Asking the hard questions

by Maria Evans

"The purpose of the Morbidity and Mortality (M and M) Conference is to provide a safe venue for physicians in all levels of training to identify areas of improvement, and promote professionalism, with ethical integrity and transparency by use of a case study. The conference assesses all aspects of the care given to the patient, as well as provides feedback in quality improvement. The M and M Conference also provides a forum to to foster a climate of openness and discussion about medical errors.

"This conference also promotes leadership, research, and scholarly activity, and is a learning opportunity for clinical medical students and residents to assess their own core clinical competencies." --Sample description of Morbidity and Mortality Conference from a large teaching hospital

One of the most vulnerable--and revealing--things I was exposed to in medical school and residency was the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, affectionately called "M and M." In medical schools, these are often held in large lecture halls and are quite well attended. Pathologists and radiologists can never escape them, as it's almost certain there will be radiology images, as well as gross and microscopic pathology, from the various diagnoses the "patient of the month" accumulated. I particularly remember Surgery M and M. It was held in the Surgery conference room, and there was one seat that was solely for the use of the Chief of Surgery--no one sat in that seat if he was absent, reminiscent of the Bishop's Chair on the chancel. Woe betide some unfortunate new medical student or intern who inadvertently plopped his or her behind in that seat!

In this conference, no stone is left unturned, and the physician presenting the case (often a senior resident) is very much on the spot and feeling quite drained at the end. Every lab is scrutinized, every physical finding cogitated upon, and every possible outcome change at every step in the patient's care is analyzed. The cases presented were not stories of modern medical miracles--they were almost certainly cases where the patient eventually died or ended up with some terrible outcome. But each step of the way, everyone involved with the care of that patient asks himself or herself two hard questions--"What would I have done differently if I had it to do over again at this point in the story of this patient?" and "How would it have changed the course of this patient or this patient's quality of life?"

Really, mostly, in M and M, we find that the outcome probably wouldn't have changed much for this patient--only the path to the outcome--but reflecting upon it might change something for the next patient. We do, however, find the humbling truth that we sometimes either delayed a diagnosis and cost the patient some degree of quality of life, or rushed to obtain a diagnosis in a frail patient that created a faster downward spiral in the patient's course. I still remember a very poignant day when I saw the Chief of Surgery (yep, the same one who sat in the special chair) give a big sigh and exhale, "You know, I should never have taken him to surgery that day. I was wrong." In the formative years of my training, M and M conference was a secular form of Ignatian spirituality--the examination of both conscience and of consciousness. Had I followed the norm of best practice for my specialty? Was I even aware what was developing at the time it was evolving? It was also striking to me that this needed to happen in a community setting--only going home and thinking about the cases on my own would not have been as beneficial. Revealing our vulnerability to a group engendered a sense of accountability to the patient.

In short, it's about asking ourselves what we did wrong even when we are pretty sure what ultimately happened was right.

Advent is a good season for doing that, and in a different way than in Lent/Easter. Lent, for me, tends to be with a steeper cycle, with deeper mood swings--much as how the mood of the disciples must have been during the reception of Jesus to Jerusalem, followed by the trial, the passion, and the crucifixion--followed by the most sudden and unexpected emotions that must have accompanied the Resurrection. Advent is gentler for me--steady upward movement from deep darkness, and the birth of new things inside us occurring without much pomp or fanfare. It's a good time to quietly ask the hard questions about our conscience and our consciousness in the dark spots in our lives. It's a time to believe that the things being made new in us are being knit together with all the marvelous detail of the tiny fingernails and toenails on a newborn.

It can also be a time to address the topic of reconciliation. The December holidays are often a time when families can either rise to a new level of understanding of one another, or sink to the depths of their dysfunction. It's a time for looking back at the things that had bad outcomes, and asking those same questions we always asked in M and M--"What would I do differently if I had it to do over again?" "How would I do it differently the next time a similar situation happened?" "How aware was I at the time?" "How can I be more aware next time?"

Advent seems to be a time that it's easier to ask these questions in the light of quiet hope and expectation, without all the tumult of Lent. It's the season for feeling quiet growth in the deep darkness, and understanding just how temporary the things that disquiet us really are--just as pregnant women endure the kicking, the indigestion caused by an active fetus, and the constant trips to the bathroom as their bladders get crowded out. Pregnant women know these things won't last forever.

The beauty of M and M conference is it occurs at a time remote enough from when the events take place, the team can look back at it with more clarity and objectivity, and look forward with hope and anticipation. What things will emerge from our dark spaces this Advent that we can look back at a little more objectively, and then look forward with the same hope and anticipation?

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


by Torey Lightcap

In August of this year, six people from the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa headed to Colorado for a week’s immersion at La Puente Home, a secular (but genuinely inspired) suite of social services that catches folks just as they’re about to fall through the cracks and be forgotten, and then helps them get back on their feet in a huge way. La Puente has a big job to do and has been doing it selflessly for almost thirty years – quietly saving lives, I mean – in one of the most economically devastated parts of the country, which, wouldn’t you know, is in one of the richest states in all of the First World.

In attendance were two priests (including myself), a deacon, a teenager who has occasionally served as acolyte and who is active in youth doings, and a couple engaged to be married.

No ordinary engaged couple. Rich and Lacy are quite new to the Episcopal tradition and loving it. Nothing dry or jaded about their faith or about their regard for one another or their outlook on life: each moment is lived at full-ahead-full, the two of them moving through their life together soaking up ideas like sponges, forever striving to leave the world a better place, and deeply in love with God. Everything to them is amazing.

I mean that last bit especially, and I mean it literally. Theirs is not a feigned way of seeing things. It’s just that everything is … well, believably and understandably amazing.

“How you doin’, Rich?” “Amazing.”

“How’d you sleep, Lacy?” “Amazing.”

“Dinner was average.” “Really? I thought it was amazing.”

Those three syllables in repetitive combination are catchy. In fact, I defy you to spend a week with them and not come to regard the use of the term in a different way – or at least start peppering your speech with it.

Rich and Lacy are awake to life – open, receptive, enriching, evolving. So when, as the convener of the mission trip, I proposed that we spend our free “play” day in the San Luis Valley doing amazing things, I should have been prepared for how God’s Spirit was about to blow through our lives on that very day, in a way that can be accounted as nothing short of gloriously alive and gracefully amazing.

The day started with a hike up the Great Sand Dunes. The dunes is a national park in a state full of geographic wonders, but it stands alone in beauty and novelty. A vast stretch of sand dunes deposited by eons of wind erosion coming to rest against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the dunes take visitors hours to climb and just seconds to run back down. We took pictures; we hydrated; we knocked the sand out of our shoes. Fun stuff.

Next on the agenda: a brief stop at Zapata Falls, a high, shady waterfall a few miles off the main road, then on to a swimming pool fed by a hot artesian spring. Oh Colorado; you and your natural wonders. Midwestern flatlanders can’t get enough.

We threw off our shoes and snaked into the chilly creek leading to the falls, tracking it about seventy-five yards to the south where we met a cliff wall. The nippy water cascaded in stages – fifty, then thirty feet to the rocks below, its massive churning roar echoing off the walls of the narrow canyon, rendering communication quite difficult.

Finding myself standing next to Rich and Lacy, and rather awed by the moment, I yelled to them something about how incredible it was. I was assured that it was, in fact, amazing.

“You know,” I said offhandedly, with a half of a grin, “this would be a great place to get married.”

They looked at one another, then at me. Their wheels were in full gear, clicking in unison.

“Can we?” they asked together.

“Well … I’m really only about forty percent kidding when I say that.”

They looked at one another. “Can we?” they asked again. “We were just standing here talking about it.”

I did the math. The Episcopal Church does not approve of marital rush jobs. We would have to demonstrate good faith to all parties involved, but yes, this was absolutely the right moment, and because these were the right people for this sacrament, this was absolutely the right thing to do.

I said no guarantees, but maybe I could make a few phone calls and see what’s what. Fording the creek back to where we put in, I stood on a big, slippery rock and willed Verizon to reach its snaky tentacles into the crevasse. Alas, no service.

Further out and away, then, the sound of the falls dimming. Could we reach diocesan officers in Des Moines and Denver? Not yet. I hoofed it back to the happy couple.

Members of the wedding party were tossing a Frisbee around. Could we repair to the fastest possible lunch spot and try to make phone calls from there?

Yes, we can, and did. Diocesan officers were understandable, heard us out, ticked everything off their lists to completion, and provided us with some instruction. Record the service here … will you have Eucharist? … any prior marriages or kids?

Meanwhile, a very serious conversation took place over sandwiches. It was like a lot of premarital counseling, only tightly compacted. I’d been with this couple for the past four days straight and it was crystal clear they were ready to go. Nevertheless, were there any skeletons, hesitations – anything at all? What would they do when troubles arose in their marriage? Who were their family? The betrothed were grilled on three sides by members of the clergy. They weren’t just giving lip service or pat answers.

