Herself: Our Lady of Guadalupe

by Sara Miles

Long before she arrived in the New World, the Virgin Mary was at the center of Christianity’s scandal: God becoming a human, Spirit mixing irrevocably with mortal flesh. The prophet Mary appears all over the world: pregnant, black-skinned, red-haired, white-robed, crowned, calm, bleeding, sleeping, weeping, rising out of the sea; head bent, hands raised, popping one perfectly round breast into an infant’s mouth. She is the Ark of the New Covenant; Our Lady of sorrows, mercies, solitude, comfort, miracles, light; or, simply, “Herself.” Mary is everywhere.

In San Francisco’s Mission District, where I live, it’s the Virgin of Guadalupe who animates the streets. Draped in a blue mantle sprinkled with stars, surrounded by rays of light, she faces the city from every direction. She’s painted on the front of the upscale raw-foods restaurant called “Gracias Madre,” perhaps the only words in Spanish its earnest owners know besides “guacamole.” She’s tattooed into the skin of a twenty-five year old Salvadoran killer, perhaps the only image of mercy he can accept. She dangles from rear-view mirrors and radiates from shopping bags and beach towels. Murals of her adorn at least four different vegetable markets named “Casa Guadalupe;” a pawnshop called “La Virgen” and a bakery named “La Reyna” write her nicknames in script. She’s printed on the cheap foil posters and ill-fitting t-shirts and blinking alarm clocks made in China and sold at the ghetto dollar stores by Korean shopkeepers who wearily roll up their gates on her feast day without knowing who she is, or how many different things she means to the immigrant moms who come looking for bargains. She’s cast in stone to be plunked down on front steps, or in back yards, or among the grubby rosebushes by a parochial school. She’s rendered in plastic and set on a shelf by my front door, so that I can put fresh flowers at her feet, and light a candle to her before my over-educated Anglo friends show up for dinner.

The story of Guadalupe goes like this. One early December morning in 1531, the Indian peasant and Christian convert Juan Diego is walking past the holy hill of Tepeyac. The brutal occupation of the Spaniards has destroyed the ancient temple there dedicated to the goddess Tonantzín, Mother of Corn and Bringer of Life. Suddenly he’s overcome by a vision of a dark-skinned, barefoot, pregnant girl, looking suspiciously like renderings of Tonantzín: she’s trampling down snakes, bearing codices, crowned with stars. The young woman addresses him in his own Nauhatl language, calling him “my son,” and then announces that she is actually Mary, the mother of God, and that he should build a church to her. Frightened and humble, Juan Diego demurs.

“I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf,” he tells her. But the vision insists, so Juan Diego rushes off to share the good news with the Spanish bishop. And the bishop, who is not at all pleased, says, in effect: you stupid Indian, are you crazy? The most Holy Virgin Mary is hardly some heathen brown-skinned girl, have you no respect?

Juan Diego returns to the hilltop, prays, and the brilliant vision, who will later be named Guadalupe, appears again. She asks the Indian to open his tilma, his cloak, and she fills it with Castilian roses—impossible, sweet-smelling roses in December. He brings it tremulously to the bishop, who falls to his knees when he sees her holy image imprinted on the rough cloth.

Devotions follow; centuries of miracles and arguments follow; legends and basilicas follow. Books are filled with conflicting versions of the story. Her name: does it come from the conquerors’ Spain, where the Arabic word wadi, river, mixed with the Spanish-Latin hybrid word lupe, wolf; or does it originate with the Aztecs, where coatlaxopeuh means “she who tramples down serpents?” Guadalupe’s identity: is she La Morena or Paloma Blanca––the dark one or the white dove–– or simply La Reyna, the Queen of Heaven? Is she syncretized with Tonantzín alone, or also with the mysterious pregnant snake-stomping woman from the Book of Revelation who’s clothed with the sun and crowned with twelve stars? Is the written Franciscan account or the Nauhatl one or the codex supposedly discovered by the Jesuits more accurate? And that tilma, which millions now visit every year: is it truly incorruptible, or has it been replaced by fakes?

