Practicing hopefulness by living "as if"

By Margaret M. Treadwell

When I was around seven-years-old, I began praying every night for a baby sister whom I promised God would be named Hope Ann McDonnell with initials that would give her the nickname of HAM. Although I have no idea where I got that name and she never arrived, I realized as an adult that I stayed stuck in hope with no actualization.

Hope. Friends around the globe contacting me about the inauguration of President Obama constantly use this inspiring word. How brilliantly I experienced it that day on the Mall when our gold embossed invitation with silver gate tickets only served to propel us into a crush of humanity. In trying to escape, we somehow landed in the Museum of the American Indian where, to our amazement, we witnessed the swearing in on a giant screen while sipping hospitably-offered hot chocolate. We and some 500 others crowded up the spiral staircase constituted a Mall microcosm from many nationalities, ethnic groups and states, united for that moment in the personification of hope and the ideal use of that special edifice. We took pictures of those around us happily holding up our official invitations, which never could equal our own celebration. Open to serendipity, our experience was far better than our original hopes for the day.

As the days have unfolded since my peak experience on January 20th, I’ve been wondering what we really mean by hope and how to keep it alive with the worsening world news from the media and our new president who based his campaign on “The Audacity of Hope.” Certainly we seem to be living the cliché “ hoping against hope.”

Webster’s dictionary defines hope as 1) the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. 2) to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence. 3) To believe, desire or trust. 4) A person or thing in which expectations are centered.

These definitions suggest that the focus of hope is outside of us – on events in the future, another person or thing. Much easier to seek there for salvation, yet here is President Obama insisting that our hope lies in all of us forming a community to work with him and each other, a familiar refrain from clergy in dying churches and other leaders in stuck organizations. Even though we know that no leader can be the Messiah, we human beings continue to behave like Jesus’ disciples, who expect Him to fix things while they refuse to look at themselves or draw on their inner resources where real hope for change and a new life lies.

Hope begins at home in our families. Almost everyone who calls my office for the first time hopes to improve a relationship with a loved one. Usually they want to change another person to achieve their desires. One of the first steps in an assessment plan is to examine expectations of others and ourselves. Are expectations realistic or merely distractions from more important questions? Do we want to change in someone else a characteristic or habit we don’t like in ourselves? Often if we work on the very thing we want our spouse, partner, child, parent, friend to change – voila! His or her change occurs while we looked away to work on changing ourselves. A person cannot stay the same if a motivated leader shifts his or her position in the family (or church or any institution.)

I refer to this as the “as if theory,” in which I coach clients to practice living as if hope for another is possible while refocusing on better defining themselves, as if their heart’s desire were attainable. We talk about practicing “futuristic positivity,” a term created by the neuropsychologist Angelo Bolea. He explains that the brain has both positive and negative neurons but the negative outweigh the positive by a two to one ratio. Why? Our great, great ancestors needed to protect themselves by sensing the worst possible outcome in order to survive, a defense mechanism we can now outgrow to our benefit. Just watch your child function more maturely when you practice naming the positive strengths in him or her.

Futuristic positivity is practicing the “as if” vision without being locked in to an expected outcome. Sometimes this focus on hope is best conveyed by how we express our attitudes rather than what we say. Sitting quietly. Standing tall. Looking someone in the eye. Listening. Breathing deeply. Kneeling to pray. Laughing out loud. Walking through the wind and rain with hope in our hearts though our dreams be tossed and blown.

"Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
--Barbara Johnson

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.

Lincoln's faith

By John Graham

From Isaiah, chapter 55:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

With only a few exceptions (his children, possibly a few fellow lawyers), Abraham Lincoln loved at a distance. From the time he entered public life, he had an agenda for just about every conversation and every encounter. He saw clearly where people fit into a larger picture, and deployed them, with or without their knowledge and consent, to achieve his goals.

Lincoln's father uprooted the family frequently during Abraham's childhood and youth. And Abraham (following in the footsteps of his Biblical namesake?) uprooted himself from his family as soon as he could. He put lots of time and space between himself and what he thought of as his father's brutish insistence on the primacy of backbreaking manual labor. (Lincoln's allies used the "railsplitter" myth to his advantage, but Lincoln himself had long since found better ways to make a living.) Lincoln made himself a master of self-distancing in the bosom of the family.

Despite all of this, though, we don't remember Lincoln as a master manipulator, or as cold or remote in the manner of, say, George Washington. We think of him as "Father Abraham", kind, tender-hearted, staying up late at night to find reasons to pardon deserters. "With malice toward none, with charity for all" captures his legacy.

We can attribute this to three components of Lincoln's character that came into high relief during the blood and fire of the Civil War. First: his wit. Used earlier in his career to flay his opponents mercilessly, it became almost exclusively self-deprecatory during the nation's great trial. Second: his patience. No one left Lincoln's presence thinking that his mind had been elsewhere during their conversation. He listened with great care, sometimes at great length, when the pressures of time and the demands of schedule must have felt overwhelming. He used almost everything he heard for his own purposes, of course, but no one seemed to mind. Third: his flexibility. Within the boundaries of his core principles, Lincoln had no trouble ceding points he regarded as secondary – and he regarded a very broad range of issues as "secondary". He allowed no "litmus tests" to find their way into his small repertory of primary concerns and principles.

Wit, patience, flexibility: these softened Lincoln's shrewdness, his calculating nature, and bequeathed us the image of a compassionate father we now cherish.

A favorite professor of mine used to say, "If the end doesn't justify the means, what does?" We cut some people a lot of slack in this regard, because we believe their hearts are in the right place. Even if they use us, we don't doubt their love for us. We might even be glad to play a part in a performance they're orchestrating. I've heard musicians of great talent say they think of themselves as empty vessels, through which the genius of a Bach or an Ellington can flow unimpeded. Lincoln's colleagues, looking back, felt like this about him. Being loved at a distance by Lincoln, seen as means to his ends, seemed superior to just about any other human love they had known.

In the last four or five years of his life, I believe, Lincoln came to regard God in the way many regarded Lincoln himself. He always used impersonal terms to speak of God: "the Almighty," "Providence," "Divine Being." I don't recall ever reading of an instance in which the term "Father", or any more intimate invocation, crossed his lips. "The Almighty has His own purposes," he wrote in the Second Inaugural Address. In Lincoln's mind the Almighty loved him and the nation he served from a distance, using both as instruments for the realization of purposes higher than either could fully grasp.

Seen in this way, by an age that craves intimacy with God and isn't sure how to get it, Lincoln' religion seems unsatisfying. Still, we face a vast and baffling universe, and even the currents of economic life, let alone the larger forces of history, seem to have eluded our understanding and careened out of our control. Surely some part of us hopes God is not just with us, but far beyond us; that the Almighty has his own purposes, higher than ours. Love from a distance does not fill the void we all sense in our midst, but it offers its own satisfactions. Lincoln's melancholy may have come from the unfulfilled yearning for an intimacy that neither his father nor God, as he understood God, could offer. But his undoubted serenity surely derived from his conviction that human aspiration could not contain or control the Almighty.

The Rev. John Graham is rector of Grace, Georgetown in Washington, D. C. This article will appear in the March issue of the Washington Window.

The Presenting Issue 50 Years Ago

By John B. Chilton

Fifty years ago the consequences of the Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, were taking hold and racial tensions were high. This was certainly true in the State of Virginia. And the Diocese of Virginia. So, as is often the case with a divisive issue, the matter was referred to a commission. In January 1959 the Council of the Diocese of Virginia passed a resolution forming a Racial Study Commission charged with investigating racial problems within the Church. The commission had 30 members, equal numbers lay and clergy, three women, three blacks, a geographic balance, and with a representation of views from across the spectrum. Its report, The Race Problem and the Church, was submitted to Council the following year.

One section of the report seems especially germane to the presenting issue of today:

The Last Six Years

In 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that public schools could not be segregated on the basis of race. The effects of this decision in the State of Virginia and within the area of our Diocese are known to all. Certain of these effects on the life of our Church require mention here.

We are acutely aware that every position taken by Church members in the political, legal and social struggle revolving around the public school issue is reflected within the life of our Diocese. We have tried to consider frankly the resulting fears, accusations and points of view. We believe that there are deep problems within the life of our Diocese. Primary among these is the deterioration of communication, not only between the races but also within the white race, where friends have ceased to discuss racial matters with other friends whom they know to take an opposing point of view.

“Lack of communication” is a hackneyed phrase but no other seems to do so well. By it we mean that often there exists an unwillingness or reluctance or inability to discuss. Lack of communication may also involve the conscious or unconscious lack of knowledge of facts. It likewise may be due to fear of scorn, ridicule or bitterness. We feel that lack of communication is a serious hindrance to the solution of many of our present difficulties in regard to racial matters.

Frequently, actions of the Council are not adequately communicated to the laity throughout the Diocese. As an illustration, many lay people were unaware that all distinctions of race were removed from the Constitution and Canons by the Council in 1949. In addition there has been division between laity and clergy, accentuated by resolutions and letters to newspapers. There have been assertions that the “authorities of the Diocese” are trying to lead us toward integration. There have been pronouncements and actions by the National Council which disturbed Church members in Virginia. Fear has been expressed by some white people that an effort was under way to abolish Negro congregations, leaving only white congregations with which the Negroes might worship. There has been a deep-seated fear that bringing whites and Negroes together will eventually lead to intermarriage.

We have examined, studied and discussed each of these and many other problems which have been brought to our attention. We have sought to understand what the Negro wants, his humiliation, his hurts, and his struggles – as interpreted to us by the Negro members of this Commission. In the sections that follow we state a few of the conclusions that we have reached.

(The Race Problem and the Church, pp. 19-20)

As the Commission underscores elsewhere in its report, while its members formed genuine bonds of affection and respect, the Commission remained deeply divided – a division that existed in the Diocese as a whole. It made few recommendations, and fewer firm ones. Given its composition it would be surprising if it were otherwise,

One area in which it did take a position was Church camp and conference centers, and there it advocated a retreat, perhaps reflecting blowback from the 1954 public school desegregation order. Certainly, a majority of the Commission concluded that the Diocese’s Department of Christian Education had gotten out ahead of the Diocese. The result was a compromise that called for segregated and desegregated camps and conferences. Again, from the report:

Camps and Conferences

We have given thorough consideration to the development of the policy of racial desegregation at the Camps and Conferences conducted under the auspices of the Department of Christian Education in our Diocese. We find that there is wide disagreement on what is best for the total life of the Diocese in the matter.

While the authority for determining how the facilities at Shrine Mont and Roslyn may be used, rests in autonomous bodies, the Council does determine policy as to Diocesan Camps and Conferences. Therefore, we respectfully submit the following recommendation to the Council:

We have found with great sorrow that at this time there are deep differences among us about the desegregation of Diocesan Camps and Conferences. Some of us feel desegregation was a step forward, others that it was a step backward. Still others feel that the change was made in a way that evoked deep and serious misunderstandings that have injured the unity of the Diocese. In the solidarity of Christian brotherhood, therefore, and with real suffering on all sides, we recommend that both segregated and desegregated Camps and Conferences be provided at this time. We are aware of the difficulties of administration that such a policy presents, but we believe it can be done on an alternating basis if necessary. This recommendation is motivated by a genuine concern for all of the children of the Diocese.

(The Race Problem and the Church, pp. 26-27.)

Despite that recommendation, camps and conferences were not re-segregated. And, with the passage of time, racial concerns in the Diocese subsided. They have not entirely disappeared, and the work of racial reconciliation continues although with ebbs and flows.

This episode in the history of the Diocese of Virginia is an object lesson for the church. In the years that followed, external and internal forces have created new divisive issues in the church with which we are familiar: women’s ordination, prayer book revision, same-sex marriage, and gay bishops. Parallels are there to ponder. Fear. Mistrust of bishops or of the national church. The pain of dialog. The friendships that can result in spite of deep differences. And despite engagement and listening, the flawed compromises that can result.

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

The Daily Office: The perfect Lenten observance

By Derek Olsen

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a widely used psychological modeling tool. That is, it uses four sets of dichotomies to help a person make sense of who they are and how they relate to the world. I find it and the categories that it gives one of many helpful tools as I approach understanding myself and helping other people think through themselves and their spirituality.

