Simply poetry?

By Kathleen Staudt

I was caught up short by the title of Bishop John Bryson Chane’s column in the latest Washington Window: “Prayer without Action is Simply Poetry.” It raised the ire you might expect from a poet. “Simply poetry?” The phrase was clearly dismissive. It seemed as if the title meant something like “faith without works is dead” – and actually, in reading the article, I didn’t find much I disagreed with – of course we are called, as Christians, to address injustice in the world, to examine and refashion ways of life that are draining resources from the poor, to keep in mind the mandate of Matthew 25. The statistics the Bishop offers are horrifying, numbing, about the level of human suffering in the world. And of course addressing these things is part of how we are called as Christians.

But I think we need poetry as we respond to the gospel’s call to action in the world. Talking with college students about vocation over the past year or so, I have been struck by the way that many young adult Christians are intimidated, overwhelmed, by the whole notion of the call of Christians to heal a clearly broken world. The task seems too great for them and they don’t know where to begin, and how they can contribute. It seems like a lot of pressure, trying to identify a vocation that will save the world. In these conversations it seemed to me that some imagination, some poetry, needs to be brought into our preaching and teaching about the call of Christ to a ministry of healing and reconciliation amid the world’s brokenness. Poetry can help us imagine our way to the particular ways we are called to heal a broken world, “wherever we may be”

It seems to me that there is a great deal of “poetry” in our faith tradition and story – the act of imagination that story and poetry invites is a powerful source of the energy and spirit that propels us to love and serve the world. And the practice of prayer, of receptivity to God, requires imagination – is a kind of poetry. Modern prophets Bishop Desmond Tutu and Verna Dozier both invite believers to an act of imagination as we attend to the brokenness of the world. They speak of the “dream” of God – a poetic expression of our common awareness that the world is not what it is meant to be – and that we are called by our faith to participate in its transformation. Tutu writes, in lively, imaginative mode, drawing on the poetic language of our tradition:

"I have a dream," God says. "Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that my children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, my family.” ( God Has a Dream, pp.19-20)

Verna Dozier makes a similar point when she points to the poetry of the Biblical story, with it’s account of a God who loves us and calls us to return, and a Saviour who gives himself to that work and calls us to new life. It begins, as Bishop Chane implies out, with the ability to look squarely at the world’s brokenness and to see the huge chasm between the world as God desires it to be and the world as it is. But to address this without being overwhelmed, we need imagination, poetry and faith.

Dreaming with God requires ongoing discernment: we need to learn to look at the story God is telling about the world, known through Scripture and tradition, and also at the world as it is. Then we need to ask, “Where is my heart breaking; what is calling me here: what is my small piece of this great work of redemption and reconciliation that God is calling me to?” We need to be imaginative enough to “dream with God ” and to give ourselves to that dream.

No one of us can do it all. We can and should participate in large programs through our institutions; but each of us, as individuals and as congregations, need to look at the relationships, needs and communities around us and say “what is the dream of God for this situation, even if I can’t figure out how to realize it all by myself? What might be my piece of the work of reconciliation here?”

My point is, of course, it’s “both/and.” Prayer without action is passivity; Action without prayer can wind up being about more narrowly political and social agendas – it can lead us to miss the dream of God in the work we are called to do. Genuine prayer will lead us to action. But it is folly to dismiss either of these as “simply poetry.”

Walter Brueggemann has named the poets as the “prophets” of our time. We are required, in reaching out to the world, to learn compassion through imagination, to name suffering and to speak truth to a corrupt social order. And activist poet Denise Levertov described imagination as “the perceptive organ by which it is possible. . . . to experience God.” We need poetry, the expression of imagination, to name the brokenness and imagine the healing, to help us to dream with God, and to ourselves keep humbly open to possibilities we may not have imagined. True poetry, like true prayer, will call us to action, powered by the energy of the imagination, which enables us to touch the heart of God. It teach us, within whatever sphere of life we are called to encounter and name, to live into the dream of God.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt 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.

Lost things and the power of memory

By Jane Carol Redmont

I have been thinking recently of all the things I’ve lost.

Eighteen months ago there was the turquoise and fuchsia chiffon scarf, a gift from my mother, which blew off my neck at a professional conference in San Diego as I was on my way to lunch and whose absence I did not notice till a minute or two later. My companion and I retraced our steps near the waterfront, queried the local shops and stands, searched the ground. Nothing. I went to two lost and found booths, at the conference center and in the immediate neighborhood. A day later, I had to leave town. Back home on the East Coast, I kept thinking of tracking down the scarf. I still miss it.

A few years ago there was the Russian shawl, black with bright flowers in tones of pink and red, made of light wool fabric, breezy enough for spring but warm enough for winter and fall, a vast and beautiful square that dressed up slacks, my winter coat, and the proverbial little black dress—the accessory to end all accessories. I wrapped it over my shoulders, safely draped or casually knotted. Only a few times did I wear it slung over one shoulder, and the last time I did, I lost it, walking in a park in Brussels in animated conversation with an old family friend. Suddenly I noticed it was gone, surprised I no longer felt its weight. We retraced our steps, forty minutes’ worth, through the park which was acres wide and full of trees and benches and lawns. We never found the shawl. Someone had taken possession of it, no doubt. I want my shawl back. Not an approximate replacement, not one of the shawls I have seen in slightly different colors and smaller sizes and not quite the same flower pattern, readily available in Russian goods stores on the internet. I want the one I lost, the one my parents gave me, the one they bought 30 years ago, in the Brezhnev era, during their three years in what was then the USSR.

Further back, in college, there were the stolen rings. In my senior year it was the emerald ring, my birthstone –perhaps synthetic, perhaps real, I never quite knew or cared. It was a gift from my paternal grandmother, who emigrated to the U.S. in her teens and was not a woman of means; presents were part of our relationship, but small ones, never lavish. This was an exception. The ring disappeared from my dormitory room along with a few other pieces of jewelry. In the first semester of my freshman year (we still called women freshmen then) the stolen ring was carved obsidian in a silver setting, a hand-me-down from my mother, who had gotten it the year she and my father were married in Mexico. It was a stylized face with a chipped nose, impossible to replicate and easy to identify. After several long visits with a new boyfriend in another dorm, I saw the ring on the hand of a classmate who lived in that building. I asked for it; she lied and said it was a gift from her brother. I was, at seventeen, scared and barely in college for six weeks, afraid to contradict her. I still have fantasies of tracking her down –it would be easy enough, through the alumni association-- and writing in a note: “All is forgiven, but give up the ring. Let my mother see it on me while she is still alive.”

And then there were the books. In their move back to the United States after nearly three decades in France, my parents had to leave some of my childhood books behind. I was an adult already, not living with the books, but secure in knowing I could visit them, like old friends. My parents did ship paperback editions of French and English and American classics — the books of my adolescence— and the hardbound literature anthologies from my French public school curriculum. They also kept the large illustrated books of fairy tales. But the other books of my childhood had to stay behind: my copy of The Three Musketeers, the French-language children’s biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt and Marguerite Plantin, daughter of the Renaissance-era printer Christophe Plantin, and especially, especially, a book that belonged to my brother before it found its way to me, a history of Paris for children, a book I long to read again and whose stories I loved.

It is through this book of history and legends that I learned about the Parisii, the tribe that gave Paris its name. Under the Roman conquest of Gaul, after 52 B.C.E., the city became Lutetia, but the Parisii came first and it is their name that endures. The book was also chock-full of tales of the saints, two of which I still remember: Denis, martyred on what became known as Mons Martyrium (later abridged to Montmartre) and carrying his head in his hands all the way to what is now the town of St. Denis, and Geneviève, the 5th century shepherd girl who prayed away the Huns. I cannot hope to track down my own copy of the book but in these days of the World Wide Web, it is possible to find a book that has long been out of print. Every so often I search for the title on the Web, and last week I found it. Someday I will order a copy for myself, but for now I am just happy the copies exist and moved to have seen the cover again, with its red color and its picture of the boat that is the symbol of the city of my birth.

This spring I lost one of my favorite rings, the only one I have worn with any consistency in the last half dozen years, a plain silver flat coil made by a Navajo artist. A couple of months ago, I put it on in the morning and it slipped off my finger somehow before I left for work. Unless I dropped it down a drain while washing my hands, it is somewhere in the house, but I do not know where. I even tore open a vacuum cleaner bag three weeks ago in hopes of finding it. No ring. Perhaps the cat has used it as a soccer ball and it is beneath the couch in the place I cannot reach. Yes, I am talking to St. Anthony about this one. It should have been easy to locate.

I am embarrassed and irritated at the regret and longing I feel for these things. I ask myself why I hang on to their memory, why their absence hurts. They are, after all, only things.

My first layer of answers has been a combination of two responses. In the first, I chide myself for being a materialist, unable to let go of possessions. In the second, less judgmental, I remember one of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, that desire is the root of suffering: attachment to things is part of that desire.

Only recently have I started to layer onto the first two responses a different set of reflections.

The scarves and rings helped me to feel beautiful. The books told me stories. The silver coil was a consolation, a gift I had bought myself in New Mexico before a week of workshop facilitation, in the summer following a painful break-up. I was attached to these objects for their beauty and for what they added to my life.

But nearly every one of those lost things, besides being beautiful, had been a gift from a person I loved, usually a family member. The thing spoke to me of that person, of our relationship, and of the place from which it came, a place with significance in my family history. As a family, we are emotionally close but geographically spread out. Because of professional occupations and life partnerships across cultures, we are at home in several places, comfortable in more than one country. With this diasporic reality also comes longing: to be at home in more than one place is also to miss the place where one is not and the people who live there. The things I lost felt like extensions of my body or of the bodies of my loved ones, arms around me, protections, talismans.

In the preoccupation with objects, there is also loss and anticipatory loss. My parents are nearing the end of their life. My brother, who is one of my closest friends, lives an ocean and a continent away. My grandmother died three decades ago. Is it easier to focus on the loss of objects than on the loss of relationship that comes with distance and death? Probably so.

There is more. Almost all of these items of clothing or jewelry were lost or stolen or flew off my neck in places and times of instability or transition. At college, four thousand miles from my home, when I was first settling into a strange country, and later, in the “what next?” phase of my senior year. At an academic conference where my colleague and I were interviewing sixteen candidates for the third position in our small religious studies department, vacant after a difficult institutional struggle. In a public garden in Brussels, as an old friend of my parents’ and I walked and talked and argued about the rights of immigrant Muslim women to wear headscarves and what the headscarves signified in modern Belgian society, after passing some women wearing hijab.

Transitions and migrations are everywhere among us. I knew and saw this before my visit to the stunning “Migrations” exhibit by Sebastião Salgado and its related children’s photos a few years ago, but Salgado’s photographs crystallized this for me. As the number of migrants and refugees increases around the world, I look at their pictures and remember my forebears who came to the U.S. as immigrants, some in the 19th century, others in the early 20th like the paternal grandmother who gave me the emerald ring. Most of all I notice the faces, but I note also what people wear and take with them. I wonder what I would take if I had to leave my home in a hurry, not for college or work but in the duress of emigration or the trauma of war.

This preoccupation may come from belonging to a people –most of my ancestors were Jews— who often had to run: inquisitions, exile, pogroms, trains to the camps, emigration to a safer and more promising land. But in the U.S. especially, all of us have displacement in our bones and disruption in our histories: descendants of immigrants from Europe and Asia, internally displaced Native peoples, enslaved Africans stripped, literally, of every object and piece of clothing. For those who were able to migrate and take a few things, there was always the question: What is portable? What do we choose? Most of us, whatever our origins, end up with both the useful and the beautiful, a mix of survival and sentiment. I have seen pictures of immigrants at Ellis Island carrying not just suitcases but large baskets, jars, blankets, spectacular hats. A family of Hungarians, preparing to enter the new land, looks out from a picture, the children dressed in their cleanest and best. More than a century later and on another soil, a refugee family in Burundi stands together in beauty, clothed in shimmering colors.

I probably have thought about objects and transitions more than before during this year because of an attempted break-in at my new residence during Thanksgiving week and a precipitous move just before Labor Day after a tree destroyed part of my house. Mercifully, once the disaster recovery team cleaned the rubble, little of what was inside had been damaged or broken, with the exception of my grandparents’ bed, one of the few heirlooms I owned. Now, at the end of a strenuous academic year, I think of summer travel and begin composing in my head the notes to the house-sitter: how and when to feed the cat; what to guard from intruders and weather; what to grab first and save (after the cat) if there is a fire.

Given the choice, I would grab –after the passport and the cat—the picture in the slightly battered frame on the wall of my study. Given to my mother by her mother’s cousin William, born in the German Rhineland, it is a lithograph by a printer in Alsace, on the other side of the Rhine in France. It was, William wrote on the back, a “prayer director,” an aid to prayer, with words in Hebrew and images of biblical scenes—a rarity in a tradition with a prohibition against graven images—created sometime in the first half of the 19th century. On the back is a translated list of biblical sayings and an identification of the images, numbered and written in neat block letters in Cousin Willie’s hand.

“And I shall dwell in the midst of the people Israel,” the list reads. “The Ten Commandments.” “Know before whom you are standing.” “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, etc.” (Yes, he wrote “etc.”) “From the rising of the sun to the setting thereof, the name of the Lord is praised.” The images, in tones of blue and brown, are the Tablets of the Law, Moses striking the rock, the binding of Isaac, the blessings of Jacob, and the wise judgment of Solomon.

William came to the U.S. in the 1920s, much later than the rest of my mother’s maternal family, who had arrived during the second half of the 19th century. The lithograph left Germany not with him but with his sister Mathilde, who left in the late 1930s, not a moment too soon.

The wall hanging, William wrote on the back, was given to his grandfather, who served as a civilian provisioner to an army post during the Franco-Prussian war, “for his good deeds.” William does not say who gave the lithograph to my great-great-grandfather, but it was probably a gift from his congregation: William’s inscription notes that prior to the gift, the “prayer director” hung on the East wall of the synagogue in the family’s small town in the Baden region.

