Status update: Heidi Shott is writing a column about Status updates

By Heidi Shott

A few days ago my 14 year-old son Colin and I were walking down Main Street past Reny’s Department Store when a woman I’ve known for years flagged us down. I’ll call her Jenny. I’ll call her Jenny because Jenny is – well -- her name. That’s the kind of town Damariscotta, Maine, is. It’s a town where you call people by their real names because sooner or later everyone’s real name will end up in the police blotter of The Lincoln County News. As in “Heidi Shott, 45, of Newcastle, dog-at-large, $100 fine.” I don’t have a dog, but I was once busted for having improper life vests in my dingy and, boy, did I hear about it.

But back to Jenny.

“I have a funny story to tell you,” she said, walking up to us on the sidewalk. “Last year at the hospital league rummage sale, I bought a little roller L.L. Bean suitcase for Sarah for 50 cents to take to Camp Bishopswood. As I was packing, I realized I didn’t have the ‘what to bring’ checklist. Where could I find the ‘what to bring’ checklist at the last minute?”

Perhaps at the diocesan communicator in me wanted to suggest, but I realized it would impede the flow of her funny story which she was telling me solely because of our Episcopal Church connection.

“So,” she continued, “I was cleaning out the suitcase and found a Bishopswood ‘what to bring’ checklist inside one of the pockets with ‘Colin’ written on it.”

That got my attention. “Was the suitcase green and maroon?” I asked.


“That was Colin’s suitcase we donated to the rummage sale,” I said, letting a loud Hillary-laugh escape me to the stares of passers-by.

“And it had the ‘what to bring” checklist at the very moment I needed it!” Jenny repeated, still in wonder.

“That’s crazy!”

“It’s great!” Jenny said as she waved and ducked into Reny’s.

“That is crazy, Mom,” said Colin, my loving little Deist, walking along to the coffee place. “But don’t get any ideas, it’s not a God thing. It’s just a coincidence.”

Frankly, I’m with Colin on that. While I don’t want to put God in a box, surely the God of the Universe has better things to attend to than orchestrating the whereabouts of camp packing lists. But something is at work in my encounter with Jenny, and I think it has something to with Facebook.

I’ve been wondering for a few months about why the people I’ve become friends with on the social networking site Facebook are the types of people who faithfully post status updates. For non-Facebook people, status updates are one sentence descriptions of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling at the moment you post them. When you sign-on to Facebook and click “Friends,” you instantly see what your friends have posted.
Here are the five latest postings by my friends.

V is wondering where the photos I uploaded have disappeared to....radda radda radda.

W immediately needs a sharp stick.

X is writing on his back porch under a perfect blue Maine fall sky.

Y says "buy, baby, buy!"

Z is, arrrghhh....anxiously awaitin' for Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy dog!

Thirty-five of my 100 or so friends have posted a status update in the past 24 hours. They hail from 20 states and represent a broad definition of the word friend. There’s Nora, a Silicon Valley mega-executive who sat next to me in seventh grade homeroom and math class. She was paying attention in math while I daydreamed. There’s a very interesting grad student from Chicago, Agnieszka, introduced to me by an acquaintance who thought we’d like each other because we both have pet rabbits and a sense of humor. And he was right, at least that we’d like each other.

While there’s a disproportionate number of Episcopalians, there’s also my niece Mary, a special ed. teacher in California whom I hardly ever get to see. The beauty of the Facebook status updates is when I fire up my laptop and check, I suddenly know that “Mary is sitting on her deck in the sunshine eating cold pizza.” How else would I know that? What a lovely mental picture of my delightful niece and how I wish I were with her at that moment!

A few weeks ago I posted this status update: “Heidi finds it curious that when she visits other people's profiles not as many of their friends post status updates. Is she a SU magnet? Theories welcome.” Here’s another interesting component to status updates: You can comment on your friends’ updates.

Peter, a high school chaplain from Richmond whom I’ve never met, replied that high school kids think status updating is uncool.

Susie, an editor friend from New York, added, “I think we update our statuses (statii?) more often because we have the kind of friendships that -- even though our work lives make it hard to physically get together often enough, or even have time to pick up the phone or write a mid-length e-mail (much less a LETTER!) -- we want to be able to keep in touch and up-to-date in microbursts.”

Scott, an association executive and college friend, wrote from Columbus, “high school kids don't need to update their status. Their worlds are small enough that they see each other all the time!”

Jim, an interesting diocesan communicator from Florida who doesn’t do status updates commented, “I’m just not that interesting.”

To which Phil, a photographer from Georgia who was my much beloved partner at a newspaper 20 years ago, responded, “I’m sorry, what was the question?”

Jim and Phil would really get along, but they’ll probably never meet. And with Facebook that’s okay.

Seven or eight years ago I wrote a column titled, “The Kingdom of Heaven is where the Fed-Ex lady tracks you down.” It was about how when our local Fed-Ex lady, Sue, couldn’t find my husband at his office, she would look for his car downtown then stop in where he was eating lunch to deliver the package. That’s the kind of town Damariscotta, Maine, is. That’s the kind of connection people thirst for in the world. What I’m observing as a member of Facebook is that with people from all points of my life’s compass there is an intersection of knowing and being known that is delicious, addictive and immediate.

For all the anonymity of the big box stores and sprawling suburbs, we yearn for connection, to be recognized, to delight and be delighted in. Just yesterday afternoon, Susan, a friend and colleague from Washington, D.C., called to say she and her husband Lance were in Maine staying with a couple who, just last spring, moved from D.C. to our little town. I invited the four of them over for drinks, and we had a short but lovely visit. This morning, I stopped for coffee downtown and was heading back to my car when I bumped into Susan’s friend who’s new to the community. We stopped in the parking lot and chatted for a few minutes. We wouldn’t have recognized one another had she not been to my house the previous evening, but now, suddenly, instead of passing one another by in our busyness, there’s a new connection, a new friend.

I wonder about the role of the Church in this. What Facebookian structures could we create in our institutions to give us permission to befriend one another in our daily real lives? On the road from Emmaus, Jesus struck up a conversation with his fellow travelers that was life-transforming. Of course, Jesus was kind of exceptional, but doesn’t Paul remind us of the “Christ in you, the hope of glory?” Isn’t the ability to reach out hardwired into us by the Spirit, available to us through Him, our friend, who loves us? Isn’t knowing and being known rather glorious?

One last story: A year ago, on our way to pick up our sons from Camp Bishopswood, my husband Scott and I stopped for breakfast at Moody’s Diner, a Maine institution. It was crowded and the only two seats were at the counter. I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman to my left whose wife, it turned out, was sitting four places down from us. Over the course of the conversation we discovered two astounding things from this couple visiting Maine from Tampa: first that their daughter-in-law went to high school with Scott in Bluefield, West Virginia, and her father played golf with Scott’s father for 30 years, and second that their daughter and I had gone to college together and were in the same German class for two years.

“That’s crazy!” Scott and I said to each other, walking out of Moody’s on our way to gather our sons from Bishopswood – where at that very moment a crumpled “what to bring” list was getting stuffed deep into a suitcase pocket.

Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

The spiritual adviser and the Public Square

By Kathleen Staudt

I recently visited the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYAPC) in Washington DC, and enjoyed a fascinating historic tour of the building, especially the “Lincoln Parlor.” Mary Todd Lincoln and the children were members of this church during the Lincoln Administration, and apparently the President relied on the pastor, the Rev. Phineas D. Gurley, as an informal spiritual advisor. On display in the Lincoln Parlor are photos of the Lincolns and the Lincoln cabinet, and, behind glass, an early draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The story is that originally, Lincoln intended an arrangement that would have reimbursed the southern landowners for their slaves, essentially a government “purchase” of the slaves, to free them. In private conversations, the president’s spiritual advisor encouraged him to take a more morally consistent position, and the ultimate result was the Emancipation Proclamation as we have it.

Gurley was the preacher at the funeral of the Lincolns’ son Willie (as well as at Lincoln’s own funeral), and apparently met with the president to talk about “the state of his soul” and to listen. Apparently he did make some use of his relationship for what might be called “political” purposes: there are records of his recommending several people for influential political positions. But he seems to be someone whose judgment and integrity were generally held in high regard. He was also known as a preacher who did not preach politics. It appears that there was a relationship of genuine spiritual companionship between Gurley and the President, though they met relatively infrequently and Lincoln never joined Gurley’s church. The obvious spiritual depth of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, together with the story told at NYAPC about the Emancipation Proclamation, give us some sense of the “fruits” of that relationship, but its details were not a matter of public record when those conversations were going on. And , I believe strongly, this is as it should be, when it comes to spiritual advisors to the powerful and famous.

There’s a contrast here to the way that the religious advisors of the powerful have been covered—and, I suspect, manipulated nowadays, and it is dismaying to me. From my training and work as a spiritual director, I know that conversations about the “state of one’s soul” are about a work in progress, God’s work in progress. And there are good reasons why our code of ethics insists on the sacred confidentiality of such conversations. I would think that for a famous person, such a relationship would need to be a place of freedom and absolute confidentiality.

People sometimes quote their spiritual advisors (as Barack Obama does, for example, in his use of Jermiah Wright’s phrase “The audacity of hope”), and that is their prerogative, as well as their spiritual risk. But I grow uneasy –and suspicious– when spiritual advisors themselves take the public stand and talk about their pastoral relationships with candidates From this point of view Jeremiah Wright’s speech to the NAACP was profoundly distressing and obviously embarrassing to the candidate, whatever one might say about the theology of the black church and the value of the Reverend Wright’s ministry generally. I had the same problem with a New York Times front page article a few weeks ago featuring an interview with Sarah Palin’s pastor, who spoke of her worship and prayer practices and her request for Bible passages to guide her in her desire to be a faithful leader. Even apart from my personal objections to the theology and the political priorities expressed in this interview, I was troubled by the situation: What are we to think, when the pastors to the powerful give public interviews about those conversations. Are they doing it with the candidates’ permission? Or if not, whose agenda is being furthered?

It seems to me that revealing publicly the details of a spiritual conversation is a kind of sacrilege, a manipulation of holy things to further a personal or political agenda. There’s a commandment against that: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. It seems to me that public discourse about the theological positions of the candidates – and the pressure on them to explain their beliefs is our most blatant contemporary violation of that commandment. There is good reason why pastors and spiritual companions are enjoined to be very respectful of boundaries and confidentiality. In my view, if there is a genuine relationship of spiritual guidance and companionship, this kind of confidentiality should trump the public’s “right to know” about a powerful person’s associates and beliefs.

What a candidate says about him/herself is another matter – and may or may not be the fruit of good spiritual advice. But I have become profoundly suspicious of anything we hear publicly from a “spiritual advisor” about the state of a candidate’s or President’s soul. There’s a Buddhist saying that “those who know, do not speak, and those who speak, do not know.” This seems to me a good guide for processing media stories about the spiritual lives of the candidates, or of any public figures.

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.

Called to leave

By Melody Shobe

I recently left a church I love. Not for any sensationalist reason, but for the simple fact that God was calling me elsewhere and it was time for me to go. The fact that I left for the right reason didn’t make it any easier. It was a church that felt like my church, and a group of people who had quickly become my people. Nothing about leaving was easy, and the hardest part of the whole thing was having to say goodbye.

Because goodbyes are uncomfortable. They generally entail a lot of fuss and attention. There are goodbye lunches and final conversations. There is the inevitable “well, I might not see you again, so I just wanted to say…” There are the cards that you receive and the cards that you write. And, for a priest, there is the last Sunday that you stand in a pulpit and address a congregation as your people.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to try to say in one conversation or one card or one newsletter article all the things that you want to say to people who mean a lot to you. And to attempt and say it from a pulpit while holding tears at bay is even worse. It is one of those messy emotional situations where words fail and you walk a fine line between composure and breakdown. There was a big part of me that wanted to skip the goodbye all together. To talk about it as little as possible. To pretend it wasn’t happening. To sneak out the backdoor while no one was looking.

I thought honestly about doing just that. But, first of all, I knew that my church wouldn’t let me get away with it. And secondly, I knew that it was not what God was calling me to do. Because, if you read the gospels, you quickly learn that Jesus thought goodbyes were important. He took a lot of time to say goodbye to the disciples, his dearest friends, in the right way. In fact, Jesus started saying goodbye almost from the beginning. Trying to tell them where he was going, and why he had to go. Trying to make sure that he taught them everything that he could before he left. Trying to be clear so that when he was gone, they would know that he still loved them.

