need to collect materials from at least five different books! And, if I intend to construct a reasonable picture of the lengthy Night Office where the most liturgical exposure to Scripture occurred, I must consult no less than eight different kinds of sources, hoping and praying that I can draw together materials from roughly the same time and place that exist within the same strand of liturgical tradition.

It’s a complicated task: sacramentaries and tropers, antiphoners and collectors, each book having its own materials, its own internal logic and—quite often—no sign of how they are intended to relate one to another. As the liturgies proceed, sometimes a word or two scribbled in a margin will give me an indication of how a scribe thought the next portion of the liturgy will start, so I constantly scan the sides of pages looking, hoping, for clues. I breathe a sigh of relief as I move to later sources. Especially when dealing with materials from cathedrals or other communities of canons (non-monastic priests who lived in groups) the more I move into the eleventh century and beyond the more I find the fore-runners of today’s breviaries and missals where all of the texts are conveniently gathered into one place. It makes my job so much easier—but at the same time, I feel a note of sadness.

Why the multiplication of books? Why so many different pieces to juggle? The answer is actually quite simple. According to the early medieval scheme, each set of participants had their own book that contained the material they needed. So the celebrant would have his sacramentary, the cantor would have his troper, the choir, their gradual, the deacon his Gospel-book, and so on and so forth. Unlike me in my modern pew juggling a Book of Common Prayer, a hymnal or two, a service leaflet, (and a preschooler) trying to follow all of the parts at once, the liturgy flowed from part and section—going now to the cantor, then to the halves of the choir, passing to the celebrant, then to the choir once again—each liturgical actor having only the pieces they needed to perform their role in the grand dance of the liturgy.

And that’s why the breviaries and the missals make me sad.

They show a shift in the liturgical culture, a movement away from this vision of the whole community gathered in prayer together. The culture and piety of the eleventh and twelfth centuries began to move to individual priests praying masses and offices on their own. Architecturally, altars proliferated in cathedral sanctuaries and side-chapels, each a niche for a priest on his own. And, in so doing, something of the notion of “common prayer” was thereby diminished. Because, from that point, we had to remember rather than see one of the great truths about Christian liturgy.

One of the great liturgical truths is that when we pray, we never pray alone. Even when we are physically alone, our prayer is never solitary but is woven into the greater garland of unceasing prayer that surrounds the throne of God and of the Lamb, the chorus of—as the Book of Revelation shows us—the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, the choirs of angels, the great throng that none could number and, ultimately, every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the seas.

Speaking truthfully, our prayer, our praise, our worship, doesn’t truly begin or end; rather we simply rejoin ourselves to the hymn without end. Like the medieval books, all prayer is local prayer rooted in a particular time, a particular place, yet these prayers are the threads of sound in a greater tapestry that ascends to the Father of Lights, an offering of joy, of pain, of sorrow, and of hope. When I juggle my books in the sanctuary, when I sit with my daughters at bedtime, even when I sit in the early morning with breviary and Raisin Bran, I know I join in the greater liturgy even if I have to strain my eyes and tune my ears to hear it.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I need reminding—and the reminders are there. Sprinkled here and there in the liturgies themselves I find the reminders that even when I sing in the car on my commute I never sing alone. The Te Deum reminds me of the “the glorious company of the apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” “the noble army of martyrs” and I recollect and find myself in “the holy Church throughout all the world acclaiming.” Or I locate myself among the mountains and hills, the fruit trees and cedars, the creeping things and wingèd birds of the Psalter.

This is part of what the communion of saints communicates to me: the breadth, the depth, of our praise and worship of the ineffable, the Holy God. It’s what I find in the dusty books of monasteries long since perished and in the parishes down the street from my house. On the lips of my children, and scratched in rusty ink from stylus long since lain down. And the words of Fr. Franz’s hymn come back to my mind: “And from morn to set of sun/ Through the Church the song goes on…”

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

From transparency to enlightenment

Second of two parts. (Part one is here.)

By Helen Thompson

Regular readers of this column may recall that earlier this year, I turned down a job offer. What I wasn't able to talk about in that essay was that part of the reason I turned it down was that there were still unknown doors waiting to open, and in late July I accepted a different job offer that allows me to continue to build my understanding of social media and how it can help organizations grow. It's a lovely parallel to the thing I was writing about in my last essay, that social media may be the door to reaching the hundreds of thousands of people who are unchurched yet spiritual. If that point wasn't clear in the last part of the essay, I'm underscoring it now, but that's not what I want to talk about this time around. Rather, I want to talk about how the Café's Ethic of Transparency opened the door to this new world.

I think I was invited to participate in the Café because my RevGalBlogPals "Ask the Matriarch" column (which I edited for the first year of its existence and recently resumed doing) had caught the attention of several Episcopalian priests. Truth be told, I have no formal training in theology, ecclesiology, homiletics, or any other of those ten-dollar Latin cognates that compose the Divinity curriculum. I'm barely even a good layperson--I'm not in the choir, not a lay reader, not a Daughter of the King, not on the Altar Guild, not working in the shelter, not.. not.. not.. I'm not even a good tither. Shame on me!

Part of the reason for this, despite the nifty blogroll I have over at Gallycat's Lounge about the churches I attend and have attended, is that I haven't been a regular churchgoer. I've moved a lot. I travel a lot on weekends. I have joint custody of my son, whom I didn't raise as a Christian, and so we find other ways of exploring the sacred on Sunday mornings. Sometimes it involves church, but not always, and not even often.

Yet. I am in my second year of Education for Ministry, and I'm very active in several online communities that are based around faith, spirituality and/or the Episcopal Church. But for a long time, people didn't know that I was me. I'm gun-shy about openly tying my name, Helen Thompson, to my various online handles. I have several. I compartmentalize myself in some ways, packaging the faithy bits at Gallycat, the irreverent bits at Deviathan, the work-related stuff to Exurbanista, the deeply personal journal to Zen Pooky, the reproductive clock angst to Kersplunkity, the Second Life persona to Vahnia, the knitster knots at Knitster, the life-in-the-valley explorations at NorthShenandoah.com and so on. One person recently told me that my collection of Web 2.0 presences might be a manifestation of Multiple Personality Disorder, to which I strenuously (but guiltily) objected, knowing, as I do, some people with truly dissociative issues. But when a friend of mine today made an allusion to forming a 12-step group to help those with a compulsive urge to register domain names, it hit really close to home.

