The shepherd at the font

By Bill Carroll

The fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday, because at the Eucharist we hear from the tenth chapter of John. As I prepared to preach about the lessons appointed this year, I was struck by a piece of writing our Music Director shared with me, a brief paragraph from a series that some congregations use for liturgical education. It notes that, in the second and third centuries, the figure of the Good Shepherd was the single most common visual representation of Jesus in Christian baptisteries.

Now, at one level, I think I knew this. I've certainly seen examples of a young and beardless Jesus carrying a lamb. But I had never made the generalization. In the churches of the period, Christ the Good Shepherd is portrayed next to the baptismal font more often than any other theme.

This is no accident. Holy Baptism is the great sacrament of union with Jesus, who lays down his life for the sheep. In baptism, we renounce evil and commit ourselves to follow him. In the Bible, the image of the shepherd is a royal one. By being baptized, we acknowledge the sovereignty of Christ the King. At the same time, however, the image of the Good Shepherd reminds us of fundamental promises of the Gospel. In the words of Henry William Baker’s famous hymn, a paraphrase of the Twenty-Third Psalm:

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill With Thee, dear Lord, beside me; Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me.

The Lord Jesus is indeed our Shepherd. We know him and follow his voice. He reassures us in times of danger, fights off the wolves, and leads us safely home.

Most often in recent years, I've heard about the Good Shepherd at funerals, where we also read from the tenth chapter of John. The Psalm appointed for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, as well as the beautiful vision from Revelation, are also frequently chosen for funerals, especially in a parish like ours, which is named for the Good Shepherd. In the liturgy of Christian burial, we remember our baptism. As we lay our loved ones to rest, we call to mind their union with Christ, who died for us and rose again. We commend them to God in the "sure and certain hope of the resurrection." And we envision Jesus leading them by the hand into paradise.

Even when the Good Shepherd Gospel is not read at a funeral, the liturgy itself evokes this powerful image: "Acknowledge we humbly beseech you," we pray, "a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming." The bond between Christ and his own cannot be broken. Not by sin. Not by death. In life and in death, we belong to Jesus, the risen Lord. Again, to cite the same beloved hymn:

The King of love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His And He is mine forever.

How blessed are we to belong to such a Shepherd! Indeed, his goodness is abundant, and it never runs out. His mercy is everlasting, and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

It is through our union with Jesus, sealed in Holy Baptism, that we lay claim to the promises God made to John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation. For the Lamb who was slain has become our Shepherd. He is the firstborn of the dead, who lives and reigns forever—from the very throne of God.

Here and now, in this life, we contend with toil, sickness, loss, and death. Over time, they take their toll on us. They even overcame Jesus himself for three sad days. But the day of God is surely coming. With Easter, it has already begun. On that day,

We will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike us,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd,
and he will guide us to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Even now, the Shepherd is with us. May we hear his voice and follow. For we belong to Jesus. And NOTHING can snatch us from his hand.

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.

Individualism, communalism, and the Anglican Covenant

By Marshall Scott

I have been reflecting on Michael Poon’s paper on the Communion and Covenant, “The Anglican Communion as Communion of Churches: on the historic significance of the Anglican Covenant.” The Revd Canon Dr Poon is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity Theological College, Singapore. At this point I want to address an issue that he does not directly address, but that his paper raises, or perhaps illuminates for me.

One of my favorite books of Christian history of the last decade is Martin Palmer’s The Jesus Sutras. It involves the search for and discovery of the most important monastery rising from the earliest missions of the Church to China – from the West in the Seventh Century. The Church that reached China in the Seventh Century was the Church of the East, the ancient Assyrian Church, now under so much stress in Iraq, and virtually lost in much of Central Asia. Traveling eastward along the Silk Road, in 635 A.D. a bishop names Aluoben arrived with his party at Xian, the capitol of the Tang Dynasty.

In discussing this history, Palmer discusses important differences between what he calls the Church of the West (which in this case includes the Imperial Churches that would become Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and the churches springing from them) and the Church of the East. While he addresses the communication difficulties that resulted in the Nestorian controversy, theological differences are not really the most important in his description. (He does note the development of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Armenia, but for his purposes these are neither “West” nor “East.”) Rather, it is an important cultural difference: the Church of the West was the Imperial Church, linked for centuries to both spiritual and temporal power. The Church of the East was a minority, and often persecuted. The Sassanian Empire came to treat Eastern Christians according to the Empire’s relations with Rome. When the Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire were on good terms, Christians were a tolerated minority in a Zoroastrian culture. When the Empires were at war, Christians were seen as possible enemy agents, representatives of the political and military power to the west (and we thought that started in the Fertile Crescent only with the Crusades!).

This resulted in Churches with different corporate cultures, seeking to answer different questions.

The Church of the West, having won the battle to convert the Roman Empire, began to turn inward, through intellectual giants such as St. Augustine of Hippo, who explored what constitutes a Christian state. In contrast, the Church of the East developed its own distinct spirit, one that allowed a greater freedom of belief and that was dedicated to preaching the message of Jesus. Unlike the Church of the West, it never dominated its cultural world to the exclusion or suppression of other faiths. Instead, it worked out a modus vivendi by which it could function as a minority among other faiths. This made it a first-class missionary Church.
His point is that the Church of the West became committed to a unity of structure and confession in no small part because it served the needs of the Empire. The needs of the Church of the East never sought the same sort of unity because it never served in a majority, or in concert with political leaders.

I think that underlying our current issues in the Anglican Communion (and, although I’m no expert, I think other Christian bodies) is a difference of corporate culture of different content but equal importance.

One issue that is central to a society is the process by which personhood or personal identity is defined. (I know as a clinician those are different, but for my purposes at the moment they are functionally the same.) That process involves some balance, and perhaps some negotiation, between the individual and the society within which the individual functions. Here, I think, is where the rub is in our current difficulties. In much of the world, the weight of power or authority or influence in defining personhood is with the group – family, tribe, nation. However, in the industrialized West, the balance is with the individual. This is not to say that there is no response to the “Group” in the industrialized West, nor to the “Individual” elsewhere. However, once again, the weight – indeed, the greater influence as recognized by the society as a whole – is respectively as I have described it in both instances.

Folks in North America, and especially in the Episcopal Church, complain often enough that folks in other parts of the Communion “don’t understand our procedures, our structures.” I don’t think that’s true, not in the intellectual sense. Rather, I think that they see our structures and procedures through a more “communalist” or “communitarian” prism; and refracted through that prism our structures and procedures seem at best fragmented and nonfunctional, and at worst anarchic. By the same token, I think we see their structures and decisions through an “individualist” prism, through which we see their structures and decisions as dependent of codependent at best (terms that really only make sense from an individualist perspective), and at worst oppressive. Again, individual cases, and even individual cultures, address in some sense both individual needs and societal accountability. They differ significantly, however, in points on a spectrum, and therefore on perspective. And of course each person and each society as an entity sees its own perspective and its own point on the spectrum as “normal” and normative.

One point that needs to be made, then, specifically about the Episcopal Church’s perspective (I hesitate to speak for the Anglican Church of Canada, but I think this is also likely to be true for them) is that this isn’t really a new situation. It may seem new to our siblings in other parts of the Communion, but that’s largely because until the past generation or two the various gatherings of the Communion were really gentlemen’s clubs, and most of the gentlemen were from the industrial West. One could argue that, because they shared a largely “individualist” prism, it was ironically easier to use “communalist” rhetoric. First, they shared roughly the same balance of “individual” vs. “communal” influences; and second, to use “communalist” language was in fact to challenge the excesses of the society around them.

But this situation isn’t new. Indeed, the limitations on the powers of bishops in the Episcopal Church date to its original Constitution. (Armentrout and Slocum, Documents of Witness [Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994) pp.24-26) It was apocryphal after Lambeth 2008 for American bishops to speak of Third-world bishops asking them how they would act “if they were really being bishops.” Many American bishops suggested that this was evidence of the misunderstanding of structures. However, I think it was more profoundly a misunderstanding of the culture within which the Episcopal Church was formed and had developed. There has never been a period in the Episcopal Church’s history when lay and (non-episcopal) clergy could not challenge and limit the activities of a bishop. Perhaps it speaks to the esteem in which the episcopate has been held that in fact bishops have been able to exercise from personal authority power that Constitution and Canons did not actually establish.

A second reason that we in an “individualist” culture have used “communalist” language is that the cultures in which Scripture was formed were “communalist.” This does not really “decide the matter,” as it were, for two reasons. The first is that many of us would say that the uniqueness of Christ and his focus on individuals has resulted in the model of salvation in “a personal relationship with Christ,” a markedly individualist model, and certainly different from the models of salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Recall, for example, that one of the most popular hymns in American culture says, “I walked in the garden alone… and he walked with me….”) That has shaped Western culture as much as it has been shaped by it. Second, many of us would say that our mission is to speak in and to the culture we find, and that culture is so different from Scriptural models as to make a difference.

It is very interesting to me, then, that as Dr. Poon thinks about alternative models for what a “universal church” might look like, he highlights the models of the Holy Catholic Churches of China, Korea, and Japan. These might make some sense for us for two reasons. First, they are (or have been, in the case of the Church of China, largely replaced I think by the Three Self Christian Movement) demonstrably Anglican, with their roots in English and American Anglican missionary activity. Second, they would seem remarkably good parallels to autocephalous Orthodox bodies in those nations.

However, what I note about them is that they are in clearly and remarkably communalist societies. Americans of my acquaintance have thought quaint the Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” until they had worked with Japanese colleagues. I do not speak so much as an expert on East Asian cultures. I do, however, want to raise the question whether these churches, however Anglican they may be, are not so shaped by the cultures within which they have been formed, and within which they have found their mission, as to be thoroughly communalist in mindset.

I would raise a similar issue about many of the African voices in the Communion. I have noted, for example, the continuing importance of tribal identity in Nigerian culture. Nigeria is certainly a democracy, but Nigerians have also found a political role for traditional tribal leaders. Even in the West I’ve been aware that dynamics of tribal identification and political identification have been intertwined in recent events in Kenya. My point is not to see these as problematic. I only want to note an aspect of how Nigerians and Kenyans have structured their societies that I don’t think most North Americans appreciate. I would ask, however, whether these models of leadership have contributed to understandings of the role of a bishop in those cultures. That might explain, more profoundly than Roman or other models of the episcopate, the differences in the experiences of North American bishops and of African bishops. A Third World bishop, acculturated to the social prestige and socially sanctioned authority of a tribal elder or chief, might well ask a North American bishop, “but how would you decide if you were really being a bishop?”

I could be wrong, of course, but I’ve been thinking about this for some time. I think it sheds light on the illustrations I suggested, and perhaps some others, such as our understanding of the roles of the Instruments of Communion, interpretation of the Anglican Covenant draft, and whether we are “episcopally governed and synodically led,” or “synodically governed and episcopally led.” It especially illuminates the critical different perceptions as to whether actions in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada do or do not affect the lives of other churches in the Communion.

I fear it also suggests to me that the Communion cannot stand. I am among those who have note that we have already lost “the-Anglican-Communion-as-we-have-known-it,” beginning with the assertions expressed not first but most widely in the Windsor Report about the roles of the Primates’ Meeting. However, I fear it goes deeper than that. This is not, at least in theory, an insurmountable difficulty. However, it would require a generation of thoughtful conversation to really understand one another. A “communalist” appreciation in the Communion, however, calls for a rapid resolution. Whether we “individualists” understand it, our “communalist” siblings really do see our actions as harming them. While I can’t agree, I can take them seriously. Therefore, they cannot but press for clear resolution in a Covenant, and for acceptance of this Covenant draft without alteration. They may even want to take seriously our “individualist” perception that this is not grounds for haste, but for more individual conversations, but their perspective limits how they can – as our perspective limits us. So, words will be said, and actions taken, and lines drawn; and the Communion will divide.

Over the next few generations this may well change. For the past century rapid change in the rest of the world brought on by the power and attractiveness of Western economic and technological influence has been perceived as both opportunity and threat. If the next century becomes dominated economically and technologically by China and India, the challenge may well be in the industrialized West.

But right now, we are where we are, and who we are. We see the world as we see it, including how God is working in it. I will mourn when things fall apart; but I cannot see how it will not. We can love one another, and talk to one another as best we can. I just don’t think we’ll be able to address this difference soon enough to change our trajectories.

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.

God and the volcano, or: How we are not in charge

By Richard Helmer

God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night. Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

- A Collect for Protection from The Book of Common Prayer, pg 124

Air travel is as routine, it seems for many, as driving. But as I boarded a plane at Newark International after a trip to Mt. Alvernia Retreat Center in New York two weekends after Easter Sunday, I was confronted with the stark reality of dozens of empty aircraft parked outside the terminal on ramps. “CANCEL” appeared repeatedly in large red letters on the departure screens. With the continuing ash plume from the erupting volcano in Iceland, flights to Europe were put off another day.

It brought to mind our youth and other family members and friends stranded in Europe, with their families here at home awaiting their return. Of families around the world waiting – some anxiously – of hotels overflowing, of airlines floundering, of business and commerce awaiting critical goods, and travelers left wondering. God with them all.

But it was harder to imagine God in the ash cloud, though we claim ashes in liturgy each year. Harder, too, to imagine God in the pressing fires of magma, but ours is the God of the pillar of fire by night in the Exodus story. Ours is further the God of the cloud by day where fire and ice collide.

Flying from Newark to San Francisco – a cross-continental flight that some of our members complete far more regularly than I – is in itself a singular reminder of the size of the country and the variety of landscapes knit together along with the vast array of God's people and God's creatures. It served me yet another reminder that we are so very small, after all. And even with the tremendous human ingenuity that enables us to cruise at 37,000 feet in comfort at speeds our ancestors could scarcely imagine, the unanticipated eruption in Iceland put us all collectively back in our place.

On further reading, I noted that this eruption was relatively small in the grand scheme of things. Scientists now contemplate the Toba eruption around 70,000 years ago, one so massive that it may be connected with a huge transition in the human family – what some call an “evolutionary bottleneck.” The Toba eruption may have been so devastating to the entire ecosystem that it left only a small remnant of humanity – a relative handful of our ancestors who then left Africa to populate the rest of the world following a cataclysm of truly Biblical proportions.

Volcanoes may have a part to play in the great cycle of endings and new beginnings that mark the history of life on our planet. Somehow, God is gracious in those terrifying prospects, too. Death and new life are the tell-tale signs, small as we are, of our being an Easter people – people of the crucifixion, and people of the resurrection. We simply do not have one without the other.

