Mother in Heaven

By Luiz Coelho

A few months ago, after Evensong, I decided to do one of my “favorite” Sunday night activities – grocery shopping. There I was in one of Midtown Atlanta’s supermarkets strolling my buggy, drinking my latte and trying to get everything I needed as fast as I could. Until, at a certain moment, my eyes were attracted to a cute little girl, with a big smile and curly hair, who was fascinated with a basket full of multicolored tie-dye balls in front of her.

As I contemplated in awe the beauty of innocence, a horrifying thought suddenly came to my mind: “where are this girl's parents?” I was not the only one to wonder where they were; within seconds the little child also realized that she was alone in the midst of strangers. Immediately her smile was erased from her face, and my heart started aching as I heard her begin to yell desperately, “Mommy, Mommy!”

Thankfully, within seconds a young woman came from behind a pile of products and hugged the frightened girl. Everything was alright; Mommy was there. My heart settled in peace as that same wide smile that had first caught my attention came back to the child's face as she was embraced by the one who has loved her for her whole life. Since that Sunday night, I have not been able to erase that scene from my mind; and, the reason, I believe, is because through it God has been speaking to me.

That scene speaks a prophetic message to me and to all of us ‘adults’ that even when we pretend to believe we are strong and self-sufficient, we know deep down that we are as lonely, frighened, and vulnerable as that little lost girl. There are moments when we walk away from God and think we can live our lives apart from God; yet, even in those moments when we think we are capable of controling our own lives, our hearts are crying and we too are yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, where are you?”

It happened to me; I can still remember it vividly. I was serving in the Brazilain Army and was on a flight from Manaus, in the Amazon, to Brasília, in order to take part in a “War Games” symposium. I boarded the plane, confident in the power of humankind, knowing that it would arrive to its destination safely, since it was a safe aircraft and the weather was wonderful. That's not what happened, though. As the plane flew through the Amazon forest, it found itself being sucked by an unpredictable low-pressure zone, and went deeply into freefall. Passengers screamed; dishes, bags and even a baby were flying around us. A woman on my right side held my arm so tightly that it hurt. I knew that there was no way of surviving. Even if we landed in the forest, it would still be in the middle of nowhere and our chances of surviving in the wild were nearly impossible. At that moment, I knew that nothing that human beings had ever developed or created would be able to save me. All of the things in which I had placed my trust were powerless to help me. I was defenseless and scared.

And then I decided to pray. It was nothing more than a simple sentence: “God, into your hands I commend my life.” It was my first prayer in years, as I had given up on “church” and walked away from God. But, I can say those words were probably the deepest and truest ones my mouth had ever said. Only God knows why, but the plane shook hard, and found its track back on course. Everybody was safe again. Even the baby who was flying over our heads was rescued and restored to his mother. My life (and probably the other passengers' lives too) would never be the same, though.
I think most of us have been through similar situations. An accident, a disease, the death of a loved one – each of these moments, and other tragic moments like them, remind us that we are nothing but children running around carelessly, until we find ourselves apparently lost, and begin to scream for our parents. The pain of human impotence and the realization that we human beings are powerless towards such situations bring us the scariest, deepest fears. Even our Lord Jesus in the fulness of his human nature, felt the fear and pain of his abandonment and loneliness on the cross and he too screamed to God in agony.

The good news, however, is that it does not end there. We are not left in our despair, and neither was Our Lord Jesus. As we go through Eastertide, let us not forget that the greatest rescue took place in Jesus Christ's Resurrection. God did not forsake the forsaken One on the cross; God heard the cries of agony, and raised Jesus Christ on the third day. Christ is risen indeed, and the power of sin and death is no longer upon us. We, who were lost, are now found; as the mother was at there in the supermarket to rescue her child, so God is always present to rescue us to new life.

After that moment in the airplane, I knew there was someone who really cared about me. Soon, I began to view all of those Christian beliefs and Biblical stories that I had been taught in my youth and had cast aside as a set of irrational children's tales in a new light. I began to relaize that they meant something; and I rediscovered truths that I will never forget.
Throughout my life, I have seen the Risen Christ with his message of hope even in the midst of despair. He has been there through the prayers of friends, through the tears in the eyes of my family, through the intercession of his Blessed Mother, though hymns, icons and scripture verses... and in my heart, always giving me a reason to live and have hope that in the end, all will be well. I can not say my life is perfect, but I know, now, that I have a “mother in Heaven” who will always come to me with a healing embrace when I cry out in moments of despair.

Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being’, has always known us and loved us: because of this knowledge, through his marvellous and deep charity and with the unanimous consent of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.

It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace.

I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal.

With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning.

And all this we shall see it in God eternally.

Blessed Julian of Norwich

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 bonds of affection", and the wreck of the SS Tennessee

By Donald Schell

Like many Anglicans I’ve got the Windsor Report’s phrase, ‘Bonds of Affection’ rolling round in my head like a melody from the radio that won’t be dismissed. I think about affection and whether it makes relationship or just happens sometimes in it. What sense do we make of people who say affection is fleeting? Does good affection bind? That gets more wondering about choices and how we make them, and how bonds and choices live together. And that brings an old personal story to mind.

For eighteen months after she got her R.N. my wife Ellen worked nights caring for sleeping and sleepless patients at teaching hospital near our home. When she was on, I’d walk her over to the hospital, leaving our children sleeping for ten minutes. There had been some late night muggings in our neighborhood and I didn’t want her walking over alone. Ten minutes to eleven I’d steal a good-night kiss from my lovely nurse in uniform and walk home to sleep alone while she worked the shift that hospitals don’t call ‘graveyard.’ Next morning at 7:15 while I was making the kids’ breakfast, we’d listen for her key in the door and her weary "Good morning." Then it was breakfast together and, if it was a weekday, I’d deliver the children to school and child care while Ellen slept.

Regular weekdays I plunged into the priestly and missionary tasks I’d taken founding a new congregation from the ground up, leaving the house to Ellen as a temple of silence. With earplugs and a sleeping mask, she could sleep, more or less, and be ready to greet us in the late afternoon for tea and dinner together before my evening church meetings. Whenever Ellen had a week night off work, I’d take off the following day (with the children off at school) and we’d do something outdoors in the daylight (rain or shine) and enjoy lunch together.

On the weekends that Ellen worked, my task was to keep an intense three-year old son and our more contemplative seven-year old daughter happily occupied away from home so she could sleep. Wherever I took the children on Saturday, our company was divorced dads, men and their children haunting the hands-on Exploratorium, the zoo, the beach, the park. Ellen would make herself stay up for church if she’d worked Saturday night, so on Sundays, our outings were in the afternoon.

Night shift made Ellen’s weekends off important events to us. The Saturday I’m remembering we’d planned a hike and picnic to Tennessee Beach, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just north of San Francisco. It’s a beautiful place and the long gentle hike to Tennessee Beach was a favorite for us and the children.

I can’t remember how the morning went wrong except that something Ellen said as we were packing the picnic angered me. I made a tentative statement of what bugged me and why and quickly decided she wasn’t listening. So I decided to sit on my anger and say nothing about it. Of course, I was absolutely certain I was right, that Ellen was wrong, and furthermore that by not listening to me she essentially conceding that I was Right about The Very Important Point I Was Making. Happily casting myself as a righteous victim, I concluded that her evident wrong-headedness gave me no choice but to claim the intellectual and moral high ground and hold it in silence. I didn’t say, "Fine, have it your way," but I thought it.

However, not wanting to be a jerk, I decided to pity her for a long week of working nights, by doing my duty as a dad and father in every particular, being exquisitely nice and helpful as I did it. I agreed with absolutely everything she said, and I smiled a lot and kept busy. I felt Ellen picking up on my rage as we were walking from the ridge down to the beach where the Gold Rush era S.S. Tennessee was wrecked in 1853. My first indication was a look from her – angry, hurt, reproachful, and questioning all at once. The children seemed to be enjoying dad’s catering to them and had a great time. Since I wasn’t making conversation but only responding to Ellen’s or the children’s questions, I had some quiet time during the picnic to think about the early steamship whose wreck had given the beach its name.

Coming up from Panama finding the Golden Gate enshrouded in heavy fog, the Captain was counting on dead reckoning to establish his position. He knew there was land just to the north of him and thought he was entering into the Golden Gate to make anchor in San Francisco Bay, but the sound of waves breaking directly ahead told him his navigation calculations had been disastrously wrong. Through the mists a high cliff appeared, now directly astern. Turning the ship hard away from the cliff and driving the big steam-driven sidewheels full speed he struggled against waves and current and until he saw the other cliff that defined the little cove directly ahead. No way forward and no way back, each succeeding wave drove the ship closer to the beach until finally the sand caught it broadside. More than five hundred passengers and all the U.S. mail were successfully brought ashore. The Tennessee’s owners came out to find their ship beached, but still sound. Soon they had tugs and cables and workmen on the shore trying to re-float the ship, but a couple of days after the Tennessee was beached, a big storm blew in from the Pacific and fierce waves pounded it to pieces.

Three hours or so into my folly of forced niceness, fake smiles and cold helpfulness, I thought I was as trapped as the S.S. Tennessee had been, a nearly new ship, best technology of its era, now little left but rusty boilers buried beneath this beach. As the kids explored the quiet beach and played at the sea’s edge, Ellen asked what was going on. "Nothing," I insisted with all the warmth of an airline steward. Did I actually think I could fool her? Probably not. "Everything" was what I really meant, and she heard me.

We packed our picnic and hiked back to the car. I was impeccably helpful, showily available to the children, excruciatingly respectful and solicitous of my wife. And I knew as I did all this that I was trapped in my own folly and doing us serious damage. All the work of parenting had Ellen stranded too - baffled and frustrated with her incommunicative husband.

Finally, after a dinner at which I tried to channel Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver, and then cheerily took dish duty while Ellen put the children to bed, she came back to the kitchen, stood looking at me for a fierce, loving moment and said, "We don’t do it this way. Tell me what’s wrong."

Words of a response lined up in my head, ‘Well, this is how we do it now!’ but I hated those words and knew I’d regret them for ever, so I left them unspoken. She had me. I was immediately embarrassed to recognize that I’d long since lost track of the fine points from our morning’s conflict, but knowing I was as trapped as the captain of the doomed steamship, I welcomed her direct appeal to unbreakable bonds of affection. I’d never heard us say it before, but she was stating an immediately evident fact – we had tried to shape the course of our life together from a steady intention to grow in love and truth. She was offering us what the S.S. Tennessee could not find, a way forward.

I told her what remained from our conversation that morning, how I’d felt unheard and not taken seriously. She replied describing the scene I’d actually witnessed that morning – her very steady focus on all it took to get the picnic made and us out the door and in the car.

What generated the strain of that day was real bonds of affection we’d forged in the eight years before. I felt the painful bind with which wisdom and the force of my loving her cramped my self-righteousness. Like St. Paul in Acts (26:14) I was straining against the constraints of love. Real bonds of affection are like the muscles and sinews of our bodies, and like those living bonds, practicing relationship makes the bonds more flexible and effective through the strain of use.

Taking ‘bonds of affection’ seriously gives the lie to the old, neat distinction between agape and eros—Christian love and erotic love. Ellen was calling on our established practice of disciplined affection. Letting her touch me with that reminder validated our history together, good memories, and hopes we’d shaped over some years. Her demand rested in the delight in each other’s presence and voice and yes, in the flesh she knew I treasured. She was asking me to use the blessed, powerful bond we’d forged together to break the bind I’d created that morning. We needed to talk. She appealed to what we knew but had never declared before. This new phrase, "How we do it," refused to accept that there were any disagreements we couldn’t talk about.

I am grateful for every liberal and every conservative in our Anglican Communion who is saying now, "That’s not how we do it." With cliffs behind ahead of our ship, there’s no way forward in the righteous certainty than "I’m right" or "She’s wrong." Genuine bonds of affection demand what forged them, the commitment to keep talking, graceful conversation, through whatever conflict we face.

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.

Unknown Child

By Richard Helmer

While gathering paperwork to get our son registered for kindergarten a few weeks ago, I came across the hospital record of his birth in San Francisco. Beneath his gender designation, length, and weight at birth was his racial designation in big-block capitals:


It stopped me dead in my tracks. Our son, born in 2003, holds immediate claims to two heritages: American and Japanese. Had his mother been, say, French or Swedish, he would have easily been classified as White or Caucasian. Had his mother been African American, chances are he would have been classified as Black. But because his mother is Japanese, and I am of European – mostly English – ancestry, Daniel is a mystery, an unknown quantity in the slippery pseudo-science of race and identity.

Part of me rejoices that he defies standard classification. Part of me worries that his heritage falls into that nebulous, but ever-growing population of children born of marriages that transcend the boundaries of nation and race; children who get a second glance on the street as a rude question bounces around the conventional mind. It’s a question best summed up in the title of a work by author Pearl Fuyo Gaskins: What are you?

“UNKNOWN,” its big, black-on-white, block capitals seemed to also carry with it a mild insult. Marrying across racial boundaries and then having children continues to trip up the legal system in its categorizations, even in an avowedly liberal city like San Francisco. As I prepared Daniel’s kindergarten registration, I was reminded that we are still less than half a century beyond the day when anti-miscegenation laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. And still only decades from an era when I might have been shipped off to an internment camp with my wife for simply living and loving in the wrong place at the wrong time, for being wed on the wrong side of the war.

In its infinite wisdom, the government now offers a new racial category to the list of choices, and I don’t mean that bland Other ____________. (Please fill in the blank.) It’s "Mixed," which brings to mind the ways Daniel can at times look white and at other times, Asian. Which stereo-typed feature shall we pick? The brown eyes and dark hair or the fair skin? The long fingers or the round face? Will he “pass” as a white person when he needs to, or is he Asian enough to go unnoticed in Japan? Or perhaps he simply fits into the relatively new classification of happa, a term that denotes someone born of one Asian and one non-Asian parent. But even happa says very little. Once considered derogatory, the word is derived from the Hawaiian hapa-haole, which simply means, “half white.” But no Solomon could ever determine which half of Daniel is which.

Mixed belies the deeper truth about our common heritage. Daniel might be mixed but he works: he’s healthy, happy, and behaves like most four-year-old boys do, taking over space in all the lives he meets with his boundless energy. Mixed at one time in the Judeo-Christian tradition implied something or someone impure, less than fully functional, whole, or worthy. The truth is, we are all Mixed if you dig back in our genetic history very far. Our wholeness is deeply rooted in our unity as people made in God’s image, and a shared genetic history that is only several tens of thousands of years old. Our racial categories are very late to arrive on the scene. We have in each of us the biological essence of what it is to be European, African, Asian, Latino, Aborigine, Indian, Native American. . .and the capacity to see the face of Christ in one another and the Body of Christ revealed in one another’s cultural heritage.

It’s also in this way that we are all Unknown.

Unknown like the first-born child of young woman and her carpenter husband two millennia ago. Unknown to the world, born in a stable in a backwater town far from the seats of power and empire. Unknown, yet Mixed, says our tradition – of divine and human origin, but not happa; rather 100% each in the theological math that never seems to add up. Instead, it plunges us into the mystery of a God who touches every piece of us, giving new meaning to that line from the Creed that reminds us that ours is the God of the “seen and unseen,” or in that line from the confession, the Redeemer of the “known and unknown.”

