The hummingbirds of public life

By Marshall Scott

This has been a hard summer. It has been the hottest summer of recent, and perhaps not so recent, memory. The gardens have suffered, both at church and at home. With a blessing and a little water we’ll get zucchini and crookneck squash, and perhaps a few watermelons in the church garden. The bush beans will survive, as will the poblanos and the sweet peppers. On the other hand, cucumber beetles have brought wilt, not only to the cucumbers, but to the musk melons.

Trying to get the most out of the church garden has meant the garden at home has been neglected. Beans and butternuts are doing well, and I have hope for my hot peppers; but the squirrels got more peaches, and the robins more blueberries, than we did.

The heat has been hard enough on the plants themselves, but it’s also been harder on us. However great the commitment, when the temperature is approaching 90 degrees, and the “misery index” 100 by 9:00 a.m, the most intrepid of us are as wilted as the cucumbers, and at greater risk. It has been a hard summer for the garden and the gardeners.

And life goes on. The best evidence is around two glass cylinders hanging in the back yard. They are hummingbird feeders. They have been up for a while, although it’s been too early for many hummingbirds. We thought we might see a few migrants early, or perhaps an individual strayed from a nest. But while we’ve waited, the feeders have still been busy. We have been feeding The Sisters. “The Sisters” is our family term for social insects we encounter. Right now, it’s honeybees. We’re happy to have them, of course. Despite the heat the beans and peppers are blooming. On top of that, we think – we hope at least – that we’re sustaining a hive in a time when colony collapse is taking too many.

And now the hummingbirds are starting to arrive. We have seen two. If this summer is like the last two, we’ll have three, four, even five at a time. We will hear the hum and see flashes of green and red – and go through an awful lot of sugar.

What we find most dramatic about the hummers, at least in our back yard, is their aerial combat. It’s easy to see why the Aztecs identified their god of war with hummingbirds. They are territorial, and will fight one another with a ferocity that might seem shocking in so small and bright a creature. In our presence two have collided in midair with a thump we could hear ten feet away. We have seen one hummer drive another to the ground from eight feet in the air.

What is striking about this is that they appear to be territorial for its own sake. I don’t really mean that they have a concept of “territory.” It’s just that they’re not territorial for any of the reasons we expect. There is more than enough food to go around. By the time it’s all over, we may have four feeders out, feeders that we’ll fill every day if we need to. There are also the beans and the peppers. Their young have already fledged, and so they’re not protecting nests. Anyway, we’re too far from the streams where they nest.

No, more than anything else it seems that they can’t stand one another’s company, at least when they’re not breeding, and they want control of their space and its resources. They will stake out territory and spend great amounts of energy – energy that is surely precious to a creature that lives so fast! – to keep others away. It’s not about a functional need, at least not one visible in my own back yard. It’s just instinctual.

I could wish, I suppose, that we had that excuse, we humans. We are quite prepared to stake out territories of our own, territories based not on perceived need but on an assertion of rights or of rightness. And when we do, we are also prepared to defend them fiercely, even at the expense of resources that we know we could better use in other ways.

Look at all the recent unpleasantness in our own government. I find it fun (if not perfectly apt) to think of our members of Congress, and especially in the House of Representatives, like hummingbirds. Granted, some are flashier than others. However, they are, as a class, creatures focused intensely on a short season – from one election to the next. And all too many seem to have staked out “territories” in the “marketplace of ideas” (not to mention the territories of their own offices), territories that they defend as if there were no tomorrow, and not enough of today to go around. When I think about it, I can identify with Paul in Romans 9 when he expresses his despair: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,* my kindred according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2-3)

After all, these are my representatives. I know I didn’t vote in each election, or even vote for all of those who officially represent me and my district and my state. Still, I am within the real territory, the geographic and not the ideological territory, that they have been elected to represent.

Sadly, and all too consistently, they claim their ideological territory not their own names but in mine. Worse, these days they claim it to be in my interest. My problem is that what they want to claim is not in my interest. Even without reference to faith, it’s demonstrably not in my interest. Look, for example, at the information collected for Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative. That’s where I found a paper on “The Health Benefits of Volunteering.” It’s also how I found my way to a working paper at the Harvard Business School, “Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal” (Aknin et al). According to the abstract, “Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness…. In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.”

But, of course, I can’t simply consider this without reference to faith. As a Christian I am reminded again and again that I am called to share with others, and not simply defend my own territory. I am told that all that God intends can be summarized in demonstrating my love of God by loving neighbor. I am reminded that what God wants of me includes doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly – not fiercely, not defensively – before God. With each new Episcopal brother and sister I commit again and again to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being, and not simply those in my territory. It seems to me that I am called to pursue this end with all my resources – including those that I pay out personally, those that I delegate to the Church to use, and those I delegate to my government to use.

When I’m sitting on my deck, the aerobatic combat of the hummingbirds can be entertaining and in its own way beautiful. When leaders start acting like hummingbirds, defending ideological territories and hoarding resources, it ceases to be productive, much less entertaining. When they claim to do it in my name, it becomes offensive. God grant me grace to work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom, as much in my civic life as in my personal and ecclesial life – and to call to account those who fail in that effort, claiming to do so in my interest. For it is not hoarding and selfishness that are in my interest, but generosity and giving, as a person, as a citizen, and as a follower of Christ.

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.

A theology of summer

By Greg Syler

“Are you getting any response to this program?” our parish administrator asked me the other day, referring to an offer we’ve been advertising in the weekly bulletin for weeks. I hadn’t heard a peep. At the same time, I realized, my email inbox is clogged, messages are waiting to be returned, and there are messages for which I’m awaiting a return. The to-do list is long, and calls have been made, and committee meetings have been arranged weeks in advance. But all in all not much is going on. That’s when it hit me: It’s summer.

You would think the blinding heat, or deliciously ripe local produce, or the absence of our Sunday regulars – and their pew replacement, the summer renters – would have tipped me off to the awareness of this seasonal shift earlier than mid-July. Or my own recent trips away to see family and friends or the fact that I’ve already given up the black wool trousers for a light cotton suit should have turned me on to the fact that we’re in a different season. It is summer, and we’re having lemonade on the lawn, not coffee hour inside; still others are out on the water, and at cookouts, and living pretty much in their sailboats or swimming pools. It is summer.

It’s been said that one of the principles of church growth is to not slow down programming during the summer, so as to teach people not to give up church during these glorious months of play. We all know churches who do different things in the summer months – change service times, combine services, suspend Sunday School, or in some cases cease corporate Sunday worship altogether. Whether those ideas are good or bad is, for me, up to someone else and, at the very least, up to that local congregation.

I’m just not sure that people are coming to our churches for our great and notable programs. At the same time I realized that my email inbox was full and that our parish administrator was not hearing a peep from anyone about our next great idea, I remembered how my Senior Warden has been urging me to get on his boat and go fishing, and that another family has invited my daughter and me untold times for dinner and swimming in their pool, and that I still haven’t gone kayaking with that other couple.

I remembered all the times in, say, November or February when so-and-so would ask me to go out to brunch following coffee hour or when I was invited to that family reunion and I wondered why I had turned down so many offers of genuine kindness. True, the job of a parish priest is sometimes ill-defined and the life is altogether busy and demanding – certainly so in the months of the so-called “program year”. But the idea of the Anglican priesthood, at least as I’ve come to understand it, centers on a robust theology of the Incarnation: the parish priest must be accessible, fully human, engaged, yes, embedded in a local community so as to mediate (not represent) Christ, who chose to live among us and, indeed, as one of us.

