by Lawson Wulsin

Three years ago, after being served communion once again by my brother, the priest of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and reciting the Nicene Creed with my usual questions about what I really believe, I came home and wrote a creed I could believe. Last month, while talking to our atheist son about his marriage in a Catholic church, I reread my “Credo,” and shared it with him. Though it does not make me a Christian, this “Credo” has clarified what I do believe. And it has helped me understand why it’s still okay to recite the words of the Nicene Creed with those who, like my brother, believe it more literally than I do. For any believers with doubts, I recommend the exercise.

I believe

That before the Word there was no God,

And the beginning of God was the Word,

And with the Word came the new reach,

The reach first of one imagination to another,

Then of two imaginations to the same beyond.

I believe

That once one Australopithican,

Bewildered on an empty day

High on the rim of the Rift Valley,

Found another Australopithican,

Both ripe for a word,

And the insemination began with the insistent Who?

And later the When?

And the Why?

Again and again and again,

Asking against the thunderstrikes

And the ways of nature’s game

And the ecstasies of wonderchildren

And all that dashed and dazzled them.

I believe that Man made God in his image,

And, as Man makes the child,

Made God the Maker of Man.

This was the procreation of God to save Man.

For we are so wired that alone we die

But together we scratch out our fighting chances.

And once we knew this about ourselves,

That mythmaking could save the tribe,

That sharing a God could bind us through blight and catastrophe,

That loyalty to a common God allowed us

To endure the fickleness of our own flesh and kin—

Once we knew this about ourselves,

The race was on.

Among the toolmakers it was the mythmakers who survived.

So now no tribe survives without its gods,

And now wherever two gather to beat bad odds,

God may show up too,

Through Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, who knows—

Often appearing to the bewildered to save the day,

Which is good for faith, hope, and love,

And may be why we hold our gods so dear,

So worth dying for.

Through the Word we find God,

And through God we find Love,

And through Love we find each other—

Which only proves the truth of our folly when we say

That God finished making our world on Saturday.

Lawson Wulsin lives in Cincinnati, Ohio

The changing face of stability

by Torey Lightcap

Having read what I think is all I could find on the round of conversations from the late spring called "Where have all the rectors gone?" – and finding it both scary and enlivening – I think I’ve spotted something no one has yet said, and I’d like to simply put a finger on it so we can all see it for what it is, or at least for what I think it is.

It’s just this: I believe that in the overall experience of most people bothering to call themselves Episcopalians, a Rector/Vicar represents the idea of stability in a congregation.

Over time, of course, and in actual practice, there are things that can be a lot more stable than a priest. Matriarchs and patriarchs help carry the enterprise of church on their shoulders whole generations at a time. Longstanding groups or ministry programs like shelters, food pantries, or choirs say more about serving Christ over 20 years than any 20-minute sermon. Buildings hold place year after year after year and may even often host a place where (I’m laughing at this) the latest priest’s photo can join in a line of history marching back to the days when a community was settled. (In a sense, as if to threaten or cajole or at least remind, there’s always more room on the wall if things don’t go well or if we somehow can’t stop time.) There are certainly elements of a congregation that say “We are here, and we are here to stay” in a way that’s real.

The Rector or Vicar, though, by his or her very presence, is an an extension and an embodiment of that need we all have for stability. He or she meets the emotional requirement to see the institution locally manifested in a person to which we can publicly point and say, “That cat right there – the one in the collar – that’s the Rector,” or “that’s the Vicar.” Whatever other opinions we may possess about these persons or the quality or content of their work, a fact is indisputable.

Very subtly, then, in the aggregate, and taken apart from any other implications for the moment, the question “Where have all the Rectors gone?” has an implied tone – or at least it does in my ear. Its tone is that of a lamenting, plaintive, and unanswerable urgency. It says, “What’s to become of us?” or at the very least “Look at this leak we’ve sprung.”

I hope you don’t read that as some sort of hyper-clericalism. It isn’t written in that spirit. In fact, if anything, it’s the opposite.

About a year ago I went down to City Hall for the weekly press conference where our church’s community garden was to receive a grant that would pay for a wonderful new sign. I asked one of the chief animators of that ministry to come with me, and I told her in no uncertain terms that I was tired of speaking out in public for all our church’s causes – that when it came time for a representative of St. Thomas Episcopal Church to say something, I wanted it to be her, not me, doing all the talking.

At the appointed time that’s precisely what happened. Our church’s name was called and I stayed where I was, out of camera range, and Becky, the person I’d asked to speak, did so. My clerical shirt and collar were seen briefly on the evening’s news.

It was marvelous! Empowering on all sides! She did an incredible job and I didn’t clutter up the shot. I’d never felt so good. And I began to realize that if I could make myself – well, not disappear so much as fade out a little in this way, it might be that perhaps the representation of stability could be massively diffused from one dude in a collar (who could go back to working a little harder at preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments) to a whole rank of leaders prepared to step forward and be the public face of our congregation.

This is my strategy now. It’s slowly happening. I couldn’t be happier.

In the end, that’s how it really should be. A priest is always a limited quantity whose tenure is bound by innumerable, complicated factors. Permanence, of course, is an illusion; stability is closer to reality. The vision of stability and of moving forward into the future should be shouldered by the people who will actually do it, and who frankly are probably more relatable. The dynamism and charm of the clergy will always be immaterial as it always has been, perhaps moreso now that we live in the age of the disappearing rector. But who cares. I believe God’s concern is for our adaptability in carrying forth the banner of Jesus far more than our priestcraft, valuable as that has been to our sacramental existence.

We recently had that amazing eucharistic collect cycle through in which we pray that “we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” That’s an ancient Latin oration found on the lips of many a priest, bishop, and deacon over the centuries. For those praying Morning Prayer, it’s also an appeal on the lips of everyone else. Perhaps we’d benefit from standing back from our current emotional needs long to enough to ask ourselves just how it is we could “lose not the things eternal” in the age of the disappearing Rector.

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

Why church?

by Kathleen Staudt

A recent NPR story about Americans’ widespread claim that they believe in God but not “institutional religion” has left me feeling impatient (read it here) and I’m trying to tease out why. Part of it is that this is just more of the same discussion that we’re having within the church about what needs to change to attract the next generation -- too often I think it goes to “how do we get more people to come to church?” i.e. it remains about institutional survival. Further, I’m starting to think that when we listen to those who are offering critiques of the church from the “spiritual but not religious” perspective, we are listening to at least two different streams of thought -- both important, but worth distinguishing because they’re different audiences for our witness, if we decide that witnessing to the gospel is ultimately going to be what we’re about. On the one hand, there are those who have left the churches they grew up in or attended for many years because they are disillusioned by the controversies, the fighting, the focus on institutional politics rather than on God. Those are the people who say, rightly, that they are not hearing in church the transformative gospel that Jesus proclaimed, the Gospel that calls us to change and grow for the sake of a broken world. They can say that because at one time or another they did hear that gospel, probably in church -- but they now see churches that seem to have lost their way.

On the other hand, there are the Seekers and the unchurched, people who were not raised in any religion and who are curious about what Christianity is all about. Some of these folks wander into churches and encounter the gospel in something they hear, or in the experience of worship -- but many others I’ve talked to have been just puzzled: they have basic questions about why we do what we do, why we use the words that we do, and often no place to take those questions. I’m wondering how many of us have a good answer, if someone who is disillusioned, or unchurched or puzzled by religion asks us: “What’s the point? Why Church at all? (I should note that a young person, Jacob Nez, has already opened this discussion on the Café with his “Why are Youth in Church” - read it here: so that gives me courage to pose the question positively for all of us).