Unknown like every child is born – children who must be named and must receive a social identity from those who care for them. Unknown even then, as they must ultimately find themselves and grow into the gifts they have received. Gifts that came from the only One who truly knows each of us when the stardust comes together in a new way, the genes play mix and match, cells divide, and a new heart begins to beat.

So perhaps Unknown is a good category for a child who is a mystery as much as any of us. Our two-dimensional racial categories pretend to know a person, saddle us with an identity that may or may not fit, pigeon-hole us without regard to our unique natures as children of God. The racial categories, while they might remain useful to track our slow institutional progress in honoring the dignity of all, ultimately reveal the hand of human hubris at work in God’s Creation.

Maybe one day, Daniel will recognize Unknown not as a slap for those who fall in the arbitrary fault-lines of race and culture, but a true freedom to become who God made him to be.

All I can do is keep vigil, pray, and wonder, and reflect on my son’s Unknown-ness – that which has yet to be revealed.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer, a priest, pianist, and writer, serves as rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. He has served in interfaith, ecumenical, diocesan, and national church organizations, including Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries. His sermons have been published at Sermons that Work, and he blogs regularly about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, and church politics at Caught by the Light.

On being an ally

By Ann Fontaine

Last year I updated my anti-racism training as required of lay and clergy leaders in the Diocese of Wyoming. As part of our training we pledged to work against racism in our churches and communities. Since I am white I wondered how I can fulfill that pledge as an ally with those who experience racism because of skin color and/or ethnic group. It is the same question I have when working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) brothers and sisters.

Reflecting on the struggle by women for equality in church and community, I know there is more to working as an ally than just being helpful and nice. An ally is one who works with others to attain their goals. An ally does not just stand beside one, but also “has one’s back,” offering to watch out for unseen dangers. I know from my own place of needing allies that it needs to be done with respect and consultation. Ask for information and guidance from those with whom one wishes to be an ally instead of assuming one knows best for the other.

Some questions to consider in ally work:

Are there ways that being a white person who is an ally to other racial communities, being a man who is an ally to women, being straight and an ally to lgbt persons, and being non-transgender and an ally to transgender people are similar? Different?

If we are members of marginalized groups what do we look for in non-members who want to be allies?

Are allies helpful or harmful to progress? Is it something in between?

The author, James Baldwin spoke about the danger of allies with savior complexes. Have any of us had experiences with allies who thought of their role in that way? Have we fallen into that mode of acting ourselves?

Working as an ally is often difficult. The story of the Good Samaritan shows how easy it is just to walk on by and not get involved. During Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s people who were allies suffered physical harm and death. In South Africa, white women who belonged to the Black Sash movement and who demonstrated against the white apartheid laws and assisted people negotiating the difficulties of the “pass” laws were shunned by their white friends. Those who ally with people who are transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual for civil rights are attacked with name-calling and worse. Those who work as allies are often marginalized along with those with whom they ally. Allies can find themselves on the outside of both the dominant group and the marginalized group. It can be a lonely place unless there are other allies with whom one can work and talk.

The reward of justice and space for all to live into the fullness of their creation is worth the difficulties but it is important not to underestimate what might happen as well as one’s own ability to fail at the task.

A possible Code for Allies might be:

We listen to those with whom we work without judging the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of the members of the marginalized group, even when the words feel accusatory towards us. These perspectives, experiences and feelings reveal what we do not know about those with whom we seek to become allies.

We seek to learn from those with whom we ally in order to educate ourselves and others about the culture and concerns of those with whom we are allied. We examine our fears of “the other. We recognize the interconnectedness of “isms” and other examples of individual and societal prejudice.

We understand the commonalities and the differences among the various expressions of prejudice and isolation of groups.

We identify and work to change our prejudicial beliefs and actions as well as to change the beliefs and actions of others, both individual and institutional.

We build relationships with other discredited, marginalized, oppressed, non-privileged groups.

We work for the equalizing and responsible use of power and authority.

We advocate for policies and activities that support those affected by injustice.

We use appropriate language.

We confront inappropriate language.

We ask questions rather than assume we know the answer.

We take risks.

We appreciate the efforts by members of our ally group to point out our mistakes.

We combat the harassment, discrimination, and physical assault that marginalized groups experience in our society by speaking out, by our presence and by working to change the systems that continue oppression and give one group privilege over another.

We appreciate the risks taken by our allies for their own freedom.

We recognize that groups need to work on their own and with others – even when that means we may be left out of the discussion and work.

We support other allies.

We act as allies with no conditions attached.

What should be done as an ally if one thinks a chosen course of action is unwise or will not work as planned? One option is to ask how the strategy was developed and what it seeks to accomplish. This helps to open up the conversation and perhaps give an opportunity to express questions. Giving support does not require blind obedience, but if the group decides this is the right way to proceed then an ally needs to choose whether to participate or not. An ally who undermines the group is worse than those who are not allies.

In the end it is worth asking why one might wish to be an ally? Why does one think it will be helpful? Is anyone asking for help? Examining motives helps to keep one from falling into savior roles or trying to get needs met at the expense of others.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often quoted Theodore Parker saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." If we are to be part of this moral universe becoming an ally helps bend the arc.

In our baptismal covenant we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. These promises are a foundation for the work of becoming an ally.

We become allies as followers of Christ, who commands us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The work is for us and our souls as well as for the healing of our communities and the world.

(My thanks to Lelanda Lee, Michael Music, James Toy, the blog Bilerico, Kay Flores, Kristin Fontaine, and Laurie Gudim for their help with this article.)

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, of the 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.

A blessing from the blest

By Melody Wilson Shobe

One of the highlights of my job as assistant rector is the work that I am privileged to do with our church day school. Each week I work together with the lay chaplain to conduct two chapel services, one for the Pre-K and Kindergarten students, and another for the 1st through 5th grade students. Chapel is always an adventure and a joy. With the older students, we follow the service of Morning Prayer from the Prayer Book. With the younger students, we follow the outline of Morning Prayer, but the words are greatly simplified so that small children can memorize them. In lieu of the entire Apostle’s Creed, we recite a children’s creed:

“I believe in God above.
I believe in Jesus’ love.
I believe the Spirit, too,
comes to teach me what to do.
I believe that I can be kind and loving,
Lord like Thee.”

We dance to funny songs, and we pray very heartfelt prayers. When I ask a question in my sermon, no matter what the question is, at least one child shouts out: “Jesus!” “What was the bread that God gave the Israelites in the desert called?” I ask. The answer comes back quickly and forcefully “Jesus!” Not quite what I was looking for, but a great answer all the same. I tell them about manna, but make a point to connect it to Jesus and the Eucharist as well. I find myself leaving school chapel each week with a smile on my face and a lighter heart; it is a truly uplifting experience.

Last week, I had a particularly meaningful “chapel moment.” At the end of the service I stood and turned to the children to offer the blessing. As I said the words and moved my hand in the familiar shape of the cross, something caught my eye. One of the first grade boys seated in the second row was moving his arm with mine. His face was scrunched in concentration, his little fingers shaped just as mine were, his arm also tracing the shape of the cross through the air. He was mimicking me. I’m not sure if he thought he was supposed to mimic my motions, like we do when we sing together, or if he was just being playful. Regardless of why he did so, as I was blessing him, he was blessing me.

In the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob tricks his father into giving him his brother’s blessing, the blessing that is traditionally reserved for the first-born son. Now, the authors of the Bible want you to prefer Jacob to Esau. After all, Jacob is Israel, the one on whom the rest of the Hebrew Bible will be built. So Esau is described as unrefined, both in appearance and manners. And yet, when I read the story, it is Esau who I identify with, Esau who I am pulling for. Because his response when he hears of what Jacob has done is heartbreaking. “When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst into wild and bitter sobbing, and said to his father, ‘Bless me too, Father!’… ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’(Genesis 27.34, 36b) Isaac tries to explain, but again Esau cries out, ‘Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!’ And Esau wept aloud.” (Genesis 27.38) When I read it, the exchange almost brings me to tears. You can hear the pain and confusion in Esau’s voice. He wants a blessing more than anything else in the world, and somehow there is not enough blessing to go around.

As a priest, I am more used to doing the blessing than I am to being blessed. I haven’t been doing this that long, but already I have all but forgotten what it feels like to have the beautiful words of blessing spoken over me rather than by me. I think that sometimes, without meaning to, I feel like Esau felt in Genesis. I want a blessing more than anything else in the world; I yearn for it. But somehow I just miss the blessing. I don’t feel it. So when that little boy in chapel raised his hand and, without even fully knowing what he was doing, made the sign of the cross, I felt blessed perhaps more powerfully than ever before. What I had forgotten was that the act of blessing is not something I do, with my rehearsed motions and scripted words. It is something that God does to and through me.

Blessing doesn’t come in limited quantities, as Jacob and Esau thought. Nor is there just one blessing to be given and one person who blesses. What I learned from that little boy in chapel is that blessing is a two-way street. I can bless someone in God’s name, and I can receive a blessing at the very same time. When I, like Esau, cry out, “Have you but one blessing, Father?” God’s answer is clear: “No.” When I ask, with all my heart, “Bless me too, Father!” The blessing will come. Maybe in an unexpected way from an unexpected person. But it will be a blessing all the same.

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.

Against capital punishment

By George Clifford

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, in his majority opinion in Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, the recent Kentucky death penalty case challenging the constitutionality of execution by lethal injustice, wrote:

Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of ‘objectively intolerable risk of harm’ that qualifies as cruel and unusual [under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment].

A premise underlying Roberts’ comment – that the death penalty is not a kind, gentle act – seems commonsensical to me. Unfortunately, modern culture often lacks an adequate supply of the precious commodity we call commonsense. Why would anyone think that capital punishment, however administered, is not painful?

Societies impose the death penalty on convicted criminals for three reasons. First, a society may intend the death penalty to deter people from committing crime. Deterrence obviously proved ineffective with respect to the criminal justly convicted of a crime. Both death penalty proponents and opponents point to research that supposedly supports their argument that the death penalty deters, or does not deter, crime. From my ethical perspective, the research is irrelevant. My ethical problem with justifying the execution of one individual to deter other persons from committing crimes is that this reduces the one executed to a means to an end, thereby denying that person’s inherent dignity and worth as a child of God. Christians should never view a person as simply an instrument for achieving a goal, no matter how laudable the goal. The Gospel of Luke’s account of the crucifixion portrays Jesus assuring one of the criminals crucified with Jesus that the two of them, that very day, will be together in Paradise (23:39-43). Jesus clearly regarded the criminals crucified with him, who both acknowledged their guilt, as persons worthy of dignity and respect in spite of their crimes. In Luke’s narrative, one criminal experiences transformation, the other does not.

Admittedly, Scripture’s witness on the issue of deterrence, like the research on deterrence, is inconsistent. Some Biblical passages recognize the value of deterrence:

• “Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.” - Deuteronomy 13:10-11 • “All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.” - Deuteronomy 17:13 • “The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you.” - Deuteronomy 19:20

Other passages suggest that retribution belongs to God, undercutting the rationale for deterrence:

• “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people…” - Leviticus 19:18 • “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” - Romans 12:19 • For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’” - Hebrews 10:30

I discuss retribution, the third rationale for the death penalty, below. Suffice it to say, the Deuteronomic passages supporting deterrence reflect a more rigid legalism and less robust understanding of personhood than I find in Leviticus and the New Testament. These latter passages point to a developing awareness of the demands of loving as God loves. Not surprisingly, the Baylor Institute of Religion survey, American Piety in the 21st Century, published in September 2006, confirmed that individuals who have an authoritarian image of God are more likely to support the death penalty than individuals who have a benevolent image of God.

Second, society may impose the death penalty intending to prevent a person convicted of a serious crime from further harming anyone else. As a Christian, I have two ethical problems with this rationale. Capital punishment is a final solution that allows no second chance. What if new evidence becomes available that the person executed was, in fact, innocent? Worse yet, what if the executed person is innocent but nobody ever finds the exculpatory evidence? At least in the first instance, society can release and compensate the convicted person discovered to be innocent. No evidentiary standard, no matter how high it is set, can guarantee that absolutely everyone given the death penalty is in fact guilty.

Even more morally troubling to me, the death penalty makes a large number of people – legislators, police, judges, lawyers, jurors, prison officials – complicit in the death of each person executed. William J. Wiseman, Jr. was a member of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives from 1974 to 1980. He admits that for six years his highest priority, like that of every legislator he has ever known, was retaining his seat. Everything else was in a different category of regard and concern. Philadelphia Quakers had educated Wiseman and he opposed the death penalty. He believed that at best it was unjustified and at worst was immoral.

When a bill came before the legislature to re-write Oklahoma’s death penalty law, Wiseman found himself in a difficult position. Ninety percent of his district, as measured by a poll that he had commissioned, supported the death penalty. He was afraid that if he voted against the death penalty he would not be re-elected. Wiseman attempted to rationalize supporting the death penalty by seeking a more humane means of execution. Working with the state medical examiner, who sought out Wiseman after learning of Wiseman’s quest for a more humane method of execution, they drafted what became the nation’s first legislation authorizing capital punishment by lethal injection. Over thirty states have copied that groundbreaking legislation.

Today, William Wiseman lives with the knowledge, the guilt, that he is morally responsible for the execution of many criminals. He sacrificed his principles for political expediency. (William J. Wiseman, “Inventing lethal injection,” The Christian Century, 20-27 June 2001, pp. 6-7) I do not believe that I have the moral right to ask others to kill another person to prevent that person from committing additional crimes when at least one viable alternative exists, e.g., life in prison without parole. This belief mirrors Christian Just War Theory, which requires any potential war to satisfy a number of criteria, one of which is that war is truly the last resort, before waging war with the attendant use of lethal force is morally justifiable.

Third, society may impose the death penalty as retribution against the criminal for the crime committed. The gospels report in several places that Jesus taught his disciples, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31). Jesus’ teaching echoes the Torah (Leviticus 19:18) and the New Testament repeats it several times (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Pretending that Jesus thought that anyone involved in imposing the death sentence on him or in executing him acted out of love for him mocks the brutally cruel reality of his crucifixion. Similarly, no amount of thought or imagining allows me to construe legally executing a convicted criminal as loving that person.

Some death penalty proponents argue that executing the guilty individual somehow expiates, atones for, makes amends, or compensate the victim or victim’s loved ones. Executing the guilty, from this perspective, becomes an act of justice, if not love, for the victim or victim’s loved ones. This entails, as with the first rationale for the death penalty, reducing the executed to a means to an end. In other words, the way to set the first wrong – the crime(s) that led to the imposition of the death penalty – right is a second wrong – the dehumanization of the criminal. Two wrongs never make a right.

Capital punishment is obviously painful. Its principal pain stems not from the method of execution, no matter how agonizing. Prematurely extinguishing a human life causes the real anguish of capital punishment. The executed criminal experiences that pain most intensely. The rest of us are diminished by the loss of a brother or sister and because we ourselves become a little less human every time our society executes one of its members. The time has come to declare loudly, emphatically, and decisively through our political process that capital punishment is inimical with whom we believe God has called us to become. Capital punishment should end, regardless of constitutional issues, because capital punishment is morally wrong.

The Rev. George Clifford, a retired priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years.