Saying goodbye isn’t easy. It is one of the hardest and messiest parts of being in relationship with other people. It comes with a lot of sadness and pain and uncertainty. But it is also a part of our spiritual journey; a part of the life that God calls us to live. We have to honor the relationships that we have by taking the time to say goodbye well, by making sure that we don’t just sneak out the backdoor to make it easier on ourselves. How you leave a place, how you say goodbye, is sometimes even more important than a first impression. So we have to make sure to say goodbye well, even if it is through tears.

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

The Episcopal Church: excelling in irrelevance?

By Phillip Cato

With each passing day, the profound irrelevance of the Church becomes more and more evident. In this irrelevance, the Episcopal Church excels.

Even a superficial knowledge of the events which are overtaking our nation is enough to make the case that our church has no direction to give and nothing intelligent to say.

Our economy is at the brink of total collapse. This is so self-evident that no argument needs to be made. Kevin Phillips, several years ago, in Wealth and Democracy, made the case that the United States was following the same pattern that proved the economic undoing of Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. We abandoned a producer economy for one that is primarily financialized, with all our wealth in the form of traded paper.

What he predicted has come to pass. Wealth is concentrated in relatively few hands; the middle class (the former productive class) is greatly diminished, and regularly exploited for the benefit of the wealthy. Political power is oriented primarily toward benefiting those with wealth. The paper instruments upon which this wealth depends increasingly do not represent much that is tangible, the very conditions which preceded the 1929 stock market crash.

The current administration has accrued and claimed exceptional power to act as they choose without constitutional constraint. With sleight of hand, and a willful lack of truthfulness, they have led our nation into an ostensible “war on terror” which changes identity with predictable regularity as the need to justify preemptive war presents itself.

Almost every abuse of executive privilege and power has been on full display. Justice is regularly disregarded and trampled under foot. Disregard for the poor and antagonism toward the strangers in our midst are now a consistent and macabre caricature of Biblical teaching.

In the midst of all this, our Church, the Episcopal Church, squabbles with its internal critics, and behaves as if settling issues of sexuality, and its expression in the Church, are the only serious moral issues in view.

Our bishops waste time at Lambeth and in earnestly disciplining their recalcitrant colleagues while the moral, economic and political world is collapsing around us.

Somewhere in all of this, there is a mistaken hierarchy of values.

The church stands unprepared to deal with economic hard times; it spends unconscionable amounts of money and human resources on propping up failing congregations that have no sense of mission; it is completely unprepared to deal with either natural or health disasters; it eschews any prophetic stance against a corrupt government and a moribund Congress; and it seems to have no sensitivity to the plight of its own members.

When the Church becomes totally irrelevant, and that time is near upon us, those who have looked to it for spiritual and moral leadership will have to look elsewhere.

Though God loves the world; our Church apparently loves only itself and its institutional survival. And that survival increasingly makes very little difference.

The Rev. Phillip Cato is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington. His current work is in bioethics, for the National Institutes of Health, and professional ethics.

Back to school with Simone Weil

By Peter Carey

Taking a cue from a wonderful teacher I had in seminary, the first reading that I gave my high school Christian Theology students this year was an excerpt from Simone Weil’s book, Waiting on God. The chapter I give them to read is taken from a letter that Weil wrote in 1941 to the Superior of a community of Dominicans who was the head of a Catholic School, offering her advice. The title of the chapter is, “Reflections on the right use of school studies with a view to the love of God.”

In the letter, Weil lays out the virtue of attention, she asserts that cultivating attention is essential for not only one’s studies, but also for developing one’s prayer life.. She gives many surprising areas of school life where this kind of attention can be cultivated. From math problems in geometry, to exercises in Latin, Weil supports even the tedious and difficult parts of school as essential for developing one’s focus and attention. To me, as someone who has spent time studying the theology and practices of the Christian Faith, this assertion by Simone Weil seemed wonderful. Not only does it offer an interesting springboard to discuss Christian Theology, but I also thought it would allow me, as St. Catherine’s School Chaplain, to continue a conversation of the ways that our Faith is practices not only in chapel, but also in the classroom, the art studio, and the playing fields.

Well, my students weren’t buying it. While they thought she made some interesting points, they thought that Weil was overly optimistic about the spiritual value of seemingly endless equations and Latin exercises. They thought that her notion that no concern should be given to the result of all this work, or to grades, was great in the ideal, but they were juniors and seniors, and are anxious about their grades and college, after all. When I remembered my own studies of those areas that were especially difficult, like the 2nd Aorist in Greek, I tended to agree. I thought about my own tedious work in the basement of our apartment in seminary when I struggled to translate 10 or 15 sentences, drinking pot after pot of coffee, only to come to class and realize that I had muffed more of them than I had done correctly. Did these exercises really improve my prayer life? Did they really give me training in attention, or only build my ability to endure tedium?

I returned the next day of class and conceded that some of what we do in our schooling does not immediately seem to bolster our souls, and does not seem to give us spiritual refreshment. However, another emphasis of Weil’s caught my attention: it was her emphasis on joy. Simeon Weil makes the strident claim that joy is as essential to learning as breathing is for a runner. Though they were still a bit skeptical, on the topic of joy my students perked up. They had a lot to say about where they found joy. I shared with them memories of my own high school experience while in concert band I would have to count out several minutes of measures until I finally would play a few loud notes on the tympani. During the many hours of rehearsing, I found great joy enjoying the beautiful sounds that my fellow classmates were creating there in the chilly band room. It was a joyful thing to participate in making music. My students began to discuss the joy in running, not only winning a race, but even in the tedious training. They discussed the joy in volunteering at an underprivileged school, or traveling to the Global South where their assumptions were tested, and where their perspectives were broadened. A few even spoke to the joy they found in their academic classes, with an inspired teacher, or when studying a subject that opened their eyes to a new reality.

When writing her letter, Weil had the view that everything we do in learning could help us to grow in our sense of God’s presence. She was audacious enough to claim that even those Greek or Latin exercises, those geometry proofs, and the other difficult tasks could help us to grow in our attention to our work, and could help us grow in our attention to God. My students were still not willing to agree fully on this point. However, we all could agree that the Spirit was moving in surprising ways and could be sensed by us when we experienced joy in our work. There is an abundance of joy that is there for us to experience, there for us to help others see and feel, the gift has been given to us, it is there for us to be opened. I hope we can take the time to cultivate the Joy that is all around us, even as we move through the tedium of our own difficult exercises!

“Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love, hearts unfold like flowers before thee, praising thee, their sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”
Episcopal Church Hymnal, 1982, Hymn #375

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. His theological assumptions are challenged and strengthened while leading services for over 800 young people each week and at home with his three children under 5 years old. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

The pastoral necessity of a non-partisan pulpit

By Sam Candler

In the United States, we are in the home stretch of a season of voting. Our two political parties scramble daily for our support. Many of us, and our friends and neighbors, have already declared our political choices; and we are hard at work on political campaigns.

During this sprint, I admit two things to my parishioners and friends. The first is that I actually love politics. I know that the partisan mud is deep. I know that every statement has to be filtered through ten screens. I know that attacks and defenses can be severe, and even unfair. But I do enjoy the contests. I also admire most of the candidates. I salute those who have offered themselves for public service; and I salute their campaign workers and office staffs.

However, the second thing I must admit is that there is no way that I –an Episcopal priest, rector, and dean-- can take a partisan stand during our government elections. This is not simply because of tax consequences. We all know, I hope, that Episcopal churches in the United States enjoy the benefits of tax exemption as long as we do not allow partisan political statements in our official church gatherings. Thus, people can still give financially to our churches and enjoy a deduction from their taxes. (What people may not realize is that this particular criterion of tax-exempt organizations dates back only to 1954.)

No, I have another reason that I do not take a partisan stand during our government elections. My reason has to do with pastoral care and with leadership allegiance. I realize that my own parish, a large and rather politically diverse one, contains all sorts of partisan believers and workers. Not only do I have strong Republicans and strong Democrats in my parish, but I also have many of those parties’ state workers and campaign officers. Some folks in my parish attended the Republican Convention and other folks in my parish attended the Democratic Convention.

Does this mean that I have paralyzed myself under the guise of wimpy pastoral care? Does this mean that I have opted out of my religious responsibility of ethical and social leadership? No, I can –and do-- make statements about political and moral and ethical matters.

Rather, I believe that my ordained leadership is not meant to be “merely” political. I am not called to force my ordained leadership into either of the partisan boxes that surround each of our two national candidates. My leadership allegiance is to an agency higher even than the office of the United States presidency. My leadership allegiance is to God and to the mysterious working out of God’s realm on earth. I believe that whatever leadership I have is strengthened if I publicly ally myself only with that higher agency, with our hoped-for kingdom of God.

Essentially, I am wary of the Episcopal Church becoming too associated with either of our country’s two major political parties. I know that we need political parties. I know they do good things. And, I enjoy my parishioners’ political work; and I even enjoy their spirited and sometimes goofy partisanship. But I cannot surrender my public leadership to the support of political parties.

Of course, I will be voting in the upcoming elections. Furthermore, it does not take too long a conversation with me to determine whom I might support. That is not a secret; I simply do not use whatever ordained leadership I have to ally myself with a political party.

Finally, I will always, always, accept an invitation to pray during the gathering of a political party. I have prayed at Democrat gatherings, and I have prayed at Republican gatherings. I have enjoyed both! And I do enjoy attending political gatherings! This year, I pray that these political processes will produce a leader whom God will use for the good.

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

Jesus Economics

By R. William Carroll

Recently, from the pulpit, I issued a call to our parish to raise significant funds, beyond those in our parish budget, to support our ministries that feed the hungry. In the past year, we have added support to the Good Earth Hunger Mission, a new ministry led by a parishioner, which is growing food locally to support area hunger ministries. Our thought was to begin to address the systemic causes of hunger, a global food system that presupposes an oil-based economy (both for transporting food and for making petroleum based fertilizers), a point which was driven home for us by a local organic farmer at a sustainable agriculture workshop at the Mt. Grace Appalachian Ministries Conference, co-sponsored by the Dioceses of Southern Ohio and West Virginia. We want to continue to meet immediate need but begin to think more systematically about the interdependence of social and environmental justice.

My point of departure in the lectionary was Psalm 149:4: “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people, and adorns the poor with victory.”

The context of my remarks came from some statistics cited in the Winston-Salem Journal:

A blizzard of pink slips pushed the jobless rate from 5.7 percent in July to 6.1 percent in August, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Worried about the economy and their own business prospects, employers cut payrolls by 84,000 in August, marking the eighth straight month of losses.

So far this year, a staggering 605,000 jobs have vanished -- slightly less than the population of Alaska. The economy needs to generate more than 100,000 new jobs a month for employment to remain stable.

A separate report showed that a record 9.2 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of June.

Both sets of statistics are staggering. The mortgage figures point to the effects on Main Street of the crisis that is affecting Wall Street as well. There were nods of approval in the congregation when I noted that things are even worse in Ohio (and certainly in Athens County, where I serve) and that they have been for some time. As I observed in the sermon, these statistics are confirmed by the witness of our local hunger ministries and homeless shelter, which are seeing an increasing number of requests for assistance from people who would have previously thought of themselves as comfortably middle class. It is going to be a VERY hard winter.

In this article I want to do something that I didn’t do in the pulpit. (Don’t worry. I’m getting round to it.) My sermon’s purpose was to awaken us to local need and local response. But that is always insufficient. We also need to be politically engaged. Politics is (or can be) a means to address matters of mutual concern, the common good, which the framers of our republic, in the Preamble to the Constitution, called the “general welfare.”

Now, I believe passionately that preachers should avoid advocating parties or candidates from the pulpit. Not only is this the law, but it shows profound respect for the wisdom and conscience of the People of God, a respect that must be maintained if we are to be true to our baptismal ecclesiology. And so, even though I have some strong views about politics and the current presidential and congressional elections, I adhere to the law.

At the same time, though, I think it is the duty of those of us who are responsible for proclaiming Christ to draw attention to the real issues in this election. Surely, the central issues include those concerning war and peace, human rights (where do the candidates stand on torture?) and the rule of law, health care, and the economy.

At the same conference I mentioned above, the keynoter, Tupper Morehead of the Diocese of East Tennessee, who is my brother in Christ and in the Third Order Franciscans, spoke about what he calls “Jesus economics.” He noted that “the Church has the authority to preach Jesus economics in the churches of Appalachia.” We also have the authority to preach this economics in our cities and suburbs. We should take it to the streets, and proclaim it, by word and example, in town and country alike. The Reign of God preached by Jesus has social implications. In it, the first are last and the last are first.

