The rise of the alpha parent

By Margaret M. Treadwell

“Parenthood is forever. Plan it.” reads my favorite T-shirt, which over the years has humbled me as I’ve stumbled, muddled through and hopefully learned from my mistakes as a mother. With school beginning, I use that message to ask, “How do you want to position yourself this fall to foster growth and independence in your children? How might you stay connected while loosening the reins for the rest of the school year?” These are lifelong questions for parents and grandparents who wish to strike a balance between being overly involved and not involved enough.

While pondering these questions, I came across several recent studies concerning “helicopter parents,” a term which first appeared in the 1990s to describe a new category of 40-something Baby Boomers who are intensely involved in their children’s development, hovering over every aspect of their education and recreation and even rising as far as the graduate job market to intervene on behalf of their young adults. Some even bail out their “children” from marriages by providing finances and childhood bedrooms readied for a return home.

I have heard most about this phenomenon from teachers, principals and college deans, who cite the lack of responsibility students take for themselves when they are constantly calling home on cell phones – surely the longest “cordless” umbilical cord in history. These educators insist that children are not spoiled by material wealth, but rather by parents who arrange for their offspring to never experience failure or suffer the consequences of their actions.

In a 2007 study, the National Survey of Student Engagement polled 313,000 college students at 610 schools and found that seven out of 10 students communicated “very often” with a parent (mothers were the most frequently contacted), and 13 percent of first year students and 8 percent of seniors reported frequent intervention by a parent or guardian. The study found that college students who reported high levels of contact with parents and guardians, and whose parents frequently intervened on their behalf, were more satisfied with their education and reported deeper learning activities than students with less-involved parents. Meanwhile, professors worry about the blurring of the boundaries between childhood and adulthood and the gradual ‘infantilisation’ of society with the appearance of ‘kidults’ or ‘adultescents.’ The dilemma? Students welcome the involvement of their alpha parents!

The phenomenon also has garnered attention in Great Britain. In a Jan. 3, 2008 article in the Guardian, Paul Redmond, head of careers at the University of Liverpool, describes the five most common kinds of helicopter parents:

* The agent who operates like a footballer’s agent – fixing deals, arranging contracts and smoothing out local difficulties.
* The banker who is unique in the financial services world for never seeing loans repaid,
asking few, if any, questions, expecting no collateral and being psychologically inclined to say “yes” no matter how illogical or poorly articulated the request.
* The white knight who appears at short notice to resolve awkward situations, then silently disappears once intervention is accomplished.
* The bodyguard who protects the client from a range of embarrassing social situations such as canceling appointments, constructing elaborate excuses, doubling up as chauffeur and personal assistant.
* The black hawk who is dreaded by teachers for going to any length – legal or illegal – to give their offspring a positional advantage over any competition.

All of us want the best for our children and perhaps fall somewhere along this continuum from time to time, especially as the cost of college increases. James Boyle, president of College Parents of America says, “The vast majority of parents just want to be better consumers and support their child’s education.” But what are we creating with our singularity of focus on academic, athletic or social success, rather than thinking about the whole, integrated person?

Happy children are those who grow up to take responsibility for their own destiny and being, which makes for productive, fulfilled human beings giving back to the world. This requires independence, self-motivation, resiliency, reliability and an ability to make decisions and take stands for themselves. What would it take for helicopter parents to draw on their faith and trust in God, remembering that our children are His children?

Prayer for Young Persons

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world; Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Book of Common Prayer, p. 829.

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.

Seeking answers in a summer of pilgrimages

By Martin L. Smith

This has been a summer of pilgrimages for me. I have crossed the Euphrates to meditate in Harran—the city where Abraham and Sarah settled before risking the further move to Canaan—on the way faith calls us to pull up our roots. I have prayed alongside pilgrims at the shrine of Job in Sanliurfa, who were weeping silent tears as we descended to the spring linked with his legend, meditating on the place of loss and suffering in our spiritual journey. I have shared my joy with throngs in Konya praying at the tomb of the most beloved mystic of Islam, Jalaluddin Rumi, now the most read poet in the world, eight centuries after his death. But I have planned a further pilgrimage. As you read this I will be in Berlin, where I intend to spend some time in prayer at the memorial to the gay victims of the Holocaust, dedicated just a few weeks ago.

It is agonizing to recall the fate of the gay men who were condemned by the Nazis to torture and devastating forced labor that killed most within months. But this is what most people don’t know; when the camps were liberated by the Allied armies many surviving gay inmates were not set free. The ‘liberators’ jailed them. Hundreds continued in prisons until they were deemed to have ‘served their time,’ years after the war ended. They were truly the forgotten.

During my training as a guide to the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, I remember the impact of the testimony of an old German man, who had survived torture in five camps, several years in the prison to which he had been immediately consigned after the camp was liberated, and then upon release made the journey home to his mother. She took him in, but never once asked—she didn’t want to hear what she suspected—where he had been all these years. These men were consigned to oblivion without recognition or restitution until recently.

Perhaps my pilgrimage will strengthen me to keep on trying to answer a common question: why is there so much at stake in the dispute about gay folk and their lives that it threatens to split the church and deepen the rift in American society? Here are some of the responses I have been working on: it isn’t really about sex, it’s all about power. It feels safer to wrangle about sex acts and tease out the sticky threads of disputed interpretations of Leviticus and the authority of the Bible than it is to talk about systems of privilege.

I remember my eyes being opened at a gathering of Christian leaders some years ago who were tackling the issue of racism. A distinguished academic made great headway demonstrating that racism was not merely a matter of individuals having negative feelings to those of a different race. The issue was the system of unearned privileges enjoyed by white folk. Gradually, most of the participants seemed to get it. They couldn’t absolve themselves by claiming personally to have no negative feeling towards persons of color. What they needed to reckon with were the hundreds of ways in which simply being white entitled them to all sorts of preferential treatment, privileges and perquisites.

It was a powerful turning point, and as lunchtime approached the participants were feeling good about the shift in perspective they were gaining. The session was ready to end earlier than scheduled, so the lecturer offered to add a supplement. “Let me use the final half hour before lunch to demonstrate how the same is true of heterosexism. What society is wrestling with in coming to terms with the gay and lesbian minority is not really homophobia—the nexus of negative attitudes towards them—but heterosexism, the maintenance by straight people of the system that awards them multiple, automatic advantages.” The lecturer illustrated her argument with a sample of these privileges, ranging of course from marriage to the right to display affection in public. Suffice it to say that many people in the audience were acutely uncomfortable that she had made this additional case. It’s far easier to talk about prejudice, because we can disclaim it, than about unearned privilege and power which just a little reflection makes undeniable.

My pilgrimages are a resource for gaining the strength to continue in the church. Because our real struggles are about relinquishing monopolies of power and influence, surrendering unearned privileges that are systemically entrenched, we are in for a protracted process of judgment and conversion. There are no short cuts. When everyone is sick of talking about sexuality, then we might get down to breaking the last taboo and learn to make real analysis of how power is so unequally distributed, in defiance of the Reign of God and the manifesto of the Beatitudes.

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.

I am not a doctor,
but I play one in Sudan

By Lauren R. Stanley

“Playing doctor” … when we were little kids, that phrase meant pretending to do just that: one child would be the “doctor,” one would be the “nurse,” one would be the “sick patient.” We had pretend stethoscopes, used pretend thermometers, dispensed pretend medicine.

When we were older, it meant … well, it meant something our parents didn’t want us to know about, experimenting, perhaps, with some kissing and whatever else. (I’ll leave the rest to your memories and imagination.)

Today, “playing doctor” has taken on a whole new meaning for me, for now, on a daily basis, I am asked to be a doctor, even though I am woefully both under-trained and under-equipped.

But living in Southern Sudan, where there are not enough doctors and medicine can be either hard to come by or way too expensive, I’m considered an expert. It all started with a colleague ripping open his finger while we were starting a generator. After we staunched the bleeding, I told him he needed to see a doctor, to have it sutured. But he refused. “You fix it,” he said. “I trust you.”

So we went to my house and I pulled out my medical kit and proceeded to clean the wound and bandage it, using homemade butterfly bandages. I slathered it in antibiotic cream, bound it up, and prayed like crazy.

When his hand swelled up the next day, I thought I had not cleaned the wound properly, so we started all over again. It took me a while to figure out that the swelling was not from infection, but from bruising (that generator was, and remains to this day, a beast). The wound healed so well it is almost impossible to see the one and a half inch scar. That’s when my reputation as a “doctor” began.

Then my students at the Renk Theological College started getting sick. They had headaches and aches and pains and coughs. One of them got caught in a dust storm and was nearly blinded by all the grit in his eyes. Each time, the students would ask for my help, and I would do what I could: give out ibuprofen, with careful instructions to eat first; share some muscle creams; put drops in their eyes. And so my reputation as a “doctor” continued to grow.

One night, a friend came to my compound; could I fix her cut hand, she asked. She had cut it the day before and had no money to see a doctor, so I cleaned it up and made more makeshift butterfly bandages. The wound healed well. Now, this friend shows every visitor the scars, which are minimal, and retells the story of me cleaning and bandaging her wound with great pride. My reputation soared.

It’s not that I know a whole lot about medicine, but I do know enough. Once upon a long time ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Kenya. Part of our training included medical instruction, for ourselves and our co-workers.

I have two “bibles” here in Sudan … one, the Holy Scriptures and one entitled Where There Is No Doctor, a gift from Peace Corps that I have always kept around. In the former are the prayers I use whenever I am trying to be a healer; in the latter are the instructions for the various medical problems that confront me.

The hardest part for me is when my Sudanese friends trust me to do things that I know are beyond me. Such as when I was asked, at 4 o’clock one morning, to deliver a baby – by Caesarian section. (The book recommends against that.) Or when a student asked me to extract his rotting molar (my dentist warned me never to do that). Or when one friend, knowing that I had had an emergency appendectomy while in the United States, decided that meant I was qualified to do the same for one of his relatives. In each case, I chose instead to provide the money for the procedures from funds I have received for just that purpose from American supporters.

Even though I often don’t want to “play doctor,” it’s not as though we have much choice here. Money is scarce, medicine scarcer so. The few doctors we have are either woefully under-trained themselves, or lack the medicine we need. What can I do but pray and try and then pray some more?

A lot of times, I actually do know what to do. I’ve lived in Africa long enough to learn a lot about treating illnesses and wounds. I’ve even learned – and used – traditional medicines. But there are times when my prayers are more informed than my knowledge.

That was especially the case the other night, when a friend brought her daughter to me. The girl had cut her hand; the wound was serious, deep, already infected. Part of the cut ran between her fingers, where I knew I couldn’t suture, couldn’t bandage. I thought she might lose the use of her little finger completely. I cleaned the wound as best I could and sent her to the doctor. But the next night she was back; the doctor didn’t know how to suture it either. That’s when I remembered that I had some dermal glue, so I cleaned the wound again, applied the glue, wrapped the hand, and prayed. If I hadn’t cleaned it enough … if the glue wasn’t applied correctly … if I hadn’t positioned her fingers just so … I might have done more harm than good. And even though I am not a doctor, I do believe in the Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

By God’s grace and a lot of help from friends who have provided me with medical supplies and knowledge, the girl’s wound is healing well. Her infection is gone and the skin is slowly healing. With more grace, she will retain use of her little finger.

Now, of course, the story is going around town of how I “saved” this child’s hand. It’s not true … but the story will grow and grow, and more people will come to me, and I’ll have to “play doctor” again and again …

And I am left to wonder: Do my “patients” realize that the most important gift I bring to my “doctoring” is my prayer?