How the President (and the press) misinterpreted the Pope

By W. Nicholas Knisely

Pope Benedict has just finished his first visit (as Pope) to the United States. It’s not surprising that many of his statements tended to confuse the people covering the event. The Pope, a former theology professor, shares a trait with the present Archbishop of Canterbury; he speaks in paragraphs, not in sound bites. (And he won’t simplify concepts so that they are easily digestible by the evening newsreaders.) But it wasn’t something that the Pope said, it was something that our President claimed the Pope had said that sent me off on a week’s worth of research and thinking. During a television interview on the eve of the visit, the President expressed his gratitude for the Pope’s teaching that "there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of un-dermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies." The President’s statement elicited a flurry of articles and online conversations about how relativism might actually achieve the destruction of society. But the problem is, near as I can tell, the President got the Pope’s thinking just about dead wrong.

I was particularly interested in the question of the proper role of relativism because of my training prior to studying for the priesthood. Part of my studies were spent in theoretical physics (in a small branch of general relativity theory actually) and I’ve been teaching a course on the philosophy of physics for the past six years or so. As part of all that I’ve been digging into the philosophical underpinnings of both classical and quantum physics and trying to see how we might connect the work being done there with the way we as a Church talk about God (literally: Theology).

One of the most important breakthroughs in classical physics in the past century came about as a result of Albert Einstein’s willingness to take the philosophical ideas of Ernst Mach seriously. Mach argued, in effect, that “reality” was ultimately determined by a person’s own observations. Einstein used the idea to construct his postulate of relativity which states that one reference frame’s observation is equally true as another’s even if they contradict, because the laws of physics must be the same for all. There are a couple of shelves worth of books involved in unpacking the statement, but the upshot is that no one observer can really claim priority over another one, even if they contradict each other. In effect, each person’s experience of the world around them is equally valid to another’s. While this was not a universally accepted idea in physics until the second half of the twentieth century (Hitler and Stalin claimed the idea that there was no absolute truth in Science to be preposterous and a result of deviant and Jewish thinking) the concept was repeatedly confirmed in experiment after experiment and is now broadly accepted in the physical sciences.

But a deeper question remains. Given that relativity is experimentally verified in the physical world, how should it be used in the realm of ideas? Do we want to argue that because relativity is a characteristic of physical reality, that it must also be a characteristic of morality? Should it be a fundamental characteristic of theology as well? (If that’s true, then much of the scholasticism of Reformation and Counterreformation theology is automatically overturned.) Benedict, back when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, tried to answer these questions. There’s a lovely summary of his thinking available online titled “Relativism, The Central Problem for Faith Today” that walks us through his objections. Apparently the President’s people based the President’s remarks on the title of the essay and not the actual text.

Pope Benedict’s critique of relativism shows that he’s not simply rejecting relativity in a sort of modern versus post-modern reactionary way as the President’s words seem to imply. What the Pope does instead is to look carefully at how various theologians have used relativistic and subjectivist philosophical systems. His critique centers on the observation that the move to reject the very existence of absolutes takes us to a place we don’t want to go. (It essentially forces us to reject any special quality to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.) But Benedict recognizes the possibility that while ultimate truth exists, it is unknowable by human beings except in approximation.

Painting with a very broad brush, in technical terms the Pope is arguing that Positivism cannot be proven and is even poisonous to theology, and he’s willing at least to enter-tain the principles of PostPositivism (and some of its specific children) as a way of continuing a conversation between science, theology and philosophy. I don’t have space in this essay to unpack fully the meaning of each of the terms above, but a little googling and an afternoon’s worth of reading and all will become moderately clear.

The Pope thus is landing in the same place where most scientists are these days, in post-positivism. Post-positivists admit the impossibility of being able to make statements of fact in an absolutely true way, but still attempt to express truth in a way that is “good enough” for a given purpose. These good-enough expressions come with the caveat that they might be different (pluriform) in different contexts. Post-positivism instead cautions that all attempts to describe truth are ultimately limited and incomplete, but that the attempt should be made. It is not the same as the idea of philosophical relativity which says that there is no unique truth at all, and all claims to truth are equally valid. It’s an important distinction because the implications of a fully relativistic world view take us down roads we know from experience we should not travel.

But keep in mind that while Benedict cautions against the implications of relativism, he doesn’t attempt to solve the problem the way the President’s quote would implies. He does not embrace absolutism as a corrective to the dangers of relativism. Here is Benedict’s key point on the subject in the essay I reference above: “I am of the opinion that neo-Scholastic rationalism failed which, with reason totally in-dependent from the faith, tried to reconstruct the pre-ambula fidei with pure rational cer-tainty.” Benedict goes on to argue that truth can only be approached by means of a path that uses faith and philosophy in a respectful dialogue and that attempting to rely on one or the other is to make a fundamental mistake.

Why does this matter? Look how badly the majority of people have understood the point that the Pope was making. In effect they are force-fitting what he did say into a structure of modernity that they want him to support even while he is explicitly rejecting it. Why do they do this? The idea that there are no fully knowable moral absolutes is not easily accepted by most people. If science and philosophy won’t give us the absolutes we desire then we turn to religion for them, as is what seems to have happened here. The problem is that the absolutes are not readily available in religion either, at least according to Benedict.

This missing of the point is just another example of how desperately people want neat and easy answers to complex and difficult questions. The President’s people got the Pope wrong. They did so because they wanted to be able to say that we are right and others are wrong. (The press got the Pope wrong because they apparently relied on the President’s writers to do their work for them.) But it’s not just the President’s speech writers who chase after the mirage of absolutes. We all want to know for certain what God wants us to do. The problem is that what we want and what the universe gives us are often different. To quote Westley in “The Princess Bride”, we must all “get used to disappointment.” Instead we need to recognize that the best we do is to muddle through, trying to do the best we can and trusting desperately in God’s mercy revealed to us in Jesus. Somehow I think free societies will manage to survive as well.

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

In Memoriam: Krister Stendahl

By Deirdre Good and Jane Redmont

Krister Stendahl, New Testament scholar, ecumenist, former Dean of Harvard Divinity School, Bishop in the Church of Sweden, advocate for women and lesbian and gay people, and pioneer in Jewish-Christian relations, died on Tuesday, April 15 in Boston. A memorial service for Bishop Stendahl will be held at Harvard’s Memorial Church on Friday, May 16 at 3:00 p.m.

At his core, Krister Stendahl was a priest. A reverent and exquisite presider, he celebrated a weekly Eucharist at Harvard Divinity School, early in the morning on a weekday, with a cluster of students and a handful of faculty and administrators whose affiliations ranged from Unitarian Universalist to Roman Catholic. He did this when he was Dean and again when he returned to the faculty after his time as Bishop of Stockholm, faithfully. He preached short, beautiful homilies, choosing his words well, always giving time to silence.

As Dean of HDS in the late 1960s and 1970s, Krister --most of us called him by his first name-- navigated a society, academy, and church in the throes of profound upheaval, the politics of Harvard, teaching, fund-raising, and leadership in the World Council of Churches. Yet it was his office we visited to talk about God. We were, of course, in awe of him --the Swedish accent, the fused spine, the slow, measured speech may have had something to do with that-- but drawn always by his kindness, his attention to each visitor, his discerning wisdom, and his palpable involvement with the Holy One of Blessing, who lives with us in the world and whose mysterious ways remain beyond those of our human minds and hearts. A man of solid ego and strong speech, he also knew the limits of the self. In his later years especially, he reflected on them with his customary blunt honesty and love of the Bible.

Krister's love of and skill with language translated into poetry as well as wit in the dialogue of daily life, in his practiced colloquialisms, in his sermons and lectures --and all this in English, his second language. He did not publish as many books as some of his learned colleagues, but when he did, his insights were memorable. Whether about the apostle Paul, the challenges of interreligious conversation, or the language of liturgy, they turned our thinking inside out and echoed down through the years. When Krister did not publish his words, we who were privileged to be with him at liturgies and lectures held the words and the sound of his voice inside us. There is a Stendahl oral tradition spanning at least half a century and only recently captured on video. One Good Friday in the 1980s or early 1990s, Krister preached the entire Seven Last Words of Jesus service at Harvard's Memorial Church. After the service, one of us asked him whether he might be willing to part with a copy of his text. "I had no notes," he said simply. So we carry his wisdom in our memories and into our own times in pulpit and classroom.

In his 1958 (Eng. 1966) book, The Bible and the Role of Women, written in the Swedish context of the debate on women's ordination, Krister Stendahl addresses the argument that because Jesus called only male apostles, only males may become priests. “By what right is this act made binding in ministry and interpreted that only males may serve in ministry?” he asks. In the cultural context in which apostles were identified with the 12 tribes of Israel, he notes, what other cultural alternative was there? He confessed in a talk to a gathering of new bishops at General Theological Seminary that he was tempted to ask Cardinal Joseph Bernardin how many Catholic priests were Jews. Wouldn't Jesus' Jewishness, he asked, rank more highly than his maleness in traits of the incarnation?

Of course there are New Testament passages that support women's subordination grounded in the order of creation. However, Galatians 3:26-28 breaks through this order of creation to describe a new creation in Christ overcoming separation between Jew and Greek, slave and free. The third pairing, “male and female,” alludes to the Greek translation of Genesis 1:27, “male and female created He them.” In Christ, says the Galatians passage, the basic division of male and female is overcome and the law of creation overturned. Krister points out that in the New Testament the question of any cultic role for women is never separate from the role of women in ordinary life, and that this role (subordinate, of course) is seen as founded in the order of creation.

It becomes extremely difficult then for us to assent to women's emancipation in civil life and to hold to subordination in the ecclesiastical area unless we make the church the last bastion of the “biblical” order-of-creation view. Yet that stance too contains a contradiction, because it is in Christ, not in the world, that there is to be neither male nor female. Stendahl writes, “If emancipation is right, then there is no valid ‘biblical’ reason not to ordain women. Ordination cannot be treated as a ‘special’ problem, since there is no indication that the New Testament sees it as such.”

Two months ago, barely mobile and already on the short road to death, Krister Stendahl presided at the memorial service of Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Strugnell, who had been his colleague at Harvard. In attendance was Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, who as Demetrios Trakatellis had been a graduate student in New Testament during Stendahl's tenure. Krister, scheduled to give the final benediction, spontaneously ceded the place to the Archbishop and placed him at the center of the celebration, a small but powerful gesture, typical of Krister, ecumenical and gracious to the end.

Alumni and alumnae of the Stendahl era at HDS remember Brita and Krister Stendahl's Christmas party with the punch bowl of glögg, the spiced wine of Swedish winters. But Brita was never just a hostess. Krister Stendahl was one of those men who like intelligent women, marry one, and love her to the end. In six decades of marriage Dr. Brita Stendahl, a scholar of Scandinavian philosophy, literature, and history, was steady companion, luminous presence, and sharp intellect. Brita and Krister gave workshops together on topics from religion and humor to women's wisdom, traveled to interreligious convocations, and sat listening to the wisdom of others, year after year. Krister, lover and husband, was discreet and dignified in his Northern European way, but his and Brita's presence and radiance as a couple were constant. To remember Krister is to remember this partnership.

Like all holy and learned people who are also public persons, Krister leaves behind spiritual and intellectual children. He was a mentor to hundreds of us, perhaps thousands. In his death we all feel related to him, but know the weight of his absence for his beloved children and their children's children, living their private grief amid an international outpouring of affection.

Advocate and colleague, Krister welcomed the challenge of women at Harvard, in Stockholm, and at the World Council of Churches in the laborious journey to equal public, ministerial, and theological presence. He came to know that the God who calls us beyond our limits and into life abundant cannot be limited by gender in our visions or in our prayers. The language of liturgy, intimate as the language of love --Krister once called it “a caressing language”-- changed even as Krister remained faithful to the traditions of Christian worship that formed him. He began, earlier than most, using gender-inclusive language not just to speak of humans but to address God: without fuss, without speeches, and with the blend of reverence, poetry, humor, and seriousness that characterized his stance before God.

The Church of Sweden, recognizing the historic episcopate, uses the word “priest” for its ordained ministers. In good Lutheran fashion, it also understands them as pastors. Krister Stendahl was both. The memorial website at his parish, the University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, shows only a fraction of the pastoral life of the man who led institutions but who, without fanfare, visited a friend's relative in prison and prayed for a former student hospitalized for depression.

Asked why Jews and women became such a focus for his scholarly work, Stendahl replied: “The Christian Bible includes sayings that have caused much pain, both to Jews and to women. Thus I have felt called to seek forms of interpretation which can counteract such undesirable side effects of the Holy Scriptures.”

Think about it. Why would a white privileged European man concern himself with Jews and women? To graduate students he explained that what called him to this search was a concern for justice or righteousness as the Gospel of Matthew describes it. Justice is an imperative of God's Kingdom. Jesus is about tikkun olam, the mended creation. For the dispossessed or oppressed, justice is grace. Only the privileged separate the two. Accordingly, Krister was often present among those ordaining first women and then gay men and lesbians to the ordained ministry in the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. When Gene Robinson was consecrated Bishop in 2003, there Krister Stendhal was next to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. In pictures of the event he can be seen smiling and nodding. At the end of the ceremony, as the procession left the arena at Dartmouth, the hymn we sang was “For All the Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest.” When all eyes were on our new Bishop Gene Robinson, there before him with the other bishops, clergy, and presenters, walking haltingly with a cane, went Krister. This is how we remember him.

Café contributors Deirdre Good and Jane Redmont were both students of Krister Stendahl’s at Harvard Divinity School, Redmont as an M.Div. student, Good as a Th.D. student in New Testament. Redmont has also served as a staff member at HDS, a field education supervisor for its students, and President of the HDS Alumni/ae Council.

Thoughts on the eve of Earth Day

By Jean Fitzpatrick

We've finally switched to reusable grocery bags. Bright green. I think of it as conspicuous conservation.

Let's face it, we need all the conservation we can get: according to TIME, it takes some 14 million trees in a single year to keep the U.S. in paper bags, and 12 million oil barrels for plastic. says over 100,000 birds die every year after encounters with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags.

You'd think using the green bags would be a simple step, but then you'd be forgetting the human factor.

Today at the supermarket I arrived at the cash register and realized, as usual, that I'd left my green bags in the car. Ordinarily -- if there's no one behind me -- I ask the cashier to wait a second while I race out to the parking lot, but this time I was in a rush: I only had a few minutes to grab some groceries on my way to work. "I don't need a bag," I told the cashier, figuring I'd carry my few items out to the car and slip them into a green bag in the trunk.

“She doesn't need a bag," the cashier called out. I glanced around, not sure whom she was talking to. That's when I saw that Juliet, the supermarket's most reliable bagger, had stepped up to the checkout counter. I always bag my own groceries unless she's there. Juliet, a middle-aged woman with a blond ponytail who has Down syndrome, always arranges the items in the bag so they're not squashed, leaky, or missing when you get home. By now she'd already popped my basil, fish and fruit into a plastic bag. As soon as she heard the cashier's announcement she frowned and pulled them out again. "Thanks, Juliet," I said, but, her frown deepening, she looked away. I swiped my debit card and, clutching my groceries in both hands, beat a hasty retreat.

