Resurrection. Not resuscitation

By George Clifford

In my teens, I thought some about heaven and decided that I wanted no part of it. Heaven connoted the place that good people, or Christians, or some other select group went when they died. Although I did not think of heaven as a physical place, my thoughts were quite foggy about what people did in heaven. Our cultural stereotype of angelic beings strumming harps in a place evocative of an impressionist painting left me, a non-musician, unimpressed. Whatever enjoyment one might derive from harp playing seemed rather limited. (So much of what I found fun consisted of activities that someone had proscribed, activities not likely allowed in heaven.) Even if one could stretch that enjoyment out for a few million years, what happened when boredom set in? Also, as a high school student during the turbulent 1960s, I had my first exposure to Marx’ critique of religion as the opiate of the masses. Marx, with considerable insight, recognized that capitalists often relied upon the Christian promise of heaven as pie in the sky as an inexpensive way to pacify their exploited workers.

When I began to self-identify as a Christian, I struggled to find a meaningful concept of heaven, believing the idea integral to Christianity. In seminary, those struggles became more intense as I grappled with how to comfort the bereaved. Spatial definitions of heaven never resonated with me. Theological descriptions of a spiritual existence outside of time and space sounded like code words that theologians used when they had no more of an idea about heaven than I did. The prospect of endlessly enjoying God struck me as vaguely analogous to harp playing: no matter how wonderful the experience, after some extended duration – no years with which to measure since heaven existed outside of time – I would probably tire of it. Every joy and pleasure I have ever experienced has waned with the passing of time. The thought of watching an endless sunset from a comfortable chair situated on the porch of a house on a semi-tropical island, sipping the beverage of my choice, surrounded by loved ones, and engaged in stimulating conversation often holds much appeal. However, I know that after about a week of similar moments spent cherishing actual sunsets I am ready to pick up the pace of life and to seek new pleasures.

Gradually, I realized that ideas associated with resuscitation and not resurrection shaped most of my thinking about heaven. Resuscitation restores a dead body to life, as when timely defibrillation, perhaps accompanied by the administration of CPR, restores a heart attack victim to life. In the Bible, we read about the resuscitation of the widow of Nain’s son, of Lazarus, and of a man who fell asleep during a sermon (a symbolic warning more preachers need to heed?). This tendency of humans to think about heaven in terms of resuscitation instead of resurrection did not greatly surprise me. Humans can only think in human, finite terms. We have experience of this life, not of heaven. Consequently, talk of heaven and resurrection generally sounds more like resuscitation than genuine resurrection. Perhaps this is why the resurrected Jesus portrayed in the gospels seems so paradoxical. In those narratives, Thomas touches Jesus but Jesus passes through solid walls; Jesus eats but appears as if out of nowhere. Those paradoxes force us, when honest, to put aside our finite understandings and to acknowledge our inability to say much about resurrection.

Perhaps, at most, we can affirm three truths about resurrection. First, whatever resurrection denotes is dynamic not static. Busy, stressful lives may cause us to yearn for static pleasures. Newton’s first law – every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed – can seem true of humans. There are times when I feel that Onslow, a character in the British TV comedy As Time Goes By Keeping Up Appearances, seems to lead an idyllic existence, spending his days sleeping late, watching the telly, drinking beer, and playing the horses. No problem is of sufficient urgency or importance to disturb or to interrupt him. For me, Onslow models inertia at least as well as any non-comatose human. Unfortunately for those who long for constancy, quantum physics maintains that Newton’s laws are not completely correct. Stasis is more apparent than real, energy and matter are integrally related, and dynamism permeates the universe. Life itself is constantly changing. The dominant metaphor for what follows resurrection, new life, offers no reason to think the future will be more static than is the present. Because this life is the only life that we know, attempts to describe new life – or heaven – necessarily yield ideas that resemble resuscitation more than authentic new life.

Second, whatever resurrection may denote, resurrection is good. Jesus, the one by whose name I call myself and on whom I try to model my life, experienced resurrection and points us toward resurrection,. This world in which problems seem to outnumber solutions needs hope. The media, and too many preachers, regularly recite depressing litanies of the personal problems and social evils that afflict us. Even more depressing, usually when I manage to extinguish one fire in my life, a new one has already begun to blaze. When I begin to treat some people more justly, I find I am exploiting others. When peacemakers negotiate an end to one war, another war inevitably erupts. When scientists find a cure for one disease, bacteria and viruses morph and new diseases appear. Thank God, the world is dynamic and resurrection gives us a glimpse of a better future.

Finally, resurrection is for today. I still do not know what to think about heaven. I remain uncertain about life after death. I wonder what God's justice and love hold for the future. Occasionally I ponder those questions. More frequently, I contemplate how best to describe resurrection, what human words, what finite concepts, can communicate that ineffable mystery. Daily, however, I live with the knowledge that Jesus’ disciples, hundreds of them according to the scriptural narratives, personally experienced Jesus’ resurrection. Without those disciples, the Church would not exist. Their experience of resurrection means that God has not let go of the world, that God remains engaged with us and the world, committed to establishing justice and to building a community of genuine love. I, belonging to that nascent community experience this same resurrection through the Church, its people and its sacraments as I seek to love mercy, do kindness, and to walk humbly with God. This sure and certain hope forms the trajectory of my life today. Tomorrow belongs to 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. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

Liturgy, culture and transcendence

By Adrian Worsfold

On Friday 7 March, the small market town of Barton-upon-Humber had a special event. Its now-disused, once Anglican, church was used again, on a one-off basis, to host a Requiem Eucharist for the return (as promised thirty years back) of many human bones dug up for research. They had come back, with skulls downstairs and the rest upstairs, all in individual boxes, resting in an ossuary made where the organ used to be and accessed from where the vestry used to be. The church is historic and has origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, the time when the incoming population that was to become English removed the population that was Celtic, the Celts (crudely speaking) moving to Wales and Cornwall and Cumbria - out of the way.

Until the 1970s the Barton-upon-Humber Anglican congregation oscillated between St Mary's and St Peter's, these two churches being quite close together. Then St Mary's was chosen for all the worship, the organ removed from St Peter's and placed in St. Mary's. English Heritage took over St Peter's and it is now, in effect, a museum to religion and death.

You can read the service on my website, in the Spiritual Area at Anglican Worship, and you can access via my weblog as well. The service was unique, with special permission to use the first English Prayer Book of 1549, but refused for the Eucharist itself, which came from 1662. All of the Bible readings came from 1611, the Authorised Version. All the music was along the lines of plainsong. The altar table used was at the wrong end for a change, the end it would have been at originally; however, prayers to the dead were said near to the bones at the eastern end, and that final altar table received its share of incense too.

There was wide media coverage, and a local arts centre, itself a museum to ropemaking, videotaped the whole service. So a reasonable number of people turned out to the service, and the usual rules were applied to who could communicate (basically of any mainstream Church - in practice, personal conscience).

Three clerics delivered the words of the service in the most professional manner, as did the choir, and all others involved, and the whole entity was smooth. The language was long and involved, but it worked and was, to my mind, more spiritual than Common Worship (2000), which is used for all but Evensongs for liturgical services at St Mary's.

Yet... Despite the fact that it was this full experience, and as good a worship as you could give and receive, and was intended to be (and indeed was) living, it struck me that it was, now, an entirely self-contained museum. It was internally consistent, but was its own self-contained and complete bubble.

I don't dislike Common Worship (2000), the liturgy for now, and St Mary's is able to do a great deal with it. The church has the human resources available to produce high quality worship. Not everywhere can these days - far from it. Yet whilst the language in Common Worship has been brought up to date, it still represents a feudal and agricultural world of some other time. Its thought forms are not updated at all. Indeed because the language is modern, but its world is not, it kind of lives in a limbo of no-time. So whereas the service of 1549, 1611 and 1662 was consistent in itself, the service via Common Worship is a bit of a dog's breakfast of form and meaning.

I came to the view some time back that there probably is no solution to this. I used to be Unitarian and wrote much of my own worship - and I presented worship too. Since being Anglican I have become a participant but rarely design or present anything (I have, but very occasionally). Even in a Unitarian setting, where you could start with a blank sheet, religion was constructed from the objects of glass cases in a museum. All the words with resonances gain a legitimacy and authority from the past. Sociologists call it invented tradition: just like an Anglo Catholicism that gives the impression it has been around forever when in fact it appeared in Victorian times because it wanted to distance itself from the State and the secular thought-world. Another example is neo-Paganism, which even more so reinvents the past as a way of creating a religion for feminism and the symbolic in an age of networks and relative freedom against hierarchy. Much of British royalty is simply a Victorian invention of pageantry that gave it a renewed authority.

Another example was being told that this worship was a thousand years old, and that we would see nothing like it for another thousand years. Well of course it was not a thousand years old, and it was constructed, and its effect was in the present. Who knows what the bones thought of the Lord's Prayer read in Anglo-Saxon and in Latin. The living presumably experienced it not unlike the monoglot English people in Cornwall when the Lord's Prayer was read in Cornish at a service attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury some years back.

Somehow, liturgy is condemned to be out of date, old, and of a mythic past. Out of this comes a sense of transcendence, a mystical, ineffable, sense of floating gift, by which we can come together more and have a new attitude in one's step and underline the ethical way we should reach out to one another.

One of the difficulties in Anglicanism today is that for many this simply is not good enough. It is not good enough to recreate and indulge to release a sense of transcendence. Like early scientism, it all has to be believed as true. The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Advent Letter last year told us there is but one way to read the Bible according to how some Anglican Churches expect of all others - meaning the demands of the most literalist and magic-bound. There is this drive for selective literalism, signs and wonders and all sorts of godly interventions out of the sky. Others, for whom the world is a little more ordinary and regular, are accused of inventing a virtually new religion, as stated by the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester (England) last year.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably guilty of this, though many in leadership seem terribly constrained and display their obedience of the boundaries. Many people now on both sides of the pond seem to be frightened. But I don't care. The Sunday following the service to mark the return of the bones was also, for us, a Sunday of readings about bones putting on skin and living, which is ridiculous as any sort of biology or history, and about a person, still bound up, who presumably woke up to the light of a removed stone and waddled his way out of his tomb entrance before others took away all the bindings, which is equally ridiculous to any biology or history and produced - in my head at least - a bizarre imagery. To me this is theological writing of an embellishment linking Jesus's ministry to a central resurrection belief.

I spoke to a Barton lass (all her life in the town), who I've known since 1994, on the afternoon of the big Friday Requiem event. Like so many, she dismissed religion and she also has little time for history. That's why only a reasonable crowd was there. The town did not descend on the event. Somehow religion functions by suggesting a mythic past, using the means of a past world's thought processes, to produce a sense of transcendence and ethics that we can but puzzle about. Most people these days now find (or do not find) their ethics directly, but I suppose I am an odd one out who in my virtual religion prefers to draw on the artistic, the shapely and the reflective in spending a few moments thinking about past worlds and this world in which I live (for a short time) and wondering how I should be in the company of others.

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.

Salvation and spin class

By Melody Wilson Shobe

A few months ago, I began going to spin classes at the local YMCA as part of my exercise routine. Spinning is a group exercise class in which an instructor leads a group of people on stationary bikes through a cycling routine designed to simulate an actual bike ride. The students increase or decrease the resistance on their bikes to imitate climbing hills, sprinting, or intervals. It is a great workout, and usually a lot of fun. My husband and I make a habit of going to a particular class on Thursday nights, because it’s the one night of the week that neither one of us has a standing church commitment.

On Maundy Thursday, however, we had a service in the evening. So I decided to try the Thursday morning spin class instead. Little did I know, the Thursday morning class is “Devotion in Motion:” an hour-long spin class during which the instructor plays praise and worship music and talks about God. The instructor, a layperson who attends a local non-denominational church, uses the idea of a bike ride as a metaphor for the spiritual life to direct his devotional comments throughout the class.

The class was problematic for a number of reasons. The first problem was merely a matter of my personal taste. The instructor, who seemed like he was a very nice guy, had the unfortunate habit of singing along to snatches of the praise music pulsing through the room. This in itself would not be so bad, except for the fact that the instructor in spin classes wears a headset microphone in order to give directions to the class. So, throughout the class, interspersed with the instructions, we got a miniature concert. It was all a little too Brittany Spears for me.

The second problem was purely practical. As I mentioned earlier, spinning is a class in which “the students increase or decrease the resistance on their bikes to imitate climbing hills, sprinting, or intervals.” This instructor, however, starting telling us to increase the resistance on our bikes from the minute we began riding. Then he kept yelling, “Increase!” every two minutes for the rest of the class. By fifteen minutes in, I was at the maximum amount of resistance on my bike, waiting for him to tell us to decrease so that we could build back up. By twenty-five minutes, I was physically incapable of riding at maximum speed any longer. As a spiritual metaphor, it didn’t work very well for me; if, in fact, my faith journey is like a bike ride, it has both hills and valleys, steep climbs and long smooth descents. My relationship with God, at least, has not been all uphill. But regardless of the spiritual implications, it certainly didn’t work as an exercise regime. Asking a room full of people, some of whom have never been on a spin bike before, to “increase” every two minutes is neither feasible nor safe.