Mine is one more akin to the author trying her hand to many different genres and hoping that one will take off. Nora Roberts is J.D. Robb, for instance. In my case, working as a professional journalist and still very midlevel in my career, I had a byline that was a brand, that of Helen H. Thompson. I was worried that if I started writing prolifically about faith as Helen Thompson, it might compromise my ability to find a job. Now, ideally, someday my vocation will merge with my profession and I'll become a communications officer for the church in some capacity that will still allow me to pay my exorbitant mortgage payment. (I live modestly; honest. Housing prices are so bad in the DC area, even in a cooling real estate market, that I had to move 75 miles west of the Capitol just to get a foot in the door, if you'll pardon the pun.) But in the meantime, being a Good Christian Person (progessive, conservative, whatever the stripe) can be a liability in my world. When I first confessed to my friends that I had come back to the faith, I was challenged on many levels to defend how a reasonable, thoughtful, intelligent young postmodern woman could buy into the hokey nonsense that was religion. And as such, I was shy. I became Gallycat (first here, then here). Gally, the "fallen angel" of a Japanese manga series, and "cat."

Enter Jim Naughton and the Episcopal Café and their Ethic of Transparency. OMG, was I going to have to SIGN MY NAME to a post? Scary. Sticking my neck out and admitting that I'm brazen enough to talk about my faith life when I'm oh so very.... me? Scary. Covering anything above and beyond my diocese or interesting news items about faith in the postmodern world? Scary.

Do you remember the first time you ever addressed a group of people, whether it was your first sermon or your first public speaking class or your first time lay reading? It's sort of like that, at least as I experienced it. Signing my name to a post about faith created anxious tension. Even though I wasn't hiding my identity per se--just not coming out and saying so or undertaking the daunting task of writing a bio about myself in third person (which I can't do without making some kind of smartass comment about myself)--it scared me.

But I signed my name. And once I owned that work, I did something else, too. I updated my resume to reflect the fact that I do volunteer work for the church, by helping blog users get acquainted with the technology, by helping the good folks in Second Life get their Anglican Cathedral up and running, by editing stuff for the RevGals and by coordinating posts for the Lead here at Episcopal Café. Just two months later, I was having a phone conversation with the director of a publication who wants to take advantage of these technologies--blogs, podcasts, wikis, virtual worlds, streaming media, RSS, distributed bookmarking, tags, and so on; this world of new toys we collectively call "social media"--and by September I was one step closer to merging my vocation and profession. They hired me because I had demonstrated familiarity with these tools.

I was, perhaps, the Café's most ardent voice in favor of allowing people to post under pen names. And I was soundly outvoted. But I have come to see the wisdom of the policy. All of us who participate in these forums are part of the future of the church, for better, for worse. I can take responsibility for what I do. But God rewarded me for being brave enough to do so, for being brave enough to open my mind to a new way of thinking—God also let me get credit for what I do.

Helen Thompson directs social media initiatives for an international association in Northern Virginia and is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in the northern Shenandoah Valley, where she is in her second year of studies in Education for Ministry and plugging away at her first novel. Catch her on the web at Gallycat's Lounge, among others.

What about Generation X?

First of two parts.

The author gratefully acknowledges the input of other participants in Northern Virginia's Mesh Community for ideas she developed in this essay. It doesn't necessarily reflect any individual's opinion other than her own, however.

By Helen Thompson

I was talking to a friend about the challenges we face by virtue of being born after 1970--well, of being gen-xers in general, and being caught between the "Boomers" and the "Millennials," and how this affects us in faith communities. It came up last week on an email group, and I passed it along to several of my friends who are doing their part, in my humble opinion, to attract people like me to the broader church. On Sept. 20, that group met over margaritas to discuss, as my friend put it, "the theological / ecclesiological / missiological / tequiliological implications" of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; indeed, the Harry Potter series as a whole. Where on earth can you find something like this? In our homespun small group, called MESH, which is an acronym for mix, entangle, share, harmonize. What it is, for me, is church. Three friends had the idea to read some books and invite their friends over for munchies and chat. And they're telling their friends. And they're telling their friends. We're not part of any one church, but part of the church.

The more I see things with top-down architectures being applied to us youngish people, the more I realize it doesn't work. I've seen great ideas committee-ed to death all because people older and wiser than me must control every outcome of every plan of every initiative. And the more input I got from friends of mine, the more I realized:

Your invitation to me to participate doesn't mean much if you don't let my input—and leadership—count. And that's what I'm hearing from frustrated 30-something laity who want to take on leadership positions but still get flak for being slackers, which we really are not anymore and we'd like some credit. It's not just the Episcopal Church. I worked at a financial services magazine that refused every pitch I made about Gen-X prospects because we're not buyers. I work for an association that's trying to figure out how to attract people under 40 because we're not joiners. One friend of mine added to the conversation that she'd like to see "'young adult' stricken from the Episcopal vocabulary"--for reasons that resonate with me: mortgage, career, family. Heck, my son is almost 15, and pretty soon I'll be the young adult parent of a young adult.

So, if we're not young adults anymore, and nowhere near middle aged (if 50 is new the 30, we're actually teenagers), what are we? How do you address the wide demographic of a narrow slice of the population that's holding an awful lot of cards and generating absolutely no buzz? Sure, skip us. Move on to the millennials.

Here's my take on things, though. Generation X is the bridge between the Boomers and the Millenials. We were raised with enough technology that we're conversant in the ways that today's teenagers interact on social networks. But we also know how to dial a phone. We're all wired in varying ways, but each succeeding generation is increasingly plugged in. Let me put it another way. Historically, many immigrants have come to America speaking only their native language. Their children, however, speak both languages fluently. But I know many cases where the grandchildren don't speak anything but English, and the middle generation must help the bookending generations understand one another--literally. So what happens if you skip the middle generation?