First and foremost, as we cast our vote in November, we must remember the needs of the poor, who lack their daily bread and who are being forced out of their homes. The Republican Party and Democratic Party, and their respective nominees, offer very different perspectives on economic policy. Third party candidates differ even more greatly. They differ on taxation, on the relative roles of markets and regulation, and on what kind of social “safety net” they would offer to the poor among us. All would argue that their policies, in the long run, will create more general prosperity for the American people, and presumably for others around the world.

Christians have a non-negotiable imperative to assess these policy proposals carefully. And, although people of good will may differ about which approach will be most beneficial in fixing an economy in crisis, we have a moral obligation to keep the needs of the poor front and center. Christians can’t approach an election asking “What’s in it for me?” They must always ask themselves, “How does this affect other people?” and especially “How does this affect God’s poor?”

“For the Lord takes pleasure in his people, and adorns the poor with victory.”

The Rev. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is a novice in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Saying "Please" in Sudan

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – We’re coming to the end of the semester at the Renk Theological College, which means that the students here are frantically trying to wrap up assignments, read books, study notes and write papers.

Because they study in four languages -- English, Arabic, Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek – and have to write papers in Systematic Theology, Christian Ethics, Stewardship and the Synoptic Gospels, never mind face final examinations in six of their 11 courses, there suddenly is not enough time for everything.

So the other day, a student asked if we could skip Greek class that day (it’s a pass/fail course, and nearly all are passing right now) so that they could have an extra hour in the library, researching and writing.

I told that student to bring the rest of the class to the classroom within two minutes (time is a loose thing here in Sudan, and getting to class on time often seems impossible). Once everyone arrived – with literally five seconds to spare – I asked the first student to repeat his request. Everyone wants more time to research and write, he said; could we not have this time to go to the library? I asked who wanted more time for research. They all raised their hands. And then came the hard part:

“Say ‘please,’” I said. They looked at me blankly.

“Ask me nicely,” I said. “Say ‘please.’”

One student, who knows me better than most, suddenly caught on and piped up: “Please!”

But the other 14 students looked at me blankly.

“Really,” I said. “If you want me to do this for you, you need to say ‘please.’ I mean it.”

So they all sounded off together: “Please!!!!”

Which is when I let them go off to study. (For all lovers of Biblical Greek, fear not: We will catch up later on.)

The lesson here is that in Sudan, “please” is a foreign term. It’s simply not part of the daily vocabulary. Nor is “thank you.” Sudanese tend to live in an imperative world: “Come here.” “Sit down.” “Bring me water.” “Get me a soda.” When they’re not in the imperative mood, they’re in the vocative case: “Awok!” “Deng!” “Grace!” It is simply how they function – no “please,” no “thank you,” no asking if you would like to do something, no invitation to do another thing.

Just a bunch of orders, coupled with your name (always followed by a vocal exclamation point).

It is very hard to get used to this way of communicating, for if nothing else, it makes this place seem very harsh and unfriendly, without a trace of decency displayed for the other.

It’s one of the many things you have to accept if you’re going to live in this country: Abrupt orders. Curt name-calling.

You also have to get used to seeing hand gestures that here mean “Wait a minute,” and in the United States are considered rude Italian slurs. And folks of all ages spitting incessantly. And children squatting down in the middle of the dirt road to go to the bathroom. And donkey-cart drivers beating their donkeys (which have quite the reputation for stupidity and stubbornness). And people almost reflexively throwing stones at dogs. And everyone interrupting everyone else just to greet you.

But most of all, you have to get used to the imperative and vocative way of life. It’s very disconcerting to be in church and have the officiant order everyone to sit down, in the same tone of voice we in the West use to command a dog to sit. Or to be talking to one person, have another walk up and demand – demand – that you stop what you’re doing to greet them. (And if you don’t, be prepared to be lightly punched. Or to have a hand suddenly reach across your face to get your attention.)

Which is why I took my stand the other day and demanded that the whole class ask me, nicely, using what my mother used to call the “magic word.” Every once in a while, I simply want to hear some politeness, the kind drilled into me as a child.

My Sudanese friends actually laugh at me when I do this. Every time I ask someone to do something for me and add minfadlik (“please” in Arabic), someone always makes fun of me. I’ve even been asked, “Why do you do that? Why do you ask? Why do you say ‘please’?”

In part, it’s a habit. In part, I’m probably afraid of facing my mother one day in the next life and having her ask me why I wasn’t being nice to other people. But most of all, what I really want is the sense that each of us is honored, respected, treated well, treated not as a servant who can be ordered around, but as an equal.

I truly believe that little gestures of politeness count for a lot, that they help build the community, and that not using them helps destroy communities. I believe that every time we take that extra step, every time we ask instead of order, every time we show even the slightest bit of respect to another person, we live more fully into God’s image of love and community, the image in which we are created.

It’s a small thing, I know.

But sometimes, it works.

The very next day, my students once again wanted more time in the library. We gathered in the classroom. I looked at them and said, “Who wants to go to the library to research and write?” Every single hand shot up.

“What’s the magic word?” I asked.

And resoundingly, with great laughter, they responded immediately.


Oh, that sounded so very nice.

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.

Our primary identity

By Greg Jones

My family goes to Maine in the summer for vacation, and we love it. I've been going to Maine for nearly forty years, and I would tend to say that it is an important part of who I am. But, while all that's true, time in Maine for us is not our primary life or identity.

Like so many things in our lives that matter, that shape us that we invest with thought and emotion - they are not all primary to our life, identity or calling. Those years we spent in college, or school, or summer camp. Even our present time spent in jobs, activities or (since it's an election year) politics: these things matter, but are they primary to our life, identity and calling?

For most people, I suppose, family comes first, then friends, then hobbies and/or work, then all our other interests and communities where we invest ourselves and spend our years. Yet, as the tears have shown us as we get older, even family, even friends, even all that is not forever.

Scripture reminds us that for disciples of Jesus Christ, what needs to be primary to our life, identity and calling is our place as baptized members of His Body, where we have entered into the divine life.

In Exodus, we encounter the rather strange story of the preparation of the first Passover, when God would by blood liberate his captive people. This has been the primary story of Jewish identity from some three millennia now. In Romans, Paul reminds us of the primary calling of the Christian community, to love with the power of God for the good of the world. In Matthew, Jesus teaches that the primary identity, life and vocation of his followers is done in the context of the Eucharistic community. This is where the presence of God is guaranteed to be amongst us. This is where we can achieve God's will. This is how we are to do it - in gathered prayerful discernment of God's word.

For Christians, I believe, by belonging to the Body of Christ, we find our primary significance. By belonging to a gathering of persons who call Jesus Lord, we find our primary identity. By doing the mission of God together - we find that we can make a difference to the world and in our own private lives as well.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow Episcopalians, let us never forget who we really are, and what we are really called to be, and why.

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

Advice for Electiontide

Sara Miles, director of ministry and pastoral care at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, sent this letter to parishioners this week.

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you as someone who's a political activist, an organizer, and a strongly opinionated voter. But as the November elections approach, I want to talk to you as your pastor.

It's no secret that there's a lot of time, energy, and money going into stirring up passions around this election. You've read the attacks on Barack Obama and his supporters, on Sarah Palin and John McCain. You've received or sent angry, rumor-filled emails. You've heard or told snarky, hostile jokes about the evils of the other side--whoever "the other side" is for you. You've sat there fuming reading the news or watching TV, and you may even have despaired about the general level of dishonesty, vitriol and division generated by campaigns and their supporters.

I want to ask you to pause and consider how our words and actions during this campaign are going to play out in the years to come. Anger-- especially anger that feels "righteous," when we're raging against injustice and the bad guys-- is addictive. It's hard to let go of. As someone who's lived in wars, during bitter political struggles, and also in post-conflict societies, I can tell you that anger flung around recklessly during a conflict poisons the water of civil society for a long time. And I see how carrying around rage and resentment hurts individuals personally. And as someone who considers herself a part of what we call the Body of Christ, I can tell you that it's impossible to hate a part of that Body without damaging the whole.

So I want to ask you, first, to take a deep breath and pray for your enemies.

Please notice that I'm not asking you to pray that your enemies will repent and see the error of their ways, or that they'll start doing what you think they should do, or that they'll be punished for their wrongdoings. I'm asking you to simply pray for them.

And then I want to ask you, if you feel that the stakes in this election are simply so high that you must do something, to, for God's sake, do something. And by that I don't mean watch more TV, or compulsively follow your favorite political blog. I don't mean forward a nasty email to your friends, or tell a hateful story about the other side to people who agree with you politically.

I mean act. Having a well-developed political opinion is very different than engaging in political action. I urge you to avoid the trap of "right thinking" and ideological purity, and instead to leave your home and your circle of like-minded friends. To get out there and work for your candidate or your cause, going door to door and talking with real live human beings, some of whom will be on the other side politically.

It's always easier to hate the other side when you only talk to people who agree with you. It's harder to demonize people when you have to look them in the face.

And looking people in the face, and honestly listening to what they say--even if you can't stand it---and working as hard as you can for what you believe is right, while praying for your enemies, is really the only way I can see out of the mess our country's in now. I know it's the only way I can escape my own bitterness and self-righteousness.

God willing, I'll be acting this fall. And each morning around eight, during Morning Prayer, I will be praying for all the candidates, and for the people of our country. Please join me.


Sara Miles is the author of Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion.

Making sense of animal sacrifice

[Note: Derek’s series “7 Dates Every Anglican Should Know” is on temporary hiatus. His next date and topic are entirely too close to the subject of his dissertation; it will resume whenever he can write something coherent that’s less than ten pages in length…]

By Derek Olsen

Sometimes it takes hearing something in a totally different context to come to a fundamental realization of something that has been before our eyes all the time. As a biblical scholar, part of my work, my competence, is dependent on reading through ancient sources contemporary with the Bible. It helps me get my head into the world that produced the text, the world that the biblical writers took for granted, and helps me get a grasp of what they might have been thinking about or expecting when they used certain words or concepts. Sometimes there are clear connections; sometimes there aren’t. Nevertheless, I’ll often stumble over something that I think I understand from Scripture that an ancient source reveals in a completely different way. That happened to me recently in connection with the concept of sacrifice.

Sacrifice is one of those biblical concepts that make people uncomfortable. We don’t like it, and we’re glad we don’t do it any more. It simply doesn’t make sense from a modern point of view: how is killing an animal going to help anything, and why would that make God happy? We get chapter after chapter in the latter portion of the Torah (the first five books of our Old Testament) that detail exacting rules concerning who does what with various parts of cut-up critters. Needless to say, our lectionaries skip those.

There are even signs that some in the biblical world had some skepticism towards the practice. Psalm 50, for instance, emphasizes moral and ethical acts over animal sacrifice:

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
"O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
your offerings are always before me.
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you, *
for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.
13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, *
or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and make good your vows to the Most High.

The prophets too inveigh against those who kept the sacrificial laws yet neglected the equally divine commands of the law to act with justice and mercy:

"I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

The internal logic of sacrifice just seems off: sins committed are punishable by death and must be washed away with blood (which contains the life). Humans have sinned and the blood-debt must be paid. Therefore, we can substitute an animal and its blood instead of paying our debt ourselves and atoning with our own blood. Is it really moral—let alone praiseworthy—to kill something else in an effort to fix up our mistakes? So what do we do with these passages—reject them as relics of a primitive society or spiritualize them as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving like the psalmist?

