Touch me and see

By R. William Carroll

While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36ff.)


Touch me and see.

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples after he rose from the dead.

Touch me, he said, and see.

This is more or less Luke’s version of the Gospel we heard last week from John. You know, the one about doubting Thomas. To a large extent, as it was in that story, so it is here. Some disciples have seen the risen Lord; others have not. Then, Jesus himself appears, standing among them. And he says, touch me and see.

The two stories are not identical, though. Remember how Jesus concludes his encounter with Thomas, by observing that “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe”?

In today’s Gospel by contrast, Jesus rubs our noses in his flesh. He appeals to touch, the crudest of our senses, to show us his risen body. The point? He is no ghost. He is not merely a spiritual apparition. First, he offers us his body to inspect. Then, he asks us to bring him a piece of fish—and he eats it right in front of us.

Touch me and see, says Jesus, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. Then, he shows us his hands and his feet. The scars of his passion still mark his risen body. We know Jesus by his wounds—by what he suffered for us in the flesh.

Jesus gives himself to us as saving victim. Because he has tasted suffering and death, he can offer us new life. Because he returns with mercy for those who put him to death, we can trust him to be our judge. Jesus comes to offer us forgiveness. He forgives us for falling away—for betraying and denying him in his hour of need.

His risen flesh is important. For, without it, God’s desire to become incarnate would be frustrated and defeated by human evil. God wants to be Emmanuel—God with us in the flesh. And God has raised Jesus in his BODY, so that God can continue to dwell among us in the flesh. The body of Jesus signifies the full extent of our salvation. Jesus saves not just our souls but also our bodies. At great price to himself, he has redeemed our mortal flesh, and he is making us holy—here and now.

In recent years, it’s become fashionable to view early Christian heresies as suppressed movements for human liberation. Under the influence of such writers as Elaine Pagels, some are calling these heresies by a new name—“alternative Christianities.”

When considering the merits of this account of Christian origins, it is important to remember what particular problems there were that Irenaeus, the great champion of orthodoxy, found in Gnostics and similar heretics. These people denied the goodness of creation. They denied that the Creator of the universe is the same good God as the Father of Jesus. And lastly, they denied that Jesus came and suffered in the flesh. I would submit to you that there is nothing particularly progressive or liberating in these theories. On the basis of apostolic witness, the Church ruled them out, and we were right to do so.

In fact, those who espouse such theories may be rendered passive and docile when faced with human suffering or oppression. They may be more easily duped by the seductive glitter of markets that offer us endless empty choices but no real alternatives. And they may, in the end, be indifferent to the many real threats, ecological and otherwise, to the world we share.

Religion may or may not be the opiate of the masses. I suppose it depends on the religion. I take my stand with William Temple, the great Archbishop of Canterbury, who observed that Christianity is “the most materialistic of all great religions.” We see this in the Incarnation. We see it in the sacraments, which transform the natural elements, the fruits of the earth, and the products of human labor—water, oil, bread, and wine—into the means of salvation. We see it in the Creed of our baptism, in which we confess our faith in the “resurrection of the body.”

So much of what passes for Christianity today has far too much in common with Gnostic escapism—with the quest for a Revealer to show us a way out of this world rather than the attempt to follow Jesus in transforming God’s creation from within. Hence the fascination with the rapture on the Right and with syncretistic New Age fantasies on the Left—each the mirror image of the other. Christianity does not concern otherworldly myths, to be enjoyed in the privacy of our homes—or locked safely away within the four walls of our churches and confined to an hour or so on Sunday morning.

Like the Lord Jesus, we stake our claim in the public square—right out in the open, where he was crucified. Christianity is lived out in the workplace, in the marketplace, and in the political arena. Its influence is not confined to our churches and homes, as important as these are. Christianity is as this-worldly as our daily bread. It’s about God’s commitment to our FLESH.

Our relationship with Jesus is as personal as evangelicals keep telling us it is. Perhaps more so. It is deeply intimate. More intimate than sex. Jesus lives inside us, and we become one body, one flesh with him, in a way far more personal than our relationship with any other human being. Jesus has become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Many contemporary evangelicals, under the influence of missionaries and Mennonites, and those two great Anglican priests, John and Charles Wesley (to say nothing of Jesus himself), are rediscovering the importance of embodied practices of sacrament and discipleship. At the same time, many mainline Christians, especially youth and young adults, are rediscovering our profound need for the same. We hunger and thirst for the Word of God made visible and tangible among us. We yearn to connect liturgy with discipleship—with following Jesus in the flesh. Moreover, voices from our inner cities, from abandoned rural places and postindustrial towns, and from the sweatshops, plantations, and war torn regions of our world are summoning us to a faith that seeks “not to interpret the world, but to change it.”

Faced with a world rife with suffering and injustice, a purely spiritual, private relationship with Jesus is no longer possible. In fact, it never really was. “Alternative” Christianities are at best a passing, luxurious fad for those privileged few who can still lay claim to a comfortable existence. At worst, they are a drug to numb the pain of those who no longer can do so—or who never could. The situation we face today calls us to something deeper and meatier: to a living relationship with Jesus and fresh practices of discipleship that put flesh and bones on his Gospel. Jesus is calling us to become what we eat at his table—to become his Body, broken and shared, for the life of the world.

Jesus came in the flesh. He suffered and died in the flesh. And, yes, he rose again in the flesh.

So touch him and see. Taste him and see. And follow him today.

The Rev. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, 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 member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Bound tight through blood

By Joy Caires

“the nails in his hands” (Jn 20:25)

They pushed fluids until they started to pour from her mouth, gave round after round of epinephran and took turns doing chest compressions for over two hours. They would get a pulse for a moment or two, just long enough to decide to keep going, before her heart would slow to a stop again. It was the longest I ever saw the medical team in the pediatric intensive care unit attempt resuscitation.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12)

She was eight years old. After she arrived I stood outside the door of her hospital room room as the clinical team worked. As team members shouted orders for items from the crash cart, I prayed; with each bump on the monitors, I prayed; as numbers fell and rose, I prayed. After what seemed an interminable time, but was really less than 40 minutes, the parents arrived. I met them at the door of the intensive care unit and their eyes opened wide as they took in my black shirt and white collar.

“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26).

At that point I told them exactly what I knew—their daughter was still alive but barely, that the medical staff was fighting for her, that she had been intubated and that they continued to do chest compressions. I could not tell them that she would “make it”, and I couldn’t tell them that she wouldn’t. I huddled with the parents on the sleeper couch in the child’s hospital room as the team continued to struggle. I read the faces of the staff I knew so well and I knew that their heads had given up hope but their hearts and hands would continue to struggle to exact a miracle from the improbable.

“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” (Jn 20:27)

They went beyond the point of possibility and shortly before they stopped, her head lolled to the side and I saw her eyes and I knew she was gone. Her parents kept praying and, after a momentary pause, I prayed as well—for a miracle I was certain would not come. But, just as the medical staffs hearts and hands fought on, my heart and mouth continued to pray for the improbable. For this child the difference between the declarative of a flat line and hope was the pounding of hands upon her chest.

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? “ (Lk 24:38)

By 2pm it was all over. The air in the unit was thick with tension and unspent grief. Another little girl whose family had been preparing for her death for months had slipped away and another child had entered Hospice care—all while we had tried to pound life into a lifeless chest. The medical staff huddled in small groups—two of the children had clear diagnoses, but the third would be a coroner’s case. The parents spent time with the children’s bodies and eventually left. The mortician made his appearance—even he was shaken by the magnitude of the death that day. And, we all kept working—other patients and families needed to be attended to and we were all conscious of the need to keep moving.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear…” (Jn 20:19)

Then word came, the attending physician had ordered pizza for the staff on the unit. As we were able, we used our identification cards to let ourselves into the locked staff room. It was quiet in the room and the locked door made me feel safe, safe from pain, safe from inexplicable death, safe... I don’t remember any conversation beyond the running commentary about the sauce and toppings—to an outsider we would have seemed callous. But, the current of the unspoken ran through us. While the words would not be uttered, love was truly in that place. Our bond as a team had grown as tight as that of blood brothers—but the blood we shared was not our own. Our souls had been bound by the blood of an innocent.

“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16)

I wonder what choices had brought us there? I wonder, what fruit we bore that day? Perhaps it was the peace that came from having shared in the washing and dressing of the child’s body; of giving a family an image that was less that of the violent cross and more that of the quiet tomb; or, the knowledge that we had given a child her last and best chance at life. We all went home later that evening, it was hard to leave and we clung to each other—finding excuses to stay a bit later, work a bit longer. We, regardless of beliefs, had chosen to dwell in the valley of the shadow of death and we needed each other—we needed to bear the fruit of hope even as we ate the fruit of misery. Blood and pizza became our sacraments whilst death lurked.

“I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:15)

The outward signs of devastation and recollection and the insistence of living in the face of death—we eat because we are alive, we gather because we need to see life in each other. Each week we, the Christian faithful, gather around a feast of the body and blood. Each week we are joined with those who gather in mourning--bound together by a shared participation in the bloody death of an innocent. We will live despite death, we will feast in the shadow of the cross and we will love throughout time.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (Jn 20:29)

I have seen too much. My hands have touched the wounded side and my ears have heard the final breath. I have not seen…but I still hope. I hope for the resurrection, I hope for the loving embrace of God and I hope, for each innocent, peace beyond that of my own understanding. The irony for us Easter people is that it was Christ who conquered death and eternal life is on the other side of a flat line.

The Reverend Joy Caires, a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School, is currently the Associate Rector at Church of Our Saviour in Akron, Ohio. Joy's first call, after ordination, was as the pediatric chaplain at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

How do bodies mean?

By Donald Schell

My dad was born in 1921, delivered by C-section two months premature because his mother was dying of a brain tumor. The one time my grandmother held her newborn son she asked, ‘Is he beautiful?’ The brain tumor had already taken her sight. She died two weeks later. My grandfather, a physician grieving his twenty-six year old wife of less than a year, wrote to Gerber baby foods urgently asking what to feed his pre-term son. Somehow Dad survived and grew, though while still quite young he contracted scarlet fever, damaging a heart valve and giving him a life-long heart murmur.

‘How our bodies mean?’ is an Easter question, actually a Good Friday/Easter question. What we know of bodies, of living and of dying helps us hear resurrection proclamation.

When he was preaching Good Friday or Easter my friend and colleague Rick Fabian regularly referenced John Dominic Crossan’s claim that Jesus’ body was almost certainly taken down from the cross and thrown on the city garbage heap to be devoured by dogs. After the cruel death, Romans meant their denial of burial to shame the crucified criminal and his family.

Year by year Rick and I took turns preaching Holy Week and Easter through thirty-one years of shared pastoral leadership. Two preachers couldn’t tell the story more differently. When parishioners didn’t hear Rick draw on Crossan’s conclusions, they often heard me say that I think that the Shroud of Turin is Jesus’ burial cloth, the cloth John’s Gospel says Peter and the other disciple discovered in the empty tomb. Part of our Easter proclamation was irreconcilable stories and a mystery – one preaching from Jesus’ empty tomb and the other Jesus’ body savaged on the garbage heap. What we both preached was thanksgiving for Jesus’ living presence with us in the community that gathers to share his body and blood in bread and wine, God’s love that was stronger than death.

It’s Jesus alive and with us that makes us Christian. The ‘how’ of the mystery of resurrection matters because it points toward Jesus and also makes us talk as well as we can, as much as we understand about bodies and selves, the incarnational demand of finding words to preach Jesus’ ‘resurrection from the dead’ and the promise of our own resurrection.

The Boston Women’s Health Collective 1973 book title Our Bodies, Ourselves is closer to the ancient Christian creeds than easy talk of “our immortal souls.” We can’t go very far talking Christian faith without talking about how bodies mean and how persons are embodied. Touching another’s living flesh or even taking a breath is personal.

Here at the Episcopal Café in Holy Week Ann Fontaine posted four series of Stations of the Cross. The Salvadoran stations in that series are charcoal drawings of naked bodies, some tortured and still living, but many dead. These Stations join Christ’s fearless suffering for us to horrific memories and untold stories of the tortures and executions of El Salvador’s bitter civil war. I was glad such brutal drawings were in black and white.

The artist didn’t ask to look suffering “in the face.” Most of the bodies were drawn facing away from us, presenting us not with suffering faces, but with wounded backs and buttocks and thighs. Picturing damaged and lifeless flesh, the artist invited us to see how death squads brutalizing human bodies are really attacking personhood.

In a 2002 my son Peter worked in El Salvador for a year between university and seminary, serving as lay assistant to a recently ordained priest who had been a banker during the war. Like many Salvadorans, Peter’s mentor had family and friends on both sides of the conflict. Fr. Ramiro took us on pilgrimage to the chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed while saying mass. We saw his bloodstained chasuble shot-through with bullet holes. Then we drove to the memorial shrine and museum at the University of San Salvador where six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter had been slain. We stood speechless before a glass case containing a relic of one of the teacher-theologians martyred that night– a copy of Moltmann’s Crucified God punctured with bullet holes and soaked with the blood.

I think I’d baptized Sara Miles about a year before our trip to El Salvador. In her book Take This Bread, A Radical Conversion. Sara describes her long evening conversations in the Jesuit residence with Ignacio Martin-Baro just six months before he was killed. Sara laughs when I use the church’s official word from baptismal instruction, “catechesis” to describe her frustrated, impassioned late-night theological and political conversations with her Jesuit friend, but his patient hearing and fearless encouragement of all her questions when she was still an atheist war correspondent did start Sara on the road to baptism.

How do bodies mean? These are all hints -
– a father’s premature birth and a grandmother’s death at twenty-six
– a young University graduate making his home in a garden shed to work with the poor in El Salvador,
– political assassinations
– martyrdom
– old blood on a ruined book
– my hand pouring water from a rock font over my friend’s head in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The naked bodies of the Salvadoran Stations were emphatically not “nudes.” A painter friend of mine says every painter must return again and again to life drawing class where the joy of drawing and painting the human figure keeps revealing how ‘all bodies are beautiful.’ Beyond carrying out execution orders, the soldiers who did the violence these Stations of the Cross portray disfigured, punctured and tore people’s bodies in the killing and after it. Witnessing to beauty destroyed, the artist shows how violence depersonalizes people’s bodies. Even in death, these bodies cry out for respect and tenderness, promising beauty’s return.

When poet-theologian Janet Morley’s imagines Mary Magdalene speaking of Good Friday her words point to something similar -

It was unfinished
We stayed there, fixed, until the end,
women waiting for the body that we loved;
and then it was unfinished.
There was no time to cherish, cleanse, anoint;
no time to handle him with love,
no farewell.
Since then, my hands have waited,
aching to touch even his deadness,
smoothe oil into bruises that no longer hurt,
offer his silent flesh my finished act of love.
(Janet Morley, All Desires Known)

Morley’s poem feels like Passion Sunday at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles this year. Watching three vested laypeople carried Jesus’ cross through the congregation, I wanted to hold and comfort my Lord Jesus so he wouldn’t be ‘naked and cold in death’ as the Orthodox Good Friday hymn laments.

Love is part of how our bodies mean. Our desire to touch tenderly is part of the ‘how’ of resurrection. Remembering Jesus, feeling the shattering death of our Friend, I thought of my dad dying in his sleep six months ago when I was 3000 miles away. Since my dad’s death, mother talks about the silence of the night and dad’s empty space in her bed.

At home drifting off to sleep after Holy Week liturgies and the Easter Vigil, I listened to Ellen’s breathing and thought of the first times we’d touched thirty-five years ago, and the many, many moments of tenderness, comfort, passion, and peace we’d shared since. Ellen’s parents died young – in their sixties. I’m sixty-two. I pray for more years. I want to know that ‘love stronger than death,’ but wanting won’t make it so. Partly because it was Holy Week, as I lay so close to her achingly beautiful warmth and smoothness, I wondered which of us would die first.