I’ve been having a wonderful exercise of my life and vocation this summer. I’ve gone swimming, sat on the edges of piers and drank wine, kayaked up an idyllic marsh-land creek to see a heron rookery, gone fishing, sat at dining room tables and on porches, headed over to the local restaurant to celebrate a birthday, and went to brunch at the local marina. All of this, of course, could be called work, but it’s so much more than that cheapened term – it’s a vocation, a lifestyle, an exercise of who we all are called to be. There will be plenty of paperwork and email ahead, and that time will come sooner than even I realize. In all of our lives, whether your vocation is a priest or an educator or a military contractor or a parent, there will be seasons of demands and production. And there will also be times of letting go, of enjoyment and delight. “To everything there is a season,” the wisdom of the scripture teaches.

It’s also more than a seasonal shift, much more. As often as I have expected and, unwittingly, demanded that people show up more regularly to the place where I live and work, I’ve had the opportunity to see the places where they, too, find joy and make meaning in their lives – their kitchens and boats, their decks and piers, their garages and favorite restaurants. We get some awful tunnel vision in the parish, and fret about average Sunday attendance and how many students are enrolled in Sunday School. It’s been healthy, for me, to walk out of the office and leave behind the familiar and comfortable rhythms of the sacristy and chancel. There is a great wealth of meaning beyond the walls we’ve constructed; God’s grandeur is robust in all of His creation.

Even Jesus seemed to recognize the need for this balance. It’s probably true that we most often think of Jesus as being out and about, a nomadic Rabbi who reminded his followers that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Mt.8:20). In recent weeks, the lectionary has led us through Matthew’s thirteenth chapter – the parable chapter – in which Jesus’ notoriety has become so great he has to go and stand on a boat in order for the crowd to amass on the beach and hear him. But Jesus also knew when to step back and recharge. Not as strikingly clear in Matthew 13, we see Jesus going in and out of “the house”(vv.1,36), presumably the place where only he and his select few gathered. Luke, in his gospel, teaches us that Jesus punctuated certain periods of his life and ministry by intentionally going away by himself to pray. Even as popular and public a figure as Jesus still understood the need for balance between programming and solitude, between time spent with the throngs and meaning gained by being with the inner circle.

It does seem to come down to balance. Congregations who are uncertain about their future will sometimes pit one good against another good, say, make outreach ministries the enemy of parish fellowship. Does charity begin at home, as some might argue? Or is there no such thing as charity without social justice? This is a false argument, of course, and it will get a Christian community nowhere but one whopping fight. Instead, balance. If we have stayed in “the house” too long, get out and meet the people where they are. God is there, too. God himself did precisely that, and we name that mystery Incarnation. If we are out of “the house” too often, get back and re-center. Our Creator did that, as well, and we celebrate that and call it Sabbath.

Greg Syler is the rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland.

Created in God's image

By Deirdre Good

In 2003, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was interviewed for a BBC Radio Programme asking influential people about defining moments in their lives. He said:

The biggest defining moment in my life was when I saw Trevor Huddleston and I was maybe nine or so. I didn't know it was Trevor Huddleston, but I saw this tall, white priest in a black cassock doff his hat to my mother who was a domestic worker. I didn't know then that it would have affected me so much, but it was something that was really - it blew your mind that a white man would doff his hat.

And subsequently I discovered, of course, that this was quite consistent with his theology that every person is of significance, of infinite value, because they are created in the image of God. And the passion with which he opposed apartheid and any other injustice is something that I sought then to emulate.

Compare this with what a priest told me a parishioner recently said: he wasn't sure he could accept her priesthood because men were created in God's image while women were created in the image of men.

Both incidents indicate how two different passages from the bible about human identity and God's image are read and applied to real life situations and real people to enhance or diminish their worth. They show that how we read and interpret biblical passages about human identity affects and even shapes the way we think about and behave towards other people.

The first anecdote is probably based on a reading of Genesis 1:26-7 (NRSV), in which God's creation of humankind reflects something of God's nature, character, or image:

"Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

The KJV translates this passage differently:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

In this translation, God creates "man" (Hebrew: adam), that is, human being understood as male and female, as we see from the next phrase: "and let them have dominion…" There's no substantive difference in these translations. The translation "humankind" is clearly attempting to render the gender inclusive sense of adam. The only thing that differentiates these translations is an archaic usage of "man" for humankind. Humankind, however, excludes female from being part of "man". We are talking about a conflation of species designation and gender designation. Perhaps a better translation would have been mankind, making it clearer that "man" means male and female. But on the whole I think humankind is the best we can do at the moment.

The second anecdote is probably based on a reading of I Cor 11: 7, part of Paul's explanation of why women should veil their heads in public assembly at Corinth:
"For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man."

The first passage interprets the connection males and females have with the image of God equally. The second proposes that only the male reflects God's image whilst woman reflects that of the male. Perhaps it is based on a limited reading of Genesis 1:26, understanding only men to have been created in the image of God.

Confining the reflection of God's image to one gender only is even more acute when we consider New Testament passages describing Christ as the image of God. But the issue is quite straightforward: Christ becomes human in the incarnation, not exclusively male. And this understanding is reflected in language of the New Testament and the creeds but not, alas, some modern translations.

Colossians, for example, hymns Christ, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (1:15); Hebrews likewise says of Christ, "Who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person..(1:3). In both passages I use the KJV translation which keeps the (masculine) relative pronoun of the Greek. Unfortunately, more modern translations of both passages emphasize not the relative pronoun but its masculine gender: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (NRSV Colossians 1:15); "He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.." (NRSV Hebrews 1:3). It is a question of emphasis; Bishop Krister Stendahl said some time ago, "the masculinity of God, and of God-language, is a cultural and linguistic accident, and I think one should also argue that the masculinity of the Christ is of the same order. To be sure, Jesus Christ was a male, but that may be no more significant to his being than the fact that presumably his eyes were brown. Incarnation is a great thing. But it strikes me as odd to argue that when the Word became flesh, it was to re-enforce male superiority."

We must do everything we can to promote the theological idea that men and women are created in God's image. For the insidious idea that only men reflect God's image or that they reflect more of it than women do, has led and leads to sinful denigration, devaluation and abuse of women in the mistaken name of Christian tradition.

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.

Beach reading

By Derek Olsen

It’s that time of the summer—my wife is stocking up on sunscreen and the girls are working themselves into a fevered pitch. Yes, it’s almost vacation time! Every year we spend a week at the Jersey Shore with my wife’s family. A great time is had by all, and it includes everything such a vacation should: sun, sand, home-made ice cream, poker games with my father-in-law, and the inevitable family dramas that result when three generations pack themselves into one beach house for a week.

One of the highlights for me is reading on the beach, so an important part of my pre-vacation planning is working over my shelves to decide which books I’ll be taking with me. In determining beach reading, I like to split my selections into three categories: serious books, engaging books, and guilty pleasures.

