Anchored in God

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Kathy Staudt

In several different contexts over the past month, I’ve been brought up short again by this quotation from Evelyn Underhill’s The Spiritual Life. She writes: “a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” It came up at the annual Quiet Day in honor of Evelyn Underhill, at Washington National Cathedral, and at a conference I was leading on Poetry and the Journey toward God, where we listened for the ways that poems can be an invitation, an opening, a first step into prayer-- into what Mary Oliver calls “a silence in which/ another voice may speak.” Underhill invites readers to think about people they’ve known either personally or through the tradition who reflected this confidence -- insisting that this life from the center is available to “normal people”; it is not some kind of superhuman spiritual achievement.

That same image of the anchor comes up in a spiritual we sing sometimes at my home parish, a hymn by Mother Jones that says what we all know about what we need -- particularly timely nowadays:
“In times likes these, we need a Saviour;
in times like these, we need an anchor
I’m very sure, I’m very sure
My anchor holds, upon the so-lid-rock.

(If you know the tune you’ll recognize how the tune and the meter leave us “anchored” in the rock, who is Jesus).

The anchor image is a good one, actually, because it suggests that even though we may drift, we ultimately know where we are, and there is a place we can get back to. And the spiritual life, considered as an integral part of our journey of faith and mission, is about grounding all that we do in the love and power of a reality beyond our inventions, prejudices, even righteous political positions , and a justice and mercy beyond our own making. Perhaps a fruitful direction for meditation is this: what causes me to drift away from where I am anchored? And what brings me up short, and pulls me back? This anchor image reflects a solidity of faith that many of us yearn for in ourselves and in our leaders. How do we get back to that, individually and collectively? And what sets us adrift?

So often our discussions of church life, governance, mission, and denominational politics seem to lose track of this kind of vision -- to reflect more familiar cultural values of marketing, institutional survival, or for leaders, personal mental health and self-care. Somewhere recently (Was it on the Café? I can’t remember.) I even ran across some discussion about how church leaders and clergy find they may not believe in God any more, and that’s just how it is (though we can be reassured that even if clergy have a crisis of faith this does not affect the validity of the sacraments). I’ve been musing about how often, in the privacy of a spiritual direction conversation, people have been relieved but surprised when I’ve raised the question: “so where is God in all this?” Something makes us forget to ask this question, whatever image that word “God” carries for us. It has become almost a commonplace that spiritual burnout is an inevitable outcome of ministry -- but I keep asking myself, why do we settle for this? Don’t we believe that there is something on offer in the life of faith? Some centering point that can draw us back to what is most real to us? At some point in most of our lives, someone’s centered faith helped bring us into the life of the church to begin with. So why is it so hard to keep track of that “centre, where we are anchored in God?”

I’m just raising the question, today. I suppose (and hope) that for many Café readers this will all seem obvious, perhaps not worth mentioning, but I’ve been brought up short by that quote from Underhill, and that “anchor” image, enough times lately to wonder whether there is something there worthy of continued meditation. Since genuine faith is usually “caught” rather than “taught,” I am wondering what the church would look like if more of us in leadership paid closer attention to where our faith is “anchored, ” and to what it takes for us, in our own particular lives, to relocate and find our center, in a quiet, undramatic, and “normal” way. The answers will be different for each person, but I think they’re good questions, and they’ve been helpful to my own meditations over this past month.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Blessed Mary, never virgin? Part II

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Derek Olsen

The second argument over Mary’s virginal status is a little different. In asking whether Mary had relations with Joseph after the birth of Jesus, we leave the realm of the creeds and what must be believed and we enter the realm of tradition and what may (or may not) be believed. We also enter into a much more speculative domain. Like the issue of Jesus’ own virginity, this is a question that later interpreters were more interested in than the evangelists. As a result, later interpreters sift through the texts, looking for evidence and weighing nuances that may or may not be there. At the end of the day, what is found seems to be driven more by interpretive agendas than by the (very) limited evidence itself.

This question, like the first question, is not a new one. The status of Mary’s perpetual virginity was debated then as it is now. As a result, there’s less point in hashing out the arguments then in pointing back to when these arguments originally took place. Right around the year 383, an otherwise unknown author named Helvidus wrote a tract on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It doesn’t survive, but apparently he argued that Mary and Joseph really did consummate their marriage physically, that the individuals referred to in the gospels as the brothers and sisters of Jesus were the biological children of Mary and Joseph, and—building on these points—that the married estate was a more natural and preferable estate for Christians than celibacy. And there we get to the crux of the argument; it’s less about what Mary did then and more about what we should do now.

A little background is helpful here. By the year 383, Christianity had been legalized, and, in 380, had just been declared the state religion by Theodosius I. Furthermore, in 382, Theodosius had issued an edict that, among others, passed a death sentence on a group called the Encratites. Groups identified as Encratites had been around since the first century. The historian Eusebius links them with Tatian around 172; the later heresy-hunter Epiphanius connects a group holding similar views with a leader named Severus who probably flourished after Tatian. In any case, these folks were noted for their ascetical extremism. They drank no wine, ate no meat, and had no sex. Their practices represent a gnostic rejection of creation as a good act by the good God, and they were suppressed by the Church as being either Gnostics or a form of Manicheans.

Around the same time, though, the early monastic movement was on the rise. A reaction against the Constantinian acceptance of Christianity and a flood of politically motivated converts, monasticism sought to embody the rigors of the Gospel and to search for the kingdom of God and its virtues through ascetical means. Monastics ended up looking quite a bit like the Encratites to some. The key difference between the Encratites and the early monks, though, was that the monks maintained that one could be a Christian and be married: celibacy was preferable but not necessary. For the Encratites, one could not be both sexually active and a Christian. At the end of the day, the Encratites were suppressed while the monks went on to gain ascendency, and, in the West, achieved the legislation of clerical celibacy as well.
So, Helvidus was writing in order to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary and, it seems quite likely, was arguing against a variety of Gnostics, Manicheans, and Encratites at the same time. His treatise was answered by none other than Jerome, the great translator of Scripture and one of the great transmitters of monasticism from the Greek-speaking East to the Latinate West. Needless to say, as a monk and a tireless promoter of virginity, Jerome argued for the perpetual virginity of Mary and suggested that celibacy was the preferred state for Christians, although he allowed that not all Christians are called to it.

In his work, Jerome moves point by point through the technical and grammatical parts of Helvidus’s argument, slowly shredding each one. In each case, whether it’s in the biblical description of Mary and Joseph’s relationship or whether it’s the potential siblings of Jesus, Jerome is able to bring his encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures and of the Greek of the Scriptures to bear on the topic. Now—my Greek’s decent, but it can’t hold a candle to Jerome’s; furthermore, few if any in the modern age have the kind of grasp of Scripture that Jerome did. We may use different interpretive techniques, we may hold more of an hermeneutic of suspicion than he, but as for knowing the vocabulary and grammar of Scripture in both the Hebrew and Greek—I’m not willing to compete with him. What Jerome accomplishes, in my eyes, is not to definitively solve the issue, but to throw sufficient doubt on the counter-arguments that the perpetual virginity of Mary remains an open question—one that the extremely limited gospel evidence does not conclude decisively one way or the other.
As a result, we’re back to agendas. The very first thing that we must note is that an over-reliance on agendas make for bad history. The valences of sexual expression and virginity are wildly different between then and now. The current notion that self-actualization is dependent on unfettered sexual expression smacks up hard against the statistics for deaths in childbirth in Antiquity and the absence of reliable contraception. As feminist scholars of Early Christianity have noted, particularly in reference to works like the Apocryphal Acts (with their Encratite influence), virginity could be a route to empowerment for women in Antiquity.

Furthermore, we note that Helvidus and Jerome are essentially playing the same game—they’re both attempting to retroject their own social and theological understandings of marriage onto Mary; it’s history as a proxy battlefield for the culture wars of the past. Nor is this technique a stranger to us. One of the classic moves in the latest round of culture wars is looking at “biblical relationships” by means of retrojecting present realities upon textual situations where they fit uncomfortably. Both sides do it, and in doing so, neither honors the text, because both are attempting force a meaning beyond what the evidence will bear. Let me suggest that this is the wrong way to go about the task of either doing history or establishing normative practices for today’s Christians.

So where do we go from here? Our faith is rooted in a number of concrete historical events, preeminently the incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. However, we have no historical access to these events: no DNA, no vitals, no photos or videos, not even much in the way of independent confirmation by outside sources. Instead, we access this history through two sets of veils: first, the New Testament itself which gives us literary rather than directly historical data; and second, the creeds which are literary guides to the interpretation of the Scripture. As a result, any appeals to Christian history are complicated at best and pure projection at worst. Should our understanding of human sexuality and how we should act now be based on what we believe Mary did historically as tortured from literary texts that weren’t trying to answer that question? I can’t see how that would be helpful.

So what do we do? How do we adjudicate the issue at hand, and once that’s been accomplished, what do we do with it?

For my place, barring any hard evidence one way or the other, my preference is to go with the historic teaching of the Church. Now, what does this belief mean for me? On an intellectual level, it serves as a reminder that our mental space is not the same as the mental space of the Scriptures and the Early Church. That is, chastity and celibacy played a different role in their time than ours and we ignore that difference at our peril. Indeed, I think recovering a more Scriptural perspective on celibacy and sexuality may even be a helpful point in today’s arguments as I’ve stated before (part I and part II).

On a spiritual level, it means that Mary focused all of her time and energy directly on Jesus. After all, that’s Paul’s whole argument on behalf of celibacy in 1 Cor 7:32-35—Christian celibacy is not about what you don’t do but about what you’re freed to do: focus utterly on God. Thus, upholding the notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity means that, in all of my devotions to Mary, I keep her foremost as a model of the soul wholly devoted to God who constantly admonishes us as she did the servants at the Cana wedding, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

As a result, until I hear an argument that I find both more compelling and more edifying, I’ll keep referring to “Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin.”

