Finding our way again

By Kathy Staudt

I recently helped to facilitate one of the diocesan-wide discussions of Brian McLaren’s Finding our Way Again -- part of a diocese-wide initiative that Bishop Mariann Budde initiated, called “People of the Way.” McLaren and Bishop Budde will be leading a plenary program on March 26 as part of this initiative -- the first of many such initiatives, we hope. My experience leading one of the one-day diocesan-wide study group convinced me of the value of having these kinds of conversation about the lived experience of our faith with other Episcopalians beyond our parishes.

McLaren’s book is about spiritual practices as part of how we grow into a living relationship with God, and how we are formed and transformed into disciples. His book introduces a series that invites a “return to the ancient practices” that have shaped Christian life over centuries -- practices like daily prayer, Scripture study, Sabbath-keeping, Fasting, even Tithing. As soon as we begin to make a list of spiritual practices, we begin to risk losing an important distinction between practices and “programs” or “to do lists.” A spiritual practice is an activity we choose because we want to grow in our relationship with God -- it is about experience and connection rather than about self-improvement. This is a distinction that is quickly lost on many of us “Type A” folks who would like to be able to see results. “Practice makes perfect,” in this discussion, gives way to McLaren’s phrase “Practice makes possible”: having a personal rule of life that fits our temperament and desire helps make us open to the possibility of transformation and deepened relationship with God that is always on offer, if we are willing to receive it.

In our discussion I was very aware of a longing, expressed in various ways, for an enlivening of faith. Some people were fearful about the apparent “to do list” that they at first saw in the setup of McLaren’s book, but the discussion in small groups seemed to go where most people wanted to go -- to the question: how do I -- and how do you -- live our faith so that it becomes deeper and more authentic, more connected to the mystery that we call “God.” What do we do to open ourselves to that? What happens when we do? Many had stories to share, showing that we can indeed see ourselves as "companions on the way".

McLaren helpfully divides spiritual practices into “Contemplative,” “Corporate” and “Missional” practices. Contemplative practices are perhaps most familiar: practices like daily Scripture study, centering prayer, journaling or walking-prayers. Many people had regular personal practices they could add to this list. Contemplative practices are what I call “showing up” practices -- We try to do them regularly, the way that someone studying a musical instrument practices scales, or an athlete works out -- because they make us more able to live faithfully, day to day. Corporate practices are those we do together -- worship is the most familiar, and McLaren helpfully breaks out the different components of the liturgy, calling the liturgy the “workout of the people.” Other corporate practices include spiritual direction, small group faith sharing, and intercessory prayer -- all the ways that we practice our faith in awareness that others are practicing with us. Out of these come missional practices: practices that turn us outward toward the world -- these include hospitality, practices that help us to encounter those we perceive as “other,” feeding the hungry, working for justice. Missional practices are not political programs though they may lead us to political action, whether individual or corporate. But their primary purpose is to form us for Christian discipleship. Indeed, for Christians, all of these kinds of practice have as their purpose to make us more alert, faithful and engaged disciples/followers of Jesus.

For some in the group the sense of spiritual practice as “one more thing to add to the list” did not subside, but for others there was an excitement about what they were hearing about what a living faith looks like, among other people who are also members of churches in our diocese. There was something energizing, all agreed, about bringing together people from different parishes, coming out of our “silos” of local family issues and issues of institutional survival, and reminding ourselves of the deeper purpose that drew many of us to our churches to begin with and that is now calling us, perhaps, to a revival, or to what Diana Butler Bass in her new book (Christianity After Religion) has called an “awakening.”

Diana’s book also sees this longing among many Christians -- both those who have stayed with their churches and the large number of people who have left church, disillusioned with our preoccupation with institutional survival and bickering over who’s in and who’s out. She points to a resurgence of people who long to be both “spiritual AND religious” -- to find a community that practices a living faith. Can this happen in churches, which have become so bogged down over the past few decades in institutional and doctrinal issues? What would the Church look like (not just the Episcopal Church, but the wider “Church, the People of God” (to use Verna Dozier’s term) -- if more of us found ways to name and claim a faith that demands something of us, that calls us to grow and deepen in a living relationship with the living God, individually, corporately and “missionally.” A faith where "practice" makes new things, new life, possible?

The longing for something real, something genuine, in our individual and corporate relationship to God and in our life choices, was palpable in the discussion I led, and I hear it everywhere these days, among church people as well as those who have left church or are unchurched. I hear it in people who grew up without a religion and are wondering if they can find what they are seeking among people who still value church. I hope we can continue to listen to this longing in one another other, and I think one way to do this is indeed, as the McLaren book study project invites, to focus on this matter of practice, perhaps to find and reclaim “new-old” ways of gathering and sharing faith that stretch and blur boundaries between parishes and even denominations. If we do, I think we may well begin to discern a new spiritual liveliness that is inviting us, in this time, to claim in new ways a living tradition that is in harmony with the ancient roots of our faith, and that will help us to live more faithfully into the call to discipleship which is at the heart of Christian life.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a householder who takes from his treasure what is old and what is new.” That seems to be an important word for us in this time of change, renewal, awakening and "emergence" in the life of the church.


Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps two blogs: poetproph and David Jones, artist and poet. She works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area and is the author of two books of poetry: "Annunciations, Poems out of Scripture" and "Waving Back:Poems of mothering life", as well as a scholarly study of the modern artist and poet David Jones.

Jesus meets us at the border

by Beth Kelly

The term “border” puzzled me as a child. Every map had a hard black line on it, and I fully expected to see exactly such a line on the earth. Not so. Looking from home and heart I never really knew where the border was, but the discovery came when I crossed it. I began to notice that when I crossed a border, people showed up either upset or happy or at least with announcement (“we’re in Oregon now”). I can’t hear the border, I can’t taste the border, and I really can’t feel the border, but this invisible boundary reveals itself when I cross it…where ever that is. This is true of most borders between states and even between countries. Except, the U.S. now does have a very definite tangible border fence with Mexico. A very significant fence that makes a border you can feel, smell, see. And there are calm alert men with guns that you will meet at this border.

Last December I was having lunch with another priest, Jennifer Hughes, and Bp Diane Bruce. My heart was strangely moved when Jennifer said she felt ‘called to the wall’. She felt a call to go to the wall between U.S. and Mexico and pray with Jesus. This call has grown into what is now a pilgrim’s event to the border. My childish fascination with borders drew me into being one of the planners for this Diocesan event being held Monday of Holy Week at the border of U.S. and Mexico. As I’ve been involved with this “call” I am seeing borders and Jesus very differently.

Jesus always meets us at the border. Jesus meets us at the border of life and death, life and love, as far as I can tell he is there at all of the borders of life. Every important decision we make is a border we cross into new territory. Life is never the same. Inevitably we go deep across the border and we’re soon speaking a new language. Getting married is a border and leads us into a new language of love and forgiveness. Having a child certainly is also. Choices for college, new careers, decision for retirement, all borders. Even crossing the threshold of a new church. All borders. Others are always there on the other side. I do so hope they are friendly. A different life will be had. If we are attentive, we quickly learn that spiritual borders are frequent. Borders just "are" and Jesus is there. I like to have a Word with Him when I arrive at any border.

In this prayerful event to be held at our national border, I recognize this border is an immense symbol of the dark sides of our expression of immigration. I also recognize that Jesus 'immigrated' from heaven to earth. I wonder if he left his homeland to make a better life for himself by knowing his journey would draw us back all together. I then wonder how Jesus’ homeland changed because of his immigration; surely we did. Like some immigrants, did he risk dying and die for the sake seeking a better life? It seems he was seeking a better life for all of us.

These are just the beginnings of what comes up in my prayers since bringing borders into my spiritual life. This Easter as we celebrate that Jesus crossed the border of death, and, in fact, a way was made for us over that border. Please offer prayer for everyone involved with our southern border. Pray for peace. Pray for wisdom.


The Rev. Beth Kelly is the Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Fullerton, CA. She has been featured in the books, "Divine Daughters", and "You Can Do It." Her sermons can be found on Internet Archive. She also is the first female Episcopal priest to have private audience with the pope. She has been a priest for 25 years.

Fixing Adult Formation

by Derek Olsen

The state of Adult Christian Formation in the Episcopal Church seems to be in a state of serious decline. The recent piece on the Lead about a rector who decided to end her adult education programs drew a number of comments both here and on Facebook acknowledging similar challenges in parishes across the country. On the national level, the proposed budget slashes funding for spiritual formation and Christian Education across the board. What are we to do? Is there any way to reverse this decline? What can we do to get things going the other way?

