"By grace we become
what God is by nature"

By Greg Jones

Christians believe that the destiny and goal of the disciple is reconciliation into God – dwelling fully with God in the Kingdom. We have been called to follow Jesus on this way.

There is a term called 'theosis' which I like a great deal – it has to do with the process of becoming holy. Athanasius says, "By Grace we become what God is by nature."

The journey towards eternal holiness begins thus in the natural birth of each human being, granted by God in creation the supreme gift of being created in God's likeness, "giving them a portion even of the power of His own word," as Athanasius writes. That process continues further, we believe, by gracious entrance into the mystical Body of Christ (the Church) through Baptism, where by God's grace we've been included in that community of the Word's special presence for the sake of the world. And just as the new birth of Baptism brings us into this gracious fellowship of the Incarnation, we are called to further mature within it into the full stature of Christ.

Wisdom commends that without our own effort at discipleship – our own effort to become mature disciples – our faith is almost certainly dead. In other words, disciples are called to unite our will, thought and action with God's for the sake of our own growing up — for the sake of the world's good — for the sake of the lost, oppressed, poor, hungry, sick and alone. In the process of our own maturation into fuller likeness of Christ, it is expected that we do what he calls us to do. It is expected that we follow the Master.

It is required that we repent of the sin of our own pride and willfulness which seeks to do us in from the moment of our natural birth, beyond the moment of our new birth, and unto the moment of our final breath.

Our Church teaches that discipleship requires membership in the community of the Body of Christ (the Church) that is active and living, including especially regularly partaking in the Eucharist, prayers, ministry and mission of the one Body, and enjoining the Body's fellowship of grace and joy. It only makes sense that we who follow Jesus should be seeking to invite all human beings into this community of the Incarnate Word — not from a spirit of conquest but in a spirit of truly gracious love and invitation to union with the Word of God in Christ.

As we approach Lent - let us rejoice that we have not been left alone to stand blessed by our Creation in God's image yet besmirched by our own desire to recreate ourselves according to our own will. Let us rejoice that the Word became flesh, taking on the power of corruption, defeating it, and offering us a place in which to dwell so that we might ever more become like Him in all ways - in this world and the next.

Lent is a time, I believe, to daily repent of one's individual sin, but to seek daily new connection not only the implanted Word within, but to the Body of Christ - the Church - which itself is our locus of salvation and the community of the Kingdom on earth.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg is rector of St. Michael's Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

The Diversity of Pauline Traditions

By Deirdre Good

The author of 2 Peter admits that there are some things in the letters of Paul that are hard to understand. Perhaps the author had Paul's attitude to marriage in mind. Given the shortness of time, in I Cor 7 Paul commends the unmarried state without qualification to young and old, women and men alike, while in another place, (I Tim 2:15) he stipulates that a woman is subject to male authority and that she will be saved through childbearing.

To reconcile these opposing sentiments and others like them, scholars have come up with various solutions. Among the more creative is one by C. Wilfred Griggs, Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, who explains Joseph Smith's addition to the text after I Cor 7:29 (italics are mine and indicate additions):

"But I speak unto you who are called unto the ministry. For this I say brethren, the time that remaineth is but short, that ye shall be sent forth unto the ministry. Even they who have wives shall be as though they had none; for ye are called and chosen to do the Lord's work."

Paul is not condemning marriage in this chapter, Prof Griggs argues, but is advising missionaries who wish to become married that while they are on their missions (and the time for missionary work is short) they should be concerned with the work of the Lord and not with family or personal matters.

Other scholars, myself included, prefer not to add anything to Paul's words, however obscure and challenging they might seem. They propose that followers of Paul wrote several documents in his name after Paul's death, "clarifying" Paul. Among them are the Pastoral Epistles of 1&2 Timothy and Titus that apply Paul's teachings to late first and early second-century situations after his death. "Paul" of the Pastoral Epistles eschews celibacy, accepting and promoting instead hierarchical ideas about relations between men and women in so-called household codes. These household codes advocate a hierarchy of domestic arrangements that echo some Pauline statements but which are alien to others such as those proclaiming that life in Christ transforms sexual and ethnic distinctions (Gal 3:28). Paul's teaching commending the unmarried state for men and women reappears after Paul's death in the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla. In this text not found in the New Testament, Paul preaches a version of the Sermon on the Mount blessing "those who keep the flesh chaste, for they shall become the temple of God." Thecla hears Paul's word of purity and renounces her engagement in favor of following Paul the itinerant missionary. She assumes this lifestyle for herself, becoming a role model for other Christian women.

The Acts of Paul and Thecla and the New Testament shed light on each other: the Corinthian community of saints proposes to embody holiness and to enact purity through renunciation of genital sexuality. Bodies are called temples of God and made holy by their relationship to Christ. Similarly, in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Paul exhorts hearers to forego patriarchal marriage for a lifestyle free of marriage to preach the gospel, showing mutual hospitality and a shared economy. Thecla's autonomy and self-determination came at a price: she lost home and protection and in the narrative is tried and condemned by a Roman court

Pauline tradition in the second-century seems to have bifurcated into two distinct interpretative streams originating from Paul's preaching and letters. The more conservative one found expansion and elaboration in the Pastoral Epistles of I and II Timothy and Titus. The other less hierarchical one advocating a celibate condition in which women and men exercised a particular freedom, fell out of mainstream favor as the time became patently less short. One cannot understand Paul's teaching on marriage without understanding how Pauline tradition was interpreted after his death. And one cannot understand Pauline tradition--on marriage or anything else--without taking into account all the literature that bears Paul's name. How the Pastoral Epistles came to be included in the New Testament and the Acts of Paul and Thecla excluded is in part answered by what we know of the development of the canon-the process of selecting which documents came to be regarded as authoritative as sacred scripture.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting pieces on a number of writings outside the New Testament that shed light on the period of Christian Origins. Why might anyone be interested in writings not included in the New Testament? I suggest several reasons: it took four centuries for the writings that make up the New Testament to be identified as canonical, that is as authoritative. If we want to understand the period of Christian Origins from an historical perspective, then we will do well to know about and even read some of these texts preserved or subsequently excluded by our ancestors in the Christian tradition. Christians today do not agree which texts are authoritative; do not subscribe to a single canon. Oxymoronic though it may seem, diversity of canons is a fact: the Roman Catholic's canon, for example, contains more ancient texts than the Protestant's. The Ethiopian canon of scripture encompasses the longest list of texts regarded as sacred scriptures. I do not propose to open a canon; I propose to open our minds to texts excluded from the canon, so that we may know something of the originality and diversity of early Christian writings in order to understand the richness and complexity of Christian tradition.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. While she is an American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and loves marmite which may explain certain features of her blog, On Not Being a Sausage.

Untangling the roots of violence

By Kris Lewis

In the courtyard outside Trinity Wall Street sits a brass sculpture cast from the root of a large sycamore tree that once stood in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel. On September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down, this tree absorbed the shock waves that some have likened to a small nuclear blast, and fell in such a way that it shielded the chapel and the graveyard from damage caused by falling debris. I walked by this sculpture each day to enter the church for Trinity Institute’s program on religion and violence but it wasn’t until I was leaving Wednesday evening at the conclusion of the conference, my head and my heart full, that it struck me what an apt symbol this sculpture was for what we’d been doing. Just as this root provided strength and stability for the tree it supported, so too does religion provide grounding for the community of faith. And just as these roots were ripped from the ground by seismic shocks, allowing a tall and proud tree to fall, so too can religion be uprooted, shaken and disturbed by forces of conflict and change. Ironically, the root memorialized here had buffered the effects of perhaps the greatest single act of violence this country has witnessed—an act many have attributed at least in part to religious fundamentalism. And we were here to untangle the roots of religion and violence.

The program began with lofty questions—are religion and violence inextricably linked? Is the perceived link the result of misinterpretation, subversion of sacred texts? Can our religious symbols and stories be reinterpreted, reshaped to break that link? Or must we abandon religion, completely rid ourselves of what many hold to be archaic ways of making meaning, in order to forge a more peaceful world? Hard questions with no easy answers.

The conference speakers, like the attendees, represented the three Abrahamic religions. Each spoke movingly of both their particular faith tradition and their own experiences. Each called into question some of the assumptions made about those traditions and experiences both by those in the faith and those outside it.

Noted Black Liberation theologian James Cone recalled for us the role religion played both in the oppression of African Americans and in their attempt to find meaning in an unjust world. Injustice itself is a form of violence, he reminded us, and the church cannot truly be church unless it calls into question the social structures that support injustice. As long as there is injustice there must be resistance and the church is called to empower the people for that resistance. Moreover, the church should be the source of hope for a people engaged in resisting the violence of an unjust world.

Jewish scholar Susannah Heschel questioned the validity of blaming violence on religious fundamentalists and extremists. What, after all, defines extreme—is it praying once a day or five times? Is dying for one’s country allowed, but not dying for one’s religion? And cannot liberalism lead to extremes just as fundamentalism might? Violence is present in our sacred stories, but how we understand those stories will necessarily affect how we deal with that violence, and so we need to consider how we construct and interpret our religious narratives. The challenge, according to Heschel, is not to erase the particularities of our faith communities, but rather for each community to embrace its own tradition without demonizing the other, all the while remembering that the ultimate expression of God is justice.

Catholic author James Carroll noted how deeply the myth of redemptive violence is embedded not only in the religious consciousness of America but also in our secular worldview. From the Puritan settlers who envisioned a new “Jerusalem on a hill” and who sacrificed the lives of native Americans and black slaves to achieve their vision, through the series of wars fought to maintain freedom but on whose altars the lives of millions of young men were laid, culminating in the current “war on terror,” sanctified violence has been a way of life in this nation. Our challenge now is twofold—to come truly to grips with the violent realities of our past and to wrestle with issues of boundaries, purity, inclusiveness, atonement and sacrifice in a way that allows for both honest self-criticism and hope for the future.

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan argued that we must promote justice and dignity for all if we want a world of non-violence. Tolerance of the other is not enough; rather we must respect the other and look for places where values and conscience are shared as a foundation for a peaceful world. We must reform ourselves before we can reform others, Ramadan reminded us, and we must work to find meaning in life from God.

(Interviews with Carroll, Cone, Heschel and Ramadan will be featured on the Cafe's Video blog, courtesy of Trinity, Wall Street.)

A pacifist at heart and a firm believer in non-violent resistance, I came to this conference already full of my own questions about the roots of violence and what I perceive to be a failure on the part of the Christian community to honestly confront it. I left with a head full of new perspectives and insights from my own faith community and from those whose faith is different. I left, too, with a heart full of sadness and doubt, seeing the scope of the problem to be even greater than I had conceived. Despite this sadness and doubt however, I also left with a sense of hope—hope born out of the willingness of people of different faith communities to come together to grapple with such difficult issues and out of the experience of sharing my doubts and fears and my dreams for a better world in a group willing to hear them and bear them with me.

The Rev. Dr. Kris Lewis is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary and serves as the Assistant Rector at Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, Barnstable MA. She is learning to see the world with new eyes through photography and keeps the blog My Soul in Silence Waits.

Paul's conversion, and ours

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas to the Convention of the Diocese of Washington, Friday, January 25, 2008 (The Conversion of Paul.) An audio file is here.

By Ian T. Douglas

These are tense times in the Anglican Communion with threats of division and schism flying about unchecked. Letters and communiqués from ecclesiastical leaders, newspaper headlines, book titles, and blogasphere banter all claim, and proclaim, that the Anglican Communion is in crisis. So in light of your convention theme we Anglicans, here and around the world, might begin by asking ourselves: Is it at all possible “that we all may be one”?

Now I am not so naïve to deny that the Anglican Communion is experiencing a crisis. I believe, however, that the crisis of the Anglican Communion today is not about fights over human sexuality and the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the Church. Nor is the crisis primarily about issues of authority and identity (although questions of who is in charge and who gets to speak for the Communion abound.) Rather the crisis in the Anglican Communion is fundamentally a crisis of conversion . . . a crisis of conversion.

What do I mean by a crisis of conversion? I understand conversion as a profound altering of life that results in a reorientation to God and God’s purposes; an amendment of life that calls one deeper into the heart of God; a turning around and joining God anew in what God is up to in the wider world. Conversion is thus fundamentally a reordering of one’s life, a reordering of one’s life to bring it in line with the misso Dei, the mission of God. The crisis for the Anglican Communion is thus, at its heart, whether we will let ourselves be turned inside out, upside-down, for the sake of God’s mission? Will we move from an established, known, secure and well-ordered place of privilege to a place of change, unknowingness, risk and marginalization for the sake of Christ in the world? Can we all be converted, whether we are Anglicans in Washington or Anglicans in West Africa, from our positions of power, comfort, and insularity to a deeper engagement, one with another, in God’s reconciling mission in the world? This is the crisis for the Anglican Communion.

St. Paul, whose conversion the Church remembers today, knew something about being turned inside out, upside-down, for the sake of God’s mission in the world. Called to move from a place of privilege, narrowness, and judgment, Paul set his foot on a new path, a costly path, of embodying and extending God’s reconciling love for all people.

Most of us know the story pretty well. Saul of Tarsus, as St. Paul was known before his conversion, was a devout and faithful Jew. Raised as a scholar of the Law, Paul was a man who took God and God’s word seriously. His many gifts and privileges, including a brilliant mind, a deep piety, an energetic and ambitious spirit, along with Roman citizenship, put Paul on a fast track to religious and political leadership.

As an up and coming leader in first century Palestine living under Roman rule, Paul could not avoid the challenges to the established order posed by the followers of Jesus. The author of Acts, in our first lesson, thus gives voice to how Paul persecuted the Christians. Paul says that he had in his previous life: locked up the followers of Jesus in prison, condemned them to death, punished them in the synagogues, and even pursued them to foreign cities in an enraged frenzy.