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, Greek, Old Testament and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

Twitchers

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By Deirdre Good

When we want to identify something, we look at it closely.

When we see someone we think we know in a crowded place, we concentrate on seeing particularities--that distinctive walk or hair or face.

To identify birds, people look at their markings. How big is the bird? Is it as big as a sparrow, a robin, a pigeon, a chicken or an ostrich? Is the bird fat or skinny, long or short? We look at each part of the bird. Is its bill short or long, thick or thin, curved or straight? How about the tail? What shape is it? Is it long or forked? Are the bird's wings pointed or curved, long or short? You have to train your brain to focus on distinctive traits. Expert birders can identify birds by a single glance that takes in all these details at once. This is called the "giss" or general impression of size and shape of the bird. Similarly, experts recognize a bird just by hearing a few notes of a birdcall. If you start by recognizing the giss of birds that you see regularly, you can take in differences of more unusual birds at a glance. All of this takes time and persistence.

For several weeks one Spring I joined a group that went birding in Central Park with an expert from the American Museum of Natural History. At the end of the time, I could tell a white-throated sparrow from a chipping sparrow. And when I saw the difference between a female pine warbler and a female ruby-crowned kinglet (the female isn't ruby-crowned), I thought I might be getting somewhere. The next year I joined a group looking at migrating warblers. This summer, I've seen a common yellowthroat warbler residing in a nearby field down the road from where we live in Maine. However, I'm still not very good at identifying warblers in general.

Enthusiastic birdwatchers (birders) in the UK and Europe are known as twitchers because they will drop everything and travel long distances to make an unusual bird sighting. Twitchers often compile lists of birds they have seen. I belong to a list that announces unusual bird sightings in New York City. Postings identify sightings and location of rare species. It's often very exciting to see an unusual bird and to be in the company of other enthusiasts.

But in my heart of hearts I must confess that I've become skeptical about this approach to bird watching, which is just about universal, for the reason that someone once pointed out to me--it fails to take into account the individuality of each bird.

To be sure, observing distinctions within the same species is going to take me much more time. I won't be able to put away my binoculars (as everyone else does) after saying emphatically, "that was a palm warbler!" and move on to the next bird. I'll need to be settled in one place for longer. I'll need to pay much more attention to the particular curve of a beak or feather markings or some detail I have yet to learn.

This summer, an injured female purple finch has been showing up at our bird feeders. Her left wing and leg is damaged so her balance on the feeders is precarious but she still flies. I've no idea how she was injured but she survived the injury although it is visible. She comes to the feeders by herself and with a male purple finch, presumably her mate. I suppose its not often that we see injured birds probably because they don't survive long. I find myself thinking often about this female purple finch and her well-being. I'm thrilled to see her when she shows up and am concerned when she doesn't. But because bird watching is a passive activity, I can only observe her when she does visit and try to compare one visit with another by memories or photographs to assess whether her health improves at all.

The funny thing is that because of her injuries she has become a distinctive bird to me. Until she arrived, I'd been working at singling out one male-rose breasted grosbeak from another. But observing her is effortless. So what's the payoff for seeing individual birds rather than bird species? Isn't this the way God sees birds? Isn't it the way God sees us?

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

The Cathedral and the Compass Rose

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By Richard Helmer

Several weeks ago, with a group of youth pilgrims from my parish, I visited The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City for their Nightwatch program. The time there became for me a spiritual journey through the heart of what it means to be a musician, a priest, an Anglican, and a Christian -- all writ large in the great hand-hewn stones of the partially completed Cathedral.

The nave was still blocked off, the organ pipe framework still empty as the clean-up continued from the fire that devastated the Cathedral in 2001 shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center. The state of things seemed to me a metaphor for the great fires in the world and the Communion since that time: the blow-ups between bishops and archbishops, the painful breaks and terrible rhetoric. And all the while the globe saw another war, genocide in new places, and fear rose again to prominence in the hearts and rhetoric of many. But somehow, life at St. John the Divine had continued like it had for so many of us in the Church, despite the mess around them, they reached out locally with the Gospel and plumbed the depths of the Spirit in an age of almost frenetic uncertainty.

The unfinished nature of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine to me was breathtaking. The great central tower is missing, never undertaken. The pseudo-Byzantine dome is unadorned, linking a recovering transept to its invisible counterpart; connecting one of the longest Gothic naves in the world to a great choir with empty alcoves for un-hewn saints. The limestone finishing stones stop abruptly in the crossing like the edges of an abandoned jigsaw. The bell tower is unfinished; its twin hasn't even been started. Meanwhile, the water flows in occasionally through leaky rooflines, staining chapel walls and reminding all who look that the elements work tirelessly to drive the whole edifice back to earth.

At a number of points during the evening of Nightwatch, I was nearly overcome with the irrepressible urge to quit my "day job," and set off on the quest of high finance to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to complete the grand scheme of the Cathedral. As if I could. But the irrational desire was akin to the desire to finish all unfinished projects, to attain perfection, to complete the incomplete.

I also found in myself a strange sense of loss to history. Time was continuing forward inexorably. It was uncanny during the vertical tour to climb up the winding stone staircase into the triforium where artists like Madeline L'Engle had escaped for the solitude necessary to forge their craft. We gazed down a tunnel of carved rosettes to the stained glass at the far end of the nave. The rosettes are virtually invisible from the floor below, but offered to the glory of God, just the same. Stone masons, many now long gone, had left their unique impressions on each ornamental flower adorning a column in the triforium, knowing that few people would ever see the work up close or gaze for long at the details of a carving unique in all of cosmic history. And to know that even the stones themselves would not last forever, but would ultimately crumble into something other. Madeline L'Engle, a favorite childhood author of mine, had now passed away. All remains in motion. Anglicanism, and even The Episcopal Church as I once knew it was no more but was becoming something else again.

As we explored the Great Choir, we were asked what the Greek said in the Anglican Compass rose in the tile work on the floor. I was taken aback by the realization that I had never looked at the Greek in the Anglican Compass Rose before, lifelong Anglican that I am. "The Truth will set you free," it reads in that inviting quote from John's Gospel. The Compass Rose seems to suggest that the Truth sends us off in all directions, and not just for mission, but for discovering God in Christ already at work in our midst, in our world, in our torn hearts. For the rest of the night, the Compass Rose kept appearing in my meditations and prayers.

GAFCON was concluding their statement from Jerusalem as we were in the Cathedral that Saturday evening – a new condemnation for The Episcopal Church and other parts of the Communion was in circulation. Lambeth was shortly set to meet, the media were gathering a storm already, and the boycotts were being announced. There was something significant in the Compass Rose in St. John the Divine needing to be taped down in one spot, where it had sprung up from the floor. The Communion was in need of some repair, the tensions had finally reached a breaking point.

It began to dawn on me that my overwhelming desire to finish or at least "fix" the Cathedral was akin to the quest of some to fix the present crisis in the Anglican Communion through any number of means, as though the Anglican Communion can be fixed or cleansed by sand-blasting, the empty porticoes filled in with saints hewn from stone who will guard us from all that is heretical and undesirable.

Around Midnight, an old college friend of mine, David, called us with his mandolin to the high altar, beyond the Compass Rose, for Eucharist. A deeper truth began to emerge before my eyes as our youth gathered, and my associate led us and another youth group from Florida in the hallowed words of sursum corda under the watchful gaze of the Christus Rex. We were dwarfed by the great polished pillars of the apse, reminded of our insignificance by the sheer scale of tireless human labor. And yet we were offering glory to God, whose work in the ordinary bread and wine that we shared was infinitely greater.

There's a name for the old heresy of the Church and Christians in our collective quest to be perfect before God, to be "fixed," to be complete: Pelagianism. But there were greater reasons than that for my feeling ashamed for being overcome with such desires to complete the great Cathedral, to fix it for all eternity. To think of raising millions for a great Gothic tower when tens of thousands struggle for basics like food and shelter and medical attention in one of the world's wealthiest cities. . . To conclude the never-concluded architecture of a Cathedral and to try to erase the awesome question mark that is at the heart of the Revelation to John while countless multitudes around the world who suffer from skyrocketing food prices: now these were heretical thoughts.

The heart of Anglicanism, and indeed the heart of Christianity, along with the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-reformation, and the Settlements and Creeds and theological arts. . .these are all manifestations, like The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, of the unfinished business that Christ began. They are manifestations of the unfinished work of God's Reign, the in-breaking Kingdom that lives on like the uncut diamonds of hope planted in our hearts, the fragile seedlings nurtured by a Maker who is not finished creating us yet.

The Anglican Compass Rose, I realized, is not the destination in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. It is only a waypoint, a mark of where we are in the journey towards the great altar of God. It is at the great altar where all that is holy and all that is mixed up like the world comes together to worship the Lamb in simple gifts and the love of Christ working in the human community there gathered. There we are clothed not by our own achievements or monuments, but by the glowing white garments of grace given us beyond time.

My visit to St. John the Divine and the meditation I found there in the Anglican Compass Rose have now become a parable to carry with me at this time, when the future direction of the Communion, The Episcopal Church, and the world still remains messy and uncertain. Questions remain unresolved. The tensions are left in place for another season.

Perhaps that is precisely as it ought to be. After all, God is still at work, and we are not in charge.

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

Moratorium? Not again

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By Donald Schell

Some of our global Anglican bishops have called for a moratorium on blessing same sex unions and ordaining LGBT bishops (or maybe even LGBT clergy). Can we accept their moratorium? Not if we remember what another moratorium cost our church in integrity when we turned away from black America at a moment of Gospel opportunity.

We have to learn how say ‘yes’ to Communion and ‘no’ to moratorium.

If we so ‘no’ to moratorium and don’t just walk away, we’ll have to explain ourselves patiently and compassionately to our fellow Anglicans around the world. That will include facing the debate to rescind B033 at Anaheim in 2009.

But if we reject the moratorium, won’t they throw us out?

Common history and our understanding of sacrament anchor us in Anglican Communion, and our willingness to love sisters and brothers across the globe makes us flourish in Communion. Is Gene Robinson an Anglican bishop? We know he is, even though he was disinvited from Lambeth, but his critics know he’s a bishop too – that’s why they’re so troubled and call for his resignation.

If our American and Canadian bishops get disinvited from the next Lambeth, I’d hope they’d find their way to join Gene in Canterbury outside the security line, following his lead to take Lambeth to the streets.

Meanwhile, though some would say we’ve already explained ourselves, in love for our sisters and brothers (at home and globally) we’ve got to use print, video, scholarly publication, and face to face conversation to speak to those who don’t get what we’re saying and doing and -

- tell them all we’ve learned from the ministry of LGBT leaders among us,

- lay out (again and in detail) how we read scripture,

- say again why we believe that faithfulness to scripture, reason and tradition demand we practice full inclusion of LGBT sisters and brothers,

- argue biblically from St. Paul’s refusal to accept a moratorium on baptizing uncircumcised Gentiles,

and

- confess our Episcopal church’s mistaken moratorium in the years when emerging global Anglicanism came to reject slavery.

For a moment in this present struggle, we’re privileged to stand on a hilltop. We listen to the voices of sister and brother LGBT clergy who are us and stand among us; we see their faces and know them today because we’re learning together to practice honesty. Of course they’ve been there all along, and they’re all across the communion. The ‘moratorium’ asks us all to ignore their existence and asks them to return to hiding in plain sight. We can’t do that anymore. Their ministries have blessed us all. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

From the hilltop we see the Spirit at work in our LGBT friends’ willingness to risk marriage in a culture where people are afraid to commit or acknowledge lasting love, and we see a way forward as our secular society now leads us in beginning to affirm committed LGBT relationships with domestic partnerships and marriage. Straight couples among us have been grateful for support and wise counsel from LGBT friends in relationship.