Why do I keep going to church?
What is it, for me, that makes the desire to worship so strong that it doesn’t matter whether services are sometimes boring or people in churches are fighting? I wonder if this is the place to start, rather than looking at marketing strategies or polling or tweaking of our Sunday practices: What is our testimony, those of us who do keep showing up, week after week, for worship? Why church at all? I’m asking that of myself

In an interview reported by Barbara Bradley Haggerty, a churchgoer says that the church “puts skin on God.” “Putting skin on God” - I like that. It expresses what I hope is true: that it is possible for human beings to draw near to be touched by, a mystery that is beyond our full comprehension and in our gathering to lend a human face, a story to that Mystery that we experience as also reaching out to us. That’s the main reason I go to church, I think, even in a culture where it seems fewer & fewer people do so. I want to spend some time each week around people who have glimpsed the same hope, and who express that hope by gathering together, in words, song, bodily movement. Even when it’s inconvenient or I don’t feel like it, even when some of the people irritate me, showing up regularly in this way does me good. I would even say that over the years it has been a transformative practice for me.

The stories we tell, the words we use, the prayers we say in church, if I listen to the words, proclaim that there is something greater than me or even than “us”, the particular people gathered on a given Sunday. When we gather for worship, we are putting ourselves in the presence of something bigger than all of us, and yet people down through the ages have written prayers and hymns to try to touch this experience. I’m a word-person, so in any given week I always listen for words that may speak to me. Often nothing speaks; sometimes what I hear offends me or puts me off -- but I remember that these are words that have spoken to others, that are speaking to people who are at worship with me now. And they are speaking of something that is ultimately beyond our words. And there is something powerful about our gathering to listen to these words together, even as we may hear different things on any given Sunday.

For me the practice of going to church is a way of saying, to myself, to God, to the world, “I want to be part of the Better Thing that is still happening, even beneath and within the brokenness of the world around us. And I know that in order for this to happen, I need to keep growing and changing.” The Biblical images of leaven in the world, a lamp shining in the darkness, a treasure hidden in a field, all speak to this intuition. The teachings of Jesus and St. Paul call us to be transformed into people who will be a blessing to the world. It’s the churches that have to hold up that vision. That many churches don’t is not a sign of the demise of Christianity, though it may be the sign of the need to shake off some ways of “doing church” that have become entrenched and dysfunctional.

It is also true that a little time spent in governance and leadership in church be very discouraging. And it is a tough time in history to be someone whose livelihood depends on the church as it is currently structured, so it is no wonder that many clergy are disillusioned and angry, though many others are rising to the challenges. We can get so anxious about institutional survival and so embroiled in our own power struggles that we wind up wounding each other and losing track of what we’re doing here. I do understand why so many people leave the church and decide they can live the teaching of Jesus better outside it, undistracted by the human ugliness that is so particularly distressing in many church “families.” And yet for those of us who stay, the hard work of listening to one another, holding one another accountable and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation is part of what helps us grow in faith. Life in community, with all its messiness, is part of the answer to “Why Church?”

Why this Church?
In the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, our Sunday worship is centered on the celebration of Eucharist or “Holy Communion” and that celebration speaks, for me, beyond the limitations of words. It invites each one of us, whoever we are, whatever we look like, however we are feeling today, to come forward and join with everyone else present, and be fed so that we may be energized to bring blessing to the world. The experience of receiving communion with a community of people not necessarily at all “like me” or in the same place in faith, life or culture also raises the possibility of a God who is bigger than any one person’s preferences or beliefs. I sometimes experience that mystery, as an overflowing sense of love and presence, when I receive communion. Sometimes.

Even more, the Episcopal/Anglican tradition appeals to me because we have always paid a lot of attention to the mystery of the Incarnation, which to me is the most exciting idea that Christianity brings to the table, in the conversation among world religions. (I appreciated Bill Carroll’s post about this on a recent Episcopal Café here.). Frederica Harris Thompsett has called us the “church of Christmas Eve,” and it is perhaps not an accident that even people who do not have a church tradition may be drawn to a Christmas Eve service in an Episcopal Church, or a service of 9 Lessons and Carols during the Christmas season. We celebrate, not just at Christmas but always, the joyful mystery of a God who becomes human, shares our suffering and our joy, and understands our humanity, and calls us constantly to renewed and transformed lives as companions and friends of God. Other Christian denominations also preach this of course -- it is the heart of Christian faith. But the Anglican focus on the mystery of the Word made flesh keeps us always rooted in this world, seeking transformation rather than escape, and holds out the hope for the presence and participation in our lives of a God who knows our brokenness and offers Resurrection. And who never gives up on us.

All of this, I know, is holding up an ideal that is far from the reality. But my point is that in addition to looking at what is driving people away from church, it might still be useful to ask those who are still in church, “What is it that sustains you about the regular spiritual practice of church-going, at a time when so many people seem to be leaving or disaffected?” How do you answer the question “Why church?”

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph. 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.

Praying with snakes

by Maria L. Evans

In my mind, Mack’s situation was different from that of a starving child or a civilian wounded in war. He was a competent adult who decided to stand by what he understood to be the word of God, no matter the consequences. And so I’ve started to come to peace with the fact that everyone in the crowded trailer, including myself, let Mack die as a man true to his faith.
--Lauren Pond, from the May 31 Washington Post article, "Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith"

This story still haunts me--not so much from the story, per se (I have no intention to handle vipers, personally) but because this is how the popular media views "faith."

Randy "Mack" Wolford was one of a small group of people whose ministry takes the words in Mark 16:17-18 literally:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Yet, I could not help but think of what Jesus said in Matthew 4:2-12, based on Deuteronomy 6:16: "Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

It's disturbing that for the writers of secular news, "faith" is too often defined as "doing things that reek of magical thinking, including some pretty crazy things." Faith is seen as handling snakes, or thinking the world is coming to an end on a particular date, or eschewing evolution for a literal seven day creation. Now, these are the more severe cases. But even with the smaller stuff, it's clear that magical thinking is equated with Christianity in the secular press.

However, before we get too high and mighty about Mack Wolford's untimely and tragic death, the truth is, we're all guilty of some degree of magical thinking somewhere now and then. Fact is, any time we are praying for a particular outcome, we are, albeit in a usually very minor way, putting God to the test. We pray for our loved ones to change their behavior, or for something to be reconciled with an "and everyone lived happily ever after," ending. We pray for uncertain medical diagnoses to turn out benign over malignant, or perhaps we pray for malignancies to be Stage I when we fear Stage IV. We pray for rain and for the cessation of rain. We pray for safe travel for our particular loved one but don't think ten nanoseconds about every other person on the road in that prayer.

Oh, I think at the time, we're just being earnest. From another angle, though, it's pretty clear we, at times, assign outcomes to our prayers and pray for the things to happen in a certain way so that our petitions are fulfilled by our specifications.

Show of hands--how many of us have prayed for a specific outcome, and the exact opposite thing happened?

Yeah, me too.

Truth is, too often we've played God in our prayer life, and too often, the results reminded us we're not God. If we're not open to the awareness of the futility of praying for things to meet our specifications, it can breed feelings of skepticism and disbelief, as well as resentments towards God about the outcome. God's neither the celestial suggestion box, nor a supernatural catalog order form.

That said, it's not cause to chastise ourselves, either, when we come to that realization that we've been blurring the lines between our wills and that nebulous thing called God's will.

The other truth in this complex thing called prayer is that it's only human to express our desires to God. Sometimes, prayer is the only means by which we ever get around to revealing the deepest core of those desires to ourselves. It's why one of my particular favorites among the collects available following the prayers of the people is this one:

Almighty and eternal God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth: Mercifully accept the prayers of your people, and strengthen us to do your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer p. 394)/blockquote>
That collect doesn't say, "Do all the things we just asked." It simply asks for God to receive our prayers, and to strengthen us to do God's will. It asks for God to hear us, and for us to hear God. It changes the focus to the relationship rather than the outcome.