What is going on here, really? Have the pagan Indians who venerated an Aztec goddess now turned to Our Lady of Guadalupe and finally become real Christians––or has the Mother of God lifted up the colonized to convert the European Church?

All of it. Guadalupe embodies mestizaje ––that blessed principle of intermingling which is God’s gift to Mexico, and Mexico’s gift to the nations. Herself mixed and impure, Guadalupe bears and reveals a God uncontainable by religious orthodoxy or national borders; a God who shows up everywhere, showering us with life as unexpected as roses in December, making all things new. Hail Mary. Hoy te vengo a saludar.

Sara Miles is the author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak. This essay is adapted from her new book City of God (Jericho Books, forthcoming February 2014.)


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Another Triduum? Día de los Muertos, All Saints, All Souls

by Patricia Millard

A triduum is a three day period of liturgical observance. The triduum we are most familiar is the Paschal Triduum which begins on Maundy Thursday and culminates in the Great Vigil of Easter.

Interestingly, over the past few years another “triduum” has been evolving within the liturgical practice of the Episcopal Church. This triduum begins (not necessarily a chronological order here!) with a deepening appreciation of the many cultural celebrations that connect us, as human beings, with the remembrance of our ancestors, with our deceased loved ones, and with a sense of lineage and community. And perhaps because so many of us in the “modern” world may feel that we have lost our roots and no longer maintain a sense of connection across generations, there may be a special poignancy in re-entering this space via cultural and spiritual traditions different from our own.

Día de los Muertos, literally, the Day of the Dead, continues to evolve. It is not only a window into Mexican culture, but has become part of the broader religious and spiritual landscape of the United States. Within the Episcopal Church, Día de los Muertos has become something of a cultural bridge. More and more, it is becoming “normal” for Episcopal churches to make space for traditional Mexican altars concurrent with the celebration of All Saints’ Sunday, another way through which we strive to grow in our capacity to live authentically as a welcoming and diverse church.

Within the Anglican liturgical calendar, Día de los Muertos resonates in many ways with All Souls’ Day, which technically would be observed on November 2nd. Fascinating, to me, how these traditions come together in ways both old and new!

photo%202b.jpgLast week, as our Spanish-language community assembled a Día de los Muertos altar at St. Catherine’s (and many of the objects are my own, so now you know that though I got rid of all my Christmas stuff when I moved to the coast, I held on to my Día de los Muertos box!). Anyway, once again I experienced that deep sense of community, the telling of stories across generations, letting the altar come together as a statement of life, and yes, faith - faith that we are remembered by those who come after us, faith that we are connected, faith that we are alive!

During the homily, I invited the community to go deeper. What is the source of that deep connection we experience as we create our altar? As we may visit cemeteries and clean the graves? (Or mourn the fact that we are too far away from our communities of origin to be able to do this?)

And that is where “holy Triduum” comes in. The “source” is Christ, Eucharist, Resurrection! The colors and flowers, the photos, the food... the moment we take those altars and place them in a church, we are immediately invited to remember the Eternal Life we have in Christ. Día de los Muertos, in its fullness, is another Easter Procession. We begin with the color of the cempazuchitl, the Mexican marigold, and end with Easter white that is all colors and perfect light. We begin with a deep love of connections, community, roots, and are invited to remember that the fullness of the Christian faith that indeed transcends culture is that eternal life we have in Christ!

This Sunday, I invite you to experience all of this: All Saints’, All Souls’, Día de los Muertos... these are not exactly “three days”, although in Mexico there is certainly a sense of observing this time over a several day period. But still, the movement is an invitation into Easter, the holding of ALL of our lives, past, present and future, within the eternal Now that we point to both in Eucharist - abundant, eternal life in Christ.  


The Rev. Patricia Millard is the Vicar at St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church and the Associate for Spanish Language Ministry at Kaleidoscope Institute.

Don't get arrested...

by Linda Mackie Griggs

Ps. 38
OT 1 Kings 9:24-10:13
Mark 15:1-15
Holy Women, Holy Men Paul Jones

“Don’t get arrested.” That’s what my Beloved tells my son when Mike casually remarks that he would be interested in attending a Moral Mondays event. “There’s no upside,” Malcolm tells me when I wonder aloud if I would have the courage to get arrested with the 900-odd people who engaged in civil disobedience in Raleigh this summer. “Don’t get arrested,” he says, looking down at his newspaper, avoiding my eyes. Bless his heart.