Moratorium at this point would be choosing anesthetized ‘peace’ over Good News. For us moratorium would be walking away from Jesus.

That’s exactly what we did in the 19th century, turn away from Jesus. Our Episcopal Church turned its back on the key moral issue of its time.

Our English brothers and sisters, relentlessly urged on by Quaker activists (and a few brave Anglicans who defied and shamed their own recalcitrant C of E) disturbed a complacent, complicit church to bring an end to slavery. The English struggle for abolition began about the time our new Constitution acknowledged slavery as an institution. England stopped the slave trade in 1807 and emancipated all the slaves in English colonies in 1833. Of course there were abolitionists in the U.S., but they weren’t Episcopalians. It take two more generations for the American church to begin facing up to our national shame.

The Civil war divided the American Episcopal Church in two. Like other churches in the Confederacy, Southern Episcopalians found biblical justification for slavery. One prominent Episcopal Bishop (Leonidas Polk) was not only a slaveholder, but died on the battlefield as a Confederate general. Meanwhile, the Northern Episcopal Church, though loyal to the Union, never supported the Abolitionist movement in word or action. Instead we longed and prayed for reunion of the church, even at the cost of truth.

After the war our church rejoiced in reuniting, boasting that smoothing over differences proved our Christian charity. A few bishops and lay leaders attempted to begin a truth-telling conversation about Emancipation, but the 1865 General Convention quickly resolved that church unity was worth silence. The Episcopal Church’s failure to repent of its complicity in slavery and celebrate the freedom of our own African-American members prompted a mass exodus thousands of African-American to other churches.

It could have been different. There were voices at the 1865 General Convention like Maine Bishop Burgess who proposed holding a service of thanksgiving for the ending of the war and slavery. It’s easy to imagine a momentary hush in the House of Bishops when he’d finished his proposal. Bishop Elliott of Georgia had warned against just this sort of thing in The New York Times a few weeks before the Convention:

“Reunion…ought to take place in such wise as to preserve our good faith in our brethren and each other….It is our duty to guard the memory of our deceased bishops Meade, Otey and especially our beloved Polk [the slaveholding Bishop who died on the battlefield as a Confederate General]. Not that we should expect any endorsement from the General Convention of their views and actions, but that we should feel assured that no reproach, either direct or implied, will be cast upon their graves…the reputation of the dead is in our keeping, and we can fraternize with nobody who would willingly disturb their ashes. They have lived and died for us, and however wrong others may think them, we revere their memory and weep over their graves.”

“The church should desire to maintain and uphold the self-respect of all its members, remembering that they are the body of Christ. In this way we shall become in our reunion the admiration of the country, as we were for so many years during the fierce wrangling which preceded secession, its wonder, for our reticence and self-control.”

Bishop Elliott speaks as though the Episcopal Church had no black members, though in fact, at that point, most African Americans still attended Episcopal churches. ‘Our reticence and self-control’ kept us from speaking against ‘their’ enslavement or celebrating their freedom.

But Bishop Elliott didn’t actually ignore the existence of black people. He talked about them with a condescension that sounds like a contemporary Anglican bishop claiming Christian charity toward homosexual people and concern that liberals are shielding ‘them’ from Biblical truth,

‘…I have advised my people to take it [the oath of allegiance renewing U.S. citizenship] and be good citizens, and above all to do the best for the poor, unfortunate negroes, whose future is dark and miserable beyond conception. Already they are perishing by thousands, the whole race will now go out before civilization (so called) and competition, as the Indians are doing. We can survive the change, and one day flourish again; but not they; their fate is sealed.’

Apparently Bishop Elliott gave no thought to the thousands of black Episcopalians who would hear his self-satisfied warning of a future ‘they’ could not survive. No black Episcopalian hearing Elliott could miss how profoundly the bishop’s ‘we ‘ and ‘they’ marginalized and obliterated black Episcopalians’ desire and need to celebrate new found freedom in hope.

The Convention rejected Bishop Burgess initiative and followed Bishop Elliott’s lead. The House of Bishops quickly crafted a substitute resolution that we celebrate that the church was being reunited (making no troubling mention of Emancipation). Can we hear their sigh of relief? It was almost over.

The House of Deputies did reopen the question but a flurry of fierce debate came to no resolution, so there the 1865 General Convention took no action to acknowledge that slavery for black Episcopalians (and other citizens of African descent) had ended. We embraced silence rather than thinking, not talking rather than facing painful arguments. We turned our backs on grief, responsibility, and wrong. And so we closed our eyes and shut our ears to the grace of long desired freedom that had come to so many of our members. By the 1867 Lambeth conference, most black Episcopalians had left our church. What difference would it have made to black Episcopalians if the Episcopal Church in 1865 had tried to tell its whole painful story? What if we had established something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

That first Lambeth Conference met just two years after the American church’s 1865 General Convention. Our bishops carried America’s unaddressed race struggles to the first Lambeth. We know they were wondering silently about the exodus of black Episcopalians, because back home they were preaching and writing about the ingratitude of the Negro race. How could they abandon our church after we built them slave galleries so they could worship with us?

Our church carried that wound of silence for the next century, choosing to institutionalize denial for the sake of unity and joining in the practices of Jim Crow America: A few years after first Lambeth Conference, when we ordained our first African-American Bishop (Delaney) to serve black Episcopalians in North Carolina, we made him promise that he would never lay hands on a white person’s head in the rite of confirmation.

Our hundred-year moratorium of silence ended in the 1960’s when the Civil Rights movement awakened our church’s conscience. It was painful time for the church, because we were not of one mind, but conscience and conflict were no longer in hiding. From the 60’s Freedom Marches until today, we’ve been struggling to keep speaking, listening and talking; it’s clear that it will take a very long time to heal the wounds our century of silence inflicted on the church.

In 2008, American Episcopalians, legitimately confident in our proclamation of Jesus’ welcome to all and proud that our church is working for justice for our LGBT sisters and brothers, must learn from our own shameful moratorium that held our church together and silent before the Civil War and reunited it at the cost of most of its black membership after the War.

The Spirit of Truth challenges us to reject any more moratoria on truth telling. That’s all this moratorium would be – silence from and about the LGBT Anglicans throughout the Communion. But if we see our way to rejecting the moratorium, can we do it without self-congratulation and disdain for our brothers, Anglican bishops and church leaders who, at this moment, hear inclusion as a counterfeit Gospel?

Along with all our efforts to interpret what we’re doing now and why we believe it’s faithful to Scripture, Reason and Tradition, humble truth-telling of the damage we did ourselves and our church with an earlier moratorium begins to sound like Gospel. Can we say ‘no’ to this moratorium and insistently thank the worldwide Communion for welcoming us over the last hundred and fifty years while we struggled (and continue the struggle) to become fully Christian on issues of race?

Speaking our truthful refusal to accept this new moratorium and acknowledging our past sins as a church will not prevent painful conversation and conflict. Painful conversation and conflict is inevitably part of growth and change. But recalling our old moratorium and what we learned from it could plant a seed of Gospel unity in penance and Christian charity. Like the mustard seed, such unity grows from a tiny beginning to a shrub so generous that birds will nest together in its shade. It’s time to insist. Whatever it takes, we’ll ‘yes’ to communion and ‘no’ to moratorium.

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 and building community through music.

Friendly fire: an avoidable fatality

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By George Clifford

The term “friendly fire” denotes fire from one’s own military that accidentally injures or kills a member of one’s forces. Former pro-football player Pat Tillman’s death is the highest profile example of a friendly fire casualty in the war in Afghanistan, although sadly not the only friendly fire casualty in that war. Denying or covering up friendly fire casualties – as happened in the case of Pat Tillman – greatly exacerbates the emotional pain of a pointless injury or death.

Friendly fire casualties often result from the confusion of combat (also known as the “fog of war”) and the stress of fighting in a life-threatening situation. Sometimes friendly fire casualties stem from ineptitude, inadequate training, or an unanticipated series of mistakes, e.g., when French soldiers killed seventeen people in a hostage rescue demonstration on June 30 of this year because what the soldiers thought were blanks were in fact live rounds.

In late July 2008, President George W. Bush approved the death sentence for Army private, Ronald A. Gray. Gray, one of six personnel on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has lived on death row since his 1988 court-martial conviction for rape and murder. The wheels of military justice can turn exceedingly slowly, as Gray’s case has taken nineteen years to reach mandatory Presidential review. Appeals in Gray’s case, not yet exhausted, will probably require several more years to complete. If the Army eventually executes Gray, it will be the first military execution since 1961, an execution that President Eisenhower had approved in 1957. Meanwhile, a North Carolina court has sentenced Gray to eight life terms after he admitted raping and killing two women in North Carolina.

Effective deterrence requires prompt, consistent, and appropriate action. Nobody can accurately characterize executing a criminal more than twenty-years after conviction as prompt action. Criminals tend to commit crimes seeking immediate gratification and frequently cannot cope with delayed gratification. Excessively extending the time between conviction and punishment, as happens with all capital punishment cases in the U.S. and with Private Gray’s case in particular, eliminates the critical causal link between crime and punishment inherent in any effective deterrent.

Executing less than one person in the military every forty-seven years dramatically undercuts any attempt to argue for the consistency of imposing capital punishment within the military. The interval since the last military execution is so long that even the means of execution is uncertain. The lack of consistency – regretfully, Private Gray and his five death row compatriots are not the only military members guilty of capital offenses in the last fifty years – means that military personnel weighing the pros and cons of committing a capital offense will view the potential consequences of their act as a gamble rather than as sure and certain. For individuals who find the idea of delayed gratification unfulfilling, this lack of consistency eviscerates any deterrent power that capital punishment might have. Furthermore, the lack of consistency also highlights our fundamentally unjust sentencing process. For example, Private Gray, like 59% of civilian federal inmates on death row, is a person of color.

Friendly fire casualties always have an immediate and adverse impact on the morale of those individuals and units responsible for the injuries or deaths. Fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has currently stretched the U.S. military thin and, in the opinion of some military analysts, severely degraded the military’s fighting capacity. Executing one private for crimes that occurred twenty years ago will do nothing to instill more pride, raise morale, or improve warfighting capacity. Many in the U.S. military, many U.S. civilians, and much of the global community will regard Private Gray’s execution as inappropriate redress for the crimes he committed. If the U.S. military and civilian society felt more positively about the death penalty, both the military and civilian society would execute more people convicted of capital crimes with fewer delays. The crimes to which Private Gray has admitted and for which courts have convicted him are horrendous. Nevertheless, killing him will not undo the pain he caused, restore the dead to life, reconcile those he estranged, or atone for any wrong. Instead, Private Gray’s execution, if it happens, will represent one more, unnecessary, pointless, and avoidable death.

Private Gray is certainly not a Christ-figure. Like the two criminals whom Scripture portrays as crucified alongside Jesus, Private Gray has admitted to committing multiple crimes. Yet he remains our neighbor and a child of God. Nothing that a person can do places him or her beyond the pale of God's love.

I cannot imagine Jesus as Private Gray’s executioner. Nor can I imagine Jesus rejoicing at anyone’s death, be the person saint or sinner. I can imagine Jesus offering Ronald Gray forgiveness, healing, and new life. I can imagine Jesus encouraging us to keep Ronald Gray in our prayers and to incarcerate him until we can safely welcome him back into society. I can imagine Jesus writing in the dirt, telling us that the one without sin is the only one who should execute another, and then compassionately looking each person tempted to kill this child of God, in the eyes.

