Parish seders: a resource

By Ann Fontaine

A year ago I wrote an essay for the Episcopal Café, Say No to Christian Seders, outlining why I opposed these events. When I saw a friend's note on Facebook announcing Meredith Gould's Come to the Table: A Passover Seder for Parish Use, I retorted with my usual negative comment on the practice of holding seders in Christian Churches. Being a good friend, he asked if I had read it. Then the author joined the conversation and intrigued me with her ideas. While I am still not convinced, the following is an interview with Meredith Gould, who answers many of the questions about her book and the issue of seders in Christian churches. I do recommend it for those who wish to explore the issue and perhaps hold a type of seder that might be appropriate in a Christian church. From the book's web site the author, "invites faithful, curious Christians to appreciate the Last Supper as a Last Seder for Jesus and his disciples."
Table-cover-FINAL_00.jpg AF: Why did you decide to write this book?

MG: Several factors contributed to my increasing sense of urgency about writing Come to the Table: A Passover Seder for Parish Use, a project I started well over a decade ago. Key among these was, of course, my growing awareness that many churches were cobbling together seders that were. . .strange. But to be fair, what resources have been readily available?

In my experience, it’s usually someone from the Women’s Club or in an interfaith marriage rather than a liturgist who makes church-based seders happen. I tend to be more charmed than offended by such efforts, recognizing them as earnest expressions of interfaith outreach rather than a venal expropriation of Jewish ritual. Many years ago, after a supermarket encounter with someone whose cart was filled with yeasty baked goodies because, “dessert is after the seder is over,” I simply prayed, “Forgive her Lord, for she knows not what she’s doing,” and redoubled my efforts to get Come to the Table written, vetted and published.

Since parishes were already holding seders despite elegant formal statements issued by church hierarchy, I felt compelled to make my own contribution, one providing more education about the significance of Passover in the life of Jesus. I also decided to write a seder that I hoped would help Christians better understand the structure and meaning of Holy Eucharist.

In fact, most of my published work is an ongoing effort to help my sisters and brothers in Christ better understand just how much of Christian praxis is anchored in Judaism. A couple of years ago, I wrote Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? Jewish Roots of Christian Worship (Seabury) to provide this information and education in more detail.

AF: Many Christians and Jewish people argue against seders put on by Christians - what do you say to them?

MG: First, I want to find out what they’re arguing against and learn a bit more about their experiences to date.

From Christians, I want to know if they’ve ever been to an authentic Jewish seder and, if so, within which movement of Judaism. (Judaism has movements, not denominations). Their experience at a Reconstructionist seder will be quite different from one at the home of a Conservative family.

From Christians and Jews, I want to know more about their religious tradition growing up; if they’ve changed denominations/movements (if so, which and when and why); what their interfaith experiences have been so far.

From Jews, I want to know if they’ve ever been to a church-based seder. If they have, I want to know what they might have found disturbing. I also want to know if they’ve ever invited Christians to their family seder. If they have, I want to know if they felt equipped to help their guests make connections between ritual actions of the seder and what goes on during Holy Eucharist. Did they encourage active midrash?

I want to get this information before responding because I know it will help me engage in a more authentic conversation. It’s also my way of creating more space for me to calm down after having my first, second and third reactions to what I generally perceive as an attack.

AF: What is your personal history with the issue of holding seders in Christian churches?

MG: My personal history with this issue and Holy Week especially has been, in a word, painful. As I’ve written elsewhere (and often), I consider myself Jewish by identity and Christian by faith. As a Jew, I remain keenly aware of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Passover and Holy Week were difficult for me before being baptized and that seems still to be the case.

When it comes to church-based seders, I think it’s important that everyone understand that only the structure and some – but certainly not all – of the content can be replicated. Christian faith makes using the traditional Jewish seder totally inappropriate as well as impossible.

With this in mind and heart, I created a Christian observance for Holy Week that draws upon core Christian concepts and verses from Christian scripture to help participants understand the Last Supper as Last Seder. This meant removing some rituals entirely (e.g., proclaiming, “Next year in Jerusalem.”) I provide extensive notes to reference and unpack scholarship in this area for laity.

AF: What field testing did you do in preparation for writing and editing your book? What about getting it published?

MG: Revealing the years of field testing would mean revealing my age! Let’s just say I’ve spent decades attending and creating authentically Jewish seders in Jewish homes. (I sought and received baptism during my early 40s.) After baptism, I became much more aware of what Christians were actually doing for and to Passover. I elaborate my personal history in the preface from the first edition in this revised one. Yes, this is a blatant request for readers to buy my (very affordably priced) book!

Come to the Table was written and rewritten over a period of seven years before it was published by Plowshares Publishing in 2005. During that time the manuscript was vetted by Jewish and Christian reviewers before being submitted to religion publishers.

The first edition was rejected by every religion publisher to which it was submitted. I received comments like, “we don’t want to offend the Jewish people” so frequently that I was tempted to snap back with, “Hey, my mother is a Jew and she’s not offended.” Actually, I did finally say this and ended up being in an ongoing dialogue that resulted in Come to the Table being picked up by one well-regarded Catholic publishing house. It was pulled from the schedule (a nicely symbolic) three days before going into production. I received the news via terse email. At that point, I set up Plowshares Publishing.

Come to the Table has been used by many Roman Catholic parishes during the past five years since it references prayers and blessings in the Roman Missal. I’ve even had the privilege of presiding over one parish-based seder using my own haggadah. That experience as well as the positive notes I’ve received from those involved in adult formation has reinforced my commitment to this project.

I almost retired this title in 2010 because the Roman Missal was being rewritten but decided instead to revise the liturgy for use by any Christian congregation called to deepen its appreciation of Passover in the life of Jesus. I have Twitter in general and @Virtual_Abbey (more specifically) to thank for my growing commitment to ecumenism. That’s another story; more megillah than a haggadah.

_____________________________________

Meredith Gould, PhD, is the author of seven books The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today (Morehouse); The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions (Doubleday); and Deliberate Acts of Kindness: Service as a Spiritual Practice
(Doubleday). She blogs at More Meredith Gould, serves as abbess of The Virtual Abbey and is a frequent contributor to dotMagis.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar,St. Catherine's Episcopal Church, Manzanita OR, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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The class of the reunion

By Margaret Treadwell

Our high school graduating class of 1960 voted Twink and Tommy “best dancers.” He has spent the ensuing decades dancing around the law on death row as a convicted criminal for two murders. More than once, he has been within hours of execution only to have the execution delayed by appeals. Once he escaped from prison, so the planners of our 50th reunion feared he might show up at our gathering last June. He didn’t, but Twink did. Her dance through life is remarkable in an understated but equally dramatic way.

Born just months apart, Twink and I grew up on the same street and played together in those elementary school years when primal relationships often retain significant importance in our lives. Although we drifted apart in high school and lost touch until this reunion, our delight at reuniting prompted our pledge to stay in touch. Her story has captivated me as we’ve talked lengthily long distance during the past weeks.

Like many in our class, Twink married early. Ten months afterwards, she bore her only child at age 20. Robert was born with Spina bifida and severe hydrocephaluses, twisted legs and clubfeet. He was paralyzed from the waist down; his pediatrician kept him in the hospital for nine weeks and, according to Twink, was going to let him die of his congenital malformation. A family friend encouraged the couple to take their baby to a neurosurgery center in Birmingham, Ala, which offered a lifeline through the insertion of a neurological shunt.

Although legally blind and subject to periodic seizures due to intermittent pressure on his optic nerve, Robert thrived when he was mainstreamed in first grade. He was taught verbally and had an amazing capacity to retain information about everything. He could tell you how to do things he’d never seen done thorough his acute listening skills.

Twink says, “I gave 24/7 to Robert. I prepared his food, fed and bathed him, managed his catheter care, helped him with bowel movements, played, laughed and read with him and constantly volunteered in his schools to care for him in those days before cell phones. He was my life and my joy.”

The high school yearbook was dedicated to Robert his senior year, and the standing ovation lasted for three minutes when the coaches lifted him onto the stage in his wheel chair to receive his graduating certificate. He was named an honorary member of the Fire Department and twice the poster child for the March of Dimes ( Colbert County, Ala).

But Twink also talks about how her heart would break when people would stare or say mean things to him. She says, “ He never voiced being hurt but would say, ‘No big deal. Let it go.’ A friend from church wrote a song about Robert entitled He Never Complained.

Robert was 42 when he died in 2004 – an astonishing age for someone with his diagnoses. His death was painless and peaceful at home with his parents in the parsonage (his father, a graduate of Emory’s Candler School of Theology when Robert was 24, is now a retired Methodist pastor working part-time). There was no unfinished business except how to move forward without Robert.

After a bilateral mastectomy in 2008, Twink says she is a perfect example of what can go wrong with the human body. When asked how she kept on keeping on with her care giving despite her chronic fatigue, depression, fibromyalgia, back problems from lifting Robert every day, and the understandable rough spots in her marriage, Twink says, “ My mothering instinct kept me going even when I was tired. I had a difficult childhood due to my parents’ complicated problems that prevented them from nurturing me. Determined to be a better mother, my faith was strengthened the many times I knew that I couldn’t do but so much and God had to do the rest. That worked on Robert’s behalf and also as his dad overcame adversity to become a minister and a rock for us. We had no financial resources, but just when we were at the bottom a parishioner’s check would arrive in the mail, another family would give us their car, or another would bring us his garden’s bounty. God provided for everything then and now.”

In addition to one of the longest serving death row inmates, our Class of 1960 boasts an astronaut, a distinguished civil servant, decorated Vietnam war veterans, a mogul of the music and recording industry, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and writers. Much as I admire their achievements that signal “success” in our generation, my reunion highlight was finding and knowing more deeply one person whose faith and love light up a room otherwise like the lobby of a hotel filled with strangers who are incapable of substantive conversations. Twink is our class act and my hero.

