Beck wants to be Smith, not King

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

By Dan Webster

It was a spectacle indeed. A few hundred thousand folks on the mall in Washington clustered close to the Lincoln Memorial to hear two TV spectacles. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, both creations of the media, spoke to one huge choir.

“Restoring Honor” was what Beck called this rally. But many news reports described the event as more religious than political and the oratory more like sermons. That should be no surprise to anyone who knows the background of both speakers. But what may surprise the casual follower is what Beck could be drawing from his own adopted Mormon faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, believes Christianity fell into apostasy when the original apostles died. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, believes he was called by God to restore the gospel that Jesus taught but had been radically changed by second generation Christians and those who came after.

So when Beck says America has been “wandering in darkness” and that he is here to help lead the country back to God he is emulating the founder of his religion. He wants to restore America’s greatness just like his church believes it is called to establish the “restored gospel.”

Sarah Palin, a fundamentalist Christian who sees her religion and her patriotism as inseparable, is a willing player on Beck’s team. “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want,” Palin said, “we must restore America and restore her honor.”

Beck told the crowd that Saturday’s event was “of God”. That is usually a certain way to silence your critics. After all, progressives of any faith rarely claim to speak for God waiting for time to prove that something is a human construct or divinely instigated. Joseph Smith claimed an angel of God gave him golden plates to translate into the Book of Mormon. Beck uses a blackboard and chalk to write his new scripture of God and country that is bound, not by leather around paper but by digits of video, audio and text that reaches around the world and into living rooms, car radios and computers across the nation.

Beck would have read a phrase that appears repeatedly in Smith’s Book of Mormon: “…the great and abominable church.” It refers to the Roman Catholic Church and all her offspring. The problem here is when anyone announces they are called to restore an original ideal that presumes they know something of that original ideal.

The “founding fathers” were mentioned at Beck’s rally. Most of the signers of the Constitution owned slaves. And I suspect that most of those in the crowd believe the original intent of the founders was to establish a Christian nation despite the numerous books, papers and articles by historians and scholars to the contrary. Beck, Palin and millions of their followers have chosen to ignore the experts and interpret the founders’ actions to fit their “restored” vision of this country.

The day after his rally, Beck took on President Obama’s religious faith. “People don’t like Obama’s version of Christianity,” he said on Fox News. He called Obama’s faith based on liberation theology which Beck has called socialist. Beck’s comments came on a Sunday when millions of Christians in hundreds of thousands of churches heard a gospel passage from Luke (14:12-14) urging folks not to invite friends or relatives or rich neighbors to a banquet but rather the poor, crippled, lame and blind. That’s the kind of liberation theology Jesus proclaims throughout the gospels.

Beck is running the risk of reopening wounds of suspicion and name-calling between Mormons and other Christians. He runs the risk of damaging the ecumenical work between Mormons and other Christians in communities across the country if not around the globe. Whether it’s his religion or his view of this nation he is preaching a gospel of division and distrust, of fear and separation.

America’s greatness will be restored when we have realized the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It will be restored when Native Americans walk with pride and share in the bounty of this country rather than the poverty and unemployment rates of third world countries. America’s greatness will be restored when fewer than half of young African American males do not have criminal records. And the greatness of America will shine around the world when Muslims are free to lawfully build a community and prayer center anywhere they wish.

Beck clearly wants to be a 21st century Joseph Smith and restore some notion of a civil religion that exists, not in reality, but in his mind and in the minds of a few hundred thousand followers. God help us.

Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest who lived in Utah three different times for a total of nine years. He is a former broadcast journalism executive including news director at KUTV, Salt Lake City. Currently he resides in Baltimore, MD.

Sacred time in centerfield

By Adam Thomas

Long before I realized the sacredness of the altar or the font or the Gospel book with its gilded edges, my contact with the holy happened twenty yards due north of second base. The play-by-play guys and color commentators speak of the “baseball gods,” but I can forgive their polytheism, for they must not have heard the good news that the Almighty God of heaven and earth became the God of baseball around 1912. Of course, half a lifetime ago, I didn’t realize that. All I knew was that centerfield was, somehow, holy.

I lived to play defense—my hitting and striking out and stealing bases and popping out to the first baseman and scoring from second were dry toast. Catching fly balls and cutting off balls hit in the gap were pizza and hamburgers. I relished being a member of the home team because it meant wallowing in the purgatorial dugout was delayed half an inning. I sprinted out to centerfield, my cleats enduring a few mouthfuls of dusty clay before clamping their teeth into the damp, tussock-strewn earth of the outfield.

It had rained that morning—not hard, but the ground had drank in the drizzle for the same several hours that I sat around my house hoping the coach wouldn’t call with bad news. Any ball that bounced would be wet, making it harder to throw accurately. I would be slower by the third inning, after my cleats and socks each added a pound or two of mud and water. The rain had stopped, but the clouds still muffled the late-spring twilight. The sky was the color of a scuffed baseball, which, of course, made the actual scuffed baseballs that would soon be arcing toward me quite difficult to see.

I sprinted all the way to the chain-link fence that bounded the field. Faded, plywood advertisements for local car dealers and Baptist churches adorned the fence, which was polka-dotted with pockets of rust. The top of the fence was just out of my leaping reach, since I hadn’t hit my growth spurt yet. With my gloved right hand, I tapped the chain-links with all the reverence of crossing myself with holy water. Then I squelched back to continue my ritual north-northwest of the pitcher’s mound.

As a centerfielder, I never stood perfectly in the center of the field, else the pitcher would obscure my view of the batter. Instead, I let my internal dowsing rod lead me to the patch of ground four or five steps to the shortstop side of second base, the better to get the jump on balls batted by right-handed hitters. This spot was the spring at the center of my fiefdom, a territory it was my duty to protect from incoming mortar fire. I dug my cleats into the spot, creating a shallow foxhole. This was my land, and it was holy, and I soaked up its sacredness through my cleated feet.

As the leadoff batter walked toward home plate, the field’s lights hiccupped and hummed to life. But there was already electricity in the air, and the aftertaste of bubble gum mixed with the mint chocolate flavor of exhilaration in my mouth. The banks of lights cast four shadows, and they swirled around me like Busby Berkeley’s dancers. The familiar, but always surprising, feeling of anticipation hiccupped and hummed to life in my bowels.

The batter kicked his heals into the clay. The pitcher gripped the ball in his glove. I punched my glove and paced my foxhole. As the pitcher went into his windup, the organs south of my lungs declared war and started marching north. Strike One. My stomach occupied the region around my larynx. Ball One. My heart beat a double time cadence. Crack. I took a step back and moved to my right. The ball hurtled into the air, past the artificial horizon where the sloping roof of the concession stand met the sky. I took four more steps to my right and waited, while in my mind the thousands of ways I could fail tried to smother the single way I could succeed. For half a second, I wondered if Ashlee were in the bleachers. I waited as the ball reached its peak and fell back to earth, towards my land. Finally, after three and a half seconds of forever, the ball sailed into my glove and made the satisfying SWAPTH sound that I lived for. My sacred ground remained undefiled, and I could breathe again.

I tossed the ball to the shortstop, marched back to my foxhole, and the warring organs broke their ceasefires. Would that be my only catch of game? Or would I have a busy night patrolling my fiefdom? There was no way to know. So I stared down the batter on each pitch, flinched reflexively on each swing, and waited in anticipation, my feet poised on holy ground, connected to something that brought out the best in me and that called to me from the scuffed baseball sky and the fence and my foxhole. That something – I wouldn’t have known to call it God then – that something called to me, speaking the grace needed to taste the mint chocolate flavor of exhilaration, speaking the devotion that enabled me to move with purpose each time ball and bat connected, speaking the love that kept me returning again and again to the ballpark in rain or shine, speaking my very life into being.

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 wherethewind.com.

Mary: Her fiat is our fortune

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

By Kathy Staudt

There was a lively two-part discussion a month or so ago on Episcopal Café about the Virgin Birth, whether and why we should or should not believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity, what doing so says about ideas about women, the role of the creeds, etc., -- and finding myself not really inclined to weigh in because I didn’t care that much about what seemed to be at stake. It may be that it’s a gender thing: one commentator in the fray did notice that not many women were weighing in on the whole question of Mary’s virginity or not, perpetual or temporary or whatever – and I have to admit that it doesn’t seem to be that important a question to me, at least in the terms in which it was being posed, as a question of doctrine).

But then the lectionary brought us, on August 16, to the observance of “The Feast of Mary the Virgin,” and I remembered reading the lessons and pondering the whole story in Luke, that I really like this part of the story, and find it “makes sense of things” in my faith the way that profoundly true stories do, and in a way that make quarrels like the one about the nature & duration of Mary’s physical virginity (or not) seem beside the point, for me. I think this reaction comes out of my instincts as a reader of great imaginative literature and my vocation as a poet. My own reading of the story of the Annunciation, in particular, has been shaped by the way that a number of 20th century poets, male and female, have read that story – seeing it as a story about how the Incarnation happened, and about miraculous and world-changing cooperation between a human being and God. And also in how the story is told in Scripture – especially in Luke’s gospel.

The story in Luke, skillfully put together, begins with a familiar pattern that we know from Hebrew Scripture: A barren woman, Elizabeth, finds that she is with child, in her old age. This tells us that we are reading a story that is in a continuous tradition with stories of God’s grace and favor to those who are marginalized So, in Luke, we start with the story of a barren woman conceiving, just when everyone thought God had stopped acting. The father, Zechariah, doesn’t believe the angel’s promise, and he’s struck dumb until that promise is fulfilled. So we have a story about the usual way that God’s promise works in the lives of the people. (To me it misses the point to say that this business of God blessing barren women overvalues childbearing as a sign of female worth: the stories have been abused in this way, certainly, but that’s not what it’s about in Hebrew Scripture. Rather, in a story about the survival of God’s people, both naturally and spiritually, the whole barren-woman-made-mother motif is about the one who was rejected being blessed and made whole and honored by God. When his motif turns up, it’s a signal that God is working in this part of the story: NOT a normative statement about how a society should be organized).

Anyway – we get the story of Elizabeth, and a famliar motif to anyone who knows Hebrew Scripture: and then the stakes are raised.

Side by side with this story, we have the story of Mary, encountering the angel Gabriel with the extraordinary news that she will bear a child. This is extraordinary because she is a virgin/has no husband/has not known a man (pick your translation). Her status as a virgin means that she still “owns” her own body – she doesn’t belong to any man, so in that sense she is free to respond to God’s request. Now, Luke’s Greek readers were used to stories of human women conceiving by gods (the rape of Leda, by Zeus disguised as a swan, comes to mind) – but in those stories it usually happens without the woman’s consent. So you could say it’s a motif familiar to the Greeks, but here it’s told in a very Hebrew way – where the body matters. The story has to be told this way, and it works. (the issues of female purity that the tradition has brought to the reading do not seem to me to be IN the story here.) Mary doesn’t question the promise; she just wonders about the logistics: “How can this be, as I am a virgin?” In that, Luke’s telling of the story contrasts her with Zechariah, who asked for proof, and was silenced for doing so. Mary just wants to know what will happen to her, which seems to be a fair question, and the angel gives her an answer. And Mary gives her consent. That is the heart of the story.

And we know, in the story that follows – written for its audience of Greeks and Jews – that in a wonderfully earthy, Hebrew way, this Jesus whom we read about, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is actually “the Son of God” born of a woman, in the flesh. (I’ve always appreciated, in fact, the human homeliness of the Church’s wisdom in appointing March 25 as Feast of the Annuciation – 9 months before December 25, which was settled on as the Feast of the Nativity.) Aesthetically, imaginatively, theologically, and spiritually, the story “works” this way, and challenges us to consider at every turn that the Jesus we meet here is the hero of a story about how God is active (and now incarnate) in human affairs, both within and beyond Israel. He is God-with-us and “one of us” in a way that is really almost shocking, if you think about it. The story insists that we think about it.