In important respects, deaths from friendly fire and capital punishment represent different moral phenomena. What links the two concepts is that each is a killing that serves no purpose. Neither friendly fire nor capital punishment does anything to make our world a safer, better place. Pretending otherwise – covering up the truth – only increases the amount of pain in the world. With so much pain and brokenness already in the world, we who claim to walk in Jesus’ footsteps need to seize every opportunity to end pointless killing, an achievable goal at least in the case of Private Ronald Gray.

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

Lessons of the Olympics

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By Jean Fitzpatrick

What can we learn from the Olympics? Like their predecessors on Mount Olympus, the athletes offer us a larger-than-life narrative that reflects our own struggles. There's are the inspiring stories: Michael Phelps winning his 14th Olympic gold medal, breaking one world record after another. Not bad for a young man with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The women basketball players from Mali, marching in flowing white robes in the opening ceremonies. Yes, they lost to New Zealand hours later, but -- coming as they do from a country where women are subject to genital cutting, poor access to education, and domestic violence -- their presence alone is amazing.

And then there are those who try too hard: the supposedly teenage tiny Chinese gymnasts who, as the famed former coach Bela Karolyi put it, "look like they are seven and may be still in diapers." Gary Russel Jr., the 20-year-old bantamweight boxer from Maryland, who collapsed in an effort to weigh in at 119 pounds. And all those cyclists on steroids.

So much focus on striving to win always leaves me uneasy. If the last shall be first, I find myself wondering, how do you defend years of training to go for the gold? Most of us know what it means to want to be the best at school or in the office, or to get our way in relationships. These yearnings don't generally bring out our most loving or generous selves. And yet there's something in us that wants to grow, to discover the limits of our talents and sensibilities. How do we tell whether our desires are greedy or life-giving?

In the church we aren't always as helpful as we might be. Often I wonder why the most "spiritual" people -- especially women -- who come seeking my help have the worst lives. I don't mean that they are the poorest in material terms. Instead, often they seem to believe that being a good Christian means losing in life, especially in relationships. They don't voice their needs and wants. They don't speak their truth.

If I suggest that it's time to focus on themselves, I see them wince. "That sounds...proud," they say. Or "That's not very Christian."

"'Jesus said, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' I often tell them. 'You're forgetting about the self part."

When we try to manipulate or muscle others out of our way in order to have power over them, then we're like Olympic athletes on steroids. But reaching out to others in love isn't for anyone who's afraid to dive right in and try their best. It demands the strength and courage and passion to struggle, to stick with a situation and seek understanding, and to speak up for justice and truth. As Ram Dass famously put it, "We must first be a somebody before we are ready to be a nobody." I'm thinking of that as getting in touch with your inner Olympian.

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

Renouncing the quest for the Holy Grail

(Through Labor Day, the Daily Episcopalian will be the every-other-daily Episcopalian.)

By George Clifford

Now is the time to bury the ancient shibboleth of Anglican – Roman Catholic unity permanently.

Reunification with the Church of Rome offers much to the Anglican Communion that is admittedly very attractive:
• Anglicanism traces its historical roots back to Jesus through the Roman Church;
• Unmatched global reach and influence;
• Liturgical forms and ecclesiastical traditions similar to Anglicanism.

Most importantly, scripture and theology exhort us to unity within the body of Christ. The Anglican Communion could take no greater step towards achieving that unity than reunification with Rome, whether reunification took the form of reincorporating Anglican Churches into the Roman Catholic Church or a form similar to the Episcopal-Evangelical Lutheran concordat on intercommunion and sharing of ministries.

However, the Church of Rome, confident that its leader, the successor to Peter, holds the keys to the kingdom, steadfastly insists that unity is possible only on its terms. That insistence has stalled reunification with the Orthodox Churches for centuries. I find many of Rome’s terms unacceptable and strongly suspect that a majority of Anglicans do as well. Six of the most objectionable aspects of any possible reunification include:

• Acknowledging papal primacy and authority, sharply departing from the historic Anglican policy of collective authority, e.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury is first among equals in gatherings of Anglican bishops or primates;
• Honoring papal infallibility, extending even to doctrines not explicitly rooted in Scripture, e.g., the Immaculate Conception and bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
• Excluding Christians not in communion with Rome from receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, implicitly conferring upon those Christians a second-class status within the body of Christ;
• Complying with the extensive corpus of Roman canon law, often substituting law for grace, e.g., in requiring annulment of a marriage before remarriage instead of emphasizing concern for healing and readiness for remarriage;
• Insisting on doctrinal and theological conformity instead of Anglican ambiguity, e.g., solving what Anglicans have left as the sure but mysterious working of grace in the Eucharist by mandating belief in transubstantiation;
• Substituting definitive ethical positions on a wide variety of issues, ranging from abortion to suicide, for the Anglican practice of an individual to follow his or her own conscience.
What would happen on other, important issues is unclear. For example, some rites within the Church of Rome, in contrast to the Roman rite, permit married priests (ecclesiastical discipline rather than theology gives the Roman Catholic Church its clerical celibacy). Would Anglicans have their own rite? Would a similar permission to marry extend to Anglican priests? Would Rome allow married Anglican bishops?

Recent, heavy-handed efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to influence the Church of England and the Anglican Communion emphasize the problems that reunification poses. In response to the Church of England’s 2008 General Synod voting to move forward with the ordination of women bishops, Rome communicated that this step would interpose an obstacle to reunification. Gender does not determine one’s identity as a child of God. Women deacons, priests, and bishops have given wonderful gifts and ministries to those Anglican provinces that ordain women. Rome’s informal communiqué suggests that Rome envisions the possibility of reunification with Anglicans by excluding provinces that ordain women or insisting that those women renounce the practice.

I, and probably most in the Episcopal Church, cannot imagine renouncing women clergy. Sentiment in the House of Bishops at the 2006 General Convention was that the Holy Spirit had clearly acted in the election of Bishop Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop. Have we in the Episcopal Church lived in apostasy since her installation? Do women bishops ordain inauthentic clergy? Do women priests administer invalid sacraments? We can only answer those questions with a resounding NO.

Before and during the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Roman Catholic leaders pointedly noted that any steps towards further acceptance of homosexual relationships or sex within the Anglican Communion would severely jeopardize ecumenical talks with Rome. That public message represents uninvited interference in the Anglican Communion’s internal affairs and an attempt to stifle healthy debate about the morality of human sexuality. The Episcopal Church required eighteen hundred years to affirm that slavery and Christianity are inherently incompatible. Similarly, the Episcopal Church required almost two thousands years to recognize the incompatibility of misogyny with Christianity. Part of the difficulty in our reaching both conclusions is the Bible’s conflicted witness, e.g., a prima facie reading of Scripture grants parents permission to sell a daughter into slavery and instructs us that only men should speak in church. Sadly, correctly discerning the mind of Christ often entails much controversy, conflict, and time. Stifling that discernment process – regardless of one’s views about the morality of homosexual sex and relationships – does nothing to clarify the mind of Christ.

When convenient, the Church of Rome ignores the reality that the papacy has repeatedly asserted that Anglican holy orders are invalid. No greater obstacle to reunification can exist. The rest of us need to recognize that Roman talk of Anglican actions creating additional barriers to reunification means nothing as long as Rome denies the validity of Anglican orders. I, for one, am neither willing to deny my priesthood nor to exchange my freedom of thought, the ministry of ordained women, and Anglican distinctives in order to become a Roman Catholic. Carefully considered, the “holy grail” of reunification with Rome, something that will happen only on Rome’s terms, is a cup of hemlock. Any Anglican who wishes to become part of the Roman Catholic Church can do so today by averring belief in Roman Catholic doctrine and receiving the sacrament of confirmation from a Roman bishop. To those who feel God calling them to make their faith journey in the Church of Rome, I offer my heartfelt best wishes and blessing. Anglicanism is not, and does not claim to be, the only or even the right Church for everyone; the Roman Catholic Church is a valued and historic member of the Church universal.

However, burying the shibboleth of reunification of Rome will give remaining Anglicans the unfettered freedom to live out our identity as Anglican Christians. The Anglican Communion has much to offer the Church of Rome, including our emphases on inclusivity, pastoral care, and praying together without having to believe together. Compromising our distinctive identity as part of the body of Christ to achieve reunification or recognition by the Church of Rome as an authentic branch of the Body of Christ is too high a price to pay.

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

The Martyrs of Knoxville

By Daniel Webster

My fellow believers in Tennessee were interrupted in their Sunday July 27 service by hatred, gunfire and death.

I call them "fellow believers" because people of faith are united by a bond that cannot be separated by miles or denomination.

Every Sunday you find Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians, Mormons and others gathered in prayer and praise of the God we all worship and serve. We who do this are living out the dream of our nation's founders to freely practice our religion.

Many of the millions of Sunday worshippers are seeking to build what Jesus called the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it the "Beloved Community." You find it outlined in the Hebrew prophet Isaiah (Chapter 61) and restated by Jesus in several places of the Christian gospels.

The gunman in Knoxville, Jim Adkisson, said he was angry at the "liberal movement" and found a target for his rage in a church that has expressed its witness to God in ways some have labeled liberal.

I don't know whether the gunman listened to talk radio but the neo-conservatives there constantly fan the flames of hatred. They pour gasoline on the flames of discontent. Now they do so under the same protection the Constitution grants religious groups to worship as they feel called to do.

There used to be a time when the purveyors of hatred could not use our public airwaves with defamatory and inflammatory language. Until the 1980s--when the patron saint of neo-conservative America, Ronald Reagan, removed the "fairness doctrine" from American broadcasters--the John Hagees, Pat Robertsons, Rush Limbaughs, James Dobsons and Michael Savages could not have said on the air what they have been able to say these past two decades.

Our government, our society, had demanded that if you were going to use our publicly owned airwaves you had to be fair. After all fairness is a noble and desirable goal for any society.

But no more. Now Lou Dobbs can keep ranting about the "war on the middle class" and scapegoating undocumented aliens with complete abandon.

Mr. Adkisson also said in his letter he couldn't get a job. Had he heard that because he was white and nearly 60 that his employment problems were because of liberals, or people of color, or undocumented workers who would work for less?

Nearly 30,000 people a year die from gun violence. Yet recently the U.S.
Supreme Court said the Second Amendment--which clearly states gun ownership is for militias--allows anyone to keep and bear arms. Mr.
Adkisson was easily able to buy his shotgun at a pawn shop.

That Supreme Court decision coupled with the removal of the fairness doctrine, I fear, will create other such acts of violence.

What happened in Knoxville could just as easily have happened in my Episcopal church Sunday. Our church openly welcomes people of difference.

The Episcopal Church has a bishop who happens to be gay and lives in a committed partnership. And that bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, had to wear a bullet proof vest during the ceremony that made him a bishop because of death threats.

So I feel a great connection to the martyrs of Knoxville and the entire congregation there. I pray for them. And I pray for Mr. Adkisson and those like him who feel violence is the only answer.

And I pray for our country. The right of free speech must be tempered.
You cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded theater. Free speech in the public square should be civil. The right to bear arms must be tempered especially when those who hear the hatemongers on radio and TV can so easily solve their perceived problems with guns rather than words.

This madness of allowing the words of fear and hate to be broadcast unchecked coupled with free access to instruments of death and vindication must be stopped. Otherwise a vortex of violence will envelope our nation like never before.

The Rev. Daniel J. Webster is vicar of St. Andrew's Chapel, Montgomery and Canon for Congregational Development for the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Anglican Balkanization

By Adrian Worsfold

Like other leading modern theologians of the first half of the twentieth century, Paul Tillich had difficulty relating Jesus as the Christ to history and also found culture problematic, compared with those nineteenth century liberals that the moderns reacted against. Whereas Karl Barth developed what was identified as a narrative theology, or "history-like" - but not of this world, Tillich early on had an aesthetic theology for his Christology. He wanted a historical rooting, but realised history could not deliver - but the analogy with art did the job. There is form, and content, and something that hits us from the art itself, which he called Gehalt and cannot be fully translated, but it means something like dynamism or power or impact.

