What Halloween means to me

By Matthew Fontaine

My yard is decorated with terrible things. There are skulls and skeletons. There is a menacing jack o’lantern. There is a zombie poking his head and one arm above the ground. An illuminated, flashing heart dangles from his hand. There is even a severed head jammed on a bamboo pole.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Partly, it’s because I love candy. Mostly, it’s because I love monsters, human and otherwise. I’ve seen all the most notorious horror movies—and their sequels—many of them several times, some several dozen times. I’ve even made my own horrifying entertainment, writing and directing plays and musicals featuring cannibals, mad killers, and monsters from beyond the fabric of space and time.

I’ve thought a lot about why I have chosen to spend so much of my life immersed in scary stuff. Some are obvious—being scared is fun. Fear happens in your guts. It’s an experience of the body, not the mind or soul. That is one of the reasons that many people—such as Mr. Amadio, the sixth grade teacher who was furious at my possession and display of Fangoria magazine on school grounds—see horror as a form of pornography. Both stimulate the basest, most irrational parts of us. They recall the uncomfortable truth that the person we think of as “I” may not be in control. To experience fear in a controlled fashion is thrilling.

On a deeper level, controlled fear reassures us that real fear—and the chaos that drives it— is controllable.

Few reading this will be unable to recall horror stories from the Bible: God’s monstrous floods and pestilences, Jael nailing Sisera’s head to the ground, Job’s ashy wounds, Christ’s mortification and death. In one sense, the horrors of Scripture are just news—they’re things that actually happened in one sense or another. In another, they are part of good storytelling, helping to stick a story fast in the reader’s memory. In a deeper sense, they share with the most pedestrian horror film a paradoxical desire to experience the sublime and control over the sublime. The Flood is a horror stamped into myths from before we could speak. After our horror at its mindless magnitude, we posit wickedness as its cause. We attribute to ourselves a lineage free from that particular strain of wickedness. We wonder at the flood’s horror and construct a myth to protect ourselves from it.

For many decades, few mainstream horror films failed to follow the old-testament formula. They enumerated reasons why victims deserved to die—promiscuity, drunkenness, whatever—showed us their deaths, and provided us with a hero free of sin who conquered the evil and lived on. (Not coincidentally, the villains typically have the ability to bend reality and are more or less immortal.)

Today, most horror films revel in an even more cynical view of existence. They posit a lack of any form of justice, even the severe and capriciously applied justice of YHWH. They’re like the story of Job, only the director’s cut—without the ending obviously tacked on to make it more palatable to a mass audience. Full-blown horror creeps into the most unlikely places. Contrast the psychopathic violence of The Dark Knight—a massive, global hit—with Adam West’s candy-colored batcave.

In a culture where we enjoy outrageous material abundance, distant from day-to-day death, sheltered as effectively as possible from grinding poverty and suffering, we revel in a carnival of horrors. Is it a symptom of decadence or a talisman against the Flood? Are we Job’s interrogators, attempting to understand a pain we cannot possibly fathom? Maybe that’s why we need bowls of candy, tasting sweetness before winter darkness falls and the brooding questions of existence tap at our doors.

Maybe we’d best not lift the mask.

Happy Halloween!

Matt Fontaine is a freelance copywriter living in Seattle. He is currently trying to write 100 songs about horror movies. Listen at (100 Songs About Horror Movies)

The vocation of all saints

By Kathleen Staudt

Once again, teaching my class on the Call to Discipleship at Virginia Seminary’s Evening School, I am struck by the Reformers’ insight that vocation is actually where we experience the grace of God. Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are clear on this: Our calling is the expression of God’s grace in our lives; obedience to God’s call is our faithful response to that grace – not something we have to earn or even fully understand, not even something that makes us “better people,” though technically it is what makes us “saints.” This is hard to grasp but it is a beautiful mystery. Vocation is ultimately less about “what shall I do with my life” than it is about “how shall I respond to the relationship with God that I’m already in, perhaps without knowing it? The stirrings and restlessness that come with that experience of call are really already responses to God’s grace, active in us and in our world and relationships. This is what makes reflection on vocation something different from simply career counseling or self-awareness, even though our feelings and yearnings about work and our understanding of our identity help us in discernment. But vocation is the good news that God invites us to participate in the divine work of transformation in the world. So our honest questions about where our real work and our real heart’s desire lies are a form of prayer, really, “responding to God,” as the prayer book has it.

These thoughts about the grace of call and vocation seem particularly appropriate to me as All Saints Day approaches, a day that used to strike me as one of our most “Catholic” celebrations in the Episcopal Church. My first invitation into the Episcopal Church, many years ago, came in a children’s sermon offered by the Rev. Robert Denig (later bishop of Western Massachusetts) at St. John’s, Northampton MA, where he invited the children, whenever they hear the communion prayers, to “remember the company” – the company of heaven who surround us and have gone before us. Raised as a Presbyterian with the concept of the Priesthood of All Believers, I found it a natural and beautiful transition to embrace this idea of the mystical body of the church and to understand participation in the life of the church as a calling for all God’s people, rooted in baptism. “The saints of God are just folk like me,” we sing in that silly and beloved hymn, “And I mean to be one, too.” And the grace of God makes that possible – as Luther and all the saints have known and taught.

There are several different emphases in our celebrations of All Saints Day. Often we combine All Saints and All Souls, and/or the “dia de los muertos,” praying for the faithful departed and loved ones, and embracing the hope of eternal life that is implicit in the idea of the Communion of Saints. I suppose that’s the “catholic” dimension of our Anglican tradition. But it’s also appropriate that the BCP calls for baptisms to happen on All Saints Day, because that stresses the Reformers’ emphasis on God’s grace expressed in our baptismal identity and calling us, right from that moment onwards, to faithful discipleship and membership in Christ’s “eternal priesthood.” It seems to me to be a day when we celebrate the experience of vocation as the center of our relationship to God, regardless of the particular callings that we discern.

“They loved their Lord so dear. . . and His love made them strong.” What the “saints of the Church” know, and what they show us, is that God is active in human affairs and that we come to know God as we discern the divine invitation, always there, to participate in what God is already doing. Baptism begins a life of companionship with those who have known and know this, a life that goes on beyond the boundaries of life and death, but begins here and now, each moment that we say “yes” to this call to participation, to faithful discipleship empowered by grace. This opportunity for recommitment, together with the celebration of the Mystical Body, continue to make All Saints Day a highlight of the church year for me.

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.

Lessons for Christians in the history of the Bahai faith

By Adrian Worsfold

When I was confirmed into the Church of England in 1984 I asked some Baha'is I met at their firesides to come along. None did. In the end I fell out with the Baha'is as I discovered academic material that presented their history differently from their own. They are very committed to the preservation of their history as monitored by the Universal House of Justice, the nine seater male-only assembly meant to be a combined secular and religious decision making body for the world, elected without campaigns by the National Spiritual Assemblies below them, these elected by delegates from the Local Spiritual Assemblies below them. It is a very conserving system, a sort of democratic centralism: what the top level says goes.

Very quickly summarising: the origins of the Baha'i Faith are in the Babi faith that developed out of Shia Islam in Iran and Iraq. They were waiting for the return of the Hidden Twelfth Imam and a Holy War for the victory of Islam. In 1844 Sayyid Ali Muhammed Shrirazi claimed to be the Bab, the Gateway to the returning Imam. When he didn't appear at Karbala, Sayyid Ali Muhammed escalated his status in stages to the Imam, then the Prophet and then superseding to a new Manifestation of God. The movement was surrounded by violence, and started much of it themselves. The Bab appointed Mirza Yahya (or Sub-i-Azal) to be his successor, but after the Bab was killed by the authorities the violence continued and the movement was in severe decline. Sub-i-Azal's half brother, Mirza Husayn Ali, an elite Persian convert, built up his own faction and in 1863 he, Baha'u'llah (Glory of God) announced himself as the Bab's next Manifestation of God. The authorities never left either faction alone, and the Azalis ended up in Cyprus and the Baha'is at Palestine. However, Baha'u'llah, in the course of the compulsory travels and his declaration to the few and then the world of his status, read Sufi and New Testament material, and completely remodelled the faith as it came into the Western orbit, making itself syncretistic in character, peaceful and expecting the unification of the world.

Baha'u'llah died in 1892, and Abbas Effendi, his eldest son, or Abdul-Baha, became the leader and only interpreter or "Centre of the Covenant". Here there was factionalism, as a group known as the Unitarians (people of the Book, not Abdul-Baha's interpretations) broke out and were excommunicated. The Young Turks' victory meant an end to imprisonment, and Abdul Baha became a traveller around the West even more spiritualising and Westernising the movement, and was a charismatic figure as he attended mosques, Christian and Unitarian (the other sort) churches and synagogues.

After he died Shoghi Effendi became the first Guardian. Some Germans did not accept the validity of Abdul Baha's will appointing him and so the Free Baha'is emerged for a time. Shoghi Effendi should have had a serving Universal House of Justice under him, but he did not set it up. He should have left a will, but either he didn't or it never appeared. So when he died in 1957 there was a crisis of leadership, after which in 1963 the Universal House of Justice was formed and took to itself powers of the Guardian, most importantly the sole power to interpret and the power to excommunicate.

The chief of Hands of the Cause, a forerunner to the UHJ, Mason Remey, thought he should be the new Guardian. Factions have arisen ever since from that branch, including one that now thinks the second Guardian was presumptive, but so was the Universal House of Justice taking power to itself.

The UHJ produces plans for growth. The millennial nature of the Bahai Faith is that it expects the Most Great Peace to arrive (instead we had George Bush) and a tipping point where "troops" of people convert to the Bahai Faith. Unfortunately, the Bahai Faith has been born in a rather irreligious age in Europe, and other than some growth in developing countries, Europe has been slow and with a high turnover of members. Plus, the UHJ in Haifa has a habit of turning members who don't submit to censorship panels into covenant breakers. There are also quite a few people who find themselves mysteriously removed from the rolls of membership, but in the age of the Internet they continue the faith themselves with new freedom, the name Baha'i being in the public realm. A problem for the Haifa Baha'is is that only they can raise money for themselves, and members who can participate in Feasts as well as Firesides find themselves locked into administration details: the Baha'i Faith is an "Administrative Order" after all.

So at each stage of leadership transition elite groups have competed and been excluded, and it is reasonable to say that the quest for unity has been a failure because of its high cost in factions and breakaways, and now there is a more relaxed Bahaism emerging of excluded or drifter individuals. It matters not that the Universal House of Justice only recognises itself as legitimate, because anyone can read the Kitab-i-Iqan and Kitabi-i-Aqdas and the published materials that Shoghi Effendi translated into his strained olde-worlde English. Even infallibility is being questioned by individuals let loose.

The Bahai Faith is useful for Christians and Christian theology in a number of ways.

First of all we see something of a parallel in the Bab as a kind of announcer of a new manifestation, although he became what he expected. He gets positioned like a John the Baptist, and probably John the Baptist was his own man too. Then we have the central manifestation (Incarnation) figure, Baha'u'llah. Then we have the very important St. Paul figure, who becomes such an important interpreter and spreader into new cultures and giving a further twist to the faith.

Then we have the issue of authority. There is something of the Pope in the Guardian, of course, but the UHJ is like Orthodoxy or Roman Catholic centralism - with knobs on. In fact it is very Weberian-bureaucratic, and very pyramidal. Weber regarded such with great pessimism: it was anti the life-giving enchantment that he thought religion supplied.

The other lesson is that of allowing theology to grow organically and in diversity. There is a distinct double identity problem of Baha'i member scholarship in secular institutions including that of religious studies departments. It does the Baha'i Faith no favours. We see similar with some Roman Catholics. If Christians become more subject to such pressures of membership conformity, then there is a distortion to both the academic sphere and to the representational sphere.

I also suggest that Christians should express the truth as they find it even when it conflicts with doctrines or interpretations of the Bible. If there is some compelling finding about, say, the Jesus of history as an endtime Jewish rabbi, then this should come first, or at least people should be honest about the layer-cake nature of doctrines or how people interpret the Bible.

Older faiths have developed more maturity with time. They can sit light and worry less about how their faiths are represented. Or at least this is what we thought, as the Christian world gave rise to a secular and plural world.

There are pressures to go along a road of such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. There is a narrowing of what is legitimate expression of a faith, and there are calls for excluding those who are not biblical enough. An Anglican Communion, properly understood, would become a World Wide Anglican Church with authoritative statements handed down, with again distant high-up forms of selection of those with centralised power.

Who knows how these developments will work out. The Baha'is could not predict their own future, despite the claimed infallibility of the words of both their Manifestation of God and Centre of the Covenant. So Anglicans cannot predict theirs! Nevertheless, if secularisation and plurality lead down the road to authoritarianism and centralisation, there are going to be quite a few Anglican Communion Covenant Breakers who will continue to define the faith in a broad way, however they organise, meet and link up together.

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.

Real Americans. Real Christians.

By Peter Carey

In recent days, we’ve heard a great deal about what a “real American” might be, and what a “real American isn’t.” There has been rhetoric from Governor Palin when she has spoken in certain towns that they are “real Americans,” with the accusation that those people who come from urban areas, or who are from the Northeast, may not be “real Americans.” Questions arise about the status of those who don’t pass the test of being a “real American.” Do these people surrender the rights and privileges, and responsibilities of the “real Americans”? Lots to ponder in this election season.

This notion of “real Americans,” reminds me of some of the discussions that we’ve been having in the church. What does it mean to be a “real Christian”? In the Anglican Communion, work is moving along to create a Covenant which will spell out the requirements for being a part of the Anglican Communion. There is an apparent implication that those who are able to “sign on” to the Covenant will be “real Christians.” I suppose those who are unable to sign on to the Covenant will be some other kind of Christian…unreal Christians? I still have some grave concerns about whether this Anglican Covenant will be a good thing on various levels. Along with many others, I am waiting to see how this Covenant comes into being. There are people I respect who fall on both sides of the argument about the efficacy of the Covenant, so I am praying about it.

I wish that we in the Episcopal Church were just a bit bolder about what it is that we do believe; that we could put out our message with more fervor and enthusiasm. For example, I believe that we have allowed those who are outside our church to define us, usually negatively. What if we spoke with more clarity about our dedication to our baptismal covenant, and about our belief in the creeds? I was recently listening to a bishop who was at the Lambeth Conference who said that there were bishops from the Global South who were surprised to hear that Episcopalians actually believe in the resurrection. This came as quite a shock, but it does illuminate the confused messages that we allow to dominate the airwaves about our church.

The discussion about whether the Episcopal Church is orthodox enough gets into the labeling of whether we are “real Christians” or not. What is a real Christian? To those who wonder, I say yes, we do believe in the Trinity, that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Don’t we believe in the sacrament of baptism, in which we die to sin and are raised in Christ? Don’t we believe that through this sacrament we have been received “into the household of God” and that we are called to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood”? (BCP, 308). Not only are we “real Christians” but we may have a unique calling within the body of Christ in this post-modern world. Time will tell.

I am reminded of one of my heroes, William Sloane Coffin, Jr. who considered himself to be a “real American” even, and especially, when he protested injustice in our great country. He considered himself to be a “real Christian,” even when he spoke truth to church bodies that were slow to respond to the injustices of war, racial segregation, and nuclear proliferation. Coffin often said that we need to have a “lover’s quarrel with our country.” In his view, we need to love our country enough to have an engaged quarrel with the forces that would blindly accept the status quo. For Coffin, having a quarrel with one’s country, or one’s fellow citizens, was not a sign of being an “unreal American.” To truly love one’s country there will be times that disagreements will arise, and quarrels can help us to address our corporate blindness and oppressive tendencies.

And then there is the “lover’s quarrel” that is going on in our church. I continue to hope that our diatribes might turn to dialogue, and that our hostile behavior might turn to hospitality. I realize that we can fall into the trap of dehumanizing the other side, and claim that our way is the way of “real Christians.” I also realize that, for too long, those of us who are dedicated to the Episcopal Church (not without quarrels, however!) might need to gird our loins and speak with more boldness about our Faith, and about our practice, and refuse to let others define us. As someone said recently, the notion of “they will know we are Christians by our love,” may not be enough in our present context of 24/7 media saturation. A wise woman once told me that as a preacher I should “always be willing to give an account of the hope that is within me.” Are we, as the Episcopal Church giving that account boldly enough, and with enough gusto?

