The Covenant as theater

By Frederick Quinn

The setting is spooky, a large, cold English room filled with furniture of different styles and periods crowded together and needing a good dusting. It could be the setting for Masterpiece Theatre or Mystery, with the voice of Vincent Price introducing another dark tale of intrigue, etc. But the voice was that of Rowan Williams and this was his December 18 four minute visual presentation designed to win friends for the proposed Anglican Covenant that is otherwise going no where.

Numerous commentators have pointed out the document’s deficiencies, its misuse of Anglican history, and the dreary proposals in Section Four that would give us regulatory structures not dreamed of in Cromwell’s time.

Presumably the Williams video would assuage such apprehensions. The archbishop sat in what could have been a British railways hotel lobby chair, in a room out of Agatha Christie. His hands were pressed tightly together, voice was high and tense, and he tried briefly to be reassuring. A lot of work has gone into the Covenant, he began, I guess thinking that somehow such an opener would successfully paper over the numerous objections to the document. “It is not a penal code,” he continued, which immediately flagged that question. “We haven’t learned to trust one another,” he continued, and the leaden document being unrolled once more that December 18 would presumably “intensify our fellowship and our trust.” But does trust intensify from signing a poorly drafted document nobody wants, or does trust come instead from contacts built up over years of sustained sharing ministries?

The presentation was only four minutes long, ending in a flow of random observations that raised many questions and provided little reassurance of any kind. Parsing the individual lines serves no purpose, as the objections to the draft Covenant and the imperious way it has been presented have been chronicled elsewhere in Episcopal Café. What was most interesting was William’s body language, tense, imperious, and grasping at straws. It did not suggest the intensification of trust.

As a longtime follower of Mystery, I thought the video might end with a crow flying past or a suit of armor clanging to the floor, but the tape just stopped. Maybe what is needed is for some actors from Mystery or Masterpiece Theatre to film a set of short spots in period costumes ending with a line like “The Covenant really is good for you” or somesuch. But so far the Covenant rollout is unconvincing,

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn has written extensively on law and Anglican history.

Not protected, but encouraged

By Stephen T. Lane

Like many people, I’ve spent much of the last two weeks reflecting on my belief in God and on the nature of Christian hope. The seemingly inexhaustible horror of a magnitude 7 earthquake near Port au Prince, Haiti, has left something like 3,000,000 Haitians refugees in their own land. 1.5 million are homeless. All need water and food and medical care. Because most goods and services reach Haiti through Port au Prince, the whole country is at risk. As people flee the city, they take their needs, their hunger, to regions that have few resources to help. Television dissects the disaster in excruciating detail.

Observers have complained about the slowness of relief efforts, the lack of leadership and coordination, but the truth is that this is the greatest disaster to occur in one place at one time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even if the world does the very best it can, it is an open question if the world can feed, clothe and house 1.5 to 3 million people on a daily basis for months to come. In the face of such a disaster, words fail. The only appropriate response is a deep sense of grief: grief for the dead, grief for the injured, grief for the loss and devastation, grief for those we know, grief for those known only to God. And it is no surprise if we wonder about the love of God.

What we’re talking about is called, in theology, the problem of theodicy. Simply stated, in the face of disaster, God is either incapable of acting and is therefore impotent, or God chooses not to act and is therefore indifferent to human suffering. An all-powerful and loving God would not permit such a disaster. As I read the press and blogs, pundits everywhere are pointing either to irrelevance of faith in God or looking for some way to explain why God might want to punish the Haitians.

But such an understanding of belief, in particular, of Christian belief, rests on the theological speculations of fourth century theologians, early fathers of the faith, whose view of the cosmos and knowledge of science was very different from our own. In the fourth century, many things that we now understand as naturally caused were ascribed to God’s actions. It was an easy step to theologize that God caused and controlled everything.

Yet if we look to our Holy Book, there is nothing in scripture that suggests that God was or is able to prevent people from experiencing the consequences of living in a real world. Indeed, most of scripture is an extended reflection on how to live with the pain and the suffering of life in a real world.

The fact is that God created an ordered and predictable universe. Scientists have been working for centuries to understand that order. But with or without science, we can usually predict what will happen in our world. We can predict what will happen if we step off a cliff or in front of a bus. We know what will happen if we build homes on a flood plan or a fault line. We know what will happen if building codes are inadequate or there’s too much sand in the concrete. We know what will happen if we put a lot of people in a place with too little water or food. The world that God created is open to us and allows us to learn about it and to grow and organize our lives so as to live better.

And in this ordered world things collide – tectonic plates, weather systems, people and objects, ideologies, and nations – and when they do the consequences are predictable and often destructive. The Bible is the story of a people who conquered Palestine and then were themselves conquered over and over again. They saw their cities and their temple destroyed. They were carried off into exile. They were restored by foreign powers. They rebuilt their cities and their communities. Then they were conquered and nearly taxed into oblivion by the Roman Empire. And through it all, scripture says, God was with them.

Our faith is not that God will protect us from life in God’s ordered and predictable world. Our faith is that in the midst of that life God is with us to help us endure and to encourage us to live in ways that are closer to God’s intentions. The question for us is how do we connect more deeply to that life, how do we live more in tune with God’s intentions?

For the exiles returning from Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore the Temple, it was the keeping of the Law of Moses. Indeed the physical walls were a symbol of the wall created by the Law. The Law was the gift of God through Moses to God’s people. It gave the people an identity and an ethic, a way of life. Keeping the Law kept the people in touch with God’s intentions and distinguished them from those who lived outside the walls.

Paul doesn’t speak of a walled community, but he does speak, in equally concrete terms, of a body. The Christian community is like a human body, and all who are parts of the body have a role. People have many different gifts, but all can be used and, in the context of the body, none is superior to any other. Being part of the body connects us with Christ and distinguishes us from those who are not part of the body.

But the question remains… is this connection with God enough. Can it give us hope? What about being a walled city or a body can give us hope?

Those who have the Spirit of the Lord, who obey God’s law, who join with Jesus in fulfilling God’s intentions for the world, proclaim good news, freedom and recovery. They proclaim a world in which every person is part of God’s jubilee, the shalom, the harmony, which God intends for the cosmos. And they and God are working right now to make it happen.

Last Wednesday, the eighth day after the quake, I watched as a search and rescue team from New York freed a young girl and her little brother from the rubble of their home. As the young boy was raised from a hole in the ground his face broke into a huge grin and his arms were flung open wide in a spontaneous expression of the victory of life. At the joy of this rescue, all gathered broke into a roar and applause. That, for me, is our hope: not that the world will suddenly become magical, not that we will no longer suffer the predictable consequences of life in our world, but that, in the midst of death, life will emerge again. And we will have a chance, again, to live in harmony with God and one another. That’s the Good News – that God brings life from death and we can share in that life.

In our Baptismal Covenant we commit ourselves again to work with God to bring life from death, to be signs ourselves, of the hope that is in us. Does it make our lives easier? No… Indeed, it may make them harder. Does it make our lives safer? No… it may prompt us to take great risks. But it aligns us with the One whose will is to free and to heal and to recover. It will join us with God in God’s hope for the world. It joins us to a world in which the lives of 3,000,000 Haitians are essential to the harmony of our own lives. It joins us to a world in which new life rises from a hole in the ground. May it be so.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane is the Bishop of Maine.

Grandbaby

By Donald Schell

My wife and I are expecting. No, our own baby girl grew up and now she’s expecting her own baby. So actually we’re expecting vicariously or at one remove. Our first grandbaby is due in April.

As grandparents-to-be we’re fascinated to watch our daughter and son-in-law think, plan, imagine, and feel their way forward. They’ve researched car seats. They took a hospital tour and checked out the hospital’s ob-gyn practice and c-section stats. They’re being particularly thoughtful of each other in their time together as a couple while they imagine how different everything will be soon as their family of two becomes three. And they wait, by choice now and some friends feel eccentrically, to see if the coming somebody will be a boy or a girl.

I saw a shadow cross our daughter's face as my wife was showing her pictures of the birthing clinic that our young friends Maggie, Andy, and Emily, and the people of eighteen nearby villages just completed in Malawi, Africa. Carrying a baby herself, our daughter sensed how frightening it would be to anticipate labor with no access to emergency maternity help.

Watching the soon-to-be parents moves us to gratitude. They ask us lovely questions about how we did things, and some practical questions too that are a pleasure to answer when we can. We share stories with them of our daughter’s own birth, and memories of her older sister and younger brothers when they were children. She’s imagining the long journey from birth giving to grand parenting days like we’re experiencing now. The mother-to-be is seven years younger than her big sister and ten years older than her younger brother. Storytelling feels very rich. We had lots of time to watch the children grow, and with four of them, we came to see how each child was his or her own self from the day each showed up and accepted (yes, sometimes re-made) the names they were given.

Now all our four are grown, each one someone we’d hardly have imagined when they were small. I pause from writing this to raise four fingers one-by-one – the history professor, the full-time youth-at-risk program director, the priest, and just grown, eight months out of college, our youngest, the actor, piecing together auditions, work, and what parts he can get.

Today’s expectant mom was ten years old when her youngest brother was born. She remembers our astonishment at her fierce little brother, the baby and child so prone to tears and rage. She remembers her “experienced” parents taking a multi-week Systematic Training for Effective Parenting class in desperation and coming home to try what we were learning in class on him and her and her sister and other brother.

“Expectant” is a funny word. It misses part of the experience. None of our four are anyone we’d expected. While we acknowledge that they graced and challenged us far beyond our imagining, we also must acknowledge that they’re not the children we imagined before they showed up. And it wasn’t even enough to ‘accept and know them’ when they arrived. They each did their own becoming. We had work to do, but our agenda as their parents came with each one, each different and distinct.

The whole family says the explosive baby brother has become our glue, the peacemaker, the one everyone can talk to, the one who makes us glad to be ourselves. All his intensity is still evident onstage where he can be breath taking, heart breaking, and even terrifying. Offstage he moves through life with a grace and ease that moves Ellen and me to say, “big improvement on his parents – just how did that happen?” He was our thunderstorm and tornado, now his smile is sunshine.

That reversal touches a part of the story we can’t tell our daughter completely because she’s got to live it herself as she becomes a mom. There’s more letting- go and letting-be to loving than we knew or now know how to tell her. She does glimpse it in her work where she’s practiced a lot of letting go and letting be with kids who have a parent in prison. And she was old enough to see her dismayed parents feeling everything they knew or had done before was useless with her second brother, and she joined her big sister worrying over him and loving him with us.

In these waiting months of watching her and her husband I’ve been thinking about the divine mother/father. If we actually think about parenting, what does that image tell us about God’s love?

In the beginning, it looks easy - all four children image the love they came from and the love that watched them grow. But their growing changes simple generative love into something more. Each of ours stretched us beyond who we had been before they entered our lives.

If God is parent, God is changing with us.

While calling God our ‘maker’ doesn’t seem to imply change to the maker, knowing a number of artists and having myself tasted the difficulty of writing what I hear in my mind’s ear or trying to remember and sing and teach others something I know, ‘creator’ does begin to hint at a more passionate relationship than control, something that partakes of both struggle and dance.

Any creative artist knows that material has its own energy and something like a ‘mind.’ Creative work counts on material, and material is unbalancing. It causes the artist suffering and ecstatic discovering as vision and skill meet what is, what’s becoming and what can be.

Calling God our mother or father takes the risk deeper still. Parenting images evoke the wildness of engendering, birthing, and the twists and turns of loving and raising one who is truly other.

I can’t tell this to my daughter in words that are big enough or strange enough, but she feels it. Mothering love and fathering love drive out fond hope and vanity’s imaginings to welcome a stranger, an autonomous person who is also wholly and unpredictably a parent’s joy. The coming stranger will give her, and perhaps even the grandparents, new becoming, new selves.

