Cleveland: where there is life there is hope

by Rosalind Hughes

Gina DeJesus went missing not long after we moved to Ohio, and her name stayed with me. Every so often over I would hear it used as a marker for loss, a symbol of the decline of our neighborhoods, the unravelling of the fabric of fellowship between those living in the same village, the rifts between us that let people fall between the cracks in the sidewalk and disappear.

I came home to Cleveland on Monday night and heard her name again. Amanda Berry had called 911, and with her were Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus. It was incredible.
It was incredible because no matter what we told ourselves, we had as a city honestly given up hope that they would be found, much less alive, and here they were, astonishing our expectations.

I wrote on Tuesday about the difficulty of this strange good news, coming as it did on a wave of grief for the years lost, a decade of despicable actions; for the lives lost, the innocence destroyed, the pain and heartache suffered, the trust worn away; for the grief for those still waiting to be found.

Those who held on through the decade waiting for this moment of release were not hoping for this: that they had been abused, kept prisoner, that a child had been born and raised in captivity. This was a strange way to fulfill the hope for restoration.
Remember the fairy tales and their happy endings, in which "they all lived happily ever after"? They can only take place on the last page, fixed in place by the hard back cover, because as long as life continues it will continue to be complicated by conflicting joys and sorrows.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope,” goes the saying, paraphrased from the philosophical Ecclesiastes, but hope takes effort and endurance, which is why we so often give it up. Our salvation stories teach us that good news is rarely the same thing as a happy ending; yet where there is life there is hope.

I hope that out of this, a man may recognize the evil in his deeds and repent. I hope that those who turned away will find their eyes opened and their voices raised against cruelty and oppression. I hope that we may find ourselves driven to rebuild our neighborhoods, our communities. I hope that one little girl may grow up stronger than anyone might expect. I hope that where there is life, there is room for healing.

Good news is not the same as a happy ending. While we celebrate what has been found, we cannot restore what was lost. But we can go on living in hope.


Rosalind Hughes is a transatlantic transplant and recently ordained priest serving the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. She blogs at Over the Water.

See Hughes Tuesday reflection below:

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Excommunication of Truth

By James R. Mathes

In an online story published by The Wall Street Journal, titled “Twenty-first Century Excommunication,” and accompanied by a video interview of the reporter, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the recent property disputes of The Episcopal Church were grossly mischaracterized. I have served as the Episcopal bishop of San Diego for almost seven years, and in that capacity dealt with three congregations in which the ordained leaders and their followers attempted to leave the Episcopal Church with parish property. In these dealings, I was threatened with death and told I will go to hell by those who claim to love Jesus more than I do. Other colleagues have had similar experiences, from death threats to being spit at during church services. Ms. Hemingway would have you believe that the animus we have received is about scriptural interpretation, but make no mistake: this is about power.

To fully understand this situation, it is important to grasp the canonical (i.e. legal) structure of The Episcopal Church. Parishes are creations of the diocese in which they are situated, in some cases deriving their tax exempt status because they are an irrevocable part of the diocese. As a condition of ordination, clergy vow obedience to their bishop. Congregations begin as mission churches under the direct supervision and financial support of the bishop with property held by the diocese. When such a church becomes a parish, by vote of diocesan legislature, the congregation pledges to be subordinate to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church as well as the constitution and canons of the diocese. After becoming a parish, they may incorporate under the religious incorporation statutes of the state in which the congregation is situated. The diocese will usually transfer title to real property to the parish at that time to be held in trust for The Episcopal Church.

When individuals purported to alienate property which had be given to The Episcopal Church, I was bound by my fiduciary role as a bishop to prevent that from happening. Because The Episcopal Church, like so many others, follows state laws of incorporation, I had no alternative but to file suit in civil court to remedy the matter. This is analogous to a landlord finally going to civil court to gain relief from a non-paying renter or an owner using legal means to deal with a squatter. Thus, those leaving The Episcopal Church were catalysts of these law suits by breaking their solemn vows and by attempting to seize property they had no right to possess.

What is particularly regrettable about Ms. Hemingway’s piece is confusion about the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which is easily remedied with a simple visit to the Anglican Communion’s official website. There you will find every diocese of The Episcopal Church in their cycle of prayer; you will not find The Anglican Church in North American on that list. This is not to say they do not need our prayers. It is simply an indicator of who is an Anglican and who has merely appropriated the label. You will not find Missouri Synod Lutherans there either. Thus, The Episcopal Church remains a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. Despite Ms. Hemingway’s interpretations, our leader (called a primate), the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a participant in the Meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion; Robert Duncan, the leader of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, is not. At our last House of Bishops meeting, a gathering of all bishops of The Episcopal Church, we were visited by the primates of Japan and Central Africa. Like an eclectic extended family, we have our differences, but we regularly gather together.

Ms. Hemingway suggests that The Episcopal Church is depriving these departing Episcopalians of a relationship to Anglican bishops and foreign dioceses. Oddly, these individuals claim to desire a relationship with a bishop of their own choosing. But bishops are those who by definition maintain order and oversight over the church. To put it in historical terms, this is rather like choosing to secede from the nation when the current leadership is not to your liking. Thus, when the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church urges her colleagues not to provide aid and comfort to those who would undermine our church, she has history on her side.

In the final analysis, no one has been excommunicated; rather some individuals have left our church. On their way out, they have tried to take what does not belong to them and, in an unimaginative attempt to cover their unseemly behavior, they have pointed the finger at their victim, The Episcopal Church. The Wall Street Journal and Ms. Hemingway have either been duped or shown a stunning lack of care in reporting. The only thing in this story that has been excommunicated is the truth.

The Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego.

ed. note
Who is in full communion? from Anglicans Online

Recovering the Commons

By W. Christopher Evans

A key marker of Anglican christology is our emphasis on the social. Christ’s own Person contains within himself a social Body meant to witness to all the world of God’s abundant care for all. And that sociality extends into, influences, and interacts with general society where too the Word is at work though hidden, unacknowledged, unknown, and sometimes, even despised. A Word that at times works through general society to bring the Body to Christ again, eschewing naïve notions of a Church that has all the answers, being incapable of rebuke from “the world”.

Anglican christology therefore is greatly concerned for the common and the commons, a Body, in which for Thomas Cranmer’s time was intertwined in daily life. A commons in which those with much were turned to those with less, and all are called to question covetousness, greed, and exploitation. St. Paul’s injunctions in his first letter to the Church of Corinth come to mind.

As I read about the riots in England this week, I was reminded that riots in England and across the Isles are not a new phenomenon. Unjust and widening gaps of distribution of necessities and means for a good life have more than once stimulated uprisings. Faith played a part in these. The uprisings of the mid-16th century nearly unseated Henry VIII.

The factors are complex in the recent riots. An unarmed black man shot to death by police—a common occurrence in my own country where the latest situation of this sort in our area happened just up the road in San Francisco. High unemployment in the inner cities and among young people ages 18-25, also common here, especially among young men of color. A seriously widening gap between the extremely wealthy and everyone else, again, as much an American disease as British. The lowest social mobility in among developed nations. A failure to care for the dignity of all, including the dignity of good and meaningful work, again, here where jobs is the mantra without concern for liveable wage or decent treatment of the employed. A failure to respect one’s own dignity in the face of indignity and injustice, even to the point of harming others. Factors, I might add, that may serve the interests of the wealthy in the short-term, but could signal their own long-term troubles. It is frankly not in the purely self-interest of those who have much to have no concern for those who have little or nothing. Even Adam Smith understood that. As Church, we understand more. Covetousness, greed, and exploitation have no truck in Christ’s own Body, a Body that is meant to signal God’s hope for all.

Those who act out of covetousness, greed, and exploitation should not be surprised to find that those with little react in kind, even with covetousness, greed, and exploitation.

Cranmer, who upbraids nearly everyone and who for all of his failure to question the crown or its slaughter as response to the Western Rebellion, does attempt to recover the commons at a time when the up and coming were using enclosures to cut off the peasantry from access to the commons.