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.

Blessed Mary, never virgin? Part I

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Derek Olsen

In one of my various blog rants on the latest Episcopal sanctoral calendar, Holy Women, Holy Men, I received a comment on Mary. It was brief and suggested only that Mary be referred to as “blessed” but not as “virgin.”

Interesting, I thought. What’s the angle? Despite my request for more explanation, no further comments were forthcoming. I was a little disappointed—it was a conversation I was looking forward to having; I doubt that my mind would be changed, but it’s always worthwhile to dig around the issues a bit.

There are two basic arguments that take place around the appellation "virgin" as applied to the mother of Our Lord. The first argument that denies the title of "virgin" to Mary concerns her capacity as mother of Our Lord--in other words, this argument is a denial of the virgin birth of Christ. The second argument takes issue with the Church's (apparently) post-Scriptural designation of Mary as "ever-virgin." That is, the second need not touch on the virgin birth, but, instead, suggests that Mary and Joseph had intercourse and, presumably, natural children of their own in addition to Jesus.

I tend to think of the first question—concerning the virgin birth of Christ—as a rather cut-and-dried issue. On one side, you have the Scripture, the creeds, and the faith of the Church; on the other, you have modern biology. According to our biological canons, we all know that human parthenogenesis is not medically attested. Lizards, yes; sharks, yes; humans, not so much. As a result there are two basic positions: either 1) we have miracle or 2) we have a miraculous explanation of a less-than-miraculous situation. Not surprisingly, this issue sometimes becomes a litmus test for examining the intersection between reason and religion, and both sides get negatively caricatured by their opponents.

Personally, I’m a biologically-aware individual (Dad’s a geneticist; my brother is an organic chemist) and a fully-trained New Testament scholar. I’m for the ordination of women and the church blessing of same-sex marriages. I’ve got all the progressive educated modern-person credentials you could want. And I’m a believer in the virgin birth.

Matthew and Luke are insistent that Jesus was born of Mary when she was a virgin. Then we have the creeds. As I understand them, the creeds are the Church’s documents that serve to nail down potentially questionable points of interpretation. That is, if the creed touches on an item, it’s because there was a controversy about how to read and make sense of it. To put it another way, the creeds are silent on the non-controversial matters—like what Jesus taught and did. Instead, it identifies precisely those points where “reasonable” people might waffle or seek a less literal meaning.

Make no mistake; even in the first three centuries of the Church, they knew how this looked. Don’t think that people in the 1st century world didn’t understand the birds and the bees; they knew precisely how babies got made—maybe not on the biochemical level, but in the acts that mattered. This was no less scandalous then than now. Yet the Church insisted on it then and does so now as well. I know how babies get made too (I have two of my own…). Yet I choose to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin; that there is more to this world than what our modern empirical materialism would have us believe.

That’s also not to say that I believe that all of the events reported as miracles throughout Scripture either literally occurred or were supernatural departures from the order of things—but this is a big one; the Incarnation is in a whole different category than, say, Balaam’s speaking donkey or Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt.

To put it another way: how can you reasonably claim that God created the universe, or even that the universe came into being through God-sponsored processes—yet God is unable to fertilize a single egg cell? It seems to me that universe-creation is the much bigger feat, yet many modernist-types are willing to grant that while scoffing at a virgin birth.

Thus, the first challenge to Mary’s virginity seems to come down to a point of faith. Do we believe the observations and explanations of modern science in all cases over the faith handed down, or do we give faith the benefit of the doubt in the face of scientific knowledge in cases of importance—like the Incarnation and Resurrection? Furthermore, the settled consensus of the Church on who and what Jesus is and all the consequences thereof are based in the notion that Jesus is true man and true God. If it wasn’t a virgin birth—if something else supplied the other half of the zygote equation—then all you’re left with is a gussied-up form of Adoptionism and a lot of well-tested and experience-based theology that suddenly you have to account for in some other way.

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.


Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Margaret Treadwell

Have you ever met people so brimming with happiness they could be described as joy-spreaders? Susan and Hermann Jenny personify the term, but they say it wasn’t always so. How did this couple find happiness individually and together?

Hermann grew up poor in Switzerland. Following a tragic accident, his father was too debilitated to care for his family. His mother opened their home to guests; 15-year-old Hermann apprenticed with a master chef and became an accomplished cook for her business. He decided he could earn more money on the staff of a hotel and moved to Canada and then Bermuda, where someone commended him to Cornell University’s Hotel School. He says of his good fortune, “You have to speak up for your rights, which develops self confidence.”

He met Susan at Cornell where she was studying French and pursuing a teacher’s certificate and later obtained a master’s degree in English for Speakers of Other Languages.

“I come from a rural culture and am a businessman,” Hermann said of their decision to marry. “Susan is from an artistic culture of music and French literature. Together we have it all. I believe in marriage we are called upon to witness the life of another person, not to judge them… and that agreement is a commitment I will never negate.”

During the early years, as Hermann rose steadily in the hospitality business, they moved around the world – from the South Bronx to Bangkok, Singapore and Paris. They learned three important lessons: Be open to all people and situations, take risks and sink roots wherever you live. For example, Susan and their three children became involved at the American Cathedral in Paris. One Shrove Tuesday, Hermann, a self-proclaimed atheist who attended church functions to support his family, cooked the best pancake supper in Christendom. Susan said, “We’ve always given each other space while supporting our differences.” Hermann added, “With that attitude Susan made my career possible.”

By the early 1990s, Hermann had been the head of three different hotel chains and was working for the Aga Khan when the stress associated with constant travel and climbing the corporate ladder became unbearable. He asked, “Why am I doing this?”

Susan, who had created a program for dyslexic children at the American School in London, was devastated when it became clear Hermann wanted to move her from her city home to run a country Bed and Breakfast. But, she said, “I’ve always trusted Hermann’s instincts and home is where he is. I was ready for surprises, so I decided to live the decision well by thinking of our change as creating a new life rather than losing an old one. My American pioneering spirit keeps me curious.”

They looked for several years along the French Riviera before they heard that a divorcing English couple was selling their working B&B in northern Provence. The moment they saw the 17th century stone farmhouse, Les Tuillieres, set on 40 wooded acres with fields and streams far from the tourist routes, they knew it was the perfect place.

“When you live on an isolated farm you need to create a life that draws on hidden things inside you or expands your interests,” Susan said. “I began gardening in earnest and spent more time with my piano and different kinds of singing groups.”As her knowledge of the area grew, Susan became not only a warm hostess, but also an occasional sous chef, vacation planner and tour guide par excellence for her guests, who she treats like cherished friends.

The couple are in agreement about the qualities that make their B&B successful: Pure luck to have found the right place at the right time; good health to actively carry the decision through; an ability to speak several languages; and attending to the needs of the surrounding community, particularly hiring local citizens as valued staff. As Hermann said, “For every ounce of ego, an ounce of rationality leaves the brain. Don’t let ‘important people’ go to your head!”

Both acknowledge it takes a strong couple to do this kind of work. After all, with the usual 12 guests per night there is hardly any quiet or intimate time. They cope by teaming up 16 hours a day five months a year in work they enjoy, then take seven months off to sit still and listen to music.

How much longer do they intend to continue this lifestyle? Susan said, “Every year we put the question on the table: Do we want to do this another year? So far the answer is a resounding, “Yes. We are happy!”

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

Family Reunions: a taste of the sacred

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Todd Donatelli

It is called “Taste of Chicago”, a ten-day festival of food, music, art and people gathered in and around the lakefront at Grant Park. According to the website, about 70 restaurants and 3 million people are present over the ten days leading to July 4. It is a collection of all sorts and conditions of folks. It is a broad snapshot of Chicago.

It had stiff competition this year from “Taste of Benson”, a much lesser known but every bit as significant event which took place in Chicago the same weekend. There was a grand variety of food, a wide array of entertainment, and plenty of storytellers. It is actually known as the Benson Picnic, an annual summer Sunday gathering of my grandmother’s family (on my mother’s side) which began in the mid 1950’s.

Each year the invitations go out to all members of the family. One never knows how many will attend from year to year. This year’s total was 78; the record is 108. Some are unable to attend for health reasons. One niece is currently working in Spain and a weekend trip to Chicago is not practical. Some send notes if they cannot attend and others may not be heard from.

There is a family journal into which we add notes and pictures each summer. It includes notations both joyful and tragic. There is the late 60’s entry from my oldest brother, “Keep the faith baby.” There is the entry about our cousin Lee who died in a plane crash in 1977. Included is the official American citizenship document of Otto Benson dated September 14, 1892. Otto came to this country to avoid conscription in the German Army, something our mother did not tell my older brothers or me during the Vietnam years. “The three of you didn’t need any more encouragement at that time,” she later laughed. There is an amazing history of hair styles.

I must admit that as with all families there are times you cannot wait to see some members of the family and other times you may wish to avoid someone for one reason or another. I now realize I have been the subject of both sentiments for members of the family. There have been some significant disagreements in the family at times and passions are not held inside. As often as not folks figured ways to move ahead even as they might wonder about the maturity of another.

A large family tree is displayed beginning with my grandmother and her siblings. It is written on very large sheets of paper. Several years ago I was standing in front of the tree with a cousin who had been recently remarried after having gone through a divorce years before. “So what is the protocol for this?” they asked, referring to their new and former spouses. As the tree is written in ink, no one gets deleted from the tree. New persons are added, but no one is ever deleted. Once you are part of the family, you are part of the family. Some may stay away for a time, but no one is ever deleted.