All the way home I pictured Juliet's frown and decided that if I ever found myself in that situation again, Juliet's feelings meant more to me than one plastic bag. I'd forced myself into a bogus trade-off, of course. Had I not scheduled my day down to the last nanosecond, it would have been easy enough to run outside and bring in a green bag, which Juliet would have packed with her usual efficiency and good cheer. When I neglect to show myself compassion, I realized, I tend to short-change others as well...not to mention forgetting all about the planet.

Back home, as I put the shrimp (shrink-wrapped and farm-raised) along with the basil and fruit (each stuffed into an oversized plastic package) into my hefty side-by-side fridge (how much of an EnergyStar can it really be?), the whole effort seemed absurd. Can a few green bags really lighten my carbon footprint? I wondered. Is there any point to making such a small change?

Well, even if we save a few hundred paper or plastic bags a year, that's a start. The bags aren't a solution, but, along with some other changes we're making to our daily routine, they're a first step. More than that, maybe, when I'm all caught up in rushing around, the green bags broaden my perspective. I'm keeping them beside me in the passenger seat these days, hoping I'll remember to bring them into the supermarket, but also letting them remind me of the choices I seek to make. They're part of a sacramental way of life: in the midst of the day's obligations and busyness, the green bags open me up to a caring connection with the earth, one that is interwoven with all my other relationships...with Juliet and the cashier, with the people I love, and with the loving energy that sustains us all.

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

After the Revolution

By Greg Jones

I have been enjoying the new HBO miniseries John Adams. As a history buff with an interest in the Revolutionary War period, I am relishing this historically erudite dramatic presentation. My own Jones ancestors were also patriots, and I am grateful for their courage and willingness to do the right thing.

John Adams was not religiously unusual in his class and time -- but it might surprise folks now to learn that he was a Unitarian. Like many highly-educated persons of his time, swept up with the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, Adams rejected the basic tenets of Christian faith.

As I understand his theology Adams rejected the doctrines of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus. Indeed, many of the leaders of the American Revolution shared in such modernist beliefs, preferring in the place of creedal Christianity something we might call secular humanism -- with a hint of divinity sprinkled about it. Like many other leading citizens, patriots and zealots for the cause of liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- Adams would not have been able to hold dear the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, acknowledge the gracious power of the sacraments, or declare the Holy Scriptures to contain all things necessary for salvation. Almost without doubt, I believe Mr. Adams would have denied any value in the office of the episcopacy, especially as understood by Anglicans, to be an office with special divinely given authority down through the ages.

And Adams, while a 'liberal' in many ways for these religious beliefs, shared them with many others who we might call 'conservative' for their religion. In his day, American evangelical Protestantism was on the rise, thanks to the revivals of the period preceding the Revolution. Yet, while adherents to Calvinistic Protestantism would have confessed belief in the Trinity and divinity of Christ, they would also have done away with the more ancient and catholic marks of the faith, such as the creedal formulas, sacramental theology, and episcopacy. The last decades of the 18th century, and the first decades of the 19th century, were good for this kind of Christianity, but they were not boom times for Anglicanism in the United States of America.

After the Revolution, former colonists, fired by the notion that they had thrown off the chains of monarchy, struggled to figure out how to remain Anglican, wondering whether they had thrown off the Church of England and its lordly episcopacy as well. Indeed, many Anglican clergy remained loyalist, and left these United States.

The challenge for those remaining, who yearned to be Anglican still, was to figure out how to preserve the essential marks of the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic' faith, the essential elements of Anglican identity as they existed unto that point, while also separating out other bits: like the divine right of kings theology which fueled so much of Establishment theology in the Church of England.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to those founders of the Episcopal Church who managed to work out these questions in rather short order, and without coming to pieces. For even then, as now, there were different parties within American Anglicanism. Some were basically straight-up Calvinists or evangelical Protestants. Others were the High Churchmen of New York and Connecticut -- others something little different than a Methodist, a Congregationalist, or even a Unitarian in some places.

But, continuing to use the Prayer Book as a guide, and allowing only for moderate and often minimal changes, the founders of the Episcopal Church managed the birthing process pretty well. William White was a leader in that cause. As a 'moderate revolutionary,' he was committed to the harmony of the American expression of Anglicanism, and also to continued relationship with the Church of England.

Frankly, it is remarkable that White, the second bishop of the Episcopal Church (after Samuel Seabury), could have become a bishop when he did, where he did, and the way he did. White was consecrated as Bishop of Pennsylvania in 1787 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of Bath just a few years after the end of the American Revolution. He didn't even have to go up to Scotland to be consecrated irregularly there by bishops willing to do without an allegiance oath to the British Crown.

White, an American, a patriot, and a man ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England before the Revolution, found himself elected by his peers (not appointed by the crown), and consecrated by the hierarchy of the Church of England to serve as a bishop in an altogether new entity -- an independent, autonomous, and free 'Anglican' church, in communion relationship but not fealty to the Sees of Canterbury and York, etc.

White -- a creature of his time though not beholden to it -- was able to do both a new thing (i.e. help to launch a new 'church' with a revised ecclesiology and self-understanding) while not destroying an old thing (i.e. the essential doctrine and practice of the apostolic Christian faith.)

I believe we need more folks like Bishop White in the Episcopal Church. Not radical revolutionaries, but faithful evolutionaries.

We do not create ex nihilo -- only God does. We shape ground we've been given -- do we not? We do not work from the annihilation of what we receive, but rather by the faithful and often slight re-translation to suit evolving contexts. Only from time to time are we called to dissolve those long established bonds between old and new iterations -- but not normally on every day or even in every age.

It seems not so unimaginable to me that we could manage to preserve and uphold the faith once delivered (the Nicene faith, the Baptismal covenant, the sacraments, the Scriptures, the historic episcopate) -- while also cherishing our particular liturgical tradition (the Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal) -- while also continuing to stand for the teaching of Christ in the face of a world which is unjust and ungodly -- while also continuing to do that prophetic work of trying to bring real justice to fruition by the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God on Earth today -- while also being open to the occasional revision of certain liturgical practices, moral teachings, and other matters which of necessity are often limited by time and space and are not perhaps eternal.

I'm just thinking that instead of following the trajectory of the radical reformers of Protestantism who between the time of Luther and John Adams managed to toss out in one place or another nearly the whole of the faith and practice of the Church of England -- we might be a bit more like old William White.

In other words -- passionate about the Gospel, cherishing the bonds of baptismal, eucharistic and ecclesiastical unity, and walking humbly and mercifully with a Lord who teaches us to love all, heal all, feed all, liberate all, and welcome all to relationship in the name of Christ.

Can I get an amen?

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

On unmarked deaths

By Kit Carlson

I saw it again yesterday. Side by side in the Lansing State Journal's obituary section, three separate obituaries announced that no services were planned for the departed. One said this was in accordance with the deceased's wishes. The others were silent on the reason.

Since I am in the "service industry," as it were, I began to wonder about this. Is this a trend? Why would someone who left behind a long list of survivors -- wife, children, grandchildren, cousins, neighbors, friends -- request that those people not mark the passing in any formal way?

So I asked my friend Clark, the funeral director, what this might portend. He said that at his funeral home, they see this fairly often. Generally, he observed, it is someone from the university community, someone intellectual and secular and rational. But not always. Some families do it to save money, others simply to avoid the hassle. Clark said that he and his colleagues feel bad when people see the funeral directors as "pushing" the option of a memorial service, since there are so many less-expensive ways to honor someone: in a church, a fraternal lodge, even in someone's home or in a park. But some people, he said, just want it all to be over with as quickly as possible. They think it will be less difficult for the survivors.

I understand that not everyone is religious. I understand that not everyone believes in some kind of life after death. But everyone is human, and this latest turn of events puzzles me, as a human being. Throughout human history, death has always been marked with ceremonies. Funeral pyres, mummification, burial mounds, pyramids, graveyards, even the practice of launching someone's ashes into space -- all of them recognize that death is a passage of sorts, even if one believes it is only from this life into a kind of nothingness. Death has always been seen as a sacred time to honor the person for who they were on this earth, and to send them on their way to whatever happens next.

I have experienced and celebrated at any number of memorial services in my almost half a century on this earth. I have been at services for a teen killed in an auto accident, for a Liberian woman dead of cancer at an early age, for a beloved matriarch of the church, for fellow clergy, for atheist cousins, for a homeless man, for a friend with AIDS, for both my parents. Each of those people held a different idea about life and about life after death. But all of them were honored and remembered in some public way. All of them were held up and cherished in the presence of their communities. The reality of their lives and the inevitability of their deaths were solemnized by their friends and family members.

I did not know any of the three people in the paper who were not going to be remembered at a public service. But even so, I felt cheated in a way, as I read that they would not be publicly honored. Their lives mattered enough to list in the newspaper. Their stories mattered enough to fill up several column inches. But apparently, they did not matter enough to gather the community to say farewell.

As a pastor, I understand the challenge and difficulty of saying farewell when someone has died. But as a pastor, I have also found that the process of planning that farewell service, of walking through it, of public remembrance, of public declaration of whatever hope we might hold for the future, of prayer and mourning in the presence of our loved ones and the presence of God, actually makes it easier for the survivors. It pours balm on the wounds. It offers a chance to bear witness to that person's life, loves and works. They were here, and now they are gone. But the fact that they were here matters, matters enough that we all get together to observe the passing.

There was an awkward memorial service I conducted once. The woman who died had been an Episcopalian, but had not attended church for years. Her adult children were a mix of the completely secular and the evangelical. No one knew quite what to do with the Prayer Book liturgy. No one quite knew what to say when I offered them a chance to speak about their mother and grandmother. Finally, one of the daughters asked if a granddaughter could play the piano. "Begin the Beguine" was her grandmother's favorite song, and the girl had learned it years ago to play for her now-dead grandmother.

There in that nearly-empty church, the young woman got up and went to the piano. We sat in silence as Cole Porter's tune soared up into the rafters, played with perfection, played with all the love that girl could muster.

We knew the moment she ended that it had been the most necessary thing. A service rendered in the service of the dead, and in service of the living.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich., where she blogs at Saints Alive!

Hope amidst the mess

By Peter Carey

In the midst of Episcopal Church news that includes court decisions in Virginia, inhibition of bishops, and disagreements in many congregations one might be forgiven for thinking that our church is rapidly swirling down the toilet bowl.

News Flash: It ain’t!

We don’t have too look far to see the bright spots in our church. Check out the growing network of Episcopal Internship Communities across the United States. For several decades, churches and dioceses have sponsored small groups (4-8) of young adults (18-30 years old or so) who live in community and each member works at a social service agency. There are slightly different guidelines and practices between these groups, but together they are sending thoughtful, prayerful, and dedicated young people into the Church and the world.

In 1992-1993, I had the good luck to join a community that was administered by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. At the time, the “Cathedral Volunteer Service Community” was made up of six young adults from around the country. We hailed from Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio and Vermont and came to the community from a variety of religious and political perspectives. We were lucky enough to have as our leader and mentor the Rev. Carole Crumley, who was then a canon of the National Cathedral (and is now a leader at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation). The CVSC was grounded in a Rule of Life that had echoes of Benedictine Spirituality. We pledged to live in intentional Christian Community, praying together daily, sharing in the work of the household, meeting once a week for theological reflection with Canon Crumley, and also pledged to live a life of simplicity. In this case, simplicity meant (in part) that we each only received $100 a month for food (which we pooled to shop for the six of us) and $100 for other expenses. That was simple living!

We were challenged to feed and entertain six people on $600 a month. We were also challenged find ways to build community across our various theological and political differences, and it was not always easy. To top it off, five of us were first-born children in our family of origin! (We had some strong personalities to manage.) Outside of our house, I had the great fortune of spending a year working at the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington (SMGW) where I offered employment counseling to those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. Really, I didn’t know anything about finding work (as I never really had a job before!), but I encountered people who were decidedly different than me, and while I don’t know how much help I gave, I certainly learned a great deal.

The six people in my community followed a variety of paths after leaving the community. One became a priest within a few years after our program, two others became teachers, another worked in business and then decided to follow his heart and now does work with cancer patients, another does peace and justice advocacy with another denomination.

While the Cathedral Volunteer Service Community is no longer in existence, there are several other Episcopal Internship Communities that are thriving and growing. Trinity Episcopal Church in DC now offers a program in our nation’s capital. The Rev. Jason Cox, who is a friend of mine from seminary, administers the program in the Diocese of Los Angeles (Episcopal Urban Internship Program). There are several other communities which are offering young people a way to practice their faith by working for those in need, living in intentional community, and integrating this work and community-living into their theological views and spiritual practices. This is good news indeed! It also counters the long-standing assumption that people in their twenties and thirties will leave the church and will return only when they decide to have a family.

Some Episcopal Internship Communities are sponsored by parishes, others by groups of parishes, and others by dioceses. Not only are these wonderful opportunities for young people, they are also tangible signs that our church is doing good things in the world, and that the work is connected to our belief in Jesus Christ, our hope in the Resurrection and our call to live lives of hope and compassion.

As a new priest, I am often asked: “Does the church have anything to say to the world?” It certainly does! One of the best ways to “say something to the world” is to show the world what we’re doing. These programs say that our church is engaged with the world and is developing dedicated disciples.

Can we do more? Certainly.

Can we encourage even more of these programs to develop? Absolutely.
Is our church about more than legal battles, inhibitions, schism, and disagreements? You bet!

Check out the Episcopal Internship Communities at The Episcopal Church’s website in the section on “Domestic Internships.” There is also Facebook group “I was a member of an Episcopal Internship Community,” as well – check them out!

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

Abortion, embryos and what it means to be a "person"

By Marshall Scott

This Lent I led a five-week adult class on ethics and moral theology. My point was to encourage those present (as I would encourage all of us) to approach moral questions as issues for theological reflection. I contrasted a theological reflection model with one that was not theological (or at least not explicitly so; but perhaps that's a topic for another day); and because it was the one most familiar to me, I used the model most common in health care. We discussed "the Georgetown Mantra," and its principles of Autonomy, Non-maleficence, Beneficence, and Justice, all under the umbrella principle of "Respect for Persons," as well as the "technological imperative" ("Because we can do something, we must do it>").

Eventually (I think perhaps in the last session), we found ourselves bouncing among a variety of issues, and I noted that they all had something in common. I said, "They all push us to the question of what it means to be human." We went from abortion to embryonic stem cells to medical futility and health care at the end of life. We touched on the rights of the mentally or developmentally disabled, and possible future issues of simian rights (and I fully expect our children or grandchildren will be faced with them). They all had some connection, I said, "to what it means to be human:" what is human life, what makes human life meaningful, how much like me does another have to be to be meaningfully human. And when I got home and was discussing this with my wife, she said, "You know you put that wrong."

And to an important extent she was correct. All of those issues are more often, and perhaps more productively, addressed not as what it means to be human but what it means to be a person. The two questions are related, but they aren't identical. For example, we don't argue whether a fetus is human, but we argue long and hard about whether the fetus is a person. We often describe the consequences of severe, unrecoverable brain injury by saying to a grieving family, "The heart still beats, but the person you love is gone." (Interestingly enough, that's what we say when the injury is the result of sudden traumatic insult. When it's due to the gradual deterioration of Alzheimer's, it's what families say to us.)