But my biggest problem with the class that I attended was theological. It was obvious from the beginning that the instructor and I differed on a number of theological points. He spent a good bit of time talking about the lies that the Enemy (you could actually hear the capitol E) whispers in our ears, which revealed a different understanding of evil than mine. He made a remark about God conquering your depression that revealed a different understanding than I have about mental health. But our theological differences weren’t an obstacle until, in between repeatedly saying, “Increase,” he yelled, “There is no ‘I can’t’ in the spiritual vocabulary!”

I almost fell off of my bike. In the midst of Holy Week, those words struck a deeply dissonant chord inside of me. Because “I can’t” is what Good Friday is all about. When we look at the cross, we are forced to acknowledge that Jesus did something there on that day that I cannot do for myself. And the same is true of Easter and the empty tomb; resurrection is something I can’t do. The transformation of places of death into places of life, the victory over death and the grave, life after death: these are all things that I cannot reach or accomplish. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God does for me something that I can’t do for myself.

In fact, I think the words “I can’t” aren’t just Holy Week words, or Easter words. They are the foundational words of the life of faith. They are integral, not inimical, to the spiritual journey. I grew up going to Baptist summer camp, and each summer counselors would give their testimonials, telling us how they had been saved. As an Episcopalian, I had a great discomfort with that language. But I was also uncomfortable because I felt out of place. My counselors always seemed to have dramatic stories: they had been saved from a life enslaved to drugs or alcohol, they had been saved from illness or injury or anorexia, they had been saved from dangerous or depressing home situations. My own life seemed, by contrast, inadequate and boring. Just what, exactly, was there for God to save me from?

It took me a long time to figure it out. But now, when I’m asked to talk in “salvationspeak,” I tell people that God saved me from thinking I could ever save myself. As an oldest child, I’ve always worked extra hard to be good and do the right thing; I’m the classic over-achiever. But through the years I’ve come to know there’s nothing I can do to earn God’s love, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. God saved me by teaching me to say: “I can’t.”

Holy Week is over, and my Thursday evening is open again. I’m back to my usual spin class this week, and I think from here on out, I’ll try to keep my spinning and my salvation separate.

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

The fragility of fine things

By Roger Ferlo

It was about 20 years ago, soon after I turned 35, that I decided it was time to learn to play the cello.

It turned out to be a religious decision. I had just become the rector of a small parish that had, so to speak, been through the wars. Nothing to do with the organist, thank God. The conflict centered on the rector who preceded me, a priest whom I have never met but whose parish I am sure I would have joined had I come to town as a lay person. He was one of those brilliant, charismatic sixties priests who had spent his early career in college chaplaincy, and happily never recovered. He brought his edgy, transgressive theological style to a parish that thought it was ready for it but really was not. The impact he had made as a writer, teacher and preacher had been extraordinary. Clearly, people’s lives had changed because of his ministry. But like most of us, he was also very good at excusing his several personal failings by theologizing them, and some parishioners loved him for this—that is, the ones who stayed.

It all fell apart in the end. The evangelical bishop refused to officiate at this third marriage, and basically forced his resignation, which made the parishioners feel that they were being besieged for their liberal views by the know-nothing fundamentalist right-wingers in the diocese, although it was clear to more level-headed people that even the present bishop’s more liberal predecessor would have been hard-put to accept the third marriage.

Anyway, by the time I showed up, many people were licking their wounds and loaded for bear, and the bear was me. So I took up the cello, figuring that would be cheaper than therapy and more rewarding in the long run.

In all the turmoil of the parish in those first years I was there, the music didn’t come easily. But I discovered that though I wasn’t great at this, I wasn’t all that bad, and as the weeks and months went on, the music began to center me. In a chaotic life, it became my one means of self-discipline. In the more difficult moments in that parish it became my only means of prayer.

But it was not just the music I loved when I played the cello in those days. I loved the sheer feel of the instrument in my hands. The shape of it, the sheen, the exquisite purfling, the absurdity of that scrollwork at the top, the flaming wood grain on the back, the miraculous way that inert slice of board could burst into the sound of a living voice. I didn’t play it so much as cling to it.

That clinging almost undid me. I was in my office one day, chatting with a parishioner, when the parish secretary called up the stairs to me that the cleaning lady was at the door. She had just come from the rectory, and was pretty distraught, something about my guitar falling over when she was vacuuming, and how it had broken in half, and could I come down and help her pick it up.

The news hit me like a sucker punch. I tried to put a good face on it, and act professional with my parishioner, but she saw right through me. I rushed out of the office, ran up the hill to the rectory, slammed into the living room, and there it was—the cello was on the floor, its neck broken off and splayed to one side. A large splinter remained attached to the body, with a piece of purfling jutting out like a broken finger bone. The poor cleaning lady was standing there crying, because she thought that it could stand up by itself on its pin, and she had only left it that way for a second, and was it worth a lot of money, and she didn’t mean to do it—

As you might imagine, I wasn’t feeling very pastoral at the moment, and I’m amazed I didn’t just fire her on the spot. All I wanted was for her to go home, and to leave me alone with—well, with the body. I realize now with some embarrassment that that’s how I thought of it. I found myself crying wretched tears of grief and loss, anger and frustration, because the one thing that had empowered me to endure what seemed to me in those early days the unremitting pressures and betrayals of parish life now lay in pieces on the floor in front of me.

Of course, I had lost all sense of proportion, both about the parish, which was full of good people, and about myself. As my cello teacher told me on the phone when I called him in panic, that in spite of appearances I lived in a pretty musical town, and he knew an excellent luthier, and in his long experience what was broken could often be fixed—

Wisdom. I love music teachers. I visited the cello in the shop a few days later. It had been completely disassembled, and its cracked face was now being painstakingly patched from within—the long, narrow cracks disappearing as if by miracle, the damaged inlay matched and restored so skillfully that only an expert could detect the difference. It took months and months, but when the work was done, it really could be made to sing again, cracked and patched and scarred, but whole.

Now you might expect that I want you to see in this story a parable of death and resurrection, But that’s not exactly why I’m writing this, although whenever I pick up my cello I see in its cracks and patches the history of my ministry in that place, which went on to be enormously productive and satisfying.

No, I tell this story because I know God works through us in our music and art. What musicians do with their various contraptions of wood and strings and pipes and wind brings us so close to things divine that it can steal our breath away. But I also know that no matter who you are, and whatever name you bear—Monteverdi or Mozart, Hampton or Hindemith—however good you are at what whatever you do—your finest achievements are but fragile things, as fragile as the wood of my long-suffering student cello.

It is so tempting to carve for ourselves idols out of such fragile wood, to make of our art another god, to pursue our music just for the music’s sake. In the hyper-competitive hurly-burly of our professional lives, all of us succumb to the temptation of thinking that in the end it is only the music that really matters, or the sermon, or whatever bottom line our jobs force us to toe. But there is no other God besides me, says the Lord. Everything we do and say—any music we have the grace to make—we make in the shadow of the cross.

Now there is wood that endures—that rough and jagged piece of executioner’s wood lifted high like Moses’ serpent in the desert, standing up by itself on its own pin, drawing all the world to itself like a sure-footed compass. All our talents, all our losses, all our triumphs, all our failings—the cross draws everything we are and everything we do into the searing truth of the wounded and resurrected Savior—the Holy One patched and scarred as we are, yet living, breathing, triumphant and loving.

Life can be hard. What is broken can truly be fixed, my teacher told me. It’s not true for everything, perhaps, but it is true for this. In the end, it is the cross that matters—that living sign of redemption about which we can do no other than lift our breaking voices in song, and tune our broken instruments in sounds of endless praise.

The Rev. Roger Ferlo is Director of the Center for Lifetime Theological Education at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he also directs the Evening School of Theology. He was trained as a Shakespeare scholar, and frequently leads audience discussions on religion and drama for the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, DC.

"To Win the New Asia for Christ”

By Frederick Quinn

“To win the New Asia for Christ” was a widely employed missionary concept in the immediate World War II years. But half a century later less than two to five per cent of Asia is Christian. The number is still lower if the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines is excluded from the count. Having spent time recently in Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore (as a tourist), and the Philippines (as a lecturer), and after talking with laity and clergy of different denominations, several observations come to mind:

1.) Asia has become a world-class exporter of theology. With the plateauing of major German and English language theological writers, names like the Sri Lankan Catholic Aloysius Pieris, the Taiwanese Protestant C. S. Song, and the New Zealand Anglican, Jenny Te Paa, have gained global recognition for their different contributions.

Pieris for linking the social-economic emphasis of Latin American Liberation theologians with Asia’s poor, whom he contends must be the center of any missionary effort.

Song as a leader in the widespread contextual theology movement that allows individuals and communities to tell their deeply meaningful stories with religious implications, relate them to the life and teachings of Jesus, and from the ground up build theologies derived from them.

Te Paa as a respected voice in the global Anglican Communion. Her bridging of Maori and white New Zealand cultures and their complex race relations serves as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.

2.) Hunger for contact with Western churches is widespread. Priests and laity often shared details of their lives in long and heartfelt detail. An Episcopal Church “Fulbright Program” would have real benefits. While many American parishes, dioceses, and seminaries already have such exchange programs with overseas partners, they could be greatly increased as a way of promoting wider understanding.

3.) On the one occasion when the subject came up, there was real interest in and support for ordaining women and persons of single sex orientation to ministry and episcopacy. Ex: before discussing these issues with a group Asian church leaders, I spent the previous evening rereading To Set Our Hope on Christ, the Episcopal Church’s much-neglected but comprehensive response to the Windsor Report. I expected questions about the biblical justification for such ordinations, but none were forthcoming. Instead, participants (about half women and half men) wanted to hear details of the Episcopal Church’s half-century struggle toward fuller acceptance of women and gays and lesbians as children of God and ministers of the church.

4.) Asians note that Asia’s major religions were long established centuries before Christianity and Islam arrived. As for the latter, one class in the Philippines described numerous cooperative efforts at the local level, such as jointly sponsored primary schools, credit unions, medical clinics, agricultural cooperatives, etc. Following a period of warfare in the southern Philippines, local Roman Catholic bishops and Muslim leaders created a Bishops-Ulama council that meets four times a year.

5.) After witnessing the vitality and diversity of religious expressions in Asia, the Global South Anglican advocacy group’s claims to be representative voices of this vast segment of the developing world appear increasingly thin.

6.) Nor does the oft-invoked North/South divide hold up under scrutiny. Instead, a careful look at different countries reveals multiple social, ethnic, and religious groups defying easy generalization. The observation of Pakistan-born Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence is apt here that such simplistic generalizations reflect “extraordinary descriptive crudeness and historical innocence. Many of the significant diversities within each civilization are effectively ignored, and interactions between them are substantially overlooked.”

7.) Many deeply devout Asian Christians accept the idea that other valid paths to salvation are represented in the different religions around them. Ex: a leading Indian Christian, Rammon Panikkar, wrote metaphorically of his own religious experience, “I ‘left’ as a Christian, I ‘found’ myself a Hindu, and I ‘return’ a Buddhist, without ever having ceased to be a Christian.” Panikkar is a deeply devout Roman Catholic who over a half century has come to appreciate and use elements of the prayer life and wisdom of other religious traditions. Asian religious pluralism is grounded less in doctrine and more in experience. This includes sustained encounters with other religions, building trust among faith communities, and accepting the different histories and contexts from which they emerge. “We are right side of the brain people,” I was often reminded.

A leading voice in the Asian-American religious encounter, Peter Phan, is a Vietnamese priest who teaches world religions at Georgetown University. Recently he wrote in Being Religious Interreligiously, Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, “It is useful to recall that Jesus did not and could not reveal everything to his disciples and that it is the Holy Spirit who will lead them to ‘the complete truth’. It is quite possible that the Holy Spirit will lead the church to the complete truth by means of a dialogue with other religions in which the Spirit is actively present.”

Asia has moved to a new place religiously during the last half-century. New theological voices are emerging, as compelling as their European and American predecessors. It is not a fading West/ Rising East scenario, but one of Westerners broadening their study of and respect for the riches of Asian religions. Rooted deeply in tradition, yet adapted to local settings, Asian Christians seek a wider understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus and a broader exploration of the central concept of the Reign of God.

Focusing on current controversies in the Anglican Communion distorts the wider possibilities of such a potentially rich religious encounter, one that can benefit all participants.

