The end of the world as we know it: collapsing paradigms

This is an excerpt from Paradoxy: Creating Christian community beyond us and them by the Rev. Ken Howard, rector of St. Nicholas' Church in Darnestown, Maryland.

By Ken Howard

I know. I know. The term paradigm sounds a little clichéd these days. In the world of business it seems like every other week somebody is promoting some new management technique as the newest paradigm in leadership. Yet while the term may have been overused (or even abused) of late, it is of great importance to understanding the turbulent times we face. If the word paradigm is a little hackneyed to you, just substitute world view, conceptual model, or some other equivalent term. Whatever you want to call it, if we want to understand how human beings learn and practice truth, we have to talk about paradigms. Because paradigms are the way we think and the way we interpret our perceptions of reality. It’s in our DNA.

The words truth and reality are commonly used as though they were interchangeable. But while they are integrally related, they really are two very different things. If we were to look at them in the form of a mathematical equation, the relationship might be expressed like this:

T = R + M
Truth Equals Reality plus Meaning
(what we seek when we seek what we call truth)

With apologies to agent Fox Mulder of The X-Files, it’s not the “truth” that is “out there” but “reality.” And while we are borrowing phrases from old T.V. shows, we might borrow a line from officer Joe Friday of Dragnet and say that reality is “just the facts,” without any meaning attributed to them.

We do like our reality filtered. Our minds seem “hard-wired” to develop paradigms. We are meaning-seeking creatures, determined to understand how and why things relate together the way they do, and we are driven to create conceptual systems based on our experience and observation of the world. It is this understanding of the hows and whys and relationships of reality that is what we mean by “truth.”

In fact, we so depend upon such understanding that we will create conceptual systems even in the face of minimal experience and a paucity of observations. For example, rather than accepting that major natural disasters are just expressions of random chaos at work in the world, we call them “acts of God.” Some find it easier to attribute poverty to character traits of the poor than to accept that their poverty and our prosperity might be as much a product of luck as of anything else. When a woman is sexually assaulted by a stranger, some are tempted to ask if she was wearing something revealing or acting in a seductive manner. In this way, creating paradigms gives us the illusion of predictability and control.

Paradigms help us negotiate our way through the world more effectively. As with walking, if we had to think about each step before we took it, our minds would be preoccupied with putting one foot in front of the other. We wouldn’t be able to chew bubble gum and walk at the same time. But once we “get” how walking works, we can move the activity out of our conscious minds and focus our conscious thinking processes on more important questions, such as “Where are we going?” and “Are we there yet?” Paradigms are the conceptual models we’ve developed to explain and predict how reality works. They provide a framework within which we can organize and integrate new experiences and observations.

The Problem with Paradigms: Confusing Truth with Reality
Paradigms seem to work so well for us, so much of the time, that we sometimes confuse our paradigms of reality with reality itself. Just like the glasses or contacts many of us wear, we forget that we have them on.

Similarly, when we lose sight of the provisional nature of our paradigms and begin to think of them as timeless and immutable, we can become reactive when faced with new experiences that don’t fit our old way of thinking. We may be tempted to deny them. We may be suspicious of anomalous observations that threaten the old way of seeing things, or of the motives of those who bring them to our attention.

But our denial cannot stop the accumulation of discordant observations and experiences that the old paradigm no longer explains. Sooner or later—usually later, human nature being what it is —the weight of the evidence becomes so great that the old paradigm collapses it. It is only then that a new paradigm can arise.

Physicist and historian of science Thomas Kuhn once explained the process of individual and collective denial that historically happens when major paradigms shift in fields of scientific knowledge. Some scientists dismissed discrepant data as measurement errors, even when they arose in their own experiments. Others attacked the competence or motivation of the researcher (when anomalies arose in other scientist’s experiments). Some appeared to “adjust” the data (mostly unconsciously) to fit the ruling paradigm. Others worked heroically to adapt the old paradigm to fit new data by introducing corollaries or constants. In some cases, researchers’ commitment to the old paradigm was so strong it actually rendered them incapable of perceiving the data that didn’t fit. These reactions were not limited to individual scientists. Resisters of change tended to be drawn to other like-minded scientists, eventually forming factions to oppose any consideration of abandoning the old, ruling paradigm of knowledge.

Meanwhile, Kuhn noted, other scientists would react in the opposite direction, intuitively formulating and often aggressively proposing alternative paradigms to account for those discrepancies. Often, several alternate paradigms would be formed. Some of these would be truly radical departures from the ruling paradigm; others merely an artful repackaging of the old way. Sometimes several of these alternative paradigms would be mutually exclusive of each other. The one thing they shared was that each would be championed with great hubris by their promoters. And as with the conservative scientists, factions of these progressive theorists tended to form to defend their positions.

But when the new paradigm finally emerged, it was neither exactly what the reactionaries feared nor what the radicals were advocating. Rather, the new paradigm usually contained some aspects of the heavily defended ruling paradigm, some aspects of the heavily promoted proposed ones, and—this is the interesting part—some aspects that neither side expected. Obviously, if scientists, who are in a field of understanding that is supposed to be the epitome of open-minded objectivity, respond to shifts in understanding reality with such a high level of reactive subjectivity, how can we expect the rest of us to be any less reactive and subjective in our responses?

The Rev. Ken Howard, author of em>Paradoxy: Creating Christian community beyond us and them, is rector of St. Nicholas' Church in Darnestown, Maryland.

Christ, culture and the struggle over same-sex relationships

By Derek Olsen

Recently the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a senior figure within the Russian Orthodox church gave an address at the Annual Nicean Club Dinner at Lambeth Palace in London. His remarks were focused on the concern he had for the future of the dialogue given liberalizing trends within the Anglican Communion. The Metropolitan repudiated the Episcopal Church for the ordination and consecration of women and for the consecration of Gene Robinson (not “Jim Robertson” as the Metropolitan stated…) and suggested that a similar fate was in store for the Church of England if it did not side-line its plans for the consecration of women as bishops. Instead, the Metropolitan framed the debated as a matter of capitulation to the culture:

We are also extremely concerned and disappointed by other processes that are manifesting themselves in churches of the Anglican Communion. Some Protestant and Anglican churches have repudiated basic Christian moral values by giving a public blessing to same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals as priests and bishops. Many Protestant and Anglican communities refuse to preach Christian moral values in secular society and prefer to adjust to worldly standards.

Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture. ....

What can these churches say to their faithful and to secular society? What kind of light do they shine upon the world (cf. Mt. 5:14)? What is their ‘salt’? I am afraid the words of Christ can be applied to them: If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (Mt. 5:13).

In reading the Metropolitan’s words, I’m reminded of the classic work by H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture. In this book, Niebuhr lays out five basic modes through which Christians construct the encounter between Christ—his shorthand for the faithful proclamation of the Gospel—and culture—the human environment, the backdrop in which we live and move. One mode is represented by nothing less than antagonism: Christ against Culture. This view demands that there be no accommodation with the culture; that the word of the Gospel is antithetical to human society and that it must be rejected and purified from the ground up. Significantly, Niebuhr illustrates this stance with the example of Leo Tolstoy, the only Eastern Orthodox Christian profiled in the book.

A second mode is complete capitulation: Christ of Culture. This view sees no discontinuity at all between the culture and the Gospel and sees Christ as an example of what is best in the culture and a model into which we all hope to grow. Again significantly, Niebuhr identifies this view with the Liberal Protestantism of Ritschl, Rauschenbusch, and others who, in Niebuhr’s day appealed to “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.”

