An icon called home

By Maria L. Evans

If someone were to ask me to sum up the entire theme of the Bible in a single sentence, my answer would be, "The Bible is a story of humanity constantly searching for a place with God that they can call home." We see the non-permeability of "home" for the Hebrew people and their need to create a home with God despite being slaves in Egypt and aliens in Babylon. We see Jesus trying to bridge our physical and spiritual home through his life, death, burial and resurrection. We see the tension of "families" working out their homes in the early church through the Epistles. We hear the promises of home in the Psalms and assurance, particularly in Psalm 84, that we sparrows will find a nest with God. The Bible is about finding home when home seems most elusive, and not as a luxury--we are called to find it. Our Anglican theology, particularly in the words of Eucharistic Prayer C, reminds us that God calls us again and again to this place called "home."

Until very recently, I hadn't really thought much about how we re-enact that journey on the Internet. What does it really mean to get on one's computer, open our browsers, and click on a button called "Home?" What are we looking for? What do we expect? What seems to be expected of us?

The recent changes in Facebook, and my friends' various reactions to it, created some interesting windows through which to view the reality of "home." Notice I am not saying "cyber-home," or "virtual home." We have moved to a place in our ability to incorporate connectivity to each other in a way that the Internet has become an extension of our body, albeit a less-than-fully-functional one.

I've mostly found myself more irritated than incensed about the various rounds of Facebook changes and find the people angry enough to want to leave Facebook somewhat bewildering. Yet, I empathize with their anger, hurt, and frustration. But what has been more illustrative to me is I believe I am getting glimpses in how each of us sees that elusive thing called "home" differently.

I am a tail end baby boomer. I did not grow up with the Internet. When I first discovered it, it was not a home at all--it was a mysterious foreign land that I felt called to strike out and explore. We were pathfinders and explorers then, and having a computer in our homes carried some degree of being electronically and mechanically facile. We preferred using handles to using our real names, and it felt exotic and cutting edge. We were explorers, pathfinders, and risk takers--and yes, we did our share of sinning along the way. (Literally, the day Napster came out, I had filled an entire outboard hard drive full of music.) I've certainly had to come to grips with my own forms of Internet repentance. There were a lot of things we did back then that we suspected weren't quite kosher, but until someone told us "no" we were not going to worry much about it.

For me, in some ways, now that the Internet is pretty much a utility, like our light bill and phone, and social networking has created a living room within our living room, I feel a little bit like Jeremiah Johnson, the fur all trapped out, and the wagon trains becoming settlements, knowing a certain way of life I enjoyed was over. Civilization came to the Internet. Like the Wild West, we are in a place where the boundaries and rules are still being worked out. Yet I have also lived here in the Internet long enough that I have experience and knowledge in what used to be foreign territory, and perhaps understand its nature of "home" in a unique way. My own Facebook wall has seemed to become this safe and mostly welcoming place where people talk and interact and make new friends with each other--I only provide the context, the hospitality. Dare I say "I am in the world but not of it?"

In short, my Facebook wall has become, for me and my online community, not so much my private home, but an abbey, and it's clear I am the Abbess. I don't seem to go looking for people; they come looking for me. It's the atmosphere and the company that people look for on my wall, and I am not so worried about the "furniture," i.e. the platform that drives the engine of Facebook.

Likewise, my physical home is in the midst of a remodeling project that has taken eleven years for me to formulate "how I wish it to be." Only three rooms of my house are physically livable at the moment. I spend a lot of time outside by my chiminea in the evenings. Privacy becomes relative when contractors show up at 7:00 a.m. on a whim. Finding contemplative space in my own home has become a priority.

It goes even deeper. I've discovered through making timelines of my spiritual life for my online Education for Ministry class, that I grew up accepting that my physical home was a tumultuous and rather unstable place that could very easily be affected by job loss, death, divorce, alcohol, drugs, and personal despair. Yet I became rooted--literally embedded--in the geography of northeast and north central Missouri. I learned early on not to depend on people and a physical address to provide me a home. "Home" had to be something bigger and more enduring--which is why my lifelong desire has been to seek a relationship with God.

It's interesting as I observe other people's reactions to Facebook's changes. For some, changing the platform of Facebook has been literally like someone breaking into their house and rearranging the living room furniture. For others, there's an immediate move to tighten down their privacy settings--to "hole up." Some of the folks younger than me, who have always had social networking, and had come to Facebook from MySpace some time back, are simply eyeing Google+ as "the next place they'll move." Still others grouse a bit, roll with it, and discover new things in their being faithful and staying put. Frankly, there are about as many reactions to it as there are personality types--and we are all still trying to adjust to these changes "in community."

I have this sense that changes in Facebook mimic something we've never quite discovered in ourselves about how we feel about our physical homes. Likewise, how we feel about changes in our family homes, our worship homes, and our work homes mimic something in our stories of finding our home in God's Realm. Perhaps all these changes in social networking are simply an invitation to explore our relationship with God and our relationships in "God's social network"--both in our life and actions, and through the Bible as our Frequently Asked Questions site. Perhaps that icon marked "Home," is not a home--but a gateway to one we never imagined.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, Missouri, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Like repeating fifth grade

By Donald Schell

“Services in Episcopal church are like repeating fifth grade. There’s no place for me there.”

“Do I have to be able to read music to belong to this church?”

My colleagues who heard this observation and this question, one from a friend, the other from a stranger, are seasoned, committed leaders in our church, but both felt they were hearing something significant in the impression of a first-time visitor to an Episcopal Church. The ‘repeating fifth grade’ remark was made by someone who was visiting because her longtime friend worked in the church. The ‘have to be able to read music to belong’ question was from stranger’s first visit to an Episcopal congregation. Both were responding to our odd habit of doing ritual from printed text.