Of course, if this were Hollywood, we know what could happen: a plucky group of misfits would pull together to form a catechetical school, meeting—perhaps—in an abandoned police station in serious need of renovation. They could have a priest who’s a former astrophysicist weighing in on questions about God and the cosmos, a respected New Testament scholar whose traditional seminary folded and who now wanders the world in search of alt music and fountain pens. A former atheist with an operatic background could uncover and introduce the gems of church music. An English vicar battling his own demons and a narrow-minded bureaucracy could handle the pastoral care load. The ordained head of a philosophy department with a taste for fine liturgy could hit the theological heavyweights while tossing out snarky comments about hymn-tune choices and liturgy-fails. Throw in the odd ecumenical figure—maybe a Lutheran civil servant with a taste for heavy metal who ponders theology, pluralism, and the ethics of veganism and the environment. Round it off with an over-educated IT guy who rambles on the trivialities of medieval liturgy and patristics at the drop of a hat. The whole motley crew could be informally presided over by a wily journalist who’s grown tired of the baseball beat who grudgingly takes the position of dean with a shoestring budget, and—ensconced in his crumbling station—proceeds to educate the church. A fulsome cast of extras bringing in a network of eccentric English and Australian voices could be a real plus too. This pitch has got all kinds of promise—and plentiful opportunities for a rockin’ soundtrack.

Reality, as they say, is stranger than fiction. Scrap the picturesque location and move this vision online instead. Oh, yeah—scrap the shoestring budget too; there’s actually nothing that can be called a budget here. What I’m describing is not the future of adult faith formation. I’m describing its past as it’s been for me for the past five years or so—as well as its present.

The majority of my Christian education and faith formation that’s been feeding me for the past while has come from reading (and writing) blogs. There’s a regular circle I visit, informally anchored by the Episcopal Café, and liberally supplemented by the English-based Ship of Fools forums. All of the wacky people above—and several other colorful characters to boot—actually exist and are regular reads for me. Reading the works of others exposes me to thoughts I wouldn’t otherwise think, and writing my own blog forces me to clarify my ideas and communicate them in such a way that other people would want to read them.

Sometimes in the wider electronic discussion I hear people asking what the place of blogs is in an increasingly Facebook-dominated world. This is the place of blogs as far as I’m concerned: they offer a solid essay-driven form of communication that can be both challenged and supplemented by comments. I can offer an essay on a particular topic and know that it will be seen and read by any number of people who are then free to ask further questions or to call me on what I’ve written. I’m held accountable knowing that anyone from the guy-born-yesterday to the world’s foremost authority on the topic could randomly drop by and call me on the carpet. In one sense these writings may be ephemeral and fleeting as blog hosts go up and down but—as anyone who’s penned an electronic drunken rant or seen a horrific third-grade choir photo posted to Facebook knows—“What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.” Forever. In short, I want to suggest that instead of wringing our hands about the state of adult faith formation, we realize that, for those of us reading these words now, a significant effort is happening online and that both learning and formation are happening based on what people find here.

It ain’t your momma’s Sunday School.

What of the budget cuts? An electronic acquaintance has a quote from Margaret Mead in his email signature: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I’ve thought about this quote frequently as I’ve surveyed the Episcopal side of the internet. What has dawned on me is that every major online resource that I use has been created by an individual with a passion—not by a funded church committee. Take Chad Wohlers’s site on the Books of Common Prayer or the currently anonymous bcponline.org. Ditto for Project Canterbury or The Lectionary Page or MissionStClare or DailyOffice.org or my own office site. Even the Episcopal Café itself—as far as I know—comes out of Jim’s own passion (and that of his dedicated news team)—with only web space coming from the Diocese of Washington, D.C.

The national church? Dunno.

What I’m seeing is a set of resources that work under the open-source/crowd-source model. Good material for adult faith formation is being produced and offered every day for free. It’s available; it’s out there. Am I denigrating traditional brick-and-mortar Adult Sunday School classes and forums? No. And that’s not my intent. Indeed, one of the bright spots of Christian Ed for me in the past decade is a Sunday School class on Romans at the Cathedral of St Philip in Atlanta. It was a fun yet thorough walk through a complex book led entirely by a small group of dedicated teachers—laymen—who educated themselves laid out the various issues and readings and meanings for the rest of us to interact with. It wasn’t from a packaged curriculum and it wasn’t produced by a national or diocesan anything.

I am in favor of the traditional pattern when and where it works but the indications I’m seeing is that those places are becoming fewer and farther between.

So what now—are we good? No, not yet. A few more things need to happen.

First, we need to keep writing blogs. Me and you. We’ve got to keep producing good edifying content.

Second, we need someone who’s willing to bring some organization to all of this.

As a database guy, I’ve long argued that the challenge of our age is not having information or generating content. Rather, we’ve got the reverse problem—there’s way too much information available. The challenge if our age is analyzing and organizing the data that’s out there into meaningful and—more important—useful chunks. While blogs are great, they tend to be occasional in both main senses of the word. That is, they get written occasionally (mine not often based on the craziness of my schedule) but are also occasional in the formal sense. Like Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, they’re prompted by specific events and tend not to be systematic presentations of a single field or idea. What we need is an initiative to group together internet resources and blog posts into clear and helpful groupings. Thus, if someone in a local church wanted to learn about—or to teach a traditional brick-and-mortar Sunday School class about—a given topic, they could go to this resource and see what’s available, perhaps even finding a disparate group of resources balanced with one another in a helpful way.
Could a church funded committee do this work? Well, maybe… but I doubt it. And, looking at what has been done and who has been doing it, it doesn’t seem statistically likely either.

So, if you’re serious about wanting to fix the apparently broken state of adult faith formation, we need a volunteer—what are you doing in your spare time?


Dr. Derek Olsen has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Homiletics at Emory University. Currently serving as Theologian-in-Residence at the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, he leads quiet days and is a speaker to clergy groups. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics. A layman working in the IT field, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

"Gods Without Men" and our search for God

by Sam Candler

Watch closely, and we can see the search for God most everywhere. Sometimes that search strikes us as crazy, and sometimes that search is dazzlingly beautiful. Sometimes, that search is most clearly articulated by people who confess no particular Christian faith at all. I am most appreciative, then, for the self-identified atheist, Hari Kunzru, and his wonderful new book, Gods Without Men.

Doug Coupland, in the New York Times, calls Kunzru’s book part of a new literary genre (NY Times, March 8, 2012), an exploration which transcends our usual notions of time and space. I like that kind of exploration, because it points out our human limits. The exploration of human limits is a critical part of the spiritual quest. Then, when we pay attention to actual words and actual places, we engage also in a religious quest; we make those words and places holy.

Kunzru’s book is about many things: space and time, Wall Street excess, autism, cultural differences, UFO cults, the desert of the American West, even love. But it is also about one place: a (fictitious) three-fingered rock formation somewhere around the Mojave Desert. Kunzru’s characters, some of whom are human and some of whom are not, arrive at this formation during different historical times. Coyotes, Native Americans, Spanish missionary priests, UFO cults, aged rock musicians, hippies, American military personnel, all end up there. But the characters whose journeys are most studied are a young married Manhattan couple, one of whom is American Jewish and the other of whom is immigrant Punjabi; Lisa and Jaz have a severely autistic son.

Of course, I will not reveal too much of the story. In fact, one might debate with me what the story actually is. Perhaps the story is how one character, Schmidt, understood his work: “The shape of his project was becoming clear: how to connect the mysteries of technology with those of the spirit” (Gods Without Men, Kunzru, page 11). Or maybe the story is about how one character describes some New York art in a glass case:

There’s a tradition that says the world has shattered, that what once was whole and beautiful is now just scattered fragments. Much is irreparable, but a few of these fragments contain faint traces of the former state of things, and if you find them and uncover the sparks hidden inside, perhaps at last you’ll piece together the fallen world. This is just a glass case of wreckage. But it has presence. It’s redemptive. It is part of something larger than itself. (page 137)

Later the same character, a Wall Street quantitative analyst, says:
“There are certain things you can’t look at directly. You need to trick them into revealing themselves. That’s what we’re doing with [this financial model]. We’re juxtaposing things, listening for echoes. …Parapraxes. Cosmic slips of the tongue. They’re the key to the locked door. They’ll help us discover it….The face of God. What else would we be looking for?” (page 138)

“You need to trick them…” Indeed, the novel begins with a coyote, the trickster; and coyotes also play a significant role in the novel. Remember, then, that “coyote” and “trickster” are also roles that have been assigned to “Hermes,” the god of interpretation, the messenger of the gods to humanity. The hermeneutical task of interpretation takes its name from a trickster.

Ultimately, I believe the story line can be reduced to a question that one earnest local girl asks the visiting musician: “Tell me something,” she said. “Are you out here looking for lights?” (page 28). Yes, these characters, like all of us, are out there looking for lights. Wherever we are, right now, we are looking for lights.