The other three modes that Niebuhr lays out are more complex: Christ above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ Transformer of Culture. The ordering of the book as well as its content leaves no doubt that Niebuhr’s favored solution is the last: Christ, the One who offers a transformational redemption to both humanity and the cultures they inhabit. Unsurprisingly, the Reformed theologian associates this approach with both Augustine and John Calvin—though he also includes our own F. D. Maurice firmly in this camp.
What I take away from Niehbuhr is the fundamental conviction that there is no culture—past, present or future—that either has, does, or will embody the Gospel teachings. Just as all humans sin and fall short of God’s loving hope for us, our cultures will as well. A true proclamation of the Gospel must always and inevitably include a condemnation for the ways that the Gospel is perverted in that culture. Just as surely it must identify and uplift where the Gospel is alive and at work within the culture and must encourage those movements which further the faith and habits of the Gospel.

Holding Niebuhr in mind, it’s easy to see the Metropolitan’s characterization of his position and the Anglican position as a clash between Niehbuhr’s first two modes: the metropolitan sees himself upholding a “Christ against Culture” perspective while accusing liberal Anglicans of a “Christ of Culture” perspective. Indeed, it’s easy to caricature the whole conflict between the warring Anglican parties along these two lines but—like all caricatures—it is a gross over-simplification and one that, more often than not, is false in both of its identifications. Furthermore, I see both sides perpetuating these mistaken identifications and digging into these positions, neither of which should be truly accurate.

With regard to liberalizing Anglicans—those who agree with the ordination of woman and those who will accept patterned homosexual clergy however conditionally—we need to take a hard look at ourselves, our theologies, and our motives. It is true that the prevailing Western culture has moved in a permissive direction over the past decades. Why are we in favor of these developments? Is it because it just seems right or because we have friends that we don’t want to disappoint—or because we truly believe that these innovations are demanded by the Gospel? All too often I see defenses of the liberal position that are based primarily in “rights” language or are grounded by warm personal anecdotes about friends, In advancing our arguments in this way, I fear that we do nothing more than confirm the caricature and, worse, ally ourselves with it. This does no service to our cause. I see the ordination and consecration of women and the ordination of people in committed exclusive life-long relationships blessed by the church—gay or straight—as mandates proceeding from the truth and morals of the Gospel. I sincerely hope that those who believe as I do understand it in the same way. It is only when we proceed from these bases that we can respond to the Metropolitan with a firm “no” and still look him—and ourselves—in the eye. We must ask ourselves whether we pass the Niehbuhr test—are we simply capitulating to the pressures of a permissive culture or do we understand the necessity for Christ to transform and rightly order our practices and relationships? Are there points where we clear identify the Gospel to be in conflict with our wider culture?

On the other hand, those who have taken for themselves a conservative label—whether they be Anglican, Russian Orthodox, or some other group—often fall short of the high ground they claim. While they may appear to be standing with Christ against Culture, all too often a deeper examination of their position reveals them to be nothing more than followers of a Christ of Culture as well. Assuredly, their culture is not the current contemporary Western culture, but sometimes the Gospel becomes nothing more than an excuse for the imposition of yet another human culture, especially one fashioned by nostalgia. Too often language about “traditional morals” is not an appeal to principles of virtue or the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church but to a by-gone all-too-human culture where women and gays stayed in their respective homes and closets.

The hard edge of the Gospel cuts against all human constructions of power and propriety. Sometimes its call to repentance, love, and virtue align with platforms either on the Left or on the Right. But neither platform ever captures the Gospel’s clarion. All platforms fall short. We inevitably fall short. But for all Anglicans, all Christians, who care about the on-going proclamation of the Gospel in a culture which needs to be redeemed by it, we must remain committed to holy conversation—with the Spirit and with one another, holy listening—to the Spirit and to our neighbors, and saturation in the Scriptures and Sacraments which are the trustworthy vehicles of the Gospel.

Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Pursuing the "un-rest cure"

By Marshall Scott

I have long been a fan of the short stories of H. H. Munro, better known by his pen name of Saki. He has a wry, not to say vicious sense of humor, and a healthy disrespect for convention. One of my favorites is “The Unrest-cure.” As the story begins, an unwitting man is complaining to a friend about the rut that his life has become. It is largely taken up with work, and his avocations are so commonplace and regular that even he has begun to see them as tedious. The friend suggests that, just as the harried might need a “rest-cure,” perhaps our subject needs an “unrest-cure.” This conversation, dull enough in its own right, much less in its subject, would have been little more than a casual complaint, had it not been overheard by a young man with means and a moderately cruel streak; and thus there begins a tale.

Perhaps I should have been more conscious of that story on my recent vacation. I like to sail. I’m not a great sailor. I do know in most instances what I need to do, and we enjoy modest sailing, without injury to self or boat (if not as often as I would like). So, I was commenting to my wife one morning at anchor about my realization that part of what I sought in my sailing vacation was challenge – or at least a challenge different from that in my regular vocation. In every significant sailing experience I’ve had something go wrong, and I’ve managed to cope with it. However, part of what made it worthwhile to me was that the coping was not just intellectual or emotional. It required something physical, both in the sense of my own efforts, and also in the sense that it involved some engineering and responding to the natural world. It took a combination of intellectual and physical effort, and managing in the face of forces I would work with but not control. So, I agreed with her when she said, “There’s a lot of challenge in your work.” “But,” I responded, “this is different.”

Now, let me say that my wife sought something different. She wanted peace and quiet, and to be closer to nature. She does enjoy sailing, but she enjoys more watching eagles fly over anchorages. We both got what we wanted. She got closer to nature. I got challenges. And before it was over, nature kicked my butt.

Still, I appreciate her question to me: “Why would you want that (sort of challenge) on vacation?” I know that some folks take on more. My risks are modest and measured; and yet they are significant enough for me. They are significant enough that I feel proud when I succeed – and that I feel embarrassed when I don’t. These kinds of things are my “unrest-cure.” So, why would I – why would anyone - choose an “unrest-cure?”

Some of it is ambition – good, old hubris. I have said that “in most instances I know what I need to do;” but, of course, soon enough that begins to feel like I’m in control. I may tell others that control is an illusion; but I’m really as hopeful of controlling my world as anybody else.

In a way, too, it seems quite counter to the Benedictine tradition that is important to me, and, really, fundamental to the Anglican tradition. Isn’t this pursuit of excitement in what we claim to be recreational counter to stability? Isn’t there something sort of, well, gyrovague about it?

Perhaps, though, we pursue such an "unrest-cure" for a better reason. Perhaps we realize that we don't get recreation - literally, re-creation - without some disruption. We can't prepare the ground for next year's garden without uprooting this year's tomatoes. We can't prepare the field for next year's harvest without plowing under this year's stubble. If we want our schools and our hospitals to have up-to-date equipment and capacities, it's not just cheaper and faster to tear down and build new; at some point it's just not possible without tearing down and building new.
Our Hindu cousins are perhaps clearer about this. Shiva the Destroyer is also the one who prepares for new creation. But it is every bit as central to our Christian faith. If we've been paying attention, our Sunday lessons are reminding us of this. In these latter days of Pentecost, we traditionally hear more and more about "the Kingdom" and "the Day of the Lord." That is so great a theme in the Common Lectionary that our Methodist siblings in their calendar identify a new season of "Kingdomtide."
And though we long for the Kingdom, Scripture tells us again and again that the Kingdom comes in turmoil. The Kingdom offers great hope, but the Day of the Lord is no picnic. We will not gradually evolve our way into the Kingdom. No, God will bring it in the Day of the Lord, a day of darkness and not light, a day when two will be taken and one will be left. But, then, we of all people should be able to remember this; for we are those who know that unless a grain falls and is buried, there is no harvest. We are those who know that the only real way to resurrection is through the grave.