Doesn’t Jesus call us to do such a thing?

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20, NRSV)

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

The finest "instrument" of Anglican communion

By Sam G. Candler

The phrase “instruments of communion” has become standard in serious descriptions of the Anglican Communion of Christian churches.

Each draft of a possible Anglican Covenant, citing recent Anglican theology and drawing upon the good work done at Lambeth meetings, and at Anglican Consultative Council meetings, and at Primates’ meetings, acknowledges four “instruments” of communion: The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting. We all know that these last two “instruments” have emerged rather more recently in our history.

However, the word “instrument” is ultimately an inadequate word in its ability to describe a way in which Anglicans share faith and mission together. It sounds too mechanistic, even manipulative. I hereby propose another “instrument” of communion. I hesitate to call it a fifth “instrument” at all; because, again, I do not admire the term “instrument.” Nevertheless, because the word is part of the standard Anglican vocabulary now, I use it.

If the term “instrument” is meant to describe a way in which Anglican Christians have enjoyed communion with one another (for over 1800 years, since Anglican Christianity started way before the Reformation), then the most important “instruments” of our communion have always been living personal relationships that existed far more locally than hierarchically.

Thus, I propose that the most real and most effective “instrument” of our Anglican Communion is the set of actual personal relationships that exist among parishes and dioceses across national and cultural boundaries. These relationships, often existing outside the initiative or control of institutional authorities, are what have inspired Anglicans to deeper faith and service to God. These are personal relationships of witness, service, and prayer; and they have been the efficacious symbols of communion in its highest degree. (I presume they are the “links which sustain our life together,” suggested in paragraph 3.1.4 of the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant.)

When Pope Gregory the Great sent the first Archbishop of Canterbury to England, Augustine and his followers were surprised to learn that Christians were already there. Thus began a long history of Roman (or, we might say, “institutional”) Christianity differing from Celtic (and, local) Christianity. Most conflicts within Anglican families of Christianity have included some sort of conflict about authority –usually conflict between a more universal human authority and a more local human authority.

During most of these Anglican conflicts, actual relationships between individual Anglicans, parishes, and dioceses are what have held the family of Anglican Christianity together. They were not usually held together by declaration or doctrine or even covenant. They were held together by people holding on to one another.

Consider the relationships that exist at this very moment between parishes and dioceses of the Anglican Communion around the world. We have parish-to-parish relationships across national and cultural boundaries; and we have diocese-to-diocese relationships across national and cultural boundaries.

More importantly, as I hope we all realize now, these relationships are not restricted to one particular theological idiom of Anglicanism; there are both conservative and liberal relationships. One could make the easy case that these very relationships are what have enabled and emboldened certain conservative causes. Yet, similar relationships also exist between more liberal Western communities and non-Western communities.

For most Anglican Christians, the relationships we have within our own parishes are our strongest expressions of Anglican identity. Second to those bonds of communion, the relationships of our own parish or diocese to a parish or diocese outside our nation or culture is the most practical and effective way we have of appreciating and realizing Anglican communion. We are not held together merely by pronouncement or even conciliar agreement.

Though I am uncomfortable with the way in which the word “instrument” has been adopted in recent documents of the Anglican Communion. I certainly understand the word’s usefulness, and I have certainly used the word myself. Still, the word “instruments” to describe the ways in which Anglicans enjoy communion with one another runs the risk of mechanizing our organic relationships. An “instrument’ is a tool or implement. As such, it is impersonal and objective. The real relationships that hold together Anglicans across the world are living and active; they are organic.

As I have read the drafts of the Anglican Covenant, I have noted much that is valuable. I am not opposed to an Anglican covenant. Covenants are good for humanity, and they are good for faithful relationships. “Covenant” is, first and foremost, a biblical notion, because covenant is about promise. We live because God promises to be in covenant, in faithful relationship, with us.

But the most effective covenants occur at the most personal levels. Each of us makes promises to God, and we receive God’s promises to us. Many of us make covenants of our lives to one another in marriage. We make promises to join the Christian Church. Those are good and faithful and real relationships. If we Anglicans want to expand our sense of covenant, even if we want to acknowledge “instruments” that help us discern our shared life, let us not forget the living relationships that actually comprise our communion.

The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler is dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the cathedral's Web site.

7 Principles of Biblical Interpretation

By Greg Jones

Episcopalians share a common "book" of prayer, worship and wisdom with Christians of every age and place. This common book is not the Prayer book. It's not the English language. It's not even the Western literary canon. No, of course it's the Bible - which forms the common sacred library of all who follow Christ. But, in a Christianity so global and diverse, we Episcopalians need to be able to understand for ourselves, and explain to others who inquire, "What do we think the Bible is, and how do we engage it?"

I believe that most Episcopalians would agree with the notion that just as God has called forth the Church to exist as the Body of Christ, inextricably bound with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are likewise inextricably bound to the Church. We do not understand what the Bible is apart from its being woven up from and into the fabric of the Church, nor can we interpret it apart from a location within the life and activity of the Church. That being said, what guidelines can be found to clarify things a bit? Well, I think the Diocese of New York teaching document Let the Reader Understand is excellent, and from it, I think the following seven points should be taught across the whole Episcopal Church.

7 Principles of Biblical Interpretation

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are "the Word of God" and "contain all things necessary to salvation." They are called the Word of God by the household of faith, not because God dictated the biblical text, but because the Church believes that God inspired its human authors through the Holy Spirit and because by means of the inspired text, read within the sacramental communion of the Church, the Spirit of God continues the timely enlightenment and instruction of the faithful.

2. The Holy Scriptures are the primary constitutional text of the Church. They provide the basis and guiding principles for our common life with God, and they do so through narrative, law, prophecy, poetry, and other forms of expression. Indeed, the Scriptures are themselves an instrument of the Church's shared communion with Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, who uses them to constitute the Church as a Body of many diverse members, participating together in his own word, wisdom, and life.

3. The Scriptures, as "God's Word Written," bear witness to, and their proper interpretation depends upon, the paschal mystery of God's Word incarnate, crucified and risen. Although the Scriptures are a manifestly diverse collection of documents representing a variety of authors, times, aims, and forms, the Church received and collected them, and from the beginning has interpreted them for their witness to an underlying and unifying theme: the unfolding economy of salvation, as brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

4. The Scriptures both document and narrate not only God's saving acts but also the manifold human responses to them, revealing that God's unchanging purpose to redeem is fulfilled, not by means of a coercive, deterministic system, but through a divine plan compassionately respectful of human freedom, adapted to changing historical circumstances, cultural situations, and individual experience and need. In reading the diverse texts of Holy Scripture, the Church seeks an ever-growing comprehension of this plan and of the precepts and practices whereby believers may respond more faithfully to it, walking in the way of Christ.

5. The New Testament itself interprets and applies the texts of the Old Testament as pointing to and revealing the Christ. Thus, the revelation of God in Christ is the key to the Church's understanding of the Scriptures as a whole.

6. Individual texts must not, therefore, be isolated and made to mean something at odds with the tenor or trajectory of the divine plan underlying the whole of Scripture.

7. Faithful interpretation requires the Church to use the gifts of "memory, reason, and skill" to find the sense of the scriptural text and to locate it in its time and place. The Church must then seek the text's present significance in light of the whole economy of salvation. Chief among the guiding principles by which the Church interprets the sacred texts is the congruence of its interpretation with Christ's Summary of the Law and the New Commandment, and the creeds.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. A husband and father, Jones is also the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004), and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is due on iTunes in November of 2008.

Sudanese keeping close tabs on US campaign

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – I voted in the presidential election the other day. Felt pretty darned good about it. I’ve never voted by absentee ballot before, and was quite nervous about whether this would really work. But with a lot of help from a lot of people, I got my ballot in plenty of time and sent it back in almost four weeks before the election.

The whole process was quite interesting to my Sudanese friends and colleagues. They couldn’t believe I could vote while living overseas. And they still can’t quite grasp the fact that America’s presidential election takes place in just one day. But what interests them most is the election itself.

Sudanese are following the election at least as closely as Americans. They are inveterate listeners to the radio, and follow everything that is happening, dissecting it as though they were participating themselves. Southern Sudanese are quite supportive of President Bush, because of his administration’s role in helping to get the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed, ending 21-plus years of civil war. That fact alone tends to make Southern Sudanese rather Republican. It’s not unusual for me to meet someone for the first time here and have that person say, “Yes, George Bush!” I’ve even had Sudanese ask me to give the president their personal greetings when I meet him in the United States. (They are heart-broken to hear that the president and I are not on a first-name basis, and that I do not have a standing appointment at the White House whenever I am in the United States.)

What’s most fascinating to watch here is how Southerners interpret everything they hear about the election campaign. They followed the primaries closely, although they don’t quite understand how they work. They listen to news about debates and the conventions and campaign stops and parse what is happening.

And most of the Southerners I know are convinced that Sen. John McCain is going to win.

Why?

Well, first, he’s a Republican, and President Bush is a Republican, so in their minds, that makes them the same, which – again, in their minds – means that McCain automatically will win.

Second, Southerners have great respect for elders, and McCain obviously is an elder. So when they look at McCain, in his 70s, and then at Sen. Barack Obama, to whom they often refer as “that young man,” they see the obvious difference in age and tend to conclude that McCain should win simply because of age.

Third, Southerners here are acutely aware of America’s racist history, and cannot believe that a black man would ever win a national election. Southerners are not shy about bringing up this fact, not only frequently, but with some vehemence.

And finally, Obama’s name and history do not help here. Completely false claims that Obama is a Muslim reverberate in South Sudan. That photo of him dressing up in local attire on a visit to Kenya years ago, and the fact that his grandfather indeed was Muslim, are enough to convince some Southerners that Obama is Muslim as well. The fact that he is a Christian is not listened to or believed by many.

Two decades ago, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya (in the same region from which Obama’s father’s family comes), I was very clearly instructed to never discuss politics with Kenyans. Peace Corps volunteers are supposed to steer clear of political discussions much as many family members do at Thanksgiving dinners. So to hear these discussions now – to have Southern Sudanese initiate them and beg to talk about the election – is odd. I’ve never been overseas for a presidential election, and despite my excitement, I was quite prepared to keep very quiet this time around. I simply wanted to get my ballot, vote and send it back in on time.

But that’s not possible here, not this time. This election fascinates my friends, as it does much of the world, and they feel it will have a huge impact on them. Without help from the United States in many and varied forms, South Sudan would be in trouble, and Southerners are acutely aware of that. And with tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese living in the United States, my friends feel a special affinity for the country.

So every day, we talk about the election campaign. We talk about what was said, and what it means, how each candidate sounded on the radio, what’s been reported and what’s been left out. We try to figure out what the next president will do for Sudan. It’s almost like being in the States.

Come Nov. 4, everyone will be glued to their radios, waiting for the results. (I’ve tried to explain both the time differences and the number of time zones to the Sudanese, but many don’t understand the vast size of the United States, and will be disappointed to go to bed on the 4th with the polls still open.) Come Nov. 5, we’ll do what everyone else will do that day: We’ll talk politics.

Washington may be 7,000 miles away, but with all this talk about politics, it’s almost like being back in the States.

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.

Here by God's invitation

By R. William Carroll

I have a confession to make. Perhaps to some of you it won’t appear to be a confession so much as a brazen attempt to bolster my street cred with other nerds. But here it is: as a teenager, I loved to read science fiction. I wish I could say I read only the good stuff. But I read schlocky, hokey stuff too. Occasionally, in a moment of regression, I still do. But I don’t have much time for that these days. If I’m lucky, I see the movie instead.

One of the books I wish they’d make a movie about is Piers Anthony’s Split Infinity. The story is about a man named Stile. Stile is a serf on planet Proton, a planet where the citizens are incredibly wealthy because they control the galaxy’s supply of fuel for interstellar travel. There’s also a parallel magical universe, from which the book takes its title, but that’s not what interests me. What fascinates me about the book is what it refers to as “the Game.” Stile excels at the Game, which is actually an infinite number of tests of physical and mental prowess, as well as games of chance, overseen by a giant computer. In the Game, serfs and citizens compete together. There is a whole culture of gambling built around it. The Game is the great equalizer. In fact, Stile eventually wins the “tournament,” with its coveted prize, citizenship.

The story resonates with me, I think, because it coheres with some of the deep myths about America—myths which are just true enough to capture our imagination and just false enough to leave us restless and unsatisfied, wanting something more. The Game connects with our deep, abiding belief in equality and social mobility. It is the stuff of Horatio Alger novels. The Game is the guy who works his way up from the mailroom and marries the boss’s daughter, only to take over the whole company. It is Anne Hathaway, being raised by a single mother, suddenly discovering that she is, in fact, a princess. It is Julia Roberts, the hooker with a heart of gold, being swept off the streets by Richard Gere. (I apologize for the problematic gender politics, but that’s the way this particular story often gets told.)

The Game is like the lottery and reality T.V. shows, as well as our belief that any one of our children could grow up to be president. (How many adults still believe that about themselves?) In a society like ours, there is both an unprecedented degree of social mobility and the lie, reinforced by a great deal of denial, that we are all somehow middle class. The Game is our belief that, if we hit tough times, we can all pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It is both the best and the worst thing about the American people. We are incredibly tough, creative, and resourceful, but we are also unaware of our real limitations.

Now I wouldn’t trade the positive side of the American dream for anything, but I do have to ask us how it might be transformed by the Gospel. Perhaps, if we looked more closely at today’s Gospel, we might rediscover forgotten parts of our heritage as Americans. Maybe it would call us back to interdependence, sacrifice, and seeking the common good. Our ancestors lived these values out through cold New England winters, in urban ghettoes, reservations, and pioneer farming communities. They exemplified these values during the fight for Independence, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Civil Rights movement. They struggled together side by side in Grange Halls, picket lines, and churches.

In the parable of the wedding feast, which we heard earlier this month, we learn that the invited guests are not all respectable people. If the ministry of Jesus provides any clue, they include tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. They are certainly not only the people who “work hard and play by the rules.” None of them has earned a place at the table. They aren’t even the first round draft choices. Rather, they are only invited at the last minute, when the real guests—the red carpet people— send in their regrets. What does the king say? “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” And so his slaves go, and they gather all they find, both good and bad alike, that the hall might be filled with guests.

In God’s Kingdom, we have no status, except that which is given us by our host. We have no privilege, save what is conferred by God’s mercy. We are invited into the Kingdom only because we are the kind of needy, broken, imperfect people who would come when God called. Some few of us may be winners by the world’s standards, but even those are filled with doubts and fears. The rest of us, frankly, are losers. The victory that assures us of citizenship in the Kingdom is not our own—but GOD’s.

We see God’s Kingdom lived out, week by week, in the Eucharist. From ancient times, this meal has been seen as an anticipation of the heavenly banquet. Here, all kinds of people, bad and good, all are gathered together. If you don’t believe me, take a look around you! In the Kingdom of God, all kinds of people are welcome. Constantly, they feast together at God’s abundant Table. One of the Church fathers, John Chrysostom, put the matter this way:

“Week by week you come to the Lord's table to receive bread and wine. What do these things mean to you? Do you regard them merely as some kind of spiritual medicine, which will purge your soul, like a laxative may purge your body? Or do you sometimes wonder what God is saying in these simple elements? Bread and wine represent the fruits of our labor, whereby we turn the things of nature into food and drink for our sustenance. So at the Lord's table we offer our labor to God, dedicating ourselves anew to his service. Then the bread and the wine are distributed equally to every member of the congregation; the poor receive the same amount as the rich. This means that God's material blessings belong equally to everyone, to be enjoyed according to each person's need. The whole ceremony is also a meal at which everyone has an equal place at the table.”

Brothers and sisters, this is our mission as the Church, to create a foretaste of God’s coming Kingdom. This lies at the heart of one of our baptismal vows, which we often use as an informal mission statement in the parish I serve: “Seeking and serving Christ in all people.”

We seek and find Jesus, and God’s Kingdom draws near, whenever we welcome the new friends God sends our way, including them in the life of our community of faith. We seek and find Jesus, and God’s Kingdom draws near, whenever we feed the hungry, house the homeless, or clothe the naked. We seek and find Jesus, and God’s Kingdom draws near, whenever we speak out for the voiceless and stand in solidarity with those who have none but God for their helper.

