The Martyrs of Uganda witness against sexual violence

The Martyrs of Uganda are celebrated on June 3rd. While the feast is not well known in the West, it is a big day in much of Africa. Martyrs Day on June 3 is a national holiday in Uganda. The men who were martyred were Anglican and Roman Catholic Christians and this year marked the 50th anniversary of their canonization by Pope Paul VI.

The story of their death is hair-raising. The Satucket Lectionary on the Holy Women Holy Men website says:

On 3 June 1886, thirty-two young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga of Buganda, were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. In the following months many other Christians throughout the country died by spear or fire for their faith.’

images.jpegThese martyrdoms totally changed the dynamic of Christian growth in Uganda. Introduced by a handful of Anglican and Roman missionaries after 1877, the Christian faith had been preached only to the immediate members of the court, by order of King Mutesa. His successor, Mwanga, became increasingly angry as he realized that the first converts put loyalty to Christ above the traditional loyalty to the king. Martyrdoms began in 1885. Mwanga first forbade anyone to go near a Christian mission on pain of death, but finding himself unable to cool the ardor of the converts, resolved to wipe out Christianity.

Their deaths was the spark that began a remarkable expansion of the Christian Gospel in eastern and central Africa. It is a story of remarkable faithfulness in the face of the violence and power of the state.

But the story of the Ugandan Martyrs has changed. Their witness is no longer remembered in terms of the resistance of the faithful to the demands of a human king. Instead, their story has been used to justify homophobia and violence . Because in addition to demanding that the thirty-two men renounce their Christian faith, King Mwanga also demanded that they submit to him sexually. As a result their story is used to justify both hatred of homosexuality in general and violence against gay and lesbian people in particular.

The transformation of their story from a story of sexual violence exercised by king into a moralistic story against homosexuality is similar to how the church of the Middle Ages, the Victorian era and even in our time, transformed the story of first Christian women who were martyred...women who were often called virgins.

In the early church there was a strong connection between a woman's chastity and martyrdom with several examples of women choosing death over rape or forced marriages, and so on.

One the hallmarks of the early church was that it was a place that accepted "widows" and "orphans," who were not simply women or children whose husbands and parents predeceased them, but who were women and children cast off by society because their bond to that society was severed either by the death of--or very often the whim of-- a man. A woman whose husband put her out and whose father and brothers would not take back was a "widow."

Similarly, the children of a man who would not accept paternity--the child of a mistress or a slave or conceived through rape or simply not accepted in the family (like an expensive girl-child)-- were put out to fend for themselves in the society of the Greek and Roman world.

Slavery was one answer to this. Not the chattel slavery that we think of, but a high-order indentured servitude. People, in short, could and did become property.

The early church offered a place and a status to women and children by welcoming and caring for the widowed and orphaned. The idea that a woman could choose chastity over involuntary sex with a person not of her choosing, and this choice was considered not rebellious but virtuous was a radical aspect of the Christian gospel. Paul's affirmation that in Christ there is no "slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female" but that all are one in Christ takes on a particularly radical and poignant perspective in this context.

In this context, "virginity" was not so much about sexual restraint as the refusal to allow others to choose when, how and with whom a woman may exercise her sexuality. Early church saints and martyrs like Cecile, Agatha and Agnes were choosing not to participate in a society that made women the property of some man, in a world where sex was a sign of domination and power instead of intimacy.

The impact of their witness was lost when chastity and virginity became more about morals and regulating women's bodies in later times but understanding their original context can help us in understanding what to make of the Martyrs of Uganda.

For one thing, in the story of the king demanding sex with these Christian captives, there is very little connection with how we understand homosexuality (as an orientation) or marriage (as an equal partnership based on mutual love and mutual commitment) or even healthy sexuality today.

Like the early Christian martyrs, what the Martyrs of Uganda refused was the power of an earthly king who wanted to demonstrate his power over these slaves--and the powerlessness of the Gospel--by attempting to have forcible sex with helpless victims. What they refused was the use of sex as a expression of power--in this case political and religious--through the humiliation of rebellious subjects. Their refusal was an affirmation that in Christ each person has inherent dignity and worth. As they went to their gruesome deaths singing and praying, they proved that God's power builds up while human power degrades.

Their witness is a powerful example today where sexual violence is widespread in conflicts all over the world.

Participants at last week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, agreed that faith communities can have significant influence to end the sexual violence that still takes place all over the globe.

Faith leaders and faith-based organizations have a vital role to play in engaging their communities in both the prevention of, and response to, sexual violence in conflict..

…faith communities are often at the center of communities and able to be first responders in times of crisis. They can challenge the attitudes associated with sexual violence and address perceptions that can lead to inequality and the spread of violence.

Those who use the witness of the Martyrs of Uganda to condemn homosexual persons, or to denigrate same sex marriage or as an excuse to persecute GLBT persons miss the power of the original witness of the Martyrs of Uganda. They reduce their deaths to a story of paranoia and social control. In short, they accomplish precisely was the Ugandan king failed to do in 1886.

Instead, the Martyrs of Uganda are a powerful example of how the Church can—and does—stand against sexual violence of all kinds and in all places.

The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pennsylvania in the Diocese of Bethlehem. He keeps the blog “Fun’n’Games in the Kingdom of God.”

Singing the Lord's song: justice and the church

by George Clifford

Owen Thomas was first a physicist and then a theologian in the Anglican tradition. He is Emeritus Professor of Theology, Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, and an adjunct professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Additionally, he has taught at the Gregorian University in Rome and served as president of the American Theological Society.

His credentials caused me to pause when I read the following in an article he authored:

The presence of the reign of God is a matter primarily of outward signs and actions rather than the progress and perfection of the inner life. The focus of the reign of God is primarily on public, communal, political, economic, and historical life rather than on private interior life. The traditional emphasis in Christian ascetical theology on interiority has led the Church in its mission to focus primarily on private, emotional, and family life to the exclusion of public, work, and political life. ("Interiority and Christian Spirituality," The Journal of Religion, Vol. 80, No. 1 (Jan 2000), 59)

Lest one succumb to the temptation to dismiss his view on the primacy of the external over the interior for Christian spirituality with an ad hominem attack (e.g., what else should one expect from a physicist?), Thomas' justification for his conclusion is worth considering. He argues that Christians splitting the spirit from the body and assigning priority to the former is odds at with the totality of our tradition. Jewish spirituality emphasized the unity of body and spirit. The Gospel of John echoed that message by prominently declaring that the Word became flesh. Thomas stands in good company. Contemporary historians of Christian spirituality like Urban Holmes share Thomas' assessment that Christian spirituality rightly emphasizes the external over the interior.

Lent is an especially appropriate season in which to revisit this insight. In Lent many of us pay extra attention to our spiritual journeys (this is good). However, we tend to interiorize this focus seeking to identify the breaks in our relationship with God and to become more attuned to God's presence through more time in prayer and study. We may choose a spiritual discipline designed to help us in that achieving those goals, even using nominally outward oriented disciplines such as fasting or helping others to improve our interior life. Inadvertently, perhaps unintentionally, we further divorce the spirit from the body, as the spiritual slowly becomes ever more synonymous with the interior life (this is not so good).

Over the last few decades, I have listened as numerous Episcopalians – as well as persons from other Christian traditions – criticized the Episcopal Church's seeming preoccupation with social justice and human rights to the exclusion of evangelism, prayer, etc. Perhaps one source of this criticism has been that we have failed to express our concern for social justice and human rights effectively and consistently in Christian language. Assuredly, a second source of this criticism has been the widespread preoccupation with interiority that Thomas noted.

Thankfully, the Episcopal Church has made enormous strides towards more fully incarnating God's justice. Although far from perfect, we more clearly stand for the dignity and worth of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or gender orientation. We seek to welcome all, regardless of income, political affiliation, or theological/liturgical distinctions. With each step we have taken in these directions, others and I have discerned God's presence and activity in our midst.

Now, I hear God calling us to sing another stanza in the Lord's song. This stanza has us:

• Bringing good news to the poor (e.g., working to create a strong social safety net and to ensure all have quality, affordable healthcare while questioning the justice of an economic system that allows one corporation to buy another for $2 billion when the latter has no marketable product, let alone made a profit),
• Proclaiming release to the captives (e.g., campaigning to free hundreds of thousands from among the millions incarcerated in our nations jails and prisons),
• Helping the blind recover their sight (e.g., teaching people to see as God sees),
• And liberating the oppressed (e.g., aiding the victims of addiction, wounded warriors returning home with unrecognized psychic and moral injuries, and opposing tyranny, slavery, and exploitation everywhere).

Such is the year of the Lord's favor.

This is not a ministry of ashes on the street, which is sadly more often theater than a ministry of enduring substance. Singing the Lord's song is a ministry of transformation, of awkwardly, perhaps even uncertainly, living into a new reality, the Kingdom of God on earth. In singing the Lord's song, we follow in the footsteps of the prophets and of Jesus, doing as they did, not foretelling the future, but discerning God at work in the world establishing justice, embracing with love, and empowering for life.

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, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings ().

Our worst fears

by Lawrence L. Graham

According to the evidence presented at trial, Trayvon Martin thought the man following him might be a sexual predator. On the other hand, George Zimmerman thought the young man he was following was a prowler who was up to no good. As it turns out, both of them were tragically wrong in their assumptions.

There’s not much point in rehashing the case. The jury has spoken and under our system of laws, that’s that. Even so, an innocent young man lies dead and the person who killed him walks free. For a lot of us, the conclusion of this case remains unsettling.

Fingers, including the fingers of the Attorney General and the President of the United States, are pointing to the various Stand Your Ground laws; laws also sometimes characterized as "shoot first laws." But those laws are only a symptom of a much deeper and more unsettling, persistent problem that lies deep in the American soul.
That problem is fear. Fear of the “other” has always been a problem in our country. Sowing the seeds of fear is easy, and there are always people who are eager to do that. Our history is full of it: Fear of dark-skinned people; fear of Irish Catholic immigrants; fear of Jews; fear of Japanese-Americans; fear of LGBT people; fear of Muslims.

The list is not inclusive. But it is illustrative of groups that have been, and in many cases still are not only feared but often hated, too. But it does not end there. Fear and hate become calls to action. So, acting on our very worst instincts, we enact unjust laws for our courts to enforce and make public policies intended to ensure perpetual second-class status for those we hate and fear.

Perhaps the most pervasive and long lasting of these fears is expressed in our continuing national embrace of racism. We have become very good at sweeping racism under the carpet by being polite and politically correct. But make no mistake. The evil of racism is still alive and well in America. We have constructed a whole subtle system to perpetuate it. And the Stand Your Ground laws are just the latest evidence of that on-going effort.

The way the Stand Your Ground laws work is simple and their real objective is pretty obvious. These laws do away with the old English common law requirement to flee trouble if you can. Instead, everybody has the right to shoot first and claim self-defense later. But it is how the objective of these laws is perceived that really matters. They can be perceived as a hunting license for hunting other humans. And anybody guilty of being black after dark can be a legitimate target. So, the real objective of the law, which is to intimidate, is accomplished through that perception.

Nor is this some far-fetched idea. Not when seen through the lens of African-American experience. There is a long and awful history that makes up that lens. It begins with the Constitution itself that enshrines slavery, and counts slaves as somehow less than fully human. And it continues with the Second Amendment, which legitimized enforcing slavery through state militias. And it continues on with Jim Crow laws, school segregation and the on-going efforts at voter suppression. Through that lens Stand Your Ground looks pretty awful. And it is. It is a frightful continuation of the same old fearful, hateful, purposeful perpetuation of racism.

But, Stand Your Ground can also become a reason for a national conversation. Not just about these particular laws, but about our whole system of enshrining fear and hate in our laws, shaming the promise of America, and searing our national soul thereby.

Larry, as he's known to his friends, has been a parishioner at All Saints', Atlanta for more than thirty years, where he has served as a chorister and verger. He says he is overdrawn on his alloted three-score and ten, but still enjoys his work as a designer of theatres, auditoriums and concert halls.

The Most Important Word in the Bible

by Sara Miles

[John 16:12-15]

It’s summer, and I work at a church, so I’m getting a fairly incessant barrage of emails from church youth groups all over the country asking if we have any last-minute volunteer opportunities for their coming mission trips to San Francisco. Can fifteen or twenty of their teenagers come to our food pantry some Friday and work for us? Do we know about any other service opportunities, since they’ll be here for three days and would like to do something for the homeless, or the hungry, or people in need?

They are so nice. And I always feel snappish. Partly it’s that our food pantry really can’t take groups: we’re just not big enough to have tasks for everyone, and I know what a drag it is for volunteers to stand around with nothing to do. But part of my frustration with mission trips has to do with my understanding of the Holy Trinity.

Let me explain. Recently I’ve been reading an article by Samuel Wells [link:], a theologian from Duke University and a priest currently working in England, who’s writing about a new framework for understanding Christian service. He’s not interested in what Christians want to do, think they should do, or even actually do for the poor. He’s interested what he calls, shamelessly, the most important word in the Bible.

It’s sort of like a theological party game. What’s the most important word in the Bible? Jesus? Love? Mission? God? Sin? Mercy? What do you think?