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

Of creeds and covenants

By Torey Lightcap

Sunday after Sunday, presiders at Holy Eucharist rise following the sermon and try to say something pithy about what is immediately to follow. Too often, this introduction to the recitation of a creed – generally the Nicene Creed – misses the mark by a mile or two, betraying potential discomfort. For as well all know, being pithy and being liturgical don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand; the words of the liturgy stand on their own even if they’re not complete until spoken.

Among the many ways of mishandling this moment, my favorite is this: “And now let us stand and affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.” (Wait … you want me to affirm my faith in what, now?) I enjoy this moment not only because it makes me cringe (as indeed I am a fan of the awkward), but more to the point, because it accidentally shows how unsure of the content of the Nicene Creed we can be. (If we affirm our faith in the words themselves, perhaps we needn’t affirm much else besides!)

As one who presides (and as a stickler for liturgy), I suffer likewise, having attempted lots of workarounds to what often feels like a ham-fisted half-attempt at leading a community at prayer:
• Lofty: “Let us rise in historic witness to our faith and say together the words of the Nicene Creed.”
• Unapologetic: “Turning to page 358 in the Prayer Book, (pause) we say together (pause): ‘We believe in one God…’”
• Invitational: “Would you stand, please, and join me in saying together the Creed.”
• Or I say nothing at all: pausing, standing, and starting the recitation.

In truth, in their execution not a single one of these ideas improves on the situation in the slightest, and we all know it. By allowing us to over-announce the obvious, they simply reveal our sometime dis-ease with what is about to happen.

The simple fact is that for many, the content of the creeds these days provides a stumbling block where once, and in many times, it was foundational to faith. It feels like a stumbling block, perhaps, because it seems to sound tinny and unenlightened in the ears of moderns, who busily ask themselves, Does this statement reflect reality? rather than the postmodern question, Is it lovely enough to be true? (So perhaps it’s not even a question not worth flagging – something generational due to pass its own way after a few decades of “parallel development”!)

But then, what other foundational statement invites any higher level of agreement? A friend relates that the originators of an emergent project to construct a contemporary-language version of the Bible required assent to the Nicene Creed among collaborators; he writes that it “was the linchpin that we could all assent to – liberals and conservatives, Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals, progressives, denominational and non-denominational.” Yet for all the consensus it generates, the Creed’s placement within Sundays, for me, has always felt like something of a sore thumb – the thing we do because “it’s what we’ve always done.”

I most assuredly speak out of both sides of my mouth, for I say all this as someone who is relieved that the Creed follows the sermon. If my homiletical foot has slipped out of place, or if I have broken a boundary on the way to making some point, I take great comfort that the Creed is there to suggest what is normative. In that moment, the Creed is the remembering of a grace-giving Law.

Still, to any parish priest with an open office door and a confirmation class to teach, these tensions aren’t new. Something better is longed for; nothing better is advanced; we fall back into what we know; and omitting the element from worship only makes things stranger because we miss it so. Meanwhile, we’ve been hearing these complaints for years about the longsuffering Nicene Creed. You know:

• it reflects a cosmology whose structure is not supported by science (i.e., heaven is “up” and death is “down” and “we” are somewhere in between);
• it holds the value of baptism as being salvific for Heaven only, having little or nothing to do with entering into earthly communities of believers;
• it allows only for the bodily resurrection of Christ;
• it turns the prophets into predictors of the future only, and takes away their function as critics of the society, religion, and government to which they were contemporaneous; and
• it envisages God, in both God’s one-ness and three-ness, as being strictly male.

If it wasn’t meant to do these things, we certainly have not been careful to point that out. That would be an equal failing of seminaries and priests.

Whoever’s at fault, in other words, the Nicene Creed can at times feel like a limited and limiting instrument of faith – proscribed, dogmatic positions rather than the kind of lively thing we hope for, and know, our worship can be.

Even so, when it comes right down to it, we tend to grit and stand and recite with everyone else. The instinct to do so is practically reptilian. It’s just written on our liturgical DNA.

We tell ourselves,
• “This is all just one big metaphor, one approach to a larger and ineffable truth, which I can ‘believe’ because I can spiritualize it; I don’t need it to really be true.”
• “It’s beautiful and poetic.”
• “I’ll say this part but not that part” or “I can cross my fingers for the next three lines” or “I shall stand, but I shall not speak.”
• “Maybe if I do this I’ll be a better Christian. After all, everyone has to have a place to stand.”
• “Saying the Creed puts me in line with history.”
• “The sermon was so heretical, we have to have something to get us back on track.”
• “If this thing has been around as long as they say, it must be worth something, so I’ll give it a shot.”
• “I dare not leave the crowd.”
• “Thank God for the communion of saints. If I can’t say this Creed with a straight face, perhaps my neighbor will do it for the both of us.”

We negotiate the creeds, wrestle with them; revere their supposed historical capacity for creating compromise; use them as personal theological counterbalance to weigh and sift belief. But too often – or perhaps this is only one priest’s imagining – we do not employ them in the actual worship of God. And all this interior negotiation is happening (must this really be said?) in the supposed context of the worship of God.

Talk about awkward.

A few congregations have elected to deal with this situation by simply setting the Nicene Creed aside, not saying it at all, or saying it only sporadically when it suits them (say, when the sermon is shorter, or when voices clamor for it), or not saying it when it doesn’t suit them. You can never tell which way that wind is going to blow. But really, that’s just the exception proving the rule.

Others have tried to write new creeds, but their chief characteristics are not primarily credal; that is, their first goal is not to set out the scope of believing, but rather to react: to not offend, or to pack it all in, or to correct the theology and language of existing creeds. These artifacts, such as Jim Rigby’s “A New Creed,” aren’t so much creeds as they are alternative creeds (heavy on the alternative):

I trust in God, universal parent, source of all power and being;
And in Jesus Christ, a unique expression of God and our guide for living:
conceived by the spirit of love,
born of Mary’s pure trust,
suffered under political oppression….

The fact remains that for most of us, the Nicene Creed is not a commodity up for editing: it’s part of what makes worship essential and whole. Even if our understanding of it is less than complete – even if its recitation is like swallowing medicine drawn from an unlabeled bottle – nevertheless we need it (or should we say the collective mood or feeling requires it) to make the worship experience seem complete. For most, it must be like the blessing or the Gospel reading or the Peace: the air we breathe at worship, the ground on which we stand.

Only the air and the ground are so common that we forget they’re even there. No wonder it seems so awkward: certainly we need air to breathe, but in this case that air consists of the recitation of the terms of a theological deal struck nearly 17 centuries ago in a vain attempt at unifying a religion that was being fitted for servanthood to the Romans. That could be some pretty stuffy air.

The Nicene Creed may have settled the collective hash of the Arian camp, but those who study history know that the Creed came with its own ultimatum: endorse it or be exiled.

If any of this seems oddly familiar, it’s because we are currently standing upon the crust of exactly the same precarious moment in which propositions are being thrust upon us with the demand of assent or exile. In the propounding of an Anglican Covenant, Anglicans have been asked worldwide to state, codify, and commit to a set of beliefs and the practices that inhere in such behaviors so as to determine who is and who is not Anglican, and that’s just not how Anglicanism works.

A powerless and hollow citizenship in the Anglican tribe may be offered to those who cannot sign the Covenant in good conscience, yet who hold the common purse, and that might make them out to be Judas when all they ever wanted was to state with clarity what Christian justice looked like within their own province.

Who among us would imagine that a few hundred years hence, Anglican catechesis (if such a thing there be) would include the memorization of a binding juridical formula for the purposes of recitation in worship? Will it be set to music?

Of course not. This Anglican Covenant – so long as it is primarily concerned with discrimination – would have about as much flavor and pith as last week’s gum. It would be made into footnotes and studied by those with specializations in history and theology, and it would be remembered not as compromise, but as con. It would be novel in the worst sense.

In short, it would reflect its own limited worldview, proscribe rather than describe Anglicanism, and be largely misunderstood. It would certainly not be used in the actions of praise. Really: under what circumstances would it become an instrument of faith and evangelism, or further clarify the meaning and intention of Christ?

All of which returns us to the Nicene Creed, with its limitations and imperfections and our great, inexplicable, and admittedly rote need for it.

Whether and how we handle particular articles of faith says a lot about us. Sometimes, in a sense, they say more about us than they say about God. And yet here is this thing that provokes both theological anxiety when it is present, and personal anxiety when it is absent. What more can be said of it, than that it has held us together as much as it has pricked at our ideologies and politics.

May we handle with great care not just what is already in print and has been recited for generations, but what has been set before us to shape for the generations that follow.

Mutual hospitality

By Leo Campos

What is the basis for any community to be considered a community at all? In my own family, for example, is it sufficient that we all inhabit the same house? As it is with different schedules (after school activities, church activities, personal pursuits, chores, and what not) the amount of time we spend together as a unit is very limited indeed. Even the ideal of sharing a meal is not always possible - sorry can't stay for dinner gotta go to church for the 630p Healing Service. Sorry can't stay - yoga class starting in 15 minutes. Sorry can't stay, drumming lessons begin at 7 p.m. And so on.

But still we would consider ourselves a family or no more so than the vast majority of families these days. We have to fight for every scrap of time available. Without a doubt a community, be it a family or a larger organization is more than a collective of individuals. A community is a flexible and dynamic set of relationships. These relationships themselves are driven by the attitudes and behavior of its members, but they are themselves fed by and altered by the other attitudes and behaviors.

So what constitutes a family or a community? First of all a community is artificial. There is no such thing as "community," it is a construct which delineates, more or less arbitrarily, a space for relationships. This much is obvious. Even the "nuclear family" so beloved a myth in America is artificial. Growing up in Brazil I tell you that my "nuclear family" was way larger than what Americans consider their nucleus. It is inconceivable for me that the nucleus of the family should stop at one generation. In our family we make concerted effort to make sure that grandparents are involved in the children's lives. We also want to include cousins, aunts and friends into the mix.

Second thing to keep in mind is that what motivates individuals is not what affects communities. The community as an artificial phenomenon has a life of its own. There will be as varied reasons for members of a community to be together as there are members.

But we must be careful not to take this idea too far and end up thinking a community is some sort of Frankenstein's Monster - an artificial being with a life of its own. We cannot either assume or give what are human characteristics to a non-human thing. For example, while it makes sense to say that a my cats have a family, it is dangerous to think that way because "family" is a human construct. Cats most certainly do not see their own associations with each other and with non-felines in that way. Anyone else here who has ever watched the Dog Whisperer show on TV knows what I am talking about. The same way a community (or a family) is not a creature: it is an abstract entity which "moves" and "behaves" responding to different forces than the creatures that make it.

Some questions which arise when I think of communities: what is it that holds a community together? How is interdependence achieved, fostered, cultivated?

Without good answers for these questions I am afraid we spend a lot of time worrying about things which are less important, things like numbers. How many conversations have I had or heard where the defining characteristic of a church was its size. Sure it is by far the easiest thing to measure: one head=one person. But study after study of mega-churches has shown that the quality, the depth, and the impact of the church on the individual is in no way related to the size of the church. I would probably venture to say that it is in small churches is where you find the true disciples - after all the 5 people that show up for a Wednesday night Healing Service really want to be there.

I have no particular secret advanced monastic technique to increase community. But I can tell you what we do to try and foster a communal environment. First, everyone rows. There cannot be (especially in small groups) any tourists. I remember some time ago a wise priest pointing to me a horrible truth about the church: there are no volunteers in church. It is true! Everyone who calls himself a Christian is a disciple - who is obligated by evangelical commands to roll up their sleeves and work. Volunteering is a secular thing, for those who are idle and searching for something meaningful to fill up the time between lunch with friends and bridge club later that night. So at our Community, from day one, we talk about everyone being responsible for the whole. Second, we throw away rules. I do not mean that anything goes, but rather we try to do away with regulated and regimented verse-and-response communications, and instead hope to foster a more tenuous, sometimes embarrassing, often funny, informal dialog. This allows everyone to talk in their own way, in their own voice. Finally, we are rabid defenders of each other's individual and unique call. By destroying all cookie-cutters, we hope to emphasize to everyone that they are held in unique respect by all of us.