As this annual reunion is in its sixth decade, there has been much change in the family. I recall being too young to play in the annual softball game. A few years ago I asked my brothers if they realized we were the oldest ones now playing. Their looks suggested they had. Gone is Grandma Myrtle and Grandpa Art. Gone is Chester, Mildred, Oz, Roy and a host of folks who were the mainstays for so many years. They are gone and yet recalled in pictures and in stories that make you laugh deeply even as they bring tears for missing them. Their presence with us is real.

The Picnic stirs many deep emotions in me. It is one of those rare places that holds in a small space the expanse of my life: my origins, my gathered experiences, the people who have known me and stood by me in all sorts and conditions of years including years I am proud of and some years I would not mind forgetting. It holds the memories of my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins now gone. It reminds me of the place I have taken in the family, the place these elders once held. It reminds me no matter how far I have traveled, no matter how far I have wandered, no matter how much I have amassed or squandered, there is a place and a people present, waiting with a meal to share. All of the above makes for a sacred event.

We are in that period of the Liturgical Calendar called Ordinary Time, the Season after Pentecost; the season which tells us we are the body of Christ, we are the physical manifestation of God, the family of God. In this space we continue to recall our origins, our people (every human being), our stories, our losses and our joys. We recall what has been learned and what has been squandered. We recall times when we were a tight group and times some of us wandered away. We recall when our separation provided the space and hunger for the work of being reunited. There are all sorts and conditions in this body; there are all sorts and conditions of stories.

In this and every season we have our own “taste of”: again and again we gather at table to remember who is present and who is not, what has been lost and what has been found. We remember the story started long before us and will continue long after we are gone. We recall that some wander and none are deleted. We gather at table and find the meal always present and waiting for us. It is our taste of the sacred.

The Very Reverend Todd Donatelli is dean of The Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina. His published writing includes the chapter, “Art and Transformation” in “From Nomads to Pilgrims”, edited by Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking. He blogs at Contemplation from the Angle.

If you’re comfortable, or even if you're not

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Donald Schell

I found the first time I saw Rick Fabian teach ‘the carol,’ the final danced congregational hymn at St. Gregory’s, a moment of revelation. It was 1978. Rick’s invitation was startlingly lean, unlike any liturgical invitation I’d ever heard a priest offer.

After an unapologetic declarative description of what we were about to do--"Carol is an old Anglo-French word for a danced hymn and we dance the carol at St. Gregory’s.”--he shifted to unvarnished imperative: “We’ll form a couple lines around the table. Put your right hand on the shoulder of the person near you, now follow as we walk round to space the lines comfortably. Good. Now look this way. Here we go - step to the right, left behind, right, left in front."

So, after offering historical precedent, Rick used the imperative, the grammatical form of command, to guide us into doing something some had never done before. Never once did Rick say, ‘If you’re comfortable...’ Nor did he tell people it was all right for those who preferred to stand or sit outside the circle. Rick’s liturgical instructions were as direct as those in the psalms and Pauline epistles:

"Sing to the Lord a new song."
"Clap your hands all you people."
"Sing and dance to the Lord."
"Shout praise to our God."
"Greet one another with a holy kiss."

I was ordained priest in 1972. Trial use formed my ear for how priests and deacons would guide a congregation trying something new. It was a time when people expected variations and new challenges to show up unexpectedly in the liturgy, but clergy were painfully aware that many did not welcome changes. I understood colleagues’ fear when making a challenging invitation. I felt it myself. Looking back, I think that "If you’re comfortable" and other apologetic language eased us past our own discomfort at asking people to do things we imagined they wouldn’t like. But perhaps our fears and assumptions actually contributed to congregational discontent and anxiety.

After watching Rick teach a whole congregation to dance in the liturgy, and seeing everyone join the dance, I began to encounter parishes in which priestly invitations beginning with "If you’re comfortable" and ending with instructions on how to opt out led to about one quarter of the congregation deciding not to take part. Deliberately changing my language and training myself to offer only simple explanation and direct, imperative instructions, I observed exactly what I’d seen with Rick’s carol instruction. Almost always, everyone took part. Occasionally someone would opt out for physical challenge and, checking in with those people later, they were fine with what we’d done. And very, very frequently people who danced, or spoke up in response to a sermon, or took another unexpected invitation would thank me afterwards for the new experience they’d had from joining in. And the thanks typically included – "You seemed so confident that we could do it, that I decided to just try."

This many years later, I remember so many people offering their "just try’s" with gratitude. People heard the imperative as a simple invitation, and even grasped that there was room in it to be clumsy, uncertain, and yes, even uncomfortable on the way to learning. Some even said they felt the possibility of forgiveness if they made a mistake.

Framing a new or unfamiliar invitation with "If you’re comfortable" poses a conundrum. How would anyone know he or she would be comfortable doing something she or he had never done before? For most people it’s likely that the first time doing anything new would feel at least a little uncertain and so a bit uncomfortable. Holding up comfort as a standard for discernment suggests that what we are about to do is actually for those who’ve done it before and the few adventurous souls who somehow trust themselves to be comfortable doing something they’ve never done before. The quarter of the room that hangs back responds to our conditional invitation and concludes, “I’d better watch. Maybe next time.”

I knew we were up to something significant in our invitations to everyone to take part at St. Gregory’s when we introduced David Walker’s wonderful four-part setting of the Burial Office canticle, I am Resurrection and I am Life says the Lord for the whole congregation to sing, unaccompanied as we usually sang everything. The piece is beautiful, but it changes keys in ways that are surprising the first time you sing it, and each of the four parts (SATB) has a challenging moment or two. We didn’t sound at all good, but we braved our way through. After church that Sunday a former ‘non-singer’ said, with evident joy, “We’re really going to love that piece when we learn it.” She’d learned to live into discomfort for the sake of learning and knew there was rich reward for doing it. Over the next months the congregation came to love the piece, and for the past twenty-five years they’ve sung it wonderfully on Sundays in Eastertide and soulfully and joyfully at every funeral.

All right, but what about people who literally are not able to do the dance or simply can’t sing? What about the person in the wheelchair, or the person with a cane, or someone just recovering from surgery? Our experience was that people were very good at taking care of themselves. We knew we were on the right track was when Carrie Craig, then a seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific applied for a field education placement at St. Gregory’s. Carrie uses a motorized wheelchair. She said, "with the level floor and lots of movement to negotiate and lead, this is where I’ll best learn what it’s going to take for me to function as a priest.”

A few years later, Lynn Baird, our clergy staff member who had Multiple Sclerosis would sit out the carol in one of the perimeter chairs, fully vested. Having Lynn sit out the dance made it even clearer that we weren’t demanding that people dance. The parishioner whose broken foot was in a cast, or someone just recovering from surgery would go sit with Lynn, and likely say, "I’ll be here with you for the next couple of weeks." Taking the phrase "if you’re comfortable" out of our liturgical vocabulary had given the active verb "to comfort" new life.
I don’t know if it’s a straight cause and effect line in this language use of "Iif you’re comfortable," but I notice that when people hold back from liturgical participation or want to criticize something, one thing we’re likely to hear is, “I’m just not comfortable [doing whatever it is we’re talking about].” Jesus’ Good News and the spiritual practices of the church shape us to live Good News, but like moving into any learning, practice invitations take us through discomfort, awkwardness, and disorientation to eventual flow, connections and freedom. Ah, freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” maybe even freedom to move through discomfort.

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

Loyalty, accountability and the Episcopal Church

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By George Clifford

This spring, President Obama faced what commentators described as a difficult choice: should he fire General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. general in charge of the fighting in Afghanistan? On the one hand, McChrystal had good working relationships with Afghan government leaders, a high profile role in shaping and leading the war, and his troops had confidence in his leadership. On the other hand, McChrystal publicly expressed contempt for senior political appointees in the Obama administration.

Military personnel owe their seniors honest advice, especially when the senior solicits an opinion or the subordinate fills a key leadership role. Theoretically, the military chain of command that stretches from the newest recruit to the President welcomes timely advice, even dissent, appropriately expressed. Timeliness requires communicating advice before the leader makes a decision; appropriate expression involves communicating that advice in a way that will not embarrass the boss. McChrystal’s opinions voiced in Michael Hastings’ The Runaway General (Rolling Stone, June 22, 2010) failed both tests.

Obama acted decisively yet not vindictively. He accepted McChrystal’s resignation and then graciously allowed the general to retire at his four star rank.

What can the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church (TEC) learn about leadership from this incident?

Globally, the Anglican Communion, a lose federation of Churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, has no official “party line” or “chain of command.” The Anglican Covenant’s premise that no member of the Communion should act without consulting the other members seeks to impose new conformity on Communion members, stifling independent action. If the Anglican Communion were to adopt the current draft of the Covenant, the Communion would severely limit the freedom of the Episcopal Church to follow God's call to practice a radical hospitality that welcomes and fully includes all.

Hoping that (1) the Covenant will die a bureaucratic death, (2) lengthy discursive and approval processes preceding adoption will produce a more acceptable amended Covenant, or (3) keeping a low profile will cause less gnashing of teeth among conservatives and temper their firm resolve to impose their will on the Communion are all naïve miscalculations. Instead, TEC and other, sympathetic Anglican Communion members need to model forthrightness by openly characterizing the proposed Covenant for what it is: an attempt to transform the Anglican Communion into a hierarchical body that enforces an un-Anglican conformity. TEC, like loyal military personnel, best fulfills its duty to Christ by courageously and loyally declaring its discernment of God’s leading.

Rumors of the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans cathedral, nomination as the Church of England’s next Bishop of Southwark posed an interesting dilemma for the Archbishop of Canterbury. John, when nominated in 2003 as area Bishop for Reading, faced a torrent of conservative opposition. Unlike Bishops Robinson and Glasspool who live openly and fully with their partners, John, though partnered in a civil union, claims he is celibate. Short of constant video surveillance, nobody can verify that; I have no reason to doubt John’s honesty but find myself skeptical. Archbishop Williams felt sufficient pressure from the opposition that he spent six hours convincing John to withdraw his acceptance of the nomination as area Bishop for Reading.

