Dispatches from the dark

by Deirdre Good

Along with thousands of people in New Jersey and the tri-state area, we lost power at the seminary in Chelsea the night Sandy came ashore in New Jersey. Coastal regions were flooded and washed away and the water came inland further than it has ever come. Today the President visits New Jersey, declared a disaster area. In the meantime, our lives have taken on a diurnal rhythm: we get up after daylight, we do as much as we can in daylight hours including the rhythms of worship, work and meals, and we cook and eat dinner using flashlights and candles and go to bed shortly after darkness descends. For news, we listen to the radio, and wait for the morning paper to be delivered.

Going out at night or early dawn before daylight means being in total darkness, where there are no traffic or street lights and people are only visible by their flashlights, if they have them. It is not a safe experience, mostly because it is unfamiliar to New Yorkers. In Maine, we have reflective strips and headlamps and reflective collars for the dogs. But we're not in Maine now, and we're not prepared for this.

Our friends in Zone A who did not evacuate had the alarming experience of watching waters from the Hudson river fill up their stairwell, rising towards the second floor. The waters flooded over Chelsea piers from the Hudson River and rushed across the West Side highway just up to the Seabury Gate, about a short city block east of 10th Avenue. Cars parked on side streets between 10th Avenue and the West Side Highway were half-submerged. South of us, the same thing happened in the West Village and Battery Park. In New York City Harbor, waves were recorded as high as 32.5 feet. Sometime during the night, the waters stopped. When our friends came out of their apartment the following morning, the waters had receded back down the street towards the Hudson River leaving flooding, debris and water marks on cars and windows in their wake. Our friends were happy to survive and show us photographs.

Schools have been closed for three days. Parents are feeling the stress of looking after house bound children. “I have a new world record for playing the greatest number of consecutive chutes and ladders games in a 24-hour period,” one mother told us.

This morning we ran into a Fireman working days who had come into Manhattan from Queens. He told us that the emergency fire station in Battery Park was flooded and is under water, so that station has been evacuated to the one on 23rd street and 10th Avenue. The fireman himself spent all day yesterday carrying elderly people marooned in high rise buildings down many flights of stairs. He spoke of tragedies from the storm that wouldn't make the news. Someone had a heart attack in Times Square and as he lay on the ground, tourists took photographs of him thinking they were seeing a homeless person. But he was dead. A policeman was at home with his family in Staten Island. He went to check on the basement of his house when the ocean waves rushed in so quickly that he couldn't escape. He drowned whilst his family was upstairs. In Brooklyn, Coney Island has all but disappeared: the Aquarium, he said, is gone.

But the city is slowly recovering. Mayor Bloomberg continues to hold press conferences. Con Ed has indicated that power may be restored by Saturday. Buses have resumed services on a Sunday schedule. Tomorrow subways open north of 34th street. Where there is power, leaf blowers are clearing away leaves and debris. Flooded basements are being pumped out. People are beginning to wonder out loud and ask how best to protect a city built only a few feet above the water and thus vulnerable to rising sea levels whose transportation services are in tunnels below sea levels.

Back at the seminary, classes have been postponed until Monday. Faculty, administration and students continue life together. The library is open 9-5. Notices posted in public places are updated twice daily. The Daily Office and Eucharist is said and celebrated. People share meals and there was an evening of board games last night. We have a gas powered generator brought to the seminary by our head of maintenance Anthony Khani that not only provides light but also recharges phones and laptops. It has been refueled with what is probably the last gas in Manhattan at a gas station in Harlem. To our north, the residential complex of Penn South (south of Penn Station) has its own power station so those who know family and friends there can enjoy light and heat. Others can find coffee and some amenities north of 29th Street.

proxy.jpgWhen we resume our common life together next Monday, we will be brought together with those who lived out the storm in New Jersey and elsewhere in the tri-state area. Together we'll reflect on recent experiences one of which is worship and study of the One to whom “day and night are both alike” in the words of Psalm 139,

“If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,'
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”

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. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage.

Change Happens

by Linda Ryan

"Assuming that tomorrow will be the same as today is poor preparation for living. It equips us only for disappointment or, more likely, for shock. To live well, to be mentally healthy, we must learn to realize that life is a work in process." -- Joan Chittister, Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy *

There's been a lot of discussion lately centering around aging and the church, specifically the role of older people running the church. When I saw this quotation in Sr. Joan's book this morning, it was like a V-8 moment - a smack on the forehead that makes you catch your breath and think, "Yeah! That's it!"

The quotation does, I believe, speak to those at both ends of the process of aging. To the elders it speaks of having gone through multiple changes throughout their life, including their place in the world, the neighborhood and the church. It's been a more-or-less steady process of morphing (or sometimes total upheaval) from one state to another, sometimes imperceptible, sometimes with the force of a 9.5 earthquake. But the thing is that change is normal. It's natural. It should be expected. We accepted it in our times of change, liking it or not, and sometimes wished the world would stop spinning because it was so much more comfortable being in a familiar place where we knew the rules and knew where we were. To the younger generations, it speaks to the changes that they will undergo. Some will have undergone changes already, but the ones looming on the horizon and as yet unknown, may shake them and form them just as the ones my generation have undergone. The answers that are so patently clear right now aren't necessarily the ones that will still be so transparent in the next year, ten years, even in the next generation.

The world has changed so greatly in the lifetime of the Boomers. We grew up when television was still fairly new and color TV was cutting edge. We've lived through the technology revolution, room-sized computers becoming small enough to fit in the tiniest space imaginable, instant communication by internet, cell phone, and tablet, advanced medical tests that were (and sometimes still are) incomprehensible (and expensive) but which are capable of diagnosing things that even ten years ago were destined to remain unseen, unfelt, unnoticed and undiagnosed. We've seen the sexual revolution (and some of us took part in that!), the bridging (or continued bridging) of the gender gap, stock booms (and busts), the leaders we admired two years ago now are shown to be guilty (or merely accused) of gross injustice (or merely feet of clay), and what happens in Vegas is now fodder for the world's media. No generation, I believe, has undergone as many changes as our has, although the Gen-Xers, Millennials and their successors may beat that record. I think that both parts of that statement bear remembering -- we changed, they will change. The meeting point is the "is changing" between the generations.

The church has changed too over the course of our lives. Liturgies have changed, the Bible has been re-translated and re-translated again and again to speak to different groups and in different vernaculars, there has been an increased awareness of stewardship not just of individual time, talent and treasure but also of communal and global stewardship of the earth and all that lives, exists and is on it. We have come to a new understanding of and need for evangelism, not just because our numbers are dropping but because like the beggar who found a cache of food, we want other hungry people to find what we have found. It is a process. Nobody stays precisely in the same slot into which they were born, even in the church. The old quip of "But we don't need evangelism because everybody who is supposed to be Episcopalian already is one!" doesn't work any more -- if it ever did.

So that brings me back to the process of change and where we are in it. The Boomers still have life in them, gifts to give and experience to pass on to those who are so ready to take over and change things themselves. The excitement of the next generations to get going with their church and taking it in new directions is exciting to us, even if a little intimidating. It is sort of like watching them start off on their first day of school, so eager to take the next step to growing up but wondering where their journey will take them.

The common denominator is change -- changes that have taken place and those that will. For Boomers, we need to practice patience with those younger than us. We were anxious to grow up, get out on our own and take on the world to make it better for ourselves and our kids. The Gen Xers and Millennials are no different; they just have their own agenda, not necessarily that of their parents and grandparents. Their world is
different, so change has to be expected. Maybe it won't always be comfortable and maybe not even what we consider wise, but definitely expected.

Life (and the church) is a work in progress. As surely as winter moves through spring and summer before arriving at fall and then winter again, change is inevitable. It might be a place to start in cross-generational discussions, not with one side haranguing the other about how it was or how it ought to be but where it has come from and where it could be going. If we become compartmentalized within our own generation we lose touch with something precious, something important. Each generation has something to offer the church; we just have to find where the common ground is and begin there to listen to all the voices and all the ideas, weighing them carefully, examining them from many angles, and coming to a common agreement -- not necessarily an all-or-nothing command.

Be kind to each other, one generation to another. We're all changing in some way, and for some of us it is painful, and that goes for both sides of the age fulcrum. Work together, learn from each other, trust each other's motives are for the best that they can conceive, and tread lightly because we deal with people, not just ideas. Above all, expect change in all its forms. It will happen.

*ch. 13, ¶ 6, (Kindle ed.,) (2012) New York: Image.

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

Occupy at one year

by George Clifford

In September, the Occupy movement marked its first anniversary, an event that the major news media largely ignored. The Los Angeles Times was an exception, assessing the Occupy movement’s impact as difficult to describe (Andrew Tangel, “Occupy movement turns 1 year old, its effect still hard to define,” Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2012).

Occupy has given a voice to a deep but poorly focused stream of discontent in the United States and the United Kingdom. For example, the Occupy website boasts 226,000 followers on Facebook; the Occupy Wall Street site boasts 131,000 Facebook followers. Similarly, the original Wall Street protest quickly spread to numerous other cities, most at least temporarily hosting their own encampment of the discontented.