In our joyful Easter phone calls to the children, the distance was palpable. Our son the priest is a continent away from San Francisco in Washington, D.C.; his oldest sister is even further, a continent and an ocean away in Spain. Phone calls can join us mind-to-mind and soul-to-soul, but I wanted to be close enough to feel their breath, to see them in the flesh, to touch them.

This Good Friday when we joined our whole congregation touching and kissing the burial icon of Christ on the altar and mounding flowers around it, my fingers tingled with the memory of touching my dad’s face after the burial society had laid him out and ‘arranged the features’ of his face to an expression none of us had ever seen. When I touched dad’s face, that touch, my living finger touching his dead forehead, joined the body before me with the father I’d known and loved.

In 1944 my dad enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Did the army physician pretend not to hear his heart murmur? He passed the physical, got through flight school and got his wings, and until the war ended flew a B-17 bomber in daylight raids out from England, over the North Sea to bomb German munitions factories. He came home from the war saying he’d seen and done more than enough killing for a lifetime. The war changed his course vocationally, and he went to medical school to become a physician like my grandfather. He became a healer, touching people with hope, saving lives. In 1980, a few years younger than I am now, his heart valve was giving out and he had open-heart surgery to replace it. Then in his mid-70’s he’d worn out the replacement valve and had open-heart surgery again to put in a new one. When he died just short of his 87th birthday, my wife (a nurse like dad’s mother had been) said, ‘Your dad cheated death again and again to live an amazing long life.’ Of course she was right, but until the last year, his body always seemed as substantial and strong a presence as any living thing could be.

Love, we hear in the Song of Songs, is stronger than death, and in Easter we feel that living power in Christ who lives with and in us. Sometimes. And when we don’t he lives in our aching and hoping to feel it. Easter afternoon, basking in the sun after a glorious Easter Vigil the previous night, “Christ is Risen from the Dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life,” reverberating in my memory and every cell of my body, I wanted to hug my dad again.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

0.7: Put it back

By Lauren R. Stanley

Last January, the Executive Council made a very difficult decision: Cutting out the money the Episcopal Church pledged toward the Millennium Development Goals. That 0.7 percent line item totaled $924,000 in the last triennial budget.

Now, considering that since the last General Convention, much was made of the Episcopal Church’s working hard to make the MDGs become a reality around the world, cutting that money from the proposed budget, which is but a draft being forwarded to General Convention 2009, seems quite harsh, not to mention contradictory to our very ethos.

But with the economic times being what they are, with money seemingly disappearing overnight, with the endowment and pledges falling, what else can be done?

To be fair to the Executive Council, this decision was not made lightly, and it was not the only portion of the proposed budget to take a hit.

But just because we don’t have the revenues right now does not mean that we can’t have them. It simply means we haven’t tried hard enough, or been creative enough, in our teaching of stewardship, in our presentation of the Gospel, in our fund-raising not for ourselves but for God and God’s beloved children.

So here’s an idea that if we were bold enough to try, just might help: Pennies from Heaven. (No eye-rolling, no sniggering, please. Pennies may not have much value on their own, but if you put enough of them together, you get a lot, and I mean a lot of money. So control your laughter and pay attention, please, because this could work, if we all bought into it.)

Here are the numbers: We have approximately 2 million members in the Episcopal Church. If we were to set up a program and ask each person to set aside a mere 25 cents per day – just one quarter, less than the cost of a newspaper, less than the cost of just about anything except a gumball these days – the Church would gain an additional $182.5 million – per year! That’s more than three times the proposed budget for 2010 (which is $53.1 million). And what would it cost each person? $91.25 per year. We’re not talking major money here … we’re literally talking pennies per person.

OK, so maybe getting all 2 million members to participate is going to be tough. So let’s say that only half of our members participate. That would still be $91.25 million.

Still too optimistic? Well, what if only one quarter of our members participated? Net gain: $46.6 million.

Maybe this is all pie-in-the-sky. So let’s drop the numbers even more. Let’s ask each person to give 1 cent – one penny – per day. How do the numbers work out then?

Two million members each participate, each giving a paltry $3.65 per year. That still nets the Church $7.3 million. One million participants: $3.65 million. Half a million participants? $1.825 million.

Which is nearly double what was cut from the Church’s budget for the MDGs.

In other words, asking each of us to give mere pennies per day would more than make up the cuts made to fulfill the MDGs.

(If the numbers sound staggering, and you’re wondering why the MDGs have to get all the money from a program like this, my answer is simple: The MDGs don’t. Raise a $182.5 million and you get to split it up: Fifty percent to the parish, 25 percent to the diocese, 25 percent to the world through the MDGs. It doesn’t matter; it would still be a bounty worthy of the Lord.)

Is it a crazy idea, asking each member to make a commitment of this kind, too pie-in-the-sky? Perhaps. But how else is the Church going to fulfill the Gospel imperatives that are so eloquently expressed in those goals?

Yes, the Church has a lot of work to do. We haven’t sold the idea of the MDGs as well as we should have or could have. (The April 12 Living Church reported that in response to a survey on its news service website, an astonishing 67 percent of participants said the MDGs are “not on their parish’s radar.”) And we certainly haven’t sold the idea of giving to the Church very well, either. After all, how many of us – lay and clergy – actually tithe from our total income?

But just because we haven’t sold stewardship as well as we should have doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because this is a program that could work, if we were serious about it. If we asked each member to contribute pennies per day – not to write one extra check per year, but to intentionally put their pennies in their piggy banks or used water bottles or cardboard boxes or whatever they want to use, so that each and every day, each and every one of us stops to think and pray about those in need – this program would be successful beyond our wildest dreams.

In the last six months, I’ve heard from dozens of friends, lay and clergy, about how their parishes had to cut budgets, how stewardship campaigns are so very hard because the economy is in a freefall, how difficult it is to stand up in front of a congregation and announce that the budget is $40,000 or $50,000 or $60,000 short. I’ve heard anger, I’ve heard regret, I’ve heard fear. And I know that if I were sitting in the pew and my leaders told me we needed another $40,000 (or whatever the sum would be), I’d panic. Because I don’t have that kind of money. And I’d feel regret, and I’d worry. But if those same leaders stood before me and told me, “OK, here’s what we’re short, and here’s how it breaks down: We need another 25 cents per day from you,” I’d say, “OK, that I can do.”

Even more, by asking each of us to give this small amount, so that it takes all of us to accomplish the goal, each of us knows that we are members of a community, that we don't have to solve the problem all on our own. We have a whole capital-C Church to help us do this. It’s not just about putting a roof over our heads or making sure we fix the church basement leak; this is about doing God’s work and caring for God’s people wherever they are.

Our problem is not that we are in a serious economic recession. Our problem is that we simply don’t solve problems the right way. We look at the biggest picture possible and overwhelm our people and ourselves, and then … well, then we fall short of our goals and things like support for the MDGs gets cut from a shrinking budget.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can do so much better, if we simply stop overwhelming ourselves with the seemingly impossible and remember that all things are possible with God.

It’s not as though we have a choice, to be honest. From the very beginning of time, God has instructed us to care for those in need. Terence E. Fretheim, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, speaks eloquently of these imperatives in his book The Pentateuch. He writes that Deuteronomy especially understands that human life is at odds with God’s intentions for creation, and that the law is the “divine ordering at the cosmic level” for what happens in the social sphere. Thus, he says, Deuteronomy “focuses on the stability of the community and its flourishing” and cites the “recurring refrain: the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien.”

“Caring for the disadvantaged,” Fretheim writes, “is more a theological matter for Israel than a sociological or political one; these commands come from God above, not from the government, and the integrity of God’s creation is at stake in the way in which these people are cared for.” And then he quotes from Deuteronomy 15: “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand … Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor ...’”

Opening our hands to our poor and needy neighbors: that’s the goal of the MDGs. That’s what the Church formally committed to at last General Convention: Working with the United Nations and the rest of the world to end extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental stability; and develop global partnerships for development.

Those are the things we’re giving up, simply because of financial constraints. But when Jesus commanded us to care for the least of our brothers and sister, he didn’t add the codicil “but only if you can afford it.” He simply told us to do it. So we really don’t have the right to get excited about doing God’s work in one triennium and then walk away from that work the next triennium simply because we think we don’t have the money.

We do have the money … one quarter, or even just one penny, at a time. Together, in community, we can do all the things that God has commanded us to do.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church from the Diocese of Virginia, temporarily serving in the United States.

My pioneering grandmother

By Luiz Coelho

My grandmother's family emigrated to Brazil on a cargo ship that took six months to arrive! She was raised at a coffee plantation in a region where every single white person was related to each other, and could trace their origins to the same pioneer who got rich in Brazil and brought most of the people from his village in Portugal.

When she was young, she couldn't be friends with people of color. "It was a big transgression" - she said. Only when she went live in Rio (with my grandfather and their three girls), did they get in touch and develop friendships with black and mixed-race people. My mother was still an infant, and at first, she would cry every time a black person approached her. It was the very first time she saw them, in a country where about half of the population is not white! Eventually, she got used to seeing people who had dark skin tones, but just the fact that there are people even today who lived and can recall those events is very sad.

My grandmother had a conversion experience while reciting the Nicene Creed at her Catholic Church. Later, she became a Protestant, because "they also believed in the Creed, plus, they could read the Bible," but she's still fond of the Catholic Church "now that they can do those things as well." She might be a crypto-Vatican II Catholic of sorts.

She had three girls. Only my mom and aunt survived childhood. My grandfather, who also was her cousin, didn't care (or didn't want to care) about birth control. But she knew that they couldn't raise decently any more children, so, she prayed every day she wouldn't get pregnant again - and she didn't. That was her only choice of family planning. I wonder how many women still have to do that.

She worked overnight shifts at a sweatshop. My grandfather eventually got sick, and could not take care of the family by himself. Labor conditions in factories back in those days were deplorable, and my grandmother felt compelled to join a labor union and campaign for labor rights. Eventually, the government passed laws that forced factories to comply to a maximum of eight work hours per day. She still remembers how joyful she felt when that legislation became law.

Her multiple work shifts were not in vain. Thanks to her sacrifice, my mother and my aunt never had to work while at school. They passed the test to go to normal school, and eventually graduated and became elementary school teachers. Both went to college later. My grandmother also adopted an orphan teenager. This girl also went to college, and is now a retired federal judge.

Every time I think about women, and their achievements, I think about my grandmother and her life. Now she is 90, and many of the challenges she faced seem to be so far away from us. However, they are many women still face them. If it were not for my grandmother's witness of life, maybe I would not pay as much attention to this fact as I should. She has been, however, my model and guide, and in her I see the work of all those wonderful women who work and pray next to me.

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 the Anglican Covenant just Dar by other means?

By Jim Naughton

Is it possible that proposed Anglican Covenant is a means of achieving a modified version of the Dar es Salaam settlement proposed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in 2007?

The communiqué released after that meeting proposed a “pastoral scheme”, which created a church within a church led by almost exactly the same bishops who signed the factually challenged document on diocesan autonomy released Wednesday by the Anglican Communion Institute.

The ACI, with Fulcrum in the United Kingdom, were influential in creating the pastoral scheme and articulating the Camp Allen principles that were also endorsed by the Primates. The Dar settlement was almost unanimously rejected by the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, (which, as Sally Johnson chancellor to Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, has demonstrated, did not have the constitutional authority to affirm it). Despite its rejection, the leaders of the ACI continued to press for its provisions to be imposed on the Episcopal Church, even though the Dar settlement makes no provisions for this eventuality, and the Primates Meeting lacks the authority to force settlements on member Churches.

Have a look at the Pastoral Scheme (which you can see by clicking Read more) and then read the emails in this thread written by Christopher Seitz regarding conservations between himself, Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina and the Rev. Theron Walker, a rector in the diocese of Colorado.

In these emails, Seitz says that if a parish determines that its bishop's support for the covenant is not as intense as its own, it can ask for alternative episcopal oversight through the Communion Partners. Put aside for the moment the fact that the proposed covenant has not yet been presented to the Anglican Consultative Council, and therefore may not be in its final form, and note how Seitz uses the covenant as a tool to separate parishes sympathetic to the Anglican Communion Institute and the Communion Partner Bishops from their diocesan bishops. If this is considered a legitimate exercise, it can be employed against any bishop anywhere--and can be used as a cover to legitimize separation on other grounds, for how would anyone determine that one's bishop's support for the covenant was, in fact, precisely commensurate with one's own?

Note also the emphasis Seitz puts on keeping all of this business between the Communion Partner Bishops and the Pastoral Visitors (who have been appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but who have not yet been asked to intervene anywhere), in effect setting the CP bishops up as free agents in their dealings with Lambeth Palace. Note the importance he places on keeping Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on the sidelines so she cannot refuse a pastoral visitation, and note that he does not mention the PB's own plan for alternative episcopal oversight, which was adopted by the House of Bishops in September 2007, with the support of most of the Communion Partner bishops.

If the scenario Seitz is outlining here were to come to fruition and be embraced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the result would be strikingly similar to the results envisioned by the architects of the Dar es Salaam settlement: a theologically conservative enclave within the Episcopal Church that enjoyed all of the rights and none of the responsibilities of Church membership.

Given Seitz's plans, the fact that the archbishop's pastoral visitors were trained for their new roles by a team that included two men who are mentioned prominently in the ACI emails is cause for real concern. The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner of the Covenant Design Group is one of the three members of the ACI and signed the statement on diocesan autonomy. Bishop Gary Lillibridge of the Windsor Continuation Group did not sign the statement, but if the emails are to be believed, he offered helpful comments on previous versions, and supports its general principles. (A statement from the bishop, who is well-respected by many who disagree with him on the issues convulsing our Church would be extremely helpful right around now.)

If passing the covenant effectively creates a church within a church, the covenant has to be defeated, but its proponents may be able to salvage their project by amending the document to foreclose this possibility. Whether they are open to amendments may tell us much about their true motives.

Jim Naughton is the editor of Episcopal Café.

Read more »

Lessons from a grumpy Zen master

By Jean Fitzpatrick

On a recent cherry-blossom trip to Kyoto I went to a Zen meditation class and learned more than I'd expected. The Zen master, a corpulent man who nonetheless looked relaxed in full lotus pose, nodded at the dozen of us North American tourists who straggled in, and Tammy, our local translator, told us to sit on the zafus, or meditation cushions, lined up in two rows on tatami mats overlooking a garden. We all arranged ourselves on the cushions in various awkward poses. One man, spotting a chair in a corner, carried it over to his meditation space. "The master says no chairs," Tammy said, whisking it away.

We all stared at the master, waiting. "The master would like to know if there are any questions," Tammy announced.

Silence at first. "What are the benefits of meditation?" asked Deborah, a psychotherapist and practicing meditator from Texas. I had the sense she wanted to help get a dialogue going.

The Zen master replied quickly in Japanese. "There are no benefits," Tammy said, interpreting. Then, apparently counting on his fingers, the Zen master spoke again in Japanese. "There are various benefits," Tammy said after a while. "But this is not why we do meditation. We do meditation just to do it."

So much for dialogue. Oh, I recognized that he was operating on a higher, if-you-meet-the-Buddha-in-the-road-slay-him plane, all right, but I think our band of wanderers was hoping for a little help reaching those stratospheric spiritual heights.