The last of the Myers-Briggs dichotomies is “Lifestyle” and the official names for the two ends of the spectrum are “Judging” and “Perceiving”. Now, I don’t find these terms particularly helpful. I mean, how can anything labeled “judging” possibly give you a neutral sense about it? As I’ve experienced the test, as I’ve worked with people who taken it, as I’ve worked with people who use it professionally, this last index seems to measure organization, time and space management, and a general tolerance (or lack thereof) for spontaneity. So in my head, “J” stands for organized, regimented, controlled, and planned; “P” stands for spontaneous, free-form, disorganized.

Me—I’m a P. No, like—I’m seriously a P. But despite my natural tendencies and inherent inclinations, I keep getting called back time and again to a rather J spirituality. It even drew me into the Episcopal Church.

As an earnest first-year seminarian I discovered a group who met together before the start of classes who did a thing called “morning prayer.” It wasn’t long before I was hooked. I can’t say I was there every morning—but I managed to get there more often than not. The more I learned and explored, I discovered that this “morning prayer” thing was one bit of a whole cycle called the Daily Office. Learning about and seeking out modern forms of the Daily Office was one of the things that led me as a Lutheran to begin studying the Book of Common Prayer.

Now, I consider the Daily Office to be a pretty J kind of spirituality. It’s ordered. It’s regimented. It has a set structure. The structure changes in certain, set, predictable ways at the change of days, weeks, seasons, and years. Rather than being repelled by the J-ness of this way of prayer I fund it nourishing—grounding. Like the rhythm of the waves on the beach it afforded me with something constant, something that didn’t vary with nor depend upon my whims or fancies.

It’s been almost a decade and a half since I encountered the Daily Office, and it’s my spiritual home. It was one of the main factors that led me from the Lutherans to the Episcopalians. It’s one of the great treasures of our prayer book. And so it both astounds me and pains me to meet so many Episcopalians who have never encountered this way of praying, this way of being—or who think that it was something that we replaced with the coming of the ’79 prayer book and its move to making the Eucharist the normative Sunday morning service.

We’re right on the cusp of Lent here—and I’d like to offer a suggestion. If you’re looking for a discipline to help you take Lent seriously this year, I’d like to recommend the Daily Office—or at least a portion thereof.

Let me give you a quick orientation to what we’ve got here. The prayer book has two basic forms of the Daily Office, one in traditional language (Rite I) and one in contemporary language (Rite II). The traditional language one offers the two classical parts that have been in every Book of Common Prayer stretching back to 1549—a service of Morning Prayer (p. 37) and a service of Evening Prayer (p. 61). The contemporary language one is a bit more expansive. It has Morning Prayer (p. 75), a short Noonday Prayer (p. 103), Evening Prayer (p. 115), and Compline—a short prayer office for the close of the day (p. 127). There’s also another bit, Order of Worship in the Evening (p. 108) but it’s intended primarily to be done in church whereas the others are suitable for doing with family or by yourself.

Speaking of families—there’s also a section of really short self-contained versions of the Daily Office that are especially suitable for families called the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families (p. 136). These are one-page prayer sets for use at Morning (p. 137), Noon (p. 138), Early Evening (p. 139), and Close of Day (p. 140) and are short enough to hold even a toddler’s attention. I speak here from experience—this is what we use with our two girls.

Now—the major offices are the ones for Morning (p. 37 or 75) and Evening (p. 61 or 115). There are three other parts of the prayer book that you’ll need to make these work: the Psalms (p. 585), the Collects (p. 159 for Rite I; p. 211 for Rite II), and the Daily Office Lectionary (p. 934) which gives you three readings—one from the Old Testament, one from the New, and one from a gospel—that you can divide up as you choose.

I’ll warn you right now—there are some options, choices and decisions to be made as you learn to pray the Office. It can be tricky when you first start out. In order to help you out, let me recommend some trustworthy guides.

First, there are some great resources on the web that give you the Daily Office intact with no book juggling or page flipping required. The top two that use the current American Book of Common Prayer that I’m aware of are:

The Daily Office blog
Mission St. Clare

Second, if you think you’re not quite up to a full-on Office experience but think you’d like to dip your toe in, or if you’re looking for something that you can do with your kids, here’s a lightly Lent-ified version of the Morning and Early Evening prayer sets from the Daily Devotions section of the prayer book.

Third, if you think you’re ready to tackle the Offices out of your prayer book, then grab your prayer book, a Bible, and one of these handy guides. The first is a quick reference guide to the Rite II (contemporary) Office. It’s an anonymous composition that I found on the web a few years back—I don’t know who put it together, but it’s a great source for helping people learn the Office. In the spirit of that reference, I put together an introduction to the Rite I Office from an Anglo-Catholic perspective.

Fourth, talk to your priests! If nothing else, they learned about the Offices in seminary and if it makes them go back to the books and get a quick refresher, well, so much the better.
The Daily Office is a habit. It’s a discipline. Even if you’re not, well, disciplined. And that’s where its J and my P start tangling—and where yours might too. Some people I know fear the Office because they’re afraid they won’t get it right, that they won’t do it enough, that they’ll miss a time or two and then they just won’t measure up. I understand. I’ve been there—and it’s ok. A house with kids is nothing like a monastery. Four offices a day each and every day is a goal—not a starting place. Start with whatever makes sense for you. And if you slip up and miss a day (or even a week…) then it’s time to enact another Lenten discipline: repent, receive forgiveness, and give it another shot.

So if you’re looking for a holy habit this Lent, something spiritual, something classic, something Anglican, look no farther than the Daily Office. Try it for a season—relax in the ebb and flow of the psalms and canticles and give it a chance to speak to you the way it does me.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Ashes and wine

By Sam Candler

About 350 miles west of Morocco and about 550 miles southwest of Lisbon, there lies a verdant island, lush with greenery and life. Scientists now recognize the island as having been formed by an ancient volcanic explosion. The island was discovered in the year 1418 by one Captain Joao Zarco, sailing under orders from Prince Henry the Navigator. He found it virtually impenetrable, so thick was the forest and growth.

Because the forest was so dense, Captain Zarco named the island for the Portuguese word for "wood." That word is "madeira." Then, Captain Zarco set about clearing the land. It was hard work. Deciding that the only way to clear the entire island was to use fire, he and his men burned the whole island.

The island of Madeira burned for seven years. When the fire was out, the entire place was covered with a fine wood ash. That ash dissolved into the volcanic ground, combined with the clay and calcium already there, and an incredibly rich soil resulted, even more fertile than the previous soil. In fact, this became the same sort of soil which was conducive to fine wine.

So, people began to grow grapes in the soil! Thus was the beginning of a fine wine named Madeira. By 1495, it was being produced. It became, in Europe, the after-dinner drink of choice. George Washington is said to have drunk a pint a day. Thomas Jefferson toasted the Declaration of Independence with madeira.

Madeira -- a fine wine, born of burnt ashes in the soil.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians put ashes on our foreheads. In doing so, we are following one of the oldest of Christian customs. At one time, not everyone in the Christian congregation placed ashes on their head, but only those who were acknowledging and confessing egregious sins. They made public their confession with these ashes. But in the Middle Ages, it became the practice for every Christian to submit to the ashes. The season of Lent became a time of public penitence for the entire church.

Today, the ashes mean these things, but many more. The ashes are a reminder of our origin from the earth. “Remember,” we say, “that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are not the self-assured, comfortable, live-forever people that we try so often to look like. We are going to die, all of us; we know that. Ashes are a sign of that ultimate reality.

The ashes are also, of course, a sign of sin. We are tainted, stained, by our constant falsehoods and wrong actions. We are a people who know better, but who make wrong choices. It was not someone else who made us do it. It was not the fault of Satan. We were not possessed by demons. It was not the fault of our parents. It was not the fault of society. It was not our peer group or the culture around us.

It was us. We are responsible. We have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

But today, I propose another meaning for these ashes. Out of these ashes, these signs of our mortal nature, comes something else. Once we recognize our own responsibility for wrongdoing, once we acknowledge our mortal and dusty nature, the ashes also become a sign of fertility.

If we are truly repentant, and truly cleansed, and open to the reality of God around us, then we are also fertile, ready to give growth to greatness.

Out of seven years worth of ashes on the island of Madeira came one of the finest wines of that time. There is no way the wine could have been produced without the burning, without the ashes. In fact, it was the burning that cleared the ground in the first place.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are, likewise, the burning and clearing of our Christian lives. We enter a time for confession, for penitence, for realization of our earthly nature. But this is also a fertile day, a time for self-examination and self-preparation. Today is getting us ready for something.

Just as ground is prepared in the Spring for luscious growth, today the ground of our lives, the soil of our souls, is being prepared. Maybe through our confession and mortal acknowledgement, we are emptied, opened, made ready for something. We will mark our lives with ashes, but they are ashes of fertility and rich preparation.

In fact, we are preparing our souls for the presence of God. The dense forest of our complicated lives is too thick. It is time to burn it away and make ready the fields for new growth.

Our God awaits our openness, our fertile ground. God comes into our lives with forgiveness, with deep love – and with the smooth glory of a fine wine. Yes, Christians receive that wine, too, on Ash Wednesday. Christians walk to the altar twice. We receive both ashes and wine, the fine wine of Christ. We receive the sign of our mortal nature, but we also receive the sign of fertile and abundant life.

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

Overcoming the Corinthian temptation

By Greg Jones

"Conceited, stubborn, over-sensitive, argumentative, infantile, pushy." This is how bible scholar Jerome Murphy-O'Connor describes the Church in Corinth to which Paul wrote the two letters now in our bibles. They were a frustrating and exasperating people, who seemed to misunderstand Paul's teaching at every turn. Murphy-O'Connor writes that "virtually every statement he made took root in their minds in a slightly distorted form." Yikes.

Lucky for us that Paul faced this crowd. Because he had to teach, and teach, and teach them, now we have the benefit of First and Second Corinthians. The basic situation in Corinth was a mixed body of folks, divided by ethnicity, idea and practice. They were highly partisan, and apparently loved to dissent and divide.

Well, it sounds likes Christians everywhere, at least from time to time. It seems like Christians are always struggling with a "Corinthian" tendency toward division and disunity. To be sure, in our denomination, and global Anglicanism, we've seen lots of it in the past six years, and certainly will see more. It is worth remembering that the Church of England broke ties with Rome in the middle 16th century over questions of authority and power. Over the next couple of centuries - a host of groups left the Church of England, whether Presbyterian, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist and so forth. In the 19th century, a small group of evangelical Episcopalians broke away and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church. (They believed that 'Romanizing germs' had infected the Episcopal Church and it was corrupt beyond repair -- opposing things like altar candles, priestly robes, and high sacramental doctrine.) In the late 20th century, several groups split away from the Episcopal Church - first over integration, then over the new prayer book and women's ordination. And now, of course, we see the chasm forming between those who seek to include glbt people into the full life of the Church, inclusive of marriage equality and ordination, and those who do not.

I believe that there is a way forward that preserves a maximum of unity and diversity, with integrity. I think that the Church will always be reforming its understandings of how God wants us to be - but I believe it can be done in such a way as to comprehend both a faithful respect for what has been received, and a faithful openness to "new wine." As I understand Paul, what is required of Corinthians as well as Episcopalians is that we die to self, pick up the cross, and follow the Son of God. In my view, the community which does this, will also be able to maintain a glorious degree of both differentiation and unity within itself. Even when faced with questions which are very difficult to come to an accord about.

The way through the dilemma of Us vs. Them, and We're Right and They're Wrong is to remember the mark on our heads. For we who have been marked as Christ's own forever, are not permitted to ask any more, "How do I get what I want?' We instead get to ask, "How do We obey our Lord?" We instead get to ask, "How do we discern together what God wants, and how do we get there?"

Frankly, I'm afraid Episopalians simply do not remember that we are called to be a people submitted to each other as to Christ. I believe we very often identify ourselves in individualistic, then congregational, then diocesan terms, then General Convention terms; and then very little in terms of the wider Communion, let alone our ecumenical and interfaith partners.

As we approach General Convention, I simply pray that we be mindful of our primary identity as a people of God in Christ, called to submit to another as to Christ. I don't know what the way forward will look like - vis a vis the inclusion of glbt persons in matters of marriage equality or holy orders - or vis a vis the Anglican Communion and beyond. I would take great joy, however, if we could indeed find that forward route while maintaining the maximum degree of unity in the love of Christ. It would be so refreshing to pull off what so many are calling impossible. It would be so exciting to manage to get through this with the bonds of affection not only unbroken, but strengthened.