What changes in us when we stop handling the deadly snake of praying for a particular outcome and instead invest in the act of prayer being the purpose of prayer? Will we discover that we get "bitten" by the outcomes of our life situations less frequently?

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

Is the Anglican Communion a Gift from God?

by Elizabeth Kaeton

“The communion is a gift from God. It is a treasure. We cannot divide it. We should treasure it even though we may have our differences.”

So said the Rt. Rev. Daniel Sarfo, bishop of the diocese of Kumasi in Ghana, after the third Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, recently hosted by the Anglican Church of Canada at a Jesuit retreat center near Toronto.

I'm seeing this phrase "gift of/from God" more and more frequently applied to the Anglican Communion. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong, I treasure the Anglican Communion. It is a very precious gift. I love the depth and breath of our diversity. Although not well practiced of late, I love the "Big Tent" of the Anglican ideals of Tolerance and Accommodation. And yes, I can sing "all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above" with the rest of the congregation and not have to cross my fingers, but's what is disconcerting about it for me.

I would imagine that many Roman Catholics feel that their denomination is a gift from God. So, too, the Orthodox. I've heard Jews speak this way of Torah, and Muslims speak of Koran as a divine gift. Certainly, Christians - including Episcopalians - speak of the divinely inspired gift of scripture, but I've not heard any other denomination speak of their religion as a "gift of God". Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily, as long as we admit that ours is not the only gift. God is certainly a God of abundance, entirely capable of bestowing many gifts to many groups of people.

I must say that I cringe when I hear some refer to America as a "Christian nation" . While our country may have been founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the assertion that we are a Christian nation is not only untrue, it smacks of Christian triumphalism, which is disquieting to my soul precisely because triumphalism is so antithetical to true Christianity.

I also admit to growing more and more uncomfortable with the theistic idea of a God who is in control of everything. I remember seeing pictures of the after effects of a fire in California. There was one house standing amidst the rubble of other houses that had burned to the ground. The home owner had put a sign outside the house which read, "Thank you, God." I thought to myself, "I wonder how the other home owners feel about that sign. Was this really an "act of God" or just the random pattern of the wind? Was it a manifestation of Divine intervention or a cruel trick of nature?"

What does it mean when bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to bad people? Is God always involved or does stuff happen sometimes that defies human knowledge and comprehension and logic?

I remember a January 2009 Oprah program when guest, Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints, Pasadena, said, "Being gay is a gift from God." The audience exploded in gasps followed by a smattering of enthusiastic applause which grew louder and more sustained. Oprah was clearly startled and laughed as she said, "I ain't never heard no reverend say THAT before."

If we say that "human sexuality is a divine gift", then does it not follow that all expressions of sexual orientation are God's gift - even if some might think it a curse? Does the fact that some do not value a particular sexual orientation diminish the value - or the divine origination - of that gift?

What are we saying - what does it mean, exactly- when we say that the Anglican Communion is a "gift of God"? Especially when Bishop Sarfo adds, "We cannot divide it. We should treasure it even though we may have our differences.”

I note that the Anglican Province of West Africa, of which the Diocese of Kumasi, Ghana, is a part, has not yet weighed in on the Anglican Covenant. However, the Primate of West Africa - at least until September - is Bishop Justice Akrofi, a decidedly "orthodox" Anglican who is a member of the GAFCON primate's council and was appointed alternate representative from Africa to the Primates Standing Committee before resigning in protest last year.

Which leads me to raise a left eyebrow in suspicion about Bishop Sarfo's comment - especially appearing, as it does, in the Anglican Journal. Does he mean that the Anglican Covenant would be an "instrument of unity"? Is he signaling his support of the Anglican Covenant? Is it a political sign, designed to send a message about what kind of Primate he would be, if elected?

I agree with the bishop that the Anglican Communion should be treasured and not divided, but I happen to see the Anglican Covenant running contrary to that goal - perhaps in the same way that those who support the Anglican Covenant do not necessarily consider that "being gay is a gift from God".

I expect that, as we move closer to the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, we shall see this language about the Anglican Communion being a "gift of God" resurface again and again. I also expect to see it as an overture or a prelude to an attempt to try and re-kindle support for the Anglican Covenant.

I happen to think the Anglican Communion is a gift - divinely inspired. I pray we will always use it - and all good gifts around us - as God intended. We cannot divide it. We should treasure it, even though we may have our differences - like good Christians who are Anglican.

The Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton is an Episcopal priest who loves Jesus unconditionally and struggles with the institutional church continually. She is currently a member of and assists at All Saints Rehoboth Beach and St George's Chapel, Harbeson, DE and has a private pastoral counseling and consulting practice. She blogs at Telling Secrets.

What is healthy about The Episcopal Church?

by George Clifford

A recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed column by Episcopalian Jay Akasie asked, What ails Episcopalians? Akasie’s column, along with several others including some posted on the Daily Episcopalian among which are a couple that I’ve written, highlights The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) declining membership and other challenges the denomination faces.

The time has come to change focus. Instead of emphasizing problems, TEC and its members can profitably begin to ask, What is healthy about The Episcopal Church?

Appreciative Inquiry, an organizational development strategy utilized by some businesses and congregations, shifts attention from problems and problem solving to telling stories about what the organization does right and how it benefits people. Out of the storytelling, an awareness of the organization’s strengths and a positive vision for the future emerge from the process, sparking growth and new achievements. Similarly, Norman Vincent Peale’s emphasis on the power of positive thinking and Robert Schuller’s possibility thinking proved effective catalysts for transforming thousands of individual lives.

On the one hand, I’m not advocating that TEC attempt to implement Appreciative Inquiry across the denomination. No single tool fits every task. TEC has too many components in too many disparate places, each with its own identity, story, and energy for any single method to prove a panacea. Positive and possibility thinking, while powerful in helping some people live more abundantly, also have limited applicability and arguably overlook important aspects of Christian theology.

However, I am suggesting, using an old metaphor, that honey attracts more flies than does vinegar. Reports of declining numbers, financial struggles, and other problems will draw few visitors and prove decisive in incorporating few of them into the life of TEC or one of its congregations. Emphasizing negatives tend to promote a negative ethos more likely to accelerate rather than reverse decline. Problems and challenges may constitute appropriate agenda items for particular meetings and internal communiques but external communications will more beneficially accentuate the positive.

What is healthy about TEC? What does TEC offer people?

The questions about what is healthy in TEC and what TEC offers people are important for more than organizational health. About half of all TEC members come from other Christian denominations. These people, of whom I am one, found something in TEC that first beckoned and then proved sufficiently fulfilling to make changing denominations worthwhile. Far fewer people join TEC from the ranks of non-Christian religions, atheism, agnosticism, or the spiritual but not religious. Even more than dissatisfied members of other Christian denominations, the unaffiliated and never affiliated can potentially benefit from what TEC offers.

So, what is healthy about TEC? What does TEC offer people?

First, TEC combines theological openness with healthy liturgical and spiritual praxis. We Episcopalians are a people united by common prayer rather than common theology. We know that God is irreducible to human language and regard the Bible, the sacraments, and other religious acts as windows through which people can perceive God's light. Not insisting on doctrinal uniformity – indeed, intentionally being a “big tent” that welcomes diverse theological expressions – is attractive to many in this highly individualistic era. Furthermore, our liturgical and spiritual praxis affords historical continuity, affirms God’s mysterious life giving and loving presence, while allowing creative expression.