Here's an example I ran across recently. Blogs are a publishing platform that were adopted quickly by compulsive writers with varying degrees of web-savvy. I've had so many that it's a wonder I can populate them all with random Helen/Gallycat brain noise on a regular basis, so I wax and wane with all of them. They're a great way to distribute content, to self-publish (no, really, I'm more prolific than Stephen King!), to bypass censorious editors, to think aloud, to take the podium, to brainstorm in community. So of course, many organizations, seeing the value of being able to share content with one another, decided to barrel full speed ahead with a blog. Occasionally, some would enlist me to help get the blog off the ground, since I know the technology. One, in particular, was a church that was looking forward to getting some ideas out there.

But they didn't listen to my input on certain key issues that ultimately doomed the blog. Granted, this is a church that has huge outreach on many fronts and I don't fault them at all for determining that this wasn't the vehicle for them, especially since I was constantly moving from place to place and too peripatetic to fully participate in the community. (This is a major reason why "online" was my permanent residence, up til recently.) But the problem was that every post had to be approved by a committee. I felt like Cassandra, trying to explain to them why it would inhibit participation on the blog. It died a few months later. I was sad, but Episcopal Cafe emerged right around then, so I had another place to focus my energies.

So how is this an example of why we, Gen X, are the translators? We are well equipped to understand social media, which is going to be the communications medium of choice for today's young people. How is this changing the face of communications? My connections in the news media say it's as revolutionary as Gutenberg and the moveable type printing press. Ignore this opinion at your peril, unless you think Luther's revolution had nothing to do with Gutenberg's (again, a hat tip to my friend for saying this; I hope he outs himself in the comments). Blogs are just a part of what that next generation is coming online with. We can speak their language. We can speak the Boomers', too, though. Did I mention my teenage son? Yes? What about my aging parents? How's your retirement portfolio?

So anyway, back to the matter at hand. Don't skip Generation X. We've seen it more than once. We've heard you ask how to reach us, and seen you form committees hoping to find the magic pill that will get us back in the pews. To be honest, you might not. My fiancé has stalwartly avoided church services pretty much since he was old enough to say "no" to them. But cookouts, labyrinth walks, drum circles, soup kitchens, river clean-ups? He's so there. How is he going to hear about those activities if he doesn't come to church each Sunday? Through our blogs, our Facebook accounts, our Livejournals, our Myspace pages. I'm on each of these platforms, and on every single one it's plain to see that I'm a Christian, an Episcopalian, a Harry Potter fan and a Diet Pepsi addict. And I have slowly been building my own net community, little pockets of which occasionally gather for margaritas, that is my church.

You don't need a committee to study us and come up with a strategic plan that you'll implement just in time for my grandchildren's confirmation, by which time said strategic plan will be as obsolete and full of cheesy music as 8-track tapes. Try flying by the seat of your pants. Take a hint from my Tequila-loving pals and get a group together over dinner and a movie and see what happens. Take some popular music—U2 is just the beginning—and see what happens when you treat the lyrics as songs to God. Look at how subcultures like emo and goth have spiritual subtexts that tie in beautifully with the poetry of psalms. Take church outside the church, and take advantage of social networking technology to bring more people into the fold. Not the pews, THE FOLD. For we are his flock in the world. In the world! Such is the call to the diaconate, and the call of the deacon at the end of the service. But it's important to everyone; otherwise, such would not be the call of the deacon to us: Go forth into the world to love and serve the lord.

It's not enough to study us. Listen to us, yes, but more importantly—

Join us.

Helen Thompson directs social media initiatives for an international association in Northern Virginia and is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in the northern Shenandoah Valley, where she is in her second year of studies in Education for Ministry and plugging away at her first novel. Catch her on the web at http://www.gallycat.com, among others.

Reinventing ourselves: A spiritual look at New Orleans

By Steven Charleston

By now most of us will have read all about what the Episcopal bishops said (or didn’t say) at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. As usual in political controversies some of us will be happy while others are disturbed. But what ever your reaction to New Orleans might be, there is one common denominator that I believe unites all sides of the argument: for better or worse, the church is reinventing itself. We may not like it. We may not admit it. But that is what is happening.

I know it is not popular to say that we actually invent the church each generation. Many people like to think that there is a rock solid core of tradition that never changes. But even the most core beliefs of any religious community are continually transformed by the interpretation, the nuances, each generation brings to their understanding of those beliefs. Did people in medieval Europe believe Jesus was the Son of God? Yes. Do Christians in Iowa today believe the same thing? Yes, but beyond that the cultural values and historic realities of these two communities make that single belief a prism, not a rock. We are not building on the firm foundation. We are building on the ever shifting sands of culture.

What is happening in the church now, whether from the Left or the Right, is the reinterpretation of the culture we call church. The forces of change are played out in the kind of negotiation process we have been witnessing for several years around subjects like human sexuality and church governance. The actions taken in New Orleans are only a small piece in a continuing process. In effect, we are negotiating our future, shaping the community to fit the assumptions we hold about the values we cherish arising from the beliefs we have interpreted from the past. Therefore, New Orleans is not the last word, but only more words in the chain of change that will make the Episcopal Church a radically different community within the next decade.

Should we be made anxious by this process? Yes and no.

Yes, if we abrogate our role in the negotiations. We should be anxious if others are doing all the talking, making all the choices, or defining all the terms.

No, if we are fully engaged in designing our own future. We should not be anxious if we are actively listening, learning and negotiating no matter how difficult or frustrating that effort may seem.

While the decisions made in New Orleans will reassure some, comfort many, and upset a few, they are only the visible brush strokes of a much deeper creative process. Other challenges and other compromises will be reached in the days to come. All of them will be the outward signs of an inner cultural shift. Like the tectonic plates of the Earth, the interpretations we give to long held beliefs will move us to a new place whether we are ready to go or not. Change will happen and the process will recycle itself within the next generation.