The Lambeth Conference in 2008 can be seen on similar lines to Tillich's theology. Its form was all important, because there could not be a repeat of the bad feeling of the 1998 Conference that some likened to the Nuremberg rally.

Its form was the Indaba groups, except they weren't. A real Indaba group has a group of elders come together to solve a problem. They listen hard, certainly, and take a lot on board that may not be their own view and their own position. They thrash out the problem, and it comes to a resolution that they all own. Lambeth had cut down indabas where there was no time to thrash things out and no resolution. Nevertheless, the form was to allow bishops to get to know each other, starting with a retreat, and keeping up the atmosphere of mutuality for as long as possible.

Then there was the content. The content was the difference of stance between one end of the Anglican Communion and the other. It was unlikely to be bridged, and probably will not be bridged. GAFCON has happened, a new province in North America of GAFCON is due to be formed, and it will be primariy interested in its own survival and growth. The drive in North America and elsewhere towards inclusion is powerful, because it is that connection between Christ and culture (H. Richard Niebuhr) that Anglicanism produces in its Churches. Rowan Williams would centralise, via several Instruments and some new ones (this Pastoral Council will prove most contentious as it will do the work of the Covenant even before one), and he talks quite openly of the Anglican Communion being more like a Church.

Then came the Gehalt: and what was it? Well, some of it centred around the lecture of the Chief Rabbi, who did give some bishops an impetus for Communion, the 'good feeling' that allows many to keep talking. That largely comes from the form. Yet the Chief Rabbi was quite clear, whatever his own good feeling about his upbringing via Church of England involvement in schools. He spoke of the difficulty today with Covenants of Faith: due to differentiation and specialisation (I would put it) religious bodies are in effect dividing, so they cannot be made; however, Covenants of Fate involve people of difference coming together to serve the world in need. An example was the bishops and others walking in London to push for reduction in world poverty.

The problem with the Gehalt was, at first, the noises off. We had strategically timed statements and press conferencing from GAFCON. Then we also had the statements from Michael Poon and Terry Wong of the Global South - non-GAFCON people who were most unimpressed. There was a bit of a slide - not much - towards 1998 pressures towards the end of this Lambeth Conference too, and it seems that Rowan Williams's own push towards centralisation and asking the same people to do the sacrificing for the sake of his Communion-into-a-Church did once again annoy. The Canadians felt they were relatively unheard, and as nothing in content had changed, the Americans started to feel somewhat cheesed off at the end.

The Gehalt just may not last very long. The form may have been good, but the best Gehalt comes from the content. In the end, the upshot of Lambeth in centralising terms was where it was at the beginning. Rowan Williams is still actually pushing his agenda, and this Windsor Continuation Group will be all the busier.

For this reason my thoughts have ended up being the same as they were. A sufficient number Churches in the West at least will not be able to accept either centralised meddling or a Covenant that intends to discipline or produce a two-speed communion. The Global South outside of GAFCON may have all the works: Covenant, Catechism, co-ordination, and the GAFCON group can knock up its own Covenant, if it sees the need to put others on the spot, quickly. There won't be a centralised Communion: it will balkanise.

Lambeth had a good flow of information outwards: officially and via blogs. Two quotes sum it up for me, one from a blog and one from the Concluding Presidential Address of Rowan Williams. The first is from the blog of my nearest bishop, David Rossdale, the Bishop of Grimsby:

In my Indaba, one thing about which there was unanimity was that our attitude to homosexual people must be positive, generous and full of Christian love. There, however, the unanimity ended. In my Bible Study group there had been a recognition that we are each trying to be faithful to God and to our understanding of the nature and authority of scripture. By the time we came to the Indaba I detected the underlying presumption that a ‘real Christian’ is essentially fundamentalist when it comes to using the Bible.

Rowan Williams put it:

..in the Zimbabwean woman beaten by police in her own church, in the manual scavenger in India denied the rights guaranteed by law; in the orphan of natural disaster in Burma, in the abducted child forced into soldiering in Northern Uganda, in the hundreds of thousands daily at risk in Darfur and Southern Sudan, in the woman raising a family in a squatters' settlement in Lima or Buenos Aires. This is the Catholic faith: that what is owed to them is no different from, no less than what is owed to any of the rest of us.

No mention of the gay person beaten up in Nigeria, no mention of asylum granted to Davis Mac-Iyalla; rather these are the excluded people that a Communion becoming a Church is based upon: and for me, this stinks.

I hope that Western Anglicans reject this Catholic fantasising and have nothing to do with it, and build their relationships on informal friendlinesses where possible, where a Covenant of Fate brings people necessarily together. That would be an Anglican Gehalt worth having.

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

The ABC and "facts on the ground"

By Marshall Scott

This is the peach season at our house. Last year a late ice storm destroyed the peach crop – and the apple crop and the blueberries and other things – from Nebraska to Georgia. The peach tree in my back yard was somewhere in that range, and so last year there were no peaches at all. This year, perhaps in consequence, the tree has borne, and borne abundantly beyond our expectations.

And so now it is the peach season. Just about every evening for the past week has included washing or blanching peaches, to be sliced, dipped, and then sugared for the freezer or spread for the dehydrator. I have been picking peaches, but we have collected as many or more from those that have fallen to the ground. However gently I try (we call it “tickling the peaches”), two or three will be shaken loose for every one I take in hand, to be collected before I move on to the next branch. And, of course, among those that have fallen to the ground there have been some more beneficial to wildlife from ants to squirrels than they have been to us.

Anyway, all of them have been valuable to someone, and many of them to us. That’s not to say that any of the peaches is perfect: none of them is. We seem to have largely beaten the fruit moths this year – only a few worms hunkered around peach pits – but we’ve had a banner year for bacterial spot. It affects the skin of the peach, and sometimes the flesh immediately beneath it. It doesn’t affect the bulk of the peach; it just has to be dealt with. The same is true of the bruises from falling on deck or driveway, and the occasional small nick from bouncing from one branch to another while on the way down. It’s true, too, of the occasional small bite – squirrels are bad about sampling several peaches before choosing one to steal away with. All of those things affect the peaches, but they don’t prevent most of them of serving for our winter storage; and they don’t affect the concerns of the butterflies or the chipmunks at all.

That got me thinking about our efforts at evangelism. We have long talked a good game about evangelism, we Christians (for this concern isn’t specifically Episcopalian or Anglican). We talk about welcome, and we talk about new tools and new technologies, and we talk about reaching the world for Christ. All the same, we fall all too readily into the same rut, and start looking for some group or some person with pretty specific characteristics. At our best we think about how we can get the message out to new communities, new people; but even then it never really rises to the level of really beating the bushes and clearing the streets. And at our worst, we get stuck reaching out to “folks like us.”

Which brings me back to the peaches. I wonder how often we actually study our growth, and whether we pay attention to those who might fall past us, even as we appreciate the new persons in hand. None of them is perfect, of course; but, then, none of us is, either. Some of them may be pretty battered and bruised. They may actually take a good deal of attention before they can live into their spiritual potential; but with care and attention they can be part of the present and future of the Church, bringing flavor and richness and nourishment for us. Some will find more to give and to receive in other communities than ours; but none should be considered beyond value for God’s purposes.

And that brings me now to the recent Second Presidential Address at Lambeth of Archbishop Rowan Williams. In the address, delivered to the bishops gathered on July 29, Archbishop Williams tried to speak, as he said, from the Center:

I don’t mean speaking from the middle point between two extremes — that just creates another sort of political alignment. I mean that we should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ....

And, as I suggested in my opening address, speaking from the centre requires habits and practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone — not because something alien is being imposed, but because we know we shall only keep ourselves focused on the centre by attention and respect for each other — checking the natural instinct on all sides to cling to one dimension of the truth revealed.

He sought to articulate “what people on different sides of our most painful current debate hope others have heard or are beginning to hear in our time together. I want to imagine what the main messages would be,” and to place those “main message” within the context of the experience of the Anglican Communion over these past few years.

I will admit to mixed feelings about his descriptions of each side; and I am hardly an impartial observer. But what concerned me immediately was his hope for this Lambeth Conference:

Can this Conference now put [this] challenge? To the innovator, can we say, ‘Don’t isolate yourself; don’t create facts on the ground that make the invitation to debate ring a bit hollow’? Can we say to the traditionalist, ‘Don’t invest everything in a church of pure and likeminded souls; try to understand the pastoral and human and theological issues that are urgent for those you are opposing, even if you think them deeply wrong’?

It seems to me that the Archbishop has missed an important point in his challenge to both sides. It seems to me that the most important “facts on the ground” aren’t institutional. They aren’t bishops, however they may be shaped or partnered. They aren’t rites, however and for whomever they may be intended. They aren’t church structures, whether sustaining tradition or “offering refuge” for “pure and likeminded souls.” The most important “facts on the ground” were not created by us, whether “innovators” or “traditionalists,” whether primates or bishops or synodical structures. The most important “facts on the ground” were created by God. They are the men and women whom we might serve, to whom we might reach out, and whom we might invite into our midst. They will, most assuredly, not be “pure,” or even “likeminded.” They will be battered and bruised, all needing some care and attention before they can live into their spiritual potential. We might have to watch as some find their place somewhere else; but none of them should be beneath our attention. And no structural issue, no internal debate, can be more or even as important.

My point is not so much that “my” side has grasped this and “their” side hasn’t. As I said above, I think this is one of the more visible places where “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” On the other hand, it will trouble me if the Archbishop hasn’t grasped it. A challenge to each party in the fight to be generous to the other is nice but no real challenge. A challenge to both parties in the fight to be generous to those around them, and especially to those battered and bruised, those not “pure” or “likeminded” would be a prophetic call from Christ, just in a time and setting when a prophetic call from Christ might meaningfully be heard.

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” By the same token, the structures of the Church were made for the souls we might serve, and not those souls to fit the Church. Even those fallen and scattered on the ground are among the fruits of Christ; and they are worth our time and attention.

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.

Looking to Heaven

By Kit Carlson

On August 12, the Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak. For those who can find a dark enough spot, who are willing to sit up throughout the long night, the reward is awesome. Up to 60 shooting stars an hour fly through the sky, blazing with a sudden and glorious streak of light.

But most Americans, even if they are willing to stay up to see the show, will not be able to see it in its glory. Creeping light pollution is taking the night sky away from us. Where in a purely dark sky, almost 2,500 stars are visible to the naked eye, in most inhabited areas that number shrinks quickly, to 200 in outlying suburbs, 75 or so on the edges of a city and in downtown Manhattan, one might be lucky to count 15 stars in total. And a couple of those are likely to be the brighter planets, not stars at all.

Humanity is shutting out the stars. More and more people, more and more badly shielded and energy-wasteful lights, more and more lumens, and slowly but surely, the stars are fading away. Astronomers in some of the world’s most noted observatories are having difficulty seeing stars, even with their high-powered telescopes, because of light pollution. Amateur star-gazers are learning not even to bother.

This is not simply an ecological or even a scientific issue. It is also a theological issue. Without the immensity of heaven overhead, we lose some of the greatest images of God’s creativity and glory. We lose some of the most wonderful images in the Bible.

For instance, the prophet Amos writes: Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name. But who can see the Pleiades anymore (much less count all seven of the stars in that cluster)? And Orion has been erased until only the three stars of his belt remain.

