Church property: let go with love

By George Clifford

In private conversations, Episcopal Church (TEC) leaders from various dioceses, both lay and clerical, tell me that two important reasons for lawsuits to retain title to the property of parishes and dioceses that wish to disaffiliate with TEC are fairness to the remnant that remains faithful to TEC and to deter other parishes from leaving. At first blush, those rationales may appear to justify TEC filing the lawsuits. However, neither rationale withstands careful scrutiny from a Christian perspective.

Quite simply, Christianity is about grace and love. For we who seek to follow Jesus, grace should take precedence over law. TEC operates through democratic processes. When a majority of a parish (or a diocese) votes to leave TEC, those who leave should recognize that the property belongs to TEC and, if they wish to have the property, offer to purchase it at fair market value. However, if those who wish to leave insist on keeping the property, grace demands that we accept that selfish decision rather than holding to the letter of the law. Although TEC may likely prevail in the courts, it will have further alienated the disaffected, turned its focus away from the gospel imperative, and wasted precious resources on an issue that is ultimately of little importance for God's business.

This choice may seem unfair to the minority who wish to remain with TEC but is gracious towards the larger number that decided to leave as well as to those whom God's love will touch because of TEC’s focus and resources invested in mission rather than legal actions. For example, the Diocese of Virginia has probably expended more than $1 million in lawsuits to retain the property of a number of parishes that recently voted to leave. The Diocese recently obtained a $2 million line of credit to further finance those suits. Although $30 million to $40 million of property is at stake, for those $3 million, and the countless hours of time the suits will require from bishops, priests, and laity, the Diocese of Virginia could fund several new missions to meet the needs of those who wish to remain and others. Successfully retaining large buildings for small congregations by winning the suits will burden those congregations with excessive overhead and probably instill a maintenance rather than missionary orientation.

Love between consenting adults does not seek to manipulate by using incentives or disincentives. Love wants what is best for the other, a choice that only the other can make. In human relationships, the unrequited lover who genuinely loves will sadly but freely permit his/her beloved to choose another. The same standard should apply to the community of God's people known as TEC.

Individuals who vote to separate from TEC are consenting adults. By so voting, they spurn TEC’s love for them. TEC may not have always communicated its love for those who vote to separate with sufficient ardor, frequency, or effectiveness. TEC may have failed to provide those who vote to separate with a leader or leaders committed to TEC’s vision of God's inclusive love. Representatives from other Churches in the Anglican Communion may have mischaracterized recent events within TEC or the Communion, seeking to fragment TEC. These representatives may have funded or employed manipulative tactics to encourage votes for disaffiliation. None of that diminishes the demand of our Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

Individuals, parishes, and dioceses that choose to leave TEC further fracture the Church’s already badly broken unity. Departures spiritually weaken TEC, leaving us bereft of the unique gifts and contributions that those who depart bring to the Church. After all, people, not physical plants or financial funds, are the Church’s most important resource.

Nevertheless, departures are not without precedent. The most notable Anglican precedent was the excommunication of the Church of England by the Church of Rome. Although this departure was not voluntary, the English knew that failing to alter their course would most likely force the Pope to act. King Henry seized excommunication as an opportunity to expropriate church property, disestablish monasteries, etc. Reform-minded clergy similarly saw a window of opportunity to make what they perceived as badly needed changes to liturgy and canon law. Following the American Revolution, Anglicans in the United States had to choose between swearing allegiance to the British crown and becoming U.S. citizens. If some had not chosen the latter course, TEC would probably not exist. Those who chose to depart from the Church of England took title to the Church’s property in the U.S. without paying compensation to the Church of England.

Anglicans from other provinces who have crossed jurisdictional lines to organize missions, receive parishes, or ordain clergy in the United States have certainly violated existing Anglican Communion structure and protocols. As much as I find such activities reprehensible, those activities do not result in those provinces or individuals losing their identity as members of the Anglican Communion. Likewise, those who leave TEC when accepted by a non-TEC diocese or another province do not cease to be either Christian or members of the Anglican Communion.

Establishing procedures for an orderly transfer of property and funds when a TEC parish or diocese votes to affiliate with another constituent member of the Anglican Communion and refuses to honor TEC’s right to the property will represent a costly gift of love. That gracious gift, whether it costs tens of thousands of tens of millions of dollars, honors and respects the dignity of those who have chosen to depart. That gift also emulates God's great gift of love in Jesus, a gift given in the full knowledge that it would be costly.

Sometimes, an unrequited lover’s beloved will desire, in retrospect, the gift of love that he or she earlier spurned. If that should happen among those who have chosen to depart from TEC, or who may do so in the future, then TEC’s gracious love in allowing them to go may inspire hope of a warm homecoming à la the parable of the prodigal son. To let go reluctantly and unwillingly of the beloved who spurns our love unintentionally sends the opposite message. God calls us to value persons, not property. Those leaving TEC should go with God's blessing and ours, albeit a blessing given with tears of sadness. We who remain must remain faithful to our calling and understanding of God's Word, treating all persons – members of TEC and others – with the dignity and respect due a child 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.

The challenge of the 44%

By Andrew T. Gerns

The beauty of research like the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is that in many ways it tells us what we already knew. The survey has confirmed and challenged a few hunches that arise out of my experience as a parish priest.

It is not particularly news to me that America’s life of faith is defined by fluidity. All I have to do is look out from the pulpit every Sunday. In my own parish, I have four basic groups of parishioners: people who used to be Catholic, people who used to be Lutheran, and people who used to be something else—they grew up in one of a myriad of other Christian traditions. Oh, I almost forgot, the fourth group of people are the ones who grew up and remain Episcopalian. That’s the smallest group in my own parish. And even then, there ought to be an asterisk because most of the folks who grew up Episcopalian were the children of parents who were themselves raised in another tradition.

Statistically speaking, I am the odd duck: a cradle Episcopalian who is the son and the son of a son of cradle Episcopalians.

So fluidity is a defining mark of American religious life. Forty-four percent of Americans belong to a religious group or tradition that is different than the one they grew up in.

But we live in an age where loyalty to brand or institution is a thing of the past. I remember visiting the Harry Truman presidential library, and one of the exhibits is a sampling of some of the cars that Truman owned. They were all Plymouths. He described himself as a “Plymouth man.“ Outside of the fact that they don’t even make Plymouths anymore, the idea of being eternally loyal to one make of car is a rare thing. Manufacturers are excited when they can get a buyer to stay with the same company, let alone the same brand, two cars in a row. And that’s not just true of cars.

I remember once meeting a self-described Episcopalian, who spoke with the pride of familiarity of things Prayer Book and his time as acolyte and the member of a Canterbury Club in college, telling me that he goes to a Lutheran Church. Why? Because it was closer to his house, he could walk or jog there, the service time was better and the kids knew kids who went there.

Speaking to a former Roman Catholic in my parish, she told me, partly in jest, the reason she is an Episcopalian is that our church doesn’t work so hard to make her mad. But that runs both ways. I remember talking to a United Methodist who used to be a member of my church; he told me that things our denomination did just “made me mad.”

Of the mobile 44%, roughly half choose to go to another Christian tradition. The other half leave the church altogether, with only a tiny fraction of those go to another religious tradition. Most of this other group completely drops out of religious life.

We should have seen this coming—and many of us have but have been at a loss to come to terms with it. The question now is how we respond. Seems to me that there two choices: we can be reactive or we can listen to what the culture is telling us and work to make the Gospel comprehensible and compelling in a free-market of ideas driven by personal freedom.

The reactive comes in many forms, but it is to me essentially an exercise in trying to hold back forces bigger than us. In trying to preserve what the past and its ways teach us, we can overdo it.

Overdoing it has recently landed on my pastoral lap. I have one member whose husband is Roman Catholic and they are raising their kids in both churches. They wouldn’t call it that, but they are. The kids go to parochial school but they go to church with either one parent or the other depending on work, sports and activity schedules. Mostly they go the Roman parish, but at least once a month, they show up in our parish. I didn’t think twice about it but I have been pulled in pastorally because the pastor at the Catholic Church is pressuring the family to only bring the kids to his congregation. This not only tears at Mom’s heart—and risks breaking covenants the couple made with each other at the time of their marriage in that very same church. It is also forcing the kids to choose not only between religions but, in effect, between parents. All of this is because the kids are hearing from the Catholic priest that they may only receive Communion in that church and no other. At the same time, they hear from me and my church that they are welcome to receive because they are baptized. The mixed message is causing the kids to ask uncomfortable questions at home.

This is a crisis happening in slow motion. For the family, the conflict is causing them to think ahead to an anticipated moment of truth where they will either have to choose one tradition over another, or else drop out altogether. I do what I can to keep the lines of communication open to both parents.

My conversations with the priest of the other church have been as revealing as they are frustrating. The priest is from Africa, which complicates matters. We don’t speak the same cultural language, and he sees only threat coming from my concern that we might work together. Besides the fact that he won’t say out loud his assumption that his tradition has primacy over mine, his basic argument is that he must “hold the line” for the sake of both the family and the Church.

He does not seem to realize that in pushing them to make one kind of commitment—one that might have made sense in another time or another cultural context—they might make a completely different choice. I am afraid that if he doesn’t lighten up they could choose another religious community (maybe mine, but just as easily another more neutral one) or none.

In our history there have been lots of American religious movements that have sought to “hold the line” against some cultural movement that was marching right past them. The current political transformation of American evangelicalism is an example of the tension between “holding the line,” with its desire to return to a more structured “past” (if one ever existed), and the need younger evangelicals have for religion to speak to the culture we have instead of the culture we choose.

In the face of a religious marketplace of ideas where people are free to explore, to go where they want, for whatever reason they want. I believe there is a difference between “holding the line” and articulating values that answer the traps, contradictions and realities of a culture that emphasizes absolute individual choice and responsibility over the values of community and tradition.

So what’s a church to do? If we don’t “hold the line,” what alternative do we have?

For one thing, we must become proficient at the language of the marketplace of ideas we live in. Like every human endeavor and institution, we tend to fight yesterday’s battles. We mainline churches tend to act as if we were still the bastions of privilege and status that we were before blue laws and civil religion went away. Recently, I had the chance to speak to the local Church Women United Lenten service. It was a chance for me to realize that speaking to yesterday’s church in yesterday’s language is not a problem restricted to Episcopalians.

Another thing we can do is to change our approach to evangelism. Since people are more likely to move between traditions for all kinds of reasons ranging from conscience to convenience, I believe we should adapt an attitude that is at once more clearly defined and more generous. We should be clearer about who we are and what we offer as Episcopalians, and we should acknowledge that people choose their faith communities for a variety of reasons and that, as wonderful as we are, we might not be the right place for everyone. Whereas denominationalism used to be defined solely in terms of governance and doctrine, today it may be seen as a diversity of styles and emphases.

In terms of the Gospel mandate to go into the world, to baptize and teach, we need to decide if the goal is to make more Episcopalians or to invite more people to Christ. I would suggest that the first is about institutional survival and preserving the past; but the second allows us the freedom to be at once who we are at our best and to give people the freedom—in a culture that trains us to make individual choices in the context of a competitive marketplace—to first choose faith, and then choose the community within which to nourish it.

The most difficult thing for a congregation that assumes a kind of brand loyalty will be to learn how to discover stability, purpose and renewal when we live in a mobile culture. We may need to content ourselves that we will be places of spiritual stability…for now.

Our biggest challenge will be for us Christians to see ourselves as one church with many, diverse institutional expressions: where having people know and follow Christ is more important than what flavor church they belong to.

The fluidity of American religious life drives us to be both better differentiated and more generous. This requires us to hold on to a tension. We must be clear about what we proclaim and yet let go and give the outcome to God. Our task is to proclaim and invite and to give to God the task of transformation and conversion.

The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pa., and chair of the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem. He is keeper of the blog Andrewplus.

Exploring "Secret" Mark

This is the second in an occasional series on non-canonical writings. Part one is here.

By Deirdre Good

The Secret Gospel of Mark has elicited fascination and concern ever since it was discovered in 1958 by Morton Smith (once an Episcopal priest) in the library of the Mar Saba monastery south of Jerusalem. In the back of a collection of letters of Ignatius of Antioch, published in 1646, handwritten pages from a letter of Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) to Theodore identify three versions of Mark known in antiquity: a gospel written in Rome; an expansion of the gospel written in Alexandria by Mark for those “being perfected in the faith;” a further expansion of Secret Mark by Carpocrates that Clement rejected as false.

In the following citation from Clement’s letter, the first longer quotation of material is inserted between Mark 10:34 and 35, while the second shorter quotation fits after the first part of Mark 10:46, “And they went into Jericho…”

To you, therefore, I shall not hesitate to answer the questions you have asked, refuting the falsifications by the very words of the Gospel. For example, after ,"And they were in the road going up to Jerusalem," and what follows, until "After three days he shall arise," the secret Gospel brings the following material word for word:

"And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."