Next came a series of breathing exercises. We learned to control our spine, breath, our gaze. We sat for three minutes, then took a break, then sat for five more minutes. The Zen master talked for a long while to Tammy in Japanese, then brought out a long wooden stick. They talked for a while longer as we eyeballed the stick and exchanged doubtful glances. (Think Lost in Translation meets Into Great Silence.) "He is going to walk up and down and watch you," Tammy announced. "If you want you can bow to him" -- she showed us how, head down and palms together -- "to tell him that if he sees you are not sitting up straight or concentrating, you would like him to hit you."

We started the third period of meditation -- ten minutes -- and the Zen master walked up and down the room with his stick, his bare feet padding on the tatami. Whack! At the sound of the first hit I nearly toppled off my cushion. John, a twenty-something Hawaiian with a winning smile and an enthusiasm for hot sake, was on the receiving end. "Every time he walked by I was worried he was going to hit me," John told me later, shrugging. "I decided to get it over with."

A few more whacks and we were back out under the cherry blossoms. Having decided not to participate in the whacking tradition, I'd sat up as straight as a board and kept my focus as close to laserlike as I knew how. The purpose of the stick, I read later on, is to focus you on physical sensation, to empty your mind and get you out of your head. I can't say any of us figured that out. "What good did all that meditation do him?" one novice said afterward as we wound our way through incense-filled alleyways toward a noodle shop that came highly recommended. "That Zen master's the grumpiest guy in Japan."

I'm not saying it was the end of the world. To tell the truth, part of me thinks the Zen master brings out the biggest stick and lands the loudest whacks on the classes full of Western tourists. But hitting people with a stick during a meditation class is an approach to adult ed that most of my clergy friends would frown on, I'm thinking. (Not that they might not have fantasized about it once or twice.) We're too sensitive -- too pastoral -- to treat people that way, right?

I wonder. At a time when many people are working long hours, hanging onto their jobs by their fingernails, I'm still hearing complaints from clergy about parishioners who didn't attend every Holy Week service but just showed up on Easter Sunday. When we have all too few years to teach our little ones that they are infinitely precious and lovable, I still hear children being taught about the Crucifixion by having nails rubbed into their palms. As the church shrinks, I'm still meeting people who longed to be part of parish life but found the Sunday morning liturgy more historic than inspiring.

Some might say the way we do things reflects lofty spiritual goals. But are we meeting people where they are?

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 www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Suffer the little children, and their parents, too

By Leo Campos

I have heard and read much about Jesus' openness to children. In his day and time children were not of much more value than cattle, if that much. So for Jesus to permit children to "bother" him was different enough to merit a mention. It is also one of those small little details which seem to me to be proof of the impact of Jesus in the lives of those who followed him.

It is also, in my opinion, proof of Jesus' celibacy - against those inclined toward a gnostic or DaVinci-esque view of Jesus. Only a really cool uncle would say such a thing about children. Of course, Jesus never said such a thing directly to my youngest son.

Case in point: taking my 3-year old to school can turn any morning into drama of epic proportions. Part of the difficulty is that he is one of those kids who absolutely must do everything for himself - no matter that he lacks the finer motor control or the experience or both. He must get it himself, do it himself. He will not tolerate any help...even though without help he cannot (physically) do the task. Even though if I did it we would be out of the house already and I would not be late for work. No matter. A typical conversation will go something like this:

"Daddy I want milk!"

"What do we say?"

Pause. He looks at his father and practices the look he will give me 20 years hence at the early onset of dementia, "I. Want. Milk."

I adjust my glasses, the International Sign of Infinite Patience and explain, "We say 'please'."

"Oh yeah. Please? Milk? Please!! I said please."

"Yes you did. Here's your milk," and I hand him a glass of milk, in his favorite white plastic cup which turns purple with the temperature of the liquid.

"No," he frowns, crosses his arms, and if he knew how, he would probably tap his toes too.

A puzzled look crosses my face, and instinctively I check the cup to make sure it really was milk I poured in there, remembering that one time when it involved my wife's kefir. "Don't you want milk?" I stretch the glass to him.

"No."

I look at this child like someone looks at a small but extremely dangerous animal that is making threatening noises, "You asked for milk!"

After a few seconds of death-staring each other, I say, "Ok. Don't have any milk. See if I care. Do you know how many starving cows in Timbuktu would love some milk?"

I try my best to slam the milk down with dignity and focus my attention back on doing my cereal box lectio. My cereal now is mushy. A few minutes later I hear, "Look Daddy I got milk."

Suffer unto me indeed. But Jesus did not mean this particular pint-sized lovable terror; he meant the approach to certain things in life which all children share. For example, regardless of how the day begins, without or without military interventions, duct tape, and sugar frosted cereals, when we get to the car the request is usually the same: "Daddy can we say prayers?" By this he means he wants to listen to my CD of Morning Offices which I got from GIA Music (highly recommended, by the way). So we put it on and listen and sing along to the psalms and the canticles.

On my wife's side of the family, music is an integral part of their self-identity. Everyone, it seems plays various instruments well, has a range of multiple octaves, and can usually be counted on to start some sort of sing-along around the piano - and that's just the pets. My tone-deafness and general music analphabetism elicits the same sort of look one gives to those brave souls who wear their Phillies hats out in public.

The other day our little one was singing to himself the intro to the Offices ("O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me"). I could tell it was in tune because my beloved wife was frantically calling the DNA research lab, canceling the DNA tests, and just as quickly dialing her family and holding up the phone so they too could hear it.

But the issue with the daily singing of hymns goes deeper than musical appreciation or even family affiliation (and perhaps a larger percentage of inheritance later in life). The point is that my son finds routines comforting. Children, it seems, make natural Benedictines - they thrive on the day-in day-out routines: certain predictable things happen in certain predictable hours, in certain predictable days. My little one quickly memorized what days he could bring a book and what days he could bring a toy to daycare. He must have dinner no later than 5:45 EST. He demands a certain amount of reading every night - usually from a limited collection of "best" books (a collection which his older brother is always trying to expand). And then there is "compline."

"Daddy. My brother has not read me a book."
In the background I hear a "Did too!" from his brother.

"But son, I heard him in there with you for the past half an hour," I reply hoping against hope his mother will be home soon.

Silent pause. He looks at me on the couch with the practiced caring disdain of an overworked nurse, "He has not read me a book," he repeats probably figuring out that all adults are hard of hearing.

"Which book?" I ask putting down my own reading, the international sign of Fantastic Daddyship.

"Don't let the pigeon drive the bus!"

"Ok - let's go read the book."

And after reading, not one but three Mo Willems books plus a few others, there is the bathroom run, and then the prayers. The "friend light" (night light) has to be on and the correct blanket in place. And on and on.

Routines - they bring stability and, strangely, an opportunity to explore and play. Play is much better when carried out within boundaries. There is perhaps a certain feeling of security which routine affords. Those of us who recite the Daily Office find their constancy and their repetition extremely comforting. While novelty is the fastest way to happiness, repetition is the surest road to joy.

Instead of ruing the boredom of our lives, we should spend sometime thanking God for routines - and then setting about doing the work He has given us to do within that routine. To complain of boredom and routine betrays a lack of creativity and of insight - both of which are fundamental tools for a deep spiritual life.

Children, especially my lovable younger one, are masters of creative ways of existing within the boundaries, of playing in and with the boundaries. They are masters of living. Let me suffer unto the little children and learn to live better.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude , a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

The modern apostle

By Marshall Scott

I’ve always had a certain affection for Thomas.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a research-oriented household. My father has a Ph.D, and during my formative years he was completing it. He worked in a research setting, and that certainly affected our family’s social circle. In my household we discussed hard topics at the dinner table, and a child was allowed an opinion, but it had to be backed up with facts and reasons.

Perhaps it’s because I spend so much of my time in an environment shaped by research. Virtually everything that happens in a hospital is shaped by research, whether by clinical trials or by patient satisfaction surveys. Even chaplains are concerned that we are providing "evidence-based practice."

Perhaps it’s because I live in the Show Me State. I’m don't really think my neighbors and I are more rationalistic than the larger society (much less more rational!). At the same time, among my neighbors (in the widest sense) the call to "Show me!" comes up again and again.
Whatever the reason, I have always had a certain affection for Thomas. Tradition has labeled him "the Doubter," the one whose faith wasn’t quite sufficient, wasn’t quite right. Some in the tradition have labeled doubt as a problem in and of itself, and have suggested that if we experience doubt, something is wrong with our faith, too.

I prefer to think that Thomas was the first modern apostle. He is such a powerful and troubling model for us because he is one with whom we might so readily identify. He seems again and again, and especially at Easter, to think as we might have thought.

That is, in its way, a blessing and a concern in the Easter story. Thomas isn’t present the evening of that first Easter Sunday. So, when he does speak with those who were present, and they tell him the Jesus was there, he’s skeptical.

Indeed, in any other circumstances we would call it a healthy skepticism. I think we do a disservice to our spiritual ancestors if we assume that they didn’t understand what we mean by "a fact." This is not to argue for the historicity of everything in Scripture. Rather, it’s to argue for the reasonable intelligence and common humanity that they share with us. In both Torah and in Roman law there were standards of evidence, standards that were based on the idea that two or more people in the same situation would see basically the same event – which is the basic understanding we have of "a fact."

They also had a pretty well developed concept, I think, of what we would call, "wishful thinking." After all, prophet after prophet had called Israel to rethink and repent. Prophet after prophet said, "You think your ritual observance is enough to please God; but God wants from you something different, something more." Thomas had often heard Jesus say just the same thing. He would certainly have understood what we would call "wishful thinking."

Therefore, Thomas and those around him would certainly understand that death is a fact. They were much closer to death than we are today. Deaths and wakes and funerals took place in family living rooms. We have, by and large, removed them to clean, controlled, and altogether separate circumstances. Too, the miracles of modern medicine, not to mention how those miracles get portrayed in the media, have given us the opportunity for the false impression that death can be overcome. The fact is – the fact is – that until the Kingdom comes, the mortality rate is 100%. Thomas and those around him would have understood that death, and the finality of death, were facts. They would have understood the wishful thinking, the desire that the facts were different, that was and is part of grief. That wouldn’t have changed what they knew about the fact of death.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone, and especially to us, that Thomas, that first modern Apostle, reacted pretty much as we would. A report that fantastic, that Jesus was not dead but alive, that Jesus was not gone but present, would require proof, and perhaps a higher than usual standard of proof. "Unless I can touch him myself; unless I can put my fingers to the nail holes, my hand to the spear wound;" isn’t that just what we 21st Century Christians would have said ourselves?

That makes it all the more important, and especially important for us, that Thomas was there the next week and had the opportunity for his experiment. Thomas was there, and Jesus was there. "Here, Thomas," Jesus said. "Here are the holes: touch them. Here is the wound: feel it. Believe."

Did he reach, did he actually touch? We don't know. But, we do know he believed. "My Lord!" he said; "My God." And Jesus answered, in words we have cherished ever since: "Now you believe, now because you’ve seen? Blessed are those who have believed without seeing."
And we think, "That’s us! Those words are about us!" Because, of course, we weren’t there. We weren't in that room that second Sunday of Easter, any more than Thomas was there on the first. We are among those who "have not seen, and yet have come to believe."

I think, though, that this is one of those moments where, if we are to live in good faith, we have to consider who we would be in this story. This is not unlike that moment in the Passion narrative when we have to confront ourselves, realizing that, as much as we would hate to admit it, we would have been in that angry, ugly, shouting crowd. So, in this case, we have, I think, to admit that we, bathed as we are in our "Show me!" culture, would have been like Thomas: skeptical, and feeling justified in our skepticism.

And we face a world that is skeptical. You could almost sustain a "Book of the Month Club" devoted just to books questioning the contents or the underpinnings of the Christian faith.
In that light, Thomas' skepticism and his experiment are critical for us. We trust in the witness of John and the other Gospels just because of moments like this: bread broken at a dinner table; a breakfast of grilled fish; and those words, "Here I am. Touch and believe." We are able to believe without seeing in no small part because of those who did, those who were not different from us, not smarter or holier or more worthy. We are able to believe through our own skepticism precisely because Thomas couldn't believe through his. And because we understand why he would have to have this experience, we can trust in it. He did just what we would; and so we can trust his report of what he saw.

And so we give thanks for Thomas, the modern Apostle. He took his skepticism, and our skepticism with it, to Jesus. On our behalf he had the opportunity to test, to see, to touch. And in our place he heard those words, "Now you believe, now because you’ve seen? Blessed are those who have believed without seeing." We do cherish those words, because we know they apply to us. But, they wouldn't be ours if it weren’t for the familiar human skepticism, that doubt that we don't have to face precisely because Thomas did.

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.

Earth Day: Living as stewards in God's house

By George Clifford

Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day. Began in 1969, Earth Day was instituted to call attention to the global environmental crisis. In the intervening forty years, awareness has grown. Embarrassingly, much of the Church has remained indifferent while environmental problems have worsened, often taking a back seat to other, purportedly more urgent issues.

Today, the economic crisis cries for center stage. However, the economic crisis and environmental crisis intertwine inseparably with one another, as theologian Sallie McFague emphasized in her 2001 book, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. McFague describes two worldviews, the neo-classical economic and the ecological economic, first explaining the connection and then suggesting theologically responsible responses.

The neo-classical economic worldview emerged from market-based capitalism guided by the invisible hand of self-interest, which Adam Smith first outlined in the eighteenth century. Theoretically, independent, acquisitive individuals eventually work out, albeit unintentionally, a society’s optimal production and consumption solutions to the benefit of all. McFague helpfully observes that this worldview focuses on monetary gains as its sole aim, excluding the values of the fair distribution of profits from the earth’s resources and global sustainability.

For the world’s entire population to enjoy a Western, middle class standard of living, we would require the resources of four more earth-type, earth-size planets. We in the West – about one in six people globally – typically see ourselves as consumers. More is better. Newer is better. The most and the newest is best. McFague reports that 93% of U.S. teenagers say shopping is their favorite pastime and that the U.S. has an amazing sixteen square feet of shopping space per resident. All of this consumption aims to create personal happiness.

Yet, consumption does not translate into personal happiness. Certainly, some amount of consumption and wealth are essential for human well-being and happiness. Humans have obvious needs for water, food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Humans have less obvious but equally real needs for education, social structure, and enrichment, including art and spirituality. Some modest level of personal wealth generally enables one to obtain most of those goods, goods that the poor live without or only have in insufficient quantities. However, surveys indicate that U.S. personal happiness peaked in 1957, even though consumption has more than doubled since then. People with six figure incomes sometimes feel poor. One root of the current economic crisis was excessive consumption by the avaricious, those whose greed far exceeded their needs as they sought happiness racing along a pathway named “More is better.”

I do not think it coincidental that the unhappiest parish, as measured by personal attitudes and social problems (alcoholism, broken marriages, troubled children, etc.), that I have known was also the wealthiest. People were so busy pursuing material goals that they had little time for self or others. Consumption had become their ideology, even the de facto religion of many.

The emergence of market-based economies signaled the emancipation of the individual and a developing, healthy emphasis on human rights. However, the neo-classical economic worldview myopically emphasizes individuality, birthing planetary problems. The top three of those are diminishing biodiversity, rapid population/consumption growth, and global warming. Continued, unbridled exploitation of natural resources, including other life forms, to maximize consumption driven economies will only exacerbate those problems.

The ecological worldview that McFague sketches sharply contrasts with the neo-classical economic worldview. She defines ecological economics as the allocation of scarce resources to keep the planet working indefinitely. She characterizes the planet as God's house, a household that must support all of its members over the long run. God intends humankind to serve the planet (the house) as stewards.

