On Civility

By Bill Carroll

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“In Times of Conflict,” Book of Common Prayer, p. 824.

For a couple of months now, I have been praying out loud during the Prayers of the People for “civility in our national life.” I am terrified, frankly, by the prospect of political violence in this country. This is fueled in part by talk radio and cable news, but these are really the contemporary media for an old and ugly message. More fundamentally, what we are seeing is driven by ancient malignancies at the very foundations of American life. Populist paranoia about government is nothing new. Nor is the appeal to violence to subvert the democratic process and thereby preserve privilege based on race and class.

I have been following the debate about whether and to what extent the unrest is fueled by racism. In one online conversation here in Athens, Ohio, I made the following points:

I think it's obvious that racism plays a role. Certainly in the level of vitriol and implicit and explicit threats against the President and his family. Also in the fantasies that Obama's rather moderate policies are somehow radical. But more fundamentally in the way in which some opposition movements…center around fears of lost white privilege. Sadly, this kind of visceral argument still has traction among many Americans. Wait till we get to immigration reform. Bob Dylan had it right. The poor white person is "only a pawn in their game."

I don't believe that focusing on racism as a property of individuals is much help. Far more helpful to focus on racism as a property of systems, in which we all participate, from which some of us benefit more than others, and which we are all responsible for fighting. (Guilt is another matter and rests squarely with those who benefit.) Ultimately, I believe, only a very small minority truly benefits from racism and other interlocking oppressions.

That said, it is also obvious that not everyone who opposes this or that policy of the President is doing so out of racism. Obama himself invited a vigorous public debate. Nevertheless, the very real threat of political violence to undermine the policies of the first black president is thoroughly racist and truly frightening. Members of both parties and of neither need to insist on civility and on moving the focus away from ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with reality and on to the issues, many of which call for fundamental changes in our economy and our society.

The only qualification that I would make to these remarks is the following: in the end, no one truly benefits from oppression. Oppression of any kind involves spiritual death, even for those on whom it confers wealth and worldly power. As Dr. King liked to point out, it harms the oppressed, first and foremost, but also the oppressor.

It is no secret that the Episcopal Church has struggled with our own forms of polarization, some of them driven by the same dynamics that are present in secular politicsw. At our best, however, we have been able to come together as a single Body around the Lord’s Table, even when we disagree. Our Church’s bold stand for universal health care, which favors a single payer system and pragmatic steps toward such a system, should make it clear that our commitment to civility and encouragement of conscientious dissent should not be confused with being wishy-washy or failing to take a stand.

As important as it is to take such a stand in the present debate, however, we have another witness to make. Because we believe in Jesus, because we share a distinctive history as Anglican Christians, and because we have been shaped by the Gospel story and the particular practices defined by our baptismal vows, we know how to stay connected with those with whom we disagree. We can “confront one another without hatred or bitterness,” whether as members of Christ’s Body or as members of the body politic.

Both in the Church and in society, we need people who passionately advocate for a vision of the common good without losing sight of the humanity of our opponents. As Christians committed to a Catholic vision of comprehensiveness, we know that our salvation is closely bound up with that of our neighbors. The Reign of God that Jesus brings is at bottom a social reality. The Church is a highly imperfect but real anticipation and sacramental sign of that Kingdom. In Christ, we are being saved together—or not at all. Because our visions of the common good conflict, we can and must confront our neighbor. But because he or she is our neighbor, we can lay aside the spirit of fear and violence, as we seek peace and justice for the earthly city:

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Focusing on the cross

By Greg Jones

There are so many distractions. Don't you feel them? So many things are shouting at us.

Maybe your job is shouting at you. Maybe your health. Your marriage. Maybe you're shouting at people.

There are so many noises here in the streets of the world -- it's hard to focus on God.

The sky, the sun, the creation all cry out to the glory of God, but mostly we find ourselves on the busiest street corners of the cities of mankind surrounded by our own handiworks, and our works rarely tell of the mighty things of God.

Consider, the Grand Canyon, the Smokey Mountains in Fall, a starry sky at night in the countryside: these things witness to God, the living center of the universe and all else.

But New York? Washington? Kabul? These cities range from scary to great, but bear witness to humanity more than God. They tell of vanity, success, failure and pride, of July 4th or perhaps September 11th, but not eternity.

No, we live mostly in the city of Man, and the distractions shouting all around us are what we do. We make distractions for ourselves and others, which keep us unfocused on God, the center of all that is, was and will be, whether we know Him or not.

It's hard -- for us -- to bridle our shouting tongues: either in town hall meetings, sessions of Congress, or in that raging inner forum of our minds.

It's hard to focus on God: to hear, to listen, to obey. And, to be honest, it's hard to even want to. Sometimes, most times perhaps, I'd rather fulfill my own needs, desires and urges than focus on hearing and heeding the Word of God.

Can you relate to that?

And that's why Jesus died on the cross my friends.

They didn't want to hear or heed God in the flesh, looking like Jesus did: all humble and poor. The Pharisees didn't want that. The Romans didn't want that. The disciples didn't want that.

Nobody wants to focus on God that much, especially if God's call to us costs us what we desire. Which is why God did it. Which is why God demonstrated how He is, by becoming what we are and living here.

Christ's death upon the cross was and is still the center of that demonstration of who God is. And not only in Mark's Gospel, where that clever writer put the first mention of the cross in the exact middle of the book (yes, 8 chapters into a 16 chapter work.) The cross is the center of the meaning of Jesus Christ, because it is there that Jesus fulfilled our very last bit of mortal reality: every pain, every hurt, every distraction of sin, and he conquered there these deathly distractions of sin not by force and power, but by mercy and power poured out for us.

Because of the cross of Christ, all the shouting in the world cannot keep us from the love of God, even when our focus on Him is so poor.

If you are at all glad to hear this -- that God has relentlessly pursued us in passion and sacrifice -- if this touches you at all and makes you feel any bit of gratefulness at all then rejoice! For Grace has indeed gotten through, and you have heard the song of the Cross that sends this message to all who need it -- and that is all of us. The Cross has called to you in its passionate voice, and you have noticed, and Grace has tickled your insides, and now you must be asking yourself, "what do I do now Lord?"

And in this context, it makes sense to hear Jesus say: "If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."

None of us will succeed in denying ourselves and putting God first of all. But Grace will close the gap for we who respond to what Grace initiates within us, and the gap between our discipleship and Christ's lordship will indeed be bridged by the cross-shaped bridge that the Lord has put there himself.

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

Ecology, prayer and belief

By Martin L. Smith

I was taking a quiet day at a seminary a few weeks ago, and it set me thinking about the energy I brought to the launching of my own ordained life, almost 40 years ago. What were some of the first things I wanted to commit myself to? Not just in theory but in practice. I began to remember what it meant to me to become chaplain, in 1970, to the new wetland nature reserve that local volunteers were creating from old watercress beds near my parish. Maybe I was one of the first nature reserve chaplains at a time when ecological consciousness was dawning, just eight years after the publication of Silent Spring, the book that helped to launch the environmental movement.

Later I volunteered to devote my first vacation as a butterfly catcher to the great European survey of butterfly populations, one of those groundbreaking explorations of the effects of atmospheric pollution on wildlife. The survey needed volunteers who had no expertise or biases about butterflies to catch them randomly in their thousands so that experts could take a scientific tally of species distribution and numbers. So I spent some weeks darting around meadows in the Massif Central in France, and all over the vast marshes of the Camargue, swirling my net, and bringing my catch to my expert companions for counting and identification. I can remember the feeling at dusk, standing outside my tent, shoulders aching, watching the vast flocks of pink flamingos on the marshes, praying and wondering about what kind of future lay in store for them and us in the world we were relentlessly degrading.

Well, that was 40 years ago, and now the ecological movement is in full swing. My commitment back then was practical, mirrored today by the thousands of people who work hard to support or protect wildlife. Where would my commitment be now? I think it is up to me to respond more deeply to what might be called the mystical dimension of ecological awareness.

There is no lack of voices that witness to the pragmatic, the practices we need to embrace to forge a viable way of life for the planet. Schoolchildren can reel off recommendations for the habits we should adopt to reduce energy, waste and pollution. In the church we can’t be content with merely echoing what is commonly and publicly recognized as sound practice. And there is no lack of voices that witness to the need for new technological solutions. We are bombarded with programs and articles about the highly technical solutions that scientists are exploring to counteract the effects of global warming and inaugurate a new era. Economists propose complex schemes of offsets, researchers investigate ways of sowing protective substances into the atmosphere, and Christians as Christians have no special angle on any of it. So where might our contribution be one that is in fact intimately connected with our praying and believing?

One way is by forging a spirituality that is deep enough to help people change the way they experience the world around them. A faith centered on the Cross should give us deeper insight into human brokenness — alienation from the natural world, estrangement from the creatures that share our planet. This is the brokenness underlying resistance, indifference and apathy in the face of the ecological crisis. Christians might be the ones to help people recognize the terrible loss to the human spirit we have inflicted upon ourselves by creating an industrialized and technological culture that has contempt for the ecosystems. We need the spiritual resources of lament, God-inspired grief, and that is totally different from the fatal religious impulse to moralize and to berate and condemn people for their consumerism and selfishness. We need to help people recognize the depth of our loss, our emotional and spiritual numbness to the splendors and intricacy of the natural world in which we are embedded. A great philosopher once said, “By the little that now satisfies the soul, judge the extent of its fall.” How pathetic that the little pleasures that come through endless fiddling with our handheld electronics seem to be enough, when in reality we are victims of a tragic isolation from nature and from the daily beauties all around us that carry an infinite freight of meaning and bliss.

Through grieving comes the dawn of new possibilities, and unless the church is a healing environment in which people are coached to shed their insulation and be re-sensitized to the beauty of God’s intricate net of life, we have little to offer. Everyone knows we need to change many of our lifestyle habits. Everyone knows that the utmost ingenuity of our scientists will have to be deployed. But not everyone knows how to have their eyes re-opened and their hearts reconnected with the natural world. Do we, as bearers of the Gospel? Isn’t this another reason why spirituality is at the heart of mission?

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

Finding your place on the family tree

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Ninety-eight percent of the people who call my psychotherapy practice are seeking help with a relationship. Whether my clients are dealing with the bliss-laced jitters of pre-marital counseling, bad patches in their love affairs and marriages, or challenges in raising children and seeking new ways to relate to parents, I believe my most useful purpose is to help them find a better way of functioning within their family of origin and extended family, where we first learn how to negotiate all our relationships.

One person who benefited from bridging his family’s “intra-continental drift” over several years of coaching told this story:

“It all began after World War II separations when my family reconvened with Bronxville, N.Y. as the center, then exploded like a star to remote parts of the country from Buffalo to Minnesota and California. I’m an only son, and my motivation to reconnect with cousins came after the death of my mother and from observing my wife’s delight in her family reunions. I developed a yearning to have closer blood relations rather than rely on her family or my friends. Mother’s two sisters had large families so my cousins really didn’t need me, and I felt isolated.

“I began in 2007 to send out feelers, and made my first big mistake when I wrote that I wanted to plan a family reunion before another sister dies. A male cousin I seldom hear from hit ‘reply all’ to my message, chastising me for not being attentive enough to his mother who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. It took some time to overcome this clash between us two firstborns. There were other reasons the reunion didn’t come together, as cousins cited rites of passage – weddings, births and a multitude of transitions. At least their reunion regrets kept me newly in touch, and I became aware of how important my staying the course was for our children and grandchildren to know my family.

“I began to realize that rather than herd all these cats, I’d have to start speaking to each cousin individually. I was surprised to find that one-on-one, each expressed an interest in expanding their circles to include more extended family. My efforts were a lot like fishing. I had to pay out a lot of line before I could reel in the fish. I’d wait but hold tight to the rod while I imagined how tempting it would be for each cousin to fall back to his or her own siblings. I learned how to take their “No, not now, ” less personally and never to ask defensively, “Why?” A leader’s motivation has to be sufficient to overcome resistance.

“The breakthrough came when I found out that I could book several days last August at The Bishop’s Ranch in the Episcopal Diocese of California (Bishopsranch.org) near several cousins who live in the San Francisco area. Like a catered event where guests walk into a beautiful room, I began to paint an emotional picture of what it would be like to have a family vacation (not calling it a two-day reunion) at a convenient site. I wrote to them about the swimming and hiking through miles of gorgeous property, including vineyards. I knew I’d caught the biggest fish when my Buffalo cousin, whose travel would be the toughest, became excited about my plan. Her spark carried her sisters along for a full catch. Adept followers are crucial to good leadership!

“As the date drew near, I had a tendency to over-organize. I ordered logo T-shirts, found games to play, asked cousins to bring family pictures and written histories if available. But in the end I learned that none of this mattered as much as our time laughing and talking together – first in small groups and later all gathered around a table where we drew our family tree and filled in information for the roots and branches together.

“The result: Each person brought pieces of the puzzle of who we are and where we stand in the family as we unraveled the mystery of lives in previous generations. Our experience spread motivation for another reunion in two years, so everyone will participate and I no longer have to be head cheerleader. I feel myself more included and have become an integrated part of my extended family.”

“The ability to be more of a self brings people into better emotional contact with the most durable and reliable support system they will ever have. … Improving emotional contact with the extended family has the potential to significantly reduce serious physical, emotional, and social symptoms in oneself and/or one’s nuclear family (and)…appears to reduce an individual’s level of chronic anxiety.” From Family Evaluation by Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen.

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.

Words for God

Psalm 116:1-8 Page 759, BCP

I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
"O LORD, I pray you, save my life."
Gracious is the LORD and righteous; *
our God is full of compassion.
The LORD watches over the innocent; *
I was brought very low, and he helped me.
Turn again to your rest, O my soul, *
for the LORD has treated you well.
For you have rescued my life from death, *
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
I will walk in the presence of the LORD *
in the land of the living.