Some places, over time, have become sources of light for us. Hari Kunzru’s book makes the implicit point that those places of light are often where we meet limits. Jaz’s search, for instance, began to be clear when he was at MIT graduate school, in “the field of quantum probability, where he worked on reconciling competing mathematical descriptions of the physical world, attempting to understand life at a scale where precision dissolved in indeterminancy” (page 58).

Finally, the place Jaz and Lisa are drawn to is only an absence: “Ahead of them lay only a vast emptiness, absence. There was nothing out there at all” (page 381). The ultimate limit. This limit, a via negativa, leads to my favorite definition for God, most famously worded by Saint Anselm of Canterbury in the twelfth century: “God is that greater than which nothing can be conceived.” God is that place where our human capacity fails; God is at the limits of our human experience. God is greater. Those are the places I call holy. They are holy because so many of us, of so many wildly various perspectives and types, have found truth and light there.

Maybe you know where I am going here. Yes, I am going to Church. The Church is holy because people have found holiness here, generation after generation. For Kunzru’s characters, the holy place is an odd three-fingered rock formation (the priest inevitably interprets it as the Trinity). Again, Kunzru, the author, has publicly identified himself as atheist; but he provides quite a friendly study for how people come to identify holy places.

For Christians trying to be faithful in the twenty-first century, Church will be the place where we meet limits and light – a place of re-discovery, though it may not be a physical structure at all. We will go there when all the other tricks of the world – both ancient and modern—have gradually failed to satisfy us. Like the characters in Gods Without Men, none of us is perfect. In fact, we are rather mistaken, dirty, and forlorn. Nevertheless, the Holy finds us. The Holy finds us when we reach certain limits. In the Christian Church, the Christian Community, we witness to that search, we witness to those limits, and we witness to a love that transcends time and space.

So it is that Lisa says,

“She felt like she’d been destroyed and rebuilt again. She felt, if she had to give a name to her feeling, symbolic, as if she now stood for something greater and more significant than herself, stood for the knowledge of limits, was—no, not God’s representative, nothing so grandiose or egotistical—just one of His signposts, a person in the crowd whose life story pointed toward Him, showed the way out of the vanities of this world and into reverence for the unknowable, impenetrable beyond” (page 359).
Yes. God is that greater than which nothing can be conceived.


The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Lessons from Cantuar

by George Clifford

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ announcement that he would step down from his post at the end of 2012 pleased me and heightened my respect for him.

Archbishop Williams, in spite of commendable effort, has ineffectually led both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Unfortunately, results not efforts count. Notably, his attempt to preserve the Anglican Communion through creating an “Anglican Covenant” as a fifth instrument of unity has failed and the Church of England has rejected his proposal for ordaining women as bishops.

Some Anglicans, most of whom oppose ordaining non-celibate gays and blessing same-sex relationships, believe that the proposed Covenant will exert insufficient restraint on proponents of those practices. Other Anglicans, generally supportive of ordaining non-celibate gays and blessing same-sex relationships, believe that the proposed Covenant radically breaks with the Anglican Communion’s historic emphases of unity centered on communion with Canterbury and provincial independence. Reconciliation between those divergent views has proved impossible. Archbishop Williams probably finds the Church of England’s almost certain rejection of the Covenant especially painful.

Similarly, the Church of England has rejected the proposal put forward by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York that, while authorizing consecration of women as bishops, would have made generous provision for alternative episcopal oversight of dissenters, i.e., provision for male bishops for congregations and male clergy who object. A solid majority within the Church of England believe that the time has come to move forward with respect to authorizing the consecration of a woman as a bishop and that further accommodation of male prejudice against women clergy is unacceptable.

Leadership in the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, like in the Episcopal Church, is not primarily a function of a leader’s formal authority. The Archbishop of Canterbury has very little ecclesial authority over the Anglican Communion. He decides which bishops to invite to the Lambeth Conference. He chairs some meetings and makes a handful of appointments. Most dramatically, he could terminate the communion that exists between himself and a province, a step that is virtually unimaginable. Canonically and legally, the Archbishop has more authority within the Church of England, but even there civil law, canon law, General Synod, and a host of other factors circumscribe the Archbishop’s authority.

Instead, leadership in both the Anglican Communion and the Church of England is primarily a matter of persuading people to voluntarily follow the Archbishop’s lead. To lead, the Archbishop must rely on his personal charisma, recognized expertise to which others willingly defer, moral or spiritual stature that others find compelling, or ability to connect people and organizations creatively and effectively.

The Anglican Communion and the Church of England are at crucial junctures. The Communion’s deep and irreconcilable divisions will inevitably change its size, composition, and perhaps even structure, probably within the next decade. The real question is not if but when the Church of England will consecrate its first female bishop. In addition to quarreling over the ordination of women, the Church of England has steadily declining attendance at worship, significant financial problems, and, from within and without the Church, intermittent calls for disestablishment.

In sum, both the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, at a time such as this, need an Archbishop whose vision, charisma, and leadership can bring unity in the midst of diversity and a renewed, reenergized focus on mission. Archbishop Williams, by all accounts a wise and deeply spiritual Christian, recognizes that he is not that leader. His insight and courageous decision to step aside have increased my respect for him.

Archbishop Williams’ decision prompted some self-examination. His choice is the latest and highest profile example of clergy stepping aside from leadership posts within the Church. Bishops Tom Wright (formerly of Durham) and Neil Alexander (Atlanta) have both chosen to return to academia. Many more bishops and priests have chosen to retire early rather than to continue serving. Calling a leader, especially within the Episcopal Church, is a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. What is it about us, as Anglicans, that causes our leaders to exit?

First, we value our individuality and independence more than we value communion and mutual interdependence. Communion does not connote approval or even agreement. I feel strongly about fully including everyone in the life of the Church regardless of gender or gender orientation. However, these issues are not litmus tests of Christian identity. Nor is someone who disagrees with me on these issues less of a Christian than I am (how does one even measure such a thing?).

Second, like our polarized politicians, we define ourselves by our positions and conflicts rather than by our mutual love and respect. Growth is impossible without change; change always entails conflict. The grain of sand irritates the oyster, initiating the process that can transform the grain into a pearl. Yet a grain of a toxic substance or effluents in the water can kill the oyster. Tragically, our conflict too often has become toxic rather than transforming us into pearls of great value.

Third, too many Anglicans confuse authority and leadership. Episcopalians rightly resist ceding too much authority to bishops, especially bishops not accountable to the Church. Yet without good leadership, the Church flounders and people perish.

No wonder, in a gentle and tacit indictment of many Anglicans, Archbishop Williams warns that the next Archbishop of Canterbury must have “the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”

We Episcopalians can profit from that warning. Like the Church of England, our worship attendance and financial resources are declining. These declines – though exacerbated by our individualism, animosity in conflict, and wariness of leaders – more fundamentally reflect the Church’s struggles with modernism, secularism, and other external forces.

Thankfully, our Presiding Bishop, Bishops, and rectors/vicars have “bully pulpits” from which to guide and to mobilize the Church. Our Church desperately needs godly and effective leadership. Our polity means that we have no reason to fear strong leaders. Participation is voluntary. If people do not want to follow, they can vote with their feet, their purses, or through the Church’s formal decision-making processes. Those of us who choose to remain will do well to emphasize unity in the midst of diversity, practice mutual love and respect in conflict, and applaud good leadership. Otherwise, good leaders will continue to abandon their posts prematurely for other ministries and the Church’s problems will only worsen.


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.

Williams critiqued

by Adrian Worsfold

It was no secret that Rowan Williams was going to resign as Archbishop of Canterbury sometime soon, although first he lined up a job as Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge. One wonders what he will write, freed of the responsibility of what he called 'the job' and whether he will reverse again the once reversal of viewpoint expressed on a number of matters of Anglican belief.

I wanted him to resign. I departed the Church of England during his time; however pleasant and welcoming the parish Church, for me the Church of England and Anglicanism was becoming something rotten at the top, its identity distasteful, and he was at the helm. I moved over to the Unitarians and when I moved I gave my sole attendance to them.

In the usual balance between Anglo-Catholic or evangelical, he was regarded on appointment and controversially as being a liberal, but he soon showed this was not going to be the case. In any case, his view has been that The Myth of God Incarnate (1977) was the end point of the liberal theological approach in the preservation of Christianity as a scheme. His liberal attitudes were mainly in the social sphere, as his theology was a postmodern conservation of Christian doctrines, of a detailed narrative to live by, and not too far from (but his own version of) Radical Orthodoxy. Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer are background philosophers. Set alongside this, his ecclesiology was always Catholic. This was Eastern Catholic in many respects, but also Roman in outlook. As an Archbishop he identified with bishops but not primarily with their Churches and thus a had a pyramidal outlook. He combined the worst of Weberian buraucracy with sacred traditionalism.