Ecological economic presumptions differ starkly from those of neo-classical economics. Neo-classical economics begins with unconstrained distribution of resources to competing individuals, confident that over time, if all compete, issues of fair distribution and sustainability will work themselves out. Ecological economics begins with community, focusing on sustainability and distributive justice, believing individuals of all species, including humans, can only thrive as part of the planetary community. Ecological economics entails balancing community and individual, not subordinating one to the other, avoiding the consequences of exalting the individual at the cost of the community and the futility of attempting to exalt the community at the cost of the individual. In other words, healthy mutual interdependence replaces radical individuality.

Ecological economics does not discard market-based capitalism; instead, ecological economics views market-based capitalism as one of many tools in the economic toolkit. Like any good craftsperson, the steward of God's house will choose the tool that best fits a particular job. Not every job requires a hammer.

Humans who view themselves not primarily as consumers but as members of a planetary household will perceive a circle of life and aim for a spiral of sustainability rather than the linear progress associated with increased consumption and production. Sustainability embraces all life and thus requires distributive justice. Furthermore, sustainability emphasizes the indispensability of all types of capital (financial, physical resources, knowledge, relationships, etc.). Poverty, the lack of financial and other forms of physical capital, like the consumption that neo-classic economics promotes, destroys sustainability. For example, poor people often use environmentally destructive slash and burn agriculture in a desperate struggle to survive. Poverty, contrary to neo-classical economic theory, is increasing. The income gap between the world’s richest and poorest fifths has exploded from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1997.

By the standards of neo-classical economics, i.e., measuring gross domestic product per capita, the United States ranks 10th in the world; the top nine nations, except for Norway, are small countries, such as Liechtenstein and Qatar. Canada ranks 21st. (CIA - The World Factbook -- Country Comparisons - GDP - per capita (PPP)) However, compared using the United Nations Human Development Index, Canada ranks 3rd and the United States 15th. (Human Development Reports (HDR) – United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)) The Human Development Index better gauges ecological economics, including not only per capita income but also education and life expectancy. Admittedly, Canada has its share of problems and challenges. Nevertheless, the reversal in rankings between Canada and the U.S. with respect to per capita gross domestic production and the Human Development Index highlights an inherent weakness of neo-classical economics. Maximizing consumption does not maximize quality of life, let alone sustainability.

Faith communities are rightly addressing the concerns of those whose livelihood, dwelling, or well-being the current economic crisis imperils. More importantly, faith communities should attempt to use the economic crisis as a catalyst to shift worldviews from neo-classical economics to ecological economics. Ecological economics affirms the importance of both community and individual. Ecological economics replaces an ethic of human dominance with an ethic of human stewardship that values all life and all creation. Ecological economics enriches life for all, in a sustainable manner. Finally, ecological economics, unlike neo-classical economics, emerges out of a profoundly Christian understanding of creation.

McFague enumerates three simple rules of ecological economics that if adopted by everyone as part of his or her spiritual discipline would transform them and the planet: (1) take only your share; (2) clean up after yourself; (3) keep the house in good shape for future occupants.

The Rev. Dr. 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.

Way, truth, life

By Greg Jones

In the 14th Chapter of John, Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." In case you've never read John before, or perhaps been to a funeral in which this is a popular passage, you may wonder, "The way to what?" "The truth about what?" "The life of what?"

Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life ... of God.

• Jesus is the way, the road, the path, the channel given by God to God. Jesus is not the "way to heaven" but the "way to the Father." Our destiny is not to end up in a place, but to never end in a full life in God.
• Jesus is the truth of God. The truth in full. Not a partial, not a piece, not a portion ... but the full truth of God poured out in a full human life. The Word made flesh.
• Jesus is the life of God. Not just a godly life. Not just a good life. But the Life of God. The life coursing through God's being - the blood in his veins - the active principle, the verb of action and living, the essential name.

I believe these words from John 14 in concert with kenotic hymn of God's self-emptying in Philipians 2 offer the theological lenses through which the passion of Christ is best seen. (Likewise, I believe the best way to understand John 14's most familiar phrase is in light of the passion narratives and Philipians 2.)

In the passion, Jesus goes to the Cross where he will die. He could have quit. As a fully human person, Jesus could have run -- like nearly everybody else who loved him. He could have denied his vocation, but instead he went to the cross. He went there to be pinioned and pierced, mocked and murdered; to be poured out as a libation for sin, and all to be, show and give the way, truth and life of God to us. To us who need that way, truth and life which is not our way, truth and life. To us who cannot save ourselves from our small ways, small truths and small lives.

The cup of sorrow that Jesus chose to drink makes it possible for us to drink from the sweet cup of salvation. The bitter cup of vinegar, iron and wood that Jesus drinks in his passion is the only way that God's loving cup of grace may be poured out for us.

Yes, friends, the key to understanding the passion is to know that Jesus is the way, truth and life of God. And the way to understanding that Jesus is the way, truth and life of God is to know that as God's Son he poured himself out, emptied himself, drained of all power and blood, and in this paschal mystery brings us all the hope that we have.

If you believe this, then rejoice! For God in God's way, in God's truth, and in God's life has given everything for us, to save us from darkness, from shadow, and from our little ways, truths and lives which lead nowhere but the grave.

Doesn't this sound like a good deal? A truly great free-of-charge kind of deal? It is. It is good, and it's why we call this Good News the heart of our life together. Jesus poured it all out for us, and the passion story demonstrates how we can go and do likewise. The way to pour out the power of God is on a donkey - not a stallion or warhorse - but a humble donkey. The way to pour out the power of God is to live on trial before the world, in front of friends, skeptics and enemies. The way to pour out the power of God is in a true life consecrated and given to the ownership of God, so that God can pour grace through us. The way that leads to God is the way of emptying ourselves for neighbor in a God-thirsty world. The truth about God and the life of God is like unto it.

Martin Bucer, the great reformer, said that the primary focus of the Christian should not be his own salvation, but the needs of his neighbor. That's exactly what the self-emptying way, truth and life of God in Christ is all about.

Let us pour out everything we have friends, because the grace of god cannot run out.

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.

Redistribution of wealth: It's in the Bible!

By Daniel J. Webster

Tax day has come and gone. News video of tax protests is still being shown. There were images of President Obama wearing a Mao hat with the Chinese Communist red star. There were images of makeshift American flags with a hammer and sickle replacing the stars. One news photo showed a woman holding a sign that read, "My God, My Money, My Guns."

My God and my money, indeed.

This Sunday millions of American Christians who attend churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary will hear a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It's a short reading. In just four verses those who hear Acts 4:32-35 may be a little surprised about how the early followers of Jesus handled their money and possessions.

They will hear "...no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common." The story tells us followers sold their homes and property, gave the proceeds to the apostles who distributed the funds so that there "was not a needy person among them."

I'm going out on a limb here and suspect that, like the woman holding the sign about God, money and guns, most of those protesting on April 15 really and truly believe the United States is a Christian nation. Many of them truly believe the economic stimulus actions by the federal government amount to socialism. That's what they've been told by their favorite radio talk show hosts or cable news antagonist anchors.

The brief reading for Sunday is actually just the beginning of a longer section of Acts that details those who redistribute and those who refuse to share their wealth. St. Barnabas is singled out as one who does right in selling his land and giving the money to the apostles.

But Ananais and his wife Sapphira don't fare as well. They hold on to some of their possessions. Peter calls them agents of Satan. And the consequence for withholding wealth for yourself in this story is death. Both Ananais and Sapphira drop dead when told of their inaction. They might as well have been holding the sign, "My God, My Money, My Guns."

This is one of those uncomfortable readings that are dismissed by millions of modern Christians who believe capitalism is God's will. Don't get me wrong. Capitalism is not evil if it has a conscience. But when capitalism is perverted to create a society that proclaims loudly, "I've got mine. You get yours," then we have a system that promotes death among the least among us.

There have been other images on TV and in the news. A recent "60 Minutes" report on CBS profiled uninsured patients at a Nevada hospital who had their cancer treatments canceled when state tax dollars were withdrawn because of the economic downturn. One patient said it amounted to a death sentence.

In that same story a doctor was shown treating some of those patients for whatever they could pay. He and other physicians were donating, or redistributing their wealth, to take care of those who were needy. They were acting today in the spirit of Barnabas and those early followers of Jesus.

Living in that spirit will really make us a Christian nation for all Americans whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or those of no faith. President Obama, the man vilified as communist or socialist at the TEA Parties, often refers to the multi-religious golden rule when he discusses tax increases for the wealthy. Maybe he should refer to Acts 4:32-35 in the future for those who believe in "My God, My Money, My Guns."

The Rev. Canon Daniel J. Webster is canon for congregational development in the Diocese of New York and Vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Montgomery, New York.

The Church and young adults: out of sight, out of mind

By Amy McCreath

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?

People: We will.

Raise your hand if you heard these words at an Easter service recently. OK, that’s over half of you, I bet. These words are taken, of course, from the rite for Holy Baptism, and in many congregations, baptisms are celebrated in the midst of Easter Vigils, in accord with ancient custom.

Raise your hand if you meant what you said when you answered “We will.”

Great. Good for you. But what did you mean? How will you support these persons in their life in Christ, and for how long? Does your obligation mean volunteering to teach Church School regularly? Does it mean contributing financially to the diocesan summer camp they attend? What about after they are confirmed – Will you continue to do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ then? How about when they are off at college or graduate school?

For the past eight years, I’ve been blessed to work with college students, many of whom grew up in Episcopal or Lutheran congregations around the US and Canada. The good news is that, in general, they are hungry for deeper faith, chasing after God with undefended hearts, and thrilled for whatever opportunities the church offers them to learn and to lead. The other news is that the congregations in which they were baptized generally have done nothing to “support them in their life in Christ” since they were confirmed (often at the tender age of twelve or thirteen) and very rarely do anything to help them connect with a faith community when they leave home. I think this is a big problem. I want to tell you why and start a conversation about how to address it.

The folks who study developmental psychology and spiritual development have been telling us for years that late adolescence and early adulthood are critical times for establishing personal identity, probing faith commitments, and developing what Sharon Daloz Parks calls “worthy dreams.” They also tell us that having a “mentoring community” makes all the difference for how successfully one navigates the challenges of this inner work. A mentoring community is a group that helps a person sort through his or her questions and experiences, providing a healthy balance of challenge and support as they work towards a more mature, authentic personal faith. It can be a college chaplaincy, a parish, a Bible study group, a service corps, a summer camp staff, or any number of things; the key thing is that it happens and they can find it.

Now here’s something really interesting: Recent research shows that this work of finding faith and developing worthy dreams now extends well into a person’s twenties. The average age at which people marry and start families has risen in recent decades. Getting through college and graduate school takes longer than it used to. Hardly anyone get a job with a major corporation at the age of 21 and stays put forever anymore. Most people in their twenties haven’t made the transitions historically associated with “adulthood.” (If you want to know more about this phenomenon, read Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s excellent book, Emerging Adulthood.) My observation as a chaplain is that this leaves a lot of graduate students wandering about, unsure where to find community, who to turn to for the mentoring and development of life skills they yearn for, and afraid to walk into churches where, they assume, people have “figured things out.”

When late adolescents and young adults do connect with communities of faith, they milk them for all they are worth: they get involved, ask questions, volunteer, and make lots of (usually excellent) suggestions about how the church can get address injustices in the world. When they don’t connect with communities of faith, they put aside their questions and yearnings and focus on other things, usually their academic and social lives. As Tim Clydesdale explains in a great on-line article, they will “stow their (often vague) religious and spiritual identities in an identity lockbox,” stick the lockbox on a metal shelf, and only return to it after college or graduate school.

We too often assume that if a young adult is not participating in a faith community, it is on purpose. We assume they have made a conscious decision not to connect. Or they have been “turned off” by something. That does happen, of course, but a lot of times, our assumptions are unfounded. Often they simply did not see us. There’s a man who attends the same church I do on Sundays who is an MIT graduate. He asked me one day how long there has been an Episcopal ministry at MIT. I told him it went back to the mid 1950s. “You mean it was there when I was a student there?” he said with astonishment. Turns out, he lived in the dormitory located directly across the street from the Chapel. But he never noticed the sign outside the Chapel listing our services, never saw the posters for our services, and was never personally invited to an event. “I would have loved to have been involved! How I needed it then!” he said with regret.

The students who do find chaplaincies or parishes while they are at college often were referred to them by their priest back home. Here I want to give a shout out to the bishops of the Diocese of Connecticut, who actively assist the parishes in their diocese in getting young people connected to faith communities when they go to college. And they let chaplains and parish priests know to look for the young people who are coming, too. If every diocese followed their lead, I am sure that every year hundreds more young Episcopalians would find faith communities when they leave home.

Parish leaders can also help young adults by simply staying in touch with them. Get their email addresses and send them a note periodically. Take them out for coffee when they are home for Thanksgiving and ask them not just about their classes but about their souls. Don’t be afraid to ask about their suffering, their relationships, their questions. Share stories about your own struggles, too. Let them know that faith is a journey with bumps and challenges and don’t try to convince them out of their uncertainty. Listen well. Let them know you’re praying for them.

Youth group leaders, Journey to Adulthood leaders, diocesan camp directors, Happening leaders, and diocesan youth ministry coordinators have a vital role to play, too. Take time to talk with seniors about what to expect in college. Encourage them to seek out a community of faith and help them figure out how to do that. Bring back alums who are in college now to talk about what college is like spiritually. If lots of your teens go on to a local college or university that has an Episcopal chaplaincy, bring the chaplain or a student leader from the chaplaincy in to talk about what’s happening.

These are some of my thoughts about what it means to “support these persons in their life in Christ.” I look forward to hearing yours.

The Rev. Amy McCreath is the Episcopal chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wounds that don't heal

By Martin L. Smith

I will be celebrating Easter in Sydney this year, and no doubt the aromas of early fall down under will be different from the springtime scents of the northern hemisphere. But I expect there will be Easter lilies there somehow. I was recalling their fragrance the other day, and very particular feelings it has evoked in me ever since Holy Saturday, 1989.

I was arranging Easter lilies in a little chapel, not very well, so it is no wonder that I got distracted by one of the old magazines I was using to protect the floor. I glanced down and was shocked to read the title, “Children After Divorce: Wounds That Don’t Heal.” I knelt down and began to read the damp page with a strange feeling of apprehension; I felt on the verge of breaking a taboo. I was abandoned by a parent when I was a child, and endured the divorce that followed. And I was forbidden to grieve. I internalized the ban so thoroughly that for most of my life all sorts of upbeat interpretations of my experience sprang instinctively to my lips: “Well, it was hard, of course, but maybe it was all for the best… Everything worked out OK in the end. My parents weren’t a good fit for each other. We were resilient…” etc. etc.

This was the passage that struck me from Judith Wallerstein’s article, one anecdote from her research with kids who have undergone the divorce of their parents. A 6-year-old boy came to the research center. He wouldn’t talk about his parents’ break up, but he made a beeline for the array of dolls and toys that the therapists used. “When he found a good number of them, he stood the baby dolls firmly on their feet and placed the miniature tables, chairs, beds and, eventually, all the playhouse furniture on top of them. He looked at me satisfied. The babies were supporting a great deal. Then, wordlessly, he placed all the mother and father dolls in precarious positions on the steep roof of the doll house. As a father doll slid off the roof, the boy caught him and, looking up at me, said, ‘He might die.’ Soon all the mother and father dolls began sliding off the roof. He caught them gently, one by one. ‘The babies are holding up the world,’ he said.”

The devastating simplicity of that little boy’s words and the piercing eloquence of the scene he had created with the toys struck me to the core. “The babies are holding up the world.” That’s how it had felt! This unjust reversal of roles, this burden of protecting parents from their pain, this huge sense of responsibility… Kneeling among the disarray of Easter lilies, I felt knots beginning to loosen. It wasn’t too late, then, to feel the healing that comes when one’s pain is acknowledged as absolutely real. The burden of having to obey the protocols of denial begins to be lifted away.