And when God promises Abraham that his descendents will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, what does that mean to those of us who live in semi-darkness, who can count the stars overhead and find them few in number? Maybe the promise to Abraham isn’t as bountiful as one might think, when one can only see a dozen stars.

Most of all we lose the sense of our place in the universe, camped out as we are on a tiny blue rock here on the outer fringes of one middling galaxy in all the infinity of space. How can we sing along with the psalmist, When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

We forget ourselves. We forget our place. We forget the immensity of the creation we inhabit and the commensurate immensity of the One who created it all. Yet that is how, for millennia, human beings became aware of the transcendence of the world, the vastness of the universe, and the presence of God. By looking at the stars.

Madeline L’Engle liked to tell the story of her first awareness of God. She was only two, and her family was staying at a beach cottage in what was then a remote corner of Florida. And someone said, “Let’s wake the baby up and show her the stars.” Wrapped in a blanket, held in her mother’s arms, young Madeline looked up into the black and star-spangled sky and recognized her Maker.

Will any of us ever be able to share that experience?

(For more information on how to protect the night sky, visit the International Dark Sky Association website at www.darksky.org)

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

Scenes from a family reunion

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Our family tree is spread across a picnic table at Camp Cullen on Mobile Bay.

“Tommy, have you met your cousin Tommy?” I ask the two young men who are studying it. They reach across the table to shake hands over the diagram of their ancestors including four previous generations of Thomas Henrys.

“Here is the great, great grandfather you both are named for,” I point to the first Thomas born in 1800. His son, escaping Ireland’s Potato Famine in 1848, bypassed Ellis Island and landed with his new wife in Mobile, where they produced a large family (our grandfather Thomas Henry was the eighth of eleven children) and with them built a successful wholesale grocery business. Both Tommys quickly discover they have inherited that entrepreneurial, adventuresome spirit - a bond enriched by the mystery of how deep blood flows.

This moment was one of the thrills of our first McDonnell Family Reunion, a biennial event since 1996 and renamed "Uncle Buddy's Reunion" for our beloved remaining uncle who recently died at age 95. Before that first gathering, 18 of us first cousins had never met or had only passing acquaintance. (My locked-in memories include two mean girl cousins who pulled my hair as a child, and a slightly older boy who was invited to baseball games with my Dad and uncles while I stayed home.) Our fathers, seven brothers who lost both their parents way too young, married strong women who preferred their own family of origin. As my mother succinctly explains, “I just liked my family and your father was contented with them too.”

Drifting apart is the way many families solve the unresolved emotional attachment to their parents, siblings and larger family.

In our generation, we cousins of cut-off parents were repeating this pattern, joining our spouse’s family like an “appendage.” This position often made me more a follower rather than a leader in our nuclear family, reacting to others rather than initiating decisions.

So, why initiate a family reunion? What difference could it make? I had the following five goals

• To satisfy my curiosity. Who are these people? If I were writing a Southern novel, where would I find our strengths, joys, sorrows, blood, guts, and secrets? Could we nourish each other’s strengths? Was it possible to become more objective rather than holding on to my subjective stance of “My mother’s family is more important; besides you were mean to me when I was 5?”

• To reduce the intense focus on my husband and two children by expanding our circle, especially while my father and several of his brothers were dying of terminal illnesses. The pain of isolation had grown too great to bear, and our kids needed cousins.

• To be one of the team and a part of the family system. How might I fit into this large Irish band?

• To gather stories and put life into our family tree.

• To have fun.

After I found my amazing cousin Betty who, surrounded by brothers, longed for a sister, planning the reunion was fairly simple because she liked my ideas and knew the means to carry them out on Mobile Bay where our fathers had summered until their parents’ deaths.

Except for drawing the family tree (also known as a diagram or genogram), I determined simply to listen, watch and enjoy folks. I became the self-appointed “game cousin,” finding ways to gather facts and stories about each other through play. I believe the lighthearted pleasure we share is what keeps us returning to reunions and staying in touch throughout the year. When the going gets tough, one conversation with a cousin (including the two special ones with whom I grew up on my mother’s side) can work wonders to give me perspective, make me laugh and calm me down.

Like all families, we have our multigenerational patterns of weakness. Many of us inherited the propensity to problem solve by physically and emotionally distancing from one another, unconsciously cutting ourselves off from healing resources. The branch of our family that lives the closest to Mobile Bay is least likely to show up for reunions because one daughter doesn’t speak to her mother creating polarization between herself and the siblings who do.

But our inherited strengths and love are greater. Our cousins who had completely disappeared before that first reunion gave us a bedtime goodnight poem from their father, who also died young. It could be repeated to any child no matter what his country of origin and that child would feel proud: “You are direct descendants of Brian Boru, the first and only King of Ireland, and you are a Princess (or Prince) in your own right.”

We cousins need each other.

Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell, L.I.C.S.W., is a family psychotherapist and teacher in private practice. She teaches a course on Congregational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary and writes a monthly column for Washington Window.

Point of view

By Ann Fontaine

Walking to practice baseball early in the day to avoid the soon to be 95 degree day, our grandson and I cross the bridge over the Popo Agie and into the City Park. It is only a short walk from our house down the pathway, across the river and to the ball field but each step is filled with wonders as only a 9 year old can find.

Here is a shiny split ring washer that must be pocketed for addition to the treasure box, there is an old nail from a long past fencing project. As we walk, with a grandpa-purchased regulation equipment bag, carried by grandma, we examine cracks in the sidewalk. Small green shoots are relentlessly breaking up whatever pavement humans try to keep in place. Life cannot be stopped by a layer of cement or asphalt. It finds the smallest opening and sends up a leaf of weed, a blade of grass.

There is something about spending days with children that slows one down and opens the eyes. Many have remarked on the wonder of seeing things only noticed by the under 10 set or those who see the world through the openness of a child or an artist.

Last week a group of adults were examining two photos. We examined the first one without seeing the second one.

cross1.jpg

The question was asked – What do you see? What is it like in the world of this photo? The small bits of shell embedded in the stone or is it concrete? The green bits in the open spaces, the leaves on the surface. As I look at the lines between the blocks - what could be negative or separating in this world? What disturbs you? It is such a close up shot – does it make you want to see more? Or are you content to examine what is put before you? As we looked at the photograph and reflected on it we drew parallels to how we see things in our lives. One person said – oh I am used to seeing partially as I am very short and usually cannot see over or around the people nearby. Others felt constrained by being so close to the subject that they could not tell what is was. We realized that because it was a close up and we were all looking at it on a computer screen where we had to scroll to see the parts – we did not even know if everyone was looking at the same part of the whole. The points of view were so different even though we were looking at the same photo and we are a fairly compatible group on most issues.

The differences in our perceptions were all due to our life experiences not due to the object in our vision. It was a simple lesson in the truth that without listening to and sharing with one another we never know how the other perceives our words, our actions, even concrete objects. It is a wonder we can understand each other at all in the simplest of exchanges and how much less we can know about abstract concepts in our minds and hearts.

When we saw the next photo that was the full picture on our screens – we were surprised by what it showed.

cross2.jpg

Backing off from the close-up it was clearly a piece of sidewalk made of blocks of concrete. The little shells and stones were part of the aggregate. The cracks were partially intentional and partially from weathering. Most immediately saw a crucifix in the spaces. The group is a Christian study group and the icon of cross is embedded in most of us. Still the points of view on the meaning of cross varied wildly- from an image of death to an image of life. In this photo the green new life and marks of water and wind turned a dead piece of concrete into a sign of new life. One saw the cross as only bringing death to those of other faiths; it was impossible for her to see any life in it until seeing it in the photo. Another saw all the people who had died by those who carried the cross as a symbol of exclusion. While others saw the cross as the death of many who were followers of Christ.

Seeing the cross in the divisions in a sidewalk caused by human hands and natural forces brought out the way the cross can bring forth life and join seemingly divided things and people together.

And what does this have to do with walking to the park with a 9 year old? Somehow when I slow down and really look, take time to listen and really hear – I find the moments of God breaking into my concrete mind and heart of stone. The world rushes by, I think I understand with a quick scan of life – with a nine year old I can taste and see the holiness of each moment.

Photographs Lynn Ronkainen ©2008

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

Conversations with Paul

By Lauren R. Stanley

I’ve been having long conversations with the Apostle Paul of late due to some long-term writing assignments in which I am engaged, and the more I talk with Paul, the more I realize, we don’t always know what he meant.

Some of his statements are hurtful. Can you imagine being one of those new followers of the Way in Galatia, hearing Paul call you “foolish” because he doesn’t agree with how you are living your new life in Christ? How about being one of those Corinthians, listening as Paul – who was no longer in your midst – castigated you for re-interpreting what he had taught?

Some of his statements are so uplifting they make your soul climb right into heaven: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” “The Spirit helps us in our weakness … (and) intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” “If God is for us, who is against us?”

And then there is Paul’s incredibly beautiful statement on love: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What could be more beautiful than that?

When I am in my most generous moods, I love what Paul has to say. It may not be clear, but through his words, I can catch glimpses of heaven.

When I am in my less generous moods, I rant and rage at Paul: How dare you say that women are to be silent in church? How dare you say slaves have to obey their masters? (Slaves!? Slaves?!?!)

But the deepest conversations come from when I can’t figure out what Paul is trying to say. Lord knows, he’s quoted all the time by anyone and everyone who wants to make a point on any and every subject. And Lord knows, people claim to understand exactly what Paul means, especially on the most controversial of current issues, sexuality.

But me? I think even Paul wasn’t certain what he exactly meant. After all, this is the man who admitted, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been known.”

So when I get to heaven (by God’s grace alone, of that I am certain), I want to sit down with Paul. I want to ask him: What did you mean? Did you know how your statements would be used? Did you think you had the last word? Or did you know, or think, or believe, that our understanding of your words would develop as time went by, and people changed and grew, and whole new cultures were discovered? Which things that you said were immutable to you, and which were to grow in the Spirit of which you speak so frequently, so eloquently?

There are times when I think I understand Paul. And there are times when I know I don’t have the foggiest idea what he means. And there are times, too, which I think, “OK, that was then, this is now.”

But I won’t know the answers to these questions until I get to heaven. Because there, I am convinced, all things will indeed be mediated by God on high, and hopefully, I won’t have to ask any questions, because then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

In the meantime, I struggle with Paul, the Church’s first theologian, who in the immediacy of the moment said some things that he felt simply had to be said, but who might have a different take now, 2,000 years later. I don’t know that – it’s simply what I believe.

I think that Paul must be upset at how his words are used to hurt and exclude people. I think Paul must be pacing up and down in anger some days, as he must have been when he wrote that letter to the Galatians, fuming that we simply don’t get what he meant, and by God, not only does he need to explain it again, we need to listen again, and again, and again, until we finally do get it. And while he is pacing in frustration, I am convinced that he simply must be weeping in frustration and pain, just as God weeps when something awful happens to us, that Paul suffers with us as God suffers with us.

When I am struggling the most, I fall back on the one statement that I know to the depths of my being is true, for it rings not of Paul but of God, in all of God’s glory: “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” I think Paul knew that in the end, the inexplicable mystery of God’s love is more important than anything else, that love itself is the greatest gift of God and is the only thing that holds us together, even when we disagree with each other.

In the meantime, my conversations with Paul continue, sometimes in complete understanding, sometimes without the foggiest idea of what I am doing or what Paul means. Because by staying in conversation, even without the deep understanding of each other, we are building up the relationship, and that, more than anything else, deepens the love.

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.