The discontented have diverse stories. A majority of them once bought into the economic system, but now feels disenfranchised and left behind by the wealthiest 1% who, even in the midst of economic hard times, continued to get richer. Some people never bought into (or were allowed to buy into) the economic system. This latter group includes an emerging permanent underclass in the US and UK multi-generational welfare families.

Nevertheless, the Occupy protesters are a highly visible and poignant reminder that our economic system is broken. Even as the number of billionaires increases and at least two Americans each own several times more land than is in the entirety of Rhode Island, so does the number of people increase whose finances are underwater because the size of their mortgage exceeds not only the value of their house but all of their financial assets.

The Occupy movement has also been clarion call to reform our economic system. Cutting taxes is not the answer. Government provides essential services that range from transport, schools, and first responders to managing international affairs, national defense, and providing a basic social safety net that ideally ensures care for the most vulnerable (the elderly, those needing medical care, the unemployed, children, etc.). Nor is continued national deficit financing the answer. Huge public debts in Greece and Italy significantly contribute to those nations’ financial struggles and warn against unlimited deficits.

Jesus did not prescribe an economic system. Various Christian ethicists, including one of my mentors, Phil Wogaman, have persuasively argued that a form of regulated capitalism is most compatible with Christian values. These Christian ethicists, like others who favor socialism, consistently emphasize God's preferential bias for the poor.

At a minimum, economic reform should include:

1. A progressive tax structure, a fundamental element of fairness for the poor;
2. Simplified regulations that keep the system fair and establish appropriate accountability, e.g., the US tax code unfairly shifts the tax burden to those unable to afford effective lobbyists while the code’s complexity discourages compliance;
3. A balanced national budget that both provides essential services and protects the most vulnerable;
4. Policies and programs that both encourage wealth formation and seek to bridge the growing chasm between rich and poor, e.g., where 100 years ago CEOs earned about 40 times more than their lowest paid employee today that difference was multiplied by 90 to CEOs earning360 times the lowest paid worker.

Within those broad ethical parameters, the actual shape of reform primarily becomes a series of economic and political. People of good conscience will disagree about the preferred changes, in substantial measure because the outcome of potential changes is highly uncertain. Thus, Christians committed to economic reform can constructively rally around these broad ethical prescriptions without insisting upon unanimity about details.

Disappointingly, the Occupy movement never gained enough volume or traction to become a mighty river of protest, one that might have propelled the US or UK to initiate needed economic reforms. Although Occupy became for a time a powerful set of braided streams, they were unruly and unstable ones, riven by internal debates over the priority of various issues and organizational questions that unnecessarily limited Occupy’s growth and influence. Today, the Occupy movement appears to be drying up.

Frustratingly, the broader Anglican Church and the Occupy movement never identified common ground for a unified witness with respect to economic reform. The convoluted and occasionally tense relationship between Anglicans and Occupy is apparent at both London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and New York’ Trinity Wall Street parish. In London, high profile clergy resignations and more recently Occupy protesters chaining themselves to the pulpit during an October evensong service highlight the conflict. In New York, tensions culminated in the widely publicized arrests of retired Bishop George Packard and others for trespassing on church property.

I don’t have enough facts to attempt to apportion responsibility for these problems among the various parties. To some extent, these problems certainly stem from Occupy’s own internal dynamics. But I also wonder whether the Church has consistently acted as Jesus would have done, whether the Church appropriately prioritizes standing with the discontent and financially vulnerable, and whether the Church attempts to draw too much of a Pharisaic line between spiritual/religious issues on the one hand and economic issues on the other.

Occupy’s message reminds me of Jesus telling the rich young man who wanted eternal life to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-25). All three gospel accounts of the incident report that Jesus concluded the interview by observing that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Francis of Assisi’s radical commitment to the poor was a helpful corrective, essential counterweight, and mission complement to the work that the Roman Catholic Church’s establishment, endowments, and institutions made possible. Initial conflict yielded to uneasy compromise and then to cherished coexistence in which the Franciscans – at their best – are living reminders of Jesus’ commitment to the poor and the power of voluntary poverty to be a catalyst for establishing God's kingdom on earth.

Many people still view the Church of England and The Episcopal Church as churches comprised of the wealthy, the powerful, and the elite. Both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Trinity Wall Street are arguably such bastions. Conversely, both churches’ prominence and wealth enable a breadth of mission that very few congregations could undertake.

Yet perhaps God has sent the Occupy movement, and its self-identified Christian participants, to be another Francis of Assisi, i.e., to call the Church to remember Jesus’ commitment to the poor, to use our wealth for the good of all, and, on our knees, to pass through the eye of the needle into the fullness of God's kingdom.

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.

Stewardship season - choose Me

by Maria Evans

Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we
possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our
substance, and, remembering the account which we must one
day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
--Prayer for the Right Use of God's Gifts, p. 827, Book of Common Prayer

Ah, yes...it's "Stewardship Season" again, isn't it? That time that the late Rev. Terry Parsons called the "October Beg-a-thon." I've always wondered if the folks who put the Revised Common Lectionary together knew that full well when they started stringing the various texts for October and early November.

I say that because this year, the Gospel for proper 23B--Mark 10:17-31--you might know it as the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Man--just won't seem to leave my head even though that Sunday has come and gone. Of all things, it took a skunk to make me see why this story can be so troubling.

I tend to be a bit of a night owl, and my two dogs, Boomer and Little Eddie, have more or less adjusted their bowel and bladder habits to that fact. Around midnight on the night before my parish's annual Blessing of the Animals, I was happily playing with the computer, the dogs outside doing their business, when suddenly I (unfortunately) smelled a familiar smell coming through my registers--the perfume of Mephitis mephitis, aka the North American Striped Skunk. (For what it's worth, the Latin name of the striped skunk literally means "bad odor, bad odor." Saying it twice says a lot between the lines, doesn't it?)

Sure enough, when I rushed outside, I discovered that my dogs had tangled with a skunk, and lost. They both reeked. The yard reeked. I was starting to wonder if just standing out there was going to add me to the list of things that reeked. Within nanoseconds, the thought that flew into my brain was not "I hope the dogs are okay," it was "You are NOT getting on my new sectional sofa."

As I've started to repatriate the house after the great house remodel, I purchased one nice piece of furniture for my living room--a sectional sofa with a chaise lounge and two full sized sofa sections. As one of my friends said in that I'm-joking-but-really-I'm-serious way, "It's the last piece of living room furniture you will ever need in your adult life because it is a good brand and you can always have it re-covered." Although I am notoriously cheap, I bought a good sectional in a classic style and color because I knew it would last.

That said, I've never been picky about dogs and furniture. Mi casa es su casa. My dogs have always enjoyed any stick of furniture in my house (with the exception of the kitchen table) throughout my life. Any couch or bed that my dogs would not want to sleep on is probably not a very good piece of furniture. Yet, I immediately barred my skunky dogs from not only the new sectional, but from the house entirely. They slept outside in their doghouses even after being as de-skunked as I could get them. The dogs who normally sleep with me (and they have slept with me in a de-skunked but with a slight residual odorous state in the past) were suddenly canes non grata. I could not risk them getting on the sectional while I was asleep. I didn't care that it started to rain outside. I didn't care that it was a little chilly. I didn't care that they were a bit distressed themselves about being skunked. In a heartbeat, I had summarily banned my two best companions.

The speed at which I banned them was a stark reminder about how possessions change our attitudes about generosity, charity, and love. That little nagging voice in my head whispered, "Maria, if this is how fast you'll choose your possessions over the love of your canine companions, then how many times have you just as quickly chosen your possessions over God?"

As I lay in bed (sans dogs) the Gospel story in Mark seemed to have my name on it. The Rich Young Man was me. There were things I realized I would not do even if the Kingdom of Heaven were at stake. But it wasn't just me. Everyone has his or her limit. Jesus didn't tell the Rich Young Man that to get him to play a giant game of Truth or Dare. He told him what he did simply to illustrate that none of us can earn eternity with God on our own merits--that it's all about grace--and that these sorts of challenges are there to get us to stretch our limits a little more in that relationship as a show of gratitude for that grace.

God's message is simple, consistent and persistent--choose me. But God doesn't bully us into that choice, God patiently sits on the sidelines like the kid who never gets picked first when choosing up teams. It's only with time and insight that we discover we really didn't pick anything, God owned the whole playground.

Choose me.
Choose me over your delusions of security.
Choose me over what feels safe.
Choose me over your best-laid plans.
Choose me over your most precious possession.
Choose me over your reputation.
Choose me. I can't promise you a single good thing from it, but I can promise you a new way of seeing this life and a bigger picture.