By Ann Fontaine

Sometimes in church I take off on my own tack during the service, especially if I am in the congregation and not presiding or preaching. Sunday, September 14, was one of those days. We read this psalm in unison and I went over to a corner in my mind - struck by the words.

Perhaps it was because this was the Sunday closest to 9/11 and I have been thinking about all those people who were just doing their day when life stopped for them. Whether for the people who actually died or their families, friends, or colleagues – the prayer of the psalmist seems empty. God did not save their lives – they did not continue in the land of the living.

How do I pray psalms of protection knowing that God does not work this way as far as I have ever experienced? I cannot believe in a God who pulls some out of the plane crash and not others. Although I would love to be rescued from death in most circumstances, I believe we are mortal and things happen that take our life away. The LORD does not seem to watch over the innocent or the guilty for that matter. Grief and sorrow do overwhelm many – even the faithful. So where does that leave me with this particular psalm and its plea?

Tuesday I attended a session of Lectio in Manzanita, OR with members of St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church and others. When St. Catherine’s moved to their new building after years in this space in a small beach town strip mall, some members took over the rent to use for a spirituality center, space for workshops and art gallery. Surrounded by trees and beach homes the interior is light and filled with the prayers and work of years. Gathered with eight others on a sunny fall morning, following some meditation exercises and much to my surprise, we sat in silence with the line from the psalm:

Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: * "O LORD, I pray you, save my life."

It was a great opportunity to continue my Sunday contemplation. What do I want from God when I ask for something that seems contrary to my experience of what God will provide? I love the psalms, as they seem to speak to the true human condition more that any other part of the Bible. They range from terror and fear to the desire for terrible revenge when offended, from abject shame at one’s own offenses to joy and praise to God and to awe at the grandeur of creation. No human emotion is left out of these songs and meditations. They also offer endless puzzles in their contradictions and paradoxes about the nature of God.

As I sat with the lines from the psalm, I heard, “Call, Name, Save, Life” and began to listen to them over and over somewhat like reciting a mantra – not really thinking consciously or linearly about the words.

Later we shared our thoughts about our time together and the passage. My experience was one of more questions. To whom am I Calling? By what Name is that One known to me? What is it to be Saved? What at the core is Life?

In this moment, for me – the word “God” is more like a pronoun with few antecedents. I know my life is less anxious and fearful and more fulfilling when I follow Jesus as I see him revealed in the Gospels and in the breaking of bread in community. Grandmother is the name that most embodies the unconditional love that I have experienced in my life of faith. Ocean speaks to me of the power to give and take away life, the terror and the awe, that is part of the Holy. I have used other names but those are core. My prayers are more like ongoing dialogues (hopefully not monologues) than petitions.

As I think about the word “Saved” I hear it as healing and wholeness, not so much about afterlife. When we enter into the fullness of life with God – we will be fully ourselves in the way that God intended. I believe we experience glimpses of that fullness as we live a life of faith, much as St Paul says “in a mirror darkly.” Life is what I am given in this time and this space and asking God to save it seems more a prayer to live it fully in this moment, not obsessing about the past or anxious about the future. When I can be in this place, I feel aligned with some greater life, in tune with the dance of the universe whether rejoicing or sorrowing, singing or lamenting. I can’t hang onto it by myself – it takes something that encompasses all of us and fills the spaces between us.

This is where I am with my puzzle today. Maybe tomorrow I will receive a few more letters that will make it more clear – like the online Scrabble™ games I like to play with my friends and family.

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.

Gifts and glazing windows

By Heidi Shott

One morning a friendly man arrived at our house and, without much ado, climbed onto the roof of our enclosed porch and chainsawed it from the rest of the house. Even though we were paying him and the porch was on the verge of collapse, the effect was surprising – it’s strange to see cut adrift from its moorings a cozy space where you’ve cracked lobster claws, triumphed at Scrabble™ and enjoyed many a blissful snooze.

One lazy summer afternoon, a few summers before the chainsaw episode, my friend Christine and I sat on the rickety porch talking about absolutely nothing while our kids ran around outside. At one point she gazed over my shoulder and in her calm mother-of-five voice said, “Ah, you’re missing a window pane there, Heido.”

I looked behind me and sure enough a pane was just…gone. We stepped outside to the deck and the troops gathered around. Everyone had to stick a hand through the hole. At the base of the window the glass lay, unbroken but sheepish. “If you don’t fix that, Mom, the flies will get in,” my ever-helpful son Martin said, poking at the neighboring pane with a stick. It clattered to the deck. “That one too.”

Well, there was no way around it. It was summer. Maine has bugs. It had to be fixed before nightfall. Before long I was back on my deck with glazing compound and glazier points. I don’t know where I learned to fix window panes – maybe growing up on a farm or the summer I painted college dorms – but it’s something I know how to do.

Warming to the task, I began the fun of rubbing a snake of glazing compound between my palms. I relished the satisfaction of placing a little metal point in just the right spot to keep the pane snug against the sash and the expert flick of the putty knife smoothing the compound so pretty and even. Except that when I finished, it wasn’t. It wasn’t in the same hemisphere as pretty and even. What it was, was -- marginally -- okay. But here’s the truth: as homely and unprofessional as my panes looked, I was a little proud.

As I stood on my deck dodging annoyed bees and wielding my putty knife, I began to wonder if that’s how the gifts of God work: some of us have general ability in a number of fields, some of us are tremendously capable in one area. Some of us have strong minds, some of us have strong backs. Some congregations have a powerful call to one ministry, some are drawn to many missions of a limited scope. Some priests are gifted in pastoral work, some are drawn to other pastures.

If that is true, then there’s the beauty, the symmetry of our life as the Church of Christ – on the parish, diocesan, Church-wide, and Communion-wide stage. Each one, each entity has a niche but we need what the others bring to the table to be complete. We tend to think of gifts as big, bold offerings, but perhaps some of us are gifted with the ability to do a lot of things well enough. It’s not a flashy gift like preaching or singing or running a tight meeting, but what congregation could do without those few capable and willing souls who are there, day after day, doing what needs to be done. And how do we shake the crazy notion that a certain way of being a church or a priest or a saint is more valuable to the Kingdom of God than any other?

My late father, who insisted that knowing how to shingle a roof was a life skill his children needed to possess, used to say of himself, “A jack of all trades, master of none.” He always said it with a self-deprecating chuckle, but we knew he wore it like a badge of honor. I think God has created a lot of people like my dad and me, those who can do long division in a pinch, tie on a fishing lure, roast a turkey, comfort a friend or write a heck of a good letter when the need arises.

Those among us with tremendous ability or a singular talent are dear to us for showing us God’s image so clearly. Those with broader gifts sound the daily gentle hum of the Spirit of Christ in our midst, and they sure are handy to have around when a window pops out.

Heidi Shott is canon for communications and social justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Audacity, tenacity, physicality--prayer

By Bonnie A. Perry

How's your prayer life? Anyone here satisfied with your prayer life? I have spent 20 years in parish ministry, and never yet has someone plopped down next to me and said, “You know what Bonnie? I've got this killer prayer life.”

Now you may be thinking, “Well that's because no one actually talks that way, Bonnie.” But the thing is, I hang out with some pretty churchy-type people who regularly talk about spirituality and theology and liturgy and scripture. Since I am a priest, a bunch of the folks I consort with are church geeks, and I'm telling you, no one is happy with his or her prayer life.
Heck, even Mother Theresa, when it was all said and done, was disappointed with her prayer life.

Why is that?

Is it because we are novice Christians, spiritual slackers? Is it because our faith is shallow and our commitment faltering? Or is it because we think prayer is something that it's not? Or something more than it is?

Is it something we think we are supposed to have mastered on our own--without any help? Or in the end, is it something only really pious people, folks long gone from this life ever came close to doing right?

For my money, a recent Gospel has a number of insights about prayer.

Jesus is out and about, and apparently is a bit tired of all the people following him. So he ducks into a house to lay low.

But a gentile woman sees him go into the house, and forgoing all the customs regarding Jews and Gentiles, abandoning the established etiquette on not just barging into someone else’s house, she follows him. Her daughter is ill. Her daughter needs help, and her need, not social norms and customs, is what matters.

She sees Jesus slip inside. She follows. Bows down low, and asks him to please heal her daughter. He attempts to blow her off. He says, in effect: I can’t help you. I’m only here to help my people. Helping you would be like taking the special food set aside for the children and giving it to the dogs. I’m not gonna do that.

( Please note this is not Jesus at his most pastoral.)

To which this woman tenaciously replies: Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

“Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs!”

And that stops him. She’s right—he’s wrong. So he says with admiration, because he does enjoy a well argued case, “For saying that, you may go. Your daughter is healed.”

So when seeking something from the Holy One of God, it seems audaciousness, tenacity and the ability to hold our own are all helpful. And please take note at just how forthright she is. No flowery language here. Barges in, bows down, asks the question and refuses to be blown off.

Next story: Jesus is in the region of Decapolis when a group of people bring of friend of theirs to him to be healed. Their friend has a speech impediment and is unable to hear. They beg Jesus to make him well.

This interaction is incredibly physical. Not just a verbal interchange, but a physical, tangible, yet private event. Jesus takes the fellow away from all the eyes, away from the crowds. Then he sticks his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spits on his fingers and touches the man’s tongue.

Jesus looks to heaven, sighs deeply and says, “Ephaphatha—be opened.”

And the man can now hear clearly and speak plainly.

What might this tell us about prayer?

It’s physical. It doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, a purely intellectual/verbal pursuit. Jesus is sticking his hands in his ears, spitting, sighing—all the senses are being used.

Prayer is hands on. It’s also sometimes corporate or communal. The man’s friends brought him to Jesus.

Sometimes we just can’t ask for something ourselves. Sometimes our friends and family— the ones who know us best and love us the most—need to be the ones to ask and start the prayer.

Sometimes we need to be the ones who do it for folks who just cannot do it on their own. This part isn’t long or complicated. It doesn’t require special insight or advanced degrees.

Sometimes prayer is just physically putting someone in front of another who can help.

Finally, in both of these stories, prayer begins with being wildly aware of our surroundings: where we are, who is with us, what we need, what our friends may long for, who can assist. Prayer in its most effective form always begins with being aware.

Prayer is—if I were to list some ingredients—audacity, tenacity, community, physicality, and most important of all, a longing for what could be and an awareness and openness to all that is around us.

Or as the poet Mary Oliver puts it ever so much more succinctly in “Praying”

It doesn’t have to be the blue Iris. It could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.

Indeed. Amen.

The Rev. Bonnie Perry is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Chicago.

Anglo-Catholicism: what the heck is it?

By Derek Olsen

Thinking and arguing about Anglican identity is new territory for some. Not me. Every since I’ve become an Anglican almost a decade ago, the question of identity has been intertwined with my Anglicanism. And with good reason—I identify with the most fractious and tribal of the great Anglican traditions, Anglo-Catholicism.

Since the beginning of the Twentieth century, Anglicanism has been described as a threefold cord consisting of three distinct parties, the Evangelicals, the Broad-Church, and the Anglo-Catholics. As if negotiating these positions weren’t difficult enough, Anglo-Catholicism has been in a tough spot since the ‘60s. The theological and liturgical changes of Vatican II combined with the movement for women’s ordination were a one-two punch that rocked the movement. The emergence of women’s ordination brought the matter to a head in the early 70’s in the Episcopal Church, calving the movement into several major branches, some remaining within the Episcopal Church, others leaving for the Anglican Continuum consisting of other Anglican entities not in The Episcopal Church.

At the root of the problem is identity: what does it mean to be a catholic Anglican? For some outside the movement or on its fringes the answer seems simple, it’s about liturgical ceremonial. If you wear a chasuble, know what a cope is, swing around incense, and chant, you must be Anglo-Catholic.

Trust me, it’s not that simple.

As any Anglo-Catholic in good standing will tell you, it’s not about the externals. Or, rather, the externals are driven by the internals. As I’ve said before, we don’t do a solemn high mass or use incense because we like it (though we do, of course…) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. It’s about theology. And our theological commitments come with liturgical implications. Defining that theology is what drives us crazy.

One simplistic definition is that catholic Anglicans hold the doctrine of the Undivided Church (those things that the Orthodox East and the Catholic West agree about) but hold different discipline. That is, our faith is the same but our principles of church order are different. But defining what is doctrine and what is discipline, and deciding who gets to be the final arbiter is what’s been giving us fits since the ‘60s.

I’ve said in jest that the true definition of an Anglo-Catholic is a person who knows three other people who think they’re catholic Anglicans but who aren’t because they’re either not “catholic” or not “Anglican” enough.

The most obvious and polarizing argument is over women’s ordination—is it doctrine or discipline? The major divisions in the party have been over this issue, but a host of others complicate even agreements on that point. Which way to lean in matters of faith and morals: towards the Orthodoxen or towards Rome? What liturgy to use: the ’28 BCP, the ’79 BCP, or the (Anglican or American or English) Missal? What ceremonial to use: pre- or post-Vatican II?
And so I say, matters of Anglican identity have never been far from my mind lo these years.
As I survey the current squabbling and bickering amongst the worldwide Anglican Communion and especially here in the Episcopal Church, I find myself in familiar territory. Out of that familiarity, I return to one of the positions that I’ve found the most helpful. It’s not strictly about doctrine or about discipline but about practice. The most succinct expression that I’ve found comes not from a committee or report, but a book on spirituality written by the English Anglo-Catholic Martin Thornton. In writing about the monastic father St. Benedict and his impact upon English spirituality he says:

The greatest Benedictine achievement (from this point of view) is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality: the common Office (opus dei) supporting private prayer (orationes peculiares) both of which are allied to, and consummated by, the Mass. . . . Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer. Amongst all the tests of Catholicity or orthodoxy, it is curious that this infallible and living test is so seldom applied. We write and argue endlessly about the apostolic tradition, about episcopacy, sacramentalism, creeds, doctrine, the Bible—all very important things—yet we fail to see that no group of Christians is true to orthodoxy if it fails to live by this Rule of trinity-in-unity: Mass-Office-devotion. (Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, 76)

It’s a position that certainly doesn’t answer all problems or arguments—and Thornton admits as much—but in this statement, I find the heart of the matter expressed more simply and clearly than in any bishops’ statement.