And I wonder, where is the voice of the Churches today? Where is a rebuke to those who would hoard wealth out of covetousness and greed and exploit those with less or nothing for more gain? These who cry socialism for funding a school or supporting the aged without means, but who receive all sorts of government handouts in the form of tax breaks, loopholes, and incentives for themselves? Where is a rebuke as strong as this from Canterbury or 815 rather than a justification of one’s status because of a seat in the Lords or a comfortable place at the heart of governmental power symbolized by a National Cathedral? From his quite socially conservative “A Sermon Concerning the Time of Rebellion”:

And surely nothing more hath caused great and puissant armies, realms, and empires to be overthrown, than hath done the insatiable covetousness of worldly goods. For hereby, as by a most strong poison, whole realms many times have come to ruin, which seemed else to have endured for ever: sundry commonwealths, which before were conserved in unity, have by incurable disorder been divided and separated into many parts….they also, which through covetousness of joining land to land, and inclosures to inclosures, have wronged and oppressed a great multitude of the king’s faithful subjects![1]

And although here I seem only to speak against these unlawful assemblers, yet I cannot allow those, but I must needs threaten everlasting damnation unto them, whether they be gentlemen or whatsoever they be, which never cease to purchase and join house to house, and land to land, as though they alone ought to possess and inhabit the earth. For to such Esay the prophet threateneth everlasting woe and the curse of God, except they repent and amend their lives in time.[2]

But peradventure some will say: The gentlemen have done the commons great wrong, and things must needs be redressed. But is this the way, I pray you to reform that is amiss, to redress one injury with another? Is it the office of subjects, to take upon them the reformation of the commonwealth, without the commandment of common authority? To whom hath God given the ordering and reformation of realms? To kings or to subjects? Hearken, and fear the saying of Christ: “He that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword.” To take the sword, is to draw the sword without authority of the prince. For God in his scripture expressly forbiddeth all private revenging, and hath made this order in commonweals, that there should be kings and governors, to whom he hath willed all men to be subject and obedient. Those he hath ordained to be common revengers, correctors, and reformers of all common and private things that be amiss.[3]

All the holy scripture exhorteth to pity and compassion upon the poor, and to help them; but such poor as be oppressed with children or other necessary charges, or by fire, water, or other chance, come to poverty, or for age, sickness, or other causes, be not able to labour….They speak much against Achab, that took from Naboth his vineyard; but they follow not the example of Naboth, who would rather lose his vineyard, than he would make any commotion or tumult among the people.[4]

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

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Mixed feelings and tarnished ideals

By Lowell Grisham

I stayed up late Sunday night watching the news after hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden. And I slept a little longer yesterday morning when after the alarm went off.

I found myself having somewhat mixed feelings on Sunday. It does not feel right to rejoice when another human being is killed. And yet, I had a sense of relief and thanks that a person who had perpetrated so much evil and violence was no longer alive.

It was good intelligence and basic investigative work that uncovered bin Laden after ten years. And some sophisticated special ops work that finished him in the middle of a suburban neighborhood without harming nearby innocents.

It has always seemed to me that we erred by using war metaphors in reaction to the attacks of 9-11. In doing so, we inappropriately ennobled bin Laden and his group as if they were a real army from a real nation with real warriors. I thought we should have used the metaphor of organized crime. Al Qaeda seems more like a drug cartel or like the Ku Klux Klan than an army. Had we framed the attack in terms of organized crime, we might have focused more on effective methods of counter-terrorism -- essentially police actions: good intelligence and infiltration of the group -- rather than creating wars.

How much damage we have done by launching wars, with their inevitable harm and death to non-combatants, rather than using our superior resources to combat a small, clandestine violent criminal conspiracy? What if we had responded to the 9-11 attacks by inspiring our highest American ideals and character rather than our reactive, violent nature?

On the day after 9-11, the whole world was with us. They looked to us with sympathy and with empathy. We were to set the agenda for an international response to terrorism. What if we had used the moral weight that we held at that time to do things constructive, things that come from the best of the American spirit? What if we had used our unequaled influence at that moment to broker a fair and lasting peace settlement between Israel and Palestine? What if we had used that moment to launch an international relief effort to combat poverty and misery in places that sometimes breed the helplessness that leads to violence and terrorism? What if we had chosen a law-enforcement metaphor rather than war? We could have stood for the values of the rule of law, and focused the whole world on solving our shared problems, rather than our creating more problems and launching a decade of war.

I think we were poorly led in those days following 9-11, and we did not follow our highest American values and traditions. Instead of being noble, strong and just, we became fearful and violent. The whole world has suffered.

The story we had yesterday from the beginning of the book of Daniel is a fine story about the power that is present when we follow our highest ideals and maintain our identity and values in times of challenge and stress. It is the story of four young Jewish men who have been carried off in a mass deportation to Babylon. Their captors decide to train the young men, along with captives from other nations, to compete to become elite servants in the royal court.

All of the trainees are to be given royal rations of food and wine. But the assigned food is not kosher. The four Jewish men ask their trainer to allow them to maintain their dietary traditions, here represented as vegetables to eat and water to drink. As long as the men can show they can compete with the others, the trainer allows them to observe kosher. At the end of the testing time, no one was found to be healthier and wiser than the four Jewish men.

We betray our highest identity and values at great peril. It is usually a crisis, a great threat, that tempts us to be less than we are. But crisis is also the time of trial that forges our strongest character. As Americans, we need to remember that we are a strong and peaceful people. We value freedom and opportunity; we are compassionate; we are creative and hopeful, we are unafraid; we watch out for the little guy, for those who are weak or threatened; we embrace the equality of human beings and the rule of just laws. When we live out of our highest values, we bring much goodness to ourselves and to the planet.

May this next decade be a time of rebuilding, renewal and healing, consistent with the best values of our nation and of all humanity.

The Rev. Lowell Grisham is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

In search of the Beloved Community

By Sam Candler

When I heard the devastating news from Tucson about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six others, I was on a weekend retreat with the Chapter of the Cathedral of St. Philip, of Atlanta. (The Chapter is the elected group of eighteen lay leaders of the Church; four canons and I were also there.) We were in the snow-covered mountains of North Georgia, preparing for the year. Suddenly, my outlook saddened. Like our entire country, I was struck deeply by the news. Obviously, the violence was senseless and in such a public space; but I also remembered at that moment how I admire public servants.

We need politicians. We need public servants, who are called and willing to enter our public places and to care for them. Public servants always risk their time, their honor, and their reputation; they are not supposed to be risking their physical lives. On our Cathedral Chapter this year, and on retreat with us, was the sister of one of Georgia’s statewide elected officials; she knows better than I what her brother must endure and care for. I am sure she heard the Tucson news with special sensitivity, too.

We need politicians, politicians who take challenges and make themselves vulnerable. However, the Tucson events reminded me that, at some level, we are all politicians. We all have a place, politically, in this democratic republic of the United States of America, and we all take risks. The victims of the Tucson shootings, from a federal judge to a nine-year old child, were fulfilling their roles in the public sphere. They were showing up for a good old-fashioned “Meet your Congressperson” event. People and politicians were doing what we were supposed to be doing.

The theme I presented to the Cathedral Chapter was “Beloved Community.” It will be our image for this year and for the future. But I believe it is the proper image for all our churches during this year. All churches in these times have the gift of being a beloved community. Our gift of beloved community enriches us, but it can also serve as a model of community for the world around us.

On the weekend after the Tucson shooting, many of us will remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prophet with whom I associate that beautiful image, “beloved community.” That phrase inspired a truly heavenly vision for him and for us; but he was not its originator. I would claim that the image goes back to the New Testament itself. “Beloved” is a dear phrase in the New Testament, from the instant in which Jesus is called “beloved” at his baptism, to the countless instances in which Saint Paul describes his church members as “beloved” (five times in the Epistle to the Philippians). God really does love Jesus, who called the church into being. The church’s great apostle, Paul, really did love his people. The church is meant to be a community, beloved of God, beloved by each other, and beloved for the world.

But these are times in which our society seems especially confused about community. Much of our culture too easily accepts, and even demands, too shallow a form of community. Waiters come up to my table and introduce themselves by their first names. Talk show hosts demand that callers use only first names. Our schools and civic organizations and sports teams call themselves “families.” These associations are nice, and valuable to our wider community life. However, using intimate forms of conversation before the hard work of relationship-building can lead to dramatic disappointment. True community takes time and effort and care.

Another area where we are truly confused about community is in our use of television, the internet, and social media. (Can you believe that the term “social media” was not even a phrase a few years ago?) The speed in which we can acquire data, through television and random internet searches, leads us to think we know all there is to know about a subject or person just with mechanical facts. Our social media sites give us the opportunity to make quick comments, and sometimes biting, vicious comments, about subjects and persons without having to look at other people face to face. These comments create a “form” of community, but that form is astoundingly weaker and less informed than face-to-face community! At their weakest, members of these “internet communities” are actually quite isolated and lonely; they become loners and renegades.

I do admit, of course, that these forms of social media, at their best, are wonderful! I find that, at their best, they reinforce healthy relationships which have already been formed face to face. I love reviewing social media photographs, for instance, which remind me of wonderful past events or which inform me of what my friend or colleague is doing.