Normally I’d initially turn from anything sacramental, like a marriage, that might have a pretense of too much urgency – the quickie confession, say. Everything slowed down for a few moments. I thought of Acts 8 and of the strange trip of Philip on the road to Gaza to see the Ethiopian eunuch and to speak of Christ. I remembered the eunuch’s burning question: There’s the water; what is to prevent me from being baptized right now? By my lights, nothing.

Then – pop! – back to the exigency of the moment. We’d need a marriage license, of course. It was getting on about three-thirty. What time does that office close?

Four-thirty! And the computers shut down before that! Into the van, into the rain, eighty miles an hour to the Alamosa County Clerk & Recorder. The bride-to-be on the phone, imploring, “Please understand we are coming to you now. I’m in the van with two priests and a deacon and an acolyte. We’re pulling into town.”

Waiting in the van. The clerk’s office gunning to get everything signed. The doors of the building already locked for the end of the day.

… Then, a hail of glee! The bride and groom running out of the building! The bride waving a piece of paper! The horn honking, the staff hugging them as they left the building, the rain having left a late-afternoon sheen on the streets of Alamosa, so that things just glowed.

Then, a hush, a sacred quiet, a bite of expectation. The endorphins having been used and sloughed away. This was truly happening.

Off to the communion kit and the stole, which would have been used tonight anyway. Gathering up prayer books. To one store for bread and another for wine.

Back in the van. On the road. Phone calls to parents and other family.

(“Grandma, I just want you to know what we’re about to do. We’re getting married up here. It’s perfect, it’s right. It’s amazing… Thank you. Thank you so much. I love you, too. I’ll call you later, okay?”)

Up the trail to Zapata Falls.

An altar of stone, vows made, a ring given, the presiding priest introducing the newly married to the birds and the rocks and gawking passers-by. Bread and wine.The happy couple

I doubled as Altar Guild and best man; the deacon read the gospel and stood next to the bride. If there really is such a thing as the Liturgical Police, they went undercover and didn’t flash their badges.

At this point I have presided at maybe fifty weddings, but never before have I felt the Spirit moving as much as in those few moments. We breathed, and listened to the rhythm of the water on the rock. Amazing.

Then out, out – sent back into service to a tired and wounded world. That night there would be a celebratory dinner at a Thai place that only had a Chinese buffet, and in the morning there would be a cake from the staff of La Puente that initially read “Congratulations, Rich and Lazy” before the typo was fixed. In between the bride and groom would sleep in separate dorms as was the established norm, not wishing to interrupt the flow of the next few days.

You know, sometimes the church’s structures and processes and endless politics get in the way of ministry, and sometimes you’re just deeply grateful for them. I venture to guess that day at Zapata Falls would not have been as fulfilling had it not been for the way The Episcopal Church nerves and prepares its ministers, or had the lot of us been overly encouraged not to risk, or had the couple expressed an overwhelming objection of any sort.

But: Risk we did – and some beautiful ministry was done, and God’s name praised as the universe was put right for a few moments. God’s Spirit had put us together; we were just awake enough to see that, and look what happened.

The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on the staff of Episcopal Café.

Does the church have a role in counter-terrorism?

by Stephen Harding

I was in a Firehouse in New York City when Eric Holder held his news conference to announce the foiling of the plot by an agency of the Iranian government to have a member of a Mexican drug cartel assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador and up to one hundred fifty others on US soil.

I have several responses as Fire Department Chaplain to the announcement of this exposed plot: it reinforced my conviction that there will be another terrorist attack in New York City; it shifted me into a more alert mode; it made me angry, because men and women of the Fire Department who I know and love will risk their lives by responding; and has made me question the Church’s priorities and what we are doing to counter the reality of ongoing terrorist threats in the United States.

While I can find nothing on the Episcopal Church’s website about terrorism or counterterrorism, I did find the report of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, “Some Observations on Just War”, prepared for the 2009 General Convention. This restatement of just war theory for the Episcopal Church was helpful, but does not address the issue of terrorism and counterterrorism.

I have, however, found thoughtful and carefully reasoned statements on terrorism and counterterrorism on the Church of England’s website, which argue that the Church has a role to play in counterterrorism.

These documents support my contention that the Episcopal Church has a moral obligation to be involved in counterterrorism, to state its position clearly, to advocate for moderate Muslims in the United States and to function, as people of faith, as emissaries of this country where the government cannot.

I believe that the Church can reduce support for terrorism’s adherents by taking actions such as: building relationships across faiths that promote understanding and respect for each faith; working together to provide opportunities for youth; actively promoting peace; and providing a countermessage to terrorism and murder.

Because counter-terrorism requires the winning of hearts and minds, the Christian churches have an important role to play, both within the United Kingdom and worldwide. The churches have invested considerable effort in building good community relations in the United Kingdom, especially in those cities where there are sizeable communities of those professing other faiths. Excellent relationships have been built up in recent years between Muslim groups and the churches. In a society of overtly secular values, Muslims have often looked to Church leaders as people who understand a religious perspective on life, and are natural allies in combating Islamophobia. In a number of cities there have been joint meetings and peace marches of Christians and Muslims, sometimes also involving Jews. In some places there are action plans in the case of a terrorist outrage, in order to mitigate any anti-Muslim backlash. (from website)
This small but simple step, together with learning much more about Islam and teaching that it is one of the Abrahamic faiths, can mitigate against terrorism in this country. One of the big concerns in the United States is on-line recruiting by salafi-jihadist groups. Their material is immediately available, well packaged, and marketed toward US citizens. There is currently no counter-message or alternative position to terrorism put out by the Episcopal Church, and I believe that to be a void that we are well-placed to provide a reasoned and articulate theology of our position to the world.

The threat of attack is not going away. This most recent threat to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador only makes it more urgent for us, as Church, to sort through the complex issues involved in responding to arbitrary killings as acts of terror and to articulate clearly what we stand for and what we believe about terrorism and counterterrorism.

The Reverend Stephen Harding is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of New York, where he serves as the Protestant Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He is working on a D. Min. at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a concentration on developing a theology of counter-terrorism.

What would Amos do?

by George L. W. Werner

What would Amos do? from time to time I urge members of the church to return to the Book of Amos. To be more specific: the background to Amos was a country with a newly wealthy merchant class caused, at least in part,by the death of the Assyrian King and weakness of other traditional enemies.

As often is the case, it seems that hubris came along with the new wealth and the idea that they were blessed because God favored them. They apparently crowded the places of worship to express this hubris in a form of thanksgiving. But at the same time, as you read the prophet, they abused those who had not shared in the benefits of the new wealth. Some of Amos' rebukes to the wealthy are frighteningly close to today's expressions. For example:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat." Amos 8:4-6

The problems we face in this moment of history are huge and complex. But each group and individual needs brutal self introspection. Pointing fingers only at others different from us without confessing our own weakness and seeking clarity for our own areas of obliviousness is not hungering and thirsting for God's truth. As I say often, if this was really about capitalism and socialism, it would be the Reagan Republicans who were furious at the examples of excesses and inappropriate behavior by some leaders of the corporate and financial worlds. It would be the Humphrey Democrats who would decry the excesses and inappropriate behavior by some leaders of the "safety nets" of our society. The fact that the rage is directed at "the other side" tells me that this is less about principle than ideology and selfish interest. What would Amos do? It might be a good question for each of us to use in meditation.

The Very Rev. George Werner, a trustee of Church Pension Group, served as the 31st President of the House of Deputies, is Dean Emeritus of Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh and a member of the Diocesan Standing Committee

May we not lose even one of these little ones.

by Richard E. Helmer

My wife and I followed our Monday (my day off) routine early this Thanksgiving week and went out late morning, tucking our newborn daughter into her car seat. My wife and our son had earlier spied a nativity set at Macy's, and we wanted to take advantage of a 50% off sale. We drove to the mall, and as we walked into Macy's, I had the unexpectedly unnerving experience of walking into an alien landscape – what felt to me a spiritual desert of commercialism and materialism all dressed up for Christmas.

When a side mission became finding me a new pair of sunglasses (which I am notoriously good at losing) the lady behind the counter apologized that she couldn't tell us where they were – it was her first day on the job, she said. Scrooge-like, my wife and I quietly but rather righteously groused that in a state where unemployment still is near 12% the clerk didn't then have the gumption to get out from behind her little counter and walk with us to help us find what we were looking for.

The sunglasses turned out to be only feet away, but they were all designer pairs ranging from $60 on up. Suffering sticker shock, and knowing my penchant for leaving a trail of lost items behind me, I decided to get new sunglasses at Rite Aid instead. When we picked up the nativity scene with Jesus packed in bubble wrap and glowing Macy's cardboard that implicitly said owning this set would make us a more faithful something (I'm not entirely sure what), my wife mentioned that our son wanted a star for the tree this year.

The two available tree stars started at $50, and one glowed various colors but had no suitable mount to attach it to the tree. We fussed at the packaging for a few moments to double-check the design in the midst of artificial greenery and oversize ornaments not really suited for our little two-bedroom, over-stuffed and -populated rental condo.

"Do we need it?" my wife finally asked.

"No," I said flatly, she agreed, and we went to lunch.