The poet David Jones, writing in the mid-twentieth century and re-telling this story in the context of salvation history, offers a reading of it that has shaped my thinking about both Annunciation and Incarnation (and in Jones it’s all connected to the Eucharist – but that’s probably for another post). Anyway, at one point in his long poem The Anathemata, the narrative voice the poem calculates the date of the Passion by looking back to the Annunciation:

Thirty four years and twenty-one days
since that germinal March
and terminal day
(no drought that year)
since his Leda
said to his messenger . . .
(his bright talaria on)
fiat mihi
(p. 189)


In the poet’s retelling of the story, Mary is God’s “Leda” (the woman in Greek mythology raped by Zeus, in the guise of a swan), but this event is not a rape: Mary’s consent is the important thing: she says “fiat mihi”: “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Elsewhere in Jones’s long poem a lively female narrator says of Mary “ her fiat is our fortune” (p. 128) -- and in a note to this passage Jones acknowledges being inspired by the doctrine that “The Eternally Begotten could not have become begotten on a creature except by a creature’s pliant will” (Ana p. 128). In both poem and commentary, Jones, a Roman Catholic, is emphasizing an aspect of the cult of Mary more familiar in the eastern church, where Mary is celebrated as the human “God-bearer,” the Theotokos.

In this strain of the Christian tradition it’s not really about whether she’s a virgin or not,: it’s about her humanity, which happens to be a female humanity, and needs to be, for God’s purposes in this part of the story: it’s about a free human being consenting to be fully used, body and soul, for God’s purposes. “Her fiat is our fortune.” The poet puts it well. This is the kind of insight that has shaped my habit of going to the poets for insight into the deep spiritual and theological questions that challenge us, both in doctrine and in Scripture.

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.

Why I go to church

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

By Ellen Painter Dollar

Recently, I’ve read a handful of articles about clergy burnout. In The New York Times, G. Jeffrey McDonald traced high burnout rates to congregations demanding that their pastors entertain and soothe them (with short, amusing sermons, for example), rather than counsel and challenge them. On Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog, Eugene Cho cites depressing statistics about the stress and low pay that come with being constantly “on call” and beholden to congregations that may feel they own you because they pay your salary. And in a humorous take, retired UCC minister Richard Floyd named Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing Your Pastor's Morale, including telling your pastor to choose between a salary raise and the mission budget, and referring to your pastor’s attendance at conferences or retreats as “vacation.”

Although I’m the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman, I primarily read these articles from the perspective of a layperson. Here are a few of my reactions.

We’re not all looking for feel-good affirmation. Going to church is a pain in the neck much of the time (as I wrote about this summer for Christianity Today in an essay that has garnered many responses and taken on a life of its own). I’ve got three kids who aren’t that enthusiastic. I’m often tempted to make Sunday morning the one day that I don’t have to don my drill sergeant hat to get everyone fed, dressed, and out the door on time. Hearing the “thump” as the Sunday New York Times hits my front walk makes my heart rate quicken; I’d honestly rather spend a few hours with the paper and multiple cups of coffee than go to church.

But most weeks, I forego my preferences and head to church because I need what it offers. And what it offers—what I’m seeking—is not cute stories or pats on the back. I do enjoy a good joke in a sermon. My dad is an expert sermon joke-teller; he puts the congregation at ease and makes us more receptive to the substantive message, which is always simple but vital.

That simple, vital message is what I go to church for. As someone who lives daily with pain and disability, I want to hear about the One who heals. As someone struggling to be a good mother in a culture that stands ready to judge my every parenting decision harshly, I want to hear about the One who accepts me (and my less-than-perfect kids) unconditionally. As someone haunted by all that is wrong with the world (the floods, the jihads, the limbless soldiers, the rootless children), I want to hear about the One who will bring about a new heaven and a new earth—and about what part we play in that re-creation.

Not everyone goes to church for the reasons I do. I’ve worshipped alongside a number of “cultural Episcopalians,” who admit they don’t believe much in the resurrection and all that hoo-ha, but love the music, the ritual, the outreach projects. I’ll gladly worship with anyone who wants to worship, for whatever reason. But when the church’s mission and ministry are dictated more by programmatic needs than core Gospel values, then both clergy and parishioners will get burned out running all those programs without sufficient spiritual sustenance.

Our former church had a highly regarded music program. When I was on the vestry, I always commented on the size of the music budget compared with other areas (the Outreach Committee I chaired got something like $600 a year), and asked why we hired professional singers. People responded that paid singers provide a strong core for the choir, allowing them to sing more difficult works and do things they couldn’t with a volunteer-only choir. I argued that other ministries would likewise be able to do things they otherwise couldn’t if people were paid to be there on Sunday mornings (our chronically understaffed church school came to mind). Then people looked at me blankly and said, “But we don’t have the budget to pay people to teach Sunday school.” I would sigh heavily and resist the urge to lay my head down on the nice, cool tabletop and go to my Happy Place. The point was not that we should start paying church school teachers, but that our budget and programming reflect our values, and what does it say about our values when our budget caters more to those who come to church for the music than for those who come to church to teach their kids to follow Jesus?

A church needs programs; of course it does. If faith is to be something that undergirds our lives, rather than something that takes up a few hours on Sunday morning, then we need Christian education for all ages, and opportunities for mission and ministry. But it seems that congregational life is often focused more on sustaining programs than feeding spirits.

One result is that during the summer, when most programs are on hiatus, going to Sunday morning services feel like going to school when there is a substitute teacher. We’re all just biding our time and doing the bare minimum until we get back to business. The pews are nearly empty, the sermons from substitute preachers are of mixed quality, and we gulp down cups of lemonade before making an escape. Apparently, most of the congregation feels that, without church school, adult education, and rummage sale planning meetings, there’s no reason to come to church. There’s something wrong when the presence or absence of programs, and not the Gospel message, dictate church attendance.

Church programs, of course, are precisely the things that contribute to clergy (and parishioner) burnout—the planning, budgeting, staffing. How might pastors’ and parishioners’ experience of church change if we examined programs honestly to see how they support worship and the nurturing of a vibrant common life, and cut or altered them to better support those core values? I, for one, could live without adult discussion topics only tangentially related to faith (church architecture anyone?) and dreadful “coffee hours” that are really just holding pens for parents waiting for their kids to get out of church school. My kids get more out of children’s worship than they get from inconsistently staffed and attended church school classes. What if we focused more of our volunteer and programming energy on providing the most authentic, life-changing children’s worship experience possible, and less on begging people to teach church school?

One of the most vibrant, volunteer-driven ministries in my current church is a healing ministry. Every Sunday, all year long, two parishioners are available in the back of the church to offer hands-on healing prayers to anyone who asks. I plan to join this ministry once I’m beyond the young-child stage of motherhood, when we really need both parents on deck to handle emergency potty trips and ward off meltdowns in the pews. The healing ministry is directly related to the church’s core mission of sharing the Good News, and it shows. Although the healing team is always interested in new members, there are no pleas from the pulpit to please consider stepping up and helping out.

Most of the clergy reading this have probably thought much longer and harder than I have about the relationships among burnout, church programs, and vibrant spiritual lives. Maybe this essay will elicit only a “tell us something we don’t know” weariness. But I hope it also offers worn-out pastors some encouragement. I want clergy who are tired and discouraged to know that many of us sitting in your pews on Sunday mornings want to be both challenged and comforted by the Good News, much more than we want to listen to high-quality music, drink good coffee, or find cutting-edge entertainment for our kids. Some of us are as frustrated as you are with the feel-good, pick-and-choose, personal fulfillment focus of modern spirituality. Speak to us, because we’re listening.

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

Are the "new Carnegies" investing wisely?

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

By Marshall Scott

I have been intrigued by the commitment Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have made to give away at least 50% of their wealth to charitable purposes either before or at their deaths, and by their efforts (their successful efforts!) to get other folks in similar financial situations to do the same. As a student of history, I found myself thinking of them as “the new Carnegies,” after Andrew Carnegie, so much of whose money went to libraries.

Interested as I am, I had to notice when I saw last week a commentator on one of the financial channels questioning their efforts. While he had several questions about such philanthropic decisions, one stood out. If these folks really wanted to help folks, shouldn’t they invest in businesses, and so create jobs, instead of distributing it for philanthropy?

Now, another commentator had good answers for that, mostly about the number of job training programs support by charities. However, I think both of them missed a much more basic point. You see, I think the Carnegies both new and old aren’t interested in just “distributing.” They really are interested in investing – just not in the ways that the first commentator would recognize. They’re interested in investing, not for individuals, whether shareholders or employees. They’re interested in investing in commonwealth – in investing in “us and ours,” instead of “me and mine.”

Now, I don’t want to make saints out of sinners. On the one hand, I think I can trust Jesus to take care of that. On the other, I know that the scions of America’s Gilded Age commonly had mixed motives in their giving. Carnegie certainly understood how education had helped him, and so built libraries and a university. He also understood that an educated workforce was in the long term interest of industry. Mining companies and major landholders built churches for their workers. However they might have thought it would benefit their own souls, they were also quite clear that they were providing a social outlet and a source of support that would keep workers functional, if not necessarily happy.

I will admit that as an investment, philanthropy won’t maximize resources. First, such investment is chancy. Human beings are irregular, unpredictable, and there’s no guarantee they’ll use wisely the resources invested in them. And then these are long term investments. The value of a child’s education won’t be known literally for decades, nor reliably measurable in less than a lifetime. So, these aren’t the kind of investments that work neatly in a world focused on quarterly statements and predictable profit. They’re much more long term.

However, they still saw those efforts as investments that would benefit them and their companies precisely because they would benefit all, the whole community. That is, they had a clear sense that investing in the community was worthwhile. They saw there was something to be gained – gained financially, true, but not just financially – by investing in people. Whether we attribute it to higher moral ideals or to a simple sense of noblesse oblige, they had a sense that the future, including their own future, would be better for the commitment in people. (Full disclosure: as an Episcopal priest in the Church Pension Fund, I am directly a beneficiary of the Morgans and others who helped establish the Fund.)

The “new Carnegies” also seem to have that sense. For good and ill, the concept of noblesse oblige seems to have been lost as we’ve swung so extremely into our individualism. They have challenged this with their commitment not simply to give here and there, but for each to give at least half of his or her substance for the good of others.

In my lifetime I have seen that sense of commonwealth, that sense that we are all connected and that we all benefit when the community benefits, fade. I have attributed it in part to Lady Thatcher, when she said, “And you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbour” (a comment I think marks the beginning of the fall of Western Civilization). Among her contemporaries, including President Reagan, that became the great individualistic articulation. After all, it sounds like a clarion call to personal responsibility; and how could one meaningfully invest in society if society doesn’t exist?

Well, there’s certainly something to be said for personal responsibility. It works with the idolatry of “rugged individualism” that so pervades our social and political culture (a phrase that is truly is in itself a refutation of Lady Thatcher’s statement). On the other hand, we are all clear, or should be, that “rugged individualism” is not a Christian doctrine, nor as near as I can tell that of almost any other faith community. If to love neighbor as self is essential to the Christian faith (and indeed to all the Abrahamic faiths), we can neither claim nor affirm “rugged individualism.” Certainly, here at the Café I need not reiterate the Summary of the Law or the Baptismal Covenant or the many sayings of Jesus calling us to be responsible one for another.

Still, to the extent that they discuss society, many of those embracing “rugged individualism” challenge programs of charity and philanthropy, not as bad ideas in the abstract, but as impracticable; not as ungenerous, but as subject to waste and fraud. They have a point, and they are invariably happy to offer examples, some of which are even accurate. We appreciate that in our fallen state there will always be those who will take advantage, who will take money and benefits for which they aren’t actually qualified. And the critics have a point that, if we do want to act socially or communally, that fraud wastes our corporate resources, thus injuring all of us and each of us individually.

Well, yes, there is always potential for waste and fraud; and that does cause us some injury, some additional sacrifice. One the other hand, if we’re idolizing “rugged individualism” and personal responsibility regardless of circumstances, there is also waste. It is true that if we maximize how many people we might serve, we will certainly waste some money. However, if we maximize our control of the money, our control of what we pretend we give as gift, we waste people. If our control on resources is tight enough to prevent any mistakes or waste, people who might be served will fall through the cracks – or the chasms.

Now, I know these positions are themselves somewhat abstract. Money wasted also limits the number of folks we might serve; and service without some sort of personal participation, of personal responsibility, can leave some people habituated to dependency.