One of our youth members stuck in Paris (and there are far worse places to be stuck in the world!) wrote home that her school group had stopped by Hemingway’s apartment. A plaque outside noted the beauty of humility of not only Hemingway’s condition, but the condition of the students at the mercy of ash clouds and safety concerns:

We were in Paris....We were very young, very poor and very happy.

Perhaps our happiness does not depend so much upon our power to build or control even our own life or death, but rather on our vulnerability, on how we are not ultimately in charge – that true poverty that is the opening in our lives to God’s grace. Maybe that’s one way God is in ash clouds, fiery volcanoes, and all the disruptions in our lives and all life, both small and great. We are reminded of our poverty, our true condition, where even the oldest among us are quite young in cosmological terms: very poor, indeed. . . and yet, potentially, very happy.

For it is with that freedom from control that we learn to rely so wholly on our loving God who is about the business of remaking us, both individually and collectively.

Even if it is only to the market or next door, no journey is truly routine. Our prayer for protection reminds us that our lives are wholly contingent in the end, and we rely on this God in Christ who has conquered death, volcanoes, disruptions, and all else that we might fear, and offers us a love that embraces the whole cycle of life.

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

Restoring the Rite of Sprinkling

By Derek Olsen

The season of Easter represents a liturgical season in full flower, often literally as well as figuratively. There are a number of special liturgical items that appear only in the Great Fifty Days. One of my favorites is one that didn’t make it into the Prayer Book—and I’ve never really understood why not.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer consistently highlights the place of Baptism within the Christian life. In comparison with prior prayer books and with earlier liturgical traditions, Baptism is restored to equality with Eucharist as the two great sacraments given to us by Christ in the Gospels, the two Dominical Sacraments. Given this focus, I’m mystified why we’ve never chosen to incorporate the Rite of Sprinkling, a standard feature of the western historic liturgy which, by means of the celebrant sprinkling the congregation with blessed water before the start of the service proper, serves as a reminder of Baptism at the beginning of a festal Eucharist.

During most of the year, the Rite of Sprinkling is accompanied by a chant known as the Asperges me (“Cleanse me”) which quotes Psalm 51, and makes reference to both our Baptismal cleansing and our on-going need for God’s cleansing grace. Within the Easter season, though, the proper chant is the Vidi aquam (“I saw water”)—and this is the text I’d like to turn to today.

The Vidi aquam is a brief chant that derives its power not just by what it says but where it comes from and from interconnections generally left unspoken. Like many of the traditional chants at Eucharist, it consists of an antiphon paired with a psalm verse:

Antiphon: I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia;
And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.
Ps 118:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.
Antiphon (repeated): I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia;
And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

The antiphon gives us one level of meaning because of where in Scripture it is drawn and the biblical events that it recalls. A second level of meaning is added when we consider the Church’s interpretation of the verse and its application to Christ. A third level appears as the antiphon interacts with the psalm. A fourth level of meaning—and the last I’ll discuss here but hardly the last level of meaning—occurs as this chant relates to the ritual action that occurs while it is being sung.

The antiphon text is a paraphrase that hits some key points in Ezekiel 47:1-12. I’ve always had a fantasy that Ezekiel was the major prophet who, when he was in high school, would have been voted “most likely to use hallucinogenic drugs.” In the words of one commentator, Ezekiel is characterized by “bizarre visions and equally bizarre behavior.” Given his strange behavior, his contemporaries may well have judged him prophetic by reason of insanity—if this were the case, however, the most likely cause would be post-traumatic stress due to the harrowing events through which he lived. Although Ezekiel was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, his prophetic ministry took place far away in Babylon where he was taken after the first Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC. Despite his religious and political warnings, a second revolt in 587 BC caused both Jerusalem and his beloved Temple to be burned to the ground and utterly destroyed by the vengeful armies of Babylon and its allies.

Ezekiel’s book falls rather neatly into three sections. Chapters 1-24 are generally prophecies of doom warning the inhabitants of Jerusalem what will happen if they don’t get their act together; clearly these date before the second disastrous revolt. Chapters 25-32 are oracles against foreign nations. Chapters 33-48 are from the period after the destruction of Jerusalem. Whereas the earlier prophecies were dire warnings, this section communicates God’s intention to save and restore the people of Israel. The capstone of this section is chapters 40-48 where an angel leads the prophet on a visionary tour of a newly restored and rebuilt Jerusalem dominated by a grander, rebuilt, Temple where the glory of the Lord once more settles. At the center of this vision is a stream of water that pours out of the Holy of Holies, flows out of the east side of the Temple, increasing as it goes, bringing life and flourishing to all it touches and—in a grand reversal of the natural state of things—turns the Dead Sea into a living sea filled with fish of all kinds and bounded by forests of fruiting trees and plants with supernatural powers of sustenance and healing. The water of the river of God recreates Eden in what was formerly desolate desert.

Theologically, Ezekiel’s vision is a prediction of the restoration of Israel as a religious community. More than that, though, it connects the restoration of the Temple to the restoration of the Land. Ezekiel’s vision may begin conceptually with a straightforward simile—the presence of God is like cleansing and life-giving water in the desert –but the vision creates a metaphor that, in its color and luster, transcends the banality of the simile, raising it to a new and more vibrant key. Recalling this stream, the antiphon then speaks with new freshness:

Antiphon: I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia; And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

A second level of meaning is introduced, though, if we notice the choice of words in the antiphon. Ezekiel had been using a lot of architectural figures and language in his visionary tour, and states several times that the water comes from the east side. At one point there is a clarification on the water’s direction which is rendered by the Vulgate and the King James as proceeding from “the right side of the Temple” which most modern English versions choose to translate as “the south side of the Temple.” (The Hebrew word can take both meanings.) We tend to apply fixed-direction words like “south” to buildings while relative-direction words like “right” are dependent upon how a person stands. Or hangs.

Many times in the New Testament, Jesus—and the Church as his mystical Body—is identified with the New Temple (see Matt 26:61, John 2:19-22, 1 Cor 3:16, Rev 21:22, and that’s just a start). Given this identification, early Christian interpreters could not fail to find in Ezekiel’s vision a direct connection with John 19:34 where blood and water flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus. While John is not explicit about what this flow means, the same interpreters traditionally understood it sacramentally, most often connecting the blood and water to Baptism. (See, for example, the third verse of the Pange Lingua, hymn 165 and 166 in our hymnal.) Thus, the antiphon’s summary of Ezekiel can equally be understood as a reference to the sacramental healing flood that flowed from Christ himself on the cross.

When the words of the antiphon are overlaid with John’s story, the theological meaning deepens. The Christian interpretation asserts that Ezekiel’s vision has been fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ and that the religious community has been refigured in all those who have been given new life through God’s sacramental waters. Our Baptism has cleansed us and healed us. And the antiphon’s original Latin phrase for “be healed” (salvi facti sunt) can equally be translated as “be saved.” Truly, we are saved by God’s grace in our Baptism and incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ which is the Church. In Baptism, we become the people who shall say alleluia.

A third level of meaning is introduced by the psalm verse. This passage may come across as almost commonplace—but I suggest that’s part of the point. This phrase extolling the goodness of God, and especially its final refrain, “his mercy endures for ever” is one of the most repeated liturgical phrases in the Bible. However, it particularly appears at the dedications of temples: it punctuated worship at the Davidic establishment of the Tabernacle in Jerusalem (1 Chr 16:34), at the dedication of the first Temple (2 Chr 5:13), and at the laying of the foundation of the second Temple (Ezra 3:11). The implication by its use here is that each Christian gathering stands in continuity with the on-going worship of God. Just as God’s mercy endures for ever, so the community gathered in God’s sight endures as a by-product of that mercy. As the antiphon joins the psalm verse, the ideas of restoration, cleansing, salvation and the praise of God by the covenant community meld together:

Antiphon: I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia;
And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

Ps 118:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.

A fourth level of meaning cements the sacramental image as the ritual act is combined with the chant. The priest uses water, either the very water blessed in Baptisms or water blessed with similar words, to sprinkle the congregation with a device called an aspergillium which looks a bit like an asparagus even though the words are etymologically unrelated. (Plant branches are sometimes used too; my fellow writer Sam Candler prefers Atlanta’s dogwood branches over the more traditional hyssop.) The relationship between the water flowing from the Temple, the water flowing from Christ, and the water flowing from the font are inextricably linked. In the hurled water droplets, the Vidi aquam becomes a tangible as well as an auditory reminder that Easter is our preeminent Baptismal season where we celebrate our own inclusion into the covenant community.

While the Rite of Sprinkling fails to appear in the present Book of Common Prayer, it is not without its fans in the Episcopal Church. Anglo-Catholics, of course, have continued its use for years but its connection with the church’s recovery of Baptismal theology has not gone unnoticed. Even that most Protestant of liturgical guides, Howard Galley’s Ceremonies of the Eucharist, commends its use during the Easter season. Whether your community chooses to use it or not, I commend the Vidi aquam to you in this season of Easter as a sacramental reminder of the enduring love of the God who invites us through Baptism to share in his own resurrection life.

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.

Father Mark: A prisoner's ministry among prisoners

By Donald Schell

“. . .and the gates of Hell will not be able to stand against it.”

This Eastertide thinking of Jesus bursting the gates of hell reminded me of my friend Fr. Mark.

Mark was an Episcopal priest and in his conflicted, imperfect way, a very good priest. In 1986, as Mark lay dying of pneumocystis pneumonia, he told me, “I’ve had lots of sex, but never a lover.” AZT was licensed for HIV/AIDS treatment in ’87, the year after Mark’s death. Reading of AZT my first thought was that an accident of time had deprived us of one of the good ones.

I got to know Mark in 1980, going into the jail with him every Saturday morning to help him lead a Eucharist. Helping the county jail chaplain made a fascinating contrast with my first years of my adventure living my hopes and dreams founding St. Gregory’s Church, San Francisco.

Jail prisoners were purse-snatchers, brawlers, drunks, and homeless guys who didn’t keep a low enough profile and got picked up for ‘public nuisance.’ When I volunteered Mark was already pushing a book cart between the cell blocks every day, helping prisoners get in touch with people outside, and whatever Mark could do to ‘offer the prisoners God’s unconditional love.’ The Sheriff was working to improve jail conditions too. Mark and the sheriff were good friends.

We gathered for our Eucharist adjacent another open cellblock where “Soul Train” blared on an insistently loud TV. That TV, the echoing slam of steel doors in concrete halls, and the hum of fluorescent lights accompanied all our singing and everything else anyone said or did in the jail.

After prisoners asked us about the weather outside, because, they said, knowing whether it was sunny or overcast helped them remember about people outside and hope for eventual freedom, Mark would begin each Eucharist with this prayer: “O God we are here. And you are here. It is enough. Amen.”

Presence. “It is enough.” What Mark offered visiting prisoners was just that simple? He looked and saw them with open eyes. He seemed to expect nothing in return. ‘Mark’s nothing in return’ showed me how much expectation and attention to outcome I carried.

Week by week we took turns leading a Bible-study/sermon and celebrating, and we always ended our Eucharist with the post-communion prayer from the Rite II Burial Eucharist:

Almighty God, we thank you that in your great love
You have fed us with the spiritual food and drink
Of the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ,
And have given us a foretaste of your heavenly banquet.
Grant that this sacrament may be to us a comfort in affliction,
And a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom
Where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying,
But the fullness of joy with all your saints;
Through Jesus Christ our Savior. AMEN.

“Comfort, and a pledge and foretaste of the feast where we’re all welcome,” Mark told me. “We say that prayer because it’s what we want to give them.”

Some week nights I’d return to co-lead a Bible study with Mark and meet individually with prisoners who wanted counseling, confession, or prayer. Bible study was fascinating and I was constantly surprised to recognize how forcefully fundamentalism can grip people who define themselves as ‘rebels’ or ‘born to raise hell.’ But I found the counseling hard. I’d get stuck, worried at what I was hearing and dismayed at how little I had to say in response. Though I admired what Mark was doing, with each visit to the jail I got more impatient to see prisoners’ new choices, some sign of growth, what a liberal looks for as conversion.

Finally, I told Mark I’d had a touching, truthful-feeling conversation with a prisoner. “How wonderful,” Mark said. “Isn’t is a privilege that we get to have these conversations with them in the jail where they’re sober? Jail makes it easier for us to see how beautiful they are. You can’t see that on the outside.”

“But Mark,” I protested. “Don’t you expect things can change for them?”

“Mostly they’re beyond change,” Mark replied. “Some have been hurt too badly. Others are too ashamed of what they’ve done, especially to people that loved them. And some can’t even see or do everything they can to keep from seeing.”

Mark seemed to sense how baffled I was by what I he was saying.

“Yesterday,” he continued, “I saw an old friend from in here sleeping drunk in a doorway… he’ll be back soon. Shoplifting, aggressive panhandling, drunk and disorderly, or one of those small troubles that will get him back here instead of prison. They hit it right on their crime again and again, just enough to come back here. Inside again, he’ll sober up and tell us more of his story and we’ll have a good moment with a beautiful human being. Can’t you see, Donald? It’s too late for some of us to change.”

I heard Mark’s ‘us’ loud and clear.

Another day Mark said that being like the prisoners made him patient with them.

Finally one day Mark explained that he understood the prisoners because he’d been in jail himself. Years before, serving as a newly ordained curate in another state, he’d propositioned an undercover cop in a public restroom. Mark phoned his rector, that is, his new boss from jail, and the rector and Mark’s bishop showed up to bail him out.

“I was glad to see the bishop,” Mark said. “Secrets don’t help. He told me to be more careful, and I learned that part pretty well, but there are times it’s hard. It can be pretty lonely being me.”

Mark drank when his loneliness got to be more than he could take, mostly on weekends. He drank and cruised bars in the Castro. He called it ‘my little drinking problem.’ I never saw him drunk, but I heard the results from his upstairs landlord couple, another priest and his wife. A couple of times they’d had to come very late when Mark had come home very late and too shaky to get his key in the keyhole. They’d let him in and put him to bed.

After about eighteen months of Saturdays in jail, Mark told me our bishop had asked him to found a board for jail chaplaincy in the diocese. He wanted me and a lawyer friend to organize the board. Mark’s invitation was a relief to me. Founding a board felt right.

I wanted to feel commitment and hear choices and see people and work maturing. Ten years of priesthood had taught me how exhilarating I found it to help people make tough, courageous choices like finding a new vocation as an artist or a social entrepreneur, or like leaving safe employment to start a new company. Founding the board felt like something with my name on it. It fit how Mark and I were different. It gave me lawyers and teachers and therapists to work with, people I understood.