I recently got a clue that there’s more to this picture than these conclusions assume; there’s an important point here that we miss and that may well cause us to distort the idea because of where we place the emphasis. I was rereading one of my favorites—Homer’s Iliad—when I came across the section in the first book where Odysseus and his men are sent on a peace mission to an offended priest of Apollo who is causing a god-granted plague to ravage the Achaean armies. It struck me in a new way this time around; here’s the description of their sacrifice:

When prayers were said and grains of barley strewn,
they held the bullocks for the knife, and flayed them,
cutting out joints and wrapping these in fat,
two layers, folded, with raw strips of flesh,
for the old man to burn on cloven faggots,
wetting it all with wine. Around him stood
young men with five tined forks in hand, and when
the vitals had been tasted, joints consumed,
they sliced the chines and quarters for the spits,
roasted them evenly and drew them off.
Their meal now prepared and all work done,
they feasted to their hearts’ content and made
desire for meat and drink recede again,
then young men filled their winebowls to the brim,
ladling drops for the god in every cup.
Propitiatory songs rose clear and strong
until day’s end to praise the god, Apollo,
as One Who Keeps the Plague Afar; and listening
the god took joy. After the sun went down
and darkness came, at last Odysseus’ men
lay down to rest under the stern hawsers.
(Iliad, I.526-46)

The point here isn’t the killing—the point here is the party! In this Homeric sacrifice, the point isn’t that the blood-thirsty god was made happy because a bunch of animals were killed; instead, what happens here is fellowship: enemies unite in common praise of a god, the table is shared, meat consumed, wine quaffed, and mingled voices are raised in song.

I take away two major things from this. First, our focus on death misses what happens after the animal is killed: it becomes food, and the sacrificial act is not completed until it has been consumed. Going back to the Old Testament after this, I realized that this is far more common than we might think; I generally assume that everything got burnt—and there is an important class of whole burnt offerings (holocausts). But far more common are the rites where the family and the priest share together in the sacred meal honoring God in their shared table fellowship. The economic reality of antiquity was that when meat was consumed, chances are it came from a sacrifice. Indeed—this is why eating meat offered to idols was such a big deal in 1st Corinthians: most of the meat for sale in the local markets would have been leftovers from local sacrifices.

Sacrifice then wasn’t just about death and, it makes me wonder if we enlightened moderns couldn’t learn something about death and meat from these ancient practices. It’s not like we don’t kill animals today. Modern meat is produced with ruthless mechanistic efficiency. Death after death after death occurs in our modern meat-packing plants without a moment’s notice or pause. There’s no recognition, no realization, that a life is ending and its lifeblood poured out. Even if we find the logic of sacrifice disturbing, at least it locates meaning in death. We, the enlightened, prefer to ignore it. After all—our meat comes from the supermarket, not from animals.

Second, one of the classic arguments in Christian practice from the time of the Reformation and taken up recently after the Second Vatican Council is the issue what that thing is up there at the front of the church on which we do the Eucharist—and what that means for what we do there. Is it a table or an altar (or something else beyond these)? In recent years, the first has been the overwhelming choice. And yet—this Homeric scene makes me realize that we’re engaging in false dichotomies. The altar, the Eucharist, are multivalent. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and… Homer reminds us that table and altar, meal and sacrifice are not alternatives, rather they interpenetrate one another. The sacrifice is a meal, a sharing in the flesh and wine; the meal is participation in a death, a consuming of something that died on our behalf.

So, next time you hear the Eucharistic prayer, next time you consider the altar-table, next time you share meat and wine with those you love, think on these things. Ponder these mysteries of death in perennial exchange with life.

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 full-time calling of keeping up with two adorable girls and his wife, an Episcopal priest, is complicated by his day-job as an IT Consultant. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Jesus spoke Greek

By Deirdre Good

Did Jesus speak Greek? Yes. It's well known that Jesus spoke Aramaic in certain situations: when healing a young woman and a blind man, when praying in Gethsemane and dying in agony on the cross. In each case, a gospel writer provides a translation into Greek, presumably for an audience to whom Greek was familiar. Paul also knows and transmits Aramaic words: "Abba" and "Maranatha." Sometimes he uses them alongside their Greek equivalents: "Abba, Father" and other times he simply writes "Maranatha!" preserved by the KJV but translated by the NRSV, "Our Lord, come!" Of course Paul spoke and wrote in Greek. But it's less well known that Jesus spoke Greek. What's the evidence? And why might we find it interesting?

Here are four passages as evidence. In Mark 7:24-30, a Syrophoenician woman seeks out Jesus, who is in the region of Tyre. Mark specifically identifies her as Greek, "a Syrophoenician by birth." She asks Jesus for healing for her daughter and he responds in Greek, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." They continue to dialogue until Jesus declares that her daughter is healed. The woman returns to her house to find her daughter healed. No translation is given and no translator mentioned. Jesus and a Greek woman speak Greek together. There's a version of this encounter in Matthew and the same argument could be made of that passage although the woman is identified differently and she and Jesus have a longer dialogue.

In John 12:20 some Greeks came to Philip asking to see Jesus. Philip tells Andrew and they both tell Jesus. The text doesn't report Jesus' refusal to see or speak with them. So presumably he meets and speaks with them in Greek.

Both Matthew and Luke report an encounter of Jesus with a centurion who asks Jesus to help his paralyzed servant. They have a dialogue and the end result is that the servant is healed. Jesus describes the centurion as a Gentile: "Not even in Israel have I found such faith!" (Matthew 8:10).

In Mark's trial narrative, Jesus is handed over to Pilate. Pilate asks him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" and Jesus answers, "You say so." Pontius Pilate is the Roman procurator of Judea and would not have known a Semitic language. No translation of their exchange is given or interpreter mentioned. Jesus' words are reported in Greek. Of course Pilate spoke Latin but Jesus did not.

In each of these four cases when the gospels report that Jesus speaks Greek he does so in response to requests. None of the requesters spoke a Semitic language, and no interpreter is present for their exchange.

These four cases indicate that all the New Testament gospels report that Jesus speaks Greek on different occasions and with different people. In Jesus' world, Greek was the common language uniting disparate peoples. People spoke other languages as well as Greek, but speaking a little Greek would be practical, even good for business. There are many examples of Jewish ossuaries with Greek inscriptions. Of course, the gospels are transmitted in Greek so preserving Jesus' words in Greek is easy. But Mark's audience only knows Greek so Mark translates Jesus' Aramaic words for their benefit. Indeed, scholars have noted that Jesus' Greek speech in Mark is more formal than the Greek of the narrative. Jesus' Greek has been "improved" by transmitters of his speech.

Now Jesus doesn't have long conversations or exchange many words with Greeks. But Jesus hears and responds to Greek speaking people in their own language. Jesus met people where they were. Jesus didn't force people to conform to his smaller linguistic comfort zone of Aramaic. He learnt the lingua franca. Jesus doesn't use his knowledge of Greek to proselytize. He uses Greek to enter the world of others so as to consider and respond to their requests.

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 which may explain certain features of her blog, On Not Being a Sausage.

Embracing the contradictions

By Donald Schell

I’m an unashamed liberal Christian whose thirty-six years of Episcopal priesthood make me deeply grateful for the Fundamentalist Protestant tradition I grew up in, where I learned how to love Jesus and the Bible.

The church I belonged to from infancy until I was twenty was officially Presbyterian, but we identified ourselves as Evangelical and sometimes Fundamentalist. A lot of stalwarts including some of my Sunday School teachers proudly called themselves “non-denominational conservative Christians.” That we were conservatives in a mainstream liberal denomination was a contradiction everyone just lived with.

But the Bible, so we were told, didn’t have any contradictions; through the human writers, God had spoken every word of it, and each word was there because God meant it.

Our indoctrination was unstained by contradiction. Indoctrination came from sword drill (memorizing Bible texts) and from singing songs like,

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so,

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but he is strong…

[Yes, for anyone else who grew up with this one, I know more verses too]


The B-I-B-L-E

Yes, that’s the book for me!

I stand alone on the Word of God,

The B-I-B-L-E.

The Sunday School teacher who taught us to sing ‘Jesus loves me’ had been a missionary in China in the 1930’s. She told us how just hearing about poor little Chinese children who worshiped idols had made her to go China to offer them salvation, because idol worship was really devil worship. I think she spent the war in a Japanese concentration camp with other missionaries to China.

When Mao’s Communists swept across China, she fled. Communists, she explained were atheists, another kind of devil worshiper. The day she was getting on the boat to leave China and come home to America, a Buddha statue in the market caught her eye. She thought of buying it to show children like us what a real idol looked like, BUT before spending God’s money it, she realized Satan was tempting her to possess it, because Satan knew if she brought it home he could compel her to bow and serve it. She felt glad she’d recognized the temptation for what it was, because God’s anger could flash in a moment to destroy us, “‘For his wrath is quickly kindled,’ Psalm 2:12.” My Sunday School teacher delivered her Bible quotations with chapter and verse.

I was more confused than frightened by the Buddha story. I really wanted to see that statue she’d left in the marketplace, and I wished I could touch it. That Monday after school I asked my mom about it.

We talked and thought about it together. Mother reminded me I’d seen Buddha statues in Japantown and a large one in San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden. Countering God’s dangerous short temper in Psalm 2, my mother quoted “God is slow to anger and of great mercy.” I noticed that she didn’t add chapter and verse - I liked the way that just let the words speak.

We talked about hell and how hard God worked to spare people from condemnation. She got her Bible to read to me from Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, indivisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things that he has made…so they know God.” With missionary relatives in Africa and Latin America who I knew she was very proud of, mother was telling me she believed that people listening for God could hear the Way even without missionaries.

I marveled at how Mother quoted Bible verses to argue with other Bible verses and was glad for her gentleness questioning the Sunday School teacher’s teaching. I had begun to see how I could love the Bible (and the Christian community) by wrestling with contradiction.

I left that church when I left home for college and seminary. Wandering a bit through more mainstream Presbyterianism, I was drawn to Lutheran and Episcopal liturgy. In seminary mother’s teaching moved me to notice how rabbinic tradition valued argument. A teaching
tradition that thrived in contradiction formed Jesus as a teacher.

Also thanks to mother I could hear Jesus loving the Book even when he flat contradicted, using words like “You have read…but I say to you…’ to overturn God’s law.

Mother and dad flew across the country to be there when I graduated from General Seminary and again when I was ordained an Episcopal priest.

About five years after I was ordained, my mother started taking seminary extension Bible classes to enrich her teaching of adults at the church. Even people who didn’t believe women should teach in church acknowledged that she was a good teacher. There were people in that congregation who had known and loved her since she was a child. The congregation was as passionate and dense with contradiction as the Bible itself. Mother's her generous, hopeful listening and interpretation of people and text refused to turn aside from fear, confusion, and contradiction. And she wanted to give them her best.

What a joy it was to this Episcopal priest ten years later to receive an invitation from mother’s Presbytery to help ordain her a Presbyterian minister. It pained her that some good, old friends from her church stayed away from the ordination. She expected more of them. The congregation didn’t teach loving contradiction, though more often than not, the people there practiced it. Arguments didn’t keep them from coming week by week to Sunday morning Church, to Sunday evening Praise and Testimony Meetings, and to Wednesday Potluck and Prayer Meetings. And as fiercely as they argued about the Bible, quoting different verses to support different interpretations, they stood by one another in crisis, suffering or grief, helping each other as they could.

The Bible itself (like my first experience of church community) embraces contradiction. If we were willing, mother, me, the Sunday School teacher, Jesus, all those rabbis, and the writers and editors of Old and New Testament could be a community hanging together through our arguments.

I’m grateful for liberals and conservatives (what inadequate distinctions!) who keep offering their best to the church, struggling to live into the communion that God is making, and I’m impatient and frustrated with conservatives and liberals who welcome the division and estrangement it takes to make enclaves of unanimity. How do people change except by contradiction? Writing this I realized that for the last forty years, the two-thirds of my life I’ve lived in the Episcopal Church, I’ve followed a lead my mother gave me that afternoon in second grade.

Ð Keep loving Jesus.

Ð Love your church (even
that returned Chinese missionary).

Ð Try not to judge (her or anyone).

Ð And keep reading the Bible so you can make up your own mind about
what the Book really says.

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

Soccer dad

By Tim Schenck

Nothing screams “suburban dad” quite like standing on a soccer field on a Saturday afternoon. It’s one thing to stand in front of a smoky grill with tongs at the ready or walk around the backyard with beads of sweat dripping from your forehead while wielding a weed whacker. But when you’re staring at a bunch of kids swarming around a soccer ball on a weekend morning when you should still be in bed drinking coffee and reading the paper, you’ve reached suburban nirvana. You may as well take out a second mortgage on the house because you’re not going anywhere for awhile.

It’s fascinating to me how the most popular sport in the world binds American families together in a common weekend pursuit. At the appointed hour thousands of cleated kids pour out of mini vans all across the country. Parents, carrying travel mugs of coffee and those fold-up soccer mom chairs, trudge out behind them. This ritual continues every weekend during the fall and spring. At least until our kids graduate high school. Then no self-respecting American could care less about soccer. Which may be why the United States has never won the World Cup.