In the mid-1960s, toward the end of his life, Cousin Willie gave the lithograph to my mother. After the translations and descriptions on the back of the frame, he noted that the “prayer director” had hung on the East wall of its recipient’s home and later on the East wall of the home of his son, William’s father, in the city of Speyer. William then wrote, “Brought to Los Angeles, Calif. in 1938 by my sister Thilde” and added, on the next line, “To perpetuate,” and signed his full legal name.

Judaism and Christianity, the religions of my ancestors and of my choosing, are steeped in memory and materiality as well as in the freedom of hope. Memory teaches. It teaches through things, through the stories we tell about them, and through the stories they tell us. It walks us into the future.

Let not our things own us: ultimately they, and we, belong to God. Still, our things are bound up with our histories and our flesh. This too can be holy: To stop and think about how we live with our things and our memories. To know, when we cling, why we cling. And to tell the stories. To perpetuate.


Jane Carol Redmont grew up in Paris in a family of American journalists and moved to the United States at the age of 17. A former member of the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Refugees and Immigrants, she chairs the Bishop’s Committee for Racial Justice and Reconciliation of the Diocese of North Carolina. Her latest book is the new paperback edition of When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life (Sorin Books, 2008). She teaches at Guilford College and blogs at Acts of Hope.

What the court did and what it left undone

By L. Zoe Cole

What in the heck did the California Supreme Court do with Proposition 8? It looks suspiciously like they implicitly denounced California’s system for changing the state constitution. Many proponents of Proposition 8 believe they won, because the Court did not find that the measure itself was invalid. Some proponents of marriage equality fear they lost because the court did not find the measure invalid. Others wonder how a proposition that limits fundamental constitutional rights in any way is simply an “amendment” permitted by a simple popular majority vote, rather than an “alteration” requiring a two thirds vote of the legislature. And still others think the opinion represents illogical fence-sitting.

The decision may be illogical (even Oliver Wendell Holmes acknowledged that the "law does not always keep step with logic"), but it’s about as far from fence-sitting as a secular court can get. Contrary to popular slurs about "activist judges," courts don't make law, much less public policy (as pointed out in a quote from the majority opinion in the New York Times On-line article about the decision), they answer the questions litigants bring. Legal maxims rigorously maintained by most courts also require that an appellate court’s opinion be as narrowly tailored as possible to answer only the questions brought to it and those that cannot be avoided in answering the primary questions. I believe the Court could have gone farther than they did, but Courts are also inherently conservative (again, despite the popular lambasting they often receive). Within the confines of the actual legal situation they were asked to decide, the decision does make sense, even as it leaves room for additional litigation to work out its implications.

Supporters of marriage equality feared that, if upheld, Proposition 8 would invalidate the same-gender marriages that took place between the California Supreme Court’s ruling in The Marriage Cases, (2008) 43 Cal.4th 757, and the effective date of Proposition 8. An "ex post facto" law – which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, is one that makes something illegal, after the fact, so the parallel isn't exact here (because this is a civil case dealing with civil rights, rather than a criminal case), but it is close. As the court points out in its ruling, principles of legal construction require that taking away “vested rights” be clearly intended and not simply an accidental by-product. Because the language of Proposition 8 didn’t specify that it would invalidate previously legal same-gender marriages, it could prevent future same-gender marriages, but not undo existing marriages. If, as has been suggested elsewhere (see, for example the May 26, entry at http://www.dailykos.com), the California Supreme Court intended to give only what it could not legally avoid, then it makes absolute sense that the court would find a way to maintain the legality of these same-gender marriages.

Two things are hopeful for me in the Court’s ruling: 1) the Court’s insistence that its decision does not overturn The Marriage Cases, and 2) their insistence on the right of same-gender couples to establish the same legal relationship that opposite-gender couples do when they marry – just without the same name. "Civil unions" have all the same rights as "marriage," according to the Court, but civil unions are for same-gender couples while marriages are for opposite-gender couples. Emphasis on the similarity of the two paradoxically sets up an eventual challenge on the same grounds the U.S. Supreme Court overturned segregation in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education: separate is not equal. If the civil unions and domestic partnerships are legally indistinguishable from marriage, then the logic of Brown and its progeny will require that either a single term is used or that the terms may be used interchangeably by both same-gender and opposite-gender couples.

The California Supreme Court was not asked in this case to make a decision based on equal protection considerations. They already decided the equal protection questions in The Marriage Cases and have gone to great lengths to preserve their answer. The limited legal issue in this case was whether Proposition 8 was an "amendment to" or a "revision of" the state constitution. The Court answered that the measure was indeed merely an “amendment,” and thus did not require a 2/3 majority vote by the legislature to put it on the ballot, but carefully preserved their previous finding about marriage equality. They didn't have to do that, but they did. The Court also, whether intentionally or not, seems to have created a ruling that will encourage further litigation that will eventually undermine even the narrow limitation on the right of some couples to designate their relationship as a “marriage.”

Other events, such as an overhaul of the constitution as a whole (something also being called for because of the state’s unique economic crisis) or a subsequent ballot measure in favor of same-gender marriage, may obviate the need to overturn the decision the Court has made today. In the meantime, however, the court has raised more questions than it has answered. The more state Supreme Courts hold that civil unions and domestic partnerships involve the same legal rights and responsibilities; and the more opposite-gender couples who chose to create these relationships, although they have the legal right to use the “designation” “marriage” for their relationship, the less justification there is in maintaining a legal distinction among them. If opposite-gender couples can choose “marriage” or “civil union” for their “officially recognized family union,” what legal precedent can prevent same-gender couples from making the same choice between “marriage” and “civil union”? As more states officially recognize same-gender relationships – whether marriage or something like marriage – pressure to reconsider the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will also grow, as will the sophistication of the legal arguments against DOMA, and in our very mobile society, the need for states to recognize the valid same-gender marriages of those married elsewhere as well as the rights of the children of such relationships.

While it is certainly frustrating to be given only half a loaf, I suspect this will turn out to be a very important decision on the road to marriage equality for all. Although it is difficult to wait for the next case to form itself and then work its way through the right court with the right facts and the right law to be challenged, this may very well be the same-gender marriage equivalent of the US Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which set the stage for Roe v. Wade. In anticipation of the California Supreme Court’s decision on Proposition 8, the news seems to be full of evidence that attitudes toward marriage equality are changing. All the news is good. We are moving toward secular legal marriage equality. Within our lifetimes, our children and our grandchildren will look back and wonder why in the world people ever thought marriage needed to be limited to opposite-gender couples.

The law is not perfect. It does not actually effect social change. Movement in the law merely reflects social change. Brown is a 1954 decision, and yet, miscegenation laws weren't finally struck down until Loving v. Virginia in 1972. Bowers v. Hardwick, upholding Georgia's sodomy law, was decided in 1986, and not overturned until 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. As early as 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court found, in Baehr v. Lewin, that limiting marriage to opposite-gender couples violated the “state” equal protection clause. However, same-gender marriage did not become legal in any state until the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, refusing to tolerate persistent, irrational prejudices against lesbigays. California made essentially the same finding last year in The Marriage Cases. Earlier this year, Vermont – the first state to legalize civil unions – became the first state to legalize same-gender marriage by vote of the legislature.

The court is definitely not fence-sitting here, merely splitting legal hairs in a time-honored manner. In fact, the legal system is moving as decisively as it is capable of toward marriage equality and inexorably toward implementing the changes the culture as a whole is making in its attitude toward lesbigays. Really, it is quite exciting!

L. Zoe Cole is a lay member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Denver, CO and active in the Diocese of Colorado. Currently, she is a part-time municipal court judge and a full-time writer for EthicsGame.com, producer of web-based ethical decision making tools and training materials.

"I guess I’m a bad homosexual"

By Paul Fromberg

My husband and I drove home from our regular Monday night dinner talking about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling we expected to uphold Proposition 8. “I guess I’m a bad homosexual,” he said. “But gay marriage hasn’t been the most important thing on my mind this month.” I agreed.

It had been a beautiful Memorial Day. We drove out of San Francisco into the Republican suburbs to explore Mount Diablo. As we stood in line at a deli, Grant turned to me with a question about potato chips and addressed me as he always does. “Honey?” he said. We both looked at each other. Could my husband call me honey in the middle of a suburban lunch line? Would we be turned away from ordering our sandwiches? Would we be ridiculed? Did we care? Well, yes, a little. Nobody likes to get the hateful stare. But nobody was dialing 911 making a complaint of eating while gay. We weren’t going to be interrogated. There were no officers stuffing us into unmarked vans. We were just going to be two middle-aged married men waiting to order our sandwiches outside the safe zone of San Francisco.

In the ongoing work of converting a culture ––bending it toward justice, toward the restoration of human dignity and ordinary goodness––you have to recognize what the big struggles are, and which ones are small.

It’s hard for me to see gay marriage as the biggest struggle we’ve got to deal with in California.

I can still walk publicly with my husband, legal or not, without fear of the arrest or deportation our undocumented neighbors face every day. Being a gay couple doesn’t put us at risk in one of our state’s hellishly overcrowded prisons, where so many of the young Black men in our neighborhood wind up. Our marriage gives us rights about health care decision-making, but it doesn’t change the way our elderly friends lie for days in gurneys in the dingy hallways of the country hospital, waiting for over-stretched nurses to bring them something for the pain. Our legal right to marry or adopt children doesn’t fix the dysfunctional school system where twelve-year olds have given up on learning to read.

While it’s true that the No on 8 campaign message was mealy-mouthed and its strategy poor, the lessons to be learned from that battle are not all technical. Organizing is not, at the end, a technical task. It means actually finding common interest among people, and building on that. In terms of political organizing, the fight for gay marriage can’t be separated from California’s budget crisis: from our struggles for immigrant rights, education reform, and tax reform that will allow us to provide humane health care and educate all our children. The fight for gay marriage can’t simply involve gays throwing a bit of money at a campaign so we can all have fabulous weddings. It means, as we say in my business, doing the hard work of becoming a community.

My business, which is being a priest in a church, is after all not very different from the business of most of the people in our state. We love each other, we bless each other, we feed and heal and teach and care for each other—not always because we like one another, but because we recognize that we’re bound together in a common life.

When we got married last July, standing in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in City Hall, Grant and I promised that we would stand by each other. Even then, not knowing if our marriage would be legal in the future, what we most yearned for was to love, support and keep faith--- not just with each other, but with the whole community in which we live. Nothing could change that promise for us; not Prop 8, not anything.

It’s ironic that my marriage to my husband--- which now is one of the 18,000 declared legal by California—has not brought me any closer to common life with the people of my state. I find myself set apart from my unmarried sisters and brothers. I now have one more privilege that others don’t. It’s a situation that makes me feel, for lack of a better word, queer.

Paul Fromberg is the rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

They also serve who are knuckleheads

By Heidi Shott

In the mid-1980s, when my husband Scott and I were first married and living in his hometown of Bluefield, West Virginia, we were asked to take on the junior high youth group at the big Presbyterian church where he had grown up. Today, if you were to shine lights into our eyes and ask us to name the kids we worked with over that year or two, we could name about five of the 15 to 20 kids involved in the program.

I particularly remember Daniel, a seventh grade smart aleck, who once, when chastised for his annoying behavior, said, “Hey, it’s a free country.” To which Scott, perhaps a tad imprudently, replied, “Not if you’re dead, Daniel.”

We would meet every Sunday in the youth room at 5 p.m. having begun to consider the evening’s program just a few hours earlier. Scott surely played his guitar, and I’m certain we played silly games to start. I vaguely recall one serious conversation about some contemporary issue and have a dim memory of working our way through the Gospel of Mark. We always concluded the evening with a boisterous visit to the Dairy Queen on Cumberland Road.

Sometimes a group of kids would come over to the little house we were renting to play games and watch videos. The girls and I made an unsuccessful attempt at constructing and decorating gingerbread houses one evening, but we ate a lot of candy and laughed hard at our lopsided handiwork.

The fact is that we were terrible youth leaders. When I started working for the diocese ten years ago and saw the amount of thoughtful planning and preparation that goes into each diocesan youth event, I felt ashamed for having been such a blithe and knuckleheaded youth leader. Scott and I had no plan but we genuinely liked the kids even though they were tiring and seemingly impervious to anything we had to say about walking humbly or otherwise with their God. At that time in a small southern city like Bluefield there was – probably still is – a cultural component to being a part of a church youth group. Just about all the kids had some kind of church connection. These kids kept showing up every Sunday night and so would we and whatever happened, happened.

So when, early one recent morning, I opened an email from a friend saying that someone named Steve from Bluefield had contacted him after seeing our photos on his web site, I was nonplussed. Steve who? I bounded upstairs and shook Scott awake.

“Did you go to high school with a guy named Steve M---?”

“Whaaa?”

By noon, after a few mistaken identities, we realized that Steve had been a member of our junior high youth group and he was now 35 years old. Suddenly I remembered him: a little guy with dark hair and bright red lips. He was cute and well-behaved, which is probably why I didn’t recall him at first. Steve, it turns out, is a full-time middle school ministries director at a huge United Methodist church in Tennessee. He said he has tried for years to find us.

He wrote to Scott, “I want to thank you and Heidi for all the time spent with me during my early junior high years. Who would have thought that playing Monopoly and watching old zombie movies with a junior high kid would plant a seed in his life?”

Whaaa? Dude, we would never have thought that. Surely you’re mistaken. Surely it wasn’t anything we did.

But as I’ve mulled it over for the past few days, I guess it was something we did. We had blindly, unthinkingly really, said “yes” to a call. We didn’t do it well; we weren’t gifted youth leaders, nor could we be ever be described as dedicated. Steve obviously had other, more skilled people who mentored him and helped shape his vocation and spiritual journey along the way.