There, I said it.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

I am not my illness

By Ann Fontaine

I am not a measure of a central tendency, either mean or median, I am one single human being with mesothelioma, and I want the best assessment of my own chances—for I have personal decisions to make, and my business cannot be dictated by abstract averages. I need to place myself in the most probably region of the variation based upon particulars of my own case; I must not simply assume that my personal fate will correspond to some measure of central tendency.
Stephen Jay Gould, “The Median Isn’t the Message” Discover, June 1985

Many of our prayers in the Book of Common Prayer pray for “the sick.” The language of the prayer assumes that “the sick” are a category and not individual people who happen to have an illness. As Gould notes, his illness is particular to him and he is not a “mean” or “median” category.

In 1993, I was home for the year from seminary, as it was our son’s senior year in high school. I had planned to take that year off to be home for his last year before he left for college. In the spring of my middler year I had begun to feel out of shape and short of breath. I chalked it up to too much pizza and not enough exercise. I thought when I got home to Wyoming I would resume a healthier lifestyle and recover my energy. What happened when I got home is that I discovered I could not walk across a room without taking break. This seemed a bit more serious.

After many trips to many doctors and becoming somewhat of a laboratory experiment for them, it was decided that I had an autoimmune disease. My immune system had decided that it did not recognize my muscle tissue as part of me anymore. Part of the attack by my valiant protective immune response was to make the little muscles in lungs stop working due to the inflammation. (BOOP they call it). All during the process of discovery I would go from thinking, “oh this is terrible” (pneumonia, anemia, etc) to “oh, that would have been okay to have.”

The point at which I changed from interested person trying to discover what was going wrong to “sick person” was when I went into the hospital and they put a hospital gown on me. Once I donned the open backed skimpy gown, I began to self identify as “sick person.” I fell into a category with a variety of statistics piling up to affirm that identity. I continued in that hapless state of non-person as I returned home and continued treatments. Lying on my bed staring at the ceiling was my main activity. I could not really track even a cartoon on TV. Reading a book was too much. I could feel the prayers of my friends upholding me through this time. I had mystical experience of the sensation of showers of stars filling my body from their prayers. But I was still sick.

I returned to church several months later and they were offering the laying on of hands for healing. It was the standard BCP/BOS healing formulation. I asked them to pray for my healing. I did not get well from the disease but what I received was much more than I expected. I was healed of being a “sick person.” I regained my identity as an individual who had a specific disease. I was “me” again. Although I still had this illness, it was not my total self.

I think this is a part of what Gould is saying. We each have our own way of going through the events of our lives. We are not “the sick” or “the poor” or “the whatever.” We have our own set of people and circumstances that make whatever is happening to us different from every other person.

Now, when I pray and work for healing or relief for others, I try to remember this lesson. Yes, there are commonalities in our conditions, and some things are better approached as a category to help solve the presenting issue, but each person is “one single human being” who needs restoration to his or her sense of self to be fully healed.

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

Corporate sin and economic collapse

By Adrian Worsfold

Reinhold Niebuhr was of the view that sin was both individual and corporate, and that corporate sin was complex.

Like in the United States, in the United Kingdom we have had bankers come to the House of Commons and attempt to explain how they got what they got wrong so wrong.

They said sorry, and then seemed not to mean it. It was the banking equivalent of just following orders. Then there is the question of bonuses and whether these should be received for failure, regardless of contractual obligations: after all, if the state had not semi-nationalised the banks, there would be no contracts any longer, and certainly no bonuses.

Perhaps even these leading bankers were as much locked into the system as everyone below them. Yes they had more freedom to act, but they were acting systemically. This is the point about corporate sin: it puts its systemic tentacles around everyone.

The example we can use is the worker who is full of high ideals, whose employer demands they act for their pay a little dishonestly. Cogs in the machine are forced to act more sinfully than they would like. But the workers include high management. And we are not talking about the clearly fraudulent, like the ones that made off with millions.

It's why Reinhold Niebuhr regarded the gospels' Kingdom of God as a remote idealism, and he followed a pragmatic path (that is also an American tradition when contrasted with Europe, especially Germany and France). You end up tackling sin at the margin, and sometimes the dialectical nature of Niebuhr's theology, like that of Marx's political theory, ended up in dialectical clashes in the industrial arena. Even strikes and negotiations are about improvements at the margin.

In the last ten years we have had growth based on debt. Now we used to have inflation but this was squeezed out in the 1980s and 1990s, but we still had the same delusions. It was squeezed out because industrial production went east and to cheaper labour. We in the UK were in front of the USA in terms of a "post-industrial" economy. Thus we had cheap imports suppressing inflation.

The government here encouraged the building of the financial sector, about which deregulation and cheap money was key. But, actually, all it became was Iceland on Thames, an explosion of means to move silly money on credit to the West so that the goods could be bought from the Far East. The credit found its way into property prices, that gave a false view of assets and debt and a means to keep expanding money.

The economists say manufacturing isn't the be all and end all: it's all to do with anything value-added. But it must be so that the service sector - distribution and transport, and finance - adds value in the servicing of manufacturing, which clearly adds value to the resource extraction that happens in primary industries. Normally older economies solve the problem of migrating work by going up-value (up-market), but today technology and reverse engineering means even the cheapest economies can do low value and high value output.

Plus, the Chinese suppress their wages and currency, because it is a state directed and human rights deficient economy. Vast numbers into cities are employed in huge factories virtually sleeping on the job. A middle class is passing backhanders to state authorities for all the preferential treatments and, in some cases, joining those who make the laws. The Indian economy in contrast is expanding in a more organic and market responsive manner. The Chinese make and they save, and the West buys by borrowing their savings.

So what of the future? The over-developed finance system simply cannot go on, and it does mean that Western economies are going to have to learn to make things again. The equilibrium it leads will be more than the current depression, but will be less than an inflated fantasy economy.

Iceland may be an example here. It is a tiny place in population, but a wealthy place, and even when the banks went bust the people carried on doing what they did before. Their banks' immersion into a fantasy world of finance for sheer money making has crashed to nothing but rotten debt. Yet, perhaps adopting the euro, there is no reason for Iceland not to return to its former pre-greedy existence.

The same is true for all the bigger economies. The necessity is for the State to take a bigger role, and start with the real value added of essentials and fundamentals: education, health, social welfare for all, decent housing, movement, culture. Build an economy around these wants and these values. Build an economy, in other words, and a productive one, around human dignity.

Communism crashed in the late 1980s, and China has since developed a quite nasty form of state capitalism, which has led to capitalism crashing in the early twenty first century. Pure free trade and open money is not the way of the future, though international co-operation is, and also means towards governance over both productive and money facilitating international corporations.

We also need much more that is locally sourced, locally made and locally sold. This is to do with the quality of life.

It is impossible to remove corporate sin within capitalistic sin; indeed, to a large extent sin is the motor of the economy. But the economy works for us, not us for the economy, and it is time that those we elect got a grip and reined in all that the corporations think they can do.

Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr's social and economic theology's predecessor, thought the Bible's Kingdom of God could translate directly into the physical economy, and Niebuhr was right to say that such is not so thanks to embedded sin. Nevertheless, it is just possible to manage sin by democratic controls so that a little bit of human idealism can actually come into the productive and servicing sphere.

Exchanging money for goods in the market place is both a contract and a covenant (the covenant is the trust: "my word is my bond", the trust in currency, the trust in the economic operation overall); the State has to do its job regarding assisting the covenantal side of the economic operation, so that value added is real and not the fantasy of sinful greed that we have seen for too long.

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.

Brian McLaren: The Episcopal Moment

Here, in its entirety, is The Episcopal Moment, Brian McLaren's keynote presentation on faith-sharing and evangelism to the annual convention of the Diocese of Washington on Saturday, Janaury 31, 2009. If you have any interest in helping our Church find a way forward in its effort to improve its evangelism, please make the time to watch. (Streaming video in Windows Media Player. We are working on something more Mac friendly.)

The Gospel according to Dopamine

By Phyllis Strupp

Some time ago, a wealthy businessman made one of his rare appearances at church on a November Sunday and was treated to an especially heavy-handed stewardship sermon. It sounded something like this: You need to have LESS MONEY so we can have MORE MONEY. The negative energy rising up from the pews was palpable.

At coffee hour, he made a beeline for me. “Phyllis, I want to ask you something. Over the years I have heard repeatedly at church how bad money is. If money is so bad, why is it that every time I come to church they are trying to get some of mine?”

Well, the businessman asks a good question that many church leaders have not answered with clarity if at all.

The current global economic crisis offers a rich opportunity for clergy and lay leaders to offer up some inspired money talk in the church. Too often, Jesus’ teachings on wealth are ignored and it’s easy to see why. They are contrary to human nature.

When it comes to money, evolution has produced in our species a very strong gas pedal called “emotions” and a very weak brake pedal called “rationality.” Scientific findings indicate that the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, has been evolving in mammals for 225 million years.

Through the ebbs and flows of the neurotransmitter dopamine, our emotions motivate us to seek tangible rewards for ourselves and our families. Dopamine should guide us, but it often ends up controlling us. Logic and rationality hardly stand a chance in overcoming emotionally driven money habits mediated by dopamine.

Besides, the gospel according to dopamine’s teachings are so much easier to understand and live by than Jesus’ teachings.

For example, the golden rule of the dopamine gospel is “He who has the gold makes the rules,” whereas the golden rule according to Jesus is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You see what I mean, right? Speaking of right, dopamine says “Might makes right” and Jesus says “The truth shall set you free.”

The gospel according to dopamine encourages us to use money to enhance our status and control over people and decisions. That’s the allure of wealth: power. Any chimpanzee in the jungle could teach you that.

When we live by dopamine’s teachings, the richest people call the shots. Profits receive more attention than prophets. Sunday bible readings about the hazards of wealth are quietly ignored in practice, especially by the clergy. Stewardship season is a nagging, whining ritual, awkward and uncomfortable. Tithing is pitched as a solemn duty to God to wrench the cash out of tightly clasped hands.

Today, people are looking for a new set of values around money. The gospel of dopamine has led them astray to disappointment and despair. The time has come to take another look at the Gospel and find a way to make Jesus’ teachings manifest in us.

First, for those who are hoping to have both spiritual wealth and a large net worth, this is the most important line in the Gospel:

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
—Luke 12:21

In this passage, Jesus points out that it’s OK to have money—if it helps you grow rich toward God.

So how do you grow rich toward God?

It’s easy—just remember the color green.

Green is the color of money and the color of life. God is the author of life. Money isn’t for picking fights and wielding power over others—money is for affirming the life that God has created in you, other people and all the living species that share the Earth.

Secondly, the gospel of dopamine says you can’t take wealth with you. However, Jesus teaches us that there is such a thing as permanent wealth:

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
—Luke 16:9

You have the power to help or harm people through your use of money. Turn worldly wealth into the permanent wealth of kindness and friendship—and then you can take it with you!

So next time I see the wealthy businessman, I’ll tell him that money isn’t bad when it is used to affirm life, show kindness, and make friends.

Kindness is associated with a different neurotransmitter called serotonin. If serotonin outweighed dopamine in parish life, maybe our spiritually hungry friends and neighbors would be more interested in worshipping with us.

Why spend your money on what is not bread,
And your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
And your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
—Isaiah 55:2

Phyllis Strupp is a brain fitness coach, author, recovering MBA, and Chair of the Nature and Spirituality Program for the Diocese of Arizona.

The agonizing issue of reparations

This President's Day essay will appear on Monday and Tuesday..

By Deirdre Good

This morning, through the falling snow, Reuben the dog and I trudged up 10th Avenue. People were shoveling the white stuff or going to work. We saw a young woman of color trying in vain to hail a taxi. Several passed right by her with their vacant signs alight. She waved her arm again. One of them rushed past her only to swerve to the opposite side of the street in the next block to pick up a parent and child outside a school. I witnessed this racist behavior and tried in vain to wave the next one down. I don't know if she got to where she was going this morning. I do know that this kind of thing happens all the time.

Isn't seeing injustice the first thing we need to do?

Marco William's 2007 movie Banished (shown on PBS last February) is an unforgettable exploration of three (out of 13 so far) known incidences where blacks have been violently and aggressively run off their land or out of town between 1890-1915 in Forsyth County, Georgia, Pierce City, Missouri and Harrison, Arkansas. In each case current residents probably know this shameful history but the present community deals with it in varying degrees of avoidance and denial, much of which was captured on film in conversations between Williams and a member of the KKK or a person who deliberately chose to retire to a community he knew had no blacks. Well-intentioned groups in local communities attempted to come to terms with this shocking history in baby steps by identifying the presence of the KKK as the problem. An outside discussion leader confronted them: "The KKK is comfortable here." White supremacist groups do not operate openly and above ground in communities where they know they are not welcome.