Beloved, we are the Church, because, in Jesus, God’s joy has entered our world. And we, even though we are not worthy, we (even we ourselves!) have been invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.

The table is spread. The invitation is God’s. And ALL are welcome here!

The Rev. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He co-edits The Covenant Journal with Lane Denson.

Unanswered prayers

By George Clifford

Benny Hinn, a purported Christian faith healer whose ministry grosses in excess of one hundred million dollars per year, recently held a healing service in Raleigh that thousands attended. Afterwards, the Raleigh newspaper featured a story that did not surprise me. Someone hoping for a healing had attended Hinn’s service but left disappointed. That incident highlights what we already know: prayer is neither as simple nor automatic as a prima facie reading of passages like this one suggest:

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops at Lambeth, and many Anglicans have spent much time praying for Anglican unity, which remains an ever more elusive goal. Globally, many Christians fervently and frequently pray for war to end, a request that would improve the world and keep us or loved ones out of harm’s way. If only life were that easy!

So, what do those troublesome scriptures about the certainty of prayer really mean?

During seminary studies prior to ordination, I learned the orthodox Christian response to that question. God sometimes chooses not to grant our prayer requests because to do so would require God to abrogate human freedom. Sometimes this makes sense. For example, a drug addict suffers the physical, personal, and social consequences of addiction because he or she chose to abuse an addictive substance. The only way that God could end that suffering requires divorcing the action – misusing drugs – from its consequences. Those consequences are generally essential elements of a successful recovery. The addict must hit bottom, or at least an artificially constructed bottom, before intervention and recovery can succeed in freeing the person from addiction. For the addict, the redemptive power of suffering inherently leads to healing.

Generally, I find the explanation of God not granting our petitions to preserve human freedom unsatisfying. Some suffering exceeds any possible redemptive value or other good. Poignant examples of this include genocides like the Holocaust and incurable, debilitating diseases that inflict a good person, innocent child, or entire third world village. Although some good can arise out of such situations, more often unmitigated, non-redemptive suffering continues in the face of persistent, collective prayer. Why would an all-powerful God allow that to happen?

During further studies, I discovered an alternative explanation of continued suffering in the face of persistent, collective, godly prayer. Some contemporary Christian theologians, disproportionately Anglican, propose that traditional ideas about God's omnipotence are incorrect. Perhaps in creating the cosmos, God lost (or never had) the power to do anything at any time. God must therefore rely upon human cooperation to accomplish God's purposes on earth. God abhors evil and suffering, but both persist, even after we persevere in collective prayer, because you and I fail to act as God's hands, feet, and voice.

Attracted to this new understanding of God, I did some research. Only two Bible verses explicitly speak of God's omnipotence denoting a God for whom nothing was impossible. In Luke 1:37, Mary responds to the angel’s annunciation of her imminent pregnancy by saying, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Matthew’s gospel reports Jesus saying, “All things are possible with God” (19:26). Like most Christians, I am very skeptical of placing too much emphasis on just a couple of Bible verses. Perhaps both passages reflect a first century cultural and scientific worldview rather than timeless theological insight. I also found that the widespread practice of addressing God as the Almighty might not be a theological statement. Biblical scholars have concluded that ancient Israelites appropriated the term God Almighty, or in Hebrew El Shaddai, from their Mesopotamian neighbors. The Hebrews seem to have used the term to emphasize their monotheism rather than God's omnipotence.

In this post-Christian era, the Church must bravely and honestly admit points at which traditional conceptions of its faith no longer make sense. We do exactly what the Bible seems to tell us to do. We pray. We pray with one another. We pray according to the mind of Christ. Yet God does not always grant our requests. Not squarely acknowledging these difficulties leads us down the path of Benny Hinn, not of Christ Jesus. Too often, I have heard well-meaning but ignorant Christians tell those who grieve that God did not or will not heal a loved one because God respects human freedom. These words hurt rather than comfort. Dishonest or disingenuous answers to faith’s difficulties only push true seekers further from God.

A power exists that changes lives, a power that turns bread and wine into an encounter with absolute love incarnated in human community, a power that transforms despair into hope, defeat into victory, weakness into strength. When our puny human minds believe that we have successfully packaged that power into a well-conceptualized God, such as the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God of Christian orthodoxy, we invariably even if unintentionally imagine an idol. The controversy currently convulsing the Anglican Communion is the living God shattering one such idol as God's people discover that God does not respect gender orientation any more than God respects race, nationality, or gender.

God's continuing activity in the world, and God's open invitation for us to partner with God in that continuing activity, represents the realistic promise of a better future. Prayer makes a difference. The dynamics of prayer may not be as simplistic or automatic as the gospel reading seems to suggest. However, this does not mean that we should cease to pray or abandon our faith. Holocaust survivor Wiesel wrote in his essay, “Why Pray”:

God does not need our prayers. We need them. We need to be able to pray in sincerity and beauty. And the prayer should not be against somebody but always for somebody. That is a true prayer, when it is for some one else, not for yourself.

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

Yes, young people do like traditional liturgy

By Luiz Coelho

I can still remember quite vividly the Saturday before the end of the Lambeth Conference, where I served as a steward. We were invited to a special plenary session at which bishops and their spouses had the opportunity to talk to some of us concerning why we, as young people, still wanted to be members of the Church (In fact, my estimate is that around half of us are following the ordination path and most of the others are actively involved in some sort of Church ministry). It is no secret that churches in general (especially in Western societies) are increasingly losing members of young age, and I could understand that for many of those bishops, it was very vital to hear the voice of the those young women and men who seemed to be so proud of their faith. Maybe what they had to say would help them rescue the unchurched and provide stable growth to their dioceses.

We had, unfortunately, very little time, and only four stewards (out of almost sixty) were chosen to speak for us. They did a good job, but some points, in my opinion, were not touched at all. And since I am in my late twenties, and can still be considered a young adult, I think it would be a good idea to push this conversation forward and foster a discussion on one of the aspects I see young adults articulating more and more interested in: traditional liturgy. And, I fear, many of our bishops have not realized the incredible potential behind this single fact.

The Lambeth Stewards' Program helped me catch a glimpse of Anglican Youth worldwide. We came from many different countries, backgrounds and social statuses, and we comprised two main generational groups (18-25 and 25-35). However, I noticed that many of us shared a very distinct appreciation for traditional liturgy. Moreover, a disproportional percentage among us -if compared with the amount of parishes compatible with such worldviews- were especially fond of Anglo-Catholic liturgy and ancient Church Music. Yes, I know many probably think we were just “Church nerds”, but these numbers match somehow the data I had before from Episcopal/Anglican youth both in Brazil and in the USA.

What I perceive more and more is that a sizable amount (and in some environments, the majority) of us prefers “old-fashioned” liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays. It may also come as a surprise for some to learn that such an interest in traditional liturgical matters is not necessarily attached to conservatism. In fact, among young adults it usually holds hands with an inclusive and socially liberal, yet credal, theology. Even in the few cases where I have ran into theologically conservative and liturgically traditionalist young Anglicans, they have seemed to me to be much more charitable to divergent ideas and more apt to accepting diversity, or even a peaceful co-existence in different Churches, or Church bodies.

One reason behind the popularity of this “movement” among young people is simple, and Derek Olsen beautifully opened the discussion here. I would add a second thought, though; many young Anglicans are attracted to traditional liturgical forms because they offer stability. We have been born in a fast-paced world, and in a short period of time have seen the rise and fall of countries, regimes, technologies, musical styles, fashion trends and even Church movements. At the same time, most of the cultural norms our mothers and fathers fought to liberalize do not apply to us anymore, and only God knows how they are going to be within some years. The world is freer, and it is changing so fast that sometimes it seems to be in a free-fall. The Church, to many of us, is the last glimpse of stability that exists in this post-modern society, and the certainty that its language has managed to be the same for all these years is a key factor for two reasons (among several):

- First, it puts us in an (even more) special relationship with the Communion of Saints, who throughout the ages have used the same responses, anthems and hymns to worship the Triune God;

- Second, because it is a wonderful metaphor of God's unchanging love and care for humankind. No matter what happens – hunger, fear, war, depression or loneliness – the Church, our safe refuge, will be there with a very familiar and easily recognizable embrace expressed in its magnificent and Christ-centered liturgy.

A year ago I had long, straight and dark brown hair. Eventually I had it cut at a very nice salon in Midtown Atlanta, and got a spiky longish bang, with copper brown highlights. Some months later, while in Rio, I had it cut again, and now I walk around with this funky faux-hawk which puzzles people when they see me – “I know him from somewhere, but I can't remember who he is...” I was different, but my home parish, the Church of the Redeemer in Rio, was the same when I went there after months in the US. It had the same smell of incense permeating the air, the same red old carpet spanning across the aisle, the same velvet curtains, and even the same 15-minute delay which is so common in Brazil. I opened the same blue 1962 hymnal and was blessed by having my favorite hymn, number 238, as sequence (lyrics by a deceased Brazilian priest, based on the icon of Christ in Majesty, adapted to the tune Kingsfold). I knelt and received the Most Holy Sacrament. They were singing Pange Lingua and, of course, I cried (as usual). It is impossible not to. That was home; that was my family in Christ. Yes, I changed; the people in that church also changed; even the priest changed... but those special moments did not. They reassured me of Christ's eternal love and majesty, the same way they did to me one year ago, to my relatives decades ago, and to the uncountable brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages.

What would my reaction have been if I had been presented to a completely different liturgy, with elements from the so-called “pop culture” such as a rock band, drums or new age music? What if the solid and still stable pews had been removed and substituted by folding chairs arranged in a totally different pattern? What if the hymnal, which consolidates centuries of good and theologically profound Church music, had been substituted by the newest folk songs du jour, which are likely not to be known ten years from now? What if my referential, one of the few stable elements of my world, had completely changed? I guess it would have been a calamity to me.

Yet, this is probably the most often heard “solution” for the “problem” of declining youth attendance in our Church.

Personally, I do not think that many kinds of alternative worship -provided it has a good theological background and is offered with a contrite heart- are inferior in God's sight to traditional liturgy. I even enjoy some of the more “contemporary” liturgies under certain circumstances (such as camps or retreats). I respect those who have found their way with Christ through such liturgical styles, and wholeheartedly support the existence of such groups in Anglicanism, provided they somehow find a way of keeping the common prayer tradition and abide by our doctrines of faith and Church governance. And I can say that many young people agree with me in those points, and that, yes, there are youth involved in those “contemporary” groups.

However, this is not what all young people expect from Church, and I am afraid that many of us are looking for something much more ancient and rich in historical heritage. Can I cite statistics? No, I do not have them, but of course I am a young adult, and naturally I hang out with young people and most of my friends are in the 20-40 age range. This is a very eclectic generation, in my opinion, and it is not rare to find people who can appreciate both hard rock and Gregorian chant, pierced noses and traditional albs, green-dyed hair and fine frankincense. Some of these tastes will not last more than one season; others will stay forever. But very often, we foresee the Church in this second group.

I do recognize that in many aspects, the Church has changed in a good way in the last forty years. Liturgically speaking, some important steps were taken. The Holy Eucharist became central in our Church's spiritual life, liturgies became more sensitive to cultural settings, we have improved lectionaries and laity have become more involved in liturgical life. The problem, however, is that such advances (which in many cases are curiously a return to very ancient principles) not rarely were accompanied by an extreme iconoclasm towards simple liturgical and architectural elements that were not bad per se, and if properly used, could perfectly remain in association with the aforementioned advances (provided those simple liturgical forms are not ‘dumbed-down and condescending as if only priests can think about theological matters). All of a sudden, though, rood screens, east-facing high altars, the act of kneeling (and sometimes the actual kneelers), some musical instruments, traditional chant, and even the Prayer Book format (among so many other things) were equated to the antichrist, and considered the source of all evil in the Church. Here and there, they were practically erased from ecclesial daily life, perhaps in a faster way than the liturgical changes happened during the Reformation.

I understand, however, that all of that was a response to the plea of a previous generation which was suffocated by the evil side of traditionalism, and needed to foster changes in a world that did not want to look forward. Forty years later, however, we are still caught by some of the same questions: “How to attract youth? How to create liturgies that are meaningful to newer generations? How to reinvigorate the Church?” My response to that would be that we went too far in some reforms (mostly liturgical ones) and maybe restoring some of the icons we as a Church broke, allied with the empowerment of youth in the life of the Church would be a great start in attempting to attract some people of my age.

Do not get me wrong, though. I am not advocating any kind of Church-enforced obligatory implementation of solemn high masses. But yes, maybe some communities which would be willing to give it a try should do it sometimes. But do not stop there! Please, allow youth to do something and literally join this stable tradition of the Church. I am pretty sure that many secretly want to swing the thuribles, organize a choir, read the lessons, chant the prayers of the people, lead Evening Prayer or help with Sunday School and Church committees (including the liturgy one). Very often, such positions, which could be shared with – or passed to – youth and young adults, are not. And yes, please try traditional liturgy. Many young people want it, but much more importantly, they want to help make it happen.

Let me end with a final and curious note. Lambeth stewards were awarded with the possibility of organizing a special mass for us and staff people at the Canterbury Cathedral's crypt. With such an astonishing location and so many liturgical resources, we did our best. Most of us had the opportunity of doing something, whether it was reading a lesson, an intercession, serving as an acolyte, playing the organ or joining the choir. We rehearsed for one week “If ye love me” by Tallis (which was our Communion hymn), celebrant and servers wore a lovely set of silky red vestments and clouds of incense filled that sacred space, as it has been, is now and will be forever.

It was the only service with incense during the Conference, by the way.

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

The Possibility of Conversion

By Rebecca Wilson

Recently, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that we must stay in communion with those with whom we disagree in order to leave open the possibility of conversion.

Not too long ago, I might have heard that as spiritual pabulum—a polite plea to prevent schism. But my own conversion, a political one, began nearly a year ago, and today I hear the Presiding Bishop’s words with familiar fear and trembling.

I was an unlikely prospect for conversion. I am a lifelong Democrat, and I live in the bellwether state of Ohio, where partisan politics is nasty, brutish, and endless. The wounds of the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns still fester here, along with those inflicted by a bloody 2004 fight over a draconian constitutional amendment that limits the rights of gays and lesbians. Two years later, a heated gubernatorial campaign resulting in the election of a Democrat was also divisive and polarizing.

So in 2007, many progressive voters in Ohio were angry and dispirited. We had gotten our governor, but also bore the shame of failing to prevent the current presidential administration and the right-wing sore on our state constitution. I was solidly in that bloc. I was civil when I encountered people with whom I disagreed, but I generally avoided situations where I might encounter Republicans. It was just too hard.

Except at church. My little Episcopal parish, a historic church in a struggling city neighborhood, generally attracts people who vote like I do. We are a community that welcomes everyone, gay and straight, and in a place like Ohio, that alone is often enough to drive Republicans down the road to a more conservative parish. But although Democrats are loath to admit it, the Republican party is not a monolith on this (or any other) issue, and our congregation includes people who are both Republican and progressive about human sexuality.

So although I was bone-weary from assault by Republican values and victories, I couldn’t entirely escape politics at church. One Republican, in particular, kept cropping up. Despite our partisan differences, we were thrown together on the cookie-baking committee, at church socials, and in the back pew.

Because we are Episcopalians, we were polite. We began talking over cookies after the service, about innocuous local events, mostly not looking each other in the eye. Soon we edged into local politics, agreeing in nervous laughter that what happened at coffee hour stayed at coffee hour. Then we took the big step from standing together in the parish hall to sitting together in church. I asked him for some advice on a civic project, which he gave freely and graciously, and we met for lunch once. I considered myself very broadminded indeed.

Apparently, however, this was not good enough for God. When I was asked to lead a Sunday morning seminar on faith and politics, I knew, in one of those fits of clarity that sometimes presages wisdom, that to escape the confines of left-wing dogma, the class needed both a Republican and a Democrat. So I took a deep breath and asked my pewmate to teach with me.

Starting with an issue of Yale Divinity School’s journal Reflections, we spent several months reading and thinking about politics and belief. We used the crutch of email to explore our own differences gingerly, feeling out painful partisan topics in writing before we talked about them in person.