One of my two undergraduate Western Civilization teachers remarked that shopping malls are today's equivalent of the Medieval cathedral. I think he meant they are the Meccas of our society's values and aspirations. I was spooked by wanting none of it for the first time I can ever remember. Whether it was the sparkling gold watch or the airbrushed photos of the scantily-clad and unnaturally shaped women, it all felt for the first time as though it had nothing to do with me. I could only see visions of the abused earth and the struggling working poor, and it all made me feel a bit sick. But then, here I am typing away on my iPad in a coffee shop. So I'm not off the Western capitalist hook just yet.

As I began this reflection on a day in which a congressional super committee confirmed only our government's embarrassing dysfunction, I stumbled across a Los Angeles Times article that simply took my breath away. There was the familiar visage of Newt Gingrich, supposed champion of laissez-faire capitalism, the old "moral majority," and the political right. With his rise now in the Republican primary race, he was espousing the idea that a new way to address poverty in this country was to put the children to work as janitors of their own schools.

Children are there to work, not learn, after all, right? It struck me that we apparently haven't gutted the public school system enough. Why not then take the next step and put the children in charge of the classrooms and the school office? It was a bitter moment to wonder if then we might then use the salary savings to further reduce taxes on the wealthy. But surely Newt didn't mean it to go this far. Or did he?

I found myself tumbling into deep memories of reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle in high school and reflecting on a classic scene in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, a boy named Ignorance and a girl named Want.

He says to Scrooge, "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

When Scrooge asks if the two children have "no refuge, no resource," the ghost quotes Scrooge's own cold words back to him, "Are there no prisons, no workhouses?"

As our huge capitalist enterprise enters its high season and a serious, purportedly Christian-aligned politician is espousing potentially turning our schools into workhouses, where is the Gospel?

I am reminded of a reading recently in the Daily Office, where Jesus, not unlike the Ghost of Christmas Present, points to a child as an example. In these days of political madness, widespread struggle, commercial frenzy, and holiday stress, his words are for me like balm to an open wound in our common body:

Calling to him a child, Jesus put him in the midst of the disciples, and said, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18 NRSV)

My newborn daughter slept through much of whole adventure of Macy's, lunch, Gingrich, and her Dad's head-splitting political-spiritual excursion. As Jesus' says elsewhere in the Gospels, hers was the better part.

May we not lose even one of these little ones.

The Rev. Br. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif., and a novice in the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs at Caught by the Light.

Is the Kingdom of Heaven a Ponzi Scheme?

by Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield

After Sunday's Gospel, the parable of the talents, we were having a discussion with the preacher about the text. I complimented her on the way her sermon engaged the complications of the text. She had encouraged parishioners to exercise even the smallest of their talent(s). What if, she said, your ability to make a meal fed the next Gandhi? Or your talent helped the next Dr Martin Luther King Jr.? Not all of us are given five or even two talents. But we all have some talent and the parable challenges us to do something with our gifts not just bury them. As we were talking, other parishioners went by in the background and complimented her on her sermon.

Our discussion moved to the fearful servant, the one who categorized his master as hard and opportunistic, an issue the preacher identified as being too difficult to address in this sermon. The master reproaches the servant for not acting even on the basis of what the servant knew about the master's nature. The servant could at least have banked the money and gotten some interest (even at a time when banking is in its infancy and usury is condemned).

My wife Julian then observed that Jesus never addresses the issue that is on all of our minds in the current economic climate, what if one of the bold servants, the one who had five or the one who had two talents, had actually lost money on his investment? Jesus doesn't seem to have much grasp on the uncertain nature of financial markets. Would this “hard” and opportunistic master have forgiven bad timing, weather that sank the ship invested in, a blight on the cotton crop, an epidemic of hoof and mouth disease in the herds? Would he have commended the servant that took the risk, even if the investment was diminished or lost entirely as a result?

Or look at the parable from another angle. The parable assumes 100% return on investment. But even in the best of markets, investors are ecstatic with 10%. So should we take it that these enterprising servants are phenomenally lucky? Insider traders? Or does Jesus just not have a clue about market forces and realistic expectations? Or is he assuming that these servants should become venture capitalists?

Julian's mentor of blessed memory Canon Edward N. West once related how a business man had come to him and said, “I keep praying and praying to St. Francis for guidance in my investments, and they keep failing! What am I doing wrong?” “And why would you imagine,” Canon West responded, “that St. Francis would know anything at all about making money?”

But imagine that Jesus did have a better grasp of market forces than St. Francis. Perhaps unrealistic expectations was what Jesus was driving at. Venture capitalists take huge risks, for potential huge returns or huge losses. At the beginning of the parable the first slave went off “immediately,” without hesitation, to trade. And at the end of the parable, the buried talent is taken from the timid slave and given to the slave who already has ten talents, and is now sharing in the master's joy. Is this parable more about having the faith to take huge risks for the sake of the kingdom, than it is about the need to make the best of what we have? Does God have unrealistic expectations of us? Or are we, perhaps, being encouraged to have unrealistic expectations of God?
Consider this: if we set out just to make the best of our talents, we are already limiting expectations, because we have a conception that there is an achievable “best.” But if we decide to take the risk of being in partnership with God, to invest in God's venture with everything we have, then the returns will be beyond our wildest imaginings. And the long-term risk of failure? Nil.

Better than a savings account, isn't it?

A Sense of Ending

by Thomas Dukes

I need to testify. When my spouse and I got married twelve years ago, we wanted to do so in our Episcopal church. The rector at the time offered to bless our union in a private home but not in our church; I suspect he was afraid of losing his job, perhaps not without reason. The church I attend is indeed open, inclusive, and diverse, and far more entertaining than that would suggest, but at the time, some families—most have since left anyway—would not have been happy.

Henry and I went to Vermont first, where we were joined in civil union by a justice of the peace, then to Canada two years later, where we were married by a Unitarian Universalist pastor. Our own church got a rector who did her first same-sex blessing five days after she arrived—of course, all the proper preliminary work for and by the couple had been done long before—and the place was filled with people and love. By then, however, Henry and I, still feeling a bit stung, just shrugged off her kind and gracious invitation to do the same for us. After all, we were happy, we had two sets of paperwork: what more could we need?

A lot, it turned out. Our first five years were terrific, then for reasons too personal to go into here, we drifted apart. It took two years for me to work up the strength/courage/understanding/nerve to leave, but early this January, I did. The church was there this time, in the presence of the rector. She was of immense practical help, but that was almost beside the point. We lifted boxes together and discussed why I was doing what I was doing; I came to understand, later, that this was holy work: necessary, hard, and heart-breaking, but holy. My ex-spouse and I still carry the cross from this and will for a long time to come, perhaps for the rest of our lives, even as remain very close friends.

Thus, I offer one more reason that the Episcopal Church should perform same-sex marriages. Not blessings of same-sex civil unions or civil marriages, but the sacrament of marriage for same-sex couples, regardless of the laws of the state, for if the church is there at the start, the church can and will be there at the end, and the end always comes, either through the death of one spouse or separation and divorce. That the church may at times have failed heterosexual widows and widowers or divorced people is beside the point; the church always fails us at times because it is human just as it is divine. But if the structure is there, the possibility for the kind of necessary holy work and community that we all need at various points in our lives is also there.

So let us join in prayer and community and offer up a sense of the ending as well as a sense of the beginning to same-sex and heterosexual couples. Let us recognize again that God’s presence is everywhere, and our work for Him is everywhere, even or perhaps especially at a marriage’s end.

Thomas Dukes is a Professor of English at The University of Akron, Ohio.

For Anonymous, with love and pathos

by Heidi Shott

After the bomb went off, we pulled our chairs in a circle and looked at one another in stunned silence. It was a few weeks before the end of the fall semester at Tufts University and our class of about 15 graduate students in “The History of Educational Thought” had coalesced nicely - or so we thought.

That evening some trigger in the discussion caused a middle-aged student in the counseling masters program to flip out. I mean flip out. She stood, she ranted, she raved, and to our horror - she suddenly channeled her vitriol almost entirely at my friend, Beth, who was sitting beside me. Beth was very shy and kind and unassuming in a New England kind of way. The ranting woman began by berating her Beth for her Pappagallo shoes. Then she started in on what she perceived as Beth’s upper middle class status. Before long she folded each of us into her rant against the inequities of life in America and our personal culpability for it.

Beth protested, “You don’t know anything about me.”

I knew something about Beth. That fall we started together in the same small graduate program and became particular friends. We had things in common. Both of our father’s had suffered serious financial meltdowns when we were in our teens. She had worked hard to put herself through Boston College. Everything she had, she had because she had worked for it....including nice shoes.

The ranting woman scared us deeply. One moment she was sitting among us as we discussed some idea in the readings and the next she was on her feet, screaming, accusing, finger-pointing and gesturing dangerously. Everyone was afraid to approach her for fear she might lash out and hurt someone. Our professor, a tall, wise woman on loan from Harvard for a night class, stood at the front waiting for the right moment to intervene.

Then, just as suddenly as she flipped, the woman rushed from the room. A classmate, a keen counseling student, slipped out to assist her. Everyone remaining took a deep breath and instinctively pulled our chairs in a circle.