Margaret M. “Peggy” Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice. She can be contacted at Peggy McDT@gmail.com

What is the future of traditional church music?

By George Clifford

Recently, I’ve participated in, or overheard, several conversations about church music. A well-known, respected authority on Episcopal liturgy openly declined to attend Morning Prayer at a conference we both attended because the service included Taizé music. These experiences evoked memories of conversations in my former parish between parishioners who wanted a variety of contemporary music (Taizé, jazz, guitars, praise choruses, etc.) and those who wanted only traditional music (i.e., classical, chant, or from the 1982 Hymnal).

By way of confession and disclaimers, although I don’t like to sing I do enjoy listening to music, especially classical, jazz, and sacred music. I suspect that I’m far from alone in not enjoying singing. I grew up in a home in which people did not sing.

Occasionally, somebody in the household would listen to recorded music on either a large record player or tabletop radio. But mostly music was not part of my childhood. However, I frequently attend symphony concerts, often listen to classical music at home or while working, and particularly enjoy hearing sacred music played on a good organ or performed by competent musicians.

In retrospect, I realize that I grew up in a transitional time. Before Edison, music always entailed a live performance. When people wanted music, they generally had to make it themselves. Except for a small number of wealthy people who could afford to employ their own musicians, an opportunity to hear professional performers was a rare treat.

Beginning with the development of first recorded music in the late nineteenth century and then the transistor radio in the 1950s, music became increasingly accessible and portable. Today, amateur musicians in almost every possible venue (I’ve even seen a shower with a built-in radio) have to compete with the availability of music performed by professionals accessed via the internet, an iPod, or numerous other electronic devices.

A music historian might helpfully revise my thumbnail sketch of that transition, but in broad outline, western society (perhaps the whole world) has transitioned from people who had to make their own music to people who can enjoy the best music of others on demand.

So what might this transition imply for The Episcopal Church (TEC) and its worship?
First, our expectation that worship attendees sing, is, apart from worship, an unusual, often unique, expectation in twenty-first century America. In other settings, people typically consume rather than perform music. Many of the tunes used in our worship are at least a century old and the lyrics are often older. In short, people are unlikely to be familiar with the music unless they regularly attend worship for decades.

Consequently, the singing in most worshiping congregations – based on the anecdotal evidence of personal observation and conversation with others – is desultory; more than a few attendees either sing perfunctorily or not at all. Familiar service music, used almost every week, probably constitutes the most common exception to that generalization. Even in a congregation where people actually lift their voices in praise and worship, careful observation usually reveals a sizable minority who, if they participate, do so less than enthusiastically.

Second, teaching our hymnody and music is becoming progressively more difficult because relatively few Americans read music. Their ranks are swelling as public schools reduce or eliminate music education programs in the face of severe financial constraints. If doubtful about the veracity of this assessment, observe a congregation struggle with an unfamiliar hymn that requires an ability to read music in order to follow the text correctly.

Third, our music, unlike our spoken liturgy, less and less resembles the “lingua franca,” i.e., today’s music. This shift departs from our Anglican heritage in which worship music married classic and contemporary lyrics with both popular secular tunes and contemporary sacred compositions. Compounding this problem, scriptural allusions in the lyrics, once familiar to most people, are increasingly unintelligible to a people for whom the Bible is a strange and unfamiliar text.

Fourth, some Episcopalians and others, individuals like me, are dinosaurs who appreciate the traditional music found in most Episcopal congregations. The demand for this type of music has not completely disappeared, although the growing scarcity of organists is an ill omen for its future. Done well, traditional church music fills an important niche. However, too often we dinosaurs decide which music to use, unintentionally (at least I hope it’s unintentional) leaving people unfamiliar with our music, or who prefer a different style of music, feeling marginalized or even unwanted.

Fifth, perhaps most importantly for a denomination concerned about its dwindling numbers, non-traditional church music speaks to many twenty-first century Americans with an emotional attraction and power they do not experience with traditional church music. Contrary to the impression I have sometimes received in Episcopal settings, we do not worship our music; our music is in fact intended to assist us in our worship of God. Again relying on anecdotal evidence, a substantial majority of rapidly growing megachurches utilize non-traditional music in their worship services. As much as the idea makes me uncomfortable, perhaps many Episcopal congregations should emulate the musical practices in some of these rapidly growing congregations.

Let me hasten to add three suggestions. First, much contemporary “Christian” music (e.g., most praise choruses) are insipid and vapid. We Episcopalians are an intelligent, godly people. Let’s borrow tunes (legally!) and then write our own words. We Episcopalians also have some great musicians. Let’s compose new, catchy tunes with good words.

Second, let’s recover the time-honored practice of adapting contemporary secular music for use in worship, marrying style and tune to sound theology. There’s nothing inherently profane about rap, hip hop, country and western, or any other style of music (regardless of how much I might wish that were not true!).

Third, the hymnal era is rapidly ending, probably has already ended. Almost twenty years ago, I chaired the Logistics Advisory Group of the Department of Defense Armed Forces Chaplains Board (the Board consists of the Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs of Chaplains from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force). The Armed Forces Book of Worship (BOW), the hymnal and worship book published for use in the U.S. armed forces, was out of stock. We recommended against republishing it and the Board agreed. The first reason for our recommendation, not germane to the Episcopal Church, the growing variety of religious groups represented among military personnel (200+ Christian groups, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’i, Hindus, Wiccans, etc.) made preparing an inclusive resource impossible. The other two reasons for our recommendation are pertinent to Episcopalians. No way exists to incorporate new music into a printed resource; the constantly growing stream of new music would make a new BOW out of date almost before publication. Equally significant, increasing numbers of youthful worshipers preferred songs projected on a screen to holding a hymnal.

Two hundred years ago, denominational hymnody functioned as a unifying and educational force that transcended parish lines. Today, the church faces a stark choice. We can persist in mandating the music that I love, congratulate ourselves on holding to tradition and consistency, and watch our numbers continue to decline. Alternatively, we can embrace present reality, accepting (even if begrudgingly!) that new styles of music speak to many twenty-first century people in a way that traditional music does not and that projection is replacing printed resources. I believe that the second alternative, done well (and of course we Episcopalians do everything well), is the only viable choice that encourages growth both in numbers and spiritual depth.

George Clifford, a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, is now a visiting professor of ethics and public policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Remember you are dust

By Donald Schell

When my twenty-three year old son said to me, “Dad, don’t you understand that we’re the first generation that has thought we may be living in the literal end of the world?” I reminded him how my world in junior high school stopped dead as the classroom P.A. systems broadcast moment-by-moment radio reports of the last stage of the Cuban Missile crisis, the confrontation at sea between Russian and U.S. warships. I told him how the silence around the radio voice deepened as we waited World War III was about to begin, and our astonishment at the moment the Russian ships, slowed, stopped and turned back. Teachers had been instructed to ready to ‘duck and cover,’ under our desks, away from windows, and “don’t look toward the blast.”

I reminded him of the assassinations of my high school and college years - John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. And I described living with the draft and the seemingly unending war in Viet Nam hanging over our heads, and recalled for myself the feeling the bitter astonishment of Kent State, when the National Guard turned their guns on peaceful student protest.

“Josh,” I replied to him after I’d offered my bit of history, “your mom and I certainly did know the fear it all could end soon when we were your age.”

The threats around and feeling everything so fragile made me love Shakespeare’s The Tempest when I first read that play in high school. Prospero’s god-like re-ordering of the storm of chaos and malice that had engulfed him and his daughter Miranda had a Gospel/Resurrection feel to me. When Prospero’s enemies (his brother and the King of Naples), who had tried to kill him, finally understand that they’ve fallen completely under Prospero’s power, they see what they’ve done, and though expecting and fearing the worst from Prospero, are astonished that he blesses them with mercy and the good hope of a peaceful future.

And as any good comedy should, The Tempest ends with the promise of a wedding and a long and happy life for Prospero’s daughter Miranda and Ferdinand, the King of Naples kind and loving son.

In so many ways, that play was just what I needed, but it bothered me terribly that, near the end of the play, when Prospero, the God-like wielder of justice making, reconciling magic said:

…this rough magic
I here abjure… I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

And the magician who’d undone so much evil laid aside all magic powers forever; the restorations he has accomplished will mean leaving his enchanted island to sail to ordinary home in Milan, where from this point his:

“every third thought shall be my grave"

How I regretted those lines! Times like we were living needed benevolent magic and thoughts of hope, not death.

Recently watching Julie Taymor’s haunting film where Helen Mirren plays Prospero as Miranda’s mother Prospera--I noticed something new, not in those lines, but in me, this sixty-three year old lover of the play. Have I actually become grateful that Prospero puts aside his magic? I’ve certainly come to identify with his frequent gaze ahead toward death. And I find comfort in that gaze.

Something began to shift for me when I was working in a very conflicted mission church and finding my work almost unrelentingly stressful. I discovered I could stop my mind spinning its dread of what I’d done wrong and worry for all that was left undone by recollecting the comet or meteorite that might hit the earth as it had done ending the era of the dinosaurs.

Hearing, for example, from the bishop that he’d fended off another group from the church that had come to him to get me fired for ‘all those changes’ I’d brought like the New Prayer Book and communicating young children, I could stop my spiral into feeling sorry for myself (‘I’m doing what our church has done. I’m just the messenger!’) or toward relishing my self-righteous fury at my parishioners (‘Why are they going behind my back. Do they think I’m lying when I say I want us to talk and face change together?) by reminding myself that a comet like the one that killed all the dinosaurs could hit the earth at any moment. The comet invited restored me to patience and invited forgiveness toward frightened, angry parishioners. All they or I could ever do was our faithful best, mistakes, failures and all.