By keeping these three aspects in creative tension we have been able, so far, to maintain both a healthy interest in the global community as well as excitement about each individual's call. Surely there must be a way to do so in the church as well?

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).

Remembering Mom's Epiphany

By Lauren R. Stanley

I lost one of my most precious notebooks recently, the one that holds my notes for my post-graduate studies. It’s a nice notebook, an old-fashioned journal actually, with heavy, dark paper and a soft leather cover. I love that notebook – its feel, its smell, the way the ink spreads a little on the page … But right now, I can’t find it.

Since my post-graduate studies resume in a few days, I have to have another journal. I own a lot of them – a friend keeps me well supplied. The one I settled on is small, also with a soft leather cover, and is hand-stitched together. I’ve used this one before, but hadn’t really touched it in years.

Flipping through it, I discovered that this was journal I used while sitting with my mother in her last days on this earth. On the very last page was a sketch I drew of her a few days before she died. She was lying in her hospice bed, sleeping peacefully, and as I sat beside her, I quietly sketched away.

It’s not a good sketch; I am not a good artist. But it seemed like the thing to do at the time, and I’m glad that I’ve found this journal again.

My mother died eight years ago, on the Feast of the Epiphany. Since that time, whenever I have celebrated the Eucharist, I’ve thought of her. When we reached the introduction to the Sanctus – “where with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” – I particularly rejoice, for I am convinced that she is part of that company of angels, and that she is singing beautifully again to the glory of God.

You see, when I was a child, my mother had a beautiful soprano voice, and we often would sing together in church, she hitting all the high notes while I struggled to come anywhere close.

I remember well the day that I first hit the highest notes of the “Ave Maria.” My mother, standing next to me, singing away, turned to me and gave me the biggest smile. We finished the hymn singing together, and that day, for at least that moment, I felt all grown up.

From that time forward, my mother and I sang together … in church, at home, in the car. We didn’t always sing beautifully, and we didn’t always sing beautiful songs. My mother would often let me pick the radio station and sometimes, the songs were the catchy rock-and-roll that I preferred. At home, more often than not we sang show tunes or hummed along to classical music. One song dear to us both: “Que Sera, Sera.” The future’s not ours to see, she would sing. And somehow, hearing her sing those words, softly and gently, she managed to remove whatever fears I might have had about whatever was, or was not, going on in my life.

Long before my mother died, her singing voice had deserted her. She still loved to sing, and she still loved to sing with me, but now it was my voice that led hers, my voice that hit the high notes. Her voice, as she admitted, quavered, and her high notes were nothing but a long-ago memory.

In her last days, I sang to her a lot. I picked hymns that she knew, and sang canticles and prayers, and on occasion, when I was alone with her, I would sing “Que Sera, Sera.” My mother wasn’t sure she was ready to face God. She wasn’t certain she had lived a good enough life. She was somewhat afraid of being judged and found lacking. So I sang, over and over again, “What will be, will be.”

I like to think it brought her some comfort. I know that when she died, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she had an epiphany of her own, for my belief tells me that when at last she reached the Alpha of the rest of life, she found that God loved her and welcomed her home.

And now, whenever I celebrate the Eucharist, and especially when I celebrate on the Feast of the Epiphany, whenever I speak of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, I think of my mother, and I smile a bit, because I know that she’s part of that glorious company, and that her voice has been returned to her and that indeed is singing away in heaven. Her epiphany of God’s love helps me remember that I am loved as well.


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, where she is providing regular updates on the aftermath of the earthquake.

Work, pray, give

By George Clifford

Haiti’s recent devastating earthquake prompted me to ruminate some about responding to disasters by giving and praying.

Photos and videos of the aftermath convey some sense of the earthquake’s destructive power. Yet how can most of us comprehend a death toll of 45,000-50,000? My parish has 800 members. My high school had 1600 students. My hometown had roughly 5000 residents. A nearby community has approximately 55,000 citizens. Even after making those comparisons, I struggle to grasp the immensity of the earthquake’s human cost.

History suggests that the immediate outpouring of funds and prayers to aid Haiti will fall well short of the need and quickly taper off. Part of the shortfall assuredly results from our difficulty in understanding the vast sums of aid that Haiti needs. Another factor is distance. For the most part, potential donors know few people (if anyone) who live in Haiti; new concerns will soon cry out for our attention, pushing aside current ones, especially concerns that we do not personally see. Donor fatigue is still another factor.

Underneath those and perhaps other factors lies a basic aspect of human nature. Human beings, according to scientific research, seem genetically predisposed toward reciprocal altruism. Humans help others expecting that the giver, in a time of need, will receive aid. The aid may come from those the person has directly helped or from people within a broader community of mutual interdependence. Mutual aid within a nuclear family, an extended family, a parish, and even a nation exemplify the expanding circles to which and from which the reciprocal altruistic can reasonably expect to give and receive aid. In the case of Haiti, aid goes to the geographic area that constitutes numerically largest diocese in the Episcopal Church, i.e., many Episcopalians will aid fellow Episcopalians.

Three hundred years ago, a natural disaster prompted little international outpouring of aid. Since then, the level of those efforts has gradually increased, perhaps in no small measure because of religious influences, especially Christian ones. In other words, perhaps the world is on a trajectory toward a global community characterized by reciprocal altruism. Certainly, one can point to many contrary signs. However, the prospects for a peaceful world apart from reciprocal altruism seem dim. Reliance on arms, necessary to some extent in the short run, arguably represent a greater prospect for mutual destruction than peace.

Prayer is no panacea. If prayer fixed everything, then the world would be a much better place and donor fatigue would never occur. Disasters might happen but praying people would telescope rescue, relief, and recovery into the rapid and complete restoration to wholeness of all effected. Contrary to the popular ranting of prosperity gospel preachers, prayer simply and obviously does not work that way.

Yet aid alone – even apart from corruption, misuse, and well-intended but ineffectual endeavors – is insufficient. Effectual disaster response also requires prayer. Psychologically, praying focuses the attention of those praying on the need or persons for whom prayer is offered. Continuing to intercede or give thanks for that person or group, sustains that focus to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the intensity and frequency of prayer and competing claims. Ongoing prayer, if nothing else, ensures that we do not forget the needs of disaster victims.

Prayer, however, is not merely about the psychological dynamics of the person praying. Prayer connects people with God and one another across the spatio-temporal matrix. In some way that I do not pretend to understand, prayer establishes or enhances a relationship between the one praying and the one for whom prayer is offered. Process theologians may conceptualize this happening in God's mind; Christian theologians more rooted in historic formulations may conceptualize this relationship happening through divine intervention in the world. Proving the connection occurs let alone explaining the mechanisms by which it happens lies well beyond the frontiers of human knowledge. Nevertheless, praying for others makes a difference in the wake of disaster. Our prayers, coupled with gifts of labor, money, and other resources, lovingly expedite restoration.

Prayer is also vital to the work of restoring to wholeness communities hit by disaster because prayer is the only real antidote to donor fatigue. Jesus faced incredible odds in his ministry of declaring, incarnating, God's unconditional and enduring love for all. He persevered in that mission at the cost of his life. His grave could not contain that love. A significant number of people who encountered him experienced God's life giving love so powerfully that they were permanently changed. The Church was born and the world set on a different course. The gospels, with all of their differences and rich ambiguities, consistently depict Jesus as a person of prayer, spending substantial amounts of time in solitary meditation and prayer.

To sustain my commitment to loving others for the long-term and in spite of numerous obstacles, I emulate Jesus’ spiritual praxis. Praying for disaster victims in Haiti and elsewhere focuses my attention on them and their needs for the long-term, establishes/enhances a spiritual connection with them, and helps me to have wisdom, courage, and strength equal to the task of restoration. That alone is the cure for donor fatigue. The God who created us with a genetic predisposition for reciprocal altruism also created all people, endowing each with a spiritual nature through which we can connect to God and to one another. This was the way of Jesus.

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.

Learning to love and live the Christmas pageant

By Ellen Painter Dollar

Confession: I could really do without the annual Christmas pageant.

The children’s ministries director at my suburban Episcopal church says this is a common sentiment among those in her position, for whom the pageant can be crazy-making, what with the involvement of dozens of small beings, some of whom rarely come to church otherwise and don’t know the altar from the aisle, who need to be costumed and corralled and choreographed, all at dinnertime on Christmas Eve, one of the most excitement-filled, overscheduled, oversugared, meltdown-inducing days of the year. Our director, though, insists that she loves it all, and it shows in her patient handling of errant camel drivers and weeping angels who can’t find their halos.

But as the mother of three of those children on the brink of meltdown, I always dread the pageant. Sure, it’s cute and all, and it helps my kids understand, in a very concrete way, why we celebrate Christmas. But after weeks of baking, shopping, wrapping, and decorating, I’m ready to kick back with a glass of wine to admire the tree and stare into the fire. I am ashamed to say that I often see the pageant as the final hump to get over, the last thing to check off my to-do list so that I can actually celebrate the holiday instead of preparing for it.

This past Christmas Eve, it looked as if the pageant was going to be even more difficult to sit through than usual. A snowstorm the weekend before meant that the kids had no dress rehearsal. There were long, awkward pauses as we all waited for solos that both the singers and the organist seemed to have forgotten. There were sidelong glances and inscrutable hand gestures as the kids tried to pantomime to each other what they were supposed to be doing. I was anxious for it to be done so we could feed the kids and get them in bed by 9 p.m.—later than normal but early enough that they might make it through the following day without collapsing into puddles of misery. My stomach was growling in anticipation of Christmas Eve dinner. I sat slightly slumped over, chin in hand, as I went through my mental checklist of the children’s gifts, making sure I hadn’t forgotten to wrap something vital and that everyone was getting an equal number of presents.

And then, Gabriel delivered the infant Jesus (played by a three-month-old baby girl) into Mary’s arms, and Mary and Joseph began to sing. And everything—the pageant, my attitude—was transformed. I was so caught up in what was happening up front that I sat glued into the same position, slumped over with chin in hand, for the entire song, afraid that the slightest movement would break the spell.

They sang “O Holy Night,” and it was remarkable for many reasons. The teenagers playing Mary and Joseph had beautiful voices, certainly, but it was more than that. They took turns harmonizing—one would sing the melody while the other sang harmony, and then they would switch roles, seamlessly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. They worked together, each bringing something unique to the song, each willing to step back into harmony or step forward into melody as the song demanded. Just as two unprepared but willing teenagers might work together to raise the surprising gift of a baby—one stepping forward to lead when the other is scared or weary, each giving what they can when they are able, the sum of their efforts worth far more than their individual contributions.

And how poised they were. Not confident exactly. There was uncertainty in the way they held themselves in this pageant that had, thus far, not gone quite as planned. Joseph stood with hands clasped in front of him, while Mary took care to hold the baby in her arms just so, stealing frequent glances down and occasionally doing a deliberate little bounce to soothe her. This was all new, this singing a song with difficult harmonies in front of several hundred hushed spectators, with a living, breathing baby alongside and without adequate rehearsals. They seemed apprehensive but not afraid, aware that things could go badly—the baby might wail, the harmonies might be off—but eager nonetheless to do what was being asked of them. Just as, I imagine, Mary and Joseph might have felt two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, two young people who were asked to accept and love a baby they did not expect, and no ordinary baby at that. A baby born among animals and visited by kings.