Another colleague, serving as interim in a church that had just won its building back from “Anglican” dissidents, attended a town council meeting, met a number of people who were excited to hear of a more open, progressive voice returning to their town’s religious community and several promised they’d come to church. They did come, and as my friend watched their faces in church that, he felt their bafflement at how we pray with our noses in the book, at the disconnection from friends and neighbors they felt scattered in pews unable to see any face but the priests, at juggling books and interpreting different kinds of page numbers. One by one, he said, he saw his new friends’ faces registering, “nothing for me here.”

The book is our splendid resource. It’s also a serious problem. Sunday I caught myself in an ultra-Episcopal moves. Presiding at a spoken 8 a.m. liturgy, we were using the Apostles’ Creed, which we had printed in the service leaflet. I couldn’t find it in the leaflet and fumbled for it as the creed began before it dawned on me that I didn’t need the leaflet. I could say the creed without text in front of me. I made myself speak the familiar text, but felt the loss of that conditioned security of the paper and print – whether Prayer Book or leaflet. And later when we came to the Lord’s Prayer, I lifted my hands to lead the prayer and noticed an entire congregation of people who know that prayer reading it from the book.

Sunday afternoon, my wife was running lines for our actor son. Running lines means she had the script, he mostly had his lines memorized, and they were practicing with her speaking other parts and him speaking from memory to refine his memorization. His leading part in a new verse translation of Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande. It gives him a heavy line load of gorgeous poetry he wants to get right. The director had scheduled cast to be off book for the next rehearsal, a full month before the play would open. So, many hours into learning his part ‘by heart,’ he was refining and polishing the memorization to get ready--for rehearsal--not even for performance, but for early rehearsals, because the directors knows actors off book discover new things as their characters are literally speaking to each other. They’re not ‘saying lines’ any more, they’re acting or playing their part.

Occasionally, going to a lot of theater, we’ve had the experience of being in the audience when an understudy takes the stage on book. We saw an Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello on book. It was exciting to watch because the understudy was stretching so hard to be the character, to get the lines without looking, to maintain eye contact with the other actors or speak the lines to the audience, and because the other actors were working so hard to make the whole production succeed. It was a beautiful performance and I still picture a charged moment when he held a sword in one hand and book in the other in the murderous final scene.

Aren’t we, in church, hoping to be at least as alive and present as a company of actors? Why aren’t we finding strategies and means to get people off book? Where are we valuing the voice and contribution of each regular attender and each visitor?

Praying with our nose in the book can’t touch the elation of watching that understudy play Iago. The book isn’t our springboard to freedom; instead it’s there to anchor us, to make sure we don’t go anywhere. Actually, it’s very possible that in 1549 some people felt elated, expectant, and even ecstatic to have printed English texts of the liturgy that they could hold and read themselves. My colleague’s friend in 2011 felt like unison reading put her back in fifth grade.

Where do we invite, allow, or even admit energy and emotion?

My hunch is that a lot of people in our culture, some consciously, some not, suffer from loneliness and isolation. They fear their voices don’t count. “Don’t you want your voice to be heard?” the paid pollster inevitably asks when I decline yet another unsolicited phone survey. That trained caller hopes the stranger picking up the phone will feel lonely enough and powerless enough that his formulaic questions to make me into data bits gives will give me enough hope that I might count and feel like I was finally someone that I’d cooperate. Usually I say. ‘no thank you.’

People do come to us, to our churches, lonely, feeling isolated, not knowing or trusting their God-given experience and power. So when, in our Sunday liturgy, do we bless the experience and authority they brought with them to church? When do, we help them find a resourcefulness that would empower them for Gospel living outside of church?

My question isn’t what we’re ‘telling them.’ Our message can be pretty clear, but we silence it when we contradict the message line by line and movement by movement in the liturgy, making people feel childish or incompetent. And which will people hear from us, our message or our practice?

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

The spiritual aftermath of 9/11

By George Clifford

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Christians believe that God brings good things out of bad. In reflecting on 9/11, I see three God moving in three ways.

First, Jesus calls his followers to live in truth, not in a world of illusion. The biblical story of the exodus, from which we have heard successive installments in each of the first readings at the Sunday Eucharist the last few weeks, depicts Egypt as an eleventh century BC analogue of the twenty-first century United States. Egypt was prosperous and powerful, their world’s only superpower. Then came their 9/11: God, according to the narrative, destroyed their illusions of invulnerability and control with seven plagues.
Similarly, the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. killed almost 3000 people, destroyed billions of dollars of property, and emotionally scarred countless thousands. As huge as those consequences were, 9/11’s major impact was spiritual. The attacks fractured, or even shattered, widely held illusions of invulnerability and control. Both illusions are false and profoundly unchristian. Human finitude means that we are vulnerable and not in control. Interpersonally, genuine relationships require vulnerable self-disclosure and healthy bonding that enables misuse or abuse. Physically, healthy living can diminish but not eliminate vulnerability. Cells develop cancer; diseases attack. Communally, even the United States’ unprecedented wealth and military power cannot insulate us from terrorist attacks, mass murders, economic downturns, and other problems.

Living in truth leads those who seek to walk the Jesus path not only to acknowledge but also to appreciate life’s risks and vulnerabilities. My awareness that this is perhaps my last hour of health, or even of life, helps me to cherish this moment and these relationships more fully.

Second, Jesus calls us to envision a future shaped in his image. The Christian future is communal, a dimension of the gospel often downplayed or ignored in our highly individualistic culture. Moses returned to Egypt to lead God's people out of slavery. Paul established communities of believers, not individual converts. Jesus chose and formed a group of twelve disciples, not twelve individuals.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we as a nation recalibrated our thinking in unhelpful, ungodly ways. Fear pushed aside courage, pessimism replaced optimism, and present conflict pushed aside our vision of God's plan for the future. Theologically, we began living and thinking as if the gospel ended with the crucifixion rather than the resurrection.
However, the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 acted differently. They refused to accede to terror, said no to evil, and lived into a vision of the future shaped in Jesus’ image. We should follow their example and do the same.