Second, TEC – in its dioceses and the vast preponderance of its 6700 plus congregations – seeks to be an inclusive community that practices radical hospitality. At our best, we truly welcome everyone. We commit to journeying together while treasuring individual identities and freedom, as was evident in last month’s debates at General Convention over whether to endorse open communion. Speakers and votes expressed the importance of Holy Baptism as the rite of initiation into the Church. No organization survives, much less thrives, without clarity about the scope and terms of membership. Speakers and votes also valued the pastoral fidelity to Jesus of not turning away the unbaptized who seek to receive, e.g., a homeless person or a young child. The altar rail is a place of grace and not a place of inquisition. Every rule has exceptions. Instead of eliminating the rules or trying to codify acceptable exceptions (both common secular solutions to this type of problem), TEC decided to trust those who distribute communion and those who lead congregations to do so in a manner that honors our traditions, builds genuine hospitality, and best communicates God's gracious love.

Third, TEC’s incarnational ministries invite and encourage people to walk the Jesus path by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. TEC rejects equating superficial evangelism, politics, institutional maintenance, or personal prosperity/success with the gospel. My experience of TEC is that of committed people – thousands and thousands of laity and clergy –engaged in trying to build a more just society, becoming a loving community, and developing genuine spirituality.

This list is far from exhaustive. You may highlight different indicators of TEC’s health. You may cherish other aspects of TEC. Your description of what TEC offers people may differ substantially from mine. But for this time, this season of TEC’s life, let’s start talking, perhaps even shouting, about all of the things that are healthy and right about being Episcopalians. God has brought us together that we may journey together and serve together in mission. Thanks be to God, God is not yet done with The Episcopal Church.

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 .

Miscibility and spiritual transformation

by Maria L. Evans

"[God] stays far away from us, because if He approached He would cause us to disappear. he waits for us to go to him and disappear."--Simone Weil, from The Things of the World

In what seems like another life, I was a junior high science teacher. One of my favorite demonstrations to illustrate the miscibility of substances was to take 50 milliliters of water and 50 milliliters of absolute ethanol and place them next to a larger graduated cylinder.

"Ok, gang, I have 50 ml of water over here and 50 ml of ethanol over here. When I pour these into this graduated cylinder, how much will be in it?"

Of course, I would get the "DUH" look and eye rolls and the scrunched up faces and a couple of annoyingly-toned responses of "Well...a hundred milliliters." I would then pour the two liquids together dramatically.

"Billy! Come up here and read what it says on this cylinder. How much does it say?"

Then little Billy would look...and squint...and look again. "Uh...ninety-six."

"Really? Well, how'd that happen?"

Of course, the theory was that I had tricked them somehow. I hadn't poured it all in. So I'd have little Billy pour his own and mix them...and again, the cylinder stared back unmercifully. Ninety-six milliliters.

"Ok, y'all. How is this possible?" Blank stares.

I would then take out two beakers, one with 250 milliliters of gravel, and one with 250 milliliters of sand.

"Watch carefully. Here's how it works."

I'd then take a large bowl and mix the sand and the gravel thoroughly.

"Again, folks, here's a bigger beaker. What should it say when I pour this in here?"

"Five hundred milliliters."

"Suzie, would you pour this in there? Get it all in, now."

"What's it say?"

Now, the answer would differ based on the size of the gravel, but it was always less than 500 milliliters.

In questioning the students, they would get around to the idea that the physically small size of the sand particles could fit between the cracks and crevices of the gravel...and I would go on to explain that in our two liquids, that was what was also happening. The more compact shape of the ethanol molecule slipped in between the cracks and crevices of the more "V" shaped water molecules and this fully mixed, or miscible substance resulted.

This, I believe, is the stuff of spiritual transformation.

I suspect the spiritual molecules of what we call the human soul are rather bulky entities indeed. I suspect at our birth, they are more like Buckyballs, but as the weight of the world presses and shapes them, they begin to become more studded and irregular from years of sin and turmoil. The molecules of God-stuff--something we tend to imagine as large and voluminous--are actually quite small and compact. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of transformation--when we embrace radical hope--when we dare to become vulnerable to the power of God--those molecules slip between the cracks and crevices of our soul and we become a more miscible entity. However, we can't sit still and expect it to happen. We have to allow mixing to occur. We have to consent to being stirred, shaken and bounced around like a chicken leg in a bag of Shake and Bake.

Perhaps the fearful part of this is that, like in our junior high science demonstration, the end result is we will be a contracted substance compared to the two substances in their separate containers of volume. As ego and self gives way to God, we will become 96 milliliters instead of a hundred. That said, it's important to remember that this transformed substance cannot be separated at room temperature. It can't go back to being just water and just ethanol. Once transformed, we can't go back.

Perhaps, as we watch the institutional church change, and us change with it, and feel fear, we have lost track of the power of miscibility. Could it be that somehow, the windows of the institutional church have been flung wide open, God-stuff is pouring in, and we are a little nervous about it sliding between every crack and crevice of our being?

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

Volunteering at General Convention as spiritual practice

by Catherine Ambos

Teachers have those LONG summers off, right? I do not do well with large, unstructured periods of time, so I usually volunteer in a friend’s research lab over the summer. This summer, however, I took time off from that "job" and traveled as "staff support" for the Diocese of New Jersey’s General Convention Deputation. My husband was a Deputy. He goes to my professional biology teachers' conference each year and provides invaluable support; I was returning the favor. After a few grocery runs (as well as visits to the Minute Clinic for minor emergencies) and making QR codes for several exhibitors, I was running out of things to do. Hmmm . . . a Volunteer booth at the far end of the Convention Center. Perhaps they could keep me out of trouble for the rest of the Convention?

At loose ends, I walked up to the booth on Saturday, July 7, and immediately became part of the family. I had a place, my contributions were appreciated, my mistakes forgiven. Each shift began with prayer (and ended with prayer, if we were all in one place). I felt centered in a way that I do not in my day-to-day life. Every contribution of time, no matter how small, was welcomed and made that volunteer part of the family. I joined a corps of blue-vested volunteers scurrying around, aiding the ebb and flow of business at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. In the heat of July, I felt the Spirit moving through Indianapolis.

I was especially struck by the Supervisors and Coordinators. Their unfailing cheerfulness and patience (especially at the Volunteer Center) impressed me as a model of the Christian community, welcoming anyone interested in joining. They carefully taught the rules and procedures, warning us that no two days ever ran the same and that, yes, at times we would be told to do something we had been told we should never do. "Here are the rules, use your head." Scripture informed by reason. Sounded familiar. This was one of the most humbling and uplifting experiences of my life.

I will return to my classroom in a month and a half, repeating to myself, "Breathe. Let the Holy Spirit flow in," and thinking about Kim, Chris, Keith, Katie, Dave, and all of the other Supervisors and Coordinators who were Christ to me that week. I will remember their gentleness under constant pressure. The 77th General Convention gave me the opportunity to share through service in a Christ-centered community. Thank you.

Don't trust anyone over/under 30

By Linda Ryan

There was a saying going around when I was in my late teens and early twenties, "Don't trust anyone over 30." Maybe that was the reason I was so miserable on my 30th birthday, or perhaps it was just a combination of events that, like conjunctions of planets and stars in the night sky, seemed either portents or markers of the way my life was going at the time. At any rate, on my 30th birthday, I felt like I was on the downhill side of life, especially when I got to the next saying, "Over 40 - over the hill." Sigh. It seemed at the time to go from bad to worse, age-wise.

The older I get these days, the more I look for things that address where my life is at the moment. I'm more likely to bookmark an AARP site than Jillian Michael's hardbody kind of athleticism, a medical site that has info on diabetes, arthritis, memory loss and catastrophic disease than pre-natal care, athletic injuries (not that I ever had any of those!) or exercises that feature turning one's body into a pretzel in the search for harmony and health. Sure, I search for harmony and health, but increasingly I see the focus moving toward younger folks, a different demographic, the "future" of our country, our world, or our church. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti- youth. Far from it. I was supremely touched by an essay on Episcopal Café the other day by Jacob Nez called "Why ARE Youth In Church?" It spoke of their search for welcoming places in churches, churches that not only accepted them as youth but as Native American youth and full members of the Body of Christ who honored both their Christian faith and the respect of God's creation through practices from their traditional faith. They really made me think about how valuable such young people are, and how much we need them in our churches, our neighborhoods, and our lives.