What is hanging out in the forefront of your mind this stewardship season that is pushing at you to choose 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

How shall we talk together?

by Ben Varnum

Recently, I’ve been seeing a number of comments on Episcopal Café posts that express frustration with how people are writing or commenting. On the one hand, this was no surprise; I’ve been a part of enough online communities to be fully familiar with terms like “trolling” (reading posts looking for a place to pick a fight), “flame-baiting” (writing something designed to provoke a strong reaction), and “sock-puppeting” (creating a one-use profile to comment on something without putting your name to it). (My personal favorite is “Rick-rolling” – putting up a link ostensibly supporting a pertinent topic, but actually linking to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Here’s an important example of its social impact)

On the other hand, internet communities form around an idea, and as internet futurist Clay Shirky explains fantastically in Here Comes Everybody, the strength of an internet community depends on what that idea is. So when I heard about “Episcopal Café,” I was awfully excited – here, surely, was a natural part of the evolution of our life as a church! An explicit spot to gather (online) and talk (electronically) about the life of a church so many people are passionate about!

But not even our online life is lived in Eden, and passion can come in many shapes and many voices. The way a high-church Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian who’s attended worship in the same rural parish with the same rector for 40 years will talk about the church she loves is going to be different from a 38-year-old who attends the praise band’s service and serves as the diocesan treasurer. Or the college student who joined because the [insert other denomination] church of his parents didn’t offer him the chance they longed for to live the gospel. Afro-American Episcopalians, First People Episcopalians, Latino Episcopalians, Korean Episcopalians, African Episcopalians, Euro-American Episcopalians – we’re all going to have different experiences of the church.

And yet . . . a café abides. And rather than cacophony, we really do sometimes find our way near harmony, near new ideas, near sharing our lives with one another . . . near being Christ’s Body the Church.

I think it’s worth using all are voices to claim ourselves and our conversation. I think it’s worth asking the question, “How shall we talk to one another?” I think it’s worth praying that God enter and enliven our conversations online as in person; that God meet us when we gather our thoughts and experiences electronically as in the flesh; that God forgive us our trespasses against those online.

My own voice happens to be, as a critique labeled a conversation I was part of recently, “long-winded and methodological.” I spent 8 years pursuing education at the University of Chicago, where the model for conversation is that everyone argues for their perspective as well as they can, in the hope that you find your way to the best answers and solutions. This serves very well in an academic setting, and it taught me to really think through why I believe what I believe, and be willing to say it. It certainly had its stumbling blocks, and it certainly had the consequence that some students seemed to confuse “find the best answers together” with “be respected for having the best answer” or “contributing the most to the best answer.” And when arguing about something important to me with someone who doesn’t talk that way, I know that there are other steps that are important: demonstrating to them that I care about their opinion. Paying attention when someone vents frustration, as a sign that something has become anxious for them. Re-stating what they’ve said to make sure they know that I heard it, even if I still don’t feel like it’s the whole story, and I’m pushing on some part of it or other.

Contemporary Catholic theologian David Tracy has some fantastic rules for conversation in a book that takes on (among other things) modern pluralistic conversation, Plurality and Ambiguity. It’s one of the only page numbers I still have memorized from my divinity school days (page 19), because I cited these rules so often.

- Say only what you mean
- Say it as accurately as you can
- listen to and respect what the other says, however different or other
- be willing to correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the conversation partner
- be willing to argue if necessary, to confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change your mind if the evidence suggests it

(Tracy notes that "In a sense they are merely variations of the transcendental imperatives elegantly articulated by Bernard Lonergan: 'Be attentive, be intelligent, be responsible, be loving, and, if necessary, change.'")

To me, we might also say, “In a sense they are merely variations on the baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

I have about two close friends that I keep in touch with from high school. One of them is a pretty convicted atheist. The other holds a spirituality that you might describe as Gaiaism. And I’ve recently become an Episcopal priest who loves the historical Christian theological tradition. Some of our best conversations have happened in cafés (all three of us bring up a certain conversation several years ago under a brown line stop on Chicago’s north side when one of us visited the city). But we got mad, we disagreed, we misunderstood one another profoundly. But we also laughed, and loved, and learned about each other. We stayed in the conversation and did one another the service of caring enough to try to listen even when we felt surprised or hurt by what had been said. And that conversation (and others like it) have deepened that friendship.

I hope this essay can push for us to claim our desire to be in conversation with one another, and remind us that to be the Church anywhere – even on the internet – is to seek to be guided by the life and example of Christ. If the cross to take up and carry here is to listen to the pains or the wonderings of others who care about the church, and to bring into the conversation both my strongest voice and my greatest compassion, then truly that will be an easy yoke and a light burden.

The Reverend Ben Varnum serves as Assistant Rector for a parish in the Diocese of Kansas. His training includes a Master's of Divinity from The Divinity School at the University of Chicago and a Clinical Pastoral Education residency at Rush University Medical Center. He keeps a very-occasional blog at Root Weaving


by Ann Fontaine

Friday, October 19, was Spirit Day, when people were asked to wear purple to stand up against bullying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. It got me to thinking about bullying in general and our call as Christians to stand with those who are being victimized. Can people of faith stand up to bullies, can we admit our own bully nature and learn from times when we have bullied another? Following are a couple of real life experiences that someone shared with me about using the power we have to stop the bullying in our midst.

As a very young priest I learned the power we have as clergy. A single woman in my parish chose to have a child. Once her pregnancy became obvious, the ladies started talking. I don't know that anyone ever said anything to her, but she clearly overhead it because she brought it to me. One of the issues what that they didn't think the child should be baptized because it was conceived "in sin."

So after church I called a meeting of the core elders -- about six women of the congregation. I said I had heard this was being said and I needed their help. I explained that we were a Christian congregation and the most loving thing we could do was to support this mother and welcome the child -- who most assuredly would be baptized. And we would all be called to help raise up that child in the faith. So as future godmothers of the child, I needed them to help me stop this conversation because it was unChristian and unacceptable. I was sure that we were better than that, that all of our members would be ready and willing to "love our neighbors" no matter what. This was, I said, a spiritual disciple for us...and we, as the congregation's leaders, needed to help others see that we could and would model the same love Jesus showed people. Would they help me in that?

Absolutely, they all said....and that was not only the end of the talk, but they did it. They stepped up and when the child was born with a serious health issue and flown to a major medical center, they rang up the Prayer Chain, brought casseroles when the child came home and organized a baby shower. And ever thereafter, they did their best to support that mother.

What I learned is that if I stood up, as the priest, and flatly named what was not acceptable and what I expected....people would do it. I chuckle and I think about it now -- I was 28 or 29 and looked about 15 years old....and they were mostly in their 60's. But those women heard me and they followed my lead. Many years later as I was about to leave, the matriarch reminded me of that conversation. "That's when I knew you were our priest -- you made us become the Christians we we called to be."

Another story from the same person:

My sister married an African man and, fearing the family's reaction, never told us (although I soon figured it out). She was on a junior year abroad and he was there for the first couple of years. Then came to the US to do a Master's degree. My parents didn't like and they both but my dad, in particular, would make really snide remarks about them shacking up, and him just using my sister to get into America, etc. After several phone calls like that I finally had it. I told them that they had raised me to be a Christian and love all people, that mom taught Sunday School where I learned that "red, brown, yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight" and I didn't think these comments were loving or Christian. And I didn't ever want to hear him say anything negative about my brother-in-law again. Period. There was a long silence and we ended the call.

A few weeks later my brother called. "Do you know what happened?" he asked. "Dad stopped crapping about him." I told him what happened....and neither of us heard it again. Many years later, mom told me that after the call dad went outside and was quiet for most of the day. Then at dinnertime he sat down and told mom, "She's right. It isn't the Christian thing to do, so we will stop doing it." And that was that.

Those two experiences taught me that I have more power to stop bullying than I imagined. I can often (not always...but often) stop it simply by saying, "stop." In my context, I frame that in Christian language, but that works without the religious piece. It is scary--but if you do it and it works, that's really empowering!

What keeps us from speaking out? Fear for our safety? Fear of losing social standing? When have you been a bully? What stopped you?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Rusting away

by Maria L. Evans

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom
nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon
us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so
pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

--Collect for Proper 12, p. 231, BCP

Sometimes it's fun to read the collects "out of season."

I was reminded of this one as a friend of mine prepares to enter one of her drawings in a juried contest. It's a rendition of the light dancing on her father's old red Ford truck as it slowly rots away in the auto/machinery graveyard that many family farms have somewhere on their "back forty."

What I'm about to say is not ecologically friendly, but I'll say it anyway. I really enjoy those old junk piles tucked away on folks' back forty. If the owners of the junk pile still live on the farm, every item out there has a story. Even if the original owners no longer live there, if a person is observant, one can figure a lot out with a little detective work.

The junk pile that always sticks out the most in my mind was the one that belonged to a friend of mine, where the item of intrigue was his dad's old Henry J that he bought after he had gotten out of the service. For those of you who have never heard of a Henry J, it was probably one of the first four-cylinder cars in the modern automotive era, produced by Kaiser-Frazier. It was marketed as a vehicle designed to put automobiles in the hands of people who previously were too poor to afford a car, but in reality it was a way to get rid of a lot of surplus Willys-Overland Jeep engines and engine parts from the war.