So, perhaps we can expect, and even seek some disruption in our pursuit of recreation (and, let’s be honest: just taking a family with two small children to see family can involve disruption and challenge enough!). Or, even if we don’t have that in mind, perhaps we might want to remember. There is some spiritual reflection to be found in recognizing the disruption and discomfort that comes as we seek recreation – literally, to be re-created. There is the opportunity to rediscover our limits, and to become aware again that, for all its promise, becoming renewed and restored also involves being disturbed, destabilized, and changed. And while there are differences of scale, that’s as true while we await the Kingdom as it will be when the Kingdom comes in fullness.

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.

Troubles on the Tenth Parallel: Muslim-Christian Conflict

By Frederick Quinn

No question facing the Anglican Communion today is more explosive that the present and future of Muslim Christian relations. Eliza Griswold’s new book, The Tenth Parallel, Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) is a must read for anyone seriously wishing to explore this subject. Along this latitude line seven hundred miles above the equator, sometimes described as part of a wider “an arc of instability,” live more than half the world’s Christian and Muslim populations. They interact both peaceably and in conflict in impoverished, unsettled conditions that were this skilled journalist’s beat for nearly seven years. The Fault Line’s s deteriorating ecological political, economic, and demographic tensions are often explained in the language of religious conflict, and the award-winning American writer set out to explore these issues first hand.

As populations expand, cropland shrinks, and global warming produces unpredicted devastation through drought and floods, millions of the world’s most vulnerable people are left living in stressful conditions. It is easy to assess blame for such tensions in inflammatory religious language, but the realities are far more complex. The author concludes, “Religious strife where Christians and Muslims meet is real, and grim, but the long history of everyday encounter, of believers of different kinds shouldering all things together, even as they follow different faiths, is no less real. It follows that their lives bear witness to the coexistence of the two religions – and of the complicated bids for power inside them – more than to the conflicts between them.”

Christian fundamentalists in northern Nigeria and Islamic jihadists in Indonesia are some of the people Griswold interviewed during time spent traveling by rattling vehicles through Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Griswold has the gift, found in only a handful of journalists on global issues, for compressing telling detail into compact sketches. One instance: she returned to Nigeria’s flood stricken Middle Belt in September 2007 shortly after torrential flooding of the Wase River had caused thousands of people to flee in panic. They lifted possibly two thousand babies into nearby trees, the only possible place of protection, hanging the children from branches. “They spent two days without food or water. Some were silent. Others cried from hunger. Below them, in the slick, black water, cows, goats, pigs, and a human bodies floated past.”

The wider Anglican Communion knows little about Islam, and Muslim-Christian relations remain an almost unexplored subject. The Tenth Parallel represents an important step in remedying this lack of information and perspective on another major world religion. The quality of Griswold’s writing and the author’s perceptiveness of human and public policy issues invites comparison with the Polish travel writer, Ryszard Kapuscinki, and Rory Stewart, whose The Places in Between and other works on Afghanistan and Iraq, have provided vivid, on-the-ground accounts of life in other desolate-yet-hopeful settings.

Frederick Quinn is the author of “The Sum of All Heresies,” the Image of Islam in Western Thought (Oxford University Press, 2008) and a contributor to Episcopal Café.

Environmental ethics

By George Clifford

Self-interest dominates political debate in the United States. Generally, that means each individual looking out for his or her interests, often narrowly defined. People sometimes most effectively achieve that goal by affiliating with likeminded individuals, a practice that has greatly contributed to the emergence of increasingly pervasive special interest groups in America, groups myopically focused on benefiting their members. And when people do adopt a broader focus, that focus typically translates self-interest into national interest, i.e., what is good for the United States will, by implication, be good for individual citizens.

Episcopalian and Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter has observed, “The ethic of self makes the religious task more difficult … but also more necessary. With a more vibrant religious voice in our politics, we should be able to do better. We could, indeed, hardly do any worse.” (Stephen L. Carter, God's Name in Vain )

On no issue is the need greater for a genuine global perspective that values our neighbors as much as ourselves than on environmental ethics. The environment does not recognize nor adhere to the arbitrary local or national borders that humans establish. Whether a shared watershed (e.g., the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico or the Jordan River between Israel and Syria), atmosphere (winds blow pollutants indiscriminately across boundaries, e.g.), or oceans (think floating islands of trash) much environmental degradation obviously represents a global rather than local or national problem.

Even many issues that seem prima facie to be strictly national concerns are, upon closer examination, international or global in scope because of oceanographic or atmospheric, e.g., deforestation results in increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and pesticide use can harm migratory waterfowl. The global push to ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons, which resulted in twenty-five nations agreeing to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, with additional nations subsequently signing the Protocol, represents an example of a pollution problem that the international community recognized required a global solution.

For Christians, environmental ethics begin with God's repeated affirmation in the Genesis 1 creation story, This is good. Similarly, the Genesis 2 creation story implies that God found creation good. Regardless of whether one interprets the creation stories literally or mythically, the theological message for humans is the same. God's goodness ensures the goodness of God's creative activity, a quality evident not only in the beauty of creation but also in the value of each created thing. Plants, animals, the waters, the earth itself, the planets, and the stars all have intrinsic value because of God's creative activity. Human self-centeredness leads to the mindless exploitation and destruction of other life forms and the earth. This diminishes the beauty of creation and devalues other living things, including other humans, animals, and plants in addition to future generations.

The scriptural warrant that grants humans dominion over the earth is not a carte blanche to use or destroy the earth and other living things, exclusively thinking of our personal enjoyment or benefit. Christianity calls us to model ourselves after Jesus. Jesus’ parable of the vineyard entrusted to tenants implicitly speaks to our responsibility to care for the earth as God's tenants. The prospect of God carelessly raping and pillaging God's own creation seems ludicrous; clearly, God desires humans exercise a stewardship of creation, attempting to balance the needs and rights of the earth and all living things, including future generations.

Jesus, as a Jew, inherited the Jewish ethical concern for the environment, an emphasis Christianity too often lacks in spite of Jesus’ teaching. For example, the Jewish scriptures prohibit, after a military victory, cutting down the enemy’s olive trees, a slow growing tree economically vital because of the oil, food, and wood the tree produces. Although economic concerns probably provided the original impetus for this injunction, the rabbinic tradition cites this teaching as evidence of God's desire that humans be good environmental stewards.

Consistently, clearly, and fully emphasizing the ethical dimension of human stewardship of creation constitutes a unique contribution that Jews and Christians can make to environmental debates. First, in our secular society an ever-growing number of people believe the cosmos simply exists. By firmly asserting that God created the cosmos, we assert the cosmos’ inherent value, otherwise widely disregarded or not perceived. Affirming the cosmos’ value avoids on the one hand the extreme of valuing only humans and on the other hand the extreme of valuing all life forms/creation equally. The latter view, held by a distinct minority of environmental activists, is an unrealistic and untenable position. Bacteria, for example, are collectively vital. Nevertheless, each individual bacterium is not universally and invariably of equal value with each individual among the more complex plant and animal life forms. Killing specific bacterium (but not all members of that species) to preserve a human life is not only morally justifiable but also usually imperative.

Second, human stewardship focuses on the inter-relatedness of the planet and the life forms that it hosts. Greedily or rashly exploiting resources or other living things for the personal benefit of the few constitutes an abusive exploitation of others. Many human actions have widespread repercussions; the true cost of an action is not only its adverse effect on the actor and his/her kin but also on other living things, the planet, and future generations.