Though I had grown up haunted by the double threat of ‘Left behind’ nightmares (waking to an empty sounding house and fearing Christ has come and raptured everyone I loved and I’d been left behind!) and haunting visions of nuclear holocaust, imagining a comet colliding with earth and ending life as we know it seemed simply an end, a reminder that nothing is permanent, a sort of freeing Zen koan.

But this remembering our mortality and the possibility of a sudden end of all didn’t make grief easy to feel, to comfort, or to explain. When a parishioner’s young nephew was killed in a farming accident, I was glad I could go and sit with the family. They seemed to welcome that and need the sitting more than answers.

I certainly didn’t have answers when a superb physician - one of those parishioners clergy simply feel privileged to serve - died a slow, painful death from cancer in his 50’s. I’ve cherished his deathbed vision of divine welcome that he described to me a few days before he died, “I’ve seen the welcome waiting for me, and I’m eager. It’s beautiful.” But I didn’t preach that to the crowd at his funeral.

For the funeral sermon, I simply told stories I’d heard of our physician’s love and said that the heart for that kind of care was a gift from God.

Later one Ash Wednesday, as I was nearing forty, I had another small breakthrough. That morning of marking each person’s forehead with ashes and saying the Prayer Book’s words, ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,’ I felt God’s mercy in those stark words and a wave of tenderness for our fragile humanity. l was blessing the finitude of people God loved beyond measure. I’ve looked forward to Ash Wednesday ever since.

Though all Lent after I first learned that it was a mercy to remember we are dust, I thought and prayed into this sense that our mortality wasn’t only tragic. I couldn’t explain just how our God-given finitude (including our boundaries of birth and death) was a gracious gift, but since then, I’ve always heard “remember you are dust,” as genuine Good News.

A few years later, I knew I couldn’t grasp the mind of God or find blessing in the too early deaths of my wife’s parents, too young in their sixties and just three years apart. We found no answer except to feel the reality of their loss to us.

The more deeply we’re grieving, the less grace there seems to be in answers about afterlife or what it all means. So I’m also grateful for the ashes the Prayer Book gives us at the graveside:

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother ; and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him peace. Amen.”

What is our Christian hope? Yes, I love that prayer and there’s obviously more to talk about and some specifically Christian hope to proclaim – whatever we mean by Jesus’ resurrection and whatever it’s got to do with our own death and resurrection. So, there’s plenty more to talk about, but for now, I hope others will write in response more simply

– just how do we live in hope? and
- where do we find grace in death or meet God in our mortality?

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

The grace of failure

By Sylvia Miller-Mutia

In my seminary, seniors had to take a course called “Issues in Ministry,” so we spent the better part of our final semester working in small groups on case planning strategies to face tough challenges that we’d soon encounter in ministry. By the end of the semester, each group was supposed to have developed a comprehensive evaluation and response to their case study—including a sermon series, an education series, a liturgical plan, etc., and each group was complete their assignment synthesizing their project into a thirty minute presentation for the rest of the class.

At last, when the time came for presentations, the first group moved to the front of the room and began setting up a cardboard stage. Then out came brown paper bags decorated to resemble the members of the group. (Well actually, there were puppets representing three of the four members of the group: one puppet held a bottle of pepsi; one puppet wore a pair of glasses; and one puppet was holding a baby. The fourth group member just wore a brown paper bag on his own head).

As the group members took their places behind the cardboard stage to begin their presentation, I thought to myself: A puppet show! What a clever idea. Why hadn't WE thought of that? My group hadn't planned anything nearly so creative for OUR presentation.

But they didn't begin by summarizing their case study.

And they didn't tell us about their exciting sermon series, or engaging educational series, or innovative liturgical plan.

Instead, each group member, in turn, told their story of the experience working with the group over the past months.

One challenge after another had disrupted the group's ability to work together and complete the project. There had been job interviews and family emergencies—a wedding; the death of a parent, the birth of a baby. There had been differences in communication styles, and learning styles, and working styles. There had been distances—generational and geographic—that proved impossible for the group to overcome.

The group had no project to report on. All they had to offer was the story of their frustration and their failure.

Their story was a costly gift to us. During the discussion that followed their presentation, one member of the group set aside her puppet to tell us, “We've made this experience seem kind of funny with our puppet show, but you need to know that this experience has been really, really painful. It’s one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.” But we learned more about “issues in ministry” from the halting story of that one group's failure than from the polished presentations of all the other groups combined. In their real pain and truthful account of failure, all of us found grace.

Saint Paul writes:
I did not come with any brilliance of oratory or wise argument to announce to you the mystery of God... I came among you in weakness, in fear and great trembling...(1 Corinthians 2:1, 3)

Paul speaks what that small group was feeling as they stood before our class. Could I have done what they did - coming in weakness and telling their story? I don’t think so. Unlike Saint Paul, I still have aspirations to “brilliance of oratory and wise argument.” And I have pretty strong aversion to failure.

I would have withdrawn from the class. Or taken an “Incomplete”.

Or, to be perfectly honest, I probably would have manically tried to single-handedly complete every facet of the group project on my own. And, in so doing, I would have robbed myself, my group, and our entire class of the chance to encounter grace.

One thing I’ve found profound since joining the ministry team at St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco is our congregation’s practice of “sermon sharing.” Week after week, members of the community stand up right after the sermon--often, I suspect, “in fear and great trembling”-- to share their raw, unfinished stories. They don't stand up to show off their great ideas, to offer brilliant oratory and wise arguments. They stand up to share the truth of our lives. Often we hear messy, broken, beautiful human truth. In the sacred space we create by offering and receiving these stories, we encounter grace. We give one another a tremendous (and sometimes costly) gift —and especially, I believe, we’re giving our best gift to the children and youth in our community as they struggle to make sense of their own experiences of failure.

Paul writes:
I was resolved that the only knowledge I would have while I was with you was knowledge of Jesus, and of him as the crucified Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:2)

So we look to an icon of human weakness and failure to discover the power of God; this is one of the truly bizarre things about Christianity. But the strange, troubling image of the crucified can also be tremendously liberating. Because the crucified Christ points us towards the truth that doing everything “right” can still end in apparent failure. And the crucified Christ points us towards the truth that apparent failure is not, in fact, our end. And I suspect that the crucified Christ points towards one more truth:

In Matthew's Gospel we read:
You are the light for the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that... they may give praise to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Isn’t this passage at odds with the passage from Paul? Do we come before the world and one another in weakness, or as bright shining lights? Which is it?

The crucified Christ points us towards the truth that it's both—that they are, in fact, the same thing. When the shell of our success, and competence, and apparent perfection begins to crack -- that's when our true light, the light that emanates not from our own accomplishments but from the tremendous power of God, can shine forth.

The very broken-ness of the crucified Christ offers us a way in to Jesus—and that same broken-ness allows the light of God to flow out of Jesus. And what’s true of Jesus is also true for us…it's actually the cracks in our shell that offer others a way into our lives...and allow the light of God to flow out into the world.

When followers of Jesus tell and listen to our own truthful stories of weakness and failure – like the bag puppets did for us in my class, we begin to see God’s light and power shining forth with unparalleled brilliance. And telling our story, makes us bold to tell a world tyrannized by devotion to strength and success the impossible, unimaginable hope we discover in Christ crucified.

The Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia, is Youth and Family Minister at St. Gregory's, San Francisco. She is a dancer, teacher and recently ordained priest who just began her ministry at St. Gregory’s.

Divine subversion

By Bill Carroll

When reading a familiar and beloved text like the Sermon on the Mount, we may despair of finding anything new to say about it. For here, Jesus speaks in a programmatic way about the central features of his message about faith, discipleship, and the Kingdom of God.

One, rather obvious way to read this sermon is to observe that it’s about the giving of a New Law. Just like Moses did on Sinai, Jesus climbs a mountain and gives us commandments. Unlike Moses, however, Jesus does not disappear into a cloud and reemerge with a message he’s received from God. Jesus is God. And so, he opens his mouth and speaks, beginning with the beatitudes, proclaiming God’s righteousness in all its fulness.

At one level, there’s nothing wrong with this interpretation. We could all stand to be reminded of God’s call to holiness from time to time. In human society, the claims of justice are seldom preferred to those of wealth and power. What is more, reading the sermon as an exhortation to the highest form of morality has the authority of many early readers of the Gospel behind it. Augustine, for example, observes that “If anyone will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount…I think he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life.”

It’s a standard, of course, that has often been observed in the breach. Even in ancient times, wave after wave of Christians found they had to flee to the desert to try to follow the teachings of Christ. The desert monks, and many kindred spirits since, have sought to live out the Gospel without the compromises and evasions most of us settle for.

More often than not, however, they discover they’ve brought the world with them. Living the Gospel in its purity is easier said than done. Since Eden at least, there’s never been a golden age free from ambiguity and imperfection. Indeed, in large measure, that’s what the Incarnation is all about. Without removing the world’s imperfections, God subverts it from within. In this way, God’s power and wisdom confront the world as the weakness and foolishness of the cross.

We can learn this wisdom from saints of the past like Anthony, Francis, or Teresa—or from more recent examples like Dorothy Day or Martin Luther King. These men and women show us what the Gospel looks like in practice. Saints like these and the movements that form around them draw at least some inspiration from the Sermon on the Mount, the great manual on Gospel discipleship. They also make the cross of Christ visible in their time through suffering and martyrdom. Though many of them left behind a body of writings, some of them commenting directly on the words of Jesus, the ultimate commentary is holy living that follows in his steps. Truly, as Jesus says later in the sermon, whoever hears these words of his and does them is like the wise man who built his house upon a rock. Truly, these saints are the light of the world.

There’s a risk here, though—one at least as great as that of half-hearted discipleship. It’s that we reduce the Gospel to a rulebook. A new series of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots" adds to our guilt without changing our lives. Where, we might ask, is the Good News? Where do we find promise and hope in the beatitudes?