Samuel Wells, and here is where I think the Holy Trinity comes in, says the most important word in the Bible is…. with. It’s a trick question, but I have to agree: the most important word in the Bible is with.

The Trinity is, at heart, about with: about what Christians call “perichoresis.” This is the dance in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being, existing through their mutual relationship. And God is always gathering all humanity into that undivided relationship, bringing us all into life with God.

Remember, at the beginning of John’s Gospel: “The Word was with God.” And Proverbs: “When God fixed the foundations of the earth…..I was there, ever at play in God’s presence, delighting to be with the children of humanity.” In other words, before time began, before anything else, there was a with. And until the end of time, there is a with, as Jesus promises: behold, I am with you always. With is the most fundamental thing about God.

With. And so we open our worship saying: the Lord be with you. And so we proclaim that the Word made flesh came to dwell with us. And so we call his name Emmanuel, meaning: God with us. And so we bless our gatherings saying: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Notice: with, not for.

Because God is not actually for us: except in my crazy, private triumphalist fantasies in which God, who takes my side always, will magically appear and smash my enemies. God is not doing nice things for us, like strangers on mission trips who appear, hand out random goodies and go home. God is not for us in the sense that God is always going to be giving us what we want, protecting us from illness and harm, and making us rich.

God’s just with us. God sticks with us. Accompanies us. Delights in us, plays with us, suffers and abides with us. In trouble and in doubt, when everything goes perfectly and when things fall apart: God is with us.

Trinitarian theology has a reputation for being difficult. But I think the real challenge isn’t intellectual or doctrinal–– “Oh, it’s so complicated, how can three be one?” I mean, that’s sort of like saying, how can I possibly be Sara who’s Katie’s mother and Sara who’s Sylvia’s colleague and Sara who’s Roberto’s neighbor? Am I three separate persons, three Saras? No, of course not: I’m just one, existing with different people. All my relationships inform each other—who I am as Sylvia’s colleague affects and is affected by my relationships with my neighbors and family––but I’m actually not three separate persons.

And the Trinity is not three separate beings: God only exists in relationship. With God’s self, and with us. That’s the challenge. Because this understanding of the Holy Trinity, if we model ourselves on it, changes everything. Our lives as Christians must mean being with others the way God is with us. With, not for.

Doing for, as mission groups and lovers and parents know, is super-tempting: it’s easier and often feels safer than being fully with. Let me act on your behalf, doing something for you as if my being were somehow separate from yours. Let me hand you a sandwich at a sanctified distance. Let me solve your homework problems without getting entangled in your other problems. Let me send you some flowers to apologize when I’ve been snappish, without having a real conversation.

Being with is riskier. If I wait and listen and show you what I’m really like, my life becomes implicated in yours: we are no longer separate. And I might get changed by our relationship.

Recently, I was at home working on a deadline. It was a beautiful warm day, and all the windows were open, and I was trying to focus on my writing and not get distracted. And then from the street I heard someone loudly wailing: “Help, help, help, help…” I looked out the window but couldn’t see anything. I waited, thinking that maybe a neighbor, or a teacher from the school across the street would respond. The wailing continued. “Help, help, help.”

“Oh, man,” I thought. “I bet it’s just that drunk lady who hangs out on the corner, but I guess I should go down and make sure everything’s OK,” and I went outside.

It was that drunk lady on the corner…a puffy, bruised, middle-aged woman who bounces back and forth between the street and the hospital and the county jail without ever getting sober; who mostly either sits on the sidewalk and moans, lies on the sidewalk in a stupor, or passes out.

I’d talked with her a few times before, when she was a little more alert and had been able to walk down the block. Once she wanted to chat about the baby she was expecting—this was a total fantasy, as far as I could see––and it occurred to me that she might be really demented or mentally ill, as well as suffering from alcohol poisoning.

But now she wasn’t talking. She was just moaning. “Help, help, help.” I asked if she wanted me to call an ambulance for her. No, the drunk lady said. Did she want me to get food for her? No, she said. Then she started wailing again—not even “help,” this time, just moaning. “Wo, wo, wo, wo.” She was crying. She was impossible. I couldn’t do a damn thing for her. And so I just sat down with her while she wailed. I think I said something stupid like, “I’m sorry you feel so bad.”

And after a while she stopped, and closed her eyes, and we sat there some more. I got up to go home, and crossed the street, and she started crying again, and a neighbor came out of her house and addressed me. “This is very upsetting,” she said, crossly. “I have little kids, and I don’t want them to hear this. Can’t we call someone to take her somewhere they can do something for her?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”

The neighbor introduced herself to me, and she said again how messed-up and upsetting this was, and I agreed, and we talked together for a while as she walked with me back to my front steps.

Sometimes there is nothing to do for anyone. I hate that. I can’t tell you how much I want to make things better by doing something for people, and how little it turns out I want to just be with them. Because if I have to be with them—well, then someone is drunk and crying, and she just wants another person to be with her in her unhappiness, and I have to sit there. Or she’s upset and worried about her kids, and she just wants another person to be with her in her anxiety, and I have to stand there and let her see how useless I am. Or I’m scared –about meeting my deadline, or not doing the right thing, or being snappish, and I have to let my own weakness and neediness show to all kinds of other people.

Being with people means I can’t leave messages for them on their phones, at a time I conveniently know they won’t be there. I can’t do good deeds for them and go home. In fact I can’t do anything for them: I have to abide with them––even if for ten whole minutes––and allow them to abide with me.

The most important word in the Bible is the most important word in our lives: and it is a word made flesh. God lives with us, just as Jesus lives with the Father, and we with one another, and the Holy Spirit, the very breath of life, lives with us all. Amen.

Sara Miles is Directory of Ministry at St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco; she's the author of Take This Bread, Jesus Freak, and City of God (forthcoming January 2014.)

Six lessons learned from property recovery litigation

by Eric Bonetti

With the majority of the property litigation now seemingly behind us, it may be time to reflect on the disputes with the Anglican congregations. Are there lessons to be learned? Do these controversies tell us anything about our role in American society, both today and in the future? Are there things that, with the advantage of hindsight, we might do differently?

I believe that the litigation does, in fact, provide us with a unique opportunity for introspection and self-evaluation. And while there are some things that, with the advantage of hindsight, we might have done differently, I believe that, on the whole, The Episcopal Church has responded appropriately to the challenges we have faced.

With that in mind, following are some conclusions this author has drawn from the litigation:

1. We're Resilient

In the early days of the dispute, the Rev. Geoffrey Chapman, rector of a conservative parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, drafted a now-infamous strategy memo (available here), in which he outlined a "cluster strategy," whereby parishes would depart in groups in an effort to overwhelm loyalists. The ultimate goal, Chapman stated, would be replacement of The Episcopal Church's current governance structure with one of the Anglicans' choosing. Tellingly, Chapman predicted that "ECUSA will certainly lose members and funds at a high rate over the next months, accelerating their decline."

Since then, we have not seen The Episcopal Church collapse, nor have we seen any meaningful move towards a replacement hierarchy. Instead, we have seen declines in giving and membership very consistent with that of other mainstream denominations, including the Roman Catholic church. Meanwhile, some signs actually are promising, including more than $2 million raised to date for repairs to the earthquake-damaged Washington National Cathedral, and membership and giving stabilizing in some areas. Some, like my parish, have taken the events as a call towards renewal, growth, and becoming an "inviting parish."

2. Public Opinion Increasingly Favors The Episcopal Church

The departing congregations also were very much out of touch with majority public opinion on GLBT rights and marriage equality.

In his memo, Chapman refers to the consecration of openly gay Rev. Gene Robinson, as an Episcopal bishop, saying, "No one is very happy about this inside ECUSA, and the American public is hardly cheering the events in New Hampshire." A curious assertion, in light of the vote at General Convention on this matter, and the subsequent consecration of the Rev. Mary Glasspool, a lesbian, as a bishop.

Today, 12 states have endorsed marriage equality, and all involved recognize that there is a sea change in public support for same-gender couples. Indeed, recent surveys show that even here in Virginia -- which is notoriously conservative on social issues and an epicenter of the Anglican movement -- a majority support marriage equality. Thus, while the dissidents argue that opposition to gay rights is an ethical issue not susceptible to public opinion, their original argument, which claimed to be a majority perspective, increasingly is proving to be untrue, both within the church and society as a whole.

3. Memories are Short When in Litigation

Even among loyal Episcopalians, one often hears complaints about the cost -- and underlying intent -- of the property recovery litigation. Yet, in such cases, one all too often finds that the complainant has forgotten about the years spent trying to find a compromise with the dissidents. For example, it was concerns about the reaction of the right wing of the church that led to what was, in many cases, 30 years of lip service to the promises of equality for GLBT church members.

Similarly, many today have forgotten the underlying premise of the dissident congregations as set forth in the Sewickley memo. The premise of that memo was not freedom of conscience. It was the destruction of The Episcopal Church and the toppling of our duly elected hierarchy. My belief is that such behavior is reprehensible and bullying of the first order, and persons of faith are justified -- and perhaps required -- to resist.

Indeed, if there is any fault to be found in the church's handling of the dissidents, it was in trying too hard to find a workable compromise. As a mentor of mine metaphorically said many years ago about a strategic business decision, "If you are attacked with a deadly weapon, and all your assailant wants is your wallet, by all means give it to him. If, on the other hand, your assailant is trying to kill you, fight back for all you're worth, because handing over your wallet isn't going to do you any good at all."

In short, in most cases, compromise was never an option available to us, and our efforts to arrive at fair-minded solutions may even have been seen as reflecting a lack of will, versus respect and a desire to behave with honor.

4. The Anglican Communion is Political

This comes as no surprise.

That said, the close ties that we as Americans enjoy with the United Kingdom led many, myself included, to initially conclude that the Archbishop of Canterbury would exercise his role as "first among equals" to insist that the other primates and provinces respect the territorial sovereignty of The Episcopal Church.

The reality, however, was that while the Primates gave lip service to the importance of preventing cross-border raids, far greater emphasis was placed by the Primates on calling for "Alternative Episcopal Oversight," or oversight of dissident parishes by bishops sympathetic to their views. Similarly, when the Anglican Covenant was proposed, there appeared little, if any, discussion, about how the Covenant might be used to prevent cross-border raids; instead, the focus was on how a province that threatened to disrupt the unity of the Communion might be brought into line with the views of the majority.

In short, in the midst of this debate, the Anglican Communion has been far more worried about trying to force others to agree, and far less about preventing bullying. Yet if the Communion is to have any value at all, it must start from the premise that it is a safe place, founded on mutual support, respect, and fair dealing, along with a recognition that it is neither possible, nor desirable, for all involved to be in total agreement, even on key issues.

5. It's Time to Review our Canons

In cases such as the recent property recovery litigation, it is probably a given that no amount of working or reworking of the canons would be enough to head off trouble. After all, the so-called Dennis Canon, which was written in response to earlier Supreme Court property cases, is clear on its face: All church property is held either for the diocese, or The Episcopal Church as a whole. Further, this approach reflects a commonsense understanding of life in a hierarchical church: If I give money to my parish, but later decide to leave, I don't get my money back, nor do I get to cart off the church building.

Yet, an examination of the governing documents of other denominations reveals that others have addressed some of the issues at far greater length, and with far greater specificity. In light of the time and trouble we have faced in recent years, it just makes sense to revisit our canons, to apply any specific lessons learned, and try to preempt future issues whenever possible.

6. Respect Isn't What it Used to Be

Years ago, it was normative to join a church when moving to a new home. Similarly, it was a given that one would support one's local church, both financially and otherwise. And clergy was entitled to deference and respect, particularly in the case of one's bishop.

Today, however, this just isn't the case. Church canons say that all property is held by the diocese or the national church? Too bad--I'm going to argue that I bought and paid for them, disregarding the generations of Episcopalians who went before me and their collective intent. My diocese is blessing same-gender couples? I'm going to leave and take my church building with me, even though nothing says I have to bless anyone.

So what's the solution? There is no easy answer. But as we work towards a renewed understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian, my fervent hope is that we neither lose sight of our rich heritage, nor of our shared bond that brings us together as a faith community. I hope, too, is that we will take the lessons of the past few years as a call to articulate a powerful message of inclusive, liberal Christianity that rejoices in all aspects of God's creation.

Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Proclaiming the Gospel with Reckless Abandon

by Douglas J. Fisher

A couple of weeks ago, the good people of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Longmeadow, MA gave me this wonderful mandala. The words around the mandala are these: “Together, we are called to the great adventure of expressing our faith in a new era, a time full of challenges and possibilities. May we have the courage to proclaim the Gospel boldly and creatively.” The quote is something I said in the walk-abouts. It is really cool to have your own words put into art. That also means those words stand as an on-going prayer to our Living God. Give us the courage Lord to proclaim the Gospel boldly and creatively.