Third, framing the discussion of environmental issues in terms of stewardship puts issues of fairness on the environmental and political agenda. God's preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged means that fairness connotes proportioning the costs of sound environmental policies according to ability to pay. This approach contrasts starkly with the connotations of fairness preferred by people who place self-interest above all other concerns, i.e., paying as little as possible and certainly no more than a per capita equal amount. The United States, one of the world’s ten wealthiest nations on a per capita basis, has produced a hugely disproportionate share of greenhouse gases related to energy generation (30% from 1900-2005). Therefore, fairness dictates that the U.S., which sold that energy for less than its true cost when the cost includes harm to the environment, should bear a disproportionate share of the remediation cost.

Finally, by constantly illuminating with God's light the human responsibility to be stewards and care for God's good creation, religious people helpfully raise the standard of political discussion and action. Politics is the art of the possible, frequently entailing compromise. Stephen Carter in God's Name in Vain repeatedly laments that when religious voices accede to the demands of the political arena, those religious voices compromise their authenticity and integrity, usually settling for trivial wins with little real significance. Environmental issues are too important to allow this to happen.

In negotiations, the party that generally makes the first offer (an executive bargaining for salary, a consumer purchasing an auto, unions/businesses negotiating labor contracts, etc.) sets either the upper or lower boundary for all future negotiations. The other party may conceivably have been willing to accept that initial boundary as a final offer, but is no longer willing to do so once it is offered as an initial position. My observation of religious groups attempting to influence public policy matches Carter’s analysis: religious groups consistently and ironically receive the short end of the deal if they begin by offering what they believe is a politically acceptable compromise.

Moral arguments rightly exert influence in the public square. Moral arguments informed by religious belief can exert even greater influence in the public square. But when those arguments and their proponents compromise their moral integrity in an effort to wield power, they lose their moral integrity and cogency.

The history of the Episcopal Church might have been much different had its twentieth century debates about the status of women, people of color, and GLBTs, emphasized theological ethics rather than the language of rights. The latter is an important form of philosophical moral discourse. However, it is a form of discourse foreign to scripture and the Christian tradition. Drafting and debating theologically informed moral arguments about the status of women, people of color, and GLBTs might have required more effort but would honor the Church’s own language and tradition. Such arguments would have made null and void claims that the Church by changing to include everyone fully in its life was simply responding to a secular agenda.

Let’s not repeat that mistake with environmental issues. Let the Church speak with its moral authority and leave the inevitable compromising to others. By insistently communicating its unadulterated moral message the Church can potentially raise the level of discourse away from self-centeredness, concurrently avoiding marginalization and helping to reduce any loses from compromise.

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

The question at the top of Page 303

By Adam Thomas

As the church in which I am blessed to serve God prepares for a new adult Christian formation program, I have found myself thinking about baptism quite a bit lately. And I have also found myself jotting down notes about several pieces of the baptismal services. A few of these notes, I share with you below.

If you were baptized in an Episcopal Church after 1979, either you or your parents and godparents answered a series of six questions. The last of which reads, “Do you promise to follow and obey [Jesus Christ] as your Lord?” Whether or not you were baptized under this particular liturgy, this is the fundamental question at the heart of the Christian faith. The answer, “I do,” is simply two little words, but these two words really aren’t the answer at all. The true answer to this question is the manner in which we choose to lead our lives in the wake of such a powerful promise. Let’s take a moment to break down this question to see what we are really getting ourselves into.

Do you promise…
Girls link pinkies. Guys spit on their hands and shake. Car dealers sell extended warranties. Banks make you sign the mortgage paperwork a dozen times. Each of these signals a promise: the secret is safe, the ex-girlfriend is off-limits, the car will be repaired free of charge, and the loan will be repaid. The act of making the promise itself means little compared to the continuous act of fulfilling the promise. Ex-friendships, fine print wielding salesmen, and foreclosures point to the fact that many promises do not last.

But there happens to be a significant difference between these promises and the one we make at baptism. In most promises, the other entity entering the trust is another human being—another fallible, flawed human being. When we promise to follow and obey Jesus Christ as our Lord, we make our promise to God. And God never breaks trust with us. So our promise to God follows God’s eternal promise to us to be faithful always, to be with us always, just to be…always.

Thus, our fulfillment of the promise always happens in response to God’s steadfastness. When we break the promise, it does not cease to hold sway because God continues to fulfill it. And God invites us to renew the promise again and again and again.

…to follow…
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the first words that Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, his prospective disciples, are “Follow me” (Matt. 4:18). In the Gospel according to John, the last words that Jesus says to Peter are (you guessed it) “Follow me” (John 21:22). Therefore, considering how the compilers of the New Testament chose to lay out the Gospel, the first and last words out of Jesus’ mouth are “Follow me.” What does it mean to follow Jesus? Like the main promise we are discussing, this question takes a lifetime to answer; but here are a few quick observations.

To follow means to come after or travel behind. You do this most often when you don’t know the way to, say, the movie theater, and the friends in the car ahead of you lead you there. Our Christian faith tells us that Jesus walks with us, leading us on right paths through our lives. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In Greek, the “way” is literally the “road” on which we walk down. So not only is Jesus the guide for our feet; he paved the road on which our feet tread. The Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus the “pioneer” of our faith: he is the trailblazer. He invites us to walk the difficult path he first walked, a path full of both pain and joy (Hebrew 12:2).

To follow also means to learn by example. To quote a learned man at my parish, we are “apprentices” of Jesus Christ. During the Renaissance, master painters directed their students to copy their works of art in order to learn the craft. More often than not, these apprentice copies couldn’t compare to the master’s, but they still learned how to apply paint to canvas, and they learned well. Likewise, we will never be able to reach the full example of Jesus Christ, but this shouldn’t stop us from following him just the same.

...and obey…
Obedience is a tricky thing because it involves something that many folks aren’t all that good at: listening. To obey means to listen carefully and then to act. Obedience to God begins with our intentional effort to discern God’s will in our lives and continues with our reliance on God to live out that will. The good news is that when we choose to obey God, God has already given us the gifts we need to accomplish that will. (Of course, this doesn’t mean the act of obeying will be easy.)

When Jesus commands the paralyzed man to stand up, take his mat, and walk, the man gets up immediately (John 5:8-9). Jesus speaks no word of healing at all. Rather, the act of healing is subsumed in the command. Jesus gives the man the gift of healing in order that the man can obey his command. Likewise, we discover new gifts when we listen for and obey God’s will in our lives.

…[Jesus Christ] as your Lord…In our Christian parlance, we call Jesus many things: friend, brother, teacher, savior. But in this question, we call Jesus “Lord.” We promise to follow Jesus as our “Lord.” How does “Lord” differ from other titles for Jesus? Leaving aside the masculine nature of the title, a lord is someone in a position of authority and respect. In the Gospel, the Greek word for “lord” (kyrie) can also be translated as “sir.” In the military, a person you call “sir” is someone who has the authority to command you to do something.

Likewise, when we promise to follow and obey Jesus as our Lord, we acknowledge that Jesus has the authority to direct our lives. This authority comes from the fact that God is the author of each of us. God pens each day in the books of our lives; sometimes we are the protagonists and sometimes we are antagonists of our own stories. When we follow Jesus as our author, as our Lord, we consciously take on the protagonist role. To change the metaphor, we resonate with God’s directing creativity in our lives. We are in tune with God.