The first thing to note is that none of the beatitudes is, in fact, a commandment. Each is a blessing, stated not in the imperative but in the indicative mood. Rather than tell us what God commands us to do—he isn’t shy about doing that elsewhere by the way—Jesus begins by announcing what God is doing and is about to do. Rather than tell us we ought to become poor or meek or pure, Jesus tells us about the blessings that fall to those who already are, and then invites us to get in on the action.

In a recent Gospel, as Jesus begins to preach publicly, we hear him announce that the Kingdom of God has come near. Later, in the beatitudes, we catch a glimpse of what that Kingdom is like. It’s an upside-down Kingdom, where the last come first and the first, last. The peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—everyone who comes dead last in a world ruled by violence, greed, and fear—these are the ones God is blessing. Those who are in first place now have cause for concern and repentance. Thank God that, as painful as the great reversal will be, there is new life for us all in the abundant mercy of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, says Jesus, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. And this is Good News for the Ohio University staff member near the bottom of the ladder, drowning in debt and two payments late on the mortgage, living in fear of another round of layoffs (as a result of impending state budget cuts). Blessed is he, because God has heard his cry and sent Jesus to take up his cause. Blessed is he, because Jesus became a worker and showed us the way of solidarity, justice, and love. Blessed is he because Jesus has drawn near to him in mercy.

Blessed are those who mourn, says Jesus, for they shall be comforted. And this is Good News for the widow, struggling to make a new life for herself on the other side of loss. Blessed is she, because God is with her in strength and love. Blessed is she because Jesus has shared her grief, overcome death, and opened the way of everlasting life. Blessed is she because Jesus has drawn near to her in mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, says Jesus, for they shall be called children of God. And this is Good News for those scarred by the present reality or the awful memory of war. Blessed are they, because Jesus forgives their sins, binds their wounds, and bears their pain. Blessed are they, because Jesus endured the hostility of the world, made peace by his blood, and showed us the way of reconciliation. Blessed are they because Jesus has drawn near to them in mercy.

And so, as we hear these words, let us take them to heart, and look for those things that God is doing or is about to do among us. For it is by discerning and responding to the movements of grace that we open ourselves to God’s blessings in our lives. And let us remember (for we often forget or are told otherwise) that:


Blessed are we when we are humble or hungry or poor.
Blessed are we when we are merciful or gentle or compassionate.
Blessed are we when we are falsely accused or persecuted or practice costly forgiveness.
Blessed are we when we grieve or suffer or struggle.
Or hunger and thirst for justice in a world gone mad.

For then, in those very moments, we find that Jesus has drawn near to US in mercy.
Then, we discover that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Chosen to be a blessing?

By Kathleen Staudt

In his book A Generous Orthodoxy--the chapter on “Why I am Missional”--Brian McLaren, makes a point that opened up for me the whole tangled question of what it means to be “called and chosen” as the People of God. Crediting the theology of Leslie Newbigin, he reminds us that when God calls Abraham and promises to make of him a great nation, God’s purpose is that Abraham and his descendants will be a blessing to the world.

Though God’s language in this story is still very rooted in a tribal ethos, the promise is that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) . They are called out from among the nations, not for special privileges, but so that God can work through them. And at its best, the covenant that God eventually calls them into is, by the standards of the time and place, a new way for people to be together in society, where just distribution of wealth and resources are assumed, family relationships honored, and right relationship between creatures and Creator is valued. At least that’s what the overall narrative reaches for, with its ongoing pattern of embracing and falling away from the covenant that God offers and keeps offering again. I think we can learn a lot be reading Scripture with this pattern in mind.

Like McLaren, and like Verna Dozier, (both of whom, like me, started their careers as readers & teachers of literature), I see this theme of “chosen-ness” as a part of the “arc” of the Biblical story -- perhaps of all the Abrahamic traditions in one way or another. The Biblical story is the story of a God who is engaged with and wants to work through human history. In Hebrew Scripture God does this through the Torah, and the narrative tells of the waxing and waning of the people’s faithfulness, and all the consequences of that. It goes all the way through the story of exile and return, when the people, repentant and redeemed, see themselves again as being called to be “a light to the nations.” And then for Christians, the New Testament offers another take on Hebrew Scripture, through the lens of our call to follow the Way of the Risen Christ. (*Just a note that I hope may avoid some detour in the comment threads: I honestly think that it is possible to embrace this reading without being supersessionist, i.e., without arguing that the call of Christ somehow displaces or negates the call of the Israelites to be the people of God. I hope that the way of reading I propose does not necessarily makes us complicit with the damage this misreading of scripture has done through history. Rather, I think it helps us toward faithfulness to read Scripture at least in part as the story of a God who calls people into covenant and acts in human history. It is a particular and radical theology and it is at the heart of the Biblical story. The New Testament may be our chapter of that story, as Christians, but we need to embrace the whole story.)

In the gospels, we also have stories of calling and again the call is not to special privileges but to participation in a mission – the bringing in of the kingdom, the reign of God. The fishermen become “fishers of men” in Mark and Matthew. When Jesus is bidding farewell to his disciples in the fourth gospel, he says “you did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another.” (John 15:16-17). This is not the conferring of special privilege or magical powers, but a commissioning to a new way of life that will touch and transform human communities.

Obviously I’m picking and choosing passages here – (I hope it isn’t “proof-texting: -- just suggesting some themes that thread through the Biblical story and help to make it our own). When there’s language about God’s call in Scripture, we may want to resist our contemporary inclination to read everything individualistically and consider that in the context of the story, being called and chosen is usually about becoming part of ( or even leading) a new kind of human community, bearing the cost of this, and becoming in some way an example to the world on God’s behalf. True, Christians as a body have not always been a blessing to the world -- we’ve certainly been known to appropriate and distort the language of chosen-ness in destructive ways. But I think it’s important to revisit the idea and try to understand it in a fresh way, rather than to throw it out as contaminated by our past. Just because we’ve failed to live up to it doesn’t mean that the call to become God’s people and to be a blessing has gone away.

Most of us cringe at language about chosen-ness because of all the attention that has been given in theological discussions to more individualist questions about who is and is not chosen and what it might mean not to be chosen. Paul struggles over this himself - and comes to a ringing, hopeful conclusion when he says that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus .” (Galatians 3:28) It may just be “human nature” to turn a story that it mainly about what it means to be called “the people of God” , , into a story about us and them, who’s in and who’s out. It happens within the story itself, many times. Nevertheless, I think we’re meant to pay more attention to what we’re called for and to, if we see ourselves as part of the Biblical story, than to worry much about who is in and who is out and how God makes that choice, questions which have occupied us perhaps too much in Christian theologizing. . “Your way of life must be different from that of others,” writes that early Christian reformer St. Benedict, “the love of Christ must come before all else.” That is still a Biblically- based reading, related to this understanding of being called and chosen. McLaren’s take on the call to “be a blessing” as the basis for a missional theology offers us a liberating way to read Scripture as a story that is in some sense our story. He uses it as the basis for his claim that the church’s call is “to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ, in community, and for the sake of the world.” And so this way of reading Scripture provides a fresh lens for asking what the Church is called and chosen to be, as the people of God in the real world of the 21st century.

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.

The Light of Imagination

By Bill Harkins

“The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light.”
Isaiah 9:2

During Epiphany, the season of light, we hear the story of the Magi who, after seeing the Christ child, go home by another way. What does it mean to have taken a journey and looked at the face of God? What became of them when they returned to their homes? How were their lives different and how are our lives different, after we encounter the light of Christ? How might this stir our imaginations here, and now, in our ministries?

Images of light invite wonder. Epiphany occurs just as we observe the winter solstice, that point at which the earth’s axial tilt away from the sun begins to nod back in the direction of light, and warmth. In festivals all over the world people celebrate the return of light, and the harvest it will bring. Neuroscience tells us that the human eye is capable of detecting a single photon—the smallest unit of measurable light.

The evening after our recent winter solstice, my running buddies and I put on our headlamps for a night trail run. As we prepared to bear our lights into the darkness of the woods, I thought about how often in pastoral encounters we enter different kinds of spaces—sometimes spaces of darkness, pain, and ambiguity—and seek to be bearers of light. As we ran on familiar, yet mysterious trails, I found myself filled with anticipation and hope. It may be hope that leads us to seek the light, and bear it into the darkness, with imagination.


Donald Winnicott, the British psychiatrist, believed that the “potential space” between baby and primary caregivers expanded to include the space between child and family, individual and society, and finally the entire world. Within this “transitional” space we may engage in creative living. For Winnicott, the loss of imagination was a diagnostic marker, just as the restoration of the capacity to creatively engage the world indicated a return to wholeness—and to one’s “true self.” Winnicott referred to this potential space as “sacred.” Here one has a capacity to live as creative, “fully alive” human beings. Here, we have a sense of wonder about ourselves and the world.

Pastoral theologians expanded this to include that space between oneself and God. Ann Bedford Ulanov has suggested that the goal of life is to “play before God, as human beings fully alive and showing forth in their playfulness the glory of God.” We can bring to bear upon liturgy, preaching, mission, and pastoral care our imaginative engagement with whatever we find—and co-create, in those “potential spaces.”

T.S. Eliot’s’ poem “The Journey of the Magi” asks some of these same questions about “transitional spaces” and imagination. I find myself connecting with the very human side of their journey. “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,” Eliot writes, “But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.”

Like the Magi, we cannot go back home the same way we came. No, nor is home as it was, because we have changed. The light becomes part of us. We, too, search for signs of hope and reconciliation and find that search to have led us to this place and time, amidst the ordinary and mundane. Similarly, W.H. Auden suggests that Epiphany has more to do with the confrontation of the emptiness in late winter than with holiday festivities in December. This seems a cautionary—and deeply honest—reading. Auden’s poem “For the Time Being,” “…evokes the period in which we all live…the flat stretches of our lives which never quite measures up to the Christian ideals or Hollywood portrayals.” Auden writes, “As in previous years we have seen the actual vision and failed to do more than entertain it as an agreeable possibility, once again we have sent Him away, begging though to remain His disobedient servant.”