The rumblings in my soul, and my stomach, began then. I became vaguely nauseous when people told jokes about Republicans that I previously would have found uproarious. I stopped conversations with fellow Democrats by offering halting answers to a rhetorical question—“what on earth are those Republicans thinking?” I began to hear the excesses in Democratic rhetoric more critically, imagining how decent, well-intentioned people might feel alienated by words that had once felt to me like a righteous shield.

Kathleen Norris writes that “…we can convert, in its root meaning of turn around, so that we are forced to face ourselves as we really are.” Preparing and teaching our class, I often felt muddled, seeing myself as I now understood many Republicans would—as an angry, narrow-minded, bitter partisan. Facing myself meant that I had to temper dialectical thinking with more complex ways of understanding the public sphere, and learn how to regard social problems without reflexively blaming them on a malevolent, scheming horde of Republicans.

I have also had a lesson in loving my enemy. Perhaps inevitably, my teaching companion and I have discovered that the depths of what we have in common make our political differences mostly incidental and often amusing. It has been frightening to trade partisan disdain for true vulnerability, but we have long since become close friends who rely on one another in ways that would have previously seemed preposterous to both of us.

Even so, conversion is sometimes lonely. In losing my partisan fervor, I have drifted from many acquaintances and some friends who regard my behavior as betrayal. Earlier this year I resigned from a client project in which attacks on Republicans—on my friend, who is active in his party, and his friends—had become so vitriolic that they were acting like poison on me. I have found myself in strange places with people I could not have previously imagined knowing, and I have been unsettled by how much I have liked them and wanted them to like me. And sometimes in a conversation, I sense my old way of thinking about an issue fall away, and I miss the comfort of righteous certainty.

Norris also writes that “some of us have found the worst parts of ourselves converted into something better, our small expectations shattered in the presence of God’s great abundance…” On the eve of this election, I think that I have been converted into something better. I am still a Democrat, and my vote for president will reflect that unequivocally. But my small expectations that politics will save us have been shattered. Whether my candidate becomes president or not, what I want most after this election is to be in communion with those who disagree—with my friend and his friends and all of the Republicans and Democrats and other voters who are grieved by the ways we have wounded one another and our country. The possibility of conversion may be all that can heal us now.

Rebecca Wilson is a member of Church of Our Saviour Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio.

Warmth, metaphorical and otherwise

By Marshall Scott

There is a certain flow, a certain dependable rhythm, to my bread baking. While no single step takes long, there is enough separation between steps that the whole process takes 24 hours, more or less. Even with some variation from session to session, the result is the largely the same. Sometime in the evening, not long before I retire, the baking ends and the bread comes out of the oven.

I have come especially to enjoy the warm air that comes out of the oven when I remove the loaves. This oven is mounted high, almost at my eye level, and the warm air rushing out pours over my arms and shoulders. Even in the heat of summer, when we’ve been grilling outside or eating salads to avoid heating the kitchen and the house, I find I enjoy that moment. Even late in the evening, when I’m ready to end the day after this one last task, I find that moment pleasant, and even energizing.

I’ve been reading the recent study about the relationship between a sense of social isolation and perception of temperature. You may have seen some recent news reports about it. I have the benefit of a medical library ready to hand, and so have been able to read the article.

If you haven’t heard of this, let me give you a summary. The article, titled "Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold?" was authored by researchers Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey J. Leonardelli, both of the University of Toronto. It was published in the September, 2008, edition of the journal, Psychological Science (Volume 19 Issue 9, Pages 838 - 842). They performed two experiments with undergraduates. In the first, the students were divided randomly into two groups. One group was asked to remember an event in which participants felt socially excluded, while the other was asked to remember an event of feeling socially included. They were then asked, without any apparent connection to the exercise in memory, to assist lab maintenance staff by estimating the temperature of the room. Those who had remembered being socially excluded estimated a lower temperature than those who had remembered being socially included. Indeed, the difference between the mean estimate of the "excluded" group and that of the "included" group was 2.58 degrees Celsius (4.64 degrees Fahrenheit).

In the second experiment students were asked to play a computer game that they thought had them tossing a virtual ball with other students on other computers. In fact they were playing with the computer, which divided them randomly into two groups. One group experienced roughly equal participation with the other "players" (the control group). The other group had roughly equal play at first, but then experienced the other “players” excluding them, refusing to pass them the virtual ball. Afterward, participants were asked to complete a "marketing survey" by ranking on a 7-point scale their desire for one of five foods: hot coffee, hot soup, an apple, crackers, or a soda. Those who had been in the "excluded" group had about the same level of desire for an apple, crackers, or soda as participants in the control group. However, they expressed a significantly higher level of desire for the food and drink specified “hot” than those in the control group.

The authors felt that this demonstrated in both cases that the feeling of being socially excluded precipitated not simply a metaphorical but a sensory perception of being physically cold. As they put it,

In two experiments we found that people literally felt cold (Experiment 1) or preferred warm food (Experiment 2) when being socially excluded, regardless of whether such experience was induced through a recall of past experience or virtual interaction. These findings are consistent with theories of embodied cognition and suggest that our social experience is not independent of physical and somatic perception (Barsalou, 1999; Varela et al, 1991). They also highlight that metaphors are not just language that we use to communicate; they are fundamental vessels through which we understand and experience the world around us (Bargh, 2006; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Not only does physical experience aid our understanding of more abstract, complex phenomena, but also that domains of different experiences merge and intertwine such that the activation of one is automatically accompanied by another (e.g., Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006); the subjective feeling of coldness may be an integral part of our experience of social rejection.

Now, the authors are careful to say that, while this suggests that feeling socially isolated can make one feel cold, it would take further research to demonstrate that feeling cold can make one feel socially isolated. At the same time, they have suggested that there is more than metaphor to the interaction between our social perception and our physical perception. When I think of the warmth of the oven as the bread comes out, or of the pleasure I’ve taken by a warm fireplace, or in that first cup of coffee on a cool morning, I have my own empirical sense that the connection works both ways. That sense of warmth, of comfort and safety, contributes to my own experience that "all’s right with the world," including my own place in it.

I wonder what that might mean for our congregations. After all, we have all heard the comment that "when we visited, that congregation just felt so cold." I fear we’ve all heard it even about a congregation dear to our hearts. We’ve known that the comment expressed social isolation, a sense of not being welcomed. I wonder what it might mean if we were to create a sense of physical warmth to supplement the social and emotional warmth that we all intend to convey.

How might we do that? In these "green" days, it might not seem right to turn up the thermostat; and yet for the sake of the community it might be worth considering. Or perhaps we might consider offering shawls for services when there’s a nip in the nave. Could we consider a coffee hour that offered soup as well as plates of cookies, and maybe even warm rolls? Could we greet newcomers, not only with a handshake, but with a cup of warm coffee or cider, already filled and radiating?

We know that we are called to express the warmth and compassion of the one who created the sun on our faces, the fire in our hearths. We’ve made too often that old joke about being "God’s frozen people" (a joke told wryly, let me assure you, by many Christians, and not just Episcopalians). Perhaps we can take this research to heart and do our own empirical trial to see if it works both ways, if a sense of physical warmth can convey welcome when our words sometimes fail. It might not need a whole new program. Indeed, it might be as simple as offering in hand a hot cup of coffee.

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.

Halloween humor and a dark-skinned son

By LeeAnne Watkins

Part 1: Knock on the Door

I’ve got a difficult thing to do tonight.

It started a few days ago with my neighbors down the street. They have these humongous McCain/Palin signs in their yard, and as they were decorating their yard for Halloween they added their usual assortment of ghouls and ghosties.

But this year one of the ghouls was leaning over the McCain sign, holding the severed head of Barack Obama.

My son Shyam and I saw it at the same time, and while I was shocked, he went straight to outrage. “That’s a death-threat to Obama! We have to call the police!” I mumbled something about Halloween being different somehow, and he just looked at me in a puzzled way. Then I mentioned free speech, but he said, “free speech doesn’t include death threats, does it?”

We’ve been talking about it for days, both of us deeply disturbed in a way that gets a little worse as each day passes. We have been wondering what to do, if anything. Calling the police didn’t seem right. Shyam asked his godmother Lisa for advice, and she suggested that he talk with the neighbor and explain how the display makes him feel. Shyam brought it up with his teacher and classmates, but although I hear the discussion was good, they didn’t have any satisfying suggestions about what was to be done. In the end, he and I talked about exactly what we want say, and not say. We agree that I’m the one to deliver the message. So tonight I go to knock on the door of a neighbor I barely know, and without any smooth segue, try to explain what effect their display has had on us.

As I’ve been imagining how I might have this conversation in a way that brings out our best selves, I might try to explain what it is like for my son, who they have never really met but surely have seen. I will tell the neighbor what I overheard my son tell his friend Colin this morning as we drove past the Barack head on the way to school: “It looks like me, doesn’t it?"

You see, my son has dark skin, and black eyes, and black hair, and in that mask he saw a version of himself.

How difficult it must be to be one of the only kids of color in his suburban grade school. There are layers of depth to the experience he must be internalizing about growing up dark in an almost exclusively caucasian Minnesotan town. I intellectually know that Shyam’s not being white puts him at a disadvantage in our world. I know that given the lynchings in Minnesota’s history, and the continued violence toward people of color, that his race will always be a factor in his safety. I’ve known that in my head, but I’ve never felt that deep chill like I did this morning, when Shyam recognized that this level of ugliness is real, right on our street, against him more than the other boys he plays baseball with.

It made me cry a little on the way in to work today. I want to be a good mother of an inter-racial family, and on days like this I feel so ill equipped. I wonder if I should move into St Paul where there are more people that look like him, where there would be more safety in numbers. But that’s an illusion too, isn’t it, the safety in numbers. So what do I do, to make the world a better place not just for all people of color all over the world, but for my boy, on my street? I will knock on the door.

But I fret over how that might go. I have imagined them yelling at me, thinking me a left-wing whacko, giving me a lecture on free speech, on how I ought to mind my own business and not try to control what other people do with theirs. I worry that they will argue that it is simply a joke, a little Halloween fun and I’m making too much out of nothing. Maybe they are right.

But no, they are not right. There are consequences to free speech, and this one has offended and frightened my family. The mother bear in me has been aggravated.

In my best imagining for this conversation, the neighbors quickly apologize, saying they never thought about the implications of their Halloween joke for the dark-skinned boy down the street. At the very least I hope they take down the decapitated Obama head. But I would also hope that they could reach out to Shyam in some way that builds relationship, that strengthens rather than frays our little attempt at a neighborhood community. I guess I’m looking for transformation, on our little street, just this one actual street, changed to look more like the Reign of God. In my best imagining this is how racism is washed away, each of us gathering up our courage to influence the tone of our common life, one difficult conversation at a time, face to face, neighbor to neighbor.

I’m used to preaching on this theme, but I’m embarrassingly anxious about moving my feet to make it so. But I believe in the whole Reign of God thing. I believe that bit about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. I do believe in the example of Jesus as a guide in making that so. So tonight I will knock on my neighbor’s door. I will say my prayers for courage and for the right words and for the Holy Spirit to move between us. I will pray for a better world, for all of us, but especially for Shyam, who will be watching.

Part II: “Tell your son it’s only a mask.”

It was the height of awkwardness. I knocked on that door, stomach in knots, and was nicely invited in to the living room to have a seat. I explained that my goal was only to be a good mom, and ask for a few minutes of their time to explain what effect their Obama display has had on my boy. I tottered around my well-rehearsed sentences. They listened. They were surprised to hear about what my son said about how the mask looks like him, and had to spell out that Shyam has dark skin and dark hair. (it is always interesting to me the way in which people see, and don’t see, race).

Then they said: “Tell your son it is only a mask." And: “If we had a body to put under the mask, we would have" and “We never gave it much thought." And then they went on to say how many people have driven by to run up and have their photos taken with big “thumbs ups" in front of it. And how mine is the first negative comment they have gotten, verses the many supportive ones.

The room got silent. I couldn’t stand the quiet and so began repeating myself until I realized the conversation was pretty much over. I stood to go, they continued to sit. I said ‘good night’, and they wished me a good night too, but I felt their hostility as I made my own way out the door.

What happens now? On one hand, I feel I did what I set out to do, which was to speak out against a situation that was offensive to my family, and my son knows that I did. What my neighbor does or doesn’t do with that Obama mask is only mildly relevant at this point. I acted like the mother (and the neighbor, and the citizen, and the Christian) I want to be.

All this leaves some profound questions. Where is the line between free speech and hate speech? Where is the line between speaking out against a perceived injustice and butting in to someone else’s business? Does our history of violence make that headless black man a symbol of something much more sinister, or is it really just a Halloween mask?

So what is next? I’m prayerfully pondering all sorts of options, including doing nothing at all. Or I might speak with my elected representative on our local human rights commission, or the police chief, or the mayor, asking for advice. Maybe I will make a version of this article into an Op Ed piece for the newspaper. I don’t know. But I do know that I still want to make the world a better, less intimidating place for all people, most particularly my son, even here, particularly here, on my street.

The Rev. LeeAnne Watkins is rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the mother of an adopted son.

Betrayal and reconciliation with Wall Street

By Jean Fitzpatrick

The crisis of confidence on Wall Street is so bad that not only are consumers angry these days, but banks are even afraid to lend to one another. Lately the financial pages are full of trust and faith and loss -- words I use all day in my therapy with couples -- and it strikes me that rebuilding trust between Wall Street and the rest of us might be a lot like healing a marriage after an infidelity.

"How could you do this?" the betrayed spouse asks her cheating partner. "How long did you think you could get away with it?" The truth has hit her like a ton of bricks: "I feel like I've been kicked in the stomach," she says. "I can't believe how stupid I was." As she begins to grasp that this thing she would never have predicted is not only possible but has actually happened, she worries that she's lost her whole grip on reality. Now she wants all the details -- where did he like to meet the other woman? did he make an excuse to leave the house on her birthday? what was the sex like? -- each one a knife in her heart.

That's you and me. Looking at the dismal numbers in our 401(k), we can hardly believe how much we've lost. Feeling powerless and angry, we're looking for someone to blame.

In a marriage the partner who has strayed is usually eager for a speedy resolution -- a bailout, you might say. The discovery of his cheating is almost as shocking to him as to his injured spouse, because he does not think of himself as the kind of guy who does this sort of thing. Up till now he has somehow managed to split his mental reality onto two separate tracks, one for each of the two women in his life, neatly holding onto an image of himself as a good husband. Now, recognizing that he has risked foolishly and may lose everything -- both the marriage and the affair -- he is usually remorseful but also thinks his hurt partner is making too much of a fuss. Do they really have to talk about the infidelity so much? Does she expect him to account for all of his movements from now on? "It's like she wants to know what I'm doing every minute of the day," he says. "If I don't answer my cell phone when she calls, it's World War Three. She's the one who's going to kill this relationship."

No surprise to me that Wall Street started out insisting on a huge sum with no oversight.

Where do we go from here? In the couples therapist's office, each partner needs to be willing to put the relationship first. That means the cheating partner shows newfound respect for the needs and wishes of his spouse and redirects his time and energy toward her and toward the marriage.

The betrayed partner needs to move past a blaming, hopeless stance ("I'll never trust him again and I don't care what he does") and summon up the courage to insist on a richer, more fulfilling connection -- one that will demand more honesty and more caring from her partner and from herself. She needs to trust that the marriage can once again thrive and nurture both partners. Only then can she move beyond despair and work toward the future. More often than not, she needs to be willing to look at how through neglect she may have contributed to an emptiness in the marriage, not because this in any way justifies her partner's unfaithfulness, but because it is one aspect of rediscovering closeness and joy. This reordering of a relationship toward shalom -- which is so much more than the absence of war or conflict, encompassing, as Walter Brueggemann wrote, orderly fruitfulness, generous caring, and equitable justice -- demands something that is in very short supply in the midst of a colossal crisis of trust: hope.

The same is true in societal relationships. As we recover from betrayal by the financial sector, we must move beyond anger and despair and grab onto hope. We need to demand more of our leaders and ourselves. We need to educate ourselves about the workings of money and power, recognizing that through our own neglect we allowed our financial institutions to run wild and collectively chose to live on credit. Together we need to put our energies into building a stronger, more truly productive global economy. Holding onto that kind of hope -- not pie in the sky, but the stubborn, humble, transformative kind -- is our only way out of this mess.