After these words follows the text, "And James and John come to him," and all that section. But "naked man with naked man," and the other things about which you wrote, are not found.

And after the words, "And he comes into Jericho," the secret Gospel adds only, "And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them."

But the many other things about which you wrote both seem to be and are falsifications.

Now the true explanation and that which accords with the true philosophy...

[the text breaks off]

What are we to make of this? We can, with scholars who reacted to the initial publication of the text in two books, The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel according to Mark, (Harper and Row, 1973); Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, (Cambridge University Press, 1973), reject Morton Smith’s interpretation of the texts as a baptism Jesus gave secretly to followers (and, in passing, the suggestion of a physical union between Jesus and the young man). Some scholars to this day suggest that the text is an ancient forgery or even that Morton Smith himself forged eighteenth century handwriting for unknown reasons. Or, we can, with Prof Cyril Richardson, not necessarily follow Morton Smith’s reconstruction of Christian origins, but “face the challenge of explaining the text.” It is unfortunate that the text has disappeared after it was taken from Mar Saba to the library of the Patriarchate in Jerusalem in 1976 but it was then seen by four people two of whom are alive today, Professor Guy G. Stroumsa of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Archimandrite Meliton.

We already know that the text of Mark’s gospel in antiquity is unstable. For example, several different endings have been added to the oldest ending of the gospel at 16:8 most of which can be seen in the footnotes of modern translations after 16:8 under headings such as “The Longer Ending” and “The Shorter Ending of Mark’s Gospel.” These alternative endings show that Mark was transmitted in antiquity either with or without a resurrection account and if the former, with more or less detail.

Then there’s the question of the stability of the text of Mark 10. The text of Mark 10:46 is odd since in its present form it fails to explain what happened in Jericho: “And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar was sitting by the way.” Secret Mark gives us an explanation of the present enigmatic text of Mark 10:46. Thus, it compels us to ask how old and how well-known our canonical version of Mark is. Perhaps it is a more public, less secret version of Secret Mark. Secret Mark also invites us to reexamine traditions about Jesus’ performing baptisms, as in John 3:22. It encourages us to re examine the relationship between synoptic gospels like Mark and John’s gospel where the account of the raising of Lazarus bears some resemblance to the Secret Mark’s account of a young man’s baptism by Jesus.

Secret Mark reminds us that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. We can’t simply destroy texts or vilify scholars with whom we may disagree. Let’s take up the opportunities Secret Mark offers for all our reconstructions of Christian origins.

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.

Failure, forgiveness, re-marriage

By Donald Schell

A note from a younger priest stirred up a lot of memories for me:

A couple I met on Thursday are getting married two weeks from today. He's been married before and needs some kind of sense of closure from his previous marriage. I think he wants some kind of ceremony that will help him leave it behind. The new wife doesn't want the old wife to be involved...

Do you have any suggestions about what to do here?

What had I actually learned from my own divorce and remarriage almost a third of a century ago? Memories flooded in, a strange mix of crippling grief, guilt and exhilarating hope.

Thirty-three years ago, I was a divorced priest with a five year old daughter. I was engaged to be married but felt shaky accepting the happiness of new love. Though I trusted my fiancée and everything I saw and felt about how we were with each other, the promises I’d made in my first marriage haunted me. I had failed a good human being to whom I had promised lifelong committed love. Could I make the same promise again in good faith? When an evangelical friend demanded I tell him who was at fault, I knew in that moment that neither blame nor self-accusation would serve the truth. But when I told him I couldn’t reply, it cost me the friendship.

Questions of fault or blame, and just plain ‘what happened?’ filled pages of my journal and months of conversation with my spiritual director/confessor. Gradually my director, my bishop and the priest who pastored my fiancée and me, helped me find a balanced story of the first marriage’s failure, a story of two people trying hard in some ways, failing one another in other ways, sometimes even trying hard to hold together in ways that actually hurt and divided.

Seeing mutual failure in the divorce sowed the seeds of forgiveness and gave me hope that my ex-wife and I could learn to make the new relationship we’d need to raise our daughter in two households after the divorce. As our daughter grew up, our working together, much to our surprise I think, renewed friendship and deep respect.

But look, there I am trying to leap out of the uncertainty. My colleague’s question wasn’t about later. What transpires in that confused, uncertain time before making new vows? When I examined those memories directly—without filtering them through the lens of the good things that happened later on—I finally saw how much of my dilemma lay in my fiancée’s deep trust for me. Partly Ellen’s trust healed, but it also stung. A shadow in me brooded over her readiness to stand with me and make promises asking family and friends to bless the joy we felt God inviting us into. Reluctant as I was to admit it, my gut said it would easier somehow if Ellen had also been divorced. Illusions of balance or fairness (justice) and some share of guilt got me thinking that if we had divorces behind us, my conscience would rest and let me make new promises. Was I really wishing the loss and suffering of divorce on Ellen?

Conscience can be a trickster. Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn to show a good-hearted boy’s struggle with his damaged conscience. Huck feels guilty helping Jim escape slavery. Like Huck Finn, the best I could do was tell my troubled conscience to be still. But when that accusing voice was quiet, I heard another – what if Ellen’s hopes and trust in me were naïve? Her hope looked so much purer than mine. Could such seemingly pure hope live with my dark memories of failure and loss? How many months after our vows would she be waking in the night as I was now, wondering who this man really was?

Especially at the beginning divorce hangs its quarantine sign on memories as if they could infect those who heard them. Some memories feel burdensome, embarrassing or shameful. Others treacherously turn accusing and vindictive. The good memories may not be quarantined, but they’re orphaned. The couple who birthed all those good memories died.

Time does change and heal some of that. Present trust can make even old memories trustworthy. Over some years Ellen came to know the boy I had been growing up, the kid I was in college, and the young man I was in my first marriage. Now when that younger me shows up in our children, we can love, trust and forgive him. Other relationships grow and heal too. My daughter is the big sister in two families. Her four parents have come to respect each other. Ellen and my children are friends with their sister’s other sister.

But my mind is rushing ahead again. When the confusion was still fresh in Ellen’s and my first year together, she and my dad were talking, and he stopped, something crossed his face, and he said, 'We're really glad Donald found you, but his mother and I only wish he'd met you first.' Though she felt the welcome he intended, his words left her speechless. Regret simply made no sense. Ellen knew I was a different man for my failed first marriage. And none of us – not Ellen the new stepmother, nor either parent, nor the grandfather who was speaking regretted our daughter, his grand-daughter What was he saying? What could he really mean?

He was wishing for what couldn’t be – no divorce, no pain, no confusion. But wishing a more perfect and orderly life for me – not divorced – missed new life and blessing that was already showing up like fresh growth after a forest fire. Dad’s affectionate welcome to family risked rewriting the past, erasing real people, my ex-, our daughter (his grand-daughter!), and me.

Yes new life did happen, but how did we carry ambiguity and memory of failed promise into a whole-hearted, unambiguous commitment to new promise?

A month or so before the wedding, David Boulton, the priest who married Ellen and me, said he wanted to talk with me alone. I was afraid he’d seen how little I trusted myself. Would he try to talk me out of the wedding? No, David simply but forcefully told me I had to GIVE UP my pretense that I knew more any about marriage than Ellen. 'Your failed first marriage doesn't make you an expert,' he told me. ‘Offer your best to Ellen and learn from her while she learns from you.’ David’s words complemented what my spiritual director was doing.

David, Fr. Paul, and a handful of trusted listeners cleansed my memory and heart, letting me forgive myself and my ex-, reflect on a past that was ending, and let it go. Letting go, I entered a living future, a real marriage with Ellen.

Thirty-three years later I look back with gratitude at how the church – a bishop, two priests, and some very good friends – offered penance, counsel, challenge, and encouraging words that made me trust myself (and God’s grace) enough to make the promises I so wanted to make and live with a partner I love.

So now, pastorally what do I offer someone still raw from divorce and mistrusting himself/herself, but wanting to make new promises? I use the Prayer Book Rite of Reconciliation (penance or confession) or some informal approximation of it. Penance offers the release and simplicity of acknowledging promises made and not lived out. Penance and reflective counseling invite letting go of both blame and accusation. New life begins as the divorced partner makes confession and we talk, sometimes deflecting blame, sometimes probing for honest statement of failure. We can pray together for the person, and also for the ex-partner.

This pastoral work and ritual of penance make most sense to me by working with the divorced partner alone. or each alone If both partners are recently divorced. So many of the stories we tell ourselves as we come to marriage vows are burdensome illusions. Penance is a place to lay the burden down.

Broken promises demand the strange work of learning to find one’s self trustworthy all over again. I’ve often told people in their relationships (and their workplace) that ‘shattered trust’ can be rebuilt. Trust isn’t a commodity or a fixed state, it’s the unfolding experience of finding yourself or another person trustworthy. That’s as true trusting ourselves as it is trusting another.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company working for community development in congregational life. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

The view from England

The Cafe welcomes several new contributors this month, including Adrian Worsfold (known online as Pluralist), who offers a view from England.

By Adrian Worsfold

I am an independent-minded Anglican at the northern edge of the Canterbury province before the land becomes, over the River Humber, part of the province of York. In this part of England, which is a notorious area for low percentage churchgoing, I'd say that at the very best five per cent of the population enter all churches of all denominations.

It is such a different scene in the United Kingdom from the United States. The only real growth in churchgoing in this country is in London among black immigrant-based independent churches. There is also the result of Poland entering the European Union and perhaps some one million Poles coming more or less all at once into the United Kingdom, many of whom go to Catholic churches for communal reasons - rather a similar dynamic to background reasons for much churchgoing in the United States. This is not the dynamic of churchgoing in the UK, where people are generally not clubable and remain reserved, and who retain large areas of personal space around themselves as individuals.

My own background is religiously mixed. Without going into detail I was raised without any church upbringing, became confirmed at a university chaplaincy into the Church of England, but have had serious Unitarian (now exhausted) and Anglican involvement since. As well as this I have had intentional contact with Bahais, Western Buddhists and the liberal end of the Independent Sacramental Movement. So you know where I am coming from.

I suppose there are around a dozen people in my local congregation of approaching a hundred that I know about who show a regular knowledge and interest in wider Anglican affairs. I do because there has always been for me an issue in the local church and the wider church. I am happy with the local church but there are increasing problems with the ethical basis of the wider Church. This is the only reason why I write about it.

This is an age of increasing specialisation, as only a minority are committed to any sort of church life. Yet the Anglican Church is based on being generalist. The problem is that as we specialise our interests, and become more selective in what we do, the Anglican Church and indeed every broad historic denomination simply covers too wide a spectrum. While doing research for my doctorate, I interviewed three Christian ministers. There was a traditionalist Catholic Anglican, a strong evangelical Anglican and a liberal Methodist. On every issue they sometimes took completely opposing positions. With this and other research I concluded in 1989 that the old denominations were increasingly meaningless, and new ones were emerging inside the old. So only old institutional habits and some fashions and understandings of spirituality, and a lot of localism, will keep the old institutions going. This may be still be considerable, but it comes with an increasing number of speciality Christian labels, and many of these identities struggling to clarify, specialise and even break free. The party system in the Church of England hardly helps.

Then in 1993 the Church of England ordained women, and it broke the back of its Catholic party. The traditionalist Catholics have either left or become marginalised. The Catholics that are left are either sacramentally inclined liberals or are critical Catholics who are mistaken for liberals. What was a stable triad of Catholics, Evangelicals and Broad (or Liberals) has become an unstable dyad of Evangelicals versus liberals. However, the Evangelicals are themselves too broad. One lot of them cannot compromise with liberals or, increasingly, anyone else, and the other lot can. In this age of specialisation, they have to split. This split comes before any straight fight between Evangelicals and Liberals.

This is what the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) is all about. Via the presenting issue of homosexuality, they are organising a split from other Evangelicals. They want other evangelicals marginalised. What they will end up doing is marginalising themselves. At the moment there is a transient alliance of the dogmatic - marginalised extreme Catholics and extreme Evangelicals. It won't last, and like the Catholics before them, the Evangelicals in all their intensity must divide. It is quite painful for the compromising Evangelicals.

The result is a trimmed yet still broad Church. Some of the more intense liberal groups have shown the same tendency to divide between liberals and radicals. However, liberals have long put up with not getting what they want, and some have had an ethic of bringing others together. In England the Broad Church group contained, historically, compromisers and centralisers as well as radicals (those who sympathised with Unitarians, for example). That the Catholics and Evangelicals have split first and second may give comparative strength to the liberals and not lead to them splitting too. Also, the looser arrangement of liberals and their view of authority is more flexible about difference.