In the Exodus narrative, Egypt responded to its 9/11, as did the United States to its 9/11, by waging war. The reading assigned for a Sunday earlier this month described the annihilation of Egypt’s army and that war’s ugly ending. Biblical scholars and historians thankfully shed some light on the disparity between the narrative and actual history. At most, only a handful of slaves revolted and fled Egypt. A mistranslation of the Hebrew in the text sets events at the Red Sea rather than the Sea of Reeds. Great artists like Cecile B. DeMille bring this scene to life with powerful but inaccurate imagery of water cascading down upon and drowning the Egyptian army. More likely, the small band of escapees eluded their pursuers by safely fleeing through marshes impenetrable by soldiers in chariots and on horseback.

As a military retiree, I am thankful that the U.S. military has not suffered annihilation in Afghanistan or Iraq. Sadly, however, both of the wars launched in response to the 9/11 attacks seem destined to have ugly endings. After ten years of U.S. occupation, Afghanistan remains largely ungovernable and has one of the world’s most corrupt governments. Iraq, after eight years of occupation and in spite of a lull in violence produced primarily by putting tens of thousands of Iraqis on the American payroll, remains riven by sectarianism and tribalism. Violence among Iraqis is escalating as the U.S. withdrawal proceeds. And in spite of some notable successes against al Qaeda, national security experts warn that the world is not greatly safer or more peaceful today than on 9/12.

War, in the twenty-first century as in the eleventh century, is occasionally necessary to stop a great evil like the Nazis, but war stymies the demonic rather than moving us along the path toward peace. What then shall we do? This is the third lesson to learn from 9/11 and its aftermath. Jesus calls us to begin transforming the present into the future, incarnating the image of Jesus in our lives and our relationships.

One central transformative practice is to develop a lifestyle that loves and values others as self, emulating Jesus. The heroic actions of first responders on 9/11, including many Episcopal clergy, exemplify this costly love for others. The first two National Guard pilots sent aloft to bring down United Airlines Flight 93 scrambled in planes without live ordnance. Arming the planes, already prepped for a routine training mission, would have taken too long. Between them, the two pilots had decided that one would aim for Flight 93’s cockpit, the other for the tail. Both are grateful for heroic passengers whose bold action precluded the necessity of trying to time a mid-air collision and ejection.

In the last decade, we in the Episcopal Church have emphasized God's love for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We rightly expand that emphasis on God's inclusive love to include people of all religions. Building peace entails practicing radical hospitality for people of all faiths and no faith. We value Muslims because they, like us, are God's children.

One of my favorite paintings is Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” which is actually a series of paintings by the nineteenth century American Quaker depicting various animals – predators and prey – gathered in peace. Unlike our present world filled with danger, Hicks paints the future, first envisioned by Isaiah (11:6) and echoed throughout the New Testament, in which God rules and humans dwell in peace with one another.

We cannot erase the tragedy of 9/11, turn back time, or redeem the suffering the attacks caused by attempting to preserve illusions of security, invulnerability, and control. Instead, we best honor and remember the dead by embracing our vulnerability, focusing on God's vision for the future, and walking the Jesus path to live into that future.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years and now blogs at Ethical Musings (http://blog.ethicalmusings.com/).

Pray for your enemies

“You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...
- Matthew 5:43-44

By Randy Lord-Wilkinson

Not long after 9/11, someone asked me how in the world we were supposed to pray for somebody like Osama bin Laden. I can only speak from my experience and beliefs. One of the reasons I am an Anglican is because our tradition takes human beings seriously. By this I mean that Anglican Christianity sees our formation toward the full stature of Christ as a process, not an instantaneous consequence of "accepting Christ." For many of us, our journey in and to Christ begins before we have made up our minds about him. And even then my transformation continues until I die, and possibly beyond that.

The implication of this for praying or one's enemies, or forgiveness in general, is that we know from our walk in faith that God knows our frailties and foibles better than we do, and still expects us to do these extraordinary things. The operant word is 'do'. So often I have confused how I feel with sin, or sanctity, if I'm feeling particularly holy. But love as Jesus lived and taught it, and the forgiveness that can issue forth from love, is not about denying my humanity or having God take it away from me.

Love is what I am doing when I pray for my enemy or forgive one who hurt me. God does not demand of me a psychological impossibility, or that I deny my human nature! I can be angry, feel hatred, desire revenge, want to kill somebody with my bare hands... and do love. I think it is cheap grace that teaches that I can forgive, or heal, or overcome loss and grief or anger, just by praying really well. My feelings are part of how God put me together. My actions are my response to God's command to love.

So I consider the people who murdered all those human beings in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania my enemies. Note that Jesus never said, "you shall have no enemies." He said pray for them. Sometimes I pray for those who have violated my world by imag- ining how they were when they were first born: vulnerable, loving, needing, open. Inside every murderer - somewhere! - is buried that innocent. The stamp of the author of all life is deep inside, somewhere!

And then I begin to grieve and grow angry that years of formation in the ways of hate - mixed in with mother's milk and later the love of family and friends - gradually erodes the humanity of the infant. I curse the evil that creates the conditions where such malice and murder can flourish! Can a Christian, then, support retribution and revenge? Can a Christian who prays for enemies wave the flag and cheer when the country or countries giving terrorist cells sanctuary are bombed back to the Stone Age? Does forgiveness mean just letting it go?

Some seem to think this is what it means. I don't think either lots of bombs or letting it go are effective responses to what we are dealing with. I've heard the attacks of 9/11 com- pared with Pearl Harbor. But I think they're more aptly compared with Oklahoma City. The disciples of bin Laden are murderers and outlaws every bit as much as Timothy
McVeigh. We should deal with these criminal nomads in the same way. I think it would be a great step forward for the world if we began to recognize that what happened on U.S. soil that day was not just about America. All humankind was wounded.