Let’s look at that and let’s get there by way of a story. My oldest daughter Caragh was a gifted basketball player – set the record at her high school for most points in a career by a female basketball player. But before that, in 8th Grade she went through a rough stretch. She had a coach on an AAU travel team that was really tough. For years I had been her coach, always encouraging her and staying positive and she played the game with a joyful aggressiveness. Now this coach was very knowledgeable but screamed at kids when they made mistakes. I went to one of her games and Caragh would run down the court and go to the exact spot her coach had told her to go. But she would just stay there. If she caught a pass she would throw it right back to the teammate who threw it to her. After the game I said to her, “Caragh, you aren’t having any fun out there. You are just trying to not make mistakes. I want you to listen to your coach but take risks out there. If you mess up, you mess up. But play with reckless abandon.” That became our phrase – reckless abandon. I was at West Point at that time and Caragh was used to all the cadets talking in acronyms. Like rem for “ready to eat meal” –in which none of those words are true. We agreed I would shout out RA from the stands to remind her to play with reckless abandon.

The change was remarkable. I would shout out RA and she would go back to her old style. On defense she would jump the passing lane and steal the ball, charge at the dribbler and create turnovers. On offense she would hit the cutter with a pass, if she was open she would shoot or drive the lane. The game was fun again.

One time I arrived at a game late, coming directly from a church service so I was dressed in clericals. As I shouted “RA” from the stands, a person turned around, saw how I was dressed and said to the person next to her “I don’t know what that means. Maybe it is one of those John 3:16 things.”

It is time, in this new era, a time when our world, our country and our state have become more and more secular – a time when church going Christianity is in decline and consumerism is the new mainline religion, it is time to express our faith with reckless abandon. It is time to try new things, to take risks, to be bold and energetic and not be afraid to fail. There is someone who lived that way – his name is Jesus.
The Gospels tell us Jesus’ last words on the Cross were “God, into your hands I commend my spirit.” A statement of profound trust. Where did Jesus get the strength to say it at that moment? I propose that Jesus could say that line because he practiced it. Could it be that every time Jesus was on the frontier of the unknown, every time he was doing something new, every time he was not sure what would happen next, he prayed “into your hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus made that prayer a way of life. I invite us, God’s people in the Episcopal Church to make that our way of life. Let’s express the eternal truth of the Gospel in new ways. Let’s look at one of many possibilities.

Matthew 25 tells us where to find Jesus. Jesus is the person who is hungry, who is in prison, who is sick. Matthew 25 calls us to a ministry of outreach and social justice. It is the challenge of the prophets. Matthew 28 tells us to go forth and baptize all nations. It is a clear invitation to evangelism. What would happen if we risked mashing those two great challenges into one. In my experience, congregational development happens when we are passionate about both Matthew 25 and Matthew 28. What social justice ministry is your parish called to? And how are you expressing “Jesus Christ is our Savior” in an imaginative, creative, enticing way? Put Matthew 25 and Matthew 28 into action and the Holy Spirit will set our churches on fire.

Amen. RA

The Right Reverend Dr. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. This homily was excerpted from the sermon that Bishop Fisher delivered at the Western Massachusetts Diocesan Convention last December in Springfield, MA.

Below is one priest's response to the Bishop's sermon:

Read more »

Life imprisonment vs the death penalty and the victim

by Martha K. Baker

A life sentence, rather than execution, provides more closure for victims than execution does, according to a recent study, begun under the auspices of The Episcopal Church. In addition, that closure comes sooner and is healthier.

A life sentence, imposed on the perpetrator of a capital crime, produces more emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefit to surviving victims, concludes the study, “Assessing the Impact of the Ultimate Penal Sanction on Homicide Survivors: A Two-state Comparison.” The study, published in the Marquette Law Review, contradicts long-held, but unstudied, thinking that victims gained closure -- with the gratification that justice is done -- from the capital punishment of murderers. Never before had the impact on victims been analyzed scientifically.

The directors of the study are Mark S. Umbreit, director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, located at the University of Minnesota, and Marilyn Peterson Armour, director of The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at the University of Texas at Austin. “Given the steadfastness of the public’s opinion that the death penalty brings satisfaction and closure to survivors, it is surprising that there has been no systematic inquiry directly with survivors about whether obtaining the ultimate punishment affects their healing,” wrote Umbreit and Armour.

The Episcopal Church initially called for the study by resolution of General Convention in 2003. The study was designed to cover a period of years due to the necessity of following a number of cases in both states from start to finish in order to sufficiently satisfy the scientific requirements for analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data.
In the end, these data agreed to a stunning degree, adding considerable weight to the conclusions.

Individual bishops provided the initial funding of $50,000. According to the Rt. Rev. Joe Morris Doss, a lawyer and the retired bishop of New Jersey, “We initiated the study and did our part in seeding its funding out of our need to provide ministry to victims, usually loved ones of someone killed in a capital crime, and out of our long-standing opposition to the death penalty.” Bp. Doss said that bishops’ support comes “in no small measure” out of their concern for victims who, too often, “are exploited by the nation’s justice system to secure capital convictions and, ultimately, to carry out executions.”

The opposiing argument declares that victims need the sense of justice and the benefit of closure provided only by an execution.

“We needed data, based on scientific study,” explained Doss, “to determine if our view was correct or to admit that we have been incorrect.”

The conclusions are significant, said Doss. “We have studied the last argument in favor of the death penalty that can be considered rational – unless one concedes that vengeance is rational.” Other claims, such as deterrence, are no longer countenanced by objective experts, he noted. This study, he added, provides sufficient proof that warrant for the death penalty can no longer be based on the needs of surviving victims because it studied the real effects of executions on victims.

Doss went on to say that the church can now speak to the issue supported by independent and objective scientific analyses. The conclusions match the experience through the years of countless numbers of clergy and lay professionals who have counseled victims of violent crime and offered the ministry of the church to them.

According to these,

Victims should not have to deal with the problems that come of the role that society tends to impose on them for the purpose of securing an execution.
Victims should not be expected to hold to hatred in their hearts.
Victims should not be expected incapable of the ability to forgive – and if not to forgive, victims should, at least, be given the opportunity to move on with their lives.

The Church’s resolution had been made feasible in 2003 due to the recruitment of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, located at the University of Minnesota, where, coincidentally and fortuitously, The Episcopal Church was holding its convention. Bishops chose UM’s justice center because of the trust of victims’ groups, both for and against the death penalty.

Marquette University Law School supported the study not only with renewed interest in restorative justice but also with the bulk of the funding. Professor Janine Geske, former Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, provided leadership.

Umbreit recruited Armour, an expert on homicide survivors. She has written extensively on the aftermath of murder for family members of homicide victims, including studying the concept of victims’ “closure” through convicts’ executions. Umbreit’s and Armour’s universities are located in two states primed for a comparative study of this subject: Minnesota does not allow the death penalty; Texas had the highest number of executions during the time period of the study.

Armour focused on a comparison of executions in Texas with life sentences in Minnesota. The study used in-person interviews with a randomly selected sample of survivors. It covered four time periods in order to examine, according to the study’s introduction, “the totality of the ultimate penal sanction (UPS) process and its longitudinal impact on their lives.” In addition, the study assessed the differential effect of two types of “ultimate penal sanctions” by comparing survivors’ experiences in Texas, a death-penalty state, and Minnesota, a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole-state. The study highlighted differences, largely during the time after conviction, specifically with respect to the appeals process and the well-being of survivors. In Minnesota, for example, survivors of adjudicated cases show higher levels of physical, psychological, and behavioral health.

Unbreit and Armor believe that their findings have implications for trial strategy and policy development.

The study for this essay is here: Assessing the Impact of the Ultimate Penal Sanction on Homicide Survivors: A Two State Comparison.

In response to the study, opposers of the death penalty will present a conference, open to all, on Feb. 21 and 22 at the Marquette Law School’s Restorative Justice Center in Milwaukee, Wis. They will celebrate the study’s findings and plan a strategy for publicizing them.

“We will focus on concern for victims,” said Bp. Doss.

Restorative Justice: The Death Penalty versus Life without Parole: Comparing the Healing Impact on Victim Families and the Community Place: Marquette Law School, Eckstein Hall Date and Time: Thursday, February 21, 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm Friday, February 22, 8:00 am – 3:30 pm

Martha K. Baker, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Louis MO, is a free-lance writer and critic; she served on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music during the last triennium.

Dreams do come true

by Gail Greenwell

We have waited a long time for this day to arrive, haven’t we? For some of us we’ve waited as long as we’ve known Doug and Kirk as a couple. For some of us, the waiting began long before we even knew them, long before they were even born. For all of us, this day is a dream come true!

It is a dream come true because we have watched their love for one another grow and blossom into something that is clearly holy and life giving. It is a dream come true because we longed for a public declaration of their intention to live together with love and fidelity.

This is a day of dreams fulfilled, because there were times when we doubted … yes, we doubted …. that this day might ever arrive.

We wondered, we whispered to one another, “Will this wonderful couple, our good friends, our own sons, these faithful disciples of Christ, will the day ever arrive when they can stand before us in this sanctuary, in the church home for their entire lives, and publicly declare their intention to hold and to cherish each other for as long as they both shall live?” We had that dream.

We dreamed that this church, which sheltered their sorrow when fathers died before their time, might one day bear witness to the vows they make here today. We dreamed that this church, which nurtured their spiritual awakening from the time they were small boys, might have this opportunity to help them keep their promises fresh and alive. We dreamed that we would have the chance to pray God’s blessing upon them, and to know that entwined with our prayers for them, were prayers for ourselves and the health of our own relationships. We had a dream that this church, which witnessed Doug and Kirk’s dedicated service to all God’s people, to the poor and the outcasts, might one day embrace them in the same way they have embraced others. We had a dream for them.

Yet, on some level this day is a dream come true for those of us who love the church itself. Today we are finally able to say that the church will rise up and live out the true meaning of her creed … as Dr. King might have said. The true meaning of her creed … that all who enter here are God’s beloved. The church’s creed that says that all who are worthy enough to be baptized and marked as Christ’s own forever, are also therefore, worthy of to seek every sacrament of the church.

Our dream could not come true so long as we said “the Episcopal Church Welcomes You”, and there was a small asterisk after “You”.

Or when our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters recited the words of our Baptismal Creed - words such as “strive for justice and peace among all people” and “respect the dignity of every human being” - when we knew, knew in our heart of hearts that ‘all’ didn’t mean all.

Today is a dream - and so I am happy to join with you today, as we become an incarnate sign of God’s redemptive love.

At the core of the Christian faith is a simple and profound assertion: God loves you just as you are. In the Gospel the first and last word is grace. Grace means you don’t have to become or do something before God loves you. That unconditional love is not marginal to our faith, it is central to all we believe. God’s enormous capacity to love is central to the reason we are gathered here today.

Doug, Kirk, my beloved friends, may I just say now, with a certain presumption on my part, I apologize on the church’s behalf that we have come so late to the party. We confess our blindness and hardness of heart.

You have been the better angels of our nature. You have been enormously patient, full of humility and compassion for how long it has taken. You have chosen to clothe yourselves in love, which as the Apostle Paul wrote, “binds all things together in perfect harmony”. Your forbearance for those who could not yet see God in your relationship has been nothing short of miraculous.

Jesus counseled us to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us. And you took his Beatitudes to heart and in so doing; you became the incarnate face of the “issue”. You have helped hearts and minds to change. You did not merely bear with us, you chose to demonstrate the unconditional love and fidelity God has for us. You lived it, showing us day by day, year by year, that what marks us as a true church is not that we agree on all things. But rather, we are faith community because of the times when we are profoundly at odds, deeply challenged, and then, we choose to forgive and love as God loves us.

Doug and Kirk - thank you for giving us a reason to celebrate all of that today. I believe your relationship, like all covenant relationships, has a Divine purpose. What might that purpose be? Well, on some level it is a mystery! It is as mysterious as how one who loves pastel gingham shirts, and singing Broadway show tunes at the top of his voice, falls in love with a boy who prefers Benedictine spirituality and solitude. Yet, anyone of who knows them, know this love works! It has for 22 years and it will endure.

Like any long and enduring relationship, they are better than the sum of their parts. They have supported and held on to each other through times of want and plenty. Kirk said, “My life with Doug in many ways embodies my life with God – when I am separated from Doug I feel less whole, less connected, less ME! When we are connected, I am one with myself and with God”.

Tenderness, care and deep respect, are the first and last breath for them. Their Divine purpose is this: the same Spirit that strengthens them to be a blessing to one another has allowed them to strengthen and bless the relationships of those who know them. They are blessed to be a blessing! And, as a godly side-benefit, their relationship is blessing and strengthening the church for its mission and ministry.

Doug and Kirk:
That is what any godly, covenant relationship should do – draw all of us who are blessed enough to know you, into a deeper place of love and purpose. We, who are fortunate enough to be here today, owe this couple our gratitude. Thank you for loving us enough to make this day a day of dreams come true.

So I want to end as we began, with the words of the Hymn that brought us into the church, “All Are Welcome”, chosen by this couple not only as a theme for their special day, but as our mission as a church. In the last verse we sang:

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard, and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within The Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. *

I pray that God will help us make it so!