“I was born in October 1929, the day before Black Friday,” began Dr. Smith, after a moment. “As a child, during the worst part of the depression, I could have butter or jam on my toast. Not both.” She continued for awhile, telling us about herself and her childhood without the professorial reserve, before she turned to Beth. “No one really knows anything about our story. That wasn’t about you, and I’m sorry you bore the brunt of it.”

Our hearts heavy and bruised, our nerves jangled, we began talking but I don’t remember anything else we said.

Two years ago, 25 years after that evening at Tufts, an email arrived from my blogging software informing me that there was a comment from Anonymous waiting for approval. My blog,, is a less a blog than a online closet to hang personal essays that I write, according to myself, “about trying to live a life of faith in a complicated world from a small town in Maine with three guys and a rabbit.”

The truth is that since 2008 when I took on the job of Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Diocese of Maine, I haven’t had much time to write reflective pieces. Most of the essays at heidoville were written in the mid-2000s during a particularly fecund period in my writing life. One of those is called, “Rich People,” and it is the one that Anonymous had felt compelled to comment on.

It began, “You sad and pathetic person,” and went on from there, quoting scripture and challenging my courage to post it. I didn’t think much more about it. In years as a diocesan newspaper editor and as a reporter before that, I’ve received many anonymous letters. I save the quirky ones, but I don’t hold truck with anonymity.

Without approving it, I posted my own comment below the essay. It read something like, “Dear Anonymous, When you show the courage to publish your name, I’ll show the courage to publish your comment.” I figured that would be the end of it.

Soon after, however, another comment showed up for moderation. This time Anonymous indicated that he or she had been a “friend” in college. Now that’s creepy. I don’t remember what else it said - I’ve long since deleted it - but it wasn’t friendly.

Two more years zoomed by. Yesterday morning, I received an email saying Anonymous had posted another comment about the same essay. The comment began, “You are a sad and pathetic person.” Oh bother, I thought, here we go again, and I instantly clicked, “Reject.”

However, last evening at home, I checked email on my phone and there was another comment waiting for moderation: “Heido, Cat caught your tongue?”

“Don’t read it,” called my husband from the kitchen. “The person wants to upset you.” His family owned a daily newspaper for almost 100 years, and he has a zero tolerance rule for unsigned letters. For him, it’s a simple matter. “Delete it. Disable the comments,” he said. “That person, even if it is someone you once knew, doesn’t know a thing about you.”

So I disabled the comment feature on the blog, which is sad, because I’ve received many lovely comments on various essays over the years.

But here’s the thing: I AM a sad and pathetic person. There are many, many things I’m sad about and there are too many things to count about my personal failings that could be deemed pathetic. Most of them aren’t too important, but some of them are and I’m not proud of them.

But here’s the other thing: Aren’t we all? Aren’t we all sad and pathetic and lonely and wounded in our own peculiar way?

What my past friend Anonymous and the woman who lost it in an upstairs classroom at Tufts 27 years ago, need to know is that we are not alone. They need to know that sadness and pathetic-ness (not a word, I know, but hang with me here) share our life stage with joy and wonder and hope. Not all at once, not in any sensical or balanced way, but ultimately if we open our hearts to God, to love, to mercy, to generosity for our fellow travelers, the balance shifts toward grace.

I think it’s interesting that Merriam-Webster’s first definition of pathetic is “having the capacity to move one to compassionate or contemptuous pity.”

In our recent discussions in the Episcopal Church about the correct definition of the word mission, and how we often use it interchangeably with the word outreach, perhaps the Church could define itself simply by serving those who move us to compassion, those whom the world regards with contempt. That is to say, everybody. Maybe the capacity to serve with compassionate, Christ-inspired intention is what separates us from other groups that do good works. Maybe that’s what the world needs to notice about us.

A few days ago on The Lead, Jim Naughton embedded a brief video of George Carlin talking about the oddness of the phrase, “in your own words.” Who else’s words do we have? No one’s, only our own. Telling our true stories allows others to take heart, to recognize similarities and common bonds of connection, to cast off the sadness and world-weariness and step into wonder and hope.

This fall, during my hour commute to the diocesan office in Portland, I’ve been listening to Philip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman’s one of England most articulate atheists, of course, but he has a lot to say that is wise and true. He’s telling a “make-like” story about a universe of his own creation and we would do well to learn from his vision of what makes a just and loving world.

At the end of the last volume, The Amber Spyglass, a physicist called Mary Malone encounters ghosts pouring from a rent in the world of the dead. Before one of the ghosts allow the remaining particles of her being to float away, she tells Mary, “Tell them stories. They need the truth. You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, just tell them stories.”

In the good, if strange, company of Carlin and Pullman, I guess I have no choice but to keep telling my story, even when it makes me feel vulnerable. It’s the only one I know.

We are the 100%

by Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

We are living in times of crisis.

Now, I could stand here and direct our attention to the crisis in the seminaries or the crisis in the shrinking numbers of Episcopalians.

But I want to speak tonight about the crisis beyond our walls.

I count myself among those who have felt that since the financial meltdown of 2008 that this country has gone in a perilous direction.

There has been a growing sense that something has gone wrong but nothing was being done to fix it.

I am speaking about the sense that our systems, our policies, and our government have failed the average citizen.

I am speaking about the sense that the privileged and connected profited while others fell between the cracks has simmered for years.

All this came to a boil this fall with the blossoming of the Occupy movement.

Starting first with Occupy Wall Street in mid-September, the movement has grown nationally and internationally so that small towns and metropolises are witnessing citizens giving voice to the brokenness of our common life.

It might be rightly said that the movement as a whole does not have a clear voice or its message is too amorphous.

But it has provided a way for people to speak into the whirlwind of this crisis.

The cry “We are the 99%” is the cry of those who feel swept up in the whirlwind of greed, corruption and power wielded by the 1%.

And this whirlwind has come to our own doorstep at CDSP.

The Tuesday of reading week, I was riveted to my computer.

Sitting comfortably in my home I was reading Twitter reports of protestors being tear gassed.

I heard of rubber bullets being fired.

I watched video shot from helicopters of humans being scattered by riot police.

The crisis had come home.

The crisis came home to me in a way that compelled me to look more closely at it.

And so yesterday I marched peacefully with other members of this community as part of the General Strike in Oakland.

And the crisis came home again in a new way.

While thousands marched and demonstrated peacefully, not all were committed to the path of nonviolent protest.

It angers me that a small group of people sought out conflict with police and willfully engaged in vandalism yesterday.

Just as the Occupy movement is speaking in a time of crisis, it itself has reached a crisis point – will it stay unified around non-violent protest or will it be fractured by a splinter group that pays no heed to the common good?

“Yet . . . we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing.” (1 Cor 2:6)

How can the demand for economic and social justice that I saw yesterday at the Occupy movement and the problem of the violence around its edges be understood in light of the wisdom of God revealed to us in Christ?

I think it is appropriate to meditate on the meeting of the Church with the meeting of the Occupy movement on this day when we commemorate Richard Hooker.

It is important because Anglicans in the United States and England have been drawn into the Occupy movement.

In New York City, Providence, and Boston, Episcopal clergy and parishes have been actively ministering to those encamped.

We read reports of clergy going into Occupy encampments to be confronted with the question: “What took you so long to get here? “

The poor are being fed and the sick cared for while the Church sits on the sidelines.

In London, protesters at the London Stock Exchange have pitched their tents in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In turn, the leadership of St. Paul’s at first sought to evict the protestors and now have reversed themselves.

Where is the church in this crisis?

It is appropriate to meditate on this meeting between the Church and the Occupy Movement on this day because Hooker was not someone removed from the events of his time.

On the contrary, Hooker himself lived like us – in a time of crisis.

The end of the Elizabethan reign when Hooker wrote his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a period of crisis in which the future of the Church of England was up for grabs.

Indeed, the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a response to crisis between promoters of the Church of England and Puritans who sought to fundamentally remake it into the image of Calvin’s Geneva.

Hooker wrote passionately and polemically.

He took a stand and staked his claim.

Hooker spoke against the drive advocated by Puritans to create stark differences between a pure church and heretical churches.

For Puritans there were the winners and losers, those who possessed God’s truth and those whom Puritans sought to dispossess of a share in that truth.

But Hooker emphasized a unified vision in which all creation shared in God’s truth.

As in Psalm 19, Hooker understood that all creation is revelatory of God as creator and the ordering of the cosmos itself revealed God’s eternal truth.

For the people of Israel and for Christians, God’s ongoing revelation in creation is heightened and deepened in God’s unique revelation in the Scriptures.

It is out of this revelation that Christians can say with Paul, “we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (2 Cor 2:7).

This revelation culminates in the Christian’s participation in Christ, and thus in the very life of God (John 17:21b).

According to Hooker, it is by the Christian’s participation in the life of God, particularly through the sacraments, that we can again say with Paul that “we have the mind of Christ” (2 Cor 2:16).

All Christians in all churches, whether rooted in Canterbury, or Rome, or Geneva, or Wittenberg, or Lagos, or Singapore, or New York, then participate in God’s work in the world.