If we "let it go" then such atrocities will happen again, and no one will be safe. But neither will a declaration of "war" eradicate the existence of murderers who hide behind, in this instance, the banner of Islam. We who want to rescue civilization - regardless of which flag we salute (American citizens were not the only victims on September 11, 2001, people from many other nations lost their lives as well) - will work together. When we pray for peace and preach love and forgiveness it does not mean we condone evil, but face it in all its horror and mystery. The peace of Christ is not like the world's peace, which is typically an armed truce. It is the peace that comes from knowing where our true home and life is, so that we are not intimidated by evil, but confront it with goodness and justice.

The Rev. Randy Lord-Wilkinson is rector of the Church of the Ascension, Gaithersburg, Maryland. This essay originally appeared in the Washington Window.

Dwelling in Safety: A poem from the weeks following 9/11/2001, 2001

By Kathy Staudt

In an earlier post, over the weekend of 9/11, I reflected on that challenging assertion from the service of evening prayer: “Only in you, O God, can we live in safety.”

This statement - that our safety rests ultimately with God rather than with anything we can create, was for me the ongoing learning of the days after 9/11, and has continued to be a meditation for me. I find that it was already reflected in a poem I wrote in October of 2011, and which I share here for readers of the Café to recall how we felt then, how the Cathedral and the Cathedral close spoke to us of safety and un-safety -- and how it feels to pray these “Only in thee can we live in safety.”

This came to me with great vividness on October 7, 2001, the day that the war in Afghanistan began. As a chorister parent who lives out of the city, I often hung around at the Cathedral between the morning and evening services, since my chorister had to make a day of it on Sundays when they sang. We were on the close when we began to hear the news that our airplanes were beginning the bombing of Afghanistan and I think at that time few people really knew how to feel. For me the process of walking around the cathedral and the close, in preparation for that day’s choral Evensong, brought home the whole theme of “dwelling in safety” which has seemed to me to be the spiritual word to our country ever since: what are we neglecting in our scrambling for assurance and safety and control? What endures? What are the lingering questions. I think the poem still captures where I am with this, though it takes on fresh irony in light of the recent damage to the Cathedral. I hope it will speak, in this 10th anniversary season, to readers of the Café:

Washington National Cathedral
October 7, 2001

In Afghanistan today,
Our airplanes are dropping
Bombs and food
Too soon to know
Where this news will lead.

I walk the path where on Sundays in Eastertide,
Amid ringing bells,
Treble voices echo from open casement windows.

Today it is colder
Quiet along this path
Through autumn darkened oaks
In the shadow of gray stone.

The tourists near me pause.
Silently we look up
As low-flying helicopters
Roar from the sky.

In the bishop’s garden
Birds in the holly bushes call aloud
Responding to a high flying F-16
Visible above us, through placid autumn sky:
Circling

In the woods, leaves begin
Their yearly spiral to the ground
Responding to the first real wind of autumn.


Sunlight dapples on old beech trees
Their thick roots digging deep,
Great fingers
Grasping the soil.
Their silver bark reflecting in its color
The gray stone skin of the cathedral façade,
Young skin,
Stretched over shapes eight hundred years old,
Enclosing a silent space that echoes
With clashing symbols:

National
House of Prayer for All
Battle hymns
Way of Peace
Patriot’s flag
Crucifix:
Suffering Love

Where at Evensong today
The choir will sing,

As for centuries
In scattered churches
Of this civilization
Choirs have sung at evening:

Only in Thee
Can we live in
Safety.

(by Kathleen Henderson Staudt. Originally published in Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture (2003 Edwin Mellen Poetry Press)

The Cathedral on 9/11: Living "safely," then and now

By Kathy Staudt

I was sorry that the triple insult of earthquake, storm, and the toppling of a crane forced Washington National Cathedral to move the events commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to other venues. On the one hand, this was a witness to the world of the way that the Cathedral’s ministry and mission goes beyond its beautiful building and grounds. But it is hard for me to let go of the place, even though I understand the spiritual point, especially after this weekend of remembrance.

I didn’t have tickets to any of the events (signed up too late) but I had planned to go over sometime during the weekend simply to be in this place, in the Cathedral and on the close, because 10 years ago the Cathedral, as a place, was very much a part of my life and my family’s, a kind of second home. Both of my children were at Cathedral schools, and my daughter, who had just joined the girl choristers in January of 2001, was among the children who sang at the service of remembrance on the Friday of that week, January 14.

What we learned at that time was something we’re learning again: that ‘safety” is not something we can guarantee ourselves. We hadn’t really seen that as clearly before September 11, 2011 as we have seen it since. I have written a longer reflection on what “safety” meant to us in Washington, as a spiritual value, after 9/11. It was published at in the 5 year 9/11 anniversary issue of Weavings and you can read it here.

I am remembering now, as I did then, the anthem the choristers sang at the cathedral service, which I suspect will be heard in some version in the commemorations this weekend. (You can see a video of this anthem here.

It was a simple, unison setting by Virgil Thompson of setting of the Isaac Watts' 23rd psalm paraphrase My Shepherd will Supply my Need. (Hymnal #664) The last verse, which moved me deeply then, now has an even more poignant ring in light of the recent damage to cathedral, church house and other buildings close. They sang:

O may thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home

The Cathedral on that day did project an assurance of spiritual home-place for a newly traumatized nation, and it has been that kind of spiritual home for many of us in Washington and far afield. It was sad that the actual place was not be fully available this weekend. It is also an invitation, again, to reflect on those themes of safety and spiritual home in times of un-safety.

To that end I am remembering the other phrase from the liturgy that resonated for me in those days following 9/11, around the Cathedral close. It is from 1979 prayer book service of Evening Prayer, sometimes sung by the choristers in those days, though they’ve since tended to use earlier texts for evening prayer. It comes from the suffrages, when the officiant says “Give peace, O Lord, in all the world, and the people respond: for only in thee can we live in safety.”

Only in thee can we live in safety. It requires a great deal of faith and “letting go” truly to assent to that. Over this weekend that recalls so much loss and that brings back that strong sense of in-security and un-safety, I will be recalling these words s a kind of mantra. Perhaps the cathedral’s current woundedness, sad as it makes me feel, will help me to remember more deeply where our truest safety lies, during this weekend that calls us to both compassion and remembrance.