The problem was that in an era where The American Dream included getting bigger, flashier, and more complicated cars, the Henry J was going the wrong way. For starters, it was missing some things that folks had come to expect in a car--for instance, a trunk lid (you had to put the back seat down to get into the trunk,) a glove compartment, and armrests. The fact it got 35 miles per gallon was worthless in an era when gas was 17 cents a gallon. Truth is, the story was that everyone made fun of that Henry J, and it never really got the respect it deserved. The reality is, the Henry J was probably a decent car, but introduced at the wrong time. My friend's dad was so fed up by all the taunting and derision to get a "real car" that one day he just stopped driving it. Never mind he didn't have another car. He walked, bummed rides, and hitched until he could afford a 1954 Chevy Bel-Air.

This particular Henry J was eventually consigned to the junk pile, right next to the rusting International Harvester tractor that had put in decades of faithful service. Enough years had gone by that both that tractor and the Henry J had become homes for little critters--rabbits, mice, raccoons, and the occasional opossum. The weeds were tall enough that in the summer, the old Henry J almost disappeared from sight. Yet, both the beloved, reliable old tractor and the comparatively worthless Henry J shared the same fate, and became equally worthy citizens of the junk pile. It was just as good a home for a litter of wild baby rabbits as any other decaying vehicle out there.

When I think back about that junk pile, it reminds me of how the things we label, the things we judge, many times, in the end, become of no consequence. The things we once coveted are no longer of even passing interest. The things that humiliated and embarrassed us become so covered in weeds that we'll never see them again unless we look for them and unearth them.

There are times I ponder the possibility of returning to my friend's farm, but he no longer lives there, and I don't have a clue who inhabits the place now. Yet sometimes, when I pass an old junk pile off in the distance from a roadside, I go back to that junk pile with the Henry J in my mind's eye, and imagine what it must look like now. Probably enough weeds and silt over the three decades since I was last there have set it further in the ground. It's probably a lot less blue than it used to be--maybe even rusted all the way now, roof collapsed in, upholstery in tatters or down to just oxidized springs. But I suspect it's still a dandy home for wild baby rabbits.

What are the things in your life that were once objects of embarrassment and humiliation, that now are places of nurturing for something you never imagined?

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

On the border of the profane

By Amber Belldene

My favorite book about being a priest is Bill Countryman’s book, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All. Bill says nearly every human being practices priesthood one time or another, when he or she stands in a liminal space between the transcendent and our mundane, gritty reality, and helps others pass between. Doctors, teachers, athletes, parents, artists—they are all priests. But, a person with a priestly vocation is called to do this liminal ministry all the time.

There are bizarre and awkward moments of ordained priesthood—when the pita bread that shows up at the altar is onion flavored, or when kids ask a shocking question at youth group. I find these moments some of the holiest, because they break open our routines and let the Spirit in. Thanks to Bill Countryman, on those occasions I like to picture myself straddling the fault line between heaven and earth, the holy and the profane.

Profane really just means “not holy,” so it’s funny that it has come to be associated with four-letter words. The unconsecrated parts of our lives aren’t obscene, but we tend to see them standing in contrast to the holy parts. Ordained people know this well, because of how people react when a person encounters something unexpected, if profoundly normal, about us.

As a priest by day and a romance novelist by night, I occasionally write four letter words, and scenes of people enacting them. It titillates some folks to hear of this avocation, but I didn’t follow my muse to titillate. I followed her because she wouldn’t leave me alone—compelling me to consume, analyze and eventually pen romance novels. Artists talk about muses, but we Christians know the true source of inspiration is Divine. And the ever-provocative Spirit kept leading me to the border between holy and profane and asking me to look at it very closely, and play hopscotch back and forth ¬¬¬across it.

As the English-speaking world learned with Fifty Shades of Grey, I am not the only woman interested in fiction that explores gender, explicit sexuality, and above all else, love. If you don’t know what I am talking about, please find out. (Let me be clear, I’m not recommending you read this book, simply that you know about it.) We can dismiss it as mommy porn, or we can ask ourselves what people are finding in a book like that and what it tells us about people’s longings (especially its huge audience of primarily young and middle aged mothers—ahem, that’s one of our mission fields). Both romantic and sexual love are Biblical metaphors for God’s love of humanity, and I wholeheartedly believe the popular passion for romance is about our human longing for God. People want love, and we Episcopalians have something radical to say about it.

As a church, we are struggling to speak about who we are and what we have to offer that other denominations don’t. I grew up in a charismatic Episcopal parish, and since then have attended every type on the spectrum. What we have in common, from our liturgies of blessing and marriage to our Eucharistic theology, is that we embrace incarnation and we reject the notion that our bodies and desires are bad. That’s not some slippery slope where we begin to think anything goes. It’s the Gospel. God became one of us, and God made us for love, of both the human and the divine varieties.

What does profane evangelism look like? For me, it involves speaking about the spiritual and liminal aspects of things like love, sex, and romance novels. Writing genre fiction is my guerrilla theological formation. I hope my novels are invitations to a spiritual and mystical worldview that may have something to do with God. But to many (or most) readers, they probably just seem like one more variation on the vampire tale.

If we’re right that people are hungry for God, and just don't know enough about our church to find us, perhaps we need to speak more about where and how God is in the profane parts of our lives. Because, the truth is, the liminal space between heaven and earth is just as likely to open up for us in the bedroom as it as around the altar, and we need to be less afraid to talk about that. Perhaps if we did, people might know they could bring their whole selves, longings and all, to the Episcopal Church, and find love.

Amber Belldene is the pen name of an Episcopal priest. Her debut novel Blood Vine will be released in December from Omnific Publishing.

#3 Surprise gift from our Anglican divorce story for life beyond it

by Donald Schell

Part 3 of 3

I’ll begin this concluding essay by saying where I meant the meandering path of the two previous essays to lead. I’m thinking of our church’s divorce story, our independence from Rome, as family story. And I’m seeing something in it that I’d never noticed, in a small event in 1532, that leads me to wonder whether Episcopal Church’s 2012 reorganization should include eliminating any separate “House of Bishops” (BOTH the legislative house at General Convention and the year-in and year- out twice annual non-legislative gatherings).

What if our bishops found their primary identity, voice and purpose from listening to the people of their diocese rather than from speaking to each other?

What happened at my parents’ Thanksgiving Table in 1963 and at the Captain’s Table with Ted Cozzens on that steamer that’s harder when the whole diverse family isn’t gathered?

To be clear at the onset, let me insist, I’m making the suggestion that we restore rather than reject the ancient office of bishop. And, when we get there I’ll offer a choice anecdote from our Anglican family’s founding divorce that hints at an unfamiliar primary identity for a bishop.

So, first the divorce story and some observations of how we shape our stories –
Henry VIII needed a divorce from Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. When the Pope and Vatican were slow to respond, Henry decided to file for a different divorce severing the Church of England from the Catholic Church. Rome didn’t acknowledge the divorce and insisted that Henry and his church were simply living in sin. Rome’s response didn’t stop a property settlement, or at least didn’t stop us taking what we’d like. We kept our bishops and liturgy (taking the opportunity of the divorce to clean house and remodel it significantly) and we happily let them keep their Pope, clerical celibacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, and scores of problematic saints.

I hope this telling made most Episcopal readers squirm a bit. The story is more or less familiar, but that’s not the way we want it told in public. Over our last four hundred and fifty or so years of up and down communication with our Italian ex- and some custody battles over various children, and property battles over various family treasures and traditions, our critics have told the story more or less like I just did. You know those critics - theologians, cultural critics, fundamentalist neighbors, and a handful of grumpy atheists who want to tell us that our divorce wasn’t legitimate, that we’re a fake church, a believe-anything or believe-nothing outfit that practices aesthetics and manners rather than real faith. Today’s atheists tell us we’re not actually religious so not worth disputing. And our fundamentalist sisters and brothers insist that since the divorce we’ve been living in sin.

So, I think we’re actually as particular about how we tell our ecclesial divorce as any family member would be about any decisive family story.

No, we insist, it’s not like that.

We want to tell our divorce story and hear integrity and continuity. Yes, there was a divorce, but we’re a real church, and we were the same church before and after Henry VIII. In fact we needed to file for the divorce to continue Catholic Christianity in Britain. Our ancestors are honorable and we, their descendants, aren’t bastards. We’re the legitimate inheritors of rich Celtic and Benedictine traditions in the British Isles, the church of Patrick and Columba and the Venerable Bede, Dame Julian of Norwich, St. Margaret of Scotland, several important medieval theologians and philosopher-scientists, the church of Cranmer, Coverdale, Shakespeare, Dorothy Sayers, and T.S. Eliot, and so on.