Every Monday during the legislative session in North Carolina this summer citizens gathered to protest the measures being passed that threaten voting rights, education, the poor, women's rights, health care, and unemployment benefits. “Forward together! Not one step back!” they chant. A number of them agreed to be arrested for refusing to leave the legislative building when asked to disperse. Our own Win Bassett wrote the story of Methodist elder and mother of six, Tuck Taylor, who said, “Biblically, there are no unworthy. There are no unclean people—only unclean systems. I feel strongly we have to stand up.”

"I wanted to do more than just preach about it."

The Reverend Jane Holmes, age 72, of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, was also arrested. One of her ministries is as Chaplain to the Mecklenburg County Jail. The day after her arrest and release in Raleigh her privileges at the Charlotte jail were revoked. She is unapologetic about her actions. “As Christians, we are supposed to be supporting one another. We’re supposed to be protecting the poor, also respecting the stranger…and loving our neighbor.”

Holmes and Taylor are living their faith—taking the risk of repercussions from the powers that be. Just like Paul Jones, they speak with conviction and gentleness rooted in the Good News of Jesus Christ. This Jesus who was arrested, interrogated, flogged, and handed over to be crucified. For us.

Wouldn’t it be great if our ministry was as easy as Solomon’s? If all we had to do was build a gorgeous church and be flawlessly wise and witty with our erudite sermons and lovely vestments, and the unchurched would flock to our doors?

But it’s not, is it? Jesus knew that there was more to it than that. So much more. Paul Jones knew it, and so do Tuck Taylor and Jane Holmes. We know it too, don’t we? But the question remains; what risks are we willing to take in our life of faith—in our ministry?

“Don’t get arrested,” my Beloved says. “There’s no upside.”

Bless his heart…

Homily for Berkeley Chapel Morning Prayer, 4 September 2013 on the Feast day of Paul Jones. Linda Mackie Griggs is a third year (and third career) seminarian at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. She is a Candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of North Carolina.

[Editor's note: Maria L. Evans wrote an essay on Paul Jones for Speaking to the Soul and it was picked up by the NPR station in Utah. Here is the interview with her.]