For Hooker, the church exists specifically for the ordering of the common good of the society in which it finds itself.

The Church exists not to sustain itself but to minister to all people.

And here we have come back to how we as church can speak to, be with, witness among, the Occupy movement and those who gather at their General Assemblies, their strikes, their days of action.

Now keep in mind, although Hooker speaks of the importance of the common good, he is no democrat.

As a good Anglican of his time, he was a staunch monarchist and no fan of lay control of the life of the church.

Nonetheless, his vision of the unity of all creation leading to the fullness of participation in God through Christ Jesus lays at the center of Anglican thought and from it emanates the intertwined paths of our theology and social teachings.

It is here that we encounter the truth for the collect of this day – that we are to pursue “comprehension for truth, not compromise for peace.”

That is, if we have indeed put on the mind of Christ and are driven to seek the common good of all for the sake of God’s vision of the unity of all creation, what are we to do in the face of the crisis before us?

When we are faced with massive income inequality, when we are faced with profiteering, when we are faced with a corporate and political culture that is increasingly callous towards the poor and working families, what are we to do?

When people of their own accord organize to declare themselves as the 99%, as the voiceless themselves who will no longer stand for the greed and depredations of the 1%, what will we do?

And if some among the 99% themselves act violently and refuse to uphold the common good, what will we do?

If we really want to honor the memory of Hooker and honor the best of our theology and social teachings, I say we should be Church and wade into the midst of those who occupy.

And then we will be honest.

We will be honest in the way that Tripp Hudgins, a doctoral student in liturgy here at the GTU who has become part of our community, has been honest in a recent essay for Sojourners in which he declared that we all are the 100%.

I would put it this way.

If we are honest, we will say:

We are the 99%.

We are the 99% -- we have within us those who have lost much,
those who have lost homes,
those who have lost jobs,
those who were born on the margins and struggle from there,
those who live from paycheck to paycheck,
those burdened by debts that might never be repaid,
those who feel powerless,
those whose voice is discounted by the powerful,
those whose thirst for God’s justice has not yet been quenched.

If we are honest, we will say:

We are the 1% --
we have among us those who have profited from the global economy,
turning a blind eye to the economic exploitation,
environmental destruction,
and greed that service our companies’ balance sheets and our retirement accounts.

We have among us those who live in privilege and do not see it.

Those who cling to their privilege mightily and will not acknowledge it lest is slip away.

We are a church that mourns for its lost position of privilege while being dragged by the Spirit into the mission of God.

And if we have the mind of Christ, we will say:

We are the 100% --
We are rich and poor.
We are sinful and righteous.
We yearn for justice and we look out for ourselves alone.
We seek to bring in all the brokenness, all the truth, all the anger, all the healing.

We seek the good and the true which ultimately rest in God alone.

We will say this if we have the mind of Christ – to be Church is to be the 100% -- to contain both the 99 and the 1.

And to have the mind of Christ, to seek the unity of God’s creation, means sometimes to stand as the 100% for the 99%.

To stand for those who have been victimized and exploited and to require justice from the 1% among us who will not surrender their privilege.

It is right o stand amid the 99% and witness to the way of Jesus, past revenge to the way that shows God’s desire to reconcile all people.

It is right to call the 1% to repentance for the sake of the 99% so we may be the 100%.

And so I end by saying that if Hooker is right,
if Scripture is true,
if God desires the unity of all creation in the Word that pitched its tent among us,
then we will go beyond these walls to the tents pitched in our midst
and be Church among them for the sake of the 100%.

Richard Hooker and the 100%
Preached for the Commemoration of Richard Hooker
November 3, 2011
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Prof. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

Sirach 44:10-15
Psalm 19:1-11
1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16
John 17:18-23

“Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:4)

The Church's Mission: Let's Be Honest

by Elizabeth Drescher

You know, I sometimes wonder whether the Israelites heard the call of the psalm we read today as I sometimes do: "Sing to the Lord a new song...? Really?"

I mean, let's be honest, even in the most literal sense, we struggle with this idea, resisting in our churches music that might nudge us even ever so slightly out of the nineteenth century. Oh, I'm not talking here about going all "U2-charist," or bringing in hip hop hymns that'll get the young folks dancing before the Lord. After all, we know that the few thriving emergent communities in our church are more likely to sing songs from the Middle Ages--a little Gregorian Chant, a remix of Hildegard of Bingen, or, to modernize just a smidge, some shape note tunes--than they are to be jamming to the spiritual stylings of Gospel Ganstaz. But they are singing those old songs in a new way--inhabiting them bodily, infusing them with a spirit that is often missing from our churches, truly "lifting every voice" in glorious praise.

Outside of these communities--the Crossing at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, Open Cathedral at St. Mark's in Seattle, Thad's in Los Angeles, Transmission in New York--"singing a new song" has, in the least nuanced, least metaphorical way, been something of a challenge for us.

And that makes me worry about how far along God's path we may be able to travel these days as we seek to realize the peaceable kingdom Isaiah prophesied. If we can't get the theme song down, what chance do we have to be so much as bit players in the whole new cosmic drama--the heartwarming story of true love realized across the earth that, as Paul reminds us, Jesus narrated with his life, death, and resurrection?

Of course, Paul points in his letter to the Ephesians to what throws us off tune in our efforts to sing a new, harmonious song, to live as one diverse body: barriers and the hostilities they cause among us. What do these barriers look like in our church in particular? If you've just lept in your mind to things like women's ordination or diverse opinions on human sexuality, I'm going to suggest that you guess again.

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure to hear Stephanie Spellers--emergent church leader, writer, chaplain to the House of Bishops, and, as it happens, my editor--remind a gathering of what we may safely assume were progressive Christian hipsters at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco of what separates us as Episcopalians from much of the rest of the world. You can be relatively sure that the folks gathered under the flickering stained glass rainbow on the top of Nob Hill were most likely feeling pretty pleased with their success in sorting out all the fuss over women clergy--indeed, nearly every ordained soul at the altar was a woman--and the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer/questioning people (LGBT/Q, in case you missed our memo on the latest acronym updates) in the church.

I know I wasn't prepared for where Steph was going after her joyfully sung introduction. Pointing to the findings of the Pew US Religion Landscape Survey, she noted that our little denomination--as the joke goes in religious studies circles, there are fewer of us than there are of the Amish--has something of a bizarrely skewed demographic profile. We are merely one percent of the total population, and a slight six percent of mainline protestants. But we pack a demographic wallop.

92 percent of us are white, making us among the least ethnically diverse of Christian denominations
5 percent of us are African American
1 percent each are Asian, Latina/o or mixed race/other
35 percent of us make over $100,000 a year, making us the wealthiest denomination by far, while we are half as likely as people in the population generally to make less than $30,000
51 percent of us have at least a college education, with half that many having earned graduate degrees, making us the most educated of all Christian denominations

And though all of that might lead you to believe that we are a smart, ambitious, hard working, if somewhat pasty, club in which anyone would love to be a member, by the time they reach adulthood, 55 percent of the children raised in our churches will have left--20 percent claiming no religious identity at all as adults. That, by the way, makes us the biggest contributor to the fastest growing religious demographic, "nones"--people who answer "none" when asked with what religious group they identify.

Let's be honest here: we are hardly the 99%. Indeed, of late, I've come to think of too many of our churches as spiritual cafes of a sort--lovely little soul shops where we come once a week (ish) to pick up a nip of comfort, a soupçon of companionship, and a healthy dollop--oh, go ahead, you're not here every day--of the nostalgia encoded in our songs, our lush liturgies, or our beautiful prayerbook.

Don't get me wrong, I am in love with our prayerbook and our liturgical tradition as much as most of the dwindling number of people who visit our churches each week. Or, perhaps, I should say that I'm in love with our liturgical customs. The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish--a colleague just down the mountain at Calvin Presbyterian Church in my hometown of Zelienople--reminds us in his important book Humble Leadership us that we confuse tradition with custom at our peril. Our prayerbook tradition is that all God's people should have access to the basic forms the liturgy of the church and to the psalms for "the exciting of piety and devotion in the worship of God" (BCP, Preface, 9) among all the people, regardless of vocation, station, class, gender, or other accidental circumstance.

Which is to say that the tradition of the church is to include me--me, with my excessive eduction, my overpriced Silicon Valley home, my access to an endless assortment of advantages, and my discomfort with any recitation of the Lord's prayer that doesn't include the stilted pronunciation of "hallowED." But our customs are not meant to be shaped around my preferences any more than the tradition of giving thanks to God that we will enact later this month can only be handed forward in all places and to new generations with turkey, chestnut dressing, yams, and gravy. As Jesus intended.

Maybe we are not all the 1 %, but, let's be honest, very many of us know how to get to the neighborhood. And God loves us nonetheless. God loves the 100%. Let's be very clear about that. God doesn't hate bankers any more than God hates fags. God certainly doesn't hate Episcopalians, who, after all, have used our privilege not insignificantly in the service of peace, justice, healing, and sustainability not merely across the US, but in every country in the world. Indeed, I like to hope, with all the humility I can muster, that God is well pleased with the way in which we have transformed so much of the tragic architecture of Anglican colonialism into a robust network of service and support in times of crisis and need, as after the earthquake in Haiti and the famine in Sudan.