The rumor prompted some Church of England conservatives to declare that if John were consecrated they would affiliate with another Anglican province. This barefaced ultimatum reflects the disunity that exists in both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Meanwhile, the British press reports that Archbishop Williams, angered by the leak from a supposedly confidential nominating process, has averred that he will not respond to coercive pressure. I’m enough of a cynic to wonder if the Archbishop isn’t secretly delighted with the leak because it effectively derailed John’s nomination without forcing Canterbury to take a no-win public stance for or against the nomination. Clearly, the Archbishop has not acted with the type of decisive and principled courage that Obama exemplified in dealing with McChrystal.

Nationally and in its dioceses, TEC needs to hold its own leaders accountable. Loyalty to TEC is a non-negotiable, sine qua non for leaders, clerical and lay. Loyalty does not necessitate agreement. TEC is a church that prays together using the forms established in the Book of Common Prayer without pretending that beliefs conform to any norm or fall within a particular set of parameters. Loyalty, however, does preclude both attempting to sow dissatisfaction or disenchantment with TEC as an institution and encouraging people or organizational structures to disaffiliate from TEC.

TEC has too often practiced a false kindness by tolerating active disloyalty rather than appropriately challenging disloyal behavior among its clergy and lay leaders. Actively disloyal individuals have decided to abandon TEC, a decision evident in actions if not in words, regardless of any protestations to the contrary. Disaffected dissidents who try to cling to structures or relationships that they believe they own misunderstand the concept of connectional Church that TEC incarnates. Furthermore, the actively disloyal manifest a lack of personal integrity, maintaining an affiliation with an institution that they believe has abandoned or significantly compromised its Christian identity or witness.

Addressing issues of disloyalty should proceed in a firm yet caring rather than vindictive manner; witch hunts and revenge have no place in Christ's Church. By addressing their lack of integrity in a timely, direct manner, TEC may actually help some of the disloyal to move toward improved spiritual health through greater integrity.

Concomitantly, TEC should continue to make room for the truly undecided as they discern whether they can in good conscience remain a part of TEC. This space should have no time or other artificial limits imposed. The one necessary boundary is that the undecided refrain from actively promoting disloyalty to TEC through words or actions.

Locally, clergy, wardens, vestry members, and other opinion makers must lead. In the 1970s, seminary instruction emphasized facilitation rather than leadership. Facilitation belongs in ecclesial tool kits. But leadership is even more important. A leader leads his/her followers toward actualizing the leader’s vision.

Pressures for leaders to sit on the sidelines, soft-pedal their views, or capitulate to the opposition certainly exist. A priest, for example, whose congregation splits over an issue may soon face a drastic reduction in stipend or unemployment with little probability of soon receiving another call. Emotional pressure on a leader may be more subtle but at least as powerful as economic pressure.

Instead of tolerating disloyalty, TEC should encourage loyalty. TEC, bishops, diocesan staff, elected leaders, and peers can proactively support clergy and laity working to keep people and parishes loyal. Support might include funding, spiritual or psychological counsel, outplacement options, public declarations of support, leadership training, etc. As I have previously argued in this forum, people are far more vital to the Church than is property. The Church will reap the largest dividends for Christ by investing its scarce resources in supporting its leaders battling to preserve and enhance loyalty to TEC.

General Convention 2009 resolutions and the consecration the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool in 2010 clearly indicate TEC’s present course. Now is not the time for waffling. Most TEC lay and clerical leaders, as well as many leaders in other Anglican Communion provinces, whether they agree with TEC’s direction or not, demonstrate their loyalty to Christ and fidelity to the Anglican way through visionary leadership that promotes proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick, reconciling the estranged, and liberating the captive. The rest of us need to emulate their example.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Why I love camp

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Adam Thomas

I love camp. I love being surrounded by more trees than buildings. I love singing Grace to John Williams’ theme from Superman. I love seeing the half-exhausted, half-excited faces of the campers at breakfast. And I love conversing with children and teenagers because every once in a while they will say something unexpected and profound amidst all the buzzwords and canned phrases that they know will be considered “correct” answers during afternoon Bible studies. Invariably, the profundity of their unexpected contributions comes in the form of the simplest, most direct response to a question.

Here’s why this practice is so profound. Over the years, we adults learn to hedge, to inject some wiggle room into everything we say in order to maintain some deniability later on. We prevaricate, deflect, and obfuscate because we’ve learned from the incessant 24-hour news cycle that a juicy sound byte can tank a career. We’ve learned that a verbal defense mechanism is a necessity for survival.

And with our deniability glands working at full capacity, we say, “Well, that’s not exactly what I meant,” or “I’m not sure you heard me correctly” (when, of course, I purposefully didn’t say exactly what I mean). But the problem with speaking equivocally creeps in over time: prevarication erodes the truth that has been in each of us since God knew us in our mothers’ wombs. When we hedge, we atrophy the muscles that store the truth, and we cut ourselves off from bits of the truth that is within us.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t monitor our words to make sure we always speak hospitably and graciously. Hedging is simply a cheap and ultimately ineffective way to achieve what hospitality and grace achieve naturally – namely, speaking in a way that keeps conversation open and kind. Hedging achieves this end by leading us to speak obscurely so that no meaning can quite be pinned down. Hospitality achieves the same end by leading us to speak truth uncoupled from judgment. One of the epic failures of our time is the withering of this graceful truth when we bury it under our own insecurity and our need to conform to society’s agreed upon level of appropriate vagueness.

Okay, let me get back to why I love camp. I love camp because for a week I get to ascend into the clean and invigorating air of youthful wisdom. The young people just haven’t lived long enough to acquire toxic levels of prevarication. They say all the things that were the first to erode in us adults. God will always be with me. You are my friend. Jesus is awesome. And after a few days of rubbing elbows with the young people, I remember the need to nourish the root system within myself that keeps the truth from eroding.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to preach until Tuesday. I had enough time to drink in the campers’ wisdom, so that when it came time for me to speak I was in less danger of hedging and wiggling. (This was a good thing, too, because children can spot phony commitment a mile away.) I had five minutes to talk about Moses and Aaron, and I had played with several ways to approach the story as I thought about speaking to the campers. When I stood up to speak, I knew my direction of travel, but I was unsure where I would end up.

I began to talk about how Moses was making excuses to God, about how he’s no good at public speaking, about how God might as well get someone else. I looked out at the campers, and then I told them to look at each other. Just then, I realized where the direction of travel was taking me. “God gave everyone special gifts,” I said. “A few of those gifts are within us, but most gifts come wrapped in the people around us. Just because we aren’t good at something doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. It just means we have an opportunity to invite a friend to help us.” These words rang true as I said them, but I didn’t feel them within myself before speaking them. I felt like I was absorbing these words from the young people staring up at me. What a gift.

Of course, as usually happens, I spoke the words aloud, but I’m probably the one who benefited from them more than anyone else. I needed the injection of youthful wisdom to find that truth again, the fundamental truth that I forget more than any other. I am not alone. I am with God. And I am with other people. We are God’s gifts to each other. This is the truth, and it leads to another true statement.

I love camp.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the assistant to the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Mass. He blogs at

A call to humility in times of conflict

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Bill Carroll

(Note: All parenthetical references in the text are to Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude)

For a while now, I have been working out an analysis of Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton’s short spiritual classic, in terms of what he has to say about poverty and humility. It occurs to me that one of the subtexts of the longer paper I intend to write is a need for spiritual leadership in the churches of the Anglican Communion. I think it might be worthwhile to address this theme more explicitly in a shorter piece for a slightly different audience.

Thoughts in Solitude was written at a time when Merton was granted leave by his superiors to live in solitude for an extended period. In this work, he finds himself grappling with the relationship between the individual and the community. As he does so, he helps us to ground insights familiar to many of us from family systems theory more deeply in our life in Christ. Paying attention to what Merton has to say about the life of a poor and humble solitary before God may teach us how to be more fully ourselves as we seek the highest degree of communion possible with others.

Merton’s analysis of humility unmasks the spiritual violence behind recent exhortations to “stand in a crucified place” or to sacrifice our conscience for the sake of the perceived good order of the Anglican Communion. Life in Christ does involve deep immersion in the paschal mystery. What is more, a stripping away of the illusions of the false self, including pride and self-centeredness, is necessary for genuine Christian community. In the opening words of the first chapter, Merton contrasts true and false ways of participating in Christ’s life-giving death:

There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us. When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve. It must therefore die. There is no greater misery than to mistake this fruitless death for the true, fruitful and sacrificial “death” by which we enter into life. The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality. (3)

Merton does believe that dying with Christ involves self-conquest and self-surrender. The self as we know it is a false self, deeply implicated in sin, illusion, and “unreality.” And yet true self-conquest (like the Church’s communion of love, which it makes possible) is not something we can manufacture for ourselves:

“Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess.” (18)

True self-conquest involves a form of self-love:

To love our nothingness we must love everything in us that the proud man loves when he loves himself. But we must love it all for exactly the opposite reason. To love our nothingness we must love ourselves. But the proud man loves himself because he thinks he is worthy of love and respect and veneration for his own sake. Because he thinks he must be loved by God and man. Because he thinks he is more worthy to be honored and loved and reverenced than all other men. The humble man also loves himself, and seeks to be loved and honored, not because love and honor are due to him but because they are not due to him. He seeks to be loved by the mercy of God. He begs to be loved and helped by the liberality of his fellow men. Knowing that he has nothing he also knows that he needs everything and he is not afraid to beg for what he needs and to get it where he can. (35-36)