The oscular cross, and other gestures

By Derek Olsen

A New Gesture: As a liturgy geek with Anglo-Catholic leanings, I’ve seen and done more liturgical gestures than can easily be numbered. Yet, in the past few months I’ve discovered another. Since it is—to the best of my knowledge—unclassified, I’ll give it a name: the oscular cross. It’s a rather peculiar gesture that involves making the sign of the cross with the first two fingers of the right hand while simultaneously sucking the right thumb. While I’ve not seen it in Ritual Notes or any other liturgical guide, I have an extraordinarily good vantage for observing it; it’s the sign my newly-five-year old daughter makes as she leans her head on my shoulder while I hold her during the Eucharistic prayer. At the various points in the prayer when I lean my head down and whisper “Cross yourself…’ she’ll obediently perform the oscular cross.

It’s also been spotted at bed-time. As we begin the Song of Simeon (the Nunc Dimittis), the oscular cross once again makes an appearance. I have yet to determine if it is a characteristic gesture of a certain age-set, but I’m not yet sure; rather than the oscular cross, my two-year old daughter makes a motion—thumb free from mouth—that resembles swatting a cloud of mosquitoes that have descended all over her upper body.

The appearance of the oscular cross has led me to consider the faith of children, formation, and the Anglican way of being. Let me hasten to add that I’m no child psychologist, no decades-tested Christian educator, and I’m producing no glossy-covered book guaranteeing simple steps to producing a Christ-centered child. But I am a daddy. I do care deeply and passionately about my little girls, and about the ways they think, feel, and live. I have found hope, joy, and solace in my faith—I want nothing less for them. So I present no answers, but more a random assemblage of field-notes on raising up Anglicans.

On Bed-Time Prayers: A common part of Christian family culture is the bedtime prayer ritual. I remember caring for a clergy couple’s children a few years ago, and the look of shock and horror on the young faces when I forgot bedtime prayers. My elder was still non-verbal at that time, but the episode jolted me to an awareness that it was time to consider the concept in earnest! Raised Presbyterian and Lutheran respectively, my wife and I grew up with prayers, but our household spirituality is very much shaped by the disciplines of fixed prayer and the rhythms of the Anglican Daily Office, disciplines we’d like to instill in our children as well. If only there were a trial-size version of the Daily Office, suitable for children and others with short attention spans! …And it turns out, there is. The “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” begins on page 136 of your BCP; prayers “At the Close of Day” can be found on page 140. These quickly became our standard prayers.

I’ve seen other options—we’ve got other options on our children’s shelves: books with little prayers helpfully illustrated by picture of cute little sheep and all. We opted out of those for two main reasons. First, the theology of many was rather questionable. If I don’t like a prayer’s theology, why would I teach it to my children? Second, I have a predisposed bias against worship dumbed-down. Prayer, worship, is formational. What we say, how we pray, shapes how we think about and feel towards God. It forms us into Christian patterns of being. I had initial fears that perhaps the prayers were “too advanced” but I felt confirmed in our approach when, at the age of three, our eldest could repeat the entire office from memory—and would often insist on chanting parts of it as well!

Does she understand what everything means? No, not yet—but it’s fascinating to see flashes of insight when an epiphany occurs, one made possible by her memorization. We were driving in the car one day and prompted by both the church service we’d left and the Linkin Park lyrics on the radio, she asked, “Daddy, what’s ‘mercy’?” After I’d finished choking on my coffee, I tried to give her a short answer to a big concept and found assistance by referring to those prayers that she already knew. Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw a flash of insight in her eyes that would have been impossible without her prayer formation.

On Kids in Church: My wife and I believe that, generally, kids understand the messages we adults send and are taught about us and our world by what they see us do. The practice of Children’s Church is a contested topic in our house. We can see some utility for it, but, at the end of the day I believe it communicates to children that the adults don’t want them in their service. If we teach them we don’t want them there—they’ll learn it and may never come back. As a result, we’ve had a policy of having our eldest daughter in church since she was born.

Since my wife is priest, that means that I’ve had the role of dealing with our elder daughter, trying to keep her focused—or at least quiet—in the service since she was born. I focus on quiet because children can be disruptive to the rest of the congregation, and that needs to be taken seriously. At the same time, a quietly cooing and giggling baby is not an offense in my book. The only way to learn how to behave in church is to be there. However, I always sat with an eye to the quick escape where I could remove her if she got truly disruptive.

A few Atlanta congregations remember me as the guy who stood at the back of the church swinging a baby carrier like a censer to lull the little one back to sleep. As she got older, she’d let me know what she wanted. Sometimes during a sermon (or even after the first lesson) she’d simply get up, head out of the pew, and take off for the back of the church to wander around outside. I quickly learned to follow along; the alternative was a messy meltdown.

Now that she’s older still and a newly-minted five-year old, I again choose our seating with care. Now we sit as close to the front as practically possible so she can see what’s going on, often in the first couple of pews. I formerly fretted about the time she spent doodling on pew cards, flipping through books, or coloring sheets rather than “paying attention” but time has taught me to not be concerned. Once after a game of “church” (oh yes, she gathers her mother, sister, and a flock of invisible friends for church complete with hymns, a sermon, and Eucharist) my wife came to me with wonder in her eyes. “She knows the Eucharistic prayer! Not word for word, but just now, she went through virtually the whole thing.” Let’s just say: she didn’t pick it up from Children’s Church…

You may have noticed, however, a certain silence about my younger daughter… That’s because currently while her elder sister comes with me, the younger goes to the nursery. I feel a little bit badly about that, like I’m letting her down, but I know the alternative. I’m just one man and the two sisters together inspire far more mayhem than the two sisters apart. It might be different if my wife were next to me rather than up front, but on the occasions we’ve had a chance to try it—the results weren’t pretty. I’d end up taking the younger out to wander the narthex anyway. Every once in a while, as she matures, we give it a try. Maybe in a few more months (or another year) it’ll be more possible. Until then, for the elder’s sake, for my sake, for the congregation’s sake, it’s the nursery for her.

On Providing Examples: Children learn things that we teach them, but even more than that, they absorb things from their environment—and I don’t just mean a church service environment. They learn our values by gauging what activities they see us do and not do. Once our younger daughter was “helping” us clean up our room by moving a pile of belongings to wherever she thought they belonged. I was both amazed and gratified when she toddled over to me, said: “Daddy book!” and thrust my Daily Office book into my hands. She sees me with it. Maybe not every day, maybe not as constantly as I’d wish, but she knows it’s a part of who I am and what I do.

I’ve seen studies and heard research about attendance patterns in kids. One of the things that I keep hearing is that the children who tend to stay in church during and after high school, during and after college, are those who come from households where the father goes to church. It’s well-known anecdotally that more women go to church than men, and what I take away from this is that it’s families that are engaged in the faith that have the best shot at raising faithful children. Families these days are complicated. Shape, size, format, we recognize that many configurations exist besides the 1950’s nuclear family. When children can see their family—no matter its structure—taking faith seriously, they will learn that it is something to take seriously.

Call for Help: So what do you do? What have you tried? How are your experiences partially—or maybe completely—different from mine? As I’ve said before, I know for sure that I’m no expert, but I’d like to start a conversation about children and faith and more particularly, children and the Anglican way of learning Christ. What do your field-notes look like? Let’s compare!

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

Boomers and the future our churches

By Kathleen Staudt

Our church is celebrating a 50th anniversary and launching a capital stewardship campaign this year. In 1958, no one wondered whether building churches was a good idea; having a church was part of being whole as people and as families.

But people of my own generation have questions: some left church and came back when they had children; some are hovering on the edges of congregational life, wanting a sense of belonging, unsure about commitment. As buildings cry out for major maintenance, and the financial responsibility gets passed from one generation to the next, we “boomers” are emerging as the new elders, whether we like it or not. Raised in the counter-cultural, anti-institutional world of the 1960’s and 70’s, we now have to ask ourselves. “Do we think there should be churches for the next generation? Because if we don’t think so, churches as we know them will become far rarer. It depends on us. And yes, it has to do with money, among other things.

So I’ve been asking myself: Why do I think should there should be a church, a congregation worshipping in this space? Why should I, for example, continue to set aside a percentage of take-home pay for the maintenance of an institution (working toward a tithe, as the campaign encourages us to do). Why should I be encouraging others to do the same, and to give “sacrificially” to a capital campaign centered on building improvements? What does any of this have to do with Christian discipleship?

Asking around at church, I find that the elders who built this church are nervous about how we can possibly raise this kind of money, especially in these economic times. It is clear that it would take more bazaars and fundraisers than anyone can imagine launching now. And they don’t know any other way. Tithing and proportional giving were not part of the stewardship teaching in their time (though I believe this approach to stewardship, grounded in Scripture, will be necessary as we move into the future). In my generation, on the other hand, many –including committed tithers-- will only continue giving to the church if our budget also sets aside a substantial portion for outreach ministries. We understand that the building is for something besides our gathered congregation at worship, and we want capital improvements that will serve mission and outreach.

Reflecting on a vision for what a churches is “for”, I’m remembering dinner at the house of some Carmelite brothers who were students in my seminary class. They proudly showed me their well-appointed, modern house, where they lived and ate together, including the beautiful chapel. When I asked them how they spent their days they reported that most of the brothers spent their days working in the community, mostly among the poor and those suffering from AIDS. They came back to the house to pray together and to be together. Their community life sustained their ministries.

This radical community life is not what most of us expect or are called to commit to in our churches. We have many demands on our resources, depending on our callings in life, and including the needs of family and often other worthy service to the poor and dispossessed in the world. But the monastic model helps me to understand what I rely on my local church for. Church is where I go to worship weekly, and where the preaching, singing, Eucharist, and worship refocus and reorient my commitment to Christian discipleship. I do sometimes encounter contention and controversy there – often over issues related to our common life. It is hard work, dealing with conflict, like the work of a family or, I am told, a monastic community. But it is also part of how church life forms me for Christian discipleship. This church building has been “my Place” for prayer and growth over the years, the place where I have both found and offered support in times of crisis, where I have prayed over and buried good friends, where we have been reminded of the persistent presence of God among us at all turning points in life.

I’ve come to see that being part of the same congregation all this time has formed me in that old-fashioned Benedictine virtue of “stability”: the commitment to stay together as best we can, even in times of contention, and to let our common life form and shape us, because of a shared faith -- whether it is in adapting to changes in worship, or welcoming people different from ourselves, or reaching some kind of agreement about how to replace the dying HVAC system. As I step into “emerging elder” status, I also see that the practice of financial stewardship sustains us in this virtue of stability. In a consumer culture oriented toward “getting what we pay for,” this is an important and counter-cultural part of our formation for discipleship, and one that we need to embrace.

Churches as we know them are bound to change. But a mission-centered church of the future will continue to need an infrastructure, and the money to support that will have to come from committed people who are willing to give back a portion, out of our abundance, trusting that the church has a future, and committing ourselves to discerning the shape of that future. This is not an appeal from the pulpit, but a view from the pew. People – if we think there should be churches, it is up to us.

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.

Passing the peace at Lambeth

By Luiz Coelho

As a steward for the Lambeth Conference, my days have been filled with all sorts of random activities. I have carried luggage for bishops and their spouses. I have riden a bicycle around campus carrying conference materials from building to building. I even led a workshop on art and prayer in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. The experience has been more than a day filled with work, however, including a “garden party” with the Queen of the United Kingdom (not that she spent much time with us) and the opportunity to meet in person so many men and women of God, which has given me much hope for the future, in spite of our current controversies and divisions.

However, I would say that the high moments for me were the worship services. They varied in range, scope and organization from happy clappy evening prayers at the “Big Top”, to an intimate Anglo-Catholic Mass organized by the stewards in the Cathedral's crypt. It is impossible to forget the magnificent Sunday morning Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral (which had a procession of hundreds of bishops and officially opened the Conference), and the simple daily night prayers in the chapel with the chaplaincy team comprised of religious from around the Communion.