Of course, these few notes simply scratch the surface of this immense question. I wonder how we each live out this promise in our everyday lives? I wonder how the promises we make with other people reflect the promises we make to God? I wonder how readily we allow God to fulfill God’s promises, which, in the end, allow us to fulfill ours?

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

Annoying mission

By Mark C. Engle

When I hear the word mission, I hear the word work, or job. I work all week long. I get spiritually depleted. I go to church to be fed so I can resume that work. If instead of food, what I get is another set of assignments, I get tired. I suspect that I am not alone in this.
Jim Naughton, August 30, 2010

It is one of the great ironies of our time that we are finding the restorative work of mission sapping our energy and creativity. Jim Naughton has done a service to bring this to our attention. When I hear mission, I hear, periphery. I hear hierarchy. I hear separation. I hear paternalism. All of that makes me tired indeed. I wonder what might happen if mission was recognized as the organizing principle of the baptismal life and of the beloved community?

In its place, the missionary impulse is full of strength, possibility and creativity. If I can imagine that “we have all that we need to do the mission to which we are called,” then congregational life is not about “getting the job done.” Congregational life can be about living into a reality in which we are marinated in mission.

The restorative principle of mission is at the heart of all that we do. Some of us live out mission as outreach: feeding, housing, encouraging downtrodden, organizing. But in everything we do the restorative function of our mission is at work. How does our worship “restore unity with God and one another?” What about the restoring procedures we use in the office? Are there blockages to restoration embedded in the way power is distributed within the congregation? Is our church life restoring the solemn significance of every person?

I want to be a part of a congregation, diocese, province that asks such questions; where one shares a quest with every person it touches. What wastes spiritual energy are all those checklists to which our conformity is expected. What energizes is making common cause is energized mission.

I am helped by a story that Jim Lemler (The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler was formerly Director of Mission for the Episcopal Church) has told. He speaks about a cocktail reception at which a member of a Scandinavian royal family was in attendance. One of the guests did not recognize “his royal highness.” Tactfully seeking clues, he approached to ask, “So, are you still doing the same thing?” To this the stranger replied, “Yes, I am still the King,” Our mission is not entirely wrapped up in what we do. It is built into our identity, the royal priesthood. I believe we come to a frustrating cul de sac when we ask, “Is there too much mission in the Christian Church?” The pressing question is, rather, are we building the kind of communities in which mission can be a place of energy, nourishment and nurture?

The Rev. Dr. Mark C. Engle most recently served as rector of St. Paul's Church, Marquette, Michigan. He is now retired and living in Battle Creek, Michigan.

John Henry Newman and the bending and shaping of church history

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week. This is the second of two articles on John Henry Newman.

By Benjamin King

When Pope Benedict XVI beatifies John Henry Newman on September 19, 2010, it will be the highest point to date in the rocky relationship of the nineteenth-century Englishman with the papacy.

Newman’s final elevation to sainthood is already in the works, only awaiting confirmation by the Vatican that a second miracle has occurred through his intercession. It is not my place to comment on the sanctification process, but I do know that Newman’s writings reveal a scholar who bent church history and reshaped his writings to please the popes of his own day.

Perhaps he was saintly, but Newman’s image and writings also were the work of his own careful manipulation. And he needed to manipulate them because he received such a frosty reception in his adopted Roman Catholic Church.

Newman in his youth was a major figure in the Church of England. He was the main leader of the Oxford Movement, where he and others articulated a renewed Catholicism, within the Church of England and across the Anglican Communion, founded upon the Church Fathers and High Church divines.

This new Anglo-Catholicism, as Newman called it, was violently anti-Rome. In fact, Newman’s fiery criticism of “Romanism” meant that, when he converted in 1845, he was disliked and distrusted by his adopted Church. Seminary professors in Rome, where he went to retrain for the priesthood, challenged his views of church doctrine. One Roman bishop in England charged him with heresy after Newman’s 1859 article “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” gave prominence to the laity, at the expense of bishops, in the job of upholding the orthodox faith.

Newman knew the pope and others in Rome were suspicious of him, so he shifted his views on doctrine to disarm them. One can trace this in Newman’s slippery use of the Alexandrian Fathers, the early Egyptian theologians who helped determine the content of the New Testament and the Creeds.

Newman quoted, re-quoted and even deliberately misquoted these early authorities of Christianity. By the 1870s Newman was interpreting the Alexandrian Fathers to say just what the new pope, Leo XIII, wanted to hear. It was Pope Leo who made the extraordinary gesture of elevating Newman from obscurity at the Birmingham Oratory in England to the position of cardinal in 1879.

The historian Sir John (later Lord) Acton was one Roman Catholic contemporary who saw what was happening to Newman. Shortly after Newman was made cardinal, Acton realized that Newman had become an “Ultramontane,” one who recognizes papal precedence over local church authority.

Acton’s accusation that Newman had lurched to the right, looking to Rome for leadership, upsets modern Catholics who claim Newman’s 1859 article “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” was a forerunner of the Church’s 1960s reforms at the Second Vatican Council. Acton was correct, though, for Newman put into the mouths of Church Fathers such as Athanasius words that would please prevailing papal views.

In the 1870s Newman re-edited his earlier works and removed words that might upset the authorities. Newman added a self-defense to “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” and clarified what exactly the history of the Alexandrian Church showed: “it was by the faithful people, under the lead of Athanasius and the Egyptian bishops, and in some places supported by their Bishops or priests, that the worst of heresies was withstood or stamped out of the sacred territory.”

In this heavily edited version of the 1859 article, bishops now “lead” the opposition to heresy – Newman learned that from experience when the Bishop of Newport had the article investigated for heresy! In the later version, priests were united with the laity and Newman omitted his quotation from St. Hilary of Poitiers that the ears of the laity were holier than the hearts of the priests!

Today Newman’s writings still present the pope with what he wants to hear, which is upsetting those Catholics who think the Church’s hierarchy is co-opting him for the conservative cause.

In spite of those who claim Newman was a democratizing figure within the Church – the great defender of individual conscience – the conservative Pope Benedict thinks “It was from Newman that we learned to understand the primacy of the Pope.” For when individual conscience cannot decide on doctrinal truth about God, Newman said the infallible Church was there to decide for him.

Newman’s beatification has led to a battle among English Roman Catholics today over what his legacy should be. Some even argue that Newman should not be beatified, in accordance with his own wishes. The historian John Cornwell has recently shown that Newman wanted to be buried in rich compost that would rapidly decompose his remains to prevent any possibility of a cult of his relics. Cornwell quotes Newman’s own words: “I have no tendency to be a saint – it is a sad thing to say so. Saints are not literary men...”

These words were typical of the convert Newman’s lack of self-confidence. As a Roman Catholic, Newman thought of himself as a literary man or as a historian rather than as a “theologian,” let alone a potential saint. Theologians were those learned in Latin methods; Newman did not think his years as an Anglican studying the primarily Greek doctrine of the Fathers qualified him.

He even turned down an invitation in 1870 to attend the First Vatican Council because, as he told his friend, “really and truly I am not a theologian.” Newman privately thought the First Vatican Council’s pronouncement of papal infallibility would set back the cause of Roman Catholicism in England. And when he wrote on the subject, he gave a minimalist account of the occasions in which popes spoke infallibly.

Fascinatingly, the bishop who arranged for his invitation to the Council was the same Bishop of Newport who accused him of heresy ten years earlier. Before the Council, Newman was also told that Pope Pius IX now thought favorably of his writings. What had changed the hierarchy’s mind?