* All Are Welcome, copyright 1994, Marty Haugen, GIA

The Rev. Gail Greenwell is Rector of St. Michael and All Angels and currently one of 5 candidates for Bishop of SW Virginia.
This sermon was preached on January 19, 2013 at St. Michael and All Angels Church in the City of Mission in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. This service was the first blessing service in Kansas for a same sex couple since the 77th General Convention approved provisional rites in July 2012. The couple are both life-long members of the parish. The Bishop of Kansas, The Rt. Rev. Dean E. Wolfe also presided.

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.

Independence Day, Diversity and the Anglican Communion

Daily Episcopalian will return on July 6.

by Thomas Luck

From June 14-18 I attended a class at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, which is on the campus of Northwestern University. I took this class as I continue the flex-sabbatical I began in 2008, when I took courses at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, in a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in congregational development program run jointly by Seabury and Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. My next class will be for a week next January in Berkeley.

The course I took was "Congregations in the Twenty-First Century." The teacher for the class is the Reverend Dr. Susan Harlow. Susan, as she prefers to be called, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and has taught for 17 years in theological education. A graduate of Hollins University, she earned her Master of Divinity at Andover Newton Theological School and a Master of Theology at Harvard Divinity School. Her doctorate is from Columbia University in its joint program with Union Theological Seminary in Religion and Education. As Susan says, "I'm ordained in the UCC, but in theology and practice I have become an Episcopalian." Susan's life partner, the Reverend Dr. Bonnie A. Perry, is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago. The Rev. Dr. Perry is one of the "up and coming" younger clergy of the Episcopal Church, who I have heard present before, and she was one of the presenters for our class. A couple of years ago she was nominated for bishop in the Diocese of California. Although she was not elected many think she will become a bishop in the not too distant future. Time and the Holy Spirit will tell.

A bit more about my class; there were eighteen students in the class, ten women and eight men. Among the eight men there were only two other white straight males besides me. There were Hispanic men, people from Canada, an Australian serving in Canada, a white South African working on a Ph.D. in San Diego, and white suburban women; there were six people in the DMin program, and others who are preparing for ordination in the Episcopal Church.

While our class was meeting there was some drama unfolding regarding the relationship of the Episcopal Church with the Anglican Communion. Letters had been exchanged by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In his letter the Archbishop of Canterbury announces some sanctions removing members of the Episcopal Church from some international bodies since we no longer represent the "faith and order" of the Anglican Communion. This is because the Episcopal Church ordained the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and Bishop Glasspool is a lesbian in a long-term committed relationship. Shortly after both of these letters, the Presiding Bishop was in England for a long-standing engagement to preach at Southwark Cathedral in London, at the invitation of the Dean. Just before the service the Presiding Bishop was informed by the Archbishop of Canterbury that she would not be allowed to wear her mitre, or any other symbol of the office of Bishop. Cleverly, she carried her mitre in her hands throughout the entire service. This was explained as being necessary because the Church of England is about to vote on whether women can be ordained as bishops, and that if she were allowed to look like a bishop it would be inflammatory. Since that event, it has come out that other women who are bishops have preached in England and been allowed to actually look like bishops. Never mind that the Presiding Bishop is in fact already a bishop and the Primate of the Episcopal Church!

Now in Syracuse. Last week I performed a graveside service for the friend of a parishioner. The parishioner, a woman, has received the Congressional Gold Medal for logging 1,000 hours flying military aircraft in World War II. The people who gathered with her were an amazing group of people! Among them was an elderly couple that particularly caught my attention. One of the women in the couple had a small tattoo on her cheek and bright lime green fingernail polish. The other woman in the couple was wearing ladies sandals, pink socks, a red dress and had long, flowing, fire engine red hair. But as I came closer to the burial plot I realized that the person in the red dress with the long red hair had the face and voice of an elderly man. From my limited knowledge I think that this person is transgendered, someone who is a woman in a man's body. Yet, here they were, a loving couple, and obviously friends of our highly decorated parishioner.

Later we went to the apartment of the parishioner for some refreshment and conversation. Sipping wine and eating cake I heard a number of amazing stories. And then someone asked the person wearing the red dress to tell her tale of the time she almost died in combat in her previous life. Then, with utter seriousness, she talked about fighting the Chinese in face to face combat in a frozen river in Korea. This person was critically wounded and lying helplessly in the river, partially under the ice. She realized that the Chinese were going around and bayoneting to death everyone who was wounded. So she kept her eyes wide open, staring off into space pretending to be dead. It worked, and she was the only person in her platoon to survive. When she was found by medics she could only blink her eyes.

As I was listening to this story I wished that I had a video camera, for the impact of seeing this lady in her dress and long red hair telling this tale of courage and patriotism was extremely profound. I was left speechless. The living room in this apartment was full of patriotism from people whose own lives have often been full of disregard or ridicule. Later on the same day St. Paul's Cathedral hosted the Interfaith Gay Pride service, and people, non-Episcopalians, prayed loud prayers of thanksgiving for the witness of the Episcopal Church, and for their being welcomed in our Cathedral.

On July 4th we will once again celebrate the independence of the United States of America, an independence that was hard fought in the Revolutionary War, and which has continued to be hard fought to our own day. Many of those who have helped preserve our independence over the years have themselves not always been granted the full rights that their citizenship entitles them to receive; from the African Americans who fought for the North, to the Navajo who helped provide the secret code that helped win WWII, to the women who flew military aircraft in that war but did not receive veteran benefits until the 1970's, to people such as this lady, to those who live under "don't ask don't tell" today. America is not only for these people too, it is especially for these people. The United States is the last best hope on earth for the dispossessed, the different, and those who are loathed simply for being who they are. It is why your ancestors and mine came here. And as an Episcopalian who loves the Anglican Communion, I am proud that the Episcopal Church may be the last best hope in Catholic Christianity for the dispossessed, the different and those who are loathed simply for being who they are. There are lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual parishioners at St. Paul's Cathedral, so many we simply could not function without them. They serve on numerous groups. They may not be obvious to all, but we are richer for their presence. This July 4th I bless God for the United States, for the Episcopal Church and for St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.

The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck, M.Div., A.L.M., is the Dean and Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, in Syracuse, New York.

After the quake, a question of justice

By Greg Jones

When Jesus proclaims the beginning of his ministry in his hometown synagogue, he offers us a nutshell of the whole Gospel itself. Obviously, there's more than merely what he quotes from Isaiah -- in terms of detail and how it comes to be fulfilled -- but a succinct microcosm of what the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is to be sure to be found there.

In Luke 4.16-21, Jesus says the ancient prophesy of God making the world right again is no longer a future thing, but a thing in the process of fulfillment in Him. He says that in Him the Spirit of God has anointed a savior to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and redeeming the fallen world.

Clearly, this is a work not yet finished, even in our own day. It is tempting, in our cynical moments, to say that this restoration project proclaimed by Christ in Luke 4 doesn't appear to have gotten very far. Again, we can look at Haiti, as just the most recent case in point for the cynical argument against Christ's message.

In Haiti, we are hearing that some 150,000 have died so far from the earthquake. It is an unfathomably high number, and is perhaps only the beginning. That's something like 1.5% of the population. Staggering. An earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter Scale killed some 150,000 people - so far. Yet, twenty-one years ago an earthquake of almost that size (a 6.9) struck San Francisco. Almost the same size, but in that instance only 63 people died.

What's the difference? Well, it's a question we must put to ourselves in terms of what Jesus is talking about in Luke. It's a question of the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed in our midst. It's a question of the fallenness of the world -- and I don't mean the planet itself.

No, it's a question not of plate tectonics or earth science, but of justice.

The reason 150,000 died in Haiti and 63 died in the U.S. is a question of societal injustice. Isn't it?

I believe that Christ has begun the redemption of a fallen world, and until He comes again in judgment, we who call Him Lord are supposed to join with Him in the saving work. This means not only feeding and clothing, but also working towards just societies.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

Are we able to drink his cup?

By Bill Carroll

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?
Are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?

Jesus addresses these shocking questions to the sons of Zebedee. He also addresses them to us. Jesus thereby takes familiar and comforting sacraments—the shared cup and ritual washing—and makes them unsettling and strange. His cup is that of a murdered prophet. His baptism is that of a martyr, washed in his own blood.

Are we able to drink his cup? Are we able to be baptized with his baptism?

These questions—central ones in the life of faith and discipleship—are not meant to be morbid. By them, Jesus intends to give us life. Ours is not a joyless or life-denying faith. But it is a realistic one. Without grappling with the forces that put Jesus to death, without drinking the cup of his suffering and drowning with him in the waters of baptism, we cannot receive the gift of Easter joy. As Christians, we make sense of our lives by following in the steps of the crucified. It is here—in the place where Jesus walks—that we find resurrection hope and new life.

Our own sufferings are likely to be small by comparison with those of Jesus. And yet, there is no particular suffering he has not known, and no one is beyond the reach of his compassion. Moreover, we have been given his Spirit. In baptism, we have pledged ourselves to follow him. We cannot know in advance how this will put us in conflict with the rulers of this present age. Nor can we know ahead of time what other sufferings life will bring.

Lately, I’ve been reading a book by a Jesuit named Jon Sobrino entitled Witnesses to the Kingdom: The Martyrs of El Salvador and the Crucified Peoples. In it, Sobrino reflects on the meaning of martyrdom, in light of the Church’s experience in El Salvador. Sobrino narrowly escaped martyrdom himself. He was out of the country, when assassins entered the university where he taught, looking for Jesuits like him, who had confronted the brutal regime and its abuse of the people. Six of his brothers were killed that day.

But, rather than dwell on these six priests or on Archbishop Romero, who was murdered at the altar and whom Sobrino knew firsthand, I’d like to share with you from his account of the funeral of four women from the United States, three nuns and a social worker from the Diocese of Cleveland. Until God sent these women to El Salvador, they led lives not unlike our own. Here’s what Sobrino had to say about them:

I have stood by the bodies of Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan…There has been martyrdom upon martyrdom—an endless procession of priests, seminarians, students, campesinos, teachers, workers, professionals, and intellectuals murdered for the faith in El Salvador. Death has come to be the inseparable, dismal companion of our people. And yet, each time we gather to bid our martyrs farewell, the same feelings well up inside…

There were three hundred of us priests and sisters gathered in the chancery to hear Archbishop Rivera. His voice had a new and different ring as he denounced the Security Forces of the Christian Democratic Junta. He tore the masks from their faces. He pointed the finger of shame and guilt. Once again the truth was crystal clear. And with the truth came courage—and the Christian resolve to keep on, shoulder to shoulder with the massacred people, even if it meant the church must march once more to the cross.

It was like the first Christian Easter all over again. The horror, the abandonment, the solitude of Jesus’ cross had driven the disciples to their refuge in the upper room. But Jesus’ spirit was mightier than death, and it flung the doors wide apart. The disciples emerged stronger than before, determined to preach resurrection and life, determined to proclaim the good news of the reign of the poor. The archbishop’s residence had been transformed into a latter-day upper room. The God of life was there.

I think it would be easy for us to judge James and John for their desire to sit at the left and right of Jesus. In some versions of the story, it is their mother who seeks these places for her sons, because she wants them to reign with Christ. In Mark, however, the brothers ask for these places themselves.

What are they looking for? Power and authority? Perhaps. But they are also looking for a place close to Jesus, in whom they have found forgiveness, mercy, and life. Jesus does not dispute the claim that they are able to drink his cup and share his baptism. Indeed, he knows that both of them will do so. Which of us could be so certain that we are willing to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost? For all the flaws implicit in their question, James and John are willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads.

But the place of honor, at his right and left hand, is not his to give. That place belongs to those for whom it is prepared. Despite their profession of willingness to follow Jesus, James and John do not yet see the scandal of his cross. Jesus is to be crucified between two common criminals. He is to die in the place of shame, so that he may be the servant of ALL and his life be given as a ransom for many.

It’s not that Jesus did not know the human cost of suffering. As the letter to the Hebrews assures us, “in the days of his flesh,” Jesus offered “loud cries and tears” and was heard for his “reverent submission.” Although Jesus is born the Son of God, his mission in the world is brought to completion through his suffering and death—and through the willing obedience by which he embraced his passion. In a fallen world, suffering is the price of obedience. Enduring the world’s hatred, mockery, and violence is the price of setting others free. By his suffering and death, Jesus becomes first of all and the servant of all. He transforms the cross of shame into the tree of life.

Even in the darkest and most abandoned places of our lives, we discover the God of life who accompanies us on our journey. We discover Jesus, who lived and died among poor and simple people—
who broke bread with them and shared their struggles. We discover Jesus, who sets us free.

Are we able to drink his cup?

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Living faith, justice, and the earthly city

By R. William Carroll

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them
. --Proverbs 22:8-9, 22-23
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
--James 2:14-17

Four years ago last month was the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of the city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005. My memories of Katrina revolve around students of mine from that city, as well as some of the people who fled to the hills of Sewanee, Tennessee, where we were living at the time. In fact, I’ll never forget one woman’s sobbing plea in our parish church during the Prayers of the People. Here was a woman who lost people she loved—and everything she had.