Self-pity is such a horrible phrase that its associations can prevent us from feeling something that is different and wholly good—self-compassion. I felt tender compassion for the child I had been, and I put my finger on the wounds that suppressed grief had inflicted, wounds I had been taught to pretend weren’t there. I somehow managed to arrange the flowers though my vision was blurred by tears—good tears that seemed like the harbingers of integration and blessing.

Was it merely coincidental that this moment of truth happened on Holy Saturday? Perhaps not. After all, wouldn’t “Wounds that don’t heal” be an accurate title for an Easter sermon? I’m not alone in finding this single detail found in the stories of Jesus’ Easter appearances—that the Risen Christ has open wounds—to be the key that convinces me that the resurrection did occur. A made-up story would have had the wounds healed and an imaginary Christ as a figure of sheer glory. But no: the resurrection as it actually happened is God’s savage rebuke of all human tendency to cover up pain, all cosmetic smoothing over, all letting bygones be bygones, all conspiracies of silence, and phony cover-ups masquerading as reconciliation. “He showed them his hand and his side.”

Yet the resurrection of the wounded one is also the supreme gesture by God that bestows irrevocable permission for all time on those who have suffered to acknowledge their suffering as genuine, however others deny or minimize it. In the resurrection of the crucified, as the crucified, sufferers meet the Son of God as the one who keeps them company in the worst that can befall us. Through this meeting, we can find the redemption of what we endured, and delve into possibilities of grace in which buds of life and creativity can germinate just where injury and loss have done their worst.

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

A comprehensive solution

By Sam Candler

In times of controversy in the Episcopal Church, and even in times of relative calm, someone inevitably makes the accusation or the slight joke that Henry VIII (and his search for a suitable wife) started the Episcopal Church. Thus, I require all my confirmation classes and any audience who hears my presentations on the history and theology of Anglican Christianity to repeat the same line: Henry VIII did not start the Anglican Church (or the Episcopal Church.)

You pass the class if you can say that simple sentence. You pass with honors if you can state who actually did found the Episcopal Church: Jesus Christ founded the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church, developed from the Church of England, and an integral member of the Anglican Communion of Churches, is part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

That church, started by Jesus Christ, has included inevitable conflict. Even the beautiful first century Christian community involved conflict, which we can read about clearly in The Book of Acts (see Acts 15:2). One of the great apostles, St. Peter, was opposed to his face by the other great missionary apostle, St. Paul (see Galatians 2:11). From then on, every Christian community has lived through conflict. Sometimes that conflict was minor, and sometimes it has been major (see The Great Schism of 1054).

The Anglican tradition of Christianity, evolving as it did far from Rome and the more established centers of western civilization, has always seen its share of conflict and debate. Usually, that conflict has emerged from competing sources of authority. Who, or what, is the final authority in the Anglican Church? From the fifth century onwards, ecclesiastical authority rotated from the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whomever the reigning monarch might be, to the Roman Pope; after the Reformation, that revolving locus of authority included the common people themselves.

Consider the first Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Augustine (of Canterbury, not of Hippo), who landed at Canterbury in 597 AD. He was the first official Roman missionary bishop in what we now call England; but a Celtic form of Christianity, centered around local abbots and monasteries, was already present. St. Patrick had already returned to Ireland; St. David had evangelized Wales; and the great St. Columba had already founded Iona in the north country. One of the early English synods, held at Whitby in 664, was convened over a concern for authority; would the established Church follow Roman or Celtic Christian customs? They chose Rome at that time.

Thus, the question of authority was settled for a season, but not for all time. Jump forward to the great William the Conqueror in 1066. Long before Henry VIII, William the Conqueror also considered himself the head of the Church of England. He convened church councils (not the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury), he nominated bishops and abbots and invested them with ring and staff; and he refused to allow the Pope to interfere in what he considered the king’s business.

Later, Thomas a Beckett would lose his life by crossing King Henry II. In those days (11th and 12th Centuries), the King of England would often refuse to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury inside the country (Archbishops Lanfranc, Anselm, and Thomas a Beckett were all exiled at one time or another).

The Anglican Church was living through authority issues long before Henry VIII arrived on the scene. And, of course, the Anglican Church continues to live through authority issues. At our best, the Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church have learned to live through authority issues with grace.

In the great Protestant Reformation issues of the sixteenth century, Henry VIII actually never abandoned the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, we wrote a treatise against Martin Luther in 1521 which earned the title “Defender of the Faith” for Henry – and thus for all the rest of his succesors to this day! When he appealed to the pope for annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry was concerned far more for a suitable male heir for the kingdom than for the new Protestant theology (yes, he was also concerned for Anne Boleyn!). In another era, the Pope might have granted his request easily; but at this time, the weak pope was under the sway of the holy Roman emperor, Charles V – who was the nephew of Catharine of Aragon. There was no way the pope was going to offend Charles V by annulling the marriage of his aunt!

If there is any one person (other than Jesus) who did start –or who best represents—the Anglican tradition of Christianity, it is Elizabeth I. Reigning from 1559-1603, just after England had been swung violently back and forth between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, it was she who found a way for the Anglican Church to be both Catholic and Protestant. She represented a way to resolve conflict gracefully in the church.

At its best, the Anglican tradition of Christianity resolves conflict gracefully. And it does so, rarely by taking “the middle way,” which has long been another name for the Episcopal Church (the “middle way” between Catholicism and Protestantism). I believe the Anglican tradition of Christianity often finds truth on both sides of theological and cultural disputes. The Anglican Communion of Churches finds “the comprehensive way,” affirming truth on both the traditional and the progressive wings of Christian community. The Anglican Communion of Churches might better be called the “via comprehensiva,” the comprehensive way.

I believe this “comprehensive way” was responsible for resolving other conflicts in Episcopal Church history, too. It explains how the early Protestant Church in the United States of America could be related to the Church of England but also separate from it. It was the comprehensive way that held the Episcopal Church together during the tragedy of the American Civil War. The comprehensive character of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church also enabled us to meet the rise of science and higher literary criticism in the nineteenth century with grace and faith. We found a way to read the Bible with both faith and reason.

The Christian Church inevitably involves conflict. Usually, there are persons of good Christian faith on both sides of the conflict. The particular Anglican tradition of Christianity is a way of dealing with conflict gracefully. Obviously, our history has not always been clearly graceful. Nor is it always graceful right now. But the tradition which guides us is truly a graceful one.

From generation to generation, the Episcopal Church seeks to honor the universal claim of the Christian gospel while also honoring local authority and indigenous faith. That is another inherent challenge – and conflict—in all churches. How can we be obedient to both global and local authority? How can we honor both the gospel and our local culture? It is a journey and task entrusted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

When we remember Jesus, the founder of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of Churches, let us also remember that our faith declares a comprehensive truth about him, too. Jesus Christ, we say, was both fully divine and fully human. Orthodox Christianity refuses to choose one nature over the other; Jesus is fully both. Jesus Christ is not some middle ground between divinity and humanity; Jesus Christ is comprehensive of all divinity and all humanity. That incarnational faith is the graceful style of Anglican Christianity, too.

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. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

The Covenant giveth and the Covenant taketh away

By Adrian Worsfold

The Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Covenant compared with previous drafts seems to move this way and that, and offers direction without offering direction. Is the Covenant now anyone's and should anyone sign it?

Overall it seems to have moved in the direction of concerns expressed by The Episcopal Church about Churches and autonomy and by those who emphasise new interpretation for every generation. Yet, at the same time, rather like a game of push me pull you, it makes statements and orders processes that would operate in precisely the opposite direction.
The language is sometimes loose and contains assumptions that could grow into bad policy. Take what it says about the Lambeth Conference, for example. Here it states:

(3.1.4) II. ...in their [bishops in Lambeth Conference] ministry of guarding the faith and unity of the Communion...

What does this mean? How far does this faith and unity go in terms of details and across the whole Communion? Does it go as far as a recognisable uniformity, for example. What happens if a Lambeth Conference starts passing more resolutions? Is the guard a secure guard?
It is possible to stack up some statements as freeing the faith a little and adding to the potential for new interpretation, and it is possible to stack up statements in the conserving direction, and some statements can face both ways at once.

For example, there is a recognition of biblical scholarship, and scholarship is hardly friendly to some of the statements to emerge out of GAFCON and that Jerusalem Declaration and associated Anglican Churches:

(1.2.4) [biblical understanding] by the results of rigorous study by lay and ordained scholars.

(1.2.8) discern the fullness of truth into which the Spirit leads us...

But then there is the statement that goes in the other direction:

(1.2.5) expectation that Scripture continues to illuminate and transform the Church and its members, and through them, individuals, cultures and societies.

That's reasonable, indeed expected, even for new insights, but one can imagine the accusations of culture influencing the reading of the Bible versus the literal Bible influencing the culture.

The point of the Covenant has been to find a way to process issues of impact across Churches when Churches are autonomous and have generally come together for mutual support and recognition. So we have this statement - and it is confusing:

(3.2.3) Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God's revelation to us; others may prove to be distractions or even obstacles ... need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.

So on the one hand, there is the potential of new insights and a matter of revelation (therefore, again, positive about change, as with biblical scholarship) and then there are distractions (something to get over), and finally something called obstacles - which are presumably the matters to deal with. But which of these "need[s] to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church"? What does Church mean here? There is probably slack language here, but this must come to mean within an individual, autonomous Church in each case, though one supposes the Church here intends to mean across the Communion. A text like this ought to be careful with its words. There is no one Anglican Church - and loose language creates confusion.
There also seems to be something of Church to Church relationships too:

(3.2.4) [Each Church] to seek a shared mind with other Churches ... Each Church will undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion.

In thinking things through, and doing something, each autonomous Church is to consider the Communion and ought (doesn't have to) to consider what Communion counsels state:

(3.2.1) [Each Church] to have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy ... a readiness to undertake reflection upon their counsels, and to endeavour to accommodate their recommendations. ... respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion

The obligation upon Churches gets stronger too:

(3.2.7) [Each Church] to uphold the highest degree of communion possible.

But imagine if an issue is complex and a thinking through and discerning comes up with six of one and half a dozen of the other. Is the solution to be a bit of this and a bit of that, or is it always to apply the brake? What if a statement was of the effect that some can accelerate while others go into reverse gear? Would each accommodate the other, somehow? What does accommodate mean? What if a majority of Churches see a way forward, but a minority are offended and want to go backward? What sort of gymnastics maintains the highest communion in this situation?

Here is the clue:

(4.2.2) ...the meaning of the Covenant[:] compatibility to the principles incorporated [and then] Joint Standing Committee may make a request to any covenanting Church to defer action

So, there it is - defer, and in amongst all this comes:

(3.1.4 cont.) Each Instrument may initiate and commend a process of discernment and a direction for the Communion and its Churches.

Oh, so there comes the centralisation. Instruments will direct: this is strong language, except direct to... what? Accommodate? What is it to defer, and is to defer to accommodate? Presumably defer is to delay, but accommodating may be something partial or whole for a longer time.

There is also a further conserving by talking on:

(3.2.6) in situations of conflict, [each Church] to participate in mediated conversations ... to see such processes through.

So a lot of the directing, and accommodating, could be to engage in a lot of talking as well as deferring. Perhaps it is good to talk, if there has not been enough talk. But where does talk go, in the end, and is talking the same as communion? Or is it being in communion to apply the brake?

This business of direction seems to live in a virtual world, because the one thing the centre cannot do is direct. So as soon as we get to directing, we get to emphasising autonomy again:

(4.1.1) a readiness [for each Church] to live in an interdependent life, but does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

(4.1.3) Nothing ... deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church ... no one Church, nor any agency of the Communion, can exercise control or direction over the internal life of any other covenanted Church.

So then if a Church does not accommodate, because it is not under submission, is it actually breaking any communion at all? At this point the real and the virtual begins to make one a bit dizzy: and even the Covenant has to be adopted autonomously. After all, the Church of England legally cannot accept anything from a religious without that would direct it! It is like adopting something that is not adoptable, and, to help, the Covenant to be adopted says as much:

(4.1.4) adopt this Covenant ... according to its [a Church's] own constitutional procedures

One might ask if adopting the Covenant brings any rewards. That would mean, particularly, the peculiar body called the Anglican Church of North America. It could be a fast track to membership so it has to be a no, to avoid stepping on other toes (presumably the unity of the Communion). But then even that is not clear as there is some sort of non-carrot offered, to adopt the Covenant and ask for Instruments to go through their procedures:

(4.1.5) Adoption of this Covenant does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion. [But] adoption of the Covenant by a Church may be accompanied by a formal request to the Instruments for recognition and membership to be acted upon according to each Instrument's procedures.

So far, then, it has all been about accommodation or not, delay or not, deferring or not, discerning change or finding something controversial, and the mind of a Church and the apparent unity of the Communion that is not a Church. The question then becomes one of any sanction at all, if a Church (that does not have to do what the centre wants) does not do what the centre wants. And yes there is a sanction, that underlines the importance of deferring (slowing to a pause):

(4.2.3) If a Church refuses to defer a controversial action, the Joint Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument

In other words, if you don't do a deferring, you can't join in at the centre. But then look at the very next paragraph.

(4.2.4) Joint Standing Committee ... [declare an] action or decision ... "incompatible with the Covenant". [Such] shall not have any force in the Constitution and Canons of any covenanting Church unless or until it is received by the canonical procedures of the Church in question.

So a declaration of incompatibility has utterly no effect unless a Church decides to make it have effect. The language is unclear again, so let's examine it. Why would any Church on the receiving end of such a declaration take any notice anyway (in terms of Constitution and Canons)? Presumably, then, this is (mainly) a statement to say to other Churches in rejectionist mode, 'Don't jump the gun.' But on the other hand, such a Church is autonomous and entirely free to alter its Constitution and Canons at any time in terms of a decision to break off communion with another Church. Once again we have Churches that do what they like anyway, but a centralised direction that is no direction.

Indeed the direction that is no direction is emphasised in the next paragraph!

(4.2.5) the Joint Standing Committee may make recommendations as to relational consequences to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion. ... an action or decision which has been found to be "incompatible with the Covenant" impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion. ... [Yet] It shall be for each Church and each Instrument to determine its own response to such recommendations.

Of course a Church in the firing line might decide it has had enough, and pull out of the Covenant. Then the dizziness becomes chronic. Take two paragraphs together:

(4.2.7) Participation in the processes ... shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant

(4.3.1) ... withdrawal [from the Covenant] does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments or a repudiation of [Church's] Anglican character

What do these mean, taken together? Well, a Church that has withdrawn from the Covenant is still within the Instruments and is still Anglican, and yet it cannot take part in the processes of the Instruments because such participation is limited to those in the Covenant. So this means, presumably, that once a Church has left the Covenant, and is yet still part of the structures, there is no way it can come back into the Covenant (or keep talking) unless, presumably again, it makes its own application to rejoin. Is this credible? Would they all stop talking after a withdrawal, and yet the Church is still active in the Instruments? Does it mean it is better to leave the Covenant quickly and continue to participate (because the processes only apply to those in the Covenant), than to stay in and have participation suspended?

If, at this point, anyone is not quite sure whether their face is on the back of their heads or on the front, or they are just utterly confused, let's try and summarise this Covenant by the use of imagination.

Imagine a country with about thirty eight cities in it, and there are railways pretty much between every city, with some high speed lines to Canterbury. Now we know that some railway services are suspended, and indeed someone has pulled the track up just outside Abuja on the line to Washington, and is turning the track towards a new town of confused architecture called ACNA. But most services are running, and you can get everywhere from anywhere even if you have to change trains, and the services are all reasonably quick.

