Maintenance and mission, or,
What are we doing here?

By Kathleen Staudt

I have been teaching for years about the ministry of the laity, resonating with Verna Dozier’s writing about “the Church, the people of God” as opposed to “the Church, the Institution.” I have explored with people the implications of our baptismal covenant and more recently reflected deeply on the catechism’s account of the ministry of the laity: “to represent Christ and his church, to bear witness to him wherever we may be, and -- oh yes – almost an afterthought, “according to the gifts given us, to take our place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.” (BCP, p.855) The work of the Church, I’ve been telling people for almost a generation, is primarily in the world, carried out by “the church, the people of God.” The institutional church & its leaders sustain and nurture us in our ministries. That’s the idea, anyway.

And now I find I am taking my own place in the “life, worship and governance of the Church,” by serving as the Rector’s Warden in my congregation. I've thought of myself mainly as a "spiritual formation person.," a mission-minded Christian. So why am I spending all this time on budgets, finance, "maintenance?" As we put all these resources into maintaining and sustaining a building, staff, and program, I need, for my own sanity, to ask: What are we doing here? Here, in this place where the church building stands: on a busy thoroughfare leading into Washington DC, just inside the Capital beltway, on the edge of a suburban neighborhood.

Some insights about this came to me recently on “parish beautification day,” when some of us came over to church on a Saturday morning to do some deep cleaning and setting-to-rights in the aftermath of major work on our new HVAC system, the centerpiece of our capital campaign. My assigned job was to take a rag, a bucket, and some Murphy’s oil soap and wash down the tops of our solid oak pews. I had to empty the wash water every other pew because it was black with the soil from all those human hands, supporting themselves as they stood, sat and knelt at worship. I thought of Gerard Manly Hopkins’s poem, “God’s Grandeur,” where he says that “all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil, /and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.” Real people, bringing with them all the mess and muck of life, come here to worship and pray and be together at our lively worship services in this place, and we leave our marks. For a moment my job felt like the rite of foot-washing we are called to on Maundy Thursday, acknowledging the soiled humanness of all of us, our need to be washed in order to participate in Christ.

As I worked, together with my friends Quinton and Abudullah, washing floors and pews in various parts of the sanctuary, a woman came in the front door, which we had left open. She wondered if she could fill a bag of food from our food closet; she’d lost her job and this would help her to make ends meet this week. We welcomed her gave her a bag,, and showed her where the pantry was -- and reflected, among ourselves, at our own blessedness at having enough, right now, in these hard times, when so many people are struggling economically.

Indeed, it seems that many in the local community are turning to our presence on this corner in hopes of finding a place of help and welcome. More and more, in these difficult times, the rector reports that homeless people are coming to our door in search of food, warm clothing, access to social services. A community of homeless people is forming under the beltway overpass, just a quarter of a mile down the road. We are clearly being called to some deeper discernment about how we can best and most responsibly provide the right kind of help to our near neighbors in need. The church building, with its carving of Our Saviour, arms outstretched, over the front door, says to the world, “There is help here.” Somehow the building and the people alike are called to give solid form to that help.

“The church is not a building/ The church is not a steeple/ The church is not a resting-place/ The church is a people,” goes a song my children learned in Sunday school. But now it seems more complicated than that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes somewhere that “the church of Jesus Christ takes up space in the world,” and our buildings and the way we use them is one way we do this. As I enter my 2nd year of a 3-year term in leadership, I am praying for clarity about how we are called to use what we have – in building, staff, and other resources—the nitty-gritty, institutional stuff that we support with our regular givings and thanks-givings – to be the presence of Christ on this corner, for those around us and for all who come through our doors.

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.

Supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

By Bill Carroll

I recently wrote to my local paper in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which will most likely be up for a vote in the U.S. House soon. The text of my letter is found at the conclusion of this article. Please remember to write your Representatives in Congress, as well as your local newspaper, in your own words. They particularly need to hear from Christians who support an end to workplace discrimination against LGBT persons. As the letter notes, some conservative Christians will try to frame ENDA as an assault on religious liberty, as they attempted to do with regard to the hate crimes bill. This false witness makes a mockery of our Lord’s invitation to simple truth telling and keeps the Church in bondage to the violence of the fallen powers. Our advocacy for full civil equality for LGBT persons is at least as important as our attempts to become a Church that extends an equal welcome to all.

I am convinced that working to prevent violence and discrimination forms an integral part of the Church’s evangelical witness. So too do our efforts to repent of our sins against LGBT persons and to give public testimony to God’s equal love for all. This is crucial if we are to reach coming generations for Christ. I noted with interest the recent report from the strategic planning committee for the Episcopal Church, which listed “reaching youth and young adults” as our top strategic goal. To quote Bishop Tom Breidenthal’s address at our recent diocesan convention in Southern Ohio, which resonates with my own experience working with young adults:

As for college students, every indication is that Generation Next values the older generation, and seeks its guidance. But, as recent graduates of our own diocesan youth program have repeatedly told me, they want a voice at the table and the real opportunity to make a difference rather than just “fitting in.” Again, they have a deep reverence for the past, but they are choosy in this regard. They want the best past, not the worst. They want the ancient liturgy of the church and the sacraments and the creeds. But they don’t want lingering racism, opposition to the ordination of women, and the ongoing questioning of gay and lesbian communicants as proper Christians.

Here is my letter. Again, please don’t forget to write one of your own.

November 13, 2009

To the editor:

The House of Representatives will soon consider H. R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This bill would prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons.

Opponents will likely play to fears about losing religious liberty. Such fears are baseless. The bill will ensure fair treatment under the law for people who face discrimination in our society. Questions of doctrine will be left for religious communities to sort out for themselves.

I am a priest serving as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens. As a whole, the Episcopal Church is moving forward to welcome all people equally. In Southern Ohio, our bishop has confirmed this direction by ordaining partnered clergy and permitting same sex unions. Not all Episcopalians agree with this emerging consensus, including some members of our parish. Nevertheless, Good Shepherd gladly embraces these developments and has done so for decades.

We should distinguish between the practices of a given community and the liberties that government ought to secure for all. Since 1976, the Episcopal Church has advocated for “equal protection of the laws” for LGBT people. This stance could be affirmed independently from our commitment to equality within the Church. I hope that other citizens, whatever their own beliefs, will support equality under the law for their LGBT neighbors. Please join me in asking Representatives Wilson and Space to oppose discrimination and vote “yes” on H.R. 3017.

Sincerely,
The Rev. Bill Carroll

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.

Happy Thanksgiving from Episcopal Cafe

I wrote this column nine years ago for Beliefnet.com. Daily Episcopalian is taking tomorrow off.

By Jim Naughton

A few years ago, while I was on an academic fellowship, my family and I spent Thanksgiving with other fellows and their families. In religious terms, we were a mixed bunch: Christians, Unitarians, Jews, agnostics, and atheists.

A multi-religious dinner table always presents a bit of a problem when it is time to say the grace before meals. But Thanksgiving presents a particularly sticky situation, because it is the one occasion on which even the irreligious feel that some sort of invocation should be made. But who, or what, should we invoke?

After several minutes of communal hemming and hawing, one of the braver of our number delivered a prayer to the earth, thanking it for its bounty and seeking its forgiveness for our environmental sins. In all, it sounded more Green Party than pagan. Having crossed that hastily improvised bridge, we tucked into our feast.

But the moment stayed with me, for it illustrated what a peculiar, not to mention sneaky, holiday we were celebrating.

Thanksgiving is not a purely civic holiday like Memorial Day or Independence Day, although we are, in part, celebrating the fortitude of our Pilgrim forebears. Nor, like Christmas or Passover, does it come freighted with the content of a particular faith. Rather, Thanksgiving straddles these two categories; it is civic and religious. To paraphrase Jesus, Thanksgiving gives both to Caesar and to God.

In doing so, it discomfits believer and unbeliever equally. For giving thanks assumes the existence of one (One?) who deserves our gratitude--anathema to atheists. But giving thanks as a nation assumes that we stand before God as citizens of a country, as well as members of a faith. And that should offend anyone who believes that salvation flows from the church and not from the state.

Thanksgiving, in other words, assumes the existence of something that doesn't exist: an American faith.

On these grounds, I suppose one could argue that this holiday violates the establishment clause of the Constitution. I leave that task for some particularly dogmatic member of Americans for the Separation of Church and State. What interests me is the ubiquity of gratitude, the understanding, even among witnessing atheists, that it is important to be grateful for our good fortune.

For me, the desire to give thanks is evidence, at a minimum, that human beings are innately religious. The theologian Karl Rahner wrote that there is a "God-shaped hole" in every one of us. With Rahner, I believe that it is God who put it there.

You can take that argument or leave it. But if you leave it, help me to understand why we experience this particular species of gratitude. I'm not talking about the kind of gratitude we feel toward someone who has done us a favor. I mean the sort of global gratitude inspired by gifts we could not have known enough to ask for, or the kind we feel when matters beyond our control end well for us.

Who do you thank for your sweetheart's brown eyes; for growing up where it snows (or doesn't); for being alive at the same time as Bruce Springsteen; or for seeing your children born into a country that is prosperous and at peace?

You might argue that there is no one to be thanked. Maybe all our purported blessings are a matter of random chance. Perhaps the desire to extend gratitude beyond the human is an evolutionary glitch--a useful social trait that got too big for its britches.

Perhaps.

Or perhaps we awaken one day and realize that we are not now, and have never been, masters of our own destinies; that our successes were not entirely of our own making; that our souls magnify the Lord, whether we like it or not.

Again, you can take this argument or leave it. It is easier to believe in chance than in grace. Chance requires nothing from us. In fact, if life is a succession of random events, than any response to good fortune is superfluous.

Grace is different. In receiving grace, we are challenged to become channels of grace. This is more than a matter of a few good deeds (although those help); it is an invitation to place one's self in God's hands, and devote one's self toward what we perceive as God's ends.

Thanksgiving, then, is a call to action: a gentle poke to awaken our collective conscience from its postprandial slumber. To whom much is given, etc. etc.

In a county as religiously diverse as ours, we may never be able to express our gratitude in words that are acceptable to everyone. Fortunately, deeds work even better.

Jim Naughton is the editor of Episcopal Café.

I need more money, Lord!

By Lauren R. Stanley

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – I need more money.

Every single day that I live here in Haiti, that’s what I think: I need more money!

I must think that at least 10 times per day, sometimes more often than that: I absolutely, positively must have more money!

Yet even as I think this, even as I pray this – I really do need more money, Lord – I know that there’s not enough money out there. No matter how much money I have, it won’t be enough.