Does that make what we do meaningless in the politics of the moment? Not really, not if you believe that beneath it all, behind it all, God is working out a future in negotiation with us. Our rock solid tradition is to believe that God is a God of history. Our common sense historical experience teaches us that this history is as pliable as necessity and as resilient as fear.

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 is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

Climate Change, Hunger and Industrial Animal Agriculture

By Christine Gutleben and Lois Wye

Climate change is receiving increasing attention among faith communities, especially The Episcopal Church. As people of faith, we are becoming more aware of our roles as stewards of creation, while developing sensitivities to our consumption habits and our carbon footprints. The Episcopal Church has also put the U.N.’s Millennium Develop Goals on the front burner, recognizing the religious communities’ critical role in reducing world hunger and improving the lives of our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Our Presiding Bishop, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, has recognized that climate change and world hunger are inexorably intertwined. Testifying before Congress in June of this year, she said, “We cannot triumph over global poverty . . . unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related. Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change.” Bishop Jefferts Schori’s testimony is significant; however, a third critical element is missing from the discussion. Unless we take an honest look at industrial animal agriculture and the food choices that support this system, our progress in mitigating world hunger and climate change will be significantly hampered.

Nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture – more than the contribution of all transportation systems combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, Livestock’s Long Shadow. Moreover, the report states that thousands of acres rainforest are cleared to make way for farming—to raise grain not for people or pastured animals, but for feedlots. In many parts of the world, small farmers are forced out of business and into poverty when they are unable to compete with large industrial farming practices. In short, if we want to have the strongest impact on combating both climate change and world hunger, we must do more than turn off the light switch or trade in our SUVs for hybrids; we must change the way we shop and the way we eat.

The problem is one of increasing urgency. The contribution of factory farming to environmental problems, world hunger, and untold animal suffering is rising rapidly. In 1961, the average American consumed 195 pounds of meat per year, by 2001 this figure rose to 272 pounds per year—a 77 pound increase in the last 40 years, according to the FAO. This illustrates that the continual growth of industrial animal agriculture in the United States is not simply a result of having to feed more people, it is also a result of Americans eating more meat. And the problem doesn’t stop there. As our western, meat-based diet is exported around the globe, per person meat consumption is exploding in countries like China and Brazil. The average person in China is consuming an increase of 110 pounds of meat per year, up from 40 years ago; similarly, in Brazil, the average person is now consuming an increase of 113 pounds of meat per year. At this rate, in just 20 years, we will need to produce 5 times more meat than we are currently producing globally, according to the FAO.

Factory Farming and Climate Change

The industrial livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. This accounts for animal agriculture’s direct impact as well as the impact of the resources required for feedcrop agriculture. Methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions, all of which have a more significant global warming potential than carbon dioxide, are also produced in high quantities on factory farms. The U.S. produces the largest portion of methane emissions from farm animal manure in the world, totaling nearly 1.9 million tons annually.

A 2005 report from the University of Chicago entitled Diet, Energy and Global Warming concluded that the average American diet, which includes meat, dairy and eggs produces 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide more per person per year than a plant-based diet yielding the same calories. The study notes that producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels and ten times as much carbon dioxide than a calorie of plant protein. The emissions difference between an omnivorous diet and a plant-based diet is roughly the difference between driving an SUV and a compact car. Indeed, however much energy we save through switching light bulbs or driving hybrid cars, we will sooner or later have to address our diet and reduce our consumption of factory farmed animal products if we are serious about mitigating the effects of climate change.

Factory Farms and World Hunger

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United Kingdom, has produced an excellent, 17 minute video entitled, “Eat Less Meat.” This video illustrates the impact of a meat-based diet and factory farming on human health, the environment, world hunger, and animal welfare. According to CIWF, the growing global popularity of meat as a dietary staple and the increasing middle class in many countries has encouraged intensive industrial farming methods in developing countries. This is usually undertaken as a joint venture with western companies, and meat is produced both for export and the local middle class. Local small scale farmers cannot compete and lose their farms. They tend to drift into cities and move from being self-sufficient farmers to landless urban poor.

Moreover, the rise of factory farms worldwide encourages the development of monocultures, wherein farmers are encouraged to grow a single crop solely to be exported for animal feed. Thus, local economies become less diversified and more fragile, affordable food is removed from local economies, and land which could be used to raise food for people is instead used to raise food for animals.

According to the World Health Organization, a hectare of land used to raise crops for livestock can feed only two people, while a hectare of land used to grow rice or potatoes for people can feed approximately 20 people. If everyone in the world were to eat as much meat as the average American, by mid-century it would require four planets the size of earth to grow the grain to feed the animals. Conversely, according to the International Food Policy Institute, if people in the west halved their consumption of meat, and the land used to feed those animals was used to grow crops for people, 3.6 million children in developing countries could be saved from malnutrition by the year 2020.

Factory Farms and Animal Welfare

After World War II, the process of raising animals became largely transformed into one of producing high quantities of meat as cheaply as possible, at the inevitable expense of animal welfare. Animals have been moved from pastures to feedlots and warehouses. Some of the worst abuses of factory farms include battery cages for egg-laying hens, where hens are crammed row upon row into cages so small they cannot spread their wings, and gestation crates, where 400 pound hogs are kept in cages so small they cannot turn around. Most factory farmed animals spend their entire lives without feeling the earth beneath their feet or the sun on their backs.

In the United States alone, ten billion animals will be killed this year for our consumption. Most of these animals will spend their lives inside factory farms. These are God’s creatures, entrusted to our care. They live their lives and go to their deaths without one gentle touch, one act of mercy, from human hands.

We live in a culture where few of us have any idea how food gets to our table. There are rumblings of change within the faith community. In May of this year, Barbara Kingsolver spoke at the National Cathedral about her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, regarding the importance of eating mindfully. In August, The New York Times published, “Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul,” which addresses the need recognized by some in the faith community to treat farm animals more humanely and to practice more sustainable methods of agriculture. These rumblings need to become a roar.