One day at a time

by Linda Ryan

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. -- Romans 12:6-13

I've been working on a project for church that involves putting together a timeline of Anglican/Episcopal church history. It's always a treat when one thing I'm doing suddenly gets a bit of light from an unexpected source -- in this case, the Daily Office and the commemorations of the day. Aidan and Cuthbert both made their mark on Anglican church history, even though the Anglican church at that time was Celtic and later Roman Catholic. They had a hand in both, and added to the history of the church in England which became the Anglican Church.
Aidan was from the tradition of Celtic Catholicism as practiced at Iona, a center for mission activity off the western coast of Scotland. Oswald, king of Northumbria, sent to Iona with a request for a monk to establish a new mission on the eastern coast of northern England and so Aidan went and founded the monastery at Lindisfarne, an island like his former home. Aidan and his monks spread Christianity not only in the Northumbrian area but as far south as London. Aidan was a holy soul, inviting everyone he met, whether pagan or believers, to join the faith or strengthen the faith they already professed. He taught by invitation, not compulsion and met with great success. Aidan died in 651.
Legend tells us that Cuthbert had a vision that Aidan had died, a vision that prompted him to join the Celtic Catholic religious life Aidan had practiced. He became eventually the prior of Melrose Abbey before assuming the post of prior at Lindisfarne in 654. During his tenure at Lindisfarne, he guided the community to acceptance of the Roman form of Catholicism as established norm based on the decisions of the Synod of Whitby in 663. the main point being how Easter was calculated. Cuthbert was later Bishop of Hexham but remained at or on a small island near Lindisfarne until his death in 687.
In the reading for the Commemoration of Aidan and Cuthbert, Paul speaks of gifts and the results of those gifts. Everybody has at least one gift, and some have more than one. With Aidan and Cuthbert, it seemed they had most of the gifts on Paul's list -- compassion, diligence, exhortation, teaching, generosity, cheerfulness, ministry and faith. Invitation and persuasion "got" more people on board with Christianity than all the rules and rule-enforcement could muster. Theirs was true vocation for ministry. Frederick Buechner could have easily applied his definition of vocation to them -- their greatest passion met the world's needs.
It's funny how many people don't see the gifts they have within them. Sometimes it takes someone else to point it out to them, and, depending on how the information is received, they either find greater passion in that gift or they discount it and leave it unfulfilled. Sometimes folks just "follow their bliss," to use Joseph Campbell's notable phrase, not realizing they have found a vocation and a ministry in work that may be far outside the walls of any church or even any denomination. Feeding people at a homeless shelter might just seem like a good deed, but if one comes away with a feeling of having done something good for someone else who cannot possibly pay it back in kind, that is exercising a gift and getting a benefit far greater than any monetary reward or even profuse thanks can offer.
A 12-step program in which I was involved for a while had traditions, promises, slogans and exercises that we read at every meeting. The one that sticks in my mind the clearest goes, in part: "Just for today I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anyone knows of it, it will not count." It is a quiet kind of ministry statement and objective -- but one that meets one need in a world with a billion billion needs. It sounds like a drop in the bucket, but what if every person on earth met just one need for someone else every day? A single raindrop doesn't really do much, but a whole lot of raindrops can make an oasis out of a desert. That "Just for today" slogan goes on, "I will do at least one thing I don't want to do, and I will perform some small act of love for my neighbor." I'm sure Aidan and Cuthbert would have recognized days in their own lives where that saying was totally applicable, but I have a feeling they welcomed the opportunity, unlike most of us who try to squirm out of doing what we don't want to do and usually can't see some small thing we could do for someone else. I know I have and I do. Perhaps this is the lesson I am supposed to learn -- or re-learn-- from both the readings and the autobiographies of today's honorees. Being able to see a need and do my best to fill it (or help them fill it) is probably a gift I need to cultivate a bit more, not waiting for something to crack me on the head and say "Here. Now. Do it." It's easy to be oblivious and much harder to be awake and aware. I need to stop sleepwalking through life and maybe the stories of Aidan and Cuthbert plus the words of Paul are the alarm clarion I need.
And those most blessed words, "Just for today..." One day at a time, one hour or one minute at a time, that's all. No great huge lifetime commitment, no permanent vows or even long-term contract, just one day at a time, one bit of time every day, practicing hospitality, compassion, patience, perseverance and letting hope and love light the road. It's not an insurmountable task and it may help me discover where my passion meets the world's needs. And I don't have to go to a holy island or be sent from one to make it happen. I just have to wake up.
One day at a time.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

The Blessed Company of All Faithful People, Part II

by Donald Schell

My colleague Rick Fabian took a questioning hymn title, “Who are these like stars appearing?” to lay out the logic of St. Gregory’s messy blurring of the boundary of Christ’s Body and God’s work transforming humankind. And to the same end, I’m continuing a reflection on the startling descriptive phrase from the old Prayer Book and Rite I,

“The mystical Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people”

In Part I of this piece, I spoke of the considerable joy I felt reading C.S. Lewis description of a last judgment scene in his Narnia series where Aslan welcomes Emeth, a vaguely Muslim-seeming “Calormene” into the community of blessing. Through his whole lifelong worship of the “dark” god Tash, Emeth had imagined Aslan was an enemy he feared and loathed. At the end Aslan explains to him, “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash... if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

The passage is dense with contradiction. It’s a fictional moment of grace and reconciliation. It’s also a small piece of a broader picture that prompted fantasy writer Phillip Pullman to call C.S. Lewis, “blatantly racist.” The Calormene enemies of Aslan are darker skinned than the good folk of Narnia. Lewis described their clothing, weapons and architecture apparently drawing images from Turkish Islam. And, except for tiny instances like the one I mentioned, the Calormene are unrepentant in their war on Aslan, the Christ figure and have no place in Aslan’s final reconciliation and redemption.