In a time when our culture is confused about community, I believe the church has the calling and gift to be true community, to be “Beloved Community.” We are meant to gather together, to learn and laugh together, to love and cry together. And, together, we account for each other. We teach each other and hold each other to standards of civility and grace. We love (and live) for the long term and not the short term. The Christian Church, at our best, offers true and beloved community.

I am way down the line when it comes to being qualified to speculate about why the Tucson shootings occurred. Like you, I have read and listened to all sorts of reactions. But most of them leave me concerned that our various speculations and reactions to the shootings have become further elements of our polarized divisions. Even our various reactions to a tragedy have become occasions for antagonistic extremes.

David Gergen made the sad observation on 9 January 2011, at CNN.com, that “Soon after the news broke, the internet lit up with accusations, even before we knew anything at all about the man who pulled the trigger. Much of the early commentary, especially from the left, blamed the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, etc. for employing a rhetoric of militarism and creating a climate of hate. Commentators from the right soon retaliated, arguing that the left was just as guilty of rhetorical excess and through bad governance, had inspired a citizen revolt. As of this hour, we have a country that is not only deeply saddened but even more divided than we were before the shooting.”

So, I repeat: Even our various reactions to a tragedy have become occasions for antagonistic extremes. I do not want to speculate too extremely myself. The simplest explanation for the Tucson violence is a deranged person. But I would also suggest that people who resort to violence are not, unfortunately, part of beloved communities. For various reasons, they sadly do not belong to communities who offer measured grace and civil relationship over the long term. People who resort to violence are not part of healthy religious communities, healthy Christian churches, healthy Jewish synagogues, or healthy Muslim mosques. My sad comment about the Tucson shooter is that he did not have beloved community.

The way out of random acts of violence is the way of community. I mean healthy, life-giving, community; and I mean beloved community. It is beloved community that sustains daily interactions of civility and sustenance. With others, face to face, hand in hand, and sometimes arm to arm, we learn how to behave in the world. We learn how to care, and we learn how to express disapproval with peace and honor.

Finally, of course, in a beloved community, our ultimate values are the same values as the One who “beloves” us. And it is a peaceful and just God who beloves us. Such is the God who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to realize that the church’s values of peace and non-violence could be a model for the world around us. And that world certainly includes the political world, in which we all play a part. Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community came to include, not just the church, but the world itself. And that is our calling, too. All of us have a part in today’s political world, to risk ourselves, to give ourselves, to the peace and love, honor and respect, of a truly beloved community. I thank God for everyone who shows up in the public square, for the common good, to take that risk.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Christmas in the UK

By Deirdre Good

I've been in the UK this Christmas. I arrived just before the snowfall that closed Heathrow for several days and just after massive student demonstrations protesting the rise in student tuition fees. Britain is considered a secular culture these days, which makes it intriguing to see how much religion appears in the media. Newspapers reported that there were few shepherds left in Bethlehem and that persecution of Christians continues in Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere. The Pope gave a short talk on "Thought for the Day." Just before Christmas, on four consecutive nights for half an hour, "Nativity" presented a dramatic reenactment of the birth of Jesus from Mary's point of view. And Top Gear, a popular programme about cars and driving them, portrayed the three drivers as the three wise men traveling to Bethlehem across the Syrian Desert to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. It seems that religious topics still engage listeners and viewers at Christmas.

After Christmas, the interest continued. In the morning radio program Today, the host for the day, the 93 year old best-selling writer and atheist Diana Athill engaged the Archbishop of Canterbury in a conversation about religious commitment. Their unscripted informal dialogue evolved gently into a profound conversation about the nature of belief. Don't most religions have a parochial and restricted world-view? she began.

"All religions have, I think, a double vision on that," the Archbishop replied. On the one hand, what's local and immediate matters enormously, precisely because it's affirmed by some infinite reality. On the other hand, you have the sense of never being able to find the words or get your mind around unconditioned action."

"What then," Diana Athill continued, "is the experience that gives people faith?" The Archbishop said he doubted that it was one thing that gave anyone faith. The experience of suffering can be an occasion for faith. "But what it may come down to is this. When you open up in silence to what is there, there is something there that is not yourself which you struggle to find images and words for, which comes decisively into focus for me as a Christian in one set of stories. Behind that is an infinite hinterland—you are silent, you open up….as you grow as a human being you are seeking alignment with what is most real."

The graciousness of their conversation pointed up several issues: importance of our local situation, respect for different points of view, and the limitations of words. In his Christmas Day sermon, the Archbishop had similarly emphasized the importance of expressions of mutual dependence, loyalty and solidarity during a time of economic constraint and abuses of human dignity. He linked human values to present circumstances:

"Faced with the hardship that quite clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of financial crisis and public spending cuts, how far are we able to sustain a living sense of loyalty to each other, a real willingness to bear the load together? How eager are we to find some spot where we feel safe from the pressures that are crippling and terrifying others?"

A pressing issue in the UK is housing and homelessness. Shelter, the UK housing charity, reported on December 22nd that "more than 71,000 children will wake up this Christmas in temporary accommodation without the safety and security of a home to call their own." These figures are based on government reports, which as we all know frequently understate the magnitude of the problem. Newspapers say that the UK is experiencing the most sustained rise in homelessness since 2003.

The government is relying on its "big society" agenda to help mitigate the effect of cuts in public services. The idea is that private and voluntary sectors will mobilize to provide a network of support that will be more effective and sustainable than state handouts. But Ekklesia, a UK think-tank, is hosting two interesting articles on its home page right now, one a Common Wealth statement from theologians and religious professionals of all denominations, critical of the government approach which proposes to shift the burden of responsibility for the poor to underfunded voluntary groups, and the second, from Ekklesia itself, reporting that 40% of UK donors have reduced their level of charitable giving in 2010.

In addition, the coalition government has acted to effectively wipe out social aid and legal advice to control legal aid public spending. Those who work in organizations addressing homelessness say that cuts to local authority budgets means that many of the support services helping people in distress face closure. In place of funding legal advice, government proposes to offer limited phone calls. They also propose pay cuts to advocacy groups.

UK politicians are expected to address some of these issues in the New Year. On January 12, 2011, Charities Parliament will host an event with guest speaker and Member of Parliament Frank Field unveiling his poverty report (available here). This will be a chance to examine the state of poverty in the UK and think about radical solutions to national problems. (Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Frank Field as chair of the independent Poverty and Life Chances review).

Today, the news tells us that leaders of large trade unions are reaching out to "the magnificent student protest movement" and promising industrial action in the Spring protesting government cuts. In the midst of all this, a modest (for royals) wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is scheduled for April 29th. In his Christmas Day sermon, the Archbishop sees this wedding as a sign of hope, "a sign and sacrament of God's own committed love." More pragmatic minds may also see in it an opportunity for economic stimulation.

So here we are in the UK, in a time when social services are being drastically reduced and there's not room for much of anybody in the inn. We can only hope and pray that, come Twelfth Night, somebody will show up bearing gifts for all our nations in distress….

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

Beck wants to be Smith, not King

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Dan Webster

It was a spectacle indeed. A few hundred thousand folks on the mall in Washington clustered close to the Lincoln Memorial to hear two TV spectacles. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, both creations of the media, spoke to one huge choir.

“Restoring Honor” was what Beck called this rally. But many news reports described the event as more religious than political and the oratory more like sermons. That should be no surprise to anyone who knows the background of both speakers. But what may surprise the casual follower is what Beck could be drawing from his own adopted Mormon faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, believes Christianity fell into apostasy when the original apostles died. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, believes he was called by God to restore the gospel that Jesus taught but had been radically changed by second generation Christians and those who came after.

So when Beck says America has been “wandering in darkness” and that he is here to help lead the country back to God he is emulating the founder of his religion. He wants to restore America’s greatness just like his church believes it is called to establish the “restored gospel.”

Sarah Palin, a fundamentalist Christian who sees her religion and her patriotism as inseparable, is a willing player on Beck’s team. “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want,” Palin said, “we must restore America and restore her honor.”

Beck told the crowd that Saturday’s event was “of God”. That is usually a certain way to silence your critics. After all, progressives of any faith rarely claim to speak for God waiting for time to prove that something is a human construct or divinely instigated. Joseph Smith claimed an angel of God gave him golden plates to translate into the Book of Mormon. Beck uses a blackboard and chalk to write his new scripture of God and country that is bound, not by leather around paper but by digits of video, audio and text that reaches around the world and into living rooms, car radios and computers across the nation.