On the other hand, I found an article on another site entitled "Aging Well: Practical theological reasons to value older people" by Missy Buchanan that also made me stop and think about people and the church, this time on the other end of the age spectrum. The article referenced work by Dr. Stephen Sapp who, among other qualifications, was a former chair of the governing council for the Forum on Religion, Spirituality and Aging. One point was a reminder that all of us are getting older, and that getting older does not mean valueless, even though the emphasis of culture and, at times, even the church tend to somewhat marginalize the elders in favor of attracting and attempting to retain families with children who presumably will grow up to be good members of the church themselves. In the time when seniors are encouraged to continue being active, keep fit, find new hobbies and interests and ways to interact with people, it is sort of the message that "You've had your turn, now please just sit down and leave things up to the young people." The article states that in less than 30 years "...there will be more 85-year-olds than five-year-olds," and Dr Sapp wonders how churches that don't really offer a lot for seniors and seem to have little interest in them will attract those very people into their congregations. It's a good question.

In many cultures and societies, elders are respected as keepers and sharers of wisdom acquired through living their lives. To be fair, there are homes and churches of all cultures and ethnicities where senior members are not shuttled off willy-nilly into "retirement communities" or hospitals, and who live at home, often with assistant from all the members of the family, participating in and sharing their wisdom through their presence. Senior members have that wisdom to share, stories to tell and lessons to teach. It's not about having them make all the decisions or have everything go their way; it's about allowing them the dignity and the respect to listen to their opinions and viewpoints, consider them as offerings of wisdom and experience, and allowing them to participate in any way they can. Prayer groups are wonderful experiences, but if it could be coupled with some sort of activity that produces something tangible, like knitting or crocheting a prayer shawl, then it is a contribution that a senior can make, even if they no longer have use of their legs. Listening to the children and youth, even young adults can be a pastoral activity that can be a lifeline to both. Quite often it is those in the second half of life who have the time, the patience and the experience to really listen and hear what is being said. Much of the time a person doesn't want a solution, just a shoulder and a sympathetic ear. Churches can probably come up with more activities that can utilize and maximize the benefit to not just the seniors but to the whole congregation as well.

Rather than shuffling seniors off to the side once their health starts to fail, their earning power is greatly reduced and they require more assistance rather than being able to render assistance, perhaps the church should realize that the Body of Christ consists of all ages and conditions: young, old, healthy, infirm, wondering, experienced, foolish, wise and the whole spectrum. When someone, anyone, youth or senior, looks beyond themselves and looks for guidance and spiritual growth, the church should be there with open arms and open minds to welcome them and bring them in. The ideal church should not be a museum for saints but rather a hospital for sinners, and all of us are sinners.

I really respect those Native youth who wrote so eloquently about their search and their desire to belong to the Body of Christ in a full, fruitful and accepted way. I'm glad there are places where they are not just welcome but embraced because they are so deserving of both. I also feel for the seniors who have been displaced in the life of their church simply because they are not seen as growth-potential. I dream of a church, a congregation, a place where value is not seen as the monetary or even the energy level a person can bring but rather the gifts they have inside them. Wisdom is not limited to the old, and searching is not limited to the young. The church that claims to follow Christ is one which honors and nourishes both in harmony and balance.

That, I believe, is a part of the kingdom work Jesus set for us to do - for all sorts and conditions of humanity.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

Born again

by Lawrence L. Graham

Recently, a gaggle of self-proclaimed guardians of Christianity have announced that the Episcopal Church is either dying or already dead. They cite declining membership and budgetary issues as their secular evidence, and put the blame squarely on the Church’s excessive liberalism.

I have words of wisdom for them:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.’” – Matthew 21:31

That’s radical. Yes, there is such a thing as radical Christianity. In fact, there is no other kind. There is only the one based on the radical and revolutionary teachings of Jesus. The term “liberal” pales in comparison to what he actually said and did.

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time had become concerned only with preserving their institution and aggregating power to themselves. Here’s what he said to them:

“Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, pretenders, who are like white tombs, which from the outside appear lovely, but from within are full of the bones of the dead and all corruption!.” – Matthew 23:27

Things are not so very different today. Then and now, corruption lies in those places where children are molested, women get second-class treatment, the plight of the poor is ignored, the sick are left to die by the side of the road, greed is good, mammon is worshipped, and the supposedly “unclean” among us are cast out.

In Jesus’ time, the Jews despised the Samaritans as renegades – just as traditionalists despise liberal Episcopalians today. But, Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero of the Good Samaritan parable, and the authorities of his own time the villains. Radical? Yes. Popular? No!

But let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. – Amos 5:24
Like the prophet Amos, Jesus was far more interested in a just society than in the preservation of institutions for their own sake. So, Jesus went about healing the “unclean” – folks that “good people” wouldn’t even touch. Among them were several lepers, the woman with an issue of blood, and even the Centurion’s boyfriend. (Yes, the Greek original appears to say that in at least one place, but the translations still soft-pedal it as too radical.)

When asked which of the ten commandment was greatest, Jesus responded with the Summary of the Law:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22: 37-39

But for the past two-thousand years, far too many guardians of Christian tradition and Holy Scripture have done their best to water Jesus’ teachings down and explain his radical actions away. Like the authorities of Jesus’ own time, their interest lies in preserving the an institution and aggregating power. And that is deadly.
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." – Luke 3:9

Jesus dared to confront the religious powers and secular principalities of his own time. And his teachings are not merely artifacts of an historic past, nor the story of a one-time rabbi in long-ago Israel. They are the plumb line by which real Christians measure the uprightness of their every thought, prayer and action – no matter how impolite or shocking or radical or liberal our fickle secular society may think them.

Thanks be to God for the Episcopal Church, a church that still hears Jesus’ voice, follows his teachings and is willing to “die to self and chiefly live by His most holy word.”

“You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'”– John 3:7

Phoenix-like, the true church is always dying to itself, only to be reborn by the Holy Spirit so it can proclaim anew the Good News of Jesus’ radical and everlasting way of life.

Mr. Graham is a parishioner and verger at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia

Centipedes and souls

by Molly Wolf

I just called the resident offspring upstairs to deal with a very large centipede in the bathtub. I’m actually okay with centipedes, although my first reaction was the standard squeamishness — all those feathery legs. Then I saw one at rest on the downstairs bathroom wall, simply sitting there with its antennae quivering but otherwise motionless, and I studied it for a while. They have quite lovely striped bodies, once you get past the gazillion wee limbs. Actually, I think much of the repulsion has to do with the way they scuttle, that and the Quammen Six and Two Rule (David Quammen: anything with more than six legs and two eyes is repulsive.)

Nonetheless, the resident offspring loathes and detests centipedes and wants to seek and destroy them, so whenever I sight one, I call him, and he does dastardly things to the insect with a piece of toilet paper and drops the remains in the loo. And I get a tiny case of the spiritual squeams.

It has been part of the human condition for some time now to believe that only Homo sapiens (and often only select Homo saps) have souls. It’s not so long ago that the existence of women’s souls was a matter for debate. I can remember, with discomfort, a sort of underlying quiet dismissiveness about the emotional/ psychological/ spiritual reality of other races and peoples — that they were perhaps not really on the right side of a dividing rope between the fully ensouled (white human beings, of course) and the proto-souled or even de-souled (other primates). It did not, for example, register with us that enslaved people grieved hard when family members were sold away from each other. In some ways, that understanding has still not entirely sunk in.