We just took him bowling, bought him ice cream at Dairy Queen, laughed at his jokes, and gave him a ride home. Holy cow! Can ministry be as simple as that?

Can ministry be as simple as a couple of knuckleheads saying “yes” when asked serve and then letting the Holy Spirit do its mysterious thing? I’ve been mulling it over, and it seems the answer to that question is “yes.”

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

Christian vocation and The Cowboy Junkies

By Greg Jones

When I was an adolescent, coming of age, thinking about who I wanted to be "when I grew up," God sneaked up on me. As I look back now some twenty years from the time when I began to really consider "my future," as one so often does in college, I can recall a number of these moments when God slipped into my thoughts. One of them involved a band who I heard play in Raleigh on the campus of N.C. State.

Twenty years ago I was fascinated by the Cowboy Junkies' album, The Trinity Sessions. The album was a blend of rock, traditional Americana and gospel, and it was recorded in an old church with a single microphone. The lead singer had an angelic voice, and the gentle sound of the band was deeply engaging for me. Several of the songs became instant favorites for me, but the one which got hold of me was the traditional gospel tune, "Working on a Building." The song's lyrics are few, and all center around this sentence: "I'm working on a building, it's a Holy Ghost building, for my Lord, for my Lord."

The song got through to me in those days and achieved the Lord's goal of stimulating within me a desire to offer my life to more than my own personal goals and uses. As Peter wrote to the earliest disciples of Christ, "let yourselves be built into a spiritual house." (1 Peter 2.5) Indeed, I feel that our entire goal as disciples is to allow the Holy Spirit to build us up, and the world through us, into the house of God - wherein God may abide with His people.

That's what it means to me to follow Christ in discipleship and mission. Episcopalians, listen, we're working on a building, a Holy Ghost building, for our Lord, for our Lord. As the old song concludes, "If I was a singer I tell you what I'd do, I would keep on singing and work on that building too." Let us make that our song together, a song of birth pangs, growing pains, and ever building joy in Christ Jesus.

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.

What happened at the Ascension?

By Ann Fontaine

Ascension is one of those church holy days that is a mystery to me. The whole idea of Jesus ascending through the air into heaven is hard for someone who has seen the pictures of earth from space taken by the Astronauts. Instead I think of Glinda in the movie The Wizard of Oz, rising up into the air in her bubble with all the Munchkins waving and shouting "Goodbye, Goodbye" in their little squeaky voices.

There are many artistic depictions of the Ascension. Salvador Dali shows Jesus from the disciples’ point of view and some androgynous heavenly being receiving him. There is an icon showing just Jesus feet as he goes into the clouds and leaving footprints on the rock below. If you use the image search on google you will find all sorts of conceptions of this event. The gospels also have varying accounts. At some time Jesus parted from his followers - there was a sense that they would not see him again in quite the same way. But as he left them it was as though the heavens opened again. As when Jesus was baptized, at the crucifixion when the veil of the temple was torn in two, so at this event the doorway to the full reality of God was wide open - it would never been seen as closed again.

I love the response of the angel in Acts - "why are you standing around looking up into heaven?" In another place they are told go to the city and wait for power from on high. Between his apparent disappearance and the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit, between Ascension and Pentecost, we have what John Westerhoff calls a time of impotence.

At Ascension the mission of Christ is all handed on to us. It takes another week or so before we get power to move out. I can see the women and men - with a sort of stunned look (gazing as it says) - uh - what now? They gather, pray, tell stories of the good old days - and then zap – Pentecost! Ascensiontide is a time when we can learn about waiting - not an easy thing for people in our time. We want “to learn patience and we want it now” as the old joke goes. The disciples gathered to pray, study and worship as they waited. It was a time of preparation for the ministry that would soon envelop them. Perhaps that is something for us too.

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

Making saints: a response

By Derek Olsen

I believe in good people. Matter of fact, I believe there are quite a lot of them scattered throughout history in various times and various places. We can learn a lot from them about what it means to enact respect and dignity for others, to right the wrongs of society, and to bring people together despite their differences and grievances. Yes, I do indeed believe in good people and in following their examples.

I also believe in saints.

But I don’t believe that the first category is the same as the second.

That is to say, I believe that good people should be both honored and imitated by all—but saints are something different; saints are something more peculiar and more mysterious. I would say that most saints also fall into the first category, being a certain subset of “good people,” but to see them only as good people is a mistake.

My friend Donald Schell has written two (I, II) articles about how the people in the icon on the wall of the parish he founded got to be there. As I read his words I found myself alternately nodding and shaking my head. Yes—and no. But it moved me to think and to consider the difference between the good and the saints. From where I sit, there are two central factors in what it means to be a saint that make them fundamentally different from those who are good. First, the saints force us to consider what it means to live as a result of resurrection power.

Bloggers and Saints

When I need it—and it’s not that uncommon—I ask my wife and my parents to pray for me. People at church—I ask them to pray for me too. Why? ‘Cause we’re a faith community, a spiritual family who are bound together and care for one another and one of the ways that we do that is to pray.

I sometimes ask my bloggy friends to pray for me as well. Now there are several levels of relationships that I share with folks who read my blog. Some are friends who now live in different places. We’ve laughed, cried, and quaffed beer together. Some are lurkers who leave nary a trace and who, in praying for me, do me a good that I will never know and form part of the community that I will never know. But many are people that I have grown to know. I’ve never met them in the flesh, but I know them through their writings. In their writings I see them thinking through their struggles, their doubts, their joys—enacting the never-ending work of embodying our Baptism in the world, wherever that may be and in whatever circumstances we are found. I ask them to pray for me and I do the same for them. They too are part of my faith community, my spiritual family, and have a very real and tangible effect on my life—spiritually and otherwise.

Likewise, when I ask St Benedict, St Bede and St Cuthbert to pray for me, I approach them in just the same way. Call it the blogger model of the communion of the saints. I’ve never met them in the flesh, but I know them through their writings. In their writings I see them thinking through their struggles, their doubts, their joys—enacting the never-ending work of embodying our Baptism in the world, wherever that may be and in whatever circumstances we are found. I ask them to pray for me and I do the same for them. They too are part of my faith community, my spiritual family and have a very real and tangible effect on my life—spiritually and otherwise. (And there are a host of lurkers here as well!)

What’s that? But they’re dead, you say? But—that’s precisely the point, isn’t it. As Christians—particularly as Episcopalians who ground our theology in Baptism—we say that we believe that they live with the very same life that we do. Through our Baptism we have been incorporated into the life of God. The resurrection has rent the veil between life and death making it—while still very real, and shocking, and painful—different. Our common life flows through Christ, He who reminded us that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living and not of the dead. And therefore if God is the God of the living then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yea though they have died yet they live—and so do Benedict and Bede and Cuthbert, and so do we.

The communion of the saints that we refer to in our creeds is the admission of a mystery. That Christ binds us in Baptism with not only himself but into all who are bound into him. He is the vine and we are the branches and the branches entwine and entangle as we weave and grow and reach for the sun of righteousness and the source of our life. Each time I ask for intercessions from my extended spiritual family it reminds me of barriers broken down, of lives and loves united in Christ.

The Holiness that Shocks

The second aspect of the saints comes from reflection on Donald’s comment about “common law” saints. In the early days, of course, all of the saints were common law. Central control of the canonization process didn’t start until the twelfth century; the idea that only Rome could declare a saint comes from a papal bull issued in 1634. In early medieval England the situation was quite a bit different. Saints were declared sometimes by bishops but more often by local acclamation. The chief criterion, however was not whether the deceased were a “good” person. The question was not one of goodness but of holiness.

Now, when we think of holiness we tend to associate it with holier-than-thou-ness, of a self-righteous piety. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The holiness that received attention in the early medieval world was knock-your-socks-off downright weird holiness. As good Protestant sorts we don’t like to talk about this kind of thing, of course. The problem, however, is that the Bible doesn’t seem to have any problem with it at all. There are passages that we like to ignore or skip over like Acts 5:15 where the people put the sick in the streets so that Peter’s shadow would heal them as he passed by or like Acts 19:12 where the people took away cloths that had touched Paul with which they healed the sick and cast out demons. For these folks, holiness wasn’t about pious moralism—holiness was a tangible power.

Lantfred was a German monk who came to Winchester in the closing years of the 10th century. In his “Life of St Swithun” (yes, there Is a real St Swithun…) ,he describes the sick and injured who used to come to the saint’s shrine, sometimes so many that the monks would have to clear a path for the clergy to move through the nave. But it wasn’t just people coming. Lantfred recounts the issues of monastic disobedience that would arise whenever the bishop left town; they flat refused to get up and sing a solemn Te Deum at each miraculous healing by St Swithun—because they were getting roused out of bed four or five times every night! For them, the saints were the people through whom the eschatological power of God broke loose upon the world. Through their embodiment of Scripture and cultivation of holiness, power flowed from them to literally change the world through God’s love.

As modern people this sort of talk tends to make us uncomfortable. It safer to go and find good people to emulate. It’s safer to celebrate people who founded institutions and organizations we approve of. Surely these earlier stories were somehow just mistaken—does the power of God really work like that in the world? Surely they were just primitive—or perhaps deluded.
Or perhaps we’re not paying attention.

And perhaps ironically—this is another way in which Donald and I agree. When we ponder how change happens in the world, how injustices get reversed, how righteousness takes root in systems of injustice, perhaps seeing it as the result of collective political action simply isn’t enough. Perhaps we need to start looking more for the eschatological power of God—and asking for it.

In short, I’ve got a different understanding of who and what a saint is than what is depicted on St Gregory of Nyssa’s wall. There’s no doubt in my mind that all of the people there are good people and, as good people, eminently worthy of emulation. But that’s not a saint. The saints are our elder siblings in the faith, those who share with us the burdens and blessings of the baptized life and who point in a myriad ways to consciously living Christ in the world. More than that they are those through whom God has touched the world. Some in small ways, others in larger, but all in ways that proclaim the “already” of God’s reign and the defeat of sin, death, and the devil.

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

Making Saints, II

This is the second of a two-part article. Read part one.

By Donald Schell

Local commemoration is one of many ways our Episcopal church acknowledges and accepts what organizational researcher Clayton Christensen calls ‘divergent innovation,’ which he argues is a necessary force for positive change in ongoing organizations or institutions. Christensen calls the established ways of problem solving and innovation that serve an organization’s known good ‘sustaining innovation.’ Organizational structures that are very good at sustaining change also tend to suppress or prematurely co-opt unexpected or out of the box change that may be very good or even necessary, when it’s beyond established norms and rules. Christensen observes how vibrant organizations that know their own strength and weakness encourage (or at least allow) a certain amount of divergent innovation, irregular change outside existing structures. The vibrant larger organization watches local divergent practice patiently to see the value of the diverging work, and if it truly serves, will draw tested divergent innovation back into in a new, somewhat altered pattern of sustaining innovation.

Christensen description fits some important moments in the church’s history when leaders chose divergent practices, some of which did eventually lead to official or legal acknowledgment of needed change. In fact, among the twenty-five or so Anglicans and English Christians in the St. Gregory’s mural icon The Dancing Saints three are commemorated for mission and pastoral work that drove them to break church law - Charles Wesley (with his brother John, who is not on the wall at St. Gregory’s), John Mason Neale, and Li Tim Oi.

Each of these three official commemorations, the Wesley brothers, John Mason Neale, and Li Tim Oi (with her bishop Ronald Hall) commemorates people who broke church law because, facing a pastoral or mission dilemma, they saw no other good choice. They acted on their best, faithful interpretation of the work they believed the Spirit called them to. Their acts were public (that is, not in secret) but they weren’t aiming to make a public statement or even to change the institution (though they did).

In the late 1700’s John and Charles Wesley’s bishops wouldn’t provide them with the clergy they needed to serve the working poor of England’s industrial revolution, so these two Anglican priests broke church law to ordain the needed clergy themselves, reviving ancient Alexandria’s practice of priests ordaining priests. (And yes, it was John Wesley who initiated the break with church law and order, which deeply troubled his brother Charles. We put Charles’ icon on the church wall because his hymns with their deep patristic scholarship and powerful feeling felt truer to the congregation’s way and spirit than the sterner, more principled writings of his brother John.)

In the first half of the 1800’s, J.M. Neale, working with England’s rural poor and elderly, believed that more beautiful celebration of the liturgy would give them hope and joy, thus building up their faith and serving their lives and their conversion toward community in Christ, so Neale broke church law by introducing colorful fabrics for altar hangings, vestments, hymn-singing, candles, and a cross on the altar into regular Anglican liturgy. We forget that Anglicanism in Neale’s time, whether ‘high and dry,’ broad church, or evangelical, was literally by English legal decree unimaginably more austere than what we expect and love as ‘the beauty of holiness.’ Neale’s bishop brought charges against him in civil court, won the case, and inhibited Neale’s priestly ministry. The only place where the bishop couldn’t stop Neale from functioning as a priest was the old people’s home where he was chaplain, which had exempted from the local episcopal jurisdiction since the Middle Ages.

In 1944 with Japanese army occupying China in World War II, and no possibility of sending English priests in to mainland churches to celebrate the Eucharist, Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong authorized Deacon Li Tim Oi to preside at Eucharist in Macao, where she was serving. Then, when Bishop Hall decided that he’d made a mistake authorizing a deacon to preside at liturgy and say the Eucharistic prayer, he sent word to Li Tim Oi to sneak across the military lines so he could ordain her a priest. Li Tim Oi slipped back into occupied China to serve there until the war’s end, and Bishop Hall sent word by slow boat to Canterbury saying what he’d done. After the war, Archbishop William Temple rebuked Bishop Hall and demanded that Li Tim Oi stop functioning as a priest. Officially she gave up her license to preside, but back in communist China where she knew her ministry was needed, she continued to serve without break, eventually migrating to Toronto to tell her story.