Where do we go from here

Farmer, author and teacher, Wendell Berry, offers this critique of the way we purchase food products without concern for origin. Berry explains that our food choices are critical not only for our own spiritual integrity, but for the health and well being of the earth and all its inhabitants:

We can [not] live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration…in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

Deliberate, selective, intentional and compassionate food choices that align with our spiritual principles are, in part, what makes food a sacrament – a material reality that conveys the divine. We have the choice to experience the sacramentality of creation or its destruction when we purchase, prepare and eat our food. Berry also reminds us that we are not the center of God’s universe. We exist as dependent creatures within diverse and intricate ecosystems and should consider food choices with this in mind.

It is time our food choices enter into the “carbon footprint” equation. These choices have a far greater impact than has been accounted for thus far and it is time our religious communities consider the ethics of eating as part of any serious work on climate change and the fight against world hunger. As The New York Times noted in its recent article, “If this nascent cause [were to be] taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound.”

In 2003, the Episcopal Church took the first steps in recognizing this need with GC Resolution D016. “Support Ethical Care of Animals,” condemns the suffering caused by factory farms and calls upon the church to encourage its members to adhere to ethical standards in the treatment of animals and to advocate for legislation protecting them. Farms with stricter animal welfare standards benefit animals, humans, and the environment.

The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) Animals and Religion program is reaching out to congregations and religiously affiliated organizations to join with it to work in partnership for a more just, sustainable and humane food system. The collaboration between HSUS and the religious community could form a powerful coalition to return industrial agriculture to a more appropriate scale and address the problems inherent in the factory farming system. The HSUS commends The Episcopal Church’s resolution on animals and suggests reducing the consumption of animal products, refining the selection of these products to more humane alternatives and replacing them with sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legume as important steps in enacting the resolution, reducing one’s carbon footprint, combating world hunger and being better stewards of both the earth and all its inhabitants.

Christine Gutleben is Director of the Animals and Religion Program at the Humane Society of the United States. Lois Godfrey Wye is an environmental attorney at the law firm of Holland & Knight, a student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and a parishioner at the Washington National Cathedral.


Links referred to in this article:
Livestock's Long Shadow Executive Summary (FAO)
Diet Energy and Global Warming (University of Chicago)
Eat Less Meat Video (CIWF)
Factory Farms
Battery Cages for egg laying hens
Gestation Crates
Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul (NYT)
Support Ethical Care of Animals (TEC)
The 3 R's


Retreat!

By Susan Fawcett

We have just barely gotten into the swing of October, and yet I have December on the brain. Why? I get to go to this year's Winterlight Conference at Kanuga as a member of the clergy/chaplain staff. Being from the Diocese of Virginia, I had no idea that Winterlight existed until I met some folks from North Carolina in seminary, and now, lo and behold, I get to go spend the week after Christmas with a whole bunch of good people in a beautiful place. Woohoo!

For those of you who have never been to a youth conference of the Episcopal variety, here is a snapshot of what you might do if you were a youth participant: lots of genuinely good live and interactive music, small group discussions and games and initiatives*, meeting new people, eating ridiculously, staying up late and being silly, going to workshops on anything from swing dance to sexuality to stargazing, some sort of outdoorsy hiking experience, an interesting speaker who makes you think about God and the world and yourself in a different way. Also, worship/prayer/bible study with your peers that is somehow more vibrant and meaningful when you find yourself in a room full of 200 high schoolers (as opposed to adults). And, most of these events include a dance (often with hysterical/creative thrift-store outfits), a talent show, and some sort of rite-of-passage ceremony for seniors who won't be able to come back until they can be counselors. Realizing that there is life and a whole wide world beyond the more depressing aspects of high school and high school relationships, and that that other kind of life calls something new and different out of you. Calls you to be yourself in the way God sees you--the kind of self that you'd be proud to be, and want to share.

(*'initiative' is code for a group-building or leadership-development activity. Think of the low-ropes courses that some corporate teams do on retreats. Think of the trust-walk, trust-fall, etc.)

If you are an adult at these functions, you might find yourself doing things along these lines: participating in or leading any of the above activities, doing behind-the-scenes set up work, coaching some other young person as they lead the above activities, taking someone to the ER, coaching other adults through various aspects of the weekend, sitting still while everyone else moves about so that you can observe the tenor of the conference, troubleshooting behavior issues, eating lunch with young people who remind you of your own dreams and hopes and fears, eating dinner with young people who have fallen in love with the new community they have found, and eating breakfast with a young person who really needs his meds. And staff meetings after lights-out, where you get to debrief what has gone well and what we can do better next time, how you have been so thankful to have worked with each particular new colleague, and some very silly regression, thanks to utter exhaustion. Wonder why you thought it was a good idea to spend the whole weekend running in circles just to go back to a full plate at your real job. Wonder why these teenagers forgive your squareness and talk to you anyway. Wonder why your real job seems somewhat pale and dry in comparison to this sort of (insane, beautiful) Real Life.

There are all kinds of events along these lines, all over the Episcopal Church. Each has its idiosyncrasies and particular culture. And each has devotees, youth who have been in church their whole lives, and youth who may not darken the door of a parish sanctuary for many many years. Adults who have found themselves changed and challenged. Clergy who thought they were getting a respite weekend away from the parish, and who come back because they find themselves re-energized by the chaos of youth events. These communities are the Church in their own way. A youth event is not a parish, and yet for some people, ongoing events like Winterlight and diocesan summer camps offer a primary worshipping community. I reiterate: there are plenty of Episcopalians who would not be so were it not for the experiences they had at camps or youth events.

Point made. Now, to find a good thrift store...

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

Fit for the Kingdom?