And after we witness these events, we are challenged with the question of reparations. Should black families whose ancestors suffered horribly be given land or money, grave markers and plaques or at least a public acknowledgment and apology at the cost of the descendants of the white families who abused them? What about removing statutes of limitations from legal cases filing claims to lost land?

This is particularly pertinent in the case of the Tulsa riots in 1921. On the evening of May 31, 1921, a mob gathered at the Tulsa, Oklahoma Courthouse threatening to lynch a young black shoeshine boy accused of attacking a young white girl who worked as an elevator operator. When blacks appeared to stop the lynching, a riot erupted. The Tulsa police chief deputized several hundred white men from the mob. Beginning the next morning, white mobs invaded the black section of Tulsa, Greenwood, and left it in ruins. By noon, more than one thousand homes had been burned to the ground and thousands were left homeless. Eyewitness accounts tell of the terror of traumatized children in the riots and desperate efforts of adults who died trying to protect their homes in Greenwood.

In 2001, the Tulsa Reparations Coalition recommended:

1. Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot.
2. Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot.
3. A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa Race Riot.
4. Establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of the Greenwood District.
5. A memorial inclusive of the reburial of any human remains found in the search for unmarked graves of riot victims.
But the Supreme Court dismissed in 2005 reparations to survivors and descendants of those affected by the riots.

Today sees the publication of the "Consultative Report on the Past" dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland co-chaired by Dennis Bradley and Lord Robin Eames, retired Primate of the Church of Ireland. Lord Eames' opening statement recognizes that many people told the Commission that no one acknowledged their losses during the troubles of the past 40 (or even 400) years. Victims, victims' groups, widows and survivors wanted the assurance that their grief would be recognized. They want their deep hurts to be noted by people in power.

The Consultative Group makes 31 recommendations, amongst which is the creation of a Legacy Commission for five years as an alternative to the justice system or to a public inquiry. This Commission would continue the work of bringing cases to prosecution when there is a realistic possibility of this. It would provide answers about the death of loved ones. Perhaps the most controversial recommendation is the acknowledgment payment of 12,000 pounds for each victim to the nearest relative. The Consultative Group maintains that this does not represent the value of a life but rather the recognition of loss and pain. Also recommended is an annual Day of Reflection and Reconciliation supported by the government and the private and voluntary sectors, including the churches.

The work of reparations does not stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma or in Northern Ireland. When we bring our troops home out of Iraq and Afghanistan, what process of reparations will we engage? How seriously will we take the loss of all lives in this war? Will we acknowledge the mistakes of our past so that they can never happen again? Will we recognize a moral imperative to create better relationships with those of different religions and societies? Will we for the first time see those we have never looked at and hear those we have never listened to, despite the hard work involved? Do we have that kind of moral courage? Will people in power ever take steps to make reparation if the rest of us do not lead the way?

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. An American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.

Seasons out of synch

By Luiz Coelho

Many of you might be enjoying this cold day, drinking a cup of hot tea, and resting at home with the heat on and the fireplace burning. Snow might be falling outside, and surely Christmastide and this Epiphanytide have been cold as well. Easter, on the contrary, will signalize the beginning of warmer times, and the blossoming of flowers and new life coming. Fields that are covered with snow right now will be full of joy to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. And next year, the same cycle will start over again.

However, I have lived most of my life in the Southern Hemisphere, and holidays and seasons have been very different to me. Christmas, to us, is at the beginning of Summer, and in some places is followed by temperatures that are close to 100 F degrees. Easter, on the contrary, marks the beginning of Fall, and therefore is always followed by the retraction of nature as it prepares itself to the upcoming winter. On the other side of the planet, and to a large number of believers, none of the environmental metaphors associated with Christian holidays match.

And yet, those feasts mean to us as much as they mean to those who live in Northern lands, to a point that new habits were created to situate them in time and space. To me, for example, it is very awkward to think about Christmas without the warm weather, open windows and outdoor parties. Epiphany is never the same without processions and the reenactment of Kings' parties under the hot sun. And Easter always presupposes the coming of Fall, and its gentle weather after months of a torrid Summer.

Nevertheless, we were impacted both by cultural aspects brought by immigrants (mostly from Europe) and also by recent globalization. So, even though sometimes our Christmas carols were deliberately changed to substitute elements such as "snow" by "bells" and other more neutral words, we still deal in a supposedly contradictory yet surprisingly harmonic way with Christmas trees covered by fake snow, Santa Claus, exuberant Easter flower arrangements and other elements that could easily be misunderstood as cultural imperialism in these times of political correctness. Yet, they are cherished by us and have their special place in this symbolic world that do not necessarily need to make any sense.

An English friend, now a missionary in Rio de Janeiro, was impressed by how all those elements that seem so contradictory actually work together. It was still weird to him to spend Christmas without the cold weather and specificities of his own cultural and religious traditions, even though he was surrounded by references to them, adapted to a tropical summer. "It's all about the Incarnation" - he finally settled. Surely it is, and I would expand that idea even more... It is all about a God whose mysteries are so greater than any references to space and time that, regardless of where we are, or who we are, His message will be always fresh and anew.

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."

Say goodbye to Christian kitsch

By Jean Fitzpatrick

"Say goodbye to the 'consumer society,'" writes the blogger James Howard Kunstler. "We're done with that. No more fast money and no more credit. The next stop is 'yard-sale nation,' in which all the plastic crapola accumulated over the past fifty years is sorted out for residual value and, if still working, sold for a fraction of its original sticker price. This includes everything from Humvees to Hello Kitty charm bracelets."

Speaking of crapola, nobody does it quite like Christians. It's amazing how much Christian kitsch you can find all over the Net: the With Him All Things Are Possible plastic travel mugs, the tubs of chocolate peanut clusters and peppermint patties with Bible verses printed on the wrappers, the Names of Jesus bookends made of resin "with an Old World Stone Appearance."

This explosion of religious tschochkes says a lot about the kind of faith that's spread across this country in recent years. God's turned into a mascot for the home team to cling to, a promiser of goodies to those who hold up John 3:16 signs at ballgames. It's as though faith itself has become a consumer item, swallowed whole and more soothing than a tryptophan-loaded bedtime snack. Milk, not solid food. Maybe it's easy to think of God this way when material blessings are abundant. But as the layoffs mount up, I'm thinking that faiths that present God as an easy answer are going to be in trouble, as people recognize that they've been getting nothing but, well, crapola.

Over the past eight years I've been feeling like a broken record, telling my secular friends that for many religious people, faith isn't simplistic or junky. Unlike Christian crapola, great religious art and literature through the centuries -- from the cave paintings to Chartres to the Sistine Chapel -- has opened our eyes to possibilities greater than ourselves, and portrayed our human struggles as a journey. To immerse ourselves in a life of faith is to be in the daily business of embracing challenge, looking pain and injustice in the face, recognizing that religion raises at least as many questions as it answers. "This book will make a traveler of thee," wrote Bunyan in his "Author's Apology" to The Pilgrim's Progress.

And now, at long last we're hearing reflections about that complex kind of faith from the White House. "I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others," President Obama said in one interview. "....I think that religion at its best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding."

Amen. We’re trading a dogmatic president for one who’s shopping for a dog, as Maureen Dowd recently observed, and it feels good. Today more than ever, making sense of the world demands all the heart and mind we can muster, because life is richer and God is greater than we finite beings can begin to imagine.

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

A ministry at the bedside

By Marshall Scott

He stopped me because he saw my clerical collar: "You're the chaplain here, aren’t you?" I nodded and introduced myself. "Do you get to help a lot of people?" Once again I nodded; but I knew that wasn’t where this was going to end. "But, do you get to lead a lot of people to Christ?"

That, of course, was the question he'd had from the beginning. He wanted to know whether – hoped it was the case that – I was meeting my patients in their moment of crisis and anxiety, and helping them to understand that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ would meet their needs, assure their spiritual safety, and resolve their fear. He was certain of what God would want, would want me to do, for the sick and suffering – even though Jesus never asked it of those he healed.

This was one of those moments when I was most aware of Jesus’ instruction not to plan what I would say, but to allow the Holy Spirit to speak. This time I said, "Sometimes I get to talk about Christ; but I think it’s important that they see Christ in me first."

He walked away, his smile fixed and noncommittal. That wasn’t the answer he'd wanted. It wasn't something he could really argue with, but it wasn't what he wanted.

I have that conversation from time to time. There are those who are just certain that the bedside of the ailing and frightened patient is the place to introduce the saving love of Jesus. After all, what better time to secure one's place in the afterlife than the moment one stares it in the face?

That's not a new thought, and for more than one reason. I have certainly done my share of emergency baptisms (usually but not always of infants), providing comfort to families in crisis. And then there’s the legend that Constantine himself postponed his baptism till his deathbed, taking seriously the thought that baptism should lead to amendment of life, amendment that he might not have managed perfectly (or might not have wanted to manage in the first place).

Still, these conversations make me sad. In the first place, they imply something I don't want to affirm: that somehow God can't accept a person who's not baptized. I appreciate that there are some who do want to affirm just that; but, to use the Biblical language, I can't believe that somehow "God’s hand is shortened." I appreciate what God wants of us. I just can't believe God's ultimate love and saving grace are somehow dependent on our success.

In the second, evangelizing at the bedside runs counter to the ethics of my profession. I am Board Certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). The Common Code of Ethics for Chaplains, Pastoral Counselors, Pastoral Educators and Students, adopted by APC and a number of other pastoral care organizations, includes these injunctions:

"Spiritual Care Professionals understand clients to be any counselees, patients, family members, students or staff to whom they provide spiritual care. In relationships with clients, Spiritual Care Professionals uphold the following standards of professional ethics. Spiritual Care Professionals:

1.1 Speak and act in ways that honor the dignity and value of every individual.

1.2 Provide care that is intended to promote the best interest of the client and to foster strength, integrity and healing.

1.3 Demonstrate respect for the cultural and religious values of those they serve and refrain from imposing their own values and beliefs on those served.

1.4 Are mindful of the imbalance of power in the professional/client relationship and refrain from exploitation of that imbalance.

1.8 Refrain from any form of harassment, coercion, intimidation or otherwise abusive words or actions in relationships with clients."

In light of these commitments, I couldn’t as a professional evangelize at the bedside.

As an Episcopal priest, I look at these commitments and appreciate just how similar they are to portions of the Baptismal Covenant. I am committed, and frequently recommitted, to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self," and to "respect the dignity of every human being." When I put myself in the hospital bed (and I have been there), I would hardly feel loved or respected by someone seeking to impose a new spiritual tradition or technology, however strong their conviction that God would want it for me.

Now, I appreciate that the Baptismal Covenant also includes commitments to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship," and to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ." At the same time, in light of some sort of "last chance for salvation" attitude, proclamation by word can indeed become abusive and coercive. We have heard much lately about how coerced confessions fail, because the coerced prisoner will say what the torturer wants to hear, whether it's accurate or not. We have a much longer history of discovering that coerced conversions don't change hearts (sadly, forced baptisms go back at least to Carolingian times).

No, instead I find myself appreciating the opportunity to proclaim by example the accepting love of Christ that the apostles taught. To do my best to love the person before me, just as the person is, seems to me the best proclamation I can offer of what Christ wants for the person, and of what Christ wants of me as a Christian.

It would, of course, also be bad clinical practice. That is, for the patient in crisis, the most dependable resources for spiritual and emotional support are those the patient knows and trusts best. If I want to help the patient rally the spiritual and emotional strength that will support physical healing and comfort, I do best to help the patient appreciate or rediscover what he or she already knows.

But first and foremost, to do otherwise, to seek to impose some Christian content and coerce some Christian behavioral response, is to deny and preempt God. We trust, after all, that the Holy Spirit is constantly working in the world, calling all to God’s purposes, including those who don’t know it. We trust that God can work in frail creatures, frail people – indeed, it is central to our theology of sacraments. In that crisis, at that bedside, I am called to discern, and as best I can affirm, what God is already doing in and around and through this person, not to somehow take control myself. That would indeed be pride of place, expressed in abuse of power; and it would evil, which in the Baptismal Covenant I am called to resist.