The core GAFCON body is basically an alliance of extreme Reformation Evangelicals, insigniicant in themselves, but allied with an up-and-coming Christianity made from a toxic mixture of out-of-colonialism religion with those literalist biblical words that reflect the kind of magical and crisis-ridden supernaturally haunted world they recognise.

My view is that each main Church should protect the integrity of the institution that the GAFCON people are attacking and will attack. It will be part of its existence to raid and to steal, should it be successful in setting up parallel but dogmatic Anglicanesque institutions. In the United Kingdom they will seek to redistribute Anglicans towards its leadership. However, there is a kind of inevitability about the breakaway, and they should be allowed to go. The attempt to centralise, to copy its agenda (as in the Advent Letter of 2007), to compromise with them, via this Covenant, is completely misconceived. Let those people go: producing another, smaller continuing Anglicanesque speciality as the main bodies trim themselves from their dogmatic extremities.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist) has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

The Feast of St. Matthias

The feast of the Apostle Matthias is celebrated in some traditions on May 14 and in others on February 24.

Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus-- for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) "For it is written in the book of Psalms,

`Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it';


`Let another take his position of overseer.'

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:15-26 (Feast of St. Matthias)

By Luiz Coelho

The story of St. Matthias' election as an apostle was one of the biblical stories that intrigued me the most when I was a child. I often asked myself why Jesus had chosen Judas in first place, knowing that he would hurt him so much some years later. If he had called Matthias in the beginning, there would have been no betrayal. “Jesus would not have had to suffer the way he did. He could have just ascended into Heaven after finishing his mission on Earth,” I used to think. After all, I loved (and still love) Jesus too much to imagine him suffering.

Curiously, I also have a Matthias in my own life: Matthias is my step-grandfather. Like the apostle, he became a member of my family after the “other ones”: Matthias is my grandmother's second husband, and therefore, not my biological grandfather. In fact, I never met my “true” grandfather; he died years and years before I was even born. Matthias was the only grandfather that I knew. He was the one who cuddled me, laid me on his lap and played with me during my childhood. And that also made me wonder: “why, if it was in God's plan for me to have him as my grandfather, didn't he meet and marry my grandmother in the first place?

People often ask themselves similar questions. “Why did it happen, if it wasn't supposed to be?” “Why the pain, the sorrow, the change of plans, the deception?” I often catch myself thinking about going back in time and changing things in order to prevent happenings that ended up in failure. I don't think I'm alone in such fascinations. There is even a hobby, called “Alternative History”, that seeks to propose alternative versions to some chapters of world history, if certain events had not happened.

I wonder whether or not those early disciples who gathered in Jerusalem 2000 years ago to elect a new apostle had similar thoughts. Even after seeing the risen Christ, some of them probably still questioned their new experience of Jesus, and I imagine some grieved to have Jesus taken away from them. They were human beings after all! However, they trusted God and moved on; they listened to the Holy Spirit's voice and, gathered in prayer, cast lots to determine who God had chosen to help lead the Church through those difficult times.

And, they succeeded. The Gospel message spread, more and more people heard about the Good News of God in Christ. Matthias was a blessing to the Church. He planted Christ's message in the Caucasus, and has been respected and venerated by many faithful around the world.

Like the earliest disciples two thousand years ago, we are also called to move on, to discern the Divine will, to seek to conform our lives to it, and to proclaim God's redemptive message – even in the midst of daily sorrows that fill us with despair, make us question our discernment of the Divine will and lead us to wonder how the world around us would be with the absence of suffering and sorrow. The Church is also called, as the Beloved of Christ, to struggle for truth and integrity- a calling from which God will not repent, even though we have a history of betrayals, negligence and hatred towards God's children, and even Jesus himself!

However, when we the Church humbly gather together in prayer and submit our will to God Almighty, the master of time and space, there is room for healing transformation. We do not need time machines or alternative histories; we only need the serenity of knowing that what was meant as evil against us can be redeemed by God and transformed for our good, and can become a joyful opportunity for us to learn how to follow the Divine guidance.

St. Matthias, pray for us, so that we can be God's representatives in this broken world. Amen.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Just one thing

By Peter M. Carey

“It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel fine….(time I had some time alone).”

REM, It’s the End of the World as We Know It

As I enter this Lent, the pounding beat and the prophetic words of the REM song “It’s the end of the world as we know it” run through my mind. I yearn to cultivate a Holy Lent, but there is much to do, and many to-do lists seem to stand in the way. However, listening carefully to the song, one hears the reply, “and I feel fine” and then, very quietly, toward the end of the song, “time I had some time alone.” There is a hope in the song that even in the midst of a busy life that feels like the end of the world, one can find solace; perhaps finding a bit of time alone is a key to unlock the door to a Holy Lent.

And then I say, “If only I could get through all this “stuff,” then I could have a Holy Lent! I could pray more, read more, take a class, go to church more, be more holy, give up caffeine and sweets, and meditate more. If only I could get through my to-do list, if only I had not so many commitments, maybe I could lead a Holy Lent!”

I wonder, if we are already feeling overwhelmed with projects, could Lent be a time when we just try to do one thing?

I have used this concept of “one thing” in my life as a teacher and coach and found it to work pretty well when people are feeling overwhelmed. In the midst of coaching a junior varsity soccer team after a terrible first half, when we were already down 3-0, I asked my team to agree to one thing that we would do better in the second half. I asked them to think of only one thing to concentrate on, such as communication, or movement off the ball, or pushing hard forward on the counter-attack. One thing—we had something to find unity around, and we had a goal on which to concentrate as we crawled out of a deep hole. In that case, we found a way to struggle back into the game, which ended in a tie that felt like a Super Bowl victory.

For this Lent, for those of us who are in the midst of multi-tasking, email flooding, blackberry buzzing, children running, bosses calling, grocery shopping, doctor visiting, there may be just one thing that we can do.

For that one thing, I would suggest “attention”.

That one thing is to strive to be attentive to the now and the here of our lives. If we have the courage to be where we are, we can cultivate awareness, we can cultivate attention. Attention to what, one might ask. Well I would make the claim that when we cultivate attention, when we turn aside from our to-do lists, from our cell phones, from our multitasking, even for a moment or two, several times a day, we are offered the gift of knowing God’s presence. God does not “come to us” only in times of calm reflection, but is ever present, what theologians call “prevenient grace.” God is with us always, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

I take wisdom from the words of the deranged prophet figure in the 1984 film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai across the 8th Dimension: “Wherever you go, there you are.” And, so, here we are. It is here and now that God breaks into our lives, not in some other place or time. It is here that God is, not only in mountaintop experiences, not only when we go away on retreat, not only in the midst of nature, not only in the midst of a concert hall, not only in the exhilarating rush of endorphins when we exercise. One of the Desert Fathers said: “Your cell will teach you all you need to know.” This does not mean that we all have to become monks. For the monk, the cell was his everyday place; it was his place of work. This going to one’s cell was not a retreat from the work of the monk, but was encouragement for the monk to go to his place, to seek God in the everyday place.

Rowan Williams claims in his book, The Trial of Christ, that “hardest place to be is where we are,” for if we want to turn our selves toward God, we must first work to be fully present, which can be hard when our minds leap forward and back, and we multitask ourselves away from where we sit. Cultivating attention may offer us a deeper sense of beauty, if we have eyes to see. As Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hahn claims, “The present moment is a beautiful moment.” And if we truly embraced the present moment, we might, indeed see the beauty of this place, and even see God.

So in the midst of the messiness of raising three children under 5, God is there. In the balancing of the checkbook, God is there. In the waiting room of the hospital, God is there. In the boring meeting, God is there. In the frustrating traffic jam, God is there. Lent might be a time when even in the rush of our appointments and commuting and to do lists we can be attentive to the place where we are, and attentive to God.

As we cultivate a greater sense of attention, we might experience frustration, we might have to acknowledge our fears and our anxieties, we might be confronted with thoughts of the past, and our worries for the future. However, taking the time to turn and cultivate attention may give us eyes to see the beauty of nature, the wondrous diversity of people, and God’s presence even in those interruptions.

To be where we are, in the present moment, means that we cannot deny the cries of the outcast, that we cannot ignore economic injustices, that we cannot ignore the sin of racism that not only surrounds us but is also within us. And it is our practices of being where we are, and in the present moment, that move us to take on the challenge of the brokenness and sinfulness of the world, as it is, in this place, in our own time. We are empowered by Jesus Christ to be agents of reconciliation, to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. We are given the strength to be reconciled with each other, to seek peace.

However, before we take on all of these projects, we can claim the gift of attention to the here and the now of our lives. God is with us always, so we do not need to recover some past glory, or hope for some future rest. God is with us where we are, so enormous journeys are not needed to know God in our lives. In the messiness of the stuff of our lives, in the feeling of “the end of the world as we know it,” we can find “some time alone,” and cultivate attention to this moment, to this place, for this is a beautiful time and place. Do we have eyes to see it?

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

The interior desert

By R. William Carroll

Last weekend on our vestry retreat, we did a brief Bible study on Psalm 30. One of the verses we reflected on for some time was verse 6, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Certainly one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible, it anticipates the Paschal mystery, in which we pass over with our Lord Jesus, out of death into life. The whole Psalm exalts God, who has lifted the Psalmist up from deep suffering. He has been brought very low from a place of security and strength, and then, suddenly, God lifts him up again to a place of safety and joy. A truly disturbing thought is found in verse 8: “Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.”

What would it mean for God to hide God’s face from us? What a terrifying thought. The vestry and I spoke about the experience of Good Friday, when Jesus is broken on the cross, and God’s heart skips a beat as he lies dead in the tomb. On Good Friday, everything falls to pieces, and not even God can pick them up again until Easter.

The hiding of God’s face is a popular theme in monastic literature. The source of this is the story where God tells Moses that he cannot look on God’s face. So Moses hides himself in the rock, and looks at God’s backside as God passes by. Luther takes up this tradition as he discusses the distinction between Law and Gospel. His whole quest, to find a gracious God, could be described as a search for God’s face. Other writers use the theme to describe the experience of God’s absence at the heart of many a spiritual journey, an experience often labeled the “dark night of the soul,” a phrase used by the great Carmelite, John of the Cross.

At times, God seems to be silent and withdrawn. Whatever intimacy and friendship with God we have known disappears, and there is only a void. It is a time when we may face severe temptation, when we may have to cling to God in faith and love, even when there seems to be no sound basis for either. How long, O Lord, another Psalm asks, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? The Psalms are not filled with false piety but with a genuine struggle for faith.

Writers about the Christian spiritual journey often hearken back to what is called the desert experience. The early mothers and fathers would journey into the desert to face their demons and find God. We often think that the life of prayer should be a source of comfort and joy, but it is also a risky venture. True prayer causes us to let go of our certainties, our desires, and our will, seeking nothing but God. This is especially important in an age that sees “spirituality” as just one more commodity to be purchased, or a source of religious “highs.”

Thomas Merton, no stranger to the desert experience, once wrote:

“The true contemplative is not one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but is one who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect to anticipate the words that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and when he is ‘answered,’ it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence. It is by his silence itself, suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.”

I think that all of us can experience this interior desert. We don’t have to travel far away either. We can encounter the desert in our day to day lives. And I think this fact points us, we who don’t necessarily believe in a devil and certainly not one with a pointy tail, to what is really going on in the threefold temptation of Christ. Here we see the very Word of God confronted with God’s silence. Jesus will face this silence again in Gethsemane and on the Cross. In the Gospels, we see Jesus wrestling with his vocation when God’s face is hidden, yet embracing it with love.

Today, in the desert, Jesus defines himself through responsible choices. Throughout his ministry, he says “yes” to some things and “no” to others. Satan knows how to make a good offer, some of the things he would give Jesus are quite attractive and seductive—food when he is starving, in one case, and all the kingdoms of this world (they are apparently Satan’s to give), in another. The devil even cites Scripture in support. Nevertheless, three times, Jesus says “no,” remaining steadfast and faithful in the midst of real temptation. So the devil leaves him, and the angels wait upon him.

Lent is a time of intentionally clearing space for God. We shouldn’t be surprised if we encounter a great and awful silence, when we do so. Fasting and self-denial are meant to leave us without the props we use to fill in the spaces that are meant for God alone. Silence and solitude open us up to thoughts and feelings we ordinarily drown out with the noise and busy-ness of our lives. The Scriptures point us to God’s promises and steadfast love—to the powerful Word that lies hidden in God’s silence.