“Don’t worry,” Mark said. “I’ll find other volunteers to go in with me.”

I learned a lot with the board and was pleased when we were raising enough to support Mark and do other jail work too. It felt good when the board elected me president. Mark was right - I enjoyed the board work.

Then a priest on the board who ran an alcoholism rehab program - a colleague that Mark had recruited - and two other board members - olds friends of Mark’s who were Cursillo stalwarts but also active in Alcoholics Anonymous – got to talking about our friend’s drinking. We talked to Mark’s upstairs neighbors. They were concerned too. So the six of us decided the jail chaplaincy and Mark himself were crying out for an alcoholism intervention.

The rehab program coordinator organized it; we got our bishop’s backing, we contacted the Pension Fund about getting Mark a temporary disability leave, we found residential rehab program that specialized in working with clergy, we purchased two plane tickets and one of us volunteered to fly there with him. Then we talked through the intervention and rehearsed our lines.

He thought he was coming to a board meeting, but instead we delivered our complete plan for Mark’s getting help, carefully lined out in all our voices just as we’d rehearsed it.

Mark thanked us profusely, and he said he saw how much we loved him, but he insisted that he would not go - he couldn’t walk away from the prisoners for a month because they needed him.

We said we could make his taking the month for the program a condition of his continuing work at the jail.

Mark shrugged and said he’d been surviving somehow before we’d been paying him, so figured he could find a way to survive without income. We’d thought his work was on the line. But he knew that all he had was offering prisoners God’s love, and so he asked our prayers as he said he’d worked in his own way to address the problem.

Our intervention was a failure. It saddens me twenty-five years later to write that. What if…

But I think Mark may have had an inkling of the hard drying out he’d be facing very soon, under an oxygen tent with pneumonia, the closest AIDS had hit so far for most of us. He welcomed us as we spent good hours with him in his hospital room. Sometimes he said his prayer, “Oh God, we are here…” He was peaceful, resigned, funny, and eager to talk about all he was doing to plan his funeral.

The funeral was a month or so after diagnosis stopped Mark’s daily rounds in the jail.

For Mark’s funeral, his first boss, the rector who’d bailed him out, flew in to preach. He laughed as he told us that Mark had dictated most of the sermon to him in phone calls from his hospital bed. It was a sermon about freedom in God. And imperfection. And loneliness. And healing. Then Mark’s old friend gave, in Mark’s words a Gospel charge to various people in the packed church. And when it came to Mark’s good friend the Sheriff, the preacher said that Mark wanted him to stand up. He did. “Sheriff, Mark said you’re a good Catholic and will know what Jesus said about this in Luke. Mark says, Sheriff, do the right thing - let the prisoners go free.” The packed, standing room only church exploded in laughter. One of several times we mourners burst out laughing. It wasn’t the only word from Mark that brought the crowd to shouts of laughter. Our liturgy ended with Mark’s favorite hymn from the jail Eucharist, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’

Mark was a saint. Obviously he was a broken and flawed human being, but he was a saint in whom many of us saw the radiance of God. Knowing Mark made me notice something I’d never heard in Jesus’ promise to Peter that the gates of hell could not prevail against his Church. I’d always heard that text and imagined the church standing firm, holding its ground in battle as the gates of hell advanced. But the ancient gates are locked to keep the prisoners in. Orthodox icons show Jesus bursting into Hell and seizing Adam and Eve to draw them out. Often the icons show the broken gates tumbling into a dark abyss beneath.

In The Odes of Solomon, a second century Christian hymn, Jesus proclaims -

“I have shattered the bars of iron and the iron has become red-hot; It has melted at my presence and nothing more has been shut because I am the gate for all beings. I went to free the prisoners they belong to me and I abandon no one… I have sown my fruits in the hearts of mortals and I have changed them into myself…” (quoted from Olivier Clement’s Roots of Christian Mysticism)
Once again in October of 1986 Jesus had shattered the bars of iron and burst the gates of hell, and another prisoner God loved was free.

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

Beating the bounds

By Andrew Gerns

There is an old ritual called “beating the bounds” where the members of a parish go out and mark the boundaries of a parish in a city or village. The idea is not just territorial, but pastoral. When the community “beats the bounds” they are saying that they are in some way responsible to God for the people inside those boundaries. Every now and then, God shows us just what that means.

Once I was walking down the alley to Joe’s Deli, which is a block away from the Church office, to buy my sandwich, when a guy leans out the open doorway of the kitchen in another restaurant next door. Holding aside a screen door, he says “Father!” I stop and look up at him. He is a young man. He is wearing a white paper hat, a white t-shirt and an apron. He bends way over towards me and asks me to bless a gold cross that he is wearing around his neck. So I look at his dark eyes and his smile while he holds the cross out away from his neck. There is the hint of a scar on his face and much body art. I say a blessing prayer and our eyes meet for just a moment and he nods a thank you. Every time I walk by that screen door, I wonder about the young man, his scar and his cross. There is a story there. I have no idea what it is. God knows.

There was once a woman who used to come to our church wearing only white clothes. She wore white because she read in the Bible somewhere that people who are close to God wear white raiment. But she never spoke in church because she read somewhere else in the Bible that women are not supposed to talk in church, which worked fine until someone told her that our soup kitchen was in a church so she stopped speaking when she came to eat. There is a story there. I have no idea what it is. God knows.

One day I got a phone call from the Weed’n’Seed cop asking me to come to Easton’s center square. Seems the lady in white raiment was coming up to people carrying a pitcher of water and a big bowl and demanding to wash their feet, which the tourists and locals sitting in the square did not seem to appreciate. Instead of arresting her, the officer thought that I might have a better solution to the disturbance. Not knowing what else to do, I asked her to wash my feet. So she did. She read somewhere in the Bible that Christians are supposed to wash each other’s feet. True enough, I say. But you can’t make people want to have their feet washed. They have to want to. She said I had a point and then suggested that we might want to do this in church sometime instead of on the Square. Good idea, I said.

A single dad comes up to me while his daughter is practicing at our pipe organ after a lesson. He says that someone in church reprimanded him because his son sits through the church service reading books. I look over and watch the boy start to climb a tree to retrieve a plastic bag caught in a branch. I’ve known this family for eons, and I know their stories and I know God does too. I have no idea who’d reprimand a kid for reading in church instead of turning the pews into a jungle gym, but that’s beside the point. Well, I ask, do you talk about what happened in the service afterwards, like on the way home? The dad nods. Sometimes he knows more than I do, he says. Then let him read, I say. God knows he is picking up far more than most of the grown ups.

There is an older fellow who lives around the corner and he has taken on the job of feeding the cats that live in the neighborhood and like to hang around the church. He walked up to me once and began to scold me because we were trapping the cats and taking them away. He told me with some pride and a tone of defiance that he was tripping the Have-a-Heart traps so we would not take away the cats. I explained (as the signs say on the traps in English and Spanish) that we trap the cats to give them shots and spay and neuter them and then release them back into the neighborhood. A vet in the parish does this with the help of some parishioners. We want the cats to be healthy, I tell him. He tells me that they are God’s creatures and that we should not take them away. I thank him for caring for God’s creatures. He eyes me suspiciously. I don’t think he believes me.

During last night’s Vestry meeting, the doorbell rang. Someone went to answer it and then he came back and said “There is a woman at the front door who wants a Bible.” I went to the door and there was a very young woman, with a baby asleep in a stroller and four very energetic children—three girls and a boy—sitting on the stoop and all talking at once. Before I could say anything, the boy looks at me and says “I am Elijah, and I am the oldest.” Now each kid announces their name and their ages, leaving an embarrassed Mom to introduce herself and her baby. So what can you do? I sit down on the stoop and we talked.

Mom talks fast, as if there is much pent up inside of her just waiting to come out. As if she is trying to say what she can before she is interrupted or told to be quiet. It is a clear, warm spring evening, a good time to sit on the stoop and hear her story. She tells me she is new to the neighborhood. That the women’s program housed next door to church helped her get an apartment around the corner, and that she and her family had Christmas dinner with us at the dinner we serve on Christmas Day. That she wonders if it would be okay to bring her kids to church because she would like them to learn about God and how to do right. And that of all the things the women’s program gave her, she did not have a Bible and she lost her Bible when she left the old place. I have no idea where the old place is. There is probably a story there. God knows.

So I fetch a Bible, a business card and a church brochure and I ask Mom for her name and address and as she writes it down I sit on the stoop and talk with the kids while the Vestry meeting goes on without me. Eventually, a vestry-member peeks around the corner wondering if I am okay. I give him a thumbs-up. As Mom gathers her brood, she wonders if I could maybe bless a cross that she is wearing. So I say a blessing prayer for her and her kids and her cross.

When I go back in to the meeting, the members look at me as if to say “well…?” I share what little of their story that I know. I tell them that sometime we should go out and beat the bounds of the parish, not just as a group marking our boundaries, but as a community looking around at the faces and the people that God has given us in this neighborhood. Tonight the procession came to us.

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

Rehabilitating the image of the Magdalene

By Beatrice Gormley

On social occasions people always politely ask me what I’m writing. These days, I tell them my latest book is a young adult novel about Mary Magdalene.

Some are startled. “This is a book for young people? But she was a prostitute.”

I gently disagree: nothing in the Gospels indicates that Mary of Magdala was ever a prostitute. The legend of her as the archetypal repentant sinner grew up several centuries after her death. I’m tempted to explain in more depth, but if I go on to summarize a close reading of the Gospels, plus an overview of early church history, the other person is likely to excuse himself and head for the bar.

On the other hand, some people react in quite a different way. An intense light comes into their eyes. “I’ve always been fascinated with Mary Magdalene,” they say. Clearly, whether they know a little or a lot about Mary, they feel a personal connection with her.

For a long time, I have to admit, I was one of those who accepted the traditional legend of Mary uncritically. I didn’t think much about Mary of Magdala. I only began to change my mind while studying the Gospels for a class. Going over Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John line by line, I learned that Mary the prostitute was nowhere to be found in the text.

But—then what was the basis for all the famous Magdalenes in religious art, such as Veronese’s painting of a remorseful (but bare-breasted) young woman, or Donatello’s statue of a hideously aged but spiritually purified hermit? What about Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel The Last Temptation of Christ, or the many film versions of Jesus’ life that depicted Mary as a prostitute? They could all be traced back to the sixth-century sermon in which Pope Gregory I conflated Mary of Magdala with other women in the Gospels, and identified her as an iconic repentant sinner.

This “penitent whore” legend obscured the already faint knowledge of what was really important about Mary: She must have been a key disciple in Jesus' following. Otherwise, the Gospel writers wouldn't even have mentioned her name. They wouldn’t have described Mary and other women disciples as having the courage to witness Jesus’ crucifixion, while the male disciples hid. Mary, in particular, was so close to Jesus that according to Mark and John, she was the first to see the risen Christ.

By the time Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was published, I knew enough about Mary of Magdala to be really irritated by his portrayal of her. Although Brown rejected the traditional concept of Mary as a whore, it was only to substitute the idea that she was Mrs. Jesus, the “vessel” that bore his child. One could write volumes discussing how much is wrong with this, including the ludicrous idea that Jesus passed on his spiritual power through his genes.

Meanwhile, I had been busy writing historical novels based on stories in the Bible. Those Bible stories! They’re some of the most dramatic tales ever told, full of passionate love, deadly jealousy, overweening pride, devastating loss. But many of them are tantalizingly sketchy about the female characters, practically begging to be expanded and fully imagined.

I wrote into novels the stories of several of those young women: Miriam, about the girl who saves her brother Moses from Pharaoh’s soldiers; Adara, about the Israelite slave girl in General Naaman’s household who connects him with the prophet Elisha; Salome, about that girl who danced for the head of John the Baptist. But I’d never considered Mary of Magdala for one of my books, because I thought she was too old.

Then, casting around for an idea for my next novel, I asked my friend Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick for suggestions. Her answer was instantaneous. “Obviously, Mary Magdalene.”

Before I could object that my teenaged readers weren’t going to go for a story about a middle-aged church lady, something clicked in my brain. I was still harboring an unexamined assumption about Mary: that she was older than Jesus. In fact, Mary may not have been even twenty when Jesus and his followers set out on that last journey to Jerusalem. So my story of Mary could cover her life from preadolescence to young adulthood and still include her encounter with Jesus. My story would answer the question, what kind of girl was she? By what rocky journey did that girl grow into an extraordinary spiritual leader?

Writing a novel is all about challenges. A particular challenge of this novel, since I intended to stick as closely to the historical record as possible, was that there was almost no solid information about Mary of Magdala. Only a few sentences in the Gospels, plus the later, extracanonical Gospels of Mary, Thomas, and Philip. All my other research had to be indirect, carefully constructing possibilities about Mary from what was known about life in first-century Galilee. I examined many scholarly speculations (some of them contradictory) about Mary’s background and decided which ones seemed most plausible, as well as most useful for my story.

A different kind of challenge, in Mary’s story, was daring to portray Jesus. It seemed presumptuous, almost sacrilegious, to write about the way he might have looked, might have talked, might have acted with his followers. I had to keep telling myself that Yeshua of Nazareth was, after all, a historical person. It was my function as a novelist to imagine his physical presence. In order for a character in a novel to come to life in the reader’s mind, the writer has to provide details about that person.

Illogically, I also worried about the effect on my faith, if I succeeded in describing a convincing Jesus. Would that trivialize him in my eyes? Would that make him small enough to fit inside the covers of a book?

I had to point out to myself that I was not, after all, trying to write a definitive biography of Jesus of Nazareth. I was not trying to understand him. I was writing Mary’s experience of knowing Jesus, the man who healed her and transformed her life. Poisoned Honey would be the story of Jesus’ effect on Mary, and I was qualified to imagine that. I know many people who have been healed and transformed by faith, including myself.

And I felt strongly drawn to defend Mary, maybe the most misunderstood person of the Bible. I know that a good story can be more convincing than all the scholarly arguments in the world. I wanted very much to tell what I thought was Mary of Magdala’s real story: An idealistic young woman, blocked by her social environment from developing her gifts, suffers and struggles but finally finds her mission as a close disciple of Jesus. This is the Mary of Poisoned Honey.

Beatrice Gormley is the author of many novels and biographies for young readers, including Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene. (Knopf, 2010, ISBN 978-0-375-85207-7) She is a parishioner at St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea, Little Compton, RI. Her website: www.beatricegormley.com.