At the end of the day the question isn’t whether we are “authentic” Anglo-Catholics or Anglicans. The question is whether we are authentic Christians seeking to pattern our lives according to an Anglican shape that proceeds from catholic and orthodox roots. Yes, we do need to argue whether women are valid sacramental matter for the priesthood (and I argue they are); yes, we need to argue whether queer folk in relationships are appropriate leaders for our church communities (and I argue that it’s about the relationships not the folk and applies equally to us straight people…); yes, we need to argue about how to interpret and apply the Scriptures (and I argue without a formal or de facto magisterium). More fundamental than these, however, we need to agree and be united in a common Anglican way of life.

It used to be said—and I’ve heard it many times both before and after my move to the Episcopal Church—that rather than confessional documents we have the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the history and legacy of colonialism and its aftermath, the one thing that all Anglicans hold is a Book of Common Prayer—none identical across the provinces, but all rooted in common precedents, all embodying the fundamental principles of Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayer.

Can we live up to, is there any point in, a new Anglican Covenant if we don’t bother to live up to or have regard for the more basic Anglican covenant that sits in our pews? On the other hand, it’s terrific to call ourselves Anglicans or Episcopalians, but do our daily and weekly habits reflect that reality—or display some other truth?

Yes, let’s navel-gaze. But more important, let’s pray. And let’s live our praying. Don’t just argue about being an Anglican; act like one.

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.

What fidelity requires: thoughts on blessing same-sex relationships

By George Clifford

Several weeks ago, Jim Naughton posed several questions in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s idea that the Anglican Communion might become a two-track organization:

a) What difference will it make in practice? b) Do you care? c) Will anyone outside the Communion care? d) Does it feel to you sometimes as though we are writing rules for membership in a tennis club in a city that is on fire?

I spent two of the most personally and professionally rewarding years of my ministry as a Church of England priest. The Anglican Communion is important to me. Most of my ministry was as a military chaplain, a setting in which ministry frequently depends upon ecumenical cooperation and that represents, often out of necessity, the cutting edge of ecumenism. That ministry forcefully taught me that Christian unity is vital, particularly in this increasingly secular age.

In spite of the formative nature of those experiences, I as a Christian have no choice but to value faithfulness to the Gospel above all else. Abandoning the trajectory that I believe leads toward God (i.e., faithfulness to the Gospel) leads away from life abundant. The Church must equally honor and include all people, regardless of sexual orientation, not because doing so will change the world, alter our prestige or privilege within the Anglican Communion, respect human rights, or for any reason other than the theological wisdom that God has given to us demands genuine inclusivity. Inclusion necessitates that the Church provide liturgies for blessing same sex couples, ordain people to its ministry without regard to sexual orientation, advocate that all people enjoy equal civil rights, etc. Those acts translate theology into praxis; the Church as the body of Christ should always begin with theological engagement then proceed, after discerning the mind of Christ, to incarnate that theology in appropriate ways.

Christians live in tension between individual autonomy and communal identity. Describing, let alone living into, the creative tension between individual autonomy and communal identity is a difficult theological challenge. The Presiding Bishop correctly observed in her opening address to General Convention that God saves communities, not individuals, sparking a controversy that says more about American individualism than it says about her theology. Conversely, communal identity that becomes coercive violates God's image within people and pushes toward the demonic. The motto of the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps aptly describes Christian communal identity that the Anglican Communion has historically modeled: Cooperation without Compromise.

The Episcopal Church should not choose to leave the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church must also incarnate its discernment of Christ's mind. If the rest of the Communion then decides to “punish,” treat as second-class members, or otherwise negatively respond to our incarnation of Christ, so be it. I shall be sad, but I shall not lose any sleep nor will I compromise my journey. Cooperation without compromise characterizes genuine Christian community.

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.

Eternity Happens

By Adam Thomas

‘Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” ’ (John 8:58)

You can always tell when Jesus says something truly sensational and scandalous because people respond by searching for rocks to fling at his head. The eighth chapter of the Gospel According to John contains four instances of Jesus saying, “I am,” which is one way Jesus imparts his divine identity to his listeners. Out of the four, only the final one elicits such a stony reaction, while the first three build to the climactic iteration. The escalation begins slowly when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). Next, Jesus says, “You will die in your sins unless you believe that I am” (8:24). Then, a few verses later, he says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am” (8:28). Each of these statements of his divine identity flies right over the heads of his opponents. But then the conversation intensifies. Jesus says they are from their father the devil. They think he may have a demon. He says no one will see death if they keep his word. They are sure he has a demon. He says Abraham rejoiced to see his day. Now they know that he’s crazy—he’s not even fifty! How can he have seen Abraham?

Then Jesus knocks their socks off with his most dangerous statement in the whole Gospel: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” This time, no one mistakes his meaning. No one asks him to clarify his words. They understand the full significance of saying, “I AM.” They know God said the same thing to Moses when Moses was brash enough to ask God for God’s name (Exodus 3). But underneath the shocking nature of Jesus’ statement is a subtler point (ultimately missed in the search for stones) about how our eternal God interacts with a finite creation.

Jesus’ “I am” statements in the Gospel According to John are revelations of God’s very being. Because of the simplicity of the sentence (just a subject and a verb), “I am” is as close as language can get to universality and eternity. Since we live in a temporal world, eternity is an impossible concept for us to wrap our heads around. Eternity is not “endless” time; nor is it the framework in which time finds a snug fit. In eternity, before and after are undefined and the only when is now. (The previous sentence makes no sense, of course.)

When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he uses our language to express the eternal nature of God. He does not say, “I was before Abraham was,” which is the grammatically correct way to articulate the thought. Instead, his “I am” (while functioning in our world as a present tense construction) is really a representation of the eternal tense. In eternity, I AM is the only sentence that makes any sense at all. In other words, eternity happens. It didn’t start and it won’t stop because the notions of beginning and ending are thoroughly temporal. And eternity happens because God is.

We run into trouble when we expect God to exist in the same way we do. Our minutes tick by one after another. For every one of our actions there is an equal and opposite reaction. Objects fall at a rate of 9.8 m/s2. But those are our minutes, our reactions, our gravity, and they all rely on linear experience. When Jesus says, “I AM,” he reminds us that God created linear experience, and thus is not beholden to it.

When we stumble into God’s presence, we encounter eternity making utter nonsense of time. Time ceases to matter because eternity overrides the rules of linear experience. That’s why it’s so hard to say how long we feel the presence of God. We feel that presence in moments, not minutes. When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he pushes us to relinquish our need to order events when God is concerned. God exists in eternity, which just happens.

If you read my last contribution to the Café in conjunction with this one, you might deduce two things: (1) I like to use Holy Scripture to discuss spirituality and (2) I seem partial to the Gospel According to John. These deductions are both entirely correct. As a member of the Millennial generation, I am attracted to the Fourth Gospel’s combination of mystery and revelation. If you have a group of Millennials in your church (right now, that would be your middle schoolers through your college students, give or take) who huff and sigh and roll their eyes every time you pull out the Bible, try some passages from the Gospel According to John. You might encounter fewer glazed looks and drool-flecked chins.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

The necessity of outrage

By Marshall Scott

I was one who had waited with great excitement to see the President speak on health care. I will admit to a certain personal stake in what he would say; I am, after all, a chaplain. I am also an Episcopalian, whose General Convention has affirmed again and again, and as recently as this past summer, the Episcopal Church’s support for universal access to safe and affordable health care.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised that I was largely pleased by what I heard. I was also interested in the political theater of the event. There was a carefully choreographed dance of expression and gesture. The supportive Democrats stood and applauded. In those few times when the President explicitly reached out to the Republicans they smiled, if a bit grimly; and they applauded, if half-heartedly. And between those few references they sat, mute, and unresponsive.

All, that is, except Congressman Joe Wilson. The President came to a part of the speech when he debunked false claims that had been made broadly about the various bills being pieced together. And as the President stated that there was no provision in the bills being pieced together for these benefits to extend to illegal immigrants, Congressman Wilson lost control and cried out, “You lie!” I was shocked at the disrespect, both for the moment and for the Office of the President. Those present were shocked and disapproving, in both parties. Perhaps the person who appeared least shocked was President Obama himself. As he has done so often he simply held his calm and returned to his point.

There was certainly outrage at the incident, and under pressure from House and Senate leadership in both parties Congressman Wilson apologized to the President. The outrage even lingered for a while. It was, of course, a perfect television moment, and it was replayed again and again to feed the needs of the 24-hour news cycle.

I was certainly outraged at the event. We have fallen far if anyone, but especially an elected Representative, should show such disrespect for the Office of the President, whoever currently occupies that office. But quickly I was outraged at something else: I was outraged at the opposition to making provision to provide care for illegal immigrants.

In fact we need to make provision for providing health care for illegal immigrants. The most important reason is simply one of public health; and as we face this fall not only our seasonal flu but also H1N1 flu, we should be acutely aware of it. Those populations that don’t get care provide reservoirs, opportunities for viruses and other diseases to flourish and adapt, and perhaps become more problematic. This is not, of course, because the victims are illegal, for citizens and legal residents will suffer in much greater numbers. It is because they are not identified and treated in a timely manner if at all. We have certainly seen this issue in AIDS and in the return of tuberculosis: populations that fear seeking treatment, whether out of shame or fear of legal consequences or simple lack of resources, create reservoirs of disease that put the rest of us at continued risk.

There is also the economic reason to make such provisions. In some numbers we will be providing care in any case. We will not send them away; indeed, we cannot. The laws that have made it illegal to “dump” patients, sending them from one ER to another based on ability to pay, make no distinction between patients who are insured or uninsured, legal or illegal. We make the case often enough that lack of primary care brings patients to ER doors only when the illness become in some way debilitating. Thus, they arrive at the place where care is most expensive, and at the time when their illnesses are more advanced, more problematic, and more expensive. And we cannot turn them away. Of course, we don’t want to turn them away. Certainly, Episcopal and other faith-based hospitals see their missions as providing care to all to the best of their ability, including those who can’t pay. But, there is also the law; and under the law we have to provide assessment, stabilization,
and care as appropriate and as we are able.

So, we will be paying for them. Those who simply wish they would go away seem sometimes to hope we could somehow not pay; as if our not providing health care would somehow encourage them to leave. So, they want no provision; and with no provision, it becomes another reason that providers have to “cost-shift.” We don’t end up paying through a program, so we end up paying through higher expenses elsewhere.

But for us as Christians, the most important reason to provide for illegal immigrants is moral. These are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are among “the least of these” in Jesus’ family, and Jesus himself has called us to provide care and support. They are neighbors; and if they are neighbors who make us uncomfortable, with whom some don’t wish to associate, well, neither was the Good Samaritan. We are called to care for them simply because they have need, and because it is the Christian thing to do.

We are also called because it is just. These neighbors are among us, most of them working and working hard, and they should no more be “muzzled” than the ox that treads the grain. Do they take jobs away from others? That’s debatable; but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated justly for the jobs they do. They participate in our economy, working and paying local taxes and often income taxes, including Medicare and Social Security – taxes from which they can never hope to benefit. At the same time, we benefit, those of us who expect to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits some day. They participate in this economy, and receiving benefits of this economy is just.

But what have faith-based arguments to do, some will ask, with a government program? Is there not separation between Church and State? Well, in fact in health care there isn’t much. Faith-based institutions receive the same Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that other institutions do. They have the same requirements to meet as employers and providers. They are accountable for the National Patient Safety Goals and for infectious disease reporting in the same way.

And to turn the argument around, the diseases don’t distinguish between people of faith and those who aren’t. Some have suggested that the burden of providing care for illegal immigrants, or of providing universal access at all, should fall to those charitable organizations who include it in their mission. But, all our health is “public.” Illness, like the rain, “falls on the just and the unjust.” We have long said we all benefit when certain risks are shared as widely as possible. We have long structured our insurance that way, including especially our health insurance. And there is no wider base for the risk than all who share in the economy – all residents, all providers, all of us. There is also no wider distribution of responsibility, no wider sharing of sacrifice. Thus, in the face of illnesses that do not discriminate, it is unjust for us to discriminate. And as we would affirm here, justice is a Gospel value.

Congressman Wilson wanted to claim a place among those calling not only for an end of illegal immigration, but for isolation and estrangement of those who are already here. Apparently, obnoxious as it might seem, he has succeeded. His outburst has become the central issue of his reelection campaign, used by both his campaign and his opponent’s to raise funds. And yet, as powerfully as I disagree with his position, I will agree that he has raised an important issue. No, President Obama didn’t lie when he said that no legislation proposed so far allows the benefits of health care and health insurance to illegal immigrants. At the same time, we all understand the truth that they will need health care, and somehow we will provide it. Congressman Wilson is outraged that some how we might provide care to illegal immigrants. I think we should be outraged at Congressman Wilson and his compatriots, because I think we must.

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.

Living faith, justice, and the earthly city

By R. William Carroll

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them
. --Proverbs 22:8-9, 22-23
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
--James 2:14-17

Four years ago last month was the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of the city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005. My memories of Katrina revolve around students of mine from that city, as well as some of the people who fled to the hills of Sewanee, Tennessee, where we were living at the time. In fact, I’ll never forget one woman’s sobbing plea in our parish church during the Prayers of the People. Here was a woman who lost people she loved—and everything she had.

No doubt, some of you remember how some Christians at the time suggested that this horribly destructive storm and the suffering it brought were signs of divine judgment on a Godless America. In one interview, Pat Robertson blamed Katrina on abortion, claiming that God was causing “the land to vomit us out,” because our society permits the “slaughter of the unborn.” In another, John Hagee argued that God struck New Orleans because it was “planning a sinful…homosexual rally.”