The money I want is not for me. It’s for the young mother living on the street with her three children, one of whom is an infant not more than six months old. I give her money every time I see her, and when I have fruit, I give her that as well.

I need money for the young men who struggle to sell art on the streets so they can go to school, or send their young children to school.

I need money to take care of the Haitians are sick and can’t afford medicine.

I need money for every single child here who is homeless, who doesn’t have enough to eat, who has no place to sleep.

I need money for the women who wash themselves in the street where the water line has broken, literally squatting down in the road, defying the crazy traffic, just to wipe their faces with “clean” water.

Everywhere I turn in Haiti, I see such desperate need. The poverty here is ubiquitous, the need overwhelming. So many Haitians come to the capital hoping to find a job, only to discover that there are no jobs here, either. They end up on the streets, sleeping in doorways, begging for food, washing in dirty pools of water.

And there simply is not enough money to take care of them. It wouldn’t matter how much money anyone gave me, I couldn’t do enough. I can’t rescue everyone here. The problems are bigger than me, they are bigger than my wallet, heck, they’re probably bigger than Bill Gates’ wallet.

Which leaves me in a dilemma on a daily basis.

How can I help? Who do I help? Do I choose the homeless mother with her infant and children? Or the children who seem to have no families? Or the young men and women on the streets who have befriended me?

How do I say “Yes” to some, and “No” to others? What do I do when I’ve given all the money I have to the first three people I see, and then come upon a fourth, a fifth, a sixth … who need my money just as much?

I give away a lot of my income, some months up to 50 percent of it. I make a point of carrying small change to distribute as I walk to and from work, to and from the store (where I spend money on myself, and then feel guilty for having done so). Sometimes, I pay for schooling; sometimes for medication; sometimes for food; sometimes for water. I try to help as much as I can.

And yet, every single day, multiple times every single day, I hear myself say, I find myself praying, “I need more money, Lord!”

There are economists and sociologists who argue that giving money to the poor to take care of their immediate needs will not solve their problems. I believe them. I know that to be true in a macro-economic sense.

But what I know intellectually doesn’t do anything for me – or for the poor – when I am confronted by them daily. Children with reddish hair and bulging stomachs that attest to their malnutrition can’t afford to wait for some grand new plan that will train them at some point when they are older. Mothers with sick children cannot wait for a hospital to be built 10 years from now. Widows lying in the street, praying for any kind of help at all, cannot wait for a future they may not live to see.

They need help now. They need to eat now. They need clean water now. They need medicine now.

So I pray as best I can. I work as hard as I can. I give as much as I can. And I try to believe that my prayers, my work, my help makes a difference.

And then I think:

Lord, are you listening? I really, really, REALLY need more money! Now!

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Haiti, where she works on the Partnership Program and Development, and teaches at the Theological Seminary in Port au Prince. Her website is http://GoIntoTheWorld.net.

The sandhill cranes

By Sam Candler

The day had already been satisfying and successful. I had led a men’s retreat on a beautiful piece of property about an hour and a half south of Atlanta, Georgia. The crisp November air had nourished a new sparkle in the oak and poplar leaves. Some of us went fishing; some of us shot guns. The trailing wind and rainy remnants of a distant hurricane had came through and opened up the night sky, revealing a thick and lush panoply of stars.

Out in the open country, the retreat itself was also thick and delightful. I remembered how Herodotus described the war discussions of the ancient Persians. Apparently, when deliberating about whether to go to war, they made such decisions twice. First, in the steady light of reason and tempered discourse, they reached one rational decision. Then, apparently, they would engage the same question while they were drunk. If they came to the same decision in both situations, they would act on it.

So it went on our men’s retreat. After Thursday night, on Friday, we discussed manhood and spirituality. What are the masculine features of a healthy spirituality? What does it mean to be a liberated man in our current economic situations? What is the love of the father, and why are there masculine images for God? We considered the four archetypal “soul types” that Richard Rohr presents in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man.” (those types are king, warrior, magician, and lover; more about those soul types on another day.)

On the way back to Atlanta, I drove through the county where I had grown up. I was actually trying to get to the county airport, where my son was preparing for a two hundred and fifty mile cross-country airplane trip. He has been obtaining the necessary licenses to be a commercial airplane pilot. But I just missed him. By 2:00 pm, he had already left with his instructor, flying southward. I texted him with our familiar family lines: “Have fun and be careful.” Those lines have informed our family blessings for almost thirty years.

Back home in Atlanta, I sat outside to catch up on mail and necessities. Given the late hour of my previous evening, I thought perhaps I should take a nap. But then, I heard the sounds.

I heard the familiar, wonderful, and guttural sounds. They sound like gurgles first, so clear and so loud – especially so on a crisp fall afternoon in Georgia. But they cannot be true gurgles, for they come from above, from the air. I have heard them almost every year of my fifty-three years. They are as dependable as these flaming November leaves on maple trees before me.

They were sandhill cranes. I counted at least eighty of them, not far above me this year, undulating in the breeze, substituting the lead, flanking out asymmetrically and raggedly. They were beautiful. This year, with the crisp afternoon sun on them, I could observe astounding detail in their necks and heads.

They were flying right over the developed city of Atlanta, which is nevertheless still blessed with trees and some open land. No matter how congested the Atlanta traffic becomes, and no matter how frantic our daily human lives are at this time of year, the sandhill cranes are an annual prayer flag for me. God sends them fluttering southward in the wind. They are being led and piloted by a power that has existed long before I was born.

Inevitably, I always hear the birds before I see them. So it is, Jesus said, with those born from above, those born of the wind of the Holy Spirit. “You hear the sound of the wind, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes.” The Holy Spirit pilots those birds up and down the continent every year.

This year, I am waiting for that telephone call or text message or email from another pilot, my son. No matter how different he is from me, and no matter how much he faithfully differentiates himself from me, still, a piece of me is with him all the time. A piece of me is up there with him in the Cessna airplane right now, flying freely to the south.

This year, my spirit has leaped up to join the sandhill cranes. Maybe I can fly with them. I’ll try to catch up to that airplane that took off a few hours ago. It has landed now, and the cranes will catch up to him. I hope he remembers to look up, even after he has landed. Even after he has succeeded in the day’s challenge, I hope he remembers to pause and to look up.

I think he’ll see those same sandhill cranes flopping and flapping overhead. They are always there this time of year, but most humanity in this generation has never seen them.

The Holy Spirit, too, is flying over us – and maybe through us and among us; but we will not glimpse that power until we pause and look around. Maybe we will look up, on a retreat; maybe we will have to look down, toward our own children. Maybe we will hear the Holy Spirit before we see anything, and maybe the sound will seem like guttural foreign tongues. The Spirit speaks like that sometimes. But she always soars, and she always waves for us to follow.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Not important, but significant

By Marshall Scott

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”’ Mark 13:1-2

We are a people of the Book – in our case, as much the Prayer Book as the Bible, for all that we are Biblical. More to the point, we are a people of the Word, a people for whom words have meaning, and meanings are important. I have had for some time been reflecting on two words. They are words that we use similarly, if not interchangeably. The words are “important” and “significant.”

Now, for some full disclosure: my presenting sin is pride. Although I haven’t read it in a long time, I was convicted from the first time I read Walter Hilton’s Ladder of Perfection, in which he makes the case that pride is the foremost sin, and the prerequisite for all other sins. For that matter, I don’t use the shorthand “IMHO,” because I can’t claim to be all that humble about my opinions.

So, I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on the temptation to be “important.” But one day some years ago I began to think about being “significant,” and how that might be different from being “important.” I began to play with the words, and what they might mean for me.

We are surrounded by examples of what it might mean to be “important.” We hear about VIP’s – Very Important Persons - and often want to be in that category for the better treatment we think it includes. Don’t we all want to be part of the important decision, the important moment? Don’t we want to play the important role, to have the important job?

Of course, to be “important” is to have the capacity to “import.” And this is, to me, potentially problematic. After all, to import is to bring in from outside. It is to bring in, to add on our own, and not to listen, to appreciate what is already there. In my work we speak of meeting the patient without “without bringing an agenda” – that is, to refrain from importing my own stuff into the encounter. It is all too characteristic, however, for the “important” person to do just the opposite, and to come in to bring an agenda, sometimes to the point of taking over. After all, the capacity to import is the capacity to insert – to insert oneself, to insert one’s own purposes.

There are other words that aren’t related to “important” by etymology, and are yet related often in our usage. An important person can also be “imposing;” but that also suggest that the important person might impose upon others. An important person might be “impressive;” but there is more than one means of or consequence of “making an impression.” After all, most impressions happen by force, whether one is shaping pottery or printing a card.

In all these cases there is at least the implication of someone or something applied from outside to a circumstance; and with that there is the implication that it expresses power, if not brute force. It’s no wonder that we can be tempted with the thought of being VIP’s.

On the other hand, there is for me a different connotation to being “significant.” To be significant, and to signify, is to point beyond oneself. To signify is to represent, not oneself, but something or someone beyond oneself. It goes beyond making a sign to being a sign. Of what, of whom am I a sign? Whom or what do I present or re-present? It is an expression of service and humility to signify, for it is an act that points beyond myself toward something or someone else more meaningful.

Of course, you know where I’m going with this. I think we are called as Christians not to be important, but to be significant. We are called not to bring our own agendas, but the agenda of Another, of one who is certainly more meaningful.

That is certainly what we have heard from Jesus. We’ve heard it again and again in the Gospel lessons of these past few weeks. Each time he is confronted with something or someone the world deems as important or impressive or imposing, he calls his followers to a different standard. Whether he speaks of being servants instead of tyrants, of scribes who devour widows’ houses, or of getting camels through the eyes of needles, he proclaims that what is “important” will fall, as surely and as dramatically as the imposing stones of the Temple.

Instead, he calls us to be significant, and specifically to signify him and his work in the world. It is he who calls us and sends us out. He speaks of us acting in his name. He points out that the world will see us in light of him. We are to be visible, tangible signs of his presence in the world.

I’m one of those people who always seem to have a lot going on. I keep trying to convince folks I’m not a workaholic. I talk about setting limits, and then have to admit that it would be easier to set limits on my commitments if folks wouldn’t ask me to do things I thought worth doing. The temptation is always there to be important, to be impressive – in short, to live into pride.

So, I return again to a distinction that I think has great meaning. We are not called to be important, but to be significant. We are called to point beyond ourselves and to demonstrate Jesus. We are called to bring his agenda, and not our own – his agenda to receive and love and redeem the agendas of others. We are not called to import or to impress, much less to impose. We are called to be significant: to signify Christ’s presence in the world, and Christ’s agenda of service and healing, of wholeness and reconciliation for all.