Beck would have read a phrase that appears repeatedly in Smith’s Book of Mormon: “…the great and abominable church.” It refers to the Roman Catholic Church and all her offspring. The problem here is when anyone announces they are called to restore an original ideal that presumes they know something of that original ideal.

The “founding fathers” were mentioned at Beck’s rally. Most of the signers of the Constitution owned slaves. And I suspect that most of those in the crowd believe the original intent of the founders was to establish a Christian nation despite the numerous books, papers and articles by historians and scholars to the contrary. Beck, Palin and millions of their followers have chosen to ignore the experts and interpret the founders’ actions to fit their “restored” vision of this country.

The day after his rally, Beck took on President Obama’s religious faith. “People don’t like Obama’s version of Christianity,” he said on Fox News. He called Obama’s faith based on liberation theology which Beck has called socialist. Beck’s comments came on a Sunday when millions of Christians in hundreds of thousands of churches heard a gospel passage from Luke (14:12-14) urging folks not to invite friends or relatives or rich neighbors to a banquet but rather the poor, crippled, lame and blind. That’s the kind of liberation theology Jesus proclaims throughout the gospels.

Beck is running the risk of reopening wounds of suspicion and name-calling between Mormons and other Christians. He runs the risk of damaging the ecumenical work between Mormons and other Christians in communities across the country if not around the globe. Whether it’s his religion or his view of this nation he is preaching a gospel of division and distrust, of fear and separation.

America’s greatness will be restored when we have realized the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It will be restored when Native Americans walk with pride and share in the bounty of this country rather than the poverty and unemployment rates of third world countries. America’s greatness will be restored when fewer than half of young African American males do not have criminal records. And the greatness of America will shine around the world when Muslims are free to lawfully build a community and prayer center anywhere they wish.

Beck clearly wants to be a 21st century Joseph Smith and restore some notion of a civil religion that exists, not in reality, but in his mind and in the minds of a few hundred thousand followers. God help us.

Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest who lived in Utah three different times for a total of nine years. He is a former broadcast journalism executive including news director at KUTV, Salt Lake City. Currently he resides in Baltimore, MD.

More important than Rome

By Lauren R. Stanley

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – The blogosphere is awash with commentary about Pope Benedict XVI’s offer to take in disaffected Anglicans and let them be, in essence, “pretend Roman Catholics.” The surprise offer from Rome last week has been in the newspapers, all over the television and was even the subject of NPR’s Sunday edition of All Things Considered.

Many, many commentators have said that they are insulted by this offer, and have written tens of thousands of words about how insulted they are.

But what is more insulting to me (perhaps that word is too strong, but I don’t know how else to say this right now) is that while so many of us are focused on what is ultimately a non-issue, people are dying or being threatened with death every moment, and we are not all atwitter over that.

Last Tuesday, four people living in slums in Haiti – forced to live there because they could not afford anything else – were killed in mudslides, and four others were reported missing after heavy rains … and there was almost no coverage of that at all. Do not poor people need our attention?

On Saturday, 32 people were reported killed in three separate terrorist attacks in Pakistan, pushing the number of those killed there in October well past the 100 mark. Are we praying for peace in Pakistan?

On Sunday, twin blasts in Baghdad killed at least 155 on Sunday morning, damaging not only buildings and cars, but also the prospects for peace in that war-torn land. St. George’s Anglican Church was damaged in the bombings. What are we doing to support peace there?

On Monday, 14 Americans were killed in Afghanistan, bringing the number of U.S. service members killed in October to 45. Are we praying daily for those who serve our country?

Fighting continues in Sudan, where more than 1,000 people have died in inter-tribal fighting and at the hands of rogue militias in the last six months alone. Others have been killed by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army out of Uganda. How do we support our brothers and sisters in Christ in that harsh land?

In Uganda, there is a bill that is threatening gay people with jail, at the very least, and the death penalty, if certain people get their way, simply for being gay. Are we speaking out on this, demanding that God’s justice be done?

I know the announcement from Rome was a shocker. I know it deserves comment. But really: Isn’t it more a tempest in a teapot than anything else? Does it really deserve all the miles of press it is getting? Does it deserve all the space we’re giving it in our heads?

There are serious things going on in this world, things to which we are not paying sufficient attention. People’s lives are literally at stake.

This is where I am centering my prayer life. This is where I am focusing my attention.

An offer from Rome to go worship there? Thanks, but not thanks.

‘Nuff said.


The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Haiti, where she works on the Partnership Program and Development. Her website is http://GoIntoTheWorld.net.

Seeing the face of Christ in an unexpected place

By Carol E. Barnwell

Kermit Oliver spoke about his painting “Resurrection” at Trinity Episcopal Church, Houston, in 2007 and the chapel was standing room only. People strained to hear his low, gentle voice explain every detail in the contemporary altarpiece. But when someone asked about the face of Christ, Oliver’s eyes welled with tears and he turned away, unable to speak for a time. No one breathed, sensing the deepest of torments. Moments later, Oliver explained that the face of Christ was painted after his son, Khristian.

What he did not say was that his son was on death row for the 1998 murder. Khristian’s execution has been set for November 5.

“The idea[s] of birth, death, rebirth or resurrection…these elements I use really reflect … my religious upbringing. Basically I was looking at themes that dealt with the idea of immortality, the transitory [nature] of life, the idea of growth…the butterfly, the cocoon, the fish…all these are images that deal with the advent of a God that sacrifices his godliness to bring about salvation to humanity. And this idea of rebirth, you know, redemption…that especially,” Oliver said in a 2006 interview.

The 9-foot tri-foil altarpiece hangs in the Morrow Chapel at Trinity. It shows a triumphant Christ, his head crowned with lilies, rising from the tomb, while a violent orange and black background seem to explode behind him. Fabric draped around the body floats up as well as down, one piece torn and falling away.

oliver.jpg

Oliver explained that the twining shape of the cloth is reminiscent of human DNA, the humanity of Christ, as well as the curtain tearing in the temple at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The painting is laced with allegory within the freeze at the base of the painting where Christ’s foot is stepping on a serpent, a dove perches near the cock and grapevines climb across the stone carving.

Khristian Oliver was one of four persons convicted in the burglary and homicide of Joe Collins, 64. Oliver, convicted of murder, was sentenced to death. The others received sentences from five to 99 years.

Collins went out to pick up a hamburger for dinner March 17, 1998, and returned to find Oliver, then 20, and 16-year-old Benny Rubalcaba inside his home. Rubalcaba’s 15-year-old brother and Oliver’s girlfriend were outside waiting in a pickup truck. Evidence showed Collins shot Rubalcaba in the leg after which Oliver shot Collins then grabbed the man’s rifle and beat him with it, resulting in fatal skull fractures.

The U. S. Supreme Court denied Oliver’s appeal last April, and the execution will take place on November 5.

Kermit and his wife Katie, also an artist, were married in 1962. He taught art until the couple moved to Waco in 1978 where Oliver took a job with the US Postal Service. He worked the night shift and painted in the mornings. The job provided a salary, pension and benefits -- more security than most artists enjoy -- while it insulated the quiet Oliver from the limelight he has sought to avoid. They have three children.

Oliver’s paintings are widely collected and he has designed more than two dozen scarves for Hermes, a Paris fashion house. Houston art dealer Geri Hooks, who represents Oliver through the Hooks-Epstein Gallery called Oliver one of “the top five of artists in America today.”

The Olivers will show their work, together with Khristian’s, in an Art Center Waco (http://www.artcenterwaco.org/) October 16, 2009 - January 24, 2010 in an exhibit titled “Oliver Retrospective.”

"A lot of church art celebrates the truth that God has come into the world and loves us. --that what has happened is glorious and full of grace. In Resurrection, Kermit Oliver challenges our assumptions about what is to come. He engages our spiritual imaginations. Then, learning that the face is his son's, Khristian, life and death swirl together in the orange cloud," said the Rev. Murray Powell, assitant rector, Trinity, Houston.

With information from the Waco Tribune.

Carol E. Barnwell, communication director of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, is an award winning photographer, writer and producer, who also edits a monthly newspaper for the diocese's 84,000 plus members. She has served on the press teams of four General Conventions and the Lambeth Conference, and has covered numerous international stories.

Iran and the hour of decision

By R. William Carroll

Brothers and sisters, we are likely too close to the history unfolding before our eyes in Iran to understand it in all its complexity. I for one do not assume that Moussavi will live up to the high hopes many have for him. Of course, he may not live at all. But, even if he does live, he may well disappoint. Perhaps Moussavi will not turn out to be the leader the Iranians in the streets long for him to be—at least not in every respect. At the same time, the first person testimony of the protestors who have taken to the streets is undeniable. Listen to these urgent and heartfelt words from an anonymous college student, blogging in Farsi:


I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too...All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelor’s degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them…This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…

Who, my friends, could remain unmoved by such words as these? They reveal a self-sacrificing attitude. This young person clearly enjoys life to the fullest and yet is willing to lay all that down—conscious of the cost—to secure a better future for generations to come.