That said, these positions remain in my consideration of social and political decisions. Is it more acceptable to invest in people, to work as hard as we can to serve all who need, even if we end up wasting some money? Or is it more acceptable to invest in resources, to work as hard as we can to prevent waste and fraud, even if we end up with some people falling by the wayside? Well, I know where I come down; and, looking at the Gospels, I think I know where Jesus will come down, too.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Beatifying the wrong Newman?

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

By Adrian Worsfold

There is one of those junction points coming in my life. I am attending my last Anglican church, as I reaffirm my basic Unitarian connection, and I am resolved not to attend any others, at least not in terms of involvement.

I have often mixed with people in the process of what might be called deconversion. The Sea of Faith Network, based mainly in the UK and New Zealand, but also in the United States, peopled by those who have followed the writings of Don Cupitt and similar liberal-postmodernists (as opposed to conserving postmodernists, like the Radical Orthodox), is a grouping that spans various stages of deconversion from those who are highly questioning liberal Christians, to those hanging on with the fingertips to those who have decided they are religious humanists. Some people are straightforward humanists. Some continue in church attendance for religious as well as social reasons, some change denomination, some continue for social reasons and others give up.

Deconversion can happen to anyone. Like conversion, it can be instant or cover a long period. It can go in a straight line (let's say downwards) on a regular basis and it can have periods of recovery followed by loss again. It is a very intense religious reflective period. It is very often marked in relationship and contrast to an institution, but it can also lead to changing of institution. An evangelical or charismatic can become secular overnight; or someone may go through the equivalent of salami slicing. It often happens in theological college, leaving ministers with personal struggles in front of congregations and the employment of all sorts of strategies, including, in some cases, a lot of Anglo-Catholic holy smoke.

History is full of examples. Joseph Blanco White was a Roman Catholic priest who deconverted first to Anglicanism and then to Unitarianism. Harriet Martineau, sister of the towering Unitarian theologian James Martineau, became a secular writer.

Now Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Britain, and many would wish that he was not. He is soon going to beatify John Henry Newman. Some people will then pray 'through' John Henry Newman. In the spirit of deconversion I'd like instead to beatify Francis William Newman, although I will loyally keep to his stance of not praying through anyone.

We need to examine the life of the other significant Newman.

At school between 1812 and 1821 his senior classical master, Rev. Walter Mayers, the writings of Presbyterian author Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) and the Calvinist author Thomas Scott of Aston Sandford (1747-1821) led to his subjective sense of conversion in 1819; and in 1821 F. W. Newman was confirmed in the Church of England by William Howley, Bishop of London. Prior to matriculation he shared accommodation with brother John Henry at Seale's Coffee House, Oxford. So here were two evangelicals.

Francis William's first miracle was to be a polymath at a time of the increasing specialisation of intellectual disciplines. This was so especially regarding history and mathematics, never mind theology, and we should add economics and languages. However, his early need was to evangelise abroad, and he dropped his university work. He went in September from Dublin in 1830 on a missionary trip to Persia with six others, some of whom died, and he nearly did, in a largely futile effort to penetrate resistant religious cultures. He was back in 1833 to get a second rejection from his intended wife (who ended up as a Roman Catholic nun).

It was in that year that Newman first met a Unitarian at any depth during his new job as Classics Tutor at Bristol College. This was the son of Dr. Lant Carpenter. In 1835 he read Moses Stuart's Letters on the Divinity of Christ (1819) and thus John Henry Newman was writing that his brother had now become a Socinian, although on July 7 1836 Francis William took immersion as a Baptist in Broadmead Chapel, Bristol. On December 22 he married Maria Kennaway.

Most significantly, however, in 1840 Newman was appointed Professor of Classics at Manchester New College, where he met Unitarians James Martineau and John James Taylor. In 1845 he was writing for The Prospective Review, edited by James Martineau, J. J. Taylor, and Charles Wicksteed. He wrote a theodicy and then twenty articles mainly on the Old Testament, also in 1845, in A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, edited by John Kitto. He was developing his views to be seen in his arguably main work, History of the Hebrew Monarchy, published in 1847 anonymously to spare the feelings of his wife. When in July 1846 Newman was appointed Professor of Latin at University College, London, one student was, again, James Martineau. In 1848 his The Soul: Her Sorrows and Her Aspirations was of original thinking and a quick seller. Later in March 1850 came his more radical still, and arguably subjective, Phases of Faith; or, Passages from the History of My Creed. In the spring of 1850 a new friend Thomas Scott of Ramsgate was hosting Sunday evening lectures in London for free-speaking on religious subjects. Newman attended these and thus met important radical religious thinkers.

So the second miracle is that in the context of being able to change his mind, he produced new and original thinking.

In 1852 Henry Rogers, writing anonymously, attacked Newman's religious views as in his The Soul: Her Sorrows and Her Aspirations. Evangelical and conservative Christian reviews regarded The Eclipse of Faith; or, A Visit to a Religious Sceptic as their killer critique of the likes of types like F W Newman in England and Theodore Parker in America and this achieved six editions in two years. So next year, urged by friends, Newman responded with a second edition of Phases of Faith, with a response to The Eclipse of Faith and added more detail to criticise the notion of moral perfection in Jesus of Nazareth. The year after that Henry Rogers replied again with A Defence of the Eclipse of Faith so that Newman became regarded by many as someone alongside the anti-Christ.

In 1858 Newman published Theism, Doctrinal and Practical; or Didactic Religious Utterances and, in the Westminster Review, 'The Religious Weakness of Protestantism.' A year on came a largely sympathetic review about the liberal Anglican Benjamin Jowett's Epistles of St. Paul, with some focus by Newman on the intellectual difficulties and ethics of such Anglican clergy. A sixth edition of Phases of Faith changed his Reply to The Eclipse of Faith into a larger Reply to A Defence of the Eclipse of Faith. He commented in 1863 on another shaker of liberal Anglicanism, Bishop Colenso's Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined (1862): 'The Reformation Arrested' and 'The Future of the National Church.'

He was still quite sympathetic to such Anglicans, but was already clearly moving on, so that on April 24 1864 he went to South-Place Chapel, a Unitarian setting itself becoming ever more secular, and in response to the new historical-liberal effort of Frances Power Cobbe, in Broken Lights, raising Jesus to an heroic status, Newman wrote A Discourse Against Hero-Making in Religion.

Like other Unitarians he was already fiercely anti-slavery, and much of his political writing was towards emancipation. Late in his life, in 1889, he assembled his anti-slavery essays, from between 1863 and 1879, and published them as Anglo-Saxon Abolition of Negro Slavery. He was active for women's suffrage. He was also anti-alcohol and later started lecturing for vegetarianism, eventually becoming President of the Vegetarian Society between 1883 and 1885.

In April 1867 he was able to write a letter to The Radical, which was published as 'Why Do I Not Call Myself a Christian?' His ecclesiology, however, was similar to the broad comprehension of Martineau, so that In response to James Martineau's advocacy of a 'Free Christian' loose amalgam of Churches as yet one, in 1868 Newman proposed Thoughts on a Free and Comprehensive Christianity, as published by Thomas Scott.

From 1869 to 1883 he was a vice-president of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, after which he was elected president. He publically affirmed his support for the B&FUA at its anniversary in 1875 after he preached 'Sin against God'. In 1870 he was seen as the person to moderate a debate in Bristol between Rev. A. J. Harrison for theism and Charles Bradlaugh for atheism, soon himself next year to deliver a lecture there On the Causes of Atheism.

Newman did have a connection with the United States. Between 1871 and 1875 he wrote twenty articles for The Index, a new weekly paper for the advancement of free religion and secularism, edited by Francis Ellingwood Abbott, at that time a Unitarian minister in Toledo, Ohio. The first article was 'The True Temptation of Jesus.'

His position was constantly broadening so that in 1874 he revised his Theism of 1858, becoming Hebrew Theism: The Common Basis of Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedism. He was later to consider that this portrayed a far too optimistic position on immortality.

Despite his affirmation of a purer theism, he continued to be friendly towards Christianity as such, and affirmed all theists, and this was why he discontinued support for The Index, once F. E. Abbot had indicated some hostility to the Christian religion. Charles Voysey, minister of the Theistic Church, was editor of The Langham Magazine, and Newman sent him three articles in 1876. He invited Newman to give a sermon on April 13 1879, which was called 'Religious Mischiefs of Credulity' and given to the Theists' meeting at Langham Hall, London. He would later once occupy his pulpit. Religion, not History, was published in 1877 and he produced Morning Prayers in the Household of a Believer in God a year on. In 1881 came a pamphlet What Is Christianity without Christ? In 1892 Secret Hymns was a clever title for hymns revised so that theists could sing them.

So another miracle is his vast, continuing and rapid output of texts.

After a mild stroke in 1881 and following a number of family deaths (his wife in 1876, so he married her best friend and maid in 1878; his sister Jemima Charlotte in 1879; brother Charles in 1884) he started to consider his life's work; his Miscellanies (unpublished and published pieces) actually started coming out in 1869, but the second in 1887: there were to be five volumes and many were revised; he published Christianity in Its Cradle in 1884 (the year that bored by rote Latin learners could begin to read his Robinson Crusoe Latin translation) and it was much enlarged two years later. He also had published Life after Death? Palinodia, to modify the earlier impression for immortality. John Henry died in 1890, and Francis William showed sensititivity by staying away from the funeral, but the next year came his popular Contributions to the Early History of the Late Cardinal Newman, regarded by some as rather cold and hardly that of a brother. He kept busy: in 1893 The Gospel of Paul of Tarsus, and of His Opponent, James the Just, from Our Current New Testament came out, and he started its revision, called Christianity before and after Paul of Tarsus, with the Tales Accepted as Sacred in the Anglican Church, 1894. A year after that came the even more longer titled Hebrew Jesus: His True Creed; from Canonical Texts of the Anglicans, before Paul of Tarsus Was a Christian, with the Cardinal Prayer of Jesus as Our Sole Sufficient Creed.

Two years on, in 1897, he fell down his stairs, was bedridden and died.

Of course in proposing miracles towards his beatification, none of them are unique or reality-bending, because we of this stream do not pretend to believe in reality-bending miracles. Nevertheless, deconversion must be a miracle, because before it happens believers are insistent about their certainty of belief, the ground on which they stand. Either suddenly it has gone, or they realise it is going, and their personal story changes. They give up supernatural beliefs as being profoundly unreal to them and to everyone else in favour of the research demands of history, social science and science. God, if the term retains meaning, ceases to be a large ear that intervenes, and becomes instead what transcends

What strikes modern eyes is just how biblically drenched in language these nineteenth century intellectuals were as a baseline, from which they made the different categories from evangelical to pure theist (with the Catholic as those absorbed in that tradition). I often think they would be aghast at our relative biblical ignorance, even among some clergy, and would be surprised at our basic secular assumptions about every day life and causality, even among believers. Also evident is the inescapable shadow, in England, of the State Church, which he included in his last titles as a kind of institutional given for beliefs about Paul (as opposed to what Paul may have thought about himself).

It is often forgotten that Baptists maintained a General Baptist ethos as well as a Particular Baptist ethos more prevalent today. He was clearly liberalising as he was immersed, but his position was to become attached to the changing B&FUA as an identity of radicalness as he went towards pure theism.

We find that strange today too. Because of a basic secular knowledge and reasoning, today believers tend to be more human drama centred and so perhaps more Jesucentric regarding a tragic, heroic and curiously victorious figure, with less stress on the theistic. The nineteenth century discovery of the problems of history and the critique of the biblical text led to a reduction of the status of Jesus and towards more religious theism, 'Christ' when used started to become a general and cosmic ideal as Jesus was dropped in significance. The issue in the 1950s and 1960s was the problem of God, but the issue before had been Jesus and the Bible. I noticed this difference myself, after having encountered John Robinson's Honest to God (1962) and yet found in the 1980s a different debate within the long-made changes in Unitarianism.