As I said, my conversation did not satisfy my questioner. Nor would all this reflection have made any difference. As a wise mentor once told me, sometime you just can't get your point heard. And so we parted: he out of the hospital and I back into it. I hope he prayed for me as I prayed for him. And in the meantime, I continue to pray for the many that I cannot pray with, hoping that they experience in my work some poor reflection of the love of God that someday – perhaps someday soon – they will experience face to face, in ways beyond my imagining.

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

The sacred calling

A sermon preached at the annual convention of the Diocese of Washington

By Trevor Mwamba

Dear friends, I would like to convey on behalf of the Diocese of Botswana, our heartfelt greetings and God’s blessings on you all in the Diocese of Washington. We especially join you in praying for the success of this Diocesan Convention.

Botswana is in the southern part of Africa and is renowned for its working democracy and economic prosperity. But I think that for many of you Botswana is famous for Mma Ramotswe, the heroine of the bestselling series of books: The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith.

Mma Ramotswe, you will be delighted to hear is a very devout Episcopalian! In the book, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, in which I appear, Mma Ramotswe comes to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana when I am preaching. But, Mma Ramotswe is not concentrating on the sermon as her mind is wandering on how to solve a case involving a pumpkin. She stops herself and thinks, “This is not the way to listen to Trevor Mwamba!”

Well, being in the “Company of Cheerful Episcopalians”, I hope your minds will be clear of pumpkins!

Tonight I have much to be grateful for.

There is a lovely story set in the African forest which reflects gratitude, well. A missionary came across a big lion. Trembling with fear the missionary got on his knees and prayed fervently for dear life. Opening one eye he noticed that the big lion had also gotten on its knees and paws together was also fervently praying. The missionary truly heartened by this sight opened the other eye and said, “I see my brother we are of the same faith.” The lion replied, “I don’t know about you but I am just saying grace!” For what I am about to receive, O’ Lord, I am truly thankful.

Tonight, I am grateful to God for the honour of preaching in what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 40 years ago described as, “this very great and significant pulpit.” For making it happen I express my deep personal thanks to my dear friend Bishop John Chane for his gracious invitation to me to preach at this Diocesan Convention.

Bishop John is a man of integrity and highly respected in the Anglican Communion. Indeed, my respect for him increased by a hundred percentage points two years ago in El Scoria, Spain, when over dinner he told me he had been a drummer in a rock and roll band. I am also grateful to Dean Sam Lloyd and the Cathedral Chapter for the opportunity of worshipping with you all in this great Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. I stumbled across an interesting fact about the National Cathedral in an episode of The West Wing, entitled “Two Cathedrals”. It is that you can lay the Washington Monument on its side in this Cathedral. Just imagine. Another point worth saying is that, Aaron Sorkin, who was the writer and executive producer of The West Wing, described this Cathedral as the “Yankee Stadium of all Cathedrals.”

Now, in this holy place, the “Yankee Stadium of all Cathedrals,” we gather to begin the Diocesan Convention by celebrating the Holy Eucharist which is the ultimate Act of Thanksgiving. The word Eucharist is derived from the Greek, Eucharistos’ which means to give thanks. In the Eucharist we give thanks for God’s saving grace profoundly revealed in the gift of Christ. In the Eucharist we give thanks for our calling to share in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation in the world.

It’s in the spirit of thanksgiving that we become aware and humble to see that everything in life is a gift from God. We cannot take anything for granted, people, friends, family, places, happenings, this moment.

Tonight, in the Eucharist we especially give thanks for this Diocesan Convention. In the context of the Eucharist may I impress on you the theme of this Diocesan Convention: That we may be one: Making Disciples.

To summarise the theme for those of you who might doze off! Here it is in two sentences. That we may be one is intrinsic in God in whom we exist. It is to know God and reveal Him to others in a living relationship that we are called.

Let me unpack this for you in two stages by first focusing on the first leg of the theme: that we may be one. We tumble over our oneness because we don’t take God seriously and each other. Six years ago, Bishops declared war on each other over the homosexuality issue. It was breaking news for the media who simplistically, to sell papers, created two bitter opponents, the conservatives compromised of African bishops in one corner and weighing quite a lot! And liberals comprised of Western bishops in the other and weighing the same as the Africans. The war was nasty. Totally dismayed, three years ago, I wrote an article in the Church Times published in London, entitled, "Consider the Communion’s Calling," which was
a plea for mutual tolerance among Anglicans worldwide. We are all children of God and need to be reminded of the generosity of God, humility, respect, and love for one another.

It was gentle reminder of the gift of oneness we share whether we like it or not, and how: we must all learn to live together. I quoted the wise words of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, who in 1981 in a foreword to a book entitled, Grow or Die, wrote

“…no single form of Christian experience, conviction or organisation is going to prevail over others. Conservative and radical, contemplative and activist, pietist and social reformer, all must learn to live together. They may and should see much to criticize in their own and others’ position. The critical faculty must not be lost. Reverence for truth must still be paramount. But all must learn to live together, for in religion, as in all else, the same things do not appeal to everybody.”

Mahatma Gandhi suggested that one of the greatest challenges of our day is finding unity amongst diversity. Unity implies oneness. But oneness does not necessarily imply sameness. In other words, we may all be different, unique individuals but through unity of purpose we can team together to accomplish great things – things of love where the whole is greater than the sums of its parts.

This is the heartbeat of the Eucharist: the mercy and extravagant generosity of God is greater than the sums of its parts. God is the whole and the parts, you and I, find a place at the table of love. All are welcome: black and white, male and female, poor and rich, straight and gay, clever and dumb, Peter Akinola and Gene Robinson. No one is left out.

Each of us is a reflection of God who calls us into existence. We are all hewed from the same Rock of Ages. Or to paraphrase John Donne’s insightful words: “No person is an island entire of itself. Every person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

John O’Donohue picks the thread up in his magical book, Eternal Echoes, when he talks of God as the “Divine Artist” who is born in each of us revealing a different dimension of His divinity. It is not all the same. God has no spare wheels in life. We all have a special role in the world to which we are called. Each of us has our own work, gifts, difficulties and commitments to deal with. God expects us then to live out our unique gifts in order to bring forth an aspect of God that is only contained in our life. If you don’t live out your talent then that aspect of God cannot be known in you. And you cannot awaken new blessings in your life and the world. You will be poorer and the world too.

Amazingly, last summer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams, in his Retreat addresses to the bishops at the Lambeth Conference, touched on this. Quoting Galatians 1:16, where Paul speaks of God “…who set me apart from birth, called me by his grace, and was pleased to reveal his Son in me.” The Archbishop reminded us that, “Everything starts here because every calling… every vocation in the Church of God… is a calling to be a place where God’s Son is revealed. And that is because there is more to be revealed of the Son of God than any one life, or any one book, or any one church can reveal… Each one of us is a place in which the Son of God is revealed.”

That we may be one points us to be a place where Christ is revealed. How is Christ revealed? I discovered this snuggled in a cute book entitled Mister God this is Anna. The book is about an extraordinary child and her relationship with God, whom she called Mister God.

With that perceptive gift that children have of getting at the heart of things, she describes God this way, “Peple in Cherch are misrable because peple sin misrable songs and say misrable prers and people make Mister God a very big bully and he is not a big bully, because he is funny and loving and kind and strong.”

That is a good picture. Our oneness is that we become the place where people can see in us someone who is not a bully, because we are funny and loving and kind and strong. Like God. We don’t take ourselves seriously because we focus on the negative picture of the mess that we are.

How are we a messed up? Let me quote Mother Mary Clare of the Sisters of the Love of God, in Judy Hirst’s book, Struggling to be Holy. Mother Mary Clare says, “When you go before God in prayer you cannot leave anything behind. You carry in your heart every person, every incident, every thought, every feeling you have ever had and as you lay yourself before God so you bring all the mess as well. My prayer,” she said, “is really one sentence: Here I am what a mess”.

The Eucharist deals with mess and transforms it. The symbols of bread and wine are transformed elements having passed through a messy process. The bread is made from grains of wheat, sifted, ground, baked, to finally produce one bread. Likewise lots of grapes are pressed together in one vessel, and wine made. These are then consecrated and become places where the Son of God is revealed.

Imagine each grain of wheat as a life of person. Imagine each grape as a life of person. Imagine the sifting, grounding, baking, pressing, as the experiences and adversities we pass through in life. This messes up people. But in the Eucharist we drag our messed up lives and lay ourselves before God and we are transformed. Here we are what a mess. Here is the Anglican Communion what a mess. Here is our world what a mess. But God who is not a big bully, but funny and loving and kind and strong in His infinite mercy and generosity welcomes us and in our mess we are transformed in Christ. We are made new.

Ask not how? “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, My ways,” says the Lord.

That’s true. It is also true that as St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians says: that if a person be in Christ, they are a “new creature” old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

In the Eucharist we are spiritually joined, first to Christ, and then with each other. Though we are many we are one body for we all partake of the one bread. In our oneness we proclaim together one faith, one baptism, one Holy Spirit, and bond of love. The first leg of oneness reveals then our identity in God. God is one and we must express the oneness we hold in common by being the place where we reveal God by living out love.

This brings us to the last leg of our theme: making disciples. The Eucharist is holistic it concludes with us being sent out into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to live and work to the praise and glory of God. It send’s us out to deal with the mess of the world. God is at work in the political, economic, social, scientific, technological, and cultural world out there. We need to recognise this. The God of righteousness, peace and Justice does not doze off after the blessing. The Spirit of the Lord is always at work engaging the world and bringing about change to make it a better place for all.

In 1960, during his tour of British colonies in Africa the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan gave an historic speech in South Africa which became famously known as the, Wind of Change, speech. He said in effect, “The wind of change is blowing through this continent and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact…”

Three year years earlier, in 1957 Ghana had become the first African British colony to gain independence led by a charismatic leader named Kwame Khrumah, like President Obama, he was 47 years old. It marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire. Lots of foreign Statesmen attended the Independence celebrations.

The most enthusiastic guest was Richard Nixon, then the United States Vice President. From the moment he touched down in Accra, Ghana, he rushed about shaking hands, hugging paramount Chiefs, playing with black babies and posing for photographs. Once surrounded by a crowd of Ghanaians at an official ceremony, he slapped one man on the shoulder and asked him how it felt to be free. “I wouldn’t know, sir,” replied the man, “I’m from Alabama!”

God was at work in Africa and the world. The wind of change was blowing.

In America, God was also at work in the civil rights movement as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated in his I’ve been to Mountaintop, speech. “…I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world.”

Yes. God was at work. The wind of change was blowing.

And God continues to work in America with the recent historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, as the first black President of America. In this changing and uncertain times faced with the global financial crisis and it’s still unfolding negative impact. In the face of global poverty, climate change, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and all that robs people of their human dignity. God is at work. The wind of change is blowing.

Tonight, the Diocese of Washington, in oneness with God, is called to be that wind of change blowing through America that makes life better for all. Whether we like it or not, God’s purposes come to pass. It is as we address the suffering of God’s children wherever they may be that we realize our oneness with each other and become the place where God is revealed and disciples made.

The Rt. Rev. Trevor Musonda Mwamba is Bishop of Botswana

How the Church can help laid-off workers--like me

By Derek Olsen

The January unemployment numbers are out and things don’t look good. In January alone the American economy lost 598,000 jobs. The official unemployment number is 7.6% but that’s an artificially low figure; it doesn’t include those unemployed for over a year or contractors who have no work once a corporation has canceled their project. Some look at this figure and see a crisis needing swift and solid government intervention. Others see it as a system reaping the fruits of failed fiscal policy. Me, I look at it and I see—competition.

I already got the call.

While I may pontificate on things historical, liturgical, and obscure, none of that pays the bills; I’m an IT consultant who, until recently, had a secure long term contract. With a bank. I’m sure you can see the problem here…

I consider myself quite fortunate. My boss called me a week or so ago and broke the news that due to the economy and conditions at the bank my contract would end on the final day of February. In truth, I had been expecting to hear this news ever since the company announced major staff reductions at the end of last year but, as time had passed and I heard nothing, I crossed my fingers and prayed that I was safe. I’m thankful that the call gives me a little time, at least a few weeks, to cast about and find something else.