I did not want the song to end, but it did (probably to the relief of Mary, holding the baby who miraculously stayed calm and quiet for the entire song and the remainder of the pageant). The pageant continued, with the wooden camels clickety-clacking their way down the stone-slabbed aisle, and the proud parents snapping photos of the assembled angels and shepherds during the Peace, and the restless children asking, “Is it almost over?” through the Eucharist and final hymns.

We got through the pageant and Christmas Eve dinner, and the wildly anticipated Big Day itself. We had a wonderful week with no work and no school, during which I ignored most chores and allowed myself to really celebrate the holiday after all those weeks of preparing. And now, as I write this, the decorations are back in their plastic bins in the basement, the Christmas gifts have been shelved alongside all the gifts from past Christmases and birthdays, the kids are back at school, and my husband and I are back at work.

But I hold onto the sight of Mary and Joseph singing at the Christmas pageant, not fully prepared but ready enough, a little nervous but nonetheless willing to do what was asked of them. They have become, for me, a symbol of what it looks and feels like to respond to God’s call.

There are two major works that God has called me to thus far: motherhood and writing. In both cases, I have had to do what God was asking me to do despite not being fully prepared, and yet being fully aware of how things could go wrong. My husband and I decided to have biological children even though I have a disabling bone disorder and each child had a 50 percent chance of inheriting it. For five years, I worked at writing a book about what that experience taught me (is still teaching me) about God, human beings, suffering, love, choice and disability, even though publisher after publisher told me it was well-written but not marketable enough.

Today, I have three beautiful children, a book contract and two blogs with appreciative and growing audiences. Every day brings opportunities to get up in front of those willing to listen—my family, my community, my readers—to sing about darkness and light, sin and hope, weariness and rejoicing. I am blessed with many partners—my husband, my parents, my editor, fellow writers, friends who read and respond to what I write—with whom I work in harmony, sometimes leading, sometimes following, always aware that work done in communion with others is more valuable than work done in isolation. Writing and parenting can both be tremendously isolating, and even though that isolation is sometimes necessary (I keep my cool through many loud, contentious dinner times by reminding myself that later, once the kids are in bed, I can sit down alone to write), if I write or parent without engaging with the wider world, then my work becomes self-indulgent.

As I sing, offering my words and my work, the baby’s wailing might drown me out, I might sing the wrong notes, or I might be unsure of what I’m supposed to do next. But I’ll sing anyway, not fully prepared but ready enough, a little nervous but willing nonetheless to do what is asked of me.

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer whose work focuses on faith, parenthood and disability. She is writing a book on the ethics and theology of reproductive technology, genetic screening and disability, and she blogs at Choices That Matter and Five Dollars and Some Common Sense.

Extreme Home Makeover: Diocese of Texas style

By Carol E. Barnwell

Hollis Baugh, a member of St. Christopher’s, League City, (TX) designed and helped to build the largest home yet for ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover. The 5400 square foot structure in Kemah will be home for the Beach family whose home has been unlivable since Hurricane Ike. The family of 15 has been living in a trailer on their property until this January when they were chosen to receive a new home from the popular reality television show.

The home, which Baugh helped to design to the program’s specifications, was completed in 106 hours by a team of vendors and volunteers lead by Blu Shields Construction, and was designed to fit the needs of the Beach family. Members from many Episcopal churches volunteered to work on the home through the unusual subzero temperatures that plagued the first part of the build.

During their 23 years of marriage, Larry, 40 and Melissa, 40; have fostered more than 85 children that adoption agencies were not able to place. They have four biological children and nine adopted children ages 23 years to 22 months. Their son Cody, 19, is currently serving in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan. Several children have special needs and the new home is complete with a therapy room.

Baugh, who was born in Nacogdoches and raised in Houston, started building houses with his father when he was in junior high school. He and his workers are excited about helping the Beaches regain their quality of life after so many months of hardship. “I have been blessed by helping people,” he said.

Baugh joined the Episcopal Church in 1993 after moving to Baycliff near League City when his wife Anne visited and began attending St. Christopher’s. He built his windstorm inspection business and now covers the 12 coastal counties, certifying construction to meet the state’s windstorm requirements. “Just knowing how to build a house isn’t enough,” Baugh explains. “We check the framing, the nailing of the sheeting of the walls and the roof that provides the wind force resistance.”

A graduate of the University of Houston, Baugh is a registered professional engineer and was appointed by the Texas Department of Insurance to do the windstorm certification. While the state holds him to a high level of performance, Baugh said his values, informed by his religion, make daily choices easy. “The spiritual part makes it easy to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Every three days someone calls and wants you to do them a ‘little favor.’ We can’t fudge.”

Trained as a Stephen minister, Baugh spent several years serving as junior warden and is currently a lay reader at St. Christopher’s. He helped put in the church’s community garden. He has worked with Blu Shields Contruction for a number of years. The family company is committed to design and construction of quality, high-energy efficient homes built within a short timeframe.

“Building houses in 128 hours doesn’t scare them,” Baugh said. “It scares me!”

This was their biggest challenge to date, said Baugh, who prebuilt floors and walls which were then set into place with large cranes during the 24/7 week-long build. The home will have an elevator so all children will have access to all the rooms in the house. “It’s a real Hollywood production,” he said, listing numerous camera crews, a hospitality and VIP tent, crowd control and street closings needed to complete the event.

The Beaches were one of several families interviewed for the show, which will air in March. “Yes, some families will be disappointed, but this is a very deserving family and we are doing a good thing,” Baugh said.

“We couldn’t have done it without him,” said Blu Shields, who walked by during our interview. “You are sitting in front of a good man! Hollis came up with this idea to pre-build, pre-panelize,” he added. Ninety percent of the house was then sitting on trailers in the parking lot, waiting to be unloaded as it was needed by two enormous cranes.

Before I left, Baugh showed me his slide rule collection. “I’m missing a round slide rule, then my collection will be complete,” he said.

Thanks to Baugh, Shields and the thousands of volunteers who made this home makeover happen, the Beach family moved into their new home less than a week after leaving their trailer. That’s gotta feel good for everyone involved.


Work continues in Galveston
To help rebuild other homes damaged in Hurricane Ike, go to http://www.ikerelief.blogspot.com/ and volunteer with Texas Episcopal Relief and Development. Hundreds of families are still not in their homes following the devastation of Hurricane Ike and you and your friends can do something about it. Join us in this effort to get people back home.

Carol E. Barnwell is communication director of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

A God of patterned chaos

By Adrian Worsfold

On March 2 at the University of Surrey Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Surrey, will be interviewing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at the University.

This should be interesting, because as Professor of Public Engagement in Science Jim Al-Khalili holds to an entirely self-organising view of the universe and its activity, equal to that of Professor Dawkins of the University of Oxford, who was previously Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. One wonders how Rowan Williams's apparent place among the intellectual leaders of Britain will demonstrate itself, or whether his subject of theology as it exists will tie itself in knots in comparison to the explanatory narrative of science today.

Jim Al-Khalili is one of those gifted communicators who can transmit in modern media the important headlining findings of contemporary science, perhaps with one or two more adjectives than necessary. His presentations are about the recent history of mathematics and science.

A recent programme is relevant regarding recent events in our world. In The Secret Life of Chaos (2010) he describes key figures who have helped overturn key Newtonian assumptions when it comes to fundamentals of physics, biology and chemistry. There are also some lessons in two biographies.

First lesson is the treatment of gay people. Alan Turing is the parent of modern computers. During the war the authorities knew he was gay, but he was too valuable in his code-breaking to touch. In the 1950s his ex-lover burgled his flat and Turing contacted the police. They ended up arresting Turing, accused him of leading the burglar astray because he was gay, and the judge offered him either imprisonment or sessions of female hormones treatment to cure him. The result was he became depressed and killed himself aged 41 by eating an arsenic laced apple. The loss to science is immeasurable. However, he left us with a ground breaking suggestion that simple mathematics could demonstrate dynamic patterning self-organisation.

The second lesson is dogma. About the same time, Boris Belusov was carrying out experiments regarding how the body extracts sugars. He created a chemical mix. The mixture oscillated between becoming colourful and going clear again. This seemed to violate the laws of nature. Belusov repeated the experiment many times, but the journal told him his experiment was not fit to publish because of the current dogma of science. As a result, Belusov abandoned this line of experimentation and soon withdrew from science. Indeed the dogma of the Iron Curtain meant he was also unable to see that Turing had produced the abstraction for what Belusov had demonstrated.

Other scientists went on to discover a bland chemical mix in a petri dish could produce and move waves, scrolls and spirals.

Then in the early 1960s Edward Lorenz hoped that computing power would allow prediction of the weather through equations. He could not. From him came the now well known phrase, 'The Butterly Effect'. In the early 1970s Robert May discovered that tiny changes in the birth rate had unpredictable consequences in the populations of animals.

What was clear was that pattern formation and unpredictability went hand in hand: one works with the other. The system is such that the tiniest variation in the starting point leads to familiar patterns but never quite the same outcome, and the result is unpredictable. Then Benoit Mandelbrot used computing power and included the simplest feedback equation of Z+(Z*Z)+C to produce the Mandelbrot fractal (that looks like a Buddha), to produce self-similarity at level after level within complex patterns.

Evolution is also a feedback mechanism that works on the pattern forming feedback systems, to refine what fits best environmentally. Torsten Reil has looked at such order in systems. Today massive computer power with tiny rules have mimicked the three and a half billion years it has taken to produce the refined intelligence of us: a hundred very wobbly leg walking examples were bred to allow them to walk, producing eventually a self-programmed set of highly refined real-time reactive virtual men. No programmer could have produced these.

There are a number of points from all this, I think. First is the chaotic side. The fact is that the patterns of activity on earth: from us in the environment, to the crashing economy, being within the awful recent weather, and sitting on top of devastating earthquakes, are all self-generating chaotic systems. They are patterned activity, and chaos means tipping points where an old equilibrium collapses and is replaced by another. That's what happened with the banks, what happened with the extended snow, and what has happened in Haiti.

Secondly is the pattern side, including the relative stability still for our lives at present, and the beauty of nature, the sunsets, or the flocks of birds moving in the sky for which there is no overall driving mechanism. Simplicity and feedback is these need. The artist drawing a rounded tree knows that the twigs go outwards but the leaves are dotted in using semi-circular waves.

For me, all this ought to involve a revolution in theology. God is not some sort of intervening being, poking the system from without, or with historical moments of intevention, but is of the meaning of it all. I don't go along with a deistic argument: it used to be that God set up a steady state universe and withdrew, or set the universe off with a bang and withdrew, and now would be a simple feedback maths rule-setter. That still relies on an intelligence producing complexity argument, whereas the whole point of this is that simplicity produces complexity and intelligence. The computer power iteration shows that: the universe's thirteen billion years allows that; the three and a half billion years of life on earth allows that.

What we are is part of the self-generating pattern making, and we'll be around until we pattern ourselves out of existence or a catastrophe does it for us (for as yet unknown patterns to grow and replace us). The theological questions now are how we behave as intelligences within the systems and these are going to be ethical questions.

I bet the Archbishop of Canterbury says nothing like this to his interviewer in March. He'll still be on about an interventionist God with lots of don't knows and caveats, and narratives as if historical facts; he will still dealing in the kind of dogma that finished Belusov, and we wonder whether he has forgotten about employing ethics, given that some Anglican Churches would still have their countries treat an Alan Turning like the British did in the 1950s.

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

Notes

Khalili, J. (2010), 'The Secret Life of Chaos', BBC 4, [Television], [Transmitted: Thursday January 14 2010, 21:00-22:00]

Khalili, J. (2010), al-khalili.co.uk: the Official Website of Jim al-Khalili, University of Surrey, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://www.al-khalili.co.uk/. [Accessed: Friday January 15 2010, 18:10]

Of little things

By Marshall Scott

I was listening to the radio as I drove, and heard a report about a new satellite telescope. The purpose of the telescope is to find new planets revolving around other stars. It seems that in its first few weeks of operation, it’s already found several.