This is how it goes when we walk in God’s presence for any length of time. The Israelites too, when they left Egypt, wandered forty years in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. They doubted God’s good intentions and complained that Moses had led them out to kill them. It took faith to keep putting one foot in front of the other until they reached the Promised Land.

The Good News is: we have a God who is able to journey with us as we really are. And to lead us, kicking and screaming if necessary, into freedom. I’d like to close with another text from Merton, a famous and beloved prayer. I was discussing it with a parishioner the other day, and it reminded me of the sermon I preached in front of my parish’s search committee. It was about a friend of mine who died too young. This prayer was one of his favorites, and he took great comfort in it, in the last days of his life. It makes for a wholesome meditation in this desert season, or whenever God’s face seems hidden from us.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

The Rev. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He co-edits The Covenant Journal with Lane Denson and blogs at Anglican Resistance. He is a novice in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

The art of being still

By Heidi Shott

In 1979 a small island in the Southern Caribbean made a bold move by designating the real estate between the high tide mark and 200 feet below the surface a national marine park. Rules require dive boats to use moorings instead of reef-damaging anchors and make illegal spearfishing and the use of diving gloves, lest divers be tempted to touch vulnerable coralheads.

Nearly 30 years later Bonaire, one of six islands that comprise the Netherlands Antilles, has done more to preserve the complex ecosystem of the coral reef and the variety and abundance of fish life than anywhere else in the Caribbean. Not only have the Bonairians preserved their natural resource, but they have also ensured steady economic growth by drawing divers to their pristine underwater park year after year. My family has returned to dive off the island ten times over the last 15 years. We’re in a rut, but it’s an awfully nice rut and very affordable once you get there.

Diving is something my husband Scott and I have shared throughout our life together. The thrill of seeing a sea turtle or a eagle ray or to swim in the midst of a huge, flock-like school of silversides or to have dolphins frolic along side our boat, binds us in a way that is hard to explain. Scott learned to dive at 14 in the mid-seventies in the murky lakes and frigid quarries of West Virginia. I learned in 1985 in the tropical waters off the Micronesian island of Saipan when we were first married and teachers at the island parochial school.

During our most recent trip in January, our twin 14 year-old sons learned to dive. Finally we could dive together as a family. We spent two weeks diving, reading, playing scrabble and gin rummy, and watching the sun set from our porch with boat drinks and snacks – no phone, no email, no computer games, no TV, no diocesan or hospital emergencies that required our response. When we awoke in the morning, the drill was not the mad morning rush to school and work but to drink some tea with a slice of toast, gather our gear bags, squeeze into the bottom half of our wetsuits, and make our way down the dock to the happy camaraderie of the dive boat. “So where we goin’ this morning?” the day’s dive leader would ask.

“Salt Pier!”

“La Dania’s Leap!”

“Carl’s Hill!”

“Anywhere, it’s all good!”

Under the Caribbean sun we would arrive at the dive site and hoist our air tanks onto our backs, the acrid smell of hot neoprene in our noses. How delicious to let the weight of the gear flip us backwards off the side of the boat into the cool ocean.

As a diver, one skill I’ve paid close attention to over the years is controlling my buoyancy. I’ve learned to rise and fall in the water by gauging the amount of air in my lungs and to control my pitch and yawl by the flick of a fin or the twitch of a hand in the water. I’m not an expert – I don’t dive enough for that – but after a dive or two the fluency comes back. By maintaining neutral buoyancy a diver can get close to things…really close. This is important because so much of what goes on in your average coral reef neighborhood is tiny and complicated and if you want to get a sense of the intricacies of life on the reef, you need to be as close and as still as possible.

What an honor to be a visitor to this little corner of creation. It takes hundreds of years for the coral reef to grow: one generation of a hundred of species of coral dies to form a minute layer over the great exoskeleton of the reef, a millimeter at a time. One of my favorite things to do, and I taught my sons to do it as well, is to kick back from the reef into the deep water and pause to take in the whole wide expanse of the scene. We’re looking at part of creation that was in this very place doing its silent, magnificent thing at the same time Henry VIII was beginning to grow a teensy bit dissatisfied with Catherine of Aragon, when our boys were shooting themselves to bits at Second Bull Run, and when my grandfather was in the trenches faraway in France. For millennia tiny blue-lipped blennies have bravely defended their two inches of territory, orange frogfish have extended their deceptive lures, the spectacular and shy spotted drum has swum in and out of the hollows of brain coral…over and over and over again. For the past 60 years, since M. Cousteau and his friends figured out how to breath underwater, we humans have been privileged to observe this world for up to 75 minutes at a time.

Last month, on the day before we were to fly home and resume our life in Maine, I jumped off the dock with my fins, mask and snorkel. We’d made our last dive earlier in the day and were now allowing all the dissolved nitrogen built up in our blood to dissipate before we flew." (Getting the bends in an airplane is a seriously dumb, seriously dangerous rookiesque thing to do.) Before long, I was swimming 30 feet above the terrain I’d dived inches from a half dozen times in the past two weeks. From the surface I recognized certain distinctive coral heads, a large prickly West Indian Sea Egg, brilliant purple stovepipe sponges and delicate, translucent vase sponges, five different species each of parrotfish, angelfish, damselfish, and butterflyfish, and little groupers called Rock Hinds. I recognized them from 30 feet above only because I already knew them intimately from close at hand. Fish we don’t recognize at depth, we study in our fish books when we surface so we will know them the next time. Divers sport the geeky enthusiasm of birders, we just don’t often talk about it in public.

As I paddled around in the gorgeous turquoise, warmer than our mill pond ever gets at mid-summer, I started to finger this essay in my mind. Out of habit and propensity, I often contrast whatever situation I’m find myself in to the state of the Episcopal Church or the nuttiness of trying to live like a Christian in this complicated world. It’s an annoying habit and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to break it. I’ve compromised by only writing about one in five ideas that wash over me. Still, what I was thinking was something like this: If one part of God’s glorious creation - such as the ecosystem of the tropical coral reef – is so amazingly complex and fragile, doesn’t it follow that other parts of creation – the family, the congregation, the diocese, the Church, the Communion – each would be just as complex. Think of how nuanced and complicated the life of any congregation or diocese is. Yet, if we’re on the outside, how easy it is, with a little bit of distant observation, to feel we have captured the nut of a place in the palm of our hands.

As a diver at depth, so careful with my breathing to remain close but not intrusive amid the life and death action of the reef, I can observe a world that I don’t belong to. I can learn a lot, but I’ll never be a fish. I’ll never know what causes the Pederson’s Cleaning Shrimp to climb onto that particular anemone. As a snorkler 30 feet above, I can see the bigger coral heads and the bigger fish, but I’ll never see the two-inch blenny defending his little home in the crack before darting back to safety or the baby spotted moray eel poking its head and mouth full of teeth from a burrow.

But my inability to really, really know doesn’t stop me from pretending I know the undersea world. In his song, “Laughter,” Bruce Cockburn sang, “A laugh for the dogs barking at our heels, they don’t know where we’ve been. A laugh for the dirty window panes, hiding the love within.” I’ve always loved that line because he calls us on how willing we are to be dismissive of people with whom we don’t agree or with whom we have little in common. We’re especially good at that in the Church.

I don’t know how to change that, but scuba diving provides some good lessons: control your breathing, be still, watch carefully, and, for God’s sweet sake, don’t open your mouth.

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

Enough, already

By Kit Carlson

I don't care. I know I should. I know all the very, very, very, very important reasons why I should care about the proposed Anglican Covenant, the upcoming Lambeth meeting, the "anti-Lambeth" gathering in the Middle East, and all the machinations, argumentations, proselytizations, and disputations surrounding all of it. I know that it matters. It does. I know I could wake up in a year or two and find my beloved Episcopal Church on trial in some ecclesiastical, international tribunal that emerged seemingly overnight at the urging of a few fearful and angry Anglicans. I know, in my head, that it is serious business for the future of the Anglican Communion, how we relate to one another, and how we wield power over, or power with, one another.

Still, you know what? I'm tired of it. I'm tired of it, and I'm bored of it, and I am ready to move on.

I just don't care.

Here is what I do care about: I care about the very real people in my very real parish who show up faithfully, week after week, to receive the sacraments, to hear the Word of God, and to laugh and cry and support each other as they walk through life together.

I care about their spiritual health, their physical health, their mental health. I care about their dying dogs and their wandering children. I care about their cancer scares, their cancer cures and their cancer deaths. I care about their doubts and fears, their debates with God, their insights into some fresh word of Scripture. I care about their ability to be in healthy relationships. (And I don't care whether those relationships are straight or gay, as long as they are healthy.)

I care about my parish as a whole. I care about its ability to welcome the stranger, to serve the needy, to pray and to grow, to be a good steward of all its blessings, from building to staff to children in the nursery. I care about its future. I want it to grow and thrive for the next fifty years and more, and to become such a force for good, such a blessing to our community, that East Lansing would be bereft if it were suddenly to vanish.

I care about my bishop and my diocese. I care about the Episcopal Church. And I do very much care about the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion has blessed my life in uncountable ways, because my home church in Maryland is filled with people from all over that Communion, people who moved to the Washington area to live and work and to worship in the Anglican tradition. My world has been expanded because I have lived in community with Nigerians, Ghanaians, Bahamians, Chinese, Indians and Canadians. My vision of God's Kingdom has been broadened by seeing all sorts of God's children from all over the world come to the altar rail, week after week.

And I understand that a flawed and failed Covenant could put that at risk.


I still don't care. Because I believe that, as the old hymn says, "the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind," and that what is good and true and Godly ... in my parish, in my diocese, in my beloved Church of Our Saviour in Hillandale, Maryland, is stronger than the division, confusion and darkness flying around out there in the rest of the Anglican Communion.

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

Guilt, fear and other obstacles

By Jean Fitzpatrick

You'd think by now I'd have recovered from the Lent of my childhood. The problem wasn't about fasting or giving up chocolate; it was bigger than that. Ordinarily I liked most things about church -- the gleaming vestments and the stained glass and the soaring music -- but during Lent the whole place turned weird. On Ash Wednesday, I was somehow convinced, the priest rubbed the charred remains of dead people on our foreheads. I'm sure no one had ever told me that, but it seemed to fit in with the big, gloomy picture: Jesus was dead, everything was draped in purple, and it was all our fault. During the Stations of the Cross, O Sacred Head droned through the sanctuary, where the incense fog was so thick I'd get woozy. Head between my knees in the pew, not sure whether I was about to throw up or pass out, I wondered where God had gone and why he was letting all these crazy things happen in his church.

Those days are over, you're saying. We don't teach Lent that way now. And it's true that I've talked to various clergy and read a variety of spiritual writers who have done their best to convey a more grace-filled understanding. The season's not dreary for the sake of being dreary, they say; it's an opportunity for contemplation or intentional action. In my own parish the Sunday school kids join the rector in the churchyard and burn the palms from Palm Sunday to produce Ash Wednesday's ashes, which should eliminate any macabre confusion.

Sadly, though, there are others who still don't get it. I'm thinking of the priest who proudly told me how she brings her parish children down into the church basement and rubs an iron nail into their palms. And then there's the one who surprised a group of teens with a full-on mock crucifixion: he blindfolded them, scratched their palms with a nail, and pressed a vinegar-soaked sponge to their lips. I wonder how this approach differs from the Halloween hell houses organized in denominations we like to think of as less compassionate than our own. Why don't people recognize that kids have much more vivid imaginations than your average adult Muggle? That children learn through their senses before they can think theologically is one of the great blessings of their spirituality, but it leaves them impressionable; they need our protection, our care. Certain activities are better left to consenting adults. In a culture where kids are already inundated with violent images in videogames and films, we need to be sure our most vivid lessons -- even during Lent -- convey that we are on the side of the angels.

After all, God doesn't observe Lent, or impose it on us. Lent is for people. As religious educators of children or adults, our role is to offer the tools and traditions that will help them experience the season as a time for reflection, as both somber and life-giving. I'm certainly a fan of the carbon fast posted on this site, for example. I've done some experimenting of my own, gone from giving up Lent altogether to trying a hands-on approach that included baking hot cross buns for my family.

Recently I've settled on praying the news and then taking a small step toward change. As I write these words I read the headlines on "Six dead as gunman 'goes to war' with Missouri city," "CIA director: Waterboarding necessary, but potentially illegal," and "Violations of 'Islamic teachings' take deadly toll on Iraqi women." For a few minutes I close my eyes. And then I open my checkbook and write a donation to a new charity and to the Presidential candidate of my choice. For this year, anyway, that's the rhythm of my daily Lenten practice.

How are you observing Lent? What are you teaching the adults and children in your congregation?

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

Prayers ascending?