Can we sustain communion if we don’t all obey universally accepted church law and order?
In 1981 when St. Gregory’s began explicitly inviting all to receive communion, we were putting words of invitation to common, though usually accidental church practice. No matter what a parish’s bulletin or other invitation to communion may say, unbaptized strangers and sometimes friends do receive communion. Many clergy have stories of conversions and baptisms that result from their not turning someone away from communion. As John Wesley reportedly said, the Eucharist can be a ‘converting sacrament.’ At St. Gregory’s when we made a public change in practice, announcing that Jesus welcomes all to his table, we didn’t attempt to change the church law. For the early and formative years of St. Gregory’s when Rick Fabian and I were founding rectors, William Swing was our bishop. Before he was a bishop, as a mission-minded rector at St. Columba’s, Washington, D.C., Bill Swing developed his own rationale for what we were doing which he shared with us, “Unless you have a valid missionary reason, you must obey the rubrics and canons. If you have a valid missionary reason, you must disobey the rules.” As our bishop he added, “Please do let me know what you’re doing.”

“Where do the canons or church law give a bishop the right to offer such a mandate?”
Or course the questioner already knows the answer to this one. NOTHING in the canons gives the bishop this power. Canons aren’t there to give a bishop authority to bless or guide our divergent innovation beyond canonical limitations. Divergent innovation doesn’t fit established norms. Beyond Christen’s organizational research, I’d argue that Bill Swing was speaking within the venerable English (and American) tradition of common law. Think of common law marriage, which, until recently, typically began with a couple breaking a law against co-habitation, or think of public right-of-way over private land, the public’s lasting claim to use a path that began as a trespass. Common law is messy. The law itself can eventually acknowledge that persistent, meaningful exception (even transgression) changes an act’s legal standing.

St. Gregory’s does NOT commemorate Elizabeth I because her ‘rule of law’ and prayer book conformity bind our church together. During Elizabeth’s reign law and conformity made us one, but English law hasn’t held us together in communion since Scotland broke off from the Church of England in the late 1600’s and America in the late 1700’s. We’ve had different church law and different Prayer Books for a long time. What’s held the Church of England, Scottish Episcopal, and American Episcopal churches together since the Elizabethan settlement has been our acknowledgment of one another’s ministries, and our readiness to share Eucharist together.

St. Gregory’s commemorates Elizabeth because she saw that a church that sustained common prayer in Christ could have room to disagree about what she called the ‘trifles’ of doctrinal points. Even beyond the good she imagined, Elizabeth made our church’s life and communion a process of learning. Elizabeth’s peace-making gesture created a space for discovery that has been our Anglican genius for four centuries. Queen Elizabeth’s vision contained something bolder, truer, and more lasting than her legal power to enforce a peace. Two ancient principles came together in what she offered us in finding our unity in common prayer ‘the rule of prayer is the rule of faith” (Prosper of Aquitaine, 5th Century) and “the voice of the people is the voice of God” (probably Alcuin, 8th century).

But don’t local congregations sometimes make mistakes? Isn’t there such a thing as bad practice? Aren’t some new practices shortsighted or just plain wrong?

Of course there’s such a thing as bad practice and bad practices. But anyone who loves learning and that knows creativity is a part of how our humanity images God, must delight in Genesis 2, the second creation story. The first story tells us we’re made in the Creator’s image, but the second story tells a very recognizable story of real creation, the trial and error work of any artist or innovator. Whether our church acknowledges it or not, testing, discernment, conflict, confusion, and revelation as we struggle to keep praying together has always been the church’s way. Mistakes, partial successes, and even downright failures are essential to learning. Elizabeth I didn’t invent the process.

I suspect (actually I hope and pray) that our wider Anglican Church’s present anxious effort to define unity by law and instruments of union will prove a failure our whole Anglican communion can learn from, because I believe and hope that Gene Robinson’s ordination as Bishop of New Hampshire will finally be remembered and commemorated as a moment of divergent innovation.

We’ve got certainties but the promise of God’s love and our best efforts to be faithful and serve as we hear and see ourselves called. Ultimately, through the mess, we’re walking a path that no one authorized, but one day, from all our trespass (at least as others seem to see it), it will become a public right of way. As perplexing and risky as it may feel, St. Paul lays the responsibility of faithfulness on us and gives us our best hope, “We have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)

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

Making saints, I

By Donald Schell

“Do I see Malcolm X up there dancing with Queen Elizabeth I?” the visitor asked, “And who’s the kid beside Elizabeth? Who made these people saints?”

Week by week, we’d often hear visitors ask about the icons on our church walls, and answering the questions for the years I was rector at St. Gregory’s, San Francisco, I found myself thinking about the glory and messiness of how the Christian church has managed to hang together and preach Good News for two thousand years.

Yes, I’d say, pointing up to her icon, that’s Elizabeth I dancing with Malcolm X to her right and Iqbal Masih to her left. We commemorate Elizabeth for her peace-making principle that people praying together would be the ground of our unity, not doctrinal uniformity. I usually began by talking about Elizabeth, because her vision helped shape the whole icon.

We remember Malcolm X, because on his trip to Mecca, God changed his heart and he renounced teaching hate of white people and became an orthodox Muslim, proclaiming and worshipping one God who embraced all humanity. Teaching God’s embrace of all humanity was what got him killed when he came back home.

And Iqbal Masih? He was a Pakistani Christian child sold into indentured servitude at age four. At ten he escaped from crippling work as a rug-knotter, and fearlessly told his story to the world, offering his voice and experience to support the Bonded Labor Liberation Front that was freeing thousands of child-slaves like him and teaching rug buyers around the world to ask who was making their hand-tied rugs, how the workers were being treated and whether they were being paid fairly. In 1995, when Iqbal Masih was twelve, he testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. That Easter he went home to his village to go to church, and that afternoon was shot dead, martyred in the street for helping other children find freedom.

Do the haloes mean you think they’re all saints?

Well, yes. But let me skip forward. Why tell the story now? Visitors to St. Gregory’s, San Francisco have been asking these questions since 1997, two years after Iqbal Masih’s martyrdom, when our iconographer, Mark Dukes, installed the first eight icons launching the just-completed project of surrounding the altar with ninety saints, following Christ’s lead, dancing the reconciliation of all. The New York Times did a brief photo story on the first eight saints, Sojourner Truth, Bartolome de las Casas, Miriam (Moses’ sister), Origen, Malcolm X, Elizabeth I, Iqbal Masih and Teresa of Avila. People outside church circles are interested in who the church holds up as our guides and examples, and when the list includes unexpected people, the interest grows.

Rick Fabian and I, St. Gregory’s founding rectors have moved on to new work. St. Gregory’s new rector, Paul Fromberg, made completing the great icon a priority and saw to it that the congregation raised the funds to pay for the saints who would complete the line. This month with the icon finally complete, Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun magazine includes a picture story and an interview with the artist. Completion has me looking back at the project’s path and thinking about what some of those saints on the wall may teach us about communion in Christ.

The icon of Jesus leading the dance went up for Easter of 1996 several months ahead of the first eight saints. Actually, the original icon of Christ was a twelve-foot high charcoal draft on paper to hold Jesus’ place leading the dance until our iconographer felt ready to paint the finished icon of Christ. Mark said the multitude of saints would help him see something more of how to paint Christ, so while he was painting more saints in the line, he would be praying for his fullest vision of Christ leading the dance. Mark painted the canvas panels in his studio, and with a lift and scaffolding mounted them on the church walls to refine color touches to harmonize with the paintings already up, and to add the hand-polished work of the gold haloes. Over a dozen years new panels of saints joined the congregation’s dance six or eight at a time.
Our vision for the project came from St. Gregory of Nyssa, the great Christian universalist theologian who helped draft the final version of the Nicene Creed in 359-360 A.D. Writing elsewhere in a psalm commentary Gregory envisioned the beginning and the ending of all creation in Christ – a time of the whole rational creation dancing joyfully together, following the lead of Jesus the Word, a true Lord of the dance.

So what gave your congregation authority to make unofficial saints?

Actually, we believe God made them saints, and that God made and is making innumerably more saints, people named and unnamed, so many there’s no wall in the world big enough to hold their icon. But for our congregation’s work of selecting saints for the eighty-nine whose icons would dance with Christ, we began by brainstorming names, places, kinds of work, and grace-filled human stories from around the world and through history to begin our thinking about how human lives could show God at work. Then any willing St. Gregory’s member was invited into the long work of our saints discernment committee. Six lay volunteers and the two rectors took on the long task of sifting names, discussing reasons people had suggested specific saints, and trying to keep in mind the whole picture.

Why isn’t ______________ a saint?

The icon says nothing about who ‘isn’t’ a saint. The committee’s task was to choose eighty-nine saints (a number determined by the 2500 square feet of available wall space) whose dancing together would evoke, “All humanity in the light of God.” Immediately and painfully we realized that we could only focus on who we would include rather than what it meant to leave someone out. Each member of the committee had favorite candidates who didn’t make the list of eighty-nine. The work wasn’t an election process and it wasn’t choosing who to exclude. Meeting three times monthly for eighteen months, the committee kept asking, “What kind of witness is still missing?” “If we’re not looking for a perfect life, then what?” “Just what is a saint?” “What about _______?” With each provisional selection, we made notes of why we were thinking to include that one. We kept refining those notes, asked again, and when we found people, places and work missing, added names, reconsidered the whole list, altered some selections until we created our list for Mark to paint and wrote our list’s rationale for teaching, for visitors, and to make a record that would explain the icon when we were gone.

The committee’s work was an intentional process of local commemoration, formalizing the ancient church’s way of canonizing saints. We also deliberately acknowledged and borrowed from wider church processes of local commemoration, choosing, for example, names from a dozen recent new, unofficial saints that had been commissioned for niche statues at Westminster Abbey. To widen our own perspective on recent history, we phoned and talked with African American church leaders, with Hawaiian Episcopalians, and with church leaders in Africa and China.

When The Episcopal Church’s General Convention was considering whether to give Li Tim Oi, Anglicanism’s first woman priest, a saint’s day in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, our Episcopal Church’s way of canonizing a saint, the convention committee welcomed St. Gregory’s witness of Li Tim Oi’s icon on the wall (dancing in line between Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Heschel) along with other church’s stained glass windows of her as required evidence of local commemoration, a necessary first step in our church’s legal process for wider acknowledgment.

This year at Anaheim’s 2009 General Convention, we hope St. Gregory’s icon of Thurgood Marshall (dancing in the line between Cesar Chavez and Andrei Rublev) can support the petitions of Justice Marshall’s home parish (St. Augustine’s, Washington, D.C.) and diocese (Diocese of Washington) to add Thurgood Marshall to our church’s calendar.
Tomorrow: What do common law saints teach us about life in communion?

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

Truth, metaphor, Star Trek and the Bible

By Leo Campos

The other night at the end of our monthly lectio meeting at my church one of the participants shared with us an insight she had while we were doing lectio on Mark 6:1-6. In our group we take turns reading the passage from different translations, to keep it fresh. She excitedly told us that these various translations reminded her of "Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra" - and that reference made me jump from my seat! She had broken through our near-Pharisaical search for meanings and caught a glimpse of the Living Word of God residing just below the text. In monastic circles we call that Contemplation, but it does not matter what you call it.

For those of you who are not Trekkies here’s the a quick synopsis: at the surface the episode deals with the problems of communication, especially intra-species communication, with Capt. Picard and an alien captain stuck together in a hostile planet where their only choice is cooperate or die. But how do you cooperate with someone whose language you do not understand?

This may seem a relatively trivial problem, but remember folks that this is the 24th century, and everyone has a "universal translator" which means, basically, that everyone speaks the same language. Now you meet a race where your computer is incapable of translating their language. Inconceivable! The only thing that the alien keeps saying over and over is "Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra." (Trust me in the hands of a fantastic actor like Patrick Stewart this stuff reaches near Shakespearean levels).

Is language really translatable that way? When I say "I love you" would it be instantly translated into another language? I have a little book at my desk called In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World given to me by a dear friend and fellow logophile. The book lists hundreds of words which are untranslatable into English, or at least there is not a one-to-one correlation between those words and English.

I have personal experience of this. Having grown up in Brazil until my early teens, then living in England, and now the US - I am the incarnate version of that little book. "Untranslatable" would be a great epitaph for myself. If you came to me asking for help in translating one of the more famous untranslatable Brazilian words (saudades) I would tell you - "Come to Brazil, spend a summer with us, dance in the Carnaval, hang out in the beaches of Rio and fall in love with a beautiful girl and take a walk with her by the sea, sip some fresh coconut juice while holding hands and looking up at the Jesus statue at the top of the Corcovado, and then leave. And then I will call you in about a year and what you will feel - that's saudades!"

This is the fundamental issue of language, at its roots it is not made up of solid atoms of language stuff. Perhaps one time we might have fallen for that idea. Those of us who are avowed (or even born-again) Modernists think that language is made up of fixed signs. But the reality is frustratingly, beautifully more complicated. Language, like atoms themselves, tends to dissipate into a cloud of metaphor when we look closer. For example when I mentioned the "meaning" of "saudades" in the last paragraph, what exactly does "meaning" mean? If you want "meaning" to mean one thing it will, and if you want it to mean something else it will too. Light can be both wave and particle - what you are looking for? What meaning are you looking for?

One of my (spiritual) mentors is the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. And as every other poet whom I have read or met, the metaphorical nature of language is of grave importance to him. He says "If we are a metaphor of the universe, the human couple is the metaphor par excellence, the point of intersection of all forces and the seed of all forms. The couple is time recaptured, the return to the time before time" (in "André Breton or the Quest of the Beginning," 1967).

Back to Star Trek - here we are in the 24th century, stuck in a hostile planet with an alien who just keeps repeating "Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra". There is an urgency in this. There is a life and death struggle here. What are we to do? How am I say I love you? How am I to pray?

In the episode it turns out that the reason the alien's language was untranslatable was because it was completely metaphorical. Once they uncovered the key to the alien's metaphor (their religious texts - aha!) then Capt. Picard and the alien could begin to communicate. Trust me guys, this is worth watching, and even using in an adult Bible study group.