By Micah Jackson

Picture in your mind a stereotypical pastor. Regardless of denomination, gender, or age, the pastor you’re picturing is probably at least a little bit overweight. It makes sense, really. Pastors are, by and large, holding jobs with irregular hours that take place mostly in offices or homes. They drive cars from one place to another. Most hosts will feel like they should offer the pastor a slice of coffee cake, at least, if not a full meal with dessert! No wonder the pastor in your mind is somewhat pudgy.

But this is not just a fantasy situation for many pastors. A recent survey by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America found that 72% of pastors are suffering from poor nutrition, 62% are experiencing health threatening stress or depression, 60% have hypertension. Studies done by other denominations show similar results. Pulpit and Pew, in a cross-denominational survey of more than 2,500 Christian clergy, found that more than three-quarters of pastors are heavier than they should be—much higher than the general population, which itself is alarmingly overweight.

Christian history is filled with varying theologies of the body. Some say that the body, as part of this material world, is inherently evil and a prison for the soul. Some would suggest, to the contrary, that the Incarnation shows the body as part of God’s inherently good creation, and therefore to be cared for as the rest of creation. St. Paul famously wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) No wonder most clergy have decided not to think about it.

The temptation is to respond to such a crisis the way Americans often do, by throwing money at the problem, through programs, or pills. A whole industry has arisen around weight-loss, and it includes a wide range of people, from surgeons in the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country to people who stoop down to pick herbs from the ground that others hope will melt away fat or block carbohydrate absorption, or some such. King Solomon advised “put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.” (Proverbs 23:2) Probably he didn’t imagine literally “going under the knife” for weight-loss surgery, but perhaps only because it had never occurred to him.

The crude measures of body mass, like gross weight, or the BMI, may be good estimates of fitness in the minds of insurance companies. Still, true “fitness” can only be measured in comparison to a concrete task. “Fitness for what?” must be the question. And for that, as always, we must listen for the voice of God. To what work is God calling you, and is your body up to the challenge? If you were more physically fit, could you do more for the Kingdom?

In her book Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice, Stephanie Paulsell tells the story of a “father of a disabled child who runs each day and lifts weights several times a week so that even when he has grown old, he will be able to lift his daughter from her wheelchair, carry her to the car, settle her into the bath.” This man does not seek trophies, medals, or even a souvenir t-shirt. But surely he is “fit for the Kingdom of God.” So are those who are called to weed the garden in the park, or walk the neighborhood in a community policing initiative, or swing a hammer on a Habit for Humanity house. They, too, honor God, and serve their fellow humans, with their physical bodies.

This is not to say that those who choose to run marathons or lift heavy barbells cannot do so in such a way as to bring glory to God. Indeed, many do. I myself have been training for a marathon as a way of getting more fit for whatever God may call me to do. Feel free to follow along, or read more of my thoughts on fitness, on my website, ironpriest.org.

I’ve found that training for the marathon to get more fit has helped me in many ways. Sure, I’ve lost about 20 pounds, my pulse rate and blood pressure are down, and I look and feel much better. But, I’ve also learned that many of the things I used to think of as insignificant matter very much to God. The food I eat, the choices I make about what to say yes to, about time management, about goal setting, about pacing, each of these things has helped to bring me more in touch with my body, fearfully and wonderfully made, one of my first gifts from God.

Clergy have important jobs, and many of us are unfit to the task, or will become so long before we should, because of our poor attention to health. We owe ourselves, our fellow-workers, our parishioners, our God, more than that. We love God with not only our heart, and soul, and mind, but also with our strength.

The Rev. Micah Jackson is a priest of the Diocese of Chicago, currently living in Berkeley, Calif. He is a doctoral student in Homiletics at the Graduate Theological Union. His personal blog is St. Jerome's Library.

Our obligations in Iraq

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Alphonse Karr, 19th century French journalist and novelist

By George Clifford

Months of anticipatory debate culminated two weeks ago in the anti-climatic reports to Congress by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Leaks revealed most of the content prior to the actual Congressional testimony. The GAO report, released at the beginning of September was even more negative. President Bush in his speech to the nation announced troop reductions in line with General Petraeus’ recommendations. The drawdown will commence when a Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2200 personnel departs Iraq in December with no replacement.

Non-pacifist Christians who do not rely upon a direct word from God to tell them when to wage war have historically relied upon the Just War Theory paradigm for help with warfighting decisions. One Just War Theory criterion is proportionality, i.e., the prospective gain must exceed the projected cost. Without using that language, commentators and others have repeatedly emphasized this issue in recent weeks. Are whatever political and security gains the troop surge produced in Iraq sustainable as the U.S. reduces the number of personnel in Iraq? If not, how will returning to pre-surge troop levels sustain political and security progress in Iraq? If the answers to both questions are in the negative, as I believe, then the substantial cost in treasure and lives, Iraqi and American, of continuing to occupy Iraq exceeds any hope of progress toward justice and peace.

In northern Iraq, the Kurds have established a de facto state within a state, Kurdistan within Iraq. Symbolic of this move, only the Kurdish flag flies in Kurdish provinces because the Kurds have banned the Iraqi flag. Tensions between Shiites and Sunnis, from all reports, seem undiminished. Violence has diminished, in substantial measure, because of ethnic cleansing as Shiites and Sunnis move to homogenous neighborhoods. The Iraqi national government has limited effectiveness and does not have its own reliable armed force. Iranian arms and Al Qaeda terrorists continue disrupting progress towards a stable, unified Iraq. According to the U.S. Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, prepared under General Petraeus’ leadership, the U.S. would require approximately three times the number of troops currently in Iraq to quell the violence and set the stage for political stability to develop. In other words, continued U.S. operations in Iraq also fail to satisfy the Just War Theory criterion of a reasonable chance of success.

What is the obligation of the United States to the people of Iraq? Just War Theory answers that question for Christians: to minimize death and harm while expeditiously trying to create a stable situation and then promptly exiting. American presence in Iraq remains a lightning rod for anti-Americanism feelings and terrorism. Fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq certainly does not eliminate or even diminish the concurrent need to fight Al Qaeda elsewhere. Some of the non-Iraqi Al Qaeda volunteers in Iraq only want the U.S. to leave Arab soil; these individuals are unlikely to come to the U.S. to continue their terrorist activities.