But God also calls us away from our inaccessible customs and the lives that our privilege have bought us in America and across the globe. We are called, our mission as a church, is to live into the vision shared by the prophets, the apostles, all the saints, and borne out in God's body on the cross as the Christ of unity and peace--"a dwelling," Paul tells us, "in which God lives by his Spirit."

Such a body travels light, carrying "neither purse nor bag nor sandals," Luke insists. We are meant to leave all of our baggage behind--not only the mountains of stuff we have accumulated, but also our divisions, our hostilities, and even the customs of which we are so fond if we are to be true bearers of God's holy peace to those whose language, or culture, or generational experience render our quaint customs--our pipe organs, our Ralph Vaughn Williams hymns, our vergers, and our other hallowED liturgical practices--incomprehensible. We are to be the very kingdom of God when we come near to those we serve.

What might that look like today?

I am no more certain than is anyone else in these transitional times. But, let's be honest, there are those who will say that the new song of Episcopalians will never be written or sung by the likes of us Western Pennsylvanians, with our aging yinzer culture and shaky economy. They look to Boston or Seattle, Chicago or San Francisco, with their edgy, progressive cultures and what often seems like an endless reserve of creativity.

But, not very long ago, I saw something of the sort of enduring, regenerative creativity folks in these parts bring to the ecclesial songfest. My sister and brother-in-law have a cabin near Brookville, where I visited with them a couple months ago. It was the first time I'd been there, and the first time I'd ever heard the song of an elk. Now, you all surely know the story of the elk's return to the Allegheny mountains after horrific decades of unbridled massacre at the turn of the twentieth century.

In a blink of historical time, the over-hunted elk disappeared, unsettling not just the mountain ecosystem, but also significant parts of its economy and its culture. But, of course, someone--Teddy Roosevelt, that kinda-sort Episcopalian president--had the vision to recognize and redress the loss, working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to import pairs of elk from the western US to resettle in Elk County. Now, a few decades later, their songs ring out across the meadows and fields, a whole species brought back into relationship with the land and the people of this region.

Okay, let's be honest, the revitalization of the church in these parts might not include quite as much glitter and glitz as it will in other parts of the country and the world. But it surely can have a certain kind of grit and groundedness that is hardly without the creativity and daring that we need to realize the vision of God's kingdom. Surely, the song of the Pennsylvania elk is but a line of the new song of healing and wholeness we are meant to sing out to all God's people. Surely, the revitalization of the church could start right here, blossoming like the bright crocuses that reach out of the snow after each long winter.

And, just as surely, it is only the beginning of what Episcopalians can do with our education, our privilege, our traditions of love and justice, and our hope for a future where swords are beaten into plowshares, and foreigners and strangers--even hip trendies from San Francisco--join with us in the common household of God. Because, let's be honest, if we can't rouse ourselves to refashion our beloved customs into resonant, relevant, engaging new songs, we won't go the way of the elk, but of the dinosaur. God knows, no one needs that.

Elizabeth Drescher, PhD, is a religion writer and professor of religious studies and pastoral ministries at Santa Clara University. Her research and writing focus on the spiritual lives of ordinary believers today and in the past. She is the author of Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse, 2011). Her forthcoming book, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012), written with Lutheran pastor and blogger Keith Anderson, will be released in May. Her Web site is

This essay was first presented as a sermon at the Convention Eucharist of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern PA, November 4, 2011. The readings were Is. 2:2-4; Ps. 96; Eph. 2:13-22; Lk. 10:1-9.

Rethinking Episcopal Church structure Part II

Clarity about the purpose and value of our connectedness (see Part 1) suggests that The Episcopal Church (TEC) move into two directions. I write this with some trepidation about getting too much into the weeds, but TEC, if it is not merely to survive but to regain the vibrancy that once made it a powerful and forceful witness for the gospel must reinvent itself before it becomes entirely irrelevant.

First, TEC should eliminate its triennial General Convention. Instead, TEC should adopt a virtual legislative and electoral process. A virtual process, unimaginable to eighteenth century Episcopalians, might advantageously:

• Preserve our national bicameral structure and the option to vote by orders (i.e., the basic principles of representation and democracy inherent in our approach to governance) ;
• Expand the number of deputies (lay and clergy) per diocese, broadening representation;
• Recognize that the large number of lay and clergy deputies already precludes meaningful floor debate, i.e., the real action happens either in smaller bodies (the House of Bishops, for example, or, more often, in a committee or commission);
• Substitute virtual interaction for physical interaction, a change some national committees and commissions have already made;
• Permit more timely decisions, with the virtual successor to General Convention convening annually or perhaps even quarterly;
• Enable delegates to have more time per issue by focusing on fewer issues at a time;
• Require minimal national staff support to track actions, disseminate documents digitally, train new diocesan IT staff (dioceses train and otherwise support their deputies), etc.;
• Save the substantial sums now spent on deputy travel, per diem, etc. (approximately $35,000 per diocese).

Here’s how this process might work at the national level for two important issues, the election of a Presiding Bishop and approving a rite of blessing for same sex marriages. The House of Bishops at one of their regular meetings would, using the current process, choose a candidate to become the next Presiding Bishop. The House of Deputies would meet to discuss and vote whether to confirm that person electronically while the House of Bishops remained in session. The possibility and problems stemming from the House of Deputies rejecting the House of Bishops’ choice are less costly but otherwise the same as if the House of Deputies were meeting in person rather than virtually. Deputies vote by diocesan delegation, minimizing any problems caused by people being in various time zones. Diocesan delegations could easily have more members and include persons now excluded by practical considerations from serving. In other words, a virtual process would be more representative, more inclusive, and far less costly than the current process.

Approving a liturgy for blessing same sex marriages might begin, as does the current legislative process, with a resolution that originated in either the House of Bishops or Deputies to form a national consultation tasked with drafting a proposed rite. The national consultation could function through a combination of physical and virtual meetings. Once drafted, each diocese might then choose its own process to study the proposed rite and any supplemental materials the consultation furnishes. Dioceses, within a stipulated timeframe, could then vote, again using their own process, to commend the text in whole or part, propose revisions, or recommend against approval in whole or part. If a majority (or a super majority, depending upon the issue and canons) approves, the text stands adopted. If a majority recommend against acceptance, the issue dies.

If, as is most likely, a majority of dioceses proposes revisions, the national consultation reconvenes, revises its original draft, and then submits the revision to the dioceses. This process is admittedly unlikely to produce quick results. However, a process that takes longer and involves more people will quite likely achieve greater acceptance for the final text upon adoption, important in a denomination riven by recent controversies that led to schism. Since group processes often produce inelegantly worded documents (i.e., bad liturgy), successive iterations of the process (i.e., each time the national consultation sends the text to the dioceses) might progressively narrow dioceses’ latitude in proposing additional revisions to parts of the text not yet agreed.

Each General Convention faces hundreds of resolutions including proposed revisions to the Church calendar, possible changes to the liturgy, nominations to various boards and groups, proposed positions on international and national social justice issues, resolutions recognizing or commending individuals or groups, etc. To the maximum extent feasible, groups or structures other than General Convention will most appropriately deal with these matters. For the remainder of the agenda, virtual processes similar to those sketched in the two examples above will work.

Second, TEC should devolve ministry and mission, to the maximum extent practical, with the national church not performing any ministry or mission that provinces, dioceses, or congregations can reasonably provide. Examples of efforts more effectively performed elsewhere within Christ's body include not only starting new congregations but also most programming (youth work, curriculum development and writing, funding national and international missionaries, etc.). Devolving these endeavors to provinces and dioceses (and wealthy parishes) would creatively build on local strengths, help to ensure that local experience informs global practice, and reduce administrative overhead. Communication and rapid transportation increasingly make central staff expensive and unnecessary.

For example, the superb Diocese of North Carolina youth missioner could devote half her time to training and resourcing youth ministry in other dioceses in the province. Under such an arrangement, everybody wins. The diocese expands its youth ministry, hiring a second youth missioner paid with funds previously forwarded to the national church; a gifted person meets provincial needs; the new youth missioner learns from a great role model; and NC youth benefit by interacting with two adults. With nine provinces, TEC would have the equivalent of four and a half full-time staff supporting youth ministry; if some larger or wealthier parishes discerned a similar call to serve youth ministers, the potential benefit to TEC is still greater.

By expecting provinces, dioceses and larger/wealthy parishes to expand their local ministries and missions to include a gift of intentional ministry to the broader Episcopal Church, we would create a broader, more inclusive community that better utilized the diverse gifts of more of God's people. Collegial conversations between parishes, dioceses, and provinces could coordinate this effort to ensure comprehensive programs (e.g., some diocese or parish undertakes to write religious formation materials for every age group).