And so it was in one of his pursuits of the trouble-making Christians that Paul found himself on the Damascus road. There the living Jesus appeared to him as a light from heaven, brighter than the sun. Falling to the ground, Paul is bid by Jesus to stand up and receive a new commission, a new charge. Jesus says: “No longer are you to persecute me. Rather I am appointing you to serve and testify to the truth you have seen. I am sending you to your own and to the Gentiles so that their eyes may be open, that they may turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, to receive forgiveness of sins and a place among the sanctified.” Blinded by the light of God, Paul takes on a new life, a new vocation, as scales fall from his eyes. He reorients his life to God and God’s purposes and in so doing the Good News of God in Christ is made manifest to those who had previously been considered beyond the reach of God’s grace.

Giving his life to God in Jesus, Paul is thus turned inside out, upside-down, for the sake of God’s mission? Over and over Paul emphasizes that God in Jesus called him from his former ways to a life of proclaiming and making real the reconciling love of Christ to all people. In our Epistle from Galatians, Paul states that earlier in life he was more zealous for the traditions of his ancestors than almost anyone else. (More zealous for the traditions of our ancestors, does that sound familiar in Anglicanism today?) But God did a new thing. By the grace of God, Paul moves from an established, known, secure and well-ordered place of privilege to a place of change, unknowingness, risk and marginalization so that God’s love in Jesus could be made known to all. Similarly in our Gospel reading tonight the apostles are presented with the reality that proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ will result in alienation, arrest, judgment and persecution. The conversion of Paul and the commissioning of the apostles model for us the cost of following Jesus in God’s mission. And it is the same cost that is laid before the Anglican Communion, laid before each and every Anglican the world over, in our crisis of conversion.

The difficult question before the Anglican Communion today is thus: Can a historically mono-cultural, Church of imperial aspirations embrace a new Pentecost as a multicultural family of churches embodying wide differences yet called in unity to incarnate and extend God’s reconciling love in every corner of the world?

Allow me to unpack this question a bit. Within the lifetime of most of us gathered here tonight, especially if you are middle aged like I am, The Anglican Communion has been transformed from a white English-speaking church of the West to a radically plural and global family of churches made up of 80 million Christians in over 160 countries. And along with this radical transformation, individuals and groups who historically have been silenced or hidden in the Church have begun to find their voices and places at the table. Previously colonized people, people for whom English is not their first language, people of color, people around the world who live in dire economic, political, social, and health circumstances, are all standing up and saying they belong. And here in The Episcopal Church particularly over the last four decades: women, Africa-Americans, lay people, and most recently gay and lesbian people, are beginning to own their places in the Body of Christ. The Anglican Communion is thus no longer the Church primarily for the Ian Douglases of the world: heterosexual, white, male, economically secure, overly educated, Western-thinking, English-speaking, US passport-holding, middle-aged, clerics. Thanks be to God.

So the question really is, given the plurality of voices and peoples in this New Pentecost that is the world-wide Anglican Communion today, will we become alienated from each other in attempts to secure new privileges through the assertion of our own single identity politics? Or will we be converted anew to God’s mission in the world and therein find our unity and the possibility “that we all may be one.”? Like St. Paul, will we Anglicans, each and every one of us in every corner of the world, be knocked off our various high horses on our own Damascus roads and then be picked up and turned around by Jesus to new service in God’s mission? Will the scales fall from our eyes so that we may join with one another and set out together on new missionary journeys?

I am blessed to say that I have witnessed over and over Anglicans around the world being converted anew to God’s mission. I think of young men and women who, through The Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps work alongside sisters and brothers in Christ in almost every province of the Anglican Communion. I have seen how they and their co-workers outside the United States have met Jesus anew in each other through these relationships. In my own diocese of Massachusetts, we have joined with the Mother’s Union in Kenya and Anglican church leaders in Uganda and Tanzania to feed and provide medical care to literally thousands of HIV/AIDS orphans. And in so doing we all have been changed, in Boston and in East Africa. And last July I witnessed 40 African Anglican bishops and 30 American Episcopal bishops come together in a consultation in Spain to share stories of what God was doing in their lives and their dioceses, beyond divisive church politics. In Spain I saw American and African bishops converted anew to God’s mission and to each other. I even saw your own Bishop (if I may John) moved to tears and transformed as he heard an African brother tell about dodging gunfire in a civil war in order to rescue the Gospel that had been translated into his own local language by his friend and mentor who lay dying from gunshot wounds. I hope and pray that though the meeting and sharing of such stories at the Lambeth Conference next summer, Anglican bishops from every church in the Communion will be similarly transformed. And, last but not least, I have witnessed how the invitation to dioceses, parishes and individual Christians in the United States and around the Anglican Communion to contribute 0.7% of our incomes in support the Millennium Development Goals has turned the hearts and minds of millions of faithful Anglicans to the possibility of making poverty history as a response to God’s mission of reconciliation.

So yes, these are tense times in the Anglican Communion. The Conversion of St. Paul however, reminds us that we never know where God might be leading us. Following in the footsteps of Paul and of the apostles, we are called to proclaim and make real the reconciling love of Jesus for all people to the ends of the earth. The challenge before the Anglican Communion today, the crisis of conversion each and every one of us invited into, is to move from established, known, secure and well ordered places of privilege to places of change, unknowingness, risk and marginalization with Jesus and each other in service to God’s mission. And when we are so converted to God’s mission, I do believe that “we all will be made one” in Christ Jesus. AMEN.

The Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School, is a member of the Lambeth Conference Design Team.

He must increase,
but I must decrease

By Greg Jones

John the Baptist was real. He was a historical figure – not a literary invention, not a mythical fantasy. He had a life of his own, with parents, family, a name, a neighborhood, a nation. He was a real person, no less than you and I.

He is spoken of in books – not only in the Gospels but also in the books of Josephus. John was charismatic enough to draw thousands of disciples to himself and lead them to change their lives dramatically.

The Baptist was full-on real, and widely known in his own day. The evidence suggests he had a very large following of many thousands – attracting not only the poor and the restless – but also the rich and the comfortable. His own king took interest in him, and then, fearing his power, had the Baptist killed.

John the Baptist was MAJOR – and yet, we really don't know most of the details of his life – because he gave it away to point to Jesus. John was big, but he made himself small, as he pointed toward Christ and showed that disciples of God must live lives of giving it all away.
It's the central paradox of the Gospel – to live, we must die.

John got that message first.

Of course, I'm not talking about the past really. I'm talking about us too. For we are tomorrow's past – at best to be forgotten by this world and remembered in the next – at worst, to be remembered in this world but not in the next.

If John the Baptist has anything to say at all to us it is this: "Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, Go to Him, See Him, and Stay there, forever."

In the Gospel of John, after the Baptist identifies Jesus, two of his own followers leave him, Andrew and Simon Peter, and go after Jesus. They go to see where Jesus stays – or abides -- in late afternoon on the Sabbath eve - and then stay for the entire Sabbath -- a 24 hour period.
The Gospel of John is suggesting that this is what true discipleship looks like: Leaving your old master, and abiding with the Lord for 24 hours a day.

Are we doing that? Or are we popping in on the Lord for an hour a week and returning to our all-day masters the rest of the time?

Friends – God's grace is free – but discipleship does have a cost. And the cost is the giving up of our old masters – our all-day masters – whatever those are – to abide with Christ all the time.
Who is your master -- this hour? And the next?

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ("Greg") became a member of Christ's Body at St. Columba's in Washington, D.C., and he was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg 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.

Winterlight

By Susan Fawcett

The week after Christmas, I found myself at a conference for Episcopal high school students at Kanuga (a camp and conference center in North Carolina) called ‘Winterlight.’ Two hundred students came from as far away as New Jersey and Miami to be there. Leading this event was a group of 56 adults, many of them college students, most of them under 30 years old.

Winterlight’s theme this year was “You are the light of the world.” Each day’s activities, music, worship, program time, and small group discussions touched on some particular aspect of that theme, as we sought to let the light of God shine through us.

winterlight1.jpg
The week was truly remarkable, highlighted by several events. In the space of three hours in one afternoon, the Winterlight community packaged 33,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now, which will go to Haiti and Tanzania for famine relief. An evening variety show celebrated the talents—diverse and sometimes silly—of the participants. A New Years’ Eve Eucharist ended with laying-on-of-hands for the graduating seniors, and dancing and singing that quite literally shook the rafters of the Kanuga chapel. Between these events were the smaller moments that happen on retreats, time-out-of-time—meals, walks, discussions, games, singing, and connections forged between people who otherwise might never have met.

The story of Winterlight is a unique and particularly moving one, and I can’t recommend the conference enough as an opportunity for any high school students you might know. Kanuga also offers a similar summertime event called ‘Youth Week.’ But that is not exactly the story I’m trying to tell here.

What has stayed with me since the conference ended is the power of the Winterlight staff, many of whom are college students. Their high caliber was evident in some obvious ways—the professionalism of the music and of the audio-visual work, for example. Several skits involved pre-recorded digital videos that had been expertly directed, recorded, and edited. The music team managed to include professional and amateur musicians on a repertoire that went all the way from Christmas hymns to Rihanna’s Umbrella—a feat in itself.

Moreover, each day’s program was developed by a team of staff, not by a professional (nor seminary-educated) keynoter. Their articulate presentation, compelling faith, and creative teaching mechanisms could not have been more effective.

The staff showed their power in more subtle foundational ways as well. The care they showed for each other in developing a staff community that was open to newcomers, the remarkable compassion and patience they showed for the participants, the energy they brought to each day’s program, all of these things were significant. I was particularly impressed by the utter lack of cynicism the staff showed about their work. These people truly believe in the power of God to shape lives through community. Winterlight is not, for them, just one way to occupy youth over New Year’s Eve or pitch church propaganda. For them, it is a very real connection to God, a privilege, and a holy task.

Conference co-coordinator Rebecca Nelson Edwards reflected about this same issue. “Because I grew up participating in Winterlight as a teenager and then transitioned onto staff, it seemed normal that 60 people would detach themselves from home and family for the week after Christmas (including New Year's Eve!) to spend time with 200 teenagers talking about God and faith and learning to love yourself. As I began working in the ‘real world’ a few years ago, I started to gain more appreciation for the miracle that actually is, even within the Church. Not only do these folks give significant time and energy to this endeavor - they're really good at it, and that evolves not out of any particularly special training (other than Safeguarding God's Children, of course) or skill, but just out of a deep love and willingness and energy.

Every single member of the staff could be counted on both for leadership and pastoral care at any given moment, and it was most gratifying to watch ministry taking place everywhere you turned during the week. Actions that might seem heroically gracious anywhere else are commonplace in the Winterlight community.

“This year I really began to look around and notice how young most of our staff is - over half of them are still college students, which only makes me all the more impressed at their competence. I'm surprised even more when I hear most of our younger staff members talk about their day-to-day lives outside Kanuga, because many of them, like typical college students, don't necessarily keep up their involvement in church or even Canterbury groups.

“In other words, these aren't just a bunch of church nerds who have nothing better to do. They're ordinary folks from all walks of life who have been touched by the Holy Spirit at Winterlight and want to pay it forward. It's one of the most genuine ways for ministry to be born.”

Edwards’ observation about the young age of the staff bears noting. One of the aspects of the conference that most impressed me was the ‘Torchbearers’ program. College freshmen, on staff for the first time, serve as Torchbearers. They have some special tasks at the conference, including finding a new and creative way to light the Winterlight candle at the beginning of each day. They also meet together as a group each day.

Christopher Turner, a former Winterlight coordinator and currently Executive Director of Grace Point Episcopal Camp and Retreat Center (Diocese of East Tennessee), helps run this aspect of Winterlight. He noted that the Torchbearer program was developed to bridge that 'gap' year after high school graduation. Not just forging a sense of team spirit or reinforcing the rules, the extra time spent as a group under the guidance of more experienced leaders offers them a separate time to process the transition from participant to staff member, from youth to adult.

‘Young adult ministry’ has been getting a lot of press and energy lately. Churches have been engaging their young adults with Pub Theology events, small groups, conferences like Camino, and alternative worship services. That is all well and good. I was captivated at Winterlight, however, by the leadership of these young adults, some of them only one year out of high school.

This is a generation that learns not by listening or even by talking but by doing. What opportunities for doing ministry, for real leadership are we creating for young adults in the church? How are we creating intentional routes for young adults to transition from ‘youth’ to ‘adult’ status, the way Torchbearers do at Winterlight? And if these college students and twentysomethings have so much to offer (and gain) from church leadership, why are so many parishes bemoaning their lack of young adults in the pews on Sunday mornings?

As a priest who works mostly with youth in my parish, I have spent a lot of time telling middle- and high-school students how important their voices are. They hear over and over again that they are full members of the church, that they have the power to change the world, and that their faith can be inspiring for others. But beyond high school graduation, there often seems to be something of a desert out there, marked by small oases of college ministry and camp counselor experiences.

I was touched at Winterlight that there are in fact many other powerful ways for young people to continue to do ministry in college and beyond, perhaps with more freedom than might be possible within the framework of a parish.

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.

Snowfall

By Jean Fitzpatrick

We were supposed to get a storm of Antarctic proportions, and the radio announced a long list of school closings, but it's only a light snowfall. For an instant, I stop to look: as the wind rises through the trees, showers of huge lollipop flakes, like the ones in a child's drawing, fall to the ground, and the pure winter light reflected off the snow pours in our windows and bathes the whole house. But then it's business as usual: I return a few phone calls, exchange emails with colleagues about an upcoming meeting. My neighbor calls and we congratulate ourselves on the fact that with the snow on our driveways already melted, we won't need to call the plow.