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.

Isaac and Ishmael were brothers

By Lucy Chumbley

Minarets were my steeples growing up, and the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, was my timekeeper.

In Saudi Arabia I awoke at Fajr, the pre- dawn call to prayer, and lisened to its cadences merge with the call from nearby mosques - sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant.

At midday - Dhuhr - I heard it through the sounds of traffic, watched people stop to pray by the side of the road. I heard it in the afternoon, Asr, at sunset, Magrib, and at the end of the day, Isha.

When I later moved to Jerusalem, the call of the muezzin blended with the sounds of church bells and of the siren announcing Shabat, the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
These sounds, the sonic calling cards of the three monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - summoned the faithful to prayer and served as a reminder of the presence of God.

One God.

With a shared belief in one God, a common ancestor, Abraham - through his sons, Isaac and Ishmael - and intertwined narratives, these three faiths are members of the same spiritual family. This is what I learned in my Middle Eastern childhood; this is what I've tried to teach my son.

So imagine my surprise when I turned to the story of Abraham in the Children's Bible his grandmother had given to him and read the story of Abraham and his "only son" Isaac.
No mention of Ishmael.

It's not just Children's Bibles that marginalize or ignore this story; the tale of Abraham's second wife and first son. In our predominantly Judeo-Christian culture, there's often a tendency to focus on the other side of the family - Sarah and Isaac, Abraham's first wife and second son.

In our post-9/11 world, it's more important than ever to understand how this family fits together; to acknowledge the legitimacy of both sons and to find in their story the seeds of reconciliation.

In the Jewish/Christian story, God promises Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars and Abraham's wife, Sarah, who is barren, offers him Hagar, her Egyptian slave, as a concubine.

When Hagar becomes pregnant, the situation between the two women becomes intolerable. Hagar flees into the desert, where the angel of the Lord tells her to return, for she will give birth to a son, Ishmael, and he will father a great nation. God later tells Abraham that Sarah will give birth to a son, Isaac, with whom his covenant will be established.

After Sarah gives birth to Isaac, she banishes Hagar and Ishmael. They head for Egypt, and run out of water. As they are on the brink of death, God again speaks to Hagar, showing her a spring and telling her to take Ishmael by the hand, for he will father a great nation.

According to Islam, this encounter happened at Mecca, where later the prophet Mohammed, a descendant of Abraham through Ishmael, received the Koran as a divine revelation. The story of Hagar and Ishmael is reenact- ed each year during the hajj, the annual pilgrimage, when Muslims retrace the steps of Hagar's frantic search for water for her son and drink from the spring revealed to her by God, known as the Zamzam well.

The Koran claims that Abraham later rebuilt the Kaaba - the holiest shrine in Islam, a building believed to have been originally constructed by Adam - near the site of the spring.

Five times a day, at the Adhan, faithful Muslims stop what they are doing and turn to face the Kaaba, Abraham's house. In so doing they form a worldwide circle of religious unity, with the Kaaba as its center.

Signs of religious unity also exist in Judaism and Christianity - from symbols and traditions to the distinctive sounds of the call to prayer.

But what of unity among these three faiths of Abraham?

When the patriarch died at a ripe old age and was "gathered to his people," his sons Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury him. (Genesis 25:7)

Death has a way of bringing families together; exposing our shared and sometimes complicated roots. Though their lives were set on an adversarial course, Isaac and Ishmael were brothers.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we'd do well to remember that.

Lucy Chumbley is editor of Washington Window, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Freedom Fries: Remembering 9/11

By Leo Frade

Freedom Fries--do you remember them? It was only eight years ago when two “patriotic” representatives from Ohio and North Carolina declared that all references to the French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the Hose of Representatives would remove any reference to the French.

This action by Congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who was in charge of oversight restaurant operations for the chamber, and Robert B. Jones (R-North Carolina), never came up for a vote in Congress, but received plenty of publicity. It was intended to express displeasure with France’s “continued refusal to stand with the U.S. allies”--in other words, for refusing to go to war against Iraq due to doubts about the validity of claims of weapons of mass destruction.

The French Embassy in Washington, D.C, made no comment beyond pointing out that what we call “French fries” come from Belgium. Nathalie Loisau, an embassy spokeswoman said: “We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.”

As we come to the end of a decade since September 11, 2001, I want to remind everyone to take a moment to consider first the sacrifice of our Armed Forces around the world in responding to the treachery of the fanatical attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

It didn’t take long to realize that Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban were in cahoots with each other in Afghanistan, so we proceeded to respond to their destructive challenge. Unfortunately for us, we lost our focus and decided to look elsewhere for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and before we knew it, we were involved in war there, weakening our efforts in Afghanistan. The end result we now know: There were no weapons of mass destruction, and the cost of our Iraq intervention was thousands of lives lost, as well as the expansion of the influence of Iran in that area, to the detriment of our security and that of all the moderate regimes of the Middle East.

In May 2005 Rep. Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war “with no justification,” said of the “Freedom Fries” episode, “I wish it had never happened.” By July 2006, the House of Representatives had quietly changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to “French fries” and “French toast.”

Unfortunately the backlash of hate after September 11, 2001 went much further than changing the names of a couple of our favorite foods. There were victims who didn’t die due to the hatred of the terrorists, but due to the hatred of so-called “patriotic Americans.” No attention, no funding and no public support has been given to these victims, who were killed because they were either Arab or Muslim or simply looked like “Middle Eastern types. “

One of them was Baldir Singh Soldin, a Sikh from India who was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001 in Mesa, Ariz.--the same state that is passing anti-immigrant laws that could persecute minorities.

The Arizona killer of the “turban-wearing Sikh” killed him outside his gas station. His killer spent hours before the murder in a bar, bragging of his intention to “kill the ragheads” responsible for September 11, 2001.