Iran would like to expand its sphere of influence to include all of Iraq, or at least the Shiite portions of Iraq, which happen to have most of Iraq’s oil resources. The U.S. should set aside its own predilection for secular democracy and support imposition of Islamic law (Sharia) in the Shiite portion of Iraq, if that is what the people want. Many Iraqi Shiites do not want to fall under Iranian hegemony because the Iranians are non-Arabs. Current U.S. policies have had the unintended consequence of pushing Iraqi Shiites toward Iran, which the Iraqi Shiites see as the lesser of two bad choices.

The Sunni minority in Iraq does not want to live under Sharia or to form any alliance with Iran. The Sunnis, with good cause, fear Shiite retribution for the decades of abuse and worse that the Shiites suffered under Sunni rule (Saddam Hussein was only the last and worst of these rulers). The Sunnis are more secular than the Shiites, more attracted to democracy, and more closely linked to the Saudis and other Sunni Arabs. Unfortunately, Iraq’s oil reserves are inequitably distributed, predominantly lying in Shiite and Kurdish areas and not in Sunni ones. Iraq’s government remains stuck, unable for over two years to find an agreement by which to share Iraq’s oil wealth acceptable to the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

In sum, the future of Iraq, the nation whose boundaries Winston Churchill famously drew following WWI, looks very bleak. Western style democracy has proven a non-starter. “Staying the course” is immoral because doing so has no reasonable chance of success. No reason exists to believe that policies that have not worked for the last three and a half years will suddenly become effective. Conversely, simply demanding immediate U.S. withdrawal of its armed forces is also immoral. Such a withdrawal will create a power vacuum unlikely to benefit most Iraqis and likely to precipitate further U.S. military action. Instead, Christians in this nation must push for new ideas and new policies.

Three ethnically homogenous, largely independent provinces of a loosely federated Iraq may represent one option. Each province could choose its own form of government and decide whether to implement Sharia. Alternatively, Iraq might dissolve into three mostly ethnically homogenous nations, each with its own government and laws. In either case, the United States should withdraw its forces from any of the three in which a majority of residents opposes a continuing presence. The U.S. should follow the lead of Arab and Muslim nations in safeguarding this political settlement. This task does not require a military presence in what is now Iraq. U.S. support for Israel has helped to assure Israeli independence without garrisoning troops in Israel. Iraqis, like the Israelis, value their independence. Iraqis do not want to live in a de facto U.S. colony, a nation whose government, finances, security, etc., depend upon U.S. decisions, troops, and funds.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

Prayers for Camila

By Sarabeth Goodwin

I am Latino missioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Just a year and a half old, the Misa Alegria is the youngest of the six Latino/Hispano congregations in the Diocese of Washington. By the grace of God and those who travel the way with me, I have been given a special gift: an invitation to cross into a different culture. I share in the journeys of many who live in the shadowlands—a parallel world often hidden from the mainstream where pain and challenge are daily bread, but faith endures. Here there are crossroads where the biblical stories intersect lives not as metaphors, but as realities.

The recent failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform in this country has been followed by increased raids in homes, workplaces and on playgrounds in our area and elsewhere. Fear and anxiety are commonplace in our community. Current laws do not encourage the integrity of families. We have a broken system that ensures cheap labor while establishing an underclass that labors dutifully without benefit of rights and protections. How we treat the sojourner in our land is a moral question which we as Christians must examine through the light of Scripture and the bond of our baptismal covenant, humbly seeking the guidance of the Spirit.

I share here a story from the Misa Alegría family.

Raids, detention and deportation have been lurking around the Misa Alegría for many months now—nephews, daughters-in-law, friends—but until recently nobody from our immediate family had been affected by our broken immigration system.

Late in August, we felt the impact. Sunday, Aug. 19, we bid a sad farewell to two of our own, a farewell that will mean long years of separation to a young family. Sandy made the painful decision to return to Ecuador with her 3-year-old daughter, Camila. Her husband, Daniel (not his real name) must remain here in the U.S.

Misa Alegría welcomed Sandy and Daniel to our congregation last January. We baptized Camila on July 15. Because of her solid Christian formation, I asked Sandy to help us with church school for the youngest. She was hesitant. The next week she explained why. Her mother was gravely ill and she needed to return to Ecuador to be with her.

Sandy had come to the United States some years ago to work and to study. She met and fell in love with Daniel and overstayed her visa. Three years ago, Camila was born. When Sandy’s mother became sick, the family found itself in a dilemma. Should Sandy stay here and never see her mother again? Should she return to be with her mother, knowing that under the current laws she would be banned from reentering the U.S. for 10 years for having overstayed her visa? And would this country even issue her another visa? And what about Camila, a U.S. citizen?

Together Daniel and Sandy made the agonizing decision for her to return to Ecuador with Camila.

Daniel must remain here. He is the only member of his family in this country. His mother is undergoing cancer treatment in Mexico City and he is financially responsible for her medical care. Only by Daniel’s working here can the family afford her medical care. He must now assist his family in Ecuador as well. If he leaves this country to visit either his family in Mexico or his family in Ecuador, he will not be allowed to return.

The family’s final Sunday at Misa Alegría – the “joyful mass” – was very difficult. We prayed for a safe journey for Sandy and Camila. Then I wrapped my stole around Sandy and Daniel’s joined hands and blessed their marriage. I could hardly see to read the prayer for the tears. When they stood up and kissed each other, I can only describe the response of our congregation as a collective sob.

One bright spot for Sandy is that the Episcopal Church, which she has come to appreciate, is only three blocks from her house in Quito.

Daniel continues to worship with our congregation. He hopes to save enough money to join Sandy and Camila in Ecuador in several years. They talk on the phone every day. Camila misses her daddy. Please keep them in your prayers.