As I put down the kitchen phone, I remember with a pang how, when my kids were small, they would greet a day like this with great whoops of joy, running outside to sled down the lawn and make snow angels. Once they were back indoors -- noses runny, mittens caked with snow, hair electrified from their knit hats -- we'd spread their wet clothes over the radiators and it would be time for hot chocolate. They'd spend the long afternoon rummaging through old clothes for costumes, getting lost in a storybook, watching Gilligan's Island reruns.

I don't let myself do that very often. Don't look back, I tell myself. Banish the self-pity. You have two healthy, grown kids. They're moving forward, they're happy and caring, they stay in touch. You have a full life, people and work you love. You're safe in a warm house. To be anything but thankful would be a disgrace.

Right. I turn away from the window. Back in my office, sinking into the swivel chair at my desk, I click on the online reservation that will, in a few weeks, whisk me away from winter. Tropical sunsets, blue water and pineapple daiquiris: just the ticket.

Now, hold on a minute, something inside me says. What are you running away from?

I take a deep breath and check in with myself. Actually, I'm surprised to notice, I feel no sadness, no pain, nothing. Zero. How did it happen so quickly that the most frozen place of all is inside my own heart?

I go back to the kitchen, fix a cup of orange tea, and gaze out the window. This time I let myself picture my children trudging across the meadow beyond the trees, calling out to each other, putting out their tongues to catch falling flakes. Ice glistens along the birch branches. A cardinal lights on the feeder and flies off. This time, instead of flinging off the sadness, I'm letting it rest with me, but lightly. Before long, as I slow down to take in the beauty of the silent, snowy woods, I'm deep in the present moment, with all its fullness.

There's no substitute for letting ourselves be human. At certain times in our lives, other people -- those we love, those we reach out to help, those with a gift for prayer or preaching -- help us see the world in an intense, new way. In doing so, they open our eyes to a larger reality, mediate the divine for us. When those times pass, no two ways about it: we're bound to grieve. It's true there's no point in looking back, like Lot's wife. But if we insulate ourselves completely against those inner waves of loss, we end up walling off the grace that is always offered to us. We lose touch with joy.

The sky is a milky white. I'm pretty sure it's going to snow again.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth. She has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Native Americans and the Civil Rights movement

By Steven Charleston

One of the less well known chapters in the recent history of the Civil Rights Movement is that part of the movement that arose from within the Native American context. As we look back to the legacy we have inherited from Dr. King, we look back at many paths from many cultures that became the tide of change he initiated.

What was unique about the Native American civil rights experience was the crucial issue of treaties. Unlike other ethnic communities, Native Americans maintain a treaty relationship with the United States, just like foreign nations do. Much of the historic struggle of Native People was fought out in the courts over interpretations of these solemn treaties, or, in many cases, their enforcement. Never have so many treaties been broken so consistently and so blatantly as they have been between the United States and the sovereign indigenous peoples of the Americas. It is the story of civil rights embedded in legal precedent over generations. It is the moral foundation for all that was to follow through genocide, slavery and the importation of the poor into America as cheap labor. The destruction of Native American rights was the fertile soil on which American racism took root and grew. The effort of Native men and women to protect themselves against this evil cloaked as racial superiority is the true subtext of all American history.

The gift of Native Americans to the civil rights movement is the gift of a tiny minority fighting for its legal rights against overwhelming odds. Long before there were sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, there were Native activists fighting for justice in the Supreme Court. In fact, it was exactly one of these cases that President Andrew Jackson derided and ignored, contrary to the Constitution of the United States, when the Supreme Court told him he could not forcibly evict Native People from their land. Andrew Jackson herded my ancestors on a death march in total violation of that court decision. He abrogated the Constitution. He sent troops to quell opposition. Like George Wallace, he wanted a South that was segregated for eternity.

Many years later, as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, the great-great grandchildren of those who were sent on the Trail of Tears continued the struggle in places like Alcatraz and the second Wounded Knee. Names like Russell Means and Dennis Banks became common in the media. The American Indian Movement made America nervous as it began to tell the truth about people like Andrew Jackson. Icons of oppression and propaganda like Mount Rushmore became symbols that would challenge the American Dream.

Today, the struggle that began in 1492 continues. I hope that as we celebrate the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that we never forget the first Americans to fight for justice: those who are proud to call this land their home, their birthright as free and sovereign people.

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. He has written many articles on both Native American concerns and spirituality.


Coming out of hiding
as a Christian

By Roger Ferlo

What are you looking for? It’s a question that tends to get asked in Episcopal churches this time of year, when we gear up for what we quaintly call Inquirers’ Classes in hopes of swelling our numbers a bit with new recruits. The answers are as various as the people who find their way into the rector’s study, once they manage to negotiate their lonely passage past the vast sea of backs that greets them at the parish coffee hour . “What are you looking for?” we want to ask, knowing full well that more often than not the answer is “I’m not sure.” My experience over the years leading many such classes is that the answer people are trying to articulate is not “I am looking for something” but rather that “Something—someone—is looking for me.” It’s an unsettling place to be.

Like the seekers (and the sought) in our Inquirer Classes, Jesus asked a lot of questions too. People tended to listen closely when he asked them, if only because his questions almost invariably put them on edge, left them scrambling for answers. Who is neighbor to the wounded man? Who would cast the first stone? Whose face is on that coin? Will you lay down your life for me? Where have you laid the body? What are you looking for?

I’ve always admired the presence of mind that allowed two of Jesus’s earliest followers to answer this last probing question with another question. The story gets told in the first chapter of John’s gospel, which tends to be read in church this time of year. You would think that they might have answered him this way: I’m looking for answers. I’m looking for secret knowledge. I’m looking for ways to improve my life, to lose weight, to get a degree, to feel needed, or to feel loved, or to stop hating myself, or to feel vindicated, or to escape my life, or to make money, or to find someone to love, or be on the right side ant the right time when everything hits the fan and I’m left to pick through the pieces.

But that’s not what happens in the story. When Jesus approached two potential inquirers to ask them what they were looking for, what they said was not “I am looking for X, or Y, or Z.” They instead answered his question with another question: “Where are you staying?” Now this is an incredibly foolish response. They know almost nothing about this man, and what they did know about him meant that to ask where he was staying was to ask for trouble. They had just heard John the Baptist call him the Lamb of God. Given what they knew about sacrificial lambs, they should have been running for cover. Because the Lamb of God will by definition be wounded, sacrificed, destroyed, and anyone who stays the course with the Lamb will be wounded, sacrificed, destroyed as well.

So much for the quaint safety of a rector’s Inquirers’ Class. To enter the place where Jesus dwells means to answer a summons not to self-improvement or self-actualization, but to a world of risk and pain and the fear of loss, and at the same time to claim that it’s there, in that world, that you will find a peace that passes all understanding. To seek Jesus where Jesus stays, where Jesus lives, is to come out of hiding—to take the risk of loving yourself, and loving your neighbor, even your neighbor who hates you. To come to Jesus where Jesus lives is to enter the public realm.

Of course, given the idiocies that pass for Christian thinking in political speeches these days, entering the public realm as a Christian is the last thing any of us might want to do. But coming out of hiding as a Christian doesn’t necessarily make you a right-wing Republican. When this story got told in church this past Sunday, it coincided by sheer coincidence with the commemoration of Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King was a lot of things to a lot of people, and at this late date his memory has been mythologized and sterilized and romanticized past all recognition. But he knew how to answer Jesus’ question—he knew what it meant to come out of hiding as a Christian. He knew what it meant to be sought. What are you looking for, Martin? I’m looking for justice. Where do you seek it? I seek it here, now, with you, in this time and in this place, in the name of the God who does not know black from white, rich from poor, except when the difference betokens the sin of injustice, and then with the Lamb of God broken and sacrificed and resurrected I will make no peace with oppression.

We know a lot now about Martin Luther King, in some ways too much, and in many ways too little. One thing we know for sure is that he made no claim to perfection. To respond to Jesus’ question the way he did was not to claim perfection—it was to guarantee that his every imperfection would be revealed. Imperfection of motives. Imperfection of desires. Imperfection of language. Imperfection of intention. How much easier to remain quiet, intimidated by the loudest voices claiming perfection for themselves, to answer the question “What are you looking for” with the standard religious response to which all of us fall prey, no matter where we position ourselves on the religious or political spectrum: “ I’m looking for what’s in it for me.”

That answer’s not good enough any more, as if it ever was. To visit Jesus where Jesus lives, even the smallest act of boldness—parrying one racist remark, countering one xenophobic rant, standing up for one impoverished child, offering just one alternative to the self-centered anger and fear-mongering and scapegoating that bedevils American religion as much as American politics--even the tiniest act of grace will reveal what Jesus called God’s kingdom as it breaks in upon us.

What else in the end is worth looking for?

The Rev. Dr. Roger Ferlo is Professor of Religion and Culture, Associate Dean and director of the Institute for Christian Formation and Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Racism: overt, covert and latent

By George Clifford

Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton recently clashed over a remark that Hillary Clinton had made in reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. The tempest has subsided and all agreed on King’s unique importance and contributions to social justice. But the controversy prompted me to once again reflect on King’s significance for my own life and ministry.

From the time I was in college, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has been a role model for my life and my ministry. Having grown up in Maine, racism (combining prejudice and power to discriminate against another race) was primarily an intellectual concept until I attended college. As a student at our nation’s first college to award a degree to an African-American, I learned that racism comes in many different forms. The Klu Klux Klan exemplifies overt racism. Institutions that claim to provide equal opportunity but that use tests known to disadvantage a minority practice covert racism. Latent racism is perhaps the most insidious and intransigent form of racism, representing the cultural stereotypes and prejudices to which all of us are exposed as a consequence of being born and raised in a racist society.

The idea that we live in a racist society offends some. It shocked me when a college friend first suggested it. Then I started to listen. I listened to how teachers and employers treated college classmates. I listened to the men with whom I worked in Trenton State Prison whose death sentences had been changed to life imprisonment when the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional (a ruling since reversed). Then, as with those on death row today, their numbers were overwhelmingly African-American. All things being equal – economic status, education, social class, etc. – African-Americans are far more likely to receive a death sentence than Caucasian Americans are. I listened to the first inter-racial couple who asked me to officiate at their wedding. Seven other clergy had refused to officiate because the man was black and the woman white. I listened to the parents who brought their adopted children to my parish, and to the children, tell of the racism that they experienced at school and in other churches because the families included Caucasians, Asians, African-Americans and Native Americans.

When I joined the Navy, I continued to listen. The first African-American chaplain promoted to Captain told me about the obstacles he had faced in the Chaplain Corps, prejudice that continues even into the present. An African-American ship captain, a former star athlete at the Naval Academy, told me of the hatred and racism that he had faced. Senior Marines told me how the Marine Corps has struggled unsuccessfully for decades to correct the imbalance in the ratio of African-American officers to enlisted. Listening to stories of racism brings tears to my eyes and raises my blood pressure. I feel face to face with evil.

Martin Luther King, Jr., knew all of the above. He personally experienced racism’s destructive and dehumanizing power. Yet he believed and preached that Christ's power to save is not limited to what happens when we die but includes transforming our values and attitudes in this life. Martin Luther King, Jr., believed that the world could become a better place. He lived and worked in the hope that one-day children all of races would live and play together as brothers and sisters. He was killed because he believed that walking in Jesus' footsteps meant opposing the evil of racism and other forms of social injustice at all costs but that the opposition must take a Christ-like shape.

When still in college, I felt called to spend my life making the world a better place. I briefly considered the law and politics. But by the seventies, when I was in college, enormous legislative and judicial strides had been taken. Overt racism, except as protected free speech, was largely illegal. Separate facilities for different races were abolished. Inter-racial marriage was increasingly common. Education, employment, and residential discrimination were less open and against the law. Covert racism was being slowly rooted out. Institutions were establishing equal opportunity policies, programs and offices. Affirmative action resulted in significant positive steps towards rectifying past discrimination.

Yet latent racism remained pervasive. People needed healing in their lives. Hatred, prejudice, and resentment needed transforming into genuine love for all of one’s neighbors, regardless of race or any other characteristic or belief. All are God's children and God loves all equally. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a living example, for me, of an extremely effective and articulate clergyperson who transformed lives and society into a closer reflection of Christ's image. His example inspired me to seek ordination and to serve the Church. I believe that God called me to the ministry to assist in changing lives and our world into a place where people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Even today, almost a quarter of a century later, when I feel discouraged or wonder if I might have made more of a difference in the world, I remember Martin Luther King, Jr., and find myself encouraged and strengthened. He is truly one of the saints of God.

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.

Must suffering be solitary?

By Joel Merchant

This story will become serious soon enough, so first, a lighter note. Picture this. Years ago, in growing dusk, I am walking a New York City sidewalk, my tall person’s legs taking long strides. Turned slightly toward friends, more involved in animated college student conversation than wary of my path, I walked full tilt into a metal lamp post. It was a shattering hit. My forward momentum stopped only after an arm and leg was draped around either side of the post. I crumpled straight down, losing consciousness. An unfamiliar, disconnected, observant part of me thought, “Oh. A ringing sound. The pole is hollow. That’s how a stringed instrument’s sound chamber works.”

Most of us are untrained for emergencies. Lacking experience, we’re unfamiliar and uncomfortable with tragedy – not others, not our own. It’s awkward when tragedy strikes a friend. We’re not sure how to be present. We keep our distance. We look on from a safe place. We read the paper: “Whew. What a relief this happened to someone else” (thinking, this time). We approach, confused by mixed feelings, perhaps guilt. “I cannot imagine….”…our voice trails off. It’s difficult to hide our hesitation that the person in pain could be us.