The serious books tend to be more academic works that I keep saying I’m going to read when I have the time—and rarely seem to. Every year I dutifully pack at least one, promising myself that between watching over the kids, schlepping things from the beach to the house and back again, and listening to my mother-in-law’s stories about teaching , I’ll be able to give the tome the time it deserves. Of course, every year, this turns out to be more delusion than reality and most of them return home again with only a few chapters or pages read than before. But hope springs anew…

This year’s serious pick is The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey edited by Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck. The book is broadly divided into seven sections that examine the prayer books of the Anglican Communion (and a little beyond as well) from a variety of angles through sets of essays, and the contributors represent a wide range of liturgical and theological stars. I’ve read parts of it before, but I want to focus in on a few sections that impact my current research. In particular, I’m looking forward to the section on social history which delves into diaries and parish records to talk about how the prayer books were used “on the ground” in various times and places, and to the section on the future of the Book of Common Prayer especially as it’s impacted by technology and the Internet.
The engaging books tend to be more popular books that make me think. Lighter than the serious books, these are sometimes political, sometimes theological, but have as the aim something that’s going to stretch my spirit. Often I find that it’s the engaging books that I keep returning to throughout the following year as they’ve touched some nerve or sparked my thinking in one area or another.

This year’s engaging book is Essays by Plutarch translated by Robin Waterfield and introduced by Ian Kidd which was a gift from my sister-in-law. A little bit political, a little bit theological, Plutarch is one of my favorite writers. A Greek writing in the Roman Empire around the same time as St Paul, I find him pleasantly philosophical but not tedious or jargon-heavy. Stoic by training, practical and pragmatic by nature, he talks through some of the universal questions of human significance in a way that’s still meaningful and accessible two thousand years later. This collection includes a number of his pieces I haven’t read before, but whose titles reflect the same kind of themes as his pieces that I have read: “On Listening”, “How to Distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend”, and “On God’s Slowness to Punish”.

I’d like to commend Plutarch to you for two reasons. The first is political. The European Renaissance, in its recovery of classical learning eagerly embraced Plutarch. In the sixteenth, seventeenth, even the eighteenth centuries, Plutarch was read avidly and was used as a model. The humanist philosophy that gave rise to the principles of Enlightenment liberalism and democracy was influenced and inspired by Plutarch and his vision of moral life as it impacted both individuals and societies. Modern politics could use a real shot in the arm by once again examining the themes that invigorated Montaigne, Jefferson, Franklin, and the Founding Fathers.

The second is biblical. Plutarch (along with the letters and essays of Seneca) serves as a great companion to the New Testament. Paul takes on a new light when read in the company of Plutarch. The point is not to try and figure out what Paul’s getting from his culture and what form revelation so we can toss out the “culture” part. No, Plutarch is so helpful because we get to see another author from the same time and a similar cultural background using the same moral vocabulary. We receive a clearer picture of Paul’s vision of life in Christ by seeing Plutarch talk about faith, hope, and virtue from his own non-Christian perspective. Too, our reading of the Gospels are informed by Plutarch’s Lives where he offers the preeminent view of how Antiquity read biography.
This year’s guilty pleasure is sponsored by my Kindle. Thanks to the Kindle and other e-readers, I’m able to pick up big collections of my favorite old authors for cheap.

Thus, the guilty pleasure is The Definitve H. P. Lovecraft: 67 Tales of Horror. I haven’t read Lovecraft since late high school/early college, and it’s great to revisit the grounds of Miskatonic University and the other New England haunts of horror that came out of Lovecraft’s brain. (I may as well confess now that I’ve already started in on this one…)

As a religion geek, I’m use to talking and thinking about experiences of the numinous and the supernatural tied hand in hand with goodness, beauty, and truth leading to positive transformative experiences. In his weird tales, Lovecraft presents another option—experiences of the numinous and supernatural entirely divorced from goodness and beauty that leave you wondering about truth (and sanity).

Too, Lovecraft, while not considered a proper literary figure in his own day, is a major influence for some of the today’s great authors of fantasy and science-fiction. I was pleasantly surprised to discover upon rereading “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” just how much the “ghoul” chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is an homage to Lovecraft’s work.

So—that’s what’s on tap for my beach reading: a little “work,” a little “play” to be squeezed in among the other pleasures of the trip. We’ll see how much actually gets read, of course, and, if this year is like every other it’ll be less than I hope but more than I’d get read otherwise!

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

Christianity from the outside: Easter among the Humanists

By Kathy Staudt

Sometimes it’s useful to move outside of my church-activities “bubble” and pay attention to ways that Christian faith -- my tradition” is perceived, described, characterized “from the outside,” by people who are not Christians.

Because of an illness in the family , I was away from my usual treasured liturgical observance of Holy Week and Easter. Also through family connections, I found myself at worship on Thursday and on Sunday with the Unitarians -- at First Parish in Concord, Massachussetts, a vibrant, welcoming and faithful community. There was a lot to like there -- celebrations of community, a commitment to spiritual practice and a desire to “make a difference in the world.” I recognized in this worshipping community attitudes that are shared widely in our culture: that really, you don’t need religion, that it only leads to dissension and controversy. (Two blocks away from First Parish is “Tri-Con” -- Trinity Congregational -- two identical white clapboard buildings, testimony to theological splits in New England in the 19th century). In fact it almost seemed petty of me, sometimes, to be clinging to more traditional, even “orthodox” Christian belief. The awareness of this disconnect has stayed with me ever since Easter, and I’m still mulling it over.

Among the Humanist members of First Parish UU, the observance of Maundy Thursday and Easter were offered mainly in a spirit of education and respect --solidarity, even, with Christians. Some members there would call themselves Christians; most would not. There was a respectful agenda for worship: “Here’s what Christians do at this time of year. Let’s experience some of what that is like, through our own worship, and see how that helps us to deepen spiritually in our own way, even if we don’t share their [somewhat archaic] beliefs.”

So on Thursday evening there was a “Mermorial” communion service, reminiscent of the Presbyterian worship I grew up with. Communion is celebrated once a year in this congregation, and it’s an important yearly event there. As the story of the Last Supper was retold, the emphasis was on Jesus gathering his friends. Almost anyone can relate to this part of the story. The congregation was invited to reflect on themselves as a community and to view this act of eating and drinking as a celebration of their life and history together in that place. So the meal on Maundy Thursday was a celebration of community, and a remembering of who we are and where we have been. Jesus’ example was a human example: this is something that people do. Little to disagree with there. But something left me restless.

Meanwhile, the choir sang (beautifully) a sampling of classic liturgical music belonging to the day, music that deeply touched me: Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” and Bach’s “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded.” The story I deeply wanted to connect with and retell that night was carried in the music. There was really nothing here to object to, from a human point of view: Here was an assembly of good people, celebrating their common life and honoring some of the religious ideas of their neighbors -- including mine. It felt fussy and theologically petty for me to reflect too much on what was missing for me here. But there was a lot missing. It was the part about God sharing our humanity, and suffering with us, and calling us to a radical, mutual love for one another, grounded in divine love, expressed quite starkly in our liturgies of foot washing. That was missing. Not to member the entry into darkness, expressed in the stripping of the altar. I was seeing the stories and practices reinterpreted, through the lens of an enlightenment humanism. Something was definitely missing. A dimension of mystery -- and even of darkness.

Between hospital visits, I did treat myself to an Easter Vigil service at Trinity Episcopal in Concord - and it was a wonderful, familiar service, with people of all ages on board with the movement through darkness, to the lighting of the new fire and the declaration “The Lord is Risen indeed.” (If anyone from that parish reads this - I thank you!) I needed a chance to say that out loud, in public, with fellow believers, at Easter. At the hospital and around town, I was really moving in circles where that was an irrelevant idea. So I was grateful that the church was there for me, a visitor from out of town. And it was a gift to realize how deeply I desired to be part of that celebration - how real it was to me. The church felt like an island of mercy and welcome in the midst of a world that was mostly oblivious to the good news of Easter. That image has remained with me and I’m still pondering what it means to me.