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.

As simple, and profound, as the days of the week

By Derek Olsen

My younger daughter has been running around the house singing a song from preschool; it’s called “Days of the Week” and it’s to the tune of the Adam’s Family theme complete with finger-snaps. So—for no better reason than that—I’ve had the days of the week on my mind.

If I rail against those who fiddle with the Prayer Book liturgies, it’s typically on the grounds that the texts and arrangements that we have received transmit centuries of theological habit and reflection. All too often these are cast away not with malice aforethought, but simple ignorance—we just don’t realize what we wander by and what we cast away. Let me offer as an example of the depths of our Prayer Book a brief and entirely non-exhaustive glance at a topic as basic as…the days of the week.

Most of us are pretty clear on Sundays—Sunday is the day we go to church and have the Eucharist, right? Well, it is now. Sundays have always held a special place in the lives of Christians but exactly what we do together then has not always been so clear. The very first (and still rather catholic) Book of Common Prayer in 1549 appointed Collects and Lessons “to be used at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper” for all the Sundays of the year. The Readings for daily Morning and Evening Prayer moved through the Scriptures sequentially taking no notice of the day of the week and thus offering an ancient monastic pattern: Daily Prayer punctuated by celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and Feast Days. A spare ten years later, Elizabeth’s 1559 BCP offered a clear protestant option, a special table appointing readings for Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays. Elizabeth’s pattern dominated Anglican life for the following centuries, flowing into the first American Books of Common Prayer, and—aside from the Anglo-Catholic wing and the Parish Communion Movement—the chief Sunday service was Morning Prayer.

What happened between now and then? Quite simply—Vatican II and the accompanying Liturgical Renewal Movement. Reaching back to the earliest recoverable Christian paradigms, Sunday was given pride of place and the centrality of the Eucharist was emphasized. Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Consilium states at the very head of its decrees on liturgical time:

“…the Lord's day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year.”
Following this thought—and reaching back to the pattern enshrined in the 1549 BCP—our Prayer Book states at its start that “The Holy Eucharist [is] the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts…” (p. 13). Following the notion that Sundays are “the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year,” Sundays—all Sundays—are designated as the second highest class of feast in the section on the Calendar (p. 16). The logic is placed at the start: “All Sundays of the year are feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Every Sunday, then is a little Easter; every Sunday is a festival of the Resurrection.

But then we get to the rest of the week—and what we find there might surprise us… There’s another weekday lifted up as special in our Prayer Book’s directions on the Calendar. If you let your eye move from the Sundays in numbered section 2 on page 16 and drift across the page to page 17’s numbered section 4 you’ll find this notice under the heading “Days of Special Devotion”:

“The following days are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial: . . . Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday.”
Everybody knows about Sundays—Fridays, well, they’re a bit less observed. However, the observance of Fridays enshrine a fundamental Christian principle of balance. We believe that the love of God in Christ has sanctified and transformed our whole life—not just the happy bits. Christ (as Hebrews reminds us) was like us in all things except sin and walked the same paths of pain and sorrow that we tread. If every Sunday is a festival of the resurrection (and it is), then it is only fitting that each Friday (except during our high-party seasons) be likewise a remembrance of the cross.

Interestingly, even through our protestant periods Fridays have been identified as special times of remembrance. The first BCP to explicitly detail days of feasting and fasting, the theoretically normative English 1662 Book, states that “All the Fridays in the year, except Christmas Day [if it should fall on a Friday]” are days of fasting or abstinence. (And I’ll pass in silence over the troubles that the simple “or” caused among the scrupulous!)

Sundays and Fridays—these are the weekdays that get special treatment. But I’ll let you in on at least one other weekday pattern concealed within our book… As Eucharistic piety rose in the early medieval period, cathedrals and monasteries began offering masses every day. But outside of Lent, Propers were only appointed for Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays—what services were to be used on the others? Furthermore monastic communities began offering two masses daily—only one of which could be the Mass of the Day. What to do with the other? The answer was the votive mass: a celebration of the Eucharist with special intentions for problems facing the people (plagues, storms, Vikings, etc.). But when none of these perils threatened, a standardized pattern sprang up that recommended certain votives for certain days of the week:

• Sundays celebrated the Holy Trinity,
• Mondays, the Holy Spirit,
• Tuesdays, the Holy Angels,
• Wednesdays, All Saints,
• Thursdays, the Holy Eucharist
• Fridays, the Holy Cross,
• Saturdays, the Blessed Virgin Mary

(From Andrew Hughes’s Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office, page 157). There was local variation, of course, especially on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. My favorite 10th century English missals, for instance, celebrate Holy Wisdom and Holy Love on some of these weekdays instead.

Now, what does this have to do with the days of the week in our Prayer Book? Just this: flip to page 251 if you’re a contemporary sort of person, or page 199 if you like your language traditional… Here you’ll find the collects appointed for “Various Occasions”; meet the BCP’s votive masses. And, interestingly enough, here are the first seven:

• Of the Holy Trinity
• Of the Holy Spirit
• Of the Holy Angels
• Of the Incarnation
• Of the Holy Eucharist (specifically recommended for Thursdays)
• Of the Holy Cross (specifically recommended for Fridays)
• For All Baptized Christians

With the exception of some apparent scruples over the place of the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the votives are the same! (In fact, if you flipped the fourth and the seventh you’d come even closer still…) Furthermore, if you look hard at the collects at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer you’ll find echoes there too of the ancient weekly pattern.

So why do these patterns matter? First, they shatter the cultural assumption that attempts to restrict our faith to Sundays. The God who entered time has sanctified our time and blessed our days; these patterns remind us to return the favor. Second, they present us with the patterns of Christ in miniature—almost a weekly repetition of the yearly liturgical cycles. Third, they remind us weekly of the fundamentals: of the Spirit that blows through our lives, of the mystery of the Word made flesh, of Christ’s self-giving on the cross and in the meal.

The Prayer Book is filled with patterns and possibilities like these. But they do us little good if we ignore them or alter them without thought. This week I urge you to consider the patterns, consider the habits, into which the Prayer Book invites us. Consider, for instance, the days of the week...

Dr. Derek Olsen recently finished his 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.

Encountering The Examen

By Adam Thomas

Three Novembers ago, I was a recluse in my seminary dormitory, I ate meals alone at tables with seven other people, and the light had gone out in my eyes. Heartbreak six months old continued to ferment within me. I had no way to deal so I drank deep of my own depression. I was a wretched creature, cast from the pages of Dickens or Dostoyevsky. To borrow from the psalmist, the water had risen up to my neck: I was sinking in deep mire and there was no firm ground for my feet.

In this state, I drove to St. Alban’s in Northwest DC to meet with my spiritual director. The month before, in our first meeting of the new school year, she could tell right away that something was different about me. I was waiting to be buzzed into the office, and she saw me through the little window in the locked door. The door opened, and without a word, she took my arm and pulled me into an embrace. The tears would have come if I had had any left.

A month after that first meeting, I had slipped even lower in the mire. The only thing that could have made the situation worse had happened, and I was struggling to go an hour without wallowing in the future that would have been. I sat down in the rocking chair in my spiritual director’s office. She lit the candle, and we sat in the relative silence of the intersection of Wisconsin and Mass Ave.

Over the next hour, I talked about how difficult it was not to dwell on the woman who left me. In that special way spiritual directors have of eliciting responses by being quiet at the right times, my director helped me discover something. During the nearly two years that we were together, I prayed for this woman every day. I lifted her up to God, and thanked God for her presence in my life. But the prayer dissolved with the relationship, which, of course, was the exact wrong time to stop praying. “When your mind starts to spiral to thoughts of her,” my spiritual director said, “pray for her instead. You are still connected through the love of God, even if you are no longer together.”

The guidance helped, but I don’t think I would have ever recovered if a new spiritual practice hadn’t accompanied the counsel. That same session, my director handed me a sheet of paper entitled “Ignatius’ 5 Step Daily Consciousness or ‘Awareness’ Examen.” “Pray these steps every night for the next month,” she said, “and write them down if writing makes you focus better.” This was a prescription for soul medicine, and, in my desperation, I saw it as a cure. She might have said, “Take two Examens and call me in the morning.” Of course, that’s not how spiritual practices work.

On the first night, I placed a red, five-subject notebook on my pillow so I wouldn’t forget. In the top right corner of the first page, I wrote “1,” and on the first line, “November 6, 2006.” Feeling a bit silly and wondering if I should get a little lock for my new diary, I took out the Examen.

“Step One,” I read: “Be Mindful.” I scratched the words, “Yes, Lord, you are here” under the date and took a deep breath. Something detached from my consciousness with that breath and I wrote it down. Yes, Lord, you are here in the presence of my friends. (My friends who I have abandoned because I’m sure that none of them has ever felt the way I feel right now. How presumptuous.)

“Step Two. Be Thankful.” A roast beef sandwich, spiritual direction, sweater weather. When I thought about it, I found that I was thankful about some things. How wonderful.

“Step Three. Be Humble.” Ah, here’s the tough one, I thought. Humility and I have never been close; cards at Christmas – that’s about it. What is God teaching me through the lesson of today? How has God illumined me today without me realizing it? How uncomfortable.

“Step Four. Be Reflective.” What’s that one encounter from today that has stuck with me? Did the encounter bring me closer or push me away from God? Can’t think of one? How distracted.

“Step Five. Be Responsive.” I read over what I had written, and breathed deeply again. And again, something detached and I wrote it down. So this is where God is leading me. How revealing.

Three years later, the Examen has become a part of my life. I make mental notes during the day about what I want to write. I’m on my sixth notebook, and I switch between blue and black pens, so I can tell when they have run out of ink. The woman, who initially appeared in every entry, no longer stars in its pages. New thanksgivings and desolations and encounters and hopes abound. They are all parts of my story, which God already knows, but which I am discovering every day. I pray to be mindful, thankful, humble, reflective, responsive. I pray for the courage to live a life that can fill dozens of more notebooks. And I pray that God continues to guide my hand as I spill my soul onto those college-ruled pages.

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.

Levi-Strauss, Calvin and the Good News

By Greg Jones

Claude Levi-Strauss died recently at age 100. Perhaps the most influential anthropologist of the 20th century, Levi-Strauss revolutionized Western thought before his own lifetime was half-over.

His major contribution has been to undo an earlier notion popular in Western civilization that 'civilized' people were categorically different types of human beings from 'savages.' He argued that all humans have the same kind of brain, and all human societies are deeply complex and rich in meaning and significance. These days, we all recognize that ancient cultures, prehistoric cultures and modern cultures each have great depth, complexity of meaning, etc.