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn is a former chaplain at Washington National Cathedral, a retired Foreign Service Officer, and the author of numerous books on law, history, and religion. His most recent work is The Sum of All Heresies, the Image of Islam in Western Thought (Oxford University Press).

Life, and more

By Greg Jones

With the birth of our third girl this month, surprisingly early, we were able to experience the miracle of life at close hand again. We believe that the birth of a child is testimony to the Glory of God and a sign of God's marvelous handiwork in creation.

Seeing the hand of God in nature is hardly some new-fangled thing of course. John Calvin said that there is "by natural instinct, a sense of divinity." Indeed, Scripture itself proclaims that God may be perceived in nature. As the Psalmist says, "the heavens are telling the glory of God." Paul writes: "Since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."

Life itself is a wondrous thing of course, and you don't even need to believe in God to agree. Popular author Richard Dawkins – a convinced atheist – upholds biology as the most complex and fascinating of all sciences. Before Dawkins, George Gaylord Simpson, the famous paleontologist and evolutionary scientist, argued that biology alone "stands at the center of all science, and it is here, in the field where all principles of all the sciences are embodied, that science can truly become unified." Simpson recognized, studied and reveled in the majesty of life in all its diversity – yet he didn't believe in God.

For Christians who believe in a particular story (that God is creator of all things visible and invisible who loves His Creation and especially His children – and who has become one with Creation through the incarnation – and who has faced all we face as mortal beings – and who has defeated death in resurrection) we must careful. For seeing God in nature is fine – but seeing nature as God is not.

Consider the Easter 'holiday' as it now exists in the English speaking world. Like Christmas, Easter has taken on a number of symbols which have a lot to do with fertility and nature – but not necessarily anything to do with God in Christ. The word Easter – first of all – derives from the name of a pagan goddess associated with the rising of the sun. In ancient Britain, the pre-Christian folks of Northumbria venerated this goddess ('Eastre') at the vernal equinox.

Yes, life is important – supremely so – whether one believes in Jesus Christ or not. For those of us who do, it is even more important that we make sure not to see life as the same as God or in the place of God. For those of us who believe, life is not God, but rather the gift of God. Life is not in the place of God, but is rather the place where God pours out his love most fully and completely. Life is not to be worshipped, but rather God who gives life is to be worshipped and adored.

In the Fourth Gospel 'life' is central to the Johannine vocabulary. More than any other book in the New Testament, John talks about 'life'. And it takes on a double meaning. The word 'life' means not only life as you and I normally speak of it. It refers to the indwelling presence of God in the universe – it refers to the presence of the living God in our midst – it refers to the fact that God is not the same as us, but God is with us, and in us, and around us. It refers not only to biological life – as amazing as that is – but also to eternal, spiritual, divine life. Quite plainly, it refers to Resurrection life – the life which includes but goes beyond fleshly life – and extends eternally in full communion with the God of all. Interestingly enough, the Greek word for resurrection does not appear in John's gospel very much. But, in its place, the Greek word for 'life' appears many times as a synonym for resurrection.

What I'm saying – what I've learned from John – is that Easter is not just about the miracle of natural life. It is not really about Spring, and fertility, and eggs, and hatchlings, and sweet little babies. No, it is about those things, and infinitely more. Easter – or Christian Passover – or the Feast of the Resurrection – is about the kind of new life that only Jesus Christ can offer. It is about resurrection life – eternal life – life beyond biology and its undeniable but limited majesty.

This Easter season – remember – that Christ died for you, and rose from the dead, and took on the fullest possible kind of life in his resurrection. It is that kind of life that you and I are called to share, and have begun to share, for when we died with Him in our baptism, we have been given that kind of life to put on – from now on and forever.

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

The wages of fear

By Donald Schell

The Easter Gospels (like the Christmas Gospels) are shot through with fear. Why do angels keep telling us not to be afraid? Don’t they know there’s danger out there?

In the early darkness after San Francisco’s 1989 earthquake, my wife and I stood on the roof of our house looking out over the Marina district. Our son and daughter huddled against us. We were very quiet, and the city was in blackness. The power had failed. In the darkness we watched a five storey apartment building explode and collapse in on itself. Huge flames from the fire lit the dark evening. Just as in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, where wildfire destroyed much more of the city than the earthquake had, broken water lines rendered fire hydrants useless. Old photos of San Francisco’s ashes after 1906 haunted me.

We sighed our relief when an arc of water shot up from a fire truck. High-arching plumes sparkled red in the firelight. Generator-driven searchlights lit the building and the water. From our battery-powered emergency radio we heard that firefighters had run hoses from a fireboat ashore to a pumper truck. The newsman said this was what they’d done in 1906, but confidently claimed that this time the seawater would make it easy for the firefighters to beat the fire. We watched and listened. As the newscaster’s calm voice assured us the Marina fire was under control, the arc of water faltered and stopped. The searchlights went dark. Flames surged higher. For a few minutes the newsman talked on of other disaster response areas.

Abruptly he stopped what he was reporting; perhaps someone had handed him a note. We heard his tight, measured voice say, “The Marina fire appears to be out of control again.” Twice, then three times, we heard the same premature announcement and each time the resurgent fire’s threat felt bigger.

Our nine-year old son, until that moment the bravest and most stubbornly independent kid I’d ever known, leaned into me for safety and took my hand. “Dad, is the fire going to come this way?”

“I don’t know.” I answered. I didn’t know. It was a still evening, a moment of dead calm in our windy city. But the weather could change quickly. What else could I say? “We’ll watch after you’re in bed. If the fire stays out of control, mom and I will take turns, and if we even think it might spread and come this way, we’ll get us out of here.”

“Will the house burn down?”

“It could.”

We watched quietly for an hour as firefighters got the fireboat to truck connection working. Gradually with plenty of water, they really did contain the fire. We couldn’t see flames any longer, just a glow from where the building had been. It finally seemed safe enough to kiss the children good-night, to hope for another day, to sleep in the stillness and listen for the Spirit telling us that we were not alone.

In the long nightmare after 9/11 we didn’t know how to stand together as leaders’ voices told us how very alone we were, that our lives and homes and way of life were all in danger, that we could lose everything and needed to be afraid. To hold fear at bay, our country needed to unleash carpet bombing on Afghan and Iraqi villages, we sent over thousands of American troops and have now lost more Americans fighting the war than were killed in the terrorist attacks, and we’re not counting Iraqi dead. Our safety has been the rationale for using torture to gather intelligence of coming terror threats from all those frightening places outside our borders where people hate us and want to destroy our way of life.

By 2008 Franklin Roosevelt starts to sound like a theologian or a prophet, ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself.’ In fact Roosevelt’s words make a decent summary of the Resurrection Gospel. The resurrected Jesus returns to deliver us from our double addiction to fear and to safety.

A day or so after 9/11, an Israeli friend who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area said several people asked him how he managed to make his commute across the Bay Bridge – didn’t he know that it might be the next target? My friend’s simple answer? “I grew up in Jerusalem.”

My friend had it right. After 9/11, I heard familiar Bible texts challenging us in a new way. They were inviting us all to grow up in Jerusalem. Jerusalem of two millennia ago, like today’s Jerusalem, was a loved holy place with constant threats, fears, and frequent experience of death. After 9/11, bald, brazen voices of the prophets assured the people that life was more than death, pillage and famine. The prophets spoke their hard comfort to people who had lost everything and wondered where God was, to frightened people who had survived imperial armies’ raping and murdering rage, to survivors who had seen their homes and fields burned, their livestock slaughtered and left to rot -- people who had lost everything and wondered where God was.

The prophets’ message was beyond politics. They saw the threat to their nation and called the people and rulers to justice, to care for the poor, to loving mercy and to walking humbly with God. Our leaders (like the royal leaders of ancient Israel) caution us that safety comes at an inevitable cost: in extraordinary times our historic commitments to freedom and human dignity demand holding prisoners indefinitely without charges and torturing suspects to protect us from terrorist threats. Then they assure us that without their leadership terrible things would have happened. It’s no stretch to hear biblical prophets (who rejected the power of chariots to keep people safe) jeering at metal detectors and border walls, just as they would have ridiculed President Clinton for insisting after the Oklahoma City bombing that we should, ‘tell the children of America that this will never happen again.’

Denial and wishful thinking aren’t what we need to hear. Angels and Jesus don’t tell us “Do not be afraid because nothing bad will ever happen again.” Our Easter Jesus appears to disciples hiding in a locked room in fear for their lives. After he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ the world was still dangerous, but Jesus sent his friends into that dangerous world to preach and share forgiveness. Like the prophets, like my friend who grew up in Jerusalem, like the disciples, can we listen for a simpler promise? God stands by people, unwaveringly faithful, still blessing life. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”

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 focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity, building community through music, and making liturgical architecture a win/win for building and congregation. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

Risen, indeed

By R. William Carroll

This year, our junior warden made a wooden cross with some chicken wire for our children to decorate with flowers. That’s an Easter tradition that always moves me to tears, and I’m glad we were able to start it in our parish. Take a minute to think about what it means. The cross, an instrument of death, has become for us a thing of beauty—a sign of new life and forgiveness. So too, God renews the earth each spring, as everything comes into bloom. As we sing in one of our hymns, “Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain.” Christ is that grain. He is the seed that dies to give life and bread to us all. Another symbol, much beloved to our ancestors, was that of Christ shattering the gates of hell and leading Adam and Eve by the hand into paradise, with the whole human race in tow. We can use these images and others from our liturgy as we wrestle with the meaning of Easter.

Several primal symbols come together as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. We must also contend with the story itself, which comes to us broken and fragmented, both in the chaos of mob-violence and the unthinkable joy of Jesus alive. Symbols and stories are important. They help us to find our bearings in a confusing world. They convey truth that cannot be given in any other way. They say and show more than we can ever comprehend. The best symbols and stories, “classics,” have what David Tracy calls a “permanent excess of meaning.” And they give rise to a never-ending process of interpretation.

I say this, not because I doubt the truth of the Easter story. Rather, I say it because of the kind of story it is. The Gospel redefines us, as well as our world and our God. I believe the tomb was empty. I believe that Jesus appeared to his friends. I also happen to believe that this story creates as many problems as it solves.

Like any story worth reading, the Easter Gospel defies definitive interpretation. As Christians we stake our lives on this tale of earth-shattering terror and joy. Its subject is Jesus himself, one of the faceless thousands the Romans tortured and crucified, who irrupts onto the historical stage proclaimed as Savior and Lord. (Both titles, incidentally, were claimed by Caesar.) Jesus is the victim who won’t stay dead, but returns to judge and forgive us all.

The four Gospels tell us many versions of this story. They conflict in detail, but it’s not worth the effort—and is, in any case, beside the point—to try to harmonize them. It’s as if we’ve stumbled upon a crime scene, or the aftermath of some tremendous battle or natural disaster. And now we have to reconstruct what happened—from the accounts of witnesses and traces the event itself has left behind.

It’s not just that Jesus was dead and now is alive. He is the Living One, who forever conquers death and sets creation free. Easter is the beginning of God’s new world—a world still struggling to be born. None of the Gospels records the resurrection itself. That lies shrouded in the depths of the earth, until the stone is rolled away. All we have is stories about an empty tomb and of Jesus appearing—ALIVE. Sometimes, when he shows up, his friends touch him. Or he eats and drinks with them. The point here is that he still has a body. Jesus is no ghost. Other times, his risen body is clearly free from the limitations of time and space. On the Sunday after Easter Day, we hear how he came to his disciples through locked doors. That’s a good thing too, because it means we can meet still meet Jesus today. There’s no wall anyone can build to keep him at a safe distance. Jesus is free to show himself to us whenever he chooses, wherever we may be.

In many of the stories, when Jesus first appears, no one can tell it’s him. Then he intervenes, revealing himself, and his disciples believe in him. Finally, he commissions them for service, and sends them to tell others—often the whole world. Thus, on the road to Emmaus, a stranger explains to the disciples what the Old Testament says about Christ. But only when the stranger breaks the bread are their eyes opened to recognize him. Before that, grief and shock blind them to his identity. After all, with their own eyes, they have seen him put on trial, tortured, and crucified.

Something similar is going on this morning with Mary Magdalene. Early on the first day of the week, she arrives at the tomb, while it’s still dark. She finds the stone rolled away and is perplexed. She calls Peter and John, but they can’t help. So, numb with grief, she stands outside and weeps. And, while she does this, Jesus comes to her. Now, she thinks he’s the gardener. She even suspects he may have stolen the body. And she begs him, if he knows where it is, to show her, so she can take care of Jesus and give him a proper burial. Only when Jesus calls her by name does she recognize him. Then she turns around to face him. Jesus reaches out to Mary, and she is converted. As he says in another place, “the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and live.”