Third, and finally, TEC could host a regular (once every 1-4 years) gathering of 50,000 plus Episcopalians in a large sports arena. This event would: (1) visibly demonstrate The Episcopal Church’s health and vitality in a newsworthy event; (2) energize attendees for ministry and mission; and (3) inspire attendees with a vision of who God calls us to be and what God asks us to do in response. In other words, TEC would intentionally adopt a mission strategy that complements the many strengths inherent in being a denomination in which 97% of its congregations have an average Sunday attendance of less than 351 people. Megachurches and political rallies, rock concerts, and professional sporting events achieve similar results, creating community, engendering commitment, and motivating people by hosting large gatherings. TEC has the advantage of having an existing small group structure (5000 plus congregations, 110 dioceses, 9 provinces, and untold other groups, committees, choirs, schools, and so forth) through which freshly inspired and motivated thousands can engage in ministry and mission. The importance of the once a decade gathering of Anglican bishops at Lambeth only hints at the magnitude of the potential effect that these regular mega-gatherings of Episcopalians could have on the denomination, the larger Church, and the world.

In many respects, this third proposition is the most critical. The first proposal, reinventing General Convention as a virtual process, provides the organizational resources of time and money required to fund a mega-event. General Convention now costs approximately $12.2 million every three years. With a virtual process, $10-11 million should be available to fund mega-events.

The second proposal, devolving as much ministry and mission from the national church to provinces, dioceses, and congregations disperses and multiplies the opportunities for people to become meaningfully involved in the Church. With creative and thorough implementation, the second proposal conceivably allows the national church to fund its revised operation through reliance on endowment and rental income and 1% or perhaps even ½ of 1% of congregational giving.

Currently, TEC, according to its Chief Operating Officer, spends 47% of its revenues on overhead. That is scandalous in comparison to the standards by which donors and rating agencies judge other non-profits. I’m confident that our disproportionately large overhead does not make God happy. We can do better. And if we truly believe that we have the bread and water of life in a world that is dying for lack of them, we must do better. Bishop Sauls’ plan takes steps in the right direction. But we need to go further, to remember who we are and what God has called us to do in the twenty-first century. Then we need to move forward boldly and quickly, seizing the moment, exchanging the tired structures and patterns that have brought us this far for ones better suited for the present.

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 (

Rethinking Episcopal Church structure Part I

by George Clifford

The Episcopal Church’s Chief Operating Officer, the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, has proposed a plan for substantially revising the Church’s national structure and governance. Perhaps Bishop Sauls’ recommendations are insufficiently radical.

Why should The Episcopal Church (TEC) have a national structure that unites its nine provinces and one hundred ten dioceses into a single organization? What is the purpose of this national structure?

In spite of the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Quadrilateral and broad, ecumenical acceptance of four orders of ministry (lay, deacon, priest/presbyter, and bishop), no one pattern of ecclesiastical structure has a clear, widely agreed, biblical and theological mandate. Significant differences exist in the organizational patterns of the Romans, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and others. Consequently, in ecclesiastical organizations, as in secular entities, form can beneficially follow function, a point implicit in Bishop Sauls’ proposal. Once clear about the purpose (function) for our national structure, possible answers to questions about organizational structure, governance, and finances will become more apparent. TEC’s current structure is largely an inheritance from the late eighteenth century, encrusted with adaptations, and still focused on eighteenth century preoccupation with governance and missions, domestic and foreign, in territories in which the Anglican Communion had little or no presence.

A national structure constitutes, first and foremost, the visible expression of the Church’s unity. Episcopalians may often act as if they are congregationalists or even individualists. Nevertheless, Episcopalians have historically emphasized the Church’s visible unity, an emphasis that incidentally resonates well among younger adults who value relationships over organizational structure and governance. The former dean of Duke Divinity School, L. Gregory Jones, has suggested the helpful metaphor of cities for Christian organizations: “Cities have a vibrant core, permeable boundaries and strong networks. But many of today’s Christian institutions are more like corporations, tightly bounded and working alone.” Using Jones’ metaphor, TEC should transform itself from eighteenth century institution into twenty-first century city that welcomes all and builds community.

Second, a national structure provides organization and resources to accomplish ministries and missions that local congregations, dioceses, and provinces cannot accomplish alone, or at least accomplish efficiently by acting independently. For example, the endorsement and support of federal chaplains in the military, Veterans Affairs healthcare system, and federal prisons would be almost impossible apart from the national Church. Other such ministries and missions exist, but far too few to justify having the 75 departments in the Church’s national office that Bishop Sauls has counted.

In general, TEC, like many organizations, often functions most effectively (i.e., achieves its goals) and efficiently (i.e., using the fewest possible resources) by operating as locally devolved as practical while still preserving its unity. Devolution can allow greater local flexibility (no style of ministry or pattern of mission has proven universally superior), increased and more broadly diversified ownership, and reduced administrative overhead.

For example, responsibility for establishing new congregations best resides with dioceses or even local congregations. Unlike TEC’s formative decades in which TEC lacked viable dioceses (and often congregations) in large swaths of the nation, there is no longer a persuasive rationale for centralizing new church planting. The ministerial expertise, demographic data, marketing skills, and other non-financial resources required for new church plants to succeed are not denominationally specific and widely available. Some local congregations and all dioceses can plant new congregations, investing leadership, money, and people in response to population growth and shifts. Evangelism might make many Episcopalians uncomfortable, but we cannot delegate to others the clear gospel responsibility to make disciples, even when we nominally support that delegation with money and prayers. (Unlike authority, nobody can delegate responsibility.)

In the twenty-first century, knowledge is often the most important resource to share as broadly as feasible. In many large voluntary organizations, communication flows routinely bottom-up and peer-to-peer without top-down guidance or support. Interested cadres of volunteers, working without the oversight, assistance, and cost of paid staff, maintain websites, publish e-newsletters, etc. If an issue, ministry, or mission cannot attract a sufficiently large and dedicated cadre of volunteers, then relying on paid staff is a poor investment of resources usually unlikely to produce significant results.

Alternatively, some tasks, once viewed as denominational responsibilities, may permit economies of scale (i.e., the same results at a lower cost) if performed by an ecumenical agency in support of several denominations. Church insurance, clergy pensions, and healthcare insurance are all examples of important services now provided by TEC that an ecumenical consortium could probably offer at a lower cost (secular insurance companies consistently argue that a larger customer base enables the company to offer improved products at lower costs). The Church Insurance Group and its affiliates, which provide quality products, could take the lead in this endeavor, assuring the preservation of quality and a continuing focus on the needs of churches and their employees while maintaining current high levels of service. Consolidating Episcopal Relief and Development with its Evangelical Lutheran and United Methodist counterparts might also yield economies of scale, diminishing administrative costs and increasing resources available for mission.

In walking the Jesus path, doing is less important than being. Yet the opposite seems to characterize TEC today. We invest a majority of our corporate time and energy in doing. By Bishop Sauls’ count, TEC acts through one hundred forty-five national boards, commissions, committees, conventions, and councils focused on governance (elections, decision-making, and policy formulation) and programming (ministries and missions, many of them potentially more effectively and efficiently implemented by others). Celebrating our common life as one visible branch of the gathered community of God's people receives scant attention and resources.

Having attended the last two General Conventions, my overwhelming perception is that deputies find General Convention rewarding not because of the business conducted but because of the relationships cultivated with Episcopalians from across the denomination. In other words, deputies behaviorally recognize and cherish the validity of my contention that the denomination’s primary function is incarnating the Church’s visible unity in a fragmented world.

A second perception of General Convention deputies is that they work very hard but have too little time for the majority to master the full spectrum of issues on which they vote. Instead, Convention really transacts most of its business via committees, only rarely making substantial modifications to committee recommendations. The process preserves the appearance of a broad-based representative democracy but of necessity relies heavily upon staff, deputies with long tenure, and the influence of interest groups.

A third perception of General Convention deputies is that they poorly match TEC demographics. Although most dioceses fund travel expenses for deputies, deputies must still have the time available to attend (difficult for the self-employed and people with two weeks or less of annual vacation), find somebody else to shoulder other responsibilities (e.g., childcare, especially in case of a single parent), and fulfill any diocesan obligations associated with serving as a deputy (entailing more time and perhaps some costs).

The second part of this post recommends specific proposals that TEC can implement to transform an eighteenth century institution into a twenty-first century “city” that welcomes all, strengthens our visible unity, performs the ministries and missions best done by a national office, and concurrently minimizes the effort and costs of governance.

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

Now and forever and the World Series

by Maria Evans

From the opening lines in our Book of Common Prayer's Rite II Holy Eucharist, and in several of the BCP prayers and collects, we affirm that God's kingdom is "now and forever." But the truth be known, I suspect we are usually thinking "forever" more than "now"--well, really, more like "Sometime later that I don't really understand, after I'm dead, and I'll think about that one later."

Most of us know that "living in the now" or "living in the moment" is a highly prized spiritual discipline. For folks in various twelve step programs, "Just for today" is a key facet of their recovery. Many of us have read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" more than once. I imagine many of us with spiritual leanings like to claim at least novice, and maybe even intermediate, mastery of this discipline. The evidence in our minds is that it allows us some degree of spiritual peace, so it's our tendency to have, or at least fake, passable knowledge in the concept.