I felt wonder and joy at Aslan’s welcome of Emeth because I’d grown up with teachers who emphasized that our choice for “personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior” would send us one by one to heaven or hell. Aslan’s acceptance of the Good Faith of Emeth’s flawed practice helped move me to become an Episcopalian. I didn’t want God’s embrace and welcome for me to come at the cost of countless people in distant times and places who “couldn’t know God.”

What moved me was Lewis’s assertion of something like Karl Rahner’s “Anonymous Christianity” which I discovered a decade or more later. In Rahner’s words -

Anonymous Christianity means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity — Let us say, a Buddhist monk — who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

“…a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.”

In a world of hellfire preaching, compassion grasps for any and all hope for the salvation of those who don’t share our faith. I don’t think I knew any Buddhists when I was growing up in suburban California. I certainly didn’t know any Buddhist monks. So, at least in my U.S. West Coast experience, my 1950’s and 1960’s compassion was for people a distance away. At an earlier point it seemed like “everyone” went to church. As I started to notice that I had Jewish friends and I began wondering about their not confessing faith in Jesus. That’s where it came close to home. But I heard furlough talks and slide shows from the missionaries a lot and knew I didn’t want to carry the burden that God’s condemning someone to hell might be an article of “my faith.”

I don’t believe in hell anymore. When a younger evangelical like Rob Bell argues in Love Wins for an empty hell, I appreciate what he’s saying and admire the courage it takes him in his particular Christian context to say it, but my own faith and hope lie in a different direction. I’ve come to hope in a God who suffers with anyone experiencing hell in life, who blesses just and unjust alike, and who dies with the forgotten. Bell’s title, Love Wins, speaks much more immediately to me than his empty hell. I’m less and less interested in second guessing a last judgment and, hoping and trusting that love is indeed stronger than death, I’m still more interested day to day in finding the power and love of God present among us, like the African Gospel song that speaks one hope for present moment and whatever follows it - “God welcomes all, strangers and friends, God’s love is strong and it never ends.”

Just what do Episcopalians mean by “salvation?” A lot of different things, of course. I think salvation has little to do with “where we end up” and everything to do with God’s work reconciling us to each other and to God, moving closer to our embrace of one another in God now and forever.

Bishop Kilmer Myers retired just before I came to the diocese California. I met him a couple of times before I’d come back home and once after, and I know that people who loved him found him an inspiring, holy, and sometimes conflicted figure. I heard stories of storytelling conversations he carried on and sustained with Navajo healers that led them to baptism and of how he’d introduced Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara to the people of the diocese challenging rich donors he most counted on and loved. And in this context, I recall the story of a televised dialogue between Bishop Myers and Rinpoche Tartang Tulku, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher who founded Berkeley’s Nyingma Institute, just across San Francisco Bay from Grace Cathedral. They were having a warm, mutually appreciative conversation, until Tartang Tulku, somewhat regretfully, confronted Bishop Myers, “We can speak as friends, but I know that in the end your religion teaches you that it’s your duty to convert me.” Bishop Myers replied, “No. My faith teaches me to look into your eyes and see Christ.”

And that brings me back to Dancing Saints Icon where this pair of essays began.

We didn’t include Rumi, Abraham Heschel, Ella Fitzgerald, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Anne Frank, and the Kangxi Emperor with familiar saints like St. Paul, St. Francis, and St. Mary Magdalene to claim that all these good people were actually believers in Christ, whether they knew it or not. It wasn’t to celebrate them as ‘Anonymous Christians’ whose faith we understood better than they did. Rather we included them with others, some baptized believing Christians, some not, because we saw Christ in them in specific ways we hoped would challenge and inspire us to find him everywhere and in everyone.


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

The Blessed Company of All Faithful People Part I

by Donald Schell

In May of 2009 Derek Olsen and I had a conversation at Daily Episcopalian at the Café about saints, here, here and here.

I began that conversation writing about the 3000 square foot Dancing Saints icon at St. Gregory’s Church, San Francisco. I want to invite readers back into that conversation now because we’ve just completed and posted a high-resolution photo tour of the icon on-line. Browsing the on-line photos and digging into the reasons we chose to celebrate each saint is the next best thing to visiting the icon.