Then, because of the shouts from some African stations because of the (suspended) human resources policies in Washington and Montreal, and the odd pink livery, some Canterbury officials have decided to get engineers to build a new railway line that all should use, reducing services on the many lines that now exist. To make the journey acceptable, however, it goes in a zig-zag fashion. The train leaves any station, goes over some reverse points and reaches some buffers. It then goes in the opposite direction using those points and ends up at another set of buffers. It then reverses again going across another set of reverse points and gets to another set of buffers. And so it goes on. This committee created railway line is like this all the way to Canterbury, stopping at all stations. Worse than this backwards and forwards lurch, however, is the constant waiting before the buffers. Passengers wonder who has pulled the cord this time. Plus, from Canterbury, the signals go level and stay level, and nothing moves for ages. So even the zigzagging doesn't actually work. By the time the passengers get to anywhere, they feel sick and it's long past all their appointments.

Instead of this centralised scheme, the engineers should spread out and maintain the lines between the cities, or services go another way if necessary (sad as the detour may be) until new staff get hired and new trains come into service and lines are repaired. As for ACNA, the line from Abuja is a dead-end.

This Anglican Covenant now acknowledges the potential for change, if all it wants to do is get international Instruments to direct and defer - without directing and probably not achieving any deferring. What a document! This Covenant is a completely contradictory mess, and the best place for it is the bin.

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.

'Why do you seek the living among the dead?'

By Deirdre Good

Luke 24:1-10

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.' Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

We have just taken part in a journey. One of the most extraordinary journeys ever.

We have walked together with a group of grief-stricken women toward the tomb of the one in whom they had found their greatest hope, the person to whom they had entrusted their lives.

For the last two days Jesus' body had lain in this cave, robbed of its youthful, vigorous life by a horrible death, a death carried out by the state in its most brutal form of capital punishment.

We journey to make the final preparations for permanent burial.

We are bringing closure to lives spent with Jesus.

We go as most mourners do, with tears for ourselves as well as for the deceased.

We imaging ourselves embarking on a year of magical thinking including:

Grief, denial, anger over the life that had been stolen from us

and fearful of the lonely days and years that now lie ahead.

What began as a journey is one that many of us, in one form or another, have known all too well.

The steps we take toward that tomb are bathed in tears of our own bitter sorrows.

But then, suddenly, the story takes a radically new and different course.

It is at the tomb itself--at the place where we went to confront the reality of that death--that a whole new journey really begins. And when it does, the course of all life is re-directed, and the world itself is reborn.

To these women, caught up-as we often are-in a culture of death, the tomb looked like a place of solace, a focal point for their own bereavement and sense of loss. All four Gospels speak of the physical tomb of that Easter Day. All four Gospels portray it as a place of pilgrimage for Jesus' disciples seeking solace and release. And all four Gospels record that it was empty. The burial shroud is all that remains, left lying there.

What the women find, instead, are what Luke identifies only as "two men." Other accounts call them "angels." They are messengers who have been sent, not to call them inside the tomb, but to send them out from it.

They do it by means of a question: 'Why do you seek the living among the dead?' they ask.

It is this question that turns our lives around. This question is the pivot of our search for Jesus. It's the question that resonates through song and liturgy for 2000 years:

"Why have you come?"

"Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" says the gardener to Mary Magdalene.

"Whom seek ye in the sepulcher, O followers of Christ?"

People sought Jesus all his life for various reasons. In Luke's gospel, Jesus' mother queries her teenage son: "Your father and I have been anxiously seeking you" (2:48); crowds seek to touch him (6:19); Herod and Zacchaeus seek to see him (9:9; 19:3); Judas seeks an opportunity to betray him (22:6).

Responding to these searches, Jesus doesn't say: "Here I am!" the object of your search.

No, Jesus always points the searcher away from himself to God, God's realm, or something else.

To his mother he says: Why are you seeking me? Don't you know that I must be about the things of my father?

To followers, he announces: The Son of Man comes to seek and save the lost (19:10).

"Seek and you will find," says Jesus (11:9); but not "seek and you will find me."

"Seek first the kingdom," (12:31) he says to followers, and "whoever will seek to save their life will loose it and whoever will loose their life shall preserve it" (17:33). To Judas and those who arrest him he declares: "This is your hour and the power of darkness!"

How do we move from the search for Jesus to the search away from Jesus to the living? Luke points us out of the tomb, from the introspection of Lent and on into the journey through the world where we next encounter a stranger who turns out to be Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The focus isn't on us-it's on the journey, on the stranger transformed in --perhaps even by--our gaze.

Jesus leaves the tomb to assert and show the meaning of the new life not just for himself, but for all the world. The resurrection is, ultimately, not about what happened to Jesus. It is about what has, through him, now happened to us all. The resurrection is about us as community, us as family to each other and all our world. And it is about how that changes the entire way we look at and experience our lives today. Resurrected life is not life the way it has always been, worn down and weakened by the world's struggles and challenges until it slips away through attrition and fatigue. Resurrected life is life as God intended it from the very beginning of creation, filled with the vibrancy and zest and promise of God's love, shared with and through each other. It is following Jesus on a new road, living, growing, loving, and reaching out to others with Christ's compassion, mercy, and grace. This is our new journey into the life of perfect witness and service. It is our affirmation of the true life we now find in him. Through that affirmation, we can feed the hungry in body, mind, and spirit; we can welcome the stranger; clothe the naked; comfort, strengthen, and heal the sick, raise up the despondent; and love the unlovable. In the Easter ministry and witness to which we have now been called, we can truly turn the crosses that assault and burden this world into life lived in light of the resurrection.

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

Funerals in Lent

By Kathleen Staudt

A character in one of Mary Gordon’s novels, talking about what the various denominations believe, concludes wryly by saying, "and Episcopalians are not required to believe in anything but the beauty of the Burial Service.”

There's something to that, I've thought during this Lenten season, when on 3 out of the 5 weekends in Lent I have had a funeral to attend. None were for close family members, but all were services I couldn’t miss. All used the same basic liturgy. All were beautiful and fitting. Two of the services had been carefully designed by friends as they were dying, enshrining something of themselves in eloquent readings and uncannily appropriate music. A third was bare-bones and beautiful, following the sudden death of a member of the church choir, who had been there singing with us the Sunday before. All three services somehow managed to bring together for us the life of an ordinary, beloved person and the quiet hope of Resurrection faith.

Funerals are always disorienting, coming as they do in the midst of life. But a funeral during Lent, if we are observing the season aright, is jarring in ways that go beyond words, and into the heart of our faith. On the Sundays and other days in Lent, the cloth on and behind the altar is purple, as are the stoles the priests wear. Our local custom replaces the bronze altar cross with a simple wooden one; floral arrangements are replaced by budding branches or sparse greenery. We don't say "Alleluias." And we commit to whatever practices help us to be aware of our need for God's mercy and love, our desire to repent, return, be restored. Much is taken away, deliberately, during Lent, to make us available to transformation.

And then we arrive at a funeral in mid-Lent and find ourselves suddenly kicked out of Lent into Easter: "I am the Resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. . . . I know that my Redeemer liveth. . . whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” There are flowers in the church and the altar hangings and vestments are white. The paschal candle burns, and we sing an Easter hymn. Lent or no Lent, “even at the grave, we make our song, ‘Alleluia.’” A funeral in Lent takes us to the unnameable heart of our faith, which is not about any one of us, our worthiness or unworthiness, but about the unfathomable grace and power of a Risen Saviour who calls us to himself, and gathers us together to receive the promise. But the way to this place of promise is through the loss and the grief that are a part of our human condition.

This year the liturgical season is reminding me of how much the observance of Lent grounds me in the spiritual journey, reminding me of the need simply to be in a "between-time" -- with glimpses of Easter, but only through the lens of grief and death, on this side of the Cross. I found it almost a relief, the Sunday after a Saturday funeral, to return to the sombre purple of Lent. I was back to a place I knew how to be in. It is a time we move through, each year, a pilgrimage- time, between the life we're used to and the mystery of transformation and life eternal. It is hard to find words for this, frustrating to me since I am a word-person; but the visual and liturgical cues of Lenten observance - and of our paradoxical, beautiful burial service, provide an experience of the mystery that I am cherishing this year.

I suppose what I am experience is the truth that we are ultimately and always an Easter people - but our whole life's journey and beyond is about figuring out what that means, and each Lenten season invites a new beginning in that direction. I feel closer to the mystery this year, because of these Lenten funerals. They have been disturbing, disorienting, paradoxical. But a blessing, nonetheless.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Gran Torino and Good Friday

A Good Friday sermon

By Sam Candler

Good Friday is a story that we have heard before. But even if we have heard it before, it saves us when we hear it again and again.

Today, I want to present another story. It is the story from the most powerful movie I have seen in recent years. I realize that only a few of you have seen the movie. I realize that if I reveal the movie story today, somebody might accuse me of spoiling it for you. “Don’t give away the plot!” is what they tell all the movie critics and reviewers.

But it does not matter if I give away the plot. A good story describes something that is true no matter when you hear it – like the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus that we have just heard. We know what happens. We have heard the entire story before. But we are still moved, and touched, and saved by its power.

The movie I present to you today is called Gran Torino. It may be the last movie that the seventy-eight year old actor, Clint Eastwood, will ever act in. And it’s important, in this movie, that Clint Eastwood plays the main character.

Clint Eastwood, in case you do not know, has become popular almost always playing only one type of character. First, he was the quintessential bounty hunter in the old western frontier movies. Somehow or another, his character always went after the bad guy -- with the same skill and strength of the bad guy. Only, Clint Eastwood’s character was better at it. He could outdraw the outlaw and kill him in the street. Clint Eastwood has always seemed to play a decent man who accomplished the good by being better at violence. Consider The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and For a Few Dollars More. In each of those movies, he was “the man with no name.”

As a boy, and as a man, I have always loved Clint Eastwood movies. The good guys win, and they do so with God, guns, and guts. They win with testosterone and bravado. They win by being stronger. It’s an easy lesson.

Clint Eastwood went from the bounty hunter frontier figure to the same type of character in modern law enforcement. The next set of movies began with Dirty Harry. Remember Eastwood as “Dirty Harry,” who took San Francisco law enforcement into his own hands and began such violent vigilante work? That movie had four sequels: Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, The Dead Pool!

“Go ahead, make my day,” Dirty Harry says. He enjoys doing good by killing the bad guy. Yes, Clint Eastwood has made many, many other movies; and he has even been involved in politics. But, for many of us, he is Dirty Harry, and he is the laconic “Man with No Name” in western films.

This background was critical to me when I saw Clint Eastwood playing Walt Kowalski in last year’s movie, Gran Torino.

The character Walt Kowalski is an old veteran of the Korean War. He saw things he shouldn’t have had to see in that war, and he did things he should not have had to do; but he also learned to be very good at what he had to do. He shot people. He killed people, for the greater good.

Kowalski then became a line worker in the automobile industry, and he lived in a tidy, modest house in a lovely Detroit neighborhood. He was very good at what he did.

However, when the movie, Gran Torino, opens, Walt Kowalski has just suffered the death of his wife. He is a lonely and bitter man. His children have raised rather spoiled grandchildren, or at least rude grandchildren who have no idea of the values that Kowalski stands for.

In fact, he stands for decency, honor, and hard work, in a world that seems to have abandoned all those things. His next door neighbors are Hmong, and they look very much like the people he faced in the war. As an initiation rite into a local gang, one of his young neighbors tries to steal his old car, a Gran Torino, in mint condition.

The boy’s older Hmong sister, Sue, is just as direct and forceful as Kowalski is. When Kowalski stands up against local gang members, the sister and her family want the neighborhood to know of the honorable deed. Kowalski is befriended by his foreign neighbors, and he gradually begins to discover, in them, the same honorable values that he knows.

But the movie, Gran Torino, is violent. It is set in an area of Detroit that has fallen into serious crime and abandonment. Thugs and gangs of every ethnic identity show up. Kowalski scowls and curses at them all. He drinks beer, all alone on his front porch, and scowls at the Hmong grandmother he hates next door.

He stands for his notion of the good, when it looks like the whole world has turned bad. The lyrics to the title song, Gran Torino, include the line: “Engines hum and bitter dreams grow, a heart locked in a Gran Torino, it beats a lonely rhythm all night long.” Kowalski is lonely and bitter.

But as the story develops, Kowalski discovers friendship and honor in the next door Hmong family. He takes a liking to the very boy, named Thao, who had tried to steal his car. He becomes a father to the teen-ager, and he realizes that the boy doesn’t have a chance defending himself against the local gangs.

Ultimately, and tragically, Kowalski realizes that he cannot save his young friend. At least, he cannot save the boy by his usual means. His usual means are power and violence. He has threatened the gang already with a gun, and they know he means business.

The story becomes more violent, and then even more violent. The bright and attractive sister is assaulted by the gang, and Kowalski realizes that the younger brother, his young friend, is about to seek vengeance with a gun he does not know how to use. Kowalski tricks the boy and locks him safely in a basement.

Then, it is Kowalski who appears at the house of the local gang. He stands in the street, just like a western gunfighter, calling out the five gang members. He forms his hand into a fake pistol and takes fake shots at the gang members, just like Dirty Harry taunting his prey; “Go ahead, make my day.”

By this time, all the neighbors are watching through their windows. A cloud of witnesses has appeared. Then, knowing completely what he is doing, Kowalski reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket. Will he pull a gun? The gang members think so. They shoot him with more bullets than Bonnie and Clyde seemed to have taken.

The movie story ends there. We see what Kowalski had in his hand: not a gun at all, but an old cigarette lighter. His body lies in the form of a cross on the street. The police do arrive this time, and a cloud of witnesses can attest that he Kowalski was killed innocently. The structure of justice will prevail. The young boy will be saved after all, but not in the usual manner.

Kowalski’s body lies in the form of a cross. Kowalski has saved the boy, not by using more violence, but by abolishing that small circle of violence.

Today, the Gran Torino story is a Good Friday story. On Good Friday, many of us ponder just what this violent story of Jesus is all about. The movie, Gran Torino helps to explain it. What Walt Kowalski does for his neighborhood, is what Jesus Christ has done for the whole world.

“My kingdom,” Jesus said before Pilate, “is not of this world.” If the kingdom of Jesus were of this world, he would be victorious by using the same methods of this world. He would call down angelic superpowers and win with swords and bombs. But the world’s violence will never be overcome by more violence. The violence and death of the world is overcome by the witness and truth of Jesus Christ. An innocent Jesus gives his life, gives it openly and freely, and thereby shows us the emptiness of violence and death.

We still have a long way to go, in making this saving truth of Jesus Christ known to the world. There are still gangs and thugs, and there are still innocent people succumbing to violence. Three young members of our own Christian community, in South Atlanta, were victims of that violence last Sunday night.

But today, the witness of the Christian Church is to lift up this Jesus as Savior of this world. He is an innocent victim, yes, but he is a divine and saving victim. In Gran Torino, Walt Kowalski learns that we are not saved by the God of guns and guts. We are saved by the God of giving and love.

When we cling to the cross today, when we lift up the cross today, we are clinging to a godly kingdom. We are lifting up the One who loves us so much that he gave. God loved the world so much that he gave. Jesus loves the world so much that he gives. We walk the way of that love today, the way of a powerful love that overcomes violence and death.

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. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.


The Good Earth Hunger Mission


“I don’t write for people who farm. I write for people who eat.”--Wendell Berry

“We tend a small piece of dirt for our brothers and sisters in need. In the process we look to Christ to take shallow, compacted, or thorny ground and make it a deep, fruitful soil.”—Paul Clever

All of them look to you
To give them their food in due season.
You give it to them, they gather it;
You open your hand, and they are filled with good things.--Psalm 104:28-29

By R. William Carroll

I ruined some trousers and a pair of shoes the other day, and I’ve never been happier. Allow me to explain.