I have no idea whether centipedes have souls; I have too little data, and I doubt if the question has ever arisen. But I’m pretty sure that we drew that spiritually narcissistic boundary without reference to the possibility that the soul does not necessarily reside in the human forebrain. And yet we have everyday evidence that other critters have intelligence, feeling, and meta-awareness. Our furpersons comfort us in distress. Elephants grieve their dead; whales sing songs to each other; crows play jokes; chimp mothers carry their dead babies. There may be a whole spiritual world undersea of which we have no direct knowledge, ‘cos we don’t swim that well. The airborne critters may sing songs we cannot properly interpret, and who knows what beats at the heart of a beehive?

Considering the possible soul of a centipede would probably horrify some of my co-religionists, who would see it as being a mockery of all teaching and understanding of Christianity. And it might horrify a good many other spiritual mindsets (the Jains excepted). But I doubt if it would horrify most of the people in my resident offspring’s post-modern age group. Why shouldn’t centipedes have souls? Who made that rule in the first place, and why?

They have a point. Physical anthropology suggests that the boundary between Homo saps and other hominids cannot really be determined; Lucy the ancient australopithecine had a chimp-like posterior skull, but her teeth and legs were more human than not. What of neanderthals or Homo habilis? We don’t have cellular or mitochondrial DNA from Lucy, but the fact is that that our genes have far more in common with (say) an Angora goat’s than we’d care to think about. We are not, in biological terms, so very distinct — except in our unusual adaptability and aggressive spread. On an ecological level, we are akin to kudzu.

Perhaps one of the appeals of the Genesis creation account is that it’s so much tidier than the fossil record. Humans are simply put out there complete, fully human, language, moral capacity, and reasoning power all ready to rip, but free of sin, death, and perverted desires (perhaps including sex). And yet Lucy certainly died — we have her bones to prove it. I don’t know if we could talk of her in terms of sin at all. I think it’s likely that she had a specific Lucy-ness, simply because even domestic shorthairs have quite distinct and lively personalities. Does a distinct personality constitute a soul or not? Who’s writing the definition, and by what authority?

In short, it’s not just that the answers are changing: so are the questions. And if we’re ready to snap out prepared answers without seriously wrestling with the questions, we will lose any credibility we might have. If Genesis is literally true, as it must be for the doctrine of original sin to hold water, then no Lucy. But those dry bones are real bones; they belonged to a real, living, chimpish woman or womanly chimp-cousin who lived and died at least two million years ago, long, long before _Homo saps_ came up with the questions to which Genesis was the right understanding for so long.

We’ve been upended; we have been tumbled arse over teakettle, and part of us wants to put everything back where it was before this new tohubohu and part of us wants to dance on what only looks like a formless void, looking to discern the Creator’s patterns. The one truth that is surfacing with increasing certainty and strength as post-modernism takes off is that we’re all emergent. That is, we’re coming out of something; we can’t go back, and we don’t know what will happen next, but it may be a whole lot of fun. Perhaps it’s not so much that we’ve fallen from grace as that we have yet to discover what grace really is.

We know now that we’re more interconnected than we ever dreamed possible. We can listen to whales and begin to grasp how much it frightened and grieved them to be hunted. We can look back at the horror and trauma that our European diseases inflicted throughout this continent and understand a little better what that meant for Aboriginal peoples. When an earthquake happens in China or Turkey, it’s no longer remote; we can see the destruction and empathize with the survivors’ fear and grief. Cell phones record the abuses visited on civilians in Syria. We no longer see torture as permissible because we recognize the humanity of the tortured — or if we don’t, we begin to know bad that looks. In that sense, our understanding of sin is also emergent.

I am sculpting these words, descended from ancestral linguistic fusions and compromises, in electrons on a screen that did not exist — could not have existed — a mere half-century ago, when the Leakeys began snuffling around the Great Rift Valley, finding the first proto-human fragments. Did those individuals whose bits and pieces emerged from the strata have souls? Maybe the question is totally irrelevant. But then, maybe it matters greatly that I can, at least, ask it.

What does matter is that God created and is instinct in every bit of life as we know it, don’t know it, refuse to see it, reject it, embrace it. God’s love reaches past and over us to be the water in which the dolphins swim. God sees the little centipede get squished in a piece of toilet paper and sent swirling down the drain. God calls us all, whether or not we know it, towards God.

Perhaps to be ensouled as human, what we have that defines us as separate and special is the will to resist God’s call to love. And maybe that’s what I’d say if someone asked that question.

Molly Wolf plays hackysack with theology in Gananoque, Ontario, among the Thousand Islands. She lives with her resident offspring Ross and with Magnificat (aka Maggie), a sizable calico with tortitude, whose personality fits her name. She (Molly, not the cat) is the author of four collections of applied meditation and Scrambling towards Zion: A weekly essay on finding Godstuff in real life.
- this essay is reposted by permission ~ed.

Talking snakes and traditional marriage

by Elizabeth Kaeton

What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, “marriage” or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called “marriage”?

These are some of the questions posed by the SCLM (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) in Resolution A050, which asks that the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies create a Task Force on the Study of Marriage. The resolution specifies that the task force consist of “not more than twelve people, consisting of theologians, liturgists, pastors, and educators, to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage”.

Already, many are weighing in on the definition of “traditional marriage” – by which many mean to hold us to the line of “tradition”, i.e., “the way we’ve always done it before”: one (fertile) man and one (fertile) woman. At least, that’s the “tradition” that’s fresh in the minds of many.

If you want to build a case for that definition of “traditional marriage”, I have a suggestion: Don’t start with Scripture. You’ll find a greater case there for polygamy and contract negotiations between two men for the “property” of a woman than “traditional marriage”.

Most folks who want to build a case for “traditional marriage” begin with the Story of Creation, with particular emphasis on The Fall. This is a natural default position for those of the evangelical persuasion who seem blithely unaware that both stories are just that: stories. Myths. They are lovely stories - holy, sacred stories, to be sure - but they are not "The Truth" as we know it today, informed as we are by research and science and archeology and forensics and the like.

These stories are the way ancient people sat around the wilderness campfire at night and told stories to try and understand "the meaning of Life". Their inherent value lies in the evidence they provide of our evolution as human beings whose understandings about God's action in the history of our lives has also evolved. As such, these stories have great meaning and significance, but in no way do they provide the architectural foundation for the meaning of marriage.

There is something in the human condition - no matter how young or old we are - that loves a good story. Our ears perk up when we hear, "Once upon a time....." and we wait for the ending, "....and they lived happily ever after."

We have our "happily ever after" when we follow the path Jesus has set for us which leads to Life Eternal. Everything else is just details.

Ah, someone is saying, "the devil is in the details."


If you base your theological understanding of "traditional marriage" on myths that include talking snakes, then the church is in a whole lot more trouble than anything blessing covenants between two people of the same gender could bring.

I mean, seriously? Talking snakes and "The Fall"? That can be believed but not the belief that there is goodness and holiness in my 37-year faithful, monogamous relationship?

Isn't that where the conversation about "traditional marriage" always leads? It’s not a simply means to fortify the status quo but to take down anything that doesn’t look like what might have made a Norman Rockwell portrait of Americana on the front cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

I find the whole conversation about Scripture and Traditional Marriage to be surreal when it's not condescending and arrogant and deeply insulting. I find myself going back to the 38th Chapter of Job and hearing the questions which Job reports God asked him, like: "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?"

I'm sure some find this sort of conversation enlightening and, perhaps even intellectually entertaining, but I've been in the struggle for Marriage Equality for a long time. I’ve heard it all before and I know where it leads. In the end, we all become scriptural gymnasts, twisting and turning as we try and impose the meaning we want to give on ancient words that had an entirely different context and intent in their meaning.

Sigh. I suppose it has to be done. Point, counterpoint and onward into the whirlwind of human folly. "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up" (1Corinthians 8:1b)

I do take some comfort in the fact that Resolution A050 asks, “That the task force consult with couples living in marriage and in other lifelong committed relationships and with single adults”; and “That the task force consider issues raised by changing societal and cultural norms and legal structures, including legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships between two people of the same sex, in the U.S. and other countries where The Episcopal Church is located”.