Levi-Strauss believed that beneath all human societies are structures and forms which are universal to the human being wherever and whenever he may be found.

I probably agree with him on these two points.

I disagree with Levi-Strauss, and many of his scientific disciples, when it comes to their fatalistic or deterministic beliefs. Yes, Levi-Strauss was committed to the idea that human beings are inexorably fated by nature, genetics, and other impersonal forces of the universe, to fairly determined outcomes in life.

I believe in free will, on the other hand, and I believe it is part of human nature just as much as our DNA.

In a couple of ways, Levi-Strauss reminds me of another famous Frenchman -- John Calvin. He also changed everything in his time and place, and many to this day consider themselves his disciples.

Calvin also saw a universal structure beneath all human order and society -- and that God put it there.

Like Levi-Strauss, Calvin believed humans were equal -- but in his particular way of seeing us all as equally depraved, hateful to God, and bound to produce societies and systems of meaning all sinful and bent away from God's love.

Calvin was also a determinist who believed that an Absolutely Sovereign Lord God had determined before Creation that some would be born to live, die and be condemned to Hell -- while others would be born to live, die and be saved.

Now, I agree with these fellows on certain points.

Again, I too agree all humans are equal -- from caveman to Frenchman, every man to any woman.

I also believe there is a deep structure to the cosmos, and our human essence carries it within us.

But, unlike Levi-Strauss, I believe the structure of things is not soul-less material, and I don't believe we are but pawns of natural fatalism.

Like Calvin, I think God has created the cosmos and is the author of its forms, structures and laws. (And I believe mathematics and science are capable of discerning what many of these are.)

But unlike Calvin, I don't believe human beings are created equal only in our capacity for sin.

We are not merely alike in sin and mortality -- but as bearers of God's image -- and owners of sacred dignity and an inborn likeness of God as persons capable of choice, of free will, of a capacity to love and serve; just as God chooses to love and serve us.

You see, I believe Scripture teaches this revelation about human nature -- and that Christ himself is the fulfillment of God's wish for human nature -- and that Christ is in fact the deep structure of the cosmos. Yes, I believe that human beings are beautiful vessels made by God to carry on His structure and essence, and that far from being worthless, we are priceless to God -- which is why he loved us so much that he took human form, died on a cross, and redeems us from sin and death.

Yes, I believe Scripture teaches all this, and Jesus fulfilled it, and that in fact Christ has already forgiven us, defeated the long-term goals of Satan, and is now like a mother seeking to gather us up who wait for Him.

To me -- the deep face of the cosmos is not that of an angry despotic sovereign, or a distant swiss watchmaker, but a humble mother who suffers the loss of everything, but keeps the faith, adopts a new child who has also lost it all, guides her in love, and becomes the forebear of a redeemed human family. Like Naomi.

I believe the deep order of the cosmos isn't reduced to earthly laws and requirements, but is in fact the beating heart of the Holy One who gives mercy, hope and love to we who so desperately need it.

The old widow who gives all she has in faith is more like God than John Calvin or Levi-Strauss -- who seem to believe either God is all-controlling or non-existent.

The old widow who gives up every last bit of power and control that she has (and it's all only worth but two small coins) and yields it to this God of mercy -- and says, "Lord, I'm giving you all I have, and now I am trusting that you will take care of me."

The Good News of God in Jesus Christ, my friends, is that He will. And it is in our thankfulness for God's loving mercy that we begin as disciples. Our thanks for God's mercy is the basis of our life in Christ - as disciples and missionaries of the Gospel.

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.

The Alchemy of Effort and Grace

In the confluence of personal narrative and reflective theology that often mark the experience of a CREDO conference, the Rev. Brian Taylor, rector at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and CREDO conference faculty member, offers a look at how change moves into deep transformation. Join an online conversation on the just-released book All Shall Be Well: An Approach to Wellness (William S. Craddock, Jr., editor: Morehouse Publishing, 2009), and visit the CREDO Web site.

By Brian C. Taylor

I live in New Mexico, and my favorite time of year here is the beginning of fall. It’s not just the impossible blue skies, the cool, clear air, the explosive yellow cottonwoods, and the smell of roasting chili. It’s the palpable feeling of change. You wake up in the morning and there’s something electric in the air, something fresh and new, something that is just starting to become. The world is born again.

This is the same feeling that I sometimes get when returning from a good vacation or retreat. I return to my daily life with hope, with a sense of promise. I see that life is what I make of it, and that it just might be possible to slow down and be “perched a little more lightly on the globe,” as Peter Levi described monks in The Frontiers of Paradise: A Study of Monks and Monasteries (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990).

Changes such as these are renewing. But if we’re paying attention, they also hint at a much more compelling possibility: genuine, deep transformation. But how does one move from change to real transformation? There are several models of change and transformation to consider.

One model of transformation relies almost entirely on divine intervention, and it assumes an instantaneous, and sometimes complete, change. This is often how conversion is described: “I was immersed in worldliness, running after women, drugs, and money, living the high life, not even knowing how miserable I was, when BAM! God stopped me cold with a heart attack. I realized that I had been living for nothing. My Christian friend came to see me in the hospital, and there I accepted Christ, and haven’t looked back since. I was lost and now am found.”

This is the transformation of Paul on the road to Damascus, knocked off his horse and temporarily blinded. It is the transformation of an alcoholic who one day walks away from a horribly destructive life, into the light of health and sanity. It happens to people because of a crisis, a powerful retreat, or just because we’re unconsciously ready for God to slap us upside the head.

Miraculous, transformative intervention either happens or it doesn’t. We can’t sit around waiting for an epiphany. And yet this doesn’t stop some from trying to manufacture one: straining to hear the life-changing voice of God in their heads, saturating themselves with emotional prayer by a crowd of prayer-warriors, or sweating it out in rigorous meditation until enlightenment is attained. When the breakthrough doesn’t come, we are disappointed in ourselves (we don’t have enough faith) or in God (who apparently doesn’t care, or even exist).

There is another kind of transformation, one planned and executed through our own efforts. It comes out of the business model. We see it today in programs to lose weight, get in shape, improve our effectiveness at work, build intimacy in our marriage, and yes, grow spiritually. We set overall goals, identify measurable objectives, and practice the seven steps promoted by the author or workshop leader.

A rule of life can function this way, as the practitioner gradually takes on a series of activities that he or she knows will bring positive results. My wife essentially did this on a recent vacation, re-plotting her normally distracted week into a format that would allow for quiet time every morning and painting in her studio for two uninterrupted days every week. Previous efforts such as this never worked for her, but this time the timing was right. The plan took hold, and she changed her life for the better.

But the planning/execution model doesn’t always work. A well-planned rule of life can become the life-killing law that Paul warned about, a method of measuring our spiritual inadequacy when we fail to keep it perfectly (or worse, a source of smugness when we do). Sometimes we are not ready for change; we instead to stew awhile longer in our unhappiness in order to learn a lesson at a deeper level. Sometimes we can’t see what is best for ourselves, and so any plan we might come up with is worthless. There are times when even if we do know the direction forward, we keep bumping into a familiar roadblock that prevents us from progressing.

There is a third way toward transformation, a mysterious interplay of human effort and divine grace.

When I was growing up in California’s Bay Area, every self-respecting teenager had to at least try to surf on occasion. What I remember most vividly about my occasional ventures into the surf is not an image of myself standing triumphantly upon the board, but rather, bobbing peacefully in the water, watching the horizon as swells came in groups, and wondering if this set was going to be The One.

I remember turning towards shore, paddling hard (the boards were long and heavy in those days), only to fall back when I couldn’t catch the momentum of the wave. I remember especially the glorious sensation when my vigorous strokes were magically met by the powerful surge beneath, lifting me up and forward. It was an amazing physical sensation, when, after having waited, discerned, tried, and failed, suddenly my strength and the ocean’s strength came together in a glorious alchemy.

So it is with spiritual transformation. We put in our time in prayer, we go to therapy, read books, talk to friends, offer ourselves in worship, and practice our rule of life. We paddle along by our own strength, trying to propel ourselves forward, hoping to catch a wave of freedom, compassion, simplicity, or intimacy with the divine.

But there is a significant place for the waiting on grace. We float in the deep waters, waiting, praying, watching the horizon. Eventually the waters beneath us surge. We receive insight, we hear as if for the first time a familiar passage of scripture, or a part of the old self just sloughs off like dead skin.

Transformation does not usually happen to us by magic or simply because we will it into being. It happens because we try, we fail, we surrender, we wait, we try again, we get help, we let go, we beat our heads against the wall, we wait some more…and all the while, we do our best to trust that the Spirit is actually working harder than we are, beneath the surface of consciousness. Occasionally we catch glimpses of this graceful work, until finally, when the timing is right, it comes out into the open, when all our efforts are matched by the more powerful surge of grace, and we are carried forward.

Managing anxiety in times of stress

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Mark Twain said: “I’ve had many troubles in my life and most of them never happened.”
Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. … Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6: 25)

If this is true, then why did God create his creatures great and small to constantly anticipate danger in preparation for fight or flight? A childhood friend grew up in a family where her mother and grandmother lived by the mantra: “Look out ahead of yourself to name the possible catastrophes, worry, and prepare for the worst yet to come.” This focus on future doom never got to the real cause of their terrors, nor did it give them strategies to face life more calmly and faithfully. It was chronic anxiety, which differs from the acute anxiety we rely on to get us out of harm’s way. (“Oops, that truck running a red light would have crushed me if I hadn’t jumped back on the curb!”)

Over time, her family’s general anxiety spread like the flu to my young friend, who by osmotic absorption of fear seemed to attract bad luck – frequent accidents, illnesses and troubles in school. She became a timid adult and indeed her misfortunes followed her.

Her only son’s diagnosis of schizophrenia and the early death of her husband strengthened her resolve never to stray far from home in order to protect her son and herself. So she religiously tended her garden, invited a few people over from time to time, and gradually lost touch with her church community, insisting it couldn’t meet her needs. Since it takes a community to raise a child, her son suffered as much as she from her alienation. She saw doctors with expert opinions and took many medications, but she simply became more reclusive. One of her remaining friends remarked that she could have gone for a brisk walk in the time it took her to swallow the enormous number of pills she consumed each day.

In her mid 50s she was poisoned by arsenic from chemical toxins left in her garden’s soil by live WWI bombs buried for safety in her neighborhood. She had never truly lived. Avoiding danger was no safer in the long run than exposure to risk.