Meanwhile, back at First Parish, Easter Day dawned, a wonderfully sunny, springtime celebration on a gorgeous New England spring day. The church was packed. I was curious about what an Easter Sunday service of worship would be without the proclamation of Resurrection. But the service started promisingly, for me, with the Easter gospel from Mark as the call to worship, and the singing, with trumpets, of Wesley’s Jesus Christ is Risen Today--though not the version that mentions the Cross.

The theme of the service was Jesus, and the children’s sermon a re-enactment of a parable of Jesus. And the adult sermon did invite people to think about resurrection as a metaphor in their lives, using imagery from the Christian tradtion. At one point, the preacher said, almost as an aside, something like “there is this observance of Good Friday, though how anyone could call it Good Friday is beyond me.”

"Right there!" I thought. That is what I’ve been missing -- and it may be a good way of naming what we as Christians are called to wrestle with, reflect on, embrace, and maybe explain better to the world-- the paradox at the heart of our faith. “Talk to a Christian,” I wanted to say to the preacher. “Talk to a Christian about that -- rather than describing us as if we were confused. See what that Christian might say to you about why we call that Friday Good. Because that is the heart of the matter -- the way of life that leads through the reality of human life, suffering, evil and death, and triumphs ultimately and transformatively. It’s a supernatural claim we make. There’s no getting around it. We do call this Friday good. I’m working on my “elevator speech” about that question. What is yours? Why do you call this Friday good?

All this was 3 months ago -- now we’re in a different liturgical season and a different place in church life, but I’ve been reflecting ever since about this weird sense of being a “topic” in a world that does not widely embrace or understand our Christian message and practices. Why do we call this Friday good? Why was it so important to me to be able to move through the darkness, in the company of fellow believers, to proclaim out loud “The Lord is Risen indeed.”? It is about all those good humanist goals. -- trying to be good people, deepen spiritually, make a difference in the world, Yes. But there is more at the heart of Christian faith. How can I own and name that, from where I stand in faith, and in language the world can understand? That’s the challenge I’ve been pondering lately. With no clear answer -- perhaps Café readers have pondered it, too. . . . .

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.

Rim to Rim: II

This is the second of a two-part article.

By Donald Schell

From coffee at North Rim Lodge at 5 we took the shuttle to the trailhead. We were up ahead of the sun, but the soft light seemed to shine from the tall pines and pop from the snow beneath them. Our first two miles down were so steep my thigh muscles seemed to burn just above my knees. If my legs were already getting shaky had our training been adequate?

Then we passed through a tunnel, a passage for us or for a mule train cut through the red rock and the incline gentled. We hit a steady rhythm and walking felt good again as we descended in switchbacks and across cliff faces through pine and aspen forests down to the beginnings of shrub-like pinyon pine and desert scrub. Sometimes our trail followed natural stone shelves, where a layer of sedimentary rock withstood erosion better than other layers above it.

One of those sections, maybe a quarter mile, had me huddling closer to the edge. My companions were unfazed. “I’m okay, I’ll just be a little slow,” I called out as I switched my walking stick to my left hand, looked ahead and toward the cliff rising above us and walked deliberate steps, trailing my right hand against the smooth vertical wall of stone to my right. Even in those moments, the rich reds and oranges and gold of the rock seemed to sing.

The North Rim’s profusion of alpine wildflowers was behind us, and we moved into another band of flowers, spindly cliff-hugging flowering shrubs were also brilliantly in bloom, purples and whites. And the Century Plants were in bloom, their exuberant single stalks towering above the perennial that would remain for hikers later in the season. We chose to hike in May because it’s when the North Rim Lodge opens, and May and October (just before the North Rim Lodge closes for the winter) offer the most hope of temperate weather at the bottom of the canyon. But May gave us a constantly changing palette of wildflowers for our whole descent from 8000 feet down to the flowering cactuses at 2500 feet.

Truthfully the combination of physical challenge with a quiet reflection on mortality was part of what drew me to this hike. Park Service warnings sharpened the poignancy of that and pushed toward fear, but it wasn’t cheating death that intrigued me, it was simply feeling mortal and small as we descended into the overwhelming presence of something much older and more enduring than me or us or even mankind.

Hiking guides we’d read warned that the last four miles before Phantom Ranch could be brutal. The stone in The Box, as those four miles are called, is half the age of the earth, far, far older than any fossil. But the stone itself, twisted and sculpted of sediment and lava and formed and reformed under millennia of relentless pressure, looks as alive and organic as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church.

Bright Angel Creek continued to roar with the authority of a real river, but only from sheer volume of water. We were almost down to the level of the Colorado, following a gently descending path cared in the cliffside of The Box. And the grace of it? This narrow, dark-stoned canyon within the Grand Canyon could be stiflingly hot. Often, we read, people found the last four miles an eternity. On May 22nd it was only pleasantly warm, with a steady encouraging breeze masking and then accentuating the roar of the creek.

The Phantom Ranch staff greeted us with smiles, pointed us to a cabin with comfortable beds for the night, gave us the very welcome key to the shower house, and confirmed out reservation for sittings at their hearty dinner table.

We had made our descent in ten hours. Several people had passed us on the way. The four of us had talked and had taken some photos, greeted a mountain goat, reminded each other to drink plenty of water, took plenty of rests in the shade and had eaten our electrolyte-balancing snacks. We had also walked sometimes for an hour in awed silence. We were elated.

Days and weeks since confirmed what we felt that evening – that we’d done something that would continue to unfold in memory.

But we weren’t done. Next morning Phantom Ranch we took our places for the 5 a.m. breakfast service, thanked the kitchen for our sack lunches, and set out again before sunrise to cross the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge. From the river and the beginning of our climb, we watched the sun touch the cliffs far above us and hiked in cool shade for a couple of hours. We pushed to get to higher altitude before it began to warm up. We had nine or so miles to climb up 5000 feet up to the North Rim.

Many more hikers descend and re-ascend the South Rim, so there were more people on the trail our second day. And the higher up the Canyon we climbed, the more day-hikers and obvious excursionists we saw, people dipping into the canyon without water or hiking gear. My feet, by the way, felt great. And occasionally I caught sight of another almost barefoot Five Toe footprint ahead of us.

Sometimes people passing would say, ‘Ah, you’re the Yeti we’ve been following.’ ‘There’s another who’s a real big foot,’ I’d say, pointing to the larger foot prints when I could find them in the dust.

As we neared the top, the hikers and runners who were doing the whole distance, rim to river to rim in one day were passing us. They were doing in ten hours (or less) what had taken us twenty. I was glad for them and glad for our slower pace and conversation and the support and encouragement we’d given each other.

We emerged from the Canyon with plenty of time for a shower, a very welcome nap, and leisurely dinner at El Tovar.

At sixty-four, the oldest in our group, our passage felt like a timely descent into and beyond our mortality. Though we enjoyed greetings and brief chatting exchanges with others along the way, sharing encouragement and even shyly acknowledging our awe at what we were seeing and sensing around us, we knew we were passing through a place where death had come and would come again, and into a womb, passing through strata where life had evolved to a place that touched the beginnings of our death, a place of birth where our life and love felt renewed.