The job created opportunities or traps for simple duplicity. He was a guest of Simon Mayo on BBC radio in 2007, and was asked whether the birth narratives of Jesus were historical. He said yes. He would surely know that the birth narratives cannot pass any test of history. It wasn't that long previously that he had not regarded the virgin birth as important, but he had come to see that it was important. He didn't know, of course, that it had happened, it just became more important.

I recall too his encounter in an African airport with a believer. Now normally Rowan Williams is very personable with ordinary folk, but one adventurous chap asked him what he really thought about the gay issue (and potentially more), and Rowan Williams would not be drawn. He said, "I am an Archbishop and this is what I teach." At that point I wondered why a robot wasn't provided to be an Archbishop. After all, if the answers could be printed out in advance, that's all that is necessary.

But whilst any liberalism was dropped, so not to impose his supposed private view, he did impose his personal ecclesiology on the excuse that this was corporate. The purple in his eyes blinded him to the fact that bishops came from different Anglican Churches. He thought they were all one, and thus were of one Church, or, if they weren't, then they ought to be. This was always the agenda behind the Anglican Communion Covenant. Although there was the presenting issue causing so much disturbance, Rowan Williams used the disturbance as an opportunity to build a more coherent Catholic Anglican Church. Not only that, but in the depressing Advent Letter of 2007 he combined his Catholicism with a 'one way to read' the Bible argument that locked in a new authoritarianism. A Covenant based on that Advent Letter would most definitely divide off those who innovated ministry and changed how to read the Bible. Yet he had himself read the Bible differently, simply by the output of his own work. Also he was clear that only those bishops in support of the Windsor/ Covenant process could attend Lambeth 2008.

I wrote to my bishop (of Lincoln) at the time and, given his chairing of the Modern Churchpeople's Union, being opposed to the Windsor process resulting in a Covenant, I asked him why he was attending the Lambeth Conference. He replied that Rowan Williams was trying to maximise attendance. What? Did this mean that the Advent Letter 2007 was a sophisticated piece of hoodwinking? Why was there so much apparent dishonesty around? The bishop became one of the main patrons of the No Anglican Communion Covenant Coalition. He voted yes for the dioceses to discuss it, and now many of them are discussing it and voting it down towards its death-bed.

The Advent Letter of 2007 reminded me of a Mikhail Gorbachev who, faced with increasing political chaos, swung himself to the right. The thanks he got was a coup, and similarly Rowan Williams received no thanks from his hard right wing evangelicals. The traditionalist Anglo-Catholics were in a process of being sidelined anyway by the consideration of female bishops. What the hard right did was organise themselves in a religious trotskyite fashion, that is to say set up their own international Primates' Council, a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and, as well as a separate Church for North America, started creating parallel structures of their own control for the Church of England. When the Jerusalem Statement was produced, Rowan Williams presented a statement emphasising how much he agreed with it.

Let's be clear. He was not simply reacting to events. He was an effective policy maker and the organiser to the purpose. He ran Lambeth 2008 and it did what he wanted. What he wanted was no hostages to fortune from anyone else. By creating indabas that never made decisions, he produced a Lambeth 2008 that gave him the continued ability to manage in his way towards his Covenant. In Jamaica in 2010 he was able to confuse and rule, where he put Section 4 out to revision but the result (with relational consequences and a two speed Communion) was fixed and could not be altered. He operated the Covenant in advance in who could and could not sit on Communion representing institutions.

If Lambeth 2008 represented a high spot of his ability to organise and run events, then the Colin Slee memo emerging in 2011 from 2010 was a low point, where Rowan Williams and John Sentamu acted in concert to manipulate committee work and provide propaganda regarding a second undermining of Jeffrey John. In terms of the proposed Covenant, one sided publicity was provided to stress its compulsive importance. As the dioceses started to vote it down, a rather pathetic video was produced in March 2012 in which the presenting Rowan Williams was different from the angry person being hidden, except by his body language. It was the Colin Slee memo that brought the angry man to the attention of the world. I thought he should have resigned then.

If Rowan Williams had been an American President, books would be written now about how he had taken the 'power to persuade' to new levels. He has been the most papal of archbishops because he could create policy and organise its delivery - but to a point, as in the end even for him it mainly unravelled. In fact, a suspicion has been that much of his action has been ecumenically one-sided, towards the actual Pope in Rome, where there has been a meeting of minds.

I'm not sure what else his intellect was used for, but it was certainly wasted. What was sad was this attempted triumph of the Church as an institution over any ethical consideration for sections of its members. Many went along with his Covenant plans, at first, but, as he added apparent enthusiasm and manipulation to his anti-liberal stance, the liberal constituency became unifed in opposition. I remember a few years back when he said he would pray for the likes of bloggers (with individual views), but asked for prayers more for the Anglican Communion. Or, recently, he has been 'praying hard' for diocesan synod people to agree with him about the Covenant. It's as if prayer too becomes subsumed to the institutional requirement, a strange understanding of intercession.

When the dioceses said no to special provision for those who would need pure male only bishops, involving the bishops, Rowan Williams still assumed he should try and find a means (but not significant) to keep the traditionalists within the fold. That was his intellect at play, as he sought to describe the difference between derived and delegated powers of a bishop, but even if it could convince a Catholic (believing in the ontological difference of a bishop) it won't meet the objections of the no women leaders evangelicals. In any case, he can only provide a form of words that can convince one side of purity while convincing the other side of equality.

The fundamental problem is that the Anglican Communion is too broad, ranging from something like premodern magical belief combined with charismatic Protestantism to something that approaches the consumerist New Age. Such a spread can only be a loose association at best. Even the Church of England is too broad and is going through a trim. Traditionalist Catholics are being sidelined by change. Its most radical of liberals are shearing off, but it leaves others more exposed. The entryism of some evangelicals of the FCA kind may turn into separatism (as in North America). So the broad Church in an age of speciality is moving towards a lesser spread, just as The Episcopal Church is seeking its own clearer identity (and inevitable smaller size). It would be historically consistent to expect some reformation of institutions. No Archbishop can stand against this. In such a situation, the way to preserve most contact is to loosen up, not try and nail together a centre. All that does is create a more violent breaking up a little later down the line.

The best Archbishop is therefore one that does nothing. What made Rowan Williams a near disaster of an Archbishop was that he tried to do too much. He thought he could organise the worldwide bishops to create a stronger centre with its instruments and that the Churches were secondary (places for canon law). This attempt is ever likely to fail, though it came near to his view of success.

His best legacy may be the decision-free Indaba groups by which people from different places might sit down and discuss their very differences. But, with the Covenant dead, the rest will have happened despite him and not because of him. A holy man - a friendly man - was undermined by 'the job' but then he made his choices; he gave a huge amount of effort for very little return, and indeed ethically it created negative returns.

Adrian Worsfold keeps the blogs The Pluralist and Pluralist Speaks

Remember you are dust...

by Donald Schell

This year I’ve heard great stories from San Francisco, Chicago, Brooklyn and elsewhere of little bands of Episcopalians taking Ash Wednesday ashes to the streets. Sunday after Ash Wednesday, visiting at St. Lydia’s Dinner Church, I heard the writer of the blog, Bleak Theology, telling his story of first meeting the congregation a year ago Ash Wednesday and this year joining in imposing ashes at the Union/Pacific Subway Station in Brooklyn.

The Lenten arc that “Remember you are dust” carries all the way to Good Friday. With the joy of ashes and mortality in mind, I’m noticing this Lent how Aikido helps me recover the pleasure of being dust.

Aikido is a 20th century martial art of reconciliation. “Reconciliation” is one translation of the Japanese word ‘AI’ in the art’s name. In practice reconciliation happens neutralizing an attack (a strike, a blow or a grab) and taking the attacker to the ground without harming the attacker.

I was thirty-five when I began regular Aikido practice thirty years ago.

The year before my wife and I had moved to San Francisco from Idaho where I’d stayed fit by running long distances on the “ditch banks” along the irrigation canals. Running was also how I kept sane when parish conflicts heated up. Those evenings I came home carrying frustration on my face and shoulders, my wife would send me out with, “Go for a run and come back human.” She knew I’d run my young priest’s frustrations and impatience.

When we moved to San Francisco, the only packed earth path I could find were a drive away. It had a difficult year until a new friend introduced me to Aikido. My wife remembers me coming home from watching an Aikido practice saying, “I must do this thing. I’m going to earn a black belt.” I believe her, but don’t remember saying that. What I’d seen captivated me, but also frightened me.