By Ann Fontaine

Every so often someone will ask for prayers and a common response is “prayers ascending.” My questioning mind thinks – hmmm, ascending? Going up? Where? How? Since the photos of earth came back from the astronauts in space, I have had the question that the Russian cosmonauts were asking, "Where is your God? We've never seen Him out there in space. We circled the globe again and again, and He wasn't out there!" If God is not out there and there really is no “up” in realms of outer space where do I locate God when I pray? Where and how do I think about God when I pray? I suppose that there is no need for location when it comes to God and prayer but it helps my praying to think of a direction.

Much of our religious language speaks of an “up there” – words that have now become an anachronism. Can the metaphor hold our religious imagination? Without location is there a place where God dwells and where we can direct our prayers?

We believe that God is not an object found in creation but the creator of all – as Genesis declares in the creed-like statements of the first chapter, it is all good but it is not God. Our faith uses objects and nature as pointers to God, but God is not in the objects themselves. Icons and other symbolic objects can be paths for prayer but like the natural world are just pointers to that greater reality of the Holy and not stopping places.

In addition to all the passages of scripture that speak of God as high above us in the heavens and our popular conception in poems like Robert Browning’s:

The year's at the spring;
The day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his heaven...
All's right with the world!

Or Bette Midler singing: From a distance, I find more reassurance about the location of God and the place for my prayers in places like Psalm 139.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast. (BCP p. 794)

or in Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I pray for someone I believe my prayers are received by the Love that is God and directed to those who need them. For me God is located in the midst of us. My prayer is often that the person will feel surrounded in and borne up by prayer. I don’t think that my prayers have taken off for outer space or gone to an unknown location. My hope is that the prayers are wrapping any one who needs them in a comforter of prayer. I hope the recipients will feel that prayer is carrying them through their days and they feel that peace that passes understanding as they receive healing or strength in their lives.

Jesus says in Luke 17: “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

And that is where I put my heart and my prayer. Where do you think your prayers go? Or does it matter to you?

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

The vast majority

By Lauren R. Stanley

Sitting in a meeting recently, discussing issues relating to the great sexuality debate, I heard the old bugaboo raised once again:

“Please don’t do this,” one person said. “It will cause problems with the Anglican Communion.”

And there it was: the great “Anglican Communion,” brought into a discussion as though it were some giant standing right outside the room, ready to stomp us and gobble us up like Godzilla in those Japanese films of old.

Which is about the time I lost it. The aggravation caused by invoking the “Anglican Communion” was too much.

You see, I live, as often as is possible, in that Anglican Communion, and for me, it is not some amorphous monster lurking outside my door. It is my home. And I, for one, am getting very tired of hearing the “Anglican Communion” held up as some cudgel over our heads.

There are two things about this invocation that rile me:

First, we are the Anglican Communion, just as much as any other person who worships in any church that is part of the worldwide Communion. It’s not as though the Communion exists outside the United States only; those who belong to the Communion are not “other,” they are us.

Second, when the Communion is invoked in discussions on sexuality, it usually sounds as though everyone in the greater Communion is of one mind, that every Anglican around the world is standing against us in the United States and would like nothing more than to toss us out of the Communion.

The first objection is theological: There are no “us’s” and “them’s” in the Anglican Communion, anymore than there are “us’s” and “them’s” in God’s very good creation.

The second objection irks me because it simply is not true. The majority of Anglicans around the world do not care one whit about the sexuality debate. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of Anglicans around the world do not even know about the debate.

So, please: Let’s stop being so generic in our references. Please, let’s be a whole lot more specific.

Are there Anglican primates who are upset about the direction the Episcopal Church in this country is heading? Absolutely. Are there Anglican bishops upset as well? Yes again.

But the majority – the vast majority – of Anglicans could not care less about this debate.


Because far too many of our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world are dying, and people who are dying tend not to care one whit about someone else’s sexual orientation or activity.

Far too many Anglicans have to worry about where to get enough food to eat. They are struggling, on a daily basis, to care for their children. They don’t have health care. Far too many live in countries where AIDS is ravaging their societies. They don’t have clean water, or medicine, or education. There aren’t enough jobs for them; money is as scarce as food.

Listen to the Rt. Rev. Musonda Trevor Mwamba, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, who is but one of many Anglicans who have come to the United States in the last few years and said the same thing. Speaking at the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in January, Bishop Mwamba said, “The truth of the matter is … we must understand the majority of African Anglicans, about 37 million, are not bothered by the debate about sexuality. The majority of African Anglicans … have their minds focused on life and death issues, like AIDS, poverty … and not on what the church thinks about sex or the color of your pajama pants. Villagers who live on less than one dollar a day aren’t aware this is going on.”

And yet, whenever sexuality is debated in this country, the “Anglican Communion” gets tossed into the argument, and suddenly, we think of our sisters and brothers in Christ as a monolithic “other,” existing somewhere beyond the boundaries of this nation, and the next thing you know, we’ve set up an “us” against “them” dynamic, which breaks community, which must, simply must, sadden our Lord.

Those of us who live “out there” in the Communion, meaning outside the United States, know that the Anglican Communion is made up of people just like you and me, people who want exactly the same things we want: Enough food to eat and clean water to drink; enough medicine so that when their children get sick, as all children do, they can get better; enough peace to be able to walk down the streets of their villages and towns and cities without fearing when the next attack might come; enough education so that their children will have a shot at a better life; enough money to pay for all the other things they so desperately want, just so that they can stay alive.

That’s it. That’s all most people in this world want: Enough. Not more than enough. Simply enough.

I know that as a missionary serving in Sudan, when the topic of sexuality is brought up, which is not very often, people will debate it. They will take their stands, based on Scriptures and culture and everything else upon which we take our own stands. But in the end, the argument is not important to them, because they do not judge the Episcopal Church on this topic only. They have a much broader view of the Episcopal Church than we tend to have of them. They, like so many other Anglicans around the world, see the American Church as a generous and loving one, filled with people who not only care about those in need but who also are willing to do something about that need.

So as we continue discussions about what is happening in the Anglican Communion, as we begin to respond to the latest draft of the proposed Covenant, as we prepare for Lambeth later this year, let’s remember that the “Anglican Communion” is not some monolithic Godzilla-like creature hovering outside our boundaries, waiting to chew us up and spit us out.

Please, let’s remember:

We are the Anglican Communion. And just as we are not of one mind on sexuality, neither are our siblings in Christ.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is temporarily serving in the United States because of the instability in Sudan.

Draft Covenant creates
Instruments of Exclusion

By Marilyn McCord Adams

Actions speak louder than words!

The new draft covenant speaks softly. Its text has mostly lost the strident tone of The Windsor Report and successive pro-Windsor polemical documents. It has mostly dropped the fiction that pan-Anglicanism has ‘always been synodal’ and the urgent recommendation that pan-Anglican ‘instruments of union’ be given legal teeth--at least for the reason that kept the first Lambeth Conference from being a synod, that it would be illegal for the Church of England (St. Andrew's Draft 3.1.2)!

If The Windsor Report expresses the righteous indignation of its authors in the face of a perceived emergency and represents the purpose of the ‘instruments of union’ primarily in terms of preventing change, the new draft at least nods approval of the notion that Gospel proclamation has a social justice dimension--that ‘hungering and thirsting for righteousness’ involves not only striving for individual holiness but carries a mandate to work for social transformation and institutional reform (SAD 1.2.5, 2.2.2.a, 3.2.3).

The new draft covenant repeatedly acknowledges the legal autonomy of the provinces and accepts that deliverances of the instruments of union will have no legal--legislative or judicial--force (SAD 3.1.2, 3.2.2).

The archishops rewrite, and the new draft covenant speak softly. But let the covenanter beware! The big stick has not been thrown away but rather closeted in the appendix, where the machinery and timetables for ‘relinquishment’ are laid out. True, the language is of ‘request’ rather than ‘judicial injunction’ or ‘ultimatum’. Yet, it is enough for one ‘church’ to accuse another to set the ball rolling towards a request for compliance that would have the same effect as a demand to cease and desist on pain of excommunication!

Actions speak louder than words! Recent experience should make us wary. Just how much difference will the lack of legal authority make to the behavior of the ‘instruments of union’ in handling intra-Anglican disputes?

Look at how--without any legal basis whatever--Lambeth 1.10 (on Human Sexaulity) has been elevated to almost credal status, canonized as the teaching of the Anglican communion on sexuality. Consider how study documents such as Issues in Human Sexuality and Some Issues in Human Sexuality have been elevated to rub shoulders with patristic authors.

Remember how--without any legal basis whatever--the primates behaved in Tanzania: ‘requesting’ moratoria, creating ‘instruments’ to interfere in the internal affairs of TEC. The ABC said they weren’t ‘ultimata’, but they sure fooled the American House of Bishops!

Consider how the ‘instruments of union’ continue to give aid and comfort to North American secessionists, with the Archibhsop of Canterbury’s comments that they might be recognized as pan-Anglican Communion members and archepiscopal speculations about whether it is dioceses or provinces that are the intended covenanters.

How, we may ask, have the primates demonstrated their hungering and thirsting for justice, when Archbishop Akinola’s promotion in Nigeria of severe criminal penalties for homosexuality has gone without Communion investigation or sanction?

Actions speak louder than words! Recent past performance by the ‘instruments of union’ raise serious questions about whether they should be trusted with so much gate-keeping power.

Here in the Church of England, this recent track record will be welcomed with rejoicing in some quarters and greeted with indifference in others. Isn’t The Episcopal Church guilty by association with the rebellious colony whose present international arrogance deserves to be cut down!

Let the covenanter beware! Strong gatekeeping institutions can be turned in more than one direction. We may be happy when they move to enforce our viewpoint on others. But what about when our turn comes?

What if an English diocese should wish to secede? What if English dioceses demanded local option on signing the covenant?

What if African provinces started planting parishes and ordaining bishops on English soil? what if Anglican churches in England sought alternative primatial oversight? What if parishes and dioceses started exploiting legal loopholes to take the property with them?

What international machinery would be set in motion then?

What if another province complained that our permission of civil partnerships was contrary to biblical morality?

What if the international community insisted on a moratorium and reversal of the ordination of women?

What if persecuted churches maintained that our participation in Interfaith Councils and insistance on civil rights for non-Christian religious groups, undermined martyrs’ morale and jeopardized their mission?

What if other provinces accused us of betraying tradition by allowing anything but services from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer? What if we were ‘requested’ to ban free church-style fresh expressions or missel-based “smells and bells” worship and to discipline participating clergy?

What if other provinces declared certain forms of biblical scholarship unfaithful and ‘requested’ that we forbid ordinands to study them?

What if our faithfulness to the Gospel leads us in directions that provinces in the pan-Anglican Communion can’t countenance? Are we assuming that we are different, because we are the organizers of the club?

Covenant ‘relinquishment’ clauses and machinery still contradict the Reformation insight that Adam’s fall means that groups of sinners are just as fallible as individual sinners. Covenant clericalism still fails to reckon with the priesthood of all believers. Just as it would be unfaithful for individual lower house members to delegate discernment to the House of Bishops or the archbishops, so it is unfaithful for the Church of England to delegate its discernment about Christian mission and social justice in England to international bodies that are not accountable to General Synod, much less to Parliament or the Queen.

Let the covenanter beware! These documents, like their enactments, remain deeply flawed.

The Reverend Canon Marilyn McCord Adams is Regius Professor of Divinity, Christ Church, Oxford.

The St. Andrew's Draft:
A flawed document

By Frederick Quinn

The St. Andrew’s Draft Covenant is a flawed document, deficient as both a theological and a canonical exercise. Its tedious language does not improve on Anglicanism’s foundational creeds, the “generous orthodoxy of the Prayer Book,” and other key historic statements like the Baptismal Covenant so central to the life of the American Church. Nor does it derive from the historic via media in both affirming Anglican identity and seeking ways of negotiating differences within the Anglican Communion. Its deficiencies include both what it says and what it leaves unsaid. The Draft Covenant‘s presumed purpose is to raise a red flag about “threats” to church unity and address issues affecting today’s Anglican Communion. But it does not mention:

---the plight and status of women and children, a major issue facing churches everywhere.

---the ministry (and power) of the laity, who comprise the bulk of church membership.

---the status of gay and lesbian people and their full inclusion, or not, in the church’s larger life, the issue that triggered these deliberations.

---Episcopal poaching, extraterritorial ordinations, and calculated intrusions on established dioceses. (The group’s chair has been an active supporter of such intrusions, raising a question about conflict of interest).

The Draft Covenant’s Preamble states the document’s purpose is to proclaim the Gospel message “more effectively” in different contexts. But such contexts and diversities of histories, traditions, and viewpoints within the Anglican Communion are nowhere recognized. At heart it is a colonialist document, papering over differences in Trollopian language, and trying to force a distinctly unAnglican centralized juridical mechanism on the wider communion. Will it work? No. Does it improve on our historic creedal and structural statements? Decidedly not.