“Wow,” I thought. “In this day and age, would anyone follow a star?”

The word “epiphany,” and the season of Epiphany, are about manifestation, making public. It’s “revelation,” but with a strong theme of “publication,” even of “publicity.” It is about reaching out to the world and getting attention.

But, once again, in these “days of miracles and wonders,” as the song says, who would follow the star? To paraphrase another song, “how you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen ‘Pandora?’”

It doesn’t really help, I suppose, that all the really big miracles in Scripture are in the Old Testament. Israel passed through the Red Sea, and the water stood up like walls. Joshua asked on the day of battle and the sun stopped. There’s virtually nothing on that scale in the New Testament, even in the works of Christ.

Yet, for all the attention we give them, perhaps the big, showy events are the least important. After all, quantum mechanics, the physics of the very small, reinforce for us that the universe is not only stranger than we do know, it's stranger than we can know.

I think it is the tiniest, the most intimate miracles that we find most moving and important. What event is more powerful for us, more filled with awe and hope and fear than the birth of a child? Or, how many events carry more promise for a family than a wedding; or for a community than a baptism? And how many of us have found our lives shaped profoundly by an important conversation with a teacher? These can seem small, personal events; and yet they can be much more meaningful than earthquake, fire, or storm.

These are the miracles of Epiphany, the events we hear in our Gospel lessons as we move from Incarnation to Manifestation: visitors in the nursery, a baptism, a wedding. These are intimate miracles from our God who has come to be intimate with us. These are wonders, so tiny and so personal, from our God who came among us as a person. In the season when we celebrate how Christ was revealed to the whole world, we note it in events the whole world can know: birth and marriage, rite of passage and meaningful conversation.

In this Epiphany season, let’s appreciate these little wonders. These intimate miracles of Epiphany can speak to us most clearly of how God has shown his glory: in Christ entering our world and our lives so that God might become intimate with us.

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.

Here is my servant

By Bill Carroll

Here is my servant, whom I uphold—my chosen in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.

The resurrection of Jesus led to an explosion of joy and a flurry of missionary activity. The apostolic generation knew no Bible but the Old Testament. Among their favorite texts were the four servant songs of Isaiah. They used these songs as they proclaimed Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond, to India, Ethiopia, and China. Jesus was God’s suffering servant. Did he not suffer greatly when he died upon the cross? Was he not also the risen Lord who would establish God’s righteous rule on earth? Twice, Isaiah says that God’s servant will bring forth justice. Justice for the nations. Justice, in other words, for the Gentiles. By his resurrection, Jesus breaks open God’s covenant with Israel, so that all nations may enter the Kingdom of God.

In its original context, the figure of the servant probably meant God’s People Israel—or perhaps the prophet himself. God had called Israel, not for its own sake, but for that of the world. God chose this one nation in order to bless all nations. So too, the Word becomes flesh in one man—Jesus—so that all flesh may see the salvation of God. The Church is a particular people, called in Christ for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Here is my servant, says the Lord, whom I uphold. My chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations.

We are entering the season of Epiphany. From the beginning of the season, there is an emphasis on the universal mission of the Church. The three kings come from distant lands to worship the newborn Messiah. Epiphany means manifestation. In the Gospel readings for the season, we see the glory of God revealed in Jesus. Jesus is God’s gift for the whole world.

We begin with his baptism. Little has happened since Jesus was born. Then, one day, he shows up at the Jordan, appearing for the first time in public as an adult. He is one among many penitents who have come to be baptized by John. The crowd is so impressed with John that they wonder whether he is the Messiah. But John points to another—to one more powerful than himself, who will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

At first, Jesus is anonymous, hidden in the crowds. It’s not obvious he’s anyone special. But after he is baptized and begins to pray, heaven is opened. The crowd sees the Spirit descending. A voice speaks: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God acknowledges Jesus, as if to say, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold…I have put my Spirit on him.”

This is a theophany, like God appearing in the burning bush. In his baptism, Jesus is revealed for who he is. The Baptist’s testimony, the descent of the Spirit, and the heavenly voice join together to say, “Here is the Son of God.” It’s significant that the revelation is Trinitarian. God’s voice says, “This is my beloved Son.” The Spirit rests upon Jesus. Here we see the one God, traditionally named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see the other persons related to the Son, who has become human. In and through the historical moment, we catch a glimpse of the relationships among the three persons of the Trinity.

God is fully revealed in Jesus, who is God from God, light from light, true God from true God. But God is reveled in concealment. God comes to us hidden. Hidden in the flesh of Jesus. Hidden in our neighbor. Hidden in water, oil, bread, and wine. In the sacraments, the most ordinary things are transformed into sacred mysteries, vehicles for the saving presence of God. Mysteries aren’t just something we haven’t figured out yet. Mysteries evade our comprehension in principle, because they involve the living God. Even the Scriptures are a mystery. Without faith and the Holy Spirit, they are just dead words on a page. The words of Scripture, in all their tensions and contradictions, point to the Word—Jesus, the Word made flesh. He is the living center of the Scriptures. With water, oil, bread, and wine, they are a sacrament of Christ, just as he is the sacrament of the living God—God with us in flesh.

The self-manifestation of God is real, but it is the revelation of a holy mystery of goodness and love. God is both gift and mystery—really given, yet ever eluding our grasp. God is “ever greater” than we can imagine or conceive. We know God, and God is always with us. Yet we can find no adequate words for God. So we stutter along, as best we can.

We search the Scriptures. We participate in the sacraments. We confess the creeds. But we can never, ever comprehend God. Indeed, as Augustine teaches, the creeds “fence a mystery.” They show us where the mystery lies without taking it away. Ultimately the mystery is the Triune God—creating, judging, blessing, saving, and sanctifying the world. The Holy Scriptures are the story of God’s dealings with humanity. They are the Word of God for the People of God. Their proper context is the liturgy of the Word in the Holy Eucharist. We do not read them alone, but in community. They proclaim the gift and mystery of Jesus, which is summarized in the Catholic Creeds, and given to God’s People in the bread and wine.

There seems to be some embarrassment in all four Gospels about the baptism of Jesus. Does it mean that John the Baptist is his superior? Why does Jesus participate in a ritual washing if he’s really without sin? Various explanations are given in the Gospels and the Fathers. One is that Jesus allows himself to be baptized in order to give us an example of humility. We ought not to fear to confess our sins and seek God’s forgiveness, because the Son of God was willing to assume the role of a penitent. Another explanation is that his baptism provides an occasion for God to make Jesus known to the crowd. A third explanation is given by Athanasius: Jesus is baptized in order to make the waters we are baptized in holy. Because Jesus is washed with water, water becomes the preeminent sign of his union and solidarity with us. Because of his baptism, water is forevermore a sign of his death and resurrection, of the forgiveness of sins, and of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Truly, when we are washed in the font, Jesus himself baptizes us, with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

In Holy Baptism, we come to share in his relationship with God. We are taken up into the life of the Trinity. We become God’s beloved children. We share in the same Spirit who rests on Jesus. On all the baptismal feasts, we confess our faith in the Trinity as we renew our baptismal covenant, which begins with the Apostles' Creed.

Through baptism, we also share in Christ’s mission in the world. So we continue by renewing the vows that provide the framework for our mission. Like the Creeds, these vows “fence a mystery.” They point us to practices that frame our participation in the crucified and risen life of Jesus. They do not solve the mystery; they show us where it’s found.

According to Daniel Stevick, “Christian baptism is an action of a community, bringing an individual into the shared life of a people—a life as intimately bound up with the living Christ as one’s body is with one’s personhood and identity. There is no private relationship with Christ: to stand in relationship with Christ is at the same time to belong to his people.” (By Water and the Word: The Scriptures of Baptism. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1997, p. 287) The five promises of Holy Baptism show us what it means to belong to Christ and his people.

First, we promise to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” Gospel teaching is absolutely central to our life in Christ. So too is our regular participation in the life of the community, in the sacraments, and in common prayer. These are not something optional that we do only when it suits us. We are not consumers of religious services but disciples of the living Lord.

Second, we promise to “persevere in resisting evil” and to “repent and return to the Lord.” Life in Christ involves an ongoing struggle with sin, as well as trust in the mercy and forgiveness of God. All of us fall short in our discipleship. Day by day, we need to return to the Lord, remembering our baptism.

Third, we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” Life in Christ involves sharing our faith with others, by what we say and do. It involves making disciples for Jesus and bringing others to the saving waters of baptism.

Fourth, we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Life in Christ means that God calls us to love all people—without exception. Our love extends even to our enemies and especially to those we find difficult to love. It goes without saying that this includes our fellow Christians. If we cannot love the members of our own family, how will we love strangers? We are called to do both, but we can’t do one without the other.

Fifth, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people,” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Life in Christ means that we are active peacemakers and that we join in the struggle for justice and dignity for all people. According to the prophets, this includes the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants, both in their own right, and as a sign of vulnerable and oppressed people everywhere. We are to embrace this aspect of our mission even if it means that we must suffer greatly. By our baptism, we have taken on the servant ministry of Jesus.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations.

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.

Go forth from this world

By Deirdre Good

It wasn't April and I wasn't longing to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury in good company. Instead it was on a cold December day that I went to Canterbury behind the ambulance bearing my father to the Pilgrim's Hospice where he would spend the last four days of his life. It would be the end of his struggle with cancer. My mother accompanied him in the ambulance. She will have her own tale to tell.

Although my father was under hospice care and hospice nurses visited us regularly, we didn't expect to be visiting the hospice as he had made it clear that he wished to die at home. But during the course of the last full week of his life, it became obvious that while my mother had to this point managed to look after him wonderfully well night and day at home, this was no longer possible. I'd never been to a hospice before but it seemed that no pilgrims could have been more considerately welcomed than we were. The ambulance had arrived abruptly in the late morning and lunch was the last thing on our minds as we left the house. But the hospice took care of the three of us: Dad was admitted and we were offered sandwiches for lunch and the knowledge that he would have better palliative care for his last days.

Each day we visited the hospice different volunteers at the front desk greeted us, and, reminding us to sign in and wash our hands, they went off to make sure that our patient could receive a visit. At the bedside we were regularly offered coffee or tea or hot drinks by hospice staff depending on the time of day. And no one intruded on our grief as we sat and prayed or wept or just held his hands.

The patients recognized differences amongst themselves. The man in the bed opposite my father was going home before Christmas. When my mother was initially confused about the medicines being given to my father, he told her in some detail what the tubes delivering medicine to his body were. One morning as we sat by the bedside, another patient delivered a Christmas present to my comatose, deeply sedated unconscious father, laying it carefully next to him. We found out that he had done the same for every patient in the hospice. When we went to thank him, we found him dressed as an elf. "Don't look at my green tights!" he said.

And the hospice staff accompanied us every step of the way on our journey towards my father's death. They met us where we were and they did what we asked. "How did you sleep?" they asked my mother the morning after my father was admitted. "Would you like to be present when he dies?" they asked us both. We were offered an overnight stay to keep watch by the bedside. When we requested that the chaplain come to anoint my father late on a Sunday evening after she had already been to the hospice that morning for a Communion Service, they rang her and she came. Then they moved his bed into the chapel where she lit the Advent candles, prayed over him and anointed him.

Other family members made the same pilgrimage to the hospice that we did. My father's younger sister was driven across the country by her elder daughter to see her brother on the first day after he was admitted. It was in her presence that he opened his eyes for the last time as he tried to say something acknowledging family presence. My wife Julian flew over from New York City to be there for the duration. My eleven-year old niece, his grandchild, came with her parents from London to play Christmas Carols for him on her violin the day before he died. Hospice staff not only moved us into the chapel for this occasion but also brought in a piano that enabled her mother to accompany her. We listened, sang carols and wept as they each said goodbye to my father, holding his hands.