Practice partners took turns, one playing the attacker while the other practiced a neutralizing response to a set of repeated attacks, and then they’d switch. The attacker’s falls looked exhilaratingly out of control, especially the forward roll – at its fastest a mid-air rolling flip to a break fall, landing, so it appeared, flat on your back. How many people, I wondered, had broken their necks doing a forward roll. Though I longed to do what I’d seen, at night I dreamt those rolls. Sometimes I rolled directly to flight, safe and carefree like a bird. Sometimes my dreams had me flailing through a three-story free-fall toward a concrete sidewalk.

Much as I wanted to do this thing, it took me some months to find my courage to begin.

In my first days of practice, I met another new student named Mary, a woman in her fifties, eighteen or twenty years older than me. My own fear made me notice Mary’s courage taking on this practice on at such an advanced age (!) . Others who started practice that year fell by the wayside, but Mary and I persisted. Two decades later when our dojo was struggling to recruit enough new members to stay open, Mary and I were still practicing, though we hardly saw one another. I was a morning practice regular and she usually attended in the evening.

Our teacher had moved away and entrusted us black belts to lead collegially as ‘an academy.’ We didn’t work together that well and as teachers we needed the challenge of teachers more advanced than us. We noticed new dojo members joining with less and less frequency. Then there were none. Beginners and some intermediate practitioners drifted away. Leading the morning class several times each week I would find myself alone, doing an hour’s worth of warm-ups and practice falls.

I started visiting another dojo where some friends had practiced. Their teacher was an iconoclastic rock musician. While old dojo had silent practice, this new teacher talked, so it seemed to me, incessantly. But his Aikido was beautiful, clear, effortless, comprehensible and far beyond my imitation. He taught an energetic, spontaneous and flowing Aikido unlike the formalized choreographed Aikido Mary and I had learned.

I felt drawn to the new practice, eager to begin and afraid as I’d been at the beginning. But mornings no one showed up, I’d take advantage of the hour difference in schedule to go train at this new dojo. Finally, after about a year and a half of practicing both places, I made the hard choice, and settled into the new dojo and starting new years of practice that would lead me to re-test for black belt with a seventy-plus year old original student of Aikido’s founder, our teacher’s teacher from Japan. In the context of Aikido feeling like ‘my other religion,’ this black belt re-test felt a little like I was getting re-ordained by St. Peter, a direct apostle of the founder.

I’d been gone from the old dojo for more than a year when it finally closed. That’s when my dojo-colleague Mary appeared at the new dojo. Mary’s courage impressed me again, a slight woman, now approaching eighty joining this fast, vigorous practice. Her courage impressed me, but I was also a bit chagrinned when she, after joining the new dojo more than a year after me, completed successfully re-tested for black belt more than a year ahead of me. By this time, I was in my late 50’s, the age Mary had been when we first started.

In the new dojo, Mary and I were the anchors of morning practice, stalwarts who were there every weekday morning at 7:30 for an hour of falls and throws. Most of our dojo-mates (and some of our teachers) were under 35, and our lead teacher in his mid 40’s.

In the new dojo Mary and I became friends. I was impressed not just at Mary’s determination but at her ease in the new style of Aikido we were learning. I enjoyed watching as she won the respect and admiration of our younger dojo-mates. And in the new dojo I was compelled to admit that I’m a slow physical learner, a long ways from a natural athlete. Habits of posture and effortful forcing of moves still hold me back.

After she earned her black belt, Mary wrote her book – The Gift of Danger: Lessons from Aikido

I’ve given Mary’s book as a gift to friends who will never try Aikido, knowing they’d appreciate the spiritual and psychological depth of her experience and her wisdom of facing into danger, as life does. She also writes engagingly graceful prose. Cleaner and simpler than mine.

I drafted this essay on a Wednesday night, two before a special dojo practice and party to honor Mary’s retiring from practice. Our teacher has invited her to teach a last class and we’ll have a potluck in her honor. I do not expect to follow her into retirement any time soon, but grace of her Lenten departure reminds me that I am dust and returning to dust.

I guess we saw it coming. Over the last year, Mary began stepping through falls, counting on her partner not to put her into a forward roll. Several weeks ago she told me that she’d begun writing stories and added that mornings were her best time to write. And she said she had begun to find Tai Chi more congenial and harmonious for her body. Since that conversation I haven’t seen her in practice. Suddenly I’m the elder on the mat, not the best or the wisest, just the oldest.

For about three weeks, we’ve been missing Mary. Having her gone reminds me of practices over the past couple of years when she was unexpectedly not there. With a practice colleague in her 80’s it’s hard not to wonder and ask, “Is Mary all right? Does anyone know where she is?” I’m looking forward to seeing her again on Friday. And retirement potluck feels right for Lent, reminding us that we’re dust. Finite, aging, mortal.

The poet Wendell Berry concludes his “Mad Farmer’s Manifesto” with the startling, line, “Practice resurrection,” a line that brings Aikido to mind. My morning begins practicing resurrection. How? Not just falling, but also FAILING and in both falling and failing continuing to learn. Turning attack into play. Letting friends pretend to be enemies in order to enact and re-enact a reconciliation of all. Practicing techniques for the thousandth time. Falling and getting up again and again. Each bit hints at resurrection, that the love that made the earth and heavens continues to sustain us. That Jesus keeps drawing to fall into new life.
Unless we remember that we’re dust, there’s no resurrection practice.

Yesterday after Aikido practice I signed up for Medicare. I turn sixty-five in April. I hope that twenty years from now, I’ll still be practicing Aikido every morning. But I’m grateful to watch and learn from Mary’s witness.

If nothing intervenes but the passage of time, no death between now and twenty years from now, somewhere out there, I’ll retire from this practice that I love. My body will say, “enough.” If I’m lucky (blessed?) I’ll still be flexible enough and nimble enough of mind to switch over to Tai Chi.

But how ever it goes, the passage to dust is inevitable, whether it means letting go all at once or a little at a time, what began passing through a divine embrace and breath that gave us life and ends in the divine embrace and darkness where we meet the Mystery.

People who know Japanese have told me that Aikido translates more or less as “a way to reconcile the world” or maybe it’s “spirit/harmony path.” Sometimes as I begin practice with a bow toward a scroll with the three Japanese characters

AI

KI

DO

I say a little prayer of thanks to Jesus, the Way of reconciling love. But sometimes I just give thanks that I’m dust and returning to dust.

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

Fearfully and wonderfully made

by Maria Evans

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. ~Psalm 139:14-16 (NRSV)

Sometimes, I think, "Fearfully and wonderfully made," means "I can't believe it held up this well, all things considered."

Such was the case when my kitchen was gutted for Phase II of The Never Ending Story of My House Remodeling.

"Come here, you gotta see this," my contractor called out to me.

Now remember, as best I know, the original parts of my house were built during the Depression. Most folks could not afford new lumber--so in those pre-building code days, they just sort of framed a house with what they had. In the case of the original occupants of my house, it was "extremely used boards." The original west side of my house was framed with wood scrounged from old pallets. The original east side (which ends at the kitchen--my living room was added in 1995) was framed with boards that looked considerably older than Depression-era, with big notches cut out of them, and nail-holes galore, along with a few old handmade square headed nails sticking out in odd places. They had reinforced the notched out parts by flanking them with smaller boards. Some of the boards looked like they had been exterior boards. Some were splotched with tar.

My first thought was, "How in the world has this house stayed in one piece? It should have blown over in a thunderstorm decades ago." I had been entrusting my life and my safety, night after night, in a house literally framed with scrap wood. But as I examined it, I realized that they had been rather ingenious, all things considered, in how they did the best they could with what they had, at a time in our history when no one could afford anything. It held up well enough until the day came my contractors would re-frame it.

The very physical and experiential process of remodeling my house continues to take on metaphorical aspects. As I stared at that old lumber, I realized I was staring at a process that many of us can speak to at the beginnings of the second half of our lives. Many of us, like my old house, were not framed in ways that would "pass code" now. Too many of us spent our growing up years in some form of dysfunction or family turmoil, and like my kitchen wall, we used wood that shouldn't have been used, or used wood full of holes and notches, and we patched and spliced things together so that, from a distance, it looks like as sturdy a frame as any. Then we covered it up with siding and drywall, and perhaps layer after layer of wallpaper and paint over the years. We begin our relationships with God and with other people using this frame.

Then, at some point, we know in our hearts that this frame cannot go the distance, and to be at that next place in our lives, we turn to the process of mending our insides. The problem is we have to live inside of it while this is going on--we can't just level it and start over. We see things in this process that make us shake our heads in amazement that it should have ended in catastrophe. Almost everyone who takes on remodeling a house makes choices that make it more functional--things like easier to clean floor coverings and more counter top space. Likewise, when we mature as spiritual beings, we tend to choose actions and behaviors that simplify our lives.