Our church’s separate existence, as we usually tell the story, wasn’t born of Henry VIII’s lust and royal whim but of the principle or conscience of Catholic and Reforming Church bishops like Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley, and the heroic Biblical translator William Tyndale (these last all martyrs).

Recently I had a rich and satisfying conversation with a clergy colleague who, like me, knew divorce personally. My divorce was almost forty years ago, his more like six. Both of us recognized how carefully we told our stories. Partly we’re fussy about how we tell the story to protect our sense of who we were and are. But partly we want to keep learning from the divorce. We want to know we’re continuing to become more who we hoped to be and were called to be even with the divorce. Like other family stories, divorce stories shape us.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Hilary Martel’s Wolf Hall with pleasure in the novel and fresh interest in our family divorce story. So, I’m reading again about Henry VIII and Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More and Anne Boleyn. Mantel packed historical facts tightly into her novel, some familiar, some less so. I’m doing a lot of fact-checking and ancillary reading. Reading Martel’s novel is a painful pleasure because there our 16th century divorce story is as messy and contradictory as any family divorce story, and because I’m grateful for it’s unexpected grace. I love the church that emerged from our watershed transformation in the 16th century. And I come back to this story as I return sometimes to my long past divorce. Telling and retelling bring new discoveries. Martel has worked with recognizable and known facts and re-imagined some key characters in our story including especially Thomas Cromwell, the layman who may have contributed more than any other single person to the beginnings of the English Reformation.

Cromwell got the King’s consent to the first legal publication of England’s first English Bible. Cromwell drafted the laws that made Cranmer’s work possible. Cromwell gently guided his traditionalist Catholic except “without the Pope” monarch toward reform and change. Cromwell, with strong Lutheran sympathies managed to maintain a friendship with the King until a decade before the first English Prayer Book, Cromwell lost the King’s trust and his head.

Three hundred thirty-seven pages into her novel of Cromwell’s accomplishment, Martel offers this startling little paragraph:

“On May 15, the bishops sign a document of submission to the king. They will not make new church legislation without the king’s license, and will submit all existing law to a review by a commission which will include laymen – members of Parliament and the king’s appointees. They will not meet in Convocation without the king’s permission.”

The year was 1532, a full year before Pope Clement excommunicated Henry VIII and Archbishop Cranmer. The act of Parliament that the bishops were compelled to sign was drafted by Thomas Cromwell.

This unfamiliar bit of our family’s divorce story caught my imagination. Cromwell came up with something here that may be important to us in 2012 as our Episcopal Church thinks about re-ordering and re-organizing itself. Apart from the royalist assumptions and prerogatives that Cromwell assumed or created here, he reversed a precedent-setting initiative that the Emperor Constantine set 1200 years before when he called the Council of Nicaea. Constantine needed a unified church to bind together his quasi-Christianized Roman Empire – he proposed that a consensus of bishops could define the faith and practice of the church. The bishops had no difficulty accepting Constantine’s flattering gesture though they had a harder time agreeing about homoousios or homoiousios in the creed that they drafted.

Thomas Cromwell’s legislation and document made bishops dependent on lay people convening them and gave lay people final review over bishops’ decisions. Does Cromwell’s bold redefinition of the authority of bishops remind us that Constantine giving unprecedented ultimate authority to what bishops gathered together would say, invented a Council of Bishops? When bishops gather to deliberate and speak – not just the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals but even our own Church of England and American Episcopal House of Bishops – are they carrying on Constantine’s imperial consolidation of power?

Cromwell’s legislation surrounded bishops’ authority with lay convening and lay review. For four hundred fifty years bishops have been reclaiming their self-generated authority and autonomy. Many of them tell us that their most important conversations are in gatherings with their bishop sisters and brothers. So Cromwell has me wondering – would our bishops act more like the church bishops of the ancient church if we did away with the House of Bishops?

When Ignatius gave us his vision of the wholeness and universality of a church in the early Second Century, he summed it up with a word no Christian teacher before him had used, “Catholic,” a thing that’s seen and known in its wholeness, entire, complete.
"Wheresoever," Ignatius wrote, "the bishop appears, there let the people [laos] be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." People gathered around their bishop are whole and the Body of Christ. Two hundred years later Constantine shifted the understanding of Catholic to an Imperial one. In seminary we had a kind of riddle about bishops in council - “If IRA terrorists blew up all the Anglican bishops gathered at Lambeth, would there still be an Anglican Communion?”

Constantine looked to consolidate and organize power. His council that got all the local bishop administrator/leaders together was meant to ADD UP TO a Catholicity that Ignatius said already existed with ONE bishop surrounded by the people. The gathered Eucharistic Assembly was Ignatius whole (KATHOLIKOS) vision of Christ.

Since Constantine, gathered bishops have spoken Episcopal authority with their common voice. From Constantine onward, the bishop and bishops have seemed to believe they’re most Episcopal when they’re speaking – pastoral letters, writing admonitions, preaching.

Here’s how our 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it in the ordination liturgy for a bishop:

“A bishop in God's holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ's resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ's sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings. You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church; to celebrate and to provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant; to ordain priests and deacons and to join in ordaining bishops; and to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ. With your fellow bishops you will share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world. Your heritage is the faith of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and those of every generation who have looked to God in hope. Your joy will be to follow him who came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 517.

We call bishops to ministry and they gather to find their voice for Proclaiming, Interpreting, Testifying, and Guarding. They express their ministry in what they say and in their guardianship overseeing faith, unity, and discipline.
More often than he used the word “Catholic” Ignatius said something that has baffled commentators and been ignored by most bishops ever since - that the bishop is most a bishop when he is silent.

As Henry Chadwick wrote, “Among the many remarkable features of Ignatius’ letters there is perhaps nothing more curious than his peculiar ideas about the value attaching to silence. There is something almost comic in his insistence that when a bishop is saying nothing he is then to be regarded with special awe. It is apparently his firm conviction that the best thing a bishop can do is to refrain from speech altogether.”
Silence? Listening? Waiting? Presence in listening silence reminds me of Jesus in John 8 writing silently in the sand when the religious leaders demanded that he condemn the woman taken in adultery. Or as Ignatius says,

“He who really possess Jesus’ word is able to hear his silence in order that he may be perfect, so that he may act through his words and may be known through his silences.”

Part 2

Part 1

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

Growing pains

The Pastoral and Program Models as Seen From a Physicians Perspective.
by Brian Stork

Our local Episcopal church is going through an identity exploration. Currently, we have too many members for a single parish priest to provide individual pastoral care and expand the spiritual and educational programs expected by some of our parishioners. On the other hand, we don't yet have enough members, or funds, to hire additional support staff such as a full time youth director. Our membership and financial "plateau" has caused considerable discussion and even some tension within our congregation. Some parishioners like the historic "Pastoral Model" of our church. They are concerned, appropriately, that hiring a youth director at this time would threaten the financial health of our historic parish. Others argue that if we don't take a calculated financial risk and employ a youth director we might jeopardize the future of our parish. The issue is important to me personally because, as a community physician, I not only care about my Church but also share Communion with many of my patients on Sunday.

A few years ago our clinical practice found itself at a similar crossroad. Up until that time, whatever the medical problem might be, we saw each of our patients personally. It was a "Pastoral Model" of patient care if you will. As community physicians we derived a great amount of personal satisfaction practicing in the "Pastoral Model". I would like to believe that our patients benefited from that model as well.

However, over the past few years our practice has had to adapt to the rapid changes occurring in the health care industry. The identity exploration in our practice began with the realization that we did not have enough urologists in our community to take care of our rapidly growing patient population. At the same time we began to realize that, for basic problems in our specialty, patients probably didn't need to see a physician provider at every visit.

Our practice took the financial risk and added both a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant to our clinical staff. As a result, patients in our community don't have to wait as long to be seen and treated. Not only have patients benefited from this transition but our physicians now have more time to spend with the patients who need the most clinical attention. This transition in the organization of our clinical practice has given our physicians more time to sub specialize in the conditions in which they are most passionate about and skilled in treating. We are now treating more patients in our office and providing a wider variety of specialized services then ever before.

The transition from a "Pastoral Model" to a "Program Model" in our practice has not occurred without its share of difficulties. Supervising mid level providers is initially frustrating for physicians who are used to a direct interaction with every patient at every visit. Patients, previously accustom to seeing a physician at each visit, needed time to transition to the new model. Partners used to working side by side started to see each other less as they began to focus on their own specialty interests. Fortunately, our group can now can utilize a wide variety of low cost tools such as e-mail, texting, FaceTime, and Vsnap to stay connected.

Change in an organization tends to occur when the discomfort of doing nothing is greater then the discomfort of changing. There is no question that change can be painful. In our practice, we now embrace change as a challenge and an opportunity. With imagination, hard work, and communication it is possible for organizations as diverse as Churches or physician practices to make the transition from one model of operation to another.

Changes in health care are affecting physician practices rapidly, often by forces from outside of the physician office. Changes in the Church tend to occur much more slowly and perhaps from processes that are more from within the parish. I pray for our church as we work together to discern the correct path and take the next step. I pray for our practice that we can maintain our new course, direction, and speed.