The Draft Covenant is narrow in its conceptual framework and distorts Anglican history in several instances. Many of its disputable provisions are buried in footnotes, a Draft Appendix, and an accompanying communiqué, press release, and commentary. It is toward the end of the press release, for example, that we learn the clock is already ticking and "It is the intention to produce definitive proposals for adoption in the Communion" in the post-Lambeth period. Then, "Proposals for the process of consolidation, and reception of, the Covenant and its ultimate consideration by synodical process will be presented to the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates at their meeting in March 2008."

It appears to be full steam ahead, despite substantial reservations careful readers of the Draft Covenant and Appendix are raising. Meanwhile, Covenant proponents are yet to convincingly prove there is any groundswell of global support for their proposals. Only twelve provinces of the Anglican Communion responded to the 2007 Nassau draft, and many substantial church groups replied with detailed qualifications, finding the Covenant exercise questionable.

Section (1.1) of the current draft contains six provisions and six footnotes. (Canonical drafters would caution against adding footnotes to key provisions, since it results in a confusing and difficult to interpret document.) When grouped together the origins of “Our Inheritance of Faith” are All-English, representing “the rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland,” specifically the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the English Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. (2.1.1). Frank Turner, a Yale University specialist in English church history, has written of the first two documents, both “arose from the midst of deadly interchristian conflict….Both were designed to exclude people from the English Church and from institutions such as the English Universities dominated by the English Church.”

A reference (1.1.4 and Fn. 7), to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/1888 and “the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his church” is voided in the Draft Appendix which is really a set of circuitous provisions centralizing power in the Archbishop of Canterbury, other Instruments of Communion, Commissions, Assessors, Primates, and the Anglican Consultative Council in case of a perceived threat to church unity.

The process of centralization of power is further cemented in (1.2) by acknowledging only one element of the classical Anglican triad of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Scripture is mentioned in (1.2.4) but allows for interpretation of the Bible “primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods.” Few modern bishops have time to be biblical scholars and the article ignores the Anglican Reformation heritage of placing the Bible in the hands of the common people and allowing its interpretation by individuals and church members at the most basic levels.

“Tradition,” the Anglican heritage’s second basic pillar, is not mentioned in the Draft Covenant, perhaps because traditions are diversely interpreted around the globe and extremely difficult to codify in a Covenant.

“Reason,” the third general characteristic of Anglicanism, is painted over with qualifiers and comes out as “a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition.” (1.2.2) This pivotal Anglican Reformation heritage of a prayerful, reasoned relationship between person, church, and God is again ignored.

Centralizing of power provisions of the earlier Nassau Draft were dead on arrival, but the St. Andrew’s drafters have tried a new equally unacceptable approach toward consolidating ecclesial power. The technique is to state one thing and then propose the opposite. For example, the Draft Covenant states churches of the Anglican Communion are not bound together “by a central legislative, executive, or judicial authority” (3.1.2). After which foundations for centralized policy control are introduced, principally by changing the historic, largely advisory roles of the four so-called Instruments of Communion through melding together legislative, executive, and judicial functions in times of increased threats to unity. This becomes increasingly clear as readers attempt to trace the Appendix's labyrinthine options, representing a structural wiring diagram that short circuits itself at every turn. They start out with informal conversations, but then send any red alert threat to church unity to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who may refer the matter to three assessors, who may in turn send the matter on to a Commission, or to another Instrument. Dealer’s choice.

Perhaps the wide-ranging provisions sketched out in the Appendix are left intentionally vague because the drafters have not thought them through. Perhaps so many are offered because the drafters hope that those who find one objectionable will accept another one of the four routes. Possibly Draft Covenant enthusiasts believe that readers will tire and not pay attention to the fine print, and that Appendix Article 8—the sanctions article in new dress—will sneak through without discussion. Article 8 gives power to the Instruments of Communion, mainly through the Anglican “Consultative” Council assembled now as a judicial body, to decide if a Church “may be understood to have relinquished the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant” if it is found to have threatened church unity by some as yet undefined act (8.4). This vague wording gives unlimited juridical power to the Council, with no appeals process.

The General Comments accompanying the Draft Covenant note, “Habits of civility and mutuality of respect have taken us a long way in the past. We are now in a place where our structures must provide a framework for the context of our belief.” Not so. Could the Anglican Communion’s leadership not wage an active effort to reintroduce the “habits of civility and mutual respect” that have served us well for centuries?

Flawed in concept and execution, both the Draft Covenant and its Appendix do nothing to improve on the via media and existing Anglican creedal formularies. The Draft Covenant’s final declaration has everyone agreeing “with joy” to the Covenant, but how could such a grim document enlist the enthusiasm of anyone outside its inner circle of zealous advocates?

Member churches of the Anglican Communion urgently need to increase sustained, thoughtful dialogue at all levels, and efforts at theological mediation are called for, but that requires a quite different set of responses, including patient listening, sustained dialogue, and interprovincial exchanges at all levels, leading to a greater appreciation of the diversity within Anglicanism. Joyful, life enhancing encounters, yes. Covenants, no.

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn is an Episcopal priest and former constitutional advisor to countries of the former Soviet Union. He has written extensively on history, law, and religion and from 1993 to 1995 headed the Warsaw-based Rule of Law programs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Galileo, Darwin and Lent

By Sam Candler

This week, I will be glad to remember the birthdays of Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei, Darwin born on February 12 (1809), and Galileo born on February 15 (1564). It so happens that their birthdays occur during the Christian season of Lent this year. We all know how much controversy their work caused the Christian Church (and society!), but Christians should be forever grateful for their courage and their wisdom. In fact, Galileo, Darwin, and Lent have something in common.

Both Galileo and Darwin actually set out to be friends of the Christian Church. Educated in an Italian monastery, Galileo intended to join the Camaldolese Order of the Church; but his father had already decided that he would be a medical doctor. Galileo’s interests, of course, turned from medicine to mathematics and the natural world. With the use of the newly developed telescope, Galileo recorded wonders of the natural world – the stars and the heavens—that no one had ever seen. Of course, these were the observations and interpretations that would also change the world.

Galileo would finally be charged with heresy, for adopting the Copernican view that the earth revolved around the sun. After all, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 all say something like "the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved." Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "the sun rises and sets and returns to its place, etc." Was Galileo denying the Bible? Galileo apparently believed in some form of biblical inerrancy, but he struggled with interpretation. He wrote to a friend that the Bible should always be interpreted in the light of what science had shown to be true.

Charles Darwin, at one time, studied to become an Anglican priest. He, too, was in love with the natural world and was convinced at one time in the naturalist William Paley’s argument that design in nature proved the existence of God. Later Christians objected to several elements of On the Origin of Species; the book refuted the notion that creatures had been individually designed by God, it claimed that the Earth was much older than the literal biblical account, and in claiming a common ancestor for apes and human, it denied a certain uniqueness to humanity.

How strangely ironic that many in the Church should be blinded to the truth that these two gentlemen showed the world. For, in essence, both Galileo and Darwin were using science to claim that humankind is not at the center of everything. Our earth is not at the center of God’s creation, and our species is not at the center of God’s creation.

Isn’t this what Lent is supposed to teach us? “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” many of us heard on Ash Wednesday. Lent is supposed to remind us of humility. The opposite of humility is hubris, to be so self-obsessed as to think we are at the center of everything.

Galileo, Darwin, and Lent all teach us about truth and humility. A holy Lent is about acknowledging the truth of ourselves, and the truth of this beautiful world, no matter how uncomfortable that truth might be. A holy Lent is also about acknowledging our own humility. No matter who we are, we are not at the center of everything, and we are not at the beginning of everything. May God bless the memories of both Galileo and Darwin, and all who lead us in the paths of truth and humility this Lent.

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

Of boundaries, growth, and Lent

By Marshall Scott

"Good fences make good neighbors," so we say. "My rights stop at the end of your nose," we say, or at least we used to. From clinical practice to business practice, from the grand scale of diplomacy to the intimacy of personal relationships, we extol the values and importance of good boundaries.

Boundaries protect us, of course. That's usually the first reason we appeal for them. In current difficulties, there are dioceses that have tried to set boundaries to exclude the Episcopal Church. There are aspects of their lives they seek to protect; not least the sense of control to perpetuate themselves, to raise up bishops and other clergy carrying forward their particular perspective on the faith. In consequence, of course, the Episcopal Church has had to respond, asserting the established boundaries, and defending the integrity of Constitution and Canons and General Convention.

But if boundaries might protect us, they will certainly shape us in other ways. If we feel safer with them, we will also feel limited by them. That's not always a bad thing. In Lent we realize our limitations - both those we choose and those that confront us when our choices fail. Our limits are real, and we can grow from recognizing them.

Or not. In anxious times it’s all too easy to choose the limitations in the interest of safety. But, when we do that we run the risk of defining our boundaries ever more tightly, and erecting new ones whenever there is a problem.

When I was a schoolchild, we lived on (what I think of, at least, as) a typical suburban block. It was long and more or less rectangular. Various configurations of ranch and split level homes looked across modest front lawns to one another’s front doors, separated by quiet streets.

But in back, it was quite different. In back the lawns were large and open. There were no fences, or almost none. Within the large boundaries all the lawns were connected. It was, for a small schoolchild, a vast kingdom – almost large enough to stretch beyond the sound of mother’s voice. And between the vast kingdom and the boundaries of the streets were the resources: houses, and parents in them who could safely monitor us, carry us beyond the boundaries when needed, and evaluate and license our own liberty along those boundaries as we grew. Granted, all parents weren’t equally available, or even interested. However, the assumption was clear (at least in my house): children had largely unlimited access within the kingdom, and all parents were to be respected at the boundaries.

Now, the boundaries were real: nothing brought out parental wrath like playing in the street. And, as the various parents frequently knew one another’s children better than they knew one another, the reality of the resource was pretty solid. But the boundaries were relatively few; and the expectation was that we would indeed take them on and, as we grew, cross them and eventually use them as means to go beyond.

We can grow from recognizing our limitations if we’re also willing to step up to them, look beyond them, and engage whatever, whoever is beyond them. We can grow if we see the anxiety involved in our limitations as opportunities and challenges to grow. If instead we see them as defenses for our vulnerabilities, our limits will in fact grow smaller, and we will grow smaller with them.

In a way, I think this is what can happen in Lent, this growing by facing and challenging our limitations. Many of us take on or add to disciplines of life. We choose to abstain from this, or to take on that. The intent is in fact to make us mindful of our limitations, and of our need for God. That happens, I think, in two ways. The first is the additional effort involved. That incremental change, that measure of extra effort keeps our attention, and calls us to focus that attention on our relationship with and our accountability to God. If we take on discipline, we can’t help but notice; and if we don’t notice, just what did we really take on?

The second and more important way that we can grow from our limitations is precisely when we fail. What can convict us of our limits more profoundly than running into them and falling down? While the extra effort may focus us to some extent on our relationship with God, it is our failure that focuses us on our need for a relationship with God. It is in failing that we fall over the boundaries of our sufficiency, and realize we are in fact dependent, contingent. We cannot will ourselves to perfection, much less to salvation; and when we try we fail. That is when we realize our need for our Parent, for our resource who will indeed challenge us, but will also love us, evaluate us, and encourage us to grow so as to open and expand our boundaries and discover in them pathways to new freedom.

It is entirely possible to misunderstand and to fail to grow from our limitations in Lent. It is possible to take on the challenges of Lent in a spirit of defensiveness and fear. Is the extra effort taken on to focus on God, or to make us look good to ourselves or someone else? When we fail, do we ask that God strengthen us to try again, or just that God not condemn us outright? In either case the latter attitude is more about protecting ourselves within our limits than about discovering what might be beyond them. And in those attitudes we will be shaped by our limitations rather than our relationship with God, and we will grow smaller in consequence.

We are struggling now within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion with issues of limits and boundaries. We are struggling now within ourselves with our own limits, and how we can find God at them and in God grow beyond them. I pray that both within and without we may see our limits, our boundaries, not as constraints that make us smaller but as challenges to move beyond with God’s help. I pray that in both spheres we will trust first in God to strengthen us to face our limits, evaluate us as we struggle, love us as we fail, and call us to rise again to discover wider boundaries and pathways to freedom.

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

Resolution or Rule?

By Kit Carlson

When Lent comes around, it is tempting to think of it as a season of self-improvement, as a chance to lose weight, or stop smoking, or ease up on a treasured habit that is not so helpful, really. Give up one or more of those "bad" things, we think, and we will become better people. So in much the same way that we make a New Year's resolution, we boldly enter Lent committed to give up caffeine or alcohol or chocolate for six weeks ... or, as with most resolutions, until our willpower fails and we give in to the temptation.