A question of language that is important for us spiritually is the truthfulness of the Bible. "Is the Bible literally true?" At times the question is about truth, sometimes the emphasis is on the literalness. When I am asked this I feel like the Pharisees who were asked by Jesus about the source of John's prophetic gifts: if I answer "yes" then...on the other hand if I answer "no" then...

Is the Bible true? Yes. Is the Bible literally true? Yes. It is absolutely literally true poetry. It is the only true poem I know. It is the clearest truth we have, perfectly metaphorical. I use the adjective "perfect" the same way my scientist friends use the term "absolute". It is not a trivial thing. When you can grasp this, the Truth of Christ can dawn upon you, and it will change you inside-out, and you will be seen in public with your Bible, and you will go home, no run home, just to spend a few precious minutes with these stories. You might just spend days marveling at "At the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with God and the WORD was God." You just might recite the Lord's Prayer and realize that the Kingdom is here as you speak it.

Can we all speak the same language? Let the poet have the last word: "Today we all speak, if not the same tongue, the same universal language. There is no one center, and time has lost its former coherence: East and West, yesterday and tomorrow exist as a confused jumble in each one of us. Different times and different spaces are combined in a here and now that is everywhere at once"
(Paz, in "Invention, Underdevelopment, Modernity," 1967).

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).

Seeking the right kind of unity

By George Clifford

The Anglican Consultative Council has adjourned its 14th plenary. The Episcopal Café’s Lead and other reportorial sources have amply documented the results of that meeting. Even after the Council’s adjournment, debate continues (flaming in some quarters, flickering in others) about the proposed Anglican Covenant. The Archbishop of Canterbury urges Anglicans to engage in that conversation. Although acknowledging the Communion may adopt some form of federalism, he hopes that the process will instead move the Communion toward closer unity.

Why, exactly, should we in the Episcopal Church care about an Anglican Covenant and the Anglican Communion?

Christian unity is a prominent New Testament theme. Emphasizing unity and participating in the larger Church helps to define our Anglican Christian identity, highlights the Church’s global reach, and enriches us individually and collectively. We Episcopalians trace our ecclesial roots through the Scottish Episcopal Church to the Church of England, from which the American Revolution separated us. Apostolic succession provides a tangible link across the centuries to Jesus.

These linkages have been more than intellectual concepts for my journey. I was privileged to spend two years of my ministry on exchange from the U.S. Navy with the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, serving as a Church of England priest and chaplain. Our Episcopal membership in the Anglican Communion made that experience possible.

The twentieth century World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order movement flopped. Faith and Order sought to promote Christian unity by articulating doctrinal formulations of the Christian faith with which various Churches could agree and by identifying ecclesial structures for achieving visible, structural unity. Those worthy goals proved impossibly elusive.

Different Churches live with very different worldviews. Culture, ecclesial history, language, and many other factors all help to shape a Church’s worldview. I value collegial ministry. In the Navy, I treasured opportunities to conduct joint Lutheran (ELCA) – Episcopal worship services. With approximately twenty-five Episcopal Navy chaplains, we were rarely co-located. Next best was working with an ELCA chaplain. Each time, I learned much about a very different tradition with which I generally shared liturgical practices but a tradition that had a different set of theological emphases, different polity, different ethos, etc.

During my time with the Royal Navy, my Church of England colleagues included priests from Canterbury, York, Wales, Scotland, Australia, and South Africa. In other words, we came from seven Anglican Communion provinces. All of these nations had close ties with Great Britain. Yet as I listened carefully, I heard about seven sets of traditions, theological emphases, and ethos. Since then, through conversations, travel, and reading I have developed an even greater appreciation for the breadth of diversity represented in the Anglican Communion.

Anglican polities that at first glance may appear similar in fact incarnate highly valued differences. Some provinces are their nation’s established church (or part of it), whose major policies, leaders, and worship require government approval. Other provinces function as ecclesial fiefdoms, largely controlled by the provincial Archbishop. Other provinces operate as representative democracies, integrating bishops, clergy, and laity into a system of checks and balances. Still other forms of Anglican polity exist in the various provinces.

In sum, perhaps the Anglican Communion has embarked on an enterprise similar to the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order movement, an enterprise likely to prove an equally frustrating and elusive search for greater organic unity.

What if the Anglican Communion laid its efforts to draft an Anglican Covenant to rest and instead promoted the unity of cooperative mission?

Cooperative mission is not mission tourism. Cooperative mission is feeding the hungry – spiritually and physically – together. Seminarians spending one year studying in the seminary of another province might become the norm, not the exception. Clergy might routinely serve several years in another province. Mission teams from all provinces might beneficially serve in all other provinces. Companion diocesan relationships might continue to proliferate and strengthen.

On a larger scale, the Anglican Communion could beneficially create a massive global mission initiative to engage thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Anglicans, in cooperative mission. For example, the Anglican Communion might establish an Anglican mission to feed, house, and otherwise care for many of the world’s millions of displaced persons. The Communion could organize this with initial funding from monies now spent on consultative meetings. Every province could link the mission to its biblical and theological teaching, recruit volunteers, raise funds, etc.

Cooperative mission of this type helpfully bypasses theological and structural differences, focusing on incarnating Jesus’ love. The latter half of the twentieth century offers numerous examples of Churches cooperating in mission in spite of important doctrinal and structural differences. Surely, many of the people who participated in such a mission would return home with a genuine appreciation of other Anglicans and a radically deeper commitment to the Communion.

No amount of dialogue seems likely to resolve the substantive theological and structural issues that divide the Anglican Communion. Unity is too valuable to lose because of that impasse. Jesus left us no doctrinal statement, no plan of organization. He simply loved people and encouraged others to do follow his example. Perhaps now is the time for we Anglicans to go and do likewise.

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.

Surprised, again, by joy

By Greg Jones

Joy can come as a surprise. In fact, I think it usually does. Joy can come upon you, just as the wind blows when and where it will.

Wordsworth wrote a poem once, perhaps you know it:

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? — That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

The poem is about bittersweet joy and its frequent companion: A Flustering Confusion. Wordsworth composed the piece in the context of having lost a child. He experienced a happy moment, then of a sudden realized that he had forgotten his loss and grief, and felt regret about it.

Yes, joy can come as quite a surprise, especially in the midst of grief, and sorrow and sadness.

Now, I am not by nature morose. But I have my glum moments. Don't you? And why wouldn't we? For by now we have lost people. We have lost children. We have lost parents. We have lost friends.

Yes, we are likely all walking around with some grief. We are all likely observing some kind of living mourning. No? But.... sometimes we are tickled by life ...... and sometimes joy gets through, and we can still be surprised, and flustered — with that impatiently blown confusion of regret and rejoicing.

I believe this in some way explains how they felt, when though in mourning, and still very confused by reports of empty tombs, angels and resurrection appearance, Jesus suddenly and impatiently appears to the eleven, raised by the power of God. As the story goes, they were surprised, flustered, and wondering what this was all about.

Now, I have believed in Jesus for many years. I believe in the Resurrection, and I believe it has been shown to me — in a lifetime of Easter glimpses: a sip of communion wine, an answered prayer, a mystic sensation. These many small moments of surprise have built up my faith. But, friends, if I were to see Jesus the way the disciples did in the eating of fish that time: I would be very, very, very surprised. Yet, I would welcome it — and indeed, I am expecting it. I am expecting to see the raised Lord in His fullness.

If you have ever been surprised by joy — and confused and flustered by it — then you can relate to how the disciples felt when Jesus came to them in fullness. If you have not yet experienced something of Christ's resurrection, expect it to come like an impatient wind — to surprise you, and stir you up.

Expect him to come my friends. Jesus, He our God of love, will pierce all our sorrows and mourning, and peace will finally be with us.

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.

Resurrection faith

By Kathleen Staudt

In his book on Resurrection, Rowan Williams points to the strangeness of the Risen Christ. Though we have stories of Resurrection encounters, the risen Jesus is always at first unrecognized. Some fundamental transformation has happened, and that transformation testifies to an altogether new relationship between humanity and God. Everything has changed.

This is something that I think is not widely understood about Christian spirituality: People know, we know, that we are called to “follow Jesus,” to try to live as he lived, and we are often judged by the degree to which we fall short of his example and his teaching – and that is fair enough. We ask “What would Jesus do?” to guide our ethical thinking. But in fact, when Christians reflect on our relationship to “Jesus,” it isn’t really the historical Jesus we’re talking about, or even, completely, the Jesus we meet in the gospels. It is, more mysteriously, the Risen Christ, who belongs at once to our flesh-and-blood experience and to the transcendent mystery of God – who brings together, once and for all, our humanity and the God who reaches out to us, loves us, desires the restoration of our lives and our world.

This is a tough thing to get our minds around but I think it is the heart of the gospel, the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The resurrection proclaims the action of God in history and yet moves beyond history. We proclaim it in our Easter liturgies without always noting the extraordinariness of what we are proclaiming. Listen to our words: “On this day the Lord has acted/We will rejoice and be glad in it” is the Easter psalm. Or in the words of Brian Wren’s hymn, Christ is alive, let Christians sing:

Christ is alive, no longer bound to distant years in Palestine.
He comes to claim the here and now, and conquer every place and time. (Hymnal #182)

For Rowan Williams, the Resurrection removes Jesus from being simply an object on whom we project our fantasies, our woundedness, our desires – because he is in some ways, as utterly strange and unknowable, as God is . And yet he also invites us into relationship.

At the Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Md., we sing with gusto gospel hymns that actually teach us something quite profound about the relationship with the living God that Resurrection faith opens up to us.

“I serve a risen Saviour, he’s in the world today,” we sing. “He lives! He lives! From him I’ll never part. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” (Lift Every Voice and Sing, 42)

Or in another hymn that particularly moved me this year:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives. (LEVAS, 43)

These hymns are emotional rather than theological in focus, yet they help us experience the result of Resurrection faith, the conviction that the world actually IS in God’s hands, that the redemption of the world has happened, is being fulfilled, and we are called to participate the work of transformation that continues.

So when we think of Christian faith and life, the question to ask is not just “What would Jesus do?” (i.e. how can I best follow the example of the Jesus I meet in the gospels) but “What is Jesus doing?” How is the life of the Risen Lord shaping my life, and the life of the communities I participate in, in the here and now?

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.

Discovering the saints

By Ann Fontaine

As I have remarked before in my essays, I grew up in a very low Episcopal Church, even too many candles were suspect. The result of this has been a lack of education in the “saints.” I knew about the ones like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul from the readings in church. We heard the words “according to St. John” or whoever each week as the gospel or epistle was introduced. But it never occurred to me what that even meant, much less that there was a whole world of saints that were missing from my life. Now I find them helpful and comforting.

First on my list is Anthony. Although he has many things to commend him as a saint, I mostly like him for his ability to help find things that are lost. One time my address book was lost. This was before I was using a computer to keep information for me or to find people. It was long before Facebook and its ability to find long lost friends. The loss of my address book meant losing track of most of the people who are important to me. I searched and searched but it was nowhere to be found. I decided that I would try St. Anthony and offered a quick prayer:

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can't be found

Shortly thereafter I was sitting on our sofa, talking to my husband about some unrelated matter, and there, sitting on the end table – in plain sight, where I had looked many times – was my address book!

Another helpful saint, according to friends, is Joseph. Of course we remember him as the man who stood by his wife, Mary, and helped raise Jesus but I am interested in him also as the one who helps you sell your house. St. Joseph house selling kits have become big business. I have not tried this as we have lived in the same house for over 30 years but friends swear by it. One friend tried for several years to sell her house. Finally in desperation she buried Joseph, upside down as directed, and the house sold in a couple of weeks. You are supposed to dig him up and take him with you – but she could never find him again.

St. Christopher is a saint I did know about as a child and although he has been debunked as probably not really existing – I still like him. For some reason the image of him carrying the child to safety is comforting. I doubt I will put his statue in my car but I think I will find my old silver medal of him and resurrect him in my life.

Finally I like to think about St. Christina the Astonishing. I had never heard of her until I was very ill and a friend sent me her story.

During her funeral Mass, she suddenly recovered, and levitated to the roof of the church. Ordered down by the priest, she landed on the altar and stated that she had been to hell, purgatory, and heaven, and had been returned to earth with a ministry to pray for souls in purgatory.

Her life from that point became a series of strange incidents cataloged by a Thomas de Cantimpré, Dominican professor of theology at Louvain who was a contemporary who recorded his information by interviewing witnesses, and by Cardinal Jacques de Vitny who knew her personally.

People who knew her were divided in their opinions: she was a holy woman, touched of God, and that her actions and torments were simulations of the experiences of the souls in purgatory; she was suffering the torments of devils - or she was flatly insane.


There is something about her that encourages me when I am ailing. Maybe it is just that my friend found her and sent her to me when I was feeling very isolated by my illness. The church had not seemed to care – no clergy nor any other church friends even called. My non-Christian friends were much more present. The gift of Christina was, she made me laugh again. The laughter came from the connection of friend and church, not at the antics of Christina. Proof for me - laughter is healing and a gift from God. Another friend calls laughter, “carbonated prayer.”

Saints, of course, have their sainted-ness from their commitment to God not to my needs and me. However, they speak to me in the daily-ness of life. They reassure me that it is in the moments of sorrow and joy, pain and loss, God is present. Even when the result is not what I had hoped for, they have given me companionship along the way. I don’t even need the internet to stay connected!!

Who is your favorite saint?

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

On being excluded

By Deirdre Good

I was born in Kenya and my first memories are of Mombasa and the Indian Ocean, pawpaws and passion fruit, boarding school and mosquito nets. Years later in 1983, I traveled to Nairobi for the UN Decade of Women Conference with several students from the college where I was teaching at the time. I stayed at a convent of Roman Catholic sisters near Matare valley. When they heard that I was attending the conference, they were very pleased. They studied the conference program and began to plan which events they could fit into their busy schedules.