Editor's note: Shortly after returning to Ecuador, Camila underwent a complete battery of tests and scans to identify a malady that is affecting her bones and neuromuscular system. Both Sandy and Daniel will need to undergo genetic testing to help identify and treat the specific syndrome. You can help this family with your prayers and by making a donation to Camila's Care, c/o The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, St.Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1525 Newton Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010.

A small c catholic looks at New Orleans

By Nick Knisely

In recent days there has been plenty of commentary both here and other places about the statement from the House of Bishops’ meeting in New Orleans and what it means for us as Episcopalians and Anglicans. The points made in those places are probably already familiar to the people reading this essay and I don’t see it as being helpful to list them here. (Take a look at the Lead if you’re need a refresher.) What I want to do here is to invite folks to look at what has happened in New Orleans in a different way through a different lens.

In the days leading up to the meeting I came across a reply to a comment on someone’s blog. The original post mentioned that “Rowan Williams was willing to sacrifice biblical truth for the sake of maintaining unity.” A few comments later someone replied to the effect that she “was right that Rowan might sacrifice to maintain unity, but that she misunderstood the reason why. Rowan was willing to compromise because he understands maintaining unity as biblical truth”.

That comment has been stuck in my brain ever since. It gives me a way to express something I’ve been struggling to put into words for years. I am a catholic Christian in a way similar to my reading of where Rowan Williams is coming from. I believe the Body of Christ looks like the wide diversity of human experience - intentionally and not by accident. This is not a belief I brought with me into the Episcopal Church, but it is one that I have grown into as I have prayed the liturgy and read the bible with the people I have met in this denomination.

It is because I am a “catholic minded” Christian that I have never been able to find any internal resonance for myself with the idea that “we” or “they” must now walk apart from each other.

I am for Jesus like, I believe, just about every other voice in this moment. For me that leads me to confess that I am for the greatest amount of communion with the largest diversity possible.

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Having thus laid out my own prejudices, let me now offer up my differing take on the House of Bishops’ statement.

The statement from the HoB is a political document extracted from them via threats and coercion. To read it as theological statement or a self-consistent teaching document is to misunderstand its purpose and genesis. It does not grow out of spontaneous desire of the Episcopal Church to toss yet another hot-potato into the conversation. It was not something that the House of Bishops looked forward to creating. It is the response to the request from the voices of the Primates Council of the Anglican Communion.

Given that it is not meant to be a confessional statement of belief or a teaching from the house, then what hope can it bring to us in the Episcopal Church?

The HoB statement is more important for the consensus it represents than it is for what it actually says.

For years now we’ve witnessed raucous House of Bishops’ meetings with boycotts, minority reports, people refusing to worship with one another and political horse-trading. What we’ve not seen is our bishops resolutely coming together into a community, listening to each other and working to create a document that they could all support to one degree or another. We have that here and it is the most surprising thing about the flawed and internally inconsistent document.

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I have been struggling for sometime now trying to understand the complaints we hear across the breadth of the Anglican Communion that the problems in its internal life are due to American imperialism and lack of concern for others. It’s a charge that hasn’t seemed fair to me given that the Episcopal Church has only ever tried to order its own life and spoken of its own practice for the most part. But while watching the goings on in New Orleans and listening to the overseas voices, I recognized something I hadn’t before. People who feel disenfranchised in the Episcopal Church and Episcopalians who feel disenfranchised in the Anglican Communion have been busy and effective of late reaching out and making allies for themselves outside of the Episcopal Church.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching out like this, and in most cases it seems commendable to me. But the unintended consequence of this looking for allies is that we here in the Episcopal Church have effectively turned our local squabbles into international ones. And our exported squabbles now not only threaten the health of our province but the internal lives of other provinces as well. It’s not that they don’t have to face the same issues, it’s that our culture’s framing of the issues is, in an unintended way, causing the issues to framed in their different culture in our terms rather than allowing them the opportunity to frame them for themselves.

To put it baldly: The lack of spiritual health in the life of the “instruments of unity” in the Episcopal Church is spreading to the “instruments of unity” in the rest of the Communion.

If the consensus statement from the House of Bishops represents the first steps on the long journey back to a mature and christian response to conflict in our province, then perhaps an important milestone in our recovery has been passed.

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What do I as a “catholic-minded” Christian think a mature response to conflict looks like? For me the first and primary response to brokeness is not to walk apart from each other - it is rather to kneel together at the Lord's table.

I take both St. Augustine's theological anthropology and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem seriously enough that I fundamentally doubt that we can either reason our way or interpret scripture accurately enough to find out way out of our present mess.

It is only by coming together to Christ and being fed from his self-emptying and freely gifted sacrifice that we can be healed.

So given that, our most effective response to the present conflict is to freely and honestly admit our brokeness and that we are stuck in a place we don’t know how to get out of. We are in an acute situation, and the first thing to do in an acute situation is to not take an action which would make things worse. Rather than cutting deeper to try heal a serious wound, might we instead first try to staunch the bleeding? I would argue that pastoral care for both sides, not schism or temporary separation, is what is called for in this moment in our Church.

Do I have specific suggestions about what that pastoral care would like like? Well, yes, I do actually... But I don’t think my suggestions are going to be terribly helpful because I’m not a member of one of the groups asking for care.

I believe the most Christian path would be for us to listen to both the communities of LBGT christians and those on the other side of the present debate who feel disenfranchised and marginalized by the actions of General Convention about what they respectively feel would be helpful. They have not been quiet in asking for specific things. And then to be honest and frank about what we can do and what we can’t do - recognizing our sinfulness and our brokeness as the source of our limitations.

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I do not know the definitive way that would lead us out of our present stuck situation. I'm leery of people who claim they do. (If there's a true prophet amongst us, please tell me the sign by which I recognize her or him.)

What I do believe is that the answer will only come to us as we commit ourselves more and more strongly to becoming the Body of Christ in the world. The closer we come to Jesus, the closer we come to each other. The closer we come to each other, the greater the agape love we share and the less insurmountable the problems we face.

The House of Bishops’ appears to me to have taken a turn down this new road. And for that reason more than any other, I am more hopeful now than I was last week.

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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