Much had to do with the success of Newman’s autobiographical Apologia, first published in 1864 in reply to Charles Kingsley’s attack on his honesty. Newman garnered sympathy among the British public not only for himself but for Roman Catholicism too. The year 1867 also saw the end of Newman’s investigation for heresy. Rome was pleased at last.

But the Apologia is another of Newman’s artful constructions. In it he claimed that he was led to Roman Catholicism by following his conscience and by reading the Church Fathers. On the contrary, having been hounded out of the Church of England by those who saw him as a closet Roman, Newman looked to the Fathers for an after-the-fact justification for his conversion.

One can still be moved by the Apologia’s elegant prose and passionate defense of the faith handed down to us. But its reworking of Newman’s personal history is consonant with his manipulation of the Church’s history; in both instances the reward for his craft was the same – papal approval.

Those who see Newman as the Father of Vatican II can make a good case from “On Consulting the Faithful.” But an equally good case can be made for Newman’s trimming his sails to please the pope. Those who see him as a defender of conscience have cause, but so do those who see him as an upholder of papal magisterium.

Where Newman could control his self-presentation in life, he cannot control it in death. Given that he spoke with different voices during his life, it is no surprise the Roman Catholic Church is divided over his legacy in death. But these difficulties no longer concern Anglicans.

Benjamin King is Assistant Professor of Church History at the School of Theology, University of the South, Sewanee and author Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers (Oxford University Press). An extended version of this article will appear in the next Sewanee Theological Review.

John Henry Newman: a Study in Conflicts and Contrasts

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week. This is the first of two articles on John Henry Newman.

By Frederick Quinn

When Pope Benedict XVI pays a state visit to the United Kingdom this September 16 -19 an important event will be his September 19 stop in Birmingham, where, 120 years after his death, John Henry Newman will be beatified. This represents a major step toward becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The story line for much of the church and popular press is that Newman was a brilliant, saintly figure who left the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church through a carefully reasoned process. That is the Newman of most media presentations.

But the real Newman was far more complex. He once wrote, “O how forlorn and dreary has been my course since I have become a Catholic! Here has been the contrast—as Protestant I felt my religion dreary, but not my life—but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion.” Born in 1801 into a wrenchingly unstable London family, he converted to Evangelical Anglicanism in his youth, and while at Oxford became increasingly a part of the Church of England’s High Church movement in the 1830s. But this gets tricky. Newman, in Tracts for Our Times, made a lengthy case that the Church of England was an ancient, valid Catholic Church and Rome was corrupt, deficient, and schismatic in part because of its magnetic attraction to papal power. But much later in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua and other writings, Newman deftly avoided most of the sharp criticisms of Rome he had made earlier in the Tracts. And clearly, Tract 90, that argued the Thirty-Nine Articles could actually be considered documents favorable to Roman Catholicism, was a stretch even in its time (1841). Newman, one of the greatest ever writers of English prose, after his 1845 conversion, followed the Roman practice of not writing out sermons, and much of his literary production from them until his death in 1890 was a highly selective, immensely skilled rewriting of earlier material causing it come out favorable to his new allegiance.

Then there was Newman’s personality. Frustrated and often angry at Oxford, he had difficulty making common cause with colleagues like Keble and Pusey. Uncomfortable with women, he sought to lead a community of celibate young males in Oxford and at Littlemore, near Oxford, but their numbers and allegiances kept shifting. Frank Turner, in a magisterial work, John Henry Newman, The Challenge to Evangelical Religion (Yale University Press, 2002) concludes that Newman’s crossing the Tiber was never certain, and came only after many of the men he thought he was leading left him for Rome. Turner, with the patience of a skilled detective on a complex case, has carefully traced through Newman’s various reworkings of his earlier writings. The Yale historian argues, “Quite simply put, Newman became a Roman Catholic so that he could continue to remain a monk, and if possible, a monk surrounded by his Littlemore male friends. It was more nearly Newman’s personal social salvation than his eternal salvation that lay in the Roman Catholic Church in October 1845.” Newman’s written attempts to present his conversion as a supremely reasoned act constitute a “Whoa! Wait a minute!” moment in historical interpretation. The early 1840s were a conflicted and confused time when Newman’s leadership was severely challenged on all sides, from those closest to him at Oxford, and from influential high churchmen and evangelicals, plus his two outspoken brothers.

None of this detracts from Newman’s lasting place in nineteenth century English history. He shook the moribund English Church’s complacency, unleashed a current of theological and biblical argument that remains unsettled today, and, in Turner’s words, “as the first great, and perhaps most enduring Victorian skeptic” helped establish the robust foundations of late Victorian culture.

Newman needs to be considered across his lifetime of almost ninety years, as an often contradictory and difficult personality and a religious writer of genius, if one sharply selective in his manner of presentation. He was made a cardinal at age 78, largely for his unstinted loyalty to Rome. Today’s Newman, the elderly, irenic Roman Catholic cardinal of the Birmingham Oratory, would not have been recognizable to the abrasive, and polemical younger Newman of Oxford and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where during the 1830s and early 1840s he helped shape the character of modern Anglicanism. Hopefully the Newman that emerges in the wake of the papal visit will be the real Newman, in all his complexity and resilient humanity.

Frederick Quinn is a historian and contributor to Episcopal Café.

Opposing the "cultured despisers of religion"

By Derek Olsen

Just the other day on NPR I heard a report that alternately amused and annoyed me. The spot reported on two studies by social scientists. The first was a psychologist who determined that children who believed that an invisible—supernatural—being was in the room with them cheated on an impossible task the same low amount as when an actual, visible, person was with them. The second was an explanation for the growth of the human trait of cooperation. It posited that humans used the idea of a supernatural omniscient being with a set law code as a means for social control that avoided problems of authority and retributive revenge. That is, in early human societies, a leader could say that he wasn’t making up rules and imposing them and be liable for retribution, instead he was simply enforcing the rules already laid down from above. The point of the report seemed pretty clear to me: it attempted to demonstrate that human religion began as simple—and simplistic—means of social control. The unspoken but seemly logical conclusion was that since humanity had moved past the need for such primitive controls, it was time for us to move beyond religion as well.

Schleiermacher named so well the “cultured despisers of religion” in the title of his book from 1799. Despite the passage of two hundred some years, they are still with us and—to their bewilderment—so is religion…

And that’s precisely what amused me so about the report—the complete bewilderment present. Oh, they were careful and no one made any clearly disparaging remarks, but the impression that I received was that both the scientists and the reporter were completely baffled concerning how apparently reasonable people could still believe this religion stuff. How could we account for it? Why would people have ever dreamed it up? Perhaps if its origins could be exposed as primitivistic, then modern people would realize the childishness of the whole endeavor and give it up for good. The report seemed to be grasping for some straws that it could use to topple the ancient edifice. Alas, the straws remained ineffective, at least to my ears.

What annoyed me about the report were the assumptions made about religious belief and, subsequently, about religiously-motivated behavior. One statement in particular sticks with me even now. It made reference to the fact that, even now, millions of people around the world are motivated by religion to not do certain things. This statement is true. Yet when I heard it, I felt a flush of irritation and frustration. Why, I wondered, is the emphasis on what religion makes people not do? Why is religion always portrayed as a negative force—either that it has negative effects or that it acts by preventing people from doing certain things?

What about the positive aspects of religion? As I sit at the computer and type this, my internet radio station is cycling through works of Tallis, Palestrina, Byrd and others. None of this aural beauty would exist if it were not for religion. The hospital at which my nephew was recently born would never have existed but for the order or nuns who founded and first staffed it—indeed, would modern healthcare as we know it even exist without the religious hospitalling orders who tended the sick and pilgrims? When I at my most cynical consider joining the cultured despisers myself, I consider those who have been transformed by the fire of love through purely religious means who have then shared that love with the world. Religion—true religion—is far more than a series of “thou shalt nots,” yet this is what seems to stand front and center in the caricatures of the cultured despisers.