Yet the fact remains that it's way easier to think about the Realm of God as being a "later" rather than a "now" proposition. If anything, the world tends to scream its broken-ness at us on TV and in the news, as well as our own personal relationships. How can God's kingdom exist now, when the world is rife with violent crime, abject poverty, personal failure, natural disasters, and constant disappointment?

We find ourselves in a paradox--we can intellectually sign on to the concept of the "now" of holiness, but our heart tells us otherwise too many times It seems to be an acceptance of risk we dare not bear.

I only know one place in my experiential realm where I really, truly understand the "now" of "now and forever"--it is in the final half of the final inning of an important baseball game with two out, and the home team behind. Sporting events with clocks teach us there's a place where the outcome is academic, and our best efforts become for our own self-esteem rather than affect the outcome. The clock-less aspect of baseball, however, reminds us that we truly are building God's kingdom as we speak and it reminds us that it requires living in a tension we'd rather avoid.

I was reminded of this in an almost unfathomable place--the tail end of the sixth game of the 2011 World Series. As a loyal St. Louis Cardinals fan for all of the cognitive aspects of my 51 years, the product of my grandmother's loyalty prior to that, going back to 1926, I can no more fathom "not being a Cardinals fan" any more than I can fathom being any religion than Christian--because I was reared that way. It's who I am. So right from the get-go I have a barrier to the "now," because the past is a tap root to my groundedness. As I watched David Freese at the plate, wearing #23, I could not help but remember that was Ted Simmons' number in another era of my Cardinal-ness.

Additionally, baseball is filled with "tomorrows." Rain delay? We'll play tomorrow. Disappointing series against the Cubs? There will be another. Lousy year? Simply adopt the motto of the old Brooklyn Dodgers--"Wait till next year."

It's easier to live in the glories of the past, or fantasize about the projections of the future, than to simply breathe and be alive during that last out in the last inning. I thought about how stressful it was for me, a mere fan to watch David Freese stand in the batter's box with two down in the 9th and tie it up, and my palpable disappointment in stranding the go-ahead run in that inning. If that wasn't enough, I was not even given the mercy to live it once and be done with it--I had to repeat the same process with Lance Berkman in the 10th, but with a different outcome--Freese's walk-off home run that followed. Every pitch became excruciating. I wanted to turn off the TV and go to bed, to save myself the stress. I wanted to distract myself with junk mail or get a snack and have the possibility of loss not be in my direct vision. But I didn't, because I could not, and remain loyal to myself. Even then, in my faith, I wavered--more than once I thought, "Well, just don't strike out looking. Be swinging if you strike out."

That's also true with our spiritual lives in community. It's just way easier to think about how God interacted with people in Biblical times, or brush aside any of our pains, paradoxes, or puzzlements with a wave of the hand and a curt, "Well, it will be different in Heaven." We don't like to stay too long in the idea of what we are doing right at this moment in the here and now has the ability to help shape and form the Heaven that will be--even in the act of our failures and disappointments. We don't like to do mission and consider the possibility it will fall flat, while we are doing it. We don't like to come to church in difficult or uncomfortable parish times when there's the risk we could actually be snubbed at the Peace. We don't like to throw our heart into a new activity for the Glory of God and find that almost no one came. Those things hurt--brutally so, in fact, and there's just no good way of saying otherwise.

I think that's true from the clergy side, too. I can't imagine the priest or deacon of an angry or dysfunctional parish relishes stepping into the fray every Sunday. The pain of following a call, that ends with the curt vestry meeting and the call to the Bishop to ask to "dissolve the bonds of pastoral affection" can't possibly feel like God's plan is working at that moment.

But when I am sitting in a good place in my spirituality, and look back, I discover that the good parts of who I am at this moment and who our communities are at this moment would not have been the same, had these awful things not occurred. When we open ourselves up to the possibility that these times are merely lessons in formation, rather than things where our control yielded "right" and "wrong" choices, we discover that it wasn't about "us" at all. We just happened to be that batter in the lineup at that time, and what we did simultaneously mattered and didn't matter. It was not an "either/or" proposition, but instead, it was "now and forever" working simultaneously.

I believe we are probably most fully in the now of "now and forever," not when we feel secure and confident about seeing God in everything, but when seeing God in everything is the hardest. The faith to the notion that we are continually loved by God--that our striking out or getting on base does not affect this love, it only affects how we view each other in community--is a fearful proposition. But if we can merely stay in the batter's box, it is when we begin to see our own shape and form within the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Heaven of Forever gets a little closer to the Heaven of Now.

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

Origami saints

by Maria L. Evans

Sometimes the saint is loved not simply for his closeness to God but for his patent humanity. The saint has a temper, flies off the handle, loses his or her cool in pursuit of a great ideal. St. Jerome, the first translator of the Bible into Latin, was famously irascible, once writing that one of his detractors "walked like a tortoise." To take another example, St. Peter is beloved not only because he was a great apostle, but for his many flaws: denying Jesus three times before the crucifixion, among them. Holiness makes its home in humanity. That insight says, “They’re not perfect. Maybe I could aspire to this level of achievement.”

--James Martin

Nothing separates "The people who are good at crafts" from "The people who are ordinary at crafts" quite like an origami bird.

Now, at its most basic level, an origami bird is a rather simple thing. After all, children do origami all the time. But give some origami paper to adults, and it can suddenly morph from a child's fun pastime to a relentless exercise in self-browbeating.

One of the things we decided to do for All Saints Sunday was make strings of origami cranes that folks could write names of the departed "saints" in their lives and string the birds around the sanctuary, as if they were winging their way through the gap between Heaven and Earth.

Easy, right?

Two of my best friends in the parish decided to take on the task of folding the cranes. Now, they are both what we call "crafty women" in these parts. Not crafty like devious or sneaky, but they are really good at those little crafts that lots of women like to do. They take to that stuff like a duck to water (or should I say a crane to water?)

Well, one of them went out of town on vacation and the other one was feeling a little challenged by the number of cranes that needed to be made. Quintessential dummy me, I blurted out, "Oh, I made origami birds in grade school all the time! I know how to do that!" Next thing I knew, I was meeting her at the store to buy paper that met her approval, and was given a sheet of instructions and one made by the person who left town, to use as a model.

I gulped. Hers was perfect.

As I looked at that crane, I started feeling the weight of every flashback I could muster from grade school art class. Nothing I ever made in art class was ever "the best." I think only one time was any of my art ever shown in the display cases in the hall, and I think the art teacher felt sorry for me that time. When we had fundraisers at school using "kid art," no one bid on my creations (the fact my own family never bid on it, either, ought to have told me something.)

I realized I was doing this because of loyalty to my two friends, and possibly so that their slightly imperfect cranes would look "good enough" next to my definitely imperfect cranes. Mine looked fairly okay, but they chronically seemed to have a bill problem. Some of them could have passed for pelicans. Some of them, it looked like a cat had grazed their tails. I had some problems with blowing gently into them to "puff them up." I had to trash a few of them from blowing so hard their spines exploded.

It was another of those times I was reminded there was a reason I went into a medical specialty that the job was to take things apart rather than sew them together.

The other important thing I learned was "Don't make origami cranes when you're watching the Cardinals blow a lead in the fifth game of the World Series." My cranes met with a couple of casualties--a few got tossed at the TV, and one hapless, unfortunate member of my paper aviary got his little head ripped off. (Interestingly enough, I decapitated a red one. Coincidence? I think not.)

But after a while, I realized when I looked in my plastic bag of imperfect cranes and feeling a little grumpy that mine "were not as good," they looked back with quite a few colors. In my compulsion to make "perfect" cranes and setting unrealistically high expectations for myself, and over-obsessing about each and every little fold, I had neglected to notice that, subconsciously, I was choosing paper from every shade and hue of the rainbow.

Suddenly, another flashback came to me from those grade school art years. A long buried memory emerged--I used to love to try to use every color that was given to me in an art project.

Historically, on All Saints Day, we focus on the "perfection" of the saints--that they are models of holiness, and we feel we can never attain that kind of perfection. But the more I read about the lives of the saints, the more I recognize they were wildly, crazily IM-perfect. St. Ignatius of Loyola is my favorite case in point--he was on his way to kill a fellow for profaning the Blessed Virgin Mary, and had it not been for his mule taking a particular fork in the road, he would have been a murderer instead of a saint.

When we over-focus on that illusion of perfection in holiness, we miss the bigger and better message--the spectrum of hues and tones and bright and muted colors that make up the Company of Heaven. We forget to see the holiness within irascibility--incredible holiness, actually, because it is when the Light of Christ streams through the cracks and fissures of our caked-on layers of human irascibility that it is most noticeable and intense. We don't always want to believe that the saints, more often than not, are clothed in a robe with grease stains, wear rusty, crooked halos, and have muddy shoes. Those muddy shoes? Feet of clay--exactly like our own.

When we accept that possibility, the saints lose their two-dimensionality. They can no longer remain monochromatic. Much like the citizenry in the movie "Pleasantville," they gain the power of living color and depth, as the revealed truth washes over them. They truly become, as the old hymn proclaims, sacred people that you have met "in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea."

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

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