There is no obvious baseline destination for a deconversion, and indeed it is wrong to think of it as happning more or less (as deconversion does, unfortunately, imply: the term is more about a process). There is, rather, a struggle with finding an appropriate language to best represent the subjective or postmodern religious sentiment one wants then to express, assuming a maintenance of a religious or spiritual sense. For some, a basic religious humanism is best, whereas a number will want a Western Buddhist programme, for others a Jesucentric tragic-heroism will help, for others still a simple theism makes sense, for a few a kind of spirit of common life-force in religions, philosophies and nature is their new perspective, and different folks find a rediscovery of Pagan earthly reference points for a new spirituality.

Against this, the inner political struggles of Anglicanism appear to be archaic, all focused on the contradictions of hierarchy, of being either in or out, whether at the international scene (in or out of an intended Covenant) or in a church hierarchy on the ground. That contradiction of in or out is at the heart of the American Church (a curious combination of democracy and purple hierarchy) regarding the broader Communion, identified as being 'out' by some other Anglican Churches.

It is archaic because when you deconvert, the only answer can be liberal and democratic, that is a basic freedom to organise your own beliefs, and a democratic formation of the church that helps you do something about them. In the end, such a position excludes Anglicanism as a whole, because it embeds hierarchy, as well as rejecting its core ultimately supernatural beliefs.

Still, I recommend Francis William Newman as a Saint for Deconverts, even among Anglicans, but especially for Unitarians, as a different approach to dogma from that of his brother, for giving up dogmas and unrealities and acquiring a freshness of thought and cooler spirituality.

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

Are human beings outsiders on this earth?

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

By Sam Candler

I spend as much of each summer as possible on a deep, cold lake in northern Ontario. The true natives of the province call it the “Near North,” since it is not definitively the region known as Northern Ontario, which stretches much, much further up from our little lake. It is simply above the southern, urban regions, and it is above “cottage country.”

Still, it is north enough for a Southerner like me; and it is primitive enough, too. Our cabins or cottages are not insulated; they are simple structures built of varying degrees of aged and weathered pine. We have electricity now, and even some telephones, but I remember summers when most of us did not. The water in our pipes is not drinkable, since it is pumped up from the lake where we swim and motor our boats. The diehards among us still bathe daily in that cold, black lake, no matter the weather: rainy, cold, still, sunny, or windy (and, in fact, it can be quite hot and sunny).

I meet all kinds of people here, from the local villagers who are steady and sincere to summer residents from all over the continent who cover the spectrum of sophistication. Most of us agree that sophistication does not cut it up here, even if we are very good at sophistication in our various roles during the rest of the year.

We are here because life is simple and direct here. Daily needs are clear and straightforward. We need food, water, and a little bit of electrical or gasoline energy (the young water skiers here need much more gasoline energy). We need to tend responsibly to garbage and waste. Our pieces of ground are called “camps.” We need to keep clear of varmints and nuisance animals – from mice and raccoons to porcupines and bears—animals to whom I easily concede ownership of our little cabin. Being here, at most, only two months of every year, we cannot claim ownership; our little place actually belongs to the mice and creatures who live here six times as long as we do! Each summer, we gently re-stake our claim.

In short, I am an outsider here. Maybe that is why I return each summer. I realize again how small I really am compared to the grandeur of this country and this water and this rock and these gloriously green forests. Rock and water and trees.

Last week, I was privileged to meet Joseph Boyden, an author known especially for his first novel, Three Day Road. His family, a First Nations family, is truly from Northern Ontario, where his Cree and Ojibway ancestors trapped and lived simply on the land. Now, Boyden actually lives part of the year in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches.

Three Day Road is a work of fiction, set in World War One, where at least one Canadian First Nations soldier was historically known for amazing sharpshooting. The novel is terse and severe, much like life in these dark woods, but also because it is a novel about war and about hard relationships. There is a beautiful and severe relationship between two brothers. There is a wary relationship between Canadians and others during the war. There is the always tense relationship between First Nations people and the wemistikoshiw, the white man (wemistikoshiw means the white underside of a fish).

My time in this country teaches me the humility of being an outsider. And, during our conversation last week, Boyden mentioned another humble feature of humanity’s relationship with the world. This feature seems to be well acknowledged in First Nations lore, but many of us in more developed, industrial cultures have never realized it. Joseph Boyden, himself a Metis (mixed-blood Indian) said that, “among all the animals in the world, human beings are the only species which no other species needs.”

“Human beings are the only species in the world which no other species actually needs.” That is to say, the bear needs the fish, the fish need smaller fish, the beaver need the foliage, etc., etc. But no other species actually needs human beings for their existence.

That makes all of us humans, it seems to me, rather like outsiders on this planet. Do any other species on God’s earth actually need us in order to survive? (Outside of our domesticated pets?) It is even more sobering to acknowledge that humankind has the capacity to change the earth’s environment to the detriment of our earth animal neighbors. (We share that characteristic, by the way, with beavers, another great Ontario denizen.)

Wendell Berry once captured this situation with an exquisite title to one of his books: What Are People For? That is to say, what values are we meant to provide on the earth? What do we add? What do other species need us for?

The near north area of Ontario –and any area out in the wild—teaches us, then, the challenge of how we might actually add something to God’s creation. If we are not being the actual food for some of our earthly neighbors, maybe we are meant to provide something like true stewardship. Maybe Genesis 1:26-28 really means that we are to provide, not dominion over the earth in a rowdy, tyrannical, irresponsible way, but, rather, true stewardship and tender care of the earth. Maybe the earth itself really needs our husbandry in a conserving way, not in a consuming, self-rewarding way. Eugene Peterson, in The Message (2002), translates Genesis 1:28 as “Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

I am wary of the human tendency toward arrogance, and I realize that even believing that we are “responsible” carries with it a temptation toward arrogance and hubris. But the ability to be responsible, the ability to see a larger picture and extended time frame, may indeed be a distinctively human contribution to God’s created world. If so, responsibility always needs humility.

Surely our souls need humility. Maybe each of us needs a regular experience of being an outsider, maybe a stranger, in a place whose grandeur and wildness highlights our smallness. That humility might teach us another degree of true stewardship for God’s earth and for God’s people.

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

Cheap morality in the Prop 8 debate

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

By Richard E. Helmer

Thousands of articles and commentaries have been written this week on the Federal Court’s ruling to strike down Proposition 8 in California. While not a legal scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I enjoyed reading the full length of the decision and its comprehensive treatment of the questions that reside at the heart of one of our era’s most pressing civil rights struggles. But what stuck most in my heart and mind in Chief U. S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision, and in the furor of commentary that has erupted since, is the use of the word “morality.” In his decision, morality was largely classified in terms of privacy and religion.

Likewise, on the other side, concerns are expressed by supporters of Proposition 8 that their morality around marriage is increasingly marginalized from the public, secular arena of debate. Morality on both sides is clearly viewed as somehow sacred. On one side, its religious sanctity leaves it beyond the realm of legal consideration. On the other, its sanctity must be protected and even enforced upon others in wider society. But there is a dichotomy about morality created in this debate that to me is artificial, and perhaps even dangerous to our understanding of morality and how it ought to be evaluated and applied both for us as people of faith, and in the wider society.

The past few days have seen cries of further moral decay evidenced by this decision, that “Christian” values are somehow disappearing from American society, and Judge Walker’s decision is only the most recent, glaring example of secularism’s whole-hearted attack on good old-fashioned religious principles. There are deep-seated fears that the morality of our ancestors is somehow being trampled underfoot by an increasingly secular world of “activist judges” and “amoral legislatures.”

But morality in the Judeo-Christian tradition means more than just sticking to longstanding traditions and principles. It’s a testable enterprise in real living, and as people of faith, we are called to ask that it be accountable to reason, experience, and fairness. A few weeks ago, we read about Abraham in dialogue with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-32). Ironically, these two cities are all too often epitomized as the primordial examples of sexual decadence; but their real crimes, as witnessed by references made to them by the prophets and even Jesus Christ in Scripture, were wanton violence and inhospitality towards the stranger – in contrast, for instance, to Abraham’s gracious hospitality to the wayfarer. But more to the point on the question of morality, Abraham deigns to ask if God will spare the two cities from divine wrath if even a few righteous inhabitants are found within them. Will he condemn the righteous with the unrighteous? In a memorable conversation that still provokes chuckles when read to this day, God patiently answers Abraham each time as our spiritual ancestor whittles the numbers of the hypothetical righteous down to a mere handful. Abraham insists that God’s morality be just, be reasonable, be fair in his eyes. And God accepts and even agrees with Abraham’s pleading. This kind of divine morality from the very heart of the Judeo-Christian record is not capricious or arbitrary, but accessible to human understanding, and it yields to our honest, faithful questioning. Even the morality of divine actions must be ultimately comprehensible to our human experience, as limited as we all are. This is one of the messages of the grace we have received.

American culture likes to paint the religious and secular spheres as enemies. Leaders of the Roman Catholic and Mormon Churches who led the expensive and often cynical charge to pass Proposition 8 in California seem to readily fall in line with this thinking as well. But the real test for them is not whether religion should be argued in the secular sphere, but whether or not their understanding of morality can be viewed as reasonable and rooted in reality by outsiders, by the strangers to their faith.

Jesus’ moral arguments in the gospels are squarely rooted in reality. He offers parables to address life’s difficult questions in practical terms. He talks about the spread of the Gospel and its values using language of farming: sowing, plowing, harvesting. When asked about the lawful morality of paying taxes to the Emperor, he holds up the visage of a Roman coin. When he talks about marriage, it is because authorities have brought before him a practical question about the lawfulness of divorce in a society where single women are vulnerable to harsh realities like economic destitution and prostitution. When Jesus teaches generosity, it is as antidote to a consumptive life of grasping scarcity. When Jesus teaches the hard work of love – even loving one’s enemies – it is as balm to the destructive hatreds and divisions that are common to all our human experience. He criticizes the private, self-righteous morality and condemnatory moralizing of the Pharisees. His morality is public, practically applicable, and life-giving. These are not mere divine fiats, arbitrary moral codes issued by a distant God through his inaccessibly perfect Son. They are made relevant to the listener by a God who has come among us as one of us. They can be argued. They can be demonstrated in human, tangible, relational terms.

Moreover, the fact that people from beyond Jesus’ own Jewish tradition, from Samaritans to Romans to Canaanites, respond positively to his teaching speaks for itself. If Christian morality is to be truly argued successfully in contemporary American society, if it is to survive the marketplace of ideas, it must be salient to the experience of everyday people, even to the experience of those outside of Christian community. The saddest thing of all, from this Christian’s standpoint at least, is that much of the talk of “Christian” morality to defend destructive legal bias against same-sex couples is made up largely of self-referential tautologies. Put another way, Christian moralizing in a rational vacuum is nonsense, and there’s too much of that going around these days.

The really hard edge for Proposition 8 supporters and all committed opponents of same-sex marriage on Christian principle is the growing experience of facts on the ground, of real life. Covenanted same-sex couples are increasingly visible in just about every segment of American society. Overwhelming first-hand and empirical evidence is that these relationships can be just as healthy and life-giving as mixed-sex marriages. Some of these couples are raising happy, well-adjusted children to adulthood. Their households contribute to the well-being of the greater fabric of our communities. In The Episcopal Church, we can demonstrate how their families and ministries are contributing to the well-being of our parishes and dioceses and to the witness of the Gospel in the wider community. It is at first somehow strange that Judge Walker cited similar arguments to merit a legal case. Although I agree with him, I think these arguments also make the best moral case, in a Christian sense. Christian morality is public in the end, after all, not private. We measure this morality by its public, relational effects, not by how it measures up to proof-texts.

True morality subsumes the religious and secular spheres, for is not God ultimately in charge of both? The real problem for Proposition 8 supporters is that an enforced arbitrary definition of marriage (being allowable only between a man and a woman), while clearly rooted in the habits of Christian history and tradition, is a sort of morality that increasingly appears to be not only woefully lacking in its basic reasoning but clearly destructive to the fundamental human dignity of some of our brothers and sisters. This kind of morality is not sacred. It is rather, in one word, cheap. And the fact that this cheap morality is, under close examination, being rejected by secular courts as legally binding is not a sign of moral decay in our wider culture, but a sign of health and justice spreading in our midst – the goal of any truly sound Christian morality.
Thanks be to God.