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

Rim to Rim: I

This is the first of a two-part article. Part two will appear on Tuesday.

By Donald Schell

On May 22nd and 23rd my wife and I and our friends Anna and Charley hiked the Grand Canyon from the North Rim, down to the Colorado River, and back up to the South Rim. We’d conceived the hike three years before, walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain with Anna. It took us three years to get the reservations we wanted at Phantom Ranch, the rustic guest lodge at the bottom of the Canyon. Then we cleared our work and travel schedules and began to train, to read up and talk to people who’d made the hike, and to equip ourselves.

Why had this journey mattered so much? I knew from walking the Santiago pilgrimage across Spain what a wonder it would be to stare back across the Grand Canyon and remember beginning at the far edge thirty-six hours before. And I knew that walking a long distance and watching the horizon change one step touches archetypal human memories and makes us feel as free on the earth and beyond encumbrance as our hunter-gatherers ancestors or some later nomadic people.

For me the steady walking rhythm that would cover a long distance gave flow and shape to stories of great-great grandparents who’d walked across the American continent in the 1840’s.

But I knew there was more too. What would our journey be? How would it stay with us?

Because Ellen and I and our two friends who would walk the Canyon were Episcopalians and Sunday liturgy regulars, we’d remember Jesus and his disciples, an itinerant preacher and his friends, literally “followers,” walking and teaching around Galilee. And maybe that touched or leaned toward, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Grand Canyon is land that belongs to all and to no one. Park Service land. Though we were grateful we’d have a place to lay our heads, we were going there to make ourselves strangers, pilgrims, and guests.

After three years, after several failed efforts to get our Phantom Ranch reservations, after excited, anxious training, after a couple of shorter training hikes at altitude, we watched the sunset over the Canyon and sat down to dinner at the North Rim Lodge Saturday night May 21st. After dinner we didn’t linger to watch moonlight on the Canyon. We needed our sleep, so we turned in early.

We walked back to our cabins. Snow shone in the evening light. We double-checked our packs. Rain gear and a very light thermal layer for the morning, and a minimal change of clothes for the next day. Each of us would carry a gallon and a half of water, a minimal change of clothes. A first-aid kit. Lunch, and snacks for the trail. Lights out.

I said good night to Ellen and found myself mentally replaying scenes from the Park Service video we’d watched together, the DVD they sent as a warning to those with inner Canyon reservations. The Park Service wanted us to know that people had died attempting to cross the Canyon. Some had not carried enough water. (We were carrying five quarts each - check). Some hadn’t trained or been in good enough shape for a vigorous hike. (We’d trained well - check) Some had wandered off the trail and fallen. (Acrophobic me? Not a chance.)

When we checked in at the Back Country Office we’d also learned that the Park Service had flown 250 helicopter rescue flights in the previous year, averaging one rescue every other day. And I’d studied Back Country’s map with little marks next to brief stories of people, some younger than me who had died in the Canyon of heart attack or severe heat stroke. Men die in the Canyon about five times as often as women.

Younger men die more often than older men. Guys can be foolhardy. So, was I foolhardy? My grandfather, my mother’s father, was ten years younger than me when he’d died of a heart attack. But my grandfather wasn’t in daily aerobic training, and he’d talked with his doctor (not family) about chest pains and been warned by his doctor to take it easy. (I’d had a physical a couple of months before and told the doctor of my plans. He expressed no cautions or evident concern. Check?)

So, (check, check, check, and check?) we’d trained well, would be carrying plenty of water, and would stay on the trail. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but we knew we’ be walking a good trail and expected we’d have a manageable, enjoyable hike. And though we’re all mortal, strong odds were on our side.

I wanted to sleep, but my mental checklist kept rolling. We’d trained in California’s coast range, never getting above 2000 altitude - but we’d already done a couple of hikes in the previous days, and we’d been fine. I didn’t do well in heat – which is why we were hiking in May and why we were grateful for the weather forecast – breezy and partly cloudy.

And then there were my shoes. I had trained in “five finger,” my new near-barefoot hiking shoes, and knew I’d done all right with them on rough terrain. But our training hikes had all been close to civilization. I could explain to anyone why I preferred the Five Fingers to my good old hiking boots, and I knew a number of people had already gone rim to rim in Five Fingers, but…what? What if I injured my foot or my ankle?

The new shoes had a good safety record IF people trained in them ahead of a major hike. I had trained. But what if a rock cut through the very thin vibram sole? No, wait, was I staying awake to remind myself that emergencies were possible? Whatever we’re doing something can go wrong – of course, but everything I was thinking of was unlikely.

Finally with a rueful smile I found the perfect worry to put other worries to sleep. I remembered Harold Camping had predicted that the world would end at 3p.m. We were already six hours past the End of the World. I wondered how Camping was facing his different version of things going badly wrong. I’d heard plenty of Camping-style preaching growing up and cringed at a couple of haunting childhood moments of finding myself alone at home and thinking the Rapture had come and I’d been ‘left behind.’ Better that our end or ‘The End’ comes when it will - unexpected.

Finally ready to let go and sleep, I told myself we’d prepared well, and thought we were probably doing this hike because we were mortal, at least wanting to do it before we got too old or died, so not in spite of being mortal. Mostly likely the next day would bring joy, good conversation, a splendid weariness, a phenomenally good meal at Phantom Ranch and a great sleep at day’s end, and I closed my eyes and woke, eagerly in fact, a few minutes before the alarm went off at 4:45 a.m.

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

Stargate SG-1, Orthodoxy, and Imagination

By Benedict Varnum

I recently (last night!) finished a lengthy project of mine, and finished watching Stargate SG-1 on DVD, putting me several years behind those who followed it on-air. For those who don't know, the show had a mixture of religious themes, mythology, romance, humor, and the US Air Force going into space by walking through wormholes in the Stargate. But this morning, walking to work (following my own busgate trip), I found myself thinking back over my time watching it, and while I found it a fun romp, I realized that I disagree with (at least) one of the basic assumptions of the show's fantasy.

Now, good sci-fi or fantasy will mix the real world with some elements that aren't in the real world. When it's done well, this mixture affects us somehow. It may hold up a mirror to our current lifestyle and practice (I was struck recently by the "meat-cloning vats" used to sustain an Earth population in the billions in Peter Hamilton's Nights' Dawn trilogy; certainly a reflection on our contemporary factory farming, writ larger).

Or it may offer us an escapist hope to wonder at (I think of Picard's speech to the de-cryogenized business tycoon in Star Trek's "The Neutral Zone" episode, about how in the future, we've evolved beyond the need for money, and everyone's task in life is to improve herself. The Star Trek franchise makes lighter of this in Star Trek IV, against the backdrop of feminism in the 1980s, when Kirk's marine biologist date is forced to pay for their meal, saying something like "I suppose you don't have money in the 24th century?" "We don't!").

Or you can get worlds as complex as the real one, which serve as soothing reminders that we can always grow and reinvent ourselves, simply by displaying character after character developed in a thoughtful way that takes advantage of the nuances of their fantastic otherworld (Han Solo's career commitment to the ship he loves flies him not only across the galaxy, but from seedy cantinas to medal ceremonies before a hopeful new republic, and even lets him grow large enough that he can hand the steering wheel back to ol' Lando, freeing his heart and arms to hold onto Leia, non?).