The journey through another person’s suffering is intimate. We look on, thinking that perhaps sympathy is appropriate, but helpless to express it. We imagine how we might feel in similar circumstances. Some fall into the trap of telling the person having the experience how she must feel. This doing so is less emotionally painful than asking “How are you doing?” That question crosses the psychological safety line, brings us closer to seeing, perhaps too clearly.

Having nothing to say provides little relief from the confusion and awkward silence that accompanies pain. A friend shares her experience. “Others consider that tragedy is private, that they are outsiders, not qualified to respond, especially since what you write or say is intimate. They listen to you, but fear their response would be (what?) judgmental? critical? Pain and sadness envelope a person who suffers a loss. Its protective function is to help us survive the experience. But it also isolates us because it is difficult for others to see us as we are. People are busily absorbed in their own lives, and don’t feel the pain. Once, we were the same. Now, we’re changed.”

In his book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!, therapist Sheldon Kopp writes: “Love is being open to experience the anguish of another person’s suffering… the willingness to live with the helpless knowing that we can do nothing to save the other from the pain.”

Time is important, not because “time heals” or “with time, you’ll get over it.” It is only as time passes that we can know if the tragedy will do us in, or if we survive. A friend reminded me, “If this doesn’t kill me, it’ll make me stronger.” We understand ourselves in new ways. We cannot be the same. The experience becomes part of the story we tell that defines our life.

Why do we hesitate to tell our stories? Do we fear projecting our suffering on to the listener? “Why would anyone be interested?” “Who’d want to talk about that?” “My story doesn’t compare with the trouble she’s had.” Tragedy’s traveling companion is a sense of isolation. Everyone has a story to tell, but they’re difficult to share. Tragedy yawns open before us, a chasm, with no apparent way around or over. Crossing requires the leap of faith. If we share our story, others will listen. Someone else cares. We feel isolated, but are not.

Eli Wiesel began his 1966 The Gates of the Forest with a tale later quoted by Kopp in his book about the pilgrimage of psychotherapy patients: “When Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening…it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and misfortune averted. When his disciple, Magid of Mezritch, had occasion to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” Again, the miracle would be accomplished. Later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save the people, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire. I do not know the prayer. I cannot find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient. God made man because He loves stories.

It was two years after my daughter’s death before my breathing returned to normal. Exhausted, in shock, psychologically confused, vision obscured, normal interaction impaired, I went about activity by rote. Friends, awkward, kept their distance. At times, I’d kept a busier than usual schedule, perhaps for the sense that there was something which continued to give life a sense of purpose. Some days I could barely function. The earlier story about walking along the New York sidewalk? The loss of my daughter is the experience of colliding with an immovable object.

Sharing my story is an idea that came only in its own good time, and still seems impossibly difficult. Time passed. I could talk about Ali without weeping. But I didn’t know where to start the story. I remember admitting to a high school teacher I was having trouble writing a paper. She said, “Just start at the beginning and write until you come to the end.” That was little help then or now. The ending is stark and abrupt. The beginning remains elusive.

Not long before her death, my daughter made me a dream catcher. People says its purpose is to allow pleasant dreams through and stop unpleasant ones. I remember an early afternoon, a breeze through the windows, sunlight through leaves of the tree spread about in speckled soft arrangements on the floor and walls. I sat, eyes unfocused, watching the dream catcher, as if I expected to see her fingers tying knots around the last feathers and beads. The experience is like hearing a plane on its landing path descent into Honolulu, and saying aloud to my daughter (who has been away long enough), “I’ll bet you’re not on that one, either.”

Her dream catcher hangs in front of an louvered closet door. Top and bottom shelves look like I’m determined to see how much they’ll hold before collapsing. The accumulation of papers, letters, pictures, books, file folders, old slides, boxes are a mix of a white elephant sale, a flea market, a not-quite-antiques auction. Of course, as each item joined the collection, it was indispensably meaningful.

That afternoon, I remembered. Wedged among these memories were treasures – copies of letters, through the years, my daughter and I exchanged. I thought: perhaps I can use these letters to tell my story. So it began. I took my letters from the shelves, read them, alternately laughing, weeping, wondering, remarking at the events and emotions in each letter. Randomly, I chose one, then another, and the next. I began to read and make slight edits in the letters. The process was manageable, satisfying, and spared me the pressure of a deadline. There’s a happy-sad quality to sharing the correspondence with others. The letters elicit responses without difficulty. Emotions and experiences behind each exchange, laughter about an event remembered, are still “like yesterday.” But inescapably, the letters are a solemn reminder. These events, this life, is unrepeatable. My daughter is no longer living. The laughter I hear is in my head, not from her in the next room or over the telephone.

After rewriting each letter, I’d wonder the story’s beginnings. Every few letters resulted in changes in the introduction. It doesn’t seem possible, no matter how easy my high school teacher suggested it was, “just to begin at the beginning.” I suppose one reason was because the end of her life brought an emotional collapse. I don’t expect that to change soon. Time has passed. It’s possible to survive. But the collision with the immovable object occurred, and the hollow metal pole still vibrates.

Joel Merchant is an educator, business consultant, and essayist. He is currently working on www.a-reminiscence.com, from which it is possible to write to him.

Living the questions

By Ann Fontaine

A few weeks ago I was challenged about my faith as a Christian because I question many of the central tenets of the church and love to debate the meaning of Christ in my life. A quote of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke came to mind as I was pondering this challenge. He wrote:

...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

Living the questions is the pathway to faith for me. I feel compelled to ask questions, to debate points of religious scholarship and to ask questions about scripture, faith, theology, belief and all things told to us by the church. It is not possible to shut down the questions that occur. I find discussions of history, culture, literary style, translation, fascinating and strengthening to my faith. To others this may seem as though I don't believe but I could not believe until I found people who were asking questions instead of giving me answers.

The idea of multiple paths for a faith journey was clarified for me when I read a book by Urban "Terry" Holmes, the late Dean of The School of Theology at Sewanee: the University of the South. A History of Christian Spirituality, postulates four paths by which people seek the experience of the Holy One. I call these paths social justice, logical, emotional, and mystical. Each is a pathway to enter into a closer relationship with God. Holmes laid this out on a grid with one axis being Apophatic (self-emptying) to Kataphatic (quest for vivid images). The other axis is Speculative (cognitive) to Affective (emotional). Each quadrant contains two of the four paths.

Social justice is found in the quadrant formed by the Apophatic and Speculative axes. It is the path of liberation theology, bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth; it is peace and justice oriented with a prophetic call to care for the “widows and orphans.” The logical path is found between the Speculative and Kataphatic axes. It values knowledge, theological reflection, seeking one’s vocation, and liturgy that connects with history. The emotional path is located between the Kataphatic and Affective axes. Followers in this path describe it as from the heart, a walk with the Lord, valuing witness and testimony, verbal and spontaneous prayer, speaking in tongues, and baptism in the Spirit. The mystical path can be liturgical or contemplative. It seeks union with God through meditation, symbolic actions, through the creation, and finding God within.

Initially, a person is attracted by one of these pathways but as one grows deeper in faith he or she comes closer to the center and closer to those on other paths. Any of these paths can also spin out too far, leaving us empty and far from each another. Mystics can become reclusive and too withdrawn. Logical religion can become just a head-trip. Emotion can become emotionalism. Social justice can become moralistic. None of the paths are better or worse but because we are most comfortable in one path we tend to think our way is superior or the only way.

The Rt. Rev. Joe Doss, a close friend and student of Holmes, says it this way:

[Holmes] saw us growing to appreciate the validity, the importance, and perhaps most importantly, the interrelationship between the "religious magnetic fields". He would have compared it to Jungian psychology in this narrow sense: in the same way that some of us are more thinking and some more feeling, some more extraverted and some more introverted… We find that we are to grow with and in and yet beyond our natural religious tendencies into a more mature spirituality in which our desire for justice, our desire for community discovered and shaped in worship, our desire for theological acumen, and our desire for direct experiences of God are interdependent.

In Mark 12:29-30:

Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Each path speaks to one of these ways to love God: heart, soul, mind and strength. If we think of ourselves as part of the body of Christ, there is no need to say which way is best. The community that is the church loves God more fully when all are appreciated for the gifts of each way to God. As each person moves closer to the center, rather than pulling apart into gatherings of separate sects of like minded believers, we offer affirmation and balance to one another.

I draw closer to God by exploring the questions; for others their faith is deepened by working for justice and peace, by contemplation, or by spontaneity. No one path is totally separate from another. We can learn from experiencing other ways of seeking.

Our ability to allow for difference and to explore our faith in a variety of ways can bring us together if we take Rilke’s advice to have patience with the unresolved nature of our journey in faith.

Holmes.jpg

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.

Conversation in a Christian community

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

Shortly before Christmas I attended a forum at Virginia Theological Seminary led by Bishop Mark Dyer. His purpose was to lay out some groundwork for truly faithful and Christ-centered conversations in a community where we do not all agree on matters of theology and Biblical interpretation. Bishop Mark speaks with deep spiritual and theological authority, as an author of the Windsor report, a veteran of ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox churches, dialogue that is bearing new fruit. He also speaks out of his experience of 15 years as a Benedictine monk, living in community with people who, as he says “may not agree with each other but have to live together.”

In his introductory remarks, Bishop Mark spoke of the problem of “issue possession” in the Church: our tendency to let one issue take hold of us and shut everything else out, as if we were possessed by a demon. Do not be driven by “issue possession,” he urged, but be “possessed by Christ.”

There are small groups forming at VTS to engage with one another in an honest and Christ-centered way around difficult issues, and this forum was meant to initiate that program. But it struck me, listening, that much of what Bishop Mark was saying is applicable to all of us who are bound together in Christian community. With his permission, I want to just lay out here some of the wisdom that Bishop Mark offered in this forum. I hope that readers will find here some helpful guidelines for all kinds of Christian gatherings, from small groups to vestries, to discernment groups to “issue centered” discussion groups in times of conflict. Here is a distillation of the “basic assumptions for conversation in Christian community” that Bishop Mark laid out for us:

1. Assume that “My partner takes the Bible as seriously as I do.” That is part of who we are as Christians: we are grounded in Scripture. Do not mistake differences in interpretation for differences in desire to be faithful to Scripture.

2. Listen with a Christlike heart. Be guided by 1 Corinthians1, where Paul urges Christlike conversations between schismatic bodies.

3. Be radically honest on what you believe and why you believe it, and let the other do the same. Bishop Mark pointed out that in Ecumenical conversations the point is not to be “nice” but to be truthful. That is the best way to acknowledge our ultimate common ground in Christ. He quoted Orthodox theologian John Zizoulas, a longtime friend partner in ecumenical conversation, who insists that our unity is grounded in our love for one another, in the church of the Triune God.

4. While you are listening, also pray for the person who is speaking: pray for discernment. Be open to the possibility that maybe they are correct.

5. Practice forgiveness and reconciliation as a habit. Think about and discuss how we forgive and find reconciliation with one another.

6. Should the other attribute to you evil intentions, take a deep breath and pray. Who is setting the agenda? Do not let them be your environment. Reach down, find the Christ within you, and only then, speak.

7. Practice daily intercession, as part of a group that meets regularly for conversation and prayer. Covenant to pray for one another daily.

8. Be guided by the Benedictines, who know that they do not agree with each other AND that they have to live together.

Frame the issue you are discussing as clearly as you can, and let everyone say where their heart is on the question, BEFORE any discussion begins. The Benedictine practice is to begin with the youngest and go to the oldest monk. Every monk must say something, even if it is “I have no opinion.” (It seemed to me, listening to Bishop Mark describe this process, that this is similar to a process some know as “appreciative inquiry” or the practice of “clearness committees” in Quaker discernment practice). The key is that there is no dialogue until everyone has spoken.

This kind of approach to conversation feels threatening to those of us who like to “manage” conflict and keep things under control, but it also reflects what is most deeply counter-cultural about the Gospel: that our ultimate identity is baptismal, rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, and that we’re called to live this out, in a way that will witness to our call to radical reconciliation and wholeness. It is counter-cultural but it is real. I am grateful to Bishop Mark for challenging the seminary community to live in this way, and hope what he said may also be a witness and a challenge for the rest of us in the Church.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader, and teaches courses in literature and theology at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture. Her blog is at poetproph.blogspot.com.


The second-to-last supper

By Cynthia Kittredge

At stake in many of the debates in the church and culture is the question of whether a woman can represent humanity. That issue lies behind the question, “Is America ready for a Woman President?” It hovers over many of the discussions around the still-contested issue of women in the priesthood and the episcopate. While some read the Gospel of John as the most exclusive of the gospels, in its own terms, it is the most radically inclusive. In the Fourth Gospel women do represent humanity and model ideal discipleship. One prime example is the well-known scene of the Anointing at Bethany, what might be properly named, the “Second-to-Last-Supper.”

One can imagine the structure of the gospel of John as a series of feasts, beginning with the wedding and continuing with the picnic in the wilderness. Nearer the time of Jesus’ leave-taking two dinners take place, a dinner at Bethany and a dinner at Jerusalem. In the final episode of the gospel, after it has ended once, Jesus appears again for a breakfast of bread and fish with Peter and the disciples. This gospel pictures intimacy and friendship as feasting with Jesus. These ordinary meals are revelatory. To continue to explore the idea of leadership in John, I want to give particular attention to one of these dinners, the dinner at Bethany in John 12:1-8 and its important parallels with the washing of feet dinner in John 13:1-17. The two meals reflect one another, as though mirror images. Both are suppers; both involve the actions of washing and wiping, interpreted as acts of love and self sacrifice. At both are gathered those whom Jesus loves. At each, impending death impinges on the celebration. Judas, the villain, is present. It is at the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is said to serve. The host is Mary.