No doubt, some of you remember how some Christians at the time suggested that this horribly destructive storm and the suffering it brought were signs of divine judgment on a Godless America. In one interview, Pat Robertson blamed Katrina on abortion, claiming that God was causing “the land to vomit us out,” because our society permits the “slaughter of the unborn.” In another, John Hagee argued that God struck New Orleans because it was “planning a sinful…homosexual rally.”

Now, even if I agreed with these two men about Christian ethics—which I DON’T—I would still have trouble believing in their kind of God. I speak as someone who believes in the wrath of God. Wrath is what God’s love looks like to us when we are drowning in sin. We feel our separation from God, and it is terrifying. But do we really believe in a God who would punish a whole city, including the innocent, for the sake of the imagined sins of a few? And do we really believe in a God who manipulates the weather and keeps lists of enemies? That’s not the God I know and love.

And yet there’s truly a sense in which we reap what we sow. We can’t be sure in this case (or in any particular case), but I don’t think it’s farfetched to blame Katrina on the changes we are causing to our climate. Surely, this kind of extreme event is becoming both more common and more severe. Moreover, we can be certain that the disproportionate effects of the storm on the poor and on people of color are a direct result of choices we’ve made. We failed to heed the warnings. And the people of the Ninth Ward in particular suffered from poor housing to begin with and a pathetic government response once the storm hit land.

In a recent interview, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana called New Orleans “the place where the façade of American progress has been washed away.” He went on to observe that “Many would be happy if we could again apply the ‘make-up’ to the wound that affects us all, but such will not be the case. This wound is evident around our nation, but in New Orleans it has been exposed as the flood washed away the veneer.” In the same interview, Bishop Jenkins cited remarks Martin Luther King made about the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a famous sermon at Riverside Church in 1967:

On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

In that very sermon, preached exactly one year before his martyrdom, King also called for a “revolution of values” in light of the Gospel and the common good. To date, different values have guided our response to Katrina. Over a million people were displaced; some will never return. We dare not forget that the storm affected the entire Gulf Coast region, but it is New Orleans (and in particular the Ninth Ward) that has become its enduring symbol. New Orleans is indeed the place where “the veneer of American progress has been washed away.” It is a visible and outward sign of the rot and decay beneath the shimmering façade of our society.

Now, with the present economic crisis, we see it more clearly. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, and lost jobs. Failed businesses and a banking system that nearly collapsed have made it clear that much of our economy was a house of cards. Yet will we see any real restructuring? Will we move beyond well-intentioned efforts to relieve the symptoms to the real medicine it will take to cure the disease? Will we transform the Jericho Road, so that men, women, and children will not be beaten and robbed there and thrown into ditches?

Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, in the book of Proverbs, we are warned:

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

In ancient Israel, the city gate was where people went for justice. In a democracy, the responsibility to create justice rests with each and all of us. As a society, we can’t afford to build prisons instead of schools. We can’t afford to pay people less than it takes to provide for their families—and to force immigrant workers into the shadows. We can’t afford to keep buying cheap, disposable junk on easy credit. And, no, we can’t afford to deny healthcare to millions—and watch others get squeezed for every last penny. Nor can we keep relying on fossil fuels as the fragile lynchpin of our entire way of life.

As a nation, we used to want more. The reality often fell short, but we used to aspire, at least, to be a beacon of liberty—a bustling, creative democracy with broadly shared prosperity and a wide-open welcome to strangers:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

But now, it seems, that door is shut. Our gated suburban communities, with their private security firms, reflect the image of Fortress America and the mercenaries who help fight our wars. How is it possible for a nation that lives like this to seek justice and the common good?

To be honest, our churches are complicit in the problems. Too often, we preach what Dietrich Bonhoeffer named “cheap grace”—grace that soothes our consciences without calling us to repent and follow Christ. We may not all have bought into the false Gospel of the prosperity preachers and peddlers of hate. But which of us can say our faith is as alive and vibrant as it ought to be?

Beloved, we are at the beginning of a new year. With the arrival of fall, we are about to embark on a new season of mission in our dioceses and congregations. As we do so, my prayer for us is that we’ll keep our eyes on the prize and our hands on the plow. For God calls us not just to believe in Jesus but to follow him—to reach out with his hands of love, so that ALL might know his saving embrace. God indeed commands us to build an earthly city where beggars are unknown. And God has chosen us—even us, brothers and sisters—to show the world the Way.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

"I guess I’m a bad homosexual"

By Paul Fromberg

My husband and I drove home from our regular Monday night dinner talking about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling we expected to uphold Proposition 8. “I guess I’m a bad homosexual,” he said. “But gay marriage hasn’t been the most important thing on my mind this month.” I agreed.

It had been a beautiful Memorial Day. We drove out of San Francisco into the Republican suburbs to explore Mount Diablo. As we stood in line at a deli, Grant turned to me with a question about potato chips and addressed me as he always does. “Honey?” he said. We both looked at each other. Could my husband call me honey in the middle of a suburban lunch line? Would we be turned away from ordering our sandwiches? Would we be ridiculed? Did we care? Well, yes, a little. Nobody likes to get the hateful stare. But nobody was dialing 911 making a complaint of eating while gay. We weren’t going to be interrogated. There were no officers stuffing us into unmarked vans. We were just going to be two middle-aged married men waiting to order our sandwiches outside the safe zone of San Francisco.

In the ongoing work of converting a culture ––bending it toward justice, toward the restoration of human dignity and ordinary goodness––you have to recognize what the big struggles are, and which ones are small.

It’s hard for me to see gay marriage as the biggest struggle we’ve got to deal with in California.

I can still walk publicly with my husband, legal or not, without fear of the arrest or deportation our undocumented neighbors face every day. Being a gay couple doesn’t put us at risk in one of our state’s hellishly overcrowded prisons, where so many of the young Black men in our neighborhood wind up. Our marriage gives us rights about health care decision-making, but it doesn’t change the way our elderly friends lie for days in gurneys in the dingy hallways of the country hospital, waiting for over-stretched nurses to bring them something for the pain. Our legal right to marry or adopt children doesn’t fix the dysfunctional school system where twelve-year olds have given up on learning to read.

While it’s true that the No on 8 campaign message was mealy-mouthed and its strategy poor, the lessons to be learned from that battle are not all technical. Organizing is not, at the end, a technical task. It means actually finding common interest among people, and building on that. In terms of political organizing, the fight for gay marriage can’t be separated from California’s budget crisis: from our struggles for immigrant rights, education reform, and tax reform that will allow us to provide humane health care and educate all our children. The fight for gay marriage can’t simply involve gays throwing a bit of money at a campaign so we can all have fabulous weddings. It means, as we say in my business, doing the hard work of becoming a community.

My business, which is being a priest in a church, is after all not very different from the business of most of the people in our state. We love each other, we bless each other, we feed and heal and teach and care for each other—not always because we like one another, but because we recognize that we’re bound together in a common life.

When we got married last July, standing in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in City Hall, Grant and I promised that we would stand by each other. Even then, not knowing if our marriage would be legal in the future, what we most yearned for was to love, support and keep faith--- not just with each other, but with the whole community in which we live. Nothing could change that promise for us; not Prop 8, not anything.

It’s ironic that my marriage to my husband--- which now is one of the 18,000 declared legal by California—has not brought me any closer to common life with the people of my state. I find myself set apart from my unmarried sisters and brothers. I now have one more privilege that others don’t. It’s a situation that makes me feel, for lack of a better word, queer.

Paul Fromberg is the rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

The Gospel according to Dopamine

By Phyllis Strupp

Some time ago, a wealthy businessman made one of his rare appearances at church on a November Sunday and was treated to an especially heavy-handed stewardship sermon. It sounded something like this: You need to have LESS MONEY so we can have MORE MONEY. The negative energy rising up from the pews was palpable.

At coffee hour, he made a beeline for me. “Phyllis, I want to ask you something. Over the years I have heard repeatedly at church how bad money is. If money is so bad, why is it that every time I come to church they are trying to get some of mine?”

Well, the businessman asks a good question that many church leaders have not answered with clarity if at all.

The current global economic crisis offers a rich opportunity for clergy and lay leaders to offer up some inspired money talk in the church. Too often, Jesus’ teachings on wealth are ignored and it’s easy to see why. They are contrary to human nature.

When it comes to money, evolution has produced in our species a very strong gas pedal called “emotions” and a very weak brake pedal called “rationality.” Scientific findings indicate that the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, has been evolving in mammals for 225 million years.

Through the ebbs and flows of the neurotransmitter dopamine, our emotions motivate us to seek tangible rewards for ourselves and our families. Dopamine should guide us, but it often ends up controlling us. Logic and rationality hardly stand a chance in overcoming emotionally driven money habits mediated by dopamine.

Besides, the gospel according to dopamine’s teachings are so much easier to understand and live by than Jesus’ teachings.

For example, the golden rule of the dopamine gospel is “He who has the gold makes the rules,” whereas the golden rule according to Jesus is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You see what I mean, right? Speaking of right, dopamine says “Might makes right” and Jesus says “The truth shall set you free.”

The gospel according to dopamine encourages us to use money to enhance our status and control over people and decisions. That’s the allure of wealth: power. Any chimpanzee in the jungle could teach you that.

When we live by dopamine’s teachings, the richest people call the shots. Profits receive more attention than prophets. Sunday bible readings about the hazards of wealth are quietly ignored in practice, especially by the clergy. Stewardship season is a nagging, whining ritual, awkward and uncomfortable. Tithing is pitched as a solemn duty to God to wrench the cash out of tightly clasped hands.

Today, people are looking for a new set of values around money. The gospel of dopamine has led them astray to disappointment and despair. The time has come to take another look at the Gospel and find a way to make Jesus’ teachings manifest in us.

First, for those who are hoping to have both spiritual wealth and a large net worth, this is the most important line in the Gospel:

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
—Luke 12:21

In this passage, Jesus points out that it’s OK to have money—if it helps you grow rich toward God.

So how do you grow rich toward God?

It’s easy—just remember the color green.

Green is the color of money and the color of life. God is the author of life. Money isn’t for picking fights and wielding power over others—money is for affirming the life that God has created in you, other people and all the living species that share the Earth.

Secondly, the gospel of dopamine says you can’t take wealth with you. However, Jesus teaches us that there is such a thing as permanent wealth:

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
—Luke 16:9

You have the power to help or harm people through your use of money. Turn worldly wealth into the permanent wealth of kindness and friendship—and then you can take it with you!

So next time I see the wealthy businessman, I’ll tell him that money isn’t bad when it is used to affirm life, show kindness, and make friends.

Kindness is associated with a different neurotransmitter called serotonin. If serotonin outweighed dopamine in parish life, maybe our spiritually hungry friends and neighbors would be more interested in worshipping with us.

Why spend your money on what is not bread,
And your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
And your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
—Isaiah 55:2

Phyllis Strupp is a brain fitness coach, author, recovering MBA, and Chair of the Nature and Spirituality Program for the Diocese of Arizona.

Walking humbly on the Camino de Santiago

By Donald Schell

From the bowl filled with large colored I took one that said, ‘Walk Humbly.’ They were like political buttons of various colors. Other buttons in the bowl quoted other bits of the prophet Micah’s saying, ‘Love Mercy,’ and ‘Do Justice.’ The buttons were hospitality gifts from the Crossroads Chaplaincy at the University of Washington, which I was visiting last month as a council member with Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission.

Today I’m walking the Camino de Santiago with eleven other pilgrims. It was knowing I’d be back walking the Camino again that made ‘Walk humbly’ speak so compellingly to me. ‘Walk humbly’ was what the Camino taught me the first time I walked it. I took the button expecting Micah’s words were guiding my return and the re-learning that it’s bringing.

On first walking the Camino my mind was filled with expectations, devout imaginings and a huge effort to “ do it right.” Ten years ago my daughter Maria had just graduated from college. When she said she was going to make this month-long pilgrim’s walk after graduation, I asked if I could come. Later she told me that she’d wanted to ask me to walk with her but was afraid I wouldn’t be able to say ‘yes.’

When we walked through the medieval gate of St. Jean Pied de Port in France, and began our first day’s hike over the Pyrenees, I was determined to be an authentic pilgrim. Maria was simply hoping she could go the whole distance. On our first day we got lost, wandered through stinging nettles, and were besieged by swarming insects. I made myself imagine what a medieval pilgrim might have thought of such trials. That day’s walk is the biggest vertical climb and descent of any day on Camino. Maria’s simple focus was finding the path again so we could reach Roncesvalles on the other side of the ridge in time to get beds in the pilgrims’ hostel. It took me some days of walking to catch up with Maria’s simplicity and leave imagining ‘how we should walk’ behind us. As our days unfolded whenever we got discouraged we’d say to each other, ‘Well, we climbed the mountain and made it to Roncesvalles.’ Walk humbly.

A friend on the Associated Parishes Council told me that Louie Crew discovered the 1979 Book of Common Prayer misquoted the Micah passage. Writer or printer error, we don’t know but instead of ‘Love mercy,’ and ‘do justice,’ the Prayer Book Catechism on p. 847 reads, ‘Love justice’ and ‘do mercy.’ Those reversed verses are a serious problem. Louis gives his simple, clear argument for correcting the book on his website ‘Do Justice.’ My own understanding of why we should love mercy and do justice comes from walking the Camino.