Yes, after we talk to all the “theologians, liturgists, pastors, and educators, to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage”, please lets look at the realities we are facing in today’s world and try and find some meaning and hear some stories – just the way our ancient forebears did.

I am especially heartened that A050 also asks, “That the task force develop tools for theological reflection and norms for theological discussion at a local level.” This, I think, is an even deeper challenge than defining marriage. If we can do that for this important issue, perhaps we’ll have a means and methodology to discuss other controversial issues in the church.

Perhaps with a way to talk and listen to each other instead of listening to talking snakes, we may well find a way to talk about the traditions of mutual love, fidelity, intimacy and mutuality that are at the heart and soul of Christian marriage.

The Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton is an Episcopal priest who loves Jesus unconditionally and struggles with the institutional church continually. She is currently a member of and assists at All Saints Rehoboth Beach and St George's Chapel, Harbeson, DE and has a private pastoral counseling and consulting practice. She blogs at Telling Secrets.

Poetry of Louie Crew

by Louie Crew

Click on the titles to hear the poems read by Dr. Crew.

Negative, Jesus, Five Times Now

Negative, Jesus, five times now, but still
not sure. I'll test again in six more months
since John has likely been exposed. He'll spill
his fears to none, nor even hint he hunts
beyond our bed. I'm sure he'd never use
a condom--least of all with me, his wife.
he's too afraid the two of us will lose
our golden reputation.
     Secret life?
Why can't he see I guessed it anyway?
I want only him, not what people think;
I've always known that part of him is gay.
So what? Should that alone make him shrink
from me, not share his need?
     Our need's not sin!
From isolation save us, God. AMEN.

Psalm 1B

Miserable is the person who never talks with the ungodly
    who goes out of the way to avoid sinners
    who never can see life critically.
The self-righteous live by the rules of the elite,
    and by these rules are they compulsive day and night.
They are like trees planted in a swamp, moored in every flood of fashion.
They seem to endure, and whatsoever they perform is always noticed.

The humble are not so; but are free,
    like leaves which the wind drives everywhere.
Therefore, the humble shall not sit to be judged.
    nor shall the gentle join the congregation of the proud.
for God knows the ways of them all,
    and only the self-righteous shall perish.

The Trickster Through History

Friends, Romans, countrymen,
    welcome to the Coliseum.
It is a lovely afternoon here in Rome.
    My name is Tiberius Cicero
and I am delighted
    to be able to bring to you live
the fight between the fierce Christians
    from Antioch
and Caesar's choicest lions.

The Emperor and his mistress
    have just entered the regal box,
and the lions are ready behind the gates.
      We pause from this brief message from...BLIP

Uhn, is it dat dis is ready, nicht vahr?
    Scuze, please, hallo, hallo, ah, yah.
Goot evening, ladies and lords,
    Herr Luther has been contained,
we are glad to report,
    and these protestants in Hamburg
just died a most fitting death,
    bleeding slowly for their upstart sins.
The Cardinal is dining tonight
    with his friend from...BLIP

I don give a shee-it
    if it's Jefferson Davis hisself;
I tole you we can't start
    no broadcast until this here slave
has been whupped.
    Tell those women just to natter on
and eat up some of my hickorynut sandwiches.
    That's why we have so many slaves anyways,
so's they can be like Marie Antoinette
    and have lots of silly things to do
that takes lots of time.
    Now, you, boy, bend your butt
while I tell you again that you are not supposed
    to be raising your head
in the presence of a white woman
    ever agin, you hear me?...BLIP

Now if you can take just one more
    lash out of this,
here's the BIGGIE!--
    Revolution is not really a spectator sport.

Louie Crew is an emeritus professor at Rutgers. Editors have published 2,201 of his manuscripts, including four poetry volumes. Crew has edited special issues of College English and Margins. You can follow his work here.
See also Wikipedia. The University of Michigan collects Crew’s papers. Contact Crew at

The Episcopal Church: Not (Necessarily) Liberal but Comprehensive

by Bill Carroll

Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see
A Light to enlighten the nations
And the glory of your people Israel

These words come from a story about the Christ child. It comes right after the Christmas Gospel in Luke. Simeon is a poor, old man—a prophet who has been waiting for a long time for the birth of the Messiah, praying night and day. Then, Mary and Joseph arrive for the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple and various sacrifices and rituals prescribed by the Law. And when Simeon sees Jesus with his own eyes—filled with the Holy Spirit--he greets him with these joyful and prophetic words. At last, he sees the promised Savior, the light and desire of the nations, and he gives thanks that he can now depart in peace.

The song he sings is often called the Song of Simeon, and it plays a key role in our worship. From 1549 onwards, it has been part of Daily Evening Prayer in every edition of the Book of Common Prayer. (The second meditation at our vestry retreat concerned the Magnificat.) Its use in the daily prayers of the monks is far older. Today, I’d like to suggest to us that Simeon’s Song has the potential to provide us with insight into the rich heritage we share as Episcopalians. As baptized members of this branch of Christ’s Body, entrusted with a share in his very own mission, we need to be able to articulate who we are and why we value our community and its distinctive ways of being Christian. We need to lead from shared values—a shared sense of what the Good News of Jesus is, why it matters, and why it matters in our context.

That’s not an easy task, given our incredible diversity. An email from our youth and family minister that first got me interested in discerning a call to serve in my present ministry joked that our parish has everything from Tea Party to Communist, and that’s not far from the truth: our parish includes all political parties, just about every theological persuasion, and almost every conceivable point of view. It’s truly a miracle, given the deep divisions in our country, that we get along so well.

Among the many different ways to be Christian, Anglican Christianity, including the Christianity of the Episcopal Church, has been strongly associated with the idea of Incarnation—that, in Jesus, the Son of God became flesh in order to bless all that is good and holy about human beings—as well as to redeem everything that is flawed, fallen, and broken. It is no accident that our worship, especially the beautiful service of Evening Prayer, highlights this mystery. We believe in the saving power of the Easter event—the dying and rising of Christ, which is reenacted and made present in the Holy Eucharist—but we are also a people whose faith is formed by the Christmas story, where God chooses to be with us in our frail and mortal flesh.

The canticles are brief pieces of Scripture, or in some cases ancient hymns, that are sung or said in response to the readings of the day. Now, in part, they were selected for that role, because they are beautiful poetry, composed to be sung. But they were also chosen for their importance in summing up what we believe. By repetition they become privileged windows into the meaning of the lessons assigned for each day—and, over time, the whole Christian story. Truly, the law of prayer is the law of belief. As we pray, so we come to believe and practice.

So, let’s pause for a minute to hear the Song of Simeon again. Let’s enter into the presence of God with one another and let these words become our prayer.

Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see
A Light to enlighten the nations
And the glory of your people Israel

Now, let’s ask ourselves: “What might these beautiful words say to us as a Christian community?”

First, we are not anxious about our salvation. That salvation has already been achieved. With Simeon, we can say, “Lord, you now have set your servant free.” The Anglican way is to invite others into holy mystery, not out of anxiety about their salvation, but because the God who has come among us in Christ is good and generous and desires that we share Christ and other good gifts with our neighbors. Week in and week out, our worship manifests the presence and goodness of God, who has chosen to come among us and set us free. Because God is with us, we have been set free for love. To really love people as they truly are, even as we challenge them to follow Christ and do great things in his Name.

Second, our eyes have seen the Savior. One of the things that strikes many newcomers right away about worship in the Episcopal Church is the physical beauty of our worship—and the places where we worship. Our worship, in the best Anglican tradition, appeals to all the senses. And we tend to worship God with a subtle, peaceful beauty that leads people into prayer. Every detail of the spaces where we gather suggests the presence of Christ among us--especially in the consecrated bread and wine, but also in the gathered community. The Word of God--and the ministry of preaching and teaching it--has a place in our liturgy. But our worship is not centered on a long lecture about the biblical text. Rather, the homily and the liturgy of the Word is consummated in the liturgy of the Table, where the living Lord Jesus comes among us, here and now.