While most of us enjoy watching our children engage in athletic endeavors, it’s amazing how many parents feel imprisoned by weekend youth sports. The constant shuttling around to practices and games, the precious moments of free time being slowly sucked away by 10-minute quarters. No one’s forcing you at gunpoint to sign your kid up, but guilt and suburban peer pressure are powerful things.

I helped coach Ben’s teams his first couple of seasons. It wasn’t too much of a commitment at first – a brief Saturday morning practice followed by a half-hour game. But this eventually morphed into an hour-long Saturday practice followed by games on Sunday afternoon. Since I work on Sunday mornings (couldn’t negotiate that out of my contract) and am pretty much spent by the afternoon, I just help out on an ad hoc basis whenever the coach needs an extra pair of hands. I particularly enjoy the pre-practice exercise where I’m the goalkeeper and all the kids take shots. At the same time.

Most coaches at the kindergarten level have little knowledge of the game of soccer. Their coaching careers began because someone had to do it. I actually love the game of soccer and in my glory days was captain of a lousy high school soccer team. But even if you imported some Brazilian soccer star to coach your kid’s AYSO squad, it still comes down to two basic concepts: kick the ball towards your opponent’s goal and don’t use your hands. That’s as much coaching as a bunch of five-year-old boys and girls can digest. The nuances of the game are, shall we say, lost on this crowd.

Nonetheless, some coaches take this stuff pretty seriously. This despite the fact that no one’s even keeping score at this level – “every game’s a tie” is the mantra for these games. But not to some of these guys; they play to win even if no one else does. They probably call the parents the night before for bed checks just to make sure none of their players are out late partying. We played one team where the coach pulled out a dry erase board between quarters to draw up plays. The kids dutifully gathered around to listen but then when play resumed they swarmed around the ball like every other group of kindergartners in the free world. I’m sorry but you’re not Vince Lombardi; step away from the clipboard.

One thing I learned after awhile is that coaching your son doesn’t work so well. Things I would tell Ben got either ignored or met with a look of complete annoyance. But when the same thing was said by a “real” coach, i.e. not his dad, he would respond immediately. As if my exhortation to throw the ball in to a teammate down the line instead of into the middle of the field was inherently flawed. But if Coach Ian said it, it must be brilliant strategy. I guess it’s the same phenomenon you run into when you hear your child was so polite at a play date, saying “please” and “thank you.” Are you sure we’re talking about my kid? There are places when not being the parent is helpful to a child’s development and the soccer field is one of them.

In beginning youth soccer, as in life, it’s helpful to keep things simple. When it comes to our faith lives, Jesus, too, urges simplicity. He distills everything down to the following: “Love God and love neighbor.” Simple, straightforward, no frills. It’s the equivalent of the two commandments of kindergarten soccer – kick the ball towards your opponent’s goal and don’t use your hands. When you remember the basics, everything else eventually falls into place. Even Pelé had to start with the basics and it’s not a bad place for us as well. We don’t have to be fundamentalists to remember the “fundamentals” of faith. Love God and love neighbor. The fundamentals are what keep us spiritually grounded and focused. So if we work hard to love God and neighbor, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

In the meantime, I’ll see you on the soccer field. I’ll be the one cursing the Good Humor truck that always seems to pull up just as the game is ending.

From What Size Are God's Shoes, copyright Timothy Schenck 2008, and used by permission of Church Publishing. The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of All Saints, Briarcliff Manor, New York, blogs at Clergy Family Confidential.

Lift up your health

By Luiz Coelho

Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.

How many times have you heard those sentences, either said or chanted? I bet many! This short dialogue, which is at the beginning of (most) eucharistic prayers, is also known by its Latin name: sursum corda (which means literally “lift up the hearts”).

But why this concern with hearts? Conventionally, they have always been linked with emotions: fear, love, anger, sadness, joy and so many other feelings that literally make the heart ache, beat faster, or enlarge. Recently, scientists have learned that those emotions actually are much more related to the nervous system than to the heart per se. However, to the common folk (including myself), the heart is still directly linked to feelings.

We cannot ignore, though, that the heart plays a big role in our own state of health. It is regarded as one of the most critical organs in human bodies. Its main function is to pump oxygenated blood throughout the whole body, with a special emphasis on the brain. It is so important to the preservation of life, that after a cardiac arrest, death can occur within a very short period of time. The heart, therefore, is central to human health, and one would logically conclude that lifting it up to the Lord should mean more than emotional and spiritual fitness; it should also include one’s physical fitness as well, as we are presenting our entire selves to God in the Eucharistic offering.

Given that fact, how do we promote the physical wellness of people in our churches? Certainly there has been an emphasis on campaigns which focus on certain epidemic diseases, as well as and relief and development campaigns during times of disaster. But, how much has the Church contributed to the preservation of health for the average pew-sitter? What is the Church doing to promote the best physical state, with a decent quality of life, so that they are able to fully contribute to the building of God's kingdom?

In our case, some has been done, but not enough. As time passes by, we get saddened to see an increased number of brothers and sisters with severe diseases – many of which could have been prevented. Such conditions are often the results of modern life and could affect any of us. As life passes by, and sursum cordae are recited, what have we done to lift up everybody's hearts and provide quality of life to all?

Surely you all have been heard that depression is the “21st Century's disease”. But between well-organized liturgies, with vested choirs and stiff acolytes, how much time has been dedicated to hearing the plea of lonely people who look for someone with whom to share their pain? Budget problems, and the pressure of a fast-paced life have led parishes into an extreme concern with management tactics, often reflected in commissions, reports, meetings, and other activities that resemble a corporation much more than a Church. Such time-consuming events often reduce time for pastoral care to a minimum. Confessions, counseling and simple informal conversations between clergy and parishioners are increasingly rare, and the possibilities of helping lives in need, sometimes even recommending the help of a professional, become impossible.

Our concern with what we eat has somehow changed over the course of the last decades, and signs of change can be seen in parishes. Many now offer gluten-free wafers. It is startling to see, though, that in many cases the parish lunch that follows it does not conform to the same consideration. It is not rare to find that the only eating option is still hyper-caloric, high-cholesterol, sugar-enhanced, non-vegetarian, heart-defeating food. For those who have eating disorders, or even for the ones who have strict diets, taking part in such events is a dreadful temptation, and often an opportunity for “breaking the diet” and getting back to dangerous eating habits.

And what about alcohol? Many of us can be eager to make fun of other Christians whose traditions totally forbid the consumption of alcoholic beverages. However, such a line of thought commonly holds hands with a tacit acceptance of some behaviors that can be – and are – very destructive. As we grow aware of the dangers alcoholism can bring to individuals, families and communities, I wonder how many times we have witnessed the excesses of alcohol consumption, even at church-related parties, and how silent we have been, not willing to accept that many of our brothers and sisters (including clergy) already have all sorts of “drinking problems”, which can dramatically explode in the future, leading to very sad results.

The same can be applied to smoking. While I do not think it is a mortal sin, as some Christians would say, it is for sure extremely dangerous for one's health. My father, who was a chain smoker for more than twenty years, still suffered the effects of it (and eventually died as a result of permanent damage in his lungs) years after having completely left cigarrettes behind. However, how many times have we been blind to the ones around us with similar problems, often regarding them as a natural consequence of life?

Do not get me wrong. I am not advocating any kind of abstinence theology, or the imposition of a strict diet, as some churches do. However, I think that in many situations, we – as a Church – have been silent while people – our own people – suffer from the awful physical and emotional results of diseases and addictions. We can always lend our parish halls to AA or NA meetings, but in many cases, that is not enough. It is necessary for the Church to be a real safe space for those who come to it with all sorts of conditions, and sometimes it is our duty to make sacrifices in order to accommodate them. Such “sacrifices” can cover a wide range of simple practices which can be implemented, in many cases, in a seamless way. Why not consider the possibility of having all parish meals fat and sugar free? Why not start offering gluten, lactose free and vegetarian options as well? Why not offering community based classes on healthy-cooking and nutrition? Why not cease having alcoholic beverages in Church parties whenever recovering alcoholics are present? Why not promoting seminars to youth and adults on the dangerous effects of addictions, and providing space for church people to have anonymous counseling, which in most cases cannot happen with the group that meets at the parish hall? Why not sponsoring walks, sports competitions and even gym activities in our churches? Those are only some examples, and I am sure that you know of much more.

Surely, in many religious communities around the country (and the world) some signs of change are already visible. However, health care is never too much, and much still needs to be done. As the Body of Christ, it is utterly necessary that we work towards keeping as healthy as possible our individual bodies, which will work more efficiently for the building of His Kingdom. This involves caring for ourselves, so that we are able to care for others, and lifting up our hearts, once for all, to a better living standard.

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."

What size are God's shoes?

By Tim Schenck

What does God look like? This question gets asked a lot at our house and I never have a very good answer. I tend to mutter something about us being made in God’s image. And then, once the boys have expressed adequate annoyance at my unsatisfying answer, what follows is a steady stream of more probing questions about God’s appearance. They’re relentless – like sharks who’ve smelled blood. “How tall is God? Does God have a face? How big are God’s hands? Does God have really big shoes?” On and on they come, making me feel less and less adequate as a parent and as a member of the clergy. Because my answers can’t possibly be complete.

Sometimes I turn the question around and ask, “What do you think God looks like?” This is a classic counseling technique, redirecting the unanswerable into a question. And, while I’m never too proud to use it on my kids, it doesn’t work. Often I end up in the land of generalities by stating that God is everywhere. Which is true but not exactly the most concrete answer. I think this response in particular, the one about God being everywhere, leads to the obsession with God’s size. If God is everywhere, the next logical question may well be to wonder about the immense size of God’s shoes.

The fact is we don’t know what God looks like. We haven’t a clue. Scripture certainly gives us lots of images of God. But I can’t really tell the boys that God is a rock or a whirlwind or fire. We’re told that we’re made in the image of God but that doesn’t really help us too much. Is that literal or metaphorical? And getting into an existential debate with a four-year old is a road to nowhere. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But ultimately, does it matter what God looks like? For humans, seeing is often believing. And so, for many, that’s the end of the conversation. “If I can’t see something, I can’t believe in it. End of story.” It’s “Doubting” Thomas without the chance to touch Jesus’ wounds and believe. To know what something or someone looks like is a way to gain control or power over that thing. If we can visualize something, then we can describe it with our own words. And if we can see it and name it, we somehow own it. But of course God is too great to be contained by human sight or language. So we can never fully see God or describe God in totality. And we certainly can’t own God.

We can, however, experience God. And this happens in all sorts of ways. We can experience God through the compassion and love of others. We can experience God through the majesty of nature. We can experience God simply by wondering alongside a child about God’s appearance.

When I was a little boy my family had a children’s Bible. I have no idea where it is at this point; I haven’t seen it in years. But I vividly remember the inside-cover. It had an illustration of a brilliant, multi-colored star stretching over the entire length of the page. My parents, probably out of desperation or exasperation from the unceasing questions, suggested that maybe that was God. And the image has stuck with me throughout my life. Not as the definitive image of what God looks like but as one possibility. Somehow it beats George Burns.

As I’m faced with question after question about what God looks like, I find myself answering “yes” to most of these questions. Is God tall? Yes, and short too. Does God have big shoes? Yes, and small ones too. Because the fullness of God is the ultimate “yes.” If God is in everything, then God is both tall and short, big and small and every size in-between. God has a face and yet God does not have a face. God is a tree or a flower or a star and yet God is so much more than any of these.

John’s gospel tells us simply that “God is love.” It’s a straightforward statement, a three word sentence. “God is love.” And maybe that’s what God looks like: love. It may be an elderly couple holding hands, a mother cradling her child, the sharing of tears with a grieving friend. Love comes in many forms and appears in many faces. And so does God.

For Christians, the most tangible face of God is, of course, Jesus himself. In the face of Jesus we see God. If God is love, Jesus personifies that love. His face is the very face of God because it is the very face of love. And so whenever we serve the poor, feed the hungry, or clothe the naked we not only share God’s love, we see it.

But of course, none of this provides the most tangible answer for a child wanting to know if God is tall. So I keep saying “yes” to the onslaught of questions and I do what I can to be a loving father. For if God is love, then we see God by showing our love for others. We see the face of God in one another. Our faces can reflect the love that is God. You and I can look like God, if only occasionally, if only briefly, if only haltingly. But we have the ability to do this precisely because we are made in God's image.