But Derek and my conversation also got me thinking about what draws me personally to the messiness of universalism. In our conversation Derek made an appealingly clear distinction between moral goodness and sanctity. I see how very messy it is to impute holiness to people who don’t believe their goodness (whatever it might ultimately have to do with God or the Spirit) is inspired by the holiness of Christ. The Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal offers my favorite evidence of just how messy it becomes to look for God at work in everyone’s life in his meditation “Thirst” where he provocatively claims that anything anyone could possibly do comes from the love of God.

“The Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people.”

The phrase is from Rite I and the old Prayer Book. My longest regular experience presiding at Rite I liturgy was a good while back, in the congregation I served in Idaho from 1976-1980. Since I moved to non-parochial ministry in 2006, I get asked to preside as a guest, filling in Sunday mornings when colleagues are away. And that’s gotten me to take a fresh look at Rite I.

As a young priest who’d seen how renewed liturgy could shape community, I suppose I regretted that the 1976 Proposed Book of Common Prayer had made the compromise of including the old language. But I could remind myself how refreshing and alive the 1928 BCP liturgy had seemed to me when I’d first left evangelicalism to begin attending Episcopal services.

Now I’m noticing how the language of the old liturgy is dense with affection – our trusting, loving appeal to God, and our steady evocation of God’s unfailing tender mercy toward us. Recently I was enjoyed leading a Rite I liturgy and exploring the old language freshly when we came to the post-communion prayer:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

I relished the quiet confidence of “the blessed company of all faithful people.” After liturgy I went back to re-read the prayer and reflected on my first encounter with Cranmer’s phrase and how excited I was at where he took it, “…that may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” It was among many things that contributed to my becoming an Episcopalian. I was grateful to discover a church blessing on the meaningfulness of ordinary human life and the breadth of human community.

The evangelical church I grew up in was a place where I felt strongly how people enjoyed and cared for one another in community. But I also heard a lot of preaching about ‘salvation’ energized and fired up with warnings of hell. More than one Sunday School teacher told us that the only reason God didn’t “rapture us” the moment we took Christ into our hearts was to keep us on earth to witness to others and save them from hell. And yes, I was one of those kids who had some terrifying moments of not finding people where I expected they’d be and immediately thinking the rapture had come and I’d been “left behind.”

“The blessed company of all faithful people.”

I felt again how that phrase heartened me. “Faithful” is such an ordinary English word, a word we’d readily use to describe someone’s loyalty to a friend. Seeing that a church could acknowledge God blessing all faithful people and claiming them as Christ’s Body astonished me. I was coming from Sunday School and youth group teaching that insisted that “liberals” who didn’t share our interpretations of Christian doctrine weren’t actually Christian, and that God despised good works done by those who “didn’t know Christ.”

That we might look forward to walking in ordinary “good works” that God had prepared for us was really good news. From my first encounter with the Episcopal Church, I felt exhilarated to hear a quiet version of Gospel that might actually include loving family, learning, music, and theater, or admiring the courage of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. and wanting to learn to live such faithful lives as they did in a well-lived Christian life.

“the Body of Christ which is the blessed company of all faithful people.”

I was already feeling the draw of the Episcopal Church when I read C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce. I welcomed how Lewis seemed to blur the border of heaven and hell, essentially giving the residents of hell an eternal opt-in for heaven if they were willing to face it. In college, after I’d started attending an Episcopal Church, I read Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and was elated that in the series’ eschatological Last Battle, Aslan, the lion figure of Christ, welcomes Emeth, a Calormene worshipper of the dark god Tash in a concluding last judgment scene saying, “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash... if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

Elsewhere Lewis said, “I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.”

At the time, I didn’t stumble over his Lewis’s condescension to “the inferior teachers they follow.” Now it troubles me enough to prompt a Part II follow-up to this piece.

Through college and seminary, I collected and cherished hints of God’s blurring boundaries and universalism’s embrace of humanity as I found them in Dostoyevsky, Irenaeus, and Julian of Norwich, and in Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.