All of us bear the brunt of some familial anxiety, and searching for its real cause can be of great benefit. But the best way to reduce anxiety is often to increase one’s basic level of differentiation. How might my friend’s life have been different if she had worked more at being an individual and less at perfectly pleasing her family?

The following three questions have saved many a life from fear and anxiety paralysis:

• Where do I begin and end and where does another begin?

One of the most challenging and defining things you – or anyone – can do is to work on being clear about your beliefs and then having the courage to say “No.” No to family or friend when their expectations differ from your life goals. No to situations at work that don’t allow you to use your strengths. No to children when their demands are excessive or contrary to your principles.

• How can I stay connected with my family and others when their disapproval of my
opinions and choices makes it tempting to cut them out of my life?

Though they may not like your decisions, people appreciate clarity of belief and someone who is willing to take a stand when it is clearly, calmly articulated using “I statements.” Even so, it’s human nature to strive for “togetherness” and to resist another’s clarity. Learning to plan for that resistance and contain your reactivity to it is the true mark of progress. (Hint: more playfulness and less seriousness are essential to persistence when it seems easier to give in to another’s complaints.)

• Is all this worth it to grow up?

If your answer is “Yes,” you will have embarked on a lifetime process with a goal that mortals can never fully achieve, although Jesus provides us a model to reach for.
Differentiation is thoughtfully taking responsibility for your emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others and your lot in life. This means forgiving others for trying to fix us and forgiving ourselves for never measuring up. If we decide to welcome God’s presence on our journey and draw on our faith, we’ll have a better chance of moving toward the wholeness and maturity that is God’s wish for each of us.

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.

Have faith, friends

By Greg Jones

Suffering and pain. Shadow and darkness. Sickness and brokenness. Ignorance and falsehood. Sorrow and despair. They’re all connected.

In lots of places on Earth, this is visible. It is abundant. When you visit these places, it’s plain to see. Places found everywhere in Africa – Asia – South America – the Caribbean – the Middle East. Places we usually think of as the Third World. Places where sickness, poverty and oppression rule.

Of course, in our own place -- in our cities and rural hamlets, right in our own backyards, and at our front doors -- it’s everywhere.

We know that – right? Don’t we know that these things are connected?

There is a cloak of shadow which seeks to cover up people, to reduce people, to stifle and bury people - turning them into lonely, blind and beggared souls – dropped off from the way – the way which in fact we were intended by God to journey in full lives of joy -- diverted from the way God wants for us – by this force of darkness which does not love us, or what God wants, or God himself.

Friends, we were meant to be companions and pilgrims with God and each other in and through Creation and on toward a joyful eternity. Yet sin and death have set upon us – and this is the connection between suffering, brokenness, ignorance, and sorrow.

The connection between our sin and our sickness, between our lies and our blindness to the Way of God, this connection is a death-grip.

It is the death-grip -- and it's what Jesus Christ has come to break.

The Gospel of Mark is entirely about this.

Every healing act of God in Christ is total. In Mark – each story connects the total saving power of Christ to physical illness and spiritual illness. The paralyzed are healed of sin and physical paralysis. The lepers are cleansed of disease and isolation from God’s communion people. The Blind Beggar Bartimaeus emerges by faith in Christ – not only from blindness, but from a covered up life sitting empty beside the Way of God where people are on the go toward and with God and each other.

We were meant to be freed from the bondage of dying in the dark, and joined to the light in bonds of loving mercy.

Jesus is God-at-work, and He has come, and is on the move, and he is looking for you. Looking for you, listening for your cry as you sit in the shadow, covered in your sin and sickness, and he will be still for you to love you in mercy where you are – so that you may get up into the light of love and serve and follow.

If you’ve felt stuck, or silenced, or forgotten by a fallen world that doesn’t want you whole and on the go toward wholeness – and everybody on Earth has felt this way in First, Second or Third World – every addict, every lonely person, every soul at odds with broken lives and loves and dreams.

Have faith that God knows it, and doesn’t want it to be. The Son of David – the Son of Man – the Son of God – the beating heart of the Creator and the Creation now that he’s come – wants you to see, to love, to get up and go with Him and in Him and through Him.

Have faith, friends, that God wants you, and wants you better, and you can have it.

Have faith, friends, that your want to love and be loved is infinitely matched by God who wants to love and be loved. And not only matched, but heard and blessed so that it can and will happen.

Have this faith – this hope – this trust – this belief that God is not far off but has come near with the good news of your place beside Him in the Kingdom. This faith – in this reality which is Jesus Christ – it will make you well, to see, to live, to rejoice, and to spring up and go.

Amen.

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.

Fighting HIV/AIDS in Malawi

By Donald Schell

Malawi 2009

WHAT CAN WE DO? The truth is that, we the youths Are engaging in casual sex And to protect ourselves From HIV/AIDS, we need Realistic advice From our Parents/Church leaders

I imagine we’d be surprised to see this poster in a diocesan office. But my wife, Ellen, and I saw it visiting the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi in Africa to meet with the Diocesan Health Officer. Ellen is the International Programs Director for GAIA (Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance) and the Diocesan Health Officer (a full-time public health worker with substantial experience in Malawi’s ministry of health) wanted to discuss GAIA and diocesan program looking for common goals.

The poster and the diocesan health officer both witness to a powerful force that’s changing African Christianity (and Islam). Malawi Christians and Muslims know health issues (particularly AIDS, malaria, TB, and maternal mortality in child birth) are fundamental religious issues. U.N.AIDS says there are 550,000 AIDS orphans in Malawi. Others estimate it’s as high as a million out of a population of 13,000,000. In Malawi, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa, the group most at risk for HIV infection is married women who are faithful to their husbands. Every thirty seconds a child in Africa dies of Malaria. The problems are stark.

Still I wondered why we don’t have posters like the one we saw in our churches in the U.S. The average age for first sexual experience in the U.S. is 15, the same as in Malawi. Forty percent of births in the U.S. are to unmarried mothers. Our epidemiology in sexually transmitted diseases isn’t the same as Malawi’s, but the risks our children are taking are quite similar.

Another poster in the bishop’s office offered a drawing of a Christian clergyman in collar and a Muslim sheikh cheerfully going together for HIV testing. It challenged religious leaders to set the example for their congregations by getting tested themselves and then telling everyone in the congregation to get tested as well.

Trying to tell the truth about sex is changing the African church. Our rhetoric back home says something else because African Christians talking honestly about LGBT people in their congregations lags behind U.S. and European churches and society, but that honesty is coming to Africa too. One Anglican priest we talked with remarked that he’d read in the newspaper that there were “10,000 gay people in Malawi.” With a population of 13,000,000, we’d guess that Malawi has more gay people than that. But what we in the U.S. need to hear was where that priest took the news story. “What would Jesus do for those people?” Jesus would listen to them,” he said, “to understand their experience and then find a way to welcome and serve them.”

Another priest talked of friends who had bravely come out as gay in support of a 2002 national referendum to decriminalize homosexuality. The referendum failed, but that priest said, “I listened to those good people and learned that they’ve known they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were children. It’s something about how God made them.” That priest is doing doctoral studies in Malawi on the experience of gay people in Africa. “We have to listen as Africans and tell the story of African gay people. This question is not about people in foreign countries. It’s our own people, our family members, and our friends.”

The American secular and church press typifies African Christianity as a religion of fervor and doctrinal rigor (or rigidity). Of course the real picture is much more complicated.

In visits to Malawi as a volunteer driver, interviewer, photographer and sometime theological consult with GAIA I’ve heard countless stories of seemingly fundamentalist churches and church leaders reaching out in caring support of HIV positive people in their congregations and in their wider communities. American Christians have much to learn from this crisis our sisters and brothers in Africa face. Their earliest response to AIDS (as in the U.S.) was denial and stigmatization, but what we see and hear now again and again is that compassion is displacing judgment as simply and decisively as in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

My wife’s work brings her to Malawi at least annually for extensive visits with GAIA’s community-based, grass roots, development oriented projects and programs. On this, my third visit accompanying her, we visited GAIA villages to talk with the network of caregivers for housebound people living with AIDS. We met an old man in his new, mud-brick, grass-roofed house, a house the caregivers built for him because his old house was in danger of falling down around him. He’d lost his wife and all his children. Many of the GAIA caregivers are AIDS widows themselves.

We drove long dirt roads across tea plantations to see GAIA’s mobile clinics in action. We met a woman who was HIV positive but because she had the drug treatment during birth, her son was born HIV-negative. She told us of her great sorrow that her husband still refuses to get tested. As in the U.S., one of the biggest social challenges facing Malawi is empowering women and creating a new society where women and men face one another as equals.

Ellen has seen Malawi churches and mosques come a long way since her first visit here in 2002. The AIDS epidemic was largely not talked about in preaching because sex wasn’t talked about in church. Deaths that have touched everyone in Malawi have changed things here. Change comes imperfectly and haltingly, but it keeps coming. Of course the church’s familiar dilemma is that the epidemic forces us to acknowledge that we’re all as fallible as ‘those sinners’ in the town markets or bars. With brave exceptions like the poster in the Anglican bishop’s office, churches mostly don’t want to talk about condoms. Most church leaders leave condom promotion and distribution to the government. But in so many ways, change keeps coming.

What will it take to change things in the U.S.?

Both of my previous visits, I participated in a U.S. National Institute of Health funded study on the response of religious institutions to the AIDS crisis in Malawi. University of California, San Francisco partnered with GAIA for this three year series of over three hundred in depth interviews with national religious leaders, local religious leaders and local lay participants in churches and mosques, and people living with AIDS (not necessarily connected with the congregations). My own interview assignments included two Anglican Church leaders (as different as two leaders could be on their approach to AIDS) and a Muslim Sheikh. Our pool included Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Living Waters (a new Malawi denomination) and Muslims. We transcribed the hours and hours of interviews and back home in San Francisco the research team met monthly to discuss what we were hearing, analyze data, and prepare to report back to the religious leaders in Malawi and to share findings in U.S. and Malawian publications.

I’m repeating myself to say it, but I kept wondering as we read our Malawi data what American congregations are doing to do to make our church’s response to sexual choices honest, genuinely moral, and engaged with people’s real experience.

This trip we gathered the leaders we’d interviewed for two daylong conferences to report back what we were hearing and discuss with them what next action steps they saw their churches and mosques might take. From the research team our presenters included UCSF faculty member Susan Kools, GAIA President Bill Rankin (whom some Café readers will know as the former Dean and President of Episcopal Divinity School), UCSF faculty member Sally Rankin (principal investigator on the NIH study), UCSF faculty member Sharon Youmans, and me.