I’m not sure what size sandals Jesus wore. A ten? An eleven wide? I assume no one ever measured his “footprints in the sand.” But it probably doesn’t matter. Because there’s a wideness in experiencing God’s all-encompassing love and mercy.

From What Size Are God's Shoes, copyright Timothy Schenck 2008, and used by permission of Church Publishing. The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of All Saints, Briarcliff Manor, New York, blogs at Clergy Family Confidential.

A religious liberal looks at "Christianists"

By Jean Fitzpatrick

With apologies to Kermit the frog, it's not that easy being a liberal religious voter.

People tend to pass you over in all the speculation about which candidate the evangelicals and right-wing Christians will support. Nobody polls us, and sometimes it seems as though nobody knows how we see things -- or recognizes that ours isn't "religion lite."

It's confusing, seeing a Presidential candidate who doesn't seem entirely clear whether he's an Episcopalian or a Baptist. I don't cast my vote based on a candidate's religious affiliation, but when a person's been an Episcopalian for 71 years and then during the South Carolina primary last year suddenly tells a reporter, "By the way, I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist," even though he's never had an adult baptism, I think we deserve an explanation. It would help us understand what makes him tick. The Washington Post's faith blog was calling McCain "John the Baptist" this weekend, noting that John the Episcopalian made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in 2000, which is also when he called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “forces of evil.”

It's worrisome, seeing a Vice Presidential candidate who calls herself as a "bible-based Christian," prays for a natural gas pipeline, and thinks the U.S. mission in Iraq is a task from God. "A lot of people were praying," James Dobson said recently, "and I believe Sarah Palin is God's answer." What was the question?

It's sad, hearing speech after speech by sarcastic Christians at the Republican convention. What was that nasty tone? We all have our moments, God knows, but it wasn't as though this was road rage -- these people were reading speeches off a teleprompter. Snarky might play well in the convention hall, but seeing it on the small screen I wondered where love thy neighbor fitted in. Exaggeration is certainly no stranger to politics, but hearing one untruth after another from Palin about her own record and Obama's on everything from tax hikes to the Bridge to Nowhere -- not to mention Huckabee claiming Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States" -- I wondered what happened to thou shalt not bear false witness.

And now McCain is running a commercial accusing Obama of supporting legislation to teach "comprehensive sex education to kindergartners." Implying a condoms-and-cucumbers approach to the facts of life, the voiceover intones ominously: "Learning about sex before learning to read?" Obama has repeatedly stated that he favors community-based programs that teach young children to know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. As a pastoral psychotherapist with years of experience helping sexual abuse survivors, I am all too familiar with the need for programs that protect the most vulnerable among us. To distort this kind of education insults both Obama and anyone who has experienced sexual abuse.

Voters and leaders get into trouble when Christians turn into the home team and all they can think about is scoring. Here's a little news flash: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." It's not our job or our calling to claim the world or the country or even little Wasilla for Jesus. When we prey on people's fears and bring out the worst in them so they'll vote for us, then we've succumbed to lust for power and lost touch with what's essential. We diminish ourselves and our faith. I've decided to start using Andrew Sullivan's name for people who use the name "Christian" as a political identification: Christianist. "Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith," he wrote a couple of years ago on "Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism....I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike."

The God who loves me loves Muslims and Jews and atheists, blacks, whites, and browns, gays, straights, wearers of flag pins, snowmobile racers, Eastern elites, moms of special needs babies, teens who have abortions, Republicans and Democrats, loves us all. Somehow we've all got to start doing a better job of leading this country, not to mention sharing this tiny, precious globe. A good start would be getting our facts straight and respecting one another. That's the candidate who gets my vote. It's not that easy being a liberal religious voter, but it'll do fine. It's not religion lite. It's hard. Demands all the brains and heart God gave us. But it's beautiful, as Kermit said. It's what I want to be.

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

Stress and the striving Christian

By Marshall Scott

Well, the summer is over, and with it another summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), as well as another year-long CPE residency. One set of students has left, and another is arriving, beginning, in this case, another year-long commitment. (Students with shorter commitments will come in their appropriate times.)

I know my colleagues, the Supervisors (teaching chaplains) of the program, are hopeful that the new students will do well. That means in part providing good care for patients, as well as interacting well with one another. It means being attentive to their learning opportunities, whether through clinical experiences or more academic activities. It also means the Supervisors hope they will have the expected work ethic.

Any of us who has had even the basic experience of chaplaincy provided by that one CPE unit required in seminary will know that chaplaincy isn't a 40-hour job. And any of us with experience in any other professional ministry will know the same thing. The work of ministry doesn't really settle down into five eight-hour days, whether in the parish or in clinical settings. We know that longer days, longer weeks, are just part of the profession; it goes with the territory.

So, I hear periodically from my colleagues, "What are we going to do with these students? They just disappear at 4:30." Granted, in some ways it's easier for our students than, say, for me. The students get most of their experience in a large hospital as part of a large staff. With lots of people around, it's easier to get the work done and to get home. Too, students don't have administrative responsibilities that many staff chaplains have. Some of the things that bring me in early and keep me late just aren't part of their job description. And I've always thought myself we need to keep in mind that they are students, here for their learning and growth, and not just cheap labor.

Still, I hear the question about work ethic, and I hear it from colleagues in both clinical and parochial ministries. "What are we going to do with these young clergy, these interns, these new folks?"

Long ago, in a church far, far away, when I was a seminarian, our faculty spoke to us of balance and managing stress. They spoke to us of setting appropriate limits, both on our time and our energy. They spoke of protecting our family life. They spoke of protecting our emotional and spiritual resources, with good support and a healthy spiritual life. They encouraged us not to work ourselves to burnout, much less to death. And they encouraged us to model such good emotional and spiritual balance for our parishioners.

Not that we took them all that seriously. We knew the score. We knew that it wasn't that simple. We knew, if only we'd been paying attention to our own clergy before we entered seminary, that this, like any other profession, called for long hours and long days. I remember asking my own rector what day of the week he found best to take off. He said, "Well, I don't have one regular day off. Enough happens in the parish that it's hard to take the same day each week. But, I do try to take one whole day each week." I knew then that he didn't get a day off each week, and that if I could manage only that I'd be making progress.

Still, we did hear what our faculty told us, and I think many of us did try to convey that to parishioners. Some of them even heard it, at least for themselves. On the other hand, many of us found that, whatever they might hear from us about their lives, their expectations for our lives were still the same: long hours and constant availability. Getting them to change their expectations of themselves, to allow for more grace in their own lives, was hard enough. Getting them to change their expectations of us--well, some days, some places, that seemed beyond us.

So what, then, can we do with these new residents, these new clergy? They seem to be setting appropriate limits, both on their time and their energy. They seem to be protecting family life, to be protecting emotional and spiritual resources, with good support and a healthy spiritual life. They seem committed to not working themselves to burnout, much less to death. And they seem to be modeling good emotional and spiritual balance.

Maybe we ought to learn from them. Perhaps I'm a bit more conscious of this these days. I'm getting ready to experience Episcopal CREDO, a retreat/renewal/vocational experience for Episcopal clergy offered by the clergy wellness folks at the Church Pension Group. Suddenly, the level of stress that seems normal to me seems a matter of concern to someone else. There are questions about stress in the health screening that's part of the process. I identified my stress level as "Moderate," thinking I was doing pretty well. Thinking I was doing pretty well, when asked whether I had any plans to address my stress, I said, "No." Lo and behold, when the results came back, stress was for me a risk factor!

And I hardly think I'm all that unique. I'm certain I'm not unique among clergy, but in fact I'm not unique among Christians. We have been encouraged to seek "the peace which passes all understanding." We have been called by Christ to "Come, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And yet, we seem more driven by one old adage or another like, "Jesus is coming. Look busy;" or, "Pray like it all depended on God, but work like it all depended on you." In our desire to control our environment, including to "work out our own salvation," we fall again and again into works righteousness, implicitly denying God's grace and our own limitations.

So, what will we do with these new residents, these new clergy, these new people, when they set good limits, and care for themselves, and trust God to take care of those things they can't? Perhaps we should pay attention. Perhaps, as both Paul and Benedict suggested, they have something to teach, and we have something to learn. If we can learn, even at long last, that balance we in our own time were called to, we will be better persons; and those of us in orders will be better clergy. We will model for our own people and for the world healthier lives. We will lead those we serve toward a healthier community. Most important, we will demonstrate what we have long proclaimed: that all of life is God's, and that in all of life--even in those most pedestrian activities of life--we are saved, not by our own efforts, but by God's grace.

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.

Don't expand the President's power to make war

By George Clifford

Historically, the Christian tradition has relied – at least in its rhetoric – upon Just War Theory to decide when and how to wage war. The six jus ad bellum criteria (just cause, right authority, right intent, proportionality, last resort, and reasonable chance of success) provide a basis for deciding whether to wage war. The two jus in bello criteria (proportionality and non-combatant immunity) guide how a nation wages a just war.

The United States Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, i.e., Congress constitutes right authority for the U.S. to wage war. Yet in recent years, presidents have often acted unilaterally citing their role as Commander-in-Chief, their duty to defend the nation, and the need for expeditious action to justify bypassing or minimizing Congress’ role. Concurrently, Congress has often failed to exercise due diligence before authorizing the President to go to war.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam exemplifies those problems. By 1964, the Vietnam War was already well underway without Congressional authorization because of decisions made by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Nevertheless, the Vietnam War’s cost in dollars and American lives had reached the point where President Johnson felt he needed authorization from a dubious Congress. Congress’ consideration of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution followed an alleged attack in international waters upon the Navy destroyer, USS MADDOX (DD-731), by North Vietnamese forces, an incident now known to have never happened. Passed after fewer than nine hours of committee and floor debate, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorized the President “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.” Subsequently, both President Johnson and Nixon relied upon the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as the Congressional authority to wage the Vietnam War. Congress’ failure to engage in a full and open debate about whether to wage war contributed to the U.S. continuing a costly, ill-fated war.

Following 9/11, Congress expeditiously passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Resolution on September 14, 2001, empowering the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and to prevent future attacks. That resolution provided the legal basis for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the administration’s adoption of controversial policies such as indefinitely detaining those the government identifies as “illegal enemy combatants.”

Now the Bush administration quietly seeks Congressional authorization for continued armed conflict with al Qaeda and reaffirmation “that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations.” Passage of this resolution will confer on President Bush and his successors broad wartime powers. Therefore, the resolution merits thoughtful and open consideration by Congress, citizens, and Christians.

From a Christian perspective, I find the resolution troubling for three reasons. First, Just War Theory emphasizes that going to war should be a last resort. The precedent of the U.S. invading Afghanistan based on wording of a similar resolution now exists. What country might this or a future President choose to invade, based on a new resolution? The draft contains no guidance on criteria to be satisfied before the U.S. invades another country. In other words, the proposed resolution is tantamount to Congress abdicating its war making powers and handing the Commander-in-Chief a blank check to make war if and when the President deems it right. The checks and balances written into the Constitution cohere well with the Christian recognition of pervasive sin. Concentrating power in the hands of one person unnecessarily invites abuses.

Second, the resolution attempts to perpetuate an egregious denial of human rights. Enemy combatants remain persons, something that committing a crime, no matter how heinous, can never change. The Book of Common Prayer’s baptismal covenant reminds us that all persons are worthy of equal dignity and respect, i.e., deserve equal rights and equal treatment. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to habeas corpus rights to challenge their imprisonment in court. Passage of the proposed resolution would attempt to circumvent that ruling and undercut our moral obligation to respect every human being as one of God's children.

Third, the proposed resolution tacitly suggests that effective government action can create a secure nation, e.g., allowing the government to wiretap U.S. citizens without a court order will keep the U.S. safe from terrorists. Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official during the Reagan Presidency, said in comments about the proposed resolution, “I do not believe that we are in a state of war whatsoever. We have an odious opponent that the criminal justice system is able to identify and indict and convict. They’re not a goliath. Don’t treat them that way.”

Any demonizing of al Qaeda and other terrorists dehumanizes the terrorist, creates additional obstacles to ending the terrorist threat, and is a form of fear mongering. Elusive promises of absolute national security are all bogus. Trusting in the government, and especially in military prowess, for one’s security is a highly addictive, extremely dangerous form of idolatry that seduces many Americans. Whether we like it or not, life is inherently risky. Disease, disaster, or destruction strike frequently, e.g., Representative Stephanie Stubbs Jones death from cancer (sadly only one of thousands each year), hurricanes Gustav and Katrina, and the reports of random violence that appear daily in the headlines.