With other Christians, assorted friends from the surrounding community, and passersby on a local, public bike path, I spent the better part of the afternoon working on an organic farm. I helped plant broccoli, onions, and cabbage, and I lay down smelly raked leaves from a parishioner’s home between the rows as mulch. Others, including our former junior warden, put up a fence to keep the deer out. We are in Appalachia, the far southeastern corner of Ohio, closer to Parkersburg, West Virginia than we are to Columbus. And, unlike what you may have seen on Diane Sawyer (don’t get us started!), we have a positive story to tell about what people are doing in our community.

Athens is at the hub of many interesting experiments in sustainable agriculture. It has one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. It has several nonprofits that are working in sustainable economic development, environmental justice and remediation, and strengthening local food systems, including Rural Action, where some of our parishioners have been deeply involved as staff members, board members, and volunteers over the years, and where I currently serve as a board member.

More recently, two parishioners in their twenties, Paul and Sarah Clever, have begun renting and rehabilitating a 170-year-old farmhouse from a local farmer, who is generously sharing his time and equipment and letting them have access to unused fields with top quality soil. Lately, they’ve been joined by another parishioner, A. J. Stack, who's the chair of our outreach committee. A.J.’s roots in Athens County go back generations. With wonderful support from our bishop and his staff, they and some others are thinking about forming an intentional community, and I have been charged with providing local pastoral support. Paul and Sarah have worked on organic farms before. Sarah is a faculty member at a local community college. A.J. is a social worker. All three are part of the leadership team for our Shepherd’s Alternative campus and young adult community. Our parish, the Church of the Good Shepherd, sits right on the Ohio University campus.

With support from our vestry and the diocese (we recently passed a sustainable agriculture resolution inspired by his work), Paul has been establishing a ministry called the Good Earth Hunger Mission (no website yet, but they do have a Facebook page). The purpose of this ministry is to grow food (they also glean excess produce for local farmers) and help God feed the poor. Making use of an existing distribution network run by another local nonprofit, they contribute food to local free meals, food pantries, and domestic violence shelters. In their first year, with a shortened growing season and a limited number of acres in production, they managed to grow or glean 5,000 pounds of food. This year, Paul tells me that a conservative estimate is 25,000 pounds. That’s twelve and a half tons of food!

But that’s not the most exciting thing about the ministry to me. One thing that excites me is the way that it transforms our outreach, which has always had a focus on feeding the hungry, in a sustainable and socially transformative direction. I think about it in terms of the Millennium Development Goals. One of the easiest ones to effect through local action is number seven, “ensure environmental sustainability.” We have always been strong supporters of our local food pantry. Three parishioners are board members, and we make substantial financial contribution every month, along with shopping and packing. In addition, four teams of parishioners and friends from the community (many of them in their eighties) routinely feed a free nutritious lunch to over a hundred people each week. The Good Earth Hunger mission is now supplying food to these and other ministries. More importantly, they are trying to involve those who are served, working side by side with our parishioners and other community volunteers, in producing their own food. There is considerable interest by the other parishes in our deanery (we’re having a deanery work day on May 2), and the ecumenical community. Paul is inviting youth groups and young adults to come to the farm on pilgrimage (youth groups must bring an adequate number of adult chaperones), and has a growing e-mail list and Facebook group to promote weekly volunteer opportunities.

Another thing that excites me is the way this ministry connects the Gospel to some of the fundamental ethical concerns in our community. In his recent address to the Diocese of Washington, “the Episcopal moment,” Brian McLaren speaks about how people, especially youth and young adults, are looking for ways to serve God without hating other people. I see the work of the Good Earth Hunger Mission as being on the front lines of our ministry of evangelism with students and young adults. We are not so much concerned with building up the Church, though I think that will happen. Churches can grow when they have a clear sense of mission and purpose. We are focused on doing the work of discipleship, “getting in on what God is doing” or “engaging God’s mission,” and trusting that God will bless those efforts that are responding to the Holy Spirit.

As chaplain, I intend to do work in spiritual formation on the farm as part of their exploration of life in intentional community and the development of a rule of life. We already have a plan to do some of this work and an exciting bibliography that we hope to work through in the next couple of years, along with a provisional rule with some balance, to guide the initial experiment. I am hoping that as the community develops, worship and Christian formation will always be an integral part of working on the farm. I believe that this community, if it endures, will combine Franciscan and Benedictine charisms, as well as the central insight of the new monasticism: “inhabiting the abandoned spaces of empire.” (Appalachian communities find it hard to forget how American prosperity comes at great price to the land and people of our region. Rather than focus on these deficits, we choose to focus on assets like family, faith, community, a rich artistic heritage, and the land.) I believe that the Good Earth Hunger Mission and the associated community may evolve into something like the early Catholic Worker farms, “agronomic universities” as Peter Maurin called them. We need to reintegrate faith, learning, and practice, prayer and work as the Benedictines would say. The farm will also be, in addition to a place of hard work, a place of peace and profound hospitality, without for a moment leaving the brokenness of this age behind, becoming an eschatological sign that another world is possible.

This charism for Benedictine hospitality (“receive all visitors as Christ”) was confirmed for me, when clothes still filthy and funky, barely able to wash the dirt of my hands, we sat down for evening prayer and a simple meal of rice and beans. Paul, Sarah, A.J., and I, gathered round the table, together with my wife Tracey, our two children, and two Quaker friends. I have had other close experiences with Christ in the past couple of years, but none closer. I believe that the Holy Spirit is doing something wonderful in our midst.

For more information about the Good Earth Hunger Mission, please feel free to visit their Facebook page (website forthcoming) or to call me at our parish office (740-593-6877). Just ask for Bill! I’ll be happy to put you in touch with Paul by e-mail or phone. He welcomes all inquiries and is also available to consult about setting up similar ministries in your local area. He would also welcome contact with existing ministries of this kind. He has studied several rural and urban models, but it’s always helpful to know what’s out there.

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 member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Lent. What is it for?

By Peter M. Carey

Entering Lent each year I tend to hear people at church (including myself) say that we should “give something up,” or (more recently) “take something on”. Giving up chocolate, or alcohol, or negativity are some choices that I have heard about. Taking on such things as praying daily, reading the Bible, or tending to one’s spiritual life can be wonderful disciplines. Often, however, I get focused on the obstacles. I get focused on (and obsessed with?) the thing I’ve tried to “give up,” or I find myself focusing on the thing that I’ve “taken on.” This is the wrong focus, perhaps like a hurdler focusing on the hurdles so much that she hits every hurdle and crashes. Obviously, the hurdles are not the focus of the race. Focusing on the obstacles can obscure the goal. I imagine this may be true of others as well.

This year, I have tried to really consider the question of the reason that we observe Lent at all. What is the reason to “give up” or “take on.” There are probably tons of reasons, but, for me, as someone with a busy house of three children under 6, and a busy ministry of serving as a chaplain to a large and complex school, the main reason to observe Lent at all has been to give some time to remember God. I have attempted to focus on God, rather than the things I’ve given up (Facebook), and rather than the things I’ve taken on (reading the Bible and theology daily with greater focus).

As simple as it sounds, the practice of giving time back to God, so that I might remember the ever present reality of God, can become difficult. Sometimes, it is helpful to push out from the comfort of our lives, to find someway to interrupt the spinning top of our schedules, and contemplate God.

For me to fully remember the fact that my life is contingent upon God, and God’s prevenient Grace (ever present Grace) it took a recent experience quite a few miles from chapel, and from my Bible.

About a week before Lent began, I found myself 45 feet in the air, clutching a plastic wall resembling a cliff, with two of my students providing the only safety against the relentless force of gravity. For a few split seconds I looked down and wondered whether those slightly built adolescents could really provide enough ballast and support, just in case my hands or feet slipped, or tired. After the moment passed, I looked back to the plastic “rock wall” and somehow pulled myself up to the top. However, there was a moment of fear, the healthy and appropriate fear of heights, and the somewhat less appropriate fear that two trained climbers would not fulfill their obligations and prevent me from falling.

For anyone who rock climbs regularly, these fears, and the minor anxieties of the sport, probably recede. However, for me, as a chaperone on the junior class “leadership retreat,” I had only one previous experience of climbing, and that one was several years ago. When the opportunity arose to get out of the seven-period-day grind of school, and spend some time with students outside the four walls of the classrooms, I jumped at it. It wasn’t until that moment, when I realized that I was quite literally putting my life into the hands of adolescents, that I had to surrender my need for control and realize that I was quite literally fully dependent on others.

So also my experience of Lent this year: stepping out beyond the four familiar walls, in order to contemplate my own dependence upon God. Stepping away from the comfortable, and the spinning top of our busy schedules may offer us the deep sense that God is there, holding the rope. We don’t have to fear. Remembering God may take some discipline, but we are offered the deep and abiding reward that we feel God’s grace, and God’s support, even as we scale the sometimes rocky and fearful path.

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

A sense of place

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Did you grow up in a small town you left to pursue careers and adventures as an urban dweller? My hometown is on the banks of the Tennessee River in the northwest corner of Alabama, where back in the day we children could play anywhere fancy free and without worry for our safety. “It takes a village” was an unknown phrase, but our actions seemed always to be known by a plethora of kind, intelligent adults who loved and cared for us as if our families all belonged to each other. Sheffield, Ala., gave me a sense of place and basic trust in a good world.

Named for Sheffield, England, our town was incorporated in 1885. It was created to be an iron and steel center, using locally available iron ore and shipping products to market via river transportation. Boom and bust years followed until 1933, when the newly elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. The TVA’s programs, along with those of the National Recovery Act, helped bring the area out of the severe economic depression during the 30s. Pictures of our town from WWII through the 1980s show a bustling main street filled with a variety of shops to meet every need.

Today, this street is boarded up and closed down, a victim of poor planning by town fathers who refused to merge with the nearby town of Muscle Shoals, where the strip including Wall Mart attracts business unfortunately bypassing Sheffield. Even before the current economic crisis, Sheffield looked dead and decaying. It has become a bedroom community and settling place for senior citizens living in several retirement facilities.

But Sheffield still has a heart if you bother to look beneath sad appearances. The town may be boarded up, but the spirits of good people abound in three abiding institutions: The art association brings the community together with lively theater and museum exhibits; the library provides a center where residents gather and poverty-stricken kids receive warm adult attention with story hours, computer use and help with homework and book selections; the churches continue to draw spiritual seekers who give back to the town.

Grace Episcopal Church is a good example. Five years ago, rector Rick Oberheide was called to help the congregation grow or perish. He focused on a mission of hope for transformation and is overjoyed that young families are flocking to services, joining the parish and committing themselves to the vision. Meanwhile, he is a pastoral presence to his aging parishioners, including my homebound mother (98) who adores the visits that Rick calls “Tuesdays with Flo.”

Rick says he’s an unlikely priest, describing himself as directionally challenged (he gets lost no matter where he’s driving around town), but spiritually directed. His family’s dysfunction left him a spiritual orphan at a very young age, so as a child he began to seek mentors and a church to call home. Finding the right wife and psychoanalysis helped him form an identity and then a love for other people that flows to his parishioners and to others, no matter what their religious beliefs. Remarkably, he has welcomed two retired Grace church rectors back as parishioners as well as several other former priests from other dioceses. He appreciates their assistance at services and with shared leadership. Encouraging his predecessors to participate brings a presence of the past that has helped foster healing and growth.

One of Rick’s greatest gifts is his ability to be vulnerable and to laugh at himself. His stories abound, like the time he rose to leave an important interview, opened the wrong door and walked into a closet. Or the time his microphone was turned on before a service and he went to the men’s room where he says, “I opened my own Niagara Falls amplified throughout the church. The congregation cracked up.” His latest story has become a Sheffield legend:

When a church patriarch named Frank died, Rick drove immediately to his widow Mary’s home, which in his directional confusion, he mistook for the house next door. He knocked, entered and found a group of people he’d never seen. Believing they were out-of-town relatives, he began to converse and minister to them. After a while, he said, “Where is Mary?” Said an elderly woman, “Mary? Why Mary died!” Rick said, “No, it was Frank who died. I spoke to Mary this morning!” A silence filled the room. For a few minutes everyone was speechless. Finally someone said, “Mary is not here because she died. Could you have the wrong house? Frank lived next door but we didn’t know he died.”

Rick sums this one up, “Grace is the space between how you want to react and when you speak.”

As more small towns struggle during these current hard times, we can support the heart of town in people who dream of a positive outcome and continue to give back to the community with love, optimism, humor and commitment to future generations.

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.

Figuring out what is "meant to be"

By Greg Jones

What if some things were meant to be, and some not?

When you look at your life what about it is "meant to be?" And what isn't? What's a mistake? A sin? A...well...a do-over? What in your life are you grateful for - and what would you like to see redeemed? And can those things be brought together?

It's hard to know sometimes, what's meant to be, and what's not. In some cases, of course, it’s easy. I believe that at a minimum, every person was meant to be. All loved by God, all cherished, all made in God’s image. And certainly every person — no matter how long they live, no matter how much or how little they succeed— has the implanted power of God inside already —a soul, an animus, a spark — an inner light. And certainly every good a person does — every truth, every kindness, every patience, every grace — comes from this inner light, planted there by the One who let it be in the first place.

And, so, every person is meant to be, and every grace which passes to and through them is meant to be. So what’s left?

Every vice, every sinful choice, every wasted moment – in a way of looking at things, these are things that are not meant to be. In this same way of looking at things, every harm done to others, either by accident or on purpose, was not meant to be. As well, the many collisions of this universe of cold and chaotic forces which impact upon the beloved of God, maybe those things are not “meant” to be either. After all, in this way of looking at things — which Jesus offers — there is a "ruler of this World" which one day will be cast out of it.

What Jesus chooses to do in going to Jerusalem and dying on the cross, and rising again, and ascending into fullness with God and all, is to begin the reconciliation and redemption of what should and what should never be. God gives everything that is meant to be. And God will redeem everything that isn’t. That’s why God not only creates. God redeems. Thanks be to God.

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.

Earth Hour isn't long enough

By Luiz Coelho

Another Earth Hour is over. In several locations around the world, houses and businesses turned their lights off and avoided energy consumption for one hour. But, at the end, did anything change?

I wrote about this same subject last year (for another publication), and, even though I do not have precise statistics about Earth Hour 2009 right now, it is reasonable to say that there will be similar results to the ones obtained last year, with some cities announcing energy consumption reductions of more than 10% during the event.

But, is that true? In 2007, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bold disagreed. He argued that “a cut so tiny was trivial - equal to taking six cars off the road for a year”. Also, David Solomon, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, claimed that, in fact, “more than 67 per cent of the apparent decline during Earth Hour was due to factors operating throughout the entire day”. This would change the estimated reduction in electricity use during Earth Hour to a tiny 2.1 %.

Of course, both statements can be wrong, and need to be scientifically verified. However, even if we sustain the 10 % reduction, there are 24 hours per day, and 365 days (and 8,760 hours) this year. A 10% energy reduction for one hour, when seen within the context of a whole year of waste and disrespect for the environment, is basically irrelevant.

The point is clear. If Earth Hour happens only once a year, and for one hour, then it is a huge failure. Worse than that, the whole feel-good propaganda around it distracts many people from the serious danger the environment is in. It is almost like giving a placebo to a very sick patient. It is a medication that does nothing concrete, but takes away fears from people's minds, and allows them to go back to their daily environmental unfriendly activities, once the Earth Hour is over.