Many of us have been there. We have been among the living dead. Often, the Gospel makes sense to us only when we are at the end of our rope. When the last tear has been shed, and we find no strength to go on. Maybe we have experienced loss or betrayal. Maybe we are frustrated by our own weakness or moral failings. Or perhaps our hopes for the future have been crushed by forces beyond our control. Maybe it’s the economy…maybe it’s the failure of those whom we love to change. Perhaps we are feeling worthless, or the chains of memory and anger have us stuck and unable to move forward. At these moments, Christ comes to each one of us and calls us by name. For he is the stone that the builders rejected. And, if we but turn around, we discover new life in him.

Without denying the brokenness and violence we suffer (How could he, after what he’s been through?) Jesus comes to us, forgives us, and makes us whole. The things that silence and imprison us are real, yet in his presence they lose their power. He gives us life, because he’s tasted death and broken its dominion forever. He gives us hope by showing us how love conquers evil. He sets us free, by making us servants of one another.

And so today, we gather, celebrate, and sing songs of freedom. With all the music, flowers, and feasting—with all the light, joy, and laughter we can muster, we tell the story of Easter. Brothers and sisters, may we be filled with joy this happy morning. For, in the ancient words of John Chrysostom:

Christ is risen, and death is overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Happy Easter! The Lord is risen indeed.

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.

Silence, grief, wonderment

By Ann Fontaine

Today the word is Silence. All the chaos and noise of Holy Week is stilled. Palm Sunday with its hosanna-ing where even the rocks cry out in praise is past. Tenebrae is over with--an earthquake of sounds in its last crashing cymbal. Maundy Thursday’s slopping of water on bare feet of resistant Peter, and its sharing a meal ended with the betraying Judas leaving in a flurry of shame. Good Friday has come and gone with its whipping and wailing and pounding of nails and last words. The sounds of the week resound through our souls. And now – silence.

Holy Saturday brings a Sabbath from noise. We sit in the stillness of grief wondering. Where has he gone? What has happened? How can this be?

Is it a time of rest as the Holy Saturday collect from the Book of Common Prayer proclaims?

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Or is the Holy One working in Hell as the Apostle’s Creed states:

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell.

Is Jesus harrowing hell as it is sometimes called? Was he freeing those who died in slavery of mind, body, or spirit?

Holy Saturday is my favorite day in Holy Week. It is like a walk on the Oregon coastal beaches in early Spring or late Winter, a time of solitude. All the people are gone. The tides and waves are fierce and dangerous. The detritus of storms is scattered on the sand as high as the floods can rise. I walk in the rain and wind. Mostly it is gray and more gray – gray sand, gray clouds. The beach tells its own story of love and loss. The ocean called the Pacific is rarely safe. Sudden sneaker waves can sweep the unwary off their feet or worse. Once in a rare moment a flash of blue green glass proclaims a glass fishing float. It has traveled for years across the ocean from Japan. A glass ball blown by its maker years and miles ago reveals life beyond my little bit of beach.

This is Holy Saturday – a silent yet wild and fierce day of unknowing with hints of what has been and what is yet to come.

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.

Good Friday

By Sara Miles

Every Sunday, at my church, I carry a plate full of fresh bread, the body of Christ, to feed the crowd around the altar. Every Friday, around the same altar, I run a food pantry that offers free groceries––bread, spinach, potatoes, oranges, Cheerios, beans and rice––to about 500 hungry families. Both gatherings are matter-of-factly open to everyone: on both days, we feed people without asking them what they believe, how much money they make, or if they’re “good.”

The food pantry, especially, can feel almost trippily Biblical. Every week there are hundreds of people milling about; women working and arguing and feeding each other; men embracing; someone singing, someone crying, someone washing dishes. It isn't hushed and pious; it's loud and holy.

But on Good Friday––a day in Christian churches that’s traditionally been devoted to private penitence and collective binges of anti-Semitism––everything falls quiet. The church is stripped of ornament, and hung with black; at night the congregation gathers to chant a funeral liturgy, laying flowers on an icon of Jesus’ tomb and leaving in silence, taking hot cross buns to break their fasts.

As evening fell, Paul Fromberg, our priest, was setting up for services. A long-haired homeless guy, kind of sweaty and intense, strolled in looking for groceries, and Paul explained to him that the food pantry was closed for Good Friday.

“But don’t you have anything to eat?” the stranger asked.

Paul turned and saw the trays of hot cross buns on the stove, and handed him a couple. The man paused and lifted them up.

Baruch attah Adonai...” he said. “Baruch attah Adonai eloheinu.... oh, man, it's been a long time since my bar mitzvah.” He was saying the Hebrew blessing for bread: 'Blessed are thou, Lord God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.'

Paul stood there in his black cassock trying to recite the prayer, as the homeless guy smiled and took a big bite of the first bun. "Baruch attah Adonai eloheinu melek ha-alom....” Paul began. He couldn't remember it all either.

"Well, bless this bread," Paul said.

The stranger nodded, took another bun, and walked out. "OK," he said. "Thanks. Good Shabbas."

Or, as we say in church, Amen.

Sara Miles is the author of Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion. She is the founder of the food pantry at St. Gregory's of Nyssa in San Francisco.

Our fast is their feast

By Luiz Coelho

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner...” This Bible passage has always been one of the most striking to me in my whole life. I recall not receiving communion several times, when I felt not able (or willing) to allow God to free myself from a certain sin, whether it was a personal one or even a collective one. And I know this might be a very countercultural behavior, especially at a time sin has been apparently forgotten by many, and confession has become a rare event in peoples' lives.

However, it is my firm belief that there is no other way of behaving with respect to the magnificent care expressed by Jesus on that night right before he was betrayed, than with utmost respect and awe for his unconditional love towards us.

Acts of love are usually enhanced by unpredictable circumstances under which they happen, and the events that happened on that Thursday night were no different from that. The first of them was the washing of the feet. I imagine how shocked the disciples were to see their master, the Messiah, humbly washing their feet. Yes, the one who had taught them so much, was acting as if he were a simple servant. What they did not know, however, was that Jesus, on that night, was teaching them the most important lesson of all... a new commandment that resumed and consolidated his message so far.

“Love one another as I love you.” The strength of such a commandment goes far beyond our typical understanding of love. Jesus' love is so deep that it reaches even the one who would betray him hours later. His humility is so impressive that he does not care to wash tired and dirty feet, probably full of wounds and scars. Are we really following Jesus' new commandment and this new vision of love? It is easy for us to say that we love our neighbor, and in fact, many of us repeat those verses every Sunday. It is easy to strike our chests and claim we have given a certain amount of our money to the local shelter, a hospice in Guatemala or even for the Millenium Development Goals, but would we be willing to leave the ease of modern life and share all we have with the miserable? Would we live a simple life and truly be brothers and sisters of those who have no more than rice and beans to eat? Would we go to the slums and proclaim the Gospel to those for whom life has become a source of constant pain? Would we reach those who we should hate (and who hate us), whomever they are, and yet tell them we love them as Jesus loves all of us?

No, we would not. During Lent, we were theoretically called to fast, and give up on simple things that are important to us. However, how many times have we caught ourselves complaining about how hard it is to do that. How many times have we almost failed? It is difficult, it is very difficult to leave our comfort zone and realize that, for many people around the globe, our lenten fast is much fancier than what they will have in their whole lives. Do we really care? Do we really manifest this love Jesus has commanded us to show?

The apex of this love is expressed in the simple meal Jesus shared with his disciples shortly after he washed their feet. More than a memorial supper of bread and wine, more than a simple act of thanksgiving, the institution of the Holy Eucharist became a way through which Jesus' disciples could recapitulate his final act of self giving love for humankind. By giving his body and blood, he offered himself in sacrifice for us, and made us part of his own body. He shared our pain, and even in spite of all the suffering that was about to come, he was still able to love unconditionally.

The Eucharist should mean more to us than a weekly ceremony. It is the spiritual food that nourishes us and prepares us truly to be Jesus' disciples. When we take part of Jesus' body and blood, we commit ourselves to follow him with all our heart, live according to his commandment and flood this world with Christ's love. The same meal he instituted that night is a continuous reminder that, even not being perfect, we ought to struggle to be worthy of such unconditional love.

Maundy Thursday, more than a simple ceremony or a light meal, is a calling. As we remember Jesus' last moments with his disciples before his arrest, we are called to be worthy of such a wondrous love. We are called to truly love all humankind, sacrificing our own selfish desires for the common good. We are called to go to the slums and proclaim Jesus' message to the outcasts of society. We are called to embrace our enemies and to love them with all our heart. We are called to love the sick, the hungry and the needy. We are called to make a difference, and show to the world what Christ's love is about.

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."

The Global South's Catechism

By Marshall Scott

As was recently reported in The Lead, a new "Anglican Catechism in Outline" (ACIO) has been published. It is a part of " The Interim Report of the Global South Anglican (GSA) Theological Formation and Education Task Force" In addition to ACIO (contained in a section titled, “Key Recommendations”), the Interim Report includes a section of Commentary, several Illustrations of catechesis in Global South settings, and two brief Appendices.

I've been spending some time reviewing ACIO and the Interim Report. I have been surprised that more people haven't looked at it and commented on it. I suppose some might wonder why we should care. After all, it's from "those folks" in the Global South. What, after all, can we expect from them?

But that sounds all too much like, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" I think we do need to take an interest in this, and to look at it closely.

First, notwithstanding their discomfort with us, "those folks" are still our siblings in Christ and in the Anglican Communion. Indeed, the Task Force expressed the intent to produce a document "for the whole communion," one not caught up in current issues. By the same token we in the Episcopal Church have said again and again that we want to maintain conversations across the communion. We have continued to say that in all humility we can learn from them. One way showing that we mean it, of meeting their good faith with our good faith, is to read and reflect on documents like this Interim Report.

I will also allow that in our current difficulties we need to know the concerns of those with whom we disagree. ACIO and the process by which it has been developed have been endorsed by the Steering Committee of the Global South Primates. A final report is to be released this year, and ACIO may well be an influential document at GAFCON. While they are not our enemies, we might well "keep our friends close and our critics closer." So, once again, it is well worth it to take an interest in documents like the Interim Report.

Moving from general principles to specifics, this Interim Report has much to commend it. The Anglican Catechism in Outline itself is worth our time and interest. The Task Force decided not to produce a complete Catechism, and instead chose to produce a "catechetical framework," adaptable to many contexts.

What ACIO offers is the framework, no less and no more. The catechesis embodies the faith the church has received from Christ’s apostles (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). This deposit of faith is the foundation upon which the church upholds right teaching and right worship under different circumstances in all places and in all generations....

At the same time, communicating Christianity well requires sensitive understanding of the particular missionary situations. Provinces are in better positions to attend to such tasks. Provinces should also make every effort to understand the social contexts of their mission. They should teach the Christian faith in creative ways.... Therefore different provinces should find suitable ways to implement the recommendations.

Organized under the categories of Faith, Hope, and Love, and incorporating expositions of the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, the Summary of the Law, and the Ten Commandments, the framework is worth study as to how it might inform and complement our existing catechetical efforts.

In addition, I think the Illustrations are worth our time and attention. Having said that we want to maintain conversation, these Illustrations can offer us concrete examples of specific catechetical programs. More important, they can offer us better understanding of the contexts for those programs, and the challenges our Anglican siblings face. We value from the Quadrilateral, "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." We value it as much for that phrase, "locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples," as we do for the concept of the Historic Episcopate itself; and we are sometimes concerned that there is not enough respect for our own locale and our local adaptations. It is incumbent on us to understand these locales of our sibling Anglicans. Studying these Illustrations can only help.

That said, there are also those specifics within the Interim Report that I, at least, think are problematic. The three papers in the Commentary section are not the products of scholars from the Global South, but rather of scholars of the "Global North" who are sympathetic. The topics of the papers are Holy Scripture, the Creeds, and the Anglican Formularies. All are distinctily evangelical in their orientation. The paper on the Creeds by Bishop Paul Barnet, retired of Sydney, is distinctly Evangelical, but not notably partisan about our current differences. On the other hand, the paper on the Holy Scriptures by Professor Oliver O'Donovan of the University of Edinburgh takes a position on Scripture that is explicitly inerrantist and implicitly literalist. The paper on the Anglican Forumlaries by Peter Toon, President of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A, is less informative than polemic, so philosophically focused on the particular experience of the Church of England in Empire and Commonwealth as to largely ignore any real "local adaptation" and to imagine the experience of the Episcopal Church as literally "beyond the rim."