To love oneself with the love of a humble person does not mean that we love only the self as it is before the fall (or in glory). It means to love ourselves as we actually are, acknowledging our faults, struggling against them, and handing over what we cannot handle to the inexhaustible mercy of Christ. We do so, realizing that there are some fights we cannot win and that even our ability to struggle is contingent on God’s creative gift. To love ourselves with a humble love is to accept, radically, that we are poor and needy creatures—and fallen ones at that. And it is to accept our humanness as it is and not as we would have it be, so that we might place ourselves, as we truly are, in the hands of the living God: “It is necessary that I be human and remain human in order that the Cross of Christ be not made void. Jesus died not for the angels but for men.” (129)

How do we treat one another, if we adopt this posture before God and neighbor? First and foremost, we discipline our tongue (and our actions), especially when provoked. From the New Testament letter of James onward (there are precedents in the Old Testament Wisdom literature), the unbridled tongue has been seen as a profound danger in the Christian life, a threat to the charity that ought to prevail among us After the fall, our language can obscure reality as much as disclose it. Indeed, although the task of naming was given in Paradise as a means of reverence and gratitude, it can be perverted into an act of violence. Merton notes the different roles played by words in prayer and magic: “Prayer uses words to reverence beings in God. Magic uses words to violate the silence and the sanctity of beings by treating them as if they could be torn away from God, possessed, and vilely abused, before the face of His silence.” (64)

Merton also contrasts the speech proper to pride and humility: “It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to. The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens.” (89)

It would be a profound misunderstanding of Merton’s teaching, however, to think that this implies passivity on the part of the humble person: “Humility is a virtue, not a neurosis. It sets us free to act virtuously, to serve God and to know Him. Therefore true humility can never really inhibit any really virtuous action, nor can it prevent us from fulfilling ourselves by doing the will of God.” (58)

Now, it seems to me (of course I could be wrong), that recent controversial actions of the Episcopal Church are the result of a long and careful discernment of God’s will in community. Like all discernment, this is ongoing, but its fundamental direction is unlikely to be reversed. As such, this represents a real breakthrough for us as a church, grounded in many breakthroughs of a similar kind in the lives of some of our members. For some of these members, this has been a matter of life and death, certainly a matter of personal integrity and truthfulness. Given this discernment, the actions we have taken (first steps toward Church-wide liturgies for blessing same sex unions; consecration of duly elected bishops living in such unions) seem to us to be not just permissible but morally required. Humility, therefore, cannot inhibit us from taking these steps.

Humility does, however, call us to perpetual self-examination and repentance before God and deep reverence before our brothers and sisters, all of whom are sacraments of the Gospel. At the present, for a variety of reasons, some continue to make a contrary discernment to our own. As sinners redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, this ought to give us pause. When we speak with our brothers and sisters about these matters, we should not do so out of an anxiety to be heard. Nothing we say to each other should come from a desire to dominate or control our neighbor or to manage the outcome of our conversation. We should speak and listen with deep awareness of the many ways in which our perspective is distorted by sin and self-serving illusions. In particular, many of us speak from a position of relative affluence and power, rooted in sinful structures absolutely opposed to the Reign of God. We should speak only in order to be spoken to, with a genuine fraternal desire for instruction and correction if need be, but not in such a way that we fail to discharge our moral obligations to our LGBT brothers and sisters, in any part of the world, or to the truth as we have come to know it in Christ Jesus. We should speak simply and clearly whatever God gives us to say, and then trust God for the rest.

Filled with a sense of our own lowly status, as fallen yet beloved creatures of God, perhaps we can renounce quick institutional fixes and learn what it means to live together as brothers and sisters in knit together by the Holy Spirit in the bonds of charity. At the heart of this lies the forgiveness of sins and mutual forbearance, for whatever virtues we have are fleeting—and, in any event, are ours only by the mercies of God. In the end, as Merton observes:

We must love the poverty of others as Jesus loves it. We must see them with the eyes of His own compassion. But we cannot have true compassion on others unless we are willing to accept pity and receive forgiveness for our own sins. (26)

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.

Loved like children

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Martin L. Smith

The staid Washington dress code hardly encourages men to display ‘wearable art’ but I do have a silver bracelet I wear occasionally. It would be worn by an elder of the Nisga’a people of Northern British Columbia, an elder of the eagle tribe, and is incised with representations of the raven, eagle and clamshell, all vibrant symbols in the mythology of this marvelous people who have lived in the Nass Valley for 10 millennia.

It came into my hands as a memento from one of the most fascinating of my spiritual expeditions around the churches of North America. I was asked to take part in the annual synod of the Anglican Diocese of Caledonia, opening with a day of spiritual retreat. We gathered in a senior citizens center in a logging town in the heartland of this vast diocese. Delegates came from numerous indigenous peoples, Haida, Tsimsian, Gitsxan, Nisga’a, and there were white ranchers from the high plateaus in the west.

Frank speeches testified to the struggles they had been through to accept each other as equals, and to help those of European ancestry surrender their privileges. But the longer I spent with these impressive Anglicans, the more I was struck by a tradition I hadn’t come across before—the honored practice of adopting adults into family and tribe. I soon realized that the bishop, who was entirely European in ancestry, had decades before as a parish priest been adopted into a Nisga’a family. Now he was, by seniority, a revered tribal elder, woven into a huge extended family of cousins, nephews, brothers and sisters. There was no hint that this adopted kinship was make-believe.

A woman from another First Nation spoke of her grief years before at losing her son in a motorbike accident. She had other sons, but there was an unbearable gap in her heart, and so she had asked her parish priest whether she could adopt him as her son, to be in that place. And so it came about. And there they stood together, mother and son, different races, different cultures, different heritages. But they had become mother and son, out of choice and longing. It touched something very deep within me.

I thought of her as I polished my bracelet the other day. I had presided earlier at one of our wonderful Eucharists for pre-schoolers and their parents at St Columba’s, and a parishioner had brought the young toddler she had recently adopted from a Russian orphanage. Here he was, taking part in the first worship service of his life, gazing around with fascination, clapping his hands during the songs, sitting on the rug for story-time with the swarm of his newfound church brothers and sisters. I was full of emotion. What an adventure adoption is, with awesome rewards and such risks and vulnerability!

I feel that our Christian speech about being sons and daughters of God often sounds glib. We would do well to take deeper soundings in its meaning. In his outdoor sermon in Athens, Paul quoted with approval a line from a pagan poet, “We too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28): simply as creatures all human beings are begotten and birthed by God.

Jesus taught that we are called to prove that we are children of God by acting as God acts—with compassion toward the undeserving. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:38) But in the New Testament imagery of divine parenthood, the imagery of adoption has a special place. In Christ, God reaches out to choose, adopt and, yes, rescue us. Each of us is the wanted child God has yearned for. As adopting parents so often experience themselves, God had to go to the utmost lengths to find us and bring us home to his heart.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption.” (Gal. 4:5) In the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of the “spirit of adoption.” Being an adopted child of God is no mere idea. It is something we feel to the core, it stirs our deepest need to know in our gut that we are a wanted child. God has won us and claimed us as children the hard way, as the cross shows. So “when we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if in fact we suffer with him so that we might also be glorified with him.” (vs.15-17)

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

First love

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Margaret Treadwell

Who was your first love? Ask this question of men or women and the response will almost always be thoughtful, moving and sometimes funny and quirky.

“I was in Ms. Bloss’s dancing classes, and I loved to dance. One day a dark haired, freckled, extremely attractive girl asked me to dance and later I invited her to go to the movies. When I took her home, she reached up and kissed me. I walked away with a particular lightness of step and I always remembered that kiss as my first love.”

“I was 15 1/2 and he was 22. He was the boyfriend of my friend’s older sister, and we met at her birthday party. I was an aspiring writer. He was writing his first novel while working odd jobs. We talked well into the night and I fell madly in love. Early the next morning I bicycled to my friend’s house where he and I were to meet up for a mini-golf game. I took my copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Later that summer he invited me out for my first grown up evening, and I didn’t get home until well after midnight. My father was furious with us and my first love disappeared – for a while.”

According to an article in Psychology Today (Jan./Feb. 2010) all “firsts,” especially first loves, affect us so powerfully because they are seared into our psyches with a vividness and clarity that doesn’t fade as other memories do. This is known as the primacy effect and “flashbulb memories.” Dan McAdams, author of The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, believes these experiences (first day of school, wedding day, first-born child) give us natural episodic markers to divide up the stories of our lives and make sense of how we have been shaped and developed over time.

Playwright Paula Stone has written “a bittersweet comedy about first loves” for which she interviewed 80 people from ages 20-80 in dozens of focus groups. It all began when she received a wedding invitation and realized her own first love would be invited too. She started telling her friends and discovered they had fascinating stories to share. She created an interview format asking, “Who does your heart tell you was your first love? How did you meet? What was the spark that attracted you? When did you know? Where is your memory lodged?”

Paula heard about pounding hearts and shortness of breath, love at first sight, a gorgeous smile, a delicious smell, a great laugh, a black stocking, and a particular coat. She says, “The interviews were meaningful, intimate and sacred and I wanted to create a safe place for people to share what they never had in a lifetime. I wanted to capture the power of the story and use it to honor the past – who we were and the ways we’ve grown.”

In her research Paula found that most first loves occurred around the age of 19 and in the early 20s and only a quarter of those interviewed married their first loves. One woman who did is presently watching her husband decline in a nursing home. She said, “No ending is a happily-ever-after for all must end, but I would do it all over again.”

Another woman who decided not to marry her first love said, “He was so sweet and boring. After all the drama in my marriage to someone else, I believe I could have lived with boring. I never was able to recapture that first love but I think I learned from him what love really is.”