Add to this the following comments from President Obama, which are at once grave and inspiring:


The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
Obama too may not be everything some of us hoped he’d be, but we should be glad that he is calling the world to these high ideals, enshrined in our own Bill of Rights and aspirations as freedom-loving people.

We live in a moment filled with possibilities yet fraught with risk. In such moments, the actions of small people and big people alike have the chance to make a difference for tomorrow’s children. Much depends on our faithfulness in such an “hour of decision.” It would be overwhelming if everything depended on us. Fortunately, it does not. Ultimately, our future lies in God’s hands. We shape that future and mould it by our free decisions. But God directs and perfects it, bringing our history to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Despite our failures of nerve—despite many refusals and denials—God is patiently working out God’s purpose for us. As followers of Christ, we know that more than the world is watching. GOD is watching. And God will not be mocked. It may not seem like it for a time. Evil may indeed triumph for a season. But in the end, all things will be brought to their perfection in Christ. In his remarks, Obama goes on to quote Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Last Saturday, I participated in the ordination of four new priests, including Fr. Steve Domienik, who will begin serving alongside me and the people of our parish this summer. In the ordination liturgy, the bishop prays a powerful prayer that speaks both to the events unfolding in Iran and to the very real challenges we ourselves face in this country today. We offer the same prayer in the liturgy of Good Friday. In it, we pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Now maybe providence, which concerns God’s guidance of the world, its history, and everyone in it, is an idea that’s hard to grasp. Some Christians think about it in ways that are magical and superstitious and fail to give sufficient weight to the role of human freedom.

And yet, trust in God instills quiet confidence when all around us swirls in chaos. As we struggle along on the ground, things may seem hopeless. But with God, we can face the future calmly, because the whole of history is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ—who is both Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. In Christ, God has already brought life from death. And so, God is able to overcome; no matter what obstacles we present to the Kingdom.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so trusting that God’s Kingdom will come. For we know that, in Jesus, the Kingdom has already drawn near. In Jesus, God has drawn near in mercy, judgment and love. In his ministry, we see God’s Kingdom breaking out among us with sovereign power. And so, no matter how far the arc of the universe bends—no matter how far tyranny distorts it—no matter how far our ways may be from God’s, we keep on trusting in God’s grace—right here and right now—and we know God will prevail.

In Sunday's Epistle, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his sufferings as an apostle. They are for him means of participating in Christ’s resurrection victory. In Paul, we see an icon of our own journeys of faith. The closer we draw to Christ, the nearer we come to the little ones. The closer we draw to Christ, the more we find rejection and defeat in the sight of the world. And yet, we do not lose heart. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The Christian life is about the kind of trust that lays it all on the line. In light of the Gospel, the values that so often drive us become matters of indifference. We set aside reputation, honor, riches, happiness, and even life itself in order to gain the great pearl of the Kingdom.

As Christians, we believe the last days have come upon us in the Lord Jesus. Behold, says Paul, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the hour of salvation.” Even now, things that are cast down are being raised up. Even now, things that have grown old are being made new.

My brothers and sisters, I ask you: Given the nearness, newness, and now-ness of God’s Kingdom, how will we let it change our lives?

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.

A vigil of remembrance, redemption and solidarity

By Dan Webster

New Paltz, NY-The number of faces in the crowd kept growing. First 30 when it started, then 50 and 80. They came for probably as many reasons. But it was the events of 60 hours in Mumbai, India over our Thanksgiving weekend that caused this group to gather.

They were Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, those of other faiths or no faith. They came to stand together against the forces that killed nearly 200 and injured more than 300 in India.

It was called a "Candlelight Vigil for Mumbai" on the campus of the State University of New York at New Paltz about 80 miles north of Manhattan. Students, faculty and staff were joined by local residents under a cloudless sky on a chilly December night.

If the world could see how we come together at such times they might learn from us because SUNY is such an international community, said David Rooney, vice president for student affairs. He asked everyone for a moment of silence to remember the dead and injured.

The glow of lighted candles was on the faces of the gathered as they heard Yasmin El Jamal, president of the Muslim Student Association, renounce the terror and murderous acts of the past weekend. The crowd heard, maybe some for the first time, how the Holy Qu'ran forbids such horrible acts. They heard a prayer to Allah (which is the same word used by Arabic Christians for God) calling for peace (which is the meaning of the word Islam).

All of this took place under a crescent moon in the southern sky with a bright burning star just to its right. It is that same moon that through the centuries could have inspired Mohammed, Jesus, Isaiah, or the writer of the Upanishads and nameless others who have believed in peace among all people.

"Awaken, my heart, God's reign is near; the Peaceable Kingdom is in my hands," said those gathered, reading the words of "An Advent Psalm" by Edward Hays. "If the wolf can be the guest of the lamb, and the bear and the cow be friends, then no injury or hate can be a guest within the Kingdom of my heart."

The psalm was led by the Rev. Gwyneth MacKenzie Murphy (or Rev. G as the students call her), the Episcopal campus pastor at SUNY. She reminded the group that Jesus said, "love your enemies" and quoted the Hebrew prophet Amos, "let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an every flowing stream."

The group then joined in singing, "Peace is flowing like a river" by Carey Landry, a hymn from the 1970s familiar to many Catholics and other Christians.

Ellen Rosenshein, who leads the Hillel Jewish student group, told of the stories they've been reading from the Book of Genesis recently in her services. She read from her prayer book a selection that asks, in the traditional rabbinic back and forth question and response style, when will redemption come to us.

Rabbi Moishe Plotkin from the Chabad House near campus shared stories of the lives of Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the Mumbai Chabad House leaders from Brooklyn who were among those mortally wounded in the attacks. His hope was to personalize the tragedy in a way that it did not become a statistic, he said.

One of the most moving moments came near the end of the vigil. About a dozen students from the South Asian Cultural Association came forward. Facing the crowd they sang, in Hindu, the words of the Indian national anthem. Since the Mumbai attack has been called India's 9/11 it was not surprise that it brought tears to the eyes of some.

"The world can learn from the example of such events," said Rev. G. "People can believe differently, learn from one another and live together in peace."

The event was also supported by Catholic Campus Ministry, Student Christian Center and the Pagan Student Association.

The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest who lives in New Paltz and is a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

Re-member-ing Matthew Shepard

By Ann Fontaine

Sunday, October 12, 2008 was the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. Many churches and others are holding memorial services and recalling the terrible events of the weeks prior to his death. Wyoming, where I live, is searching its conscience once again about how this son of our state was cruelly beaten and left to die tied to a fence post on the prairie. As I read the news articles and essays about this event I wonder about how a man becomes a myth. I wonder if the Matthew known by his parents, family and friends is slipping from their hands and hearts.

Today, as I read an essay by someone who attended the funeral, I see that already the location of the funeral no longer matters. Details are unimportant in the construction of a myth – only the things that build the myth. The details still matter to those who were there, who actually knew Matthew as friend, cousin, son, nephew. Details like the name of the church and the town of the service does not matter to the wider world. The local church, however, still reverberates with the decision to host the service. The town saw the horror of those who hate gay men embodied in a group of church people who stood outside in the park across the street. As the adults and children held up their explicit and hate filled signs – others from the community dressed as angels and held up their huge white wings to shield the family and other mourners.

Not long after Matthew’s death I was talking with his uncle. He was saying that he often did not recognize the person who was already being spoken of as a saint by those whose need to have an icon was stronger than the reality of the person. Matthew Shepard was a young man, a college student, fun and loving and trying out life and all that it offers. Now he is forever the young gay male, beaten and left to die, the embodiment of all the fear of living in a world that still kills those who only want to live and love as others are allowed to live and love.

Is this icon-ization a bad thing or is it inevitable? Is it good to have a focus and an example when working to change society? Is it good for those who fear to have their fears externalized? Does it matter that the details are lost in the mythmaking? Do those who were close to the event lose something in this process or can they privately hold on to the one they knew in life? Do they give over their Matt to the larger community and find peace and healing in the work that is done by his story?

Sometimes I wonder, is that what happened to Jesus?