My father embarked on his own last journey at 2am on December 23rd. The night staff rang my mother and we were there within the hour to see his body for the last time in the darkness of early morning. They had laid a red carnation by his head. They assured us that he died peacefully. And after some time, they offered us tea in the chapel. So we began our strange new journeys without him. As we left the hospice and drove out into the deserted streets, I could hear the chaplain's blessing and farewell:

Go forth from this world: in the love of God the Father who
created you, in the mercy of Jesus Christ who redeemed you, in
the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens you. May the
heavenly host sustain you and the company of heaven enfold
you. In the communion with all the faithful may you dwell in
peace. May the choirs of angels come to greet you; may they
lead you to heaven. May God’s tender mercy now enfold you, and
may you find eternal life.

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

Face to face

By Donald Schell

What St. Paul hinted at it in I Corinthians –‘Now we see in a glass darkly, then face to face: now I know in part; then I shall know even as I am known’ –he left to the writer of I John to speak plainly, ‘Beloved, we are already God’s children, but what we will be hasn’t appeared yet; what we know is this: when He comes we shall be like Him, for we’ll see Him as He is.’
More than ‘believing,’ seeing is becoming. Mirroring makes us who we will be.

Participants in a Music that Makes Community workshop feel the energy of that becoming when they learn by mirroring generous musicians like Ben Allaway, Ana Hernandez, Marilyn Haskel, Eric, Law, Lester Mackenzie, Emily Scott and Scott Weidler. In January and February All Saints Company will offer the eighth and ninth of these three day workshops at San Francisco’s and St. Louis’s Episcopal Cathedrals. Three years into this work discovery continues for both leaders and participants.

My own role exploring “What God’s doing in this music” has me reading and re-reading primatologist Frans de Waal and Neurologist Marco Iacoboni, scientists whose research could challenge the church to ask how liturgy and music-making in liturgy trains us in compassion and shapes us for community in mission. If our humanity emerges from empathic communication, and if singing together is older and more essential to our communities than language, as Steven Mithen argues in Singing Neanderthals, how can we do it better?

For millennia before we had printed texts our ancestors learned music from face-to-face mirroring. Many of us learned songs this ancient way at summer camp and maybe from learning some spirituals and work songs, or savoring world music that brings us living choral folk traditions from Africa and elsewhere. There are musical treasures that would be very, very difficult to learn without words and notes on paper. But singing by mirroring, learning without paper touches something profound in our God-given humanity and taps a primal root of human community.

Reaching to feel and see this deep synthesis of practice, reflection, and theory, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched (and of course listened to) Stanford University’s Talisman A Capella singing ‘When he comes’ (from the I John text) to nursing home residents in Capetown, South Africa.

Naturally enough the nursing home setting of Talisman’s song reminds me of my wife’s University of California doctoral research, a qualitative study of the daily meal interaction between nursing home caregivers and residents. One day Ellen was discussing her research with Leonard Schatzman, the groundbreaking sociologist on her dissertation committee. Ellen said, somewhat apologetically, “I’m really just interested in what happens locally, at the bedside and in the hallway outside the patient’s room face-to-face. I don’t know what to make of the big institutional stuff higher up.” Dr. Schatzman’s responded simply, “Ellen, face-to-face is all there is. It’s face-to-face all the way up.”

Watching Talisman’s singers key off one another face-to-face, we see and feel their faces and bodies communicating what they’re singing, and then, as the camera takes us to the faces of the old people in the home caught up in their visitors singing a song they know and love, we catch another glimpse of the community-shaping power of face-to-face.

But what about global politics? Does face-to-face music-making have anything to do with the big questions? Or is it simply that global systems and politics live beyond the reach of compassion? How does the coming of the tender baby’s kingdom change systems? To bring it home, what’s face-to-face got to do with conflict and change in the Anglican Communion? Schatzman’s point, of course, is that even presidents and archbishops change (or don’t) by what they see, feel, say and do face-to-face.

Singing together doesn’t change us all at once any more than a single encounter with an openly gay Episcopalian changes a homophobic Anglican. Friendship and the discovery of grace come with repetition. Face-to-face singing and learning music to pray together in liturgy changes us ripples out to generous leadership and creativity that emerge among us as we count on one another to hold tune and words. We used to know this culturally. Civil Rights movement songs like ‘We Shall Overcome,’ changed the people who sang together and echoed in hearts and minds facing fire hoses and police dogs. It’s courage, ‘heart’ that we find when we offer even tentative voice to sing what we’re just learning and eventually to stand in front of the group and take a turn as leader.

Another Talisman YouTube vignette takes that practice to echo life and death politics as Talisman sings ‘Hosanna’ at an Easter Monday liturgy at Regina Mundi in Soweto. We watch privileged Stanford students risking hubris. As pleasingly rainbow-colored as they are, these kids singing a Soweto hymn in a Soweto shrine and sanctuary of the anti-Apartheid movement are among the most privileged young people on the planet. They know that. They’re also a typical college mix of skeptics and agnostics with a smattering of cultural Jews and Christians. Singing at a mass at a shrine where anti-Apartheid martyrs’ funerals were celebrated, Talisman’s singers find legitimacy from their willingness to open their hearts and sing the music as they received it. Their singing steers clear of the hubris of claiming suffering they haven’t known. Just watching, we can feel and mirror how the music itself and the people they’re singing to enlarge their experience and ours. Talisman risks singing a mystery that’s stronger than their religious skepticism and we can feel that they sing a history that has now touched and changed them.

And at the end of clip, the camera gives us of a black South African congregation who lived through the terror and bitter politics. Again we’re mirroring the congregation’s skepticism, as we wonder, ‘what do they/we think of this?’ and then…communion, and gratitude at what the singers have seen and felt, what they have learned and sung.

Face-to-face we recognize authenticity.

Baby’s brains are primed to discern faces. Even an abstraction, a highly stylized pair of eyes, nose and mouth holds a baby’s attention. All of us began to discover who we and how we care by seeing ourselves in the faces, voices, and gestures of others like us. And in glimpsing their tenderness mirroring us, we longed to become what we saw. Our adult’s consciousness still involuntarily tips our eyes sideways to discern a face nested in print ;~)

Seeing isn’t believing, it’s becoming, and, as Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa insisted, we become both human and holy by seeing and by learning. ‘Gnosis,’ esoteric, fully defined knowledge for the few can’t build community. Learning together face-to-face does build community.

Imitatio, the imitation of Christ, is our becoming, our becoming like him who is, by the grace of God, our being. Repetition, mirroring, our simplest, most primordial building block of human learning puts us face-to-face, where compassion is born, where conversion and formation really happen.

Am I stretching too far to take this to politics and to our Anglican Communion?

Whether in church or in our workshops, when I’m singing in our familiar ecumenical, progressive mix of LGBT and straight church musicians and clergy, I find moments when I must give thanks again for the pioneering courage of our middle-aged and older gay who risked coming out. Coming out is face-to-face. I know it a little when I declare myself a divorced and remarried priest. Face-to-face takes us to the specific incarnational particulars of humanity. Who would we be without the sometimes joyful, sometimes disquieting experience of knowing people well when they tell us the next piece of their story and experience? Face-to-face changes us all.

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

The psychology of the transitional diaconate II

This is the second of a two-part article. It was originally published in Vol. 31, # 4 of Diakoneo, the journal of the North American Association for the Diaconate (NAAD) and is reprinted with permission.

By Pamela McAbee Nesbit

There is a psychological explanation for why otherwise knowledgeable and sophisticated people become sentimental and careless in their thinking when they talk about the transitional diaconate. The explanation is that they are trying to reduce cognitive dissonance, an experience that comes about when a people behave in ways that do not fit their values or their sense of themselves. The ordination to the transitional diaconate has put every ordinand to the priesthood in exactly that situation. Every priest in the Episcopal Church has stood before a bishop at the examination for diaconal ordination and answered, “I believe I am so called” to the question “My brother or sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his church to the life and work of a deacon?” The 1928 Prayer Book used somewhat different language, but included the requirement that the ordinand say that he believes he is “truly called” to the ministry of a deacon. This is a requirement that has been fulfilled by every priest and bishop in the Episcopal Church, despite the fact that our priests are neither called nor trained to be deacons. I have been a member of the Commission on Ministry of the Diocese of Pennsylvania for over 10 years. In my time there, I have never seen any nominee for the priesthood examined for his or her call to the diaconate.

For those who have successfully completed the rigorous and lengthy requirements to become a priest to find themselves standing before a bishop in a solemn ceremony in which they are asked if they are “truly called” to the life and work of a deacon must be disconcerting in the extreme. What are they supposed to say? If they say “No, I’m not called to be a deacon, I’m called to be a priest” they will not be allowed to become a priest. This liturgical requirement of the Church puts ordinands to the priesthood in the position of either saying something they know to be untrue – that they are truly called to be deacon – or of finding a way to make it true. “Yes, I am truly called to be a deacon because I like the thought of being a deacon, or because the diaconate will teach me to be a servant.’ or “Yes, I am truly called to be a deacon because it will give me an understanding of my priestly ministry that I hold precious even as I am seen by the people in the church as what I am – a priest – not a deacon.”

Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling that people have when there is an inconsistency between what they believe and how they behave. For persons called to be priests, for whom liturgy is profoundly meaningful, to knowingly speak an untruth in an ordination ceremony creates enormous cognitive dissonance. Social psychological theory and research predicts that in the face of cognitive dissonance people will unconsciously change their beliefs in order to make the dissonance disappear. They will rationalize – which means they will construct a logical justification for their belief. But, because they are motivated by the desire to believe what reduces the dissonance, the quality of their thinking will be reduced. They are less likely to take all the facts into account. And they will not be willing to engage in real and thorough discussion of the issue about which they are rationalizing.

What I am suggesting is that the reason we continue to have a transitional diaconate, long after it makes any sense to do so, is because every new priest is forced to deal with the cognitive dissonance created by their diaconal ordination and particularly by that part of the examination that requires them to state that they are “truly called” to be deacons. The transitional diaconate is sustaining itself through its own liturgy and especially by the discomfort it creates in the hearts of ordinands required to affirm a call that is not theirs. I believe that if we had a generation of priests who were not required to be ordained as deacons, the arguments for the transitional diaconate would melt away very quickly as the rationalizations they are.
It takes courage to overcome cognitive dissonance. People have to learn to tolerate the discomfort so they can think clearly about the issue that is causing it. Cognitive dissonance tends to lead people to be stuck in patterns of behavior that don’t make much sense. That is how I see the Church at this time about this issue. I believe that part of the call of the deacons of the Episcopal Church is to gently but inexorably challenge the pious fiction of the transitional diaconate and help the church become the whole, organic body of Christ, called in baptism and living out our servant ministry in Jesus’ name.

The Rev. Deacon Pamela McAbee Nesbit, Ph.D. is president-elect of NAAD, organizer of the upcoming Diaconal Assembly and a deacon at Church of the Holy Nativity, Wrightstown, PA.

The psychology of the transitional diaconate I

This is the first of a two-part article. It was originally published in Vol. 31, # 4 of Diakoneo, the journal of the North American Association for the Diaconate (NAAD) and is reprinted with permission.

By Pamela McAbee Nesbit

As a psychologist and a deacon I have long been struck by the poor quality of the explanations offered for the existence of the transitional diaconate in our time. The rationale of the diaconate as presented in the 1928 Prayer Book at least made sense. It was a clear expression of cursus honorum, the vertical, hierarchical model of the church that requires those in holy orders to show fitness in one order before moving up to the next. The prayer at ordination asks that persons being taken into the office of Deacon may “so well behave themselves in this inferior Office, that they may be found worthy to be called unto the higher Ministries in thy Church…” The 1928 Prayer Book is clear. The diaconate is a probationary period in which a man will show himself worthy (or not) to become a priest. This is highly questionable ecclesiology, but at least it makes sense.