Waqar Hasan of Dallas, Texas, was also killed the same day. He was a 46 year old from Pakistan, murdered in the convenience store he owned by a fellow Texan named Mark Stroman. Stroman was also convicted of murdering another “Arab-looking” person in nearby Mesquite, Texas, and admitted to authorities that he had injured a third victim, a Bangladeshi, between the two murders. He bragged that, “I did what every American wanted to do after September 11, but didn’t have the nerve.”

Stroman was executed last month for the murders. It is interesting to note that even on the day of the execution the only surviving victim, Rais Bhuiyan, who was blinded in one eye by Stroman’s attack on him, continued to plead for his attacker’s life to be spared, saying that his Muslim faith required him to forgive.

Then we have Adel Karas, 48, a grocer from Egypt who happened to be a Coptic Christian, killed on September 15 in San Gabriel, California.

I could go on and on with these sad and violent examples of our hate and overreaction against those who are our neighbors--often our fellow citizens of this country--but simply don’t look exactly like us. Suffice it to say that according to the Human Rights Watch, assault and vandalism against Arab Muslim and Christian Americans have increased by 1,700 percent in the past ten years.

How will you respond as we approach the tenth anniversary of that fateful and murderous day, September 11, 2001?

I call you first of all to pray for our troops around the world who risk and sacrifice to defend our freedom against those who would destroy us. But I also call on you to remember that our freedom is equally threatened when we forget that this nation was founded with the astonishing provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—that from the beginning we intended to be different from regimes past and present that dictate to their citizens what to believe and how to pray.

Perhaps it seems unfair to us that Muslims can have in this country the freedom to practice their faith that we, as Christians, would not be allowed in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia or the newly formed nation of North Sudan; but we are called as Americans to preserve our commitment to a freedom that includes the right to worship and pray to God as we understand the Deity to be, to practice any religion—or none.

We dishonor both this commitment to liberty and our call as Christians to love our neighbor when we fan the flames of hatred and fear with asinine ideas like banning mosques from our communities, or outlawing the practice of the Muslim code of Sharia law.

As a Christian I rejoice to proclaim the Good News that our Lord Christ loves and cares for all humanity, and that he will indeed draw the whole world to himself. But as an American I am also proud to say that America belongs to all who swear allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”

This unity, my dearly beloved—this welcome for all who love liberty--is our weapon of mass destruction against all hatred and dictatorships that may threaten our country and “this fragile earth, our island home.”

The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade is Bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida.

Recovering the Commons II: Countering Selfishism

We are persons because of other persons.
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

By W. Christopher Evans

Almighty God, who hast so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affecteth, for good or ill, all other lives:
So guide us in all the work we do, that we may do it not for self along,
but for the common good; and as we seek a proper return for our own labor,
make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,
and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

--Collect for Labor Day, Book of Common Prayer, 210

In much recent U.S. American political rhetoric, socialism and anything resembling a concern for shared efforts, the social welfare, the common good, or the commons is mocked, upbraided, and cast out as demonic. To be concerned with others’ welfare is to be labeled that most feared opprobrium, un-American. And now, perhaps, even treasonous.

To be concerned that others’ have clean water, nourishing food, safe shelter, meaningful work, and necessary care is anathema, is the spectre of government control in our lives. Yet ironically, as required affirmation, the same people who employ this rhetoric are quite interested in governmentally regulating fully others’ welfare in our most intimate pair bondings and the most difficult decisions of our lives in ways that brook neither shades of gray, nor rainbow gradations.

At the heart of this rhetoric are incompatible tenets. Government is the problem. Government is the solution. This should not surprise us, for this rhetoric contains within itself very seeds of dictatorial communalism it decries. On the one hand eschewing any rules of life for the national economy, and on the other hand demanding imposition of a very narrow rule of life on every household economy.

This moves well beyond differences in economic theory and application in a time of recession, of whether or not taxes should be lowered or spending raised. It has moved into the bizarre realm of only me and mine. Many commentators of late note the influence of Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosolipsistic writings on much of this rhetoric, a rhetoric that is neither conservative, nor social. It is selfishism, the championing of the self-contained, self-serving self (and those considered extensions of my existence).

Such influence is not conservative because it reaches for an utopian—some would say dystopian, notion that fails to acknowledge our finitude, limitedness, and proclivity to be only for ourselves to the destruction of others.

In this regard, selfishism is the very antithesis of a mature conservatism steeped in the best of Augustinian influences on our general societal and cultural worldview. This reactionary right uptopian thinking is every bit as naïve as revolutionary left utopian thinking. At their extremes, both eschew governance and government at all because they embrace an overly optimistic view of the human condition that results in a form of enthusiasm, of unmediated immediacy on the level of human relations often mirrored in an understanding of relation to the divine. In both cases, where such extremes have taken hold coupled with dictatorial aftermaths that promise to pull it all together again, much must be torn down that holds us together as a single thread woven into a great fabric, and it is rarely clear if what is left or resewn is of better quality, nevermind, of finer beauty.

Such influence is not social because by its very definition it reaches for an absolutizing of the self over and against, and indeed, without any need of one another or the Other.

In this regard, selfishism, enamoured with our finitude, enthralled to the fact that we die, seeks to overcome these by swallowing in itself claims no creature can rightly make and remain sane, right-thinking and right-praising: Infinite, unlimited, self-centered and self-absorbed. But to have a self-not-by-with-and-for-others is finally to have no self at all, for the very nature of a created self is to be by-with-and-for others, an image of One Who Is Persons Three. To be left without a self is to be left open to the sway of those who would play to our basest temptations. In this regard, extremes of communalism are coterminous with extremes of selfishism.

Adam Smith himself would not recognize this absolute mantra of the self and the market divorced from care for the good and the commons. Smith after all notably insisted that those with much should have a larger portion of their wealth devoted to the common good. To absolutize the self-contained, self-serving self alongside the mythically self-regulating market divorces the good, the good for the person and a few and the good for the many persons in community. To absolutize the first over or without the second is to create a monster every bit as all-consuming and dangerous as the monster of dictatorial communism and other communalisms such as facism. The monster may have different ways of operating, but the ends come eerily close to the same conclusion: We are but producers and consumers.