At a recent reading of Paula’s play (working title “Woo is Me”), the intrigue of whether the old lovers will meet at the wedding is full of poignancy, lightness and humor. Auntie Ida, one of the wedding guests, talks about her “love pod” – a place inside where she carries memories of all past loves good or not. She says, “Stay in life fully and keep your heart open for one another, including yourself.”

Do you still think about your first love? Choosing to let our first love stories grow up with us rather than acting them out can be an immensely rewarding experience that enhances our present loves. Talking with someone you love and trust about what you learned from that first breathtaking experience can bring new insights and closeness to a relationship, despite the tendency to keep it a secret so as not to “hurt” the other.

And the woman whose father drove her first love away when she broke her curfew? She spent time playing detective to find him before internet technology made it easy, then allowed him to become her mentor. She said, “He taught me that the world was incredibly interesting and that I could enter the realm of grownups to be a different person from my parents. His life ended with enormous difficulties, but I know his love for me helped me create a good marriage.”

An anonymous writer said, “There are three kinds of relationships: 1) For a season, often those first loves that are right for the moment; 2) For a reason, often to work out a necessary healing. 3) For a lifetime, often when we know we have found a spiritual partner.”

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

Yes to the Quadrilateral, but yes to more.

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Derek Olsen

A few weeks ago, Fr. David Simmons, an online colleague, wondered aloud what implications Rowan William’s move to discipline the Episcopal Church held for the future of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. A document coming from the end of the 19th century, this quadrilateral lays out the four basic requirements for church unity from an Anglican perspective: the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Dominical Sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist), and the Historic Episcopate. Has the Episcopal Church breached these and, if not, is the Archbishop of Canterbury overturning this century-old statement and imposing newer, more stringent requirements on us?

It’s a good question, and one that requires a thoughtful response. I myself hold the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in high esteem. In my mind, it’s the clearest expression of the faith that we hold, a faith that is catholic, apostolic, and reformed; a faith where the judicious application of reason and the historic traditions of the church mutually inform our belief and practice. And yet Chicago-Lambeth is not enough and, in truth, it never has been.

From the earliest days of the church the Bible has been a battleground. The question has never been whether the Scriptures were believed, rather, the question has always been how the Scriptures have been believed and how they have been enacted. The issue is interpretation: who controls it, who decides it, and who adjudicates what’s in bounds and what’s not.

The first great statement around Scripture and interpretation comes to us from Irenaeus of Lyon († c. 202) at the beginning of our history. Irenaeus stood just one generation away from the Apostles—according to church tradition, the teacher of Irenaeus was the martyr Polycarp who had learned the faith at the feet of the John, the Apostle and Evangelist. Irenaeus, in speaking about the Gnostic Valentinians notes that they did, in fact, use the canonical Scriptures, but he rejected the means by which they did it:

Their method of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which was skillfully constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that the miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives fables, and then endeavor, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.

Irenaeus recognized that the Gnostics were using legitimate materials—the Scriptures—but the problem was with the underlying patterns in which they deployed them. What stabilizes the pattern to keep the image of the king rather than the dog or the fox? It can’t be the materials themselves, but rather the interpretive framework within which they are set. Irenaeus identified two reinforcing frameworks that helped keep the shape of the faith. The first was the creed. The creed, contrary to the belief of some, isn’t merely a list of doctrines to be believed. Instead, the creed is an interpretive lens, a perspective from which to view the Scriptures. They sketch the interpretive boundaries. Any readings that fall within those boundaries are legitimate. It’s only when—as with the Valentinians—readings start transgressing the boundaries that we have problems. (The Valentinians in particular denied that the Trinity had any part of creation, arguing that creation was a morally problematic act from which human souls had to be freed; the creeds reject this reading at their very start.)

But even the creed was not entirely sufficient in the eyes of Irenaeus—one more factor was required: the apostolic succession. For Irenaeus, the apostolic succession was fundamentally about organic continuity. In its most basic sense apostolic succession refers to how bishops are consecrated, but the process has safeguards built into it. The requirement that a bishop be consecrated at the hands of three others ensures that the three agree that new bishops 1) have been correctly taught the basics of the faith as it had been received from their teachers back to the apostles, 2) have sound moral conduct, and 3) can properly teach the faith as they have received it. These requirements mean that the bishops (and the priests as they began adopting the teaching functions once held exclusively by the bishops) were the human face of the interpretive framework. They used their discretion to apply the creeds and the teachings of the apostles to the Scriptures to the best of their ability.

So—coming from Irenaeus at the dawn of the church, we receive the three fundamental marks of the church: the Scriptures, the creed, and the apostolic succession. But even these are not enough.

The other day I was standing in my kitchen with my landlord as repairmen assessed the failed air conditioner. He nodded to my mixer and said, “We have one just like that at home—we use it to make the holy bread.”

“Ah,” I replied, “with…yeast, I suppose.”

“Of course,” he replied. My landlord is Egyptian; his father was a Coptic Orthodox priest and they left their homeland in search of opportunity but also to avoid oppression from the Muslim majority.

“The yeast, you know, is sin. The baking kills the yeast and the bread rises. Just so, Jesus kills the sin and rises.”

I’d never heard this particular explanation, and my mind turned over Bible verses relating to yeast, testing the yeast-as-sin interpretation: the leaven of the Pharisees, a little yeast leavens the whole lump, cast out the old leaven, then, conflating Luke’s leaven in the lump with Sarai’s preparation of the bread for the three holy visitors I arrived at Rublev’s depiction of that event: the icon of the Trinity with the Eucharist. In those moments I caught sight of an alien framework, a tissue connecting these passages and others unnamed in a framework foreign to me.

“Hmm,” I replied. “Well, we’ve always used the directions for the Passover bread—that it be unleavened.” And my mind conjured the framework familiar to me: a typological interpretation that finds the Passover bread as a type of the Eucharist, a sacramental system grounded in the theological valence of the Last Supper being simultaneously a Passover supper.

“Oh,” he replied—then pulled out his iPhone to show me photos of a cross in Egypt from which holy oil flows. We studiously avoided what we were both thinking. One of the six points that formally kicked off the Great Schism in 1054 between the Eastern and Western churches was the use of yeast in bread for the Eucharist. It may seem like a silly point—and one not covered in Irenaeus’s marks of the church—but reflects a deeper division about how the linguistically and culturally divided churches not only interpreted Scripture but applied it, turning it into liturgy and directions for practical life.

A few weeks earlier I had been sitting in a mall food-court with one of my best friends from college, meeting over our respective lunch hours. Raised Roman Catholic, in recent years he’s been in the evangelical world, attending various places: Assembly of God, Baptist, and one of the CANA churches in Virginia. His question was simple on the surface: “So—tell me about the whole gay bishop thing…are you really okay with that?”

As I paused to formulate the clearest response I could in the short time we had, I felt a huge conceptual gulf open between us. I’ve been engaged in the academic study of Scripture for almost twenty years; I’m familiar with a whole gamut of interpretive methodologies, original languages, and comparative sources from the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. During this time, he’s been in church communities that emphasize the simplicity and transparency of the Scriptures that present a very specific and very modern methodology for interpreting the Scriptures as the univocal “literal” sense. What separated us and our positions was not simply a disagreement about the meaning of a few scattered passages in Scripture.

Rather, what separated us was our entire conceptual frameworks for comprehending what Scripture is and how we approach it to begin the work of interpretation, let alone where our conclusions lead concerning how we and those around us should act in light of God’s call to us. I think we’re equally committed to the importance of Scripture in the Christian life. But our interpretive processes and the inputs that inform those processes are worlds apart.

In both of these cases, with my Coptic landlord and my evangelical friend, the difference is not that one of us takes the Scriptures seriously and the other does not. It’s not even the application of the creeds, the use of the sacraments or the fact of the apostolic succession. It is a matter of interpretation.

Casting a literary critic’s eye upon the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as it appears in our prayer book, my eye lights on a key issue. The Quadrilateral is only both Chicago and Lambeth through harmonization. There are actually two documents—the 1886 Chicago document, passed by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and there is the 1888 resolution passed by the Lambeth conference. There are two chief differences between them. First, the American 1886 statement has a literary context: there is a lengthy explanatory statement with four separate points that set forth the logic and impetus for the statement relating to the purposes of the early Ecumenical Movement. The Lambeth resolution has only a vestigial opening—lacking the length and the rhetorical urgency of the American text—offering a more reserved purpose: “…the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made toward Home Reunion.” I note the use of the term “basis.” In short, the Lambeth resolution understands the four articles of the Quadrilateral to be a beginning and not an ending of the requirements for unity. These are the sine qua non without which discussion cannot commence; conclusion is not in scope here.

Second, I notice that the very article most in contention here and elsewhere is not the same between the two. The first article in the American understands the Scriptures as: “the revealed Word of God.” The Lambeth resolution is rather different and, incorporating a bit from the Articles of Religion, understands the Scriptures: “as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” There’s a clear difference here between the two statements. Not only that, as an interpreter, I despair of the wording from Lambeth—rule and ultimate standard of faith how? According to whom? By what manner of interpretation?

It’s precisely these points where the Quadrilateral shows the limitations of its purpose. As a rough and ready rule for churches eager for reunion, it fits the bill; it describes an acceptable minimum standard of agreement—when agreement is being sought. But as a means for maintaining fellowship—well, it’s simply not capable of bearing that weight. There exists too much territory within “rule and ultimate standard of faith” to make it a document capable of maintaining an already fractious relationship.

An Archbishop considering the Lambeth resolution will properly see minimal standards that must be met, not the only four tests allowed.

Is the Archbishop right? Do we need a Covenant to nail down matters more? Well—these are broader issues yet. However we attempt to resolve them, the Quadrilateral may serve as a guide, but cannot serve as an answer.

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.