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

Why NPR's Story Corps makes me cry

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

By Donald Schell

Listening to NPR’s Story Corps makes me cry. No, the stories don’t always make me cry, but yes, because of those tears rather than despite them, I look forward to hearing Story Corps on Friday mornings.

Even when the couple of minutes of ordinary people telling their stories doesn’t make me cry, what they tell and how they tell it will often stay with me long after the broadcast has ended. And even when the two people’s storytelling conversation falls flat for me, I’ll still find myself thinking about them and their story throughout the day.

Story Corps' editors appear to be doing more than just listening to ordinary peoples’ stories. Somehow in their couple of minutes offering week by week, the editorial team asks us to discern how these stories matter matter. The stories don’t just invite us to hear and think about events, they draw us into feeling and sensing of well. I wonder if feeling and sense are neglected parts of how people, stories and events matter.

NPR obviously isn’t promoting religion or religious practice, but something I find listening to these stories feels reminiscent of praying.

Frequently their stories are of love, friendship, and compassion – Below are just a few examples of the many emotional and powerful stories that appear on Story Corps:

"How come I didn't scare you?”
Hilda Chacón and her husband, Pedro Morán-Palma, remember when they first met twenty years ago.

“When did you and Dad decide to adopt?”
Scott Miller talks to his mother, Jackie, about her decision to adopt him.

“I saw this guy with a head of black hair and white, white, teeth...”
Joan DeLevie (R) tells her daughter, Sharon (L), how she met her husband, Ari at a party in 1959.

Sharon DeLevie also interviewed her dad, Ari, about being the primary caregiver for her mother.

“Before they would see a doctor, the families in the community would come to see her.”
Graciela Kavulla tells her husband, Timothy, about her grandmother, who was a midwife.

“I was sick; I had no job; I was lonely—and then Felix called me.”
Rob Sanchez (R) and his friend Felix Aponte (L), who both served time at Sing Sing Penitentiary, talk about Rob's diagnosis with an aggressive form of kidney disease.

Immigrant single mom finding love, a husband caring for his wife with Stage IV lung cancer, a gay adoptee, an illiterate midwife that community counts on, ex-cons bound in a friendship. The stories have the broad texture of life and are full of heart. But there’s more to how these move me than sentiment and my (admittedly) being a sucker for heartwarming stories. There are tough ones too, like this –

“We'd known death but not like this.”
Hector Black remembers the murder of his daughter, Patricia Nuckles, by an intruder in her home.

“I can't even begin to tell you the misery of rain.”
George Hill remembers being homeless. Hill has been off the streets for 10 years.

I’m noticing how much some of these Story Corps’ personal vignettes are like Jesus’ parables. The stories create a mosaic proclaiming the work of God in all kinds of human lives, all without the declared or even hidden presence of church or religion.

Like Jesus’ parables, these stories are of ordinary people finding their way through life – sometimes they reflect on the big occasions and crises, but often center on the most ordinary events. Like Jesus’ parables, these stories are emphatically not religious stories, nor are they vignettes of distinctly doctrinal spiritual discovery. They are, however, stories of love, of forgiveness, of generosity, of faithfulness, of humor, of kindness, of change of heart, everyday markers of. . .
- the Spirit that blows where it will
- God’s work in every human life.

My work gives me the privilege of seeing and experiencing congregations and church leaders who act boldly for mission, who care deeply about Christian spiritual formation, whose life and work shine with Hope. Again and again, I find myself grateful for seeing how unrelentingly God pursues us and how eagerly God joins God’s self to accomplish holy work.

I also hear and consult with discouraged clergy and congregations suffering devastating decline or bitter conflicts over disagreements that may be hard to define or strangely disconnected from the everyday work of God. And among clergy in their late 50’s and in their 60’s, I hear many asking if the church is dying, many wondering whether their work in ministry was just a waste.
In these dark, broken-hearted wonderings, I’m grateful to recall Gregory of Nyssa’s bold declaration that it’s all of humankind together that bears the Image of God. The Church can’t contain God’s work. Even if we fail utterly, even when the church voice our society hears is repressive, condemning and the opposite of Good News, God continues to work among and with all humanity.

When I read statistics of the rapid, generation-long decline of the kind of Christianity that proclaims anything we’d hear as good news, sometimes I find courage and hope in the innovative work of a surprisingly brave and open-hearted generation of younger church leaders who keep showing up almost despite our efforts to hold tightly to the church and keep it for ourselves. But are there enough of them? Will our children or our children’s children have faith?

Story Corps takes me to an unexpected place to answer that - the utter ordinariness of the people in Jesus’ parables: their fallibility, their lack of religious standing, their faith with no institutional trappings or sanction at all. Jesus’ voice speaking those parables blesses Story Corps vignettes, declaring, often beyond the reach of church where the Spirit (the mighty wind blowing where she will) is at work. With no evident religious intent, the stories proclaim God’s prodigal showering of blessing on all (‘the just and unjust alike’), redemption and hope breaking in heart-by-heart and touch-by-touch.

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

Jesus throws me out

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

By Adam Thomas

On a certain Saturday in late July of 2006, I found myself sitting in the pastoral care office of Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, waiting for a ten-year-old boy to die. I had sat with his mother by his bedside earlier in the day. We had cried the Rosary together. We had held hands and gazed upon the face of the little boy. When his mother asked for some private time with her son, I returned to the office and waited for the pager to ring. And as I waited, I jotted down the first verse of a song that took me the next three years to write. The words of John 10 echoed in my mind as I wrote the lyrics because for weeks I had been telling the Godly Play story of the Good Shepherd with children on my floor of the hospital.

Almost four years to the day, I sit at my computer. None of the urgency or the heartbreak of that day remains, and I am aware of the complacency that has crept in over the years. And once again, the words of John 10 return to my mind: Jesus is the good shepherd who calls his sheep by voice. They hear their names and he leads them out of the sheepfold. But a closer look shows that Jesus doesn’t necessarily lead them out (as many English translations say). Rather, he throws them out of the sheepfold. Here’s what I mean.

Jesus begins his discussion with something as close to a parable as the Gospel according to John gets. In the other accounts of the Gospel, Jesus often speaks in parables, but not in John. Instead, Jesus himself is the parable of God — the way God is made known in the world (John 1:18). Here in chapter 10, Jesus speaks in a “figure of speech” about shepherding and sheep and wolves and bandits. Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name and “leads them out” (NRSV). The word for “lead out” is one of my favorite Greek words: ekballo. This is a fairly prevalent verb in the Gospel according to John and in the other accounts, as well. In the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), when Jesus casts out demons, he ekballo-s them. In John 2, when Jesus drives out the moneychangers and animal sellers from the temple, he ekballo-s them. The man born blind is ekballo-ed from the synagogue at the end of chapter 9. And finally, in chapter 12, Jesus mentions that the “ruler of this world” will be ekballo-ed from it.

In each of these cases, the connotation of ekballo is to drive out or cast out or throw out. But in John 10, according to, say, the NRSV, the shepherd calls his sheep by name and “leads them out.” While Greek words definitely have ranges of meaning, I suggest that we should translate the instance of the word ekballo in chapter 10 not as “lead out,” but as “throw out.” Here’s why.

The first character Jesus introduces in chapter 10 is a thief and a bandit. This person climbs into the sheepfold rather than entering through the gate. The thief comes only to “steal and kill and destroy.” Furthermore, outside the sheepfold there are wolves waiting to snatch up the sheep and scatter them. Hired hands are no help because they run away when they see the wolves coming. With thieves, bandits, and wolves roaming outside the sheepfold, leaving the fold can be frightening and dangerous.

In contrast, the sheepfold is safe and secure — shepherds bring their flocks to these enclosures at night for safety. But the sheep can’t live their whole lives in the sheepfold, no matter how safe and secure they may feel. They must go out into the world beyond the gate to graze for food (which, as far as I can tell, is all sheep do). So the shepherd ekballo-s them. The shepherd throws the sheep out of the fold so they can eat and drink and run.

The sheepfold is a safe place, but everything outside the sheepfold is dangerous. Who would not want to stay in the fold? Being led out into the world can feel like being thrown out. What is my fold? What do I use to shelter myself from the world? Where do I feel comfortable to the point of intransigence? The answer to these questions is the thing from which Jesus throws me out.

Contemporary sheepfolds come in all shapes, sizes, and disguises. Perhaps my family is my sheepfold, or my work, or, yes, even my church. For me, my complacency is the fold from which Jesus constantly throws me. The fold of complacency is slippery and amorphous because it has no walls, no group of people with whom to identify, no action of its own. And complacency leads to complicity with all the bad things in the world. I am so entrenched in my complacency that Jesus has to throw me out of it. It is the demon in me that Jesus casts out, the ruler of my world that Jesus drives out.

And he throws me out of this fold with one simple word: my name. Jesus calls me by name and I hear his voice and I know that I have been in the fold too long. By calling my name, Jesus brings me into an intimate relationship with him. (Remember in middle school when you found out your crush actually knew your name? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?) By calling my name, Jesus tells me he knows me, knows that I struggle with complacency, knows that I need a swift kick in the trousers (a new translation of ekballo, perhaps?) to prompt me to act in the world on his behalf.

When I listen for Jesus calling my name, I feel his hands continually throwing me out of the fold of complacency. When I hear Jesus calling my name, I know that he has given me life and given it abundantly. This abundance of life is made possible by the intimate relationship Jesus has founded with me by knowing my name. When I venture out of my sheepfold into the frightening, dangerous world, I know that Jesus, my shepherd, is guiding me with his voice. And I know that he will continue to throw me out of the comfortable folds I find myself in so I can, with his help, continue to do God’s work in the world.

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 wherethewind.com.

Praying "Abba, father"

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

By Bill Carroll

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
(Luke 11:1-13)

Lord, teach us to pray.

When his disciples ask him this, Jesus responds with a prayer we pray every day. The Our Father is deceptively simple. To pray it rightly plunges us into a world of grace—into the heart of Jesus’ own relationship with the one he called “Abba, Father.” How often, though, these words become rote recitation, rather than a mind-blowing revelation of God.

Familiarity is not the only obstacle to overcome. Feminist scholars have rightly put into question a one-sidedly masculine image of God. We need a broader spectrum of images, including feminine ones. Good examples are given in the Scriptures. But we ought not to lose sight of what “Abba, Father” meant to Jesus or underestimate the significance of the prayer he taught us.

For Jesus, the Father is the source of all goodness, the giver of our daily bread, and the wellspring of forgiveness and mercy. He has nothing to do with the God of patriarchal religion. Bathed in glory, he is powerful and generous beyond measure. Without reservation, he gives of himself to others, bringing them into being, holding them in life, and blessing them with more gifts than they could ever receive. The Father of Jesus has nothing to do with violence or domination of any kind.

Jesus goes on to teach us about persisting in prayer and boldly asking for what we need: Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Prayer isn’t magic. No special words can coerce God to give us what we want. Petitionary prayer is instead an appeal to the generous Source of life and light, who is always, already at work and knows our needs before we ask. Prayer involves aligning ourselves with the hidden Wisdom at work throughout the universe. When we pray, we take sides with God’s love, God’s will, God’s Kingdom. Prayer involves a fundamental breakthrough in our relationship with God. In it, we join in Christ’s own prayer to the Father. Empty handed, we approach the mercy seat. We who have given ourselves to other masters come before God in all our poverty and weakness. And though we deserve nothing, God is never, ever stingy with us.

Martin Luther used to speak about our tendency to whittle God down, to create a small god, with whom we could trade for favors. Somehow it seems easier to have a god with whom we can enter a quid pro quo. Perhaps we think we could oblige him to hear us: if only we were holy enough, if only we said the right words in the right way or could somehow earn his affection. The problem with such a god is that we can never do enough to please him. He is made in the image of fallen humanity, and we are not generous. We are shot through with unforgiveness and resentment—even malice. And, if for a while we seem able to appease this god and live with a clean conscience, we are well on our way to despair.

But the Living God is not like that. We come to this God empty-handed, or we do not come at all. By free grace, God renews us in God’s own image and likeness. God reestablishes us in our created goodness and restores our capacity to love—without the lies and duplicity and half-hearted evasions that mar our best attempts at being human.