Now the memorable action of this dinner is the anointing of Jesus by Mary. Because there are so many variations of the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman in the gospels and the stories bear family resemblances to one another, it is easy to get the stories mixed up. If one hears these stories all at once, it is harder to distinguish the special role of Mary here in this scene in John’s gospel. She is the host, not the uninvited intruder as in some versions of the story (Luke 7:36-50). Like Mark 14:3-9, her act is a critical recognition of Jesus, but unlike that story, she has a name, and it’s a very important name in John’s community. The community of the beloved disciple, whose traditions are written by John, cared that the woman who recognized Jesus before his passion be remembered not only with a name, but with an important name, that she be remembered as one of the significant disciples among those who established the community: Mary, sister of Martha, sister of Lazarus, the family whom Jesus loved. The text links this story to the story of the raising of Mary and Martha’s brother in John 11:2:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. (John 11:1-2)

Mary has personified grief and love, in the episode before, when she weeps at her brother’s death and entreats, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” She weeps and Jesus weeps. The family partakes of this dinner in the wake of one grief and in the darkening shadow of another. Mary prepares to lose Jesus. She takes the perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet, wipes them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

The Christians of the Fourth Gospel not only told what she did in memory of her, as directed in Mark’s version, but they incorporated her act into the liturgical memory of the community. The details, the supper, the serving, the wiping, Judas, all parallel the last supper, and show how this community interpreted the anointing by Mary. She anticipated and enacted what Jesus was to command a few nights later. Mary, as one whom Jesus loved, did what the friends were taught to do by Jesus. It is the second-to-last supper, and Mary plays the role of Jesus, kneeling, wiping, pouring out substance of inestimable value. Mary is the host, the one who knows what is to come, the one who anticipates Jesus’ example of foot-washing and symbolically washes him.

It is unfortunate that during the history of interpretation, this story has become so muddled with the woman from the city who was a sinner in Luke 7:36-50 and the busy and lazy sisters, Mary and Martha, in Luke 10:38-42. When read in its place in the gospel of John, the story eloquently proclaims Mary’s authority and leadership in the memory of this community.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge is Associate Professor of New Testament at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest and author of Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of John, Morehouse, 2007.

Weekend in Sydney II

By George Clifford

Last fall, I was a tourist in Sydney, Australia. On the advice of a kindly lady on duty at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, I went to St. James in Sydney for worship that morning (see part 1 of this essay). I expected to find a recognizably Anglican service in a properly equipped church building, i.e., one with an altar. St. James exceeded my expectations: an attractive building, outside and inside, complemented a well-done Eucharistic liturgy. Serendipitously, providentially, synchronistically, as a result of kismet, or however one’s theological worldview characterizes coincidence, that Sunday’s preacher at St. James was the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. During the service, the celebrant announced an afternoon forum led by Canon Kearon and that the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, on sabbatical from New Hampshire and present in the congregation, would attend.

During the afternoon session, Canon Kearon in his opening remarks stated that the energy and money involved in the Windsor Report process detracts from the Church’s mission. He said that as he travelled around the Communion, he observes an increasing number of people who want to get on with the mission of the Church. Anger is building among Anglicans, he declared, over the continuing furor linked to the Windsor Report because that furor is not very Anglican, i.e., opposing the opinion of others rather than embracing diversity.

Although The Episcopal Church has engaged in extensive listening processes on homosexuality and related issues since the early 1970s, most of the Communion has not done so, in spite of requests from Lambeth 1978 and 1988. Consequently, Canon Kearon noted each group tends to identify with the pain on its side and to view others as lunatics. Listening promotes hearing the pain on both sides while promoting theological conversation.

Bishop Robinson commented that efforts to separate issues of sexuality from mission create a false dichotomy if one views Jesus as reaching out to the marginalized, pulling them to the center within God's embrace. Otherwise, for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered (GLBT) persons to return to the Church is analogous with an abused spouse returning to the abused.

Bruce McAteer, General Secretary of the Anglican Church in Australia, also present that afternoon, described an entire day at the just concluded General Synod of the Australian Church devoted to listening to the pain of GLBT people. That day at Synod, four Australian GLBT Anglicans told their stories of pain and exclusion in depth. The process entailed listening with no debate, no votes, offering one model for what other provinces or dioceses might do. Several people with whom I spoke that morning and afternoon who had attended the Australian General Synod volunteered affirmations of how powerful and transforming that listening process had been.

Canon Kearon said that world, divided by race, ethnicity, and religion, needs reconciliation, briefly mentioning his experiences in Northern Ireland. In particular, he lamented the lack of dialogue within the Anglican Communion on major, divisive issues such as the authority of the Bible (hermeneutics), the nature of authority within the Church, and the relation of faith to society. Two conflicting versions of polity currently co-exist within the Anglican Communion: one democratic and one authoritarian, impeding dialogue and relationships. TEC exemplifies the democratic polity, the Church in Nigeria the authoritarian. Canon Kearon identified the heart of Anglicanism as meeting together and forming relationships, a process complicated by those conflicting concepts of ecclesiastical authority.

As an example of the Anglican way, Canon Kearon pointed to the ongoing development of Christian bio-ethics. The Anglican Church takes science seriously and engages in dialogue with science while concurrently recognizing the dynamic nature of tradition and scripture. That creative dialogue has consistently put the Anglican Church at the leading edge of the developing field of bio-ethics without threatening to disrupt Anglican unity. The continuing bio-ethics dialogue thus illustrates the reconciling potential and power of Anglicanism’s relational character in dealing with substantive, divisive issues.

Canon Kearon remains confident the Anglican Communion will survive. He declined to speculate on possible changes beyond acknowledging that the Anglican Communion in the future will embody a different type of communion than it did in the past. The Archbishop of Canterbury invites bishops to attend Lambeth 2008, he reminded us, and the Archbishop has said an invitation neither certifies a Bishop’s orthodoxy nor invites a Bishop to participate in a boxing match.

Personally, the most insightful portions of the day were the times that I spent in private conversations with many of those attending. From those conversations, I have begun to formulate an answer to my question of why homosexuality has become the Anglican Communion’s central, divisive controversy. After all, attitudes about homosexually have never constituted a theologically defining issue of Christian identity.

Three significant factors apparently coalesce around controversies over homosexuality to make it the prime proxy for the major but publicly unacknowledged issues facing the Anglican Communion. Those issues are African nationalism, anti-globalism, and anti-Americanism. Sex, non-serendipitously, uniquely adds emotional energy to the controversy, galvanizing forces on both sides.

If I am correct in identifying those three factors, an identification for which I can take no credit but honor the request of others not to identify them, then Episcopalians in the United States aligned with another province place themselves in a vulnerable position. At some point, the current controversies will move to a backburner, no longer receiving extensive media attention and no longer being Anglicanism’s front burner issue. What will be the follow-on expressions of African nationalism, of anti-globalism, and of anti-Americanism? Will those three forces remain aligned or diverge? Will African provinces, beset by their own pressing problems, continue to remain interested and invested in American missions? Will U.S. sources continue to fund African missions in the U.S.?

Conversely, if those three issues are the real source of controversy, when will the Anglican Communion dare to engage those issues? What does The Episcopal Church stand to lose by raising those three issues for discussion within the Anglican Communion?

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.

Find a new way home

By Greg Jones

Only two of the four gospels talk about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus – Matthew and Luke. Luke talks about angels and shepherds and all of what happened regarding an inn and a manger, etc. Matthew skips all of that – and talks about the arrival of some Magi from the east – following a star – and bearing gifts.

Contrary to legend, we don't know where the Magi came from, what their names were, or how many of them there were. Only tradition tells us these things. And tradition varies. In the West, their names are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In the Ethiopian Church they call them Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater.

In Armenia, its Kagbha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. Syrian Christians call them Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas.

Chinese Christians believe that one of the wise ones was from China – perhaps his name was Liu Shang, chief astrologer in the Han dynasty, from the time Jesus was born. Liu Shang discovered a new star the Chinese call the "King Star." Notably, Liu Shang disappered from the emperor's court for two years after he discovered the King Star. Chinese Christians argue that he took the Silk Road west to Bethlehem. Marco Polo claims to have seen the tomb of the magi in the Persian city of Saba in 1270.

Who knows. But, the Gospel story we read on the feast of the Epiphany is not so much about the Magi as it is about all seekers after God from everywhere on Earth.

We don't know who the magi really were, but we know who they represent: you and me. We are seekers after God too – right? And I believe that like them, you and I have been made to know by Grace where the King of Love is – and he's in our midst. Christ is born by all who bear him – and Christ is within us as we are within him.

Which is why once we've been led to Christ, we just can't go back to the same old ways. We just can't go back to Herod.

Just as Herod represents the vile, the corrupt and the captive to sin and its power – let us not go back to him once we've had a glimpse of Jesus. Let's not say our prayers, worship, receive communion, enjoy Christian fellowship – all means of Grace – all ways to connect with the eternal plan of God – and then, go back to Herod.

In the earliest days of the Church, there was a common way of teaching seekers about holiness. They used an approach called 'the Two Ways.' One was the Way of Light. The other -- the Way of Darkness.

And I believe we do have to choose as best we can between those ways in this life. For I believe with the wise ones who first saw Christ that in this World there is an eternal plan – and that God is working toward the healing and unity of all in Christ. I believe this is the free, gracious and expansive plan of God, which seeks to include all people in the Kindgom.

I believe with the wise ones who first saw Christ that in this world there is another plan too. That plan is about conquest, ownership, worldy power – and finally – the annihilation of creation by the One who loves it NOT.

The powers and principalities of this world – according to Paul – don't love God or His Creation and they seek to ruin it. And friends that is what Herod represents. And that Herod – that power and principality – is not just a long ago character out of the bible. That Herod is a part of our lives even now.

For the light has come into the darkness – and in Him God was pleased to dwell. If you call Jesus Lord – then the Grace of God is also in your life – even now. If Jesus is in your life – even now – then don't go back to Herod.

This year, I invite you to examine in what ways you are 'going back to Herod' on a seven day a week, real life in the world kind of way – and how you can find a new road home – to the kingdom.

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

New Year's resolution

By Derek Olsen

The secular New Year has come and gone—and that means it’s time for resolutions for the year that will be 2008. Like many Americans, I’m making a resolution to do something about my physical health. Now, I could just resolve to “be healthy” but something that vague and general will never translate into actions, something that vague and general will never be formed into habits. And that’s what we’re really talking about, right?—habits, dedicated ways of being.

I’m not just resolving to “be healthy”, I’m resolving some specific things: to buy organic food whenever possible, to buy local food whenever possible, to eat my five servings of fruits and veggies daily, and to exercise at least three times a week.

So far so good, but now—what about my spiritual health? Doesn’t it require just as much nurture as my physical health? And again, what sort of resolution should I make? Let me give you a hint: if “be healthy” didn’t cut it, neither will “be holy”… Just like the physical goals, we need something that we can be accountable for. As a Scripture scholar, I’m always partial to the goal “read more Scripture” but even that’s too vague and general to form a habit.

One option is to select a plan that reads through the whole Bible in a year. Some folks may be wary of such a thing…as if it weren’t properly Anglican or something...but let me assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth! As it turns out, the earliest one-year Bible reading plan that I know is thoroughly catholic. It’s a set of instructions from the 8th century that lays out the cycle of readings for the monastic Night Office. Biblical books were read straight-through in patterns that coincided with the liturgical seasons: for instance Exodus was read in Lent, Isaiah in Advent, Acts and Revelation in Easter, etc. It was a plan with staying power, too—I’ve seen versions with minor edits and tweaks from the 11th century and we can even find references to it in the very first Book of Common Prayer.

In the preface to the 1549 BCP, Archbishop Cranmer (following the work of the Spanish liturgist Cardinal Quiñonez) laments the loss of this yearly reading system and goes on to present a new version of it in the body of the prayer book. No longer restricted to the Night Office for monastics and clergy alone, Cranmer incorporated it into reworking of the monastic liturgies that we know today as the Daily Office—Morning and Evening Prayer. This revised system offered two readings per service for a total of four daily that read sequentially through the Old Testament (except for some bits of Leviticus, Chronicles, and Ezekiel) once every year—and through the New Testament (except for Revelation) three times every year. This system remained in place until sometime after the authorization of the 1662 prayer book. In short, a one-year Bible reading plan is about as Anglican as you can get!

If a one-year plan sounds like a little much, another terrific option to work on your spiritual health is to move to the modern two-year plan. Cranmer’s one-year system eventually gave way to longer versions with shorter readings. The Daily Office lectionary in the back of our current prayer book stands in direct continuity with these. It reads through most of Scripture with three readings a day stretched over two years. Perhaps taking up the discipline of the Daily Office and utilizing this Scripture reading plan might be a good option for you.

While either of these plans appears daunting at first glance, remember that we’re talking about habits here, not one-time—or even one-year—events. If you want to start reading through Scripture or praying the Daily Office, approach it with the same strategies as you would a physical exercise plan. Find some buddies to help out! You don’t have to read or pray together—though it may help—but checking in and being accountable to others is often a great motivator. Also, commit to reading your Bible or doing either Morning or Evening Prayer a certain number of times each week and increase it as you are able. If you pick a sequential plan and you miss a few days or even a week, show yourself a little grace; don’t beat yourself up or even try to make up what you missed—just continue on with your plan. After all, it’s a cycle—you’ll catch it the next time around!

Click here for a copy of Cranmer’s original reading plan and here for online and downloadable resources to help you get started with the Daily Office.

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.