Dr. Brian Stork is an active member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, MI, and a private practice urologist (www.westshoreurology.com). He has a passion for physician leadership, patient education, and community building using emerging technology and social networking. His reflections on life, medicine, and spirituality can be found on Twitter @storkbrian

Transformation Through Twitter

by Maria L. Evans

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
--Prayer for a church convention or meeting, Book of Common Prayer, page 818

Through the magic of Twitter, there's been something wonderful and new I've seen evolve this past General Convention, and as we head into Diocesan Convention season in many dioceses, it will be interesting if all the tweeting going on this summer at GC 2012 has changed the face of all church conventions forever. If it's been happening to me, it must be happening to others, too. In fact, I think it has been happening to others. I've heard this summer referred to as "the summer of Twitter," and "the summer of tweeting."

I did not get to attend GC 2012. (As I've jokingly said, "Well, ONE of us has to stay home and work, you know.") My participation in GC appeared doomed to be rather passive--watching live feeds on the GC Media Hub and following it on Twitter. However, our Diocesan Director of Communications had a use for that. She asked me to assist her in being part of a little team of news-gatherers via an internet pipeline she created, and I also kept watch on the Twitter feed, which was an easy enough task I could do while sitting at my desk between signing out my surgical pathology cases.

But what became interesting to me was it was clear that, at times, it was hard to tell who was actually AT General Convention and who was back home, like me. In fact, people who were physically present at GC 2012, whom I'd conversed with through social networking venues, would mistakenly think I was there, too! I'd get messages like "Sorry I missed you," and "Where are you? Let's get together at break."

In short, something that made this GC 2012 unique was this wonderful blurring of presence. The veil between being actually physically present and being present in a larger sense had a few holes punched in it. This might be the first time at a church convention where the deputies and the folks back home were this palpably close to each other in understanding the work of the church at GC 2012. In fact, one of our diocesan deputies remarked that those of us back home on the news-gathering team actually knew MORE about what was going on hour by hour at GC 2012, and that the ones physically present were actually more out of the loop in some things.

What I saw was this lovely communal relationship, where everyone was free to focus on their own tasks at hand, with a certain level of trust that the others had their backs.

I suspect this will carry forth into whatever it will evolve to be, at the various upcoming Diocesan conventions, but on a smaller scale. As a member of one of the more far-flung parishes in my own diocese, I think what it means for me is that I never again will have an excuse to be insular again in the work of the church. What will that mean for those of us in the more rural parts of the Episcopal Church? I don't know, but I look forward to seeing how social media has the potential for us to understand being "one holy catholic and apostolic church" in new ways.

How did this past summer change how you saw the larger church? As the various diocesan conventions start to take place, how do you think social networking will change them?

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

Stories #2: Who calls us to the table?

by Donald Schell

Part 2 of 3

My Uncle Ted was a Presbyterian lay missionary in Cameroon. He wasn’t actually my uncle. He’d been married to my great aunt and she died in Cameroon. He was one of those “uncles” who redefine family, an old, old friend of my living grandmother and the grandfather I never knew, an avuncular teacher and inspiration to all of us. I was proud to claim him for a relative.

Ted was not one of the scary independent missionaries our church preferred sponsoring. He was an actual, no-apologies-Presbyterian. In the years we didn’t see Ted in California, I felt his presence in my grandmother’s living room from all the treasures of carved ivory and ebony that Ted had brought back on his visits home. I think my love of African art and music began afternoons at my grandmother’s, handling the treasures and wondering at the hands and eyes that had carved them. Remembering Ted so long after his death, I recall feeling his living absence in that room in those objects and in the slow, steady tick tock of my grandmother’s big clock. Being there always made me eager to see Ted again and hear new stories from him.
Like my parents and another great aunt, Ted was a Stanford University graduate. His degree was in Engineering. As a Presbyterian missionary/fraternal worker he founded and ran a technical school in Cameroon. It’s there today as the Université Protestante Edwin Cozzens d’Elat. Ted spoke the Bulu language of the area of Cameroon where he worked and was fond of quoting Bulu proverbs and sayings to us. And because of shifts in colonial powers through both World Wars, Ted was also fluent in French, Spanish, and German. His field recordings of traditional Cameroon song are still available in the Smithsonian/Ethnic Folkways recording “Bulu Songs from the Cameroons.”

One of Ted’s stories taught me how sophisticated an aural music culture could be. On one of his return trips “home” as he called the station in Elat, he’d brought back a wind-up phonograph and his big stack of 78 rpm recordings of the whole of Handel’s Messiah. One of his students played the recordings over and over and then gathered a chorus of students and taught them the Messiah’s many choruses, all parts, by ear. When I first heard how fourteen-year-old Mozart had heard the Allegri Miserere sung in the Sistine Chapel and transcribed the whole piece note for note that afternoon, I thought, “Mozart was hearing Allegri like Ted’s student heard Handel.”

As an engineer Ted adapted the Bulu grass and pole building method to build a vaulted grass church big enough for a revival meeting for 5000 people. Ted was a lay preacher and teacher. My generally soft-spoken, wry uncle harbored a voice big enough to preach to those 5000 people without amplification. I hadn’t heard the grass church voice, but Ted’s voice and the power of his passionate preaching resonate in my memory. There were other preachers in the family, but none whose voices my body still carries.

Thinking of that huge grass church, I remember wishing I could have heard the singing. Why didn’t I ask him more about that? Did he record church song too? Did they sing Bulu melodies? Was there drumming? Was there dancing?

I can hear him and feel the resonance of Ted’s voice in my chest as I write. Though I heard him only every couple of years when he was back in California, it was Ted’s voice and presence and words that sowed and watered my own vocation as preacher (and yes, that fueled my impatience with any preaching I heard that lacked his intelligence and Spirit).

When our heroic builder-preacher uncle retired to California after fifty years in Cameroon, my brother apprenticed himself to Ted for building projects on his cabin in the mountains near us. Ted guided his hands and mind to build in wood. My brother became a master carpenter and a contractor. Ted gave Peter skills and tools that began his professional toolbox, a kind of ordination or anointing. And when Ted was in a nursing home, restless with pain and dying, he gave me his Bible concordance. “You’re a preacher,” he said. “Use this.” And I have used it.

I felt Ted’s two blessings come together when my brother built St. Gregory’s Church, San Francisco and our building won an American Institute of Architects Best Religious Building of the Year Award.

Ted was a teacher-storyteller. Though he was often a character in his stories, they felt a little like parables. Sometimes he judged wrongly and hurt someone and had to seek forgiveness, to make amends and reconcile. Sometimes he’d tell how he faced a dilemma and learned something. Sometimes he told of making a dreadful mistake that couldn’t be corrected. Sometimes he offered a decisive action.

I hold two of his stories among my treasures and though in both of these stories Ted appears as the hero, he’d likelier say he was an instrument of the Spirit. These were stories Ted told with an unspoken message like, “If you have a moment like this, see what the moment offers, and do what’s there for you to do.”

The quieter story is about a Bulu widow who had been sold to forced labor on the tea plantations in the North. Ted bought her freedom before she was taken away (which startled everyone) and then bought and gave her a small piece of cleared land. She knew the traditions and ways of pre-colonial Cameroon where the women were the farmers and the builders, so she readily built herself a house, planted and tended her crops, and settled securely into a solid place in her village. The year Ted retired back to California, he got a letter from her, a brief note written in the hand he’d first helped shape long before –

“My crops are good. I am doing well. Thank you for the land and for my life where my heart sits down.”

Ted said, “It makes me wish I was back home to see it.” Cameroon was where his heart had sat down too.

My other treasured Ted story was about a dining table. Ted was returning to the U.S. for one his furlough visits, a U.S. mission tour to Presbyterian churches and a visit to us in California. Over the fifty years Ted served in Cameroon, ships were the usual means of global travel, but from Cameroon your ship would be a freighter not a passenger liner. So for Ted’s voyage to New York, he and half a dozen others were guests at the captain’s mess, the dinner table for ship’s officers and passengers. On this trip back Ted was bringing a graduate of the technical school with him to enroll in Princeton Seminary. The student was going to study for ordination. He’d be one of the first seminary-trained Cameroonian pastors. Their first night at sea Ted and his student were finding their sea legs as they talked with the captain walking to the table. Some of the passengers were already seated.

When the student pulled his chair out to sit down, a Baptist missionary whom Ted knew shouted in horror, “I have NEVER sat at the table with a black man and I do not intend to now.” I picture the rock of the boat and the sway of the Baptist as he pushed himself back from the table. Ted said, “I used my preaching voice, and told him, ‘YOU SIT DOWN.’ And he sat.”

Telling these stories matters to me. I treasure them. Seeing one and hearing the other taught me possibilities that shaped me as they were meant to. I’ve heard others in my family tell them and I’ve told and retold them myself.