While the extremes of various socialisms, the dictatorships of communism and facism, mark out a communalism that denies self (at least for the many). The extremes of late market capitalism deny society (at least for the few).

The truth is that no distribution system will be perfect until God is all in all. To make such a claim is conservative in the best of the Augustinian tradition. The truth is also, however, that any distribution system is meant to serve the needs of each and all, and this too, is an Augustinian claim.

And these needs not only include jobs, but meaningful work; not only rivets, but masterpieces of engineering (I think of the Golden Gate Bridge); not only the sounds of industry, but the sounds of the symphony. The socially conservative Augustinian tradition radically embraces that we need not only the necessities of survival, but beauty.

We find ourselves in a paradoxical or rather eschatological tension. We live in a mixed economy not only on the level of goods and services and common life, but in the tensions of God’s Kingdom now and not yet, God’s Kingdom given in Christ fully once-for-all and received-and-lived-out by us ever-imperfectly. To deny this tension will lead to claims of self or society as the fulfillment of all things.

Just as with self, a society not engaged in the often-frustrated, ever-concern for the good of each and all is a society that requires the Church to proclaim the Gospel in His fullness. And by this, I do mean the Gospel that does not divorce the self-gift of God in Christ Jesus from the tangible graces of daily need we each require to live. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”

To claim that government has no part in this, to claim that individual or even corporate charity alone will suffice is to cut off a portion of government responsibility. In this regard, former President Ronald Reagan was wrong. Government is neither the problem, nor the solution. (And ironically, in my lifetime, I have seen positive claims of both justify imperial actions, that is, actions that inflate God and God’s Kingdom with the state.) Government is an imperfect necessity in a world yet to be perfected.

Government is a necessary limitation on utopian frenzies with their overly optimistic fantasies about the human condition, left and right. These limitations can and should take both the form of rules for national economic and household life, that is, laws and regulations intended to maintain a society that cares for each and all while being ever-mindful that these laws and regulations are always contestable in the light of new learning and God’s Kingdom. (And for Anglicans, this contestability reaches as much to the government of the sojourning Church.) Government is necessary; good governance is hard work. The call for good government, for better government, is the responsibility of every person.

No, the greatest danger to America today is not socialism, it is selfishism. Selfishism, that absolutizing of the self as a singularly-self-contained, self-serving existence unrelated to other human beings, much less to other living beings and the whole of creation. As F.D. Maurice reminds us again and again, at the heart of the God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ is precisely that in this same Jesus Christ we are related to all of creation, to every living being, to one another, to God Who In Godself Is One In Three Persons, Who Is A Society.

The greatest danger to the Church is that we will imbibe this poisoned mixtum, selfishism, denying who by baptism we are—Christ’s Society, Christ’s very Body, a sojourning sign of, a waiting witness to, and a broken-open vessel offering God’s call and hope and promise to general society and the whole of creation that finally all shall be image, indeed, all shall be icon of God who shall be all in all, and all manner of thing shall be well. Until then, we sojourn, struggle, and proclaim.

But today, the increasing marriage of selfishism and Christianity in the socio-cultural-political sphere signals a turn that I dare to name heretical, a choosing for one’s self, indeed a choosing of one’s self to the exclusion of everyone else, to the extreme of nullity, of a way of thinking and praising that is at odds with Christological-Trinitarian thinking and praise. Selfishism by its very own claims eschews the very heart of Christian claims: being-in-relationship, self-by-with-and-for-others, persons-in-community, and most importantly, subjection to and praise of an Other Who is all of these on the level of the uncreated, beyond our imaginings, in Godself, and in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit for us, all living beings, and the whole of creation to the Father. And at the same time, it conflates the self and God’s Kingdom, creating in the words of Lutheran theologian, Carol Jacobson, an eschaton collapse. The human being can somehow be complete and perfected and unlimited and infinite unto self without God and God’s Consummation. Such a claim is the very denial of the created self. Selfishism and Christianity are incompatible.

Maurice, an early Anglican recoverer of the social aspects of Christological-Trinitarian thinking, often defines sin as selfishness. Selfishness is no small thing. It is, in the words of the anonymous Medieval mystic of the Theologica Germanica and her or his popularizer, Martin Luther, the self curved in upon the self. It is to utterly turn away from the very and only One Who gives us life at all. Selfishness is death! To be primarily and singularly for-ones-self is to be at odds with God’s intent and hope for us personally and socially and cosmically. To be utterly unto self is to become nothing, having closed off the only One Who gives us everything, our very existence as pure gift out of infinite Love. To uphold the self formed to covetousness, greed, and exploitation without reserve or regulation or limit is to uphold a way of being utterly opposed to the Divine Life and God’s call, hope, and promise to general society and the whole of creation. I cannot help but think of the corrupt, cruel, self-absorbed Walaran Bigod in the screen adaptation of Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, finally letting himself fall from the cathedral height rather than accept the help of another. To not name this sin is to give up a part of Christian witness.

Christological-Trinitarian response to selfishism turns us to the One Who Are Other Than Ourselves: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, reminding us that we receive our self as pure gift of the Creator to be a self-by-with-and-for-others, to go out of our self for all of creation, to live in ecstasy—the term the Cappadocian Fathers and after them St Maximos the Great and St. John of Damascus use to describe this going out of self not only in God’s inner uncreated life and God’s life toward us and all of creation, but also in turn to describe in Christ, our own created life toward creation, one another, and God. At the heart of our response is profession of faith as praise:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the + resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

It's the stories that matter

By Maria L. Evans

All during my growing-up years, I never really could figure out why my great-grandmother Louise died in 1939.

The relatives told two drastically different stories. One version was, "She got stomach cancer, and it went everywhere." This was almost always immediately challenged by other relatives, who would interject, "No it wasn't! She had..." (and the speaker would invariably lower his or her head and speak in a hushed tone of voice this last phrase) "...female cancer."