Accepting God's daily gift

By Heidi Shott

Last August my sons and I made our way downeast to Mount Desert Island for our annual camping trip to Acadia National Park. Our stated goal – my stated goal – is to hike every named peak by the time the boys graduate from high school in 2012. Each year we update a master map of the park by circling the peaks we’ve knocked off. Last year we hiked Sargent and Dorr Mountains and were joined by my non-camping husband on the final morning for a hike up Pemetic.

By real mountain standards the peaks of Acadia are only biggish hills, but on clear days the views of the glacial lakes and the outline of the piney islands off the Atlantic coast still take my breath away. This annual trip at the end of summer is a touchstone for our family, a final time together before the new school year to pick the last wild blueberries along the trail, to walk around Bar Harbor with ice cream, and to savor the hot popovers with butter and strawberry jam at the park’s venerable Jordan Pond House.

Another touchstone has been reading aloud. From the time they were four or five until last summer when we finished the last Harry Potter book after a six hour marathon ending at 2:30 a.m., we’ve always had a read-aloud going. However, last summer the boys announced that after Harry Potter, we should call it quits. “It’s been fun, Mom, but we prefer to read alone from now on. No offence, okay?”

With a hard swallow, I accepted this rare example of twin solidarity. Their tastes are, after all, diverging: Colin reads history and historical novels; Martin prefers contemporary fiction and poetry. And already, at 13, they are commending many hard and wonderful books that I’ve never gotten around to reading.

So in August, shoehorned into our tent at the remotest, raccoon-infested corner of Southwest Harbor’s Smugglers Den Campground, the three of us were each to our own book. Martin was sailing around the tent alone with the poetry of Billy Collins, I was halfway through Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex, and Colin was reading an anthology of P.G. Wodehouse. (He dressed up as Bertie Wooster for Halloween and was disappointed when our neighbors mistook him for a croquet player). For me, it was sweet – each boy kept interrupting to read lines thereby annoying his brother – but not the same as reading together, immersed in the same book. I missed the plaintive cries of “One more chapter, please, or at least read to an asterisk!” After much phony reluctance, I always gave in.

In late November when it came time for Martin’s eighth grade conference, he shared with us the following poem he wrote early in the school year.

“Daily Gift”
“Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your walking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.”

- Billy Collins, “Days”

--
The first thing I hear
are the birds.

I am lying in a snug sleeping bag,
eyes closed,
absorbing the whistles
and tweets.

The second sound is the tap
of raindrops on a nylon tent
as they trickle from soggy trees.

The final noise
in my semi-asleep state
is the kettle reaching its boiling point.

Now I am awake.

I rise,
a zombie of the campground,
hair untamed,
and glare through trash-bag eyes:

a nocturnal adolescent
sore from hiking.

I clamber out of my cave
and utter the first word
of a fresh day:

“Coffee.”


Who knows what this day,
this gift,
will bring.

I only know one way
to find out.

- Martin Shott

How I wish I had Martin’s trash-bag eyes to see each new day as it is delivered to my bedside. In this new year, how I wish that we Episcopalians could focus on the gifts so freely and lavishly given to each of us by God: our capacity to love and our freedom to commit ourselves to whomever we choose; the thousands of opportunities available to serve those without a voice in our society and in the wider world. These gifts are already ours, no matter where General Convention stands on the matter at any given time or whether some among us have chosen to leave the Church altogether.

Years ago, my college’s chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship invited a Presbyterian minister from Charlottesville to preside at an evening called, “Hard Questions.” It was meant to be a particularly intriguing and evangelical night, drawing students who wouldn’t ordinarily attend one of our weekly meetings. We were hopeful this Presbyterian dude would be good on the stump. (Our local Episcopal priest who faithfully attended our meetings was a genial, laid back guy and glad to escape the hot seat.) While I recall we drew a good crowd including a couple of lively agnostics, I can only remember two sure things about the evening: one is that the Presbyterian guy had a beard and the other is his response to question, “How can you explain terrible things that happen in the world?”

I had just read the Grand Inquisitor chapter of The Brothers Karamozov and was interested to see where he would go with the answer. I was also interested because my comfort level with my friends’ confidence in a fairly rigid Evangelical view of faith was beginning to shift. At the same time I was terrified of being left as a castaway to grapple alone with an increasing number of questions and an emerging vision of what it could mean to be a Christian. So I listened to the Presbyterian intently.

He said something close to this: A countless number of horrible things happen to people that we can’t explain, no one disputes that. But the Bible gives us a clue by fully explaining that God the Creator loved humankind deeply enough to redeem us by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. All the details are there, all the explanation is there. It’s the most complex and most horrifying deal in all of history, but God has seen fit to reveal it to us fully. A god who will explain an event of such magnitude…one that demonstrates such abounding love for creation… is a god who can be trusted with millions of things – the tragedies and the mysteries – we can’t explain in the world.

While I was disappointed with the answer at the time, I’ve found that I’ve remembered it for almost 25 years. The gifts are there. The child is born, and we know the how and why. While I miss the gift of reading to my sons, the closeness and the sweetness of it, their sharing of the books they read alone takes us new places and bestows its own gifts. I need to learn to let old gifts go and new gifts emerge, but it’s not easy.

Hark, friends, and listen closely in this New Year. Each day as you wake remember what you know is true; remember you are well-loved. Remember it is worth the struggle to climb out of your cozy tent and into the new day to accept whatever’s out there.

Just ask Martin, he’ll tell you.

Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Who were the Magi?

By Deirdre Good

Who knew that Christmas cards could be so subversive? In December last year, Simon Mayo engaged the Archbishop of Canterbury in a conversation that surprised many about Christmas card scenes. Asked about "the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason" the Archbishop responded, "Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend." And this side of the pond, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth questions publicly the choice of Christmas card the Presiding Bishop sent to Bishop Iker on the grounds that its depiction of the Magi as three women of color "reinterprets scripture to exclude masculine images."

For a new book, I've been looking at depictions of biblical figures and themes in the Christian East and West. It will come as a surprise to no one that the Nativity is often portrayed. Given interest in how the Magi are represented, I thought I'd look at examples in the on-line collection of the British Library at www.imagesonline.bl.uk/index.asp. A goodly number appear on Christmas cards.

The BL describes their on-line collection thus: "Images Online gives you instant access to thousands of the greatest images from the British Library's collections which include manuscripts, rare books, musical texts and maps spanning almost 3000 years. The range of images available includes illustrations, drawings, paintings and photographs." Additions to the on-line collection are being made daily. You have to register to use their collections. Selecting "Religion and Belief" then "Christianity," I entered the terms "magi" in the search box. The result was 47 images, 44 of which are titled "Journey of the Magi, "Magi Before Herod," "Adoration of the Magi" or something similar. Three are nothing to do with the topic. By, the way, you get the same results by entering "wise men" in the search box.

Three of the 44 images are titled "The Three Magi." Now the titles have probably been given to the pieces of art by catalogers at the British Library sometimes on the basis of the text and sometimes not. I myself take the titles of pieces of art with a grain of salt. In the on-line collection of Jewish Art at the British Library for example, there are sometimes no descriptions of the images at all. Only the manuscript and its place of origin is identified. Of course, there are fewer images in this collection. But even to someone like me who has no training in art history, its obvious that Jewish illustrators in the Middle Ages are depicting biblical episodes. Why they haven't all been titled and classified in the same way as the collection "Christianity" is a mystery.

Back to images of the Magi. Of the 44 images under various titles, some images depict three Magi alone while others in the same category may be showing three Magi but since the Magi have large retinues and the paintings or illustrations are small, it is hard to tell exactly where a Magi ends and a member of the retinue begins, particularly if the Magi and their retinues are coming into the scene from one side or the other. After all, the focus of the depiction is Mary and Jesus. Other images show more than three Magi: some clearly four.

From this, we learn that on-line images of the Magi in Nativity scenes from the British Library's collection of Christian art depict them as three, four, or more figures, some or all of which may be black, or Armenian, or Persian, or a non-white ethnic group. I suppose if you were predisposed to see the Magi only as three white men, you could still do so but in that case you would have to ignore just under half of the 44 images.

We might ask why there are three or four or more Magi of different ethnic extraction at Jesus' birth? Because the text of Matthew's gospel, whence the story comes, identifies the Magi by a plural designation only. And this plurality permits Christian interpretation in art and tradition to reflect the fundamental ambiguity of the text: the masculine Greek plural "magoi" of Matthew 2:1 means only that the Magi are plural in number and that one of that number is a man. There might have been three or four or a hundred Magi at Jesus' birth in Matthew's account. And Christian tradition of the east and west elaborates this ambiguity by naming three or four or dozens of Magi, as Bruce Metzger explains in an article, "Names for the Nameless in the New Testament: A Study in the Growth of Christian Tradition", in Kyriakon. (Festschrift Johannes Quasten, ed. Patrick Granfield & Josef A. Jungmann, vol. I, Münster: Aschendorff, 1970, p.79-99.) Giving names to the Magi seems to have begun in the 6th Century CE.

Now this business of using a plural noun to describe a group of people including men and women can be seen elsewhere in Matthew. Jesus identifies a masculine plural group of his disciples as brother, sister and mother, that is, as kin: "For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (12:49-50). Matthew counts only 5000 men in the Feeding of the Five Thousand (14:21) but Jesus may have reckoned differently.

The Magi are not explicitly masculine in Matthew. Diverse depictions of the Magi in Christian and Muslim art, tradition, and Christmas cards as three or four or more; as black, Persian or Eurasian, as male and female, accurately reflects the ambiguity of Matthew's scripture.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. She blogs at On Not Being a Sausage.

Here I stand

By Howard Anderson

I had trouble writing this. I had trouble because people I love and respect a great deal, people who have served the Church well seem to be placing unity before justice. Now I know that we ordained types are guardians of the institution of the Church. Bishops, especially, are the symbols of unity in the church. I know how hard it is to play that role because I have done it, both in the parish and on diocesan staffs. But I also know my very wise spiritual director often asks me, “Howard, do you love the Church more than you love God?” I always answer an emphatic “NO!” But if I were looking at my track record, my behavior, it would be very hard to tell who I serve, the institution, or The Holy One, whose Christ said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams, the American priest and Regius Professor of Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, wrote a very thoughtful and challenging (and might I add highly enjoyable) paper for the recent gathering of those committed to the full inclusion of all the Baptized at Seabury-Western Seminary. We are calling ourselves “the Chicago Consultation.” She points out that those of us committed to full inclusion in the life of the church of Gay and Lesbian Christians are so committed to inclusion that we often bend over backward to keep our more conservative brothers and sisters at the table. Some of these folks who cannot accept the full inclusion of GLBT members, use this commitment against us. She speaks of “sex and gender conservatives” who have lost their majority in the Episcopal Church had no problem excluding GLBT members from becoming priests or bishops, but now that they have lost that majority in the voting at General Convention, still exercise a kind of veto power because the majority of General Convention deputies find our commitment to Anglican Comprehensiveness (the biggest possible tent to include all) so absolute that we continue to throw our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters “under the bus” (witness B-033 which urged a moratorium on the consecration of additional gay or lesbian bishops) to try and appease the sex and gender conservative minority. It is not only unjust, it doesn’t work. When my grandson was told that there was a vote (B-033) which would make his Papi’s statement “anyone I baptize could become the Presiding Bishop” untrue, he was shocked. He said, “Yikes! That’s God’s decision.” I guess my talking to him about the Holy Spirit guiding the councils of the Church actually caught hold in his six year old brain.”

Think about it. Has anything the General Convention done prevented the schismatic bishops like Duncan and Schofield from pulling out of TEC? Has anything our successive Presiding Bishops have done appeased the sex and gender conservatives? Has trying to respond to the Windsor Report (simply a report, not a mandate from anyone with any authority in TEC or the Communion) stopped Archbishop Akinola and others from ordaining renegade American priests bishops in their overseas jurisdictions to function here in TEC? When the Archbishop of Canterbury, or conservative American bishops speak of compliance with the Windsor Report, do they EVER say much about the boundary jumping of Archbishop Akinola and company? They have even created out of thin air, new entities they are calling the “instruments of unity,” or as Professor Adams so aptly dubbed them, “The instruments of mischief,” to try and muscle TEC back into the fold of those saying “not yet” to full inclusion.

Professor Adams is right. The tolerance of the majority of General Convention Deputies who have voted strongly for full inclusion of GLBT members of our Church in all orders of ministry, has been used against us. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So, shame on me. Shame on me for tolerating evil. Dr. Adams points out sharply in her paper that homophobia of the type exhibited by some of the sex and gender conservatives, most particularly, Archbishop Akinola who is advocating Nigerian legislation that would criminalize merely being homosexual, is evil. Period! Evil! Strong words, but who can deny their truth? Adams says “homophobia is a socially constructed sin, one that is built into us as part of our socialization.” She calls boldly for us to root this sin out of the institution and our hearts. Amen! Preach it sister! I am convicted. This sin of homophobia is both institutional sin (sin done in our name) and personal, (those things I have done, and left undone.)

And so I confess that I have been guilty of poor discernment, often sacrificing justice, and following Christ in breaking down the walls of prejudice, in order to keep peace in the family. I confess that I have sometimes allowed others to talk me into “toning it down,” and not pushing the agenda of inclusion of all the baptized quite so hard, so I would leave a place for sex and gender conservatives to stand. I confess this, and I know there are many whom I love and respect that have succumbed to this same demand to “slow down so that the rest will catch up” when it comes to the full inclusion of GLBT members of TEC. I have spoken out, but mainly in safe places where most people agree with me. And so I repent, and speak it here for all to see. I have been guilty of the sin of cowardice in not doing more to root out the sin of homophobia in the Church.