Covenant-making, divine and human

This is the second of two excerpts from Writings on Marriage, the journal of the Bishop of North Carolina's Task Force on Marriage, edited by Greg Jones.
By Jo Bailey Wells

There is a thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testament in which human marriage finds its theological context. One might argue there are differing models of marriage visible in Scripture: patriarchs and monarchs practiced polygamy without impunity (including Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon); the Hebrew law prescribed remarriage within a deceased husband’s family to protect a widow (Deut. 25:5-10); Jesus challenged divorce (Mark 10:2-12; Matt. 5:31-32); Paul championed celibacy (1 Cor. 7:8-9, 32-35). Nevertheless, the context within which all marriage is understood relates fundamentally to the overarching relationship of God to his people, through the language of covenant.(1)

Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer explicitly articulates this covenant understanding of marriage. Consider, for example, the words of one of the nuptial blessings:

O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (p.431)

This chapter explores the scope, significance and limits of covenant language in the Judaeo-Christian tradition: how, in particular, it enriches and defines a Christian understanding of the bond of commitment between two parties traditionally termed ‘marriage’ and how it may appropriately be applied elsewhere. Our Church does not only invoke the concept of covenant for marriage; the Episcopal Church also speaks of the baptismal covenant; and more recently the Anglican Communion has explored the idea of an ecclesial covenant. What does the common Christian usage of covenant language have to do with the theology of covenant as it is developed through Old and New Testaments, and what does the biblical concept have to offer the Church today?

Covenant in Biblical Perspective
The Old Testament term for ‘covenant’ (berith in Hebrew) is borrowed from everyday life, to describe a deal, agreement or contract. It becomes used, fundamentally, as a metaphor to describe the relationship of God to God’s people.

As with other metaphors for the divine-human relationship – father and son, or husband and wife, or king and subject, or shepherd and sheep – an everyday image is borrowed from one realm of life and applied illustratively to another, on the principal of analogy. In its new theological context, the concept of covenant takes on a life of its own – lending itself to imaginative development far beyond the original scope and significance of its origins. Consider, in particular, the book of Hosea which assumes a covenant theology in describing God as a lover who has been spurned by his bride, Israel. Hosea underlines the faithfulness of God: even though Israel has become a whore, yet God longs for her to return (Hosea 1:2; 11:8). The covenant is not broken, even though it is continually threatened.

The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy tell the story by which God initiated the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. It is rather like a love story, whereby God had patiently wooed his people. He had brought them out of Egypt; he had sustained them through the desert. Now, prior to entering the long-promised land, God ‘gets down on one knee’ and asks Moses to communicate a gracious proposal:

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Notice how the initiative lies entirely with God, even though it is clearly bilateral. The biblical account underlines how God wishes to reveal himself to humankind in order to enter into relationship with them. The covenant with Israel is the means to that end, not just for Israel’s sake but through Israel to all nations. Covenant is oriented to relationship and particularly to God’s self-revelation.(2 )

Where the story is retold in Deuteronomy, it is emphasized that this covenant is not a past action that related only to the original generation in the wilderness but a living reality for subsequent generations. That is to say, the covenant does not end in the way that most human covenants do. In Deuteronomy a later generation is addressed, as if it were the recipient of the covenant:

Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today (Deuteronomy 5:3)

Indeed, the encounter with God that is so carefully described in Exodus 19 at Mount Sinai depicts a spatial architecture that mirrors the temple (as well as much subsequent church architecture), underlining that what the Sinai covenant describes in Exodus is not a one-time encounter belonging to the past, but the regular encounter of Israel with their God in worship. This covenant goes on forever.(3)

At the heart of the covenant are the ten commandments. At times the covenant is equated to the commandments:

[The LORD] declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets (Deuteronomy 4:13)

These are given so that the people ‘do not sin’ – to equip them to live up to the original lofty proposal, to be a holy nation. Even as obedience is invited (Ex.19:5; 20:20-21), it is underlined how these stipulations are life-giving, not life-destroying. Thus, the narrative frame by which they are introduced: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt’ (Exodus 20:2) – emphasizing the relationship of redeemer to redeemed, Lord to servant, Life-giver to creature. Obedience to the commandments is for Israel’s growth and development. The story of redemption is the grounds for which God asks for loyalty, for an exclusive choice – a choice which is ratified enthusiastically by the people ‘with one voice’ repeating their previous intention, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:3).

As our Prayer Book puts it, Israel has discovered ‘the God whose service is perfect freedom’. As at a wedding, promises are made that are exclusive and binding at a special ceremony, following which there is eating and drinking. Then Moses heads up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, which (like wedding rings) serve as a practical physical reminder of the promises made. Further, we may recognize the practice of covenant renewal, a sort-of ‘anniversary’ celebration for the sake of regularly remembering the promises made (Deut.27:1-10; Josh.8:30-35).

As many scholars have explored, the Sinai covenant – which becomes the overarching picture of God’s special relationship to Israel – incorporates all the key characteristics of any typical ancient treaty. The narrative we build from the Pentateuch includes an historical prologue, a list of covenant stipulations (the ten commandments), a ceremony of ratification (followed by regular reminding), a description of the witnesses present (here, heaven and earth) and a set of expectations regarding future blessings and curses that accompany either faithfulness or failure in keeping the covenant. While tracing all these elements of the ancient pattern, the notion of covenant in its new-found Israelite usage takes on a life of its own (while also shaping the life of Israel), such that its origins are rendered virtually irrelevant. ‘Covenant’ is re-defined, as the ‘marriage’ between God and his people. Even though we may also use legal language to describe it – for example, that it is binding and inviolable – it is not primarily legal, but relational.(4) A covenant is no longer simply a contract.(5)

Most of the rest of the Old Testament relates to that faithfulness and failure, to the ups and downs of the divine-human journey together. Even at the ‘honeymoon’ stage, the relationship is threatened by unfaithfulness. That is how the book of Exodus depicts the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32-34): before Moses had descended from Mt Sinai with the stone tablets, the people had forgotten the commandments and forsaken their promises. It is here that the unconditional nature of the covenant is explored. The situation begs the question: can the covenant bond be terminated? That is, will there be a divine divorce? Certainly God threatens to abandon Israel: so great is the anger. Yet he does not. In the face of the worst human depravity comes the most unconditional statement of divine mercy (Exodus 34:6-7) as well as the most emphatic demand concerning God’s uncompromising loyalty (Exodus 34:14). The occurrence of sin, destructive as that may be, does not imply an end to the covenant. Rather, it reinforces it: its privilege, its permanence, its exclusivity.

The fact that the possibility of failure is envisaged from the outset stands as a testimony to the fact that God understood human nature from the start, yet perseveres. Later in Israel’s history there is a rocky period resulting in a separation – the exile – but even this does not rupture the covenant. Although Jews would differ in their interpretation of the new covenant announced in Jeremiah 31:31,(6) Christians recognize in Christ an extension of the Sinai covenant to include non-Israelites.(7) Thus we find ourselves welcomed in to ‘the marriage made in heaven’ – that is, to the ongoing covenant between God and God’s people Israel. The New Testament describes the same covenant, now between Christ and his Church, the new Jerusalem. Consider the picture painted in the book of Revelation, describing the end times:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… (Rev.21:2)

Human Covenants
There is no carefully-nuanced definition of human marriage in Scripture Yet the permanent, committed partnership of a man and a woman is clearly present, something regarded as a norm from Adam and Eve onwards, based on the pattern of creation (Genesis 2:24). It is taken for granted that this is the unit from which children are conceived (consider the domestic assumptions concerning the raising of children in Proverbs, for example), even though the modern concept of the nuclear family would have been alien. The problems associated with loss or failure in marriage are raised (the vulnerability of widows and orphans; the circumstances for divorce). The norm, however, is not something that is given any significant constructive exploration in Old or New Testament. Furthermore, it can be argued that both Jesus (by his example) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:32-35) challenges the very assumption of marriage in favor of promoting the ‘ministry’ of singleness.

Nevertheless, the concept of covenant for understanding the dynamics of committed relationship between two parties is well-developed in Scripture.(8) The term that was borrowed from the circumstances of everyday life – a treaty between senior and junior colleagues, a deal between two merchants – is applied to the fundamental relationship between God and Israel, and by extension, to Christ and his Church. It is the ‘marriage’ between God and God’s people that in turn becomes the context for the working-out of human covenants, which may take many forms, including marriage.(9)

As we have already explored above, a covenant represents a binding agreement between two otherwise-unrelated parties. The commitment is permanent and unconditional. It requires absolute loyalty (‘monogamy’). It is no private arrangement between the parties, but an oath formally established through a publicly recognized ritual, whereby the duties and privileges of kinship may be extended to another individual (or group). In this light, we may recognize how radically inclusive is the concept of covenant: enabling social ties beyond familial relationships, even extending to aliens.(10) The ritual involves spoken declarations, an expression of consent and the presence of witnesses under God.(11) Their task is to remind the two parties of their commitment, with an awareness of the opportunities and demands (the ‘blessings and curses’) that potentially ensue. Witnesses are those who then bear responsibility for recognizing and supporting the covenant in the community where it is to be lived out. Failure to keep up to the demands of covenant does not deny the existence of a covenant: a covenant is not dissolved by error or failure, only by death.

Christians have come to understand baptism as a covenant, and this example helpfully illustrates the way in which the biblical notion of covenant is appropriated in the Church. Baptism is the ceremony that marks the personal recognition and participation in the covenant of God with humanity, even though the conceptual linkage is not found directly in Scripture, it involves the making of promises, the demands of commitment, the presence of witnesses and the anticipation of blessing. Even though the ritual directly hears promises only from one side – from the baptized (or parents and Godparents on behalf of the baptized) – it nevertheless marks a covenant between two parties given that it recognizes the story of salvation whereby God has already made commitment to his people.

In the same way, covenant provides a theological backdrop for shaping life-long human commitments. The linkage in Scripture is clear for marriage in particular (Eph. 5:21-30), and may also be applied to other forms of human commitment. That is, that God’s covenant with his people provides the context within which we make covenant commitments one to another. A biblical perspective on human covenant recognizes the way in which, in our small corner, we seek to mirror and reflect the greatest covenant of all. If we love because Christ first loved us, so we can live in covenant because God in Christ first lives in covenant with us.

In the Old Testament God shows us what it means to make a covenant and keep it. Covenant becomes the means of growing in faithfulness, of living into the call to be ‘a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’ (Exodus.19:6). Jesus reaffirms this archetype. Although he does not use the term ‘covenant’ of marriage, in ruling out all divorce and remarriage, he makes obligatory for his followers the ideal of God’s covenant with Israel, in which God is faithful even when Israel is faithless.(12)

In other words, the call to discipleship in the Judeo-Christian tradition demands so shaping our lives that we become covenant-keepers. That shaping we may call spiritual formation: it happens through the habits of our lives in relation to God and neighbor. For Christians it is the natural – yet disciplined and necessary – response to baptism. Such discipleship, in the end, is not about what we do but who we are: where we fail and how we respond; how we see and where we are blind; what we give and where we resist; how we trust and how we are trustworthy. These are just the aspects covered, in the tradition of TEC, by the baptismal covenant. The sacrament of baptism is the Christian recognition and response to God’s covenant.

As in baptism, so with other forms of covenant. It is on the principle of imitatio dei (‘imitating God’ – for example, [Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26), that human covenants are shaped to reflect the elements and characteristics of God’s covenant, and through them that we ourselves are shaped to reflect more fully the image of God. That is, also, that through them we strive to be a window through which others may more fully understand God’s covenant commitment and mercy.

This is the context in which I understand the gift of marriage. Scripture suggests it is the key context in which I may grow to understand how to live in covenant and thus grow into the reality of God’s ultimate covenant. Though we may describe other forms of covenant – the covenants between business partners or between Churches – these do not mirror the features of God’s covenant to the same extent. That which models an exclusive, permanent commitment of two parties represents the most direct, and personal, and particular outworking of the call to be covenant-keepers. Seen in this light, it seems to me unnecessary that the opportunity be confined only to conventional heterosexual marriage, even though I hesitate to use the term ‘marriage’ for any other kind of union. So long as it is done responsibly – as the marriage liturgy puts it, ‘not… unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately…’ (BCP p.423) – it seems fitting to encourage all forms of covenantal relationship that seek to mirror and reflect the divine. Enabling God’s people to fulfill the covenant call to be God’s ‘priestly kingdom and holy nation’ is what ultimately matters; and this might most obviously include encouraging all who long to imitate God’s rich-but-costly pattern of covenant commitment.

This is the purpose and experience of those who are called to make monastic commitments in the setting of a religious community. As with the Sinai covenant and with the covenant of marriage, vows are taken in the presence of witnesses that are permanent and exclusive. The stakes are high: that is, the costs and benefits – the blessings and curses – are substantial. Yet we recognize here a high calling, and a means to holiness. That calling, and indeed the practices of holiness, require the community – the witnesses – who are charged with the responsibility of helping sustain the covenant they have witnessed in circumstances that intentionally limit the human options so as to discover the freedom of service to God. Brueggemann speaks of covenant relationships involving ‘revolutionary discipline, devotion and desire’.(13)

Whatever the context for the human covenants we may conceive – in baptism, in the partnership of two people, or in monastic vows – we are not at liberty to shape the nature and characteristics of God’s covenant. They are the givens – the graces – within which we exist as Christians, explored and presented in the biblical and ecclesial tradition in which we are planted. If we in our human relationships seek to inhabit that tradition and live up to our calling as the people of God, then the terms of our human covenantal commitments are similarly not negotiable. We may choose whether and with whom we partner: but the terms and conditions of that partnership – if it is to reflect God’s covenant – are not ours to negotiate. The self-giving cannot be quantified (unconditional and unending) while its locus is wholly defined and confined. As I say repeatedly to couples preparing for marriage, "You have to be crazy! You have no idea what you are letting yourselves in for." Covenant-making, in human terms, is a crazy idea. But it is not our idea: but God’s. Perhaps that is the only explanation for why so many strive for it.

The Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells is Associate Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry and Bible, and Director of Anglican Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She is a priest of the Church of England.

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Marriage and sanctification

Today through Wednesday, Daily Episcopalian will feature two essays from Writings on Marriage, a recent book published by the Diocese of North Carolina. The first, which will be featured today and tomorrow is by Gene Rogers of the University of North Carolna at Greensboro, and the second, which will run Tuesday and Wednesday is by the Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, a priest in the Church of England who teaches at the Duke University Divinity School. We'll let Bishop Michael Curry offer the introduction:

Writings on Marriage, the journal of the Bishop's Task Force on Marriage, was envisioned and produced by Greg Jones as an appropriate format to respond to a resolution of the 193rd Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina calling for study and report on the theology of marriage and the relationship between church and state vis a vis marriage. I am deeply indebted to Greg, and to the task force members and the journal's contributors for their excellent work. My prayer is that it will be a resource for teaching and conversation among us a diocese, as a church, indeed, as a culture.