I notice common threads in these two Presbyterian family stories that connect them to an old 1532 Anglican family story that I want to remind us of.

-- both my stories are still carry the charge of my adolescent and young adult discovery in hearing them, and both have a lay person unexpectedly transforming something traditional, official, and structured –

Thanksgiving dinner and dinner at the captain’s table –

into a moment of Gospel reconciliation, because in both a lay voice speaks decisively from the inherent authority of conscience. Neither my grandmother nor Ted prefaced or justified their decisive words “by what authority” they spoke.

-- neither story does more than convene a reluctant, conflicted gathering. Strong words that brought divided minds to a single table (reconciling in a literal, physical way) didn’t make a consensus. The grace I felt in each story was simply in a voice gathering and holding conflicted people into one conversation at one table.

Part 2/3 watch for Part 3

Part 1

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

On inclusion

by Gawain de Leeuw

I have a problem with the word “inclusive.” When people announce “We’re an inclusive church,” or I see signs that say, “Everybody’s welcome,” I cringe. Because chances are I won’t go to that church. And it’s not because I don’t like everybody, or try.

But these phrases for me are like fingernails on a chalkboard.

It’s not because announcements of inclusivity are inaccurate. I don’t mind the hypocrisy of churches that won’t expand their musical repertoire or disparage the attractive techniques of megachurches. What we mean by “inclusive” is specific: we have lesbian, bisexual, gay and a few transgender people who take positions of authority in our congregations. But I doubt we’re that inclusive until we have Sam Cooke or Gloria Gaynor in the hymnal.

I’m not unsympathetic. After all, inclusivity reflects the sentiment, “We’re not like those awful evangelicals and Roman Catholics.” We can now dine in polite society and hang with the professional, educated class. We can now be done explaining that we’re not like the bigots on the other side.

But once we’ve patted ourselves on the back, enjoyed our being inclusive, we still have work to do. Because declaring our “inclusivity” will not strengthen our church or make us more appealing. It’s lovely theater, and plausible marketing. But it’s just the beginning.

Inclusivity conveys nothing of value except being inclusive. It’s like advertising “free stuff” for the taking. But what is free can often seem worthless. What we offer for nothing can strike the outside as cheap. If everyone can have it, perhaps it’s not particularly valuable. For if we’re busy saying we’re an open place, with open doors and open minds, and it does not seem appealing, perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong issue.

I suggest two confusions.

First of all, inclusivity is not the same as hospitality. Hospitality requires intentionality and resources. We can talk about inclusivity all we want, but if we aren’t curious about others our inclusivity is insincere. If our communities aren’t willing to do the careful work of making people at home, making them feel loved, we’re not as inclusive as we’d like to be. And this is a delicate dance. There’s a difference between hospitality and desperation.

Secondly, inclusivity is passive. Being inclusive does not mean we will learn the primary, fundamental task of the institutional church: building relationships. That means not merely opening up our doors with the “inclusive” banner, but going out into the world. Our open door policy might be about letting us out, rather than ushering people in.

My issues is not about the sentiment. I love the sentiment. I like having a diverse congregation with a wide variety of backgrounds. I like that we have a church that assumes that any person who enters has a place at the table. But pronouncing inclusivity is one thing. Demonstrating that our shared life has value is another.

The Rev. Dr. Gawain de Leeuw is a priest at St Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in White Plains, NY. He blogs at The Divine Latitude.

Stories #1: Who gets to say who we sit with?

by Donald Schell

Part 1 of 3

Through the run-up to the1960 election our evangelical church pastor warned us repeatedly that if America elected a Roman Catholic president he would be taking orders from the Vatican. Catholics, he said, had to obey the Pope, so they weren’t like us Christians who acknowledged no authority but the Bible. He explained all this repeatedly to adult groups, to our youth group, and to the whole congregation gathered for Wednesday evening potluck (after we’d sung The Doxology but before he said grace over the meal). Whenever he’d say this, he’d also point out that he wasn’t saying it from the pulpit, which, he said, would have been bringing religion into politics the way Martin Luther King did; and no, we didn’t do that.

The pastor’s warnings about a Catholic president were the first and only time I remember a pastor in that church making any kind of political statement. Here’s how we didn’t talk politics in church: everyone voted Republican with the exception of my occasionally outspoken Boys’ Sunday School teacher. People’s intended vote was expressed in their Nixon lapel buttons. Our Sunday School teacher’s intention to vote for Kennedy came out when we asked him why he wasn’t wearing a Nixon button.
Before the election we hadn’t prayed in church for President Eisenhower and after Kennedy’s election nothing changed. Protestant or Catholic, we didn’t pray for the President. But after Kennedy was elected, our pastor’s new worried look reminded us of his warning – we knew he was waiting for Kennedy to announce he was appointing an American Ambassador to the Vatican. That, our pastor had explained, would be the first thing the Pope would require of a Catholic president.

Meanwhile the pastor’s words had heightened my questions about who Christians listen to and talk to and share table with. His questions about Kennedy started me thinking about who we’ll sit with, eat with, and listen and talk to, questions that define who we are.

I was elated at the inaugural to hear Robert Frost, a poet I read and admired, recite “The Gift Outright.” And when Pablo Casals accepted Kennedy’s insistent invitation to play at the White House, I went out and purchased his recording of Bach’s Cello Suites and listened to them again and again.

Meanwhile the pastor’s concern about Martin Luther King’s mixing faith and politics got me watching this new and unusual pastor for hints of a bigger vision of Christian faith. I began seeing Jesus the reconciler in Gandhi and King and I began praying for God’s justice to roll down like waters. Soon I was reading Thomas Merton on war and peace and thinking about “deterrence,” “mutually assured destruction,” and the threat of thermonuclear war.

Back at church Sunday morning sermons were expository tours of the Epistles of St. Paul and Sunday evening sermons continued to expound the end of the world from the Book of Revelation. Sunday evenings we heard how the re-establishment of a nation of Israel was a sure sign that Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ would happen in our lifetimes, and the subtler question of whether Gog and Magog was the Soviet Union or Europe’s NATO alliance. In social studies class at school we talked about the U-2 spy plane that had photographed new Soviet missile installations in Cuba just ninety miles from U.S. soil. I couldn’t sit through the Sunday evening expositions of Revelation any more. Yes, I thought, the end of the world could be near, but it won’t begin with a land battle in Palestine. My fellow peacenik friends and government voices confident of deterrence by mutually assured destruction thought missiles in Cuba moved the nuclear clock much closer to high noon.

Wednesday, October 24, 1962, the principal’s voice over the public address system interrupted our social studies class and every class in school. Soviet ships were steaming toward the U.S. Naval blockade of Cuba. We were to remain in our seats and listen to live radio broadcast of unfolding events. Our social studies teacher said that if the U.S. Navy was compelled to use force to stop the Soviet ships, the principal would be deciding whether to send us home immediately or to do a duck and cover drill to prepare the school for the air-raid sirens. This time the sirens would be real.
So we sat and listened to the full speed advance of Soviet ships. I watched the slow minute by minute click of the classroom clock over our teacher’s head. We all believed we were hearing the beginning of World War III. Soviet ships steaming on. No change in course. And then for a moment the radio was quiet and cautiously, incredulously the reporter said it looked like the Soviet ships could be slowing. No, they were definitely slowing. Another lull, a real silence, and he said, “The Soviet ships have stopped.”
We sat in stunned silence until our single roar of cheers and laughter and clapping joined every other classroom in the school. The world had not ended. I let go of my shallow breathing with long sighs, and in the next moments thought of my learner’s permit and drivers’ ed classes I was about to begin. Perhaps we had a future ahead. Maybe I would get a driver’s license, graduate from high school, and go to the ‘college of my choice.’

That spring on my 16th birthday I did pass my driver’s test. And then senior year! I was driving stick shift, I’d quit the swimming team, dropped my boring AP English class for drama and become stage manager for the school play. I was working on my college applications and re-reading Dr. Zhivago. Life seemed full of promise.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, as we were in the open outdoor corridors passing between classes, the principal’s voice over the P.A. announced that the President had been shot. He was in surgery. I’d never been outside to hear the principal’s voice and didn’t know the P.A. system had speakers in the corridors. When the next announcement came we were in class. The President was dead and we were being sent home.

It was a sunny November day in California. The afternoon unfolded in slow motion. Trying to write it now, I realize that I’ve combined memories of the light and shadow from that afternoon with wholly different afternoon watching the light and shadows of a solar eclipse.
I have no memories of the next day, Saturday. But I do remember going to church that Sunday, hoping we’d hear a prayer for the nation, for the Kennedy family, for our new President, for peace. Nothing. A sermon on Ephesians and long pastoral prayer that avoided what I knew was on everyone’s heart and mind. Nothing.