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

Re-member-ing Matthew Shepard

By Ann Fontaine

Sunday, October 12, 2008 was the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. Many churches and others are holding memorial services and recalling the terrible events of the weeks prior to his death. Wyoming, where I live, is searching its conscience once again about how this son of our state was cruelly beaten and left to die tied to a fence post on the prairie. As I read the news articles and essays about this event I wonder about how a man becomes a myth. I wonder if the Matthew known by his parents, family and friends is slipping from their hands and hearts.

Today, as I read an essay by someone who attended the funeral, I see that already the location of the funeral no longer matters. Details are unimportant in the construction of a myth – only the things that build the myth. The details still matter to those who were there, who actually knew Matthew as friend, cousin, son, nephew. Details like the name of the church and the town of the service does not matter to the wider world. The local church, however, still reverberates with the decision to host the service. The town saw the horror of those who hate gay men embodied in a group of church people who stood outside in the park across the street. As the adults and children held up their explicit and hate filled signs – others from the community dressed as angels and held up their huge white wings to shield the family and other mourners.

Not long after Matthew’s death I was talking with his uncle. He was saying that he often did not recognize the person who was already being spoken of as a saint by those whose need to have an icon was stronger than the reality of the person. Matthew Shepard was a young man, a college student, fun and loving and trying out life and all that it offers. Now he is forever the young gay male, beaten and left to die, the embodiment of all the fear of living in a world that still kills those who only want to live and love as others are allowed to live and love.

Is this icon-ization a bad thing or is it inevitable? Is it good to have a focus and an example when working to change society? Is it good for those who fear to have their fears externalized? Does it matter that the details are lost in the mythmaking? Do those who were close to the event lose something in this process or can they privately hold on to the one they knew in life? Do they give over their Matt to the larger community and find peace and healing in the work that is done by his story?

Sometimes I wonder, is that what happened to Jesus?

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

The golden calf

By Melody Shobe

As the news from Wall Street keeps rolling in, you have to wonder at the timing of it all. Not because of the connection with the anniversary of Black Tuesday coming soon. But because of the connection with the readings that we are currently hearing from Exodus in the Revised Common Lectionary. Over the past few weeks, we have followed the journey of the Israelites, hearing how God has provided for them every step of the way. God parted the Red Sea to save them, rained down bread from heaven to feed them, and made water flow from a rock to quench their thirst. Again and again God has taken care of their needs. And yet, as soon as Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God, the people become restless. They want something tangible to put their hope in, not this invisible, unknowable God. So Aaron tells them to hand over their gold and jewels, which they willingly do. And they melt down the gold and jewelry, and they make a statue of a golden calf and they worship it.

It is, perhaps, one of the saddest stories in all of Scripture. At the very moment when God is meeting Moses on the mountain, the people are blaspheming God in the valley. What is surprising to me, as I read the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32, is how willing people are to give their gold and jewelry over to this new idol, when they have been so unwilling to give of themselves to God. With God they have kept asking-- asking for food, for water, for safety. And they have kept complaining-- about the things they don't have that they want, about the brighter vision of bygone days, or about the way that God isn't working on their schedule. But when Aaron starts to make an idol, they strip off their earrings and jewelry and hand them over. No complaints about how little they already have. No questions about why they should give. No concerns about who is going to make the decisions about how their gold is used. They are practically falling over themselves to give to this golden image the things they have withheld from God.

It is not a reality far removed from our own. Even today, we make idols of things when God’s back is turned. We might not be pulling off our earrings to melt down into a golden calf, but we’ll pull out our credit cards to buy a new car or big vacation or whatever else we think we want. We complain about not having enough while buying far more than we need. Artists and poets have continued to make a connection between the golden calf and the dollar bill. A bronze bull on Broadway bears a marked resemblance to the Golden calf near Mt. Horeb. But what is surprising to me is how willing we as individuals and we as a country have been to hand over what we have to Wall Street. We’ll strip off our earrings and hand over 700 billion dollars to bailout big businesses, but we can’t step up and make sure no one is going to bed hungry, or that every person in this country has healthcare. We become panicked and outraged about the state of the economy, but we can’t summon enough urgency to be panicked and outraged about the state of the planet. God gets our requests and our complaints, but God and God’s people aren’t getting the gold in our ears.

As I have heard the stories read from Exodus again over the past weeks, I have had to shake my head. Not in disbelief over what Aaron and the Israelites did so long ago, but out of conviction that I am falling into many of the same traps here and now. Fear of the unknown, rather than fear of God, is at the heart of my motivation. And I can only live in hope that the God who forgave the Israelites again and again, who waited patiently for them to repent and return, still forgives and still waits.

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.

Counting treasures

Reprinted with permission from the Anglican Theological Review. For a list of the books discussed in this essay click Read More at the end of the article.

By Gawain de Leeuw

Last year, a member of my vestry asked me to consider purchasing Fair Trade coffee beans to serve during fellowship hour after our Sunday service. The workers who cultivated the beans owned the farm and shared the profits cooperatively. The beans were organic. Although it cost more than Folgers, a greater amount of the income would go directly to the farmers. In essence, “charity” was added as a fifty-cent tax to the exchange between consumer and producer.

Fortunately, such a tax is affordable where I live, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, in a zip code that has an average annual income twice that of other Americans. My first car, a beat up Honda Civic, was such an eyesore that a parishioner gave me a used Volvo. The disparities in our county are still apparent: in our soup kitchen we serve fifty individuals every Sunday, generally men, some undocumented, some working, and some insane, a few of whom I employ with petty cash, putting money in the underground economy.

We have a small endowment that balances the budget. From our resources we purchase services from local vendors. A few parishioners, such as our resident architect, assist the church for supernatural rewards. Volunteer labor, however, still constitutes the church’s
everyday work. The thrift shop raises the most money of any single income-generating source. It is run by a handful of women in their late 70s, who ran the church in the days when it depended on voluntary labor.

The economic work of the church is not merely about church growth and management. Economic exchanges are an intrinsic, practical part of church life from paying the plumber to offering praise and thanksgiving. Intangible incentives, such as denominational loyalty
and the merits of regular church attendance, lose to the offerings of mega churches, sports, and entertainment. Churches develop property to finance their congregational life, selling services: after school programs; the opportunity to volunteer and satisfy school community
service credit; or rooms to pay for the daily costs of maintaining the building. Clergy negotiate packages with employees, ask overworked parishioners to volunteer, compete with soccer on Sunday morning, and discern what sorts of investments to make. Churches also may participate in the underground economy through their work with individuals who are poor. If part of our mission is to ameliorate the precariousness that engulfs most of the world, or even understand how we work in our communities, we must understand the rules that govern economic analysis.

Although I consider it a brave choice to link the direction of mission, as the Presiding Bishop has done, with a clear set of economic goals, I recognize the sensibility that the United Nations represents Satan and that ending poverty is secondary to supernatural warfare. But I insist that we do not advocate any particular ideological love of the UN or dismiss a supernatural worldview. It is enough to say that for the church to be credible, it merits taking contemporary economics seriously.

Fortunately, economists have begun to examine incentives much more broadly, in a way that would be comprehensible to Christian ethicists. As theologians and mystics have explored the limits of desire, economists have begun to broaden their understanding of incentives, expanding a sense of the “good” to include personal “happiness,” “freedom,” and “externalities” including the environment. The role of incentives and the contours of desire have been more accurately mapped, with interesting consequences for clergy and theologians. Economists now incorporate research from other disciplines, with some insightful consequences.

I suspect my own suspicion of economic thinking is shared by other clergy. We are trained to be skeptical about the overarching claims that the market makes about the rational person—we know people as sinners, as irrational, as gluttons, eager to eat and consume more without thinking. We are less practical than economists, who prefer to tinker than transform. Priests envision, however, an egalitarian kingdom where the lamb lies down with the lion. There will be no more monarchies, save Jesus. Ethicists will argue that, contrary to the protestations of economists who believe that their discipline is value-free, thinking economically creates meaning around money, implicitly fragmenting the various relationships that make up society. “Economic” thinking ignores our environment, and is clumsy in computing intangibles such as social order, feelings, religious values, and beauty. It disorients and dislocates culture, hypothesizing an economic man—a consumer and producer—who is unrecognizable to those of us who encounter the daily irrationality that makes up human behavior. This man is a mythical creation that trumps all other descriptions of the human person, a person full of unlimited desire. Although the market effectively organizes the system of cooperation that enables manufacturing, sales, and services, with some public goods and relationships it falls short.

Our economic choices matter. As globalization continues in its intensity and speed, churches seek effective ways to articulate and frame their roles as international consumers (or distributors) through mission. With the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding
Bishop, and the General Convention resolutions D022 and A010, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have taken center stage as a conversation partner shaping the mission of the Episcopal Church.

Although the MDGs might look, at first glance, to be instructions for charitable work, the many reasons for such work aren’t always obvious. How do markets or charity assist or hinder our ability to reach our goals? And what are these goals? Anglicans, in particular, have been well served by theologians who understand economics, in particular Archbishop William Temple, who gave a theological justification for the modern welfare state; the layman Paul Heyne, professor of economics at the University of Washington, who clarified the positive moral nature of capitalism; and most recently, Kathryn Tanner, who has given a very informative and useful framework for understanding the relationship between theology and economics.

The central truth in economics, and in capitalism, is that incentives work. Clergy would do well to understand the incentives in their own parishes. Economics is, first, a tool that is useful for explaining these incentives. The economist Steven Levitt, with help from the writer Stephen Dubner, demonstrates how incentives work, for example, by exploring the cheating patterns of sumo wrestlers and teachers. Through the story of a bagel entrepreneur who would leave bagels in offices—people would be trusted to pay for them by putting money in a basket—we learn what might create environments of dishonesty (morale and size seem to have important repercussions, but 87 percent of people seem to be honest). They also reveal the incentives in withholding or sharing information by real estate agents and online daters.

Levitt helps us perceive the limits of what passes for conventional wisdom. The decline in crime over the last ten years, for example, has more to do with abortions than with excellent policing; and “perfect parenting” has little to do with parental obsessions, and more to do with who the parents are (thus, perhaps, “why worry?” Jesus asks). Levitt demonstrates how we are poor at assessing risk.

Levitt isn’t taking moral stances. He simply reveals connections and incentives. Finding the right incentives and correlations is the way to understand our decisions and consequences accurately. The help for us, in churches and not-for-profits, is that incentives include more
than money.

Incentives might, for example, include happiness. In Happiness, the economist Richard Layard searches for why wealthy societies are no happier than they were fifty years ago, even though living standards have doubled. Layard examines the literature on human motivations. He discovers, for example, that extra income matters more to those who have less income. Ten dollars will bring greater happiness to someone very poor than to a millionaire. Losing hurts more than gaining feels good; that millionaire still feels bad about giving that ten dollars away. We compare ourselves to our immediate neighbors rather than fifteenth-century royalty or to a community living halfway around the world. Our values change; what is important to us in our twenties is different than what we value in our fifties. And we are inconsistent in our desires.

Layard suggests that true happiness means enjoying aspects of our lives without comparing them to any other. What are the root aspects of happiness? Family, work, community, health, freedom. He shows how we are easily misled by television, which creates discontent. And he demonstrates that social trust decreases where there are great differences between the classes.

There is ultimately one common strand that can make us happy: “it is love,” Layard says (p. 199), concluding that we need a common good. Happiness means being a “pilgrim” who “fights the evils in the world out there and cultivates the spirit from within” (p. 235). It is not the hedonic treadmill, but relationships, that matter. This should sound familiar to Christians.

The hedonic treadmill is referred to as the “insidious cycle of work and spend” (chap. 5, pp. 107-138) by Juliet Schor. In The Overworked American, Professor Schor explains the history of how modern workers are working more. She illustrates how our urge to consume is robbing us of time. Is this simply our fault, our inability to control our desires? Against those who argue that workers are getting what they want, she argues that workers “want what they get” (p. 127). We thoughtlessly spend what we have.

Schor discusses the incentives employers have to keep hours long and the reasons employees work those hours. Like Layard, she illustrates that the perpetual consumer is not easily satisfied. She argues that “Americans need time for unpaid work, for work they call their own. They need the time to give to others. . . . Today many haven’t got the time to care” (p. 160). People are too tired from their jobs to participate in their communities, preferring resting and television to activity. She advocates a “right to leisure” which seems a lot like what God demanded of us on the Sabbath. There seems to be an implicit reminder for us: the market is made for humanity, humanity is not made for the market.

The rationale for the Millennium Development Goals is explored in Jeffrey Sachs’s book The End of Poverty. Using personal vignettes, historical analysis, and economic data, he demonstrates how the right social investments can end extreme poverty. Sachs examines his own participation as an advisor to governments, candidly describing the
myopic decisions of donor institutions. He cuts through the myths—that Africa’s corruption is the main problem, that enough has been given already. If anything, we have been miserly and neglectful. He makes the case that small investments by us can save millions of lives a year. If we made deliberate, public investments in different sorts of capital—including health, machinery, infrastructure, agriculture, legal institutions, and education—impoverished households could break the poverty trap that inhibits development. By providing primary education, proper nutrition, anti-malarial nets, safe drinking water, and paved roads, we would offer more freedom. All this would cost $110 per person in the developing world—peanuts to us, but a grand sum to the poor—per year until 2015. But for donor nations, this is deemed to be too much. Sachs offers a comprehensive understanding of what the MDGs are, their practical basis in policy and data. What we lack is the political will.

Amartya Sen offers the philosophical foundations of development economics, describing development as freedom—a precursor to markets. Sen responds to those who would make economic wealth, as measured by imperious international banks, the main benchmark for
development. Economic freedom and social freedom cannot be neatly disentangled, Sen demonstrates. Sen describes freedom carefully. Freedom is both the means and the end of development. Not merely instrumental for wealth, it is of intrinsic value (p. 37). Poverty
is not freedom because it is deprivation of capability, where people cannot lead lives that they themselves value. He then examines how famines, fairness, education, and basic health came before broad economic growth as examples of types of freedom. Sachs emphasizes that investment in public institutions will result in greater wealth, whereas Sen demonstrates how this investment develops freedom. Sen also describes how women’s literacy and work are crucial to establishing freedom to live lives that women will value.

Communities experience many sort of exchanges, some of which are not easily measured. Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, a sociologist, explores how the inner-city poor make economic exchanges in an underdeveloped neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Through the
lens of major players in the underground economy—the “hustler,” the “preacher,” the “entrepreneur”—he explains how these economies survive their own poverty. He details hiring “off the books,” exchanges for security and public space, and why people decide not to move out of the underground economy.

Venkatesh’s book reveals how the dimensions of human feeling and relationship become a part of economic exchanges. “Hustlers,” for example, men we might call “squatters” or more pejoratively “the homeless,” have clear roles in the local economy and create exchanges (through offering safety) in public spaces. Clergy provide their own services: connections to political power and mediation skills. They may retrieve stolen property, mend a broken relationship between a pimp and prostitute, and prevent a gang battle (p. 259).

The urban poor make choices to keep their public spaces safe and food on their table. The shady economy brings goods and resources into the home through the available field of social relationships. But by creating dependency upon each other, resources run out in the short term, and violence becomes part of the exchange. The poor accommodate and fear underground work, understanding that, eventually, the loan shark must get paid. The violence is a consequence of being abandoned and marginalized by the rest of the economy.

How would we create a political environment that would be sympathetic to investing in poor neighborhoods? Benjamin Friedman’s answer to the question is that greater prosperity leads to moral progress. When we believe our lives are improving, our tolerance and generosity increases. When our economy is deteriorating and there is greater economic disparity, intolerance increases. Arguing that “economic growth matters because it enables the majority of a society’s population to feel better off compared to benchmarks that are still recent enough to be meaningful,” he derives his argument from another insight: we adapt to our incomes. Growth, which may bring better health care, more vacations, or larger salaries, makes our lives happier because we have more hopeful futures. Our satisfaction depends less on the level of income and more on how it changes for the better (pp. 82-83).