These commentaries are not explicitly part of ACIO, and arguably do not necessarily detract from its usefulness. At the same time, these papers were included by the Task Force in the Interim Report. They were obviously acceptable to the Task Force. If they were seen as important in interpreting and adapting the "catechetical framework," I think they would seriously undermine its usefulness across the Communion. It will be important to note how those who celebrate ACIO specifically also respond to these papers. Those attitudes will certainly affect the climate within which we might still seek conversation and mutual recognition across our differences.

In our desire to embrace and celebrate a Communion that is theologically and culturally diverse and inclusive, we need to be attentive to and thoughtful about ACIO and the Interim Report, and about similar scholarly efforts from those with whom we disagree. At least we will know what our critics say, and can decide how to respond. At best we will demonstrate our own commitment to a diverse and inclusive Communion, and our humility and willingness to learn from those at times seem so distant and so different as to become for us "those folks." They are still our siblings in Christ and in the Anglican Communion. It is important for us to listen to and learn from their best efforts as much as their harshest words.

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

The curious incident of
the mosquito in Africa

By John Chilton

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Holmes has already deduced that Gregory arrested the wrong man for murder: that dog would have barked if a stranger had been present at the murder scene. As it turns out, the real murderer knew the dog wouldn’t bark in his presence.

Economists Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James Robinson examine African poverty and identify the mosquito as the culprit, of sorts. Their analysis is explained for a wider audience in Tim Harford’s new book, The Logic of Life. It is a rather reductive theory and there is no doubt much more complexity to the problem of poverty in Africa. But it is a powerful story none the less.

Malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases kill many children born in Africa. But that is not the explanation these economists give for depravation in Africa. Instead, it is the curious incident of the mosquito that did not bite. For European colonialists malaria was extremely deadly. To avoid being bitten they made a choice: they avoided settling in Africa and settled in safer places, places we now know as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Lest the reader draw any false conclusions about where this logic is taking us, a detour into the history of economic thought is in order.

We all know that economics is known as the dismal science because it deals with the reality that we live in a world of limited resources. Even so, I have never found economics dismal. The reason is that I understand it to be about how to make the most of our limits. What brightens my outlook even more is that "the how" is most likely to be achieved in a classically liberal context of individual freedom of choice – the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

However, contrary to what we "know," economics was not labeled the dismal science because it deals with the world of limited resources. It was given that label because economists during the period of classic liberalism assumed that all men (at least) were created equal. Economic science rejected the assumption that some races were superior to others; it rejected drawing the easy but false inference that those who fell behind were either stupid, lazy or lacked virtue. The economists of the classically liberal tradition – Smith, Mill – said, no, the explanation for differences in the wealth of nations (aside, of course, for differences in natural resource endowments) has to do the development of institutions that facilitate mutually beneficial exchange and teamwork. This news was dismal to those who preferred to assume that the economic advancement of their society was explained by their racial superiority – and justified slavery. Economists joined Christian evangelicals of the day in the fight against slavery; they agreed all humans share the same nature and have the same rights.

The institutions that foster mutually beneficial exchange include government-facilitated institutions like property rights, the rule of law, and enforcement of contracts. But government can also hinder beneficial economic exchange. In the extreme, think of a kleptocracy designed to extract wealth any time it is created – it destroys economic incentives to trade or invest. Limiting the power of government to take is part of the formula of the wealth of nations.

The story that the economists Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson tell lines up with the views of the classical liberal economists about the source of the wealth of nations. In countries where Europeans settled they demanded creation of institutions that fostered mutually beneficial exchange so that all (Europeans, n.b.) had a shot at benefiting. The consequences for indigenous people in these region was clearly adverse. (Aside: the Pilgrims did try a system of communal sharing for a few years; the abandonment of that system is another story, perhaps.)

In countries subject to European colonization, but little European settlement, Europeans set up very different institutions. There, as Harford puts it, they "made the … selfishly rational decision to establish the slave trade … and set up abusive economic systems to exploit the land and people or scrape up as much gold and ivory in the shortest time…. The plantation economies became independent with a political system designed to suck out every cent of short-term gain and funnel it to the guys in charge." (p. 205)

Such systems are corrupt and corrupting – just imagine what it is like to grow up in such a society and how, for example, it influences your attitude towards trusting others and deflates your aspirations for fulfillment. Or consider what it does to the incentive to build a professional reputation. Or consider how the financial disintermediation we are experiencing in the U.S. is influencing our economy at this moment, and imagine how a wariness to invest or make loans is an everyday fact of life in many African countries.

Social systems, particularly abusive ones, are hard to change. The gulf between North and South created by the mosquito has persisted due to the plantation system inherited in Africa from when it was under Northern rule. The next time you find yourself wondering why Africans – be they journalists or farmers or politicians or civil servants or religious leaders – are different, remind yourself they are not different. People are just people. Rather ask yourself how institutions are different, and remind yourself different institutions create different attitudes and incentives. How righteous are you, really?

Dr. John B. Chilton is an economist on a busman's holiday. He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, the University of South Carolina and the American University of Sharjah. He is keeper of The Emirates Economist, a weblog on economic events in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf.

Talk of graves

By Roger Ferlo

I once produced a student performance of an old play of the crucifixion. It was part of the great York Mystery Cycle, a play that used to be performed every year on the feast of Corpus Christi in the streets surrounding York Minster in the late middle ages. Each play in the mystery cycle, ranging from Creation to Revelation, was assigned by tradition to a particular trade guild. The Crucifixion play was assigned, as I recall, appropriately enough, to the Pinners, stout Yorkshiremen whose trade was nail-making. It is a brilliant script, with the four pinners, dressed as Roman soldiers, carrying on a spirited, even comical dialogue in thick and racy Yorkshire dialect all the while they are nailing Jesus to the cross. The actor playing Jesus remains silent through almost the whole proceeding. The script sounds scandalous, characters cracking jokes as they go about their sordid business. (There is an odd, uncomfortable resonance with the way some of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib used their silent and abused prisoners as the butt of their obscene jokes.) The contrast between the profanity of the torturers and the solemn silence of Jesus was not as disgusting as the scene at Abu Ghraib, but nonetheless disturbing enough.

My students performed the play with no sets, under a naked light-bulb in a college basement. The walls were painted black, the only prop a broomstick that the student playing Jesus carried across his shoulders, his arms stretched out to each end. There were no seats for the audience; we gathered around the action in an uneasy circle, our silence matching the silence of the central figure. No one wanted to appear complicit in the action, but standing there watching it and not intervening seemed to imply we were somehow involved. We knew it was just a play after all, but it left us profoundly troubled. When the action ended, the Jesus figure was left standing there, his arms outstretched on the broomstick, bare feet on the floor, still maintaining silence. You have to understand that there was no attempt at realism here, no stage blood, no simulated groaning. Just the dignity of silence underscoring the enormity of the act. When the student actor finally broke his pose and walked out of the circle we had formed, we all saw the imprint of his sweaty feet on the floor, and for the longest time, not one of us moved or spoke a word. And when we finally did move, no one dared to enter the circle, or to step on the place where the sweat stains had by then disappeared.

I have another story about Jesus’ silence to share with you, this one far removed from a student workshop production performed in the safety of an Ivy League college.

Over ten years ago now a news article appeared in The New York Times that became for me a Good Friday Parable of the Unspeakable. It’s also a parable that forces us to explore—as this gospel does—what you might call the geography of evil. For years now the story has occupied a silent place in my skull, like a dispatch from Golgotha.

In spring of 1996 a reporter named Mike O’Connor gained access to a field outside the Bosnian town of Srbrenica. A lot has happened since 1996, but memory runs long in that part of the world. You still might remember the disastrous story of that sad town. During the ugly, bloody wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the UN had tried to protect Srbrenica as a “safe town,” a place where people could escape from the so-called ethnic cleansing by which Christian Serbs were trying to wipe out Muslim Bosnians from the area. The UN policy was a disaster. UN forces did almost nothing to stop the slaughter—they more or less looked on in horror, like bystanders at Golgotha. An international war crimes tribunal had determined that anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 Muslim men had been driven from their homes and executed in this field by Christian Serb militia. The Times ran a photograph of the site. It looked terribly ordinary, nothing like a Golgotha. The land was flat, plain, with a small copse of trees visible in the background. But reports that had trickled in from survivors said that the landscape had recently been altered. You could see in the photograph that the ground was broken and rutted in spots, as if it had been dug up, moved and replaced by heavy equipment. O’Connor describes the scene with an eye for detail that is almost as vivid as Dante’s, who knew something about killing grounds:

Clinging to chunks of dirt, some piled in mounds three feet high, are pieces of sod and delicate yellow flowers growing at unnatural angles, suggesting that the dirt was broken and piled up after it was covered by new spring plants….Near the larger field was a pile of what first appeared to be rubbish, but tangled among the bits of garbage were strips of multicolored cloth, about three feet long. These matched the published descriptions of blindfolds that survivors say were put on the victims by the killing squads. Also in the pile were berets like those frequently used by older Muslim men. On one beret was a set of Muslim prayer beads, and near them was a cane nicely carved from a tree branch.

Clearly, there had been bodies buried there, and someone had ordered them moved—covering the evidence of this deepest crime by digging it up. The whole story has a Dantesque ring to it. Even the names of the commanders involved have an allegorical resonance. Here in the killing field, where hate-filled Christians betrayed and murdered terrorized Muslims, the spokesman for the war crimes investigation bore the name of Christian Chartier, a name that translates into English as Christian the Mapmaker, as if he had been assigned to map the geography of evil. And the colonel in command of the American forces who were patrolling the area was named, of all things, John Baptiste. As they say, you can’t make this kind of thing up. It would all be high comedy if it weren’t so horrific. The headline to the Times' story said it all: Disturbed Dirt in Bosnia Refuels Talk of Graves.

Why resurrect a story like this? Why refuel talk of graves, this close to Easter?

Recall the words of Jesus’ companion on the cross. Remember me. In a world with a minimum attention span, where one atrocity replaces the next in public memory with alarming regularity, it’s important to remember the anonymous and silent dead of Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, or Darfur. It seems to me that if we are going to make sense out of Jesus’ silence, if we claim any right to play at the empty tomb on Easter morning, we need to remember his companions in suffering. We cannot in good faith re-encounter the silence of Jesus in these latter days without encountering the silence of the victims who came after him. You can hear in Jesus’ silence the silence of victims everywhere, victims of war and oppression and ethnic cleansing who are mostly nameless to us, silent skulls lined up in rows in a warehouse in Cambodia, silent bones in a mass grave in Bosnia or Rwanda or Darfur. Only their bones are at liberty to speak, and not just through DNA and other forensic tests. They bear mute testimony to the unspeakable. Their silence is Jesus’ silence, His silence theirs. Confronted with such pain, for us to keep silence would condemn us. Remember me. Remember me.

Match meeting

By Margaret M. Treadwell

When my husband failed to meet my expectations many Valentine’s Days ago, he cynically dubbed Feb. 14 “The Hallmark Holiday.” In the aftermath of a fabulous fight that left no doubt where each of us stood on the importance of the day, we created a ritual that takes the pressure off.

Each Feb. 14, we go to the local card shop, position ourselves at opposite ends of the Valentine’s rack, and proceed to read love messages as we move toward the middle. When we meet, we hand each other the card of our choice, read it, laugh, hug, kiss and put the cards back in their places. This year, the sentiment that captured our best laugh read, “Grab me, hold me, carry me and caress me. Just pretend I’m a football.”

We then return home, cook our favorite dinner and remember our own love story: We met through our passion for travel in our first jobs out of college while we were both working for Pan American Airways. We each have different perspectives about the spark that first attracted us, but we end up in the same playful place in the telling.

We adore love stories, our own or others, so this year we reminisced about how our children first met their spouses. When our son house-sat for neighbors, our daughter-in-law-to-be, the family’s au pair from Denmark, returned unexpectedly from a weekend away to her home-for-a-year. Imagine their surprise when they met as they both got up to answer an early morning knock at the front door!

Our daughter and son-in-law met on the fourth grade playground at Somerset Elementary School in Chevy Chase and soon discovered that they were born in the same New York City hospital with the same doctor delivering. That year he gave her the biggest Valentine’s heart box of candy he could find.

We talked about how many friends met because they were living their passions, either through jobs or hobbies they pursued – swing dancing, amateur acting, playing tennis, taking a class, joining a church singles group, singing in a choir or playing in a band. Friendships based on common interests led to good marriages where couples still keep that first spark of attraction alive.

Recently, I have had the privilege of working with couples in pre-marital counseling who met through Match.com or other online dating services, rather than through more traditional means. Some of my parents’ generation are astonished that people would dare risk meeting this way, but their stories demystify the process.

For a fee of about $100 for six months (with a six-month re-up at no charge if you haven’t met anyone), the Match subscriber submits a written profile, specifying personal characteristics and traits they cherish in themselves as well as what they seek in a committed relationship. One woman said that writing her profile with a friend helped her distill the qualities others admire about her and gave her the courage to speak up about her heart’s desire and the things she passionately enjoys. She believes being open and honest attracts similar responses from others.