The next week in school was mercifully short but also confusing. President Johnson declared Monday a national day of mourning, a school holiday for Kennedy’s funeral. Tuesday and Wednesday were ordinary school days. But normal life? We had two days of aimless wondering how we’d carry on and then it was Thanksgiving. And how would Thanksgiving work? What were we supposed to be thankful for? With a devastating loss and not knowing how the world holds together, how do you give thanks?
Mother was cooking all morning. Another crisp beautiful California autumn day. My grandmother was coming, mother’s mother, and Great Uncle Purdy and his wife. My grandfather, Purdy’s brother, had died before I was born. Purdy, I was assured, was NOT like his brother. My dad, the physician, wasn’t on call. I liked that. I knew Dad would say the table prayer, and I was pretty sure he’d find a way, somehow to pray for the nation. There’d be nine of us at table – the three elders, my parents, my younger sisters and brother, and me. Mother had me setting the table with the good silver and she asked us to dress for Thanksgiving dinner – no tie but a nice white shirt.

We stood around the table as mother brought the turkey in and put it in front of dad. It waited there for his surgery-trained precision carving, because he asked us pause for a moment before grace. Purdy couldn’t kept still - “That son of a you-know-what got what was coming to him.” The muscles in my neck and shoulders pinch tight as I remember hearing him. I can see his old man’s hard certainty on his face of just to my left. Across the table stood my grandmother, no lover of Democrats. I turned to see her face because a half breath after Purdy, she said, “Purdy, that’s the last we’ll hear of that kind of talk. A woman’s been made a widow and there’s young children with no father and our country just lost its President.” When she needed it my grandmother’s height and voice made her a commanding presence. She held Purdy’s gaze in the silence after her words until dad said, “Let’s pray,” and he offered the prayer I’d wished I’d heard on Sunday.

And then we, the rest of us, sat while he stood carving the turkey and asked who wanted dark meat. Dad’s prayer had been all the words the assassination would get before in our stumbling way we tried to have Thanksgiving dinner. Purdy sat at table with us and talked about the ordinary dull things I’d expect him to talk about.

Part 1/3 - watch for Part 2

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

Strange exorcists

by Marilyn McCord Adams

Mark 9:38-50
In Jesus’ time and ours, many people work hard to eradicate the worst evils: evils that gerrymander societies into rich versus poor, haves versus have-nots, people that matter versus others who don’t count; diseases and traumas that bi-polarize, dissociate, and twist psyches; physical maladies that make life difficult and full community participation impossible.

In Jesus’ time, not only systemic social evils, but also mental illness, blindness, deafness, crippling paralysis, seemed super-human, humanly insuperable. In Jesus’ time, people reasoned: if the causes were something humans could handle, conquest would be within human reach. In Jesus’ time, they concluded: since life’s worst evils are overwhelming, they must be traced back to super-human malevolent powers. Because life’s worst evils do not simply erase, but distort and caricature, such powers must be personal, cruel and deliberate in mocking what creation was meant to be. We have to admit, they have a point. No matter how much we know about biochemistry and systems dynamics, don’t we still call the most insidious evils “diabolical” and “demonic”?

In Jesus’ time, the cure for individual and social demon-possession was exorcism. The exorcist “channeled” super-natural power to rout demons. Mark’s Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, a fortiori a powerful exorcist who strides into ministry to send the demons packing. Mid-course, Jesus ordains disciples with the authority to proclaim Kingdom-coming and to cast out demons. Onlooker exorcists perceive that the name of ‘Jesus’ is--more than ‘abracadabra, please and thank you’--an efficacious magic word. The disciples are indignant, want to sue the copycats for trademark infringement. But Jesus counters: “don’t forbid them!” Using the name of ‘Jesus’ and finding that it “works” could well be the first step that slippery-slopes them into discipleship!

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and the disciples are the insiders and the “strange” exorcist is the outsider. In today’s pluralistic America, the situation is reversed. Many lefties here work overtime to uproot social injustices, to provide for the poor and homeless, to defend prisoners and the powerless, to open up educational opportunities. Many take for granted that a core allergy to human degradation, a deep revulsion at environmental exploitation, are part of what it is to be a decent human being. For many, religion is at best a non-starter, more likely superstitious nonsense, worse still, pious irrationality that could easily turn divisive and do more harm than good.

So, there they are, secular humanists in the best sense, speaking truth to power, championing what is good and wholesome. And here come the Christians, working alongside them, standing up for the homeless, supporting transitional housing and drug treatment programs, sponsoring prisoners on work leave. To secular humanists, we are the strange exorcists. We are the ones who, despite seeming normal, hold silly religious beliefs. (I remember sixties activists who compared faith in God to believing in fairies!) Political theorists scramble to figure out how people with deeply contrasting world-views can fight for the same causes or live and work together in the same town.

One approach popular among political scientists is to forbid us to use the name of ‘Jesus’ (and for that matter to prohibit Catholics from wearing crucifixes or Moslem women from donning the hijab). We are told to compartmentalize, to cordon off our religious convictions from our humanitarian sensibilities, to base our social-justice work on “public reasons,” on motivations that all decent human beings can be expected to share. Compartmentalization tells us: people with different world views can live and work together in the same place, so long, and only so long, as we ground our public life on the least common denominator of shared commitments.

If we agree to this, we may still give our secular social-activist partners pause. They will have to ponder how our passion for justice can co-exist with deep-seated religious delusion. They will be challenged to consider whether it is really possible for the same people to be so rational and high-minded and yet so crazy at one and the same time. It is barely possible that for some the question would flicker, whether religion is only (in the words of Tony Blair) for “nutters” after all.

Nevertheless, compartmentalization is a bad bargain for us, first, because it is an invitation to psycho-spiritual fragmentation that puts human decency in one cupboard and the “God-thing” in another. Compartmentalization not only invites us to see, but calls on us to make sure that our faith is separate from our deep-seated social and political convictions. This move turns faith in God into a fifth wheel that does no work, into something irrelevant to what we most care about in our lives.

Compartmentalization is an unfaithful and spiritually misleading strategy. It is not as if our passion for justice is one piece and our supernatural beliefs are a different piece and the one has nothing to do with the other. No! Remember St. Augustine’s famous exclamation: “O God, you made us for yourself. Our hearts are restless until they rest in you!” Our passion for justice, our hungering and thirsting for righteousness, are rooted in our hungering and thirsting for God Who is the source of all righteousness. Our heart’s revulsion to cruelty, our anger at oppression, our rage at the rape of the land: all of these arise from our natural bent towards honoring God by honoring God’s likeness in all God’s creatures.

Compartmentalization is tempting, because we can be aware of our passion for justice and of our belief in God without being conscious of the deep-structure rooting of the one in the other. To experience the connection, we have to “act out” our longing for God in fervent prayer. Prayer awakens us to God deep within us, stirring up our longing for God, rearing us up into family-resemblance that shares God’s loves allergies.

Praying our way into recognized connection, cancels fragmentation, and reveals God to be the ground of our personal integrity. Prayer exposes how there is not enough to us on our own to fight the good fight. To revert to biblical language, our social-justice battles are not with flesh and blood but principalities and powers. What keeps us from “burning out” is that our zeal is rooted in the fierceness of God’s own passion for justice. In this sense, we “channel” it. The Power that is with us is stronger than the forces that are against us. And, so, come hell or high water--and we know, they do come--the struggle will go on! Mother Teresa and her nuns understand the importance of prayer in consciously connecting us with our ground. Every day, they spend as much time contemplating the Blessed Sacrament as they do on the streets.

But isn’t there a danger that digging down to recognize God as the root of human decency, will alienate us from our allies, make us intolerant and intolerable?

Not necessarily. Prayer and reason agree: if God is the root of our passion for justice, God is its root in each and every human being. Roots are below ground. God is sneaky. People do not have to believe in God, for God to be at work in them, stirring them up to love what God loves and to be revolted at what God cannot stand. Everyone is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Marvelous as it is, the gift of faith is no occasion for “holier than thou.”

Neither does recognizing God at the root have to turn us into obnoxious ‘are-you-saved-brother’ evangelists. Holy Spirit works to bring people to the knowledge and love of God according to unique individual syllabi. Everywhere and always is not the time to make our faith explicit. Happily, abstraction is an alternative to compartmentalization. If I tell you that my study is rectangular, I abstract from its exact size or wall-color, but I do not thereby imply that its shape exists without any size or that its walls have no color. In fact, shape could not exist without a size; walls, without a color. But I can explicitly call attention to one without mentioning the other. Likewise, we can at times abstract various aspects of our beliefs from their theological roots. We can join secular colleagues in declaring that torture is wrong everywhere and always, that people are too entitled to food, housing, and healthcare just because they are human beings. Unlike compartmentalization, abstraction is not spiritually fragmenting. Not always mentioning God is compatible with our being fully aware that God’s own passion is what drives us! And in the long run, integrity, not fragmentation, may pique other people’s curiosity enough to ask: why do you stick with this? What is your bottom line? Our faithfulness will have earned the right to tell them, to use the attention that our deeds have earned to point to God who makes it all possible!

The Reverend Marilyn McCord Adams is Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Assisting Priest at the Church of the Advocate, Chapel Hill

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