And so it was that several sisters and I went to the opening lecture together on the first evening of the conference. I was as excited as they were: Angela Davis was the speaker and I had recently read her book, Women, Race and Class. I wanted to hear in person what she had to say. As we made our way to the venue for the lecture, a sister who had gone ahead turned back and spoke to me before I could enter the building, "You are white," she said, "and Angela Davis has said that only blacks may attend." I was crushed. I had journeyed thousands of miles to come home only to be told by a foreigner that I was not welcome.

The next morning, Sr. Geraldine, one of the sisters who had attended the lecture came to me at breakfast. "I have only one thing to say to you," she exclaimed, "Romans eight!" I hugged her in gratitude.

After the conference concluded, Sr Geraldine took me to see the work of her community including that of several sisters who were teaching in a local school and other who were working in a clinic for the neighborhood. Wherever she went in public, groups of local children ran to her, crying out greetings and joining our little tour. One particular child saw us from a distance and ran happily towards us calling out in Swahili upon seeing me, "Jambo, mzungu!" ("Hallo, white person!")

Not long after these two incidents, we had a good discussion in the convent after dinner about differences, race, and racism. The European sisters had no time for what appeared to be racist behavior on the part of African Americans at the conference. And they had no time for my hurt reaction to being excluded from the opening conference lecture either. The sisters from Kenya and Uganda, on the other hand, were fascinated and astonished by the exclusion of whites from parts of the conference. For them, exclusion of anyone transgressed God's love for the entire human race. They wondered at the level of hurt that might have prompted such behavior. And they were taken aback that it had been a shocking discovery for me just before the opening lecture rather than being announced in the conference publicity.

When I returned from the conference, I was interviewed for the college newspaper about the trip. The reporter decided to publish a glossy photograph of me holding a baby in my lap to accompany the article. It had been taken on the tour with Sr Geraldine through Matare valley. Years later I found out that this was the first picture of a white faculty person holding an African baby in the southern college's newspaper and that it caused a stir.

I'll always be grateful to Sister Geraldine for reminding me of Romans eight, and to the little child who called me a white woman that day in Matare Valley.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. An American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.

Reigning in the Ridley draft

By Adrian Worsfold

If you go back to Tuesday June 27, 2006 and the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments , it was clear that the Anglican Communion Covenant was intended to divide the Anglican Communion into core and association elements, with privileges of participation given to the core in strengthened, centralised, Instruments of Communion making the Anglican Communion more like a worldwide Church.

So strongly was that envisaged, that the difference between being a core member and an associate was like the difference being an Anglican and a Methodist. It was solution by centralisation and organised hiving off, somehow better than a schism.

Through each successive draft, that distinction has been reduced and that has meant less in the way of what was effectively disciplining associate members. The stress turned to 'welcoming' and a great deal of opposition was shown to a document that was juridical.

The Ridley-Cambridge Draft Covenant (RCDC) moved further in the direction of Churches autonomy and difference, and took away even a difference of participation in institutions between those that signed up and those that did not. Furthermore undefined Churches could start signing up as soon as the document was distributed - a Churches approach rather than a Communion approach. Rat smelling was rife.

There was something distinctly crafty about the RCDC. It would let in non-Canterbury Anglican Churches, and even dioceses of non-signing Canterbury-linked Churches, according to Dr Ephraim Radner. GAFCON theologian Stephen Noll thus urged a speedy signing on to the Covenant of his approved Churches including the Anglican Church of North America on the basis that the entry conditions were biblical and orthodox. While The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada dithered, his Churches could steal a march on them. Gregory Cameron spoke about a weight of Churches that might then mean a difference between core members and associates after all.

Thus the Covenant, more inclusive in its formal text, was a document of manipulation, allowing the kind of result it was intended for by the creative means of joining.

What the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica has done is removed the backdoor and windows means to entry and manipulation. First of all, only signed up members of the Anglican Consultative Council can join, thus cutting out the Anglican Church of North America's ambition to fast track itself into recognition against that of TEC and the ACC. Furthermore, it wants the section 4 revised, so that even that centralising and residual disciplining is removed. It was a close vote, but nevertheless that's it regarding the ambitions of GAFCON and the separatists who would opt to press the Communion into its own shape first.

Now GAFCON was the equivalent of the 1980s Trotskyite Militant Tendency inside the British Labour Party, with narrow parallel institutions but pressing on the larger body. In order to recover the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock removed it and forced it to stand on its own two feet. Having been ejected from its host, the parasite diminished into its own pointlessness.

This has happened at the ACC. The plugholes have been plugged. The rush to sign on is now pointless, and ACNA can have no delusions of fastracking. The parallel institutions (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Primates Council, the FCA itself - a believers' fellowship communion, and ACNA, the first GAFCON Church) are out on their own. However, it gives them little choice but to take on the institutions that will not let them apply pressure by manipulation.

They claim large numbers and majorities, but (even if numbers are near to the claim) they are concentrated, and this means the existing ACC will not succumb to the Conservative Evangelicals that are a considerable minority in many of the Anglican Churches.

Nevertheless the ACC vote of 33 to 30 was close and the result is messy. The Covenant will take so long to appear that the presenting issue for many will remain unaddressed and even unaddressable. The Covenant is like a marshmallow kicked into long grass, and seems to be dying of a hundred tactics and revisions.

Canon Graham Kings, soon to be a bishop in an attractive part of rural southern England, has promoted his scheme of Communion Conservative, Federal Conservative, Communion Liberal and Federal Liberal categories. He has assumed that Stephen Noll's conversion to the Covenant was a Communion Conservative shift on his part, whereas it could simply be taken as yet another Militant style tactic among many. But it is the fact that these tactics were presented, that have effectively bust any means to have a Communion Conservative approach. If there is a Federal approach (actually, Confederal - his terminology is too loose) that is Conservative, it is to be the muscle flexing of GAFCON as more or less parallel and independent. Well, some think we've seen its maximum strength and its institutional weakness. As for the likes of Fulcrum, recent lectures and comments by the likes of Oliver O'Donovan and Andrew Goddard have shown a depressing obsession with homosexual sex and a depressing sectarianism regarding this issue relating to ministry and rituals. They are closer and closer to the GAFCON reactionaries, and that is probably the direction in which many of them will go. The condition of Anglican evangelical theology is narrow, sectarian and culturally separated and strikes anyone outside as obsessive, institutional and irrelevant. It is a pity that liberal theology has been moribund for too long, as it too tries to obey doctrinal rules that don't quite come with the support of theological research. Indeed there is one general crisis of the whole of the Anglican form of Church and its relevance - it is losing its anchor within Western society.

The greatest likelihood is no particular Communion or confederal outcome but rather a balkanisation of Anglicanism across the world. There will be a concentration of GAFCON Churches that will attempt international episcopal oversight into America and Europe that will receive measures to block them. There will be fairly conservative Anglican Churches not linked to GAFCON and its concentration of power, but may have its own catechism and defining documents. There will also be Western Churches, and will variously find the freedom to become more inclusive. Let's be clear here: when the Church of England ordains women bishops, it will finally lose its traditionalist Catholic wing, and this Church will move closer to, nor further away from, The Episcopal Church and its own neighbouring Churches in the British Isles in terms of inclusivity. Yet this loss of the traditionalist Catholic side means even more a simple straight bipolar fight between liberals and conservatives, with the line passing through the position occupied presently by the likes of Fulcrum. This means only more strain not less, and one wonders how much weak institutions can take when disagreements have become so simplistic and narrowly focused.

On taking up his job, the present Archbishop of Canterbury ditched his moderate narrative liberalism but retained his Catholicism, because the latter was seen as still legitimate. He used this as an institutional solution for the Anglican problem, but when an institution spins outwards the answer is to loosen up not tighten up. The whole of the Covenant process has been one of impossible expectations, and instead of accepting that there will be more Anglican difference and even competition, the attempt to divide and centralise has just increased the amount of recrimination as expectations of 'disciplining' could not be met. Anglicanism is not and cannot be the Archbishop's vision of a worldwide Church all based around bishops. His policy has been a complete and utter failure, of only half of what makes up Anglicanism, and whereas the previous Archbishop was arguably ineffective and blundering this one has been, I suggest, positively destructive as well as ineffectual in action. It may be that his options have never been very many, but the policy intention and direction was wrong from the beginning. Look at what was said in 2006 and look at the outcome now.

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

The Rev. Pookie

By Howard Anderson

It was a bit like the movie “Father of the Bride,” when Steve Martin’s daughter announced that she was getting married. Rather than seeing the lovely, mature woman in front of him, the Daddy in him sees his little girl, in pigtails, saying a ridiculous thing-“I’m getting married.” Our little Pookie getting ordained? How can it be? As Bishop Alan Scarfe, the Bishop of Iowa laid hands on our little girl, making her a transitional deacon, I was seeing something quite different, and someone quite different.

I was seeing, in my mind’s eye, the new born baby girl, who, when I held her the first time, changed my life forever. I was seeing the little blonde Haole girl running naked across the hot sand at Makapu’u beach, her little bottom covered with sand, accompanied by several of her little friends, and the “herd” of them jumping, laughing into the Pacific. I was seeing the little girl standing in front of her stuffed animals, her faithful old dog propped up in a bean bag chair, with glasses on her snout, with thin slices or radish she had picked from the salad, handing each a thin, white slice and saying “take, eat, this is my body.”

I was shaken out of my reverie by a small voice next to me saying, “Papi, Momma is crying, what did Bishop Alan do to her?” Now there’s a question for you! My grandson, Will, watching his Momma kneeling before the Bishop, tears streaming down her face, was concerned. I leaned toward him and said, “Don’t worry Will, those are tears of joy. Your Momma is very happy to be ordained.”

I was moved to be asked to be a presenter. My wife, Linda, and I, just as when we held her at her baptism, at her various graduations, Will’s baptism, stood this day to support her in her decision to answer the call of The Holy One to give her vocational life to serve God’s people as an ordained person. As I listened to Bishop Scarfe preaching to and about Kesha, I could sense how deeply he knew our little girl, now a woman. She had been on his diocesan staff, and all her foibles, gifts, skills and charisms he knew well. And what a window on her soul his words were…and challenging. More tears. The symbol of unity in the Church, the Bishop, was ordaining a person, our little one, with such tenderness and insight. And then I began to remember. My own ordination as a Deacon came back so clearly.

I remembered, years earlier, a bishop I loved and love still, Bob Anderson, laying hands on me. Like my daughter, I, too, had been a lay professional for many years before I was ordained. And like Bishop Scarfe, Bishop Anderson was ordaining someone he knew well. These two men were ordaining someone whom they had loved, challenged, counseled, someone with whom they had laughed and cried in many unguarded moments. Warts and all, fears and gifts, accomplishments all laid humbly before the Holy One…all made holy through Christ’s love and the power of the Spirit.

Feelings washed over me and time slowed, as the ordination proceeded. Kesha had fought the call to ordination almost as long as I had. Proud lay professionals in the Church for over a decade, she and I were alike in this way. I had feared God could not be trusted. I could not get myself to believe what I preached, that The Holy Spirit guided the Councils of the Church and guided God’s people to call some apart for ordination. Kesha and I had always talked “shop.” And we both believed that the primary vocational sacrament was not ordination, but Baptism. And yet, here she was. Now ordained.

Kesha as a 10 year old, watched another family member, her uncle, announce that he was leaving his position as an athletic trainer and physical therapist for a major Division I university athletic department to follow his older brother to seminary. This was just too much of her. Her mother a parish school principal, and her Daddy, two uncles, a great grandfather and four great uncles all ordained. She placed her little hands on her scrawny hips and crossly said, “Now all we’ll ever talk about at family gatherings is God!”

But The Holy One is a patient and persistent suitor. And here we were. Father and daughter…both reluctant, both now ordained. Her collar felt too tight she said. She was not convinced that there was an ontological change. “Will my friends all stop cussing around me and only want to talk about church?”

And then the pictures. The Mom and Dad and ordinand, their baby, newly ordained and chafing already at the collar. The proud husband and even prouder little boy all smiles. More tears. More laughter.

Future and past all collapsed into a wintry Iowa day when a young woman began a new and perilous journey off to fight the good fight armed with only a bit of bread, a little wine, some olive oil and a couple of books. Paltry things in the world’s eyes. Very ordinary. But with the Spirits gifts empowered, just enough. The Rev. Pookie now thank you. The Rev. Pookie.

The Rev. Dr. Howard Anderson is rector of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Pacific Palisades, California. He was a long time General Convention deputy and most importantly, is grandfather to a six-year-old theologian, Will.

Sacred simplicities

By Ched Bradley

In high school I had a small part in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, that iconic American play celebrating simplicity. Recently I saw a film of the 2003 stage production starring the late Paul Newman as the Stage manager. I had a dim understanding of Wilder’s point in 1962, but now I understand it more fully.

In the play, the young bride Emily dies in childbirth. In the afterlife, she learns that she can return unseen just once for a day. Her departed relatives and acquaintances counsel against it, because “the living don’t understand.” They don’t understand that they’re too busy to notice the sacred in the ordinary. But in a longing for reconnection, Emily returns to learn that her counselors were right.

In 1970, Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi captured the corollary; “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” I wish I could relive the simple times spent with my maternal grandfather – a bright, gentle man who deeply loved me, God only knows why. We played catch on the beach; he serenaded me with folk songs; and made fun of my doting grandmother’s tireless and mostly failed efforts to teach me manners. I wish I could spend just one day with my mother. We talked about trivia, mostly, because many subjects were perilous. But, like my grandfather, she loved me unconditionally which I felt in my soul. I miss my Kansan grandmother, a creative volcano who taught me to drive in a cemetery, and who led me down a rose trellis (from the second floor) to outflank my crotchety grandfather who forbade us to leave to explore tornado damage.