But my deeper prayer is that as we listen to Holy Scripture, to the wisdom of Christian tradition, to the stories of each of us in this conversation, the Stranger will walk with us and talk with us as he did centuries ago on a road between the city of Jerusalem and the village of Emmaus. May the conversation and journey continue.
Keep the faith,
+Michael B. Curry
Bishop of North Carolina

MARRIAGE AND SANCTIFICATION

By Gene Rogers

The consideration of marriage theologically raises many questions - but the obvious essential question is: "What at its core is marriage for Christians all about?" One might seek to find the answer in the various ritual forms for marriage across the Christian churches - though it would be difficult to settle on a single "essential" feature. For Catholics, it is essential that one not have been married before to someone still living. For Protestants not. For Catholics and Protestants alike, the essential moment of the sacrament is the exchange of vows. That moment does not occur in the Eastern Orthodox Order of Marriage, or of Crowning. Although an Orthodox couple express their intention to be married, they express that intention to the priest rather than to each other, and the priest marries them, rather than their marrying each other, by announcing that they are crowned. In Judaism, what is essential is the ketubah, the marriage contract signed by witnesses – although many Jewish weddings take place without the parties knowing much or much caring what the ketubah says, and with no intention of carrying out its more interesting conditions. Of course there are further particulars essential to Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, pagan, and civil marriages. And yet, it seems, that very few if any of us who do not hold any of these different essentials would assert that couples married in any of these traditions are not truly married. So, while it is clearly impossible to speak universally about what marriage is - there does appear to be a family resemblance across the various forms of marriage.

Within the Christian tradition, to narrow the focus, there does appear to be a prominent feature of family resemblance among types of marriage, and I recognize that feature under the rubric of sanctification. Considering the theology of marriage in this way is particularly consistent with the tradition of the Orthodox Church, which regards marriage as a way of participating in the divine life not by way of sexual satisfaction but by way of ascetic self-denial for the sake of more desirable goods. Theologically understood, marriage is not primarily for the control of lust or for procreation. It is a discipline whereby we give ourselves to another for the sake of growing in holiness–for, more precisely, the sake of God.

In this respect marriage and monasticism are two forms of the same discipline, as the Orthodox writer Paul Evdokimov has argued. They are both ways of committing ourselves to others–a spouse or a monastic community–from whom we cannot easily escape. Both the monastic and the married give themselves over to be transformed by the perceptions of others; both seek to learn, over time, by the discipline of living with others something about how God perceives human beings.

Rowan Williams (1) has written, "Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's [Son] makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created [and we marry] so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God." (2). Like all forms of ascetism, this is a high-risk endeavor. It can expose the worst in people–so that it can be healed.

Sexuality, in short, is for sanctification, that is, for God. It is to be a means by which God catches human beings up into the community of God's Spirit and the identity of God's child. Monogamy and monasticism are two ways of embodying features of the triune life in which God initiates, responds to and celebrates love. Monasticism is for people who find a bodily, sexual sanctification first and foremost in the desirous perception of God. Marriage is for people who find themselves transformed by the desirous perception of another human being made in God's image. In a marital or monastic community, the parties commit themselves to practicing faith, hope and charity in a situation in which those virtues get plenty of opportunity to be exercised.

Marriage and monasticism are two ways in which Christians make their bodies fuller of meaning by donating them to concentric communities with an other and others. The narrower community is that of the spouses or the brothers/sisters. Larger ones include the local congregation, the witnesses at a wedding or a taking of final vows, the town, the Church, and the whole human race. But the most embracing community of all is that which it is the goal of both marriage and monasticism to promote, however distantly, their members growing inclusion, in this life and the next: the community of the Trinitarian life. Here it is marriage that is the root metaphor from which monasticism grows. For Jesus says, "the kingdom of heaven is like a father who gives a wedding feast for his son."(Mw 22:2) And marriage analogies abound in Christian texts and practices for the relationship of the human community with God. Thus we read:

• "I will betroth you to me forever...I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know [who I am]." (Hosea 2.19a-20)

• "Why do [others] fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" (Matthew 9.14)

• "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom." (Matthew 25.1)

• "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready...Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (Revelation 19.6-9)


Throughout the Christian tradition, in many times and places, what you might call an analogia nuptialis is productive of much theology. As Karl Barth has said, "Because the election of Israel is real, there is such a thing as love and marriage." That is, God's love for God's people is the prime analogate, which marriage is to represent. Not only Catholics, but the Orthodox and even Protestants practice the analogia nuptialis.

The paradigm case of the analogia nuptialis is Jesus' eucharistic remark, "this is my body, given for you." It is Jesus' self-giving that the married and the monastic both imitate in institutional form. That self-giving is at once a celebration, a wedding feast, and, under separable conditions of finitude and sin, a sacrifice. Both because marriage and monasticism are meant to sanctify, and because they imitate the eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus, they are essentially ascetic practices. That, indeed, is one of the two main things that make marriage and monasticism two forms of the same practice. First, they celebrate community; second, they practice asceticism - the giving up of less significant goods to gain more significant ones, the pearl of great price.

True asceticism is not a denial but a use, even a heightening of desire. Jesus did not give up his life from lack of desire, but from the intensity of it: "God so loved the world." (Jn 3.16) Jesus did not descend from the cross, because he desired solidarity with the thief, because he so loved the thief: "This day you will be with me in paradise." (Lk 23.39-43)

The choice between marriage and monasticism depends on which leads to the right sort of vulnerability that will change the human being for the good. It is about the right sort of vulnerability before the face of what sort of other. "Grace," Rowan Williams has written, "is a transformation that depends on being perceived in a certain way, as desired, as wanted." The transformative perception par excellence is the one by which God perceives us as God would have us be. God sees Christ in us, that we may change. In the next life, we enjoy the beatific vision, according to Aquinas, not by the power of the one seeing, but by the power of the One seen – by God's causative perception of us. (Summa 1, 12, 13) People who find bodily satisfaction in God's loving perception of them, who can place their bodily selves in God's sight for transformation into God's child, may be called to the monastery. Other people need the focus of a single human other for transformation; the one who, over time, loves them into growth, exposing their faults so that they may be healed. Given human sinfulness, this transformation is risky. To have the best chance of success - to be most hopeful and patient - Christians have traditionally believed that it needs singleness of focus, support of the community, and the promise of a lifetime. For this reason, the Church affirms marriage to be, at the very least, the public and solemn covenant between these persons made in the presence of God and before the nuptial witnesses, the Christian community, and the public community beyond.

Turning again to Matthew's Gospel,

"Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast to his son, sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come...Then he said to his servants...'Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'"(Mt 22,1-3.9-13)
The parable reminds us that the Christian community must respect and celebrate how the Holy Spirit sanctifies in a public, committed, interpersonal, and life-long way: in concrete, marriage-like practices, ascetic practices, disciplines – "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8.2) – that lead the parties, Christians would say, into the sacrificial and glorious marriage of God and God's people. The marriage of God and God's people – Christ's donation of his body to be for others – ramifies in diverse ways through Christian practices, in marriage, in monastics in community, and in the faithful baptized gathered as one in eucharistic fellowship. Dr. Eugene F. Rogers, Jr. is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Among his published works, Rogers edited Theology and Sexuality, Blackwell Readings in Modern Theology (Blackwell, 2002) and authored Sexuality and the Christian Body (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

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Keeping death before our eyes

By Leo Campos

In talking with a friend of mine who works for a divorce lawyer, she told me the story of a client who is dying of cancer. All of us have been directly affected by cancer, and most of us have been directly impacted by the death of someone close. We also know plenty of survivors and we rejoice with them. This is one of the reasons why every year I join the Susan G. Konnen Race for the Cure here in Richmond. I have been taking my son since he was 6 to run the 5k with me. He is quite knowledgeable about cancer by know, and a strong advocate of wearing pink.

There is something very bitter about terminal illnesses that comes from the degeneration, usually quick, of a loved one before our very eyes. It is as if they are running their lives in fast-forward while we are in normal speed. It is not as if any of us do not know we are going to die (excepting the chronic megalomaniac and teenagers). It is not death as such, I believe, that is shocking and bitter about this. Rather, it is the rush towards death which the disease causes, bringing with it accelerated suffering.

We are all dying slowly, at a natural pace, at an orderly rate. Cancer and other diseases break that unspoken contract, and go speeding down the road. We cannot keep up - emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

Monastic wisdom has always recommended that everyone keep in mind their mortality. Benedict in his Rule suggests that the religious keep "death in mind at all times". At first blush nothing seems to be less desirable. Why would I want to remember such a depressing thought? To our ears it seems like a morbid focus on the negatives.

Here it is important to find ways to take a step back and assess our own judgments. First, we live in an age which idolizes youth. Everything, nearly everything, is about staying young. Our whole culture has a form of thanatophobia (fear of death) which seems to have reached unprecedented levels. If you listen to the news (something I highly discourage) you will see that almost all the dire health warnings, the "obesity epidemic" or the tobacco pogroms that are going on, they all reference how eating fatty foods leads to...premature death. Smoking leads to...premature death. Lack of exercise...premature death. And then take the advertising for cosmetics and other drugs. They are "age-defying", "youthful looking skin", "feel young again!"

So when a voice from the past, a voice which lived in a world where death was imminent, and the expectancy of a long life was of about 40 to 50 years, that message seems so foreign as to be nearly alien.

But if we allow ourselves a little patience and the space to deal with issues of mortality, we will find much wisdom in the idea of keeping death before our eyes. All this means is that we need to make decisions based on reality. I have found that I tend to make decisions as if I was going to live forever. Is it a mistake to do this or that? -- it does not matter if I have infinite time to fix any mistakes.

But let us go a little deeper. Keeping death before our eyes is possibly the most effective way to counteract our implicit egotism (also known as "unconscious self-enhancement" - I love that phrase!). We all are egotists and we work hard at transforming our environments to both bolster our self-image and to protect it from any harm. Notice that I say "it". But no matter what barriers we put up, no matter what Neverlands we build, death always enters. And disease (always a threat) is the ultimate offense to our anxiety for immortality.

Back to my friend and her story about the client who was dying of cancer. You might wonder why she needed a divorce lawyer? Because her final wish was to get divorced. The lady was so weak they needed to go out to the car to depose her. She could die any day - so the paperwork needs to be rushed.

I am not sure if this is tragic or liberating (it certainly is uncommon). But death makes individuals of us all. At death's door we will stand in our own convictions and our own faith - nothing imported will do.

When you have all those external things that support you in life removed, what will you stand for?

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).

"Come and see": an excerpt from Jesus Freak

An excerpt from Jesus Freak by Sara Miles

By Sara Miles

Jesus who is utterly, dirtily human; Jesus who just wades into the water and accepts the divine Spirit coming to dwell in his flesh. As it will, through him, come to dwell in us.

And how do we know this? Come and see, says Jesus, kicking off his public ministry after his baptism. It’s a statement that’s got more than a little dare in it; more than a little edge. This is the Jesus that our rector Paul and I started referring to as ‘‘the Boyfriend.’’ We used it as a colloquial version of the ancient Christian name of ‘‘Bridegroom’’ for Jesus, but it felt more personal—and funny, if a little disturbing, because that’s how Jesus is.

In the Gospel story, Jesus asks two of John’s disciples what they’re looking for, and Andrew politely says, ‘‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’’ Then the Boyfriend says, simply, come and see. In this story we learn what Jesus is like, and how he sees us, and what he’s going to ask of us, the disciples. How our relationship is going to be.

Right away, the Boyfriend makes clear where he’s staying. He is staying with us. On earth. Period. And he’s inviting us to come and see what it means to abide in a human body in the world. The Boyfriend is moving in. So what’s he like? One, he’s promiscuous. Because Jesus is the kind of boyfriend who’ll go with anyone. He picks up John’s disciples. He chats with strangers. He’ll even flirt with two brothers at the same time—he has no shame. Jesus talks to anyone: Jews, Gentiles, women, children, foreigners. He’s soft on them. He touches them. He calls them by name.

Two, the Boyfriend is a bit of a troublemaker. He likes to stir things up. In the conventional order, only members of Aaron’s royal family get anointed to the priesthood in an exclusive temple ritual. But Jesus goes to John, the mad prophet, instead. Jesus wades right in and comes up shining, and then he starts getting everyone else riled up. Okay, ready or not, he says, let’s go: come and see.

Jesus isn’t the kind of boyfriend, in my experience, who’s just going to smile and be agreeable. He’s the thrilling, scary Boyfriend who’s going to dare you to do things you’d never dreamed of, shower you with unreasonable presents, and show up uninvited at the most embarrassing times. Then he’s going to stick with you, refusing to take the hint when you don’t answer his calls.

In the story of Andrew, Jesus is just beginning his love affair with all humankind. That first baptism in the Jordan will lead to baptisms of fire, tears, the cup, and the cross; Jesus will submit and go under it all, falling and coming up, dying and rising, and he will never, ever, let his lovers go.

But to start, Jesus simply looks at us. He sees us, face to face. And what he sees about us—his confused, doubting, selfish followers—is that we, too, are beloved children of God. That we, dumb and dim as Andrew, as Peter, as any crushed-out ninth-grade girl or sulky teenage boy, are part of the Boyfriend’s body: one flesh with him, and with all humankind.

Oh, my dears, says the Boyfriend. This is how it’s going to be from now on. All those other discipleships are over, because I’m here now, for good. This is what our relationship is going to be like: I love you, and you love me and each other. Come and see.

Jesus doesn’t make us obey by claiming the mantle of religious authority or worldly power: he meets us at someone’s ordinary house, at four in the afternoon. He doesn’t ask us to prepare and purify ourselves: he takes us as we are. This Boyfriend is not a big talker. He just invites us, without exception, into experience. It’s a dare, and it’s a promise. Come and see, he says.

Our Boyfriend insists on staying with people. He abides with us in the lowliest places, kisses the most despised sinners, sticks around for the worst messes humans can make. And even when we doubt the love, even when we wreak jealous violence on his other beloveds, even when we try to break up, the Boyfriend is still there. He still wants us to touch him, eat him, become him.

Because the thing about Jesus, the story turns out, is that he believes in us, the people who betray his love, just as he believed in Andrew and poor frightened Peter. Jesus trusts that humans have the power to truly see him ourselves. He believes that our mortal bodies, our experiences here on earth, are enough to bear and hold God. He knows we can find him in our own flesh, and in the flesh of others.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Jesus Freak by Sara Miles. Copyright © 2010 by Sara Miles.