A while ago, I shared with you a bit from Thomas Merton’s teaching on humility and spiritual poverty. Today, in light of our Gospel reading, I would like to explore his retelling of the myth of Prometheus, found in the collection of essays called Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1964). Prometheus, you will recall, stole fire from the gods and was severely punished. Zeus chained him to a rock, and he had his liver torn out each day by vultures.

Merton contrasts Hesiod’s version of the story, which glories in the rebel punished and the Olympian order restored, with that of Aeschylus, with its far more complex portrait of a Zeus infected with hubris. (To these, we might add Shelly’s version, with its Romantic celebration of humanity in rebellion.)

For Merton, the fundamental sin of Prometheus is neither theft nor rebellion but idolatry. And Merton’s analysis of idolatry has much in common with Luther’s. Prometheus rebels, because he has placed his heart’s trust in something less than God. Here is what Merton says:

The small gods men have made for themselves are jealous fathers, only a little greater than their sons, only a little stronger, only a little wiser. Immortal fathers, afraid of their mortal children, they are unjustly protected by a too fortunate immortality. To fight with them requires at once heroism and despair. The man who does not know the living God is condemned, by his own gods, to this despair: because, knowing that he has made his own gods, he cannot help hoping that he will be able to overthrow them.

And so, according to Merton, we ought not to trust in the Olympian gods, or the other idols we manufacture for ourselves, because an inadequate object of trust leads inevitably to despair. These “household gods”—these “fire-hoarders”—use and abuse us as they squabble among themselves. They are miserly rivals of humankind, keeping the things we need clutched tight and locked safely away.

Not so with the Living God. This God of abundant and amazing grace has willed to give us everything as a free gift. Again, listen to these words from Merton:

Christ who had in Himself all the riches of God and all the poverty of Prometheus, came down with the fire Prometheus needed, hidden in His heart. And He had himself put to death, next to the thief Prometheus in order to show him that in reality God cannot seek to keep anything good to Himself alone. Far from killing the man who seeks the divine fire, the living God will himself pass through death so that man may have what is destined for him.

Brothers and sisters, as we approach the altar, with empty hands and feeble hearts, may we remember that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. As we come to the climax of the Eucharistic Prayer, may we pray together as Jesus taught us—in simplicity, sincerity, and truth.

For when we pray “Abba, Father,” we are united as his brothers and sisters. We are caught up once more in his own dying and rising, as he renews the gift that is in us by Holy Baptism. For we are children of his Father, and he has passed through death, to fill us with his love.

Beloved, if we, who are evil, know how to give our children good gifts, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

Lord, teach us to pray.

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.

An open letter to Anne Rice

By Jane Redmont

The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the Body of Christ and that on this we are fed.
--Flannery O’Connor


Dear Anne Rice,

I heard you on NPR on Monday. I had already read about your highly publicized declaration that you had “quit being a Christian.”

I understand rage at the church’s injustices, external and internal. As the saying goes, if Jesus were still in his grave, he’d be turning over in it, seeing what we have made of him and his message.

The problem is, you can’t do the Jesus thing alone.

There are plenty of reasons for leaving the church, any church. Common life is messy. Institutions are messed up, and I am using polite language. It’s not just individuals who sin. There are, as Catholic social teaching and liberation theologies have noted, sinful structures and systems. Religious institutions can be even more disappointing than others because we expect them somehow to be better, untainted by the dirt of daily life; instead we find that they are, like all the rest, “seared with trade; bleared, smeared,” as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would say. Dorothee Soelle, the German Protestant theologian and activist, wrote a combination of poem and creed that spoke of her belief in Jesus and admitted:
every day I am afraid
that he died in vain
because he is buried in our churches

I’m not saying there are no good reasons for leaving the Catholic Church. I left it myself for the Episcopal Church nearly a decade ago, after a long discernment. I hope that I emigrated with some integrity along with my lifelong vocation to ordained ministry. I remain in affectionate contact with my former church home; I didn’t leave in a huff. On the other hand, many friends of mine did, and I empathized. I wept with them and felt their anger: lesbian and gay friends claiming the full humanity that is rightfully theirs, women called to ordained ministry, parents wanting to raise children in a tradition with less overt hierarchy and more freedom of inquiry, adults of all genders and sexual orientations wounded sexually, psychically, and sometimes spiritually.

I also have friends who stayed, members of warm, life-giving Catholic parishes, sustained by the rich prayer traditions of their church, by its sacramental life, by its work with the most poor among us and its social analysis of the causes of their poverty, by the church’s universality, its strong intellectual and theological traditions, and its diversity. They too include people of all genders and sexual orientations with good hearts, good heads on their shoulders, and a passion for justice.

I even have friends who converted to Catholicism, some recently, some long ago as I did in my early twenties after a humanist upbringing. In fact, there has been so much traffic in both directions that a couple of decades ago, when I wrote a book on Catholic women based on interviews around the U.S., I had to include a chapter called “Why They Leave and Why They Stay.”

I understand the commitment to Christ of which you spoke on your Facebook page, where you first told the world of your departure from the church. Those of us who have had our doubts and struggles (and any adult Christian who says she hasn’t is probably lying) know that even in the times of emptiness and discouragement and anger, there comes a moment when we throw up our hands and say, as a disciple did long ago, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The thing is, the only way any of us knows about Jesus and those words of life, the way that we know about Jesus’ actions, the way that we know about the life Jesus breathed into those whom he encountered and continues to encounter, is from Christian communities. They are the ones, first the eyewitnesses, then their descendants, who told and retold the story of Jesus’ suffering and sorrow, his death by torture, and his resurrection. They are the ones who carried his wisdom sayings in their hearts and forward into the generations. They are the ones who testified to the healings, the changed lives, the rising of hope. The reason we have the story and the memory and thus the presence of Christ is because of, well, the church. With the Holy Spirit, of course. But the Spirit had to work through those humans. Us. Christians. Christianity. In many forms, some of them unsavory, some of them life-saving.

As for the earliest community of the friends of Jesus, let’s not idealize it. It had major problems. The betrayer of Jesus is repeatedly referred to in the Gospels as “one of the Twelve,” as if to remind the remaining friends, to their shame, that betrayal and abandonment existed among them. It was one of us who did this: perhaps any of us could have. Jesus’ friends fell asleep the night he prayed and sweated blood and prepared to die. The one who ended up, the story tells us, as the “rock” on which Jesus said the church would stand, was Peter. That’s Peter the bumbling one who never ‘got it,’ more impetuous than wise, and in the time between the dying and the rising, a denier of the long months of friendship and accompaniment. How’s that for a group of best buddies?

And then there were the women, the other best friends, whom an already patriarchal church could not erase from the story because they were too central to it. Did I mention patriarchy as one of the church’s ongoing little problems? The women did not run from the site of torture and death and they ran early, despite their fear, to the tomb. One of them, Mary of Magdala, faithful to the end, preacher of new beginnings, was the first witness to the Resurrection according to the official accounts, the ones the men approved as part of the canon. There were, off course, other gospels that got left off the list; in one of them, Mary of Magdala is a major actor. And what about Martha, who made the same profession of faith as Peter, naming Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Son of God? Peter, after his confession, is promised the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Where are Martha’s keys? (The question is not original to me. I first read it in the works of Edwina Gateley, English Catholic writer and founder of Chicago’s Genesis House for women involved in prostitution.)

If only the message came to us pure and not through the filters of flawed communities. Alas: no flawed communities, no gospels.

I’m glad you still have your faith, Anne Rice. Or perhaps it has you. When you pray, alone in your room, you will still draw on the presence and power of the Communion of Saints, that vast expanse of witnesses across the entire geography and history of Christianity, the community of the friends of Jesus.

Who handed down the faith that is still yours? Who made the prayers? Oops – it was the church. Does that mean you’re going to stop saying the prayers, singing the songs, remembering the saints and their desire to walk in the footsteps and spirit of Jesus? And the Nicene Creed, the one that speaks in 4th century language the orthodox faith that you hold? It was developed in messy councils at Nicea and Constantinople. Those councils were summoned by emperors, by the way: talk about lack of boundaries between religious and secular! I know that has been one of the most distressing issues for you, especially recently.

I’m not writing to urge you back into the Catholic Church. Nor to enter the United Church of Christ, some of whose members have already made a Facebook page urging you to join up. Nor even to lure you into the Episcopal Church, my dear and frequently fractious home, which, I am duty bound to remind you, welcomes you. People have been falling all over themselves and each other with come-hither invitations since you made your announcement. There are also communities that don’t engage in much overt outreach but may offer you a welcome. The Orthodox Church: ancient faith, beautiful spirituality, Eucharistic liturgy, no Pope. The Society of Friends (Quakers): no Eucharist but the sacrament of silence and a long tradition of "testimonies” of integrity, simplicity, and justice. Or the other places some find church: Twelve-Step groups, women’s liturgy gatherings in living-rooms, meditation societies. But the last thing you need is another splashy move. Besides which, the Catholic theological tradition, as you know, has taught for centuries something called the primacy of conscience. You have a conscience and, you told the world on Facebook, you listened to it.

What I am writing to tell you is that there’s no such creature as a lone follower of Jesus. You can’t be a Jesus-person away in a corner. Even hermits pray in communion with a larger tradition, a church beyond themselves in a world which is the place where God becomes incarnate.

The world: that’s why Jesus showed up. That’s why we are church. I’m with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian whom the Nazis killed for resisting Hitler and the Third Reich. He wrote: “The church is the church only when it exists for others.”

I want the church to meddle in the world just as God meddled in the world and invited us along. As I understand the Good News (not every Christian agrees with me, as you noted in your mention of some Catholic bishops’ donations to anti-gay-marriage groups) this meddling need not and should not involve the breaking down of the wall between church and state, nor should it mean funding bigotry. On the other hand, I am all for meddling in the way churches in the U.S. served as bases for the Civil Rights Movement and produced its major leaders. Or the way my sister and brother Episcopalians, along with religious believers and leaders from many communities -- Catholics, Jews, Evangelicals, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists – protested and prayed in public in Arizona the day SB 1070 went into effect. And yes, the way some (as you point out, not all) Christians and other religious people are speaking up to remind their neighbors that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are fully human and fully worthy of God’s love and of equal rights and protection under the law.

I am all for meddling in the way some churches in South Africa spoke out against apartheid, the deadly and dehumanizing system that other churches were helping to sustain and justify. The Christians weren’t just on one side. In fact, we may often be on the side of the losers. There’s this little passage in the Beatitudes about being persecuted in the cause of right. It happens. It hurts. Sometimes it even kills. “I think Christ didn't promise us victory,” Dorothee Soelle said about 25 years ago in a conversation with South African anti-apartheid churchman Beyers Naudé. “Christ promised us life, and that includes death…We hope to win… we give our blood and our lives... but I think we cannot understand our own struggle in terms of success and non-success.”

This is where the religious rubber meets the road: in the struggle for life, among the most vulnerable, when out of faith we give of ourselves and risk our reputations and sometimes our lives.

This Christ you believe in, Anne Rice, where do you meet him? He doesn’t only live in your head and heart, or in the Eucharist you told us you will miss so deeply, or in the scriptures that are our legacy from the early churches. We meet Christ every day in others, especially in what Mother Teresa called “the distressing disguise of the poor.” Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, knew and lived this also, but she went a step further than her co-religionist in analyzing the causes of poverty, the deadly rush to war that robs the poor even when we are only preparing for military battle and not waging it, the love of possessions and power above the respect for the dignity of humans all made in the image of God.

One thing that being an adult Catholic for a quarter of a century taught me was not to confuse the church, any church, with its hierarchy. I still think it’s a good idea not to do so, and I belong to a church with some pretty cool hierarchs. I owe my having become an Anglican and an Episcopalian to some of them. But with several shining exceptions, many in my own church and some in others, they are not the folks who keep me a Christian on the days when the bureaucracy (not the same thing as the hierarchy, only sometimes) is concerned only with preserving and perpetuating itself. Along with those shining bishops and other leaders are the holy people and the resisters, many of whom were and are the same folks. If I began a litany of their names, we would still be praying an hour from now.