We can see the questions aren't identical when we ask what we mean by "human rights": do we mean rights inherent in being human, or rights inherent in being a moral agent. Another way to put the question is to ask how a right applies if the holder of the right can't freely exercise it. So, even when we disagree on whether a fetus is a person we do agree that a fetus can't, on its own, exercise a right. And before we start jumping up and down, remember that we make calculations, gradations of moral agency, and so in some sense of personhood, all the time. A child has limited capacity to exercise rights, and how to exercise those rights becomes the responsibility of parents, who are considered the appropriate surrogates. Prisoners can't exercise rights with the same freedom as the rest of us, and so (interestingly, like children) they become a "protected class" who can only be included in medical research with the greatest care to prevent coercion. In some senses, the state becomes their surrogate. Even after serving their time, most prisoners never regain such rights as the vote. Some prisoners have committed crimes so repugnant that the state claims they lose the right to life altogether.

Most of us would say that, in one way or another, some sense of personhood applies to all human life. At the same time, there are some who would say that full rights of personhood apply to all human life, and to any instance of human life. For them the important question is not whether the full rights apply, but who should be the appropriate surrogate to protect and exercise those rights. While it's not the only issue in which this difference is highlighted (between those who apply some personhood, but not full personhood, and those who apply full personhood in all cases), the best known is the issue of abortion. More recently, and to no small extent related to abortion debates, is the issue of embryonic stem cell research.

It is the latter issue that is currently exercising our Anglican brothers and sisters in the United Kingdom. In the UK issues of the uses of embryos, whether for human fertility or for embryonic stem cell research, have been governed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. A proposed revision has been passed in first reading in February, and according to a release by the National Health Service: "while no date has been set for its second reading or approval in principle it is viewed as a key piece of legislation on the government's agenda."

The proposed revision would allow for procedures far beyond what is currently permitted (and farther beyond what is currently permitted in the United States). In one matter of special concern, the revised law would permit the creation of "human admixed embryos," also described as "cytoplasmic hybrids," or "cybrids." They would be created by removing nuclear DNA from an ovum from an animal and replacing it with nuclear DNA from a human being. The ovum would then be stimulated to divide, and the resulting embryo could then be studied. The goal would be to study specific genetic diseases (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's have been suggested) and how they develop in the earliest stages, in hope of suggesting new therapies.

As part of their own culture and context, our Anglican siblings are certainly involved in this. Archbishop Rowan Williams has commented. Bishop N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and Biblical scholar, worked it into his Easter sermon (blessedly, as illustration and not as central theme). Perhaps the best reflection is this blog post from Bishop Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, who has laid out important questions for reflection. All of them agree that central to this issue is the question of what it means to be human, and just how far we can go in seeing that which is human (whether person or not) as a means to an end, however good the end might appear.

While we have not spoken in General Convention to this specific issue (but 2009 is coming fast!), there are places where we might look to see how General Convention has considered this human/person distinction. We have repeatedly, and in relation to several different issues, affirmed that "all human life is sacred." Life is, after all, God's gift, raised especially when God chose to share human life with us in Christ. At the same time, Christ was a person, making and calling us to moral actions; and we have also made distinctions pertaining to persons as moral agents. For example, in resolution 1988-C047 (reaffirmed in resolution 1994-A054 with the language virtually unchanged) we affirmed, " All human life is sacred from its inception until death," and acknowledged that "We regard all abortion as having a tragic dimension...."

However, considering the difficult decision of abortion we "acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion...." We speak of "the person or persons seeking advice and counsel [on abortion]," and express "unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action... that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision... or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision." Regarding research on the earliest human tissues, we have rejected "for the purpose of providing fetal tissues for therapeutic or medical research usages; and... the use of fetal tissues aborted for financial profit for use in therapy and medical research...." (1991-A096 ). On the other hand, we have agreed to:

(A) Support the choice of those who wish to donate their early embryos, remaining after in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures have ended; and

(B) Urge that the United States Congress pass legislation that would authorize federal funding for derivation of and medical research on human embryonic stem cells that were generated for IVF and remain after fertilization procedures have been concluded, provided that:
1. these early embryos are no longer required for procreation by those donating them and would simply be discarded;
2. those donating early embryos have given their prior informed consent to their use in stem cell research;
3. the embryos were not deliberately created for research purposes;
4. the embryos were not obtained by sale or purchase....

In essence, we make a distinction between tissues conceived with the possibility that they might be born, and so become persons, and those tissues conceived with no possibility for personhood.

Here in the middle of America where I find my ministry, these issues are quite current. The topics of embryonic stem cell research, the therapies that might result, and the research dollars that might come to it, are matters of ongoing discussion. Abortion continues to be a matter of debate as much or more here as anywhere. With them both, we find ourselves wrestling again with both questions: what does it mean to be human; and do rights obtain to all instances of human life, or to persons. As our UK siblings are experiencing again, for us as Christians these need to be matters for theological reflection, and not simply of academic or clinical ethical discussion. As a Church, we have in the past sought to balance the sacredness of all human life with the importance of the rights of persons. However, as technological capacities change and cultural dynamics change, we must return to the question again: just what does it mean to be human, and how are we as Christians and specifically as Episcopalians to proclaim that in our time and place?

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 Call to Discipleship

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

I have been trying to create ways to talk about vocation WITHOUT moving immediately to questions about “how am I supposed to make my living,” and especially without moving immediately to the question: “Is God calling me to the ordained ministry?”

It is almost impossible to disentangle these questions these days in our culture, where identity and worth are so tied to our role in the consumer economy, let alone in the Church, where vocation and discernment so strongly tied in people’s minds to questions about ordained ministry. But I insist on disentangling them. I believe it is essential for us as a church to be focusing, not so much on roles and résumés as on the original call of each of us to “follow” Jesus , to practice ever more faithful and intentional discipleship. I’ll probably return to this theme in future posts. For now, here are some Eastertide musings on discipleship and how we experience the call of Jesus.

The gospel appointed for Friday in Easter week tells the wonderful story of the risen Jesus calling the disciples away from their fishing to come and have breakfast with him, on the beach by the sea of Tiberias. (John 21:1-11). Immediately after breakfast, as we know, he repeatedly asks Peter “Do you love me,” and offers him a new, pastoral ministry: “feed my lambs.” One of the things that has always struck me about the story is that Peter and his friends, doubtless disoriented in the aftermath of the Passion and reports of the Resurrection, return to the work that they know, the work that has identified them and sustained them economically, the work they were doing when they first met Jesus. And here as in the Lucan version of the story (Luke 5:1-12), Peter and the beloved disciple recognize the urgency of Jesus’ call by the way the fishermen’s work is transformed in His presence. They have been coming up empty. The stranger on the beach tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and suddenly there is abundance, and they recognize him – “It is the Lord”, and head for the beach to be with him.

If we attend closely to the language, the story of the calling of the fishermen in Mark and Matthew can also be read as a story about the call to discipleship as transformation. Jesus finds the disciples fishing by the side of the sea, and the narrative tells us “for they were fishermen.” He calls them and, in the New Revised Standard Version, says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). What is lost is the phrase I grew up with, in my Presbyterian Sunday school where we used the Revised Standard Version: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It isn’t all that clear what that means, “fishers of men,” and it doesn’t seem to be their reason for following him: there’s no new job description here. But Jesus is promising some kind of change that begins where they are. That’s the literal meaning of the Greek, I’m told: Follow me: and I will make you to become fishermen-of-people. They will be transformed into some new version of what they already are.

Dwelling a bit with these stories, in meditation, and especially with the post-Resurrection version of this call story in John, I think we can gain insight from remembering how the call of Jesus tends to come to us where we are. (“wherever we may be,” as the catechism says of the ministry of the laity (BCP 855)) When I talk about vocation with laity - people whose primary work is in the world rather than in the church as institution, I find they tend to think of vocation as being about something that’s coming in the future, or something that will require a radical shift from all that they know and are. But in fact, I have observed that most people experience the call to discipleship beginning where they are, and the transformation comes in stages, beginning with that desire simply to follow Jesus, for reasons we often can’t explain to ourselves. For many people, though we do find ourselves making changes in our lives, the call to discipleship emerges gradually, as we grow into what it means to be followers of Jesus.

This is something we emphasize in our language at worship, but most of us need to spend more time reflecting on what it means. I have been a scholar, a lover of literature, a teacher; I am a wife and a parent. Gradually, as I’ve grown in faith and deepened my spiritual practice, I’ve learned that all of this is “for Christ,” even though the content of what I teach and write, and the focus of my relationships, is not always explicitly religious. But the call of Christ has gradually changed me, has “made me to become” someone new, and it changes the way that I view the work I’ve been given in my profession and in my relationships. It seems that the transformation in me does touch the lives of others, often in ways I do not see.

So when I speak with people – especially laity – about call and discipleship, I invite them to look at where they are in life right now, not what they wish they were doing or think they “should” be doing. Vocation is not about lines on a résumé. Nor is it about office in the church. It is about identity, community, and spiritual practice. What is it, we ask, in your work, your gifts and abilities and yearnings right now, that makes you feel fully alive? Where is the abundance? Or where could the abundance be? That’s probably the part of you that is hearing Jesus’ call to discipleship, to being “made to become” a part of the new thing that God is doing.

It is true that sometimes people are in a place where they need to “leave their nets” immediately, and “do” something totally different. But usually, vocation is about an ongoing process of transformation, through the practices of discipleship that are summarized in Jesus’ command to follow him. I find this expressed most simply and poignantly in the Easter version of this call story, where the renewed call to “follow me” is preceded by a much more homely invitation: “come and have breakfast.” (John 21:12)

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

Making the case against the Covenant

By Jered Weber-Johnson

The Anglican Covenant Conference closed Saturday in New York City following two full days of intense discussion, deep analysis, and passionate exchange from a diverse range of perspectives, all related to the St. Andrew’s draft of the Anglican Covenant. What began Thursday evening, at the Desmond Tutu Conference Center with the provocative comments of the first keynote speaker, Archbishop Drexel Gomez (see Friday’s post), continued in the ensuing day and a half with presentations by lay and ordained representatives from several seminaries and Anglican bodies from across the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as a few representatives from organizations within the wider Anglican Communion (over 40 contributors in all). Within that diversity, a few similar themes were echoed in both the papers presented and the questions posed in response.

Not surprisingly, a few of the presented papers rejected the idea that a covenant was “necessary” in order for the communion to stay together, as asserted in the opening remarks of the conference by Archbishop Gomez. While rejecting this notion of necessity, there did emerge consistently a sense among speakers and responders alike that an Anglican Covenant was probable if not inevitable. Many of the comments thus assumed the character of advice, pointing toward what a beneficial covenant might include in, and excise from, its content in future drafts.

In his comments Friday afternoon, titled “The Covenant, the Quadrilateral, and Balance” the Reverend Dr. Robert Hughes, professor at School of Theology at the University of the South, argued that in its present draft the Anglican Covenant gives too little weight to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, a statement, he said, that has been used primarily for outlining what was essential to forming communion with our ecumenical partners. The current draft said Hughes “is both less and more than the Quadrilateral.”

Hughes claimed that it was ‘less’ because it deemphasized or undervalued the role of the sacraments and creeds as essential to communion. The current draft is ‘more’ than the Quadrilateral argued Hughes, by “placing sources of secondary authority, at best, on the same level as essentials, and thus burdening the free consciences of Christian people beyond what our reformed Catholic tradition allows.”

Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, professor at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, addressed the conference from his paper “Whose Covenant? The Anglican Covenant, the People of God and History from Below”. He also echoed the sentiment that the current St. Andrew’s draft was lacking. Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski’s contention was that the ethos of the current draft and the whole process leading up to it seemed to reflect a top-down ecclesiology which emphasized the needs of the institutional Anglican Church to the detriment and neglect of the contextual needs of local churches.

Said Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, “If the drafters of the Anglican Covenant can come up with a way to frame the importance of this document for those people of God who experience the church ‘from below’ they will go a long way to making this text relevant to their lived contexts.”

In a similar vein, the second keynote speaker of the conference, Canon Dr. Jenny Te Paa, a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion that produced the Windsor Report in 2004, addressed the concept of a potential Anglican Covenant from the perspective of indigenous peoples, the poor, women, and young people. Canon Te Paa found “the galvanizing of the entire leadership of the Anglican Communion into responding, into reacting in a very intentional, sustained and extraordinarily costly manner” to the issue of homosexuality to be troubling when compared with the disproportionate reaction of the same leadership to the reality of global poverty, war, and the abuse of the environment.

Te Paa went on to argue that it seemed to her that “institutionalized dominant male power has been and still is being exercised in an exceedingly unjust manner” particularly in placing the issue of sexuality over all other issues facing the church. Further, she argued that same power is being used to “concentrate precious communion wide resources in the form of people and money to advance a proposal which essentially, at least in its first draft, served to protect and enhance that same dominant male leadership.”

This, for Te Paa, was tantamount to “the establishment of hegemony”. She said “I am speaking here of the Primates Meeting”. Canon Te Paa noted that rather than being a communion-wide issue of paramount concern for the entirety of Anglicanism, the issue of sexuality, particularly homosexuality, is an issue of “potentially schismatic proportions” only for this small group of the powerful elite within the communion.

While Te Paa had been supportive of the concept of an Anglican Covenant in her time on the Lambeth Commission on Communion, she claimed that because of what she saw as a move toward hegemony among the Primates particularly in the process of creating a covenant, that in the end she had changed her original position.

“I believe the current Covenant proposal while not without much longer term potential merit is inevitably seriously negatively affected by all of this”, said Canon Te Paa. She continued, saying “it is becoming increasingly difficult for us ordinary Anglicans to take seriously even the very good rhetoric of Covenant when the very real reality of some very bad leadership behavior is still so pervasive, thus making the whole exercise so utterly contradictory and inexcusably, unjustifiably expensive.”

Ultimately, Te Paa argued that either a “moratorium” or a “slowing down” of the current Covenant process needed to occur, that input in that process needed to be intentionally sought among a broader diversity representative of the whole communion, that new avenues of reconciliation be explored outside the context of Covenant, and that ultimately there needed to be “an intentional focus upon reclaiming, re-strengthening and re-affirming the already existing and strongly regarded covenantally bound relationships that the majority of Anglicans already hold to with profound commitment and with unbreakable confidence.”

One of the primary responders from the floor of the conference to Te Paa’s remarks was Archbishop Gomez. He wished to respond to add a point of what he felt was necessary correction to Te Paa’s comments about the Primates alleged hegemony. Gomez categorically denied that there was any move toward consolidation of power by the Primates, and that any assertion to that end “is a lie” he said. Gomez further argued that so far the process of Covenant design has in fact been very inclusive, and, he said of Te Paa’s talk, “I don’t think you were fair in your account of the Primates.”

When asked if she would like to respond to Archbishop Gomez’s rebuttal, Canon Te Paa declined, thanked the conference, and went to sit with Gomez.

Picking up on a thread that had continued throughout the conference in several speakers’ comments about the relationship between mission and covenant, the Reverend Dr. Titus Presler, Sub-Dean of the General Theological Seminary, in his remarks Saturday, affirmed the potential benefit of a covenant to the shared mission of Anglicans wherever it sought to strengthen relationships and reconcile member churches.