Some would say that the group that gathered as “The Chicago Consultation” were pushing a “gay agenda.” Nonsense. It is nothing less than a Gospel Agenda. No one ever said following Jesus Christ to the edges of society to bring the “least of these” (however each society creates ‘leastness”) to the center would be easy. I have watched friends who are bishops not want to be publicly associated with “The Chicago Consultation.” They fear that their effectiveness, or their ability to function collegially in the House of Bishops would be compromised. They fear that their ability to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church” in their diocese would be compromised. They may be right. But look at the conservative bishops. They organize into “networks and synods, and openly join groups with acronyms galore- CANA, AAC, IRD and more. Perhaps some of their appeal is that they are willing to step up and claim what they believe. However much I disagree with them, you have to give them credit for standing up for beliefs.

Something very predictable happens when we ordained types get together. My mother, when her Alzheimer’s disease had taken away her inhibitions, but not her words, said as she reached up to touch my clerical collar, “Cuts off circulation to the brain!” We get swept up in a wave of camaraderie, we bond with one another, relating effectively to one another becomes a prime goal of the gathering. So often, those outside that circle, (the 99% who are in the lay order) are not factors. But our General Convention’s genius is that lay AND clergy are together and vote. This tempers the “camaraderie effect” of a meeting of the House of Bishops or a clergy conference where the laity are excluded thereby rendering such rarified gatherings less comprehensive of the spirit of the Church than General Convention. I once sat with Michael Peers, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, as we listened to a debate on the issue of human sexuality in the American House of Bishops. One conservative bishop rose and said, in stentorian tones (and a British accent) “The only sexual activity sanctioned by Holy Scripture is life long, monogamous, matrimony.” In the spirit of brotherhood (pre-Barbara Harris) the other bishops nodded thoughtfully, and the gallery, in which we sat, erupted into gales of laughter. Murmurs of “What about Abraham? Wooo..Solomon” and the chuckling continued. Michael leaned over and said, “We have a single house, and the lay and clergy wouldn’t put up with such foolishness at our Synod.”

I re-read the Prayerbook service “Ordination of a Bishop” today. And like the Baptismal Covenant, the Bishops promise to “be chief priest and pastor, to encourage and support all baptized people.” They also promise to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel stir up the conscience” of the people, and to “defend those who have no helper.” This sometimes seems to conflict with guarding the unity of the Church. These people whom the people and the Spirit elect to be our Bishops face a daunting job of discernment on where to come down on these two promises. It seems an irony, but also no mistake, that right next to the “Ordination of a Bishop,” in the Book of Common Prayer, is the Burial Office. Dear me, they face some hard and taxing challenges. We should all be grateful that they are willing to serve. And do, please, prayer for our bishops.

But as for me, my spiritual director’s question, and Marilyn McCord Adam’s challenge to “root out the sin of homophobia” are foremost in my discernment. Those of us in TEC who are now in the majority of The General Convention deputies, should not be, as Adams suggests, “held hostage" by our commitment to inclusivity so that we give in when conservative threaten to leave if they don’t get their way. For many Conventions the votes went against inclusiveness. I went home, as the first clerical deputy from my diocese and had to say to the GLBT members of the churches, “the Spirit has said not yet.” No conservative ever said to me that the Holy Spirit was not guiding the Councils of the Church when the votes went their way. But all of a sudden, when the Spirit guided the General Convention in the direction of full inclusion, our conservative brothers and sisters changed their tune. “The Spirit of God was not there.”

I beg to differ. The Spirit of God has moved through the Councils of the Episcopal Church. It has taken us to a difficult place. But it is a goodly place. It is a place where Jesus Christ would be more comfortable than those parts of the Church where the gifts and charisms all the baptized cannot be exercised. That’s what I believe. That’s where I will stand, with the much maligned, under fire Episcopal Church. And I stand with her proudly. I’m not going to be blackmailed any more with threats of leaving. I’m not going to let others use my commitment to including all of the Baptized in my Church, at whatever level the Spirit gives them gifts to serve.

When Bishop Duncan said he would try to pull his whole Diocese out of TEC, he quoted Martin Luther. “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Ditto Bishop Duncan, ditto. Me too.

The Rev. Canon Howard Anderson, Ph.D., is president and warden of Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral.

Race and the unconscious

By Martin L. Smith

I read with fascination recently the account of an experiment studying interactions between white and black Americans. In the first phase researchers set up individual conversations between African Americans and whites, and the African Americans recorded their impressions. Then the researchers divided the white participants into two groups. The first had made their racism obvious through their insulting tone. The second had conversed respectfully. A second round of conversations took place, and the researchers immediately subjected all the white participants to a set of cognitive tests in private. The results were very interesting. Most of the white participants who pleased the African Americans by their respectful behavior did far worse in these cognitive tests than those who had not been nice! However, if the tests were administered again an hour later the discrepancy in the results between the two groups disappeared.

The researchers propose this explanation: most of the white folk who were behaving respectfully to the African Americans were having to devote a huge amount of energy to the unconscious process of censoring their actual negative impulses. So much so, that it took the brain an hour or so to recover equilibrium and restore normal service to all its functions. The racist whites made no bones about the contempt they entertained for blacks, so their brains weren’t overtaxed at all when they talked with them.

Surely, these are the kind of explorations that should most fascinate and challenge Christians like ourselves. After all we inherit thousands of years of meditation on human experience, and scripture itself is a rich resource of reflection about the conviction that reliance on outer behavior alone to judge the condition of the heart is sheer folly. God is the one that sees through, sees into, sees behind the appearances many human beings can keep up. Episcopalians should be specially concerned since, generally speaking, we entertain a rather Anglo-Saxon devotion to good manners and correct appearances. Our standards of respectful behavior are fairly high, and when we embrace enthusiastically all sorts of slogans about inclusiveness and equality it can easily seem—at least to the white majority—that the work of purging the church of racism has been almost achieved. Actually, though the worst outrages might have diminished, the real work has only started. There is a vast difference between the ability to perform as if we regard one another as equals and relationships based on a far more profound change: conversion, what the prophetic tradition of scripture calls getting a new heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone, and a new Spirit.

Primarily because I am in an interracial partnership I’m keenly aware that it is a matter of conversion not cosmetics. Before I moved to Washington, I had taken the excellent anti-racism training our Church offers. I had been on the board of a non-profit dedicated to supporting inner-city youth, mainly black. I’d thought it had registered when black friends told me that they had come to expect on average about ten put downs a day from white folk. I could talk about the unearned privileges of being white. But it was only by actually being taken into friendships, into social networks, by many African Americans, and embarking on a partnership with an African American, that I really started exploring the reality of racism, beginning with my own. Of course, I could behave with superb manners to black folk, but what good were these if they successfully masked engrained attitudes, ways I was wired? Thus started a spiritual adventure of unlearning, rewiring, facing fears, listening for things I had never heard, sensing things I had never realized, jettisoning things I had thought were part of the fabric of reality and now know to be obscene deceptions.

The protocols of political correctness are worse than useless if they merely make people more adept in censoring inner negativity. They can deter us from dealing with the endemic affliction of the heart, our very brains that wired themselves to correspond to society’s perversions and made themselves recruits for reinforcing and transmitting them. Instead, we should be digging deep wells into our scriptural spirituality that really does insist that in order for a person to be in Christ, in order for there to be a new creation, the old has to pass away. Our polite, predominantly middle class religious culture doesn’t find the radical language of Paul to its taste at all, but I have never been more profoundly convinced that there we must stop avoiding his robust language about the pain involved in separating ourselves from the prerogatives of power: “I have been crucified with Christ.” And those of us who have enjoyed the majority’s unearned privileges need the insight that our built in sense of superiority can’t be just adjusted or ameliorated. It needs crucifying for our new humanity to emerge from within.

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s in Washington, D.C.

A "Great Debater" looks back

By Carol E. Barnwell

"I told Denzel Washington he should play the part," Henrietta Bell Wells said, when we spoke recently at the Houston facility where the 95-year old now resides. Wells, a longtime member of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Houston, was seated in her wheelchair, wrapped in a soft white sweater, the same snow white as her perfectly coiffed hair. Her manicured hands rest in her lap and periodically dance to punctuate a vivid memory of Wiley College debate coach Melvin B. Tolson, a character in the Christmas release, The Great Debaters.

Wells was the only female member of the debate team from Wiley College in Marshall, TX that Tolson coached to national attention. Washington directed the movie, produced by Oprah Winfrey, and took the story to the big screen this Christmas. It’s a good thing that Washington took Wells’ advice. The movie has garnered a Golden Globe nomination for best drama and may also receive an Oscar nod.

"He just wanted to direct the movie," Wells said, "But I told him he was perfect for the part of Mr. Tolson and if he wasn’t the star, he would lose a lot of people." Wells met Washington at Wiley College during the planning stages of the movie. She looked through old yearbooks and found texts she used nearly 80 years ago to help with the research, she said.

Wells has done television and newspaper interviews and has turned down a number of others. "I never expected the movie to cause so much interest, so much attention to my inner life," she said. It has been exciting and stressful all at the same time, but bring up "Denzel" and a smile lights up her face. "He is a jewel and a gentleman. The first time he saw me, he said, ‘Well, I’ve got another grandma.’ I felt so proud," Wells beamed.

Although growing up during the Jim Crow era was a challenge, Wells said she encouraged Denzel Washington to play down the racial prejudice in The Great Debaters. She remembers state troopers raiding her home in 1917 to look for black soldiers during race riots in Houston, but said the debate team was more motivated to please their coach, "rather than a race issue."

"We worked hard and we weren’t intimidated," she said.

Jurnee Smollett, the actress who plays Samantha Booke, the character based on Wells, visited Wells and practiced with the Texas Southern University debate team in Houston to prepare for the part.

Wells was born in Houston’s Fourth Ward in 1912. "Church has always been a large part of my life," she said. Her maternal grandfather was a "strong Episcopalian" in the West Indies and her mother Octavia made sure it was part of their life in Houston. In 1923, Wells was the first African American child baptized at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church (re-chartered as St. Luke the Evangelist in 1927) by Bishop Clinton Quin and was later confirmed at Trinity, Houston.

Wells graduated valedictorian from Houston’s Phyllis Wheatley High School and attended the all black Wiley College on a modest scholarship from the YMCA. She worked three jobs to make ends meet and said, when her English professor asked her to try out for the debate team, she wasn’t sure what it was. "We didn’t have debates in high school," she said. "I guess I did alright. He stood at the back of the chapel and I read from the front. That was his test."

"Bell," as Tolson called her, made the team, the only freshman and the only woman.

The team practiced at Tolson’s home several times a week during debating season and since she was the only female on the team, the college’s president arranged for a chaperone during tournaments. Friends filled in for her at work.

"We would sit on the floor in the Tolson’s living room and discuss topics," Wells said. "Mr. Tolson was very serious and very strict," she said, adding, "There were no frills, everything had to be correct. It was fun being the only girl on the team, but it was a lot of hard work." Wells said Tolson remained her role model all through college.

The Wiley team first beat almost every black college, and eventually broke the color line, facing white law students from the University of Michigan. The team, Henry Heights, Hobart Jarrett and Henrietta Bell Wells lost only one debate out of 75 leading to the national 1935 championship. They triumphed against the national champions, the University of Southern California, with topics of civil rights and freedom of speech at a time when lynching was frequent in the deep South.

Wells returned to Houston after graduation where she met and later married Wallace Wells, the brother of one of her high school teachers. Wallace, who received his masters in music from the University of Southern California, added his rich baritone to St. Clement’s church choir after the couple first met. When they married and moved to Gary, Indiana, Wallace worked as a church organist at St. Augustine’s. Henrietta worked as a caseworker and later, as a case supervisor for the welfare department. "I always wanted to be a social worker, and I turned out to be a pretty good one," she said.

Wallace’s musical career was interrupted by World War II, but he attended seminary at Seabury Western after returning from his tour of duty, was ordained and served churches in Indiana for the following 25 years. In 1963, the couple moved to New Orleans where Wallace was dean of chapel at Dillard University and Henrietta served as dean of women. In 1967, the Wells returned to Houston where Henrietta became the first African American teacher at Bonner Elementary School.

What’s her advice for college students today? "Learn to speak well and learn to express yourself effectively," she said. Her training as one of the "Great Debaters" carried Wells through a successful life and career and, at 95, continues to serve her well as the interviewers line up at her door.

Carol E. Barnwell is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

An opera for Epiphany

By Marshall Scott

I sit at my computer, listening. I’m listening to an opera – one of two that have become annual rituals for me. One has become part of my reflections for Holy Week. One has become part of my preparation for Christmas. I sit at my computer, listening, and the tears start.

Have you seen a Child
the color of wheat, the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild.
His hands are those of a King,
as King he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold
we bring to His side.
and the Eastern Star is our guide.

I am listening, as is my custom, to “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” by Giancarlo Menotti. “Amahl,” an opera in one act, was a Christmas tradition when I was small. It was written for television, and was first broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1951. In the years since it has been performed in a variety of settings. Each year it is a part of my preparation for Christmas.

Have you seen a Child
the color of earth, the color of thorn?
His eyes are sad.
His hands are those of the poor,
as poor He was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold
we bring to His side.
and the Eastern Star is our guide.

I suppose we should consider “Amahl” an Epiphany story, really, rather than a Christmas story; but perhaps that’s an artificial distinction. (There was that year, after all, when we didn’t take the crèche down until the Feast of the Presentation.) If you’re not familiar, it is the story of the encounter of Amahl, a poor and crippled shepherd boy, and his mother, with three kings and their one long-suffering attendant. The kings follow a star to seek a child. With them they bring rich gifts, including gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When the mother asks about the child they seek (hoping, really, it might be her own son), they sing about the Child.

The Child we seek holds the seas
and the winds on His palm.
The Child we seek has the moon
and the stars at His feet.
Before Him the eagle is gentle,
the lion is meek.