Those people are the ones whose names we will never hear in the formal litany of the saints at Easter or at ordinations, even in the most inclusive of churches, because they are not religious celebrities: they are the congregations to which I have belonged, both before and after joining the Episcopal church, whose members and pastors I know I can trust with my life; they are the motley group of Catholic Workers, Episcopal Peace Fellowship members, Quakers, Franciscans, and others with whom in my Bay Area days I demonstrated every Good Friday at Livermore Labs, which designs weapons of mass destruction in the suburbs of San Francisco; they are communities of theologians, artists, and activist friends in faith.

Those people also include groups of Christ-followers I barely know, like the congregation that got our bishop’s annual award a couple of years ago for the work it has done with persons in its community who are poor and suffering and grieving: a tiny church of unpretentious, quiet, steady Christian people whose goodness was written so clearly on their faces that it made me weep; or the congregation of Latino and Latina immigrants I recently visited whose members have built a playground and planted trees on their small plot of land in a neighborhood where there isn’t much green, who put on a great feast to celebrate their new vicar, and who run a monthly food pantry with the help of an interfaith food project because they know there is always someone more hungry than they.

I wish you well, sister in Christ. You’re a friend of Jesus; so am I. We’re in the same boat. It’s called the Body of Christ. I hope that some part of it will continue to nourish you. Call it the church, call it communion, call it a meeting, call it solidarity, call it what you want. It won’t go away.

Jane Carol Redmont is the author of Generous Lives: American Catholic Women Today and When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life. She is a professor of religious studies and women’s studies at Guilford College and a member and former chair of the Bishop’s Committee for Racial Justice and Reconciliation in the Diocese of North Carolina. She blogs at Acts of Hope.

Lord Halifax: an Anglo-Catholic from another time

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

By Frederick Quinn

Lord Halifax (Edward Wood), 1881-1959, is sometimes cited as an exemplary representative of early twentieth century British Anglo-Catholic piety, but his record is a complex one.

Halifax grew up in rural Yorkshire amid vast lands and wealth, and after time at Eton and Christ Church College, Oxford, eventually became Viceroy of India, Foreign Secretary, and British Ambassador in Washington during World War II. He was the one Conservative Party political leader of his era who could have challenged Winston Churchill for the Prime Minister’s post.

Halifax was a devout High Church member, much influenced by his father, who spent 51 years as head of the English Church Union, the principal Anglo-Catholic organization of its era. For father and son the church was not the Church of England but the Church in England. Sacramental life was central to their faith as was the hope for some sort of union with Rome, but only with the Pope as first among the equal bishops of Christendom.

In Washington, Halifax regularly attended the Mission Church of St. Agnes, twenty minutes down Massachusetts Avenue from the British Embassy. He was a regular at the 9:30 Sunday mass. “It was just what we both liked,” his private secretary wrote, ”with incense and little boys in scarlet cassocks and nice children with hymns.” Later, in retirement in his Yorkshire estates, Halifax began each day kneeling in the manor house chapel for personal devotions, after which he read the previous day’s London papers, and set out furnishings for the daily mass, for which he was acolyte. “This is my chapel,” he told the vicar, “and if you don’t mind this is what I should like to do,” drawing on a missal he had cobbled together from several liturgies over the years.

His public record was truly mixed. As Viceroy to India (1926 to 1931) he hoped for a united India within the British Empire. (He called Gandhi a “half-naked fakir.”) As Foreign Secretary (1938 to 1940) he erroneously believed his personal contact with Hitler and Mussolini could introduce an element of reasonableness into German and Italian policies. It didn’t.

Churchill called Halifax the “Holy Fox” and sent him off as British Ambassador to Washington in 1941, but kept most of his important wartime conversations with Franklin Roosevelt to himself. Halifax neither understood nor liked most Americans. When offered a hot dog at a Chicago White Sox’s game, he declined. His preferred sport on a rare day off was fox hunting and Halifax sometimes spent weekends in Mirador, an early nineteenth century Virginia hunt country estate. Probably he was thinking of his own setting as a squire in rural England when he mused after one visit, “I regret there are no slaves. This would be my hour for visiting my slaves. I should talk affably with them. I should visit the sick and aged and read the Bible to them, and when gross impropriety or misconduct demanded it, I should correct them, and every now and again I should pat a little head. Finally, I should make them all sing spirituals to me.” But in contrast he also visited Tuskegee Institute in 1943 and afterwards wrote of its students, “They are asking for bread and getting a stone.” He saw segregation as “a great human problem building up, not being tackled by very wide-seeing people, and a good many things that are being followed are pretty hollow.”

Life was never easy for Halifax, who was born with no left hand. One of his sons was killed during World War II and another lost two legs in an explosion. After receiving news of his first son’s death Halifax wrote, “I went to St. Agnes at seven. I am always asking myself just what is the basis of one’s prayer for those one is fond of and who are in danger. Clearly it can’t be ‘Protect my son.’ In the end of it all you come back to ‘Thy will be done,’ but it is difficult for human nature.” Human sorrow, he reflected, too often dissolves into self-pity and “One cannot be presumptuous enough to pity the person who dies if one has a belief in the future life. I always think it strange the emphasis the church has placed on praying for the dead. Humility would suggest that it was much more important that they should pray for us.”

“He belonged to a different century,” Isaiah Berlin, then an Information Officer at the British Embassy, said of Halifax, who moved easily about the corridors of power and represented a brand of Oxford Movement Anglo-Catholicism that has largely disappeared from British life. Oblivious to the wider political and social movements about him in India, Germany, and America, he also missed out on the larger meaning of Asian nationalism, German fascism, and racism in America.

Frederick Quinn is a contributor to Episcopal Cafe.

Comprehensively beautiful, not tightly consistent, Part II

By W. Christopher Evans

The language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as it relates to Scripture and the Creeds is similar to much language found not only in the Articles of Religion, but also in Richard Hooker. A resonance of authority exists there that requires we as Anglicans particularly not only take the Quadrilateral in itself, but look for those resonances, such as Hooker and the Articles. That the Quadrilateral and all of our authorities point beyond themselves, ultimately to a Person, indeed, Persons Three. Historical authorities cannot be dismissed because they are with us also, but that does not mean that we are so beholden to them that no open spaces or even closed opinions are not up for reconsideration or further examination, yes, even reassessment in light of new flesh—that is data, input, member-ed-ness. To say otherwise is to no recognize how truly complex was the undoing of slavery given almost universal biblical acceptance. It required breaking open beyond the Scriptures themselves to a Person who sometimes speaks in a text by forcing us to question supposed “God” in them.

To begin to get at authorities falling within this field of resonances, some questions are helpful for clarifying (without settling) shared and disputed Anglican informative/interpretive sources:

What sources do we share or dispute as Anglican Christians across Churches and Provinces?

I would suggest, for example, that Richard Hooker would fall in this category as a shaping if not shared source, while Lancelot Andrews might not across Churches and Provinces. We share heavily the influence of F. D. Maurice with the Church of England, but the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) might not, though Maurice’s thinking very much shapes aspects of our Communion as a whole. Even here however is broken-open-ness, for though Hooker’s understanding of Scripture shapes an overall Anglican sense as also found in portions of the Articles and distilled in the Quadrilateral, we have always had our faithful, that is, showing up and praying with us, Puritans. Puritans, for whom as with Resolution III.5.b of Lambeth 1998: “This Conference…in agreement with the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and in solidarity with the Lambeth Conference of 1888, affirms that these Holy scriptures contain ‘all things necessary to salvation’ and are for us the ‘rule and ultimate standard’ of faith and practice.” Hooker would not concur. Neither do I. And it seems a misuse of the Articles and Quadrilateral to boot.

What sources do we share or dispute as Anglican Christians across parties or school?

Among High Church and Anglo-Catholics, certainly William Laud, Lancelot Andrewes, and the Carolines would be shared sources, but not necessarily for the more Evangelical-minded or Liberals. Among Liberal High Church and Anglo-Catholics, we might add the likes of Charles Gore, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, Desmond Tutu. Evangelicals might hold out Wilberforce, or more currently, N. T. Wright. Moreover, Evangelical-minded, High Church, and Anglo-Catholics might share an interest in Patristic sources, particularly St. Augustine of Hippo, while the two latter might also look East or to other Western Fathers, particularly St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory the Great, and the Venerable Bede. This complicates matters, as as a whole, for example, the American Episcopal Church presumes a great deal of Scottish and Caroline influence on our Eucharistic understanding and rites, while nevertheless, we have those among us who would distance themselves from these authorities.

What sources are particular to our Church or Province?

For example, I would that in general John Henry Hobart and William Porcher DuBose and James DeKoven and William Stringfellow among others may provide particular interpretations from within our own Province and have informed the long-term scope of revision of our Prayer Book, that is, our own Reformations.

Our party or school?

On the whole, for example, Pusey and Keble are most likely to inform Anglo-Catholics, for example.

And of what type?

I tend to look to Herbert, Donne, Auden, Thomas, Trahern, Tallis, L’Engle, Lewis, and others as equally valid theological authorities and lenses for getting at an Anglican feel.

Depending on position, other (in)formative/interpretive authorities might include science and culture. For example, Michael Ramsey, because of his strong sense of the Word’s activity among us from “in the beginning,” would expect that something of Christ is generally revealed in creation, and hence, we cannot ignore science as a source. Stringfellow, from a more Evangelical point of view, offers a similar sense of the Word’s activity in our social worlds, the Word Who we as Church are meant to point out.

To put all of this more forwardly, I do not think we can arrive at a singular hermeneutic, a tightly consistent interconnection of strands upon which most much less all can agree that may not finally cut off someone (and something’s) understood as Anglican—even if we disagree, and even if we court error, and the question becomes more what is decidedly out of bounds? And why? Who decides? And what are the consequences?

Rather than despair all of this, however, I receive this multiplicity and intransigence as a challenging gift rich in godly nourishment and mutual correction from friends and enemies alike, that leads me to trust finally and ultimately in Jesus Christ. We who are Anglicans in this time have been handed on quite a lot. The dispersed authority and many authorities makes Anglican Christianity capable of error, open to correction, contingent in decision-making, and dependent on God. This makes us pilgrim Christians living in an eschatological tense, or perhaps better, mood, a mood that is hopeful, and thus, subjunctive, as if all things are already reconciled in Christ because Christ promises precisely this. And we cannot see our way through, much less see how on our own.

Which is to say that in our actual expression of authority and authorities, we body one of the root reforms of our tradition, that we are nothing of ourselves, and receive everything because of Jesus Christ. Like an icon, we break open and out onto Someone more than ourselves, Jesus Christ. Our broken-open-ness with regard to authority and authorities though muddy and painful, is a great gift in our dominant social worlds proclaiming self-sufficiency and much of Christianity claiming a definitiveness that now scandalizes at every turn. Our painful muddiness throws us into Arms Who alone will finally make all manner of things well. Precisely in our broken-open-ness, in our airing of dirty laundry and public fighting, we are in a good position to proclaim and present our only Life.

Because of this complexity, we have been spared the ravaging wars of the worst excesses of creationism and scientism alike precisely because we have not made of the Scriptures more than “rule and ultimate standard of faith.” Not practice. Which begins to dig into that beyond common prayer, our root practice, and is meant to do so in response to human sexuality—the undertext for the resolution. Begins to close up the pastoral/ascetical/moral requiring observation of fruits, that is, among other things, the observations of science and relationships in communcal discernment and the particularity of human beings trusting that the Logos has been and is always working among us not only in Church sanctuaries but in our daily social worlds. Which turns Scripture to matters it cannot and is not meant to or fit to answer sufficiently, much less, definitively. We have neither made of our Scriptures a science textbook, nor an ascetical/pastoral theological manual, or even, a book of polity and ecclesiastical law. They are sufficient and definitive for their purpose, to lead us to trust in Jesus Christ, our salvation as is evident by the profoundly Patristic theology of Maurice, who himself seems to have known little of the Fathers (Scripture, especially John 1 and the Christ canticles were enough). And we can do no more as a Body than proclaim and present this Same One. And our broken-open-ness may do this best in our own time if we will embrace, rather than constrict the open spaces and the controverted spaces and the revisited spaces. Precisely in tumult and uncertainty and contention the Word speaks.