Someone may object - if universalism claims God’s embrace of all is as certain as more generally acknowledged certainties like death and taxes, how can it be Good News?

This year I’ll be celebrating a 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, and among the practices and experience that have sustained and immeasurably enriched those forty years has been a pretty undifferentiated mix of

- lifelong study of music (piano and singing)
- a dozen years of fiction writing and earning an MFA in writing with a dozen mostly secular classmates,
- forty years of imperfect but ongoing practice of the Jesus Prayer,
- thirty years of Monday through Friday daily Aikido practice with secularists, Buddhists, Jews, a Muslim or two, and perhaps even some Christians,
- thirty-five years experience as a spiritual director including directing a handful of non-Christians,
- thirty-seven years of marriage (after a six year marriage that ended in divorce)
- and forty-one years of parenting that now includes building relationships with in-laws outside of church or Christian practice.

It has been spiritual practice in all those settings that has sustained me as a Christian and as a priest. Many who have traveled and practiced with me have been Christians, but many not, which brings me back to the icon and the joy of dancing with the St. Gregory’s congregation in the presence of this token of God’s holy ones whom Gregory of Nyssa first envisioned for us in his commentary on the psalms –

“Once there was a time when the whole rational creation formed a single dancing chorus looking upward to the one leader of this dance. And the harmony of motion that they learned from his law found its way into their dancing.”


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

Thomas: patron saint of skeptics and doubters

By Ann Fontaine

On the Second Sunday of Easter, the church once again hears the story of Thomas, called the Twin, who is out and about while the others are hiding in fear. He misses Jesus’ visit and wants proof that Jesus is alive. He wants to see the wounds for himself. Once he sees the torn flesh, he not only states this is “my Lord” – he is the first one to say this is “my God.” No longer teacher or messiah or healer or friend, but God.

All through my life I have wandered in and out of belief. As a child I had a sure faith. Then, like many I drifted away. Periodically I would attend church, get very involved and then move away from it all. Sometimes, even when involved, I would have long times of non-belief. Like Thomas, I was out and about. The community continued, but I was not really there. Whether physically or emotionally – I was away from what I thought every one else was so sure about.

Three events changed my life for me. The first was a dean of a cathedral who responded to my question about having doubts with a hearty laugh, saying “Oh, everyone has doubts. Doubts are a good thing.” What a relief. I could let go of worrying about all the questions I had and my inability to make sense of the inconsistencies in the Bible.

The second was a workshop – I was sitting in a circle with others and reflecting on a reading I had just heard. Before that moment I always felt outside the circle of believers and faith – but suddenly I felt “in.” There was no change in my believing or not believing, but the door had been opened and I fell through.

The third was being really sick – sick unto death as they say. My immune system was turning the little muscles in my lungs to scar tissue. In that time, many people from all sorts of faiths, were praying for me. In fact, the church was not there for me in that time, only one friend from the church kept in touch. But in that time I felt I was part of a web of life that went beyond time and space, life and death. I could feel it – it held me.

I touched something that was beyond the need for belief. This is what I see in Thomas. He has always been loyal to Jesus – each of his appearances show that. He volunteers to go die in the story of Lazarus, is mystified by Jesus teaching about the “way”, and in this week’s reading, he asks for proof. When he sees the wounds he recognizes God. I am not sure he had to touch – though most art shows him putting his fingers in the wounds.

Is there something about woundedness that reveals the Holy? Is there something about the community that offers a taste of that which is beyond our knowing? Is there a place beyond believing where it does not matter any more – a knowing that is not contained in all the words and rituals though they are part of the path?

Where do you encounter “My Lord and My God”?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar,St. Catherine's Episcopal Church, Manzanita OR, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Writing lives

By Derek Olsen

I was swaddled in the fourth century again last week. Eyes filled with the detritus of the early monastic movement, we were moving through the feast of that western monastic pioneer Martin of Tours when I was struck forcefully by a basic reflection on the ways they thought and wrote about what they did. One of the strongest strains of the early monastic literature is the life. Not the treatise, not the argument.

The life.