Earth “hours” can be only relevant if they happen frequently and consistently. We, as concerned people, have to demand from the institutions we are affiliated with (including the Church) that policies are taken so that real reductions in energy consumption happen. We also can do much more. Measures such as reducing lights, heat, taking shorter showers, buying organic and locally grown food, and boycotting products from countries or regions that are clear agressors of the Environment are surely helpful. One thing, however, is clear. What we do now (including the Earth Hour), is far from being enough to save our planet.

As a final reflection, I close this text like last year's, with a poem by Julian of Norwich, 14th Century mystic, who “lived several Earth hours” in a much more reasonable, dynamic and spiritual way than we probably do.


Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.

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."

A religious homecoming: Notes from a journey

By Richard M. Weinberg

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:7

“For God is love.” So ends the eighth verse of this same 1 John passage from chapter four. And all of my life I have used these two verses as a mantra in times of serious doubt. My relationship with God has been enduring yet punctuated over the course of my childhood and young adulthood by my relationship with the church, and my identity as a gay man.

Ignorant Bliss

As a devout Roman Catholic raised in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., I was a faithful attendee of Mass, served as an altar boy, never missed a Sunday school lesson, and ensured my parents and brother attended church with me every week. I prayed the rosary often, confessed my sins regularly, and pondered living a full life as an example of an obedient child of Christ.

As adolescence took hold of my life and distracted my mind and body like every teenager, I began to identify with my great aunt who lived with her female partner, as I wondered silently if I were like them. Then, when my aunt, Lynn, posed to me one evening while watching television, “Well, you know your grandfather was gay, right?” it shook my core to realize that, yes!—I am, too. It was all the more reason then, that coupled with my self-inflicted rigid beliefs and my own sexual epiphany, I was utterly wounded the morning in Sunday school when my teacher lectured on the sin of homosexuality.

An Abomination

I sat in the front row with my eyes growing wider as I listened to the lesson. Occasionally making sure my visual discomfort was not noticed by my classmates, my usual engaging questions were silenced by the news I was hearing. During a break in class, I called my teacher to the hallway to speak privately, and asked “out of concern for a family member” about the implications of such a lifestyle.

Of course now I can admit that it was my own sexuality and the reality of the church’s non-acceptance that brought me to question my teacher privately. From that point, my faith slowly deteriorated as I frequently sought excuses to miss Mass and grappled with the seemingly daunting conflict of choosing between being myself or being in God’s grace. I continued throughout high school with the corresponding stereotypical existence of a “different” kid, fearsome of bullies in the hallway who mocked and chided me, and all the while sinking into a deeper depression as a result of a stripped faith and trust in God.

Becoming Spiritual

I could not have asked for a more loving and accepting family. To this day my parents, grandparents, brother, and other family members support me unconditionally, and I know my mother in particular was distraught with worry during those trying years as to how to help me. Perhaps in some way my guilt was augmented by the thought that I could have it so much worse. I could have had a family that threw me out of the house. Yet I fundamentally could not come to terms with the implications of how the church felt about who I was, and that these feelings of helplessness were a direct result of the pain I experienced from a place that once provided me the utmost comfort and solace.

Throughout my undergraduate years my depression gave way to the excitement of life and the experience of maturing. Most significantly, I fell in love for the first time. That relationship with another man made me realize that being gay was completely natural. I experienced first-hand that two committed same-sex adults can be just as happy as their heterosexual counterparts, and that there was no reason to believe that God didn’t love me for who I was. I also discovered the practice of yoga, and bestselling metaphysic titles taught me that a relationship with God could be had outside of the church. I toyed with the label agnostic, and I spoke to my close friends and a rabbi about Judaism. I did not step foot inside a Christian worship service for more than five years. I would shudder at the thought, refuse invitations, and even avoid music performances that took place in any sanctuary.

A Church for All Souls

Thankfully, I found a way to hear God’s calling to come back. Upon moving to downtown Washington, D.C. during my grad school years, I was forced to seek out a paying church choir job and landed at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Woodley Park. I remember my first Sunday in the choir, participating in the order of service with such familiar liturgy, reciting the responses and prayers that brought back years of Roman Catholic Mass. Yet it was different.
The Rev. Joan Beilstein, an open lesbian who was then interim rector, preached from the pulpit. A skilled, openly gay choir director led our ensemble, and at coffee hour I met numerous same-sex couples who were happily engaged in the life of the parish. I learned that All Souls had grown to be a particularly welcoming parish as a result of the former rector, the Rev. John David van Dooren, who drew attention during the Minneapolis General Convention in an August 2003 article in The Washington Post. “Founded in 1911 … All Souls was once known as one of the most conservative Episcopal churches in the District.” Under van Dooren’s leadership, the church—“dwindling in membership, at risk of closure by the diocese”—became one of the most revitalized parishes in D.C. Beilstein estimates that during our time there, some 40 percent of the congregation was gay and lesbian. On the Sunday of the bishop’s visitation, I listened to the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane preach on the inclusiveness of the Episcopal Church, and his views that gay brothers and sisters are equal in the eyes of God.

A Troubled Communion

But there are those within the Episcopal Church who are seeking to disassociate themselves from what they see as a too liberal acceptance of gays and lesbians, including the ordination of gay clergy. As theologian Walter Wink writes in his well-known essay Homosexuality and the Bible, “Sexual issues are tearing our churches apart today as never before. The issue of homosexuality threatens to fracture whole denominations.” And the issue indeed has. At the same 2003 General Convention, the major issue debated was the confirmation of the church’s first openly gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson. Ever since his ordination, it seems too often we read another article about a U.S. Episcopal church voting to break off and align itself with a conservative African diocese, while most recently, news emerged in December 2008 of intentions to create a new church in North America, which portrays itself as the conservative arm to the Anglican Communion.

Through my most influential mentor and friend, I ended up employed at Washington National Cathedral in December 2006. The epitome of a beautiful landmark, constructed for the glory of God, welcome to people of all faiths and none, yet governed by the Episcopal Church, the Cathedral entered my life unlike any other edifice before it. More than a place of work, I was embraced fully by its community, its clergy, and my colleagues. The programs and ministry of the Cathedral were evident examples to me that Christianity does exist within the center—and that rather than discord there is dialogue; rather than slander, respect; and rather than damnation, there is understanding.

The Cathedral makes clear its role of being welcoming to all people, which includes a diverse worshiping congregation with many gay and lesbian members, as well as a growing number of people in their 20s and 30s. The Cathedral’s own openly gay vicar, the Rev. Canon Stephen Huber, who oversees the Cathedral congregation, recently mentioned his own childhood experience in a sermon, which resulted in overwhelmingly unexpected positive feedback on the significance of identifying himself as gay from the pulpit.

A Spiritual Home

I was received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop Chane in May 2008. Kneeling in the Cathedral nave surrounded by the soaring Gothic vaulting, and my family and friends with their hands on my shoulders, I knelt as Chane recited, “Richard Mosson Weinberg, we recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you.” I felt tears pouring down my cheeks and the full divine presence of God so close to me in that moment. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Earlier that May, I attended a screening at the Cathedral of For the Bible Tells Me So, a feature-length documentary that chronicles the experiences of five “normal,” Christian, American families handling the realization of having a gay child. Enhanced by the in-person discussion among filmmaker Daniel Karslake, Bishop Gene Robinson, and the audience, I sat simply in profound gratitude for my own experience in coming out, growing up, and joining the church out of my own renewed faith. Eight months later, I watched Bishop Robinson participate in the inaugural concert for President Barack Obama. Robinson’s words, “Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance—replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger” resonated deeply.

I view my faith journey as a full circle, and also commensurate with my own self-discovery. Now, as a more mature, religious, Christian gay man, I am proud to call the Episcopal Church my spiritual home. And I am comforted that here at the Cathedral there is a voice for a generous-spirited, welcoming Christianity, firm at its center and soft at its edges, where all people are invited to engage and learn, and cultivate a fuller relationship with God.

Richard M. Weinberg is assistant director for integrated communications and co-editor of Cathedral Age magazine at Washington National Cathedral. He serves on the Advisory Council of Generation O, Washington National Opera’s young professionals and student outreach program.

Sacred space v. Holy people

By Donald Schell

On the way to mass in Sevilla’s Gothic cathedral, we passed Christopher Columbus’s tomb, a suitable reminder that Spain’s colonial power and wealth had built the cathedral. At the main altar, a gilded reredos towered to a height of fifty feet, gilded statues of saints and Bible scenes filled rank on rank up the golden wall, every surface gilded with Inca and Aztec gold from the New World. During the liturgy the dean stood at a simple lectern to preach. He smiled warmly and half gestured at the glittering reredos as he said, “I want us to hear Jesus’ teaching in this morning’s Gospel, and that great wall of gold behind me won’t help you hear. The statues tell Gospel stories and stories on the saints, that real holiness lives here [pointing to his own face] and there [gesturing toward us in the congregation].”

I remember this moment when a preacher contradicted the voice and theology of a powerful building, so what he said proved memorable. You can argue with the architecture, and briefly at least, you can win. But the triumphalism and static hierarchy of the admittedly beautiful reredos is still there as you read, and the preacher is not. Should we be content to argue with the building’s steady voice? Each instant when we’re not offering another vision, the building continues to speak, so in the end it does speak louder than our words. Beauty and history aren’t in themselves our tradition. Our tradition honors God’s compassionate steady hand making humanity wholly and holy.

We can preach that we’re called to see the face of Christ in our sisters and brothers and in the strangers we meet, and all the bright faces in the congregation may nod their agreement, but only the preacher sees those faces. Are the backs of people’s heads an adequate image of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?

We can preach that God came to dwell among us in Jesus Christ who touched and blessed our living and dying with his human hands and heart and breath. But when we call on the Spirit to make his presence live for us again in the assembly and in the bread and wine, what does offering that prayer in a fenced-in “sanctuary” reserved for vested clergy and vested authorized lay assistants say about our approach to the Holy One who drew near to us?

Our furniture dilemmas are not the Great Tradition. Distant altars, altar rails, and forward facing pews are the legacy of 17th century church polemic and 17th century church-growth problem solving.

Starting in 1633, Archbishop Laud (with King Charles’ enthusiastic encouragement) worked to eliminate Elizabethan and Jacobean altar tables where the people gathered around. He decreed that altars should be fenced in with altar rails at the east end of the building. Laud and the King agreed that the Anglican practice they had inherited of gathering the congregation at an altar table for confession (‘draw near with faith’), Eucharistic prayer and communion cheapened the Eucharist. Laud was convinced that a set-apart, clergy-only area and rails to keep lay people out declared the holiness of the sacrament. Laud was so convinced that he was right that he invoked sedition laws to punish his most outspoken critics by having their ears cut off and a brand burned into their faces.

Puritan reaction set in fairly quickly. King and Archbishop lost power in 1640, and both were eventually executed. Oliver Cromwell's church-vandalizing soldiers destroyed Laud’s new altars and altar rails, and also smashed statues and stained glass windows. The cycle of reaction continued when the monarchy was restored in 1660; many of the altars were redone (again), as Laud would have had them. But popular liturgy was on the cusp of the Enlightenment. Preaching is the most rational and thought-provoking part of liturgy and in restored Anglican liturgy after 1660 preaching became the main event and preachers were media stars. Stylish Londoners valued and expected l-o-n-g, rhetorically elegant sermons, so when the 1666 Great Fire destroyed most of London’s churches, people welcomed Christopher Wren’s new churches with their auditorium style seating, forward-facing bench pews, that enabled people to sit back and listen more comfortably to whichever of London’s elegant rhetoricians was preaching a customary ninety minute sermon.

What many Episcopalians call a ‘traditional Episcopal’ church arrangement synthesizes these two innovations –practical seating for a kind of liturgy we’d no longer tolerate (ninety minute sermons), and the ideological barrier to the laity, for a kind of liturgy I hope we don’t believe – that ‘the sacrament’ is holy and the people are not. In the sweep of Christian history, the 17th century is recent. I believe we’ve got to ask whether these two contradictory elements of 17th liturgy really serve the liturgy we’re called to make.

Buildings with forward-facing pews encourage us to scatter two or three to a pew; the furniture preaches isolation and passivity, making each lay person a passive religious consumer watching ‘what’s going on up front’ from a safe and lonely distance. And the massive railed in altar (whether it’s out from the wall or not) conveys that Laud meant it to convey – a power and holiness that lay people ought not to get too close to.

In Liturgy and Architecture, Louis Bouyer, a Vatican II-era Roman Catholic theologian, scripture and early church scholar, and liturgist, traced step by step the changes in Christian church architecture from the earliest church buildings. In his century-by-century account we see how the priest became more and more the center of a show while the laity faded into the background – headed toward Wren’s audience – passive listeners. And in that book Bouyer warned that the priest going ‘behind’ the altar to face the people so they could ‘see what was going on up there’ was only another step in the same clericalizing distancing.

Is the Eucharistic prayer something we want to witness the priest doing, or is it something we’re doing together as a congregation? Rick Fabian, my wife Ellen, and I founded St. Gregory’s, San Francisco in 1978 to explore just how completely the liturgy can be a shared work of the whole assembly and what a full expression of that shared work Sunday by Sunday does for evangelism, Christian formation, and mission. Twenty years later the new building St. Gregory’s had just built won an American Institute of Architects Best Religious Building of the Year award. The award said:

St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church has developed a unique, historically inspired liturgy based on fourth and fifth century Christian worship. There are two distinct aspects of their worship service: the Liturgy of the Word (Bible readings) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). The church building joins two distinct but linked worship areas, each with its own liturgical and acoustical requirements. [The area] for the Liturgy of the Word, seats 200 people facing each other across a central platform. This antiphonal arrangement encourages spoken and sung community participation. The presider’s chair is located at the north end in front of a prominent painted icon. Bible readings are from a lectern at the south end.

Midway through the service, worshipers move in a procession from the seating area to gather around the central altar table for Eucharist, song and dance in the octagonal room…the baptismal font is in a garden court beside the hill [outdoors] on cross axis with the altar table.

This is a church with a marvelous sense of community and a wonderful ordered plan that reflects the eastern Coptic influence in this Episcopal congregation’s liturgical practices. The parts of the service were given geometric forms. Beautiful, naturally lit ceilings and modest materials are handled with a profound sense of craft and purpose show keen awareness of the Bay Area’s regional character. The church appeals spiritually and aesthetically to the diverse people of the Bay Area, welcoming all to what the congregants call ‘a home for God’s friends.

Jesus appealed to daily experience of marginalized people and ordinary sinners to God’s work among us. He made everyday service to others holy when he washed his disciples feet and he transformed a table meal into the sign of his victory over death and living presence with us for all time. In the religion of Jesus day, he was a layperson. He commanded his disciples, also lay people, to do all he had done and serve as he served.

I’ve troubled people saying this, but can’t escape the conclusion that we’re not being faithful when we let the voice of the building speak louder than Jesus’ practice. Provisionally, to develop a congregational vision, we may have to work in and around buildings that contradict Jesus’ teaching (both what he taught and how he taught), but sooner or later faithfulness asks us to practice what we preach. I believe the Spirit asks that we make our buildings work for liturgy and serve the holy people. When we hear and refuse to listen, we’re valuing sacred space more than holy people.

How do we make a holy space for holy people? Whatever our building or floor plan, two things can make a huge difference in the message our building teaches:

-we can re-order seating to monastic or collegiate choir so that lay people can see one another’s face as well as the preacher and reader see everyone’s faces. Our faces are our primary manifestation of the image (icon) of God, and seeing one another’s faces as we pray and sing and listen brings us closer to Jesus’ teaching and practice of the holiness of people and human experience, and

- we can open up space for processions of the whole congregation and space to gather everyone around table and font as we do our sacramental work. Congregational processions and real gatherings for sacramental action let us feel that we are one body in Christ, and that together, souls and bodies, God’s pilgrim people, are on the move.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Advertising Space