However, he cautioned that wherever mission and unity “become matters of quasi-legal adjudication, especially across differences of culture and language, we may find ourselves not only crippling the affirmations and aspirations of a covenant, but sinning against the Holy Spirit, that Spirit who is the source and animator of the mission of God.”

For more about the conference and to read papers from all the speakers as they are posted, go to

Jered Weber-Johnson, a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Olympia, is a student at the General Theological Seminary.

"Singing Nana" and the Stone Soup song

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Our grandchildren remind us that children are born with an innate joy in music. Four-year-old Lily has found her voice in creating tunes and lyrics, which she sings in her bath or first thing upon waking. Her sister, Nola, 3, quickly learns words to songs on the radio concerning adult concepts of love and yearning, which she loudly belts out as if on stage. And John, 3, is a guitar player who wildly strums his made-up pieces usually ending with the ABC song. They call me “Singing Nana” and frequently ask for my rendition of the WWII songs my mother taught me when I was their age.

Curious about children and music, I consulted the musicians at my church, St. Columba’s, in Washington, D. C., who shared some stories and their passion for their work with me.

The music program at St. Columba’s began in the 1970s, when rector Bill Swing and nursery school director Sylvia Buell wanted to give younger people a voice in the congregation and something meaningful to do in church. Over the years this first choir grew to include a Primary Choir (grades one and two), Boy and Girl Choirs (third through eighth grades) and The Gallery Choir (ninth through 12th grades). Parents and grandparents became involved in helping kids get to church on time to meet their responsibilities, obligations and commitments.

One of the program’s goals is to keep the innate joy of music alive. In an atmosphere of fun and encouragement, a group success is a personal triumph, which gives children a sense of well-being and dignity. No one ever is told they have no talent or don’t sing well; sometimes a child sings “off key” because they want to hear their voice distinct from others. Even when they don’t have vocal range, they expand their abilities if not discouraged or hurt by criticism. The youngest singers learn basic rudimentary diction and how to sing at their own level in a group. Soon they outgrow the fear of singing in front of the congregation, and this self-confidence spills over into dancing, acting and other areas of their lives.

Play, movement, drama and service are all part of the nursery school’s approach to music. For example, learning the Stone Soup Song several weeks ago involved the following steps:

1. Identifying the beginning, middle and end of the Stone Soup story and committing the song to memory.

2. Cooking the soup while learning about different vegetables and how to prepare them.

3. Experiencing the adage that many hands make light work and whatever one brings to the pot is a gift.

4. Examining the finished product in individual cups to learn about science and math.

5. Sharing the soup with neighbors – the church’s ministry for homeless men – to understand what joy in life is all about.

6. Eating yummy vegetable soup (well, almost everyone participated in that last step).

Music helps self-regulation as children figure out how to move and understand their bodies, including how to sit still. Then you can create your own songs. The following example is one my granddaughter, Lily Gordon, sings in her bath:

The wind blows softly and it pushes me to you.
It is time to go now,
I am ready to go now to kindergarten. I am ready.
I have to go now but it is more about me than it is you.

What can parents and grandparents do to promote music at home? Here are recommendations from the pros at St. Columba’s:

1. Sing to your baby while in the womb. She or he will recognize the song after birth.

2. Make as much music available as possible. Have a basket of musical instruments – xylophones, drums, shakers, violins and keyboards – and encourage noise and loud singing. Pots and pans with a wooden spoon will work too.

3. Turn off the TV and encourage all the family to participate in the fun. We learn best in relationship with each other. Remember that a child’s natural expression of joy isn’t necessarily convenient for parents, so make spaces for it.

4. Help children memorize songs. We own a song when we sing it by heart.

5. Provide opportunities to hear concerts and musical plays at an early age, but if your child wants to leave early – leave!

“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” – Shinichi Suzuki

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, during which she served on his faculty, 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.

Gomez argues for the Covenant

By Jered Weber-Johnson

The Anglican Covenant Conference began last evening at the recently opened Desmond Tutu Center in New York City, with participants from across the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as well as representatives from various bodies within the wider Anglican Communion. The General Theological Seminary convened this conference with the intent of engaging participants in dialogue and debate over the draft Anglican Covenant.

The format over the next day and a half includes panel presentations by theologians, scholars, and faculty from the several seminaries represented at the conference with responses by student panels. Each seminary was asked to select a faculty and student representative to send to the conference.

Interspersed between the panel discussions will be three keynote speakers. The first of these keynoters was last night, the Most Reverend Drexel Gomez, Archbishop and Primate of the West Indies and the Bishop of the Diocese of the Bahamas. Also on the schedule are Canon Dr. Jenny Te Paa, a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion which produced the Windsor Report in 2004, as well as the Reverend Canon Gregory Cameron, Director of Ecumenical Affairs and Studies, and Deputy Secretary General in the Anglican Communion Office in London.

The question posed to the presenters and keynoters by the conference organizers was “Would an Anglican Covenant clarify Anglican identity and strengthen mutual interdependence? Or would it be a tool of exclusion and dominance?”

In his talk, “The Case for an Anglican Covenant”, Archbishop Gomez asserted that not only would it clarify Anglican identity, but, he further argued, “covenant is the only available mechanism” to keep us together as a communion.

The majority of Archbishop Gomez’s comments centered on the necessity and practicality of an Anglican Covenant, drawing heavily from Section C 119 of the Windsor Report, on Canon Law and Covenant.

Seeking to demonstrate prior precedent for covenanting in the history of Anglicanism, Gomez sited the Bonn Agreement of 1931 between Anglicans and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, noting that that particular covenant was brief due to the amount of trust by both parties entering into it.

Gomez argued, “brevity can only survive in a situation of complete trust. Where matters are disputed, the matters must be clarified.”

In his responding remarks, the Reverend Dr. Peter-Ben Smit, a priest in the Old Catholic Church and a student of the General Theological Seminary noted that rather, the tenor leading up to the Bonn Agreement was anything but trusting, and issues were far from resolved at the time of the agreement.

“Over seventy-five years of full communion, of which my presence here is a living example, show therefore that your premise that ‘where matters are disputed, the matters must be clarified’ holds not true”, said Smit.

Smit further noted that in lifting up the example of the Bonn Agreement, Gomez had not argued for a lengthy agreement such as the proposed covenant, but rather “for a short statement of fundamental agreement”.

John Lock, a seminarian from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry pointed out that he agreed with Gomez that an Anglican Covenant might be practical and necessary in troubled times such as these.

At the same time Lock argued, “we cannot achieve unity, the precious gift of the Spirit, merely on the grounds of Anglican polity.” Rather, “unity comes when” he continued, “we are reconciled to God and have peace with God, and as a result we can have peace and be reconciled to those who are redeemed in him.”

In perhaps the most pointed comment of the evening, Leonel Abaroa Boloña, a student at Trinity College, Toronto, stated that Archbishop Gomez had preached at the consecration of two bishops whose consecration was expressly for the purpose of pastoral care to Anglicans in America disaffected by the Episcopal Church’s stand toward homosexuality. Boloña argued that Gomez’s presence at the consecration, which took place in Kenya, seemed to be inconsistent with the stance of the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant, both of which Gomez played a part in producing and is expressly supportive of.

“I need consistency”, said Boloña, “and as the Primate of the West Indies and as a person who says he supports the Windsor Report, you are saying one thing and doing another.”
Gomez responded that his presence at the consecration was not as Primate, but as close friend of the two men being consecrated. He denied that his actions were in any way inconsistent with his words.

After the evening’s discussion the Reverend Dr. Ian Douglas reacted for Episcopal Café to the presentation and subsequent comments.

“I was quite impressed by the questions. People got right into it, and the questions people had were well researched.”

Noting the significance of the Anglican Covenant Conference: “I think it’s important to have substantial discussion, discussion that is considered and gracious, which surfaces valid and important differences. If we’re going to be genuine to the covenant process—these conversations are going to be necessary.”

For more information about the Anglican Covenant Conference, its keynote speakers and other presenters, and to look for papers as they are posted, go to

Jered Weber-Johnson, a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Olympia, is a student at the General Theological Seminary.

Female prophets: a lost legacy?

This is the fourth in a series of articles on non-canonical writings. Previous installments can be found here.

By Deirdre Good

The 5th Century BCE playwright Euripides explains the connection between women and prophecy through one of his female characters:

"And in matters concerning the gods, for I consider these matters to be the most important, we women have the greatest share. For in the temple of Phoebus (Apollo) women prophesy the thoughts of Loxias (Apollo) and around Dodona's holy foundations by the sacred oak, it is the female sex which conveys the thoughts of Zeus to any Greek who seeks them. Also, as to those rituals which are performed for the Fates (Moirai) and the nameless Goddesses (Eumenides), it is not holy for men to participate in them: all of them flourish in the hands of women. This is how the case for women stands in their dealings with the gods. "

Menelippe, the speaker, is defending herself against detractors by pointing out the role of women as prophetic priests and oracle for the gods at Delphi and Dodona.

In post-exilic Israel, there were also women prophets. Judith is a prophet to whom knowledge is divinely imparted after her prayer (11:17-18). Job's daughters are praised for their ecstatic hymnody in the 1st C BCE Testament of Job and their oracles are recorded. Female prophets at Corinth, in Egypt, and in Asia Minor mentioned in the New Testament, and after, inherit these prophetic mantles.

In a letter to the Corinthians written in mid-first century CE, Paul urges that female prophets at Corinth prophesy in the public assembly with a head covering, "because of the angels." Paul recognizes women's personal and public experience of the spirit, but his concern is that it seem unintelligible to outsiders. We can reconstruct something of their beliefs from Paul's letter. They call themselves "spiritual ones," whose speech to God and each other was in the "tongues of angels." Perhaps their experience was focused on Sophia, Wisdom, whom Paul identifies carefully in the letter as Christ crucified--the object, never the subject of his proclamation. Perhaps they focused on separation from one's spouse in order to practice celibacy as a state of spiritual receptivity.

Scholars have suggested that the Corinthian women experienced something similar to Philo's 1st Century CE description of the community of Therapeutai or Therapeutrides in forming a monastic community near Lake Mariotis outside Alexandria in Egypt. Yearning to have Sophia as their true companion, these men and women renounced their spouses and property to become virgins. Their common worship includes the formation of two choirs, one of the men and one of the women, singing antiphonally. Then, "having drunk the strong wine of God's love, they mix and both together become a single choir set up of old beside the Red Sea in honor of the wonders there wrought," singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God their Savior, "the men led by the prophet Moses and the women by the prophetess, Miriam" (Philo, The Contemplative Life 85-7). It is possible that Corinthian women were attracted to ecstatic prophetic experience in a local worshipping community as a protest against the Emperor Augustus' "family values" campaign designed to increase the population of the Roman Empire.

The author of the book of Revelation at the end of the first century CE criticizes a female prophet in the community at Thyatira he names Jezebel. She seems to have believed that eating meat sacrificed to other gods was no problem. Her condemnation by John, the author of Revelation, shows that there were a variety of opinions on the subject; whether her community was impoverished and needed food or whether she thought that idols were of no consequence we cannot say. She clearly had disciples whom John calls "her children" whom he threatens to strike dead. Rather than disagreeing with her attitude to pagan Rome, John makes the attack personal. Calling her Jezebel not only vilifies her and obscures her identity but also legitimates calling down divine vengeance down on her. We cannot gauge the effect of John's words.
Besides the female prophets identified in Thyatira by John the seer of Patmos, we find four prophesying daughters of Philip in Acts 21 who move to Hierapolis in Asia Minor with their father. In the mid-second century, a movement called the New Prophecy or Montanism after its founder Montanus, swept through Asia Minor, North Africa and even to Rome. Oracles of Montanus, Priscilla, Quintilla and Maximilla are preserved in the attacks of their opponents Tertullian and Hippolytus. "Hear not me, hear rather Christ" said Maximilla. Priscilla claims warrant of the Paraclete of John's gospel, "Appearing in the form of a woman, radiantly robed, Christ came to me and implanted Wisdom within me and revealed to me that this place [Pepuza] is holy and that here Jerusalem is to come down from heaven." Scholars surmise that supporters of Montanism might be derived from Johannine communities, particularly women who disagreed with the author of the Fourth Gospel. Epiphanius says, "they acknowledge the sister of Moses as a prophetess as support for their practice of appointing women to the clergy." Like the author of Revelation, the church fathers deployed the rhetorical strategy of attacking the morals of women leaders: Maximilla was not a virgin; followers were accepting money for personal gain.

Female prophets in early Christianity are not all obscure. Luke identifies Mary, the mother of Jesus as a prophet. Her first reaction to the angel's message is to "consider in her mind what sort of greeting this might be." She follows the angel's response with a query: "How will this be since I do not know a man?" Receiving a satisfactory answer, and a confirmation from Elizabeth's pregnancy, she sings a song of praise to God in thanksgiving for the angel's message. We call this song the Magnificat from its opening words, "My soul magnifies the Lord." It has connections to the song of the prophet Miriam in Exodus 15. Mary's prophetic abilities are recognized outside the New Testament in a second century text called the Protevangelion of James. This is her vision:

And so (Joseph) saddled his donkey and had (Mary) get on it. His son led it and Samuel brought up the rear. As they neared the three-mile marker, Joseph turned around and saw that she was sulking. And he said to himself, 'Perhaps the baby she is carrying is causing her discomfort.' Joseph turned around again and saw her laughing and said to her, 'Mariamme, what's going on with you? One minute I see you laughing and the next minute you're sulking.' And she replied, 'Joseph, it's because I imagine two peoples in front of me, one weeping and mourning and the other celebrating and jumping for joy.' (17.5-9)

Maria is Mariamme, a Miriam figure, when she is momentarily identified as a seer. In this scene alone, Mary is portrayed as one visited by a revelation that serves as the counterpart to Simeon's prophecy in Luke 2.34, "a sword will pierce your own soul also." Only here does the Protevangelion of James reassign to a female figure prophetic insight that Luke attributes to a male character.

Female prophets from Greece to Israel, from North Africa to Rome were enthusiastic, creative, spontaneous and spiritually committed, crossing rational and spiritual boundaries in private and public settings. Why has Christian tradition never endorsed women prophets unreservedly? What voices have we lost? When women are positively valued as prophets, as in the case of Mary in Luke, or the four daughters of Phillip in Acts, they are chaste and virginal. When they are criticized, their behavior is described as sexually suspect. According to Luke, once Mary becomes a mother, she ceases to be a prophet. Paul recognizes female prophets at Corinth but is alarmed by them. In Revelation, and the assessments of the New Prophecy by the Church Fathers we see a rhetorical strategy of linking prophecy to sexual behavior. What would it be like if Christian tradition welcomed the voices and actions of women prophets?

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

Bringing the ONE campaign to life

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – On my left wrist, I wear two bracelets that I never take off. One is a black-and-white beaded affair that is quite popular in Sudan right now, called ajok, a symbol of the beauty of contrasting colors. The other is the white ONE campaign bracelet, which I have been wearing for over a year.

Recently, one of Sudan’s Episcopal bishops asked about my bracelets. He knew about the ajok bracelet, for it is part of the Dinka tradition and he is from the Dinka tribe. But this other one, he said, pointing to the ONE campaign, what is that?

So I explained that if everyone in the world actually donated1 percent of his or her income, we could end poverty, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, provide medicine and education, build up local businesses, reduce child mortality, combat deadly diseases and become real stewards of the environment.