On the night of our solstice run we were entranced by the mystery of familiar terrain, at an unfamiliar time, and by the simple act of bearing light into the darkness. The trail seemed transformed. In a way, so were we. Orion and the Pleiades whirled and blazed above us in the night sky. The ordinary seemed wonder-full, and the moon illuminated the forest of pine, oak, and beech. The trees seemed luminescent in the cove where we paused alongside a lovely singing stream. We ran in silence, the woods mysterious in the penumbral glow of our headlamps. Our sense of imagination was alive again. Suddenly, on an uphill stretch we saw first one, then two, then twenty other headlamp bearing runners, lighting the darkness—fellow sojourners on the trail, each bringing his or her light into the mystery of that night. This is so often how it goes. We think we are alone, and the new way home will be lonely, only to discover that following a star, in hope, has opened up a whole new world of community. Perhaps the other road home is as close by as our openness to imagination. As Gaston Bachelard said so well, “space seized upon by the imagination cannot remain indifferent space.”

It requires pastoral imagination to participate in the good work of redeeming today, with gratitude. In the everydayness of our lives the Word Made Flesh graces us. The self-deception that masks our anxiety and fear—just as it did for Herod—can be transcended by imagination. Finitude is precisely where God seeks us out and finds us, and the Incarnation reminds us that nothing human is alien to God. In the light of imagination we notice the gratitude in the eyes of a homeless woman as we serve her food; or the light in the tears of a loved one who can only mouth the words “thank you,” as you bathe and shave him; or the sadness mixed with hope as one anoints a dying man on a dark winter day. With imagination, we look for and pay attention to the light of Christ in the other, and ourselves. As the poet Mary Oliver said “Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, ‘Stay Awhile.’ The light flows from their branches. And they call out again, ‘It’s simple,’ they say ‘and you, too, have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.’” Epiphany blessings!


Bill Harkins lives in Atlanta, where he teaches pastoral theology at Columbia Seminary, and maintains a private practice in pastoral counseling and marriage and family therapy.. He is a priest associate at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip.

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What makes a family?

By Margaret Treadwell

What makes a family? For six years I have been writing this Family Matters column assuming that the notion of family is simply understood when people write or talk about families. Now a cutting edge conference and an online article about expanding definitions of the American family provide rich reflections to challenge my assumptions.

Recently the Headmistresses Association of the East, a national organization comprised of men and women heads of independent schools from all over the country, addressed shifting family demographics at its annual conference, “Our Schools and the Changing Family.” The bottom line: Look at the natural order of the world to see that diversity is the key to survival. If your institution is catering only to traditional families, it will run out of customers. Question? How can we stay true to the needs of the people who come to us?

Keynote speaker, Brenda Husson, rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church, New York City, spoke about the diversity in her church. Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender (LGBT), bi-racial, single and adoptive parents can be open about their challenges in a world where “family values” often means being straight. She noted Biblical examples of faith-based reasons to be inclusive, especially in choosing one’s family: Ruth chooses to become an Israelite and consequently becomes the grandmother of David; Jesus invites disciples to leave their families to follow him, and at the time of his death, gives his mother a new son, John, the beloved disciple.

Children first begin to create a larger family at church and school. Just as nature gives us a pod of whales, school of fish, gaggle of geese, pride of lions and an exaltation of larks, we human beings need larger networks where we can feel accepted enough to try on different roles, no matter how strong our biological family.

Among the 2000 U.S. Census statistics on families, 1.6 million children under the age of 18 live with their adoptive parents (who chose them); 2.8 million children under age 18 and nearly 7 million Americans of all ages identify themselves as being a part of more than one race; there are more than 7 million LGBT parents with school-age children, and in 2005, there were an estimated 8.8 million gay, lesbian and bisexual people (single and coupled) living in the U.S. Twenty percent of same-sex couples are raising children under the age of 18, and same sex couples live in 99.3 percent of all counties and in every state.

During the conference, break-out groups focused on what school heads need to be thinking about as ramifications of these statistics. For example, Abbie E. Goldberg of the Clark University Department of Psychology presented her research and recommendations for lesbian and gay-parent families. Another session considered how to end the crisis of bullying in schools, and a panel of independent school parents, teachers and students from various family backgrounds told powerful stories about their experiences.

Betsy Pursell, vice president of education and outreach at The Human Rights Campaign, co-led a session entitled “Making Your School Welcoming” which could be applied equally to churches seeking grounding and safety for diverse families. She said the following three points are often overlooked:

• People from diverse backgrounds want to see themselves reflected in the community, beginning with non-discrimination statements and photographs on websites. Lesbian and gay parishioners need to read (or hear from the pulpit) the words “lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender” spoken as loving messages.
• Unwritten messages and hidden symbols tell people whether or not they are truly welcomed. Many of the lesbian and gay people sitting in our Episcopal church pews are refugees from evangelical or ultra-conservative churches and they are especially attuned to the subtle and not so subtle messages they see and hear; from the Sunday sermon to weekly announcements to the agenda of the social justice work. Does this church seem to value its LGBT members?
• Word of mouth is most important. Have other bi-racial or LGBT families felt welcomed in your school or church?

Nationally representative surveys conducted by Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell show that a majority of Americans now include same-sex couples and their children in their definitions of family. This growing acceptance has come at a surprisingly quick pace, although far from a warm embrace of same-sex unions and the notion that same-sex couples with or without children are a family unit. What would it take for churches to assume leadership in extending a radical welcome and warm embrace to the expanding definitions of what makes a family?

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

The literally life giving power of stories

By Marshall Scott

It won’t surprise anyone that I peruse medical journals for entertainment. I don’t claim to understand everything I read; but I still find fun in it.

And sometimes I find something that particularly catches my interest. During one such session not long ago, I actually found two. One was this title for a research study: “Culturally Appropriate Storytelling to Improve Blood Pressure” (Annals of Internal Medicine, 2011; 154:77-84). The second was another study with a title apparently similar, but subtly different: “Effect of Preventive Messages Tailored to Family History on Health Behaviors: the Family Healthware Impact Trial” (Annals of Family Medicine, 2011; 9:3-11).

Now, in my business both storytelling and family history are important things. So, I was certainly interested as I read the articles. As I said, the titles seem alike. However, there are differences, and the differences are important.

In “Storytelling,” a team was looking for a way to provide both information and encouragement for changes in behavior for African Americans with hypertension. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, less likely to get it under control, and more likely to have serious complications. The team thought of storytelling.

Now, at first blush storytelling might seem well outside the frame of reference of modern allopathic medicine. However, for more than a decade now some medical schools have offered courses in narrative medicine. There is some appreciation that we understand ourselves and our lives, not only in light of facts, but also in light of the stories within which those facts have meaning.

So, they began with a number of focus groups made up of African Americans living with high blood pressure. From participants in those focus groups they selected a number that told their stories well. They recorded them telling their stories, and put the stories on a DVD, along with additional information on hypertension. They then provided DVDs to African American patients with hypertension. Study patients (both those with controlled and uncontrolled hypertension) received study DVD’s. Patients in the control group (whose hypertension was also not controlled) received a DVD with basic health information. Investigators hoped that study patients whose hypertension wasn’t yet controlled would show improvement, and that patients who hypertension was controlled would sustain their existing control and behaviors.

And it worked. It didn’t make a big difference for the patients whose hypertension was already controlled. However, for those for whom hypertension wasn’t controlled, those who watched the DVD had a significant improvement (lower average numbers) in their systolic blood pressure (the first number in blood pressure) over the control group at three months. In fact, the patients were followed for nine months; and while the average pressures for all patients went up between three and nine months, there was still a significant difference for those who had watched the study DVD.

What made the difference? Well, the investigators suggest (and I agree) that personal stories about living with high blood pressure were more powerful than a straight lecture, and especially when the person telling the story looked and sounded like them. As a result, they were more likely to embrace and maintain the lifestyle changes that led to better control of blood pressure.

The second study seemed to suggest the same point and yet had different results. The article “Family History” reports on the Family Healthware Impact Trial. Family Healthware is a software program developed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as an interactive tool to allow patients to record information on family history for six common diseases and for related health behaviors. When the user has completed his or her entries, the software generates a health risk assessment for the various diseases based on family history. It also provides health messages and suggestions for healthy behaviors. The thought was that because these health messages were customized and based on the patient’s individual family history the patients would find them easier to adopt and maintain. They selected 2,364 subjects in the control group, and 1,422 in the control group, and followed them for a series of good health behaviors (smoking cessation, eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, taking aspirin daily, tracking their blood pressure, and getting cholesterol and glucose checked regularly). Study subjects received the report with risk assessments and health messages connected to their individual family histories. Control subjects received a set of standard health messages, not individually tailored.

Surprisingly, investigators did not see the results they had hoped for. Study patients did show increases in eating fruits and vegetables, and in getting exercise; but for the other health behaviors results were small to insignificant. For most of the behaviors, the fact that the recommendations were based specifically on patients’ family histories didn’t seem to make much difference.

As I read the article, I realized that there was a significant difference between the studies. In the first study communication with the patients was not only customized, but specifically reflective of their community, and, really, of their own lives. In the second the messages were customized the family history, but were not specifically reflective of the patients’ communities. They were the standard medical messages, and not personal stories. While the messages in “Family History” were arguably just as useful, the stories in “Storytelling” were more meaningful, in that they were more related in their expression to the lives and experiences of patients.