The safety factor causes some hesitation, but many people said that their first meetings were in a public place for coffee or lunch. During this initial exploration phase, some rely on the company to monitor the meeting process, while others prefer to set up their own correspondence with like-minded others.

One gentleman summed up the positive aspects of Internet connections thus: “I was looking for a lasting relationship but tired of random encounters. On Match.com I discovered an intelligently written profile by a woman who was tired of her career focus and wanted to meet someone who was fun. All of her suitors were men interested in her money, but that was my least concern. We didn’t fall in love on the Internet, but we had a great level of communication on the Internet for two months before we ever met. People rush into relationships quite rapidly, but Match.com helped us slowly develop a rapport that led to friendship, and our marriage of five years is better for it.”

The best advice from pros is to stay open, because sometimes the very person you think won’t match actually does. One woman said, “Through Match.com I met and married the man who not every other woman in Washington was looking for.”

For those who don’t meet their match? Said one, “During the year of defining myself – my wants, desires and vision for my life – I grew in self-confidence and integrity. The process prepared me for more authentic relationships in the future.”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She teaches a course on congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.

On "The Gospel of Truth"

This is the third in an occasional series on non-canonical writings. Parts I and II are also available.

By Deirdre Good

The Gospel of Truth is a sermon on salvation. In the opening paragraph, a familiar term "gospel" is introduced rapturously and then explained as a discovery of a search for the Father: "The gospel of Truth is joy for those who have received from the Father of truth the grace of knowing him.." Those who embark on a search for the Father (re)discover their origins from the Father. This knowledge is a movement of creation but not separation, implicit in declaring the Son as the Father's name.

Composed by a brilliant orator, perhaps the second-century Valentinus himself, the sermon describes how the Savior effects in humanity a transformation from ignorance to knowledge. As in the case of the Epistle to the Hebrews, however, we know little of the author or the sermon's recipients. Most scholars assign this text in the Nag Hammadi Library to Valentinian Christianity since topics like "the Father," "aeons," "the Pleroma (fullness),"
"Deficiency," and "Rest" occur. The sermon describes the role of Error as a type of lower creator or Demiurge in contrast to which the author emphasizes truth as the spoken and written disclosure in which the Son is the Name of the Father

The text describes searching as both promise and ignorance. Ignorance generates agitation, fear, and its palpable effects: "agitation grew dense like a fog so that no one could see." In such a climate, personified Error grows powerful-- creating from matter a substance that shapes substitutes for the truth. Error's forms of forgetfulness and fear hold people captive and blind.

To overcome the fog of ignorance, forgetfulness must be annulled. The moment knowledge of one's true origins from the heavenly realm are regained (Valentinians believe such knowledge lies dormant in humanity) error ceases to exist as it has no root. As Savior, Jesus brings a way that is truth and knowledge to awaken within humanity awareness of its identity as children of God. The Savior does this as speech, in that the Word teaches; as Light, by enlightening the way; as fruit of the Father's knowledge, by being eaten and the result is joy; as book by publishing the Father's edict on the cross in being nailed to a tree, thus overcoming fear and offering life for many.

When Jesus calls them, the elect are brought back "into the Father, the Mother, Jesus of the infinite gentleness" (24,8), into the bosom which is the Holy Spirit. From a state of weary searching they attain a state of dynamic rest. The author plays with the external/internal dynamic of this search and muses out loud, "It is amazing that they were in the Father without knowing him, and that they were able to come forth by themselves, inasmuch as they were not able to perceive or recognize the one in whom they were" (22:27-34).

The Savior changes an external search for knowledge into recognition by the saved that the Father contains the movement from ignorance to knowledge. This transformation eventually collapses a distinction between external and internal spheres. Because the Savior has become incarnate and has died on the cross in the external (cosmic) sphere, it ceases to exist. Thus, what happens at the end of the process becomes what exists implicitly in the Father at the beginning. The rest attained by enlightened ones at the end is what was in the Father's thought from the beginning.

However, collapse of the material realm does not mean it is disparaged. References to the name of the Father being "on their heads" likely refers to baptism. A reference to Christ anointing "with the ointment" the "ones he brings back" alludes to an anointing ritual. Allusive references to sacraments fit within a sermon.

Towards the end of the sermon, hearers are exhorted to be concerned about the Father of the all and the true brothers. The Savior is a way for the lost, knowledge for those who were ignorant, a discovery for those who were searching and a support for those who were wavering. Listeners are to speak of the truth with searchers, strengthen the feet of those who stumble, feed the hungry, give rest to the weary and awaken those who sleep. Using imagery of an alluring fragrance, the children are drawn back to the Father. The sermon concludes with images of unity and rest.

The Gospel of Truth is a profound meditation on Jesus' saving function. It challenges our ideas that Valentinian Gnostics had no sacraments and that they were elites uninterested in the welfare of the community. Even if it isn't in the canon of the New Testament, if we let it speak for itself, we can experience something of the diverse voices of early Christianities in the period 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.

A drink, a chat, a Church

By George Clifford

Last year in a bar at the Hale Koa hotel in Honolulu, I met Ed (name changed to protect his privacy). He was standing just inside the bar’s entrance, looking lonely. The U.S. Army operates the appropriately named Hale Koa, which in Hawaiian means warrior’s house, as a recreational facility for military personnel and military retirees. So I felt confident that Ed was a veteran and, with my wife’s consent, invited him to join us for a drink.

Ed was in fact lonely and appreciated the invitation. Each year he vacationed in Hawaii. A widower, rather than go by himself he had invited one of his grandsons, aged twenty-something, to accompany. That day the grandson had met some other twenty-somethings on the beach and, at Ed’s urging, had gone out for the evening with them.

As it turned out, Ed and I had more in common than both being veterans. We both had served in the Aleutian Islands, he during World War II and I during the Cold War. And, in the course of talking about what we had done in the military, we learned that we are also both Episcopalians.

Unprompted, Ed told me about his relationship with the Episcopal Church. I guess he thought that as a priest this would be my primary interest. How little most people know about the clergy! Faith journeys interest me, but I must confess that listening to someone talk about his or her faith journey over drinks on Waikiki does not top my list of prospective topics for a scintillating conversation.

Although Ed was not reared in the Episcopal Church, his mother who died at age 34 and was not Episcopalian had sung in the choir of their town’s Episcopal church. During WWII, that Episcopal church had a plaque listing the names of those serving in the armed forces. The parish included Ed’s name on their list and prayed for him every week along with the others listed on the plaque. The parish had also sent him and, he presumed, all of those listed on the plaque a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Ed drew much comfort from reading it during the war.

Following the war, Ed married a woman who belonged to the Methodist Church. Neither particularly liked the Methodist services and he did not want to return to his childhood Church, so they decided to join the local Episcopal church. Even when they twice moved to new towns, they continued to be Episcopalian.

Only once had he met an Episcopal priest he did not like. Ed had met that priest, who ironically was a distant cousin, during WWII when the priest had served as a military chaplain. The priest was arrogant, obnoxious, self-centered, and only interested in Episcopalians – a sharp contrast, Ed said, with the other Episcopal priests he had met.

Ed remarked that he did not understand the controversies currently roiling the Episcopal Church. He implied that he did not approve of homosexual relationships yet had clearly never considered leaving the Episcopalian fold. He also thought that the Church had more important business than focusing so much time and energy on sexual ethics.

Listening to Ed, I heard how three themes important to our Anglican heritage had shaped his faith journey. These themes – the pastoral, liturgical, and incarnational – led him to the Episcopal Church and kept him there.

After a couple of drinks, Ed said goodnight and left. In retrospect, I have wondered if I was the real beneficiary of our conversation that evening. Ed reminded me of why I am a priest and of what is important in our Anglican identity: reaching out in love to others (the pastoral), offering worship that helps people acknowledge or experience their humanity and the transcendent (the liturgical), and being the inclusive, loving people of God (the incarnational).

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

The urgency of forgiveness

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – We gathered in church this week to talk about forgiveness, a good topic to tackle on the last Sunday of Lent.

Far too often, when we talk about forgiveness, that’s all we do: talk. It’s usually nothing more an intellectual exercise for us, because heaven forefend that we should seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have done, heaven forefend that we should forgive those who have wronged us.

But in Sudan, a land that has been at war for most of the past five decades, forgiveness is a much more immediate issue. This is a place where religious, tribal, ethnic, language and gender differences have resulted in the deaths of millions of people. This is a place where land has been taken, families have been split, livelihoods have been destroyed.

Talking about forgiveness here is all the more poignant because everywhere you turn, there are reminders of the wars, reminders of the deaths, reminders of the devastation that has sundered this land.

On this past Sunday, our preacher at the Cathedral of St. Matthew was The Very Rev. Martha Deng Nhial, possibly one of the first African women to become a cathedral dean in the Anglican Communion.

Using texts from Luke on forgiveness and Matthew on temptation (“lectionary” frequently is a loosely followed word here), Mother Martha got right to the point:

We have to forgive, she said, because Jesus said so. If we don’t forgive those who have wronged us, she stressed, why should God bother to forgive us?

And then she brought in the devil.

The devil, she said, doesn’t want us to forgive. So the devil instead comes into our lives and tells us that we don’t have to forgive, because the other person isn’t forgiving us.

“The devil is not far from us,” she said. “He will be with you, eat with you, sit with you all the time. And because the devil is right there in our lives, we don’t forgive.”

Forgiveness – with all its attendant difficulties – is a very personal, absolutely urgent issue here. Every single Sudanese sitting in the Cathedral on Sunday has lost family members in one or more of the wars that have plagued this land. A culture of hatred has grown up over the last several generations, hatred between North and South, East and West, between the tribes, between the different religions. It almost seems ingrained some days.

Asking people to forgive those who have killed their families and friends, or who have denied them jobs or education, or who have striven to keep them from simply enjoying a life of peace and prosperity is hard, very hard.

Forgiveness in this place is not some intellectual exercise; it’s reality. It’s a daily need. Mother Martha wasn’t discussing some esoteric theological point; she was directly telling the people in her care to work at something some of them don’t want to even consider.

But in this place, a place of war and death and destruction, forgiveness is the only thing that will save this land. True forgiveness – the kind that hurts, the kind that stretches you beyond anything you’ve ever conceived – is the only thing that will heal this land.

So on the last Sunday of Lent, preparing ourselves to go into Holy Week – where forgiveness was modeled for us in the most memorable way possible – talking about forgiveness was real, poignant and necessary.

If the people take to heart that which Mother Martha preached, there is a chance that one day, Sudan will be healed. But only if the people start by forgiving.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

What are we waiting for?

By Jean Fitzpatrick

I didn't know Eve Carson, and yet when I read that she'd been killed with a handgun on a suburban street near the UNC Chapel Hill campus, I could hardly take my eyes off her photograph. A lovely young woman, blonde and smiling, she was a leader as well: student body president, a Morehead Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa, the list goes on. In her short life she had volunteered in Durham and Ecuador, Egypt and Ghana. Every life is infinitely precious. Eve, as Carson's high school principal said, "was one of the young women who could change the world."

The mother of a college student myself, I reached out to pray for Eve and her family and the students at UNC, hoping they will somehow find comfort, hardly able to imagine the pain they must be feeling. And then it occurred to me that less than a year has passed since the Virginia Tech shootings, when 32 students were killed. Just last month, at Northern Illinois University, a gunman shot five people. And only one day earlier, Lauren Burke, an Auburn University freshman, died of a single gunshot wound.

After the Virginia Tech shootings, the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, asked some important questions, and today they remain as urgent as ever. "My pastor's heart breaks for the families of those who died today," he said. "....Faith leaders have spoken up continually about the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Despite repeated calls from faith and community leaders to Congress and presidents nothing ever seems to get done to stem the tide. How many more will have to die before we say enough is enough? How many more senseless deaths will have to be counted before we enact meaningful firearms control in this country?"

What are we waiting for?

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

Approaching God through poetry

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

Some years ago Bill Countryman wrote a book whose very title brings together two things I've been thinking about over the past few weeks. The book is The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition. In it he writes, memorably:

"The continuing power of the Anglican poetic tradition depends on the fact that it does not seek power. It gives no prescriptions; it does not compel. It springs out of the gospel of Jesus, but remains blessedly free of theology's a priori concern to nail everything down and make sure that others toe the line. It is able to listen to people of other religion and of none and to hear the voice of God there, too. It is able to speak in terms that connect with our human experience, and it invites a sharing of things that lie, as Wordsworth wrote, "too deep for tears." It connects with the human world and the world beyond humanity. It invites us, with Vaughan, to rise up, weeping and singing, into the great circle of light where our life-experience at last begins to have full meaning. That also means, of course, that it invites us to see our own poverty and sin and to experience, in the absence of God, how truly empty life can be. But it invites us to this experience of loss precisely so that we can delight fully in the unpredictable but certain experience of God's presence and the fullness of connection and life that it makes possible.