Advocacy work tempts us to love justice. My own attachment to ‘doing it right’ and fierce desire to be right make it appealing to love justice. But without mercy toward other people and our own reluctant humility, loving abstract justice turns itself into idolatry. Humble walking and a deep love of mercy slows my eagerness to condemn and marginalize other people for the injustices they do. Humble walking and a deep love of mercy can draw me and the neighbors I’ve judged through and beyond conflict into a partnership to make the world we love more just. Walk humbly.

Checking with Louie Crew to credit him properly for discovering the misquotation he insisted that acknowledgment belonged to fellow Diocese of Newark Convention Deputies Geoff Curtiss and Marge Christie and that Verna Dozier, the lay theologian from the Diocese of Washington, had pointed it out to them. But it was Louie who submitted a resolution to General Convention to fix the Prayer Book’s misquotation. Louie’s simple resolution D007 never made it out of committee to the Convention floor. The error still awaits correction. D007 reminds us that our church has got work to do. Walk Humbly.

I’d like to tell you some fancy things about the spirituality of walking. I enjoy thinking I’ve become an expert in humble walking. I cut several paragraphs where I tried to deliver the thousandth (and best) lecture on the cultural and religious importance of the Camino, the path that made Christians a pilgrim people and taught us to image our faith as a journey. You don’t need the lecture. Walking is simpler and humbler than any fancy spirituality. We do need to walk, daily and literally. For our good and our neighbors good and for the life of the world, we need to get out of our cars and put one foot in front of the other as we move on God’s earth – humbly.

Micah is a powerful book but brief enough to read at one sitting. The prophet’s vision begins with God seated on a heavenly throne looking down on the earth and seeing that things aren’t going well. God angrily leaves the throne and heavenly pomp to set things right, but walking up and down on the earth (startlingly like Satan who walks to and free on the earth in Job), God who came to earth to set things straight changes. It began looking like it might go badly for us humans, but walking turns God’s exasperation to compassion. And it’s God’s compassion and patience that change things. The book that began with a threat divine wrath and retribution takes a different path as God’s own mercy makes turns our judge into our divine companion. The prophetic vision that began in heavenly pomp follows God’s own walking path a journey’s end in the familiar invitation to walk with God and in God’s steps, loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly.

Walking simplifies us. It strips all kinds of things from us. The more days we walk, and the further we walk, the clearer that stripping away becomes. On the Camino our own eager passion for ‘doing it right’ only makes for anxious, competitive walking. But ordinary, humble walking, step by step wears down judgment. Walking quickly reveals that there’s too much in our backpacks. After a week’s walking, Maria and I mailed extra clothes and my two books home. Walking also leads us to mercy for the other person’s blisters, the other person’s hope for a dry bunk at the end of the day, and eventually finds its way to pleasure in other person’s delight in the Spanish countryside, the other person’s tears at a pilgrim mass, the other person’s generous offer of bread or bit of Serrano ham. Each day’s walking leaves less room for judgment of other pilgrims and helps us let go of even the comparative judgments we make of ourselves, perfectionist assessment of how we ‘should be.’

Each step walking takes us further from the hope of walking the pilgrimage ‘right’ or having the ‘right’ pilgrim experience. Each day’s steps are simply themselves, one foot in front of the other – whether it’s painful or exhilarating, full of energy or exhausted or somewhere in the infinite range between. Walking lets the body teach the spirit that joy is joy and discouragement is discouragement and either or both may appear at any time. Elation and blisters come as they will; their order or timing is unpredictable. Walking is inevitably humbling.

Loving justice can be an ego game. But walking strips justice of pretence and vanity saturating it with luscious, delightful mercy. The ordinary humanity of walking quietly teaches us to extend the same forgiving mercy to a fellow pilgrim that we know sustains and blesses us. The mercy of walking gives us enough simplicity to do justice.

So, here I am again, letting walking strip me of credentials, cherished stories of accomplishments, my sense of rank and my own place in some pecking order, even hope of something outstanding I might accomplish. I’m glad to let them go. Day by day the community of pilgrims, companions on the Way matters more. Day by day the community of villagers and townspeople who support the Camino, tend it, and feed and house pilgrims matters more. Day by day, humble walking reveals itself as a holy mercy, simple, and in Micah’s vision, God-like. Only a companion can do justice, and a walking companion will do restorative justice, the justice that makes people whole. Walk humbly.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity, building community through music, and making liturgical architecture a win/win for building and congregation. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

Religious freedom in a diverse, secular society

By Luiz Coelho

It took several hours and the hardwork of many skilled professionals to install the huge Vermont-granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court in Montgomery. The sculpture, which was donated by benefactors, weighed more than five thousand pounds, and the process of installing the monument was so arduous and impressive that it was filmed by professional cameramen. However, despite the difficulties, Chief Justice Roy Stewart Moore was proud to announce to the media on the morning of August 1, 2001, the successful installation of the monument.

This story might sound like an ordinary episode in the history of public administration in the United States. It was not, though. The monument also portrayed, alongside the Judeo-Christian foundations of moral living, quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the United States’ National Anthem, and various sayings of the Founding Fathers. Many were in favor of the creation of the monument; however, many were also opposed to its installation in the Supreme Court rotunda, because they felt it overstepped the bounds of separation of Church and State. Several organizations filed suit in the United States District Court, asking for the removal of such a monument. Moore, who was already known for trying to implement prayer before trials and for taking his own portable Ten Commandments tablets to court, used the powers of his Office to resist the removal of the sculpture as long as he could. However, eight members of the Alabama Supreme Court intervened, unanimously overruled Moore, and ordered the removal of the monument. In the end, both the monument and Judge Moore were removed from the building.

Moore's story is not an isolated case. In several other instances of American public life, the Courts have removed religious symbols, such as crosses, crèches, and ten commandment tablets, from the public square in the last fifty years at least. Prayers in such environments are also heard less frequently. It can be said that in the United States, religion has been playing a less and less important role in public affairs altogether, even though conservative Christians are still seen in prominent circles both in society and the government.

Some see this trend as a direct attack against “traditional American values”, and – at least their perception of – the society that the forefathers of the United States worked to create. They often cite how peaceful and prosperous life was in the past, when “the Christian God” had a place of public honor among Americans. Many would argue, also, that freedom of religion has always been guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution, and that religious minorities have always had the right to build houses of worship. Are these views and arguments valid? Was religious freedom so evident in the past? Or, was it plainly masqueraded by a certain majority who belonged to one kind of faith only, and who created a set of structures to secure it? How worse, or better, are we now?

Like many people of faith, I dearly welcome the advent of real religious freedom, especially because it frees us to deal with symbols related to the religious life. It might be interesting, then, to see some examples of how public expressions of religion actually have changed in the last fifty years, and if they really helped us achieve more tolerance and full separation between church and state.

It would be inconceivable nowadays to demand anyone to hold to a particular religious viewpoint or to express a belief in God in order to hold a public office. Yet, fifty years ago, it was possible for public organizations to have prerequisites that would limit access to such jobs to people of faith only. For example, in the early sixties, Roy Torcaso was denied his appointment as a Notary Public in Maryland because he refused to declare a belief in God. Article 37 of Maryland's Declaration of Rights stated that a declaration of belief in the existence of God was necessary for any office, profit or trust in that state. The case went to the Supreme Court in 1961, and the Justices unanimously found Maryland's requirement a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. That decision established a legal precedent which created a paradigm shift in the role of faith in the public square. From then on, an acknowledgement of a given religious belief ceased to be a prerequisite for public jobs in every part of the country.

Another example of changing attitudes toward the place of religion in the public square during the last fifty years can be seen in the public schools. The elderly can still recall that it was not uncommon to say prayers, sing religious hymns or even have obligatory religious services in public schools. A series of court rulings, however, has changed the possibility of such practices today. These rulings were the results of complaints by citizens, such as a group of parents of students in New Hyde Park, New York, who complained in 1966 that a public prayer to “Almighty God” was against their beliefs. The case, which became known as Engel v. Vitale, went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that government-directed prayers in public schools are a violation of the Establishment cause. Since that ruling, it has become more and more difficult to hear prayers said in public schools, and subsequent attempts to allow them have been defeated in court. Prayers in educational institutions are confined nowadays, to chaplaincies, religious clubs or associations of common-minded people. But, in no case may a person be obliged to participate in public prayers in school.

Such lawsuits and governmental measures have not appeared out of nowhere. They reflect, in fact, a very noticeable paradigm shift on the American religious scene. When the British allowed European settlers to establish colonies in these lands, most of them belonged to Christian religious groups, often Protestant denominations, although some Jewish settlers found a home here as well. With an increasing immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this profile changed to include more Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Judeo-Christian religious ideology was still the norm, however, and it is reasonable to say that fifty years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were Christians, or believers in God. This pattern started to change when immigration from non-Christian countries began to increase.

In their American Religious Identification Survey, researchers at the City University of New York discovered that from 1990 to 2001, the number of people in the United States ,who have a religion other than Christianity increased from 5.8 million to 8.7 million. Such a number, albeit still small, reflects a sizeable minority, which practically did not exist years ago.

Much more significant than the increase in non-Christians is the increase of people who identify as atheist and agnostic. Non-religious people were usually a very small and intellectual minority in the first half of the twentieth century. Today, they compose about fourteen percent of the American population, as pointed out in the aforementioned study, after having more than doubled in size from fourteen million people to practically thirty million people between 1990 and 2001. Together with non-Christians, they compose practically twenty percent of the American population – a percentage that is growing, according to the study.

The gradual secularization of the public square is merely a response to a more religiously diverse society. It is now impossible to ignore non-Christians and those who profess no faith at all. The removal of religious symbols, sometimes under serious protest, is the most neutral answer to a truly pluralistic society, rooted in the freedom of religion articulated in the United States Constitution and several other historical documents of this country.

It has to be said, though, that not only has the percentage of those who identify with a specific religion changed, but the profile of the typical religious American has also changed. In The Fifties Spiritual Marketplace: American Religion in a Decade of Conflict, Robert Ellwood argues that religious traditions in the 1950s were largely intensified by socio-political conditions. He believes that religious organizations used to provide a very important framework upon which families built their lives in the postwar period. Routine religion was part of what was perceived as normalcy, and after all the chaos of previous decades, people needed normalcy. Religion was also seen as the amalgama of American families – especially at a time many families were marked by the loss of beloved relatives. Finally, being religious was a sign of anti-communism; and, the cold war, with all of its implications, was often portrayed as a kind of Armageddon in many households. Back then, religion was completely intertwined with the way society was organized.

However, throughout the last fifty years, a series of movements in American society, such as the sexual revolution, women empowerment, the end of the cold war and fast communications, have drastically changed what Americans might call “family”. What is perceived as a familial arrangement in today’s society does not always correspond to the vision our grandparents shared. There are manifold types of families in our times and a direct genetic link between relatives does not exist in all of them. Families now include both heterosexual and homosexual partners, stepchildren, adopted children, remarried spouses, half-siblings, close friends and a myriad of other groups of people which would take pages to define. Religion, under this new context, is not necessaily the glue that holds families together. Common Sunday after-church luncheons have given way to cell phone calls or even e-mails. And with the rise of the so-called “religious right” in the government, the merger between religion and politics à la the cold war is not viewed favorably in more liberal circles.

Such conclusions are often misinterpreted as the final defeat of religion in the United States. Yet, it can be said that religious freedom was probably never more celebrated and protected in U. S. History as it is in our contemporary, pluralistic society today. The largely-Christian/largely-familial religious environment of the fifties posed a much greater threat to freedom of faith. People were often forced, by social conventions, to follow the same religion (and in many cases, the same denomination) as their parents and grandparents. Marriages often took place within such religious circles, regardles of the true beliefs of the participants. The scenario, nowadays, is markedly different. The latest survey by the Pew Forum of Religious and Public Life reveals an astonishing piece of information: nearly half of American adults leave the faith tradition of their upbringing, either to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether. Roman Catholic and Protestant mainline churches have lost members to newer Christian groups. Those who lack faith, are increasingly comfortable in leaving religious organizations they once belonged to for primarily social reasons. Yet once people find a religion that fulfills their needs, they are moe likely to adhere to it faithfully, and to try to engage in all the possibilities that it provides. Religion is to our generation, therefore, is much more a matter of personal choice than it was fifty years ago.

When the religious spectrum was monolithic, public manifestations of the majority faith were not bothersome to most people. Now, in a much more varied religious climate, it seems logical not to encourage any particular brand of faith in a public space. Thus, the much-criticized secularization of public places is actually an important step toward protecting religious freedom, and creating a more diverse and equaitalbe society. It helps reinforce the values enshrined in the U. S. Constitution and respects people's rights to choose whether to have a faith or be part of a religious institution. It also protects newer churches and religious groups from state-sponsored propaganda of older ones. And, as long as religions have the right to worship in their houses of prayer and act according to their beliefs, their rights are protected. The ongoing changes are definitely for the common good.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Celebrating Justice Marshall

Bishop John Bryson Chane writes to his diocese:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As you may remember, our diocese is proposing that the Episcopal Church include civil rights leader and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on its liturgical calendar. By resolution of the 2006 Diocesan Convention, we recommended that May 17, the anniversary of Marshall’s victory in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case be observed as his feast day.