Confronting sexual abuse in the Episcopal Church

By Ann Fontaine

Andrew Sullivan, writing on The Atlantic's Web site, has been praising the Episcopal Church for its actions on priests who commit sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment. In the comments on his column stories of quick action following the reporting of abuse have appeared. It is good to hear that our system is working for some people who have suffered at the hands of priests and bishops. I wish it had always been the case, but we have our own history of the abuse of power, secrecy, and denial. It was not until the ’70s and ’80s that these abuses were finally addressed by the Church and the General Convention began work on revising the canons and to encourage dioceses to provide procedures and training.

Women clergy began to hear the stories of child and youth sexual abuse by clergy in the late '70s and early '80s. Women had only been ordained since 1974. A few women across the denomination met to compare notes. In the meantime, lawsuits were beginning to emerge when the church would not respond to the suffering. The insurance companies were getting worried about providing liability insurance when churches knew about abuse and passed a priest on to another place. While I was serving on the Executive Council from 1985-91, Ellen Cooke, Treasurer of the denomination, reported to the Presiding Bishop and the Council that something needed to be done both for pastoral and fiduciary reasons.

General Convention began to act. In 1985, a resolution passed to request dioceses to conduct workshops on recognizing child sexual abuse. In 1991, a Committee on Sexual Exploitation was established. During this period several women clergy and some attorneys who had been providing legal counsel for abuse victims/survivors developed training for bishops and other leaders to teach the church about the issue and how to deal with perpetrators and victims/survivors. It was clear that TEC did not have canons or procedures to guide this work, so several of us proposed a resolution for the next General Convention.

The bishops did not think the time was right for this action but we pressed ahead. The women of the Episcopal Church – Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, and others – mobilized to lobby both Houses and to talk to their bishops about the importance of immediate action by the church. Abuse victims/survivors came to testify, often the first time they had told their stories in public. 1997 saw a number of resolutions including the revision of Title IV (disciplinary canons) passed. (The history of resolutions is here.) The Bishop’s Pastoral Office led by the Rt. Rev. Harold (Hoppy) Hopkins was a key supporter of funding, education, developing training and facing the issues of abuses and exploitation.

In 2009 another revision of the Title IV canons was passed to set up a procedure that is more like the professional standards of conduct in other professions. The original revisions were based on the Military Code of Justice that while providing a way to deal with abuse and exploitation had proved very difficult to use.

Since the days of these early cases the work to stop abuse in the Episcopal Church has had a mixed record. In my work as a member of committees proposing and acting on guidelines for action and as a advocate for those who have suffered abuse and exploitation, I see the Episcopal Church is currently doing much better work but with areas that are still lacking.

Stopping child sexual abuse has the greatest success. Safeguarding God’s Children training is required of all clergy and all lay leaders especially anyone in the church working with children and youth. Congregations and parents are more aware of how to spot abuse and who to contact if it occurs. Church schools are vigilant about contact with children, requiring 2 adults present, windows in all offices, locking spaces where abuse might occur, and doing background checks on all employees and volunteers. Many dioceses are using online self-guided training and awareness programs which have increased participation 10 to 100 fold over the face to face training. We know that perpetrators will not stop abuse from taking training but the community can become vigilant and prevent incidents. Compliance is left to the dioceses to enforce but most have strict guidelines.

Exploitation of vulnerable adults and harassment has a more mixed success rate. Much depends on the local diocese and requirements for response and discipline. Although the canons are in place, it is often a hard road to get the canons enforced. Rather than viewing events as abuse of power, they are confused with “affairs” or the victim is blamed for the occurrence. Egregious, multiple offenses are usually dealt with eventually but justice is slow to be found for these abuses. Most professions realize that the person in power has the responsibility in any relationship – regardless of actions. The church is beginning to understand this. The discipline of bishops is the least successful area in the church.

The new revisions of the canons hold out the possibility that the procedures will be more available and easier to use with offending priests and deacons in dioceses. The canons have more options before taking the case to court. Child abuse, of course, must be reported to the police or county authorities by civil law. Training in adult exploitation and harassment is now available for congregations and dioceses. The Episcopal Church has learned that a church that faces abuse and exploitation promptly and with justice, restoration, and reconciliation can be a healthier safer place for all.

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

Reflections on the report of the HOB's theology panel on sexuality

By George Clifford

The report, “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church,” commissioned by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops and published this Lent merits widespread study within both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion (unless otherwise noted, page numbers refer to this document). The report avoided an overly facile effort to reconcile the diametrically opposed positions about whether the Church should bless same-sex marriages. Instead, the Committee recruited a panel of four Christian ethicists to delineate the arguments against same-sex marriage and another panel of four Christian ethicists the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, and then each panel responded to the contrary position.

The view with which I profoundly disagree, that against recognizing same-sex marriage (“Same-Sex Marriage and Anglican Theology: A View from the Traditionalists,” pp. 1-39), prompted some fresh reflections about natural law. The traditionalists correctly contend that natural law (as heretofore understood) supports heterosexual but not same-sex marriage. The panel does not inquire whether the received interpretation of natural law might be wrong. Had the panel done so, its members might have altered their views.

Natural law claims to identify principles or “laws” that govern the natural world. Pre-Enlightenment “scientists” often defined those laws based upon a priori arguments or scriptural interpretation rather than the scientific method (determining the validity of a hypothesis by measuring its predictive power). The Enlightenment heralded a new and enduring reliance on the scientific method, triggering a succession of clashes between conflicting understandings of natural processes. The sixteenth century dispute between proponents of a geo-centric and helio-centric solar system was one such clash.

In the twenty-first century, “discerning the sexual pattern in creation” (p. 22) probably demarcates another pending clash. As the traditionalists note in their report, the natural law tradition has until now argued, in species with two genders, that heterosexual relationships and reproduction are normative (pp. 31-33).

Although scientific data remains inconclusive in the estimation of the traditionalists (p. 25), the weight of accumulating data points increasingly toward proving the assessment of heterosexual relationships and reproduction as normative wrong. Nature exhibits incredible diversity and contending that any one pattern of sexual behavior is normative has become very problematic. That natural diversity has become more apparent as researchers greatly improve the accuracy of their observations, vastly expand the quantity of observations, and compile an every growing, ever more fully nuanced body of evidence based theory.

The following seem relevant to any discussion of natural law and human relationships:
• All life forms appear to have evolved from a common source.
• Patterns of behavior in other life forms, especially in primates may therefore shed light on human behavior.
• Some animal species, including chimps with whom humans share 96% of their genome, exhibit diverse mating patterns, i.e., both opposite and same-sex.
• Some of these relationships, both opposite and same-sex, are monogamous and last for years.
• Reproductive patterns among species with two sexes also vary widely, e.g., species in which some females morph into males, a species in which male fish mate by biting a female’s back and then being permanently absorbed into the female to ensure a ready supply of sperm, etc.
• Some same-sex non-human animal couples rear offspring.
In other words, the implicit presumption of natural law as traditionally formulated that only heterosexual couples mate, procreate, and nurture children is wrong. (For a highly readable synopsis of current research on gay animals, cf. Jon Mooallem, “Can Animals Be Gay?” New York Times, April 3, 2010.)

The traditionalists candidly remark (p. 16) that attempting to learn what the Bible says about same-sex relationships “involves looking to it for answers to questions it does not pose, at least not in the form we want to ask them. The notion of same-sex marriage did not exist in Scripture or in its contemporary contexts.” The Anglican tradition only maintains that the Bible is the repository of all information necessary for salvation and not all important or even useful information (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 513, 526).

In the absence of biblical answers to our questions, we have no choice but to search for other approaches to find answers to our questions. One of those approaches may be natural law, which, as outlined above, offers a far more complex and nuanced picture of relationships and reproduction than the historic formulation of natural law presumes. (I have admittedly formulated that picture to support my views as strongly as possible but the actual picture does not cohere to the historic view of natural law and is complex.) Another approach relies not on specific passages but broad biblical themes to extract from them a tentative answer. The Liberals utilized this method in “A Theology of Marriage including Same-Sex Couples: A View from the Liberals” (pp. 40-69).

Within the Christian tradition, views about marriage have evolved as Christians faithfully sought to interpret Scripture in the light of both tradition and reason. For example, Christian thinking about marriage shifted from marry if you must to avoid sin (expecting an imminent parousia, celibacy is better), to sex is only for the purpose of procreation, to marriage is for the community’s benefit, the mutual well-being of both partners, and the procreation and nurture of children.

My reading of the traditionalist position in the report is that this last issue – procreation of children – constitutes the major obstacle to accepting gay unions as marriage. Obviously, the traditionalists interpose other objections to the idea of same-sex relationships, such as natural law and their understanding of what the Bible teaches. The traditionalists do not seem to question the mutual well-being that a same-sex relationship may provide the two partners. The value to the community of same-sex relationships is largely a function of the degree to which that community accepts or rejects such relationships.

People today can procreate a child through intercourse, in utero artificial insemination, or in vitro fertilization with subsequent embryo implant in either one of the partner’s wombs or a surrogate’s womb. Perhaps can also “procreate” by adopting a child(ren). Most of theological and ethical thinking is woefully inadequate with respect to procreation in the twenty-first century, cf. Ellen Painter Dollar’s three part essay, “Why Episcopalians need to care about reproductive ethics,” Daily Episcopalian, March 9, 2010. If nothing else, available procreation options offer all couples, regardless of their gender composition, the option of having children. Even as improved insights into how the world functions call for an updated natural theology, so do scientific advances that expand the options for procreation call for Christians to rethink associated theological and ethical concepts.

Neither the release of “Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church” nor the upcoming consecration of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese Los Angeles has led to a cataclysmic outpouring of wailing, gnashing of teeth, and consternation among most Episcopalians. Easter is dawning! In the meantime, thanks be to God that dialogue continues, at least some of the discourse exhibits Christian respect for the dignity and worth of those who disagree, and the Episcopal Church in good Anglican fashion continues to incorporate diverse viewpoints.


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.

Seeking the mind of Christ on capital punishment

By Martin L. Smith

Writing is a demanding trade, and I am one of those who has to do a lot of talking and preaching in order to ply it. Sometimes I recite to myself a naughty line memorized from a biography of the novelist Stendahl: “Like all good authors, he must have snared ideas as he talked. This hardly promotes silence, or even discretion. No evening out is wasted if one can say to oneself on returning home, ‘I wasn’t bored; I talked the whole time. And I always find something to learn from what I say.’” I do a lot of teaching and preaching without notes, and I love the challenge of giving spontaneous answers to questions in the conversations that I build into workshops. And I always find something to learn from what I find myself saying! Perhaps this is a regular form of spiritual experience for religious communicators. We experience grace in the moment as we respond to surprise. Often what we ‘find ourselves saying’ turns out to be richer than the stuff we carefully work out in advance. Where did that come from? we ask ourselves, and find that the Holy Spirit seems to be the proper answer.

In a recent workshop I was leading, a participant was moved to express his support for the death penalty. I had referred in passing to the official opposition to the death penalty in the Episcopal Church voiced for more than 50 years, and the almost total condemnation of it in contemporary Roman Catholic teaching. (Pope John Paul II insisted in his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, that cases where the state is justified in killing the offender are “very rare, if not practically non-existent”).

Perhaps it was because the man didn’t sound at all defensive that I didn’t fall into the trap of countering his view directly with a rational case for abolishing the death penalty. Instead I found myself making a proposal to him. Simply this: Would you be prepared over the course of several months, to keep on asking Jesus in prayer this question:“Lord, you yourself were executed by the state. What do you think of capital punishment today?”

A strange quietness came over the room. Everyone seemed taken aback, including myself. We needed time to process the implications of the proposal.

No wonder. There is a lot to consider in this approach to such a controversial topic. First, it makes a difference to directly connect the crucifixion, the cross in the experience of Jesus Christ, to capital punishment. Jesus stood trial, and the state executed him in exactly the same way it regularly executed hundreds of criminals perceived to pose a danger to public welfare. He was one of three identical victims that day. For the executioners it was a routine day in their killing field called Golgotha. Jesus was, and—because God raised him from the dead—still is and always will be, the victim of regular capital punishment.

We tend to discuss the death penalty as a political issue, a matter of social policy, a bone of contention between liberals and conservatives. To reframe the issue in terms of Jesus’ own experience is to surrender a great deal of our sense of control over how the divisive issue might be resolved, about who wins the argument. Suppose we as Christians were to reframe the question in terms of what the mind of Christ is. Suppose he has a mind on the topic, that his mind is made up in the light of his own experience as a victim!

I suppose the second rather shocking thing about the proposal is this insistence that we take our questioning straight to Jesus as the one with the direct experience. Many Episcopalians don’t even pray to Jesus, claiming we should only pray to the Father. Yet the earliest Christian prayer is to Jesus—Marana tha! Our Lord, come! The liturgy invites us to connect directly to him as we pray, “O Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Grant us your peace!” By taking our questions directly to Jesus, instead of talking around him, we open ourselves to being influenced and enlightened by what Paul calls simply, “the mind of Christ.” Not instructions to obey but a mindset to adopt, a whole way of looking at the world through this eyes. In this case, what does death row look like today through the eyes of the living Christ, who has been on it himself?

I did suggest repeating this daring prayer for some months. It is rare to receive access to the mind of Christ in a flash. Prayer might be more like a gradual dawning. Or a wrestling match of many rounds, as the tenacious grip of conventional thinking is gradually loosened and something radically new emerges through conscious contact with the living person of Christ.

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

Singing and dancing through a vanishing era

By Frederick Quinn

<1> Camelot Off Broadway – St. Mary’s Cabaret Remembered

It was like Camelot, and each Monday night the aging singers and dancers from St. Mary’s Cabaret did their lively imitations of Al Jolson or Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. Between forty to seventy theater people gathered weekly for an evening of song, dance, and socialization in the former convent of St. Mary the Virgin, 145 West 46th Street, off Broadway and Times Square, then disappeared into their single rooms in the fading tenement houses nearby.

The Rev. Scott Helferty, a skilled pianist and former seminarian at St. Mary’s, led almost eighty such evenings for two years in the early 1970s. “Roseland Dance City, a few blocks away, was closed on Monday nights, so St. Mary’s was a natural word of mouth attraction for a gathering of theatrical people now in their sixties and seventies. On other nights, many spent long hours in places like the Horn & Hardart Automat, nursing a cup of coffee or a piece of pie, the sort of self-contained night people Edward Hopper painted. “These were people in Broadway when it was at its peak in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, on the fringes as chorus and dance troupe members. Some had regular, some had intermittent employment. They were pretty much disconnected from families, so the Times Square/Broadway area was their home,” Helferty recalled. Retired now in Salt Lake City, the musician-priest was most recently interim vicar in Provo, Utah, served parishes in Chicago, Illinois, Portland, Oregon, and New Bedford, Massachusetts after graduating from General Theological Seminary in 1973.