Jesus instructed his disciples to be as wise as serpents. Every person and government prudently acts to prevent criminal behavior, apprehend criminals, and properly adjudicate them. The demands of justice for all, temperately balancing individual liberty and security, and courageously living in the face of real threats all help to define the nature of those prudential actions. Policies that elevate security to a position of preeminence result in a society in which justice is impoverished and fear rules. Democratic governments that have yielded to fear, as happened in ancient Greece and Rome, generally become dictatorships. Democracy, not dictatorship, is the form of government most consonant with Christianity. As Christians, God calls us to live in community, both as people of faith and as citizens of a particular nation. Strengthened by God, seeking justice and liberty for all, and living boldly in the face of an uncertain, often risky, future is one cost of sustaining a democratic government.

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

I am religious, but not spiritual

By Kit Carlson

“I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.”

This has become an incredibly popular statement in recent years. In a Beliefnet excerpt from his book, Spiritual, But Not Religious,” Robert C. Fuller estimates that about one in every five people describes themselves this way. The increasing individualism and consumerism in modern culture has also extended into the realm of the spiritual. People who describe themselves this way see spirituality as something private, not public, something personal, not communal, and something they can design and control and devise, rather than something handed to them by an institution of some sort.

Fuller quotes researchers who say such folks are “less likely to evaluate religiousness positively, less likely to engage in traditional forms of worship such as church attendance and prayer, less likely to engage in group experiences related to spiritual growth, more likely to be agnostic, more likely to characterize religiousness and spirituality as different and non-overlapping concepts, more likely to hold nontraditional beliefs, and more likely to have had mystical experiences.”

Practically, this statement – “I’m spiritual but not religious” -- has a way of raising a wall between a regular, church-going sort of person and a friend or colleague who has no intention of becoming a regular, church-going sort of person. It says, “Back off. Don’t butt into my private relationship or lack of relationship with the Divine. I know all about you ‘religious’ folks. You want to tell me I’m going to hell or imply there’s something wrong with me. Well, I have my own way of connecting – or not – with God. So shut up.”

Well, that’s how I hear it any way. It may not be what is intended, when the person speaks it. But it cuts. It says to me that the person believes that “spiritual” is somehow more authentic, nobler than “religious”, with its checkered history of pogroms and persecutions, its tedious liturgies and self-righteous evangelistic approaches. It makes me -- as a sort of regular, church-going person who actually is religious -- feel like a representative of the Spanish Inquisition or a denizen of the shiniest buckle in the Bible Belt.

But I have decided to feel inferior to these “spiritual but not religious” people no more. I am going to claim my identity as “religious but not spiritual.”

What do I mean by that? I mean to celebrate the fact that one can become part of a faith community and enter into its life and practices and find meaning there, without ever having been smacked over the head by a supernatural experience. That one can choose to adhere to the tenets and expectations of a religious community and let that life of following those expectations create a space within one’s soul where the spiritual might occur. That – much like entering into a long marriage, rather than looking to hook ups for love and affection – one might find that the long, tedious, faithful activities of a committed relationship actually can make one a larger and more loving person than one would have been otherwise, left to one’s own devices.

I mean that discipline, duty, and devotion to a religious community can work as well for the spiritual life as it does for the physical life. No one says, “I’m athletic but I don’t work out.” No one says, “I’m tennis player but I have no partners.” To become athletic, a person has to move. It helps even more if one joins a team or a health club or gets a personal trainer. To become a tennis player, you have to play tennis with other people. You can only get so far whacking the ball against a concrete wall day after day.

Religion, admittedly, has brought the world its share of grief. But religion has also given the world hospitals and health clinics, universities and inner-city schools. Religion has fed the hungry and clothed the naked. Religion gave us Habitat for Humanity. It gave us Bach. It gave us Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Religion, faithfully practiced, might even help the “spiritual but not religious” folks to grow more spiritual, to be more connected to God, and to give them fellow travelers on the way who can help them in their spiritual quests.

I’m glad that I am religious. My religious life forces me to think about God even when I don’t feel like it. It inspires me to be a better person than I actually want to be. It connects me to people I never would seek out on my own and helps me to relate to them as my brothers and sisters in the eyes of God. It believes for me when I don’t feel like believing. It prays for me when I can’t pray. It opens the pathway to God for me, week in and week out, and invites me to take another step along the way.

So, yes, I have joined the “I’m religious, but not spiritual” group on Facebook. I honestly think that this may be an idea whose time has come -- especially for those shy and staid sort of folks who go to church dutifully every Sunday, cook casseroles for families with new babies, work on the Habitat house, make a pledge, show up at church clean-up day, haul their protesting teenagers to youth group, who remember their church in their will, but who … urk … cough … struggle to offer up an extemporaneous prayer, or to articulate what exactly it is they are doing here, anyway.

There are more of us out there than you think. Religious, but maybe not quite so spiritual.

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

Immanence, transcendence, guitars

By Derek Olsen

Worship wars. Nothing is guaranteed to get more hits and generate more comments on my blog than worship wars. So many chattering keyboards and so much passion expended reminds me that, more often than not, something more than “taste” or “preference” is truly at stake. However, in all too many discussions of worship likes and dislikes the conversation stays at the surface and dissolves into personal preference and subjective aesthetic opinions. I know—I’ve done it myself all too often.

Recently, however, a discussion came up concerning church music on guitars and, in particular, the music of the St Louis Jesuits. You may have never heard of them, but if you’ve spent a few years around a liturgical church like ours, I’ll guarantee that you’ve heard samples of their music: “Gather Us In”, “On Eagles’ Wings”, “Here I Am, Lord”, “One Bread, One Body.” In the midst of the discussion, I got to thinking that instead of remaining at the level of a surface reaction, it was worth digging deeper—getting to the meat of the liturgical spirituality at work underneath, driving these arguments.

As the first major proponents of popular music styles in a vernacular idiom for Roman Catholic worship, the music of the St Louis Jesuits holds an appeal (and a disdain) for some not based on its musical or theological properties. For what it’s worth, I think the musical and theological qualities of much of this repertoire is rather limited. However, it is of immense symbolic importance, especially for Roman or Rome-leaning people of a certain age (read: Baby-Boomers) who were coming of age at the time of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath. That is, their attachment to the music is due to what it represents–the American Catholic Church getting to do things its way, a new generation literally getting its voice heard and overturning old ways of doing things. Now that a new “new generation” is rising, certain elements are in classic backlash mode and despise the Saint Louis Jesuit style music for precisely the reasons their parents loved it. Being on the cusp of Generation Y, I’ll admit to having one foot in this camp.

To avoid dwelling in knee-jerk generational generalizations, though, I’d rather cut to what I see as the real reason why this is a fight–and why such a fight should exist.

It’s not really about guitars and folk songs or not-guitars and not-folk songs; rather, what lies at the center of the argument (as I see it) is competing notions of immanence and transcendence and their place in divine worship. Should church music sound like secular music? Why or why not? Speaking personally, I like guitars quite a lot whether it is in classic country or the virtuosity of Van Halen, Hendrix, Gibbons, Morelli or others. But that doesn’t mean I want to hear that style of music in church. I generally don’t like American Folk Revival music from the 60’s and 70’s anyway; I especially don’t want to hear that style in church.

For me, it’s too immanent; I crave something more transcendent. Some have argued that people can generally be grouped as Platonists or Aristotelians. That is, they either have a sense of reality as something “out there” or of reality as something “really here” intimately bound up with the nitty-gritty of life. I intuit that the same is true of spirituality. Some find their connection with God as the God who is immanent and bound up in the holiness of mundane existence. Others find that connection in the God of the transcendent who is “out there” and Other and speaks a word of challenge against what we think is our mundane existence.

Both sorts can learn from each other; both sorts need to learn from each other. But a basic orientation one way or the other will still endure.

I’m the second kind. I’m a Platonist by natural inclination. I find God “out there” and in the transcendent and in the different and in the things that shocking me out of my business-as-usual way of living and, through those experiences, can find God and the Holy in the mundane and the everyday in the ways that I can identify God shocking and surprising me towards transcendence.

As a result, I want my worship to be transcendentally oriented. I want it to help me get in connection with the God “out there” so that I can learn the feel, the touch, the taste of the Other and transcendent God in order that I might recognize that same God in my daily eating, breathing, and moving. Chant is to the ear what incense is to the nose what stained glass and icons are to the eye: culturally conditioned signs of the transcendent but—cutting through the culturally-based significance—vehicles that truly assist me to touch the face of God.

That’s why I don’t want guitars in my service.

And that’s why I understand that other people want them—and need them.

The other side is that I sang for a couple of years in seminary in a Catholic Mass choir that did Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation with a guitar front-and-center. I’ve served and preached at folk services. I’ve even led with guitar in hand a Taizé-style service with guitar and recorder.

Yes, there can be a place for the guitar. Yes, it can be done well, reverently, worshipfully.

But it’s not my taste. And when I’m choosing a congregation where I worship, I will choose a service without guitars.

Derek Olsen blogs at Haligweorc, and is looking for a church home near Ellicott City, Maryland.

"Household" and "mystery":
thoughts on being a Church

By Kathleen Staudt

“Good Morning, Church!” This greeting has become familiar in my congregation. Members who originally come from West Africa are accustomed to beginning announcements that way. And it’s catching on. “Good morning Church!” the lay leader says.

“Church.” That would be us. And we respond heartily “Good morning!”

In the aftermath of Lambeth, and Archbishop Rowan Williams’s suggestion that a Covenant might make us “more like a church”, I’ve been musing about my own sense of what it means to “be a Church,” and where it comes from.

I came into the Episcopal Church in 1978, as the “new prayer book” was just coming into use. Coming from a Reformed and Confessional tradition, I was drawn by the beauty of liturgy and what I understood us to be saying at worship about what it meant to “be Church.” What holds Anglicans together, I learned in confirmation class, is not set doctrine but common worship, though of course we are always in conversation about doctrine and tradition. That has been what I’ve understood about being Anglican, and that’s been my experience at worship. So some of what’s coming out of Lambeth about being “more like a church” seems befuddling to me. I had thought there was consensus that as church we are not unified by doctrine or discipline sent from on high, but by our practice and worship. That’s what I take people to mean, discussing Lambeth, when they say we are “a communion, not a church.” But of course we are a church (as in “the Church, the people of God” to use Verna Dozier’s language). We’re not “not a church.” Clearly much remains to be discerned.

As is my habit, I go to back to the liturgy for help, to see what poetic images have rooted themselves into my imagination and memory. And here I find some metaphors that seem worth pondering in these times. They are from important prayers that I think are not always as familiar as they might be to people in congregations – and now might be a good time to revisit them in our corporate life in congregations.

The first comes from the baptism service, a passage that sometimes gets lost in actual practice, when the priest says “Let us welcome the newly baptized” and the congregation responds with applause. (I’ve seen this happen at a number of baptism services, in a number of congregations). But the words of welcome are Biblical, and important:

We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP 308)

The “household” of God. Yes. A good image of the Anglican Communion right now, as well as of many a congregation. We live together, we share the same food, and we have conflicts and celebrations, upheavals and challenges. But we belong to the same household. The rest of the welcome prayer is a catechism in itself – worth spending years unpacking: Confess, proclaim, share. We live out a “priesthood” as Christians, a life that involves bearing the Holy into the world, and sharing it with others, as Bill Countryman has described so well in Living on the Borders of the Holy. We are carrying out into the world the transforming love that is expressed in the faith of Christ crucified and the good news of his Resurrection. Being church means being the presence of Christ in the world, or in another metaphor I like, from Robert Capon, to be the Church is to be “the hat on the Invisible Man” for the world.

The fullness of that calling is expressed in my favorite prayer in the book, which I often use when I teach workshops on discernment and discipleship:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual ordering of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (BCP 280, 291, 515, 528, 540)

This prayer is appointed for Good Friday, just after the solemn collects, and Holy Saturday, just before the baptism service. We also say it at ordinations. (Marshall Scott has a good discussion of this in an earlier post on the Daily Episcopalian). It’s worth pointing out and holding up this prayer in a time when we’re reflecting on “being Church” because people who don’t attend a lot of ordinations may not be aware of having heard it or offered it.