In the post war period this kind of thinking began to be challenged. In 1958 a resolution was adopted at Lambeth, which stated that “The office of Deacon shall be restored to its primitive place as a distinct order of the church, instead of being regarded as a probationary period for the priesthood.” This was proposed in response to a report from a committee that had studied the issue and concluded that the Church should either restore the diaconate or give it up. Give it up? The 1958 Lambeth Conference was actually invited to consider jettisoning one of the orders of the Church. However, given that the order of deacons had completely lost its original role, its functions having been taken over by either laypersons or priests, this shocking suggestion also makes sense.

The Anglican Church did not give up the diaconate. The Episcopal Church began to ordain men to the “permanent diaconate”. This experiment was not very successful as these new permanent deacons (ordained using the 1928 Prayer Book liturgy) had no ministry other than to be assistants to priests. Most of them were dissatisfied in their diaconal ministry, such as it was, and many of them became priests. The theology behind the 1979 revision of the prayer book took these mistakes into account. The 1979 Prayer Book intentionally makes the diaconate a full and equal order. Gone is the 1928 Prayer Book rationale for ordination to the diaconate by those called to be priests, although in canon law the transitional diaconate persists. And now, it seems to me, the Episcopal Church is struggling to explain why we continue to require that people called to be priests be ordained first as deacons.

As I have spoken to priests and bishops about the transitional diaconate and have read the rationales for its existence, I’ve been struck by the theological superficiality of the explanations I have encountered. The one I have heard most frequently is that the priest found his or her diaconal year “enjoyable”. I have heard this from many people, but the time I most clearly remember was when a priest said this to me in exactly the same tone of voice she might have used to say that she enjoyed a trip to the shore: “I enjoyed my diaconal year.” I was shocked. Certainly enjoyment is not meant to be the basis of ordination to any order of the Church.

A less offhand, but similar statement was made in a priest’s essay about the diaconate posted on his parish website. He begins by pointing out that some people believe the transitional diaconate is unnecessary and that it reduces the diaconate to an apprenticeship for priests. “However,” he goes on to say, “I rejoice that, even for six months, I served as a deacon. And I also believe that once a deacon, always a deacon – that I am both deacon and priest.”

I don’t question the sincerity of this priest’s rejoicing in his sense of himself as a deacon. However, I don’t see much difference between this and “I enjoyed my diaconal year.” Surely the diaconate is meant to be more than a source of joy to priests.

The other argument frequently put forward for the transitional diaconate was articulated on another parish website. In attempting to answer the question “What is a Deacon” the writer says the following: “There are two types of deacons. There are deacons who feel they are called to be deacons, period - called "Permanent or Vocational Deacons"; and there are deacons who feel they are also called to be priests and they serve as a deacon first, to remind them they are servants - called "Transitional Deacons".

This is an example of the frequently-made argument that, now that transitional deacons are no longer proving their worthiness for higher things, the purpose of the transitional diaconate is for priests to learn that they are servants. Surely it would have been better for them to have learned this as baptized people. The argument that the purpose of the transitional diaconate is to teach future priests to be humble, or to teach them anything at all, continues the questionable idea that the diaconate is a teaching device rather than a full and equal order. And, more disturbing, it continues that unacknowledged narcissism that makes one of the sacred orders of the Church be about what any individual feels or learns rather than about building up the Body of Christ. The question is, what do we ordain people for? So they can feel good? So that they can remember to be humble? I can’t imagine any priest or bishop in the Episcopal Church accepting such a trivialization of his or her order of ministry.

When Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori came to the assembly of the North American Association for the Diaconate in June 2007, she gave the keynote speech and then stayed for an extensive question and answer time. I am sure that this was the first time that Bishop Jefferts-Schori had been a room with over 200 deacons. She was gracious and encouraging, and had clearly come to both challenge and support us in our ministry. In the question and answer time someone asked about direct ordination. In defending the transitional diaconate, Bishop Katharine said, “Well, there’s something diaconal about the priesthood,” at which point many voices said back, respectfully but loudly, “That comes to you through your baptism!” It was my impression that Bp. Katharine was taken aback. But she stayed and talked to us for a long time. And, I have heard rumors that she is now suggesting that vocational deacons refer to ourselves as “real deacons”.

What struck me at the time was how superficial and inarticulate was the explanation of the normally profound and articulate Presiding Bishop. I am struck repeatedly by the, frankly, sloppy and dismissive arguments that people make when they defend the transitional diaconate now that the 1928 rationale is no longer (overtly) used. In 2003 the Standing Commission on Ministry Development brought a proposal to the General Convention recommending direct ordination. Deacon Ormonde Plater, writing in the Associated Parishes journal describes what happened next:

Faced with a resolution asking convention to approve direct ordination, the bishops chatted at their tables for a few minutes and had a brief, desultory debate in which Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan stated the main case for direct ordination. The voice vote was overwhelming opposed.

The ministry committee then crafted a revised canon on ordination to the priesthood, requiring the transitional diaconate, and sent the whole bunch of canons to the bishops, who loaded on 12 amendments and passed the canons unanimously. A day later, the last day of Convention, the House of Deputies concurred, despite grumbles about not having had a chance to study the heavily revised text.

The convention refused to really discuss it. Deacon Plater goes on to say:

Proposals for direct ordination will continue to come before Convention, as they have for the last two decades. Recent scholarly studies have removed much of the historical and theological arguments in favor of sequential ordination. John St. H. Gibaut, in two recent books, says the church should adopt either a five-year transitional diaconate or do away with it. What won’t go away so easily is the emotional attachment many priests and bishops have to their brief experience as deacons, and the consequent belief that the diaconate is the fundamental ministry of the church.

I think that the belief is really that the diaconate is the fundamental ministry of the clergy, thus denying that servant ministry belongs to the whole people of God. We are all called to serve, and making the diaconate the personal property of a priest’s sense of his or her ministry turns servant ministry into a lesson for priests and denies it as the basis of the ministry of all the baptized.

Deacon Plater speaks of the “emotional attachment many priests and bishops have their brief experience as deacons”. As a psychologist, this is what is most striking to me about the argument for the transitional diaconate. Normally articulate people are surprisingly inarticulate. Normally clear-thinking people offer surprisingly personal and superficial arguments such as that they enjoyed or rejoice in their diaconal time and value their sense of themselves as deacons. Mostly, my experience of this conversation is that priests and bishops become irritated and say whatever they need to say to stop the conversation. I have no idea if the bishops at the 2003 Convention were irritated by the SCMD’s proposal for direct ordination, however it is clear that they did not really debate and discuss the issues and they shut down any possibility that they might be debated and discussed in the House of Deputies.

The question I want to consider is why the quality of thinking about the transitional diaconate is so poor, while the motivation to keep it in place is so strong. There is no sound theological argument for the transitional diaconate – so why not get rid of it? Why not, at least, make it optional? Clearly, the Church’s inherent conservatism is part of the reason. Cursus honorum has been around for a long time, although it was not part of the Pre-Nicene Church. Anglicans don’t make changes in sacramental ministries easily or lightly, nor should we. It is understandable that there would need to be thorough and thoughtful study and conversation to consider such a fundamental change. But there has been very thorough study. And, as I have tried to show, the arguments against making the transitional diaconate at least optional are notable for not being thoughtful.

So why do people persist in making them?

The Rev. Deacon Pamela McAbee Nesbit, Ph.D. is president-elect of NAAD, organizer of the upcoming Diaconal Assembly and a deacon at Church of the Holy Nativity, Wrightstown, PA.

Loving the Epiphany

By Derek Olsen

Epiphany has got to be one of my favorite feasts of the Church Year. In fact, it may well be my favorite. I love the way that it pulls together texts and concepts from across the Scriptures and unites them in a single celebration of the joining of heaven and earth, the human and divine, the creation and Creator. It’s a love I learned entirely from the liturgy.

Now we Anglicans are a people of biblical liturgy. When we use the great Gospel Canticles at Morning and Evening Prayer we grudgingly allow the use of antiphons—sentences read before and after the canticle—as long as these come from Scripture. I understand why; I get it. I’ve seen some of the florid oddities of the medieval sanctoral cycle and I understand this reformation legislation. And yet—Epiphany is the feast where I just can’t help myself. The old antiphons just lay it out better than any Epiphany sermon I’ve ever heard.

The antiphon for Vespers in the old Latin liturgy adorns the Song of Mary, the Magnificat. It’s a didactic little bit of liturgy that encapsulates how the Church has classically understood the Epiphany. These days we’re all about the kings. Traditionally, the kings were just one of the facets of the day. Here’s the antiphon:

We celebrate three miracles that adorn this holy day: today a star led the Magi to a manger; today wine was made from water at a wedding; today in the Jordan, Christ willed to be baptized by John that he might save us.

Several things are going on here. First, each of the events are references to Scripture passages. The first is the most obvious—the Magi bit refers to Matthew 2:1-12 which was the historic Gospel reading at Mass on this day. The water from wine refers to the wedding at Cana recounted in John 2:1-11. The third points once again to Matthew 3:13-17.

Second, all three of these are important manifestations. And that’s what the term “epiphany” means, after all: manifestations, showings-forth. In the first case, God’s manifestation was so public and clear that it brought pagan priests—for that is who and what “magi” are—to the Infant Christ’s crib. The second isn’t just an amazing sign of abundance, but a verse at the end of this section specifically identifies this miracle as “the first of his signs” (John 2:11). The third culminates with the heavens being torn upon and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon Jesus, complete with the voice from heaven identifying him as God’s Son. You don’t get much more “manifestation” than that!

As an aside, I’ll note that the Church didn’t stop at these three either. A hymn—possible by the pen of St Ambrose, possibly from a few decades later—also connects the feeding of the five thousand to this day and it is these four events that are recorded for posterity in the Golden Legend from the 1260’s that were to feed Christian imaginations for centuries to come.

We could stop there:

Epiphany is a feast that celebrates showings-forth. And the Church has consistently identified these three or four events as the points in the Gospel that most fully show forth the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

Yeah—that’ll preach.

But the Church didn’t stop there.

(And this is where it starts to get really interesting.)

The antiphon for Lauds around the Song of Zechariah, the Benedictus, takes these three events and starts twisting and turning them on their head, befuddling our chronological sense in the most mystical of means. In the words of the liturgy the Scriptural events intertwine and synergistically become something other and more than they were before:

Today the heavenly Bridegroom is joined to the Church, because in the Jordan, Christ has washed away her sins; the Magi run with gifts to the royal wedding , and from water-made-wine the guests are made glad, alleluia.

The Christmas season is the ultimate celebration of the Incarnation. The feast of Christmas proper is about the great joining of heaven and earth in the physical person of Jesus. The feast of Epiphany is about the great joining of heaven in earth in the mystical marriage between Christ and his Church. From disparate texts the Church has woven together the great wedding feast which is hinted numerous times in the New Testament and Old. Baptism, the joining of water and Spirit that gives birth to the Church is hallowed. The abundance of life in God is present in signs of free-flowing wine and blessed bread. Heaven and earth are joined in mystical union in the reconciliation of the ages through which we are hid with Christ in God.

And that is why I love Epiphany.

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.

The snow shovel (or An illustration of God’s Providence)

Daily Episcopalian will continue on an every-other day schedule this week.

By Adam Thomas

Here’s something you don’t know about me: I don’t own a snow shovel. This fact was unimportant until a few weeks ago when a record December snowfall dropped two feet of powder on Berkeley County, West Virginia. I woke up to a foot of snow outside, and the sky was dumping an inch an hour. I opened my front door, and the snow made an encroaching barrier to my front stoop. I went to the cupboard and pulled out my house broom. Sweeping the snow from the steps, I felt like Gandalf staring down the Balrog: “You shall not pass!”