I’m not alone, of course. A lot of Americans are finding themselves in this predicament and our numbers seem to be growing daily. The toppling edifices of Wall Street are crushing Main Street, where we live, work—and worship. In fact, this financial crisis is not just coming into our homes, it’s already in our churches through me and the thousands others like me. Its times like these that the church needs to step up and remember exactly what it is called to be: a nurturing community intent on proclaiming the Good News. Not economic news, not even social news, but the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus that transcends economic info—that God loves me, Jesus cares for me whether I’m employed or not, and that the Body of Christ cares too.

To get some thinking start on what churches can or could do, I’d like to address the two topics that are foremost on my mind:

1. Recognize that I’m freaking out! And that it’s both ok and normal…

Now let me say while IT work is my current occupation, it’s not my vocation. I don’t feel that God is calling me to be an IT guy for the rest of my life. In my eyes this lessens the lay-off blow a bit in that I don’t feel that my personhood has been assaulted in the same way as if my self-identity were deeply connected to my job. Nevertheless—this is a big hit for us. The past few months have been the first time in our almost ten year marriage when both my wife and I had jobs due to schooling, children, and a variety of unpleasant circumstances. We were finally shifting out of grad student mode and were looking forward to enjoying things that our peers have been savoring for years. Now that may have been cut out from under us—again.

I’m going through a grief process. Most clergy and many informed laypeople are familiar with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. Let me remind you that these don’t just apply to death! Job loss can take you through these stages as well: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Me—I’m still swinging through them all… And that’s both normal and necessary. You need to realize that too. Don’t tell me to “buck up” or that “tomorrow will be a new day.” I can think of clichés as easily as you can—and do you think your platitude will put food on my table? Just let me know that you care and that you’re there “if” I want to talk. That doesn’t mean bringing up my job search every time you see me, it just means giving me space to talk or not talk about it, giving me space to freak out my way…

Whatever you do, do not even contemplate using the words “God” and “plan” in the same sentence. As in—“Well, things may look bad now but remember that this is all part of God’s plan for you…” It doesn’t make me feel any better—and it’s bad theology. God is not a puppeteer pulling strings to screw things up so I learn “life-lessons.” A worldwide recession and the concomitant human sufferings that it causes (far worse than mine) is not God’s idea or plan. Can God make good things come out of it? Most definitely. Can I learn valuable lessons from this experience if and when I keep my eyes focused on God? Oh yeah. God can bring resurrection out of the bleakest situations—that’s the message of the cross and empty tomb. But that doesn’t mean God causes or plans these things. I have great faith in human freedom and therefore human sin—both individual and collective—to really screw things up. Thankfully I have an equally great faith in God to bring resurrection to flower in the midst of it.

2. Have some basic resources in place to give me a hand

The church is not first and foremost a social services agency, but that is one of its peripheral functions. The first way that the church can help—short of handouts or help with rent—is simply to identify community resources. Prepare a one or two page handout that identifies local government assistance programs, social service agencies, and other area programs that could help me out. You’d be amazed how helpful a contact sheet with phone numbers, contacts, and websites could be—yet so few churches actually have something like this on hand for the clergy and staff to hand out to those who need it. Get on this one!

A church I visited recently was promoting a support group meeting for people looking for work. I thought that was a great idea. Too—it shouldn’t just be for those looking… If anyone in the community is hiring, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t look for qualified individuals in the congregation first. Having a résumé book on hand for those who would like to participate in it would seem to go right along with a support group.

Like I said, I’ll fight hard against the notion that God plans or causes situations like these and yet an environment like this one is an opportunity for the church. We’ve been accused over the years by our communities of being too self-centered, too distant, too otherworldly—sometimes justly, sometimes not. However this gives us an opportunity to go beyond bickering and rhetoric. This is an opportunity for us to get down to the work of both proclaiming and enacting the Good News in tangible, visible ways in communities that need us now and—I believe—will continue to need us for quite a while to come. You got a chance and a choice—go ahead and do it: be the Body of Christ for me. Be it for those like me. And in the process you’ll be it for yourselves as well.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Rendering unto God and Caesar at the wedding altar

By Jacob Slichter

In the spring of 2007, as the date of our wedding approached, my then fiancé, Suzanne, and I discussed the political dimensions of marriage. Specifically, we spoke of how two close friends, Joe and Priscilla, had forgone legal marriage altogether because of their objections to the discrimination enacted by marriage laws, bans on same-sex marriage and so forth. In lieu of a wedding, they had a commitment ceremony, a commitzvah as they called it, a label that announced the extra-legal nature of their lifetime union (with a nod to Priscilla’s Jewish roots). “That’ll make Priscilla’s family your out-laws,” one person told Joe. Given my religious belief, I told Suzanne, I wanted to have a wedding and be married, but Priscilla and Joe’s commitzvah raised questions we could not ignore, especially given our support for same-sex marriage.

Our ceremony would take place at Saint Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, my old parish, where same-sex couples had been joined for years. The auspices of Saint Gregory’s presented no problem; California’s ban on same-sex marriage did. We considered removing the marriage license signing from the church premises and having a separate legal marriage at city hall, thereby keeping the state out of our ceremony. (As it turns out, this was already Saint Gregory’s practice.) Still, this would leave us partaking of legal rights denied to others, and after further reflection, we decided to adopt a modified form of what Joe and Priscilla had done: forgo legal marriage and instead draw up a slew of documents that would approximate legal marriage. If and when same-sex marriage became legal in New York (where we live) we’d get married. Meanwhile, we’d have a church ceremony and exchange rings and vows in public.

The next question was what to tell our wedding guests. What was the point of doing all of this if no one else knew? We briefly entertained a printed statement or an announcement, but we didn’t want to come off as scolding the married people in attendance. I was already wincing over having invited my predominantly atheist friends and family to a church wedding where they would be asked to say such things as “Amen” and “Hallelujah.” We decided instead to inform family and friends of our extra-legal status in conversation, over time.

Our wedding day arrived. We exchanged vows and rings as those atheists belted out their hallelujahs, and we found ourselves swept along a tide that followed us out of the church and into our new life together. Upon our return to New York, I began the process of exploring what it would take to assemble wills, join our finances, draw up hospital visitation agreements, and all the other arrangements necessary to approximate legal marriage. The lawyers I consulted estimated it would cost us thousands of dollars in fees. Put off by the expense, I bought a CD-ROM of pre-made legal documents, but quickly found myself overwhelmed and confused by the number of options. I wondered if there was a simpler, cheaper solution—a civil union in New Jersey? Unavailable to straight couples. We could get married in nearby Massachusetts, where gay marriage was already legal, but New York would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, so we’d still be partaking in a discriminatory system. The legal steeplechase occasioned discussion with friends and family about our marital status.

“Wait, Jake, are you married or not?”

“We’re married, but not in the legal sense.”

Straight friends puzzled. Gay friends chuckled. “Just get married. I would.” An email exchange on the subject left an old high-school friend bewildered. “Is Suzanne a man?” Frustrated by how our gesture seemed to arouse only laughter and perplexity, I also felt a rising urgency regarding the legal documents, especially a will. I worried about Suzanne’s financial security in the event of my accidental death. The crosswalks of New York City never felt so dangerous.

Finally, last May, our solution presented itself when Governor David Patterson decreed that New York would recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it was legal. We picked a date, borrowed a car, and drove to Greenfield, Massachusetts where we lunched with my cousins before strolling over to the town hall. After submitting our application to the town clerk, we went to the courthouse to seek a waiver on Massachusetts’ three-day waiting period, assuming this meant waiting in line for a rubber stamp. But after sitting through separate interrogations with a uniformed court officer (who asked each of us if we were marrying of our own free will), we were ushered into a courtroom and found ourselves standing before a judge.

“You two live in New York?”

“That’s correct, Your Honor.”

“And yet you’ve decided to get married in Massachusetts. Why?”

At last, here was the perfect venue to air our thoughts on marriage equality. Perfect, that is, provided the judge didn’t mind the injection of politics into his courtroom, that he wouldn’t be outraged by our views, and that he wouldn’t therefore reject our waiver request. “Your Honor . . . I have cousins in the area. We thought it would be fun to see them.”

Signed waiver in hand, we slunk out of the courthouse, returned to the town hall, and presented the waiver to the clerk, who doubles as a justice of the peace. She led us outside, stood us under a tree, and beamed as she read from her script. “Marriage is a solemn . . . ” I had anticipated a ten-second procedure, not a three-minute mini-wedding that coupled the legal and spiritual realms we had labored to separate. “And now please join your hands.” We exchanged vows, again, the clerk pronounced us husband and wife, and as she handed me the certificate, I felt only the lifting of my recurring anxiety: getting pancaked by a bus and leaving Suzanne penniless.

So ended our adventure in nuptial social action. I began with my eye on principle and concluded by figuring out how to secure inheritance rights for Suzanne on the cheap, an irony that argues more cogently for marriage equality than anything we had said or done.

I realize that what I had really wanted was to emerge with a sense of mastery—to know we had stirred conversations and reflections, to feel the vibrations moving outward, but all of that seems to have eluded us. We take away only a deepened appreciation for what marriage rights entail—a small prize, but one more real than mastery.

Jacob Slichter is the author of So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, a behind-the-scenes look at the music business. He lives with his wife, Suzanne Wise, in New York City. He has a Web site at

Peter's mother-in-law, Thomas Dorsey and us

By R. William Carroll

Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Just think what it would’ve been like to be her. There she lay, sick and at risk. Almost certainly afraid. Back then, fevers were serious business. Even today, they are signs of danger. But Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. And her fever left her.

What a moving story it is. What powerful emotions those around her must have felt. Perhaps it stirs up something primal in us as well. How we long for Christ’s presence in our moments of grief and distress. How we long for him to take our hand and lift us up, whenever we find ourselves brought low.

Throughout the Scriptures, we see God doing the same. In today’s Psalm, we read that God lifts up the lowly but casts the wicked to the ground. Another proclaims that “the LORD sets the prisoners free, the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.” God is not afraid to take the side of those who have no one else to help them. When we find ourselves at our lowest, we can depend on God.

It was thus with Thomas Dorsey—not the band leader but the African American Gospel musician of the same name. It was a parishioner at the congregation I serve who first shared with me the story of how he came to write Precious Lord. It was shortly after the death of his beloved wife Nettie in childbirth and the subsequent death of their newborn son that Dorsey penned the words to this beloved hymn. Later, it became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Mahalia Jackson sang it at Dr. King’s funeral. The first verse goes like this:

Precious Lord, take my hand Lead me on, let me stand I am tired, I am weak, I am worn Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

These words are a moving meditation on the Savior’s presence in moments of grief and pain. They exude faith that, no matter how bad things get, Jesus will lead us home. Whatever trouble we face, however beaten down we are by the world or our fellow human beings, Jesus has been there before us. In the words of the great spiritual: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” If we but call on him, he will come and show us the way. Dorsey’s words come out of the particularities of his own suffering. They are deeply rooted in the tradition and historical experience of the Black Church. But, like any classic text, they have in fact become universal. They apply equally well at a deathbed or in prison. They can soothe a broken heart or console a grieving parent. They provide hope and strength for us in times of loss, danger, and struggle--whenever we are tired, weak, or worn.

Jesus takes us by the hand and lifts us up, but that’s not the end of the story. It continues: “The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” So it is with us. When Jesus heals us and becomes our Savior, we are pressed into service. There are times in our life where it is enough to be near Jesus, when it suffices to bask in his love. But Jesus did not call us, nor did we answer, so that we could stand still. Jesus did not call us, nor did we answer, so that we could stay the same. The call of Jesus is a call to serve. Indeed, he himself once said that he came not to be served but to serve. When Jesus lifts us up from low places, he always also sets us free to serve those around us.

Think about it in terms of a beloved hymn that we often sing during the season after the Epiphany. I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. To follow him means to go wherever he may lead. He is the star who goes before us as we walk the pilgrim way. And we do so gladly, because he has set us free.

It’s not an easy path Jesus lights up before us. When he walked it, it led him through the valley of the shadow of death. His path is strewn with suffering and death. Even there, his light shines, showing death to be the gateway of eternal life. With Jesus at our side, we can face even this. Listen, once again, to another verse from Dorsey’s hymn:

When the darkness appears And the night draws near And the day is past and gone At the river I stand Guide my feet, hold my hand Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

The Christian hope is that we can cross safely over Jordan, over the frontier that divides life from death, without fear, resentment, or regret. Our hope as Christians is that nothing—no, not even death itself—can separate us from Christ’s love. We stand at the river bank with him, confident that he will lead us home.