Susan’s expertise is adolescent behavior and development. She’d overseen a smaller study in Malawi interviewing youth and talking with religious leaders about the youth. Her interviews confirmed that the average age for first sexual experience is 15, just as in the U.S. She also reported that a significant minority (about a third) of girls in Malawi said their first sexual experience was not fully willing, in a range that began with pressured or coerced and extended to rape. Susan talked about the human dilemma that our bodies develop faster than our brains, that judgment and restraint functions in the human brain don’t complete their formation until we’re in our mid-20’s. The group’s first articulated response was, “Well then, we must be more determined to teach pre-martial abstinence.” When more realistic voices among the leaders were quiet, Susan protested that it wasn’t enough to give our children nothing but our ideal for their behavior. Why should they pay for adolescent mistakes with their lives? She spoke of ‘our children’ because we worked consistently to put our own U.S. dilemmas alongside those of the Malawians. The research team was learning alongside the Malawians. So we could ask about ‘our response’ and ‘our children.’ And I ask it again to Café readers – how are American churches addressing adolescent sexuality?

Bill Rankin, GAIA’s president, made the theological argument that victimization of women and children in the epidemic is a justice issue, and he described it alongside our American experience of two and a half centuries of facing up to the injustice written into our Constitution, with its denial of full human rights to slaves and women. Bill showed a PowerPoint slide of Rosa Parks. A Malawian Baptist woman told us later, “we learn of Mrs. Parks in school here.” Bill showed a slide of Martin Luther King speaking at the Lincoln Memorial and said, “This great leader was showing us a way to justice and he was assassinated.” He showed a slide of Nelson Mandela. There were murmurs of pleasure and approval, and then when the slide of Barack and Michelle Obama came up, the conference cheered, and Bill said, “we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but change is happening.”

With America’s slow path to justice and freedom as background, Bill argued that for Malawi, justice requires churches and mosques to acknowledge that women’s physiology makes them more vulnerable to HIV than men. They pay for their husband’s infidelities with their lives. As one Baptist past put it, “If you have an affair and then come home and refuse to use a condom, it’s like putting a gun to your wife’s head.” Women are infected and dying, children are orphaned and dying because women in Malawi are not honored and respected as fully as men’s equals

A happy surprise breaking another Western stereotype was the deep conversation between Christian and Muslim leaders that marked our two conferences. HIV/AIDS is making connections in the practical work of compassion and life-saving teaching, and that practice of compassion is (at least partly) blurring differences of doctrine and bringing common humanity in God into focus.

In two full days of conference, what I heard was the Holy Spirit’s painful, exhilarating work of change. AIDS, telling the truth about the epidemic itself, and the work of service and of letting go of judgment that it brings are changing churches and mosques in Malawi.

The African church is learning to talk about sex, to tell the truth about human experience, and in some important ways, it’s ahead of us in America. There’s still plenty of denial and hope for simple answers and idealized righteousness in the mix, but the epidemic doesn’t allow Malawians the luxury of wishfulness. I hope and pray that Africa continues to move toward a godly embrace of LGBT people, but I also pray that American Christians find a way to face the challenging questions of sex and sexual behavior.

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

Understanding snakeheads

By Leo Campos

As someone who wears black robes regularly I can tell you I attract all sorts of people to talk with me. The most interesting effect is that the robes become a projection screen of the speaker's own assumptions. Some approach me and automatically assume that I am a defender of "traditional family values", others assume that I live an "alternative lifestyle" and thus am a defender of experimentation.

I am less interested in discussing my own personal opinions than I am in being a generous listener. Usually people’s positions fall within the same rough outlines: all positions are based on some understanding of the issue which in turn is a response to personal experiences within an ecosystem. You and I and everyone else have opinions which come from some amount of reflection on what has happened to us.

Our phenomenological hermeneutics (interpretation of events) does not occur in a vacuum, of course. Our own "tribe" sets much of the context for events. Very few people are able to transcend such tribal context and pursue an individual approach. I am not even sure such a thing is desirable, let alone possible - we all have "tribes" even if they are a tribe of “rational hermits.”

My concern and my constant work (both personal and with directees) is to become more aware, as aware as possible, of the context for my understandings, because not all of them are positive, life-affirming and charitable.

I think it a sign of spiritual maturity when someone is able to cogently demonstrate awareness of the contexts within which they are operating. You know you are at the beginning of your spiritual walk when you say things like “they just don't get it” or “he just doesn't understand.” The work then is to help you question whether maybe, just maybe, the other does not share the same context, even while sharing the same symbols (language, faith, culture).

Your understanding may be consistent within your ecosystem, but it may be woefully maladapted for a different environment.

To indulge this conceit further, we should look at other cases of transplantation which are not so beneficial to ecosystems, though the creature itself may be quite successful. Just a little up north from my home, in Maryland there have been stories of the snakehead fish. The oysters of the Chesapeake Bay are being seriously damaged by the Japanese veined rapa whelk (a type of predatory sea snail).

But there are literally thousands of invasive plants, animals, bacteria and viruses which are brought here via air and sea and which some estimate to have caused damages of up to $137 billion (these numbers come from the National Governors Association). In their new environment these foreign species have no natural predators and are free to multiply quickly, eat up all resources (food, native animals) and spread their own diseases to livestock, and even humans.

Most of our conversations have been no more than the throwing snakehead fish at each other’s waterways. We have created mental "organisms" (dare I say memes?) who are perfectly suited for living in our favored mental environments. But when we try to transpose them to a new environment they perish. And we don't understand - they were so healthy over here, how come they are not over there?

My focus is to develop (and help others develop through the use of spiritual “technologies”) an irenic heart-space. First, life is always an approaching - both in the sense of bringing together as well as a calculus where we get closer and closer but never quite reach. This realization alone goes a long way in removing the cancer of blind faith in our understandings. We must, therefore leave space in our hearts for the other, the strangers we meet on the road.

Second, we absolutely must live into Philippians 4:5 if we are to have any positive impact. Or, to say it another way, if anything good and noble and healing is to come from your life, gentleness and a spirit of peace is to be firmly established. Remember Jesus gave us his own spirit of peace, the peace that is beyond all understandings. Aha!

So here's an appeal - spend some time with your spiritual director doing some work in identifying your thoughts. Also go ahead and identify the health of your mental ecosystem. How are the pollution levels? Do a serious analysis of all heavy metals and nitrates. What kind of impact are you having in the broader environment? Are you a toxic wasteland? Are you blissfully introducing snakehead fish into new environments?

There are countless reasons why a person’s mental ecosystem developed the way it did – and introduction of new ideas, willy-nilly, without respect for the indigenous life, is simply intellectual imperialism, and I will say it, un-Christian.

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

In praise of adoration

By Martin L. Smith

What is your very earliest memory? How far back can you push the frontier of remembrance until it will go no further? I thought of this during a brief halt in my dusting last week after I had rubbed the frame of an old photograph of my Ukrainian grandmother. I had a flashback to a moment of terror I had before I was 3, when a sparrow flew into the bathroom, scaring me to death. I staggered onto the landing with my pants entangling my ankles, wailing. Relief came with the sight of my grandmother hauling herself up the stairs to rescue me, murmuring soothing words in a muddle of Russian and English and waving a Mars bar.

What is your earliest spiritual experience? How far back do you go to reach the first time you had some intimation of the Holy One? I must have been 4. My mother had to take me to the office one day, where she worked as the secretary of a formidable stock-broker, Miss Moscrop-Robinson. I was forced to come to terms with her hideous, snuffling pug-dog as I whiled away the hours, listening to the tap of the typewriter and the clanging of the clock. But I must have been good, because my mother gave in to my insistence that we visit a peculiar building across the road before going home. I could tell this made her uncomfortable but I was intrigued by the pointed black chimney that towered over the entrance, and I could see that people were coming in and out. I was astonished by what we found inside. Men and women were scattered around sitting very still. Some were kneeling. Others were lighting candles. Beautiful colored windows glowed. The walls were the hue of a thrush’s egg. I could tell that something quite wonderful was going on, even though nothing appeared to be happening. There was a look on people’s upturned faces I had never seen before. They were paying attention to something I couldn’t see that made them serious and calm. I was thrilled. I was told this was a church.

No one in my family practiced religion, but I must have pumped my mother later for further explanations, and she must have drawn on her experience at a convent grammar school to do her best to satisfy my questions. What were those people doing? “Adoration.” Somehow I got it, and to everyone’s bafflement by my 5th birthday I was announcing my intention of becoming a priest.

Sometimes first impressions give us a spool of thread to be unwound as we negotiate the labyrinth of life, the thread we can use for getting home again wherever the twists and turns have taken us. There’s something in me that is going to light up when we start singing again soon, “O come, let us adore him.” Adoration. I can’t help thinking that this belongs to the core of religion for all, and if it is relegated to the attic or pushed offstage then that seems to me a church’s worst betrayal. When I was very small I could tell that perfectly ordinary people going about their daily work (not some special niche group interested in spirituality, as we so often imagine today) had been initiated into a practice, an activity, a way that they wanted to return to again and again, in which they let themselves experience a kind of rapture. There in the midst of ordinary activities in this dirty industrial town, they could let themselves go and bask for while in the sheer reality of a loving God. Those who ached from life’s demands could soak in God like a hot bath. Those who felt cold and wet could simply “dry off in the sunshine of his love,” as Therese of Lisieux would say. Or they could simply look at God, “looking at them lovingly and humbly,” as her namesake Teresa of Avila put it, and it wasn’t a big deal, something they were in the habit of doing before they caught the bus home.

I can’t accept that adoration is some kind of special faculty for a few. The folks I saw praying in St Marie’s would have been deeply perplexed by the notion that it was for contemplatives. Wasn’t this simply the core of religion? I saw it, I felt it and I suppose I was unselfconsciously coached in it by working people with no sophistication. My earliest spiritual director was Nora, our Irish cleaning lady. She adored Christ, and actually adoring was for her as concrete and real as swimming. It wasn’t an idea. It was something she knew how to do and she assumed that it was what we were born for, and that the feel for it was latent in everyone. She was poor, but she felt rich, and it saddened her whenever she found that someone had not discovered that God is wonderful.

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

Moving: A riot of riddance

By Ann Fontaine

We are in the process of selling our Wyoming house and moving to Oregon. In the last few weeks we have been clearing out the cupboards, having a garage sale, donating to the local thrift shops, taking books to the used bookstore, and going to the dump, in preparation for whenever we sell this house. Who knew how much stuff we had until we started contemplating moving to a house that is less than half the size of our home here in Wyoming!! A house with lots of storage that has been lived in for over 30 years is a blessing and a curse. Thankfully our daughter, who is Attlilla the Hun when it comes to ruthless riddance, was here for a couple of weeks to help us stop dithering.