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

The golden calf

By Melody Shobe

As the news from Wall Street keeps rolling in, you have to wonder at the timing of it all. Not because of the connection with the anniversary of Black Tuesday coming soon. But because of the connection with the readings that we are currently hearing from Exodus in the Revised Common Lectionary. Over the past few weeks, we have followed the journey of the Israelites, hearing how God has provided for them every step of the way. God parted the Red Sea to save them, rained down bread from heaven to feed them, and made water flow from a rock to quench their thirst. Again and again God has taken care of their needs. And yet, as soon as Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God, the people become restless. They want something tangible to put their hope in, not this invisible, unknowable God. So Aaron tells them to hand over their gold and jewels, which they willingly do. And they melt down the gold and jewelry, and they make a statue of a golden calf and they worship it.

It is, perhaps, one of the saddest stories in all of Scripture. At the very moment when God is meeting Moses on the mountain, the people are blaspheming God in the valley. What is surprising to me, as I read the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32, is how willing people are to give their gold and jewelry over to this new idol, when they have been so unwilling to give of themselves to God. With God they have kept asking-- asking for food, for water, for safety. And they have kept complaining-- about the things they don't have that they want, about the brighter vision of bygone days, or about the way that God isn't working on their schedule. But when Aaron starts to make an idol, they strip off their earrings and jewelry and hand them over. No complaints about how little they already have. No questions about why they should give. No concerns about who is going to make the decisions about how their gold is used. They are practically falling over themselves to give to this golden image the things they have withheld from God.

It is not a reality far removed from our own. Even today, we make idols of things when God’s back is turned. We might not be pulling off our earrings to melt down into a golden calf, but we’ll pull out our credit cards to buy a new car or big vacation or whatever else we think we want. We complain about not having enough while buying far more than we need. Artists and poets have continued to make a connection between the golden calf and the dollar bill. A bronze bull on Broadway bears a marked resemblance to the Golden calf near Mt. Horeb. But what is surprising to me is how willing we as individuals and we as a country have been to hand over what we have to Wall Street. We’ll strip off our earrings and hand over 700 billion dollars to bailout big businesses, but we can’t step up and make sure no one is going to bed hungry, or that every person in this country has healthcare. We become panicked and outraged about the state of the economy, but we can’t summon enough urgency to be panicked and outraged about the state of the planet. God gets our requests and our complaints, but God and God’s people aren’t getting the gold in our ears.

As I have heard the stories read from Exodus again over the past weeks, I have had to shake my head. Not in disbelief over what Aaron and the Israelites did so long ago, but out of conviction that I am falling into many of the same traps here and now. Fear of the unknown, rather than fear of God, is at the heart of my motivation. And I can only live in hope that the God who forgave the Israelites again and again, who waited patiently for them to repent and return, still forgives and still waits.

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

The Martyrs of Knoxville

By Daniel Webster

My fellow believers in Tennessee were interrupted in their Sunday July 27 service by hatred, gunfire and death.

I call them "fellow believers" because people of faith are united by a bond that cannot be separated by miles or denomination.

Every Sunday you find Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians, Mormons and others gathered in prayer and praise of the God we all worship and serve. We who do this are living out the dream of our nation's founders to freely practice our religion.

Many of the millions of Sunday worshippers are seeking to build what Jesus called the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it the "Beloved Community." You find it outlined in the Hebrew prophet Isaiah (Chapter 61) and restated by Jesus in several places of the Christian gospels.

The gunman in Knoxville, Jim Adkisson, said he was angry at the "liberal movement" and found a target for his rage in a church that has expressed its witness to God in ways some have labeled liberal.

I don't know whether the gunman listened to talk radio but the neo-conservatives there constantly fan the flames of hatred. They pour gasoline on the flames of discontent. Now they do so under the same protection the Constitution grants religious groups to worship as they feel called to do.

There used to be a time when the purveyors of hatred could not use our public airwaves with defamatory and inflammatory language. Until the 1980s--when the patron saint of neo-conservative America, Ronald Reagan, removed the "fairness doctrine" from American broadcasters--the John Hagees, Pat Robertsons, Rush Limbaughs, James Dobsons and Michael Savages could not have said on the air what they have been able to say these past two decades.

Our government, our society, had demanded that if you were going to use our publicly owned airwaves you had to be fair. After all fairness is a noble and desirable goal for any society.

But no more. Now Lou Dobbs can keep ranting about the "war on the middle class" and scapegoating undocumented aliens with complete abandon.

Mr. Adkisson also said in his letter he couldn't get a job. Had he heard that because he was white and nearly 60 that his employment problems were because of liberals, or people of color, or undocumented workers who would work for less?

Nearly 30,000 people a year die from gun violence. Yet recently the U.S.
Supreme Court said the Second Amendment--which clearly states gun ownership is for militias--allows anyone to keep and bear arms. Mr.
Adkisson was easily able to buy his shotgun at a pawn shop.

That Supreme Court decision coupled with the removal of the fairness doctrine, I fear, will create other such acts of violence.

What happened in Knoxville could just as easily have happened in my Episcopal church Sunday. Our church openly welcomes people of difference.

The Episcopal Church has a bishop who happens to be gay and lives in a committed partnership. And that bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, had to wear a bullet proof vest during the ceremony that made him a bishop because of death threats.

So I feel a great connection to the martyrs of Knoxville and the entire congregation there. I pray for them. And I pray for Mr. Adkisson and those like him who feel violence is the only answer.

And I pray for our country. The right of free speech must be tempered.
You cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded theater. Free speech in the public square should be civil. The right to bear arms must be tempered especially when those who hear the hatemongers on radio and TV can so easily solve their perceived problems with guns rather than words.

This madness of allowing the words of fear and hate to be broadcast unchecked coupled with free access to instruments of death and vindication must be stopped. Otherwise a vortex of violence will envelope our nation like never before.

The Rev. Daniel J. Webster is vicar of St. Andrew's Chapel, Montgomery and Canon for Congregational Development for the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

A good gripping story

By Heidi Shott

Already I’m worried about General Convention in 2015 because a pattern seems to be developing between every third major Anglican/Episcopal event and a loved one dying of cancer.

Two years on the job as a diocesan communicator, my plan in early 2000 was to go to General Convention in Denver to learn, to report and to hang out with my communicator buddies. But then my father’s lung cancer returned with a vengeance in the spring and it became obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. I reported on the events in Denver from afar, and he died on July 23, a week or so after convention packed up.

While I’ve written a lot about those summer weeks over the past eight years (links below), it’s been hard – as both as a communicator whose salary is paid by people putting money in the plate week after week and as a person of faith – to put into words the conflicted-ness I feel about the “big” doings of the Church like General Convention and Lambeth and the “big” doings of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one.

Which is bigger? Which is more important? Which is of greater consequence? Which is the greater story to tell?

As the Lambeth Conference was about to commence and I was giving Flip Video lessons to our bishop and bishop coadjutor – who are, by the way, doing a dazzling job at www.ourlettersfromlambeth.blogspot.com - I was also worrying about my next-door neighbor and good friend, Martha.

Two years ago, Martha was standing at the local Memorial Day parade next to her husband of 53 years and a friend who happened to be a nurse. It started with the nurse saying, “You look yellow.” A month later it continued with an extraordinarily complicated surgery for pancreatic cancer called the Anglican-sounding Whipple procedure. Though she was in the hospital for most of the summer it was, ultimately, a success. Then a good year. An excellent, normal year. But last fall during a routine check-up, the bad news arrived that the cancer had returned. Months of chemo ensued. Besides this nasty form of cancer, Martha was the healthiest, busiest, most vital 79 year-old we know, so to see her slow down was hard.

Though we live in a rural little village surrounding a millpond and a fresh water lake at the head of a tidal river, our house, a big 220 year old mishmash, and their house, a winterized, expanded cottage, are no more than 30 feet apart. The daughter of a former owner of our house built the cottage for her young family in the 1950s. It resembles a family compound and in the ten years we’ve lived here, that’s increasingly how we’ve crafted our lives in relation to Martha and Roger. Martha shares our twin sons’ New Year Eve birthday. With no children of their own and no close family nearby, they keep close track of our lives and we keep close track of theirs.

Her illness is awful. It’s wrong and painful and it’s coming to its conclusion.

Late in June, we were about to go camping and hiking in Acadia National Park. Before we left, I stopped by to check on Martha who had called off the chemo and was feeling poorly. “Go to the hospital,” I said. “I’m worried about you.”

“I’m worried about me too,” she said from the sofa where she cradled her painful belly.

When we returned four days later, Roger called to say she had been admitted.

“She doesn’t want phone calls or visitors,” he told me. After a few days of that nonsense, I stopped in early one morning and sat with him while he ate his Raisin Bran before going to the hospital.

“Roger, don’t leave until I give you a note for her,” I said, whipping out their back door. “I’ll be right back.” If there’s just one thing I can do, it’s write a damn good note.