In this hope, we can continue to put one foot in front of the other, day by day, and do the work of love. No matter what the cost. No matter how tired or afraid we may become. No matter what dangers or doubts may stand in our way. The love of Christ urges us onward. Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

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. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He is a novice in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Iconoclasm today

By Luiz Coelho

When Hans Holbein decided to go back to Continental Europe after a successful period in England painting royal family portraits, his close friend Erasmus of Rotherdam warned him about the mass-destruction of paintings (especially religious ones), seen by most Protestant groups as idolatry. Nonetheless, Holbein decided to go back to Basel, anyway, only to realize that in Central Europe there was no real space for him as an artist, at that moment, and that the best thing to do would be to go back to England and build a career there (little he knew that soon England would be following the same path).

Iconoclasm is not a privilege of Protestantism. Most of Christendom had it in many varying degrees. Of course, there are notable examples such as the 8th century controversy in the Byzantine Empire, under the leadership of Emperor Leo, the Isaurian, and the subsequent restoration of icons under the auspices of the Second Council of Nicaea (a moment remembered by the Eastern Church as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy"). However, there is a kind of iconoclasm that is not always noticed by us, which usually happens for the sake of "art", grandeur, or style. This kind is not rarely connected more to individual egos than to theological viewpoints, and can be seen as a way of imposing someone's personal views on a Church.

Take for example St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. This magnificent building - a triumph of Roman Catholic artistic patronage and a testimony to the world of the Pope's power even in the midst of religious controversies - took more than one century to be finished, and had several designs and chief architects , among whom notables like Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini, who finally finished it already in the period known in Art History as Baroque. Sadly, this magnificent church was built on top of what once was the original St. Peter's Basilica, also known as "Old Saint Peter's", erected during Constantine's times and, if still "alive", would be one of the few examples of buildings (such as the Pantheon, Santa Maria Maggiore, or the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna) that date from Roman times and are still up and preserved.

St. Peter's was not an isolated case in time. Actually, since time immemorial, it has been the major practice in art and architecture to replace the "old" (usually seen as primitive and outdated) by the "new", without any consideration for the History and traditions embedded in what previously existed. In the particular case of Christian art, this meant that in many circumstances, Romanesque churches were destroyed to make room for Gothic inovations. Gothic churches, in turn, were later destroyed to make room for Classically-inspired buildings. Romanesque iconography, Gothic paintings and altarpieces and even imported Byzantine icons were all seen as primitive and rudimentary during the Renaissance, and many of them were lost forever due to lack of preservation or even deliberate destruction in order to make room for newer pieces that conformed to the vernacular of that time.

And during the following centuries, what pretty much happened was a pendulum shift from one style to another. Critics would praise some elements of an older trend and mock the one that came immediately before it. (One should note that both "Gothic" and "Baroque" are words initially created with derogatory meanings by adepts of classicizing styles). Churches, as everything else, had to conform to the new vernacular, and although since the 15th century, a greater respect for the masters and their work helped maintain their pieces intact, many minor works have disappeared, not seldom replaced by ones that would conform to a newer artistic trend.

In our times, although many art historians argue that what we see now is called "Post-Modern art", it can be said that Modern Art and architecture is still the main vernacular in Western Churches. This would mean that a typical new church building would have plenty of space, clean walls, simple geometric shapes and usually a minimalistic approach to furnishings. The altar would be free-standing, with a choir behind it, and reasonably close to the pulpit. Art could be very eclectic, but one could expect abstraction especially in stained-glass windows, vestments and linens, and a less realistic approach to the human figure in iconography (from Sadao Watanabe prints to Byzantine icons, encompassing a variety of other styles).

However, not all churches are new. In fact, many are centuries old. So, we are faced with the same problem that existed before: "what to do with the style perceived as old and at the same time conform ourselves to the new trend?" Since the 19th Century, eclecticism in art has helped us understand that "yes, it is OK to have different styles together," and for the last century and a half, churches have been built or refurbished following several different inspirations. At first, it has to be said, much was done in a very amateurish way. Even when the attempt was to restore a building to its original state (as was the case with many Neo-Gothic attempts at restoring Gothic churches), renovations were not historically accurate, and ended up erasing completely the few hints we had of what a church originally looked like.

It would be cruel for me to blame our predecessor for the losses , since they had no idea of historic preservation. However, in our times, a major emphasis has to be placed on the will and hardwork of our ancestors, and the preservation of their works for future generations. This stems from two basic reasons: first of all, no Church has the political or economic power to spend lavish amounts of money on art and architecture, so it is always more reasonable to try to keep in a nice state what we already have and add embellishing pieces to the existing artistic glory. Second, the Church has (one hopes) become much more aware of the inconsistency that lies beneath spending ridiculous amounts of money on aesthetic elements while its mission in the world is ignored. Therefore, the "rule of thumb" for artistic projects in Church should be: a just yet reasonable price, a clear missionary vision that would impact the world around it and a deep respect for the dedication of our predecessors and what they have achieved.

With this in mind, I believe it is past time to stop the destruction (usually disguised as renovation) of high altars, screens, boxed pews, tablets, kneelers, reredos and other architectonical features often found in historic churches. In most cases, there are cheaper and simpler solutions that can be adopted and still respect the integrity of the original architectural style in which they were built. Boxed pews can always be left open all the time. If an East-Facing mass is considered theologically undesirable by the congregation, a simple table can be placed anywhere in the nave or chancel. If original reredos with Ten Commandment tablets are seen as "too Protestant", they can be left visible during Lent and/or Advent and covered by banners during other seasons (still leaving room for artistic endeavors in the church). Yes, in some rare cases, there is no other choice but to completely redo some areas of the building, but even under those circumstances, arrangements can be made to allow the reuse undesirable artwork in other environments, such as chapels, parish halls or new church plants. In most cases, though, the money spent on such transformations could be used in much more urgent purposes, including building new facilities for the church, mission, evangelism and even new church planting (and consequently, new art and architectural challenges).

Simply put, destroying an altar, or screen, or kneelers, or anything else just to build another one in the same place is bad, bad stewardship. It shows no respect for the sacrifice of the ones who came before us, it spends money that could be used with much more urgent causes and it diverts the mission of the Church, and of sacred art, from its main focus. It is, as the Brazilian proverb says, "to change six for half a dozen", and I wonder if some centuries from now, we will be seen by our descendants as the iconoclasts of our times.

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."

Is individualism sustainable? Is it Christian?

By Derek Olsen

Recently I've found myself caught up in the question: "what is saving what from what for what?" I know—it seems a little strange so allow me to explain where my mind has been wandering."

A story from TheOilDrum has been nagging at my brain for the last few days. It described the steps that one family was taking to meet the perils of peak oil/environmental troubles/social collapse, etc. and included what I consider a "typical" homesteading plan: a passive solar-enabled house with solar panels around, wells, cisterns, several acres under cultivation—you get the picture. Essentially they had created the kind of homesteading setup I used to dream about as a kid flipping through the Back to Basics book. But several things came out in the article and subsequent comments that gave me significant pause.

The couple was childless (by choice). They were isolated. They were heading into their 70's.
Two thoughts popped into my head with these revelations. The first from Ecclesiastes:

Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:7-12)

The second thought was: And you consider this sustainable?!

Who will care for them in their old age? What happens when they can no longer maintain a small veggie plot, let alone several acres? If one gets sick, injured, or dies—what then?
Thinking more broadly, the mindset that this couple has embraced strikes me as one rooted deep in the American psyche. It's literally the rugged individual striking out on his own to carve his own destiny by the strength of his hand. The writer prefers the term "self-reliant" and does note a number of things that he can't do on his own—create metal tools, etc.—but at the heart of it lies the notion of the individual.

Looking to my initial rumination, under this paradigm, these individuals are saving themselves (or their immediate family) from just about everything for the sake of themselves.

Again—is this paradigm fundamentally sustainable? I don't think so...

Doesn't this rugged individualist paradigm of survival have strong roots within American expressions of Christianity? I'll say it does!

Thus I'm naturally reminded of Noah for in some sense he's the spiritual father of this model: just God and me (and my household and whatever I can get on my boat). We don’t hear a whole lot about Noah before the flood and that’s a shame because later interpreters therefore have to assess Noah on the basis of no data. All that we’re told is that he was “a just [or righteous (tsadiq)] man; perfect in his generation” (Gen 6:9) and that God tells him “for thee have I seen righteous (tsadiq) before me in this generation” (Gen 7:1). As a result, Jewish and Christian interpreters through the ages have tried to weigh the proper valence of two bits of evidence: “righteous” and “in his generation”. Indeed, ancient opinion was pretty well split on Noah. A number of New Testament and post-biblical texts focus on the “righteous” bit and assert that Noah preached salvation and repentance to all who would listen—and therefore suggest that no one did. Others suggest that Noah wasn't actually so great, emphasizing the "in his generation" bit. They see Noah as the best there was at the time, and that he doesn't quite measure up to later, better, standards precisely because we don’t hear of him reaching out to others.

The Zohar, a mystical Jewish treatise from the thirteenth century, states:

When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, "Master of the World! If You destroyed Your world because of human sins or human fools, why did You create them? One or the other you should do: either do not create the human being, or do not destroy the world!"

The Blessed Holy One answered him, "Foolish shepherd! I lingered with you [before the flood] and spoke to you at length so that you would ask mercy for the world! But as soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch your heart. You built the ark and saved yourself. Now that the world has been destroyed you open your mouth to utter questions and pleas."

This tradition, then, (and others recorded in the Talmud and elsewhere) regards Noah as the least of the patriarchs for while Abraham, Moses and others argued for God on behalf of the others, it is not recorded that Noah did likewise.

Are we Noah?

Either in our theological thinking or our secular scheming—do we hearken after Noah more than the other patriarchs?

In looking for other paradigms I still think that the secular environmental paradigm of the Transition Town movement presents a better way forward. For its suggestion is that local communities should be addressing energy and climate issues as a whole for the sake of the whole. Nobody's retreating into a canyon in the California hills here; rather, neighbors are meeting one another and talking through plans. There's a part of me that's suspicious of this, because it means entrusting potentially crucial matters to other people—who knows if they can be trusted to come through? But then, come to think of it, that's how our world functions now anyway.

Realistic thinking about a lower-energy, non-fossil fueled world means a recognition of our interconnectedness. A recent group that participates in replicating a functioning Victorian community with an eye to a non-fossil-fuel world suggests that no less than 200 separate specializations are required to keep it functioning.
Checking back to the theological side, it seems that this sort of endeavor is far more in line with the heart of the Christian tradition, the one with baptism at its center. In the ancient world, even the notion of "individual salvation" wasn't constructed in the way we build it now. Yes, individuals (and households) were baptized but that was the start, not the end. Individuals were baptized into a community, into a family, into a Body. This family, in turn, created a new community that transcended the old—sometimes bitter—divisions:

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-11)

Communities are harder to live with. They have disagreements, arguments, all sorts of unpleasantness. And yet they're workable—sustainable—in a way that individualism just isn't. Too, it is in the pushing, prodding, give and take of community life that we get pushed to make choices that give life for those beyond our selves and our little circles.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Haiti: Sustaining hope amidst squalor

By Matt Gobush

Mention Haiti and images of overcrowded shantytowns, fleeing boatpeople or voodoo dolls come to mind. To borrow from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, it is a land that has been seen by Americans “through a glass, darkly” ever since rebellious slaves established the world’s first black republic there more than two hundred years ago.

Many would be surprised to learn, however, that Haiti is home to the largest and, by some measures, the strongest diocese within the Episcopal Church. This certainly came as a surprise to me when I accompanied Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on her pastoral visit to the Diocese of Haiti last November. Our five-day pilgrimage, in fact, was filled with the unexpected.

Not unexpected were the impoverished conditions we saw during our trip. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its seven million citizens struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day. Over half of Haitians are illiterate and 80 percent unemployed. About 42 percent of Haitian children under age five are malnourished, and nearly all are medically underserved, with only one doctor available for every 10,000 citizens.

These grim figures are reflected in the sad images that greeted us when we arrived: ravines honeycombed with cinder block slums; gnarled streets choked with traffic and littered with debris; roadside landfills crawling with scavenging children and farm animals; hillsides shorn of vegetation and carved by primitive farm tools; and dilapidated bridges are puddled with floodwaters from raging rivers that recently submerged them.