The 2006 General Convention referred the resolution to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which, we hope, will bring it forward at the 2009 General Convention, next summer in Anaheim.

One important criterion that the Commission considers is whether there is widespread local observance of a candidate’s proposed feast day. So to strengthen our presentation at the 2009 General Convention and, more importantly, to hold up before our people the Christian witness of Justice Marshall, please plan to observe Saturday May 17 or Sunday May 18 as Thurgood Marshall Day in your parish.

You can learn more about Justice Marshall at

In Christ’s Peace Power and Love,
Bishop John Bryson Chane

The Washington Window has written numerous stories on the effort to include Marshall's name in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. (1, 2, 3, 4.) The mainstream media has also paid some note.

Liturgical resources for the feast of Thurgood Marshall, May 17

Propers suggested by the Diocese of Washington. Music suggested by students at Seabury-Western Seminary and St. Augustine’s Church, Washington, D. C.

Eternal and Ever-Gracious God, you blessed your servant Thurgood with special gifts of grace and courage to understand and speak the truth as it has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. Grant that by his example we may also know you and seek to realize that we are all your children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, whom you sent to teach us to love one another; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Suggested scripture readings
Amos 5:10-15, 21-24
Psalm 34:15-22
I Corinthians 13:1-13
Matthew 23:1-11

Suggested Music
Song of Praise
Christ Has Arisen from Lift Every Voice and Sing (LEVAS) 41

Zimbabwe Alleluia

Offertory Hymn
How Great Thou Art LEVAS 60

Memorial Acclamation Sung to the tune of We Shall Overcome:

Jesus Christ has died.
Jesus Christ is risen.
Jesus Christ will come again.
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
Jesus Christ will come again.

Communion Hymn
Just As I Am LEVAS 137

Processional Hymn (and Marshall’s personal favorite)
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory LEVAS 226

Our fast is their feast

By Luiz Coelho

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner...” This Bible passage has always been one of the most striking to me in my whole life. I recall not receiving communion several times, when I felt not able (or willing) to allow God to free myself from a certain sin, whether it was a personal one or even a collective one. And I know this might be a very countercultural behavior, especially at a time sin has been apparently forgotten by many, and confession has become a rare event in peoples' lives.

However, it is my firm belief that there is no other way of behaving with respect to the magnificent care expressed by Jesus on that night right before he was betrayed, than with utmost respect and awe for his unconditional love towards us.

Acts of love are usually enhanced by unpredictable circumstances under which they happen, and the events that happened on that Thursday night were no different from that. The first of them was the washing of the feet. I imagine how shocked the disciples were to see their master, the Messiah, humbly washing their feet. Yes, the one who had taught them so much, was acting as if he were a simple servant. What they did not know, however, was that Jesus, on that night, was teaching them the most important lesson of all... a new commandment that resumed and consolidated his message so far.

“Love one another as I love you.” The strength of such a commandment goes far beyond our typical understanding of love. Jesus' love is so deep that it reaches even the one who would betray him hours later. His humility is so impressive that he does not care to wash tired and dirty feet, probably full of wounds and scars. Are we really following Jesus' new commandment and this new vision of love? It is easy for us to say that we love our neighbor, and in fact, many of us repeat those verses every Sunday. It is easy to strike our chests and claim we have given a certain amount of our money to the local shelter, a hospice in Guatemala or even for the Millenium Development Goals, but would we be willing to leave the ease of modern life and share all we have with the miserable? Would we live a simple life and truly be brothers and sisters of those who have no more than rice and beans to eat? Would we go to the slums and proclaim the Gospel to those for whom life has become a source of constant pain? Would we reach those who we should hate (and who hate us), whomever they are, and yet tell them we love them as Jesus loves all of us?

No, we would not. During Lent, we were theoretically called to fast, and give up on simple things that are important to us. However, how many times have we caught ourselves complaining about how hard it is to do that. How many times have we almost failed? It is difficult, it is very difficult to leave our comfort zone and realize that, for many people around the globe, our lenten fast is much fancier than what they will have in their whole lives. Do we really care? Do we really manifest this love Jesus has commanded us to show?

The apex of this love is expressed in the simple meal Jesus shared with his disciples shortly after he washed their feet. More than a memorial supper of bread and wine, more than a simple act of thanksgiving, the institution of the Holy Eucharist became a way through which Jesus' disciples could recapitulate his final act of self giving love for humankind. By giving his body and blood, he offered himself in sacrifice for us, and made us part of his own body. He shared our pain, and even in spite of all the suffering that was about to come, he was still able to love unconditionally.

The Eucharist should mean more to us than a weekly ceremony. It is the spiritual food that nourishes us and prepares us truly to be Jesus' disciples. When we take part of Jesus' body and blood, we commit ourselves to follow him with all our heart, live according to his commandment and flood this world with Christ's love. The same meal he instituted that night is a continuous reminder that, even not being perfect, we ought to struggle to be worthy of such unconditional love.

Maundy Thursday, more than a simple ceremony or a light meal, is a calling. As we remember Jesus' last moments with his disciples before his arrest, we are called to be worthy of such a wondrous love. We are called to truly love all humankind, sacrificing our own selfish desires for the common good. We are called to go to the slums and proclaim Jesus' message to the outcasts of society. We are called to embrace our enemies and to love them with all our heart. We are called to love the sick, the hungry and the needy. We are called to make a difference, and show to the world what Christ's love is about.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Talk of graves

By Roger Ferlo

I once produced a student performance of an old play of the crucifixion. It was part of the great York Mystery Cycle, a play that used to be performed every year on the feast of Corpus Christi in the streets surrounding York Minster in the late middle ages. Each play in the mystery cycle, ranging from Creation to Revelation, was assigned by tradition to a particular trade guild. The Crucifixion play was assigned, as I recall, appropriately enough, to the Pinners, stout Yorkshiremen whose trade was nail-making. It is a brilliant script, with the four pinners, dressed as Roman soldiers, carrying on a spirited, even comical dialogue in thick and racy Yorkshire dialect all the while they are nailing Jesus to the cross. The actor playing Jesus remains silent through almost the whole proceeding. The script sounds scandalous, characters cracking jokes as they go about their sordid business. (There is an odd, uncomfortable resonance with the way some of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib used their silent and abused prisoners as the butt of their obscene jokes.) The contrast between the profanity of the torturers and the solemn silence of Jesus was not as disgusting as the scene at Abu Ghraib, but nonetheless disturbing enough.

My students performed the play with no sets, under a naked light-bulb in a college basement. The walls were painted black, the only prop a broomstick that the student playing Jesus carried across his shoulders, his arms stretched out to each end. There were no seats for the audience; we gathered around the action in an uneasy circle, our silence matching the silence of the central figure. No one wanted to appear complicit in the action, but standing there watching it and not intervening seemed to imply we were somehow involved. We knew it was just a play after all, but it left us profoundly troubled. When the action ended, the Jesus figure was left standing there, his arms outstretched on the broomstick, bare feet on the floor, still maintaining silence. You have to understand that there was no attempt at realism here, no stage blood, no simulated groaning. Just the dignity of silence underscoring the enormity of the act. When the student actor finally broke his pose and walked out of the circle we had formed, we all saw the imprint of his sweaty feet on the floor, and for the longest time, not one of us moved or spoke a word. And when we finally did move, no one dared to enter the circle, or to step on the place where the sweat stains had by then disappeared.

I have another story about Jesus’ silence to share with you, this one far removed from a student workshop production performed in the safety of an Ivy League college.

Over ten years ago now a news article appeared in The New York Times that became for me a Good Friday Parable of the Unspeakable. It’s also a parable that forces us to explore—as this gospel does—what you might call the geography of evil. For years now the story has occupied a silent place in my skull, like a dispatch from Golgotha.

In spring of 1996 a reporter named Mike O’Connor gained access to a field outside the Bosnian town of Srbrenica. A lot has happened since 1996, but memory runs long in that part of the world. You still might remember the disastrous story of that sad town. During the ugly, bloody wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the UN had tried to protect Srbrenica as a “safe town,” a place where people could escape from the so-called ethnic cleansing by which Christian Serbs were trying to wipe out Muslim Bosnians from the area. The UN policy was a disaster. UN forces did almost nothing to stop the slaughter—they more or less looked on in horror, like bystanders at Golgotha. An international war crimes tribunal had determined that anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 Muslim men had been driven from their homes and executed in this field by Christian Serb militia. The Times ran a photograph of the site. It looked terribly ordinary, nothing like a Golgotha. The land was flat, plain, with a small copse of trees visible in the background. But reports that had trickled in from survivors said that the landscape had recently been altered. You could see in the photograph that the ground was broken and rutted in spots, as if it had been dug up, moved and replaced by heavy equipment. O’Connor describes the scene with an eye for detail that is almost as vivid as Dante’s, who knew something about killing grounds:

Clinging to chunks of dirt, some piled in mounds three feet high, are pieces of sod and delicate yellow flowers growing at unnatural angles, suggesting that the dirt was broken and piled up after it was covered by new spring plants….Near the larger field was a pile of what first appeared to be rubbish, but tangled among the bits of garbage were strips of multicolored cloth, about three feet long. These matched the published descriptions of blindfolds that survivors say were put on the victims by the killing squads. Also in the pile were berets like those frequently used by older Muslim men. On one beret was a set of Muslim prayer beads, and near them was a cane nicely carved from a tree branch.

Clearly, there had been bodies buried there, and someone had ordered them moved—covering the evidence of this deepest crime by digging it up. The whole story has a Dantesque ring to it. Even the names of the commanders involved have an allegorical resonance. Here in the killing field, where hate-filled Christians betrayed and murdered terrorized Muslims, the spokesman for the war crimes investigation bore the name of Christian Chartier, a name that translates into English as Christian the Mapmaker, as if he had been assigned to map the geography of evil. And the colonel in command of the American forces who were patrolling the area was named, of all things, John Baptiste. As they say, you can’t make this kind of thing up. It would all be high comedy if it weren’t so horrific. The headline to the Times' story said it all: Disturbed Dirt in Bosnia Refuels Talk of Graves.

Why resurrect a story like this? Why refuel talk of graves, this close to Easter?

Recall the words of Jesus’ companion on the cross. Remember me. In a world with a minimum attention span, where one atrocity replaces the next in public memory with alarming regularity, it’s important to remember the anonymous and silent dead of Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, or Darfur. It seems to me that if we are going to make sense out of Jesus’ silence, if we claim any right to play at the empty tomb on Easter morning, we need to remember his companions in suffering. We cannot in good faith re-encounter the silence of Jesus in these latter days without encountering the silence of the victims who came after him. You can hear in Jesus’ silence the silence of victims everywhere, victims of war and oppression and ethnic cleansing who are mostly nameless to us, silent skulls lined up in rows in a warehouse in Cambodia, silent bones in a mass grave in Bosnia or Rwanda or Darfur. Only their bones are at liberty to speak, and not just through DNA and other forensic tests. They bear mute testimony to the unspeakable. Their silence is Jesus’ silence, His silence theirs. Confronted with such pain, for us to keep silence would condemn us. Remember me. Remember me.

Climate Change, Hunger and Industrial Animal Agriculture

By Christine Gutleben and Lois Wye

Climate change is receiving increasing attention among faith communities, especially The Episcopal Church. As people of faith, we are becoming more aware of our roles as stewards of creation, while developing sensitivities to our consumption habits and our carbon footprints. The Episcopal Church has also put the U.N.’s Millennium Develop Goals on the front burner, recognizing the religious communities’ critical role in reducing world hunger and improving the lives of our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Our Presiding Bishop, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, has recognized that climate change and world hunger are inexorably intertwined. Testifying before Congress in June of this year, she said, “We cannot triumph over global poverty . . . unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related. Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change.” Bishop Jefferts Schori’s testimony is significant; however, a third critical element is missing from the discussion. Unless we take an honest look at industrial animal agriculture and the food choices that support this system, our progress in mitigating world hunger and climate change will be significantly hampered.

Nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock agriculture – more than the contribution of all transportation systems combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, Livestock’s Long Shadow. Moreover, the report states that thousands of acres rainforest are cleared to make way for farming—to raise grain not for people or pastured animals, but for feedlots. In many parts of the world, small farmers are forced out of business and into poverty when they are unable to compete with large industrial farming practices. In short, if we want to have the strongest impact on combating both climate change and world hunger, we must do more than turn off the light switch or trade in our SUVs for hybrids; we must change the way we shop and the way we eat.

The problem is one of increasing urgency. The contribution of factory farming to environmental problems, world hunger, and untold animal suffering is rising rapidly. In 1961, the average American consumed 195 pounds of meat per year, by 2001 this figure rose to 272 pounds per year—a 77 pound increase in the last 40 years, according to the FAO. This illustrates that the continual growth of industrial animal agriculture in the United States is not simply a result of having to feed more people, it is also a result of Americans eating more meat. And the problem doesn’t stop there. As our western, meat-based diet is exported around the globe, per person meat consumption is exploding in countries like China and Brazil. The average person in China is consuming an increase of 110 pounds of meat per year, up from 40 years ago; similarly, in Brazil, the average person is now consuming an increase of 113 pounds of meat per year. At this rate, in just 20 years, we will need to produce 5 times more meat than we are currently producing globally, according to the FAO.