At noontime, my husband Scott came home for lunch and picked up the ringing phone. He called out the window to me on the deck where I was reading. “Roger says Martha wants you to visit. Afternoons are good.”

When I got there I saw that the week had taken its toll. She was on a morphine pump and had lost weight. Over the next few hours and on several visits since – first at the hospital and now in a skilled nursing unit – I’ve pushed her morphine button, put the straw to her mouth, applied blistex to her chapped lips, held her hand, stroked her shoulder, kissed her and chatted with Roger about everything imaginable.

Unlike my father, the cancer has not reached her brain, so when she’s awake she’s fully herself.

“I wish something miraculous would happen,” she told me the other day when Roger left the room to get some tea, “but I know it’s just a matter of time.”

“We’ll be right next door.” I said. “I don’t want you to worry about anything. We’ll spoil him.”

She looked at me, so clear-eyed, so present, so close to something that’s hard to understand. I looked back and we smiled at each other with love.

And I thought, this is the most important thing happening in the world.


This morning – or last night, who knows when people are blogging from England – Jim Naughton, editor-in-chief of Episcopal Café, wrote

“My concern for the Lambeth Conference is that a critical mass of reporters—or perhaps just a handful of influential ones—will deem the conference a failure if it does not produce the sort of stories that they want to write, that they will say so repeatedly in the pages of their papers or on their blogs, and that this perception will become reality.

The only inoculation against this outcome that I can perceive—outside of an unexpected outbreak of forbearance from the British press—are vivid daily media briefings that feature bishops with good gripping stories to tell about how the conference’s theme of the day figures in their lives and ministries, and the lives and ministries of their people.”

As an Episcopal communicator, and as often as I could in the years I worked as a mainstream reporter, I’ve worked to tell “good gripping stories” because they are what people really want to hear. I believe well-told stories move people and engage people and change people. Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables? Why do our little children lie in bed at night and ask to hear tales of their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods over and over again?

The story of our family’s love for Roger and Martha and our sadness in Martha’s illness is a real story. It’s one we’re living tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The Lambeth Conference will be important to the Church and the world only to the extent our bishops sit with one another and listen closely, lovingly and compassionately to the stories each has to tell. Then they need to return to their homes to share the news with their people. It won’t be the same as hearing for ourselves, but it’s a start.

It occurs to me that after my father died in 2000, just after General Convention, I thought and wrote something similar to this. I really hope I get it right this time.

Links
My own private Denver -

Holding hands at the comma

They’re onto our game

Forty percent in the loop

Next month, Heidi Shott will begin work as canon for communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine . Her essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

An Episco-free World

By Kit Carlson

I have been eavesdropping lately on conversations going on around me in public spaces. Not out of some prurient interest (although I still play Harriet the Spy’s ‘diner game’ from time to time, listening to people behind me and trying to imagine what they look like, then turning around to see if I guessed right.), but out of another kind of curiosity.

Simply this: What ARE people talking about these days anyway?

Well, let me tell you, people are NOT talking about the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, Gene Robinson or Rowan Williams. The names Jack Iker or Robert Duncan do not pass their lips. Nor does the name of Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Despite the furor on the blogosphere, or in our Parish Halls, or in our diocesan gatherings, the things that are of such deep and obsessive interest to us are simply not on the radar of the general public.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. While we may be generally known as “the church that’s fighting over gay bishops,” it’s not really at people’s top-of-mind awareness. Which leads me to believe that there is room for us to work, room for us to create an awareness of our denomination that would go beyond the bickering and legal annihilation we practice so enthusiastically.

What if we really COULD get people talking about the Episcopal Church? What if we could overhear folks in coffee shops and supermarkets, on line in the airport or riding on the bus, saying things like:

“You know that school was built by the Episcopal Church for our children … not the rich children, but our children, right here in the barrio.”

“I went on a mission trip to Haiti, and you should see all the things the Episcopal Church is doing in that country … the feeding programs, the sustainability projects, the schools, they even started an orchestra.”

“Well, I know the Episcopal Church will speak up for us against these developers.”

“I have a whole new sense of my purpose in life. I have to tell you about my church and how God has changed me … yes, my church. It’s that Episcopal Church on the corner.”

It’s something to hope for, and something new to strive for. In the meantime, I think it’s helpful to listen. To hear what people care about, are curious about, are enraged about, are tickled about. To hear the voices of people going about their everyday business, chatting about their everyday concerns. That business, those concerns are of deep and abiding interest to the God we serve. Perhaps they are even of more interest to God than the internecine battles of our tiny denomination.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich., where she blogs at Saints Alive!

How the President (and the press) misinterpreted the Pope

By W. Nicholas Knisely

Pope Benedict has just finished his first visit (as Pope) to the United States. It’s not surprising that many of his statements tended to confuse the people covering the event. The Pope, a former theology professor, shares a trait with the present Archbishop of Canterbury; he speaks in paragraphs, not in sound bites. (And he won’t simplify concepts so that they are easily digestible by the evening newsreaders.) But it wasn’t something that the Pope said, it was something that our President claimed the Pope had said that sent me off on a week’s worth of research and thinking. During a television interview on the eve of the visit, the President expressed his gratitude for the Pope’s teaching that "there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of un-dermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies." The President’s statement elicited a flurry of articles and online conversations about how relativism might actually achieve the destruction of society. But the problem is, near as I can tell, the President got the Pope’s thinking just about dead wrong.

I was particularly interested in the question of the proper role of relativism because of my training prior to studying for the priesthood. Part of my studies were spent in theoretical physics (in a small branch of general relativity theory actually) and I’ve been teaching a course on the philosophy of physics for the past six years or so. As part of all that I’ve been digging into the philosophical underpinnings of both classical and quantum physics and trying to see how we might connect the work being done there with the way we as a Church talk about God (literally: Theology).

One of the most important breakthroughs in classical physics in the past century came about as a result of Albert Einstein’s willingness to take the philosophical ideas of Ernst Mach seriously. Mach argued, in effect, that “reality” was ultimately determined by a person’s own observations. Einstein used the idea to construct his postulate of relativity which states that one reference frame’s observation is equally true as another’s even if they contradict, because the laws of physics must be the same for all. There are a couple of shelves worth of books involved in unpacking the statement, but the upshot is that no one observer can really claim priority over another one, even if they contradict each other. In effect, each person’s experience of the world around them is equally valid to another’s. While this was not a universally accepted idea in physics until the second half of the twentieth century (Hitler and Stalin claimed the idea that there was no absolute truth in Science to be preposterous and a result of deviant and Jewish thinking) the concept was repeatedly confirmed in experiment after experiment and is now broadly accepted in the physical sciences.

But a deeper question remains. Given that relativity is experimentally verified in the physical world, how should it be used in the realm of ideas? Do we want to argue that because relativity is a characteristic of physical reality, that it must also be a characteristic of morality? Should it be a fundamental characteristic of theology as well? (If that’s true, then much of the scholasticism of Reformation and Counterreformation theology is automatically overturned.) Benedict, back when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, tried to answer these questions. There’s a lovely summary of his thinking available online titled “Relativism, The Central Problem for Faith Today” that walks us through his objections. Apparently the President’s people based the President’s remarks on the title of the essay and not the actual text.

Pope Benedict’s critique of relativism shows that he’s not simply rejecting relativity in a sort of modern versus post-modern reactionary way as the President’s words seem to imply. What the Pope does instead is to look carefully at how various theologians have used relativistic and subjectivist philosophical systems. His critique centers on the observation that the move to reject the very existence of absolutes takes us to a place we don’t want to go. (It essentially forces us to reject any special quality to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.) But Benedict recognizes the possibility that while ultimate truth exists, it is unknowable by human beings except in approximation.

Painting with a very broad brush, in technical terms the Pope is arguing that Positivism cannot be proven and is even poisonous to theology, and he’s willing at least to enter-tain the principles of PostPositivism (and some of its specific children) as a way of continuing a conversation between science, theology and philosophy. I don’t have space in this essay to unpack fully the meaning of each of the terms above, but a little googling and an afternoon’s worth of reading and all will become moderately clear.

The Pope thus is landing in the same place where most scientists are these days, in post-positivism. Post-positivists admit the impossibility of being able to make statements of fact in an absolutely true way, but still attempt to express truth in a way that is “good enough” for a given purpose. These good-enough expressions come with the caveat that they might be different (pluriform) in different contexts. Post-positivism instead cautions that all attempts to describe truth are ultimately limited and incomplete, but that the attempt should be made. It is not the same as the idea of philosophical relativity which says that there is no unique truth at all, and all claims to truth are equally valid. It’s an important distinction because the implications of a fully relativistic world view take us down roads we know from experience we should not travel.