One would expect a dispirited people and dysfunctional church to inhabit a country in such desperate straits. Our traveling party discovered, however, that despite history’s hardships, hope springs eternal among the Haitian people, and the Spirit dwells within the Episcopal diocese there. Throughout our trip, we bore unexpected witness to Haiti’s proud heritage, intrepid spirit and deep faith.

These qualities have helped make the Diocese of Haiti one of the crown jewels of our communion. Although the Episcopal Church is mostly comprised of congregations within the United States, it is truly an international church, with dioceses found from Honduras to Europe, Hong Kong to Haiti. Haiti is the largest diocese overall, ministering to more souls and administering more institutions than any other.

Education has been the diocese’s primary ministry since it was founded in 1861 by Bishop James Theodore Holly, a native of Washington, D.C., who said, “To use the Bible and Prayer Book, one at least must know how to read.” In a country where public schools serve only 15 percent of the youth, the Episcopal Church plays a crucial role in providing young Haitians with knowledge, skills, and Christian education to find gainful employment and reinvest in their native country. The diocese currently manages 254 schools educating more than 80,000 young people. There are nearly two educational institutions for every congregation – a ratio second to none throughout the entire Church.

The diocese performs the Church’s healing ministry in Haiti through numerous health clinics and medical facilities, including the nation’s only hospital and school devoted to handicapped children, and its first nursing school, which will graduate its inaugural class next year. God’s glory is also reflected in the ministry of the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, the pride of Haiti’s music community.

The Episcopal Church’s success in Haiti is due to its strong leadership, vital partnerships with dioceses in the United States, and unique standing in Haitian society. Its clear leadership structure enables it to be a responsive and responsible partner with the government and non-governmental organizations; its autonomy gives it the local latitude to effectively address Haiti’s unique challenges. As a result, as President Rene Preval noted in his meeting with our group, the “church often has greater credibility than the state.”

Haiti’s bishop, the Right Rev. Jean Zache Duracin, makes clear that the diocese’s success is not possible without the prayers, partnerships and financial support of numerous congregations within the wider church. Support from the U.S. government is also crucial to enabling the people of Haiti to regain their footing after a year in which food riots forced the prime minister to resign and four tropical storms wreaked havoc on the economy. Cancellation of Haiti’s $1.3 billion in debt to international lenders and to wealthy countries (including about $20 million in bilateral loans to the U.S. Government) is a moral and economic imperative. Extension of the H.O.P.E. Act providing trade preferences for Haitian exports would also help.

The “glass” Paul refers to in his epistle is not a window, but a mirror. As I traveled through Haiti and the darkness lifted, I realized Episcopalians throughout our church could learn from Haiti – about the blessing of faith and the power of communion to achieve good works during even the most challenges times. It is a lesson we should all reflect upon.

Matt Gobush is a parishioner of Christ Church Georgetown and serves on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission for Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns. This essay appears in the January/February issue of Washington Window.

The anger of grief

By Ann Fontaine

Making my rounds as Chaplain Ann in the Veterans' Administration nursing home I came to the door of a man whose first words were – “I don’t need a chaplain unless you brought me a gun!” – a startling introduction to my summer of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).

I did not really want to be in the nursing home, I wanted to be in some sexier rotation like Emergency or Liver Transplants. I drew the short straw and ended up with 120 men and 6 women – a somewhat different population mix than your average parish. All were veterans of wars from WWI to Vietnam. Many were estranged from their families due to the life of a career military person or alcohol or drug abuse. I was newly graduated from seminary and fulfilling the requirement in our Diocese that all clergy take CPE before becoming a priest. The real chaplain at the nursing home was an Assemblies of God career military chaplain. So, great, I thought, me—Episcopal, woman, liberal, anti-war, Harvard Divinity School graduate, and him – Assemblies of God, doesn’t believe women can be pastors, career army. He delighted in calling on me to provide ex tempore prayers and putting me on the line to witness my faith.

As I came to the man’s room that day – anger was all around – in me and in him. One thing I had learned a year before when I was very sick and in the hospital, wondering if I would see my next birthday, is the powerlessness of a patient. I was at the mercy of anyone who wanted to come in and poke or prod me. Invasion of space is the norm for a patient, so I decided I would not go into the patient’s space without invitation. I drew an imaginary line beyond which I would not go. Since these were usually double rooms, it meant the area that the so-called privacy curtain surrounded. If the patient showed signs of me being too close, I would back off even more.

Standing at the edge of that space, I am sure my jaw dropped open, but I tried to remain a non-anxious presence and said, “No, I did not bring a gun.” He said that he did not want to see me if I would not bring him what he wanted. I told him okay but I would be around all summer and if he wanted a visit – I would be there. This interchange continued everyday for a couple of weeks. When he discovered that I was not going to push my chaplain shtick on him, he began to talk, I think so I would stay a little longer.

It turned out that he had had surgery and a nerve had been accidentally cut leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He went into surgery physically able to spend hours fishing on his boat and enjoying life. Now he was looking at a future confined to a wheelchair. He talked about how he was estranged from his family and told me other things about his life. He had no hope and wanted to end his life. During every visit he would ask for a gun. Every visit I told him I could not do that. Often we would sit out in the courtyard in the sun for our visits, with him still full of anger about the life ahead.

I thought about his situation a lot and one day as I was driving to work crossing the river, I saw some people loading a boat with a hoist. I thought – maybe this could be a solution for the man. I could not wait to share the idea with him. He was out in the courtyard when I got to his part of my rounds, I told him what I had seen. I explained about the hoist and how one could be rigged up to place him in his boat so he could go fishing again. He was strong enough above the waist to do most anything. I said, “What do you think?” He said, “What if the boat tips over?” And in a moment of idiocy or grace I said, “Well, I guess that would solve your problem about the gun!” There was silence and I thought, yikes, I can’t believe I said that. Then he started laughing – deep laughter, so hard I thought he would fall out of his wheel chair. It was one of those things that worked and changed the whole dynamic but I still can’t believe I said it.

One of the things I learned that summer is men, especially, use anger to express grief. I often forget that when I first encounter the anger but usually the learning comes back to me and I can engage with them in a different way. I can sometimes find a way that will remove the roadblocks to our communication. I recoil from anger and don’t deal well with another’s anger, although I know that grief is often the core of my anger too.

I wonder if this is part of the anger that often emerges in the church. It can be good if the church is seen as safe enough to express actual anger at communal injustice and abuse. But when it is grief masquerading as anger – how can we help one another to mourn instead of striking out at one another?

Anger is not a bad thing but it can eat one up if it lingers on with no resolution. Do we need an internal checklist for ourselves when we react with anger or others react with anger?

Is the anger empowering me to take on injustice and abuse?

Or is it a morass of my own making?

Is this anger becoming a habit?

What is really going on?

Why do I care?

Do I feel powerless in this situation?

Am I angry that things are changing?

Am I afraid that all I trusted in is now worthless to others and by extension I am worthless?

What other questions might we ask next time we react with anger?

How might we approach those with whom we work and live who are angry?

Thoughts on Christian marriage, II

This is the second part of a two-part essay on Christian understandings of marriage.

By George Clifford

The next step in that unfolding narrative of grace is to expand the concept of marriage to include a gay man marrying a gay man or a lesbian marrying a lesbian. This timely, grace filled step rightly extends the Christian concept of marriage to people whom the Church for too long has marginalized or demonized, the very categories of people with whom Jesus spent his ministry. The Church wrongly has attempted to foist a life and love denying form of sexuality – heterosexuality – upon people whom God created with a different gender orientation. Consequently, their gender preference has too often caused gays and lesbians to deny their very identity or to express their sexuality in promiscuous, exploitative, or other destructive ways. Same-sex monogamous marriage inherently promotes healthy lifestyles, models the union of Christ and the Church, and can powerfully mediate grace to all whom they encounter.

Conversely, contending that such marriages pose a threat to heterosexual marriage is as silly an evangelical shibboleth as pretending that Christian teachings about marriage have remained constant. Any married heterosexual who fancies him or herself threatened by gay or lesbian marriages has a delusional concept of her or his own attractiveness as a partner, perceives his or her marriage is in trouble, or fears his or her own severely repressed homosexuality.

The time for silence ended years ago; now is the time for action. At General Convention this summer, the Episcopal Church should initiate appropriate legislation to:

(1) Disentangle the Episcopal Church from the state with respect to marriage by canonically prohibiting Episcopal clergy from acting on behalf of the state in performing marriages (regardless of what civil law may allow), deleting all canonical provisions governing such acts, and deleting the existing rite for the “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” from the Book of Common Prayer;
(2) Create one rite for blessing all monogamous relationships, regardless of the gender of the two parties (a revised, gender neutral, and enriched version of the current Book of Common Prayer rite for “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” could serve as the basis for this new rite for blessing marriages);
(3) Prophetically encourage all government entities (states, territories, etc.) with jurisdiction to define marriage as the legal union of two consenting adults regardless of gender.

The legal benefits of marriage are real and substantial. Two people who choose to live as one understandably want to share fully obligations to care for one another, responsibility for any children, property ownership, etc. Laws governing health care, child guardianship, inheritance, and a host of other issues stipulate preferential treatment of and protections for a spouse. Item #3 above is critical because those laws should apply to all marriages, regardless of the gender of the persons involved. By prophetically advocating equal rights for all, regardless of gender orientation, the Church walks faithfully in the footsteps of the Biblical prophets, echoing their call for justice.

The lingering entanglement of religion and state with respect to marriage is an unfortunate legacy of various United States denominations having emerged from (or continuing to be part of) established European Churches. God's grace cannot and does not wait for governments to act. By ending the misguided entanglement of the Episcopal Church and state in which clergy act as agents of the state when officiating at marriages (Item #1 above), the Church moves in time with God's grace, treating all monogamous relationships equally, using the same liturgical rite to pronounce God's blessing (Item #2).

For political rather than theological reasons, reasons that I, an ardent supporter of democracy, nonetheless find compelling, France over a century ago took away the authority of religious leaders to officiate at the legal ceremony in which the government approves of a marriage contract. After that civil ceremony, those for whom the religious ceremony holds meaning seek God's blessing in a manner appropriate to their faith tradition.

Separation of the civil from the legal is also good theology. Most clergy have officiated at marriages in which tradition, architectural beauty, location, humoring parents, or other extraneous factors motivated the couple to have a “Church wedding.” Any belief or even hope by bride or groom that God could or would bless their union was absent. Some beguilingly naïve couples, at least in unguarded moments, unsuspectingly divulge their real motives even while trying to pay lip service to their non-existent faith. Performing a wedding of this genre is rarely effective outreach. Instead, such weddings commercialize the Church (i.e., provide helpful income to some parishes), demean Christian believers, cause non-believers verbally to prostitute themselves, and distract from the real work of ministry. Those who too easily dismiss these objections would do well to reflect on the uniquely American phenomena of “mail order” clergy performing weddings, Vegas wedding chapels, contemporary wedding trends, and wedding extravaganzas that display conspicuous consumption. People will hear the Church’s proclamation of the gospel against that cacophonous background only if the proclamation is clear and unambiguous.

Admittedly, General Convention implementing the three recommendations above will have some unintended ramifications. Dissidents who have exited the Episcopal Church will feel their departures justified. On a positive note, given the experience of other American ecclesial bodies in taking similar steps, notably the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church can expect that few additional dissidents will depart.

Other provinces will bewail the Episcopal Church acting unilaterally, without first developing a consensus among members of the Anglican Communion. Completing the liturgical changes will require at least one additional triennial meeting of General Convention. Thus, any action General Convention takes implicitly, and even better explicitly, invites the rest of the Anglican Communion to enter into dialogue on subject of marriage. This topic, for very diverse reasons raises important questions not only in the United States, but also in Canada (same sex relationships), the United Kingdom (remarriage after divorce and same sex relationships), and Africa (polygamy). Provinces that have already separated themselves, de facto, from the Communion will predictably refuse to participate; recent moves by and messages from those provinces express their opinion that the Episcopal Church has already abandoned the faith. Confirming those provinces in their negative opinion will not cause any additional harm. The rest of the Communion, holding firmly to Anglican inclusivity and diversity, can profit from timely conversations about marriage from cultural, legal, and theological perspectives.

General Convention’s approval of the three initiatives will set the Episcopal Church firmly on a course of incarnating God's love for all in a radically inclusive manner that emulates the one whom it calls Lord. These initiatives are the faithful and logical next step in the unfolding narrative of God's grace. No alternative course will achieve the same result. This is the intended outcome, the one to which God has called us: to stand with God, in God's name, for all of God's people.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

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