Why are life’s daily simplicities sacred? Perhaps it is because they are so often about love. I appreciate now the love that we experienced in the ordinary. Must it remain true that “the living don’t understand?” Probably, though I suppose if I adopted a moment-to-moment earnestness, people would wonder (even more) about me. But the longer I live the more important is the unadorned company of family and friends, and the better I understand that simple love is the meaning of life.

In his book, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, Alexander McCall Smith says, “…for that is what redeems us, that is what makes our pain and sorrow bearable – this giving love to others, this sharing of the heart.” Our children can learn from us the sacredness of simplicity appreciated over a lifetime. Jane Sigloh writes, in Like Trees Walking that “…old lovers leave a legacy for the young because what binds them together, even when separated by death, is deeper, broader, and higher than they ever imagined was possible.” In Wendell Berry’s poem, To Tanya at Christmas, the poet speaks to this legacy:

Our lives rise
in speech to our children’s tongues.
They will tell how we once stood
together here, two trees
whose lives in annual sheddings
made their way into this ground,
whose bodies turned to earth
and song. The song will tell
how old love sweetens the fields.
Amen. Amen.

Ched Bradley is senior warden at St. Luke’s, Bethesda.

Real bread, good wine

By Martin L. Smith

On the day that the vintage had begun, my brother and I treated ourselves to an afternoon of wine tasting at one of his favorite vineyards of Martinborough in the Wairapa Valley, where some of the most celebrated wines of New Zealand are produced. We could watch the members of the owners’ family deftly snipping away every bunch of grapes as we sat sipping wines and enjoying superb bread straight from the oven. It set me thinking later as I took my daily walk by the ocean, about bread and wine and the Eucharist; a priest’s meditation about how hard it is to prevent the Eucharist from becoming disconnected from the fabric of everyday life.

Those who have explored the history of the sacraments become painfully aware of their vulnerability to mutations that distort their original meanings and weaken their impact with all sort of compromising adaptations in the name of efficiency. I suppose my reflections were triggered by marveling at the way wine is becoming more widely appreciated than ever, available as it is to ordinary people in a dazzling profusion of variety. And yet as more and more people love wine and make it part of their lives, most churches are stuck in a groove of convention that dictates that ‘communion wine’ must be a special cloying, sticky product that can be tolerated in a single sip, but would disgust us if we had to drink a glass of it.

And it is not so different with bread. There has been in the fast few decades a reaction against the bland industrial product and a demand for wholesome, fresh baked bread has grown up. The trend continues with the opening of more and more neighborhood bakeries that provide every day a range of breads that once only those who traveled to France would ever have encountered. And yet in church we present as bread a product that doesn’t resemble any bread eaten anywhere in the world, odd white disks that appear to be cut from paper and taste of nothing.

If there had been a deliberate campaign to isolate the Eucharist from everyday life, and seal it off a in a purely ritual context, the results could have hardly been more successful. But of course there hasn’t been. It’s just that the desire for efficiency and an almost superstitious concern with what we suppose to be reverence have created conditions for severing the roots of sacramental practice from our everyday lives. Wafers can be efficiently counted and stored, they don’t make crumbs. They don’t require any effort, simply being delivered by mail. The sickly fortified wines marketed by the ecclesiastical supply houses keeps indefinitely. We have dozens of excuses to justify using these customary products as the elements, and we would prefer not to examine the spiritual losses we incur. At home we can savor wonderful wholesome bread, and appreciate even modest wines day by day as the glorious distillation it is of earth and sunshine. And then we go to church and find unique ecclesiastical stuff being used that has no connection with what we love to eat and drink normally.

And in church, even the actions of eating and drinking have become something unrelated to meals. A lot of us refuse to drink at all (we’re hygienic), preferring to dip a corner of a host into the chalice. And eating the wafer isn’t even like normal eating, more a kind of special technique we deploy to prevent it from sticking to the roof of our mouths.

Our meditations could easily take in the Baptism as well. The robust practices of the early Church, in which the plunging of converts into water really looked and felt like the symbolic drowning it was meant to be, have been almost universally replaced by the scattering of a few droplets from bowls or miniature fonts that more closely resemble ornamental bird baths than anything our ancestors would have recognized as suitable for the sacrament of death and rebirth.

It is a challenge worth exploring in depth, because the introduction of authentic bread into the Eucharist, the use of wine that is actually like the wine we drink, the encouragement of real eating and real drinking, the expansion of the use of water from fiddling with drops to real wetting and plunging, won’t take on if reduced to the level of liturgical tinkering, as in the wretched game of ‘guess what the Rector is trying to foist on us now!’ The purpose of the sacraments is the transfiguration of our everyday lives and experiences, and the challenge is to undo the damage inflicted by generations of compromises, asking ourselves at every level: How can we restore the intimate connections that the symbols we use in our worship should have with the fabric of our real lives?

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

Salvation: what it isn't

By Derek Olsen

A year or so back, I was in a wonderful Sunday School class studying the Paul’s letter to the Romans. One of my comrades brought in a tract that he’d been handed or had been left on his car (I forget which) that asked in big bold letters on the front “What do you have to do to get to heaven?” The inside sheets were filled with possible answers like: be a good person, get baptized by sprinkling, get baptized by dunking, etc. If I recall correctly the tract’s intent was that all of these were wrong and that verbal confession of a special formula was the point a la Romans 10:10, a passage we’d been discussing. Needless to say, in a group of Episcopalians this tract made for some interesting discussion and for a while the class wrestled with how to answer the question. What jumped out at me the most wasn’t how they chose to answer, but the fact that we had let the tract set the question. And as far as I’m concerned it’s the wrong question.

Getting to heaven and what we have to do to get there is not the point of being a Christian.

“Getting to heaven” has become cultural shorthand for Christian salvation. But Christian salvation is fundamentally not about getting to heaven.

It’s Easter time which is the perfect time to re-orient and get a hold of ourselves and remember who we are and what we’re about. Easter is about life. It’s about the abundant life that flows from God and the divine love which is (as St John reminds us) an integral part of who and what God is. The creeds insist that on that Easter night Jesus rose, not just as a fond remembrance or a fuzzy memory, but as a physical body bursting with life, filled with the life of God. As the Easter Vigil hymn reminds so beautifully:

“This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God…”

This hymn, the Exultet, is the dedication of the Paschal Candle, the first great symbol of the Risen Christ which is then directly connected through ritual word and act to the baptismal font—to which the service naturally flows. Because baptism is about life. Paul insists in Romans 6 that while we share in Christ’s death spiritually in baptism, drowning the old Adam, the new life we receive is actual. It’s the real thing.

Being a Christian isn’t about getting to heaven. Being a Christian is about participating in new life, in divine life, sharing in the very life of God. In baptism we have been—in my favorite phrase from Paul—“hid with Christ in God.”

This is both the point and the purpose of Christian salvation. It’s not about waiting around to go somewhere or existing in some state after we die; it’s about participating in the life of God both now and later. Life is the point. Opening our eyes to and taking hold of what God has done for us in creation, in incarnation, in the crucifixion and the resurrection—that’s the point. The purpose is no less clear. It’s to live that life and to share it, to help it expand to others.
It’s to live a life hid with God in Christ.

And I’d tell you exactly what that phrase means, except that I’m not sure myself.

Oh, I have some ideas. One revolves around how much the New Testament uses the word “abide” as an activity that God does with Jesus and Jesus does with God and that we do with Jesus and therefore we can do with God and so on and so forth. Abide. Sometimes I think it means just lying in the presence of God in prayer and sometimes I think it means walking in love as Christ loved us and sometimes I think those are just two small parts of the fullness of what it really means. I’ll keep working on abiding…

Another idea has to do with our good ol’ Anglican worship. It’s how certain moments catch me and throw me—sometimes in church or sometimes days later—and give me a taste, a moment, that I can put my finger on and say, “Wow—that definitely connects to the life of God.” Worship doesn’t just fit us for the life of God but gives us moments and examples with which to see the slow yet steady spread of the lushness of God’s life and God’s will into our life that twines around the pillars of our hearts and with its soft, seeking roots cracks through calcified compassion.

In short, I’d tell you—but I think it’s got to be lived not told.

This Easter enjoy life, embrace life, share life, and live out a life hid with Christ in God.

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

The Christian response to a pandemic

By Daniel J. Webster

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.” The words of the Psalm 23 are familiar to many. Those words are being recited or sung throughout Episcopal and other Christian churches last Sunday. The readings are about the Lord or Jesus as the good shepherd.

Yet many people will be afraid to go to church. Or they will refrain from taking communion or passing the peace with a handshake because of the fear that has gripped nations because of the spread of a virus.

The collect or opening prayer at Episcopal Sunday services asks God to “grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.”

Where are we led in the face of such paralyzing fear, illness or even death? We have some examples.

In 1878 Memphis, Tennessee was hit by an epidemic of yellow fever. A group of more than 100 Anglican and Catholic nuns led by Sister Constance heard the voice of God calling and felt they needed to stay in the city and care for the sick and dying. Constance and her companions are commemorated on the Episcopal Church calendar on September 9. They are known as the Martyrs of Memphis. Only two of the sisters survived.

So many people died there or fled, Memphis lost its designation as a city. It took 14 years to regain the population and its city status.

Several centuries earlier some unnamed followers of Jesus living in the Roman Empire were singled out for their unselfish response to a plague that killed millions.

It was 160 C.E. Roman troops returning from the Near East brought with them an illness never seen before by Galen, the emperor’s physician. The disease spread from Greece to Rome to Gaul. Some medical historians believe 2,000 a day died in Rome. As many as a third of the population in some regions were killed. Total deaths in the 15 years that the plague rocked the empire have been put at 5 million.

Galen was among the many who fled to the countryside. But in his notes about the plague he had some interesting observations about one group of people. The followers of Jesus heard a call to heal or at least alleviate suffering. Many did not flee the cities but felt called to stay.

“[For] the people called Christians . . . contempt of death is obvious to us every day . . . They also include people who, in self-discipline . . . in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a level not inferior to that of genuine philosophers,” as quoted in Elaine Pagels’ book Beyond Belief (Vintage, 2007).

Galen did live to write about it. Many of the unnamed followers of Jesus did not. There are those who even today will say Galen was smart to flee, to live another day. But there are those who see their baptism in Christ as dying with Christ and living into a new life. That life can also lead to the death of the body.

But if we hear the voice of the shepherd calling us, assuring us, that death cannot kill us just like it did not kill Jesus, then our answer will be to heal, alleviate suffering, calm the fears, comfort the anxious.

We are an Easter people. We live in the light of the resurrection. We are the Body of Christ witnessing to that resurrection every day. Nothing can kill that.

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.

Facebook, Scotch and Video Games:
Balm for the pastor's soul

By W. Tay Moss

While drinking cocktails at a retreat for new priests a few years ago my colleagues and I started talking about the things we do in our offices that we don't want parishioners to see. One fellow admitted to spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, another, blushing, admitted to hours spent playing "World of Warcraft." My vice, I admitted, was video games, specifically ultra-violent first person shooters like "Counter-Strike."

"Nothing makes me feel better after a long day at the church," I admitted proudly, "than owning some noobs."

They nodded in appreciation and acceptance--we all do what we have to achieve pastoral equilibrium. Where a previous generation of priests resorted to alcohol, many in the ranks now turn on their computers to tune out. While this is probably a healthier form of self-care than a potential chemical dependency, the shame associated with it raises some import questions about the theology of work as applied to ministry.

I first became aware of how video games could make me happier when I was doing a nine-month Clincial and Pastoral Education residency. Working as a chaplain in a busy, urban hospital was extremely stressful. Every other week I would be on-call for a 24-hour period to respond to every death and emergency in the facility. On some days that could mean as many as six or seven deaths. At the hospital I inevitably found myself self-medicating with food (and in my hospital's cafeteria the only options late at night were greasy, fatty, and loaded with guilt).

Once I came home I would be utterly useless. I could manage to sleep, eat, and drink--but what I really wanted to do was go online and kill some people. In the game "Counter-Strike" you play on a team of "Terrorists" or "Counter-Terrorists." The Terrorists have an objective, like holding hostages or planting a bomb, and the Counter-Terrorists attempt to rescue the hostages or protect the bomb target. The combat simulation is relatively bloodless, but since all the characters are avatars for real people, the action is intense and fiercely competitive.

It has taken me years of practise to develop the twitch-like reflexes necessary to keep up. I went from being just another "noob" (new player) to "owning" (being skillful).

Naturally, all this simulated killing caused my conscience to twitch a little, too. I told my therapist about my habit only to see her shrug.

"It makes sense to me," she said. "You spend all day helping people, where does that aggressive energy go? Sometimes you have to get out of your heart and into your balls." Did I mention that my therapist is also one of the coolest priests I know?

I think there is more going on than displaced testosterone. Clearly the need to "escape" or "zone out" has something to do with it. I remember a mentor once telling me that if the signature mental illness of doctors was narcissism and nurses was co-dependence, that of priests was alcoholism. "All that formalism and sensitivity," he suggested, "have a shadow."

This makes sense, too, but while I can certainly understand why a priest who drinks too much would want to hide that from his or her congregation, why all the shame around some harmless computer games? I know priests who have even arranged their offices so that someone coming in won't see the computer screen. Is it because playing video games in your office is unprofessional? Perhaps. But I even feel guilty when I go to the gym during the day! Rather, I think it is a result of the general myth that self-care comes at the expense of "getting things done" at the church. So many ministers I know feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they have taken on in ministry that they feel guilty or ashamed when they do anything else "on church time."

Alas, so much of "getting things done" for pastors is about who they are, not what they do. In that context, being a healthy person is far more important than most of the things that occupy our ministry time. Who cares if we've developed a plan to deal with stewardship development or updated the calendar on the church website if we can't look people in the eye and tell them about the Kingdom of God?

All this leads to renewed understanding of "leisure." In Benedictine circles leisure is about having space in your life for all the things you need to put in it--including time for re-creation and rest.