Now, even if I agreed with these two men about Christian ethics—which I DON’T—I would still have trouble believing in their kind of God. I speak as someone who believes in the wrath of God. Wrath is what God’s love looks like to us when we are drowning in sin. We feel our separation from God, and it is terrifying. But do we really believe in a God who would punish a whole city, including the innocent, for the sake of the imagined sins of a few? And do we really believe in a God who manipulates the weather and keeps lists of enemies? That’s not the God I know and love.

And yet there’s truly a sense in which we reap what we sow. We can’t be sure in this case (or in any particular case), but I don’t think it’s farfetched to blame Katrina on the changes we are causing to our climate. Surely, this kind of extreme event is becoming both more common and more severe. Moreover, we can be certain that the disproportionate effects of the storm on the poor and on people of color are a direct result of choices we’ve made. We failed to heed the warnings. And the people of the Ninth Ward in particular suffered from poor housing to begin with and a pathetic government response once the storm hit land.

In a recent interview, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana called New Orleans “the place where the façade of American progress has been washed away.” He went on to observe that “Many would be happy if we could again apply the ‘make-up’ to the wound that affects us all, but such will not be the case. This wound is evident around our nation, but in New Orleans it has been exposed as the flood washed away the veneer.” In the same interview, Bishop Jenkins cited remarks Martin Luther King made about the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a famous sermon at Riverside Church in 1967:

On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

In that very sermon, preached exactly one year before his martyrdom, King also called for a “revolution of values” in light of the Gospel and the common good. To date, different values have guided our response to Katrina. Over a million people were displaced; some will never return. We dare not forget that the storm affected the entire Gulf Coast region, but it is New Orleans (and in particular the Ninth Ward) that has become its enduring symbol. New Orleans is indeed the place where “the veneer of American progress has been washed away.” It is a visible and outward sign of the rot and decay beneath the shimmering façade of our society.

Now, with the present economic crisis, we see it more clearly. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, and lost jobs. Failed businesses and a banking system that nearly collapsed have made it clear that much of our economy was a house of cards. Yet will we see any real restructuring? Will we move beyond well-intentioned efforts to relieve the symptoms to the real medicine it will take to cure the disease? Will we transform the Jericho Road, so that men, women, and children will not be beaten and robbed there and thrown into ditches?

Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, in the book of Proverbs, we are warned:

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

In ancient Israel, the city gate was where people went for justice. In a democracy, the responsibility to create justice rests with each and all of us. As a society, we can’t afford to build prisons instead of schools. We can’t afford to pay people less than it takes to provide for their families—and to force immigrant workers into the shadows. We can’t afford to keep buying cheap, disposable junk on easy credit. And, no, we can’t afford to deny healthcare to millions—and watch others get squeezed for every last penny. Nor can we keep relying on fossil fuels as the fragile lynchpin of our entire way of life.

As a nation, we used to want more. The reality often fell short, but we used to aspire, at least, to be a beacon of liberty—a bustling, creative democracy with broadly shared prosperity and a wide-open welcome to strangers:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

But now, it seems, that door is shut. Our gated suburban communities, with their private security firms, reflect the image of Fortress America and the mercenaries who help fight our wars. How is it possible for a nation that lives like this to seek justice and the common good?

To be honest, our churches are complicit in the problems. Too often, we preach what Dietrich Bonhoeffer named “cheap grace”—grace that soothes our consciences without calling us to repent and follow Christ. We may not all have bought into the false Gospel of the prosperity preachers and peddlers of hate. But which of us can say our faith is as alive and vibrant as it ought to be?

Beloved, we are at the beginning of a new year. With the arrival of fall, we are about to embark on a new season of mission in our dioceses and congregations. As we do so, my prayer for us is that we’ll keep our eyes on the prize and our hands on the plow. For God calls us not just to believe in Jesus but to follow him—to reach out with his hands of love, so that ALL might know his saving embrace. God indeed commands us to build an earthly city where beggars are unknown. And God has chosen us—even us, brothers and sisters—to show the world the Way.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Of fish bones and following winds: on the proposed Anglican covenant

By Frederick Quinn

“A plate of fish bones” is how the Archbishop of Canterbury described the fourth section of the draft Anglican Covenant currently being circulated throughout the Anglican Communion, but the bones heap over to the whole document as well. A year ago at Lambeth the Archbishop declared he felt “a following wind” in support of the Covenant, a zephyr unrecorded elsewhere.

Some observations on the overall document in its entirety:

1.) There never has been and is not now much widespread support for a Covenant. How the draft was declared accepted by church membership across the wider Anglican Communion remains as mysterious as an Egyptian election. There was no general referendum, and the published responses (from only 21 out of 38 Provinces) posted on the Anglican Communion website are complex, incomplete and raise many thoughtful, unanswered questions. There is no groundswell here.

2.) The word catholic (small c) appears several times in the draft. But not the word Protestant, which represents a major part of the Anglican heritage. A revolutionary aspect of the English Reformation was placing the Bible in the hands of the people (“Laity” is another missing word in the Covenant). The current draft (1.2.4) speaks of the Bible, but its interpretation is primarily left in the hands of bishops and synods. Guess where that leads.

3.) The draft Covenant appeals to tradition (1.1.2). But carefully read the footnote. Tradition is not the via media that is Anglicanism’s balanced, delicately wrought heritage, but the 39 Articles and 1662 English Prayer Book (never adopted in Scotland or the United States). The 39 Articles of 1563 were influential but never accepted as a creedal document in Anglicanism. They represent a restrictive temporary compromise reached during a particularly fractious period of English Reformation history.

4.) Surprisingly, the foremost Anglican voices of the English Reformation are ignored, especially Richard Hooker and John Jewell who wrested with the same power issues as the covenanters, but came to more gracious, commodious solutions that allow for the expression of differing opinions within reasonable boundaries.

5.) Additionally, covenants were once a widespread feature of Protestant Europe, where a “Covenant Belt” once existed. They Covenant idea was proposed in England and was rejected. Ignoring the English and Continental Reformations won’t make them go away.

6.) The Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces represent starkly different histories and structures. The resultant organization is at best a loose confederation, the understandable byproduct of a postcolonial era, arrived at more by historical accident than administrative intent. There are 38 dotted lines linked globally in various patterns of religious relationships, person to person, church to church, diocese to diocese, etc. Real mission flow in the twenty first century is horizontal, not vertically. Canterbury is not Rome, and all roads do not point to a favored European capital. There is no need to change that.

7.) The document’s grimmest line is near the end where the Covenant is supposed to be signed “with joy.” What joy? Whose joy? There is not a joyful line in the whole leaden document.


While individual Covenant sentences have been shaved to give an appearance of balance, tracing a wiring diagram through the actual document reveals multiple lines leading to forms of centralized power that were previously unknown and unacceptable in Anglicanism. This effort is done with the subtlety of elephants moving through dried grass.

The Covenant exercise should be seen for what it is, one part of a multi-year power play that has gone awry. It represents a sustained but erroneous effort to rewrite history and claim that a narrow, mean spirited perspective somehow represents our heritage. Windsor was an incomplete, biased report, the coup attempt at Dar Es Salaam failed, and the draft Covenant represents an unattainable effort to seize the levers of power in an amorphous organization.
The Anglican Communion’s binding ties are not legal ones but extend through long cultivated bonds of affection and commitment to the creative challenges of mission. The fish bones in the draft Covenant are far too numerous, and the following wind has long expired. So should the Covenant.

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn has served as advisor to constitutional drafters in several countries of central and Eastern Europe, and as a chaplain of Washington National Cathedral. He has written extensively on law, history, and religion. He is former head of the Rule of Law programs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Warsaw-based Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

The imagined Anglican Communion: a response

By Adrian Worsfold

Frank M. Turner's piece here on Anglicanism as an imaginacy community in the manner of Benedict Anderson's understanding of nationalism (1991) is rather a two edged sword.

Anderson's analysis is a response to the inability of Marxism and its class analysis to handle nationalism - a force Marxism expected to wither away but which has remained incredibly powerful, and more powerful than the actuality of communism and possibly commitments to democratic socialism. Nationalism is also a force that transcends racism; racism deals in (imagined) fixed concepts of exclusion but nationalism has a broader imaginary boundary of those who are out and those who are in with a clearer political project of governance. The argument about racism is important here because it involves identity that also cuts across social class. It all gets complicated by the argument about ethnicity, which involves more than race, as it introduces language, mythic history, space and place. If nationalism is closest to ethnicity then it is still ethnicity with a project for governing institutions.

I suspect that the fundamental human concept is the tribe. There just might be some sociobiology in this, that we are descendents of the chimpanzee social beings side of apes than of the isolated Orang Utans. Whatever may be a base cause, the social anthropologist notes the pervasive activity of ritual exchange (passing relatively useless tokens one to another) in a material effort or material sacrifice for the spiritual gift of reinforcing the community. Humans do look for collective conscience: we bind ourselves to one another through exchange that is economic and cultural and through additional relatively (on the face of it) pointless ritual. Indeed, the Eucharistic ritual is, in practical terms, a fairly pointless ritual exchange of tokens involving some material sacrifice (time, effort, presence, money given) for a spiritual gift (what it is said to involve within the religious outlook) via the actions of eating and drinking. But it is a central ritual that binds a community and regulates its outlook.

Thus ritual is a powerful reinforcement of collective identity, and any particular identifiable religion can reinforce ethnic identity through shared cultural content, and adds its organised and institutional power to creating national authority and power. In essence a national state is a castle wall and controlled gate around a broad ethnic identity. If the castle walls appear good and safe, the potential is actually to broaden the scope of ethnic identity, but if ethnic identity is divided to begin with then the national institutions will be weak at best.

The problem with applying the imagined community to Anglicanism is that it implies two contradictory things - an imagined community of identification that does not need and should not have an enforced reality (people imagine a Communion that is otherwise loose and made of of autonomous Churches) and then an imagined community that magnetically calls forth a project for governance. The Benedict Anderson analysis (transferred across) is clearly about the second. Both of these are in Frank Turner's understanding, but he clearly sees an episcopal imagination at work pursuing the project for governance, and then a project with a particular edge:

The so-called Anglican Communion exemplifies a religious version of Anderson's "imagined community." At its most banal, the Communion exists to justify bishops traveling about the world on funds contributed by the baptized. At its worst, it has come to represent an imagined community several of whose Episcopal spokespeople now seek to persecute and degrade or relegate into a second track churches who have opened themselves, their process of ordination, and their episcopate to gay and lesbian people.

Actually, the imagined community, as with nationalism, does not have to exclude anyone in the development of its imagined insiders, for its self-limitation and its sovereignty as part of its project. What it can do is draw a geographical boundary and exclude all else outside: if people on the inside are then more loyal to an outside institution they risk excluding themselves. It becomes a question of perceived disloyalty to the new tribe in its nation state. But it does depend on the condition of ethnic relationships, and the danger is that narrow ethnicity is the driving force behind governance that will therefore exclude.

Did the British State in its development exclude? The issue is complicated because of the differences around the English State and other States in the British Isles. Homing in on England and its Anglican Church, its tendency to exclude has been because it was not born in ideology but has nevertheless had ideological periods, fringes and parties, and because it was set up to exclude the influence of foreign institutions. Roman Catholics were seen as loyal to something outside: a threat to the British State. Nevertheless, the British State was unstable through the Reformation and Restoration, and thus its Church did gain a habit of excluding those who had a distinct identity beyond its social, educational and welfare establishment. The feudal State had restored itself at a time of change, with many merchants and capitalists forced to work for political reform via non-conformity and their own parallel institutions. First local government and later national government was opened to non-Anglicans. One of the broader effects of the radical theological Essays and Reviews (1860) was to remove subscription to the Church of England as a condition of attending Oxford University.

Is Frank Turner right: that we see in this Archbishop of Canterbury an imaginary community of Anglicanism that draws on a tradition of an excluding Church of England, and who has generated an episcopal drive towards central governance on the basis of excluding gay and lesbian people because the Archbishop states that they cannot be representative of Anglicanism at any level of ministry?

It looks that way; and it is a very dangerous course of action. It means that the ethnic identity that drives this form of ecclesiastical nationalism involves the specific exclusion of a particular group of people. By so excluding, the walls of governance become thicker and the potential of control stronger. It is a very old tactic.

It seems extraordinary that anything like this should even be considered; the parallels with recent history simply illustrate the completely unethical nature of this course of action.

At this point I would mention a different imagined community. The Unitarian community is nothing if not dispersed and autonomous. Even its own 'Churches' are congregationalist where its centres are only advisory. But around the world there are new concentrations of congregations appearing in Africa which are virtually unitarian-fundamentalist and universalist, there is the Anglo-American tradition that is non-credal, a central European tradition that has a catechism, and an Indian collection of non-Christian theist village churches, and generally there are theological tendencies to rationalism or romanticism. This is all in the present. Go back in history, and the one label 'Unitarian' has content that would be at odds withe the present day, and also evolved from origins in trinitarian Puritanism, the very thing the Church of England could not contain in 1662. Yet Unitarians imagine all of these, in different spaces and times, as part of its imagined community and inheritance. It defies, however, creating governance: the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists does nothing more than process information and funnel money to those widely different groups called 'Unitarian' and 'Universalist'. It cannot do anything else.

Cannot Anglicans, despite the purple, the doctrinal promises of clergy and above, maintain a looser 'imagined community' that does not demand moves towards governance, and certainly not governance that is based on exclusion? How can it do this?

It needs a different ecumenical vision. The one driving all this at present is the Covenant based mixture of reporting to Roman Catholicism, about institutional identity and consistency, mixed with a lowest common denominator of biblical interpretation - the fellowship of believers as narrowly drawn. The combination of Protestant and Catholic within the same Churches used to loosen them up, but under this central drive they have been inverted into a lurch for uniformity.