But a broom is a poor substitute for a proper shovel, especially with the quantity of snow making islands of every vehicle on the street. And this is where the providence of God comes in. Providence is a tricky thing because one can easily over-define it to a point where we are simply chess pieces for God to move around the terrestrial board. To make matters trickier, one can also under-define Providence to a deistic level: God is merely an observer, having set events in motion with the winding of creation’s clock long ago. Neither of these definitions is satisfactory. Theologian Paul Tillich strikes a balance when he says, “Providence is a permanent activity of God. He is never a spectator; he always directs everything toward fulfillment. Yet God’s directing creativity always creates through the freedom of man and through the spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures.”

So what’s all this have to do with my lack of a snow shovel? I’m glad you asked. Sometimes, encountering the Providence of God takes something quite small. We shall enter this small story during the early months of 2009, when a dear man from my congregation purchased a new car. He had been getting tired of his old Buick, and so he went for a shiny, silver Japanese sedan. But within a month of driving the car off the lot, he fell ill.

The cancer had been growing slowly, and for a time, the doctors held it at bay. The man spent several weeks in the hospital, until the medical staff, his family, and he decided that being comfortable in his own bed at home was as good for his condition as any drug. For several more weeks, he held on, making his wife laugh and cry, joking with the hospice nurses, slowly disintegrating from the inside. Not until his final day did the awareness, the flash in his eye, fade. He passed on in July, leaving his loving wife, a daughter, grandchildren, a cluttered house full of memories, and a brand new, silver, Japanese sedan.

Fast forward from midsummer to mid-autumn. A deer ran into my little Korean car, and the insurance company whisked it away to the total loss center to be evaluated. For some foolish reason, I didn’t have rental coverage as part of my plan. But I did have something even better: the man’s wife, who is the dear heart I’ve mentioned many times in blog entries over the last year. She found out that I was without a car, and asked (in her sweet, typical fashion) if I would help her out: “You see, his car’s been sitting in the garage since summer and if it doesn’t get driven, it will start to fall apart. I would be very pleased if you would drive it for me.”

I readily agreed to the arrangement, all the while smiling to myself because she made it sound like I was the one doing her a favor. After two weeks, my damaged car finally made it to the auto shop, the insurance company having decided it was worth repairing. I hoped to have it back by Thanksgiving, but the mechanic found more damage than the original estimate covered, which necessitated another visit from the adjuster. So when will it be done, I asked; by mid-December, the mechanic promised.

“Keep the car as long as you need to,” the dear heart said, when I told her the repairs were delayed. I suspect that if my car had been a total loss, she would have simply given me the shiny sedan because she’s just that generous a person. But I really like my car, so I was willing to wait out the repairs. I called the auto shop on December 17th hoping to hear that I could pick up the car that day. The collision was five weeks before, surely enough time to repair some front-end damage.

“Well, we took the car for a spin,” said the mechanic, “but it needs realigning so we put it on the lift and noticed something. Did you say your insurance company took the car to a total loss center first?” Yes, I said, not liking where this conversation was going. “Well,” the mechanic continued, “at those places, they use this kind of crane to lift the cars… We’d’ve never noticed it if we hadn’t put the car on the lift, but it looks like the crane cracked the fuel tank. So I need to get your adjuster out one more time to look at it.” Great, I thought. How long, I said. Another couple of weeks, what with the holiday and all, came the answer.

Two days later, the snow hit. With broom in hand, I stood on the front stoop and looked at the snow-covered Japanese sedan. The car had been driven a total of 317 miles before I took the wheel. I had put nearly two thousand miles on it during the last month. I thought about the dear man, a practical fellow, who bought the car last winter. I trudged out to the car, swept the snow from the trunk, and opened it. Inside was a shovel.

Now that’s Providence.

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.

A journey with angels

Daily Episcopalian will continue on an every-other day schedule this week.

By Margaret Treadwell

Cathy and Lizzie created a Christmas story in July when they took a journey with angels. Buddies from previous St. Columba's Katrina mission trips, they decided to visit the Church of the Annunciation in New Orleans on their own to finish some projects under the aegis of the group.

This decision was fueled by an angel in the form of a neighbor who offered, "If you fix up the RV that's been sitting in our driveway for five years, you drive it free down to New Orleans!" The two road trippers seized the chance, got their vehicle into what they thought was tip top condition and set off early on a hot summer morning.

The flashing red dashboard lights appeared mere miles outside the Beltway, just as they were driving past a gas station. Here two more angels appeared: Asian mechanics who spoke no English fixed a computer glitch and screwed the gas cap on properly. These angels were invited to come along as mechanics for the trip but politely declined - if they understood the invitation at all.

Not much further down the road at their first campground in Salem, Va., the RV bathroom's black water drain valve fell off in Lizzie's hand. The year-round campground resident rigged a makeshift solution and sent the ladies off to Betty's RV Repair instructing them not to trust any other. While Betty's angels worked on the problem, the two travelers sat with Dolly Parton, Lizzie's dog, in 112-degree shade being entertained by neighborly passersby, like the proudly gay Episcopalian who claimed he had slammed his motorcycle into a light pole so hard during a recent accident that it restarted his arrested heart. "That pole was my fribulator!" he maintained.

Travels progressed smoothly until Sunday, Day 3, just south of Birmingham, Ala., when the RV floor became so hot that the terrified friends were overjoyed to look up and see an RV repair shop right in front of them. Another angel in the guise of a very small man came out to direct them 12 miles down the road for expert repair on what turned out to be the muffler pushed against the cabin floor. Burning metal easily could have started a fire which would have caused the gas tank to explode. When they pulled up for help, the owner's wife ran out, saw the predicament and ran calling to her husband, "Open up quick! You need to help these ladies! They don't know what they're doing!"

After this fright, the malfunctioning fridge, broken toilet and finicky generator seemed minor. Lizzie and Cathy's mantra became, "Cope with it!"

As with past mission trips, the most powerful aspect of the pair's time in New Orleans was the relationships they formed with people. Angels they encountered included two staff members - an electrician and a carpenter - who had stopped at Annunciation as they were fleeing the city. Together, these two have made the church's mission work possible with their talents and their witness to what can happen when everyone works together on the same goal: helping people in desperate need. Another church angel is Miss Lily, who was a victim of the hurricane in the worst possible way. She lost everything and was burned by a stove during the storm. Now she covers herself so no one will see her scars when she comes every day to help others at the church that helped her.

Lizzie and Cathy stayed six days and related their hard, hot work to the part of the Christmas story in the dirty, smelly stable where angels, sheep and wise men are witnessing a miracle. While finishing several projects, they experienced a centeredness among the people that allowed for openness and trust. The spiritual process of their journey became as important as the work accomplished, and they returned home grateful and changed by the angels they had encountered along the way. The common thread throughout: "The reason we were going kept us on course: We had our eyes on the prize."

Will you see the angels in your life today?

Margaret M. "Peggy" Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice.

An annual surprise

By Greg Jones

Christmas comes as no surprise. At sunset on December 24th, every year, Christmas comes. Ready or not - here it is. And there it goes.

Kids of course love it, awaiting the day like none other. And grown ups love it too -- of course. But, you know, life takes its toll and those childhood joys of Christmas grow mixed. The gifted memories of joy grow mixed with other memories -- other packages -- other bundles -- some of grief, some of sorrow, some of 'who am I and what do I mean?'

Sometimes, when Christmas comes, there are some things in and around and under the family tree that are even too painful to open up again every year. And yet reopened they are.

But, either way, between happy and humbug, whether joyed or jaded, now, Christmas comes as no surprise. And in a way that is too bad.

It is too bad if Christmas comes as no surprise because we are so deeply used to its coming. So deeply entrenched in a culture that worships the 'holidays.' So deeply entrenched in a society that sings Christmas songs in October and confuses the deeply meaningful with the deeply meaningless every year in a vast feeding frenzy of consumption and sweets. It is too bad if Christmas comes as no surprise because we hear the word, celebrate the time, and then move right along as best we can.

It is too bad, because Christmas is about the most surprising thing that ever happened.

To us, today, these days, in a Christmas crazy culture -- and amidst all our baggage social, filial and mental -- too often Christmas comes as no surprise -- but it should.

It should feel like what it is. It should stir us deep to our souls. It should remind us every year of who we are, and what we mean, and why we can have hope no matter what. Christmas comes as no surprise -- but friends -- if we can for a moment receive and unwrap together the promise that God has come into the world to be with us, for us, in us, around us, among us, alive and well, and that this promise happened, and that this promise is happening, and that it changes everything -- that's a surprise like nothing else.

Now don't get me wrong -- when Jesus Christ was born -- Mary knew it was coming. It wasn't a factual surprise -- it wasn't unanticipated -- it wasn't as if the poor girl all of a sudden just had a baby and it turned out to be God himself.

No, no. Mary knew it was coming.

First of all -- pregnant women usually do know something's going on. And second of all -- God told her.

That's right. Indeed, long before Jesus was born, Mary knew. Mary knew. Mary knew because God had been preparing her -- all her life. Long before Gabriel announced to Mary that the love of God would come into the world as a living and breathing person through her -- Mary talked with God. Long before Jesus was born, or before she was engaged to Joseph, or before Ceasar Augustus, Emperor of Rome had ordered all to be counted so they might be taxed and controlled properly -- Mary talked and walked with God.

Ancient tradition says Mary was offered to God's service by her parents, Joachim and Anna, and that she was raised and educated in the Temple from age 3 to age 14. Tradition says Mary was raised to be a holy woman, a righteous one of Israel, taught the Scriptures, traditions, and yearnings of Israel, and trusting in the promises of God to his beloved people. Tradition says all her life Mary had an ongoing prayer life of conversation and listening to God's word.

And that's what it means when we hear that Mary was favorable to God -- she was a humble and righteous woman -- who didn't know everything but she knew how to say, "Here I am Lord, I'm waiting on you."

Mary knew that to know and love God is itself Good News.

Just like many women of Israel before her -- Miriam, or Deborah, or Hannah, or Judith -- Mary knew that to know and love God was the only way things would be right in this life for her and for anyone. So, when Gabriel told her she was going to bear the Messiah of God she was able to sing what only the faithful can sing -- that old, old song of hope and joy that God will make all things well. Yes, friends, Mary knew. She was the first person on Earth to know -- that the Good News of God was going to become totally and fully and presently real -- and she knew first.

But even still -- even for the one who knew God was coming into the world -- through her faithfulness -- Christmas came as a surprise to Mary. It came as a surprise, because it's one thing to hope or seek or prepare for a wonderful gift -- it's entirely something else to receive it. Especially when that gift is the presence of God. In the flesh. For real. For you.

Wouldn't you love that? To come down the stairs of life, in morning clothes made of wide-eyed wonder...to be completely and utterly stunned by what you behold -- and then to cry out in joy with song and gladness? Wouldn't you love for Christmas to be a surprise again? To unwrap the gift that God has given to all flesh?

I think Mary and Joseph were able to be surprised by the foretold birth of Christ, because they were prepared to grasp it. Just as children who know the fun of being tickled beg and wait to be tickled again only to burst out laughing as if surprised when they are tickled -- the righteous always experience God's grace as a joyful surprise -- even when they believe it will come for them.

Do you want to be surprised by joy? Then get ready.

Mary dedicated her life to conversation with God; and when He gave the world the biggest gift of all time through her -- she was ready to be the first to receive and unwrap it.

That's what being a disciple is all about. We are preparing for grace, expecting grace, thankful for grace, and still surprised by it when it comes. Christmas comes as no surprise -- unless you believe. Prepare for the Lord my friends -- and get ready to be surprised.

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.

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