Forsaking "leisure" for the sake of work is simply bad theology and poor stewardship, no matter what our protestant-work-ethic-soaked culture might tell us. So I'd like to invite my game-playing friends to reflect on that the next time they decide to avoid playing for the sake of work.

The Rev. Tay Moss is an Episcopal priest currently serving the Church of The Messiah, Toronto. Besides enjoying hot-peppers, martinis, and monks (though usually not together), Tay maintains a blog between pastoral duties.

What will be lost

By Marshall Scott

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

It's a common enough question in our experience, isn't it? It comes up in a lot of situations. In a movie, it usually comes up in the last half hour or so, setting up the improbably difficult and brave resolution. In real life, I suppose it comes up as frequently as not around weddings. Sooner or later someone will ask bride and/or groom, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

And of course we don't, or at least not entirely. I say that as one who has married, divorced, and married again. I grant you that I was less confused when I married again – now almost twenty one years ago, thank you! – but I can't say that even then I knew what I was doing. I simply knew better how to choose, and how to live well the promises that I made.

“Are you sure you know what you're doing?”

I have that question these days about the changes in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Now, anyone who's read my work here and elsewhere will know I support the direction the Episcopal Church has chosen. That doesn't mean I have no qualms.

And my greatest qualm is that we have already lost forever the Anglican Communion that I knew, and that the Episcopal Church will soon follow. I don’t mean that the Church has departed from the Christian faith or the Anglican tradition. I don’t believe either of those assertions. It is, rather, that the shape and manner of the Communion has changed, and of the Episcopal Church will change.

For most of my career in the Episcopal Church we have been conscious of – even proud of - our vagueness. That’s not to say that it hasn't driven every one of us crazy at some point; but we cherished it nonetheless. It allowed us to always pray together, usually worship together, and sometimes work together despite our strongly-held differences. The old epigram associated "Broad-" churchmanship and "haziness;" but the truth was that we all took part in some haziness as a central strategy of living together in the Episcopal Church.

We’ve even managed to justify it as good theology. We would note that the problem with transubstantiation was not that God couldn’t do it that way, but that the Church couldn’t say that it was the only way God could have changed bread and wine into body and blood. Instead, we clung to the very lack of definition that is consubstantiation: "in, with, and under," but only God knew how.

With a nod to our Orthodox Christian siblings, we spoke of appreciating mystery, of believing in what God was doing without wanting to constrain our understanding of how God might do it – whatever it might be. As a result, we preferred not to define anything too specifically. In many ways, that worked for us marvelously well. How else could we have held Hooker and Laud, Jewell and Wesley, Cranmer and Keble and Maurice all somehow within the Anglican tradition?

Sadly, now we are being driven to specificity. We are being driven to it by those who don't want to associate with us, and who are at great pains to explain just why they don't want to associate. We are being driven, too, by those who want to associate, but want to be crystal clear about the terms of association. Look where we are now.

* We have seen the third draft of an Anglican Covenant. Members of the Drafting Committee have spoken of an intent to be inclusive, and the mechanisms of exclusion so prominent in earlier drafts have been muted. What hasn't changed, however, is the idea that there must be some clear and delimited description of common content to hold us together.

* Having largely despaired of an Anglican Covenant that would exclude what they see as the excesses of the Episcopal Church, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans has essentially written their own; for what is the Jerusalem Declaration if not a confession in the ecclesiological sense, a core around which they might covenant?

* We wait on the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, to see how that gathering will react to the Covenant draft and the Windsor Continuation report, as well as to dissension within and without.

* The General Convention of the Episcopal Church will meet this summer, and it remains to be seen what we will say there, and how our statements will be received among Anglicans outside the Episcopal Church. There are many Deputies (I cannot say whether it is “most”) who are ready for the Episcopal Church to state clearly what it will do regarding the hot-button issues, and no longer wait to see who else in the Communion is prepared to listen and to talk.

And all of these raise in me a certain sense of - well, not dread so much as sorrow. Some have found us in the Episcopal Church (some both within and without) not sufficiently clear, and they have made themselves clear. In reaction we will make ourselves clear – it is human nature and, for many, virtual institutional necessity – but, as is always the case, in specifying some things in we will be specifying some things out. If we don't do it in the explication itself, it will come over the ensuing years of interpretation. It will change the manner, and perhaps the nature, of the Episcopal Church.

That’s not to say that we're doing the wrong thing, or that the Holy Spirit isn't in it. That may well be one of those strange ways in which God works. We have our New Testament in reaction to Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament in service to a Gnostic dualism in Christian vestments. Our own Anglican tradition is grounded in important efforts to explain who we are not and why: Hooker’s discourse on why we’re not Puritans, and Jewel’s on why we’re not Roman. The Council of Trent happened in reaction to all that Reformation fervor; and if we're not convinced just how much the Holy Spirit was in that Council, our Roman siblings certainly are.

Nor is it wrong to do something when you can't know exactly what you’re doing. I entered marriage – both times – in good faith, with determination to do what I could to make it work. The fact that in my first marriage things didn’t work as I had hoped isn't to say there is something wrong with marriage itself, or that God couldn't have been working in it. I continue to be convinced that God was then, even as I am convinced that God is working in my marriage now.

As we understand things, only God knows the future. We are always stepping forward in faith. Tomorrow may bring the proverbial bus, or the apocalyptic meteor, or the Kingdom of God. All I can do today is my best to follow where God calls me.

But until the Kingdom comes, those results will always be mixed, with losses as well as gains. In our times now we in the Episcopal Church are indeed seeking to follow where God calls us. Unfortunately, in our times now voices around us and within us push us out of our hazy breadth toward specificity; and coming from hazy breadth to specificity will change us. However righteous most of us may find the result, there will be those who embrace it and those who want no part of it; those who claim victory and those who feel lost.

That’s why I feel that, in a way, we might lose ourselves, even as we win the battle. In resisting becoming the Church that some want us to be, we will not simply stay the Church we are. We may well become more the Church that we want, but we will not stay the Church we are. We will have more clarity on a host of details, from how we understand how property is held in trust for the whole Church to what we mean by the phrase "abandonment of communion;" but we will discover ourselves a different church in the process.

And that's not wrong, either; for it has to as true for the Church as it is for her members that salvation comes in losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel. That doesn’t mean we won’t have some sorrow at that loss. I expect that soon we will determine that we can no longer, as the Episcopal Church, remain “broad and hazy.” It may well be a step toward the Kingdom. It will come, I pray, in our response to the leading of the Spirit. Still, to tell you the truth, I will miss it.

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.

Letting go

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Every spring we watch and wait for our magnificent Yoshima cherry tree to reach peak bloom, signaling the afternoon for our annual Grove Street Cherry Blossom Popcorn Party beneath the popping buds. The lucky day this year fell on a glorious, warm Palm Sunday afternoon which brought out neighborhood families to revel in the tree’s splendor and each other’s celebration of spring after a long winter indoors. A soft southwest breeze wafted blossoms to the ground creating a pink carpet for our gathering. One friend commented that the sensational old tree helped to keep the spirit of neighborhood and fellowship alive.

When we moved from New York to our house in October 1975, we knew little about Washington cherry tree traditions and had no idea that we’d bought a front yard treasure. So we were awed when the tree popped five months later just in time for our daughter’s 4th birthday party to be celebrated beneath its branches. We began to commemorate all important family events with the tree as backdrop for photographs - more birthdays, graduations, Christmas card snapshots, a wedding, and now grandchildren arriving at Nana’s and Poppy’s. As our cherry has aged to be somewhere around 75-85 years old, far beyond its expected longevity, we have surprised ourselves by becoming the elders on our street, glad that we chose to be deeply rooted here along with our tree which has grown to wrap around our upstairs corner bedroom windows.

Last June, a robin couple built their nest in the tree just high enough so that we couldn’t see into their home but we could observe the parents’ preparations and nurturing when their fledglings’ tiny insatiably open beaks peaked up over the nest’s edge. Mother Robin was extraordinarily diligent in flying out to find food, feeding her young and during one horrific storm, spreading her wings over the nest like a living umbrella to shield her family of four from the cold rain and wind. As they grew larger, Mr. Robin began showing up more often to guard the nest of churning little bodies while his missus was scavenging for their food. His presence appeared to calm his offspring.

Within two weeks, the babies became so large that they almost pushed each other out of the nest, ruffling their wing feathers as if practicing for flight. One amazing day, we watched them begin to fly one by one out of the nest. Finally only one remained, and while his parents hovered around their last baby, I remembered my mixed emotions when our younger child left home (documented by pictures beneath the cherry tree). A story entitled “Soaring” in Friedman’s Fables by Edwin H. Friedman helped me over the rough patch:

Mr. and Mrs. Bird had successfully launched nine fledglings, but as the fable unfolds we experience their desperation over the youngest’s failure to launch or take any advice on how to flap his wings, lift his head, fly! The more perplexed they become, the harder they try, the more Baby-bird resists their mad pokes and chirping which somehow enable him to avoid his destiny instead of facing it.

Finally the parents are fed up enough to leave the nest for their own happy pursuits, but this infuriates Baby-bird which resolves to show them by jumping to a triumphal splat on the ground below. However, his attempt fails when nature takes its course, his wings pull away from his body and soon he is soaring naturally without his parents’ constant interference to foul up his functioning.

Friedman’s moral? “ The children who do best in this world are those we make least important to our own salvation.”

He wrote the fables to celebrate ambiguity, believing that “… questions are more important than answers, in part, because they are eternal while answers resemble fashions that come and go with the age.” In this sense, each fable is best understood as a question and several that flow from “Soaring” are as follows:

• Why do some fledglings have more trouble leaving home?
• How did Baby-bird wind up thinking that learning to fly was for the benefit of his parents?
• Why do children tend to function best in those areas where their parents are least anxious and most incompetent?
• Can you think of any books on raising children that try to get parents to de-focus their child?

As for me, when I see the fat- breasted robins playing in our yard, I imagine they are the now grown children who flew from our cherry tree nest a year ago. They are strong, feisty, and in charge of the garden. And I think to myself, “Babies do grow up and should leave home, and when they do, they return a lot more interesting.”

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.

Power trip

By Lauren R. Stanley

A group of 15 Episcopal bishops issued a statement last week that is without a doubt mind-boggling. It simply does not make sense.

These Communion Partner bishops, along with three Episcopal clergy who are members of the conservative Anglican Communion Institute, claim that there is, in reality, no Episcopal Church as it has existed since 1785. They claim that the Episcopal Church is nothing but a “voluntary association of equal dioceses.” They claim that dioceses are independent, and that bishops hold all of the power. They claim that the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is not a metropolitan and has no authority.

In essence, what they are saying is that they do not belong to the greater community but rather are entities unto themselves, with all authority given to them.

Nothing binds us together, they claim, other than a mere desire to be bound together. No canons, no constitution, in essence, no Book of Common Prayer – nothing. In citing the history of the founding of the Episcopal Church at the end of the American Revolution, they somehow manage to twist that history to show that dioceses pre-existed the national church, and as such, somehow have no need of the national church. Dioceses, they say, “are both historically and ontologically prior to the Constitution and the General Convention.” But considering that only one of the 15 signatory bishops comes from an original diocese of the Episcopal Church (there were nine of them), it’s hard to figure out what these bishops mean. With the exception of South Carolina, all of the other dioceses came into being well after the Episcopal Church was founded, and all were founded at the direction of the Episcopal Church. So when they argue that the Episcopal Church doesn’t matter because dioceses predate it, even when most diocese do not in fact go back that far, they are doing nothing but going in circles.

Their arguments make about as much sense as the Commonwealth of Virginia saying it doesn’t really belong to the United States and thus can do whatsoever it pleases, regardless of what Congress, the administration and the Supreme Court says.

But that’s not all that boggles my mind over this statement.

What I also don’t get is that these same bishops are setting themselves up for a long, hard fall. Because if these dioceses and bishops can do whatever they want, then so can the rest of us. If this argument truly is what it seems to be – a justification for allowing individual bishops and dioceses to sign onto the yet-to-be-fully-known Anglican Covenant, regardless of what the Episcopal Church decides – then it means that those who do not want the Covenant (because we view it as non-Anglican, as still too confining, as still much too concerned with punishment and lacking in grace, as still ignoring the history of the Anglican Communion and its commitment to preaching to Gospel everywhere while at the same time honoring the exigencies of time and place), then we can reject it. Because according to the bishops’ arguments, everyone gets to do whatever they want. And no one can stop anyone else – because we are not one body, not one Church. We’re just a bunch of individual dioceses lacking any cohesion.

That’s why the arguments put forth by these bishops simply make no sense. They claim they want to remain in The Episcopal Church, which is good. But they also claim that contrary to history, contrary to their vows, contrary to the canons and constitutions, all is not as it seems, and they can change both history and the facts to fit their own desires.

What is it that they really want? I don't know. I can't tell, even after reading their statement numerous times. They quote extensively from the canons of both the Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox churches, and cite the governing documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church, ignoring the fact that we are none of those. Each of those denominations has its own polity, which is different from ours. Their argument compares apples to oranges and says, “See?”

The statement also claims that the diocese is the “fundamental unit of The Episcopal Church,” and as such, individual dioceses can make individual decisions, regardless of what a national or provincial church decides. It seems as though, in order to get what they want, these bishops are willing to let the Episcopal Church descend into chaos.

And then, finally, there is the most telling sentence of all, the last one of the document: “We intend to exercise our episcopal authority to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion and will continue to speak out on these issues as necessary.”

This statement isn’t about seeking a way out of a crisis, as it claims. It is, clearly, a power grab meant to ensure that these bishops not only can have their cake and eat it too, they can have and eat our cake as well.

I may not understand what these bishops are doing. But I do know this: Simply claiming that up is down and down is up doesn’t make either true. Likewise, simply claiming that dioceses are independent and not subordinate to the Episcopal Church doesn’t make either of those statements true either.

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

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