So what's my problem with SG-1? On the one hand, nothing. They commit early and hard to holding the characters together through a mix of romance, duty, and humor (often through the characters annoying each other). They paint these everyday lives against the epic backdrop of a galaxy constantly on the brink of war or the destruction of all life. They hold up over and over again the value of a single person, both by the way in which any character's actions might be the crucial difference between not just life and death, but the destruction of earth, or even the universe, and not. They firm that up by standing several episodes on the principle "We don't leave our people behind," even when it doesn't make military sense to stage a rescue. Again, individuals make the difference, and it's fun for us to watch the bonds between the characters grow stronger.

So what's NOT to like? Well, for one thing, you've got to table any kind of cultural humility you have: the series stands pretty firmly on the assertion that whoever this team goes out and meets, whether they're far more or far less technologically advanced than we are, they've always got a thing or two to learn from the good ol' US of A. Most of the other cultures are either childlike and naive or warlike and arrogant. Very few cultures are ethical and emotional peers for the Stargate team, and in most of them, that budding kinship is embodied in one or two individuals, who are usually a minority voice in the face of an overbearing dictatorship. Humility is not a strong suit for the human race in this series . . . to the point that eventually even the Goa'uld, who have spent most of the show impersonating Egyptian gods, have to point it out. There are justice things to say about the show's target demographics, its treatment of women and minorities (did all those early season Jaffa slaves HAVE to be black?), etc. It does get better as the show goes on.

But the gift of insight that I got out of reflecting on the show this morning is this: many of the show's episodes, especially near the beginning and the end, operate by suggesting that every earth mythology is nearly-literally true, and based on powerful alien technologies being misinterpreted as magic. For example, Merlin was actually an ascended being who returned to this plane of existence to battle the meddling of other ascended beings, who are trying to kill anyone who won't worship them. The magic? That was his technology, protecting him as he attempted to build an anti-demon superweapon.

Many of the gods of ancient cultures show up: Celt, Chinese, Egyptian, Sumerian. All the stories? Turns out they're true accounts. (The exception is that the show is reluctant to touch Christianity; they have one of the Goa'uld impersonate Satan, but won't go so far as to say the God of the Abrahamic faiths was any kind of alien, though they toe the line in the last few seasons with a virgin birth).

The problem I have with this is in its "theological anthropology" (which may match up well with some of my problems above with their cultural anthropology). Theological anthropology has to do with what the fundamental or metaphysical essence of human beings is. What is a human being? The image of God? A fallen creation? A little more than beasts, though less than angels?

Part of the answer in Stargate is that human beings are on the way to ascension (with a quick stopover en route as the "Fifth Race" in a sort of elite, enlightened galaxy-trotter club). But the other major part is that human imagination is something that obscures facts into stories, taking us further from the truth, rather than inviting us to wonder our way towards it. The ancient stories and relics the team encounters are usually clues, pointing to new technologies or hidden alien friends, but the process of interpreting them is about recovering the factual history, dispelling the myth.

Intriguingly, when the ascended beings are shown in a few episodes, they're either comically distracted from the pragmatic and real, or else sitting in a mock-up of an eternal diner, relatively uninterested in their surroundings, except to read the news about the physical universe. So ascension is immortality, but without imagination, novelty, or wonder. Like the ancient Greek gods, these ascended beings are mostly defined by when and how they choose to interfere with the mortal realm.

The more I thought about how Stargate treats our imagination, the more I thought about what we do to our own stories and history. In Christianity, the word "orthodoxy" is often raised. The force of deploying this term is usually a conserving one, suggesting that somehow, someone has wandered too far afield to be part of the conversation, the community, any longer. The assumption in orthodoxy is that truth used to be much clearer, and that part of our task is to conserve it, guard it, return to it. The word "innovation" gets the opposite emotional and moral force from the way it's used in, say, scientific learning (indeed, there's no doubt much to say about the intersections of science, atheism, religious scientists, orthodoxy, the Christian tradition(s), and the history of "the West").

Innovations, orthodoxy would usually claim, are things that obscure the truth further. They're the cloudings of the story that Stargate holds our imagination to be serving up over the course of centuries, and the project of Christianity is in some way to push them aside and get back to the "original" (and therefore true) Christianity.

The problem, as I see it? First, you don't have to read much of the Bible to realize that the early Christians had a strong history of misunderstanding Jesus (Gospel of Mark, anyone?), disagreeing with one another (Council at Jerusalem, the discrepancies between Paul's self-account and those in Acts), and blending Christianity with the cultures of their day. The more I read and re-read scripture, the more clear I am that becoming as close to Peter (who, after all, Jesus called Satan) isn't the fullness of life and relationship to God, Christ, self and others that I'm called to.

And there's the further layer that Jesus didn't provide a systematic manual of what the truth is. Rather, he told parables: stories that pointed people back to their own lived experience. Now, on a certain literal level, maybe that means that the only way to know God is to become a farmer, a landowner, a maiden waiting for the bridgegroom to arrive and a traveler passing Samaritans. But surely the message is richer than that? Surely this method demonstrates in some way that our lives are holy and bring us to the holy?

Thinking that way requires that we use our imagination, not because we, like the oppressed peoples of Stargate's past, can't understand the higher technology or God-power that we're witnessing, but because imagination lets us wonder at where we are already seeing the holiness of our selves and one another.

Orthodoxy's Greek roots translate to "right opinion," which has nothing intrinsically historical or conservative about it. In fact, one might well argue that to make sure your opinion is right, you need to interrogate what came before -- not throw it out haphazardly, but certainly really engage it. Imagination is surely part of how we find new possibilities that can lead us to greater truth or help us see around the incomplete truths (we ARE human, after all) that those before us have handed down.

No offense, SG-1 writing team; I did enjoy your series.

Benedict Varnum is a postulant for holy orders in the priesthood, and is currently serving as a chaplain for an intensive care unit and other areas in a Chicago hospital. He holds a Master's of Divinity from the University of Chicago, and keeps an occasional blog at

Moving II: Home is where ...

"And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Luke 9:58

By Ann Fontaine

The other day Jim, my husband, said, “I don’t know where home is anymore.” We are continuing the process of selling our home of over 30 years where we raised our three children. We have a home to move to but are in transition, still spending time in one place, keeping it up and tidy for prospective buyers – “staged” as they say in the realty business. Often when we wake up in the night we can’t remember where we are. Luckily the layout of our bedroom is almost the same in both places!

The process makes me wonder about the spiritual benefits of moving. Of course, I know we are lucky to have a home at all, much less 2 homes when many in the world live in refugee camps or have no place to call home. So the first thing I have learned is gratitude, gratitude for the privileges of place, education and support that make it possible to be in this situation.

Another pondering is about the nature of friendship. Friends of 40+ years are irreplaceable, people who have known me since I was young and seen me through thick and thin. Those who know I can be a bozo and still love me are not easily found in a short time of coming to a new place. It brings up the question of how much can I trust my new friends to really know me? Can I take the risk? Can I afford not to take the risk if I want to have real friends? And how much do I need to know about them? How much sharing is necessary and how much do we need to know about each other? I tend to be a pretty transparent person. As one man told me when he and I were interviewing candidates for a job, “Don’t try to make your living playing poker.” So maybe this concern is not one about which I need to fret.