Now, this is one of those moments where we notice the differences in how we see the world. In modern medicine, “if it didn’t get documented, it didn’t get done;” and if it hasn’t been documented in a formal research study, it can’t be approved. For the rest of us, and especially for those of us in the church, the reaction is likely to be, “Well, duh!” Our most important information is rooted in story – specifically, in the story of what God has done for us. Moreover, as any person in the pew can tell you, it is shared more effectively in story than it is in simple discourse.

Fact is, this is at the center of our lives as Christians. We are committed to receiving and passing on the Gospel; and since we receive it in and through story, we are committed to passing on the story, and not just the principles and conclusions that we derive from the story. Even in passing on the principles and conclusions, it is in story that we find them meaningful. That makes it important that we find ways to pass on the story that are culturally relevant for those we pass on to. I have said over the years that central to the task of theology is translation of the truths of the faith into a language understood by those we seek to reach. That is simply another way of saying that as we pass on the faith, we do best to do so in ways that are, as the study says, “culturally relevant.”

We know, really, how this affects our evangelism. From the first efforts at translating the Scriptures in to a language understood by the people – arguably, we could go back to the Septuagint, and even farther – we have been making our efforts to share the story in ways that are culturally relevant. At times in our history we have not only identified new languages, but even created alphabets for the purpose (Cyril and Methodius come to mind). We wrestle with it within our congregations (how shall we teach our children?): in our communities (what will reach Gen X or Gen Y?): and across the Body of Christ (as one example, just what do we all think about the Chinese Three Self Christian Movement?).

At the same time, it also raises some anxiety: is there a point where cultural relevance begins to dilute, even pollute, the faith we seek to convey? How many times did European missionaries feel that they had not only to translate the language of the faith, but also to make faux Europeans of the evangelized? How well otherwise do the stories we receive translate? How well do our stories, the experiences in which we find the meaning of the faith confirmed, translate? I have noted that one of my favorite books is Martin Palmers’ The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity. In that work he translates a number of documents, produced by Chinese Christians over a couple of centuries. By the later of those documents, the effort is clear to translate the stories not only into Chinese characters, but into Chinese terms. When the stone stele of the Religion of Light, produced in 781 CE, speaks of Jesus in much the same terms as a bodhisattva, is that a culturally relevant meaning, or is it a step too far?

By the same token, we know just how central this anxiety is in our current Anglican difficulties. Each side finds points at which the other side addresses and embraces the culture; and each side asks whether the other has gone too far. I have written before here at the Café of one cultural difference – whether one lives in an individualist or a “communalist” culture – that I think makes our communication difficult. Another is between those who feel that what God wants us to know is conveyed in the contents of Scripture; and those who feel that God also wants us to know what we learn through scientific study, and to wrestle with how both can be meaningful in our lives. This difference is critical because the details of what we learn through scientific study also shape the stories that we use to make meaning. In the case in point, we do have different understandings of what it means to be human when some of us want to quote only Scripture, and some of us also want to include information from medicine, anthropology, and psychology.

In that case, it can be tempting to try to turn again to specific tenets, to distill from the received stories concepts that transcend the limits of our languages and our stories. That, too, has been an ongoing process, from Augustine to Aquinas to Tillich. Yet even then we discover that cultural relevance lurks in the wings. Each academic theologian is working with a philosophical language that reflects its own time and shapes its future – in my examples, Neo Platonic to Aristotelian to Existentialist forms. As much as some might try to see them as more pure and more abstract, each theologian and the language the theologian seeks to use is shaped not only by concepts, but by cultures and the stories through which those cultures make and find meaning.

And with each generation we discover it anew, or at least we think we do. We discover that our efforts to abstract concepts and convey them by discourse – as in, for example, modern allopathic medicine –don’t help people live in the way that we might hope. In a very real sense they aren’t meaningful, because they don’t relate to our experiences and our perceptions. We return again to stories and storytelling. It is how we make meaning in our lives. It is how we connect our past with our place in the world now, and how we shape our hopes for the future. Critically for us, it is how we live in Christ. It is how “the faith once delivered to the saints” becomes our faith. It is how we discover that faith can live in our own lives. It is how we pass on the faith we have received to those who come after. It is how we know what Christ has done for us, and is doing in us; and how we know that he will be with us even to the end of the ages.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in 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.

Dementia and the language of the soul

By Martin L. Smith

How many years do I have left with a clear mind?—a question I asked myself a few days ago after I had phoned to check how my godmother is doing in her nursing home in Toronto. Her Alzheimer’s has been progressing over 15 years. One of the most poignant losses is the total eclipse of her religious awareness. She had been a faithful Christian all her life, indeed, she was the only religious woman my father knew, which is why I ended up with a godmother who lived 3,000 miles away. Rising to the challenge, she nurtured my faith wonderfully well from a distance, with books, letters and prayers. And now the disease has taken away every conscious vestige of the faith that had sustained her. It could happen to me. It could happen to you. It may have already happened to someone you love. As life expectancy grows, more of us will live under its cloud than ever before.

I have been thinking how important it is not to lose the language of soul in our faith today. You hardly ever hear about our souls. The concept is commonly regarded as antiquated, tied up with an obsolete notion that our bodies are inhabited by a kind of entity that floats away to heaven when we die. But if that concept is misleading, it doesn’t mean that we should stop referring to soul. To talk of our souls is to point to an ineradicable core to our being. In the ‘innermost person’ our lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:4) in a bond that no loss of brain function, however ravaging, can diminish. Far from being obsolete, deep faith in the soul is a vital assertion of our absolute human equality in God. When it comes to our souls, we are all equals and remain so. At the core level of soul, the man or woman who has succumbed to complete dementia is equal in dignity and worth and spiritual standing to the brother and sister whose brains (so far) are in brilliant form.

If we let the language of soul fall into disuse, a malign sense of inequality can creep in. Just because a woman or man has lost the ability to remember or recognize those she or he once knew, we might be tempted to think of them as blighted lives best put out of sight, out of mind. We may find ourselves tolerating horrible clichés about people ‘becoming vegetables.’ We may look down pityingly on those whose brain functioning is compromised as our inferiors. But the souls that God holds in life are not diminished, even though the brain is injured. In God their suffering, and the eclipse, partial or total, of awareness, diminishes them as persons not one iota. Rather they might be the special objects of God’s tender and compassionate regard. My godmother refuses the offer of Holy Communion as something incomprehensible to her, even irritating. But her soul’s union with Christ cemented by decades as a communicant is as real and solid as it ever was, isn’t it, though accessible to us only by the second sight of empathic faith?

Where the language of soul has not been lost, those with dementia are cherished within the community, not abandoned. For years I used regularly to celebrate the Eucharist in convents and the nursing homes they ran, and learned the ropes of including those with dementia in the act of worship. I remember a mother superior looking at me with a searching smile to see how I would react when a rumpled but feisty old nun would start to scream obscenities as I gave her communion, whether I could muster both humor and respect in this incongruity. And I remember one contemplative convent where one of the oldest sisters would frequently interject into the services an amazingly penetrating rendition of “Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock.” I got the impression, from the equanimity with which this was woven into the service, that her sisters believed that God lovingly accepted her song as her way of worshipping, a language that God had no difficulty in decoding.

The thought that I myself may enter dementia eventually is not new to me. For some years I served as a volunteer subject in Alzheimer’s research in a Boston hospital, so I am aware that dementia is not something that just happens to someone else. Tests revealed a brain in fine form, but if dementia is my destiny I hope I will be surrounded by people who have faith in the reality of my soul, and acknowledge that within the confusion and fog is that intact and abundant inner man whose life—here’s that priceless verse again from Colossians—is “hidden with Christ in God.”

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

The Super Bowl as liturgy

By Ann Fontaine

It begins like every Sunday – choosing the appropriate clothing, gathering the needed materials, rounding up those who believe, starting the car or getting on the transit. Anticipation builds. The ritual commences.

The Super Bowl is the great liturgy of the United States of America and for many around the world. It binds us together across the usual divides of class and race, even if you are among those who never watch football. Like our liturgies of the church it has its own rhythms and order. Good and evil contend for our allegiances. We hear stories of fall and redemption: the player who overcame great odds to become a professional, talent wasted and then reclaimed. We sing songs of praise and victory. Churches plan their annual meetings so they do not fall on this festival day. Bishops get into the spirit of the day making friendly bets with one another.

The Packer are the heartland team – the last community owned, non-profit team in professional American football. They dropped an aging, yet one of the most talented quarterbacks in history, and counted on youth and a quarterback who returned from life threatening concussions.

The Steeler represent a town who once proudly created the products to grow a country and its industries that now seems left behind in globalization. They are led by a flawed quarterback who represents redemption from sin through good works. They have won more Super Bowls than any other team and are known for legendary teams.

Even the commercials are legendary. The most memorable ones call to our best selves. The Donkey who joins the Cydesdale Team. The oboe-playing grocery clerk who finds a dream he did not even know he had. The child who is noticed by his hero. Cat herding, which everyone remembers for the content but can't remember the company it advertised. We look forward to seeing these vignettes each year – with some going viral on youtube and Facebook or recalled for years with a word or phrase. We eagerly await this years' winners.

There are even advantages for “sports atheists,” who can shop without crowds on Super Bowl Sunday. They can count on time alone if the rest of their friends and family are fans. They are usually not harassed about their lack of interest though they may find themselves with nothing to say at parties.

Seriously, what can we learn about liturgy and community from events like the Super Bowl. Or do church and fandom have nothing in common?

Andrew Gerns has this to say.

And of course a most important question - which team will win?

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

Buildings and meanings

By Deirdre Good

My last office in an 1825 building at the seminary where I live had two doors. One was used as an entrance to the office from the corridor outside and the other was permanently closed. Once upon a time, when my office was a waiting room, that door was the access for seminary students to the infirmary next door. Further down the corridor was the infirmary with four beds. Several seminarians were designated as infirmarians and they looked after sick students, bringing them food from the refectory. Knowing something of the history of a room brings its features and its character to light. I used to think of seminarians sitting anxiously in my office, not across the room from me, but waiting to be seen by a doctor who came to the seminary once a week.