Where have we failed?

Because, in truth, it is we who have failed. It’s our job to make the work of the cultured despisers all that more difficult. It’s our job to provide concrete, embodied examples of how religion, faith, spirituality—anything and everything that transcends a materialistic empiricism—make this world a better place, and humanity the richer for them. Are there things done in the name of religion that we don’t approve of and don’t agree with? Of course. Are there times when we join the cultured despisers in their bewilderment at the actions of those who call themselves religious? Most certainly. But rather than throwing up our hands, we need to throw ourselves into the fray keeping always before us the cornerstones of our revealed religion: faith, hope and love.

How we act matters. How we embody our faith in the world matters. I’d try and frame it in a neat little epigram but someone beat me to it: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Hurricane Katrina and "the rest" of New Orleans

By Todd Donatelli

Like most who visit New Orleans, its identity for me was defined by the French Quarter: the food, the music, the funky vibe of walking the streets. For seven years we lived three hours from the Crescent City, two and half if you didn’t stop. Becky and I spent several anniversaries there with a common agenda: wake up to a leisurely courtyard breakfast, walk the streets, eat lunch, head to antique shops for more walking, eat dinner, and walk the streets some more. The walking was a feeble attempt to balance the amount of calories consumed (forgot to mention the stops at Café du Monde for beignets). On other trips we took our children and widened the experience with the Children’s Museum and Aquarium.

It was only after Katrina that I saw the rest of New Orleans. The first glimpses were the people who took refuge in Asheville immediately after the levee breaks. They were of all socio-economic backgrounds. They had children needing to be in school. Some had aging parents with them. They were all gypsies seeking to navigate, let alone comprehend, the turn their lives had taken.

One of the “resident alien” New Orleans families attended All Souls from August until December 27. They did not just attend. Active in their home parish (one was a Warden at the time), they participated in EFM so as not to lose ground with their course work, participated in fellowship and other education offerings, and never missed a Sunday (better attendance than even the Dean). They did this while working to keep their jobs going back home, getting their kids in school, and working to keep their home parish going. They have remained ‘extended members’ of our church and a human connection to a story full of much political and social opportunity.
They were also the ones who took us through our first visit to New Orleans post-Katrina. All Souls was sending groups to the Mississippi coast. On one trip we ventured down I-10 to have dinner with them and see the city. They had been home for a few months.

The drive into the city drive was like some 1950s sci-fi movie. Unlike the horror of the Mississippi coast which was leveled by Katrina, New Orleans’ damage was primarily flood. Thus, one drove by buildings which were standing, yet empty. One saw apartments and shopping malls basically intact with empty parking lots as far as the eye could see; neighborhood after neighborhood, which from the interstate appeared intact, with no people or movement. It was surreal.

As we exited the interstate and drove along the streets, a severe silence overtook the van. Our friend described aspects of the devastation and the contexts of the neighborhoods. There was still no electricity in most of the flooded areas, no working stop lights, no working street lights. The debris of the yards and streets offered faint suggestions of the internal debris of those who once lived there.

I recall being on an elevated bridge that evening taken aback by the patchwork of city light: large squares full of street and home lights connected to other large squares of total darkness.
After that visit we began sending groups to work in New Orleans. Our trips were planned through the Episcopal Diocese relief office. An amazing community of diocesan staff, college age interns, and local Episcopalians provided hospitable accommodations and carefully, thoughtfully organized work opportunities. Many of these folks were themselves dealing with damaged homes, families and churches.

One family who had taken temporary refuge in Asheville brought us a worksite lunch of New Orleans Po-Boys: muffuletas, fried oysters and even a vegetarian option (New Orleans is not renowned for of its vegetarian cuisine). We slept at St. Paul’s, gathered each day for work assignments at St. Andrew’s and spent Wednesday nights at St. Anna’s for a meal accompanied by the sounds of local jazz bands. St. Anna’s had received a grant to pay for the jazz groups whose income was devastated by the flood: creativity amid the ruins.

Each morning we were briefed on the home to be worked on, given appropriate backgrounds on the persons who had lived there, and given contexts of that neighborhood. Sometimes we met those who had lived in the homes, other times we knew them only by the pictures and photo albums found inside.

We were scheduled in a different neighborhood each day in order to give us a broad understanding of the issues and complexity of the city. Neighborhoods like Gentilly, Lakeview, the 9th Ward, Chalmette, New Orleans East, and St. Bernard were not places I knew before these trips. Now they are etched in memory. Now there are faces connected to names. Whenever news reports of Katrina appear, they are no longer stories about “those folks” but of friends and those we met.

One need not gloss over the issues of New Orleans. Like many cities, their social issues have come through years of choices. Having grown up in Chicago in the 50s, 60s and 70s, names like Cabrini Green are not the ones we Chicagoans lead with when telling you about our home town.

As I watch the reports of the 5th anniversary of Katrina, I hear of issues faced and improved and many issues still with ‘miles to go’ before they will find their rest. As with any work of this scale there will be progress and setbacks. Certainly the spirits of those who live there did not need an oil spill as part of this journey.

Watching and reading the reports, I find myself grateful to have had relationship with the myriad of folks who live there and invited us in. I am grateful to have been allowed to observe their personal journeys with the city and their place in it. Their journey continues.

Dostoevsky said beauty will save us. I believe that. I also believe incarnation saves us; saves us from objectifying, saves us from removed identification, saves us from making judgments of people and groups without being present with and to them. Incarnation is costly. It requires a letting go of distant safety. It requires looking into one another’s eyes.

When I think about it, I am rarely converted simply by reading things. I am converted by human beings.

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

A Christian's responsibility to public schools, Part II

This is the second of a two-part article.

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will return on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

By George Clifford

When U.S. parents opt to send their children to private schools or to home school their children, I invariably wonder why. Half of the students at the college from I which graduated matriculated from private prep schools. Generally, their parents had enrolled their children in prep school to provide a better education than the one they believed their children could obtain in the public schools. Ironically, after overcoming my initial sense of inadequacy, I discovered that my public school education was roughly comparable to my peers’ private school education. Public education is not inherently inferior.

During my high school and college years, white flight into private schools and home schooling dominated the educational scene in parts of the country, Raleigh included. The allegedly racially separate but educationally equal schools of the Jim Crow south were in truth far from educationally equal. These segregated public schools failed at the enculturation of most minority children into valued citizens of our democratic society, deprived many of the prosperity that education frequently produces, and denied all the equal opportunity expressive of God's equal love for everyone, regardless of race.

During the five years I lived in Hawaii, I observed a public school system that largely enrolled children of parents unable or unwilling to afford private schools, i.e., mostly parents from lower socio-economic strata. The unofficial, pervasive public school ethos included strong elements of racial prejudice and violence. Funding and political support for the public schools was low, a result of elites and the even modestly affluent paying private school tuition and therefore having little interest or incentive in paying the higher taxes necessary to fund the public schools adequately. From a Christian perspective, Hawaiian public schools, like public schools in the Jim Crow south, had failed; lack of interest and greed rather than racism caused the failure.