The second Sunday of the conference was the one which marked me the most, though. It was an ordinary Sunday Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral (if anything in that fantastic church can be considered ordinary). That day I had to wake up extremely early, since I was one of the people invited to read the Intercessions for the BBC-broadcasted service at St. Dunstan's. Nevertheless, I decided to go to the cathedral Eucharist afterwards, as some other stewards did. We arrived very early, so we spent some time walking around that magnificent building, and then went back to our seats. Next to us was a man who looked familiar. He smiled to us and said “Good morning”. Something deep inside me told me I knew him. However, it was only after the service actually started that I realized who he was.

This man is one of the leading conservative media writers. His thoughts and writings represent, in fact, many of the offensive values that I oppose in the Church. I frequently use his news group as an example of what I understand to be an unchristian way of communicating (and please do not misunderstand me; I recognize that there are progressive media writers in our church who unfortunatley share his same unchristian rhetoric in their own communications, so I am not singling him out because he is on the far right.) Still, he was there, next to me – as vulnerable as he could be – taking part of the same liturgy I was.

Several thoughts crossed my mind. What would I do when it was time to give a sign of peace? Should I make myself known and tell him how much I abhor his style of communicating? Should I point out how evil I believe his news group is? Should I make a statement by refusing to be in communion with a person that has hurt me – and many of my brothers and sisters – several times, through his vitriolic style of writing?

But I knew that I could not make any of those choices, because none were faithful choices for a follower of the Prince of Peace. So, I decided to exchange the peace with him. After all, in spite of our disagreements on some issues and methods, I knew he was just one more child of God – made in His image and likeness; and, I realized that we did share some things in common, like the creeds and our common desire to love Jesus. Not sharing the peace with him would represent a dinigration of the Good News in Christ that I to proclaim: that the Church is for all, that all can repent and change their lives, that the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ preserves us in everlasting life, that we must seek Christ in every human being... So, I decided to do what I believe we are supposed to do if we are faithful to the Great Commandment. He smiled – totally unaware of who I was – and shook my hand.

I do not know if anything changed in his heart. I do not even know if he received communion, or just a blessing. Most likely he was not radically changed at all after that service, and many of you readers will keep “fighting the good fight” against his oppressive rhetoric in his writing. But maybe... maybe that moment changed him, even just a tiny bit. Even if it did not, it changed me; as for me, it changed everything.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.

This blessing has always been one of my favorite ones and is one of the reasons I am so fond of the Book of Common Prayer. Through my experience last Sunday the Holy Spirit once again offered me a glimpse of what that “peace which passes understanding” means. As we exchanged Christ’s mysterious gift of peace, I felt an immense relief in my heart, and a renewed sense of hope for our Church. I understood a bit of the essence of Jesus' teaching to love and pray for those who persecute you. It is a liberating love, by which Christ empties us from all hatred and prejudice, and fills us with an everlasting peace. Amen.

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

Inwardly digesting the Scriptures

By Greg Jones

Last Sunday, the Lord gave us quite a bundle of sayings about the Kingdom of Heaven. What do they mean? What is Jesus saying in these parables?

Consider, He says the Kingdom of Heaven is like:
- A tiny mustard seed: Something very small, yet very powerful, which went planted grows immensely, offering its branches in service to other creatures;
- Or a bit of yeast: Able to transform the entire substance in which it has been mixed, turning dough into risen bread;
- Or a treasure: Found and cherished after being long ignored or disregarded.
- Or a pearl; A beautiful gem created by an unbeautiful creature which the Law of Moses declares abominable.

These are powerful parables, which describe the Kingdom of Heaven as treasure of great power which grows out of surprising places, effecting all around it. These are fairly easy to grasp too, when Jesus asks, "Do you understand," it's not that hard to say, "Yes."

But what about the last parable today? The hard saying? The one where the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net filled with every kind of fish, of which those judged good will be kept, and those judged bad will be destroyed? What do you do with a parable like that?

Do you ignore it? Do you decide to keep the four 'good' ones and toss away the one 'bad' one? Do you presume to judge the teachings of Jesus this way?

No. But what?

A wise priest once said that interpreting the Scripture is like eating a trout. Some bites are fleshy and fall right off the bone, easy to eat and tasty. Others are spiny and hard to swallow, the small bones sticking in your throat.

This fellows says, "as with the Bible, go for the easy parts first, and when you've learned how good they are, and how good fish is, then go after the hard bites." It's a mistake to go after the hard spiny parts first - for once they stick in your throat - you may never learn to appreciate the whole.

Of course, the earliest Christian symbol for Jesus Christ is the fish. The first letters of the Greek phrase - "Jesus Christ Son of God Savior" form an acronym - ICTHYS - which of course also means 'fish.' And isn't it true that the Gospel of this Son of God can be a hard fish to eat sometimes? Especially because of the spiny parts - the hard parts - the parts which affront and confuse our sense of things?

As with today's parables, the Gospel is not always easy to hear, learn, swallow and inwardly digest. However, the strategy of the wise priest is the way to go. Begin with the fleshy, easy bites of the Gospel - the easier to swallow sayings of Christ - in order to form the trust that these teachings are good, precious and life-giving food. And when you are coming to believe that this fish is worth eating - entirely - then tackle the harder parts.

If you have learned to trust in Christ - with Paul in Romans 8 - that Christ has come to you, for you, and with you, and loves you so much that you cannot fathom the depths of his loyalty to you - then maybe you will be able to trust also that this hard parable of judgement is also trustworthy, good and necessary. For by trusting that the good fish, Jesus Christ the Son of God Savior, is the powerful seed which will transform the world around it into a treasure coming from a surprising place, then you will then have the confidence that you want and need the hard parts, the spine, the piercing truth of the Gospel: hard wood, nails and all.

After all, it is by the hard wood of the cross, and the piercing truth of Christ's love, and His resurrection from the grave, that Christ reassures us that God's kingdom will prevail in the world in which it has been planted, and sin and death will not, and those who enter into the kingdom will be changed.

Yes, the dangerous part of the Gospel is the implication of all these parables today that once the Kingdom of Heaven is planted (in a person, in a people) it cannot be stopped from ultimately taking over the whole of it - such that only the Kingdom will remain, and all else will fall away.

This is a dangerous message, because it threatens everything about us that is not of God. For though we are all made in God's image, the scary news is that we have also remade ourselves by choices not in God's image.

To some extent or another, these choices begin to define who we think we are. Yes, the Gospel is that God loves all people, but He doesn't love all our choices.

The work of the disciple of Christ is to make choices which please the Lord, and which will spread the Gospel like a tiny seed, like leaven, like treasure, like a net - so that all may enter the Kingdom in joy.


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. he is the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004), and blogs at fatherjones.com.

Sandwiches and Reconciliation

By W. Nicholas Knisely

A few years ago, not long after the events of General Convention in 2003, the sexton in the parish I served came to tell me that he was being yelled at as he worked in the front yard on the parish. Apparently there were kids driving by regularly, who when they saw him or anyone else out front, would roll down the window of the car and yell “Gay Church!” or “You’re going to Hell!”. The sexton didn’t like being yelled at, but his real concern was that these folks would start vandalizing the building. I suggested we let the local police know. He rolled his eyes.

I didn’t understand what was with the eye-rolling until a few months later when our secretary buzzed me in my office to tell me there were some police officers here. I’d better come out to her office, *now* was what she said as I recall.

We were well known in the community for a Soup Kitchen that served food daily to whoever showed up at the parish at lunchtime. That ministry had been going on for a long time due to the work of a number of committed laypeople and the extraordinary Deacon Liz. The rule in the kitchen was that if you were hungry, we would feed you, no questions asked. Sometimes we had some unsavory types coming in to eat, but as long as they were hungry and didn’t cause trouble, they were welcome to eat with the rest. The police knew this and would occasionally stop by looking for someone for whom they had an arrest warrant. We generally asked them to keep a distance, and talk to the staff first before they went in. I thought this was one of those situations when I was called to the office that particular morning.

Turns out it was something totally different. A police officer was there. But instead of a warrant, he was there with a bag of sandwiches. Someone had apparently made them for the officers on duty that day and they couldn’t use them all. So he decided to bring them by the church to give them to the soup kitchen to see if we could hand them out for them. It was a lovely gesture.

But what brought me up short was what the officer said when he gave me the bag. “I don’t agree with you folks. I’m not even sure you’re a real church. But you’re doing good work feeding these people. I figured this might help.”

Somewhat taken aback, I thanked him, we shook hands and he left and I took the sandwiches inside.

It was later on that I remembered the conversation I’d had with our sexton about letting the police know about the verbal taunting. I think I understood the look the sexton gave me.

But more importantly, I recognized that something was now different too. An important bridge had been built in passing over the food from the officer to the people who needed it. The person who brought the food to us didn’t agree with us - but he was willing to cooperate with us on acts of mercy. Our relationship changed, a bit anyway, in that simple act of giving. There was no great climatic moment of reconciliation. There wasn’t any sudden dropping of scales from his or my eyes. But there was a mutual recognition that something good was happening and that we were going to try to find a way to work together - to fan a small ember at least - to see what might happen as a result.

I’ve been thinking lately about that moment and how it changed a relationship. It seems to me that there are some pretty obvious parallels between it and what is going on in the Anglican Communion at the moment. We have people who disagree. We have people who are not sure that they can recognize Jesus in each other. We have people who are in broken relationships with each other because of actions that one group or the other have taken.

What I’m pretty certain about is that explaining patiently and in great detail why the other side is wrong isn’t going to get us anywhere. It hasn’t as yet, and I’m pretty confident that we can project the present success rate well into the future.

So what should we do?

When I was the President of Diocesan Council in Pittsburgh, and Alden Hathaway and Bob Duncan were our bishops, we had the same sorts of conflicts in the diocese that we now have writ large in the Anglican Communion. And it was pretty clear then and there as it is now and here that talking wasn’t going to get us out of our bind. So we didn’t try that.

What we did try was to find the sorts of mission things that we could agree on, And then we did them. We made sandwiches and delivered them to people sleeping under the bridges in the city. We worked together with partnership dioceses in Africa, and in Uganda particularly. We reached out to the developing countries in Central and South America. The point was to find something we could agree upon and then to do it with each other as best we could. It helped a bit.

It didn’t fix everything. In fact looking at the division in that diocese now I can say that it could be argued that it didn’t fix anything. But it was worth trying then. I think it’s worth trying now. Jesus calls us to be reconciled with each other. Even when groups are unwilling to reconcile, Jesus doesn’t seem to give the option of not trying. According to the prayerbook, reconciliation between God and creation is the central mission of Christ’s church in the world.

I guess that this same impulse of trying to find a way to be reconciled to each other is at the heart of what I saw happening in Canterbury at the Lambeth Conference this weekend. The bishops of the Anglican Communion are not of one mind. They are trying to find ways to be reconciled with each other. They are trying to do that by starting with the simple steps of building relationships marching in the streets with each other and in conversations formally and informally with each other.

Will this solve the problems in the Communion? Probably not. Our disagreements are multi-layered things and our bishops are not the only parties involved.

But it’s a start. It’s like those sandwiches the police officer handed me. It’s a recognition that even if I don’t agree with you, I respect you - at least in part. And perhaps out of that small flame, we can grow a deeper respect that can, someday, be the driving force behind a deep and real reconciliation of voices striving for justice and holiness in the Church.

And for that small start I’m grateful.

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 and was originally trained as an astronomer. His blog is Entangled States.

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