Monks, movies and futbol

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Leo Campos

There are few religious spectacles more important, more poignant, more powerful than the World Cup. For those of you who might be following my advice from earlier notes and staying away from TV you may not know that the World Cup Finals are being held in South Africa. Furthermore you may not know that "World Cup" is the shorthand for the only truly global sport - soccer/futbol/football

I was thinking about a couple of movies which might help those who need a little extra to get them in the mood. For a game that is so appealing and so dramatic it is sad to note that there have been very few movies which actually did any justice to either the sport or to the passions it arouses. There was Victory with Pele, a pastiche from The Great Escape, and not really that good.

When I do a quick search of Netflix and IMDB for movies with the word "soccer" and "football" I get things like Soccer Buddy, about a soccer playing dog, and other inanities. But of the many movies out there I do see two which I find actually seem to bring across something of value. The first is La Gran Final (The Great Match) by the Spanish director Gerardo Olivares. It is a tale spread across the globe as people from different countries gather to watch a World Cup game: from a tribe of Amazonian indios, a family of Mongolian nomads and a caravan of Tuareg people in the Sahara Desert. It has many funny moments, and it much subtle social commentary. Overall it tries to show how, for just a little while, there is a peace, well a truce, across the globe.

It reminded me of the story from World War I, though the events have been repeated more than once, where Germans and British climbed out of their foxholes to play a game on Christmas Day 1915 to play a match, declaring a temporary truce.

But my absolute favorite movie has to be The Cup by the Bhutanese director Khyentse Norbu. I am slightly biased, since the director is also a monk. It is full of richly drawn characters, with masterful performances by its young main protagonist. The story centers on a young Tibetan refugee and their misadventures at a monastery/boarding school in exile in India. While undergoing Buddhist training the young boy's mind is filled with news about the World Cup. He attempts to explain its importance and its appeal to other monks who are confused, bemused, or downright annoyed at his constant conversations about soccer players. This boy's meditation is constantly on the game.

What is the attraction of this sport, which seems to be unlike any other? Surely when you compare sport by sport it does not stand out as requiring anything special. It is not the fastest, or the most violent, or even the one that requires the most coordination or skill. There is the counter-intuitive requirement of moving a ball only using your feet, but that hardly seems to justify the strong passions it arouses.

I am content with the mystery of soccer/football. There may be no particularly logical reason for its appeal. It is more akin to falling in love – why are we attracted to some people and not others?

So there it is - I do hope you will take this opportunity during this most holy month to catch a couple of these movies - they are well worth the watch!

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).

Independence Day, Diversity and the Anglican Communion

Daily Episcopalian will return on July 6.

by Thomas Luck

From June 14-18 I attended a class at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, which is on the campus of Northwestern University. I took this class as I continue the flex-sabbatical I began in 2008, when I took courses at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, in a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in congregational development program run jointly by Seabury and Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. My next class will be for a week next January in Berkeley.

The course I took was "Congregations in the Twenty-First Century." The teacher for the class is the Reverend Dr. Susan Harlow. Susan, as she prefers to be called, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and has taught for 17 years in theological education. A graduate of Hollins University, she earned her Master of Divinity at Andover Newton Theological School and a Master of Theology at Harvard Divinity School. Her doctorate is from Columbia University in its joint program with Union Theological Seminary in Religion and Education. As Susan says, "I'm ordained in the UCC, but in theology and practice I have become an Episcopalian." Susan's life partner, the Reverend Dr. Bonnie A. Perry, is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago. The Rev. Dr. Perry is one of the "up and coming" younger clergy of the Episcopal Church, who I have heard present before, and she was one of the presenters for our class. A couple of years ago she was nominated for bishop in the Diocese of California. Although she was not elected many think she will become a bishop in the not too distant future. Time and the Holy Spirit will tell.

A bit more about my class; there were eighteen students in the class, ten women and eight men. Among the eight men there were only two other white straight males besides me. There were Hispanic men, people from Canada, an Australian serving in Canada, a white South African working on a Ph.D. in San Diego, and white suburban women; there were six people in the DMin program, and others who are preparing for ordination in the Episcopal Church.

While our class was meeting there was some drama unfolding regarding the relationship of the Episcopal Church with the Anglican Communion. Letters had been exchanged by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In his letter the Archbishop of Canterbury announces some sanctions removing members of the Episcopal Church from some international bodies since we no longer represent the "faith and order" of the Anglican Communion. This is because the Episcopal Church ordained the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and Bishop Glasspool is a lesbian in a long-term committed relationship. Shortly after both of these letters, the Presiding Bishop was in England for a long-standing engagement to preach at Southwark Cathedral in London, at the invitation of the Dean. Just before the service the Presiding Bishop was informed by the Archbishop of Canterbury that she would not be allowed to wear her mitre, or any other symbol of the office of Bishop. Cleverly, she carried her mitre in her hands throughout the entire service. This was explained as being necessary because the Church of England is about to vote on whether women can be ordained as bishops, and that if she were allowed to look like a bishop it would be inflammatory. Since that event, it has come out that other women who are bishops have preached in England and been allowed to actually look like bishops. Never mind that the Presiding Bishop is in fact already a bishop and the Primate of the Episcopal Church!

Now in Syracuse. Last week I performed a graveside service for the friend of a parishioner. The parishioner, a woman, has received the Congressional Gold Medal for logging 1,000 hours flying military aircraft in World War II. The people who gathered with her were an amazing group of people! Among them was an elderly couple that particularly caught my attention. One of the women in the couple had a small tattoo on her cheek and bright lime green fingernail polish. The other woman in the couple was wearing ladies sandals, pink socks, a red dress and had long, flowing, fire engine red hair. But as I came closer to the burial plot I realized that the person in the red dress with the long red hair had the face and voice of an elderly man. From my limited knowledge I think that this person is transgendered, someone who is a woman in a man's body. Yet, here they were, a loving couple, and obviously friends of our highly decorated parishioner.

Later we went to the apartment of the parishioner for some refreshment and conversation. Sipping wine and eating cake I heard a number of amazing stories. And then someone asked the person wearing the red dress to tell her tale of the time she almost died in combat in her previous life. Then, with utter seriousness, she talked about fighting the Chinese in face to face combat in a frozen river in Korea. This person was critically wounded and lying helplessly in the river, partially under the ice. She realized that the Chinese were going around and bayoneting to death everyone who was wounded. So she kept her eyes wide open, staring off into space pretending to be dead. It worked, and she was the only person in her platoon to survive. When she was found by medics she could only blink her eyes.

As I was listening to this story I wished that I had a video camera, for the impact of seeing this lady in her dress and long red hair telling this tale of courage and patriotism was extremely profound. I was left speechless. The living room in this apartment was full of patriotism from people whose own lives have often been full of disregard or ridicule. Later on the same day St. Paul's Cathedral hosted the Interfaith Gay Pride service, and people, non-Episcopalians, prayed loud prayers of thanksgiving for the witness of the Episcopal Church, and for their being welcomed in our Cathedral.

On July 4th we will once again celebrate the independence of the United States of America, an independence that was hard fought in the Revolutionary War, and which has continued to be hard fought to our own day. Many of those who have helped preserve our independence over the years have themselves not always been granted the full rights that their citizenship entitles them to receive; from the African Americans who fought for the North, to the Navajo who helped provide the secret code that helped win WWII, to the women who flew military aircraft in that war but did not receive veteran benefits until the 1970's, to people such as this lady, to those who live under "don't ask don't tell" today. America is not only for these people too, it is especially for these people. The United States is the last best hope on earth for the dispossessed, the different, and those who are loathed simply for being who they are. It is why your ancestors and mine came here. And as an Episcopalian who loves the Anglican Communion, I am proud that the Episcopal Church may be the last best hope in Catholic Christianity for the dispossessed, the different and those who are loathed simply for being who they are. There are lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual parishioners at St. Paul's Cathedral, so many we simply could not function without them. They serve on numerous groups. They may not be obvious to all, but we are richer for their presence. This July 4th I bless God for the United States, for the Episcopal Church and for St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.

The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck, M.Div., A.L.M., is the Dean and Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, in Syracuse, New York.

American slavery justified

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Samuel Seabury
[Grandson of the first American Episcopal bishop]

The evil of sectional agitation, foreshadowed by the Father of this country, is upon us; and the North and the South are arrayed the one against the other.

One of the sources of our dissensions (in my judgment the original and chief source) is the opinion that has been extensively propagated, that slavery is a moral and social evil; that is (though the words are not generally used in their full significance), that it is wrong in morals and disgraceful in Christian and civilized society.

The fact that the Constitution of the United States covers Slave States as well as Free, is reason enough, in my opinion, why every man that lives under it should assume slavery to be neither morally wrong nor socially disreputable. Slavery is no more forbidden by Scripture than by the Constitution, but is permitted by both; and I can not but think that modesty and good sense should have taught all citizens and all Christians who could not see the reason of the permission, to take it on the authority of the Constitution of their country and the Rule of their Faith, without an appeal to a higher law.

It is clearly repugnant to the genius of our government to mix up questions of morality, religion, and social life. with our national politics; and, as slavery, in some of its bearings, is a legitimate and often necessary object of municipal legislation, it is the more to be regretted that it should be complicated with questions of morality, religion, and social reputation. Nevertheless, this has been done; and the natural consequences have followed;—rancor, and hatred, and deeply rooted alienations, such as no merely political discussions could engender.

My aim is to help to withdraw from this vexed controversy, if it be possible, its moral, religious, and social element; that thus slavery, when it is made an object of national legislation, may he discussed and disposed of on merely economical and political grounds.

But to do any thing effectively in this way, it is necessary to take decided ground. The political differences on this subject may be accommodated by mutual concession and compromise, consistently with self-respect. But it is not so with the moral and social question. No bridge of compromise can be thrown over the chasm that separates truth, justice, and honor, from falsehood, injustice, and shame. The relation of master and slave, and the claim of property involved in it, are either just and honorable, or unjust and base; and hence I see no other way to adjust the differences that exist in reference to this phase of the subject than to induce men to examine and decide, on rational grounds, the right or wrong of the question, before they attempt to heal the exacerbations that grow out of it.