We may be People of the Book, but we are even more people of the Incarnation. For us, the Word of God is not primarily a book. With the Gospel of John, we believe that “the Word became flesh.” The Book is a witness to the Word, who gives himself to us to be seen and touched and tasted. We have been given a deep joy not only in the liturgy and the sacraments, but also in the bodily presence of the brothers and sisters we have from God, who are themselves a sacramental reality.

Third, in Simeon’s Song, the Savior is given as a Light to enlighten the Nations and as the glory of God’s People Israel. The Nations are the Gentiles—those foreigners who were once outside God’s People but have been invited in through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In Luke’s Gospel in particular, as well as its sequel in the Book of Acts, a major theme is the early Church’s mission to the Gentiles. It was not accomplished without struggle. The Book of Acts, in particular, is about the ever expanding circle of God’s hospitality to those who are not yet part of God’s People. William Temple, the great Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the Church exists for the sake of those who don’t yet belong. A central feature of our calling from God is therefore to welcome “all sorts and conditions” of people.

In the Episcopal Church, we do not do this out of any kind of commitment to what some would call “liberal Christianity”—though I think it’s important to acknowledge that, in many communities, the local Episcopal parish is often one of the few congregations where it’s safe to be Christian and openly liberal at the same time. Properly understood, this is a potential competitive advantage for us. But I wouldn’t ever label myself as a “liberal”, and I know that others in our parish would be far less comfortable than I.

I see myself as a moderate Anglo-Catholic, deeply conservative on some issues, more liberal on others, committed to building a healthy Christian community that acknowledges the centrality of Christ as our tradition has received him. As members of the Episcopal Church, our commitment to welcoming all people comes out of a Catholic and Reformed understanding of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ—a Body that won’t be complete unless every kind of human being is welcome within it.

As far as I can tell, what unites us is a deep commitment to a specific form of Christ-centered worship--and to a non-fundamentalist theology. Some of us are profoundly conservative—as I am when it comes to anything in the historic Creeds or the Book of Common Prayer—but we are not anxious (as various forms of fundamentalism would be) about the presence of those who differ with us and question our core convictions. Indeed, we encourage questioning and respectful criticism of our most cherished traditions. This is because our eyes have seen the Savior and we know the presence of the living God-with-us.

We have our boundaries—no community can live without them—but we don’t have to have to police them too tightly. As a whole, I think this is why we are so committed to civility, mutual love and respect, and welcoming all strangers, no exceptions allowed. There are people all over the place who are hungry for a community like ours. They would give anything to belong to a church like ours, where all people are welcome without exception. And this is one of the main reasons we will grow and thrive, with faithful lay and ordained leadership and the active ministry of the whole People of God.

Note: This is a modified form of a retreat talk for my first vestry retreat with the parish I am now serving, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as rector of Emmanuel Parish, Shawnee in the Diocese of Oklahoma. His new parish blog is Emmanuel Shawnee Blog

Bonhoeffer and chicken sandwiches

The Christian has to let grace truly be grace enough so that the world does not lose faith in this cheap grace. In being worldly, however, in this necessary renunciation required for the sake of the world--no, for the sake of grace!--the Christian can be comforted and secure in possession of that grace which takes care of everything by itself. So the Christian need not follow Christ, since the Christian is comforted by grace! That is cheap grace as justification of sin, but not justification of the contrite sinner who turns away from sin and repents. It is not forgiveness of sin which separates those who sinned from sin. Cheap grace is that grace which we bestow on ourselves... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from "The Cost of Discipleship"

One of the more interesting phenomena I recently saw in the social networking world was the heated arguments and mass de-friendings that occurred over the question, "Should I, or should I not, buy a chicken sandwich?"

Yeah, I'm talking about that whole Chick-Fil-A thing.

Some people I knew made it incredibly clear they planned on boycotting Chick-Fil-A because of their CEO's habit of giving large sums of money to anti-gay marriage causes, got into arguments with their more conservative friends, and went on a de-friending spree when it got nasty. Others I knew made a big deal how they were going to buy all the Chick-Fil-A products they could poke in their mouths because they felt very strongly about heteronormative marriage, and proceeded to get into similar arguments, with similar results.

I live more than 150 miles away from the nearest Chick-Fil-A. I think it's clear I don't have a dog in this particular hunt. That said, no matter which side folks chose in this brouhaha, what disturbed me most was the absolute and self-righteous surety that some people displayed, standing behind whichever brand of "Christian" principles they chose to embrace. Whether they were claiming a literal, more conservative brand of Christianity, or a more liberal Christian theology, what disturbed me was the ones still standing after the smoke cleared their convictions. They were doing God's will, and that was that, and if someone disagreed, well, that was just too doggone bad. It sort of seemed a little bit how I imagine the Crusades, only with processed chicken.

Now, mind you, I'm talking two ends of a very broad spectrum. I think a lot of people quietly chose their side and acted, and a few stated their opinion and didn't engage, and those of us who would not even be in the same town as a Chick-Fil-A any time soon simply watched it play out and said, "Well...I see where they're coming from but it's not my battle."

Watching it all play out from a distance reminded me for some reason of Bonhoeffer's discussion of "cheap grace" and "costly grace"--perhaps because when we make choices on what we will or won't purchase, what we will or won't eat, primarily on moral principle, and the act we choose is sufficient for feeling satisfied with one's morality in it, we run the risk of engaging in cheap grace. Costly grace demands that we look at the lives behind our decision or the lives affected by it.

Costly grace reminds us that in a successful economic boycott, yes, the CEO of that company takes a hit, but the larger consequence is the potential loss of jobs by those least able to afford it. Hurting the pockets of a man who runs a chain of chicken sandwich restaurants also means to hurt a sizable number of minimum wage employees.

There's costly grace on the other side of that coin too. Costly grace reminds us that if we support businesses whose CEO's donate to causes or organizations that we believe have damaging consequences with regard to human capital, our money might be indirectly contributing to the harming of lives we would never have intentionally harmed.

Costly grace demands we ask of ourselves, "Is what I am choosing b/c of my own wants building up or tearing down the Body of Christ? Does my wish for a creature comfort bring humanity closer to God's realm or does it tear it asunder?"

Furthermore, cheap grace requires considerably less of our own suffering. Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship at the height of Nazi Germany's rise to power (1937.) It's important to remember some facts of the times. After Germany's defeat in WWI, they were geographically punished by loss of acquired lands and economically punished first by the economic cost of that war, followed by the Depression. An emotionally depressive pall gripped the country. Hitler stirred a sense of identity in the people, and it certainly would have felt good. The consequences of maintaining that identity were lost on most people, partially because it was hidden to some degree and partially because a beaten, hungry populace didn't care to look. The people who did see it were most likely afraid. Bonhoeffer's writings were both a clarification that the Christian path required humility and suffering, yet an urging to "be not afraid." He was probably aware earlier than most what the cost of discipleship, at least in Nazi Germany, entailed. The cost of his own discipleship was execution.

The fact is, our economic choices based on principle alone don't cost us much.

However, if we desire to follow the more difficult path--the path of costly grace--we will discover that as we look behind the principle and directly at the people involved, more is required of us. What else will we choose to do for the sake of those people? What else is God asking us to do, or to give up, or to do without, for the sake of a broken world?

One of my favorite lines in the movie The Wizard of Oz is when Toto exposes the wizard and he says, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Au contraire. May we always see the people behind the curtain, and may they be our prime driving force in our striving for a right relationship with God, rather than a sense of surety that our choices put us in favor with God.

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

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