Friedman provides a welcome corrective to an anti-global sensibility. Advanced globalization may foster cooperation and force people into recognizing shared interests (p. 390). He doesn’t offer easy answers to the challenge to both increasing the freedoms of the developing world and ensuring environmental sustainability, stating plainly that markets and policy must work together, especially as policy helps account for the externalities that markets are clumsy in calculating.

Friedman ends his book by arguing that governments promote growth. He demonstrates how law and policy are essential for markets, protecting the law-abiding entrepreneur, and helping to reward initiative. By protecting movement and rights and discouraging crime and corruption, governments encourage growth. Friedman advocates repealing the recent US tax cuts and restoring the estate tax to restore fiscal sensibility and investing in human capital. America’s greatest need, he ends, is to restore the idea that people are moving forward (p. 436). Even saying “enough” to our consumptive patterns presumes that saying “enough” means our environmental economy will improve.

Christians can easily cobble together an ethic that affirms the portrait offered by these diverse economists. Christians especially challenge economists to examine the limits (or the lack thereof) of desire. Standard economic thinking, while considering itself valueless, implicitly frees desire from any moral constraints. Timothy Gorringe, who is antagonistic to capitalism, argues that it is fundamentally predicated on human inequality (p. 48). He states, “the only ultimate satisfaction is life together, in peace and justice, with others. The market needs not only to forget this, but to cause others to forget it” (p. 153). The market, as described traditionally, rewards greed, ignoring competing incentives such as community, sabbath, or other values.

Does economic thinking—or capitalism—implicitly reward greed? Isn’t greed “good”? Christian theologians would argue that greed corrodes social exchanges. But we should be careful: desiring luxury objects, like John Lobb shoes or fancy cars, does not implicitly indicate greed. But an economy that lets greed run rampant destroys the community that has made these goods possible. Desiring them in opposition to human needs is intuitively analogous to idolizing them. It is such idolization, not the desire itself, that is at the root of Christian ambivalence toward accumulating wealth. Greed illustrates a culture’s narcissism, because commodities, rather than relationships, identify the self (Schweiker, p. 267).

Mark C. Taylor is sympathetic to markets, holding them almost in awe, as he describes the way markets and exchange have become infinitely complex. Confidence Games explores money as sign, unpacking its use in a virtual world, examining the relationship between meaning and money. How does money become light within the power of the internet? What are the consequences of moving money around instantaneously? Disrupting easy interpretations of work and reward that are part of the capitalist myth, in his world “casinos, it seems, were more responsible than banks” (p. 175). “As the economy evolves from level to level, it becomes increasingly spectral until it is virtually nothing but the play of floating signifiers endlessly recycling in recursive loops that are unmoored from what was once called the ‘real’ economy. The real, however . . . is temporarily repressed and eventually returns to disrupt what seemed to replace it” (p. 180). Is money real? Or is it merely an idea, a consensual illusion? This is the specter.

Examining the growth of Yahoo and the failure of Long-Term Capital Management, Taylor demonstrates how the financial world makes people more interrelated and interconnected. The consequence is a world that is always moving from chaos to order to chaos. He states, “insecurity is unavoidable. In such a world, to call investments ‘securities’ is to misunderstand the dynamics of markets” (p. 301). Taylor reveals how the idea that investors are rational and markets operate efficiently is, in effect, a “religious vision in which the market is a reasonable God providentially guiding the world to the Promised Land where redemption finally becomes possible.” Not that Taylor opposes such a vision. His is one that is virtual, redemption against endless, eternal life.

Risk, uncertainty and insecurity are pulses of life . . . For the canny player, life is not a crapshoot but a game of poker. Since one is never sure when the chips can be redeemed, the best strategy is to keep the game going as long as possible. In the final analysis, the problem is to learn to live without redemption in a world where the interplay of light and darkness creates infinite shades of difference, which are inescapably disruptive, overwhelmingly beautiful and infinitely complex. (p. 331).

Such a vision makes the Christian vocabulary of “eternal life” comprehensible in this networked world. Still, it says little about being on the margins, about those struggling for food, or about the unlucky who do not operate in the virtual world.

Taylor’s ability to connect high finance, art, and architecture is dazzling. He illuminates our current state of affairs, revealing how high finance is a religious enterprise. It seems that the God that inhabits the world of the internet and the financial markets is analogous to the fickle and volatile God of our Bible, one that is alive, that moves, that brings us together, if only virtually. Yet, I wonder if the world without redemption Taylor offers is also a world without hope, a VIP room in a casino where there are many out in the back alley, waiting to consume what is discarded by the anxious gamblers inside.

Kathryn Tanner’s smaller book Economy of Grace, however, is much more relevant. It is, in my view, the most important recent book on theological economics and ethics: brief, precise, and useful. Mark Taylor demonstrates the limits and the death-dealing of redemption.Tanner, however, offers a reflection on God’s grace and abundance. She describes the nature of property relations, contrasting a market view of owning property to one that understands God as loaning property. She explores the relationship to property and grace. God’s giving demonstrates his desire for us to be givers also. Tanner’s vision is firmly Trinitarian; our economic cooperation mirrors the noncompetitive relationship between the persons of the Trinity. We share ourselves for the good of others (p. 85).

She suggests a comprehensive yet simpler welfare arrangement: a distribution of the tax burden. The consequences of generosity, such as a strong welfare provision and universal health care, allow for more security among persons and less pressure on corporations. The benefits outweigh the costs of the imaginary moral hazards that fester in the conservative imagination.

Tanner recommends policies that could be justified to both corporations and the impoverished. After describing how International Keynsianism was sabotaged, she suggests that international institutions provide cash and investment to increase employment and demand, the same provisions that resulted in the West’s economic growth after World War II. I would also relax international intellectual property rights to encourage the development of indigenous technologies, and support international initiatives like the Tobin Tax, to discourage volatility.

By drawing attention to the internal tensions in our societies, we can choose between different sorts of capitalism, for the market, despite its ambitions, cannot address all social modes. As a nation, we can make decisions about employment, the tax rate, health care, social security, and regulation—those parts of our social life that help people live more happily. What matters is if we want to or not.

Economists, however, remind Christians that numbers matter. Appeals to beauty and charity, while commendable, require empirical defense. Christians must support programs that can be evaluated; and we must hold institutions accountable. It may seem that this dehumanizes the work of caring, but such rigor will clarify the complicated desires that human beings have. Although commodities may depersonalize aspects of our every day life, we could become better counters in measuring these costs. Counting admits that we make many value judgments, and that some choices will make us happier than others.

Christians do not oppose the creation of wealth. We merely insist that any conversation about wealth and the formation of our economy must attend to categories missed by some economists: freedom to make choices, better health (healing), education (wisdom), and economic security (social trust). Merit, incentives, and competition have a place in public life for the purpose of creating social value, but they do not replace the simple fact that we are responsible for each other.

I have not examined environmental economics at any great length. With economists such as Joshua Farley and intellectuals such as Bill McKibben, I have great hope that we can talk about what economic “costs” are, and what it means to say “enough.” Where capitalist
economics and Christian economics diverge is in the understanding of desire: capitalism does not make any judgment on whether desires are good or bad, merely allowing that more is more. This has consequences, also, in the way our culture is framing sexual ethics. Although conservatives distinguish between sex and property, isolating desires of status, wealth, and power from genital pleasure, this is empirically untenable. What is evident is that people make decisions about sex and sexuality for reasons not limited to pleasure or children. Fortunately, economists are creating more accurate models of human desire and social incentives, models that can find suitable examples in Scripture.

An examination of biblical ethics in the light of contemporary economic thought merits serious work. I wonder if the parables of Jesus reveal aspects of our economic life that had been formerly counted as social wisdom rather than as economic insight. Clearly the parable of the talents, “rendering unto Caesar,” and the laborers in the vineyard were examples of exchanges and incentives. How can these be described? Scripture tells unmediated stories about human desire for wealth and God. God blesses our wealth, but wealth alone does not bring redemption. Perhaps when Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he was not merely making a moral judgment. He summarized the economy of the world.

The Rev. Gawain de Leeuw is rector of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, White Plains, New York. He blogs occasionally at http://stbartswp.dioceseny.org/saltyvicar. This piece is reprinted with permission of Anglican Theological Review.

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Beyond "fair"

By Greg Jones

The love of God is not fair. No, the love of God is not fair. It's more than that, it's enormous, it's gracious, it's true, no matter what.

Paul knows this. He writes about the love of God from prison, and while he knows that neither life nor the love of God are fair, they are indeed much more important than that.

In his Epistle to the Philippians (written from prison to a dear congregation who though poor and at the bottom of the Roman ladder support Paul's missionary work) Paul speaks of shared mission in working for the Kingdom of God.

Paul knows he's potentially facing execution for preaching the Gospel, and that the Philippians too face opposition from Rome, doubt, and from the hard road of life itself.

Paul speaks of his suffering, which they too share, not like some Pollyanna who can't see how life isn't fair, but like someone who has decided to offer up his life, his suffering, his pain for the King of Love. Paul's working for the King, and they're killing him for it, and he keeps on keeping on, with a new kind of joy knowing that Christ is working through him.

No, Paul knows that God's love and life in Christ aren't fair, they're bigger than that.

What about us? Are we working for the King? Is anybody opposing us for doing so? Are we working for the King, Or are we more likely working for someone else, and moonlighting on the side for the King when we safely can? Are we working for the King all day long, or only a little bit late in the day?

The good news is hard to understand, but here it is: If we are working for the king at all, because the king is so good, we are one. We strive as one, in this work for the king of creation, and no matter whether we're all day help, or Johnny come latelys, because the King is so good, so gracious, so merciful, we are all one in Him, by the price paid for us through the suffering of Christ Jesus.

This good news, if you can believe it, that God is this gracious, this kind, this loving, even so as to seem unfair by human ways, is the kind of good news that inspires in those who believe it
a gratitude and joy that is hard to understand sometimes.

I know I'm a Johnny come lately to working for the King. I know I'm a sinner. I know I don't deserve the same share of God's love as so many other better people. Yet I have been taught that there's so much of God's love, that even though I don't deserve a lick of it, He offers it anyway. That's the Good News.

Yes the news is Good, and the love of God is enormous, and fairness by our standards just isn't part of the equation. Yet, any who suffer for the Kingdom, but cherish their place in it, know this.

It is pretty radical stuff indeed. So radical that many just can't believe it. Things should be fair. Isn't that what the opponents in today's parable, and the Israelites in Exodus say?

No, those who share in Christ know that fair just isn't gonna happen. But the saints keep going, still, somehow rejoicing in the unfair love of God.

I've told you about my friends who are also working mightily for the King, and who lost a child, our godson. Every year at this time, for about a month, they tell me that a season of grief arrives at their home. Every year, for seven years now, a cloud of tears and heaviness and suffering comes upon them. Every year the old opponent, Death, comes to dwell in their house.

And every year, they suffer. They don't enjoy it. They don't relish it. They don't look forward to it. They suffer.

Yet, they have decided to follow Jesus. They continue to work for the King and his kingdom, and though they suffer, they rejoice in the Hope that God's love is so powerful it will put the broken back together, raise up the dead, and make all things right, somehow, someday.

They have decided to follow Jesus through thick and thin, and they know that to live is Christ. And I'm so glad, because they are showing me, the way Paul showed the Philippians, and Jesus showed us all, that God's love ain't fair, it's better, and it's worth it to give our life to working for Him.

The life of we who work for the King will involve sharing the sufferings of earthly things. It will involve working perhaps harder than others. It will involve knowing that others are working harder than we. It is all based, however, on the knowledge that the abundance of love that God has in store is so huge and beyond our control, that all will be well.

Are you standing idle? Do you not see that the King has come for you? Follow him.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. A husband and father, Jones is also the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004), and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is due on iTunes in November of 2008. Jones is a graduate of Sidwell Friends School, the University of North Carolina, and General Theological Seminary - where he serves as a General Convention-elected trustee.

Please submit your comments in the form of a question

By Kit Carlson

I was on Jeopardy! recently. Maybe you saw it. I was the woman in the middle. The one with the clerical collar on.

It’s strange enough to be a contestant on this 25-year-old, beloved game show (and it’s even older, if you count the original incarnation with host Art Fleming), but stranger still to be a priest playing Jeopardy!

“Wear your collar,” advised a former parishioner, who had won three days in a row a few years ago. “Oh, please, please, please wear your collar,” urged one of my Sunday School teachers. “You’re going to wear your collar, aren’t you?” asked a vestry member. For some reason, it was very important to these people that I be identifiable to the world as a priest playing Jeopardy!

It does seem odd, I guess, to have a cleric up there, zinging one-liners with Alex Trebek and trying to take home cash in Ken Jennings-sized quantities. Not as odd as you may think, however. There has been a little boomlet in clergy contestants on Jeopardy! Yes, usually they get lawyers and librarians and teachers. The show does self-select for geeky types who love to read. But most clergy fit that exact description: geeky types who love to read. At my live audition in Chicago (at which I did wear my collar), there was a UCC pastor in the group as well. In the intervening weeks between the audition and my own taping, I saw at least three other clerics give it a run.

And I have always wanted to go on Jeopardy! My cousin Richard Cordray (now Treasurer of Ohio) went on in the ‘80s and won five days in a row, then went back for Tournament of Champions. My mother always nagged me, “Why don’t you go on that show? You know as much as Richard. Look how well he did. You should go on Jeopardy! too.” And playing from my sofa, I often figured, yes – I could do this. I could be on Jeopardy!

So when I saw last winter that there was an internet audition, I did it. Just for laughs, and for my late mother’s memory, too. Then last spring, they called me to go for a live audition. So I went. Just for a few more laughs, and to silence my mother’s nagging inside my head. And four weeks later, they called and asked me to fly to LA to COMPETE ON JEOPARDY!!!! (Insert high-pitched squeals here …)

But it also messes with your head, to be a priest who plays Jeopardy! First of all, it’s hard to just get into the greedy, greedy, give-me-more game show mentality. Did I want to win five days in a row? Did I want to go on and on and on like Ken Jennings? That would totally mess with vestry meetings and hospital visitations, for sure. And what about that money, if I did win? Yes, I have credit card debt and kids in college and I need every penny of my salary and then some. But it also seemed inappropriate to just take a bunch of winnings and keep them to myself.

W.W.J.D? as the bracelets say. In between learning in April that I had been selected to go for a live audition in Chicago in May, I went on a mission trip to Haiti. This nation, only 500 miles from Miami, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The level of poverty is beyond imagining. And the group I traveled with, the Haiti Outreach Mission () (a group of Catholic and Episcopal parishes, mostly from Detroit), has built a clinic and an orphanage and is making some real impact in the town of Mirebalais. So that answered the question for me. Whatever I got, I would give to the Haiti Outreach Mission.

So I went to L.A. I wore my collar. I played the game. I came in second, by just $100 there in Final Jeopardy! But that still meant I would get a $2,000 runner-up prize. And that, at least, could go to Haiti.

The only issue then became dancing this strange dance of publicity and notoriety. Because after all these years of wanting to go on Jeopardy!, I did want people to know that I had finally made it on, and to watch the show. But it’s vaguely embarrassing to be calling attention to myself. Everything I do I want to point not to me, but to the gospel and to the joy of knowing that God loves us, and to the things that are good and strong about the Episcopal Church.

But Lansing is a smallish city, so the newspaper wanted to interview me. And the local affiliate that airs Jeopardy! wanted to interview me. And so I put the collar on again, because this time I also wanted the world to know that I was a priest who plays Jeopardy!

I wanted to see printed very boldly in the paper, and filmed very prominently on TV, the words ALL SAINTS EPISCOPAL CHURCH, so that people in our region would know there was a community that went with the collar, a place they might want to explore on a Sunday morning (if only to see if the sermon is delivered entirely in the form of a question).

But more than that, I hoped that people would stop for one second and think about that disconnect – a priest playing Jeopardy! I hoped they would think about what happens when a person who stands for God also stands in the crack between the church world and the secular world so that each can see the other. So that each might speak to each other. So that each might, a little bit less, stop fearing the other.

Answer: A priest and Jeopardy!

Question: What are two things that maybe do have something to do with each other after all?