In other words, I said, for mere pennies per person per day, we could change the world and help bring about God’s kingdom.

Where would the money go, the bishop immediately asked.

To programs that are proven to work well and that deliver on their promises.

This is a good idea, he said. How can we teach our people this?

So I pointed him to our newest project, the building of water cisterns to catch rainwater from the roof of St. Michael’s Chapel at the Renk Theological College. I pointed to the seemingly huge hole in the ground, dug by an older man named John Tho who showed up every morning and every evening for five days to dig 2 meters down, 1.5 meters around, with perfectly straight sides. John dug that hole, and is digging three others, all by hand, slowly, surely, with great professionalism.


Then I pointed to our contractor, Mohammed, and his two assistants, Solomon and Idriss, young men who are learning the craft of brick-laying and concrete-pouring. Normally, the three of them dig and build pit latrines. These water cisterns are new to them, but the idea of storing water in underground cisterns, where it will stay cool and clean, instead of in 55-gallon plastic barrels or rusted metal tanks, appeals to them. Already, they are thinking of how all this clean water will change the lives of all the people who have access to it.

And I pointed to those who gave life to this project: ECWs in two parishes in Winston Salem, N.C.; two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia; one men’s group in Southwestern Virginia; one family in Northern Virginia; and one individual, who combined their resources to finance underground water cisterns that will catch rainwater off the chapel’s zinc roof.

It’s not a huge project; the funding for the initial work was $5,400. And the cisterns, while good ideas, certainly won’t change the world.

But they will make all the difference to the students and staff at the Renk Theological College, to their families, and to the surrounding neighbors who come to take water from the College. During the rainy season, the White Nile River becomes the “Big Muddy;” the water on which all of us depend often is a dirty brown, and that is after it has been “filtered” at the water plant. It can take up to six months for the river to cleanse itself, during which time anyone drinking from the water, or bathing in it, is exposed to at least a dozen different diseases, many of which are deadly.

Catching the water off the zinc roof of the chapel will mean clean water, possibly for up to six months. During the long dry season, water from the taps (which comes intermittently at best) can be stored in the cisterns, where the silt will settle to the bottom, the water will be clean, and those who depend on it will not have to go without.

That’s the idea behind the ONE campaign: To take a little bit of money and make it go a long way to change the lives of as many people as possible. Nothing big needs to be done; grand plans do not need to be made. Instead, the focus is on little actions that change lives quickly and for the better.

Four contractors, working in brutal heat under a searing sun, are combining their professionalism with the funds and prayers and support from approximately 200 Americans who heard the story of the water shortages here in Renk and decided to do something about it.

That, I told the bishop, is how we make the ONE campaign work: We see the need, tell the story, create partnerships, pray constantly, work together.

Are we changing the world?

Not yet.

But we are changing one small piece of the world, and we are helping a whole lot of people here in Renk.

We think this is a good start.

And we hope – we pray – that once people see how well these cisterns work, they will want to do the same thing, which means we can start a small company here that will specialize in this work, thus providing jobs and training for one group of people, and clean water for another group.

Will we need more partners in this?

Yes. But that’s part of the ONE campaign: Bringing people together in the community in which they have been created, crossing all boundaries because there are no boundaries in God’s very good creation.

Our little informal portion of the ONE campaign is based on our hopes and dreams: We began this project in the hope that it will join people together across 8,000 miles. We are continuing it to help the people in most need right here in Renk. And we dream it continues to grow, with future partners who will fund the purchase of pumps to replace the ropes and buckets we will use at first. Perhaps we will even find the start-up money for a new company.

Whatever happens, we know that with these cisterns, we’ve begun something new among the people of God in the name of God.

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.

Hidden zippers

By Heidi Shott

Yesterday the ironing crisis in our house reached a critical point. The piles of shirts, skirts, and slacks balanced on a maple rocking chair in my bedroom attained such historic proportions that I could no longer ignore them. At least three dozen articles of clothing – most of them mine because long ago my husband Scott learned to send out his shirts – required the attention of a hot, steamy iron. That doesn’t count the 30 or so linen napkins that graced our table at various dinners from Thanksgiving to New Years, which were washed and then relegated to the realm of forgotten textiles.

This is embarrassing and I am loath to reveal it in such a public, Oprah-esque way except that I can’t think of a better way to tell this story.

Scott gave the rocking chair to me 20 years ago on my birthday. I’m fond of it but haven’t sat in it for years because, well, because it’s always covered in wrinkled clothing. But in the late fall of 1993, in a different house six miles inland, I moved the rocker from my bedroom to the room across the hall that, with its new dormer and fresh carpet and built-in cupboards, would serve as a nursery for our imminent twins. I bought some lovely watercolory fabric for the curtains with enough left over for a seat and back cushion for the rocker. I figured I’d be spending a lot of time rocking over the next year and I was right. The seamstress I hired did a beautiful job fashioning both the cushions and the curtains, immeasurably better than I could have dreamed of doing myself.

Over the next few months the cushions stayed perfect. Then the babies arrived and before long the cushions weren’t so pristine anymore: baby spit-up, stray squirts of breast milk, later juice and gummy cheerios, still later crayon marks and smears of play dough. Though the cushions turned dingy, I never thought of more than spot cleaning them because I assumed that the cushions had been permanently sewn into the covers.

Ten years ago, when our sons turned four, we sold that house and moved closer to town. I left the curtains for the new owners, but the cushions and the rocker made their way to our new home. The smart thing to do would have been to chuck the cushions, but I felt the need to keep some remnant of that fabric close at hand. It spoke to me of hundreds of dimly-lighted midnights with a baby or two in my arms, the sweetness of rocking and singing or the desperate whisperings of please please please, darling boy, go back to sleep. In a corner of our new bedroom, the chair began to take on clothes faster than a leaky boat takes on water. Until yesterday, I hadn’t had a visual on those cushions in years.

When I removed the ironing for triage, out of the corner of my eye I noticed something I had never seen before: an overlap of fabric indicating a zipper. Fourteen and a half years since I tied them onto the rocker, I realized the covers were removable.

“No way.” I said, shaking my head, and in a moment both the back and seat covers were in the machine for a long-delayed bath. The mechanism to keep them clean and fresh had been there all along but my lack of curiosity and the fuss and busyness of daily life had not given me eyes to see.

Why is it so easy to get used to the familiar, grimy things in our lives that they become virtually invisible? How many hidden zippers are lurking under our piles of ironing or among our daily comings and goings? What else waits 14 years to be discovered, ripped off and scrubbed clean? Eastertide isn’t a bad time to look for the zippers in our lives – for that quiet moment or that seemingly random encounter that causes you to see something clearly.

For many years now I’ve been writing personal essays that start with simple moments of daily modern life and then eventually wend their way to matters of faith. And what a hypocrite I’ve felt each time I’ve written about reconciliation or doing hard things or choosing to act in a Christ-like way. And here’s why: Since 2000, with the exception of one phone conversation when she had by-pass surgery, I haven’t seen or spoken to my sister nor have I made an effort to do so.

However, the events of recent months have served as a Gordian knot to reverse this estrangement. I’ll call my sister “Peg” because her story is complicated and not mine to tell. Peg has lived in the Midwest for years, but agreed to come to upstate New York to care 24/7 for our mother in December when Mom was essentially kicked out of a nursing home for refusing to do physical and occupation therapy.

In advance of Peg’s arrival, we spoke on the phone several times. The conversations were focused on train fares and arrival times and our mother’s condition. While initially strained because of our long lack of communication, they became remarkably natural and cordial as long as we stayed within the confines of the current situation. Arriving at my mother’s apartment the night before we were to spring her from the nursing home, I felt anxious about seeing Peg after so long. She is 16 years older than I am, and, as the oldest of the four children, she often took care of me, the youngest by many years. Her older son and I grew up more like siblings. Still we never had the close sisterly relationship that I often envy my friends for sharing with their sisters and a sad set of family circumstances led to our years of mutual silence.

But there I was at the front door with my bag and my laptop. The gap of eight years, since she last came to New York to make peace with our father who was dying of lung cancer, had pushed her into her sixties and me into my forties and we both stood at the doorway gulping back the shock.

Because it was snowing hard, I had called her when I turned off the Utica exit on the Thruway. She had put the tea kettle on. After I dropped my things, we sat at our mother’s kitchen table and drank tea and talked. And talked and talked and talked.

Gently and instinctively, we didn’t talk about the past or any hurtful, sorrowful, regretful things. We talked about our families, and our brothers, and what the heck to do about our mother. We talked about today and tomorrow.

Here’s the hard truth: On my best day as a Christian, I could not have picked up the phone to call her in the Midwest to start that conversation. My mother’s health crisis became an opportunity, a suddenly revealed zipper that allowed us to whip off the veil that separated us…not completely perhaps...but enough for healing to start.

Last week my sister returned to the Midwest. My mother is on her own in a new apartment with meals on wheels and Lifeline. We don’t know how long this equilibrium of our extended and far-flung family life will last but for today, this day, all is well.

In the midst of my ironing marathon, my sister called and I happily picked up the phone. We talked about her trip home, her grandchildren, my sons, our mother and how the hard it will be to get through the next four weeks without the TV show Lost.

Despite how well this has turned out, I’m frightened to think what other sorrows and difficulties in my life could be redeemed if I choose. What possibilities are there for forging new relationships and challenging old fears and casting aside old stumbling blocks. As one who knows I am lavishly beloved of God, I should be able to open my eyes to see how easy it is to do such things. But without the miraculous grace of the previously unseen zipper and the knowledge of how to work it, I’m not so sure how to start.

As I walked back into my bedroom and the pile of clothing on the floor, my eye caught the empty rocking chair. Instead of returning to the ironing, I sat in the chair and turned my face to the familiar cushion: stained, faded but so so so sweet.

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

Coming to Church: a reminiscence

By Greg Jones

I am an Episcopalian. Not by accident of birth, or cultural happenstance. No, I am an Episcopalian because The Episcopal Church welcomed me, embraced me, and initiated me into the mysterious Body of Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the Whole World, of which our church is a vital part.

I do not come from a 'cradle Episcopalian' family. My paternal grandmother was most decidedly uninterested in organized religion. My paternal grandfather was a Baptist. My maternal grandparents were extremely traditional old world Roman Catholics. My father was not raised in any Christian church, my mother left Roman Catholicism as soon as she could, and most of my cousins were almost entirely unchurched in their growing up.

I spent a great deal of time with a family in our neighborhood that had tons of kids and they became like another family for me – the mother of which led the choir in a Methodist church. I joined that choir – and thus began my first experience of church life. "All Thing Bright and Beautiful" was my favorite hymn from those days. I was five years old, to be exact, when I sang in a Methodist children's choir.

My parents separated before I entered the first grade, and for the rest of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, I would shuttle between households. However, and thankfully, at the very time of my parents' divorce, a neighbor invited us to attend worship at his church. It was St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and from the moment we walked in the front door on Albemarle Street, I knew I had a home. Not only a spiritual home – but a home made of bricks and mortar, wood and glass, with a fixed location and a glorious capacity to bring people in. Every time I drove by my parish I would look at it and smile – and know that it was my place too.

St. Columba's was undergoing revival in those days, seeing tremendous growth in worship attendance, music ministry, outreach, mission, education, and spiritual formation – much like St. Michael's is today. I joined the choir there – my mother took classes and was received into the Episcopal Church – and for the rest of my childhood we spent most of our quality time associated with parish life in one form or another.

My first band played there – we played rock and roll at a talent show – and some poor kid in my band even did a break-dancing routine. (It was 1982.) I knew every single square foot of that entire facility. When they had a capital campaign and added significantly to the worship space and bought a world-class organ – it was something I was very excited about, even as a young kid. I took great pride in the beautification and expansion of the nave – and in the glorious sound which came from the organ. The beautiful architecture and the music formed me deeply.

Choir, Sunday School, retreats, youth trips, soup kitchen work, friendships, pancake suppers, weddings, funerals, sneaking around with a pack of kids – it was all what made that parish my home and my way into the Kingdom.

Quite simply, other than my own parents and grandparents, and a few other people – no other place, no other community, no other shaping force has done more to make me who I am than the Episcopal Church – as found on Albemarle Street in Washington, D.C.

If it weren't for the Episcopal Church, as expressed in that congregation with its very specific place in space and time, and its faithfulness to the Gospel, I wouldn't even know who I was. Thank God for the evangelism of the people of St. Columba's who knew that it takes more than talk to spread the Good News. It takes more than getting doctrine right. It takes more than knowing what the Scripture says. It takes more than all of that. It takes the creation of a spiritual home which is alive in the Spirit, and which is truly focused on being the place where disciples of Jesus worship God, meet and grow together, and are formed into the full stature of Christ.

For this I continue to be grateful for and at home in the Episcopal Church.

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

Remembering the dangerous
Dr. Martin Luther King

Now it has been spoken
He would come again
But would we recognize
This king among men
There was a man in our time
His words shine bright like the sun
He tried to lift the masses
And was crucified by gun…

He is a picture of Jesus
In his arms so many prayers rest
With him we shall be forever blessed

Ben Harper, “Picture of Jesus”

By R. William Carroll

I’m writing this on the eve of the feast of Martin Luther King. He was assassinated forty years ago, on April 4, 1968. With the rest of the country, we celebrate his birthday in January, but there is something even more powerful about the day of his death. Saints are remembered then, because many of the first saints were martyrs. King was certainly a great martyr, a Christian witness who gave his life for his testimony to the Gospel. He was also a pastor, who died tending God’s flock. In response to the teaching and example of Jesus, King came to understand that oppression was not only bad for his people, but for all people. “Until all are free, none are free.” At the same time, he understood the dreadful asymmetry of position between the oppressed and the oppressor: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Every saint is a picture of Jesus, who shows us possibilities for our own life in Christ. Elizabeth Johnson, in her feminist interpretation of the communion of saints in Friends of God and Prophets, makes use of J. B. Metz’s notion of the “dangerous memory” of Jesus. As we remember “blessed Martin, pastor, prophet,” (LEVAS II, hymn 46) his memory is also dangerous. We remember King as “moral conscience of his nation,” “teacher of Christ-like non-violence,” “preacher of Christ’s love for neighbor,” and “champion of oppressed humanity.” (Ibid.) We dare not let our politicians tame his memory, as he becomes part of the pantheon of civil religion, invoked with ease by leaders who stand against nearly everything he stood for. As hypocrites do when we invoke God, we honor King with our lips but not with changed lives.

We need to remember how King marched with striking workers and tied the struggle for civil rights to the struggle for workers’ rights, in a society that is increasingly hostile to labor’s right to organize and bargain collectively, in which politicians from both major parties knowingly adopt policies that promote capital flight to the least worker-friendly regions of our nation and to the least worker-friendly countries in the world. (I write this from the heart of the rust belt, in the poorest county in Appalachian Ohio.)

We also need to remember King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and how he tied it to the oppression of poor people and people of color, in this country and abroad. Now, after five years of war in Iraq, more than 4,000 U.S. troops are dead, and, by one count, 700,000 or more Iraqi civilians. And for what? Has it made us safer? Has it brought democracy to the region? Or was it, as many of us suspected all along, a grab for oil, which is now at or near peak production? One can do a lot of things already with alternative forms of energy. It’s hard to fuel an F-14. The now bipartisan effort for “energy independence” (with different emphases from party to party, and regrettably including a resurgence of nuclear power and a push for so-called “clean” coal) indicates that even the powers that be know we need to do something—and soon.