As I studied one of the boards, I got to thinking about how the God of Genesis was into leveling things--the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Noah and the Flood immediately came to mind--but then Jesus came along and changed that, by introducing us to a God who will work with us, even when our faults are exposed bare.

Interesting he chose a carpenter for the job, isn't it?


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

Lent is for our sake, not Jesus'

by Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield

The Lent that traditional observers experience today—the Lent of introspection and self-examination, of deprivation and penance—has almost nothing to do with Jesus.
Christians of the 3rd and 4th Century created the liturgical season of Lent by cobbling together the initiates' practice of fasting before their Easter baptism with bits of scripture that included Abraham's journey, Israel's sojourn in the wilderness, stories about Jesus' baptism and temptations for forty days, and predictions of suffering and death in a journey towards Jerusalem. Woven together over several centuries, these became a season in which Christians were encouraged, as we are now, “to make space for God” and prepare for Holy Week and Easter.

But Jesus' own experience of temptation was not ours. The collect for the first Sunday of Lent demonstrates this dissonance:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus' experience of testing in the wilderness followed the baptism by John and the beginning of his ministry. The prayer avoids the challenge of Mark's Gospel wherein Jesus is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. But the desert itself is nowhere near a journey and nowhere near Lent. It is the place out of which John the Baptist comes. It is the place of confrontation with Satan. It is where wild animals and angels exist and perhaps because of all these associations, it will be a place where Jesus prays. From the wilderness, Jesus embarks on a ministry in Galilee for several years well before journeying once to Jerusalem at the end of his life. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus' ministry is of even greater length after baptism, so the terminus of suffering and death in Jerusalem is even further off. Perhaps Jesus' time of testing in the desert is preparation.

In Lent when we talk of growth in virtue as a consequence of resisting temptations, we are not speaking about Jesus but about ourselves. Only Luke speaks about Jesus' advancement in wisdom and even then only in early childhood. Jesus' temptations were a clarification of what it meant to be God's son: to trust God for food and protection and to be obedient rather than self-reliant. In these respects we share dependence on God as children with Jesus: but the gospels' descriptions of Jesus' time in the wilderness depict a relationship with God of a completely different order from ours.

According to Matthew, the devil tempted Jesus on the basis of his abilities: to make bread from stones; to throw himself off the temple and be rescued by angels and to have dominion over all the kingdoms of the world. These are not abilities within our purview. We can extrapolate from them that we might want to solve the problem of world hunger, or that we need to learn to trust God for protection or that we desire to bring the world under the power of God but these are different issues from those that Jesus faced in his temptations. We might aspire to achieve these things: they were within the grasp of Jesus as Son of God only to be set aside in favor of obedience.
Prayer, fasting and acts of penance in Lent are ours not Jesus'. It is on our own sins not those of Jesus that we meditate. And tradition holds that Jesus didn't have any sins to do penance for. It is to us not to Jesus that the words are spoken: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted but modern observers of Lent decide how they're going to be tempted in advance. To say "I'm giving up alcohol for Lent" as someone might say, is to say "I'm going to determine the environment in which I will resist temptation." Facile attempts in Lenten prayers and sermons to connect our struggles with the temptations of Jesus are unhelpful. It is on our own journey of penance in Lent that we embark.

We can however consider –since Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness--involuntary Lent. (I leave aside here all other questions including these: why was Jesus driven by the Spirit into the wilderness? What Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness?)

We know, because they are us, those who might not observe Lent but who engage in self-reflection and self-denial for various reasons and those whose circumstances of life now place them in a season of stringency. Amongst those who do not observe Lent formally are other Christians, many of whom still might practice acts of charity, almsgiving, and taking on other disciplines in Lent. I talked with a member of the Salvation Army in New York City yesterday who confirmed these possibilities.
Those who might now be experiencing an involuntary Lent would include people who are ill and those without jobs or benefits. Going through chemotherapy was for me an involuntary Lent when I was being treated for colon cancer some years ago. What about parishes? One parish we know plans an Outreach Sunday during Lent in which parishioners break into groups and do outreach projects like cooking lunch for homeless, making sandwiches for homeless ministries and working on a construction project in church.

As we observe Lent voluntarily or involuntarily, let's just remember that we aren't doing it to imitate Jesus. Our sins are our own. Our temptations are not Jesus', but our own. Taking time for our prayer life or taking on additional good works is important in Lent but not because it makes us more like Jesus. Even in good company, keeping Lent is for our own sake.

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

Companion Relationships as an Instrument of Unity

by The Rev. Mel Schlachter

PART I THE FIFTH INSTRUMENT
One of the curious parts of the proposed Anglican Covenant, from the Windsor Report to its latest redaction, is the so-called “Instruments of Communion.” It is as if the original Lambeth Commission cast about for the ways that different parts of the Anglican Communion meet up with each other, and then canonized them as some holy hierarchy within our worldwide fellowship. These “Instruments,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the Lambeth Council, and the Primates meetings, should not have to carry the freight that the proponents of Covenant are asking them to bear. In all the editions of the Covenant they would be asked to adjudicate Anglican normalcy, slow down the rate of change among provinces in the Communion, and potentially throw out a province that is not going along with the majority. They are made to be Instruments of Obstruction as well as Communion.
As we might expect, the several drafts rely on “the central role of bishops as guardians and teachers of the faith, as leaders in mission, and as a visible sign of unity, representing the universal Church to the local, the local Church to the universal, and the local Churches to one another.” The laity, priests and deacons only appear in one of those four, the ACC. Numerically, something like 95% of those involved in the stated four Instruments are bishops, with very few women among them. Two of the founding principles of our own province back in the 18th century were that we have a representative form of governance and that we not be bishop-heavy in the decision making process. The proposed covenant process fails for us on both counts.

Nothing against bishops, when our bishop comes back from a House of Bishops meeting or a Lambeth conference, we love to talk with him at great length about what he found out of the big picture. When he comes to a parish visitation we love to hear from him about what other congregations are doing about this, that and the other. But there is a fifth Instrument, one that brings the Church universal very close to home and which has a more representative composition.

When Archbishop Eames and his companions on the Lambeth Commission were looking around for how we get to know and interact with each other around the Communion, how did they overlook the companion relationships between and among dioceses? At last count, our province alone had 92 companion relationships on record with our headquarters in NYC. Those are ones recognized by General Convention. There are likely others which are a function of a given diocese, or a parish-to-parish relationship across provinces, that are not known to headquarters staff. Of the ninety-two, 25 are within (US domestic) provinces two and nine—8 with Haiti (province 2) and 17 in province 9. Fifty-seven are between the USA and churches in Africa, South America, Mexico and Central America; three with the Diocese of Jerusalem; seven with Ireland, Scotland, Canada and Spain; and one with Egypt. And then there are the special relationships, such as those between evangelical leaders and gay leaders alike, and their third world colleagues.

Why weren’t companion relationships identified as Instruments of Communion?

Perhaps they were overlooked because the bishops involved are only part of the relationship; laity and clergy are more often than not the ones who make the companionships happen and keep them richly alive. Of course this unsung Instrument does not lend itself to theological adjudication or voting people out of the fellowship, either. Here we are too busy getting to know and love each other, and enriching each other with the unique gifts brought to the companionship. We may not always understand why our companion diocese behaves in certain ways, but we give them the benefit of the doubt and respect. Such was the case when the American General Convention consented to the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop. Our African companion diocese didn’t get it, but figured we had good reasons for doing what we did.

The Diocese of Iowa has a three-way relationship--with the Dioceses of Brechin (Scotland) and Swaziland (southern Africa). We are grateful to the bishops of these dioceses who met at Lambeth some years ago, came to have affection for each other and their churches, and initiated the relationship. The bishops have changed, but their successors have been faithful in keeping the companionship fresh. However to say that most of the activity among us is carried out by the bishops is nowhere near true. Clergy and laity on all sides come together in growing numbers. Our bishop is gracious and wise enough to appoint as chair of this or that aspect of the companionship people who are already involved in doing the jobs.

So do we have a relationship mediated by our hierarchy? Yes. Do we have a relationship that is non-hierarchical? Why, yes to that as well. The fifth instrument feels more like family. Which brings us to another aspect of covenant making.