I grew up on the Oregon coast, which is where we plan to make our new home. The ocean and the Pacific NW have always been the home of my heart. We moved to Wyoming and the high desert on the east slope of the Rockies in our 30s and have come to love the wide open spaces and blue skies (over 300 days of sunshine per year) but I continue to have the sense both physically and culturally that Wyoming is a temporary place. Though I have lived more than half my life under these blue skies, the ocean still pulls me back. Will I miss the freedom of the prairies and desert? I notice when we are in Oregon I chafe against all the rules in that more populated place.

And so I wonder, where is home? I wonder if Jesus had not had friends with which to stay, women to pay the bills, and had had to go really far away from his birthplace – would he have been so flip about not having a place to lay his head? Would he have thought it a good thing to be “on the road?” As his home was in God – perhaps he would still have said the same thing.

For me, home is place and knowing the cultural cues, not having to always translate. When I went to Tanzania and was in the midst of a Swahili speaking people all the time, hearing English spoken in a marketplace or café, made me want to rush across the room and embrace me new “best friend.” My grandparents all immigrated to the US as young adults – I wonder if they always felt that sense of dislocation. I have lived in Wyoming long enough that I rarely feel like I don’t know the “lingo” but still there are times. I try to have the attitude of Jesus – being at home in the world, but I need place and people to make it happen.

As to the answer I gave my husband, I said, “It’s easy, wherever we are together – that is our home.”

Moving I is here.

"But they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost
evening and the day is now nearly over.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; ..." Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

In the darkness of evening
we sat down to eat with the stranger.
As he broke the bread
our hearts saw the sun
rise between his fingers.

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.

Keeping marriages moving in a healthy direction

By Margaret Treadwell

As in many movies, the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally (1989) ends with a happily-ever-after wedding. The film tells the story of how two friends became lovers. Interspersed throughout are clips of long-married couples lovingly reminiscing about how they met, scored with soaring music. How these strong couples made it through the inevitable rough patches is left to our imagination.

Staying in marriages over the long haul is a hot topic lately. The Washington Post recently reported on the decline of U.S. divorces and ran a story about a service at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where an estimated 600 couples celebrated their marriages of 25-plus years. Those interviewed spoke mostly about how they met, while a few mentioned humor, teamwork, faithfulness, God and prayer.
Some of us are "born lucky" in love, but many more need a road map to develop into a strong couple. Using family systems thinking, I've created the following four signposts to keep marriages moving in a healthy direction:

 Grow into your fullest potential in body, mind and spirit and encourage your partner to do the same.
 Remember the sparks that attracted you to each other in the first place. Keep your fun and spontaneity fresh, individually and together.
 Believe in something greater than you.
 If you have children, defocus them and make the top three bullets your priority.
This applies regardless of your culture, race, religion, sexual identity or socio-economic group.

I believe that we can grow to our fullest potential in marriage. It may take several "marriages within a marriage" to achieve this goal - before children, with children and after children, for starters.

One young husband brought the family calendar to a counseling session and asked his wife to schedule him in. She replied, "I'll be happy to, but I have to schedule myself in first, and then I can have more fun with you."

Far from being selfish, she was taking a clear stand for her self-preservation. How can we love someone else when we won't love ourselves first? List three things you love to do out- side of family and work; now consistently schedule these passions in. You'll begin to see your life - and your marriage - in a more positive light when you take care of yourself.

In my work, I define a strong couple and marriage as the health of the whole family unit - parents and children - rather than solely the couple relationship. Stress in families can manifest with symptoms in one of three places - between the couple (from constant conflict to not speak- ing), in one or other of the couple (from headaches to serious illnesses), in one or more of their offspring (from rebellious acting out to anxiety and depression). No family ever scores 100 percent health - which would mean no symptoms at all. My favorite New Yorker cartoon shows one gentle- man sitting alone in the audience under a banner proclaiming "Conference For Normal Families."

It is remarkable how many parents send their children off to a therapist for a symptom fix rather than taking a thoughtful look at their own relationship. These family leaders - the only ones capable of making a lasting family change - often carry levels of stress that are too big to contain between the two of them. This stress trickles down like an anxiety flu to the most vulnerable child. When people tell me about rough spots in their marriages, they usually are describing some variation of this pattern.

Bottom line: If the couple is OK, over time their children will be OK, too. When they "get" the importance of becoming a strong couple for their kids (even if they aren't particularly interested at the moment in working on it for themselves), the symptom relief for children is swift. But here's the paradox: techniques for strengthening a marriage are successful only to the extent that the individuals in the marriage are willing to strengthen themselves, rather than place absurdly high expectations on a spouse or partner to create their happiness.

In his homily at the April 29 Royal Wedding, the Bishop of London held up faithful and committed relationships as a door into the spiritual life: "Marriage should transform, as hus- band and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbor ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom."

Thanks to Glennon Gordon, LICSW, for our discussion about this column. Her Facebook page is Less Whine With That Marriage.

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

Making it hard for young people to explore a priestly vocation

By Martin L. Smith

On July 4th I celebrated the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I have a slight claim to regard this as special, because I was ordained under the minimum age laid down in canon law. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued special licenses as I was still 22 when I became a deacon and still in my 23rd year-just-when I was ordained priest. So while I can't be certain that I wasn't beaten to the record somewhere by a few days, there is probably no Anglican of my age ordained longer. I was theologically precocious, and though I did have five intense years of theological education behind me, I certainly looked younger than many members of my parish youth club. On my house visits for funeral and baptism planning, I would have to work to get past the initial reaction of utter incredulity which my appearance often excited. I'm still pondering the significance of being ordained so young.

Back then, we were taught that priests were primarily trained by lay people in parishes-seminary was just groundwork. And we made ourselves living proof of that philosophy. We were ordained as pastoral apprentices, not experts or professionals, and ordained ministry was geared to maximize personal pastoral encounters from which we would learn and grow in the field.

On a ferry crossing from England to Holland I had one of those rare prayer experiences when we hear a distinct voice, a clear word from God. I heard these words clearly and simply: "priesthood is people." This was completely consistent with our culture of spiritual apprenticeship. This culture required maturity and responsibility from lay people to trust the young newly ordained and put them through their pastoral paces. In exchange, people benefited from the vigor, energy and imagination of young pastors. I look back with amazement at the gusto and inventiveness with which my friends and I threw ourselves into parish life in our early and mid 20s.

It's hardly any wonder that I came to feel so many misgivings about very different attitudes that took over in the Episcopal Church in the decades that followed, which caused the average age of the newly ordained to climb well into middle age. There was a phase when men and women in their 20s seemed to be discounted as proper candidates for ordination. Whether people seriously believed the blanket theories about the 'need for life experience,' or whether it was just a cover for ushering into the process a majority of middle aged people, I am not sure. I am certain that these attitudes thwarted the Spirit of God in hundreds of stillborn vocations.

Now, I have been in the business of nurturing and mentoring candidates for ministry for decades, and I know perfectly well that "the Spirit blows where it wants." I have rejoiced in the work of discernment and preparation with dozens and dozens of people in the second half of life. But I didn't rejoice at all in the policies that resulted in a cumulative graying of the clergy. And I believe I have earned my right to be skeptical about the design of most of those bureaucratic contraptions called "our ordination process," whose successive models seem to need constant tinkering, only to replaced altogether as yet another ecclesiastical lemon. In many cases they have proved to be grim deterrents to young people exploring a call to the priesthood.