Lent, however, is not about resolutions. It is about making a "rule" in the same way that monastics follow a Rule of Life. A Rule orders one's desires and attentions away from the self and toward God, not so that we might be better people, but so that we might draw closer to God. Fasting has been a part of this practice for millennia, not to get us slimmer or more fit, but so that we might experience emptiness and our need of God. Spiritual reading has been part of this practice as well -- again, not to make us wiser or more intelligent, but to open our hearts and minds to God. Prayer has also been part of a Rule -- not so that we can check off our Spirituality Box each day, but so that we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Rest and refreshment have also been part of a Rule, to remind us that even God knows how to take a break (and surely we cannot be more busy and more important than God).

As I enter Lent this year, I am trying to not just make a resolution. Rather, I hope to make a Rule. I have been asking myself: what is lacking in my relationship with God? Or: how am I failing to honor myself as the person God created me to be? Or: what practice would make me more mindful of the presence of God? Or: what is standing in the way of my being able to love God and love my neighbor?

These are hard questions, and as I have started asking them, my inability to answer them has astounded me. So I have decided that just asking these questions every day for six weeks is going to be my Lenten Rule. Just to ask, day after day, and see what answers emerge.

I think this will be far more challenging for me than just giving up chocolate. I may not end up doing anything that is better for myself spiritually or physically or emotionally, but I may come up with a direction that leads me not just through the annual season of self-denial, but into a deeper and more authentic relationship with God.

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

A Lenten discipline for word people

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

For the next 6 weeks or so I’ll be teaching a seminary course I call “Contemplative Writing.” This year’s run coincides almost exactly with the season of Lent. It teaches a discipline that can help us “word-people” – teachers, preachers, bloggers -- to let our words take us beyond words, and center our lives more fully in God.

My working definition of contemplative writing is “writing that is for no audience but yourself and God.” That is the hardest part for word-people, since so much of what we think about is how to make our ideas available to a particular audience of readers or listeners. But how do we write when no one else will read what we’re writing? What happens when we say to God: “these words are for me and You only.” They may be “me talking to myself in the presence of God” or they may be words to God. But there is no other audience. The title poem of Mary Oliver’s wonderful recent volume Thirst gives us a glimpse of the contemplative writing experience as we overhear the poet speaking to God: “Love for you and love for the earth are having such a long conversation in my heart,” she writes. Contemplative writing uses words to ground those “long conversations” that go on in our hearts, in the listening presence of God.

I like to distinguish contemplative writing from other kinds of writing that we do in “not for publication” mode especially journaling, creative writing, and now, blogging.

Most of us writers probably practice journaling/freewriting/prewriting in some form. Journaling is “reflective" writing: the audience for it is myself -- I write so as to see myself more clearly, reflected back. This can be an important tool in the spiritual life, but ultimately, self-understanding is not the goal of contemplation, however important it may be as a step toward honesty with God (what the spiritual tradition calls “purgation"). Contemplation in the spiritual life is ultimately contemplation of God, not of oneself. Journaling melds into contemplative writing when we move away from talking to ourselves and find ourselves saying “You” to our God.

Contemplative writing is also not “creative writing.” Again, it’s about audience. Creative writing encourages people to release and explore their intuitive, imaginative side, to see things in a new way, to approach life creatively -- and to shape these experiences into literary form, for a particular audience. The best creative writing shows real respect for the disciplines of poetic form, the properties of language itself as a material, and the best creative writers submit themselves to the disciplines and challenges posed by their materials, uncovering new richness in words that embody and show imaginative insights. Contemplative writing can become “creative writing”—occasionally something will emerge that calls out to be shared. But the disciplines are different.

Some people now use blogging as another way of engaging the spiritual life with words: An online blog, of course, has an implicit audience, but I’ve known of people who blog on a website offline just to have a place to put their private thoughts, and the fluidity of the keyboard-to-screen medium can be freeing. I find, however, that there is a kind of “body prayer” involved in the exercise of putting pen to paper – a groundedness that we lose at the computer keyboard. The very clunkiness and messiness of pen and paper slows us down and forces pause, as the speed of electronic media does not.

The discipline I commend to my students is one that I also intend to take on, this Lenten season: Spend some time every day writing in a journal. Begin by placing yourself intentionally in the presence of God, and attending to what you see, hear, perceive around you – or to whatever conversation is going on in your heart. Let whatever comes, come: fill 3 pages, or spend 20 minutes – whichever frame fits your life better –but write in the presence of God, where whatever you write is acceptable, and spelling doesn’t count. Most important, leave some time after your writing time simply to rest in that loving Presence. On good days you may find that this practice of writing has become a preparatio for prayer: a doorway into the presence of the One who loves us, and always calls us deeper into that loving presence, in every moment of our lives.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing 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.

A carbon fast for Lent

By James Jones

Traditionally people have given up things for Lent. Last year in the Diocese of Liverpool many parishes took part in a Carbon Fast. Through it we were able to focus on God’s Earth and its poorest people in whom, Jesus said, we were to find him.

This year, in Lent 2008, we invite as many as can to join us in a Carbon Fast (For details, click Read More at the end of this entry.)

Over the years I’ve been able to visit some of the countries most affected by the changing climate. I’ve sat with village elders in Africa, India and Central America and asked the simple question, “Has the weather changed in your lifetime?” With the answer “yes” has come stories of cyclones, rivers drying up, harvests failing and flooding.

Whatever is happening to the planet there’s no disputing that we’re putting more carbon into the atmosphere than ever before and that this is adding to the blanket that’s trapping the heat around the earth.

On World Environment Day, I was in Tromso in the Arctic Circle for a service in the Ice Cathedral. Desmond Tutu was preaching next to a block of ice that had fallen away from a melting Ice Cap, and reinforcing our responsibility for God’s creation.

St. Paul tells us everything has come into being through and for Christ. This doctrine gives us the ethics of caring for the earth. It is Christ’s environment, not ours. He stands at the centre of all creation – as both creator and redeemer.

As the climate changes and impacts the earth it is clear that the poor are already suffering. The tragedy is that those with the power to do something about it are least affected and those who are most affected are powerless to bring about any change. That’s why there’s a moral imperative on those of use who emit more than our fair share of carbon to rein in our consumption.

It’s estimated that in the U.K. we emit 9.5 tons of carbon per person per year whereas in Ethiopia the average is 0.067 tons and in Bangladesh 0.24. Apparently the earth can sustain 0.8 per person! Reducing our carbon footprint is therefore a matter of justice.

When Jesus fasted in the wilderness he kept company with wild beasts and with angels who ministered to him. He came out of that experience with a clear sense of the Kingdom of God which he preached with passion.

As we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it’s done in Heaven, the Carbon Fast will be a practical step towards a fairer world, a sustainable planet and the earthing of Heaven.

The Rt. Rev. James Jones is Bishop of Liverpool.

Read more »

Ash Wednesday

By Sara Miles

Remember you’re dust, I say to the girl, and press my thumb hard into her smooth forehead. She doesn’t blink. I exhale, turn to the man beside me, and hand him a small ceramic bowl of ashes. “You’re dust,” he says. “Remember you’re dust, and to dust you will return.”

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, the forty days before Easter that many Christians mark with fasting, prayer and penitence. Americans tend to personalize the season with pious gestures of “giving up.” But at the church in San Francisco where I’m a lay pastor, and where I run the city’s largest food pantry, Lent stares into those bare facts of dust and flesh in order to connect our bodies. We mark each other’s foreheads with ashes and admit our common mortality: the kneeling girl, the crackhead who helps me sweep the floor, the stranger at the door. And maybe because I work so much with food––serving bread and wine on Sundays, then groceries from the same altar at the pantry––I think of Lent as an opportunity to admit our hungers.

At the food pantry, those hungers are wrapped in language and in waxed cardboard, as vividly metaphorical as the Psalms and as material as a plate of chicken and dumplings.

“I just want something fresh,” says a woman who lives in one small, airless room and cuts up some raw cabbage for a snack. “Something real.” Another wants the buttery mashed potatoes we cook for lunch, an abundant pile of softness and comfort. A restless twelve-year old wants a cup of coffee, so he can swallow the hot black magic that will turn him into a powerful man instead of a frightened kid. A woman far from home wants mangoes to remind her of the tropics; an aspiring immigrant wants American cereal, a junkie wants more and sweeter sweets. But I crave salt, and bitterness.Fromberg2.jpg

I remember a Lent fifteen years ago, when I cooked for my friend Bo until he couldn’t eat anymore, then gave him sips of ginger ale until he couldn’t drink, then watched as the breath went out of his AIDS-wasted body. His mother and I carried Bo’s ashes to Land’s End, where sweet alyssum was blooming on the cliffside and the blue waters crashed and broke far below our weeping group of friends. I reached into the container and tossed him into the sky, and the ashes blew back into my open mouth. They tasted slightly of salt, and of dust.

They made me hungry.

There are moments so purely present-tense, and yet so laden with remembrance, that they become a conversation with God. I look around sometimes during the food pantry, and think about all our bodies, the living and the dead ones, and all the food we’ve shared. There’s a plate of fragrant, cut-up oranges on the altar and suddenly, as the last afternoon light pours into the church, my mouth waters.

Artwork by Paul Fromberg after Andrei Rublev's icon, The Trinity

Sara Miles is the author of "Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion," now available in paperback with a readers' guide.

Fasting 102

Second of two parts. Part One.

By Derek Olsen

Yesterday we began talking about fasting, the pre-eminent spiritual discipline recommended by the prayer book for Lent. We got as far as the externals, the nuts and bolts of the discipline. Now we’ll take a step deeper and look into the theology, spirit, and purpose that animates the practice, connects it to Lent, and empowers it as a tool for the Gospel.

Reading what any of the authors of the Early Church wrote about fasting will quickly dispel any illusion you might have that the discipline of fasting is fundamentally about food. Leo the Great proposes that the food should be primarily a symbol of a deeper kind of renunciation. Fasting for him is a whole-person endeavor where we abstain in mind and spirit as well as body. Indeed, the bodily abstaining from food is a reminder that we should be abstaining from a whole lot more. Like what? In a word: sin—and from the habits that give it comfort and growth. The act of abstaining from food reminds us that we should be abstaining from other behaviors as well.

Fasting jolts us out of our regular patterns. As a result, Leo enjoins, it gives us an opportunity to take a step back from business-as-usual. If we’re going to take care about what we eat, why not take care about how we live, think, and talk? Don’t just refrain from food, Leo counsels; refrain from some of your bad behaviors too. (See Leo's Sermon XLII.)

In offering this advice, Leo is doing nothing more than reiterating and recasting the words of the prophet Isaiah whose voice thunders down through the centuries:

Is such a day the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
When you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(Isaiah 58:5-7)

John Cassian who introduced monasticism to Gaul gives deep advice as well that builds on Leo's. He tells us to always keep before our eyes the goal, the whole point of the exercise. Fasting, he reminds us, is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If we ever lose sight of the end, then it’s time to end the practice and to consider some other ways to go after the real goal. He writes:

For the sake of this [purity of heart], then, everything is to be done and desired. For its sake solitude is to be pursued; for its sake we know that we must undertake fasts, vigils, labors, bodily deprivation, readings, and other virtuous things . . . so that by taking these steps we may be able to ascend to the perfection of love.

These observances do not exist for themselves . . . what is gained by fasting is less than what is spent on anger, the fruit that is obtained from reading is not so great as the loss that is incurred by contempt for one's brother. It behooves us, then, to carry out the things that are secondary—namely fasts, vigils, the solitary life, and meditation on Scripture—for the sake of the principle scopos (goal), which is purity of heart or love, than for their sake to neglect this principle virtue . . . (Conf. 1.7.1-2)

Acts of piety like fasting are entirely secondary to the real goal which is, for Christians, always the cultivation of love towards God and neighbor. They are means to the end and never the end in themselves—as Jesus himself reminds us in his words on the subject:

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)

Jesus—and Matthew who records these words—evidently saw no need to explain to the people why they would want to fast; for them it was self-evident. For us, it's not so clear.

In the Bible, fasting is mentioned any number of times. It's particularly prevalent in the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi) that we know all too often as the biblical equivalent of “fly-over territory.” Preeminently fasting appears as a sign of repentance and sorrow for sins—and here’s our Lenten connection. Whenever I consider the Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes, the words from my Lutheran youth ring in my ears: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return; repent, and believe in the Good News.” This one line collects the two major themes of the day and of Lent: remembrance of our mortality and our need for repentance to hear again God's word of grace. We fast, following the example of the patriarchs, prophets, and martyrs, to feel in our flesh the pangs of hunger—reminders of our embodied-ness and signs of our mortality—and as a sign of contrition for those things done and left undone.