I only knew two things about this growing up--that no one could agree how she died, and that even though I was not exactly sure what female cancer was, it must be worse than other kinds of cancer.

As I became a young adult, I learned a little more, but not much. I knew she had been taken to the then-brand-new Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, MO and had "treatments." When I became a resident physician in pathology at the University of Missouri, I did several rotations over at Ellis Fischel, and found myself obsessed with discovering the truth of this story in my family. I am sure in my mind, as the first person to go to college, let alone medical school and become a doctor, I fantasized myself as this grand purveyor of the family truth--a truth that would somehow raise my status in the family and allow me some respect as a full-fledged adult member. I would no longer just be "the strange kid whose nose was always in a book."

Fulfilling this quest was not difficult at all--all of the Ellis Fischel patient records were in storage dating back to 1938--and what I discovered within the yellowed pages filled with Parker-style handwriting confirmed my educated medical guess. She had been opened up in an exploratory surgery and found to have metastatic cancer throughout her abdomen and pelvis. The multiple biopsies were examined and read out under the microscope by the pathologist there at the time, who postulated that the appearance of the tumor was most like that of a primary adenocarcinoma of the stomach. Both her ovaries were extensively involved by metastatic tumor.

I'm sure I swelled up with my own self-brilliance. I had postulated that she had a primary cancer of the stomach, which had metastasized to her ovaries--what we call a Krukenburg tumor.

I suddenly viewed myself as "the person who was going to settle this once and for all."

The next time I was around several of my relatives, and the subject came up, I literally stood up and announced, "Y'all have been arguing this one for years, and I'm just gonna tell you what happened." I made my proclamation with all the authority of someone giving grand rounds at a prestigious teaching hospital, expecting people to look, or at least, behave enlightened.

I was not prepared for the response. They just all looked at me, and muttered, "Oh." One of the relatives who was the most insistent that it was "female cancer," said, "See! I told you she had female cancer!" Despite my careful clarity in stating it originated in the stomach, the fact it was merely on her ovaries was enough for her to stick to her original statement.

But as they started talking, other stories emerged, and I began to see I was the one who was to become enlightened. The story was not about "what kind of cancer my great-grandmother had." The story really was about what happened to everyone else in the family and how they felt about Louise's death, and what carried over as a result of it in the next generation. It was an era when doctors didn't tell the person with cancer that they were going to die. Sometimes they didn't even tell them they had cancer (although her going to a state cancer center pretty much took that one off the table.) I discovered "what the story was about" was different for each older relative in the family. It was about the difficulties they had in knowing Louise was dying and Louise pretty much knowing she was dying and no one addressing it. It was about being sent home for a protracted, painful death that my grandmother had to watch as a 22 year old with a small child. It was about being unable to afford a visitation at the funeral home and "sitting up with the dead" and receiving visitors in her home. It was about my great-grandfather becoming meaner and more difficult in the remaining ten years of his life. I came to learn years later it was why, when my grandmother was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, she became convinced that I was somehow going to block her from knowing her diagnosis. I still learn things about this story to this very day. What began as my quest to "shut everyone up, once and for all," turned out to open me to a never-ending set of discoveries.

To me, this is the crux of what reading the Bible, not just as an individual spiritual practice, but in a community of worship, is all about--revealing deeper stories within ourselves and to each other.

It's our tendency, I think, in this fact-based modern world, to dissect Biblical text in much the same way as I dissect surgical specimens grossly--cut it to shreds, examine the pieces, select the pieces we want to examine microscopically, and render our diagnosis upon it. Under that light of scrutiny, the Bible will always fail the exam. For those who hinge their faith upon the Bible being literal, as well as inspired, it will always require "one more proof," because there will always be someone out there who finds a new scroll, a new bit of archeological hoo-ha, or a new tomb that reveals an error or discrepancy. When we take the Bible apart with no regard for the history, the culture, or the factual knowledge base of the people for whom these writings are originally intended, it becomes no more than a quaint historical tchotchke--like viewing an iron lung or a rotary telephone. It did a lot of good once--but why would we ever want to use it now?

Yet, our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer states that "God still speaks to us through the Bible" (p. 853,) and I certainly believe that. It's not to say we shouldn't dissect it--in fact, I think we should, and in fact, I do on a regular basis in my blogging, writing, and preaching. It is only in the process of dissecting it and naming the parts and seeing the parts strung all over that we come to realize what the Bible represents is actually more than the sum of the parts.

The core of the Bible, to me, that defines its synergistic nature is in the telling of the stories.

When one reads the stories individually, and in groups, we hear bits of our stories in its stories, and we can begin to relate the stories in community, and we discover it wasn't about the actual "facts" in the story at all. It's where the story took us, it's where we see our lives within them, and it's about how we proclaim them corporately as the church.

When we read the Bible as part of a daily spiritual practice, it doesn't matter how many times we've heard the story--we always hear something new if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibility. When we hear it proclaimed in the readings during worship, we hear it in another person's voice, in another's inflection and choice of emphasis. When we hear the homiletic response to these words, we hear the benefit of the experience, education and point of view of the person in the pulpit, and the same sermon takes each person in the pews to a different place, a different response.

It's why the mismatches in the four Gospels don't bother me anymore. I am simply hearing four different accounts of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, rendered at four different times, for four different reasons. Spinning my wheels trying to bolster my faith by explaining the Resurrection scientifically would be a pointless exercise. Of course, any atheist worth his or her salt would simply say "that's because it didn't happen," and that's an equally pointless exercise. Frankly, if one doesn't believe in it, and it is not a part of what motivates one's life and behavior, it's a moot point. The assertion is only useful for "dissing" Christianity and Christians.

When I think back to my comparatively less formally educated relatives and the story of my great-grandmother's cancer, I have come to realize (and be grateful) that understanding every detail of a story is not a prerequisite to "understanding the story." If my faith required "proof," I would, indeed, be lost.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, Missouri, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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