I love the poetry of this prayer: the suggestion that radical transformation – things cast down, raised up, grown old, made new—can be carried out “in tranquility.” That in itself is a prayer for a miracle! This prayer acknowledges that our life as Church is held in the Divine life. To acknowledge this requires humility, as we craft ways to be together as the “household of God.” That’s why I also love the prayer’s description of the Church as “that wonderful and sacred mystery.”

The scrappiness and challenge of a “household”, held in “that wonderful and sacred mystery.” Holding these two metaphors together may help keep us open and humble, in this time after Lambeth and in the lives of our churches generally. as we continue to discern together what it means to “be a Church.”

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.

Liberal Christianity's intellectual roots

By Adrian Worsfold

There is a lot of casual writing about apparent liberal Christianity these days, much of it dismissive of course, and over and again seems to me to be based on a fundamental misidentification.

Much of the more responsible and, indeed, progressive theology these days derives from the modernist theologians: Karl Barth (1886-1968), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Paul Tillich (1886-1965), Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Every single one of these created a special space for the heart of Christianity, its special message that is said to be different from all other knowledge disciplines. Karl Barth with his one way cultureless and religionless revelation dialectic focused on Christ, Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasised the doing of Christ in a busy secular world, Paul Tillich had a Christian systematic answer system for an existential questioning world, for all his demythologising Bultmann revealed the remythologised essential message of the key texts, and Reinhold Niebuhr was a pragmatist for whom the cross was a central ideal and sin was corporate.

These stood as reactions against the optimism of nineteenth and early twentieth century theologians, and these predecessors were liberals indeed. What made them liberals was that they had no divisions between theology and other academic subjects, no special space for revelation to exist that cannot be discovered by other forms of enquiry.

Let's be clear about this today. In the modern university, theology courses (where they exist) may draw upon social sciences and sciences for their supports and explanations, but social sciences and sciences never draw on theology for explanations. Sociology may have Sociology of Religion, but it never asks in all the causal relationships uncovered "what God might be doing here." Yet theologians happily use sociological tools as it suits. Scientists looking at the local and specific environments and their evolving species, and seeing convergence where separate if similar environments produce similar creaturely results never ask "what God may be doing here" as part of the science. It is all one way: there is no need for the God hypothesis.

Theologians became pessimists after the really liberal period of theology, due to the First World War, the economic depression and Nazism. However, they ought to be pessimistic, given the subsequent isolation of their subject.

I was asking myself to which of these modern theologians I come closest, and I concluded none of them. Tillich was once a little influential, until I realised it was a one way street with him - you could not get to Christianity through the existentialism, he was providing it just through different wrapping paper. I couldn't understand Bonhoeffer's contradictory religionless Christianity, or Harvey Cox's derivative. Bultmann seemed not to do what he said he was doing.

But looking at the actual liberals you can go back as far as Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who would be the grandfather, if Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1899) is the father, with two sons, Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) and Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923).

For Schleiermacher, we are all dependent on the infinite, and Jesus is simply the one with the clearest vision, which he was able to communicate supremely. This means he is not special, just more capable, and of course the question always is a) How do you know? and b) What happens if someone else is similar or more clear?

Ritschl rejected metaphysical speculation on the basis that this established nothing. Ritschl did think that Christianity had a core essence. He thought it lay in the building of the anti-nationalist Kingdom of God, which Jesus introduced and we complete. It is grounded in the motive of pure love. Through real pleasure, humans develop the Kingdom under God. Jesus becomes a saviour figure through a direct value judgment by ourselves.

So although Ritschl starts with Christology, it is entirely accessible and humanistic, based on the subjectivity of believers, the Kingdom being built within culture and in history.

Harnack wanted to ground Christianity into history. History was his speciality. Like Ritschl, Harnack wanted to know what the essence of Christianity was. He concluded, as a historian, that Jesus taught the coming of the Kingdom, and not about himself; and that Christianity and the commandment of love relates to higher consciousness under God the Father's rule.

Hellenisation had complicated Christianity, following in the footsteps of Paul and the Gnostics all the way to Chalcedon, and Harnack thought that the historical Jesus was accessible as a rabbi freed from institutions and encrusted doctrines.

There are two huge objections to this, that the later modern theologians knew. One is that such a liberal Jesus is but a reflection in Harnack's mirror, and secondly the historical Jesus is rather more inaccessible than that.

This was Ernst Troeltsch's view too, and yet he maintained the link with history. He was also a historian and sociologist, and they all interplayed with his theology. Like James Martineau (first) and Max Weber, he understood the difference between Church and Sect in Christian expression. Troeltsch also had a category of "mysticism", meaning the religion of the individual and intellectual that is post Enlightenment rather than Church or Sect out of the New Testament.

Troeltsch had a historical method of a) probability, b) the more familiar before the less, and c) the importance of un-isolated phenomena (thus: what is likely to be right, what is generally understood over the bizarre, and things must connect). The result of this method was anti-miracles, not to know Jesus historically well at all (so much is strange) and a relativist view of all religion. There is no method in history for establishing the salvation-superiority of Christianity or any other faith. Christianity did transform via its role in European culture, but this is not the same as saying Christianity is itself superior or that Christ is unique.

My own view comes down to that of Ernst Troeltsch. I think he understands the issues, and he combines the disciplines. I cannot see why theology should be privileged (in any sense) or be inaccessible. Mystery has to be mystery.

The problem for the liberals was that they became associated with evolution, optimism and social progress, that was shattered; but this seems to me to be revisable - it can also be a pragmatic and a limited theology. Indeed, it is, as it asks for nothing special.

These were the real liberals then. I was fascinated to see that British Radical Orthodoxy, that postmodern conservative bubble of ineffective Christendom (John Milbank etc.), now in its new home at Nottingham, has an attack on Troeltsch via news about a new book on the centre's home page. Discussing Nathan Kerr's Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission, Nicholas M. Healy includes this about the book:

He sets up the issues by means of a lucid and penetrating analysis of Troeltsch's universalist historicism, which attempts to place Christ and Christianity in the service of the political and social projects of modernity, a form of 'Constantianism'.

The critique of Stanley Hauerwas will surprise some, since in spite of his intent Hauerwas ends up looking much more Troeltschian than one would expect.

Troeltsch clearly remains important; perhaps he is coming back into prominence and will irritate the postmodernists in their world-denying bubble. I skip before even the theological modernists, and Troeltsch seems to have done the work already.

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 Lambeth Conference:
The turning point that wasn't

By John Bryson Chane

The 2008 Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of bishops from around the Anglican Communion, can best be described in two words; optimistic and troublesome.

I have always believed that relationship building must be at the center of all we do in the life of the Anglican Communion, and this year’s conference, which drew more than 650 bishops to the University of Kent in Canterbury, provided a great opportunity for this to begin in a way that was not the case at the previous gathering. The non-legislative nature of this conference was in many ways a success.

The first three days, which had been set aside as a retreat for the bishops at Canterbury Cathedral led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, set a reflective tone. Following the retreat, each day began with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist hosted by one of the Communion’s provinces. Daily Bible study in groups of around 12 persons from diverse backgrounds followed, and then we met in Indaba groups of about 40 bishops (Indaba taken from the African experience of meaningful conversation between people of good will.) These groups engaged in discussions ranging from the role of bishops in the Communion to the Millennium Development Goals, and sharing our experiences of ministering in our own dioceses and provinces. Afternoons were spent participating in programs covering everything from the MDGs, human sexuality and canon law to hearings on the drafting of the proposed Anglican Covenant and the ongoing work of refining the Windsor Report. Then came Evening Prayer, followed by special presentations by the Archbishop of Canterbury and outside guests on topics such as evangelism, respectful dialogue, the environment, ecumenical and interfaith issues and the challenges that are present in the life of the Communion.

A powerful “coming together event” involving the bishops and their spouses was a mile-and-a-half march through central London in support of the MDGs, ending at Lambeth Palace where Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Williams and Hellen Wangusa, our Anglican Observer to the United Nations, gave impassioned addresses, challenging the Communion and our respective countries to engage in a more meaningful effort to end poverty and to take seriously the call to halve poverty levels globally by 2015. The event was followed by a luncheon on the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and concluded with a garden party at Buckingham Palace hosted by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

All of this was mostly positive, and it gave me the opportunity to describe the polity of the Episcopal Church to bishops from other provinces – how we are governed by the voices and votes of the laity, clergy and bishops and not by the solitary decision making of the bishop or primate of the province. Some African bishops expressed wonderment that American bishops had very little decision making and enforcement power and saw our system as difficult, if not unworkable. One bishop from Sudan came up to me after I spoke at a hearing on the Windsor Report and apologized for his primate’s position on human sexuality. He told me he had been threatened with losing his diocesan oversight if he attended the Lambeth Conference. Others from Africa, India and Asia had not been aware of the incursion of primates and bishops from overseas jurisdictions into the Episcopal Church and were saddened to learn that such behavior was seemingly tolerated by some in leadership positions within the Communion.

It was reassuring to me that many bishops, even those who do not share our understanding of human sexuality in the life of the church, said their disagreement with me and the Episcopal Church was not a “breaking point” in our relationship. Some said they knew in time they would have to be facing the same issue in their own countries, and we all needed to have more conversation about human sexuality in a non-legislative format. All of these reflections, although problematic in some instances, were centered on an optimism that can hold us together as a Communion if we continue to work at it and not remain in isolation from one another. I came away from these engagements with bishops from other provinces with a far clearer understanding of the challenges they face and their near total lack of basic resources to care for their people; resources that we in the West too often take for granted.

What I found troubling was the manner in which the reports from the Indaba and Bible study groups were given, and how the hearings on both the Windsor Continuation study and the Covenant were finally presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his remarks toward the end of the conference. I was troubled because what was reported did not seem to capture the real flavor of what had been going on during the almost three weeks of our time together as bishops. I have always believed that politics plays a huge role in the decision making of the Communion, and the close of the Lambeth Conference was a clear indication that politics trumped the power of conversation, reconciliation and hard work that so many bishops exerted in their time together.

It is my opinion that in order to placate those primates and bishops who chose to absent themselves from the Lambeth Conference and instead attended the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem, and to quell the growing dissension within the Church of England over the recent decision to ordain women bishops, and the issues of human sexuality in Holy Orders, Archbishop Williams sought what he believed was a middle way that unfortunately continues to marginalize the Canadian and American churches. Once again, more emphasis was placed on the sexuality issue as being the “line drawn in the sand” that threatens Anglican unity, with little attention paid to the invasion of primates and bishops from other provinces who continue to wreak havoc in some dioceses within the Episcopal Church. There was no discussion of the struggle for power within the Communion, so evident in the rhetoric of GAFCON, that would marginalize the historic roots of Anglicanism and the unifying role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There was far too much recognition of those who chose not to participate in this Lambeth Conference and far too little recognition of those bishops who chose to come; among them some who did not want to have their names released to the press as participants for fear that their boycotting primates would punish them when they returned home.

I believe that this gathering had a great chance to move forward in relationship building, and to some extent, as I have mentioned earlier, it did. But when it came to addressing the pressing needs of the Communion to develop a global Anglican strategy to address the issues of disease, poverty, illiteracy, the environment and state-sponsored violence against civilian populations, this conference succumbed to “blaming the victims.” As in 1998, the victims are those whose sexual orientation happens to be different from the majority. It is far easier to blame our divisions and our inability to act as a united Communion to address pressing global issues on those least able to defend themselves. Blaming the least among us continues to divert our attention away from the issues that threaten the very existence of humankind and the environmental health of our planet.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for sacrifices to be made to keep the garment of the Communion together. And for the American and Canadian churches, that clearly means sacrificing once again the full participation of gay and lesbian persons in the life of our church. I for one will not ask for any more sacrifices to be made by persons in our church who have been made outcasts because of their sexual orientation.

This Lambeth Conference could have been a positive turning point for the Anglican Communion, but instead the powers that be chose to seek a middle way that is neither “the middle” nor “the way.” It will therefore be up to bishops from around the Communion who have continuing partner and companion relationships to work toward a more holistic view of the church. The Anglican Communion must face into the hard truth that when we scapegoat and victimize one group of people in the church, all of us become victims of our own prejudice and sinfulness.

In Christ, all things are made new. May the living presence of Jesus Christ empower us all to be a part of this new creation and may the Anglican Communion become a new creation, filled with the courage to lead, and an unfailing trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that calls each one of us to be part of a new journey, knowing that to fear in such an effort is to be unfaithful to the one who reminds us, “be not afraid for I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.”

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane is Bishop of Washington. This column originally appeared in the diocesan newspaper, the Washington Window.

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