PART II COMMUNION AS FAMILY

Forty years ago I had a falling out with one of my aunts, my mother’s only sibling. My wife and I were visiting with her and her husband and got into an unfortunate argument about church and society. The society of course was the one of the Vietnam War years, and the two of us were recent seminary graduates, flush with strong convictions about the church as Jesus’ instrument for social justice. My aunt and uncle were very conservative, even at that time looking for pockets in or out of the Episcopal Church that would feel like a spiritual home. That visit they told us very simply that they thought further contact was a bad idea. Since then they have not initiated any contact with us, and I have done so only a handful of times (to no avail). We did speak with each other briefly at my mother’s funeral. My two sisters, especially one of them, enjoy a much more cordial relationship with our now-widowed aunt.

Is the relationship irreparably cut off? Probably, although with families you never know. Are we still part of the same family? Of course. We not only share DNA, our lives still affect each other at the very least through second-hand contact--which I have with her children and she has with my sisters. Sometimes families may declare one or another member not-family (some cultures have rituals to so declare), but in terms of the emotional process of that family now and in succeeding generations, the move does not work. The family systems people tell us that both the personality traits of that “disfamilied” individual and the effect of the conflict itself will be carried forward on an unconscious level from generation to generation.

The family systems paradigm may be a useful way to think about covenant. While consular and personal relationships in our Anglican Communion may be torn asunder in any number of ways, still there is an absurdity to an assertion that all of us are not still Communion no matter what transpires. A province may be voted out or decide to withdraw, but in real and substantial ways we are still family.

For better and worse, we drew our ecclesiastical DNA from the Church of England. Our thirty-seven provinces have all grown up and left home. Most provinces have their own Book of Common Prayer. Even to call it a BCP, though, testifies to the common heritage. Recognizing local differences in worship and churchmanship, a visitor to another part of the Communion on a Sunday most likely still feels at home. As far as some unfortunate visible effects of our heritage, we are all prone to the same kind of conflicts within and among our member churches that rent the British church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We have not substantially altered the template of our origins.

Our Solemnization of Holy Matrimony service speaks of “the bond and covenant of marriage.” A premarital observation that I give to couples is the Biblical understanding of covenant. First off, in the Bible it is more referred to in the breach than the observance. Israel is regularly spoken of as a covenant breaker and adjured to return. Observance gets so bad that Ezekiel has a vision of God writing the covenant on hearts so that it will become automatic. I believe we have this language in the marriage service because, in fact, every married person will break covenant with his or her spouse. Our hearts wander after other desires even when our behavior is pristine. It is inevitable. Moreover, people change. Wails of “That’s not the person I married.” need to be answered with “Of course.” Covenants are mentioned here because couples so vowed need to have a bond that allows both elasticity and permanence.

Contracts are not covenants. They are brittle. Contracts give each participant the right to expect a certain delivery of goods at a certain time and certain way. Fault is assessed based on what one of the parties failed to come across with. As the family systems people remind us, expectations and love cannot coexist, because love is always a free gift. If the freedom to give in love is overdetermined by expectations, then love is driven out. “Bonds of affection” will only be corroded with a layer of legislation.

The Anglican Covenant in all its redactions might better be called the Anglican Contract. Even though there has been an amelioration of the original Windsor delineation of consequences for failure in observance, which remains the model.
Even love disrupted trumps a contract in our beloved Anglican Communion family. Sometimes we succeed at loving each other, sometimes we do not. Sometimes our Reformation-era DNA leads us to believe there is only one correct belief or practice and those who believe or practice otherwise are betraying the Gospel. For betrayers, of course, no punishment is strong enough. At other times—when we would remake the template--we practice an engaged forbearance, curious about and respectful of the experience or understanding of someone seemingly opposed to ourselves that led them to their position. We don’t jettison our own convictions; however, we are aware that God’s Spirit is likely inclusive of us all in some mysterious way.

PART III CONCLUSION
As the Fifth Instrument, Companion Relationships reinforce our relationships as family around the Communion. We might simply take for granted that we are in covenant with each other even without a word being written, a synod taking a vote or an archbishop making a declaration, a signature being affixed. For better for worse we cannot escape being in covenant with each other across the Communion regardless of present fallings-out or disruptions. Any attempt to claim authority over one of our brother or sister provinces harks back to a colonial relationship of political power methods brought to ecclesia, which we all freed ourselves from once. However well-intentioned, we cannot return to “power over” even should we consent.

Are we ready to trust, to really trust, the power of relationship? Messy as relationships can be, they offer the only hope of genuine love flowing through the veins of our Communion. If one province seriously disagrees with another over anything, let everyone send more laity, clergy and, yes, bishops to the other in order to learn, to understand, and to share in Christ’s ministry happening there. That would be to practice active communion, which should ever be our goal and our method.


A longtime parish priest and pastoral counselor, The Rev. Mel Schlachter is Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Iowa City, IA, and a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors He is an alternate Deputy to General Convention.

Lent along the Chattahoochee River

By Sam Candler

We had a heap of storms last Friday night, and I pray for those who suffered from the tornadoes and from the stiff winds – and just from the plain old fear that this season annually brings upon us. I know some families who were hunkering down in their basements last Friday night. Even for those who escaped misfortune, the experience of tornadoes in their neighborhood is just scary.

However, after the cold front and fierce winds had come through, I knew on Saturday morning what I had to do. I had to get out and walk along the Chattahoochee River. We hadn’t had that much rain in the Atlanta area for a while, and I knew the river would be filled and flowing mightily.

And it was beautiful. The river was a deep clay-red, and foamy, like some kind of chocolate froth that they serve in our local coffee shops. I saw none of the bare rocks out in the river, rocks where the Canadian geese usually laze about. Those rocks were completely covered, creating dips and lifts, eddies and waves, which would have been great fun if I were in a canoe. Huge limbs, and even a tree trunk or two, were careening down river at the same speed as the water; they would not have been fun if I were in a canoe.

I walked my usual routes, watching hawks of all shapes circling over the water. A great blue heron loped its wings upwind. I saw, but didn’t hear, the distinctive pileated woodpecker dashing through the woods. And cardinals. I couldn’t believe how many pairs of cardinals were flirting in the bushes. Despite the cooler morning, it really was close to a Spring day; the birds are coupling up!

The word “Chattahoochee” means “painted river” in the native Muskogean language of this area. The “paint” or “marks” may refer to all the granite outcroppings. But I suggest that there are various ways in which our major river is painted. On Saturday of the First Week of Lent, I saw some furious painting. Obviously, the storms and rain began the fury. But the river itself then seemed to consist of paint, that lovely Georgia clay type of paint that sticks to your shoes and jeans. The high river was painting the banks again, leaving traces of trash, of course, but also leaving traces of nourishment and reinvigoration. The birds were enjoying that reinvigoration.

Sometimes our Lenten journeys are furious; they are forced upon us by winds beyond our control: loss or betrayal or pain. Sometimes we take on disciplines, like fasting or abstaining from alcohol or certain foods, and they produce furious conflict in us. But they also take out the trash.

Every one of our Lenten journeys begins with paint; we paint our foreheads with the ashes that remind us we are dust. And to dust we shall return. Maybe Lent along the Chattahoochee River doesn’t use ashes, but uses Georgia red clay instead. “Remember that you are clay and to clay you shall return.” And if you do anything interesting at all in Georgia, anything that is truly down-to-earth, you are going to have clay all over you.

If my Lenten journey is as faithful as my walk along the Chattahoochee River after a major storm, then I will see some trash, but I will also see some new life. I will see some furious waves, but I will also see birds pairing up for Spring. I will get dirty, painted with red clay, but I will also be nourished by that same dirt. My soul will grow.

Storms always hit the Southeast during Lent. They are scary and wild, sort of like a forty-day wilderness experience. But they also cause new water to flow. That water paints us with old clay and new soul.


The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Showing up

by Maria L. Evans

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

--Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent, Book of Common Prayer, p. 218

Recently the Barna Group released some rather striking data on "What people get (or more accurately, don't get) out of worship." They surveyed church attendees (it was not clear in the web overview of this how this got broken down exactly, just that they "had attended church in the past") and perhaps the most distressing part of the data was that only 26% of those polled felt that their lives had been changed or affected “greatly” by attending church. Additionally, 46% of them stated that their lives had not changed at all as a result of their churchgoing. Even more distressing was that even among those who attended church in the prior week, half admitted they could not recall a significant insight they had gained.

One could postulate that some of the folks that are "astray" are sitting right in the pews. We talk a lot about mission and evangelism, but as with all dysfunctional families there might be a need to look to ourselves a little bit.

On the other hand, some more heartening info from the study showed that 68% of them felt that attending church made them “part of a group of people who are united in their beliefs and who take care of each other in practical ways.” Sixty-six percent said that feel they have had “a real and personal connection” with God while attending church, although the data does show this to be a sporadic occurrence and rather infrequent.