As a Christian, of course, I know the Child they seek. I trust they will see him. And yet I am moved powerfully by the images they present. This Child is born both king and poor, both gentle and sad. In his tiny palm he holds storms; indeed, the universe revolves around him, from the most distant to the most familiar.

Choirs of angels hover His roof
and sing Him to sleep.
He’s warmed by breath.
He’s fed by Mother
who is both Virgin and Queen.
Incense, myrrh, and gold
we bring to His side.
and the Eastern Star is our guide.

Again, if you know the work, you know that it does have its conflict. Amahl’s mother, oppressed and obsessed with their poverty, and anxious for Amahl’s welfare, is overcome. She tries to steal a little gold “for my child.” She is, of course, discovered and seized by the attendant. Crying, “Thief!” and fending off Amahl’s attempts at defense, he brings the woman roughly before the kings.

I know something about that. Oh, I know I don’t share that sort of poverty; I’m not that big a fool. At the same time, I remember, as I try to be Benedictine myself, that St. Benedict wrote, “The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance.” Enough of my spiritual life has been affected by St. Benedict and by Walter Hilton that I have some idea just how I am impoverished. The fact that I haven’t stolen gold just like Amahl’s mother doesn’t allow me to pretend I haven’t stolen other things, less tangible perhaps but no less precious. I have often enough had to remember, from the Prayer of Manasseh, “I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned; and I know my wickedness only too well.”

I know, too, the embarrassment and the fear of being exposed. I have experienced my own interim times of judgment, just as I believe I will ultimately face the last judgment. And so as her character cringes on the floor, I cringe with her.

And with her, year after year, I sob, astounded, as a king sings,

Oh, woman, you can keep the gold.
The Child we seek doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone
He will build His kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter.
His haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning
He will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life
and receive our death,
and the keys to His city
belong to the poor.

This is grace indeed. This is indeed the promise of new life, established in the child king. This is a hope so counter to the ways of this world: a king who walks among his people, who does not take his riches from the struggles of others, who builds his kingdom on love and not on power. How amazing, how confounding that these three kings have sought, and will find, this child king whose kingdom is so different from their own! And so, the mother sings through her tears, and I through mine,

On, no, wait…take back your gold!
For such a King I’ve waited all my life.

I will not tell you the rest of the story. I you’ll listen for yourself. And with twelve days in Christmas, and more in Epiphany, there is time.

Each year I journey again with a boy, his mother, and three kings. How wonderful the child they seek! How wonderful the child they will find! How wonderful to know the child they found, and to know that he transcends all their imaginings, and ours.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System. 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.

A rector's lexicon

By Richard Helmer

This post is for clergy, and most especially Rectors. Not to put off laity, mind you. And I doubt I could if I tried. We still are in a very clerical Church, after all. But this post is really about clergy. And, more to the point, the words we use to describe what we as a Church do to them.

I think of all the words we use, and very few of them show up in the street lexicon anymore – if they ever did. Even before we’re called clergy, we are referred to using odd words: aspirants, postulants, and candidates.

Aspirants sound slightly medical to me – perhaps in need of respiratory support, or maybe too close to something having to do with under-arm odor and its prevention. Seriously. I can unpack aspirant and see the word aspire inside, but it’s the –ant on the end that has me standing somewhere in a pharmacy trying to pick out the cheapest anti- whatever.

Postulants more clearly belong in the area of mathematical proof – as in gets confused in my head with “postulate”. And does the Church expect us to “prove” something? Our worth perhaps? The Church often sends postulants to seminary, encourages us to acquire massive debt, and then through a process that often approaches hazing, reminds us that – hey - despite our best efforts, we may not go anywhere in the Church after all.

Candidates of course resonate mostly with our baptismal candidacy. But it is a bit like being a candidate with no election to run in. So there’s a “made-it” mentality there most of the time when we get to wear that title for six months to a year and think wistfully about a future in the Church. In other words, unless we really screw up, we’re destined to be ordained. Whatever that means. I was there five years ago. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

And I don’t mean to be rude by my irreverence here, either. “The process” as we like to call it from the inside, at least, was unbelievably annoying at times, but also deeply nurturing and formative for me, and I wouldn’t want to give it back. But what does our choice of words to describe it say to a post-Christian world? Is it just a bunch of episco-speak devoid of meaning for anyone other than the initiated? I wonder.

But then it gets better. Yes, the bishop comes along and ordains me. And then it’s smack into the deployment racket with all of its uncertainties, high hopes, and dead ends. It’s a tough place to be, looking for full-time work (which really means a half-time salary for 24/7 ops) in a financially strapped denomination (don’t let the big national figures and pension benefits fool you) where the cost-of-living is going nowhere but up.

And then you land one, and you get this delicious list to choose from: you might get installed (click) or, even better, instituted.

We also, I learned recently, invest some of our clergy. Our bishop, who was consecrated in another diocese, was welcomed in an investiture when he came to California. Actually, it’s a word reserved for bishops, apparently. And of all the ecclesiastical mouthfuls when it comes to describing as close to having “arrived” in this strange vocation as it gets. . . I like it the best. (But please don’t read too much into that last sentence!) I like investiture because it implies to me a delivery of trust, of being cloaked in an office, a position of responsibility.

And I like it, too, because, being a cloak, that means it can be taken off. Left behind, perhaps, or maybe just set aside for a period of time. We can divest as well as invest, after all. Perhaps a bit of a disposable position? Maybe that’s a cautionary tale for bishops-in-general.

A few weeks ago, I was instituted. Instituted as Rector of a parish that sits right in the heart of a part of the world that deplores institutions-in-general, and where, in fact, anything that is older than, say five years, is regarded by default with some suspicion (Pity the poor children.)

And instituted as Rector. In Latin, it means, most simply, “ruler.” It’s that sinister word, describing a mysterious figure with a dark tone in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Should make me popular, right? More accessible to those in need? A better witness for the Gospel?

I have an image in my mind of my institution as becoming somehow statuesque, sitting in an office with the door open for people to straggle in demanding Christian wisdom for a bad day. Of my getting dusty, perhaps even a bit crusty, as I age. Of finding it harder to move, breathe, or simply live and be myself.

Again, no disrespect to the parish I serve (I love the people there dearly) or this strange vocation of priesthood (I wouldn’t have stuck with it for this long if I didn’t find God’s grace in it in so many surprising and wonderful ways. . .)

But instituted? What a strange word. More like institutionalized. I can see the clergy heads nodding. With some of the things that come at us at times from people we deeply care about, it really can be crazy-making.

As we were finalizing the liturgical booklet for my institution, our parish administrator and I were scratching our heads at what image to use for the front cover. She suggested one with a stole, two hands clasping, and a crown. I had to laugh: a marriage image. (The crown seems to fit well with the origin of Rector, no?)

And that’s an image that some clergy like to use when they talk about the “call” in parish ministry. But I’m uneasy with it. Marriage implies life-long union. Does that mean that almost all clergy today have fallen into serial monogamy along with the rest of our culture?

Besides, I’m already married to a wonderful and loving human being. I wouldn’t want to be accused of bigamy. Although, I must admit that with the stresses of parish ministry, at times I really “get,” and I mean in my bones, why Roman Catholicism demands celibacy of its clergy! Sometimes keeping the eye on the family at home and the family at work can be daunting.

But, no, the marriage image doesn’t really work for me.

Institution.

Rectors in our tradition have an awful lot of power. My spiritual director reminds me that becoming Rector means I’m virtually unassailable canonically. Short of gross misconduct or negligence, it’s tough even for a bishop to get at a sitting Rector. Vestries can scream to high holy heaven, cut the salary, and the Rector can. . .well. . .just sit there and do whatever he or she pleases within fairly wide bounds. Truly. I would deplore the day I arrived at that point, of course. As most sensible people (Rectors included!) would.

But the point is well-taken. What do I do with this power, and why do I have it? Why am I called by the Church, foolish, misguided folk that they must surely be, to become an “institution?” Something that, aside from potentially providing a steady stream of meals for my family and shelter over our heads, seems otherwise absolutely counter-intuitive.

The answer began to arise for me a few Sundays ago while preaching on the floor of the nave. I asked people to raise their hands if they knew, when they were young, that they would end up living in this town – this strange, mixed up, and wonderful town with all of its old artisans, new wealth, old homes, wandering migrants, high performing professionals, struggling musicians, and strange self-proclaimed spiritualists.

No one, not a soul in a crowd of nearly a hundred, raised his or her hand. Even today, much of the world’s population is born, works, grows old, and dies in the same village, town, or city. But not here. Not in the highly mobile and mobilized West where a job, a relationship, or a whim tomorrow could have us whisked a thousand miles away on some new life adventure.

This town, like many all over the Episcopal Church, craves stability. Someone recognizable. Someone who will be present in thick times and thin. Marriage? Not quite. I can’t promise forever. But stable long-term leadership and presence? You bet.

When our newsletter editor wrote (half tongue-in-cheek) to the congregation about my being “installed” as our “permanent” Rector, I found myself pondering the emotional content behind the words. Something, it told me, no someone needs to stay still and collect a little dust.

Like the cliché goes, “Rolling stones gather no moss.”

Rector or not, elected, selected, instituted, installed, or just simply “here,” I want to put down some roots for the sake of the People of God. To be an anchor for a while for ships forever on the move. To stop and gather wisdom like fallen leaves that are never swept up. To really get to know people for a time before they move on, and to be a recognizable face when they return to visit or stay.

This is the old Benedictine way. It’s one of the deep roots of our tradition in being Church. In fact, it facilitates tradition. Stability.

That’s what “institute” means for me in the end: Be stable. Emotionally as best I can, without demanding perfection of myself or others. Grow up and down for sure, yet do it best by standing still. It’s where trust begins and skills are honed and the sharp edges that wound others get dulled with conflict, compassion, and time. Where the hearts of stone get pummeled – often with an imperceptible gentleness and occasionally with a bone-shattering rap – by our God into flesh.

Instituted. Be there for a long time for a People, crazy, loving, wonderful, and strange.

All that power for the Rector? It’s not about power. It’s about creating stability. And that notion bounds both the risks I face of abusing that power, and the vision to leverage it when people need stability to end the spiral of being rootless.

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

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

By Margaret Treadwell

The last thing I remember clearly is the shrill siren of the ambulance racing me through the streets of Manila to the Makati Medical Center, while my rock of a husband held my hand. Several of us attending a conference on the island of Boracay had experienced food poisoning, which concealed my true diagnosis: a ruptured appendix. When I finally learned what was really wrong, my new friend Annabella sprang into action, phoning her doctors and arranging the flight out to the hospital.

Hours later when I awoke, two doctors were standing beside my bed.

“What happened?” I asked. As they described the extent of the damage, the toxic fluids from the rupture, the peritonitis, the gangrenous appendix, the unlikely good fortune that they had decided to stay in the city and thus were available on All Saint’s Sunday to perform the urgent operation, I burst into tears, sobbing, “You saved my life!”

“I didn’t save your life, God did,” responded Dr. Pastores. “Well, Annabella did have her cell phone to reach the two of us, who happened to have the expertise you needed, but the minute we opened you up, I began praying for you and I haven’t stopped. Even one hour later and you might not be here now.”

I knew in that moment that I would work with these doctors, forming a triangle with God that would heal me.

During my 10-day hospital stay, with an array of lifelines hanging above me containing all my sustenance and medicine, I learned lessons at a deep emotional level.

First, when the doctors happily told me I was the first person they’d seen smiling the day after surgery, I realized that they and the superb nurses responded to cheerfulness. No matter how terrible I felt, a smile helped all of us feel lighter, better able to function and think.

On the third hellish day, as I struggled unsuccessfully to hold down liquids, I decided to envision each person who walked through my door as God the Father or God the Son bringing the Holy Spirit. After this resolve, the second person to arrive was a nurse named Jesus!

Second, when the threat of another operation loomed large due to adhesions that weren’t healing naturally, I became like our 3-year-old grandchildren, who have no shame about their bodies when they discuss vomiting, pooping, and the like. I was open and honest with the doctors as I lived one moment at a time: “Will my vein tolerate this new needle? Can I sit up? How will I get my feet on the floor?”

On the last day of X-rays before the scheduled second operation, I suddenly knew with extraordinary clarity that I did have the strength and stamina to undergo the ordeal, because God would be with me no matter what happened. How freeing to know this! Shortly thereafter I was able to report success in the bathroom, and Dr. Pastores did an enthusiastic jig and let out a cheer – the operation was no longer necessary.

Third, the new friends we had made were wonderfully supportive, bringing me cards, flowers and good humor. Ed, a diabetic chef we’d met earlier in our trip, ended up in the hospital room across the hall. When reintroduced by a mutual friend, we immediately bonded. Ed was released before I was, and decided that food, along with medicine, is the best healer. He asked the doctors what I was able to eat, and on the first day I was allowed solid food prepared a “flan broth” that was the best soup I’ve ever tasted. The next day it was cream of broccoli. The next, he decided on mushroom risotto prepared in large quantity for friends to enjoy.

“Ed, this is too good to be true! But when is it going to stop?” I asked.

“When you leave the Philippines,” he replied with a chuckle.

On the day before our journey home, he invited his favorite chefs and all my new friends to a thanksgiving for healing feast of paella stirred over an outdoor fire.

My toast to all present highlighted three characteristics that I experienced in each one: Deep faith in God and the goodness of life; a profound generosity of spirit – sharing gifts of healing and joy; and an everlasting sense of humor to pull through the toughest times.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and eternally grateful to be alive.

Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice. She writes a monthly column for Washington Window
and teaches a course, "Congregational Leadership: Family Systems Theory for Clergy" at Virginia Theological Seminary's Center for Lifetime Theological Education.

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