Frequently, King pointed out that so many aspects of his thought were taken directly from Jesus, sometimes by way of Gandhi and the theology of the Social Gospel. So much of what he named the “beloved community” was akin to what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God. Likewise, his emphasis on non-violence and love for enemies comes straight from the Sermon on the Mount. But, as obvious as it may be (for those with ears to hear) that King’s central teachings are rooted in the Gospel, it is equally obvious that the Church has not caught up with him, any more than we have caught up with our Lord.

We still live in a world that crucifies the prophets, and the Church itself is all too willing to forge alliances with the legions of death, instead of the power of love. The Good News for us this Easter season is that God’s love is real, and it is always, already with us, whether we accept it or not, whether we respond to it or not. God’s love is not even defeated by the cross, where the arms of Jesus open wide to embrace the whole world in all its ambiguity, violence, and sin. The risen Lord returns, not to condemn us, but to bless us, forgive us, and make us whole. His love will not leave us in our sins, nor will it simply accuse us in ways that make us unable to act. “I am with you always,” says Jesus. And, in him, so is Martin Luther King.

The Rev. Dr. 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 keeps Blog of the Good Shepherd. He is a novice in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Amen. I'm in!

By Martin Smith

Nurturing children in the faith is hardly a one-way activity since they are capable of saying extraordinarily original and perceptive things about the spiritual life that seem like true gifts from God. Adults have been marveling from the beginning of time at the striking oracles that children sometimes utter: words and sayings that jolt adult out of their jadedness and refresh tired religious ideas. “Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.” (Ps. 8:2)

A young boy in our congregation developed the habit of giving his mother a ‘high five’ after prayer. She asked him why he was doing it, and he replied, “Don’t we all say ‘I’m in!’ when we’ve finished a prayer?” And of course she marveled at this striking and completely accurate ‘hearing’ of the word Amen and its implications. This ancient Hebrew word of affirmation at the end of prayer is intended to be our expression of personal commitment to all that has gone before. The boy totally got this, even though he was mishearing the sound. And he felt that this invitation to personal commitment called for a sign, a physical ritual that expressed that willingness to be in God’s team, ready to play on God’s side—the high-five. I have a feeling that this could even catch on as an innovative liturgical action. It certainly turned out that way at a retreat I gave in Alabama a few weeks ago. I told the story, and from then on in all our services everyone without prompting gave a high five to his or her neighbor at the end of every prayer, gleefully substituting “I’m in” for Amen!

There is a great precedent for wanting to re-energize this ritual word Amen—no less than the spiritual originality of Jesus himself. So many of the sayings of Jesus begin with the word Amen that we must assume that this was a personal habit. (This peculiar quirk of Jesus is completely lost in most English translations of the gospels, as we often find it translated there as verily or truly).

This usage—Amen, I say to you—was completely original! Scholars can find no examples where anyone else before or after Jesus took the word from its place at the end of a prayer and used it at the beginning. This is truly interesting. What can we make of it? It seems to reveal the deep-seated sense of authority that Jesus possessed. In him, personal commitment to God’s will, his faith in God’s rule, did not come as an after-thought. It was the origin and source of all that he had to say, and all that he had to do. This ‘high-five’ to God came at the beginning of every expression of the message that he believed God had chosen him to launch, as one called “to set the earth on fire.” (Luke 12:49)

Rabbis and scribes sought precedents for everything. They merely expounded what had been revealed in the past. Jesus derived his authority as Son directly and immediately from God his Father, and this immediacy he affirmed by daring to transpose Amen to the beginning of his words. A famous scholar once described Jesus’ daring innovation as “containing all Christology in a nutshell.” It implies that Jesus was indeed acting out of a unique sense of mission and authority to speak and act directly on God’s behalf.

We should hardly be surprised then that the word Amen carried a huge voltage of spiritual energy for early Christians. It was no mere noise to be muttered automatically at the close of a prayer. Amen throbbed with meaning. It actually became a title of Christ himself. Christians heard Jesus as the Word that said two things at once. Jesus as God’s Son was God’s word of affirmation to us, his great Amen, his great Yes to us. At the same time, Jesus our brother, as one of us, expressed humanity’s resounding Yes to God, our Amen finally resounding without qualification or reserve. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” (3:14) And in the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we have evidence that the early Christians used the great Amen affirmation in their worship as a shout of praise, inspired by the Spirit, in response to God’s great Yes to us through Jesus. “In him it is always ‘Yes’. In him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’ to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in hearts as a first installment.” (1:19-22)

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.

A new step in the reformation of Anglicanism?

By Howard Anderson

I was re-reading John Jewell’s Apology for the Church of England last night. Yes, I know, only a Church nerd would “re-read” something as ponderous as that. My seminarian daughter, Kesha, urged me to read it because she felt it was important. It isn’t exactly People magazine or even The Washington Post. But something struck me as I read his often turgid and convoluted arguments against the Roman Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome. He, as well as his student, Cranmer, and Hooker were the three individuals who put Jewell's thinking into a new formulation of reason, tradition and scripture; and that the Episcopal Church are another step in the Holy Spirit's guidance of the church councils.

Jewell was seen by many, especially the Roman Catholic Bishops in England, who argued vehemently in the House of Lords against Elizabeth’s “Settlement,” as merely another Protestant cleric. But in his defense of the Church of England he began to link the seeming opposites together. He was smitten by the sola scriptura (scripture only) focus of the Protestants, but was appalled by the Puritans who took things too far in throwing the Catholic baby out with the bath. His fixation on the primitive church, and their less hierarchical priesthood of all believers, reaching out to the world as a way of living into God’s reign, almost sounds like what the “emergent/emerging” church folk are writing and talking about these days. Of course it took a couple more centuries before our ecclesiology caught up with the ideal of the primitive or early church. But I think it has. And I admit that I, like Jewell, am enamored greatly by the early church, whose faults I candidly admit I have not explored as deeply as its enduring contributions to the Church today.

I remember sitting in a pub in Canterbury with several of the Cathedral Canons, and after the second pint, one said “You Americans need to get with the program and use the same polity as the rest of the Communion.” My response was something like, “Perhaps you forget, that there was a revolution in the colonies and I believe your side lost. And, as you tried to strangle the Episcopal Church baby in the cradle by withholding episcopal support, our friends, and your adversaries the Scots came to our aid.” I added, rather snidely I fear, “The Church of England and the whole Communion, will, within our children’s lifetime, adopt the Episcopal Church’s polity. My friends, if you think lay and ordained Episcopalians will give up their rights to vote on matters of import like electing their rectors and bishops, voting in General Convention and give them over to a bunch of bishops let alone primates, you are simply deluding yourselves!” Slurp, wipe the Guinness foam off my upper lip, “so there!”

This harkening back, I admit often with nostalgia dimming the realities of the primitive church, has always marked much of classical Anglican thinking. The polity we in the Episcopal Church have embraced, coming out of our revolutionary culture is truly an American intervention into the wonderful world of polity. It is a reform that does take a step forward in the evolution of a church that is thoroughly Catholic, yet embraces the reformation thinking. I always add that TEC is “the last catholic church left.” Note the small “c.” But I can say that God willing, anyone I baptize could become our Presiding Bishop. There is no automatic roadblock to anyone who has the gifts for serving TEC as an ordained or lay leader, like there is in other branches of churches in the Catholic tradition, and these roadblocks of exclusion exist even in the normally inclusive mainline Protestant denominations.

TEC is much maligned in some Anglican quarters these days. But mark my words, this reforming Catholic/catholic church of ours is doing a great thing in following the model of radical inclusion that I believe Jesus called the early Church to, and stills calls us into today. Living in the tension of being a both/and Church is not easy. We, like Jewell, look backward for inspiration and forward to a church ever more being called by God into a bright and unpredictable future. It never has been easy to live in this tension. It never will be. But as for me, I am proud of this Church of ours that dares to risk persecution and having all kinds of evil muttered against it falsely on account of following Jesus.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is Warden and President of the Cathedral College at Washington National Cathedral. He was a long time General Convention deputy and most importantly, is grandfather to a five year old theologian, Will.

The empty space in the photograph

By Steven Charleston

What do you know about Joseph Stalin? I ask that odd question because a momentary glance back to his era in the old Soviet Union gives us a useful image (or perhaps, the lack of one) to use in considering our situation in the Anglican Communion.

Stalin liked for people to disappear. Those he purged actually did vanish in a very real physical sense because he had them executed, but they also vanished from memory by being erased from public photographs.

This idea was nothing new. Egyptian pharaohs had been chiseling out the face of unpopular or discredited predecessors thousands of years before Joe Stalin took the hint. But by the age of mass media, the process had become more refined. Historic photographs that showed a line of leaders waving to the crowd were simply “doctored” by having the offending person erased. It worked very well, with only one small detail: it left an empty space in the photograph where someone used to be standing. In some instances this was hard to detect, but in many others, it was glaringly obvious. Like a kid who has lost a front tooth, the line up on the platform looked odd with one big empty space in the picket-fence perfection.

What’s wrong with this picture? That became a sort of joke for Soviet watchers. You could tell, literally, who was in and out in Soviet politics by seeing who disappeared from the official photographs. The doctrine of erasing history like this seems ridiculous, of course, but it continues to be practiced under the rubric, “out of sight/out of mind”.

Now please don’t make any quantum leaps of comparison between Stalinist Russia and the Anglican Communion, because that would be silly, but also please do think about this one, small, but important point: when the official photograph of the bishops at Lambeth is taken, will we notice the person who has been erased (in advance) from the picture?

And if we do, what does that tell us about the integrity of the institution that would do such a thing? I am not attempting to make any exaggerated points here beyond holding up an image of the assembled bishops and asking: “what’s wrong with this picture?” Someone is missing.

As Anglicans, we should be ashamed that Gene Robinson has been disappeared from Lambeth, but we should keep that image always before us as a reminder: if it can happen to one, it can happen to all and to any. Gene was erased for pure politics, nothing more. His disappearance was designed to keep power in the hands of the status quo. His absence makes us all anxious, embarrassed and uncertain. Are we more secure now that we pretend one of us doesn’t exist? Are we more credible before the masses? Have we fooled anyone out there who is watching? Not likely. We are no more successful at doing this than Joe Stalin or Ramses II. We make ourselves look like what we are: a vacant space where leadership ought to be.

At the very least, the rest of us who still get to smile for the camera should acknowledge that as we wave at the crowd.

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.

Making decisions as a Church

By L. Zoe Cole

During the day, I write ethical dilemmas that are used as part of a web-based simulation that teaches ethical decision-making skills. One of the things we teach is that more often than not ethical dilemmas are choices between competing goods rather than between right and wrong. The other thing we teach is that although there is often more than one "right" answer, some answers are better than others. Virtually everyone does in fact have a personal value system, although most can't articulate it and to the extent that we make "good" choices, we do so by accident rather than a reasoned and replicable process.

In popular debate, those arguing for the maintenance of traditional notions of morality often posit the "anything goes" straw man as the only alternative to tradition. However, to reject traditional notions of morality (which are often simply about maintaining the power and privilege of one group over another) is not to reject all notions of morality or the value of morality. It is simply to suggest that a different set of criteria or understanding of the same tools (e.g. different interpretation of the same Biblical texts) be used to determine what is moral, ethical and why some choices are better than others.

As Episcopalians, we are sometimes criticized for a dearth of "official theology," but we do have lots of information about how to make choices that are life-giving, or proclaim the Good News or spread the Kingdom - or however one describes the end results that are desirable for Christians. We have a catechism that tells us what sin and redemption are (sin is "the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people and with all creation" and redemption is "the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death" BCP p.848-849); we have Eucharistic prayers that tell the same story of creation, sin, judgment and redemption in different ways; the Easter Vigil which goes through the same history using various passages of Scripture; the baptismal covenant; the Prayers of the People—oh! and then there is Scripture itself!

All these provide tools for discerning whether one set of actions or values or politics is better than another. They also provide a common language, and, to the extent we take responsibility for learning, a shared teaching. Some choices are a matter of individual conscience, but if we are the Body of Christ, then we are not free to operate only from a position of individual choice. We have responsibilities as members of the Body to fulfill the vocations given to us. I am an elected deputy to General Convention and therefore have a responsibility to consider what common choices and commitments are appropriate and/or necessary for this part of the Church (The Episcopal Church) to do the work God has given us to do (as distinct from the Church of England or the Anglican Church of Nigeria), as the Church (as distinct from what I am called as an individual to do).

Some complain that the fact that different members of the Church come to different conclusions using the same tools means that we have no standard or shared language by which to justify one practice over another - in fact, we use similar standards and shared language all the time, we just don't use it to justify the same practices. The fact that we understand these tools to point toward different decisions for different people at different times does not leave us to the "arbitrary rule of the majority," whatever that means. Presumably those who complain of such a standard are making some distinction between the way we currently make collective decisions and the way other Christians do or did in the past. Are those decisions somehow less arbitrary or less the will of the majority?

Although I hope TEC lives out the Church’s vocation to be prophetic, and know that some congregations are profoundly and transformatively so, my guess is that in reality we are no more nor less prophetic overall than any other group of Christians. I think the only thing we can be is true to our own experience, even when, or perhaps especially when, that experience is not the same as others. I suspect based on what I read and hear from both the conservative and liberal sides that many see the parallels between our current religious debates and problems and Jesus' criticisms of the religious leaders of his own day. For those who are called to live in the light, we still spend a lot of time in darkness of our own making.

Some complain that we merely mirror a liberal American culture in our insistence on full inclusion of all God’s children, regardless of gender, race, ability/disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. They argue either that these values are not intrinsic to the Gospel, or perhaps that our adoption of them is not theological, but a mere acquiescence in the questionable values of American liberalism or post-modernism (that dreaded and maligned antithesis of “orthodoxy” and traditionalism). While the claims are often over-inflated, the essential question is legitimate: we have no business as the Church in simply mirroring culture, even where cultural values are consistent with the Gospel. But often the claims themselves are not understood as a call to theological integrity, but simply reveal the critics as feeling out of sync with both the actions of General Convention and their experience of contemporary society.

I am frequently inspired by the thoughtfulness and learning of my sisters and brothers in Christ, especially my fellow deputies, in their approach to the issues facing the Church. They inspire me to work against my personal shortcoming of too often seeing those who disagree with me as taking unreflective positions. Often I find myself and witness others being pleasantly surprised by shared understandings among those of different theo-political positions. Therefore, what I experience as true of those with whom I find myself in alignment, I assume is true of those with whom I do not find myself in alignment: we are all seeking to serve the same God and we accept the responsibility as leaders to discern the will of God for the community, as well as for our individual lives; and even though we won't always get it right, we trust that God is working with us to accomplish God's purpose.

In the end I can trust God even in the face of the differences of others and my own fallibility because I know that (as former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said): when we chose wisely, God reigns; when we chose foolishly, God reigns.

L. Zoe Cole is a lay member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Denver, CO and active in the Diocese of Colorado. Currently, she is a part-time municipal court judge and a full-time writer for, producer of web-based ethical decision making tools and training materials.

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