Moving and downsizing is a good thing overall but hard to get in gear to do. The process has many blocks for me. Most, like inertia and always finding more interesting things to do are easy to overcome. The biggest block is memory. The things I cling to are not of great value – valuable things are easy for me to sell or leave behind. The things that our kids made in pre-school, items that were familiar from my grandmother’s house, and things that were held in the hands of my loved ones, who are now dead, are the most difficult for me to toss. Once our children have taken the bits they want and we have sent them those boxes we have been storing for them since they left home after college, no one will want the items that hold the most meaning for me. At the garage sale, they sit unwanted even in the free pile. This is the time for a kind friend or compassionate daughter to step in to help with the separation. I close my eyes and don’t want to know what is in the dumpster or on its way to the landfill.

There is also a cathartic aspect to getting rid of years of accumulations. Thirty-three years of paperwork (3700 pounds!) from my husband’s medical office and all our personal financial records except those required by the IRS are off to be shredded. Paper of all sorts is headed to the recycler. Church conventions and meetings, Sunday School ideas, clippings saved for who knows why: all those things we kept saying we should look through – gone. Joy is finding a note from one’s first teaching job – that says that I did good work with those little 4th graders, even though all these years later I wonder what ever possessed me to think I knew so much about raising kids when I was 21 and had none of my own. Sadness is finding a photo of a family who were perhaps once close but now, who knows. We packed it all up - affirmations of life and bits of shame – all being turned into some new paper for some other purpose.

The process of moving has a death and resurrection sense about it but it is also like waiting for a birth. We are in the “soon but not yet” phase of leaving our life in Wyoming. We have no offers on the house (we are not desperate enough to bury St. Joseph upside down in the yard) and in this economy who knows when an offer might come along. We have stripped ourselves of many possessions but still have more to go. We have stopped volunteering to participate in things we will not be around to be affected by.

Perhaps it is most like Advent, a time of waiting. The old things that made our life are ending – the new has only made its presence felt with a few light kicks.

I hope this process is good for the soul. The baggage of years can block the Spirit. Cleaning house and ridding oneself of unneeded material goods can make way for space to welcome new life. This is what I have been told by others who have preceded me in this activity. It remains to be lived into.


A riot of riddance

closing my eyes

I toss it all into

the shredder

moments of glory

moments of shame

all the same

now – fine bits of confetti

perhaps for a party

I wait, not stagnant, just grieving and waiting.

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.

The lessons of Three Cups of Tea

By George Clifford

The 4th and 5th grade Sunday School class in the parish where I’m currently serving as the priest in charge read the New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin this autumn. Three Cups of Tea traces Mortenson’s evolution from mountain climber to humanitarian change agent.

Through his twenties and into his thirties, Mortenson lived for mountain climbing, working as a nurse when not climbing in order to support his climbing expeditions. Then his attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain located like the better-known Everest in the Himalayas, ended in failure. Mortenson spent his energy heroically rescuing another team member, then wisely recognized that he no longer had the strength required to cover the last half mile to the summit.

On his descent, Mortenson, through inattention induced by his weakened condition, became separated from the others in his party. He spent a night alone on a glacier without fire, food, or friends. Only his innate physical endurance and the intensity of his focus enabled him to survive.

The crucible of K2 and his relationships with the Pakistanis porter and villagers who helped him to survive changed Mortenson. Before leaving the remote village whose residents had nursed him back to health, he promised to return and to build them a school. No grand vision lay behind the promise. Instead, Mortenson’s gratitude and his realization that helping others represented a far greater achievement than scaling a challenging mountain inspired his promise.

Several of Mortenson’s lessons learned and experiences in his transformation from climber to humanitarian change agent resonated deeply with me. First, the book’s title highlights a tribal custom of the people who sheltered Mortenson and for whom he promised to build the school. Sharing one cup of tea is between strangers, the second cup is between friends, and the third is between family for whom the other family members are willing to do anything, even die. However one defines family, do you really value your family enough to sacrifice a long-cherished ambition for their well-being? Theologically, sharing the Eucharist is analogous to that third cup of tea. Yet for how many of the people who share in the Eucharist, whether locally or globally, am I willing to die? Like Mortenson, I can benefit from lessons in valuing family.

Second, Mortenson has to learn that wisdom and education are not synonymous. Paternalism, even a genial, well-intentioned paternalism, remains paternalism and demeans its intended beneficiaries. Ecclesial structures that implicitly value clergy more than laity or insiders more than outsiders generally embody a similar paternalism. Walking together does not necessitate having a hierarchical leader with subordinate followers.

Third, Mortenson never attempted to convert the Muslims among whom he worked to his religious perspective. Although spirituality permeates Three Cups of Tea, the book never clarifies Mortenson’s personal beliefs and practices. Yet the influence of his strong Christian upbringing is repeatedly evident. Mortenson’s genuine respect for the Muslims among whom he works – Sunnis, Shias, and Ismailis – exemplifies respect for the dignity and worth of all people to which we commit ourselves in our baptismal vows. Mortenson communicates his real respect for people by living as they live, praying as they pray, eating what they eat, dressing as they dress, etc. He never pretends to be who is not, e.g., a Muslim. But he learns the importance of unfailingly honoring those in whose presence he is. Individuals need to adopt a spiritual path and then travel that path. Wandering aimlessly among paths or picking and choosing what feels good in the moment usually results in the idolatry of a God of our own making or our traveling in circles (which is what people who are lost almost invariably do without a compass). Conversely, believing that only one path leads to God expresses an unfounded hubris that God preferentially loves some groups, nationalities, and ethnicities because over 90% of the world’s population inherit their religion by accident of birth and never depart that faith.

Finally, Mortenson builds one school, then another, and another, and yet more. He builds water systems. He builds a bridge. In other words, he translates his commitment to help people into practical actions. He perseveres in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles. For example, he has no idea how to raise the funds to build the first school. Of the 580 fund raising letters he mails, he receives only one response. The physical hardships that he endured are legion. Unwavering focus and unrelenting effort, often at great personal cost, enabled Mortenson to change thousands of lives, empowering people with literacy and hope. If the Church strove with equal diligence and wholeheartedness to translate its avowed love for others into practical actions, the one billion plus Christians would literally transform the whole world.

I am thankful that the Sunday School class read Three Cups of Tea. I am confident that their teachers and parents know and share the story of God's love in Jesus with these children. After thirty years of ordained ministry, I am far less sanguine about the likelihood of Sunday School igniting raging motivational fires in these children to go into the world and translate Christianity’s basic principles – love God and love others – into transformative, pragmatic actions. God's “frozen chosen” need the heat of passionate love for others to thaw the Church’s body, igniting a contagious zeal to be about God's business. Such a fire will help us to keep our ordinary preoccupations, personal and ecclesial, in perspective. If Three Cups of Tea ignites such a passion in only a single child, I for one will see a miracle – the hand of God at work – in the life of that child and that class.

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 serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Supporting gay marriage in DC

District of Columbia Council – Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary
Public Hearing on Bill 18-482
Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

My name is Paul Roberts Abernathy. I am the rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill – a community of 700 souls and many family configurations. A single mother whose adopted daughter was born in China. A gay couple, together now 21 years, who, eight years ago, adopted their son from Vietnam. A lesbian couple at whose commitment service I was privileged to preside and whose children I have been honored to baptize. Heterosexual couples, white, black, and interracial, married for years ranging from one to nearly fifty. Single people of all ages. St. Mark’s is many families with one set of family values: love and respect, fidelity and stability.

Concerning equality, we believe that God, to paraphrase our national creed, endows us all with the inalienable right of life and love founded in relationships of faithful commitment, and, through such, the right to all civil liberties and legal responsibilities appertaining thereto.

I affirm the right of others to hold other views. Yet, as a Christian, I heed the biblical witness of Jesus who quoted Genesis, “From the beginning, God made them male and female,” specifically in reply to a question about divorce, therefore decidedly not in response (nor do I believe it should be used today to respond) to an issue that, in his day, did not exist: same-sex marriage.

Throughout history we have changed our laws to reflect our ever deepening consciousness about what promotes a productive, stable society. This legislation addresses an issue that in our day does exist and, more importantly, acknowledges the reality that same-sex relationships are a part of the rich tapestry of life in our beloved District of Columbia. Thus, I advocate the passage of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009.

I close with a very real story. John and Kevin were proud fathers of their son. John was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage. Kevin, considered only a friend by hospital staff, even in possession of a living will and a power of attorney, initially was not allowed to share in life and death decisions. John died. Kevin received no Social Security spousal benefit. (The procurement of Social Security, as a federal benefit, is yet another element of the long journey toward equality.) Had Kevin not been gainfully employed, John’s death, already devastating beyond words to tell, would have proved wholly financially debilitating.

Grave inequality makes for gross injustice, the sort of which no culture of compassion dare tolerate. I pray your benevolent consideration. Thank you.

Read the Rev. Abernathy's All Saints Day sermon, in which he reflects on the experience of offering this testimony.

About that job...

We all are called for service to witness in God’s name.
Our ministries are diff’rent, our purpose is the same:
To touch the lives of others by God’s surprising grace,
So people of all nations may feel God’s warm embrace.

-Rusty Edwards, Hymn 778 (from Wonder, Love, and Praise)

By Richard Helmer

One of our parish leaders often reminds me that the implicit or unspoken messages we send as a community of faith are just as important – if not more so – than our explicit, spoken messages. In recent conversations, I’ve been reminded of the implicit messages we often send as a church about ministry. A great deal of our time is devoted to building up and supporting various ministries – the works of the saints – that further our worship and pastoral tasks as a Christian community and institution. And regularly, during the year, we commission and honor people in these ministries: from the vestry to the choir, the altar guild to our Sunday school teachers, our Eucharistic ministers to our teams devoted to outreach and social services.

The implicit message we send, however, by only lifting up these groups and leaders for ministry in our congregations, is that Christian ministry is always and only focused in and around the institutional Church. Even worse, we often imagine ministry means Christian activity with the clergy (“professional” ministers) at the center, and various groups of lay ministers in orbit, working with, for, and sometimes around the clergy! While our ministries in the church’s name and for the faith community’s well-being must remain vital, if we confine our definition of ministry to only these clergy-centered areas of our life in a faith community, we severely limit our vision for the Gospel’s potential to work through each of us in the wider world. We severely limit our roles as saints – that is, as Christ’s eyes, ears, and hands in the world.