<2> Monday Night at St, Mary’s Cabaret

St. Mary’s Cabaret came at the end of an era when there were over a hundred live theaters in midtown Manhattan and tickets cost .85 cents. All that quickly changed with the coming of television, yet the St. Mary’s entertainers kept hoping for the big break that would find them rediscovered, remembering a few colleagues who had been called out of retirement for roles in Broadway shows.

“The Broadway—Times Square area was in a severe state of decline. A third of the Broadway theaters and most of the great movie houses had closed. Porn shops and cheap stores proliferated. The great building spree around Times Square had not begun and along the side streets there were numerous former tourist and resident hotels that were now welfare hotels, where people lived at a subsistence level in the era just before homelessness became widespread,” Helferty remembered.

The musicians performing on a given Monday night handed the pianist faded dog-eared browned scores with tattered edges, music from musicals he had never heard of. “I was a pretty good sight reader, and they were easy to work with,” Helferty recalled. There were Irma and Irving, who did Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire dance routines. Irma had a long glittery dress cut up the side so she could dance in it, Irving had his well-preserved top hat and bow tie. “They were really good, they probably could have taught at Arthur Murray Dance studios,” he remembered. Another aging dancer arrived with scratchy 78 rpm records and performed meticulously choreographed Isadora Duncan routines, complete with purple leotard, veils and feathered boa. Clarice, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer, had been a dime a dance girl at Roseland. A picture of her standing in her hotel hallway in a striking dance costume once appeared in la Vie des Arts, a Canadian arts magazine. Harry Kadeson, a Grade B movie singing cowboy, showed up weekly in his Gene Autry outfit, carrying a scrapbook filled with memories.

Guests brought finger food deserts. Participants were mostly self-identified Jewish and there was no proselytizing, but Helferty did invite Monday nighters who might be so inclined to witness a solemn pontifical high mass one night when Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey visited St. Mary’s. “I thought it was just very enchanting,” Irma said afterwards. When one is living on the precipice all the time it takes its toll.”

<3> Ministry to the Overwhelmed

How did he see this as ministry? “For a boy from Boise it was a whole new world,” Helferty replied. “We were all overwhelmed. The places where they were living were being torn down. They were literally living on nothing. The neighborhood was our meeting point and we were both feeling overwhelmed. My relationship with them was just to hear their stories. They certainly had a lot to tell. Some had had their moments, a fairly good part in a musical. They were very proud of that. None were famous or celebrities. The main fact is that they survived in an impersonal, cruel urban environment. The Monday night food may have been what they had to eat that day. Also, St. Mary’s was a safe place. Despite their well-kept, fading costumes and cheerful outlook, many of the guests had faces that showed the strains of life. “When one is living on the precipice all the time it takes its toll,” Helferty noted.

“It was fascinating, heart-breaking, endearing, and heart-warming. I think about these people more now than I thought about them at the time,” he concluded. Each Monday night cabaret ended with an upbeat song like “Sidewalks of New York.” “East Side, West Side, all around the town,” Harry sang with his cowboy twang, and Irma and Irving tapped along with the music. The others harmonized easily, sometimes a dining room full of elderly former entertainers closing the Monday night program, with Scott Helferty pounding out the tune on an upright piano.

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn has written extensively on law, history, and religion. A former chaplain at Washington National Cathedral, his most recent book is The Sum of All Heresies, The Image of Islam in Western Thought, published by Oxford University Press.

The name of the Day

By Christopher L. Webber

Years ago there was a retired priest in the parish I served who had strong opinions. Fr. T. T, Butler was a big man with a big voice with which to express his opinions and one subject on which he felt strongly was the phrase “Easter Sunday.” “It’s EASTER DAY!” he would roar; “What else would it be but Sunday?” I don’t know whether I had been aware before that of the fact that the Prayer Book title for the day is not the one commonly used in our society and that there is a reason for it. As the 1979 Prayer Book makes abundantly clear, Easter Day is not just a Sunday but rather THE DAY on which the whole year centers.

I thought of old Fr. Butler earlier this year when, in filling in the Annual Parochial Report, I noticed that it asked me to report attendance for “Easter Sunday.” What have we come to, I thought, when our National Office asks us to report on a day that isn’t in the Prayer Book? But I was busy, so I crossed out the “Sun” and filled in the number and sent it in. I doubt that anyone noticed.

More recently, I looked at the local paper in Holy Week and found display ads for six Episcopal churches in our area. Not one of them announced “Easter Day.” Five were planning a service for “Easter Sunday” and one for “Easter.” Fr. Butler’s roar echoed in my mind and I decided to see what shape the church is in. I checked out the fourteen churches of our local Deanery and found seven web sites with no information about their service schedule for Holy Week and Easter, three listings for Easter Sunday, three listing simply “Easter,” and only one for Easter Day.

Looking still further, I conducted a very unscientific analysis of 25 web sites, culled at random from 22 states and 25 dioceses ranging from Alaska to Alabama and Vermont to San Diego. A simply majority (13) would have offended Fr. Butler by listing services for “Easter Sunday,” while nine, a distinctly minority showing, conformed to the Prayer Book and T. T. Butler. Two said simply “Easter” and one used the scarce, alternative Prayer Book title, “The Sunday of the Resurrection.”

Fr. Butler, I am sure, would have deplored these findings, and surely it is a sadness that so many churches let pass the opportunity to stress the uniqueness of this central feast day. How is it that so many have failed to notice or conform to the Book of Common Prayer? “A minor technicality,” some may scoff; “Why waste time on trivia?” Ah, but wasn’t the church better off when we chose sides on such titles and trivia rather than whether to belong to the Episcopal Church at all?

The Rev. Christopher L. Webber, the author of a number of books about the Episcopal Church and Beyond Beowulf, the first-ever sequel to Beowulf, has recently become Vicar of St. Paul's Church, Bantam, Connecticut.

The teacher's way of wisdom and innovation

By Donald Schell

With my first step on the Aikido dojo’s practice mat twenty-eight years ago, I knew I was declaring my willingness to become a teacher. That is, I knew that by investing patience and regular practice from that day forward, I would earn a black belt, and a black belt signifies a teacher. And “teacher” means continuing to learn, as my first teacher said, ‘When you earn your black belt, you will be ready to begin learning.’ The Aikido saying echoes Suzuki Roshi’s wisdom in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

For twenty-nine of my thirty-eight years as an Episcopal priest, weekday church work has followed dawn practice in an aikido dojo, throwing and being thrown in a playful, energetic, sometimes frightening, always enlivening moving meditation. Gently and persistently Aikido has shown me something I didn’t see before in the Gospels and in the work of our church - our Christian tradition asks you and me to become rabbis in Jesus’ mold, teachers of teachers in training.

Eastern teacher traditions (like Ai-ki-do and Zen-do and others that call themselves a way, that is a ‘-Do’ or ‘Tao’) often speak of the process of passing on the practice as ‘transmission.’ In Christian practice, more typically we speak of ‘tradition.’ Both words point to ongoing creative engagement between beginners and more seasoned practitioners, and between older and younger generations.

Processes of ‘transmission’ or ‘tradition’ teach by demonstration - seeing and imitation, specifically mindful imitation, and reflective learning. What I see now in the Gospels is how Jesus’ tradition-ing brings the wisdom of our remembered and still living past into direct dynamic encounter with the passion and fresh demands of the present moment. Both past and present are changed in that encounter.

Last winter here in the Café I wrote about the false dichotomy our church falls into whenever we use ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ as polar opposites. I return to that theme a year later because I feel daily how that false dichotomy impoverishes us, fractures inter-generational learning and works to separate wisdom (the humble, ‘I wonder’ version of experience) from fresh energy and insight.

In ongoing extensive research on what he first named ‘communities of practice,’ Etienne Wenger reports that traditional crafts and trades KNEW crucial innovation was likeliest to happen in the daily interchange between senior apprentices and their supervising journeymen. Where a craft or trade actually has such a person as a ‘master,’ that person isn’t the one we should look to for noticing, blessing, and developing the accidental discoveries that learners are making.

Wenger’s observation is similar to Suzuki Roshi honoring the gift of ‘beginner’s mind,’ but Wenger’s slightly different framing should challenge the church uncomfortably. A culture of experts and novices or professionals and amateurs encourages neither tradition nor innovation. In vibrant communities of practice, tradition, or the transmission of knowledge, is a creative act. Consider what the word ‘lay’ or ‘laity’ means outside church talk - “Amateur, inept, or inexpert, not professional.” How did we do that? How can church thrive unless tradition and innovation feed each other? And who needs to share authority in that interchange?

Let’s put the dilemma differently: Jesus our teacher models for us that the real master, like an advanced journeyman, continues to learn and delights to engage with other learners. The most advanced learner makes the best teacher because that learner, whether called ‘black belt,’ journeyman, master, rabbi, teacher, or presbyter/elder, while confident of experience, also knows that she or he will always have more to learn. And the most advanced learner understands most deeply that ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘mistakes’ of the stumbling apprentice may fall into something new, fresh or essential to the work.

Aikido helped me see how Jesus (in the synoptic Gospels) invites his disciples and listeners to join him in an inquiry. Jesus presents himself and teaches as a journeyman teaching advanced apprentices. The Gospels show him learning alongside learners and his listeners into inquiry with him.

Imposing a ‘know it all’ Jesus on the Gospels numbs our ear to his real questions.

When our Teacher of teachers in training asks, ‘What parent among you, if your child asked for bread, would give that child a stone?’ he asks a real question with more than one possible answer. Our Teacher asking this question knows that some parents make frightening and damaging choices. His next question pushes on toward the threat asking, ‘what parent among you, if your child asked for an egg would offer a scorpion?’

Yes, there’s something dreadfully wrong when the parent hands a child a scorpion, but it does happen. When some flinch to call God ‘father’ (or ‘mother’) from dark memories of a dangerous, abusing parent, can we help them see and hear our Teacher’s courageous reflection on mixed experience pushes us to specifics. God isn’t simply ‘father’ or simply ‘mother.’ We have to ask ‘what kind of mother/father?’

The Teacher pushes our inquiry onward. ‘Abba,’ Jesus’ name for God our father, is far more specific than a conventional distillation of cultural norms of ‘appropriate’ parental behavior in his or any other time. The forgiving father in the parable of the prodigal son models unrestrained loving mercy that breaks the bounds of culturally endorsed patriarchal dignity. These parables, the pair of sayings about hungry children asking for food, and the story of the wayward, wanton child coming home, touch something deeper than pretending ‘we’re all always good parents,’ and wiser and more loving than ‘remember to act appropriately.’ Teaching traditions, the traditions that engage beginning learners with more advanced learners (and Jesus does cast himself as a learner) create new, fresh authority for even recent beginners, the authority of actual experience, real questions, and struggling to make sense of the contradictions we know in life.

‘Because I’m the rector,’ that killing refrain of tightly-held authority has no place in a teacher tradition. Yes, sometimes canons and good sense demand that a bishop or a rector or music director or Sunday School teacher or senior warden or other designated leader make a decision to mark the end of a conversation, declare a consensus or hark back to an essential, central principle or practice. BUT whenever any of us refuses to offer a clue of why it was time for us to resolve so we can act together we turn from learning (and discernment) to magisterial rule. Teacher traditions must sometimes trust leaders to distill vision and resolve community conflict, but teacher traditions keep looking for learning moments even in those times of resolution.

At 63, I’m very, very grateful for my thirty-eight years of work as a presbyter in our church, and the signs of life in our church feel me with hope and joy. But my heart breaks for clergy and lay friends of my generation who wonder how they’ve spent their life, what difference their work in the church has made, and lament a “dying church.” Of course our church is dying. Things what had grown old are being made new. Depressed pessimism, as though the Spirit were ready to abandon the church, is the older generation’s side of the crisis of 21st century Christianity’s traditioning.

Christian faith and practice have a future, possibly even a rich future. But boomers’ habits of leadership have broken the natural flow that gives real authority and autonomy to a next generation. Interestingly the ‘contemporary’ half of the contemporary/traditional dichotomy seems as much a baby-boomer artifact as the ‘traditional’ half. Neither one is what it says.
Our church (yes our ‘dying mainline’ Episcopal church) has great young leaders, lay and ordained bringing fresh vision and passion to building Christian community, to loving Jesus, to serving and learning in his name to give simple and abundant thanks that the Spirit is certainly at work.

Our present moment (like all present moments) asks of us wisdom that continues to learn and passion that is eager to do work, seasoned, grateful elders and passionate younger leaders listening to one another, working together to synthesize what we have learned and know, what we are asking, and what the Spirit is asking of us now.

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

Kipple drives out non-kipple

By Leo Campos

Kipple is a fundamental concept in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick which was made into the movie Blade Runner. It is basically a restatement of the Law of Entropy, where "kipple" means disorder. The interesting thing here, subtle as all of PKD’s concepts are, is that "kipple" seems to be the fundamental reality with non-kipple being the absence thereof. It certainly seems a pessimistic conclusion, but fitting for a dystopian future as painted by the author.

Anyone who owns children of any sort: pets, husbands or actual small humans will be familiar with the Kipple Law as stated above. Our household consists of two cats, two children and two adults. There is an impossibility of keeping anything ordered for longer than about 15 minutes, especially if my smaller child walks into a room. I am beginning to believe that he is some sort of human equivalent of Taz, the Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoons - a less grumpy version, but one with equivalent destructive powers.

Then there are the cats, whose sole job it seems is the production of fur. They are generous souls and willingly spread their wealth all around the house. They are also aesthetes and will try to rectify any fur imbalances - that is, they will congregate on the cleanest room and proceed to bring it to the same level of furriness as the others.

My older son is a plopper. You know the type - 'Plop!' goes his school bag about one step in the door. "plop, plop" go his shoes about a half a step later. "Plop" goes his jacket a few steps further.

You bring clean clothes to his room and place them on the bed, so he can properly hang them, and "Plop" to the floor they go. There are two piles of clothes in his room a clean one and a dirty one - often it is hard to tell the difference. And equally often I lose patience and throw everything in the wash, only to be confronted by an annoyed 10-year old.

"Where's my favorite shorts?"

"Don't know,” I say.

"They were in my room"

"Were they put away?"