When I ponder this data, what comes to mind for me is how I've seen many people over the years in churches that have experienced a difficulty in the shared life of the congregation and are not particularly happy, but hang in there and stick it out. Another phenomenon that comes to mind is when something comes along to really rattle one's faith in God that has nothing to do with the congregation per se, but stay in the hopes that this somehow rights itself. They are occupying a pew, they may even be participating in the work and worship of the congregation, but it is, in so many ways, going through the motions.

In my own shared life in our parish, I have thought many times in the past about people I know that are going through some form of loss, yet seem unapproachable, or the people I don't always see eye to eye with, but find myself respecting their hanging in there and sharing the Sacraments with me. I've thought about the people over the years who rearrange themselves in line to avoid getting bread and wine from certain clergy or certain Eucharistic ministers, or the people who moved around a certain way at the Peace to minimize the chances they'd have to share it with certain people. On rare occasions, the person being avoided was me.

What I've come to recognize, in looking at this data, that what at first seemed depressing might only reflect that as much as we want our Sunday services to be the epitome of shiny and happy, perhaps it's not such a terrible thing that they reflect the dry and mundane in our lives. I remember a time in my own life when my faith had been shaken so deeply to the core, to be able to say "I attended church on those Sundays and nothing insightful or revelatory came from it," was, really, a victory--because I hadn't run. I hadn't left. I showed up and went through the motions, and over time, slowly, imperceptibly, something began changing. Eventually it did, and I began to have the occasional episode of insightful joy again.

But when I think back, and I think about the earliest that it could be viewed in retrospect, and people close to me knew more of the story, I could not really claim any bravery or gumption when those close to me thanked me for "sticking it out." I remember looking at one of them and saying, "I wasn't brave at all--I just had nowhere else to go."

This collect is a reminder that there are so many times, so many people, and so many situations that we are powerless to "bring someone" to a place that one can embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of the Good News in Christ. This is business between God and that person. We neglect to remember, however, that each of us in the gathered body on Sunday is the base material for sacramental transformation--even if we provide the means for another to simply be in place, because they have nowhere else to go.


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

When we encourage Bible reading

By George Clifford

The volume and variety of responses to my last Daily Episcopalian post, Encourage People to Read the Bible? Maybe not, suggest that I wrote about a vital and controversial issue. An essential follow on question is: How should Christians read the Bible? The answer to that deceptively simple question may help to identify differences between the norm and how Christians actually read, or recommend reading, the Bible.

For at least a century, The Episcopal Church (like most other Churches) has insisted that its seminarians learn the historical-critical method for reading and understanding the Bible. An implicit, if not explicit, premise of seminary biblical studies and other courses is that the historical-critical method is the preferred, if not the recommended or even the normative, approach to reading the Christian scriptures.

Yet, after graduating from seminary, many clergy default (revert?) to other ways of reading and interpreting scripture. Exegesis employing the historical-critical method is time-consuming hard work for which many parish clergy feel both under-prepared and unsure of its necessity or utility. Historical-critical exegesis can also challenge some long held and popularly cherished interpretations, e.g., the story of Jesus feeding the multitude reflects post-resurrection theology rather than factual history. Consequently, clergy tend to use scripture in daily morning and evening prayer (whether privately or as a public service), formation programs for children and youth, and adult studies in a manner that presumes that readers/hearers will understand the text’s meaning with little or no effort.

Presuming that casually reading (i.e., the devotional reading of texts not complemented by historical-critical study) scripture can be uplifting and formative but that preaching requires solid exegesis entails an oxymoronic dichotomy. On the one hand, scripture’s meaning is apparent and easily grasped when encountered in the context of a prayer office (apart from preaching). On the other hand, scripture’s meaning requires solid exegesis – even from a text that is part of the daily office lectionary – when expounded in preaching. A cynic might characterize this apparent inconsistency as clerical hypocrisy indicative of a lack of integrity or as clerical hubris indicative of believing laypeople lack the ability or faith commitment to master and use the historical-critical method.

My ruminations repeatedly prompted reflections on how other “people of the Book” (a Muslim phrase that includes Jews, Christians, and Muslims) read their scriptures. Unlike some people who attempt to straddle religious traditions, I’m very clear about my identity as a Christian. I’m a committed Christian, not a Jew or Muslim. On the other hand, unlike some Christians who think that we can learn nothing from other religions and non-Christians, I’ve often found that examining my beliefs and practices from multiple perspectives brings clarity and fresh insights.

Islam is riven by a sharp divide over how to read the Koran. Most Muslims today, as has been normative for centuries, read and interpret the Koran in the context of its history of interpretation. Various schools of jurisprudence (a term that reflects Islamic emphasis on the Koran, God's recitation to Mohammed, containing God's commands for people) provide the continuing conversations that help Muslims rightly understand what God's timeless words mean in the present.

In sharp contrast to that approach, Salafists believe that only the Koran and Hadith (the compilation of Mohammed’s words and actions not included in the Koran) are useful in understanding how people today should obediently submit to God. Salafist schools often teach only the Koran; well-meaning but ignorant instructors sometimes teach highly individualized interpretations as definitive. Unsurprisingly, these groups interpret Islam in ways that occasionally diverge radically from mainstream Islam.

For example, the Koran teaches that men and women should dress modestly. The Koran also instructs women to cover themselves with an outer garment when they leave their house. However, neither passage directs a woman to cover herself completely. Radical Islamists often require that women cover themselves completely based on Mohammed instructing his wives to hide behind a curtain. In keeping with longstanding Islamic tradition and jurisprudence, most Muslims believe that this latter guidance applied only to the Prophet’s wives, not to all women.

About 85% of Muslims are Sunnis, who have no authoritative clergy. Denying the value of centuries of Islamic juridical scholarship has multiplied individual interpretations and had the unanticipated result of producing extremist movements that include al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Turning back to Christianity, I find the analogues strikingly clear and horrifying. A few terrorist groups self-identify with Christianity, e.g., Operation Rescue, which targets abortion providers and bombs abortion clinics. These allegedly Christian groups, like their Muslim counterparts, justify their crimes with idiosyncratic readings of scripture. Mercifully, scripture study leads blessedly few Christians to become violent terrorists.

However, appallingly large numbers of self-identified Christians inflict terrible emotional and spiritual damage on others because they, like Muslim Salafists, reject their religion’s mainstream normative approach to reading and interpreting scripture in favor of individual interpretation guided by the Holy Spirit. These Christians include those who argue that women should be subordinate to men, all homosexual behaviors are sinful, effective child discipline requires generous and frequent doses of corporal punishment, and caring for the environment is unimportant.

No analogy is perfect. Christianity has had a dynamic, evolving approach to interpreting its scripture. Thankfully, the Church no longer regards allegory as a key interpretative principle. Yet from the second century forward, allegory figured prominently in reading and interpreting all of scripture. Similarly, after bruising controversies (e.g., with Galileo), the Church began to move away from a literal reading of the text toward a more complex reading informed by multiple disciplines (history, linguistics, psychology, science, philosophy, and so forth), tradition (i.e., a continuing conversation among God's people), and reason (to include experience).

I’m not arguing that scripture and its interpretation are properly the exclusive prerogative of the clergy. In any case, widespread literacy and access to the Bible and other materials prevent that from happening again. Nor do I want to adopt something akin to the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching magisterium.

I am arguing that Christians rightly use the historical-critical method to read and interpret scripture. Engaging in that endeavor requires effort and education; it also entails dialogue with the Christian community, directly (e.g., conversation) and indirectly (e.g., reading commentaries). I wonder what the Church might look like today if substantive biblical study that used the historical-critical method replaced the pabulum that widely passes for religious education. Every parish could, indeed should, regularly offer substantive, Bible study for all ages that teaches and uses the historical-critical method, empowering people to read and seek to understand scripture.

Judaism teaches that God gave the scriptures, particularly the Torah, to Israel. The scripture does not belong to an individual but to Jews collectively. Interpretation, therefore, belongs to the community rather than to individuals. Rabbis are not priests but Jews who have received an education in Torah, devoted themselves to the study of Torah, and to whom the Jewish community grants authority to teach because of that education and devotion. Judaism reads and interprets its scriptures through an ongoing dialogue between living rabbis conversing with scripture, dialogue with the rabbinical tradition of interpretation, and one another. This communal interpretive process explicitly recognizes that Jews today read the scriptures within a very different context than the one in which Israel received its scriptures from God.

Episcopalians, thanks be to God, are not Baptists or Pentecostals. Unlike many in both of those traditions, we believe in the importance of an educated clergy. We don’t ordain the uneducated, naively trusting God to guide them when they teach and preach. It’s time that we also believed in an educated laity. Only then will we honor both their calling as God's ministers and the Christian heritage of reading scripture informed by multiple disciplines, tradition, and reason.

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.

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