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

A Christian skeptic examines our politics

By Derek Olsen

Well, we’re pulling into the home-stretch now. There are less than 30 days to the presidential election and the campaign rhetoric has become a full-out assault on the senses. I’m doing my best to keep up, I really am. As an Undecided voter, I’ve been dutifully watching debates and comparing platforms, pondering and praying about the decisions before us both national and local. How hopelessly out of touch I remain, however, was brought home to me one early Monday morning a few weeks ago.

I was at the Y, headphones blaring, German Industrial egging me on to the insane pace I’d set for myself on the treadmill; CNN anchors were mouthing words at me as the ticker at the bottom of the screen updated the world on where various important people had been over the week. To my chagrin I realized that I had absolutely no idea where McCain, Obama, Palin, or Biden had been or what they had said, but the moment Pope Benedict’s name started going across I knew what country and city he’d been in—and had already seen some analyses of the liturgies he’d celebrated…

Politics and religion: two forces that, in my life, share an uneasy tension that probably explains why I’m still Undecided. Politics and religion always have been and always will be intertwined—make no mistake about that—but their connection is far more ambiguous and complicated than pundits on either side want to suggest in this election season. There is no one way that politics and religion interrelate. It’s a many-sided relationship, sometimes mutually supporting, sometimes contradictory, never simple. And this time of year, I’m reminded that whatever politics thinks of organized religion, there’s always been a strand of our religious heritage that has been deeply skeptical of organized politics.

A foundational text for this strand is the words of Samuel to the people when they ask him to anoint a king:

“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18)

Sounds to me like the proleptic cry of a crotchety conservative against both radical change and big government, but something much deeper and far more important is going on. As the last verse makes painfully clear, there are religious implications to this form of government—and these implications are all bad.

Let’s dig a little deeper here, though, because it’s complicated. On one hand is the political side of things: The Children of Israel had entered the Promised Land and had settled there. As tribes of nomadic herders, their links to one another had been tenuous, occasional, and temporary. When faced with invasion or oppression, nomadic herders pick up and move. As they grew more tightly tied to the land, as they put down roots—both metaphorical and literal—and began shifting towards a more agrarian society, their political reality changed. Their wealth, their livelihood, was no longer mobile. You collect a harvest, you store it somewhere, it’s not easy to just up and move it all. And with harvests come invaders, looking for easy prey. The Children of Israel are tired of yearly raids, of their small hastily-armed clan units being overwhelmed by dedicated bodies of seasoned warriors—herdsman and farmers with sticks and stones against professionals with bronze armor and swords. Sure, “judges” called by God would occasionally appear to unite the clans and strike against this year’s invaders—but is this a way to stabilize a land? (Imagine of we waited for a “judge” to arise and deal with the Wall Street mess!) In the face of these difficulties, the people plead for Samuel to give them a king: a single stable ruler with a standing army to protect their homes, children, and crops.

On the other hand, though, is the religious side of things: the people already had a king, God. As God reveals to Samuel a few verses earlier: “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you [as a judge], but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). The call for a king was a rejection of the kingship of God. Furthermore, the choice of words given to Samuel are eerily reminiscent of both Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and 1 Kings 10:26-11:10 which inveigh against the aggressive foreign and economic policies which, for all of Solomon’s wisdom, drove the kingdom into idolatry and split the Promised Land into two rival kingdoms: Israel and Judah. The king brought idolatry, economic distress, and ultimately disunity.

While it’s present in the histories, this strand questioning and challenging political regimes has had a firm foundation in our liturgical traditions from the beginning. There’s a distinct group of psalms known as the Enthronement Psalms (Pss 47, 93, 96-99) which proclaim with boldness, “YHWH has become king!”—the typical shout of acclamation and accompanies it with the blast of the shofar, the ram’s horn, also a component of a king’s coronation. God is king—and not the man on Israel or Judah’s throne. Rather, they serve as a steward on behalf of the true King whose rule is marked by justice and equity for all. As modern Americans, I think we may miss the full significance of this. In the world of early monarchical politics, justice and mercy were ideals and rarely realities. A king’s primary task was ensuring that the warlords under him were too weak and disunified to make an effort to topple him. Justice and mercy took second place to balancing factions against one another, securing allies, and dissuading would-be usurpers—usually with “favors” which were miscarriages of justice themselves. These psalms present a strong word of condemnation to the established political powers: “You, mortal, are not the true king; you exercise power at the pleasure of the true King. His standards are justice, equity, and mercy—not based in venial calculation; be afraid lest he sweep you aside.”

It’s no accident that many Scriptural visions of God occur in a celestial throne room. We get moments like the throne-room vision of 1 Kings 22:19-22 in a number of place, but the grand-daddy of them all is at the end of our Bible in the Book of Revelation. Chapters 4 and 5 are an extended sequence occurring in the divine throne-room where John of Patmos literally redraws the cosmos, centering it all around the throne, envisioning and describing concentric circles of living creatures, of apostles, patriarchs, prophets, martyrs, of the whole created order bowing down, casting crowns, and acclaiming God as the one true Emperor of the entire inhabited cosmos. In a world that defined itself around Rome and Roman might, John redraws all the boundaries. There is a center. There is an emperor. And all that is really real participates in praise of the true Emperor—the one seated upon the throne, the Lamb standing as if it had been slain.

We Christians not only regularly pray these psalms and chant these hymns from Revelation, but moments like these pop up in our own liturgies as well. As a seminarian in a plainchant class, I was entranced by a set of prayers coming from an 11th century manuscript from Autun, in modern-day France. After a set of petitions by a cantor, the full schola would thunder the repetitive refrain “Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!”—Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ is emperor! According to certain clues in the liturgy, it seemed that Easter was when the court of the king would have been in Autun: the king would have been in the congregation as another king was acclaimed in full voice and power in his presence. The prayers were not just words to God—they were words to the king as well, reminding, qualifying, even challenging. There is a standard against which government is judged—and it ain’t you…

In our current liturgical round following the Revised Common Lectionary, the last Sunday of Ordinary Time is kept as the Feast of Christ the King. Some think this language outdated and passé. Me—I like it. Precisely because it is outdated. Precisely because it flies in the face of our current political and cultural realities. Precisely because it speaks a word of challenge and judgment against our regimes no matter what side of the aisle they come from. If we stumble at the title, the stumbling reveals a teachable moment to consider competing values and competing visions of what’s really real. The Gospel confronts us with a vision of the world as it can be—as it ought to be. It’s not a vision that lines up neatly with either American party’s ideology despite what some would like you to believe. Interestingly, this feast’s traditional placement—before Vatican II and the RCL came along—was the last Sunday of October which means that some years it was the Sunday just previous to our election; songs of Christ’s kingship would still be ringing in voters’ ears come November 4th.

As we head to the polls, we have painful political and social realities that we have to face. We have a lot of struggles to overcome: economic issues, military quandaries, energy problems, social confusions, and more that intertwine and defy easy answers and sound-bites. I’ll make myself listen, I’ll make a decision, and I’ll make my way to the polls. But no matter who stands triumphant on Inauguration Day in January, I’ll be the one in the background singing: Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

Is this God?

By Donald Schell

When church leaders argue about canons, covenants, and rubrics (as Episcopalians and global Anglicans seem to be doing more and more), I think of Jesus our teacher and I can’t imagine him worrying about any such thing. He teaches ‘with authority,’ that is, his teaching draws on the authority of people’s experience and then with his own authority, he interprets recognizable human experience without appealing to any external endorsement or ruling from those with arbitrary power.

The Gospels present Jesus as a teacher who mistrusts hierarchical power so much that when he begins a parable introducing someone who has such power, we can almost count on the story unfolding with that person using power to drive a wedge between people who lack power.
Talking with preaching colleagues and with lay people about the parables we’ve heard in church these past few months, I’ve noticed how hard it is to break our habit of interpreting rich landlords, slave owners, kings, and fathers in Jesus’ storytelling as stand-ins for God, even though these authority figures in the parables consistently act foolishly, arbitrarily, or dangerously toward people who are dependent on them for wellbeing. Some of Jesus’ parables even have power figures harm those they love best. This is not, as Jesus teaches it, the way of Abba, God.

Reading parables as allegory and wrapping them up with a tidy moral lesson at the end are two convenient ways to tame them. The Gospel writers and early preachers tried to tame them this way just as we do. We prefer the limited thrill of colorful zoo animals to Jesus’ offer of dangerous creatures in the wild. Like wild animals, untamed parables are dangerous enough that they demand our attention and keep us alert, confused sometimes, maybe a little anxious, and wondering.

Various Anglican bishops warn us that only a universally recognized church authority can bring peace and faithfulness to our communion. They say that in our ‘crisis of authority’ we need to submit to Bible, Council of Primates, Christian tradition, or an ‘all of the above’ combination. If we ignore the violence and foolishness of the powerful in Jesus’ parables and allegorize the parables’ power figures as God as stand-ins for God, we might think Jesus supported such a picture of God’s kingdom or the holy community that serves it. Stripped of allegorical distortion, if we hear Jesus’ parables from our actual experience, we stumble over an exact opposite answer.

If we don’t allegorize, how shall we interpret Jesus’ parables? Parables resonate in experience. When we’re angry or confused by them, we’ve started to notice the parables’ wild independence of our tidy interpretations of them. Our own experience and emotional response to these stories matter. Jesus crafted his parables to startle us, disturb us, and then settle uneasily or provocatively into our memory.

Parables aren’t lessons. They work more like puzzles, jokes or even ghost stories.
Many of Jesus’ parables flow like this

-A recognizable type, often someone with power, does something expressive of his character. (Could it be that these figures in the parables are always men because part of Jesus' critique is about power men hold?)

- The authority’s action quickly becomes a set-up for a crisis.

- Ordinary people (and the authority figure who prompted the crisis) respond, some badly, some well.

Rather than inviting us to decode allegorically, seeing point by point how some group of people or series of events in a parable is ‘like the kingdom of God,’ or ‘like God,’ Jesus our teacher’s parables plunge us into hair-raisingly familiar chaos – political, workplace, economic, or family, and there they force us to wonder what choices or actions we or others who are not rulers or authorities can make in the presence of their arbitrary, destructive, or foolish actions. Like a puzzle, a joke, or a scary story, a parable opens into a crisis that rolls around in our mind when the telling is over. Choices that ordinary people make, people without rank hint at God’s kingdom breaking in. In some parables the painful absence of their choices or an unconscious, bad choice point to where the kingdom might have broken in if someone had acted differently.

Sequence and detail matter to each parable so we rehearse them in our minds to get all the pieces lined up properly so the crisis unfolds. And the set-up again and again has power drive a parable narrative straight toward conflict, often a dangerous conflict, and most typically one that stirs up our feelings and confuses us. The energy that parables derive from conflict makes them like plays in the theater, more powerful and fascinating because they simply won’t reduce to a simple meaning. And Jesus’ stories don’t end neatly; uncertainty and unfinished movement remain. Like ghost stories and jokes, his parables stay with us.

When preachers hear someone say after a sermon, “I still don’t get how the landlord (or king or father) is like God,” listeners are asking the right question.

Jesus’ listeners - day laborers, tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, and ordinary soldiers - already knew that top-down power let privileged people act in ways that hurt other people, and that privileged people, often enough, also blundered into hurting themselves and those they loved best. Jesus’ listeners had seen too many landlords, kings, employers, and rich people act in ways that made no sense at all to imagine that the powerful were like God.

Think of the parable of the vineyard owner who hired workers at different hours of the day and paid them all the same at day’s end. Keep saying, “This isn’t God,” and ask yourself what you’d think of an employer who said, ‘It’s my money, and I’ll do as I please with it’? The vineyard owner sounds more like Leona Helmsley than God. When we quit trying to pretend the landlord was God, we find ourselves in the crowd with Jesus’ listeners wondering how that landlord would ever hire another day’s workforce. We are so close to God’s kingdom. At day’s end, each day laborer has either earned or been given enough to feed his family - but the workers are bitterly divided by envy.

Jesus’ listeners understand envy all too well. Often Jesus’ parables create a circumstance where people with little power are provoked to envy, or even murderous envy by the cruel, arbitrary, or foolish acts of authority figures, like the tenants who kill the landlord’s son and heir (hoping they wouldn’t get caught) because the landlord has finally, stupidly sent his only heir. Local law said that if the landlord had no living heir, the tenants would finally own the land they’d sweated over for some many years. This painful parable of the father’s blunder that cost his son’s life sounds to me like Jesus may have been using a dark piece of local gossip or news.

Was Jesus an anarchist? “Anarchist” catches something of his critique of power, but the word also misses that Jesus seemed to think top-down power was ultimately irrelevant. In his parables the real choices that resonate with God’s bottom-up kingdom happen person to person. Jesus is not trying to overturn one authority to replace it with another – not even replacing rabbinical councils with apostolic councils. Instead Jesus lived from a deep clarity of purpose and evident humility while he confronted rulers and told scathing stories about rules.
Wherever a new kind of community, one based on forgiveness rather than envy or judgment appears, God’s kingdom shows up right in the midst of the tired, old kingdoms and religious structures. ‘Divine anarchy’ does seem closer to Jesus’ Gospel than any godly monarchy.

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

Bill Maher's Religulous: an exercise in caricature

By Deirdre Good

I went to see Bill Maher's "Religulous" with friends last night. It was a strange experience. I've seen and enjoyed Bill Maher as a stand-up comic and as a TV host on his HBO talk show interviewing guests and commenting on politics. But what is "Religulous"? Neither stand-up comedy nor talk show. True, the film has elements of comedy in the way that it caricatures religious practitioners for what they say and how they look. We don't just meet ordinary Christians; we meet Christians like the Jesus actor in the Jesus world theme park in Orlando, Florida and a minister José Luis de Jesús Miranda who thinks he is a biological descendant of Jesus, actually Jesus incarnate. We don't meet ordinary Jews; we meet Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, an anti-Zionist Jew who shook the hand of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. And while Bill Maher provides humorous commentary on the interviews he conducts with religious people around the world, he can leave an interviewee, in this case, Rabbi Weiss in mid-sentence. So he doesn't come across as someone who actually wants to hear what religious people say.

"Religulous" isn't a documentary film either. A documentary film is a movie that documents reality by describing it through interviews and commentary. Michael Moore's films would be examples of documentaries shown in movie theaters. Several have proven to be very popular. But a documentary tells a story by starting out with a description of the topic and ending with a new understanding as a result of the investigation. More often than not, things seen and heard along the way have informed the one doing the documentation. This isn't true of "Religulous." Maher starts at Megiddo where he says many people who read Revelations (sic) think the world will end and he ends in the same spot at Megiddo by saying that religious people may well blow up the world. In 90 minutes we haven't actually gone anywhere. Along the way, religion is reduced to the point of distortion and caricature. Eastern religions are never considered. Religious people are shown in interviews and film clips only as gullible and fanatic, as fraudulent and nutty. There's one exception that proves the rule, a Catholic astronomer priest who shows that a scientific worldview can only be post-enlightenment and that therefore the biblical view of creation cannot be seen as scientific. Alas, he gets two minutes.

It would have been more intriguing if Maher had included conversations with theologians who after all have been part of most religious traditions and who have rather interesting takes on reading the creation accounts of the Bible or on miracles. Now and again interviewees say things along these lines but Maher quickly dismisses such observations as quirky or dishonest without following them up. It would be even more interesting to find out why Maher is obsessed with religion. In a charming interview with his sister and his mother before she died this summer, he notes that never once when he was growing up did he question why his (Jewish) mother didn't go to Catholic Church with them each Sunday. Maher professes to be agnostic about religious certainties and critical of those in public office who want to pray to God (an "imaginary friend," Maher says) when confronted with crises. But he falls too easily into caricature rather than the challenge of uncertainty. By the end of the movie we've only gone in a circle and I don't mean a hermeneutical one.

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. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage.

Are we still in the salvation business?

By Martin L. Smith

Sometimes we wake from a dream with only a strange question as its trace, and the other morning all I could remember as I shaved was a voice asking, “Do you mean business?” It’s a good question to ask looking into one’s own eyes in the mirror, a challenge to weigh the intentionality we are bringing—or not—to everyday living. And it is a question about faith, because for us today faith is about finding meaning in life and for life. Someone who means business today about becoming a genuine believer is conscious of wanting, needing, her life to have meaning. In fact, for Christians in the postmodern world, to find life meaningful as a gift from God through relationship with Jesus is what it means to be saved. Salvation is both to be rescued and fulfilled. Rescued from the spiritual vacuum of meaninglessness, and fulfilled by receiving with the love of God a sense of connectedness, purpose and destiny.