In the seminary's neighborhood, our once unknown Chelsea Market now draws local school kids, bus tours and is a prominently-featured destination in tourist guides to the city, which makes a visit during lunch hour almost impossible. But if you want to buy fish, it's the place to go. And it has a bookstore. The building that houses Chelsea Market used to be the headquarters of the National Biscuit Company, (Na-BIS-co), from the 1890's to the 1940's. If you enter the building on 9th Avenue at 15th street, there's an exhibit showing biscuit tins and other memorabilia. And the NaBisCo logo can be seen on the walls as you walk past the food shops from 9th to 10th Avenue. The history of this building is noticed and recorded. And the change from factory to retail has given the building continuity and perhaps status.

Further away, on 6th Avenue, Limelight Market, in which retail shops occupy the interior of a restored church, was once the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion built by Richard Upjohn in the style of Gothic Revival. Upjohn's better-known churches in New York City are Trinity Wall Street and Church of the Ascension. Deconsecrated and sold in the 70's, the Church of the Holy Communion became a nightclub, the Limelight, in the 80's, finally closing in 2007. The 2009 renovation, which was finished in 2010, restored stained glass windows and other interior features of the church as a setting for the Limelight Marketplace. In this case, although the retailers might disagree, we see the recreation of the former church as marketplace. After all, churches and cathedrals in this country and abroad offer visitors restaurants and shops full of ecclesiastical and religious items within their walls. Those who run these institutions will argue that bookshops and cafes inside the west doors of Cathedrals don't undermine its religious identity because the products are religious. But isn't it a question of degree? Doesn't the very presence of shops and restaurants already concede that the character of the Cathedral has taken on even a minor commercial aspect?

These examples show how rooms and buildings have become something else, even while their former identity is a small part of what they are now. You could visit my office without wondering why it has two doors. You could visit Chelsea Market and not notice features of the Nabisco factory. But when a building specifically built as a church exists today as a sacred building of another religion, a different kind of transformation has taken place.

On a recent visit to Istanbul, I encountered these kinds of transformations in visiting mosques that had once been churches; mosques themselves; and museums built as churches that have at one time also been mosques.

My mother and I visited the Bodrum Camisi mosque, or "mosque with a cellar," formerly the Myrelaion Church (Church of the Holy Anointing Oil). We met the Imam who told us, "The transformation of the church into our mosque saves its old identity."

We took off our shoes and put on headscarves to admire the largest mosque in the city, the newly renovated Süleymaniye Mosque, built by the great architect Sinan for Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. We also went to the Laleli (Tulip) mosque whose distinctive minarets are topped with what look like tulips.

We visited the Church of St. Savior in Chora, now known as Kariye Camii, converted to a mosque after 1453, and now a museum. The beautiful mosaics and frescoes were covered over with plaster in the conversion to a mosque but recent restorations show today's visitors something of their glorious colors.

And then there is Hagia Sophia, rebuilt on the ruins of two earlier churches by the Emperor Justinian I in 537 as a Byzantine Church. Today it is known as Ayasofya, a museum, visited annually by millions. It has a remarkable history as a church, a seat of the Patriarchate, a seat of the Caliphate, a museum and as a source of architectural inspiration for many later mosques and churches. Until 1453 when Constantinople was taken over by Ottoman Turks, it was the Cathedral Church of Constantinople and the seat of coronations. But between 1204 and 1261 it was a Roman Catholic Cathedral in the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. After 1453, Sultan Mehmed II had Hagia Sophia converted into a mosque by removing the altar and iconostasis and adding the mihrab (directional pointer niche to Mecca), minbar (a freestanding pulpit) and four minarets. Some mosaics were covered with plaster in conformity with the ban of images in Islam. In 1935, it became a museum in the Republic of Turkey. As a desanctified building, it represented the distancing of the new Turkish Republic from its Ottoman past. DeesisatAyasofya.jpg
Click to enlarge


The sheer size and its political importance probably contributed to the survival and transformation of Hagia Sophia. Constantine laid out fourth-century Constantinople as a setting for the display of imperial power from the imperial palace to the hippodrome (now in front of the Blue Mosque adjacent to Ayasofya), mausoleum, churches and processional routes. As I stood in Ayasofya recently it seemed quite unlike any museum. Any gaze immediately looks up to the dome, 55.6 metres above, suspended in light over the nave, and just below it to the recently uncovered face of one of the four seraphim. That gaze rotates down one level to the restored mosaics including the De'esis of the upper gallery, the enormous medallions hanging on columns inscribed with the names of Allah, the prophet Mohammed, and his family, to the golden mosaics of John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger. Lower still on the ground level my gaze takes in the mihrab and the minbar decorated with marble. What I see seems to be not just a memorial but also a witness to lived religious experience.

Hagia%20Sophia%202011b.jpg Click to enlarge.


The adaptation of buildings is a complex process over time that is as much about architecture, as it is about politics and religion. It is about transformation, imitation and assimilation. The transformation of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques, which this essay does not discuss, is a counterpart to the examples in Istanbul mentioned here. In the above examples, what is new seeks to transform, even eclipse the old. And yet the religious character of the older building shines through and enhances the new identity providing, among other things, continuity, stability and status.

All the liturgies ever conducted and all the prayers ever prayed in this space do not disappear because it is now a museum. These religious acts are part of the fabric of the building. If God deals with these mixed religions broadcasting out of the same station, why can't we?

Photos by Deirdre Good.

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

Opening Uncle Tom's Cabin

By John B. Chilton

In A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853) [source], Harriert Beecher Stowe begins,

At different times, doubt has been expressed -whether the representations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" are a fair representation of slavery as it at present exists.... The writer acknowledges that the book is a very inadequate representation of slavery; and it is so, necessarily, for this reason,— that slavery, in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art. A work which should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read. And all works which ever mean to give pleasure must draw a veil somewhere, or they cannot succeed.

A Key is Stowe's account of the dreadful facts of slavery.

Chapter 9 asks, “Is the system of religion which is taught the slave the gospel?” In it she quotes extensively from the sermon to slaves by the Rt. Rev. William Meade. Meade served as Bishop of Virginia and died in office in 1862. The following is Stowe's commentary on Meade. (See also Frederick Douglass' commentary on Meade's sermon. Stowe and Douglass found Meade very useful in their abolition campaigns.)
__________

Concerning the absolute authority of the master, take the following extract from Bishop Mead's sermon. (Brooke's Slavery, pp. 30. 31, 32.)

Having thus shown you the chief duties you owe to your great Master in heaven, I now come to lay before you the duties you owe to your masters and mistresses here upon earth; and for this you have one general rule that you ought always to carry in your minds, and that is, to do all service for them as if you did it for God himself. Poor creatures! you little consider, when you are idle and neglectful of your masters' business, when you steal and waste and hurt any of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent, when you are telling them lies and deceiving them; or when you prove stubborn and sullen, and will not do the work you are set about without stripes and vexation; you do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your masters and mistresses are faults done against God himself, who hath set your masters and mistresses over you in his own stead, and expects that you will do for them just as you would do for Him. And, pray, do not think that I want to deceive you when I tell you that your masters and mistresses are God's overseers; and that, if you are faulty towards them, God himself will punish you severely for it in the next world, unless you repent of it, and strive to make amends by your faithfulness and diligence for the time to come; for God himself hath declared the same.

Now, from this general rule, — namely, that you are to do all service for your masters and mistresses as if you did it for God himself, — there arise several other rules of duty towards your masters and mistresses, which I shall endeavor to lay out in order before you.

And, in the first place, you are to be obedient and subject to your masters in all things.

And Christian ministers are commanded to "exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering them again, or gainsaying." [Titus 2:9.] You see how strictly God requires this of you, that whatever your masters and mistresses order you to do, you must set about it immediately, and faithfully perform it, without any disputing or grumbling, and take care to please them well in all things. And for your encouragement he tells you that he will reward you for it in heaven; because, while you are honestly and faithfully doing your master's business here, you are serving your Lord and Master in heaven. You see also that you aro not to take any exceptions to the behavior of your masters and mistresses; and that you are to be subject and obedient, not only to such as are good, and gentle, and mild, towards you, but also to such as may be froward, peevish, and hard. For you are not at liberty to choose your own masters; but into whatever hands God hath been pleased to put you, you must do your duty, and God will reward you for it.
. . . .

You are to be faithful and honest to your masters and mistresses, not purloining or wasting their goods or substance, but showing all good fidelity in all things.... Do not your masters, under God, provide for you? And how shall they be able to do this, to feed and to clothe you, unless you take honest care of everything that belongs to them? Remember that God requires this of you; and, if you are not afraid of suffering for it here, you cannot escape the vengeance of Almighty God, who will judge between you and your masters, and make you pay severely in the next world for all the injustice you do them here. And though you could manage so cunningly as to escape the eyes and hands of man, yet think what a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, who is able to cast both soul and body into hell!

You are to serve your masters with cheerfulness, reverence, and humility. You are to do your masters'' service with good will, doing it as the will of God from the heart, without any sauciness or answering again. IIow many of you do things quite otherwise, and, instead of going about your work with a good will and a good heart, dispute and grumble, give saucy answers, and behave in a surly manner! There is something so becoming and engaging in a modest, cheerful, good-natured behavior, that a little work done in that manner seems better done, and gives far more satisfaction, than a great deal more, that must be done with fretting, vexation, and the lash always held over you. It also gains the good will and love of those you belong to, and makes your own life pass with more ease and pleasure. Besides, you are to consider that this grumbling and ill-will do not affect your masters and mistresses only. They have ways and means in their hands of forcing you to do your work, whether you are willing or not. But your murmuring and grumbling is against God, who hath placed you in that service, who will punish you severely in the next world for despising his commands.