The breaking up of this project comes with dropping the Covenant. It fails and the project fails. Secondly, the ecumenical outlook has to look towards the Old Catholics and the Lutherans. Just as the UK and other once warring European powers have moderated their nationalisms by building the European Union, so Anglicanism can moderate its tendencies by looking outwards to these other episcopal and accountable groups. It also should consider how to merge and moderate itself by reincorporating the Methodists. Theologically too, it might reconsider legitimising such views as were expressed in Essays and Reviews (where there was clear Unitarian influence of its day!) so that a liberal view of the imagined ecclesiastical community is helped by having a place for liberal theology.

(To see footnotes, click Read more.)

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.

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Absent without leaving

By Andrew Gerns

In the first of seven meetings around the Diocese of Albany, the Times-Union reports a statement by Bishop William Love that is very telling. He said that the militantly conservative stance of the diocesan leadership is justified because parishes that might have broken away from the Diocese (and the Episcopal Church) have not. Albany, he says, is in contact with "all of the Anglican Communion."

What part of the Anglican Communion is Albany in contact with that the rest of the Episcopal Church is not? Presumably provinces that have otherwise crossed-borders to “rescue” congregations from the oppression and heresy that they say is the Episcopal Church today. Maybe Albany is in contact with former Episcopalians who have formed their own denomination?

One hears out of this statement the idea that there may be another tack for conservative dioceses who are opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians and see themselves as holding the line against interpretations of the Gospel that grieve them: a strategy of non-participation.

Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina says that he is considering a position of withdrawal from participation in the Episcopal Church but not from the Church itself:

In our present situation some would counsel us that it is past time to cut our moorings from The Episcopal Church and take refuge in a harbor without the pluralism and false teachings that surround us in both the secular culture and within our Church; others speak to us of the need for patience, to “let the Instruments of Unity do their work”—that now is not yet the time to act. Still others seem paralyzed; though no less distressed than us by the developments within our Church, they seem to take a posture of insular denial of what is inexorably coming upon us all. While I have no immediate solution to the challenges we face—it is certainly neither a hasty departure nor a paralyzed passivity I counsel. Either of these I believe, regardless of what godly wisdom they may be for others, would be for us a false peace and a “fatal security” which in time (and brief at that) would only betray us. Others in their given circumstances must do what they believe God has called them to do.

Lawrence along with the Standing Committee of the proposes that the Diocesan Convention consider:

… a resolution … that this diocese begin withdrawing from all bodies of governance of TEC that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture; the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them; the resolutions of Lambeth which have expressed the mind of the Communion; the Book of Common Prayer (p.422-423) and the Constitution & Canons of TEC (Canon 18:1.2.b) until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions. Let no one think this is a denial of the vows a priest or bishop makes to participate in the councils of governance. This is not a flight into isolation; nor is it an abandonment of duty, but the protest of conscience.

Instead of attempting to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church, Lawrence proposes non-participation as a “protest” using language that combines civil disobedience (we will do this until the Episcopal Church repents) and psychology (we are creating boundaries). What it really means is a decision to isolate.

This approach undercuts somewhat the claims of ACNA to be an Anglican Province because while it aides and abets the claim that the Episcopal Church has gone down the path of heresy and revision, it also understands that in this country a diocese can only be a member of the Anglican Communion through the Episcopal Church. It also assumes that ACNA is a separate denomination that is not in and of itself a successor to the Episcopal Church… a denomination that South Carolina will not join.

This approach is rather different from the position articulated by Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana who writes in Christianity Today:

Nor are our divisions as clear-cut as they may seem. It is not the case, in the Episcopal Church or in any other, that you've got believers on one side and heretics (or apostates) on the other. I know many in my church who love Jesus, confess him as Lord and Savior, believe the articles of the Christian faith as summarized in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and seek to follow Jesus in costly ways—and who affirm the decisions of the 2003 General Convention. As a matter of principle, when people claim to be disciples of Jesus, I will treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ, Bishop Gene Robinson among them. He is not only a colleague; I count him as a friend and fellow pilgrim. I will commit myself to him and to them, even when I am convinced that they are wrong. I will seek to manifest a godly forbearance and ask that they do the same toward me.

On the contrary, Bishop Lawrence proposes a separation-without-leaving precisely because he sees the church as dividing up between believer and heretic. He sees the need to name and isolate the heresy he sees:

This calls for a bold response.” It is not in my opinion the right action for this diocese to retreat from a thorough engagement with this destructive “new” gospel. As the prophet Ezekiel was called by the Lord to be a Watchman, to sound the alarm of judgment—to warn Israel to turn from her wickedness and live. We are called to speak forthrightly to The Episcopal Church and others, but even more specifically to the thousands of everyday Episcopalians who do not yet know the fullness of this present cultural captivity of the Church. Clearly this is not about the virtue of being “excluding”; it is about being rightly discerning about what is morally and spiritually appropriate.

The idea that Lawrence is proposing (and I believe Love of Albany will also attempt) is to maintain just enough membership links to be considered apart of the Episcopal Church but no more.

The choice of non-participation recognizes that outright secession would not work: it would result in expensive and lengthy court battles, with the likely loss of their physical assets.

At the same time, it is still based on an understanding of the diocese as a more or less independent entity. To choose non-participation is to say, in effect, to the rest of us “I have no need of you.”

South Carolina and other Dioceses considering this course must tread carefully. To steer this course, their diocesan conventions must avoid passing provocative legislation claiming to renounce or interfere with the authority of General Convention or the Presiding Bishop. Their bishops must avoid saying words or doing actions that makes it appear as if they have renounced their orders in the Episcopal Church, such as preventing the visit of the PB to their diocese, unilaterally claiming another Primate as their own nor formally aligning with a foreign province in a way that creates a new denomination.

A non-participating diocese may develop partner relationships with other Anglican dioceses in the Communion (as many participating dioceses have done) and even sign on to some kind of Anglican Covenant, if one ever materializes, with or without the rest of the Episcopal Church. The fact that a lone signature on such a document may not mean anything either legally or globally is irrelevant, because it would symbolize where the non-participating diocese "stands."

If these dioceses choose the tack of non-participation without leaving then there may be little 815 or anyone else—including the moderates and progressives in their own dioceses—can do about this.

This approach does not mean that there would an absence of provocative actions or words. A bishop of a "non-participating" diocese might show up at an ACNA function, for example. But in itself, this means nothing. A Bishop showing up at an ACNA function may be no more significant than an Episcopal bishop showing up at a Lutheran or Roman Catholic or some ecumenical function. Bishops, clergy and lay-leaders may say harmful or hurtful things about the Episcopal Church in the press. This approach would not lessen the division nor promote dialogue, but it falls short of outright schism.

A non-participating diocese would not pay their "asking" nor give money to any Episcopal organization like ERD or ECW that they believed concurs with decisions of General Convention they don’t like. They would not send representatives to these groups nor participate in the committees of General Convention. This would be disappointing, but since The Episcopal Church has never linked participation to paying a fair share of the "asking" nor is participation on the councils of the church a prerequisite to anything, these actions would not by themselves constitute renunciation.

It would take a lot of fortitude to maintain a non-participating status. The leadership in such a diocese would have to be careful not to get to cocky or impulsive on the one hand, and to deal with a loneliness and self-imposed isolation on the other.

They would also choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the Episcopal Church that they have chosen not to leave: they would lose connection with moderate and moderate-t- conservative dioceses that remain participatory. They would attract to themselves clergy who are passionate for what could become a narrower and narrower view of the Gospel and they would squelch the voices and inquiry of laity who have a broader view of church and mission than their leaders. Doctrinal enforcement would become an issue that could further dampen a dynamic common life and mission. They might network with other non-participating dioceses but before long this would be like phone calls between silos. It would be hard to avoid become self-absorbed and parochial in such an environment.

This approach is not new. Three of the dioceses that attempted to leave for a new denomination with all their property and assets to another province—Fort Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy—also took a non-participating stance after the ordination of women. The Episcopal Church allowed this under a “conscience clause” but after three decades of non-participation, the leadership could no longer contain themselves nor hold the line and attempted to bolt. In Pittsburgh, non-participation led to a kind of myopia that assumed that their perspective was more widely held than it turned out to be. The lessons of these non-participating dioceses ought to provide a sobering example to South Carolina, Albany and others considering staying but not participating.

But as long as the Bishops shows up where they are (minimally) supposed to, and as long as their Standing Committees do the barest canonical essentials of their jobs, as long as the Diocese send deputies to General Convention, and as long as no Bishop, diocesan convention or parish says "I am no longer Episcopalian", then there is no reason to consider the bishop or diocese as having left the Episcopal Church.

Absent maybe, but not departed.

The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is the rector of Trinity Church, Easton, Pa., AND chair of the Evangelism Commission of the Diocese of Bethlehem. He keeps the blogs Andrew Plus and Share the Bread.

Wondering about risk

By Joy Caires

As a pediatric chaplain I saw people of all faiths pour all of their being into the attempt to save a child's life, again and again--regardless of any differences we may have had. The Orthodox Jewish family anticipating their baby's heart surgery; the lesbian couple seeking baptism for the infant they knew would not survive much beyond birth; the Hindi family I led in prayer as we gathered barefoot at their adult son's bedside; the Jehovah's Witnesses watching their son's last breath leave his body; the evangelical fundamentalist father expressing concern over his son's obsession with Heaven; the teenager I baptized who's grandmother had left the Episcopal Church over the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy-desperate in their need they welcomed my presence. They didn't question whether I was "eligible" to pray for them, bring the sacraments to them, or love them. They clung to me like a life boat and I in turn held steady at their grasp. As they watched their children struggle their relief at the presence of the priest was often palpable. In that moment all they cared about was the fact that a child, their child, was dying and that I was there.

Now that said, the relationship was primarily one way. I had something they needed, I wore a collar, and they were in crisis. So, no personal questions were asked of me-and I rarely volunteered information about myself. Occasionally in the quiet moments, or as the relationship grew I would answer their questions while still dodging the inevitable "so are you married?"s with an answer of "yes" and a quick follow up question. They would keep talking and I would keep listening--their question answered but not answered--and I would feel relief at my preservation of the pastoral relationship. Yes, I often found myself wondering, did my duplicity help or hinder my ministry? If they knew about my sexuality would they still call me to anoint their dying child? Would they still ask for me if they knew that part of my familiarity and comfort in the medical setting came from having met my beloved while she was still in medical school and learning the language of medicine second hand?

And, I wonder, and part of my wondering is the knowledge that many of these families want the pastoral relationship to continue beyond the bounds of the hospital. They want to visit me at my parish; they invite me to birthday parties for children that made it despite it all. They, gasp, want to friend me on Facebook so that they can share photos taken of me with their children! How much do I let them into my life now that their crisis is over? Would knowing more about me harm their memory of the relationship I had with them in the hospital?

As a chaplain it was about them--and after the crisis I got to walk away. There was little risk of rejection and I knew with surety that what I did was crucial. In the parish I find that getting the bulletin proofread does not strike me as a crisis (at all) but that it is its own kind of ministry. I find the parish world to be a different kind of challenge-with greater personal risk. Because, now, as a parish priest I find that it is usually about us, as a congregation, as a gathered community. These are people who share the journey with me-they know my spouse, in sermons I share with them some of my story as we embark on the journey of faith together. It seems odd at times to have so many know so much about my life. But, at the same time, I can see the difference it makes to the people who make up the congregation to have these insights into my life and love.

So, I wonder...what would have been different if I'd let patients and parents in a bit further, if I'd answered instead of evaded? And, as these relationships settle firmly into the past, I wonder whose loss it has been?

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

Take back your birthday

By Kristin Fontaine

November 22 is my mother's birthday. She was 22 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. That event transformed the day of her birth so that it would always be associated with a terrible act.

Every year as we approached her birthday I would notice the Kennedy retrospectives on television and the whole terrible event would be rehashed to my annoyance. I was not born until 5 years after his death so it was all ancient history to me by the time I was old enough to notice.

The first public tragedy I remember was the mass suicide/killings at the Jones compound in Guyana. I don't remember the exact year but I do remember reading everything I could find about cults. I remember trying to understand how such a horrible thing could happen. I remember asking my parents to explain and finding out, for the first time, that they could not. That there was no rational explanation for evil of that magnitude.

I write letters for Amnesty International on behalf of prisoners of conscience. In the September letters I learned about a woman and her two-year-old son who were arrested as a result of the woman's political activities. She and her son were tortured and held by the authorities. This happened two years ago and the letters are an attempt to get the government to investigate and punish the people involved and to secure reparations for the harm done to the woman and her son.

One of my friends is HIV positive. The available medications have worked very well so far but they are not a cure. The drugs have both short- and long-term side effects and once they stop working he will die unless a cure has been found by then. He is one person who I love
and who I want to live to see my two-year-old son grow into an adult. Every day he lives is a gift and every day we don't work for a cure is a waste.

Each day, each person chooses good or evil. We choose to spend resources on life or death. We decide, as a society, whose life is valuable and whose life is expendable. I still hear rumblings from the so-called-Christian right that HIV is a plague brought by god and that those that have it deserve to die. No one deserves to die. No one should have the right to take away someone's life. Without life there is no hope of repentance, forgiveness, or change.

I hear of preparations for a long war against terrorism and I think about all the people in Africa dying untreated of AIDS. I think of people in the United States beaten to death because they are the wrong skin color/gender/sexual orientation. Where is the massive response for these victims? Where is the 40 billion dollars for food and medicine for the poor, for decent housing, and for support for the mentally ill? Why does our world culture keep turning to death to try to bring back life?

September 11 is my father's birthday. He turned 61 this year. Just like my mother's birthday 38 years ago, his birthday was overshadowed by the horrible choices made by others. I love my father more than I can express in words. I am glad of the day of his birth and all the good he has done in the world. His love has made the world a better place.

Horrible things are being done on your birthday by people who have turned away from love. People who look at their fellow humans and see objects that they can use or destroy. We cannot force them to see our humanity. But we can make our own choice not to follow them down their dark and lonely path.