Forty years on, and I am convinced that the church needs to be much less passive about exciting young women and men with the possibility that God wants to recruit the energy and gifts they have precisely as young people, to re-invigorate the ordained ministry from within. We have superb potential leaders among our college age men and women-and younger! I was actively cultivated in my teens as a potential priest, and my discernment was taken really seriously. Are we singling out young people of every cultural and class background as potential priests? Are we willing to forge very flexible instruments of discernment and preparation that can train them in time to devote energetic and creative years to reshaping the life of our parishes? How will we create the "apprenticeship" situations for the young newly ordained that will stretch and deepen them and give opportunity for their creativity? With financial constraints thinning out assistants' positions, how will we make it a priority to incorporate young women and men into the pastoral life in ways which are healthy and inviting for them and their families?

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

The long green season

By Kathy Staudt

Having been on an academic schedule my whole life, I find that when summer comes it has a liturgical feel. For academic professionals, summer is the time when we’re not teaching and meeting -- the time when we are free to do “our own work” of writing and creativity -- for many of us, the work that called us into academe to begin with. Sometimes it’s pressured, but ideally it’s at least in part “fallow time,” with space for contemplation. This year, with Pentecost so late, the feel of the summer season coincides quite well with the church year -- and I am sinking into it happily now, spending the early mornings on my patio, before the heat sets in, finding a little more “butt-in-the-chair” time for writing projects, getting in touch with the places in myself from which the best things come -- perhaps even with what Evelyn Underhill called “that deep place where the soul is at home with God.”

It has been a lush, green summer in Washington so far, and so I find the world around me, on my patio-mornings, in harmony with the green season at church -- the season after Pentecost which used to be called, quite appropriately I think -- “ordinary time” -- the longest season, and perhaps the most instructive, when we’re learning to live more deeply into the faith whose stories we’ve told from Advent through Pentecost.

Here’s a poem that came, one morning on the patio. It reflects how litiurgically “right” this “green season” is for me this year. Hoping these words may help some of you also rejoice in the riches of this season.

Here on my patio
This July morning
After drenching, cleansing
Storms in the night,
I rest amid birdsong,
Surrounded in green

Green of the long growing season
After-Pentecost at church

The season to put out more leaves
Take in sunlight and nourishment
Put down deep roots
Bear maturing fruit
Grow, receive, give back

The long green growing season
Of ordinary time.

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.

What the church, and the nation, owe our veterans

Happy Independence Day. Daily Episcopalian will return on Tuesday.

By George Clifford

A friend, another military veteran, told me that often he felt angry when people thanked him for his military service. I have since noticed that I sometimes react as he does. After reflection, I identified several different sources for my anger.

First, the comment “Thank you for your service” often seems gratuitously glib. I’m proud of my military service. I enjoyed performing a job that was personally rewarding and that allowed me to make a difference in people’s lives while supporting a cause greater than myself. Many times, the thanks come from people in such an oft-handed manner that I wonder if the person has ever really thought about the sacrifices that people in uniform make almost daily, e.g., the long hours with no overtime pay, frequent and extended separations from loved ones, and going into harm’s way. Many veterans, unlike me, made real sacrifices and the nation truly owes them a debt of gratitude. I wonder how many of the people thanking me begrudge paying their taxes (i.e., funding the military), would never consider volunteering for the military, and think that government bureaucrats (this includes numerous military personnel, especially senior ones) routinely waste large sums of tax dollars.

Second, verbal affirmation is occasionally good to hear but actions speak more loudly. Saying “Thank you for your service” is no substitute for fulfilling a citizen’s responsibilities to vote and to communicate opinions to elected leaders. In the U.S., civilian politicians, not the military, decide the conflicts in which the military will fight. Currently, the U.S. is waging three de facto wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya). Military personnel regularly go into harm’s way in two of those theaters. Yet polls show that only a minority of Americans supports U.S. involvement in these conflicts. Furthermore, Congress has funded most of the $1.3 trillion cost to date for these three wars through budget deficits avoiding both substantive debate over the wars and potential voter outrage over tax increases. Tomorrow’s citizens will unfairly pay the bill for today’s wars.

From a Christian perspective, terming any of these conflicts a just war is problematic. One requirement of a just war is that the war has a reasonable chance of success. Neither the wars in Afghanistan nor in Iraq, in spite of eight plus years of U.S. occupation and billions of dollars, has succeeded in establishing a secure, stable, and prosperous democracy. For example, the Afghan war is now the longest war in U.S. history. The approximate $120 billion that the U.S. will spend in 2011 on the war in Afghanistan represents $4000 per Afghan and dwarfs the projected 2011 Afghan GNP of less than $20 billion. Development spending from the U.S. and other nations will total roughly $2.5 billion this year in Afghanistan. Yet the Afghan government remains mired in corruption, actually governs relatively little of Afghanistan, and wants us out.

Fought with an all-volunteer force (and private contractors!), the wars have not ignited a political firestorm of opposition as the Vietnam War did. Few Episcopalians serve in the U.S. military, as, similarly, do few children of politicians and few graduates of elite colleges and universities. Following GEN Petraeus’ 2007 Congressional testimony, coverage of the Iraq war on the evening news dropped from 25% of broadcast time to 3% by mid-2008.

Why is the Church so silent about these wars? If more Episcopalians served in the military, would the Episcopal Church – its leaders, clergy, and members – speak more volubly and vociferously about these wars? What would Jesus say about the U.S. fighting wars of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya? True support for our troops entails ensuring that the military fights only morally justifiable wars.

Third, true support for the troops includes caring for the troops. Cards and care packages are nice. A warm welcome home for units returning from Afghanistan and Iraq represents a healthy morale boost, sharply contrasting with the unwarranted abuse that many personnel received when they returned home from Vietnam. These are relatively painless but positive steps.

However, effective caring also requires improving government policies and programs. More than 7200 American military personnel have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; tens of thousands more veterans have returned home physically or mentally wounded, sometimes permanently disabled. These casualties constitute an underfunded emotional, social, and financial liability. Programs to help returning veterans reintegrate into their families and into society are a good first step, but much remains unknown about how best to do this. (One good resource for dealing with PTSD is Unchained Eagle led by Episcopal priest Bob Certain; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has also developed a valuable congregational resource, Care for Returning Veterans.) Many Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities are ill equipped and staffed to aid women veterans; the VA lacks sufficient resources to assist the growing number of wounded veterans. The Church and a grateful citizenry will rightly advocate for military veterans and their families, adequately funding programs for warrior reintegration, healthcare, education and employment benefits, family adjustment support initiatives, etc.

Finally, the Church has a unique role to fill: helping returning warriors, especially Christian ones, to deal with their guilt for having committed, assisted in, or witnessed acts that in peacetime are immoral but that are necessary elements of warfighting, e.g., killing. In the early Church, the Church sometimes required a Christian returning from a just war to abstain from Holy Communion for as long as three years as an act of penance and moral rehabilitation. That seems excessive. Conversely, simply welcoming the returned warrior with open arms and verbal thanks for a hard job well done compromises the Church’s moral teaching and fails to honor the veteran’s often real and spiritually healthy feelings of guilt and uncleanliness. Private confession and pastoral counseling can help. More importantly, TEC can beneficially develop a process and liturgies for reintegrating returned veterans into the Christian community, perhaps most appropriately linking these to the Lenten journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The Fourth of July offers a great time to celebrate not only American independence but also military veterans, thanking them in word and deed, remembering them in our prayers with the Collect for those in the Armed Forces of Our Country:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

George Clifford is an ethicist and a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (

Advertising Space