"They were on the floor," by which he means they were "organically organized."

"Well I took all the clothes from the floor and put them in the wash."

"But they were clean!" an exasperated tone in his voice.

"How was I to know?"

This usually ends the conversation, because frankly I have the "patience of the prophets" when it comes to this topic.

We are all constantly, it seems, creating, even exuding, disorder. Much of what the work of the spiritual life is about fighting these natural tendencies, it is very much a work against nature. When it comes to human life, alone or in community, kipple does indeed drive out non-kipple.
This can be seen in our theologies. One fundamental reversal is the claim that evil is the absence of God. It would seem that from the Kipple Law above it would make more sense to claim that God is the absence of evil. Clearly, if we were going to base our theology on dispassionate observation of the world and of history, it does seem to make more sense to say that all of civilization is a fight against natural barbarism, natural chaos and anarchy. Civilization is an artificial construct which can only be maintained through artificial means.

This is why we need revelation. It turns out this picture is fundamentally wrong. In the deep reality of Creation it is God who exists, and all that is not God does not, or to put it more poetically “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1).

As we go through our days, diligently combating kipple, we can be certain that this is godly work, and is God’s work. The Opus Dei, it seems, has a lot in common with house cleaning.

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).

I know now what "a good death" means.

By Margaret Treadwell

"Every night I pray that God will take me, but I wake up the next morning and he didn't!" My mother said this often during the months before her death on Oct. 28. On her good days, she was looking forward to her 100th birthday on April 17.

Suffering with her frail body, yet extraordinarily independent and unafraid to speak her mind, my mother was interested in all my adventures, whether it be an opportunity to teach or publish, an escapade with our grandkids or travel with my husband. Last summer she said, "Peggy, I don't have time to die; there's always something going on with you!"

When my father died in 1996 after a long bout with Alzheimer's, my strong mama got a whole new life despite her grief, made diverse friends younger than she, listened to them and us without judgment, refused to gossip, kept her lively sense of humor and stayed faithful to her Episcopal church and the priests whose ministries sustained her as she became more homebound.

With a beautiful community surrounding her in Alabama, I determined to help her remain in her own home. As her pain grew, along with her litany of complaints, I tried to stay emotionally present despite being physically distant. But how I worried I wouldn't be with her at her death.

So when Mother's rector Rick called to say, "Come down now. It's time," my daughter Glennon and I were blessed to be able to go for five remarkable days before her death.

During that time, Mother was either deeply asleep or completely awake and present, wondering why we thought she was sleeping when she insisted she was hearing all we said.

Indeed, her responses were right on. On the second day, when my husband Jay called from a business trip, she asked about the details of it. When my son Josh called from New York, she wanted to know about his baby's first steps. When Rick called to check on her, she told him she wouldn't be here much longer, then said, "Know that I support you in everything you do except when I don't, and then I won't!"

Mother's singing voice disappeared several years ago, but on the third day she pulled herself out of sleep to recite words to songs, which we then sang to her, especially "Now the Day is Over" and "I'll be Loving You Always." She said, "I dreamed about Will [my dad]. We danced together, and he looked so handsome with the sweetest smile. I've loved my life!"

On the fourth day, when Mother never awoke, we continued to sing and pray with two close friends and her three caretakers. Early morning of the fifth day, we observed the signs of death. We gathered around her to recite in her ears (hearing is the last sense to disappear) Psalm 23 and The Lord's Prayer. On the "Amen" Mother took her last breath.

I know now what "a good death" means.

Later, at her funeral and life celebration, my husband observed, "It takes a village to let a 99 ½-year-old go!" Indeed her community poured out that day with love, memories and delicious food to nourish us. Our grandchildren joined the chorus of "Always" when I sang it during my eulogy, and Rick's homily captured Mom's mind, spirit and soul, which continue to live even as she has been released from her ravaged body.

My cousin Francis, a retired Episcopal priest, officiated at graveside. He told the story of a Jewish funeral where the rabbi turned the shovel over (upside down) to place the first spade full of dirt on the coffin. This signified regret but acceptance, and Francis did the same for Mother. Then grandson John, 5, wanted to dig the hole deeper and be chief shovel man; granddaughter Nola, 4, rounded up flowers from nearby tombstones for Mother's grave, while her sister Lily, 6, made sure her toddling cousin Katja, 14 mos., didn't fall into the hole. "Life is for the living," Mom would say.

As we continue to celebrate Mom's life, I'm surprised at the waves of pain and exquisite grief, which unexpectedly "smack me upside the head," grab my heart and punch me in the gut. A long life well lived doesn't diminish the void and ache of missing. I'm giving myself permission to be sad, to sleep when I'm exhausted, to have patience with myself and others for assuming that there is little need to mourn a good death of one so ancient. There are signs that transformation is in progress but will take time – God's time.

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

What God is This? (Re)Connecting Crucifixion, Incarnation, and Creation

Daily Episcopalian will return with a new essay on April 5.

By W. Christopher Evans

Christ is reigning from the tree: Come, let us adore him.

This antiphon for the latter half of Lent from A Monastic Breviary has accompanied me this Lent. Like in so many of the passages from Isaiah, Paul, and John for this season, God turns everything downside up. Glory sweats and bleeds.

Passion piety is out of season in our churches. Our whole liturgical reform has been and continues to be preoccupied with the Resurrection, Ascension, and now, Creation. With celebration rather than contrition. Yet, for centuries, an Incarnation and Crucifixion piety shaped Anglican Christians by the Leonine Collect, by the Cranmerian Canon. The all of our worthlessness was cast on Christ, the all of his worth given to us. This receiving of our all by trust in him in our creation and redemption was everything. Our sharing in God’s own life was predicated on God’s having shared in our own, as in this reworked version of Leo’s Collect I cobbled together for Lent:

Almighty God, you have made yourself known in your Son, Jesus, who was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw all the world to himself: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity; Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In working to correct an imbalance, it seems that now we want little to do with a pained and suffering God; with a God who nurses, shits, and bleeds; with a God who identifies with flesh, blood, and bone definitively. The Nativity, the Incarnation, is reduced to sweet manger scenes and gifts of sweets. The cross is an after thought to the joys of Easter. We want nothing of the Creator who, in J.S. Bach’s words for St. John’s Passion, dies.

But without this bodiliness, this fleshliness, the Resurrection becomes a ghostly thing. I remember recently a conversation in which was said, “The Resurrection isn’t about the after life, it’s about the living of this life free from the power of death.” Well, yes, and…

When I shared these words with my partner, he replied, “That’s not enough for me. It’s very liberal Protestant, very Marcus Borg.” What is suggested by such a spiritualizing view is that our selves wholly are not finally of ultimate concern in God’s eyes. Freed from death to live life in the power of the Resurrection, we have nothing to hold onto besides becoming flower food.

Ironically, while holding fast to the flesh of this life, such a view seems to ignore the immensity of a God who identifies so fully with flesh as to raise flesh up, taking flesh into the divine life and promising never to let us go. What of the God who promises never to let us go by “indissoluable bond” in Holy Baptism? What of the God who so thoroughly identifies with our flesh that we are promised not only life abundant, but life eternal? Resurrection, that which should affirm finally and definitively that matter matters to God once for always becomes itself distorted where passion piety withers.

It is this fleshly God, Jesus Christ, who goes all the way for us that captures my heart and imagination, that makes utterly awesome the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Communion of Saints, the Creation, the Holy Communion.

Incarnation is more than a sweet manger scene. It is God’s utter giving of self for the life of the world. As has become my custom, at the Office Hymn, I chant the Johannine Prologue in Lent, the Philippians Christ Hymn in Christmas. The placing of cross at crib, and crib at cross draws the two seasons together in a way that resists our modern want to dissect the days and seasons of the Church Year into discrete unrelated units rather than take us through the full Christological sweep, with foretastes of what is to come in each. Something I noticed recently when seeing that one of the Psalm antiphons for The Baptism of Our Lord is: “Behold, there is the Lamb of God; it is he who takes away the sin of the world.” In that time after the Epiphany, when all is light and glory, babe and joy, already eyes are cast to Lent, to Good Friday.

Just so, prefigured in the Herodian persecution and the vulnerability of his birth, on the cross Jesus completes his embrace of the human condition and of fleshly existence all the ways down, for all sorts and conditions, once for all in every time and place. Not in the bright lights of Resurrection, but in the blinding midday sun at the Crucifixion, to borrow from Robert Smith’s last work: Wounded Lord: Reading John Through The Eyes of Thomas. This midday tradition of Crucifixion and Incarnation emphases is not by accident: Angelus and Agnus go hand in hand.

Jesus Christ reveals Who God is for us in his writhing body and words of intercession: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Unto death, death on a cross,” this God will not let us go even in our betrayal, cruelty, and evil. Precisely here, he enters into the heart of death and alienation, identifying himself with us to the end, into the gnaw and gnash of oblivion:

What God is This?

What God is this, who, bleeds and sweats,
as Mary mild is weeping?
Whom soldiers cheat by games of chance,
while passers curse in greeting?

Why hangs he high upon a tree,
court dog and eagle keeping?
Come far, come near: all nations hear:
the Word for us is pleading.

So see him broken, bruised, and bare,
on bended knee, adore him;
the King of kings creation frees,
let all the world draw near him.

This, this is Christ the King,
whom soldiers guard and robbers ring,
haste, haste, to him behold,
the man, the Son of Glory.

W. Christopher Evans©2010

Christ faces into hell. And in his total self-giving even to death and alienation, he, as if from the inside, so to speak, overcomes our separation, once-for-all.

Being an incarnational and cruciform tradition, ours is a seeing and hearing tradition, a tradition of both presentation and proclamation. Both reveal Who is this God? In the words of Pilate, “Behold, the man” or in the St. Paul, “proclaim Christ crucified, the power and wisdom of God.” This presentation and proclamation is pro me, pro nobis, pro mundi; for you and for me, for us, and for the whole world:

Behind our apartment complex sits a small city park with a large pond home to many creatures. The kingdoms are many. A parliament of Ducks, Geese, Swans, Crows, Ravens, Songbirds, and Seagulls. A congress of garter and gopher Snakes, Lizards, and Turtles. A council of Salamanders and Frogs. A chamber of stray Cats. We walk there often with our Dog.


Recently, meandering up the asphalt path toward home, several rocks stood about as if the remains of a fallen temple. The carcass of a small black and yellow striped garter Snake lay among the ruins. The Snake’s body was torn in pieces and ripped open long-ways along one section. Another section, belly skyward was tinged a bright blue as if some toxic substance had been applied. Her or his head was upturned and scrunched up, as if in agony. Surveying the scene in sorrow, in sudden horror, it dawned on us: Humans unknown had tortured to death this small Snake.

We paused for a moment, the realization unbearable. Tears welled up in my eyes, and my partner, so sensitive to such possibilities, could look no more, wanting to get away quickly. But I stared, as if counting every rib and analyzing what gall had been given.

I made the Sign of the Cross, hummed the antiphon to myself, offered a sentence of repentance for human cruelty and evil toward fellow creatures, and then adapted a version of my Roadkill Collect:

O God of our salvation, your Son, Jesus, was betrayed by his friends and tortured to death on a tree; and lifted up very high, he embraced all flesh in his outstretched arms: Receive now into your undying care, this, your garter Snake, betrayed by human cruelty and tortured to death by merciless stoning, that enjoying you forever according to her or his estate, she or he may behold your everlasting glory, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

At the manger, the Animals, lowing, bleating, braying, praise redemption’s drawing nigh. And by the cross, the Animals, crowing, creeping, shaking, rejoice in creation’s rise. In Christ, God offers himself for the life of the whole world, and all flesh shall see him together:

Christ is reigning from the tree: Come, let us adore him.

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

Fox in the henhouse

By Greg Jones

At the end of Luke 13, Jesus takes us from Jerusalem – that city of ancient holiness and evil – goodness and sin – faithfulness and idolotry – and he puts us on the farm. Out in the yard. Jesus, the cosmic storyteller by whose Word the World takes shape, presents the whole history of God’s people as what goes on in the henhouse. He paints a Gospel picture we can all remember, when the going gets rough.

In that Gospel picture, we see Herod, the vile puppet of pagan Rome, who defiled the Temple and Jerusalem by his own shocking ungodliness, who killed children, members of his own family, and the great prophet John, and who represents the powers and principalities of evil which do indeed run this world. Jesus calls him, ‘the sly fox.’ We see Jerusalem, the city of God, the place where God’s beloved are supposed to dwell in peace – which represents Creation itself – intended to be a kingdom of God – a Garden of Eden – but which is instead the divided and conquered realm of that sly fox himself – the devil. Jesus likens it to a henhouse. We see the Israelites – the people of God, called to a covenant of promise, of steadfast love of God, neighbor and self – who represent everybody who wants to be a of God and heir to hope. Jesus calls them to baby chicks. We see Jesus himself – who loves us – whose will and purpose is to gather up God’s people and shelter us from evil and death. He likens himself to a Mother Hen. Then we are reminded what Jerusalem does to the prophets. We are reminded of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” – an entry not into power – but into sacrifice and pain – and into the very jaws of the fox himself.

All told, the Gospel picture is pretty simple: Jesus is the Mother Hen who sees the Fox in the henhouse – slyly luring chicks to follow him. To save them, the Mother Hen will cover her chicks under her wings, knowing what the fox will do to her instead. This is what Jesus is talking about: The love of God who will offer up his own earthly life so we might live heavenly ones.

This passage from Luke 13 is about us. We are in Jerusalem. We’re living in a place that’s supposed to be good, holy and peaceful – but it’s not. It’s not because evil is around – and in. The fox is in the henhouse, and he’s looking to eat some chicks. And what’s worse, that sly fox has tricked us into thinking he’s here for us; and like baby chicks who imprint on the first thing they see when hatched, and think it’s their mama, we have imprinted our focus on the sly fox. We follow around the personalities, values, and politics of the world more than we follow the light of God. Like the ancient Israelites, we’re more caught up in the power of Rome and King Herod than in the humble grace of God. We’re like baby chicks in a henhouse following the fox around, and he’s smiling all the way home.

But, the Good News is that God knows this: God knows we can’t tell the fox from the hen. And so he’s come to gather us up – and to die for us – because that’s what it takes to save us from the fox’s fire. The fox is the one who doesn’t want what’s best for us, yet we are all following that fox around, everyday. Power, glory, pride, things of this world, self-satisfaction, security, honor, social respect, these are the fox's enticements. Run from the fox! Christ is the mother hen who gathers up her chicks under her wings – offering her life for theirs. Take shelter under her wings!

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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