A very awful query here occurs to the mind. If the poor, ignorant slave, who wastes his master's temporal goods to answer some of his own present purposes, be exposed to this heavy retribution, what will become of those educated men, who, for their temporal convenience, make and hold in force laws which rob generation after generation of men, not only of their daily earnings, but of all their righte and privileges as immortal beings?

The Rev. Mr. Glennie. in one of his sermons, as quoted by Mr. Bowditch, p. 137, assures his hearers that none of them will be able to say, in the day of judgment, "I had no way of hearing about my God and Saviour."

Bishop Meade, as quoted by Brooke, pp. 34, 35, thus expatiates to slaves on the advantages of their condition. One would really think, from reading this account, that every one ought to make haste and get himself sold into slavery, as the nearest road to heaven.

Take care that you do not fret or murmur, grumble or repine at your condition; for this will not only make.your life uneasy, but will greatly offend Almighty God. Consider that it is not yourselves, it is not the people that you belong to, it is not the men that have brought you to it, but it is the will of God, who hath by his providence made you servants, because, no doubt, he knew that condition would be best for you in this world, and help you the better towards heaven, if you would but do your duty in it. So that any discontent at your not being free, or rich, or great, as you see some others, is quarrelling with your heavenly Master, and finding fault with God himself, who hath made you what you are, and hath promised you as large a share in the kingdom of heaven as the greatest man alive, if you will but behave yourself aright, and do the business he hath set you about in this world honestly and cheerfully. Riches and power have proved the ruin of many an unhappy soul, by drawing away the heart and affections from God, and fixing them on mean and sinful enjoyments; so that, when God, who knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves, sees that they would be hurtful to us, and therefore keeps them from us, it is the greatest mercy and kindness he could show us.

You may perhaps fancy that, if you had riches and freedom, you could do your duty to God and man with greater pleasure than you can now. But, pray, consider that, if you can but save your souls, through the mercy of God, you will have spent your time to the best of purposes in this world; and he that at last can get to heaven has performed a noble journey, let the road be ever so rugged and difficult. Besides, you really have a great advantage over most white people, who have not only the care of their daily labor upon their hands, but the care of looking forward and providing necessaries for to-morrow and next day, and of clothing and bringing up their children, and of getting food and raiment for as many of you as belong to their families, which often puts them to great difficulties, and distracts their minds so as to break their rest, and take off their thoughts from the affairs of another world. Whereas, you are quite eased from all these cares, and have nothing but your daily labor to look after and, when that is done, take your needful rest. Neither is it necessary for you to think of laying up anything against old age, as white people are obliged to do; for the laws of the country have provided that you shall not be turned off when you are past labor, but shall be maintained, while you live, by those you belong to, whether you are able to work or not.

Bishop Meade further consoles slaves thus for certain incidents of their lot, for which they may think they have more reason to find fault than for most others. The reader must admit that he takes a very philosophical view of the subject.

There is only one circumstance which may appear grievous, that I shall now take notice of, and that is correction.

Now, when correction is given you, you either deserve it, or you do not deserve it. But, whether you really deserve it or not, it is your duly, and Almighty God requires, that you bear it patiently. You may perhaps think that this is hard doctrine; but if you consider it right, you must needs think otherwise of it. Suppose, then, that you deserve correction; you cannot but say that it is just and right you should meet with it. Suppose you do not, or at least you do not deserve so much, or so severe a correction, for the fault you have committed; you perhaps have escaped a great many more, and at last paid for all. Or, suppose you are quite innocent of what is laid to your charge, and suffer wrongfully in that particular thing; is it not possible you may have done some other bad thing which was never discovered, and that Almighty God, who saw you doing it, would not let you escape without punishment, one time or another? And ought you not, in such a case, to give glory to him, and be thankful that he would rather punish you in this life for your wickedness, than destroy your souls for it in the next life! But, suppose even this was not the case (a case hardly to be imagined), and that you have by no means, known or unknown, deserved the correction you suffered; there is this great comfort in it, that, if you bear it patiently, and leave your cause in the hands of God, he will reward you for it in heaven, and the punishment you suffer unjustly here shall turn to your exeeeding great glory hereafter.

That Bishop Meade has no high opinion of the present comforts of a life of slavery, may be fairly inferred from the following remarks which he makes to slaves:

Your own poor circumstances in this life ought to put you particularly upon this, and taking care of your souls; for you cannot have the pleasures and enjoyments of this life like rich free people, who have estates and money to lay out as they think fit. If others will run the hazard of their souls, they have a chance of getting wealth and power, of heaping up riches, and enjoying all the ease, luxury and pleasure, their hearts should long after. But you can have none of these things; so that, if you sell your souls, for the sake of what poor matters you can get in this world, you have made a very foolish bargain indeed.

This information is certainly very explicit and to the point. He continues:

Almighty God hath been pleased to make you slaves here, and to give you nothing but labor and poverty in this world, which you are obliged to submit to, as it is his will that it should be so. And think within yourselves, what a terrible thing it would be, after all your labors and sufferings in this life, to be turned into hell in the next life, and, after wearing out your bodies in service here, to go into a far worse slavery when this is over, and your poor souls be delivered over into the possession of the devil, to become his slaves forever in hell, without any hope of ever getting free from it! If, therefore, you would be God's freemen in heaven, you must strive to be good, and serve him here on earth. Your bodies, you know, are not your own; they are at the disposal of those you belong to; but your precious souls are still your own, which nothing can take from you, if it be not your own fault. Consider well, then, that if you lose your souls by leading idle, wicked lives here, you have got nothing by it in this world, and you have lost your all in the next. For your idleness and wickedness is generally found out, and your bodies suffer for it here; and, what is far worse, if you do not repent and amend, your unhappy souls will suffer for it hereafter.

Mr. Jones, in that part of the work where he is obviating the objections of masters to the Christian instruction of their slaves, supposes the master to object thus:

You teach them that "God is no respecter of persons;" that "He hath made of one blood, all nations of men;" " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;" "All things Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;'' what use, let me ask, would they make of these sentences from the gospel?
Mr. Jones says:
Let it be replied, that the effect urged in the objection might result from imperfect and injudicious religious instruction; indeed, religious instruction may be communicated with the express design, on the part of the instructor, to produce the effect referred to, instances of which have occurred.

But who will say that neglect of duty and insubordination are the legitimate effects of the gospel, purely and sincerely imparted to servants? Has it not in all ages been viewed as the greatest civilizer of the human race!

How Mr. Jones would interpret the golden rule to the slave, so as to justify the slave-system, we cannot possibly tell. We can, however, give a specimen of the manner in which it has been interpreted in Bishop Meade's sermons, p. 116. (Brooke's Slavery, &c, pp. 32, 33.)

"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them ;" that is, do by all mankind just as you would desire they should do by you, if you were in their place, and they in yours.

Now, to suit this rule to your particular circumstances, suppose you were masters and mistresses and had servants under you: would you not desire that your servants should do their business faithfully and honestly, as well when your back was turned as while you were looking over them? Would you not expect that they should take notice of what you said to them? that they should behave themselves with respect towards you and yours, and be as careful of everything belonging to you as you would be yourselves? You are servants: do, therefore, as you would wish to be done by, and you will be both good servants to your masters, and good servants to God, who requires this of you, and will reward you well for it, if you do it for the sake of conscience, in obedience to his commands.

The reverend teachers of such expositions of scripture do great injustice to the natural sense of their sable catechumens if they suppose them incapable of detecting such very shallow sophistry, and of proving conclusively that "it is a poor rule that won't work both ways." Some shrewd old patriarch, of the stamp of those who rose up and went out at the exposition of the Epistle to Philemon, and who show such great acuteness in bringing up objections against the truth of God, such as would be thought peculiar to cultivated minds, might perhaps, if he dared, reply to such an exposition of scripture in this way: " Suppose you were a slave,—could not have a cent of your own earnings during your whole life, could have no legal right to your wife and children, could never send your children to school, and had, as you have told us, nothing but labor and poverty in this life,— how would you like it? Would you not wish your Christian master to set you free from this condition?" We submit it to every one who is no respecter of persons, whether this interpretation of Sambo's is not as good as the bishop's. And if not, why not?

To us, with our feelings and associations, such discourses as these of Bishop Meade appear hard-hearted and unfeeling to the last degree. We should, however, do great injustice to the character of the man, if we supposed that they prove him to have been such. They merely go to show how perfectly use may familiarize amiable and estimable men with a system of oppression, till they shall have lost all consciousness of the wrong which it involves.

That Bishop Meade's reasonings did not thoroughly convince himself is evident from the fact that, after all his representations of the superior advantages of slavery as a means of religious improvement, he did, at last, emancipate his own slaves. [It is often said Meade emancipated his slaves. He lived with his slave-holding son. It's not clear how many of his slaves were transferred to the son and how many were emancipated.]

But, in addition to what has been said, this whole system of religious instruction is darkened by one hideous shadow,— What does the Southern church do with her catechumens and communicants read the advertisements of Southern newspapers, and see in every city in the slave-raising states behold the depots, kept constantly full of assorted negroes from the ages of ten to thirty! In every slave-consuming state see the receiving-houses, whither these poor wrecks and remnants of families are constantly borne! Who preaches the gospel to the slave-coffles? Who preaches the gospel in the slave-prisons? If we consider the tremendous extent of this internal trade,— if we read papers with columns of auction advertisements of human beings, changing hands as freely as if they were dollar-bills instead of human creatures,— we shall then realize how utterly all those influences of religious instruction must be nullified by leaving the subjects of them exposed "to all the vicissitudes of property."
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John B. Chilton is an economist with expertise in labor economics, industrial organization and applied game theory. He most recently served as an adjunct at the University of Virginia.

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