Take back your birthday. Live and love every day.

Kristin Fontaine blogs at Ceramic Episcopalian.

Walking a peace witness in Bilbao

By Donald Schell

We’d just arrived in the Basque country for a visit with my daughter when an ETA car bomb killed Eduardo Puelles Garcia, a Spanish police anti-terrorism investigator in Bilbao. Patxi Lopez, newly elected president of Spain’s Basque autonomous region (Uskadi/Communidad Autonoma Vasca) called for a peace witness, and my daughter and her partner asked if we wanted to join them in the march, which is how we found ourselves marching with 60,000 secular and Catholic Basques and Spaniards to reclaim their city and community of for peace.

Half an hour before the witness was scheduled to begin we joined the growing crowd outside government offices by the Plaza Sagrado Corazon. A police line diverted traffic from the Gran Via de Diego Lopez, a broad two kilometer long boulevard across the city, and though the anti-terrorism squad had taped garbage cans and bins shut, I wondered what we were risking - were we and the Basque President making ourselves targets? Was it too easy to join this crowd? No random searches. Not even any evident perimeter security or observation.

President Patxi Lopez, other regional officials, and Paqui Hernandez (widow of the assassinated police officer) walked out of the office building and right past us to the edge of the crowd and the waiting people flowed after them, a slow-moving river of humanity flooding the full breadth of the boulevard and its broad sidewalks toward the river.

Seeing their president walk through the crowd to lead us, I felt both elated and uneasy at our vulnerable witness. I was in high school when JFK was shot in his open convertible in Dallas. The killings of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy marked my college years. What Patxi Lopez was doing leading us seemed fragile and compellingly true to the moment---like the King of Peace riding a donkey into Roman occupied Jerusalem.

We fell in with the crowd’s confident, simple ritual. For some minutes we walked together in silence, not shuffling but walking, slowly, deliberately; then we’d slow and stop to stand stock-still for a minute or more of deep silence until a long, spine-tingling swell of spontaneous applause stirred us like a wind sweeping across the water. Each time our applause stopped, after a moment’s pause we’d walk quietly onward.

Walking as one, the silence, and the applause formed our witness. Though it was his first time leading such a witness, Patxi Lopez had walked many walks like this, and so had much of this crowd over the years since the Catholic Church first called for silent witness for peace whenever there was a death whether the person who died was ETA terrorist or local Spanish magistrate, French or Spanish citizen, Spanish police or Guardia Civil, whoever it was, the people gathered to stand or walk for peace.

Though Basque country is one of the loveliest and most prosperous regions on the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish/Basque conflict has marked it for decades and even centuries. In the 17th Century the Spanish Inquisition suspected the whole Basque people with their utterly distinct language and customs of witchcraft. The Inquisition burned Basque ‘witches,’ women, men, and children. But the medieval Basque Councils that med under an oak in Guernica pioneered participatory councils and democracy and is, in a sense, part of Spain’s Magna Carta. When Magellan died in the Philippines, it his Basque Captain who completed the circumnavigation, guiding their ship halfway round the world without charts. Ignatius Loyola was a Basque as were several of his companions in founding the Society of Jesus. And today Bilbao, commercial and industrial capital of the Basque country, is known for spectacular modern architecture like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and Santiago Calatrava’s spectacular pedestrian bridge over the Rio Nervion.

Peacemaking here is complicated. Spain reckons Eduardo Puelles Garcia was ETA’s 825th assassination. Both sides remember their dead heroes and count them innocent victims. ETA’s count of their deaths varies. Sometimes ETA starts with the 17th Century Basques the Inquisition burned. More recently they count all who died fighting Franco’s fascism in Spain’s Civil War including everyone who died when Franco bombed Guernica to break the back of Basque resistance. But there’s no government reckoning of exactly how many died that market day in Guernica, and the Spanish government still won’t acknowledge that Franco himself called on his allies, Hitler and Mussolini, to destroy the traditional Basque capital with their new tactical bombers. Basque mistrust of Spain grows from real grievances.

As we walked I prayed silently for Eduardo Puelles Garcia. The murdered police officer was himself Basque, a local guy directing anti-terrorism investigations for the Spanish police. In twenty years of police work, Puelles Garcia’s investigations put seventy ETA Basque terrorists in prison. Like many moderate Basques, he’d made some personal peace with Spain, welcomed Spain’s recent efforts to continue Basque language and culture, and as a regional police investigator had become a participant in the autonomous region’s self-governance.

And with each new ETA assassination over the last two decades, Puelles Garcia and his wife had wondered whether he’d be targeted next. A careful, committed man doing dangerous work asks those questions and learns to take what precautions he can. Puelles Garcia constantly changed his route to work and deliberately altered his departure time, and before ever getting into his car, he would get down on his hands and knees to inspect the undercarriage.

That morning last June he said good-by to his wife and sons and walked down to the apartment’s car park. He checked under his car, saw nothing, got in, started the car and began to back out. The motion-activated bomb was hidden above the axle and right next to the gas talk. Its force broke open the car’s steel frame and the secondary explosion of the gas tank engulfed the twisted wreckage in a fireball.

When Paqui Hernandez heard the explosion and felt it shake their walls, she knew her husband was dead, just as she knew what would come next, some shocked neighbor shaking with grief and rage weeping words of Eduardo’s death at her door. As we walked I wondered how she felt up ahead of us all, carrying such raw memories in silence next to the President.

It took us more than an hour to reach the river and begin crossing the Puente del Ayuntamiento, the bridge to Bilbao’s Town Hall up against the mountain. The crowd was still gathering when President Lopez and Paqui Hernandez reached the waiting podium and microphone.

What would President Lopez say to the crowd? The new Conservative-Socialist coalition had elected this peace-making President only some weeks before. Many speculated that Puelles Garcia’s death had been ETA’s brutal response to that election. Newly in office to make peace, and now facing another killing, this was a moment to show what he was made of.

No one, perhaps not even the President or the widow herself anticipated that she would touch the President’s elbow and nod toward the microphone. The crowd stared and waited for an anxious moment. What was she doing? What would their new president do? Honoring the widow was one thing, entrusting this crucial moment to her unscripted grief was another. Silence reached its deepest point as he yielded the microphone to the slain officer’s widow.

Speaking without notes in a steady, forceful voice Paqui Hernandez defied the assassins, honored her husband’s courageous work, gratefully acknowledged his brave colleagues who would carry the work forward, and said his murderers had accomplished -nothing – nothing but making two orphans and a widow. That was her speech, all of it. Then, holding her head high and speaking straight to the crowd, she acknowledged she was speaking from anger and holding back tears the tears, she said, she would save for home and family. She wanted to deny her husband’s assassins the satisfaction of even seeing her cry.

That was it. Paqui Hernandez hadn’t called for vengeance but peace. She had insisted police work would continue to put terrorists in prison where criminals belonged and she had praised her husband’s friends and colleagues, people brave enough to work for community and talking – for ordinary political conflict, legal justice, and civil compromise - at risk of their lives. Her fierce defense of peace and the peaceful means of achieving it reminded me of Desmond Tutu’s angry witness in South Africa’s Apartheid years, that angry, loving voice that earned him the title ‘Rabble-Rouser for Peace’ and a Nobel Peace Prize. We’ve heard Tutu’s angry voice again in global Anglicanism’s current struggles. Again and again he has insisted that Jesus really meant he would draw ALL people himself, ALL people, people of every color, straight and LGBT people, ALL people.

Academic theologians and Biblical scholars have provided rich answer to conservatives’ (and Canterbury’s) demand for a theological rationale for the LGBT part of that inclusion, but Tutu’s direct rabble-rousing for peace and his stubborn reminder of God’s unreserved embrace of ALL is theology too--theology like a widow of just thirty-six hours speaking to the whole Basque Autonomous Region and Spanish national television to ask her neighbors to make her terrible loss another step toward people talking past their disagreements and making compromises, finding provisional ways to work together - in peace.

Paqui Hernandez’ fierce witness for peace adds essential energy and texture we sometimes miss when we use courageous Anglican words like “communion” and “community,” “solidarity in conflict,” ‘inclusion and witness,” and even “bonds of affection.” In the global struggle to find human unity and peace,
- a struggle for the place of the other among us as sister/brother, friend and leader,
- a struggle that is changing religion and civil society,
our church is just one witness among many. The radiant power of Patxi Lopez leading our walk for peace and Paqui Hernandez’ words belong to the same blessed, just future our church (at our best) seeks to live into. King Jesus riding into the city of peace didn’t end the Roman occupation and terrible deaths by crucifixion, but riding the donkey, like Patxi Lopez and Paqui Hernandez walking through Bilbao, Jesus showed us the path, a path of peace-making justice for all.

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

The imagined community of the Anglican Communion

By Frank M. Turner

One of the most fertile political concepts to emerge in the past quarter-century is Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community.” Anderson, now a retired Cornell professor of international studies, government, and Asian studies, contended that the emergence of modern nationalism involved the creation among various groups living in their own localities with no direct interaction between or among themselves of the idea of an imagined community with other people on the basis of supposed common histories, customs, language, and ethnic identity. The reality of the community resided in the imagination of those drawn to these ideas that circulated in the print media of the day.

Over the past twenty years proponents of what is called “The Anglican Communion” have sought to establish a similar imagined ecclesiastical community among various provinces around the world whose churches derived in some fashion from the Church of England. In the case of the Episcopal Church the derivation of Episcopal orders was not direct but through the Scottish Episcopal Church and its character was strongly influenced by its eighteenth century American setting. The so-called Anglican Communion exemplifies a religious version of Anderson’s “imagined community.” At its most banal, the Communion exists to justify bishops traveling about the world on funds contributed by the baptized. At its worst, it has come to represent an imagined community several of whose Episcopal spokespeople now seek to persecute and degrade or relegate into a second track churches who have opened themselves, their process of ordination, and their episcopate to gay and lesbian people. In this respect, it this ecclesiastical imagined community replicates in its drive to exclusion the persecution that ethnic minorities have experienced at the hands of dominant nationalist groups from the early nineteenth century to the present day.

In his recent garrulous meditation on the General Convention of the Episcopal Church the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote of the Anglican Communion being important to “our identity.” He did not identify the antecedent to “our.” Certainly throughout the world the people who most identify with the so-called Anglican Communion are bishops. If one looks to the website of the Anglican Communion (the Internet being the equivalent of the print media within which early nineteenth-century nationalism emerged), what are described as the “Instruments of Communion” overwhelming relate to the various episcopates. The laity play little role and would seem to be intended to play little role. In this respect, the modern so-called Anglican Communion is an invention and ecclesiastical innovation of the clerical imagination. Indeed the term “Anglican” itself achieved modest common currency only in the l830s with the phrase “Anglican Communion” being first used in l847 by the American missionary bishop, Horatio Southgate.

One of the reasons for the use of “Anglican Communion” as part of what the Archbishop of Canterbury terms “our identity” resides quite simply in the hubris of the claim that the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian denomination in the world after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is, however, important to recognize that the churches in this communion are not all the same, represent distinctly different histories and cultures, use different prayer books, different liturgies, and different modes of ecclesiastical governance.

“The Instruments of Communion,” now being given supposed histories and purposes different from their actual origins and being made vehicles for the controlled invention of identity, are of relatively recent origin. The Lambeth Conference, first convened in 1867 by Archbishop Charles Thomas Longley for providing “Brotherly Counsel and encouragement,” gathered amidst much controversy. Several bishops of the Province of York refused to attend, and Dean Arthur Stanley denied the group the use of Westminster Abbey. In neither its origin nor in its decades of meeting was the Lambeth Conference ever intended as a general conference of the whole church or as a legislative body. Not until 1969 did the Anglican Consultative Council first convene. Only in 1978 did the Primates begin to gather regularly, and they refused to define those meetings as any kind of higher synod. The Lambeth Conference of 1998 (Resolution 3.6) stated that the activities of the Primates should not interfere with the judicial authorities of the several constituent provinces. All of these gatherings were collegial in character designed to further communication and bonds of fellowship among the vastly different churches of what was evolving as an imagined worldwide Anglican Communion.

What most notably demonstrates that the so-called Anglican Communion is merely a still-emerging imagined community is the fact that only in the past few years (really the past few months) have some of its leaders decided that they must construct a covenant determining what beliefs and practices actually constitute its theological and ideological basis. That is to say, the Anglican Communion presumably having existed for its present proponents since the first Lambeth Conference in l867 must now actually figure out what holds it together theologically and ecclesiastically. What the effort to establish a covenant demonstrates is that the so-called Anglican Communion does not really exist but must be forcibly drawn into existence. Radical innovation rather than tradition hence drives the process.

The idea and the effort to establish a covenant that might at great cost of conscience and intellect call into being an actual as opposed to an imagined Anglican Communion unhappily recalls moments in the history of the Church of England that many people have chosen to forget. During most of the twentieth century spokesmen for the Church of England and for those various churches around the world in one way or another derived from that church have emphasized the reasonableness and moderation of Anglicanism, and thus the Church of England displayed itself for most of the past century. But in point of fact, throughout much of its earlier history the Church of England was an actively persecuting church. Under Elizabeth it persecuted recalcitrant Roman Catholics. After the Restoration in l660 the Church of England drove out the Protestant Nonconformists. Thereafter until the late l820s the Church of England benefited from legislation that prevented Protestant Nonconformists and Roman Catholics from participating in English political life. Over the centuries the authorities of the Church of England sometimes on their own and sometimes with government aid excluded or drove from its ranks the likes of John Bunyan, Philip Doddridge, Isaac Watts, eventually the Methodists, and John Henry Newman. In the second half of the nineteenth century the authorities of the Church of England led by its bishops and its Archbishops of Canterbury persecuted and took to court the liberal authors of Essays and Reviews, the pioneering work of Victorian English biblical criticism, and the Anglo-Catholic ritualists including the Reverend Arthur Tooth and Bishop Edward King. The essayists and the ritualists remained in the Church of England but only after intense experiences of persecution.

Knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, the present Archbishop of Canterbury seeks to revive this tradition of centralized arbitrary exclusion and chastisement. Edmund Burke, a great friend of the Church of England, wrote that most vices throughout human history were championed on the basis of plausibly attractive pretexts: “The pretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real good.” The good that the Archbishop of Canterbury seeks to achieve is the unity of an imagined Anglican Communion that has virtually no existence in reality. In support of that unity he willingly sacrifices the ordination of women in some dioceses, the appointment of women to the episcopate in some churches, and the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from ordination and the episcopate. For the sake of unity of a communion that does not really exist, he has (perhaps unwittingly) fostered turmoil, dissension, and schism. He has urged the adoption of an ill-conceived covenant for the purposes today of excluding those churches who would embrace as part of the divine creation gay and lesbian people. But whom will the covenant exclude next year? The precedent for exclusion and persecution will have been established, and on the pretext of unity future dissidents and yet to be designated minorities could be targeted.

The Episcopal Church through its long established institutions of ecclesiastical governance, combining lay and clerical voices in equal measure, has chosen to tread the path of Christian liberty. Over the past decades the Episcopal Church has concluded that the perpetuation of unity with an imagined Anglican Communion being increasingly drawn into a reality for the purpose of persecuting and repressing gay and lesbian people is not acceptable and is not Christian. The Episcopal Church has decided to reassert not only that Jesus Christ has redeemed us, but that he has also made us free. In accord with St Paul’s injunction to the Galatians the Episcopal Church has chosen to stand fast “in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free” and not to be “entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Frank M. Turner is the John Hay Whitney Professor of History and director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Yale University.

Bylaws, baptism and open communion

By Kathleen Staudt

Whenever a baby is baptized in my congregation, the priest presents the newly baptized child to the congregation and announces joyfully. “Join me in welcoming the newest member of our church,” and there is applause, and rejoicing and delight all around. Baptism is what makes us part of the Body of Christ, the Church .

When we welcome the newly baptized as our newest “member,” the celebration is of inclusion, expressing the open arms of the community of faith. Theologically it is the incorporation of a person into the mystical Body of Christ, of which we are all “living members,” and we celebrate that, even though we know that often the baptism of a child is primarily a rite of passage for a family.

But very quickly, even well intentioned language about “membership” begins to sound like language of exclusion. I’ve been mulling this over as our congregation begins the process of revising our bylaws, part of which involves deciding who is a “member” of the congregation, mainly for purposes of vestry elections and voting at the annual meeting.

The old bylaws defined a member of the church as a communicant in good standing who made a regular financial pledge. But the question has been raised lately about whether one can be a “member” of the church without making a pledge: whether it is sufficient to have made a financial contribution during the previous year – whether membership should rely on making a financial contribution at all. Our culturally diverse congregation’s mission statement is “to be a home for all God’s people.” How does that square with putting a financial requirement on “membership”? people wonder, perhaps rightly. Our rector wants to keep the bylaws language about membership consistent with what he says at every baptism. As long as you’re baptized and we’ve recorded it here, you’re a member. That’s what the canons say. So far, so good

But in the theology expressed in our local practice, this all quickly becomes more problematic. Under our current bylaws, the bar is actually higher for voting at the annual meeting than it is for receiving communion! On the one hand, the priest’s announcement at each baptism reminds us that we are members by virtue of our baptism. At Eucharist, like many Episcopal churches, we have a local practice of open communion: we gladly welcome all who wish to receive.

In practice, then, in a post-Christendom world, Eucharist is for some people the point of entry into the life of the church. Baptism, for an adult not previously baptized, becomes once again the major step of risk and commitment that it was for the earliest Christians -- a serious moment of intentional commitment to Christ. We do not insist that someone prove that they are baptized before they come to the altar. We have lost that ancient connection between a catechumenate and admission to the Eucharist, and the statement that this makes about Christian identity: that we are baptized into both the death and Resurrection of Christ, and that Eucharist is the meal that nourishes us for faithful living. I love that teaching, in its positive version. I believe it.

The trouble is, to someone coming in the door of the church for the first time, what I think of as an inclusive statement: “All baptized Christians are welcome to receive” gets heard as exclusion. I’ve experienced what it’s like to feel excluded from the Eucharist (see my previous post), and I see the wisdom of the open table practiced in my church and in many Episcopal churches now: we simply say “all are welcome to receive” and leave it to the Holy Spirit, working through the life of the local community, to invite those who are drawn to Christ to receive communion, and perhaps eventually, if they are not baptized, to embrace what amounts to a “believer’s baptism” – making their own adult commitment to the Christian life, in full awareness of all that it involves. But I think we have some work to do on supporting and encouraging people toward that second step. And on remembering why Baptism is important.

One of these days there will have to be a conversation in the Episcopal Church about open communion and how we understand it theologically. It seems to have become part of our witness to an open and generous-hearted Christianity in a post-Christian world, and I expect it is here to stay. Indeed, I welcome the practice, despite theological reservations. But the power and grace of Baptism also needs to be reclaimed as part of our understanding of who we are as Christians.

I am glad that ours is a liturgical tradition where “praying shapes believing,” where to some extent we learn where the Holy Spirit may be leading us through our evolving practice, rooted in tradition but also changing with the times. So where is the practice of open communion leading us, in terms of our understanding of what it means to be “members” of the body of Christ? Is there perhaps an opportunity here, in a post-Christian world, to reclaim baptism itself as a truly intentional commitment to Christian discipleship? I really am interested in what readers of the Café have to say about this.

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.

“What part does your spirit play in your music?"

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Being who you are won’t always please your parents. The American film classic St. Louis Blues depicts musician W.C. Handy (1873-1958) as a pioneer, betraying his minister father who believed “there are only two kinds of music, the Devil’s and the Lord’s.” In marrying hymns and gospel music to blues and jazz, Handy became a legend known as The Father of the Blues. His memory has been honored annually for the past 28 years at the WC Handy Music Festival in his northwest Alabama birthplace.

Many musicians who have played for years at the festival describe themselves as feeling like they rejoin their family each summer. Indeed, their exquisite improvisations sound like they never cease practicing together, yet in the community of this spirited festival each shines forth their special talent as an individual artist. Like Handy, many had an overriding desire to make music as if there really was no choice, no matter how much their fathers discouraged their career decision.

“What part does your spirit play in your music and how does your music play on your spirit?” I asked seven male musicians who agreed to talk with me in a roundtable discussion for an hour between gigs. Their responses debunked the myth that “men are out of touch with their emotions,” added a new dimension to my week, and gave me some life lessons to share.

Drums: “Music is a musician’s whole life. It’s what you are rather than what you do. Spirit is everything. When I play, I open up my whole self to let it out. Communication is so important; you can’t do the music without relating to other musicians like an unspoken promise where you want to express yourself but encourage others to do the same – opening to possibilities of sharing everything we are. I’m hesitant to say that I’m channeling the music, but I think that selflessness happens to all of us at points during improvisation. We compose, the music is out there, and then the moment is gone which makes it all the more precious. Music is like life.”

Keyboard 1: “Yes, and being perfect ruins it. You have to take risks or the music wouldn’t be real. I think of it as the “Zen style” of playing which can get me into the zone – that’s the spiritual part of it. The worst thing I can do is to think too much about it.”

Vibes: “Swing is spirit and swing is everything. It gives back, lifts me up and always is there when I need it. There is mystery in the improvisation. It’s not about the instrument you play but about the humanity in the person.”

Trumpet: “My wife is an artist; we are speaking the same language in different mediums which is spiritual for me. It doesn’t really matter what your instrument is although trumpet – a wind instrument – gives me a chance to have a true voice, which started in 6th grade. Paradoxically, I’m not a trumpet soloist; I must trust and be with others to see where they’re going in community.”

Sax: “I’m a creative writer and the principles are the same as in art and music – contrast, design, color in the broader sense, and organization. To stay the course in a different professional way of life requires faith and tapping into the creative spirit every day. Music is a religion with a different language. Music is spirit and must be followed; spirit follows spirit.”

Trombone: “The spirituality of music is like group therapy for me. I couldn’t play when I had cancer, and I thought I would go crazy. Music keeps me on course.”

Bass: “I’ve played music as long as I can remember, and it gives me a direction even though I don’t think of myself as a man with goals. I’m spontaneously composing when soloing; when the others join me there’s a certain vocabulary we all use with phrases we know but never said before in the same way.”

Later I spoke with two other keyboardists. One said, “My music has started to flow through me from a secret place only God knows. It feels like I have come “home” to a place all of us look for. I do much of my work in prisons, churches and other places I can talk/sing about spiritual concerns. It’s dangerous if God is only in our heads; He starts to sound an awful lot like us.”

The second reflected, “Music will exalt anything to which it is attached – God, family, sex, hamburgers. It is a spiritual force second only to love. King David made it a requirement that the 4,000 Pharisees he dispatched to spread the word of God’s kingdom had to be musicians largely because music transcends language and speaks directly to the spirit.” As St. Augustine is credited with saying: ‘He who sings prays twice.’”

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.

Welcome the doubters, but challenge them too

By Martin Smith

“Come with your doubts; you’ll find a hospitable community here wherever you are on your faith journey.” Reviewing the Web sites of Episcopal churches you often will encounter a deliberate appeal to those who have difficulties believing in some elements of the Christian faith. Certain churches proudly present themselves as havens from the demands of fundamentalist or orthodox communities. Fair enough, but is it enough to be a haven, which exists only to shelter?

A church which welcomes those who identify themselves as doubters is called to be a place of risk and venture in which the actual experience of questioning is explored with candor and even rigor. A community content to vaguely affirm people where they are and leave their issues unexamined and unchallenged would be just as spiritually inauthentic as a complacently orthodox community. A goal for any Episcopal church would be to develop tools for publicly interpreting the various meanings of doubt. It would be good if in preaching and teaching, pastoral ministry and group discussion we demonstrated skills in diagnosing a wide spectrum of experiences that come under the abstract heading of doubt. Here are some themes about doubt that I would want to see openly presented in any community where I was a member, above and beyond our normal dealing with the doubts that are simply due to misunderstandings of Christian faith.

First, there is the phenomenon of healthy developmental doubt. Human beings mature not by seamless progression but by passing through discrete stages. At each stage we make meaning in a certain way. Sooner or later our ways of making meaning come under stress, turning out to be inadequate to challenges of which we have become newly aware. We experience disintegration. And then a new more adequate or comprehensive way of thinking and believing emerges from the confusion. Doubt is an essential solvent in the process of extricating ourselves from a previous stage of faith. Where would we be without this kind of doubting?

It is the Spirit working with our spirit to clear the ground for new construction. We should always be ready to recognize developmental doubt with empathy. Paul speaks about “putting away childish things,” which we all need to do not only on the threshold of adulthood but several times more in our life-cycle. Rather than repressing developmental doubt we should provide a holding environment for it, letting neither the caustic agnosticism of our 12-year old, nor our mother’s ‘crisis of faith’ in her early 60s scandalize us. We should not panic when the bottom falls out of a certain way of being religious, and we are thrown into doubt. Our churches at their best provide the holding environment for our maturational crises.

Then there is doubt as visitation, a kind of spiritual crisis that comes as a bolt from the blue to jolt us through sudden deprivation into realizing that faith is not the same as believing religious stuff that we are supposed to take for granted. Faith is precarious. Faith is a vulnerable gift. Real belief is something to be “worked out in fear and trembling” and sometimes it takes an eclipse to awaken us to what it really means to be a believer.

There is mystical doubt, which in its acutest form contemplative teachers call the dark night of the soul. In this experience a believer is put through the test of losing her foothold in any and all religious imagery, entering a wilderness of nothing. I remember the spiritual director I had in my early 20s, a truly holy priest who had been a beloved missionary in India for four decades, telling me that once during that time he entirely lost his faith in God for almost two years, and had stumbled on with his life as a priest, praying in total spiritual darkness, blindly trusting he knew not what.

Then there are entirely different kinds of doubt, which instead of serving faith, are defense mechanisms against it. So in our congregations there are those who rely on doubt for keeping Christ at bay. We need to get better at detecting the emotional dynamic that is frequently at work under doubts that are often presented as purely rational problems or even badges of sophistication. There are those whose doubts about the resurrection, doubts about the real presence, doubts about Christ, function as rationalizations for a basic dread of intimacy with the divine. In these cases intellectual agnosticism shields one from the possibility that Christ might actually touch or enter us, making us utterly vulnerable to being loved, moved, led and changed. It is good to keep on setting out good arguments for the truth of basic Christian doctrines, but they won’t be effective unless we recognize the emotional dynamic of fear and resistance that may well be fuelling a person’s unbelief as they take up our offer of hospitality and inclusiveness.

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

Liturgical roots, baptismal theology: where "full inclusion" comes from

By Linda L. Grenz

A reading of press reports about the 76th General Convention might suggest the only topic debated (again) was sexuality – or, more precisely, homosexuality. Sometimes this happens simply because the press does not know much about our history or theology. Unfortunately that often means our members get misinfornmation about why this topic is relevant to our church and why we are devoting attention to it.

Our focus is on inclusion and this is not new – it is something we have been working on for decades. It grew out of the liturgical renewal movement that began to have a significant impact on the church in the early 20th century. The desire to renew the church's liturgy led scholars to re-examine the church's worship and theology. Their research and the discovery of previously unknown texts led liturgical scholars to re-vision how we worship.

Liturgical scholars realized the earliest Christians gathered around the dining room table and it is likely that the hosts presided. As membership grew and services became more formal, the order of priests was established to assist the bishop. This led to the clericalization of the liturgy as priests became more central to worship services and laity became mere observers.
The priest became the primary actor, the one who said the liturgy and did the ministry. The people become passive recipients. Their role was to “pay,” “pray” and not “say” much more than “amen” or “and also with you!”