But keep in mind that while Benedict cautions against the implications of relativism, he doesn’t attempt to solve the problem the way the President’s quote would implies. He does not embrace absolutism as a corrective to the dangers of relativism. Here is Benedict’s key point on the subject in the essay I reference above: “I am of the opinion that neo-Scholastic rationalism failed which, with reason totally in-dependent from the faith, tried to reconstruct the pre-ambula fidei with pure rational cer-tainty.” Benedict goes on to argue that truth can only be approached by means of a path that uses faith and philosophy in a respectful dialogue and that attempting to rely on one or the other is to make a fundamental mistake.

Why does this matter? Look how badly the majority of people have understood the point that the Pope was making. In effect they are force-fitting what he did say into a structure of modernity that they want him to support even while he is explicitly rejecting it. Why do they do this? The idea that there are no fully knowable moral absolutes is not easily accepted by most people. If science and philosophy won’t give us the absolutes we desire then we turn to religion for them, as is what seems to have happened here. The problem is that the absolutes are not readily available in religion either, at least according to Benedict.

This missing of the point is just another example of how desperately people want neat and easy answers to complex and difficult questions. The President’s people got the Pope wrong. They did so because they wanted to be able to say that we are right and others are wrong. (The press got the Pope wrong because they apparently relied on the President’s writers to do their work for them.) But it’s not just the President’s speech writers who chase after the mirage of absolutes. We all want to know for certain what God wants us to do. The problem is that what we want and what the universe gives us are often different. To quote Westley in “The Princess Bride”, we must all “get used to disappointment.” Instead we need to recognize that the best we do is to muddle through, trying to do the best we can and trusting desperately in God’s mercy revealed to us in Jesus. Somehow I think free societies will manage to survive as well.

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

A bridge collapses. A child asks why.

By Sara McGinley

All I heard was my husband, Aron’s, side of the conversation.

“Yes. Yes. We’re all fine. I’ve been home for an hour. A bridge? Whoa.”

Then.

“Sara get over here. Look at this. This is so weird.”

Aron has been known from time to time to scream with urgency that I need to come see something, that I need to drop everything and respond to whatever it is he is doing.

More than once in the first year of our marriage I dropped everything and went running only to find out that Aron was calling me to read an interesting article or hear about a new idea he had.

Certainly these were important things. But did I need to leave the washing machine running with the lid open for that?

So last night, despite the fact that he sounded truly worried and was racing to the television I did one last thing. I put the kid’s milk in the refrigerator. And walked slowly over to the television where he sat with our two kids.

They were talking about the dark cloud that billowed into the sky when the bridge that is just over a mile from our house fell.

The bridge. The bridge we drove over just the day before with both kids strapped in the back seat. The bridge we drive on regularly was sitting in the Mississippi River. And it had just fallen. And it had fallen during rush hour.

I was full of questions.

Did we know anyone on the bridge?

Could anyone live through something like that?

What made this happen?

And why?

And then my three year old started doing what he does best and what he has done more than anything else for the past week.

He asked why.

Why is that bridge broken?

Why is that train squooshed under the bridge?

Why is that truck ripped?

Why is a school bus on that bridge?

Meanwhile I was pushing redial over and over on my cell phone because I couldn’t get through to my sisters.

Sometimes I got a busy signal. Sometimes a message that the network was busy. Sometimes the call didn’t go through at all. Over and over I called. Just wanting to be sure they were okay.

And our son kept asking why.

Had Aron known what we were going to find on TV last night he probably wouldn’t have let the kids see it. It’s a lot for a 3 year old to take in.

Since he did see it we were honest. We answered his questions.

We told him the bridge broke and we didn’t know why. We told him that the cars were on the bridge because they were driving on it when it broke, that people were in the water because they fell off the bridge.

When we finally brought him to bed he said he was nervous about the bridge and he and Aron talked about it for a while. And then our son, Eliot, said he was ready to sleep and he did.

While the kids slept we got a hold of our families who were all fine. We heard from friends across the country via email wanting to know if we were okay.

This morning when our son woke up he wanted to know more about the bridge.

He asked and asked and asked questions.

And Aron and I decided to just let him ask and ask until he was done asking and that we’d just keep answering as honestly and simply as possible.

After he asked more about his beloved cars and buses and trains and construction equipment he asked about the people.

He asked if people were sad when the bridge fell.

We said we thought they were.

And the questions paused for a moment.

He pointed to the bridge on his train set and said that bridge falls down and people don’t cry.

Then he said.

And I’m not making this up.

“Maybe people poop on bridge.”

And he giggled.

And I looked at him and then looked at Aron.

And Aron said, yeah Eliot, some people probably did poop when the bridge fell.

He didn’t ask why about that. He seemed content with the story.

Later we looked at some pictures and I told him a lot of people called and emailed to make sure we were okay.

I told him a lot of people love us and like having us around.

He didn’t ask why about that either.

He seemed content with that story too.

Sara McGinley, priest's wife and mother of two, writes the blog Sara McGinley, where you can find other news on Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minnesota. Episcopal News Service's coverage of the bridge collapse is here.

Public mourning

By Susan Fawcett

For good or ill, the parish I serve is becoming skilled in a particular kind of hospitality: high-profile funerals. A few years ago, before I began working here, the parish opened its doors to hold a funeral for a young woman whose kidnap and brutal murder got top billing on every major news network. With television-news trucks, reporters, and cameras swarming the perimeter, a church that seats 350 on a good day welcomed swarms of people who came to mourn an untimely (and much publicized) death. I doubt the parish realized how that funeral was preparing them for another.

The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech hit hard four hours away in Northern Virginia. Many of our parishioners had only one or two degrees of separation from the victims. And indeed, one young woman who died was from our town. She was a vibrant young woman, a student who was only weeks away from graduating. Through various connections—a family friend who also happened to be an Episcopal priest, and neighbors who comforted them in the first hours after they got the awful news—her family was led to our parish, and the rector offered to officiate at the service.

In the days that followed, it became clear that this would be no ‘normal’ funeral. Significant crowds were expected, various protesters [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/18/national/main2699800.shtml] threatened to picket, and the press was already on patrol. In a Sunday sermon, the rector asked for volunteers to help with the preparations, and by Tuesday so many calls came in that we had to start turning people away. By the afternoon before the service, there were more cookies and brownies in our parish hall than you could have fed to an army of middle-schoolers. The ‘simple reception’ we had offered began to turn into a luncheon as people brought sandwiches, cheese, meat trays, crackers, and finger foods, so much that it barely fit in the parish kitchen. We turned away offers from local restaurants to cater the event, because there was simply no more room for food.

There was no lack of human help, either. Volunteers swarmed the church for two full days, coordinating the offerings of food, the arrangement of extra chairs, setting up a tent for overflow seating, checking the sound system, preparing for the police, rescue, and press corps. Parishioners in orange vests arranged the parking on our front lawn, and parishioners in suits served as ushers. We were ready, or as ready as we were going to be.

And the people came. Over a thousand of them, including several buses full of students from Virginia Tech. They found their seats. The funeral unfolded, the way liturgies do, and it was both poignant and beautiful.

The parish provided this family a fine funeral.

That is not my point.

My point is that after the funeral, when most of the attendees had spoken to the family and had eaten and had done what people do after funerals (which is often strangely similar to what people do at family reunions), I saw parishioners still working. They packed up boxes of leftover brownies to send with the college students. They sent leftover bottled water and sandwiches and cookies to a local soup kitchen. They put away the chairs and picked up dropped bulletins. A young man vacuumed the sanctuary. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary; the same kinds of things that happen after any Sunday morning or parish supper. Just bigger, and more.

Being the church for a family that had none, assuaging our own grief and fear with the liturgies and rituals we’ve done over and over again: these people were not making heroic efforts. They did what they do every week, every month, in the regular routine of being a church. And yet the effect of their work was overwhelming, an incredible statement of compassion and hospitality to our grieving neighbors.

This is where God shows up, people. This is the church at its best. At this funeral, no one debated about sex or property disputes. At this funeral, I’m guessing that none of the parishioners, nor any of the family members of the deceased, would have cared whether or not the Anglican Communion existed as a formal structure or as a network of relationships. At this funeral, this parish was God’s people, the body of Christ: the Church.

Thanks be to God.

The Reverend Susan Daughtry Fawcett keeps the blog This Passage. She serves a parish in the Diocese of Virginia, and supports the work of the General Convention publication The Center Aisle.


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