I thought of this vision of the Anglican poetic tradition again this past week when I was co-leading, with Esther de Waal and Bonnie Thurston, a residential conference at the Cathedral College entitled "Approaching God through Poetry." At that conference, looking at a variety of poets, from early Welsh poetry praising the creation, to Gerard Manley Hopkins, R.S. Thomas, Denise Levertov, Mary Oliver and others, we returned repeatedly to the ability of poetry to create "both-and" experiences, and especially to help us discern the holy in the ordinary, and to embrace an incarnational and sacramental vision in which the divine and the human come together in the particularities of our experience. Repeatedly we returned to poetry as a kind of experiential, relational theology, a different kind of language than the categorical statements of systematic theology, but no less powerful in its ability to open our hearts and minds to the mystery of God.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the experience was the communal part of it -- gathering of a group of people from a variety of denominational backgrounds, in a space that was both beautiful and prayed-in, and sharing a common life that was punctuated by communal meals and regular liturgy. Some of us gathered daily for early morning Communion in the crypt of the Cathedral, all came to choral Evensong in the Great Choir, with poetry included in our worship each evening, and we all attended the night prayers of compline led by members of the group at the end of our days together. In between we were immersing ourselves in words, and engaging in a practice of listening -- both to the various poets we were hearing about, and to life as they saw it.

We talked about how poetry can help us slow down and look more attentively at the world around us, how the words of a poem can offer us new ways of imagining the relationship between God and the world. (Consider, for example, the many levels of meaning carried by the word "charged" in Hopkins's famous line "The world is charged with the grandeur of God" - with its evocation of electrical current, a responsibility or "charge," a burden to be borne.) We considered how the voices of poets invite us in a lively way into the communion of saints, the blessed company of faithful people exclaiming over both the gifts that life brings and the darkness that we also encounter in human life. In that conversation, I was inspired to hear participants finding their own voices in new ways, some writing poems for the first time, others responding from the heart to one another and to what they were seeing in new ways through the eyes and words of the poets.

It was a refreshing time, not least because all of us were doing more or less "one thing" in our gathered time that week, instead of the usual multitasking that tends to determine our frenetic lives. Gathered as a community, we were drinking from many streams that have fed our tradition -- the rootedness in Creation and the resistance to darkness that we find in Celtic spirituality; the balanced rhythms of "practicing the presence of God" from Benedictine spirituality; and the delight in words and "noticing" that poetic language brings; and the coming together of all kinds of beauty in the practice of liturgy. These are all things I treasure about our Anglican heritage, and it was delightful to see how people were fed by this gathering. The feeling I came away with was a sense of grace, gratitude and rootedness, an awareness of the rightness of what Mary Oliver observes in Thirst, when she suggests in one of her poems that the practices of prayer and poetry open a "doorway into thanks, and a silence in which/another voice may speak."

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Putting creation at risk

By Reid Detchon

Our material comforts give us so much to be grateful for. Kings and queens, in days gone by, never knew the luxuries we take for granted. Most of us live and eat so well, our biggest threat is overdoing it.

And yet our little empires, our cars, gadgets and homes, are built on something that threatens to bring it all to ruin – the production and use of energy. Our personal freedom and mobility depends on oil and electricity that comes mostly from coal and natural gas.

These three fossil fuels, formed and accumulated underground over millions of years, are being extracted, combusted, and injected into our atmosphere with ever-increasing speed, and the world is growing steadily warmer as a result.

Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we are experimenting with magic we can’t control. We have put in motion processes that we cannot stop or reverse, and we are putting God’s creation at risk.

The Arctic ice cap drives our hemisphere’s weather, but in less than a decade, it may be gone. The warming tundra is preparing to release gases built up through eons of decomposition, trapped no longer beneath a frozen cap. The mighty oceans warm and expand and, as ice melts on Greenland, rise along our coasts.

What are we doing to our world, to ourselves, to our children’s future? What are we doing to each other?

When the climate changed and the rains failed in Darfur, herdsmen moved onto farmers’ land and started fighting. When the climate changed and an unrelenting heat wave struck Europe in 2003, more than 14,000 died in France alone. When the climate changed and the Gulf of Mexico warmed, its energy was taken up by Hurricane Katrina.

When we say it’s just the weather, we are like children plugging our ears and saying, “Nah, nah, nah, nah” to block out what we don’t want to hear. The energy we use – when we start our cars, boot up our computers, heat and cool our homes – is killing people. We are killing people – by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

This is tough to hear – because it threatens the regal comforts we all are so grateful to have. Do we really have to give them up to save the world?

Energy is a great blessing. It has brought billions of people out of deprivation and misery. Doing without it would harm far more people than global warming.

Thanks to God’s blessings, we need not do without. All energy is not alike. Some kinds of energy are harmful, but others are not. Every day God provides, through the sunshine and the rain, the wind and the trees and plants, far more energy to the Earth than we could ever use. We call this energy renewable, because God continually renews its supply, like manna, for all who reach out their hands. It may cost a bit more to gather, but what is that against the cost we are incurring, the harm that we are doing?

We can change our ways. We can make a choice – at home, at work, in our churches and schools. There may be some sacrifice, some small additional price to pay for cleaner energy. But the reward is large. It is, in fact, the whole world.

Reid Detchon, a vestry member at St. Columba’s in Washington, D. C., is Executive Director, Energy and Climate, at the United Nations Foundation.

Liturgy and Basketball:
Welcome to March Madness

By Kit Carlson

"We want tacos! We want tacos!"

The score in the Breslin Center is Michigan State 68, Indiana 53. At 70 points, ticket holders can receive a free taco from Taco Bell after the game. The Izzone, MSU's vaunted student section (named for coach Tom Izzo), is hopping up and down, roaring. The ball slips home, the score shoots to 70, and the place explodes from floor to rafters.

Tacos achieved, the Izzone gets back to the business at hand: a highly choreographed series of actions, cheers and songs that remind me not so much of my past life in college fandom (In my day, we wore what we wanted, yelled what we wanted, and plastered our venues with rude signs. Those days are done.) as it does my past experiences in cathedral liturgies. Something like the Presiding Bishop's installation, for example, where each moment requires a specific gesture, song or prayer, done with grandeur and at top volume.

College sports are fun, exciting, adrenaline-producing spectacles. They also create ample opportunities for breaking Commandment Number One: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. The gods of college sports, be they the God of Football, the God of Hockey, or omigod, the God of Basketball, seem to demand ever-grander displays of devotion from their faithful followers.

When students enter the Breslin Center, they are vested in white Izzone t-shirts. You must wear a white Izzone t-shirt if you want to sit in your prized courtside student section. Postulants for the Izzone (freshmen!) must also vest in white Izzone t-shirts, even though THEIR section is up in the corner of the roof. If they are good postulants, they may get tickets in the courtside section the next year.

Upon entering the Izzone, each seat has a service leaflet which outlines the game ahead, the teams' strengths and weaknesses, and which players to keep your eye on. The back of the leaflet has rubrics describing how the section is to conduct itself during the introduction of players, how it is to count down the shot clock in order to confuse the visiting team, and which way it is to wave its arms if seated behind the baskets when opponents step up to the free throw line.

Like any worshippers experienced in the liturgy of the season, Izzone members know all the hymns by heart -- The MSU Fight Song prominent among them. They know all the congregational prayers, from "We want tacos!" to "I-Z-Z-O" to "Who's Your Daddy?" They even know liturgical dance -- they hop up and down, roaring maniacally when the opponent has possession, then maintain holy silence when their man is at the free throw line.

The God of Basketball seems to have been propitated by the Izzone's devotion -- the Spartans were undefeated in Breslin all season long. The business of commandment breaking, I'll leave to their own consciences.

As March Madness comes upon us, one might debate who has the greatest liturgical power in basketball: MSU's Izzone or Duke's Cameron Crazies, or the Den at UCLA. But there is no debate -- and I never want to hear again that old canard -- that modern-day young people would be confused and put off by our Episcopal liturgies. Just get them inside. They'll know what to do. I can hear them now ...

We want wafers! We want wafers!

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.

Pilgrimages among the impoverished

By Martin L. Smith

One of the most popular expressions of outreach in Episcopal parishes takes the form of group travel to offer practical service to distant communities. The needs of communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina have called forth hundreds of such expeditions, and groups from our diocese alone are traveling all over the world.

Many of these expeditions link Christian communities, but the phenomenon is far wider than the churches. Thousands of people take part in projects such as those organized by Habitat for Humanity without any explicitly religious motivation. Nevertheless, this burgeoning of altruistic travel seems like a mutation of the ancient phenomenon of pilgrimage. Human beings from time immemorial have gone to great lengths to reach remote destinations in the quest of meaning. Our groups that set out to work for struggling communities, usually of the poor, are finding more meaning in their expeditions than merely the satisfaction that comes with being helpful.

Some of this surplus of meaning lies in the fact that in our socially stratified society middle class folk may never get the opportunity to make contact with the poor except through a mission trip. Maybe participants are being spurred not only by generosity but also a quest to find out what meaning people enjoy while living with a range of physical hardships and discomforts that our North American society is obsessed with eliminating. Many people return from their pilgrimages to Central American villages with compelling questions such as: How come that people who live with such physical discomforts seem far happier and contented, more trusting and hospitable than we are, who are so cocooned and protected?

The question calls to mind Henry Miller’s book about American culture, The Air Conditioned Nightmare. The title refers to our passion for controlling the environment through technology in order to insulate us from direct experience of the world around us. We have come to demand the right to determine the exact temperature of our homes and offices year round by the flick of a switch. Sixty years after Miller’s diatribe, our cult of technology and our worship of physical comfort is steadily intensifying as computers enable us to weave electronically controlled cocoons around us that we can fine-tune with the touch of a remote.

The nightmare consists in the disappointment that dogs so much apparent ‘progress.’ Does this ever increasing physical comfort generate any more joy or even alleviate anxiety? Does this compulsive concern with comfort and control achieve result in any healing or enhancing of our inner worlds? Our hearts remain recalcitrantly unstable and turbulent. Doesn’t all this self-coddling that almost abolishes physical exertion and muffles the impact of the natural seasons actually exaggerate our personal unease, making it seem gratuitous and intolerable? No one can invent a remote to enable us to bring our feelings into comfortable equilibrium. What we can control seems to throw into relief what stays beyond our control, the pervasive stress and anxiety that drugs can only medicate and hectically stimulating electronic entertainments merely repress.

Our people often come back from enjoying the simple hospitality of poor communities feeling that they gained more from their pilgrimage than they gave. The poor have something we are losing or have lost and their mission to us may be more important in the long run than the help we can give them. Where lies the secret of the hospitable and joyful life? What forms of simplicity, vulnerability and direct exposure to the natural world belong to our very humanity, that we lose at our peril?

We can’t answer these questions in a fog of romanticism. There is nothing blessed about dysentery, foul water, bad roofs, lack of schooling. There are fundamental human needs we must struggle to make sure are met everywhere. But there is nothing blessed either about our hyper-consumerist world that has enthroned comfort as its highest value and is obsessed with our technological ability to neutralize the reality of the natural world to which in reality we belong as creatures.

I wonder whether our local churches are up to the task of exploring these questions in depth. In the beatitudes, In the Beatitudes, Jesus prophetically congratulated the poor who keep faith with God, proclaiming that God intends the meek to inherit the earth. What they have and who they are is what God desires to establish across the globe. It is interesting that so many liberal Christians who pin their faith on Jesus’ teaching rather than classic Christian doctrine baulk when asked, “Do you long for the day when the meek inherit the earth?” (Congratulations to the honest Episcopalian whom I heard replying, “No, they wouldn’t know what to do with it!”) What have the poor got that we are losing, and that God our Creator supremely values and wants to have permanently established worldwide?

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

Churchspeak

By Melody Shobe

There is no question about it; the Episcopal Church has a “lingo.” We have almost as many acronyms as the United States government, from LEM (Lay Eucharistic Minister) to EYC (Episcopal Youth Community). We like to give perfectly ordinary things new and complicated names. The church’s lobby becomes the “narthex.” An ordinary plate, when it is put on the altar, becomes a “paten.” And, let’s be honest, our liturgy has the tendency to get fairly wordy. I doubt that most college graduates could explicate the phrase from our Eucharistic liturgy “…who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…” I have trouble on Sundays reading it aloud without garbling the words, let alone attempting to break apart the syntax and meaning. In fact, we have so many special words and terms that Don Armentrout and Robert Slocum have published a 578-page book of them: An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians.