Factory Farming and Climate Change

The industrial livestock industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. This accounts for animal agriculture’s direct impact as well as the impact of the resources required for feedcrop agriculture. Methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions, all of which have a more significant global warming potential than carbon dioxide, are also produced in high quantities on factory farms. The U.S. produces the largest portion of methane emissions from farm animal manure in the world, totaling nearly 1.9 million tons annually.

A 2005 report from the University of Chicago entitled Diet, Energy and Global Warming concluded that the average American diet, which includes meat, dairy and eggs produces 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide more per person per year than a plant-based diet yielding the same calories. The study notes that producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels and ten times as much carbon dioxide than a calorie of plant protein. The emissions difference between an omnivorous diet and a plant-based diet is roughly the difference between driving an SUV and a compact car. Indeed, however much energy we save through switching light bulbs or driving hybrid cars, we will sooner or later have to address our diet and reduce our consumption of factory farmed animal products if we are serious about mitigating the effects of climate change.

Factory Farms and World Hunger

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), a non-governmental organization headquartered in the United Kingdom, has produced an excellent, 17 minute video entitled, “Eat Less Meat.” This video illustrates the impact of a meat-based diet and factory farming on human health, the environment, world hunger, and animal welfare. According to CIWF, the growing global popularity of meat as a dietary staple and the increasing middle class in many countries has encouraged intensive industrial farming methods in developing countries. This is usually undertaken as a joint venture with western companies, and meat is produced both for export and the local middle class. Local small scale farmers cannot compete and lose their farms. They tend to drift into cities and move from being self-sufficient farmers to landless urban poor.

Moreover, the rise of factory farms worldwide encourages the development of monocultures, wherein farmers are encouraged to grow a single crop solely to be exported for animal feed. Thus, local economies become less diversified and more fragile, affordable food is removed from local economies, and land which could be used to raise food for people is instead used to raise food for animals.

According to the World Health Organization, a hectare of land used to raise crops for livestock can feed only two people, while a hectare of land used to grow rice or potatoes for people can feed approximately 20 people. If everyone in the world were to eat as much meat as the average American, by mid-century it would require four planets the size of earth to grow the grain to feed the animals. Conversely, according to the International Food Policy Institute, if people in the west halved their consumption of meat, and the land used to feed those animals was used to grow crops for people, 3.6 million children in developing countries could be saved from malnutrition by the year 2020.

Factory Farms and Animal Welfare

After World War II, the process of raising animals became largely transformed into one of producing high quantities of meat as cheaply as possible, at the inevitable expense of animal welfare. Animals have been moved from pastures to feedlots and warehouses. Some of the worst abuses of factory farms include battery cages for egg-laying hens, where hens are crammed row upon row into cages so small they cannot spread their wings, and gestation crates, where 400 pound hogs are kept in cages so small they cannot turn around. Most factory farmed animals spend their entire lives without feeling the earth beneath their feet or the sun on their backs.

In the United States alone, ten billion animals will be killed this year for our consumption. Most of these animals will spend their lives inside factory farms. These are God’s creatures, entrusted to our care. They live their lives and go to their deaths without one gentle touch, one act of mercy, from human hands.

We live in a culture where few of us have any idea how food gets to our table. There are rumblings of change within the faith community. In May of this year, Barbara Kingsolver spoke at the National Cathedral about her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, regarding the importance of eating mindfully. In August, The New York Times published, “Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul,” which addresses the need recognized by some in the faith community to treat farm animals more humanely and to practice more sustainable methods of agriculture. These rumblings need to become a roar.

Where do we go from here

Farmer, author and teacher, Wendell Berry, offers this critique of the way we purchase food products without concern for origin. Berry explains that our food choices are critical not only for our own spiritual integrity, but for the health and well being of the earth and all its inhabitants:

We can [not] live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration…in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

Deliberate, selective, intentional and compassionate food choices that align with our spiritual principles are, in part, what makes food a sacrament – a material reality that conveys the divine. We have the choice to experience the sacramentality of creation or its destruction when we purchase, prepare and eat our food. Berry also reminds us that we are not the center of God’s universe. We exist as dependent creatures within diverse and intricate ecosystems and should consider food choices with this in mind.

It is time our food choices enter into the “carbon footprint” equation. These choices have a far greater impact than has been accounted for thus far and it is time our religious communities consider the ethics of eating as part of any serious work on climate change and the fight against world hunger. As The New York Times noted in its recent article, “If this nascent cause [were to be] taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound.”

In 2003, the Episcopal Church took the first steps in recognizing this need with GC Resolution D016. “Support Ethical Care of Animals,” condemns the suffering caused by factory farms and calls upon the church to encourage its members to adhere to ethical standards in the treatment of animals and to advocate for legislation protecting them. Farms with stricter animal welfare standards benefit animals, humans, and the environment.

The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) Animals and Religion program is reaching out to congregations and religiously affiliated organizations to join with it to work in partnership for a more just, sustainable and humane food system. The collaboration between HSUS and the religious community could form a powerful coalition to return industrial agriculture to a more appropriate scale and address the problems inherent in the factory farming system. The HSUS commends The Episcopal Church’s resolution on animals and suggests reducing the consumption of animal products, refining the selection of these products to more humane alternatives and replacing them with sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legume as important steps in enacting the resolution, reducing one’s carbon footprint, combating world hunger and being better stewards of both the earth and all its inhabitants.

Christine Gutleben is Director of the Animals and Religion Program at the Humane Society of the United States. Lois Godfrey Wye is an environmental attorney at the law firm of Holland & Knight, a student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and a parishioner at the Washington National Cathedral.

Links referred to in this article:
Livestock's Long Shadow Executive Summary (FAO)
Diet Energy and Global Warming (University of Chicago)
Eat Less Meat Video (CIWF)
Factory Farms
Battery Cages for egg laying hens
Gestation Crates
Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul (NYT)
Support Ethical Care of Animals (TEC)
The 3 R's

Mental health in our prisons

By George Clifford

Approximately one-third to one-half of the people in prison in the United States are addicts or mentally ill, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. At a meeting that I recently attended, several healthcare advocates remarked that socially conservative Democratic and Republican legislators object to the state providing treatment for criminal wrongdoers who are addicts or mentally ill. These advocates made that observation after presenting the legislators with well-documented evidence showing that treating convicted criminals for addiction and mental illness saves taxpayers substantial sums. Treatment, in other words, costs less than incarceration. Treatment also diminishes recidivism and prevents future crimes associated with addiction, not to mention offering health to the one who receives treatment. Nevertheless, socially conservative legislators have consistently blocked efforts in North Carolina and many other states to provide appropriate treatment to wrongdoers.

As a Christian who has spent most of his working life as a military chaplain, I found the attitude of those legislators surprising and confusing. Some military leaders do not agree with providing help to wrongdoers. However, the military system – a bastion of social conservatives – emphasizes both accountability and help.

Accountability holds people responsible for their actions, a key component of justice. Accountability is also an important element in shattering the wall of denial with which many addicts and mentally ill people seek to insulate themselves from facing the reality of their disease.

Help is providing treatment, whether while the person remains in the military or through the Veterans Administration after the service discharges the person (a possible consequence of accountability).

The military system is far from perfect. Some leaders are too quick to hold people accountable and too slow to offer help. Some personnel refuse the help offered or are treatment failures. Yet the military system retains and values both emphases.

As a chaplain, I spoke with considerable moral and systemic authority when an emphasis on accountability overwhelmed the emphasis on getting a sick person help. Uniformed healthcare providers similarly challenged the system, speaking up to emphasize an individual’s right to treatment and the benefits to the military of providing that treatment. The military’s centrally funded healthcare system ensured that financial costs never entered into a local decision about a particular individual. The military decades ago had recognized that the cost of helping people was less than the cost of recruiting and training replacement personnel.

The military system, at least with respect to this issue, is profoundly Christian. Addiction is not a moral issue. Addiction is a health issue, a reality the medical professions have recognized and taught for more than half a century. Modern medicine defines alcoholism, for example, as a chronic, progressive disease that unless treated is fatal. Continuing to treat addicts as sinners and moral reprobates reinforces the illness rather than helping the addict move towards sobriety and health. Likewise, mental illness is every bit as real as physical illness. Indeed, any dichotomy between the two is probably artificial as brain research increasingly uncovers the physiological basis of mental illness.

Liberal and conservative Christians split over their interpretation of many aspects of Jesus’ message and life. Debates rage over how Jesus healed, what illnesses Jesus healed, who Jesus healed, etc. However, one point on which near unanimity exists among these disparate voices is their agreeing that Jesus did in fact heal the sick.

The Christian tradition also highlights God's justice. Justice without mercy is not Christian because it contradicts God's love manifested in Jesus. Conversely, mercy without justice is not Christian. Mercy without justice would leave the Church with nothing to say to the oppressed, the exploited, and the downtrodden. Jesus rebuked Pharisees who twisted the Torah to their own advantage, warned of a day of judgment, and drove out of the temple those who profited exorbitantly from the devotion of God's people. Addiction and mental illness do not exempt people from constructive accountability for their actions.

The Christian Scriptures make it clear that all are my neighbors. Some early Christians attempted to apply a filter, screening people to determine to whom they should (e.g., Jews) and should not (e.g., non-Jews) communicate the gospel. The New Testament insists that the gospel is for all. Paul identified himself as THE apostle to the Gentiles. Peter has a wonderful vision in which he sees, not once but three times, a cloth lowered from heaven that contains all kinds of animals, clean and unclean. God tells Peter, Do not call unclean anything that I made. When a non-Jew sends for Peter, Peter realizes that God is referring to people, not to food.

What confuses me about the opposition of socially conservative legislators to providing proper healthcare treatment for wrongdoers who are addicts or mentally ill is that this policy is not only Christian but has also proven financially prudent. In a state like North Carolina, where a large majority of the voters claim to be Christian, what surprises me is that socially conservative legislators are sufficiently numerous to block the establishment of policies and funding for treatment for wrongdoers who are addicts or mentally ill.

This is one of those rare times when doing good saves money. Addicts and the mentally ill frequently make lousy neighbors. That is irrelevant. God made them. They are God's children. That means that addicts and the mentally ill, no matter how unlovable, deserve justice and our best healing efforts. This is not an either or proposition. They deserve both. With the right measures of justice and healing, many addicts and mentally ill will become great neighbors and productive, taxpaying citizens.

The Rev. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Looking the Other Way

by The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Here are three names to remember: Genarlow Wilson, Stepha Henry, and Edith Isabel Rodriguez.

Each of these names has been in the news recently. Each tells a different story but with a very familiar theme. I invite us to remember them now because each name will probably disappear soon as other stories emerge with other names. And yet, if we forget these three persons we may be failing to hear a wake up call that rings clearly in all of their experiences.

Genarlow Wilson was the young Black man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for committing a consensual sex act with a 15 year old girl when he was 17. Stepha Henry was the young Black woman whose disappearance was largely eclipsed in the media by the frenzy over Paris Hilton’s court appearances. Edith Isabel Rodriguez was the Hispanic lady who died on the floor of the hospital emergency room while her family made desperate calls to 911.

In each case, the implications of racism are unmistakable.

Would Mr. Wilson have been so harshly sentenced if he were not Black? Is our justice system fair or is it compromised?

Are white abductions and disappearances treated more thoroughly in the press than those of other racial groups? Do we have a free and equal press, or only a corporate media outlet?

Is access to quality medical care really available to every citizen in our country? Are substandard medical facilities for the urban poor a double standard for health care where those who can afford it live and those who can’t die?

These are the questions behind the names. They are the questions behind the experiences of people of color in the United States. And they point to some of the core values of our society in some of the most critical areas of that society: the public media, the justice system, the health care system. These are not trivial concerns, but deeply embedded outcomes that are the direct result of systemic American racism. They challenge us not to look the other way.

In the days to come, as our attention is refocused onto other names and stories, we should remember these three names. We should remember the stories of three of our neighbors who never knew one another, but whose lives strangely illuminated our shared reality, even if only for a moment. In a graphic way, they spotlighted the shadowy role that race continues to play in preventing our nation from ever becoming what it proclaims to be, a community where every citizen is treated fairly and given equal access to the basic rights of any human being. They embodied in a physical way what most of us already know. Young men of color going to court are constant reminders of our flawed culture and its broken system of administering the law. The extent of media coverage in America is in direct proportion to your skin color and your mailing address. Health care in the United States is a scandal, especially for those who have long ago fallen between its huge cracks of indifference. These are the foundational crises we confront and they all have the fault lines of racism running through them for any who would want to see. Genarlow, Stepha and Edith showed us those cracks. Their witness calls us to name what we see and to face the reality we have created.

We may forget the individual names, but we must never forget the story they tell.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church. He has been called "one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church" and has written many articles on both Native American concerns and spirituality.

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