Ministry as a military chaplain brought me into conversation with hundreds of families who had opted to home school their children or to send their children to “Christian” schools. Typically, these parents both wanted their children to acquire values and ideas that cohered with the parents’ evangelical Christian vision and were willing to pay the price to achieve that goal. This is not a new phenomenon. Immigrant Christians (and others) in prior generations sometimes established parochial schools for similar reasons. Economics have since forced the closing of many of these schools; many of the schools that remain open have joined the ranks of secular private schools whose mission, formally or informally, is to educate the children of one or more socio-economic elites. Others have established themselves as helpful options for children who fail to thrive in the public schools.

In some significant respects, the curriculum of most self-identified “Christian” schools and homeschoolers bears more resemblance to Islamic madrasas than to any U.S. public school curriculum. Both types of religious schools emphasize the primacy of a narrow religious perspective that instills religious and gender bigotry, distorts history, and demeans science (the “Christians” interpret scientific data through their religious lens; the Islamists ignore science). Neither provides an adequate foundation for their graduates to contribute to a democratic society, achieve economic prosperity, or genuinely value equal opportunity.

In Christ, there is neither black nor white, red nor brown, rich nor poor. God does not love or judge people based on net worth, income, or skin color. So why do Wake County residential patterns, like the patterns across America, broadly reflect an unchristian homogeneity, the nation’s affluent majority living in one set of neighborhoods, middle income people in another set of neighborhoods, and poor minorities in yet a third set? This pattern tragically alienates poor and affluent children alike from those who are different, sinfully perpetuating racially and economically determined patterns of friendship, employment, and opportunity. The Episcopal Church at General Convention 2009 adopted Resolution C049, endorsing equal opportunity for all.

Only when indiscriminate love for neighbor replaces self-centered economics and racial prejudice as the driver in determining residential patterns will Wake County (or any area) more fully incarnate the gospel. One essential long-term step toward achieving that goal is municipalities adopting development and zoning policies that promote real economic diversity in all neighborhoods. Another important long-term step is creating numerous small parks, designed for the young children who live in those neighborhoods. Young children rarely care about race or family income; they enjoy playing with any friendly peer. Some of the friendships spawned in those parks will surely endure into the teens and even adulthood. Day care programs with diverse populations can achieve the same result. Finally, parents (and others) instead of relying on public school alternatives should strive through political action, adequate funding, and civic support, to provide public schools with diverse student bodies that offer quality education to all children.

Collectively, those changes will help to tear down the sinful racial and economic barriers that presently stratify people in unchristian ways and leave too many children unprepared for a global community shaped by the gospel. I’m certain that other public policy ukases can also aid in attaining that goal. Christians, called by God to incarnate the gospel vision on earth, can usefully articulate and then wholeheartedly support such policies.

However, the Church’s most important and probably unique contribution is to motivate energetic Christian community support for achieving quality and diverse public schools. In a branch of the Church that today can easily appear myopically focused on internal issues and politics, the needs of some of the most vulnerable and least amongst us – children who are victims of racial, economic, and social injustice – deserve our focused and prioritized commitment. Indeed, by boldly working to transform public school systems in Wake County and elsewhere into instruments of social justice, we will live more fully into the gospel mandate, experience individual healing, and organizational renewal. Alternatively, if we ignore the children, we, like prior generations, will inflict our sins on today’s children and future generations.

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

A Christian's responsibility to public schools, Part I

This is the first of a two-part article.

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

By George Clifford

Scripture presumes that education consists of more than the three Rs and that sagacious instruction offers hope for building a future that is better than the present, e.g., Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (NRSV). One essential skill for children in our increasingly global society is learning to live as brothers and sisters with people who do not look, act, or think as they do.

The responsibility for educating children belongs to every Christian. Remember, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton, who helped to popularize that saying, the basic concept is profoundly Christian. In the liturgy for Holy Baptism, the celebrant inquires of those present, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” Educating children truly and rightly is every Christian’s responsibility.

Controversy over the policies used to assign students to schools currently roils the Wake County Public School System, the nation’s 18th largest system with more than 137,000 students. Since 2000, the Wake School Board has assigned students to schools to achieve the worth goal of socio-economic diversity, a proxy, for various legal reasons, for trying to ensure racial diversity in the public schools.

The current conflict has generated sufficient heat and animosity to attract national media attention. Battles over the public schools are a major front in the religious culture wars that in large measure contribute to the increasing polarization of U.S. society. The details of the Wake County controversy vividly illustrate this.

Wake County is approximately 70% Caucasian, 30% minorities. Socio-economic status in Wake County, as in most areas of the United States, roughly mirrors race. For example, the zip code for my suburban Raleigh parish is 85% Caucasian with an average 2009 household income of $85,600. An urban Raleigh zip code has an 87% minority population and an average 2009 household income of $28,600. Busing for diversity has achieved a substantial measure of socio-economic (and therefore racial) diversity in the public schools. Research suggests that the diversity policy has improved the standardized test scores of Wake County students, especially those from lower socio-economic strata.

The assignment policy has spawned a large number of critics with some valid grievances. Some children now spend over two hours per school day riding a bus to and from school. Wake County’s rapid population growth in conjunction with the current recession has led to frequent reassignment of students from one school to another and converting approximately one-third of its schools from a traditional nine-month calendar to a year-round calendar to accommodate more students in the same building without increasing class size. Those changes disrupt education and extracurricular participation, student friendships, parental involvement in schools, pre- and after-school care plans, and sometimes mean that children in the same family attend schools with different calendars.

Critics and grievances coalesced this summer in a hard-fought, highly emotional election that produced a new School Board majority, a majority opposed to busing for diversity. The new Board members quickly seized control and, among other actions, ended the policy of assigning students to schools to achieve socio-economic diversity. The NAACP and religious leaders, including the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, immediately responded with vociferous protests.

The Wake County School Board has yet to announce a new student assignment policy. One option, intriguing to both sides in the present dispute, would create about a dozen assignment zones. Parents in a zone could request that a child attend any school within the zone. Lotteries would select the students to attend any school for which the number of requests exceeds the number of available seats. Depending upon who one asks, the Board might or might not draw the zones to promote socio-economic diversity.

Good practical theology requires careful analysis, not only theologically but also sociologically and psychologically. Three dynamics are important. First, white flight remains an ugly, often ignored reality. In a county 70% Caucasian, the public school system is only 51.8% Caucasian. We Christians, the preponderant majority in Wake County, have failed in our moral responsibility to provide a quality, attractive public education for many children in Wake County.

The legacy of prior generations’ sins – slavery and segregation – too often manifest itself as socio-economic discrimination, thus perpetuating racial prejudices and exacerbating greed. Children born to poor and lower income parents generally have fewer and lower quality educational opportunities than do children born to affluent parents, as evident in the Wake County school system and the choices parents make to send their children to private schools or to home school their children. In biblical terms, this inequality afflicts the sin of earlier generations on this generation.

Second, the recently ended policy of assigning children to create socio-economic diversity only partially succeeded in achieving its broader goals. Although the policy seems to have improved standardized test scores, consistent anecdotal evidence suggests that the policy has broadly failed to nurture student friendships that bridge racial and socio-economic divides. Proximity by itself is insufficient to create relational diversity. Instead, the policy has had the unintended, tragic consequence of creating a backlash among lower and middle-class whites, as well as others, against policies designed to promote a healthy and vital diversity.

Third, school assignment policies by themselves are insufficient to bolster democracy, foster prosperity, and promote equal opportunity for all, goals profoundly consonant with the gospel’s vision of a just society. A half-century after the Supreme Court supposedly ended racially separate but equal schools, growing numbers of minorities believe themselves politically disenfranchised, without viable economic opportunity, and victims of racial and economic discrimination. In most parts of the United States, voting patterns, incarceration demographics, and employment statistics support that assessment.

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

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