It is a good question to ask about the church. Does the church ‘mean business’? Do we accept that our main business today is with meaning, the struggle to find meaning, and the mission to help people discover the gift of meaning through the good news that has Christ at its heart? Are we still in the business of being saved and saving others? I wonder sometimes because of the negativity or indifference with which many Episcopalians react to the very concept of being saved. Perhaps it’s because they equate being saved with the idea of God reprieving (some of) us from the sentence of eternal damnation in hellfire. In recoil from that idea many seem to think that salvation is a concept best quietly shelved. In how many of our churches is the language of salvation really alive?

A certain historical perspective can help. How did the church mean business at first in the culture in which it grew so rapidly? It brought good news to a civilization haunted by the ravages of mortality, the inevitable decay that reduced human effort to futility. The gospel of the resurrection counteracted all that with an unprecedented sense of God’s abundance of life and his desire to bring human beings into such intimacy with himself that they could experience a fullness of being that was proof against death. How did the church mean business in later centuries? Its good news addressed the nightmare of alienation, the sense that guilt estranged us from the Holy One. The gospel offered a way through it to reconciliation with God, through the sacraments that made Christ’s gift of himself on the cross a contemporary healing power, and through a message of justification as a free gift received by faith.

In our era, mortality and guilt are all too real but they are not what haunts us most. We suffer from a crisis of meaning itself. In the doubting that comes when our defenses are down we wonder whether human consciousness is merely an accidental froth, just a spectacular by-product of evolution in a single primate species. We wonder whether human consciousness has such flawed wiring that civilization is doomed to be short-lived, and we shall bring on our own extinction sometime in the next 10 generations, leaving the planet to wheel on to its own eventual demise in a universe whose origin and destiny is a sheer enigma. Perhaps all human religions, not just some, are the product of sheer projection, imaginary thought-patterns that human beings have fabricated for bonding societies and marking pathways through the joys and pains of human life. In the kind of thinking to which we are vulnerable at 3 in the morning, we find ourselves in the horror of sheer doubt. For us religious doubt isn’t really a matter of questioning this dogma or that. It’s more primal. Have human beings been making it all up? Is there in reality any greater meaning in which my life is taking part?

A church that means business speaks to this crisis of meaning head on and is unafraid to talk of being saved. It encourages people to articulate their doubt, not just about this church teaching or that, but about the value and ultimate meaning of our fragile human lives on this little blue planet circling as a speck in a galaxy that is merely one of billions.

When I hear the gospel addressed to me in the midst of this vertigo of doubt, and accept its poignant insistence that our lives are meaningful because they are what God meant, and that we mean everything to him, and that he means to take us into his life by uniting us to the one who suffered with us and for us, whom he raised from the dead, I can say “This is what it means to be saved, and I want others to receive the same gift.”

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

Save a tree. Shrink your Sunday bulletin.

By Peter Carey

Can we have Spirit-filled liturgy without millions of reams of paper discarded each Sunday?

What would it take for us in the Episcopal Church to stop producing millions of pages of bulletins and service booklets every Sunday? We all know how costly it is for our environment to keep producing paper, to say nothing of the cost of making and maintaining computers, printers, copiers, sorters, and duplicators. And then there is the human labor that is put into production of these bulletins and booklets. In recent years, in many churches I have visited, the prayer book liturgy is basically copied and pasted, perhaps with a slightly different version of the psalm, or some inclusive language included in the Eucharistic Prayer. Without even entering the discussion of whether the liturgies fit with the canons of our church, is it really necessary to produce so much paper? The bulletins I have seen some places look and feel like books. I wonder if churches, deaneries and dioceses have even considered the cost of this production of paper that is quickly discarded (hopefully recycled) shortly after parishioners leave for coffee-hour, and afternoons of family and football?

When I have brought this up with other folks who run churches, I hear that it is more hospitable for visitors to be handed a bulletin that does not force people to turn the pages in the Book of Common Prayer, only then to have to pick up one or another Hymnal, and then turn back to the Book of Common Prayer. Ok, I’ll concede that we are a bit crazy in our beloved church with the number of books to negotiate. However, these visitors are the same folks who drive their car, talk on the cell phone, listen to the radio, and eat a snack while driving. We are all multi-taskers Are we really saying that people can’t follow the along our liturgy, with a few instructions, while sitting in the pew?

I am part of the problem. As I prepared for services to begin the year at our school, I produced a leaflet for each person who attended our opening service. I came close to not making them, but I felt like it would be a lot to spring on new teachers if they had to fumble around with all the books. I also worry about the sense that our church can, unwittingly, project an “in-crowd” type of attitude, despite our “Episcopal Church Welcomes You” signs! However, perhaps we need to step out and actually welcome others once they get in the church.

I am concerned about the waste of paper and the cost of this production. Where else could all this money be going? Could we increase our mission? Could we offer some to the MDGs? Where could that budget line go?

I wonder if as a Lenten discipline next year every church could take just one or two Sundays “off” from producing any bulletin beyond a one-pager? Could we also practice the discipline of hospitality for visitors to our churches? Could we risk speaking to the visitors and offering help with our many colored prayer books and hymnals? How much money would be saved in just one or two weeks of using no bulletins? How many reams of paper might be saved?

I know, I know, it’s a crazy idea, but maybe it’s crazy enough to try – even for a couple of weeks. Who’s with me?

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

A generation's awakening

By Margaret M. Treadwell

An amazing phenomenon is occurring in America, and the excitement is palpable. Have you noticed the increasing number of young people awakening to their responsibilities and rights as members of a democracy? The good news in this presidential election is the 18- to 29-year-olds stepping up to help heal our troubled country. While volunteering for the campaign, I have seen their actions match their beliefs and words:

• In Iowa, an eyewitness observed the young people trained in the grassroots approach to networking and organization bringing one individual at a time into the voting process months before the election. She said, “They understand that our democracy is fragile and can be lost if only 50 percent of eligible voters come out to vote. There is a spiritual aspect in mobilizing young people to become involved in politics.”

• In North Carolina, a college graduate accepts minimal pay for his work to register voters in rural counties where he often faces racism and threats. His hope, persistence and singleness of purpose are faith in action.

• In South Carolina, my 17-year-old godson writes about his involvement with fellow students who are getting everyone in the area surrounding his school, including inner city Charlestoners, active in registering voters and planning to get out the vote on Nov. 4.

• At the Bethesda Grassroots Obama Office (nicknamed the BOO), the intern program is equally balanced between promoting Obama’s candidacy and providing an educational experience for the young volunteers. An important part of that education focuses on understanding both their own candidate’s and the opponent’s positions.

In preparation for a recent Town Hall meeting, Montgomery County and D.C. high school students chose partners and researched issues for debate with one person taking the Republican position and the other, the Democratic position. Each debater smartly navigated the rough waters of the economy, social security, the war, environment and energy. Said one young woman who took the part of both McCain and Obama for an admirable debate on women’s issues, “The entire intern experience has been so exciting. The (volunteer) staff has given us students real responsibility and a voice.” A welcome sign at the entrance to the BOO reads, “Thank you for bringing your gifts of time, energy, spirit, ideas, talent, supplies, creativity, inspiration, labor, money, humor, passion and patriotism.” A small room set aside for quiet, meditation or prayer posts two printed questions: “Got Hope?” and “What are you grateful for?”

A lawyer who worked on both the 2004 and 2008 conventions says, “The young volunteers now are in sharp contrast to those in the last election. They are more tolerant, open and ready for change. They aren’t cynical about politics and, through their vision, purpose, and hope, they energize every sector of voters.

Her view is substantiated in author John Zogby’s recently published, The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House, 2008). Drawing on surveys he conducted over a 20-year period, he predicts an optimistic future, the center of which is a group he labels the “First Globals,” consisting of the current 18- to 20-year-olds in the United States whom he found embrace diversity, feel connected personally to the rest of the world, are the first color-blind Americans and the first to bring a consistently global perspective to foreign policy and environmental issues.

How is this phenomenon changing First Globals’ families? Some family members simply can’t speak about politics without conflict. But a mother talks about her three sons, ages 30, 26 and 22, coming home last Thanksgiving inspired by Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, and how they convinced their politically weary parents to listen up: “Change is in the air; a new generation is coming along.” Now the whole family is volunteering.

Parents also tell me that although their political preferences may be different from their children’s, the communication about diverse opinions has grown more open and accepting. A father explains, “When a family can sit down together, discuss both sides, disagree and still respect and love each other, our bonds grow stronger.”

And will the young people from both parties come out to vote in November? Will they remain involved if their candidate loses the election? Will their faith be shattered? Or will their youthful spirit and resilience carry them through to find and support the strengths of the new president in reuniting our country no matter what the outcome? How can their families help them accept disappointment, look for positive ways to continue their good work, and never lose their faith and hope?

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the song without the words – And never stops – at all….

Emily Dickinson (from “The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 1955))

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

A Scottish pilgrimage

By Ann Fontaine

Last spring, our daughter called to say we should take a trip to Scotland together. Scotland is the birthplace of my maternal grandmother. We had gone to Norway a few years ago to see the birthplace of my father so it only seemed right to balance our family tree. She bought the airline tickets and left the itinerary to me. I planned our pilgrimage by thinking of people and places I wanted to see. Now that we are home and our ions are beginning to coalesce in one place, I am surprised by the depth of the experience and the sense of the Spirit that I encountered and which lingers.

We began in Torquay on the south coast of England, the “English Riviera.” Staying with friends whose guest room overlooks the sea, we spent a few nights getting into the time zone and seeing the sights of the area. Little did I know how Victorian churches were decorated on the inside: a wild cacophony of striped pillars, painted ceilings, and bright colors. Every inch covered with images or designs. After a fire, the ceiling in the local church was repainted and Sputnik was included. Around the font a scene of ponies and farm animals had been added. Traveling further out to the moors we crossed the river Dart – hence Dartmouth, Dartmoor, Dartmeet. (duh). At Exeter (on the river Ex) Richard Hooker’s statue dominates the churchyard and town square as his writings dominate Anglicanism.

Hooker.jpg

Noting the current economic news, the trip to Alyth, Scotland was reassuring in an odd way. Alyth was the town where my grandmother was born. People told us that it was not much changed. Millworkers cottages dominated the street where she lived until she was about 14 years of age. The closing of the mills to centralize weaving into the larger cities seems to have been the impetus for her emigration. Her mother was a power loom weaver and her father was a slater (roofing with slate). The roof over their heads was dependent on working for the mill owner. No mill, no job, no home. It puts modern life in perspective. At church on Sunday one of the hymns was one that was sung at my ordination – serendipity or Spirit?

From nostalgia touring we went to the Island of Iona, home of Columba and Celtic Christianity. More smashing of icons of the mind as we learned that Columba banished all the women to the Isle of Women – nearby but off “his” island. So much for inclusion in that branch of Christianity! Throughout the trip we noticed the merging of old and new in religion, however. For instance, in the wall of the convent built in 1200 is a Sheila na gig. When the walls were covered perhaps it was not as noticeable but now as the weather takes its toll it is clearly there. I wonder if it was a gift or a joke for the nuns from those who built the building?

Sheila%20na%20gig.jpg

Fingal’s Cave was as wondrous as Mendelssohn’s overture portrays it as we discovered on a boat trip to the Isle of Staffa. Towering columns of hexagonally formed basalt from ancient lava flows form the walls and roof.

From ancient Christianity off the coast of Scotland we traveled to Chester Cathedral to see a modern sculpture of the Woman at the Well and Jesus. I had caught a glimpse of it on the internet and it was in my heart to see it in real time and not just virtually. It is more than amazing. The artist captures the longing of God and humankind for intimacy with one another.

John4.jpg

As we entered the cathedral once again the same hymn from my ordination was heard as the choir practiced for Sunday. It is not an old chestnut so I have to wonder at hearing it twice in one week, once in a united Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational church and once in an Anglican cathedral. Is it a message from the Spirit or just chance encounter?

It was a trip like that – things just turned up as we journeyed together – mother and daughter. We connected with sites and sights, our history, old friends, a cousin, and new friends until now only known on a blog or listserve. We made reservations for a bed each night – usually staying at least 2 nights or more but did not overplan our days. We left time for the Spirit to appear, whether in the opportunity to see a concert by a well know folk duo or cream tea with a cousin in the Kensington Gardens Orangery. And we learned if you have to sleep in the same bed with someone who is not your usual sleep partner – order two duvets!!!

Slide show of a few more photos http://gallery.me.com/annfontaine#100029

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

Jesus amidst the moneychangers

By Greg Jones

Long before the Temple in Jerusalem was built the first time, the Israelites worshipped the God of the Universe in a tent. A tabernacle they called it. And they believed that the God of the Universe maintained a sacramental presence with them, pitched the sacred tent with them, wherever they went. The place where God was pleased to dwell was in their midst, as His people, who followed His word, his lead, his ways.

Around 957 B.C., Solomon built a stone temple to symbolize God's dwelling, tabernacle-ing, abiding presence with the people of God. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians into Jerusalem, and they tore the Temple down to the ground. Fifty years later, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians, and allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

That temple was ruled by a high priesthood - which would become corrupted and perverted by the Greco-Romans and by deep seeded greed and pride. In a nutshell, the Temple operated a highly structured economic system in which it was claimed that God would put people's sins away - for a price. It was claimed that the People of God could stand near God's official dwelling place - and by using Temple-currency, could purchase Temple-approved sacrificial animals, to be offered up by the Temple-priesthood, for the sake of receiving Temple-certified forgiveness of sins and redemption.

The economic structure of the temple involved thousands of priests, central regulation, complex transactions, rates of exchange, and a host of lawyers and middlemen taking a cut at every step of the way. It also came with a special police force and armed guard. At the top were the chief priests - who also happened to be completely under the thumb of the King and the Roman Empire.

So, to be sure, when Jesus the son of a carpenter rides into town on donkey, and walks into the temple, overturns the entire commercial enterprise within, and starts teaching the word of God in a way that invites individuals to form a relationship with God quite apart from temple economics -- it's no surprise the secretaries of the temple treasury come down on him with some questions.

Yes, the chief priests who run the Temple come to him with some questions, not because they honestly want to hear the truth, but because they are afraid of what the truth might actually be and mean. You see, they know, that if Jesus is truly teaching and acting with authority in the Temple - in God's House - than it means two things: 1. That Jesus is the Messiah; and 2. That the Chief Priests are now out of a job.

Because if the Messiah is standing in the Temple - than there is no more need of a chief priest, a temple priesthood, or a complex system of spiritual supply and demand which seems to make the folks in charge wealthy, the people no better off, and the word of God very hard to hear.

Yes, "If the Messiah has come," think the chief priests, "then the reign of God has begun, and we are out of a job." Yes, if the Messiah has come - if God has come in human form to dwell truly not just in a building or a tent but in fully present form amongst his people as Lord and King - then the worst crisis since Nebuchaznezzar destroyed the first temple is about to be upon them.

No, the high priests of a selfish system of ambition and conceit, masked as religion, and marked by temple-taxation and spiritual-prostitution, absolutely don't want to know if the God of all things has come to dwell amongst them for real.

But, as Jesus has entered Jerusalem and the Temple to show - He has. The Messiah has come. Not with a bail out to preserve a failing temple economy, but to offer a whole new economics of salvation. For the Gospel economics of salvation is not capitalism, or socialism, or religious hypocrisy. It's grace.

Jesus the Messiah came to pour himself out, pouring out the power of grace, which is God's total love of a people totally confused about how to live. The Lord and savior came to wipe out selfish ambition and conceit - by pouring out his blood on the cross - by tearing down the temple of corruption - and by raising up a temple of new life in Him. That's what Jesus came to be and say and do. And he calls us to do the same - to share with Him in lives of grace.

And that's what we celebrate every Sunday - when we gather as the whole congregation of God's people around the eucharistic table. We go there not as spiritual consumers go to receive spiritual goods, or take out spiritual loans, or to pay back spiritual debts. Rather, we go to connect with the Spirit and each other, and prepare for lives of grace - so that God can work through us - so that we might be better - so that the world might too.

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

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