We have painfully but surely been able to reassess ascetical/pastoral theology surrounding chattel slavery and its civil remains, precisely because Scriptures are not a rulebook on all manner of life. We have been able to live with being adult Christians and the contentions this often brings. We have begun to undergo the struggling grace of seeing in sisters, daughters, mothers that same Christ. And not without a lot of heat. Can we sit with grace long enough to discover what it is sin hath wrought and grace undoing regarding human sexuality, not just, that of “those people” but of our own?

I would suggest that the proposed Covenant may address some of these matters without actually providing the spacious framework of informative/interpretive challenging and correcting diversity that has prevented us from falling into traps. My grave reservation is precisely and largely so because the want of those most adamant about the Covenant is largely encapsulated in Section IV. The intent of this section is juridical and even punitive, and may unnecessarily cut off the informative/interpretive diversity needed for sharing salvation with others in our time. We may yet have our own Galileo should we go this route. But even that broken-ness, I trust, God can and will turn to grace dare we give away our member-ed-ness for pottage. It is precisely when we are broken most open that God’s grace takes our want for consistency and shows us God’s own Beauty: “Blessed is this One.”

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

Comprehensively beautiful, not tightly consistent, Part I

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

By W. Christopher Evans


An Icon

Our own?
each piece
breaks open
upon another...

Derek Olsen has brought us again to an ongoing and necessary conversation about what makes us Anglican Christians. Questions of particular identity have been at the heart of our current controversies and conversations with mutual distance taken if not anathema issued. It is often implied that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral functions or should function among our Anglican Churches and Provinces in precisely the same way as it functions between Anglican Christianity and other Christian traditions. Hence, we get bent out of joint about the American Episcopal Church being the focus of ire among some fellow Anglican Churches and Provinces while the Lutheran Church of Sweden and other Churches of the Porvoo Agreement or the Old Catholics are not also questioned with the same vigor for similar stances made and actions taken.

Can the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral adequately account for what it means to be an Anglican Christian or Anglican Church? Yes, and... I agree with Derek on this. I would suggest that the Quadrilateral does not function among Anglican Churches and Provinces in precisely the same way as it functions between Anglican Christianity and other Christian traditions with whom we are in or are seeking full communion. The Quadrilateral, in short, is not enough to adequately identify Anglican Christianity and our particular, peculiar catholicity. But there is a caveat to my words that otherwise sound like a singular self-understanding, an understanding to which I as a Prayer Book Christian cannot admit simply because the history of our praying alone is multi-informed and controverted and particular.

Many of my favorite past and present Anglican theologians and commentators state that we are simply the Church in a given place, unmarked, if you will. Everything we are and have we expect to find in other catholic expressions of Christ’s One Body: Old and New Testaments of the Scriptures, Baptism and Eucharist, Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, Bishops locally adapted.

What these theologians and commentators fail to address is “place.” “In this place” necessarily is to recognize markéd-ness without claiming singular uniqueness. The placéd-ness given by the history of the Church of England as well as Anglican expression in Scotland and indeed the history of Anglican expression in each location profoundly marks a given Church or Province by environment, culture, and history. We may not be unique, but we are particular—and often peculiar. Our markéd-ness is not so much found in those things we expect to find in catholic marks of Christ’s One Body, they are found in our practices and interpretations of those markers in a given context. To say all of this is to recognize how much history and changing ideas of many eras and culture, and hence, flesh shapes us as Churches and Provinces. To say all of this is to own that the Body of Christ is larger than our own present and more many-member-ed than “Anglican” might imply.

For example, our own American Episcopal Church is profoundly marked not only by our ties with the Church of England and the Episcopal Church of Scotland, but by our own peculiar history of Ritualism and its controversies, chattel slavery, etc. We are marked by deepened understandings of Jesus Christ in Incarnation and Creation and Eschatology as these take more prominence in theological thinking in James DeKoven, William Porcher DuBose, F. D. Maurice, the Lux Mundi schools, and more, and then that thinking finds its way into our most recent Prayer Book, moving us beyond a more pronounced Reformation emphasis on Cross and Redemption so central in Rite 1. We have had our own American Reformations, Reformations that have in turn touched even England.

Unlike either the Roman Catholic tradition or our Reformation kin, we Anglicans do not have a central teaching authority or confession respectively. Just as we have dispersed authority through councils (parochial, diocesan, provincial, communion) and orders among others, we also have many authorities, by which I mean multiple sources of theological guidance, reference, lenses with differing weight and rank about which we may and do disagree among ourselves. Among those authorities, we have been very careful to maintain sufficiency, that is enough-ness, knowing that the Gospel expressed in the language of any age will break open upon the Mystery of a Person, Jesus Christ Who cannot be expressed in anything less than our creedal confession and its central concerns, but Who is always more than they express without being inconsistent as if the hiddenness or infinity of God were of a different character than God revealed in Jesus Chrsist. No language can capture God in Christ, but because God in Christ has identified once-for-all with us in the Incarnation, language must do—sufficiently. So we do have our authorities:

Unmarked authorities are those marks we expect of any expression of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Christianity as together capable of handing over a sufficient proclamation and presentation of Christian faith. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral falls in this category. Without necessarily unchurching a tradition that does not have all of these marks, for sake of visible, organic full communion (note here that I am avoiding the Borging tendency of “union” in much ecumenical conversation by using “communion” or koinonia or fellowship), these are those unmarked markers Anglicans expect to be present or to be reincorporated in some form as we seek and live into full communion with other Christian bodies. To some degree these interpret one another, for example, the creeds interpret Who is the One whom we trust and why so as (because of what has been done for us) found in Scripture. This avoids a split between fides qua and fides quae. But they do not interpret themselves wholly or insularly. Just as we shall see “rule and ultimate standard of faith” and “sufficient statement of the Christian faith” in the Quadrilateral languaged as a whole in relation to Hooker (among others) with whom there is interpretive resonance, the Creeds themselves require we enter into the resonance of Patristics and debates about Who it is Jesus Christ is in light of what he has done for us and for our salvation—that is, the Incarnation with all of its to the end, that is, death, death on a cross and He is Risen! And within Patristics, we find a multiplicity of expressions, even within a given cultural, philosophical context. Patristics are not a singular gift. After all, on sin alone, the Fathers disagree, as do they, on the how of our salvation, that is, atonement.

Practiced authorities are those ways in which unmarked markers are given particular shape and bodied in a given place, that is, a Church or Province. While the Quadrilateral largely expresses William Reed Huntington’s understanding of what is required for full communion among Anglican Churches and other Christian traditions alike, Frederick Denison Maurice also offered from his point of view an additional unmarked marker: Set liturgical prayer. I would prefer to name this a practiced authority. We may think set liturgical prayer the common sharing among Christians, but we have not made it wholly non-negotiable and certainly not so even among ourselves after the 1960s. For ourselves, however, we Anglicans expect some or another form of shared prayer patterns in a Church or Province that have some relation though reformed and reforming to what was handed to us and then gifted to us to take shape in this place, soil, Church. Our prayer together in a place, our praise becomes the rule or framework by which we actually body the Body. Our prayer together is grounds for our own responses to God in daily life, that is, ascetical/pastoral/moral theology. The Book of Common Prayer as received and revised in a given Church or Province is particular (and peculiar) to us, however, even if displaying shared shapings with other Provinces. That is to be expected in a tradition that takes very seriously our own body-member-ed-ness in and dare I say as representing Christ without reductivity within a an always hybridizing fellowship (not new, mind you, as the writings of the nun Egeria attest).

(In)Formative/Interpretive authorities are those means that inform and even reform our practiced authorities and reinterpret our unmarked and practiced authorities, providing means for placed-ness. A similar or parallel way of saying this in terms of our praying is that lex orandi, lex credendi has always carried at least a two-way directionality, with prayer being reformed over the long-term as theological conversations (often controversies in their own time) come to new insights in a broader sense within a time, place, and people. We forget, for example, that Cranmer was a theologian influenced by Renaissance Humanism and Reformation return to the sources among others. His theology changed Isles praying, and praying changed theology, and so forth, as placed-ness became more Isles and less Roman. And particularly more English—for I can already hear objections of the Welsh and Scottish, and more so, the Irish and Cornish.

The central issues facing us are hermeneutical or (in)formative/interpretive as Derek espies. And this is not unrelated to cultures and contexts, indeed, cannot be disentangled from these wholly. The gift is that our Anglican hermeneutical landscape has been and remains complex because always in conversation among multiple participants and schools and peoples, participants and schools and peoples who as long as they remain within the framework of our unmarked authorities and participants in our practiced authorities cannot be thought necessarily non-Anglican. And even here, latitude is such that when someone has fallen outside these bounds, we have learned to listen and even sometimes learn, have learned through some rather painful proceedings that it is often better to continue the controversy-conversation-contention rather than inhibit or expel if those involved are willing to stay and pray. I am reminded of the way Anglo-Catholics were once prosecuted only to find in time that their contributions to Anglican tradition as a whole are a necessary portion or even the gentle and controverted and even reviled way with which was dealt Bp. Pike. Truth and error, we trust, will be sorted out and best done so by controversy-conversation-contention rather than expulsion. But this requires holding lovingly yet openly our own placed-ness and trusting that God will turn even our errors to a deepened encounter with Jesus Christ.

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

Destination sacraments

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

By J. Kenneth Asel

If I enjoyed writing, I would have been a European History professor. Generally, I like to tell of my experiences rather than writing about them. For me, this one is different.

At the Episcopal Church in Jackson Hole we are used to “destination sacraments” – weddings, baptisms, renewals, even funerals. Several weeks ago I received an email from a woman asking if she and her two-year-old son could be baptized upon an upcoming visit to Grand Teton National Park. We often do services such as these. We require that the candidate or parent visit their pastor to discuss the sacrament and its meaning. If they do not have a congregation, I direct them to a nearby Episcopal Church. In her email, I noticed she attended a congregation that had left our denomination as a part of one of the four dioceses attempting to continue as dioceses of ACNA. Having worked with a previous rector, I knew the parish fairly well. It is a large, succesful, evangelical church. I explained the requirement for pre-sacramental counseling and said she would have to go to an Episcopal parish in the area.
As things happen, time got away from us, but I agreed to do the ceremony anyway if she would meet with me before Sunday and if she would promise to engage with a priest back home upon her return. I made a call and it turns out that the Episcopal priest I selected knew the family, which is prominent in the area.

We met. It was one of the most profound, and indeed holy, experiences I have had in a very long time. As I was explaining the meaning of the baptismal promises, “Millie” began to cry. “Millie” and her husband, “Tom,” joined this well-known congregation while it was still a part of the Episcopal Church. They did not support the break. She loves her parish, but not its anger. Last fall she went to membership classes, but this great evangelical church spoke of a hard gospel and an angry God. She chose not to join. Then she asked me why her best friend, “Charlotte,” was condemned to hell because she is a lesbian. I told her, the church belongs to Christ and not to me. . . that St. John’s in Jackson is a house of prayer for all people, everyone of whom is welcome at God’s table. She cried again, then asked if “St. Mary’s” would become an Episcopal Church again. I said, although it would take awhile, all the court cases seem to be pointing in that direction. She wanted to know when it returned to the Episcopal Church, would her family be allowed still to go there. I said, “Of course!” I am almost certain the next set of tears were of joy.

To me, there are three general aspects to our faith: belief, practice and relationship. Of the three, relationship with God through Christ is the most personal and the most important. Belief, though, is the one we “professional Christians” fight about. Do we ever stop to think the scandal we cause to our parishioners? “Millie,” despite our foibles, just wanted to be a part of the Christian family, for herself, her son and the baby on the way. It was an enormous privilege to be asked into her family’s life for the occasion of their baptism. I wish we could put aside our political posturing and our attempts to justify ourselves by condemning others, remembering God’s generous gift of the church.

It made me proud to be an Episcopalian. I hope “Tom” & “Millie” ask me to baptize the new arrival next summer!

(The Reverend) J. Kenneth Asel, D.Min is Rector of the Episcopal Church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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