There is a part of me that worries about the impact of all of these words and terms on our identity as a church. Is it helpful to tell a newcomer to the church that there is coffee in the narthex, if they don’t know what a narthex is? Our church websites and printed mission statements may proclaim that we are an “open community” that we “welcome all” or that we “reach out” to those outside our walls, but is that reflected in our language? What does is say about our church that you might need a 578 page dictionary to understand what goes on during worship? How many of the people in our pews week in and week out actually understand many of the words we are using?

These are important questions that remind us of the need to continually reexamine our words, and see which of them are inviting and which are exclusionary. And yet, while I wonder about the impact our sometimes obtuse language might have on visitors, I also have a deep attachment to our exalted language and wordy liturgy. I am, without question, a word person. I love the way that some of the beautiful words of our liturgy embrace mystery and poetry. The words of this church, for all the baggage that they might carry, are a vehicle through which I experience the holy. Somehow, if I let them, words like “salvation,” “incarnation,” “grace,” and “hospitality” speak a truth of my soul that can’t be captured any other way. As Kathleen Norris said in her book Amazing Grace, “our words are wiser than we are.”

Words are not idle things, especially not in Christianity. We believe in a God who came to us as “the Word made flesh;” a God who empowers and indwells the words that we use in ways beyond our comprehension. And thus I think that the answer to our vocabulary difficulty is not to eschew the words of our faith that are difficult or confusing, but to explore them. As individuals and as a community, we need to take the time to sink in to our words, to see what they say for and about us.

The Rev. Melody Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

A rediscovery of love

By Derek Olsen

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I wasn’t focusing on the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy as closely as I could have. Rather, I was trying to keep an energetic toddler from bouncing up and down the aisles of the cathedral, shrieking joyfully, at one of the more somber moments of the Christian year. We returned to the narthex after the imposition of ashes to color and have snacks. Then, after her sister and I joined in the Eucharistic prayer from there, we once again braved the central aisle, the sisters walking hand-in-hand. The smaller one was awed by the approach to the high altar where we communed, but the moment passed and we beat a hasty retreat to the parking lot before more gleeful yelps sounded, trailing collects as we went. With that, my Lent was off to a distracted start.

The whole family rose early on the morning of the First Sunday in Lent for we were all trekking out to the western edge of the diocese to hear my wife chant the Great Litany at her parish, one of our favorite Lenten traditions. My right foot hurt; I figured I’d kicked something in a nocturnal ramble. By Sunday evening, my foot was swollen a bit and there was a short dark mark on one edge I thought might be a bruise or a blood blister. Rising in the night for a drink, I found my foot would no longer support my weight. The next morning, my wife noticed that my foot had swollen to an angry red and was marked by a rash that headed up my leg. By the time we were seen at the urgent care clinic, the rash was up both legs. By the time I left the clinic by ambulance, the rash had spread to my chest and back, and my body was in sepsis—toxic shock—giving me a roughly 50-50 chance of survival.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The season of Lent calls us to do something that none of us likes to do willingly—to consider the fact of our mortality. Humans have never liked considering it, and I believe that modern American culture has taken this avoidance to a whole new level, insulating us whenever possible from the realities of life and death. St. Benedict’s monastic culture took the opposite approach and, as one of the ramifications of the monastic life as a perpetual Lent, Benedict exhorted his monastics to keep death daily before their eyes.

Me, I’m not so good at that. I find I prefer to focus on the acknowledgment and amendment of my sins in Lent and let the mortality issue slide. But this year, that was not an option: what I had mistaken for a minor foot trauma had been the bite of a poisonous brown recluse spider that had injected an aggressive bacterial infection into my bloodstream. I had not yet taken up the Lenten call to contemplate my death when I found myself staring into its very face.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Two and a half days in the intensive care unit of the local hospital as they struggled to stabilize my vitals and hold down my soaring fever followed by another five days on a medical floor as I received course after course of antibiotics gave me some hard time to think about what I had been through and what it all meant. Of course, I have no pat answers—and would be concerned if I did—but do have a couple of initial thoughts and reflections.

Every time I think about what has happened, my initial response is gratitude: I’m grateful that I was the one in the house that the spider found. Had it been either of my daughters, the story would have been shorter, more tragic, ending with a too-small coffin and that archetypical affront to the natural order: parents burying their child. Too, had the creature found my petite wife with the proclivity to ignore injuries and ailments to the last possible moment, I fear the story might have ended with another grave. So I am grateful. For though still sick, I live—and so too does the rest of my family.

I think the most important thing my brush with death granted me was a rediscovery of love—in an entirely practical sense. Thanks to flexible daycare arrangements, an understanding rector willing to give my wife time to be with me, and a few local friends who could take the girls overnight, my wife and I were able to spend much of my time in the hospital together—and I found that a treasure beyond compare. Instead of the insidious cycles of sniping and second-guessing, competing demands of work, housework, child care, and personal time that inevitably build up over eight and a half years of marriage, we simply rejoiced in each other’s presence. In the death-shadowed room the scales fell from my eyes and I encountered again the woman I love. And I marvel at how easy it is for the daily grind to efface the important—the truth of that love—by means of the merely urgent. Is that not death-in-life? To be surrounded with the promise and potential of love yet to get so trapped in our own games that we refuse to see and experience it?

Death has taught me of life, and reminded me of the love that lies at the heart of life. Now, I find myself wondering, having once lost this simple insight, how not to lose it again. Perhaps keeping death daily before my eyes is not an exercise in morbidity but a reminder that everyday I have the opportunity to choose love over pettiness, strife, and selfishness. I resolve to heed the words of the Preacher: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life which God has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” (Eccl 9:9).

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

When I step outside of myself and examine my thoughts in connection with this brush with death, I find myself bemused. My encounter didn’t focus me on my sinfulness—although I’m certainly aware of that truth—nor on my immeasurable need for God’s grace—also entirely beyond dispute. Rather, I find that my experience with death has caused me to contemplate the importance of life and the simple joys that lie so close at hand—my wife, my daughters, and our wider family of friends. I am dust and I shall return to the dust. But for now, I am dust at dance within a shimmering, sunlit, cloud of dust, interacting with hundreds and thousands of other frail beings on the same trajectory as mine. St Augustine once reminded us that we are called to love all people but, since sheer volume makes the practical acts of love for all impossible, to care for those most closely bound to us by place, time, or opportunity. I have been reminded not to overlook those who dwell in the same house with me.

This Lent I continue to contemplate death and the facts of my own mortality. The spread of the infection into my bones reminds me that my apparent improvement may prove illusory and that I may again stare into death’s face sooner than I think. I continue to work on contemplating and getting in touch with my feelings surrounding these issues. But a primary task is to hold onto the gift that death has given me, the secret of her weakness, a weakness we shall celebrate come Easter: Love is stronger than death (Song 8:6) and the promise of the resurrection is that love, not death, will have the final word.

Derek Olsen is completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. His full-time calling of keeping up with two adorable preschool girls and his wife, a priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, is complicated by his day-jobs as a database programmer and an adjunct professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc. Haligweorc.

Speed, noise and Lent

By Peter Pearson

Over the last few days I have been one busy priest. The deanery in which I serve has held meetings for its delegates, for its priests and yesterday we had a liturgical workshop. I attended each of these along with leading the Sunday worship and vestry meeting at my parish, visiting some folks who can’t get out, doing some necessary paperwork, attending our mid-week evening prayer and discussion, connecting with the folks who were responsible for some of the parts of our Lenten observances, answering phone calls, meeting with my spiritual director, walking the dog, chatting with friends on the phone, attending my own 12-Step meeting schedule, talking to my sponsor, and hitting the gym when possible. (Please feel free to add the hyperventilating sound effects for added punch.)

Like you, I’m a busy Christian. For some reason, this morning I thought of Linus Mundy’s statement in his book A Retreat with Desert Mystics: Thirsting for the Reign of God about how the Desert Fathers and Mothers recognized that the greatest enemies of leading a spiritual life are: speed and noise. Perhaps I thought about it because this is the first day in a week that I haven’t over-booked, over-extended, over-done, and, as a result, I am completely over myself. I have no one to blame here; I ‘m nobody’s victim. It’s me. The problem is me.

Maybe this momentary slowing down began when I got home last evening and got a message about the lunar eclipse that was happening through the evening. I grabbed my binoculars, ones given to me by someone I love and admire who died last year, and went out to watch. Did you ever notice how s-l-o-w lunar eclipses are? It was especially apparent because it was pretty cold last night up here in Pennsylvania. Maybe it began when I built a fire in the wood stove and lay on the couch with my dog to warm up and found myself delighting in the dance of the flames. Maybe I helped it along when I turned the phone off before heading to bed so I would get a good night’s sleep. And maybe I am missing Lent along with lots of other wonderful moments in my life due to the rapid fire speed at which I live. Maybe I should slow down.

Along with all my business, I have loads of noise in my life too. First, there’s the cell phone and you already know how that goes. I can be reached anytime, anywhere, by anyone and it all seems urgent. When I am not on the phone, I am at the computer (like I am now) getting all the news and weather and commentary about all sorts of vital things. When I am in the car, I like to listen to public radio or books on tape so I can keep up with the whole Hillary vs. Obama thing and The New York Times’ picks of good books to read or listen to. Oddly, I don’t have a television and wear that fact as a badge of honor around my poor, unenlightened friends who watch mindless things like “Project Runway” and “Survivor” and talk about these programs like they’re important. Funny but I seldom realize how mindless my noise can be at times. Still, have you ever really listened to a deep, thick silence? I have and I loved it but somehow I forget that fact every time I reach for the phone, the radio, the ear phones, or the computer. I guess you could say there’s a great deal of noise in my life.

Reflecting on the amount of speed and noise in my life makes it apparent that I am not as attentive to my spiritual life as I sometimes think I am. Heck, I’m not even good at just being still and silent whether it’s a spiritual thing or not. I suppose I could go to town beating myself up for what I am NOT doing here but it just occurred to me that even the simple fact that I am attending to and reflecting on my need to slow down and be quiet is itself a beginning. Years ago my therapist said that, “Problems are seen leaving.” Let’s hope she’s right.

So, if you find that you can relate to my life, my insane addiction to speed and noise, perhaps you can just spend some time honestly looking at the truth of your life and see the insanity of it all. Breathe it in and sit quietly for a few moments. That’s a beginning.

Just breathe.

The Rev. Peter Pearson is priest in charge at Saint Philip’s Church in New Hope, Pa. He is a former Benedictine monk and icon painter.

Honoring Seabury-Western

By Steven Charleston

The recent announcement that Seabury-Western will cease its degree granting program caught many people by surprise. Once the news soaked in, it also brought many people to a quite place for pensive reflection on the state and future of seminary education in our church. In effect, in saying farewell to “Seabury” (at least in its traditional form) we are reminding ourselves that in today’s economic reality we can take nothing for granted.

Whether we like to think about it or not (and Deans have to think about it all the time) education is a business. As much as we talk about spiritual formation and academic rigor: the bottom line is that none of these things will occur if we can not pay for them. The demise of a fine school like Seabury-Western underlines that point. And to make matters harder, current economic predictions tell us that nearly 40% of existing seminaries will follow Seabury’s path in the near future.

For a small denomination like ours, the economic realities of supporting several schools, while students wrack up crippling debt even before they are deployed, should make planning for the economic strategy of education a priority. Currently, the Council of Deans, the Presiding Bishop, faculty and others are all engaged in a dialogue to chart a more comprehensive approach to leadership development through our seminary network. As those recommendations and daydreams make their way through channels, it would be wise for every concerned Episcopalian to become informed about the issues and, more importantly, actively engaged in helping develop solutions.

Out-sourcing the training of our own leadership, even if it saves money, is not a long term answer for the future of ECUSA. We need to build on the foundation of scholarship, critical inquiry, Anglican spirituality and pragmatic application that have been core to our intellectual history as a faith community. We need to preserve our unique identity and heritage. We need to do so by developing a new model for a national seminary system that allows each member school to be distinctive in what they offer, while integrated in how they are supported.

While we may be distracted by all of the politics swirling around Lambeth this summer, I hope that we do not forget to consider the experience of Seabury-Western and how it is a wake up call for us to be committed to theological education in this church. Our purpose is not nostalgia, a desire to keep traditional schools going no matter what, but rather mission, a need to adapt and grow. Seminaries are the canaries in the mine for ECUSA. They represent the cutting edge of our creativity, credibility and community. If our seminaries are showing signs of health, then so is the church. If not, then not.

I will miss Seabury-Western, as it once was. But if I want to honor this community, I should not forget what it always strove to do: give ECUSA the best leadership possible. That is the legacy we need to preserve, not just for the sake of a memory, but for the hope of a future.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church. He has written many articles on both Native American concerns and spirituality.

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