As liturgical scholars began to re-shape the liturgy to make it more participatory, the roles of clergy and laity also changed. This change was driven by another aspect of the liturgical renewal movement – the re-visioning of baptismal theology. In the early church, baptism was a transformative rite of passage. In baptism, one died to one's old self and rose with Christ to a new life as a redeemed child of God. One’s baptism profoundly changed one, both now and for eternity.

As priests became the primary leader of the congregation, the bishop, who used to lead the congregation, had no connection to the local community. What would be the bishop's role? One response was to separate the anointing with oil from the rest of the baptismal liturgy. This led to the creation of Confirmation, and the development of a theology that one needed to “complete” one's baptism by being confirmed by the bishop. The liturgical renewal led the church to move baptism back to the center of the church's life (vs. a private ceremony) and to restore the anointing to the baptismal rite.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer wholeheartedly embraced the re-visioned baptismal theology – and emphasized it by adding the five questions that spell out baptismal living after the Creed. Because we believe that how we pray shapes what we believe, it became a means of incorporating this baptismal theology into the life and practice of the church. Those five questions, in particular, led to theorization that baptism meant full inclusion which resulted in the church re-examining the role of laity, of people of color, of women and of children and youth.

The 1960s saw the church take significant steps to support and sometimes lead the effort to establish equal rights for blacks. In the church, blacks were elected to leadership roles.

Women in most dioceses began to serve on vestries in the 1950's and 60's. Laity began to read lessons and lead the prayers at the liturgy. The first women deputies to General Convention were seated in 1970 and girls began to serve as acolytes. The 1976 General Convention voted to permit the ordination of women as priests.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1980s and 90s, laity were appointed as Eucharistic Ministers, allowed to administer the chalice at the Eucharist and later to take the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins. Children were allowed to receive the Eucharist as soon as they were baptized. Youth were appointed to vestries and given voice at diocesan conventions and at General Convention.

In 2003 the General Convention voted to confirm the election of an openly gay man by the Diocese of New Hampshire. It also engaged in a conversation about whether or how to bless the relationships between same sex couples.

Each of these changes was challenging to some members. Each time we changed the liturgy or the rules to include another group of people in a previously prohibited arena, we lost some members who could not reconcile that change with their theology. The latest focus on the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people grows out of this long history of the church seeking to apply the baptismal theology that says that in baptism we are all transformed by Christ, becoming equal children of God. It is part of the church's long engagement in the spiritual practice of seeking to be the Body of Christ – the place where all the baptized are equally welcome.

One of the most moving experiences at General Convention was when some deputies and bishops joined the largely Hispanic group of Disney workers protesting Disney's plan to eliminate health care benefits for many of them. The largest march in Anaheim's history put the church on the side of those who are poor, often oppressed and living at the margins. But what was remarkable was that when Bishop Robinson, the gay bishop who is the focus of much of our talk about homosexuality, was introduced – the Disney workers burst into applause. It turns out they knew who he was and what he stood for – and they identified with him. You can bet that Episcopal churches in Anaheim are having lots of new Hispanic seekers coming, along with many of our congregations who are finding people who otherwise would not trust coming to church or who are at the margins of society, coming to us. The good news is that those souls are hearing: ALL are welcome at God's table. And that is worth the cost of struggling through all of these sometimes awkward or difficult changes.

The Rev. Linda L. Grenz is president of Leader Resources and priest-in-charge at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, Md. A version of this article appears in the September issue of Washington Window.

Loaves and fishes, salmon in particular

By J. William Harkins

It is late summer, and as we speak, in rivers and streams all along the Pacific coast, salmon are returning home to their native waters after journeys of up to 6 years—and thousands of miles—at sea. Some time back, I took a sea-kayaking trip to Alaska, just about this time of year. Our group journeyed to Tebenkof Bay, deep into the wilderness of southeast Alaska, for a week-long sojourn based on mindfulness practice.

One of the most memorable experiences for me was watching salmon return to their ancestral birthplaces to create new life. Very early one day, after our morning prayers and Qigong, led by my priest colleague Gordon Peerman, we set out in our boats across the bay. A gentle Alaskan summer rain was falling. Raven called out as seals and otters followed our small flotilla of kayaks. Ducks and loons eyed us curiously, and eagles flew overhead, framed by snow-capped coastal mountain ranges, their glaciers emptying into the bay.

Soon we found ourselves in the delta region of a small but fast-moving river as it tumbled out of the mountains into the sea. We paddled upriver as far as we could, now protected from the gently falling rain by fir and spruce scented forests. Beneath our boats, swimming upstream in numbers impossible to count, was a river of salmon within the river, coming home to spawn. Upstream a hundred yards or so, a solitary Alaskan Brown Bear expertly harvested fish. Kurt Hoelting, our wise and patient guide whose deep spirituality informed every phase of our trip, gave us an impromptu streamside lecture on the ecology and culture of salmon nation. As he talked I remember thinking; “This is more than a story about a particular kind of fish….this is a parable about a deep ecology of connection and relatedness.”

Kurt quietly explained that salmon are amazing members of God’s creation, and this is especially true of Pacific salmon. Leaving their fresh-water birthplaces they journey out to sea where they roam the salt-water oceans of the world, returning, studies have confirmed, to spawn at or near the exact spot they were born years—and thousands of miles--earlier. How do they navigate their way home—and why? We aren’t completely sure. It may have to do with smell, or the stars, or some combination of these and other navigational cues about which we know little. Once they return to fresh water and spawn, their condition rapidly deteriorates, and they soon die.

I’m sure most of you have seen the dramatic scenes of Chinook and Sockeye salmon making their way up roaring waterfalls to their native pools against tremendous odds, including foraging Alaskan Brown bears and other predators. At certain points in the season as many as 20 vertebrate species, including elk, deer, and bear, feed directly on salmon, re-cycling those ocean borne nutrients directly into the soil of the forest. Incredibly, some salmon born in central Idaho will make their way over 900 miles inland, and climb 7,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean as they return to spawn.

Much more than food for bears, or ravens and eagles, or humans, salmon are in fact a metaphor, a parable of a deeply mysterious, complex, and life-giving set of inter-woven relationships. DNA from Pacific salmon has been found in groves of Aspen at the top of the continental divide. The trace minerals from their ocean journeys, such as nitrogen, feed salmonberry bushes miles inland, and virtually every level of the food chain of the ecosystem will reveal evidence of the gift of salmon.

Over 137 species of animals in the Pacific Northwest rely on salmon as part of their diet. When salmon die they generate the most biologically diverse forests on earth, honoring future generations with the gift the journey that is at the heart of all they are. “They leave branches of streams no larger than a broomstick,” the author Richard Manning has said, “and make their way to the ocean for years, returning weighing up to 60 pounds of biomass harvested from the sea. They bring this mass of nutrients back to the forest to feed it, and the generations to follow.”

I have come to think of this narrative as evidence of the creativity of God delighting in God’s own creation—a sort of cosmic playfulness at the level of ecological communion, connection, and transformation. The grace that I find in the story of the salmon is evidence to me of deep, sacred connections of life-sustaining nourishment at multiple levels. As the poet Mary Oliver reminds us, “Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.”

That morning in Alaska, we did just that. It is no wonder that cultures as diverse and far-flung as Pacific Northwest Indians, Norse, and Celtic mythology found in the story of the salmon symbolic and religious power. I see God watching all the permutations and combinations of salmon connections, and I imagine God laughing with joy. The gift of their lives—and the cycle of living, and dying, and rebirth in myriad forms is moving, and powerful. Make no mistake, a salmon is not simply a fish—but a metaphor of the deep ecological mystery of God’s creation—a timeless reminder that in the cycle of life and death lies the deep, abiding connections of all living things, and of transformation, and renewal.

It is fascinating to me, then, that on another shore, this time near the village of Capernaum, Jesus gives a sea-side homily on the nature of bread, and living, and a metaphorical lesson on what really nurtures and sustains our souls, and the mystery of those connections. On this day following the feeding of the 5,000, the impromptu picnic was over, and Jesus and the disciples were looking for a quiet place to rest, and recover.

The people, however, had other ideas. They were not inclined to let him fade back into the Capernaum hills without finding out more about what he could do for them. They had been hungry, and they had been fed—more than enough—we are told, and yet they did not know the depth or sources of their hunger. He had given them bread, and they had their fill, but perhaps he could do more in the way of fulfilling basic needs of shelter, clothing, and the ambiguities and uncertainties of daily life. The possibilities were unlimited.

And somewhat disingenuously, when they find him they say, in essence, “What a surprise! Imagine finding you here! When did you come here?” Jesus will have none of it. “You worked hard to find me, and I know why. But I am more than a free lunch, and moreover, that is not what you really need. You ate your fill, and now you want more, but you are missing the point. The bread you seek won’t last. I am the bread that endures, and addresses a deeper hunger. All you have to do is believe.” “Prove it,” they say, invoking Moses and the manna in the wilderness; “Give us a sign.” “You don’t get it,” Jesus says to them…”Remember where the bread Moses gave you came from.”

It is not always easy to see beneath the literal to the metaphorical and symbolic, especially when our basic needs and fears often determine what we see, and how. Jesus knows we are hungry on many levels, and we are often scared, and wilderness can take so many forms.

The psychologist Carl Jung, himself deeply interested in religion, once said: “I have seen people remain unhappy when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, reputation, outward success, money, and remain unhappy even when they attain what they have been seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon.”

Our wise Alaskan guide said to us, “Broaden your horizons. Think creatively. The Salmon is much more than a fish—it is a sign of something mysterious, complex, and life-giving in the ways of the connectedness of God’s creation. They live their lives, and they give themselves away.” Jesus says to us, “Broaden your spiritual horizons. I want to be more than a provider of physical bread. I want to fill the hunger of your hearts. I want to fill the emptiness you try to fill up with lesser things…to satisfy those Holy longings you often attempt to quiet with substances and material goods; to quiet the anxiety that finally comes to possess you, rather than allowing yourselves to be placed in God’s compassionate, outstretched, open arms. I want you to remember where that bread in the desert really comes from. And then I want you to feed one another, in love.”

Like the salmon that journey so far to come home to their native streams, Jesus is to be broken, blessed, and shared with the world. He gives himself away, each moment, and like the Eucharist we celebrate he is more than a provider of physical sustenance. Our river guide said, in essence, “Pay attention; look around you at the connections; see, and you will believe.” Conversely, Jesus says to us, “Seeing is not always the same as believing; Sometimes you have to believe, in order to really see.” Paradoxically, both of them are correct. And both point to a similar truth: Salmon may be signs of a first principal of an ecological paradigm of altruism and gratitude. The only way to have a full life, and keep it, is to give it away. Jesus embodied this in the sharing of his life, in which we are invited to be creatively compassionate, in deep gratitude. “Every day,” Wendell Berry says, “you have less reason not to give yourself away.” Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” Amen.

Bill Harkins lives in Atlanta, where he teaches pastoral theology at Columbia Seminary, and maintains a private practice in pastoral counseling and marriage and family therapy.. He is a priest associate at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip. Bill is married to Vicky, and they have two sons, Justin and Andrew, with whom he delights in getting outdoors.

Finding community at the riverside

By Jean Fitzpatrick

What a treat it's been this summer to take my walks at Croton Landing, a brand-new park along the Hudson. Honeysuckle and beach plums there provide a foreground to sailboats and kayaks floating on sparkling waves. The river is tidal (the original inhabitants called it Mohicanituck, or "the river that flows both ways") and on the brackish water you see gulls, cormorants and even great blue heron. It's all part of what will one day be a 50-mile RiverWalk from the Bronx to Peekskill, where there used to be not much more than old factories, trash-littered industrial sites, and the Amtrak and Metro North railroad tracks, built a century ago to transport the robber barons from Wall Street to their palatial homes overlooking the Palisades. The place isn't paradise: Trains still rumble by every so often, horn blaring. Jetskiers slap against the waves. Mosquitoes nosedive straight to my ankles. But our new park is a giant step toward reclaiming the river's breathtaking natural beauty.

Actually, human nature may well be the most wonderful part of the scene. On a recent afternoon, flocks of ducks and geese paddled across a rocky inlet while kids on the path zoomed by on bikes, scooters, training wheels and skateboards. A middle-aged South Asian couple strolled along, deep in conversation. Teens sunbathed on the grass as poodles and terriers strutted past with their walkers. A small boy in a yellow T-shirt clutched a fishing line; a group of men talking in Spanish unloaded tackle-boxes and coolers from their car. Under a weeping willow a man in short sleeves and headphones played electric guitar. Near some girls playing with hula hoops, a woman I'd never seen before called me to the water's edge and pointed to a hawk on the rocks who'd captured a small brown animal; neither of us could see his prey well enough to identify it. Everyone nodded or said hello. As we watched the sunset put on its show -- purple-tufted clouds with undersides fiery pink -- perfect strangers smiled at one another, saying, "Isn't this park great?" It's as though we were not only happy to have our stretch of the river back, but also grateful for the opportunity to experience it together.

Walking along, I found myself thinking about healthcare. With 45.7 million uninsured -- roughly one out of 6 Americans -- I tried to imagine who that one vulnerable person was: the kid on the scooter? The guy with the guitar? The woman watching the hawk? Strange to think how easy it is in a public park -- and how hard, apparently, in a town hall meeting -- to recognize that what benefits some of us benefits us all, that when we work for the common good we're all better off. Discouraging to see how so little compassion can exist in a nation where some 80 percent identify themselves as Christian. Sad to realize that the all-too-widespread emphasis on personal salvation -- the product of our individualistic age and not of the biblical vision that calls us into covenant with one another -- must surely contribute to this sorry state of affairs. How important were the words of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's opening address in Anaheim, when she spoke of individual salvation as "the great Western heresy." "I am because we are," she said, "and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others."

We're recognizing this every day at Croton Landing. Watching those flocks of ducks and geese paddling by is humbling, in a way. They've been smart enough to know it all along.

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

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