This Lent, I urge you to take seriously Ash Wednesday's invitation—to consider the state of your life and soul in the face of ultimate realities—and to embrace some form of fasting and self-denial. It needn't be something heroic (indeed, it's probably better for your humility if it's not), but I urge you to make it something worthwhile. Furthermore, I commend to you not just refraining from something but embracing the full discipline of the church: restraint coupled with almsgiving and prayer. As Christ fasted these forty days in the wilderness let us persevere in his company. Watching, waiting, hoping, praying, may these days fit us for the joyful Easter morn when we rise to greet that Sun who shall never go down.

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

Fasting 101

First of two parts.

By Derek Olsen

This year, the coming of February brings with it the coming of Lent. The prayer book tells us that we are to observe the days of Lent with special acts of dedication; specifically the “Invitation to a Holy Lent” commends to us the “fasting and self-denial.” I think most Episcopalians aren’t very clear on the practices of fasting. We know what this word means, but there is quite a bit of uncertainty about its boundaries as an actual practice: what is it, why should we do it, and what—if anything—does it have to do with Lent?

Let me begin by clearing up the biggest major fallacy about fasting: Not eating is not fasting. Oh sure, if you look in the dictionary you’ll find that as one of the definitions. Likewise that’s what your doctor means if he orders a fasting blood test, but simply not eating is not a spiritual discipline—and that’s what we’re talking about here, a spiritual discipline. Some folks who want to try fasting fall into trouble because they assume it just means not eating, and that’s not always safe. As a discipline, the Church has historically put strictures around who should and shouldn’t that sound like something at the end of a pharmaceutical ad: it’s not for children; it’s not for women who are pregnant or nursing; it’s not for the elderly, the weak, or the sick. And, in thinking of the maladies of our day, it’s not for those with eating disorders either; there’s nothing holy about self-starvation. For those who cannot or should not fast, an alternative is what we commonly know as “giving something up for Lent.” While I’ll focus on fasting here, both the practices and the theology behind it can easily be applied to whatever you choose to give up during Lent whether that falls into the realms of food, entertainment, or something else that makes sense in your life.

Throughout the scope of Christian history, the practice of fasting has, indeed, involved the regulation of one’s diet. However, another major fallacy is that there’s one right way to regulate it that counts—and that other variations don’t. Again, not true. Christians have used different standards across time and space often modulating between degrees of fasting and abstinence, that is, not eating or reducing food intake (fasting) versus abstaining from certain kinds of foods (abstinence). The Eastern Orthodox, for instance, limit particular kinds of food on certain kinds of days. Their pre-Lenten period includes a gradual paring away of food categories so that by the time Lent arrives, the diet is almost entirely vegan with no animal products in it whatsoever. Some Western early medieval sources speak of similar regimentation. For monks following the Rule of Benedict, Lenten fasting meant no food at all before the ninth hour (around 3 o’clock) and what they received then was sparse. In other times and places fasting meant not eating anything until sundown and, in others, simply not eating solid food at all.

The generally accepted standard that emerged in the Western Church, though, was this: fasting means eating half of what is normally consumed for two meals, then for the third a regular amount of food is prepared, but simply. That is, fasting from breakfast and lunch isn’t to provide room for lobster and truffles later on; think, rather, of hearty soups with simple crusty bread instead. The point of the meal is sustenance rather than titillation of the palate. In no way does this mean the food shouldn’t be enjoyed; rather, its chief virtue should be in the simplicity of wholesome ingredients.

If these standards seem a bit much, abstinence from meat or other classes of foods are also historic acts of self-denial suitable for Lent, especially for those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with fasting.

In case you’re keeping track, I haven’t said anything yet that you can’t find in a diet book or being promoted by your neighborhood locally-grown organic food market (which, come to think of it, is not a bad place for Lenten food shopping…). We’re still not to the level of a spiritual discipline, but that brings us to our last major fallacy: that fasting (or abstaining from something else, remember) is fundamentally about food. It’s not.

Instead, the act of abstinence is only one part of a three-part discipline. The full scope of the discipline includes fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. It is incomplete without these. Furthermore, they are interconnected. The reduction of food logically means that you will be spending less money on your grocery bill. According to the discipline, this doesn’t mean more money in your pocket—instead, this is money to be given to the poor. You forgo food in order that others may eat, to share your bounty with your brothers and sisters. Your solidarity with their hunger provides their very sustenance. (See, for example, Leo the Great's Sermon XII)

How you give the alms is up to you, of course. One way to make it happen is simply to take your personal weekly food bill, subtract the difference from your usual bill and each week send that difference to an organization like the Heifer Project, Meals on Wheels, or our own Episcopal Relief and Development. Another option is to go beyond writing checks; deliver your donation to your local food pantry or soup kitchen in person and take a turn cooking, serving, or cleaning.

Prayer, then—our spiritual food—replaces physical food at mealtimes. The other half of the two lesser meals, the time allotted for food now shared, is spent in prayer and intercession. Furthermore, tummy rumblings throughout the day serve as a reminder to pray even if it’s a short little breath prayer like “O God make speed to save me; O Lord make haste to help me” from the psalms or the Jesus prayer of the Orthodox: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner” both of which can be prayed in a single cycle of inhalation and exhalation.

These, then, are the practices; these are the externals of the discipline. In fact, we’ve talked so much about the externals that you could be forgiven for thinking that this is an outward, showy thing with a high potential for devolving into legalism or, worse, the one-upmanship that threatens any practice through which individuals and communities can make measurements and judgments about the spiritual fitness of others. These things have no place within any of the spiritual disciplines and are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and the message of Christ—and that is what this exercise is really about. Tomorrow we shall take up the more important part: the internals of the practice—the theology, the spirit, and the purpose of the discipline of fasting.

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

Living long, living well

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Uncle Buddy, our McDonnell family patriarch at 94, recently began taking guitar lessons. The last remaining brother of seven with no sisters, his favorite song is Amazing Grace, which he practices often on the guitar and daily in his life.

“How did you manage to live so long and so well?” his nieces and nephews wonder, seeing their own fathers in him. Buddy says, “It's because God has something left for me to do.”

During World War II, Buddy served as ball gunner on a B-24 Liberator and was also on the B-17, known as the Flying Fortress. He flew 50 missions over Europe and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Service medals. The faded newspaper article with accompanying handsome picture cites his “courage, coolness and exceptional skill” which contributed to the success of these missions.

“Uncle Sam” trained Buddy to be an aircraft mechanic, which he parlayed into a post war job at Brookley Field in Mobile, his hometown. He retired in 1978, and after his beloved wife of 44 years died, Buddy lived by himself in Belle Fountain, Ala., tending his pecan orchard while pursuing his hobbies – bird watching, fishing, eating out, attending church and enjoying friends. Then, Hurricane Katrina hit and changed his life.

Enter my cousin Jean-Marie McDonnell of Daphne, Ala., an artist whose mother recently died. She says, “I had wonderful help in place. I needed to figure out a way to maintain my lifestyle. Buddy needed a place where he would not be alone. I believe family members should not be institutionalized if other alternatives are available. It's working.”

She thinks three characteristics lend themselves to Buddy's good quality of life and therefore his longevity:

* Positive Attitude. Although he has a bad knee, terrible hearing and needs a few pills for health issues, Buddy looks forward to what each day might bring, whether it be hummingbirds, church, a trip to the barbershop, grocery shopping, or sitting, his feet up in a recliner, to watch a football game with a potential Alabama win. He posts aphorisms around his room and the one he first sees in capital letters upon awaking is THINK POSITIVE SMILE.

* Love of All Things. Buddy loves people and always looks for the good in them. He keeps a box of the cards and letters he's received and says, “I save my cards because they have so many beautiful thoughts from friends of mine that I love.” His care extends to plants – his pecan trees, the amaryllis as it blossoms – and to all animals, especially the little dog that jumps into his lap when he positions the recliner just right for her flying leap.

* Control Over his Own Life. Buddy's decision to move in with Jean-Marie was his choice, as was giving up driving voluntarily after a small accident. He has created a routine to keep himself healthy and on course, such as carefully taking his medications with supervision, setting up the coffeepot for the next day, hanging up his clothes, praying a nightly rosary, dressing himself – including putting on his knee brace – doing exercises in his room, practicing the guitar and attending a weekly lesson, enjoying church in a caring community, and eating out twice a week with Jean-Marie.

Buddy wrote about the high points of his life for us cousins, his surrogate children. His chapters were: My Family: Boyhood Days at Point Clear (the most vivid with tales of all our fathers); Sailing and the Lipton Regatta (where he made the team several times, sailed in many regattas all over the country, and once won a race on Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans); Wonderful Life with Mary Louise, 44 Years; Baseball; Friends; WWII Air Force; and The McDonnell Reunions (he eagerly awaits the next one in July).

He writes simply and clearly about his life and it is a testament to his 94 years lived with "Amazing Grace."

Margaret M. “Peggy” Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice. She can be contacted at

The gift of tears

By Martin L. Smith

I have a standing joke with a friend ever since he asked me about a sermon I was preparing: “Which bodily fluid will you be mentioning this time?” He had picked up on my tendency to gravitate toward symbols that derive from the body. So during Lent, long before we arrive once again in Holy Week to confront the primal imagery of the cross and “the water and the blood” which the evangelist John tells us to notice, we can think about tears.

What place do tears have in our spiritual lives? Tradition speaks of the gift of tears. Lent is supposed to be a time for reflecting on our own religious experience, and a rewarding discipline might be to question ourselves about our own tears, the tears we permit and the tears we repress. Here is an experiment: During Lent set aside half an hour each week, sit quietly in a private place with notepad and think where your tears are. Which are the kinds of tears that connect us with God and ourselves and one another? Do I ever allow any of these tears to flow?

I can already think of some of the headings I could use to help me focus on different aspects. Perhaps the first would be Forbidden Tears. Many of us have gone through life with unshed tears pent up inside us because some authority figures forbade us to cry. I’ve lost count of the men whom I have had to help release the tears their parents shamed them into suppressing. It is one thing for parents to stop us whining in self-pity. It is another to censor the expression of grief and loss. The terrible truth is that many adults have been trained not to cry. So many griefs turned to ice in the deep freeze of the heart’s recesses! Many of us will never warm up, or become open and free, until those tears have thawed and we allow them to flow. The old hymn Veni Creator Spiritus prays “what is frozen warmly tend…” There is an entire spirituality of healing contained in that petition. Imagine what a breakthrough might begin if we had the courage to confess before God that we don’t know how to mourn, and need help.

Another category might be Tears of Truth. Here we venture into the territory of discernment. Tears tell us different things. Some tears expose our shallow sentimentality. We sob in spite of ourselves at tear-jerking movie scenes. We choke up at martial music and mawkish songs. Other tears reveal our vulnerability to manipulation. How easy it is for so-called evangelists and political orators to work us. The lump-in-the throat tears they stimulate warn us that hackers know exactly how to get into our emotions for their own ends.

But we also cry because we have allowed truth though our defenses. These are different tears that cleanse and heal us. They tell us that we don’t have hearts of stone after all, and that makes us grateful. We can be moved by what is true, what is good and what is beautiful. Tears can assure that we are touched by truth, braced by its painful realism, inspired to embrace its integrity, and honor its demands. Sometimes when I play songs by two artists who have touched my life, Mili Bermejo and Abby Lincoln, I weep, but not from sentimentality. These songs bring tears because they remind me what these women taught me about passion, and the wholeness that can only be discovered by honoring loss and desire, grief and yearning, fierce anger and tenderness.

And there are Tears of Connection. Paul sums up our spirituality of mutual service succinctly: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) And the shortest sentence in scripture is, “Jesus wept.” Tears of self-pity water make seeds of resentment germinate. Tears of empathy join us to each other. A heart that is open to God’s Spirit allows us to shed tears of joy at the successes and delights that come to others. (Saints even shed tears of joy at blessings given to those they don’t even like.) Tears of compassion allow us to share the burdens of others. Tears of intercession might even be ways we can cry on behalf of others, so that thanks to our connectedness in the Spirit, they might not have to cry as much.

Our list of tears can get longer. Tears of Compunction through we which we admit our own brokenness and surrender denial. Tears of Bliss. Tears of Relief. Above all, Tears of sheer gratitude. Think about them. It won’t be long before we realize why the spiritual masters spoke of the gift of tears. Most of us in our very emotionally controlled Episcopalian milieu haven’t opened that gift up yet. We need to ask God very simply and sincerely for that gift.

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

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