In this country we have come very naturally to appropriate the word slavery to that form of servitude which exists among ourselves. To know what the word slavery means in our use of it we must first inquire what this form of servitude is; not what it is vaguely and in its accidents and abuses. but what it is precisely and in its essence. And the definition must be in accordance with facts; that is, it must express, not what slavery has been in other times and places, nor what it may be or might have been, but what it actually is in our own country and at the present time.

I have defined a slave to be a person who is related to society through another person--a master--to whom he owes reasonable service for life and from whom he is entitled to receive support and protection. This definition I believe to be in accordance with facts; in other words, I believe that those persons called slaves in our Southern States are persons born on the soil and under such circumstances (circumstances not of our choosing but of God's ordering) that a debt of service is the very condition of their life. For we are not a nation of pirates and freebooters; we do not fit out vessels against an ignorant and unoffending people to seize them and import them into our country, and reduce them to bondage. We have never done this; our mother country has never done it; no nation in modern Europe has done it. The work has been done by combinations of lawless men. And although Great Britain may have been remiss and tardy in restraining such violence, yet we. in this respect, have no ground of self-reproach. For, from the very beginning of our Confederacy, we took means to arrest this evil, and. as soon as practicable, enacted stringent laws, with a view to its suppression. More than fifty years—nearly two generations—have passed since these laws were in force. However much, therefore, we may lament and condemn the way in which slavery originated in our country, or the accessions (comparatively very small) which have since been made to it in the same way, yet we are not responsible for either; we gave no sanction to the former, and have done all that we could do to prevent the latter. We are, therefore, entitled to throw out of the account both the origin of slavery, and the few and accidental accessions it may receive from acts of violence which our laws prohibit; and to declare the slaves of our country to be, what in truth and fact they are, a class of persons born and grown on our soil, under an obligation of service which the laws of God and man require them to fulfill.


In bringing the question to the arbitrament of Scripture, it is proper to distinguish that form of slavery for which we hold ourselves responsible, as, from all other forms, so, particularly, from that unjust deprivation of liberty which is effected by lawless violence.

When St. Paul enjoins servants to obey their masters in all things, he uses a word for servants (doulos), which comprises several sorts of persons restrained of liberty, and his precept is, consequently, to be taken in a sense suited to the condition of that class of servants to which it may be applied. On prisoners and captives held by lawless violence. or subject to absolute power, he enjoins obedience as an alleviation of their unhappy lot, which would be aggravated by resistance, and rendered more tolerable by patience and submission. On those who are bound to service, either for a term of time or for life, the precept must be understood to enjoin obedience according to the nature and condition of the service to which they are bound. To slaves of the former class, i. e. to prisoners or captives who have been forcibly and unjustly seized and compelled to labor, at the oar for example, or in the mines. he would say: Obey your masters in all things, as becomes your sad condition, and make your chains as easy as you can, by your compliance and submission. To slaves of the latter class, i. e., to persons who are justly bound to service, either for a term of time or for life, he would be understood to say: Obey your masters in all things according to the contract, express or implied, by which you are bound: or to use Bishop Fleetwood's paraphrase: "Behave yourselves to your masters as diligently and faithfully as you have promised them to do; or by the custom of the place (in which you live) are presumed to have promised them."*

Now, if the slavery which exists in our country were upheld in violation of right and justice, although we might, after the example of the Apostles, inculcate on the slave the duty of patience and submission, yet we should be constrained to confess that the relation in which he stood was unnatural, and that the authority to which he was subjected was a usurpation. But, as I offer no apology for this kind of slavery, and have no need to press into my support those precepts which require of the slave what, indeed, is required of every man, patience and submission to the hardships of his lot, so I am not solicitous to repel the inferences which may be drawn from these precepts, in this sense of them, to show the injustice and impiety of slavery and slaveholders.

In appealing to the Scriptures, therefore, the question on which I would insist is, whether that form of slavery which I have defined. and which is known to exist in our country, be, or be not forbidden in the Scriptures? If it be, then all our reasonings in its defense are delusive, and must go for nothing: if it be not, then we are at liberty to uphold it; to regard the relation of master and slave, as it exists among us, as a lawful relation; and to consider it as fairly coming under those apostolical precepts which enjoin masters to be gentle and forbearing, and which enjoin servants to "obey their masters in all things," not in that sense which requires of them patience and submission under usurped authority, but in the other sense, which requires them to be diligent and faithful in a service which they are bound to perform.


Now, it is readily admitted that the form of slavery for which the American people are (a large portion of them directly) responsible, contains some features that are exceedingly repulsive to those who are accustomed to no other restraints of personal liberty than such as are imposed by the municipal law of the country in which they live. It gives the master, not indeed an absolute, but a large discretionary power over his servants; vests him with a right to their labor for life, and allows him to transfer this right to others; to invest any purchaser he may please with the same power over the bodies of his servants which he possesses himself. This certainly is a power liable to fearful abuses. It may seem to us antecedently probable that our blessed Lord, who came to reform the world, would never allow His followers to be clothed with such power: would forbid them, under all circumstances, to hold, or claim to hold a right to the service or labor of other men for life, and to the use of their natural liberty; or at least, if He suffered them to claim and hold this right, that He would not permit them to transfer it to a stranger for money. But we are in no sort judges beforehand of what it was fit for our Lord to do. It may, for aught we know, have seemed good to Him that some of His followers should be entrusted with this large power for their more effectual probation; for the development, possibly, of virtues which could not otherwise be manifested, and for a demonstration to the world of the efficacy of His gospel in restraining and regulating an authority which, before His time, had been abused beyond measure, and almost beyond belief. We are totally incompetent to judge beforehand what regulations it was proper for Him to make on this subject. Our inquiry is, or ought to be, simply into the facts of the case. Has our Lord in fact interdicted this sort of power and authority to His followers? Have His apostles done so? Did His Church do so in the age succeeding the apostles, when their infractions were remembered, and best understood?
Now, the fact is, that we have no prohibition of this sort, either from our Lord, or from His apostles, or from the ancient Church. Certainly there was no want of occasion or opportunity for such prohibition. The purchase and sale of the right to the use of men's labor and liberty, or property in men, as it is commonly, though vaguely called, had been permitted among the Hebrews, and was a matter of every day practice among the Greeks and Romans; it could not possibly have escaped the observation of our Lord and his apostles, nor could its fearful abuses have been unknown to them. And yet the fact is, that there is nothing in the Scriptures of the New Testament which either expressly, or by implication, forbids it.

But the prohibition, though neither expressed or implied in the letter of the New Testament, is found by some in its spirit. There were evils, it is said, which Christ, for wise reasons, did not specifically and directly forbid, but left to be gradually restrained, and finally abolished by the silent and indirect influence of His gospel, or of those general principles which He has enunciated in His gospel. Such evils were polygamy, war, and slavery.

I shall not stop to question the legitimacy of the theory here implied. I shall admit, for argument's sake, that our Blessed Lord, while proclaiming all needful truth of a general nature, reserved some doctrine, of a more specific kind, which the world was not then in a temper to receive, and entrusted it to His apostles and their successors to be afterwards unfolded and applied, in the shape of positive or negative precept, as men would be able to bear it. To be sure, this is commonly thought to be a very Papistical tenet; but the odium attached to the avowal of it will be considerably lightened when it is shared in common with Protestants of the Independent persuasion. But I must be permitted to question the applicability of the theory to the case in hand. I do not believe that our Lord reserved any doctrine to be authoritatively developed by Protestants in Women"s Rights, Moral Reform, Temperance, or Anti-Slavery Societies. Whatever I may think of the developments of Rome and Trent (and they are not here in question), I must be allowed to distrust those that come from Providence, Rhode Island, or from Oberlin, in whatever State or Territory Oberlin may be.


The upshot of the matter is, as it seems to me, that Christianity neither enjoins nor forbids slavery, but leaves men entirely free, so that they restrain themselves within the bounds of justice and rectitude, either to discourage and abolish it, or to establish and uphold it as the public good may require.

The plan of my work does not require me to do more than establish this negative conclusion. A strong affirmative argument, indeed, might easily be made to show that the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, expressly recognize and sanction slavery: but this argument has been so often and so luminously stated, and, indeed, the fact is so apparent on the very face of the Scriptures, that I deem it quite superfluous to swell my pages with references and quotations designed to establish it.** Besides, the aim of my argument has been to show that that form of servitude which exists under the laws of some of our States, and under the Constitution of the United States, is consistent with natural justice; and if the argument is sound, slavery must stand unless the Scriptures forbid it. That "the New Testament contains no precept prohibitory of slavery" is expressly affirmed by the ablest of the New England abolitionists; and what they insist on is that the prohibition, though not given in any precept, is yet contained in the principles of the New Testament, of course as developed and applied by themselves. Their arguments are misty and confused, and it is about as hard to seize and explain them, as it would be to bottle and analyze the dense fog that sometimes hangs over their coast. But, as far as I could catch their meaning, I have given and answered it; and the result is, I think, that the gospel, neither directly nor indirectly, neither by its precepts nor principles, makes slavery a sin; in short, that it contains not a seed or germ to serve them for their new Protestant "development of Christian doctrine."

The Rev. Samuel Seabury, D.D. of New York was appointed to the faculty of General Theological Seminary in 1862. This essay is an abridgment of his book American Slavery, Distinguished from the Slavery of English Theorists, and Justified by the Law of Nature (New York, 1861).

Abridged by John B. Chilton. Chilton is a member of the Race Relations Committee of the Diocese of Virginia.

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