In short, when you imagine ministry of all the baptized, do you first think of the few hours a week you spend in volunteering for your faith community or attending worship? That’s the trap I mean.

But what if you began to see ministry as part of your everyday, even moment-to-moment life? In the parish I serve, we have financiers and attorneys, artists and poets, contractors and artisans, physicians and nurses, office assistants, musicians, counselors, librarians, homemakers, students, entrepreneurs, volunteers, bookkeepers, scientists, teachers, architects, and realtors. During this season when we remember All Saints, it’s important to remember and value all of these vocations as critical to our baptismal life. We are reminded to think of our jobs as more than just jobs. They are our ministries. We must remember that Christ is at work when and where we are. And because of our baptism, we have invited Christ to work through us. We are a community constantly in ministry, whether we are on the church grounds or not, whether we are doing it in our congregation’s or denomination’s name or not! That, to me, is what sainthood is truly about.

Some of us these days are struggling with unemployment and underemployment. Just the other day, I dashed to the school office after dropping my son off for first grade. We had each been asked to put $20 in an envelope to help with the purchase of a birthday present for his teacher. I was hoping to get in and get out quickly so I could make it to the office on time for my “job” in ministry. But another parent was also putting money in at the same time, and she wondered aloud as she did if the few dollars plus change she could afford would be enough. Time seemed to stop as I paused to talk with her.

As a single mother presently struggling with unemployment, she was faced with the shame of not being able to make the ask. Frankly, my family couldn’t afford the full ask either, and I shared this with her. I think she found this a relief. I was honored by her willingness to share the perspective of her situation, reminding me that even in a seemingly affluent community like the one in which I serve, there are many who struggle alongside us every single day to make ends meet. It was a moment of ministry, and I didn’t have to go to the parish office to accomplish it. I wasn’t even wearing my collar.

As we parted company, I wondered about the gifts of the unemployed and underemployed in our midst. What do our own members bring to our shared life as they work for little or no pay or search between jobs? So I did some research – by posting the question on my Facebook page. From some friends, I got the standard “pray for the paycheck” response. Indeed we should pray for all those struggling to make ends meet at this time. But I also heard from other friends this remarkable list of gifts for ministry the unemployed and underemployed bring to all of us: hope, determination, loyalty, dedication, determination. Another response noted the gift of being off the tether of a contract – the freedom to find meaning in life without the constant demands of an employer. This is ministry, too, as gifts like finding life’s meaning are shared among us most of all by those struggling to seek the next paying job, the next career, the next vocation. As we struggle along with the un- and under-employed for economic justice, we also reap the gifts of the Spirit the struggle reveals among us.

Then there are the gifts of those who have retired – whose experience and wisdom can give rise to so much opportunity for ministry in their lives. There are the gifts and ministry of our children, as their wonder keeps the rest of us alive to fresh perspectives on God’s grace at work in our midst. There are the ministries of our youth, as their energy and new vision stir up what is old and begins to bring to fruition what is new. There are the gifts of parents who nurture the next generation; the ministries of husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, partners, friends, and neighbors. None of these are “paying jobs,” but they get the job of ministry done in profound ways! These, too, are ministries of the saints.

The Christian “job” is to take on all our work, play, and struggle with what our spiritual tradition calls intention; that is, with prayer. With this action we cease to be working stiffs and our jobs cease to be mere generators of the almighty paycheck. Instead, they become ministries, and, indeed, vocations for all of God’s people, wherever and whenever we find ourselves. And that’s a message worthy, it seems to me, of a feast day like All Saints’.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, church politics, music, and the misadventures of young parenthood at Caught by the Light.

Why is it so sad?

By W. Nicholas Knisely

A few years ago, because of some local political controversy, we offered a safe place to worship to a group of Latinos who no longer felt safe traveling to another part of Phoenix. That small group of ten or so souls has now grown to over 300 people with nearly 100 or so regularly gathering on Sunday mornings. I've learned a great deal from this experience. One of the most important things I've learned is that when Americanos and Latinos work to make common cause, it's less important to be bilingual than it is to be bicultural. (Full credit given to Canon Carmen Guerro for leading me into this understanding.)

Why bicultural? Because sometimes we Americanos do something with the best intentions and find out that we've misstepped. Consider this year's Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) observance at Trinity Cathedral here in Phoenix. We've tried to do something to mark this important folk celebration of All Soul's Day in Mexico and other Latin American countries given that there is a very large number of Latinos living in the neighborhoods around the Cathedral. Generally though we (Americanos) constructed a beautiful altar in the Art Gallery part of the Cathedral, collected important artistic works and thought we were doing bicultural ministry. The displays were very lovely and lots of folks from the Anglo congregation brought their friends by to see the exhibit.

But now that we have a vital Latino congregation it was important to me that we move away from an observance of the day and toward an authentic worship experience. So we decided together that the proper place to put this year's altar of the dead was not in the gallery but in the Columbium (which is where many of the beloved of the Cathedral congregation are interred). One of the priests on our staff, who has a real gift for design, was asked to put the altar together on Friday and Saturday in preparation.

He did a superb job. It was striking, sensitive and theologically rich. It sent a message of our Christian hope, founded in baptism, that in Christ our lives do not end, but that death brings our transformation. He created a three part altar, covered with beautiful black cloth, a display of marigolds, focused on a cross and pascal candle; all of which were dramatically lit. It was elegant, understated and just what I had hoped it would be. We were very pleased with ourselves.

Then on Saturday morning we had a group of parishioners and other friends come in to create decorated lamps that we were going to use in procession on Sunday night. Some of the women from the 12:30 (Spanish language) congregation wandered in to see the altar. It was not what they expected. I was upstairs in a Commission on Ministry meeting. I was sent a note that told me I needed to come downstairs as soon as possible. "It's very important."

The ladies had gone to Canon Guerro very concerned about the altar. "It's so sad!" What I had seen as elegant and understated, they saw as effectively communicating a message of restrained grief; not the exuberant celebration of joyful transformed lives that Dia de los Muertos proclaims.

So, with my "permission" the ladies set to making it a proper altar. They went out and bought candied skulls, crepe paper and lots of colored votive candle holders. And they spent a couple of hours making paper flowers, bunting and streamers. You can see part of the result in the picture on my personal blog, linked to in the comments below. (I'll post more there as soon as I have time to create a proper album.)

Where did we misstep biculturally? Well first, in my own sense that the beautiful altar was finished... Our staff priest actually designed the area to serve as liturgical "scaffolding" with the idea that it was going to be remade by the 12:30 congregation. But most of us, myself and the ladies of the 12:30 congregation included, didn't see that. It was so elegant that we didn't imagine that possibility. Where else did we misstep? It was in the idea that the ladies needed to get the permission of el Dean to make the altar their own. My understanding was that it was to be theirs from the beginning. But they could not imagine changing it without asking "The Man". Clearly we have some work to do to make them feel that they are full and vital members of the congregation, not people whom the rich Americanos tolerate out of some sort of noblesse oblige.

So, we have some work to do. But it's good work. I'm rather looking forward to it. Because, by pointing out my own misunderstanding of the basic nature of celebration rather than somber mourning surrounding Dia de los Muertos, I found myself rethinking my own relationship to my family members who have died. Particularly that to our youngest daughter.

The idea that she is attending an eternal fiesta in the presence of God held in the arms of her grandmothers and her namesake grandfather is a totally different way for me to envision her today, the 12th anniversary of her death. I like the idea of Fiesta much better. And so I'm grateful to the ladies of the 12:30 service for giving me a new set of lenses to see the world around me. I think our family just found a new folk custom that we shall keep all the days of our lives.

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He served as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

Crafting a liturgy of remembrance on Día de los Muertos

By Sarabeth Goodwin

St. Stephen and the Incarnation’s Misa Alegría congregation was just six months old when I suggested we might celebrate Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – as a way to invite our English-speaking brothers and sisters to join us around the table. After all, most North Americans have some inkling of this strange and colorful holiday that is the Mexican commemoration of All Souls’ Day. My excitement waned when the proposal was greeted by silence from my mostly Central American congregation. Finally one person ventured, “Madre, this is not our custom.” I replied, “You know, it’s not really mine either, but let’s give it a try. Perhaps it will become our custom.”

With some hesitancy we moved forward… together. At our first celebration in the parish hall, our Mexican members built the communal altar while others watched. We decorated the Ofrenda with colored lights and bright-colored tissue paper cut with smiling skulls. There were flowers and fruit, and a large bone-shaped bread dusted with sugar and hand carried from Oaxaca where the mother of one of our members is the village baker. Photos of deceased loved ones nestled beside handmade paper skeletons. A tiny papier-mâché dog skeleton with a green hat held a loaf of bread in its mouth while little plates of food and even a bottle of Corona stood waiting. In the middle was a cross with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in its center.

All Souls’ Day is celebrated in many countries, most often by visits to the graves of loved ones, which are swept, cleaned and often ornately decorated with seasonal flowers. Families spread blankets and share picnics with others who have come to honor and remember their loved ones. These customs have roots in the European Middle Ages. In Mexico, the celebration brought by Spanish missionaries has incorporated elements from pre-Christian native cultures. As with many things Mexican, this fiesta has taken on color and energy with the richness of multi-layered symbolism. Perhaps it is the hint of these indigenous roots that surprise us and attract us too.

At St. Stephen’s, our custom of Día de los Muertos is an evolving one. What began as an experiment in folk religion has become a liturgy of remembrance. Our celebration of All Saints and All Souls are now seamlessly joined by a procession from the nave to the adjoining chapel where the Ofrenda in all its gaudy glory is censed and blessed. Alfredo sounds the conch shell used by generations of his family to summon workers to supper. The deep, mournful tone fills the soaring spaces of St. Stephen’s and fills our hearts as well. We call out the names of those we love but no longer see. We light tapers and set them in the sand in a large cooking pot. Brightly colored sticky notes bear the names of loved ones on the wall of remembrance. And in an extension of our Eucharistic feast, we share our favorite foods in a pot-luck of joy and remembrance.

We can now claim we have worked together to make this custom ours. We have been enriched beyond measure by our common worship. New life has been born out of a splendid celebration of diversity and tradition. The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, a feast day too often forgotten, helps us see the saints we have known, loved and still love side-by-side with the glorious saints that inhabit Butler’s Lives of the Saints sporting the halos in religious iconography. All are part of the Great Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us. In a bright and shining moment, we recognize the truth of the words the English speakers sing at the Offertory, “for the saints of God are just folk like me...God help me to be one too.”

The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin is Latino Missioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D.C.

Advertising Space