Martin of Tours is a perfect case in point. We have nothing that he wrote. He left behind no rule of life. We receive Martin in stories about how he lived. Sulpicius Severus should be reckoned as one of the major ascetic theologians of fourth century Gaul but he rarely is—because we know him chiefly as Martin’s biographer. But, actually, isn’t that the point? Sulpicius could have written treatises, could have written arguments, but instead wrote of lives. Even his most argumentative piece, the dialogues is a comparison of lifestyles—how the faithful lived, believed, and acted in the Christian East and West.

Even St. Jerome the Cantankerous, one not above a sharp-tongued sarcastic treatise when the mood moved him, wrote his best words on the monastic life not as sets of instructions—though he produced those—but as reflections on the lives of friends who had died, remembering them and their examples to their loved ones.

Some of our most precious and most important theological writing is the biography, the hagiography, the theologically infused and understood account of people in the world who point to it, through it, and beyond it.

It hardly need be said—we have no treatises from Jesus. We have gospels.

That’s not to say that we don’t need Paul; it’s not to say we don’t need Augustine or Aquinas. It is fair to say, however, that the treatise may be incomplete without the life. Rational, consistent thought is balanced and born from the messiness, the inconsistency, and fragility of life lived in clay vessels.

The religious life of the Middle Ages produced theologically laden lives as stories of the saints and warnings of the fallen. The Office of Chapter—originally the monastic business meeting—became an opportunity for reading and reflection on the Martyrology, the lives of the holy dead.
How now do we reflect upon our holy dead? Where now do we hear narratives of faith as theologically significant compositions?

Athanasius, Jerome, and Bede—all theologians of the greatest weight—wrote life as theology in addition to their letters, tractates, and commentaries. Who now writes the holy life?

Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

The vow of poverty: Reflecting on the witness of Francis

By Richard E. Helmer

One early story of Francis, long before he openly renounced all worldly possessions and founded the friars minor in the early thirteenth century, is that he was approached by a beggar while selling cloth in the Assisi marketplace. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francis would have recognized the affluence of our context. Growing up, he had every imaginable worldly comfort – and that most enticing and precious of all commodities of affluence: choice. He tried his hand as a businessman, as a soldier, as a man of decadent leisure. But here, with a beggar asking for a mere few coins, Francis was confronted with the greatest choice of all: how to best help the lost and forgotten among us.

One of the latest debates in my parish’s largely affluent community is whether or not panhandlers should be permitted to beg at one of our busiest intersections. It made the front page of the the local paper the other day, with a respectable citizen, born into a respectable family in town, asserting concerns for traffic safety over and against the need for a bit of money to buy food or water for those passing from one shelter to the next. It’s a smaller version of the perennial debate in nearby San Francisco over what to do about panhandling. The real issue, it seems to me, is not traffic or public safety as much as the unsettling reminder the begging poor bring to the midst of our affluence – a reminder of the injustices of our economy, and more profoundly a reflection of our own vulnerability that we can often deny, however falsely, with our material wealth.

It was Francis who re-discovered, in a radical move that echoed Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel, how to undermine the whole argument. The young Francis, the story goes, ran after the beggar in the marketplace in Assisi, and when he caught up with him, he emptied the entire contents of his pockets into the beggar’s hands. It would be like handing a panhandler your entire wallet or purse – an invitation to a complete stranger to run through your whole credit line, empty your bank account of cash, or give away the power of your identity. Francis was scorned by his friends and severely chastised by his father for such an act of radical generosity. But how a move like that would radically change the climate of the debate over whether or not the indigent poor can stand at an intersection begging for a few quarters, a bottle of water, or a snack from a passing car!

Francis, when he at last embraced abject poverty as not just a way of life, but the Way he would follow after Christ, found himself re-anchored in the earth. Taking Jesus’ instructions literally, he walked unshod and barely clothed, begging his way for food and carrying not even a bag or a walking stick with him. He touches us in our context as perhaps the first Christian hippie, the first Christian environmentalist. He probably smelled. Rumor has it he even talked of befriending the lice on his scalp – enough to give our contemporary school officials fits of apoplexy! He called the scorching sun his brother and the cold moon of chilly nights his sister. From helping lepers to the legend of his making peace with a ravenous wolf, Francis became intimate with the very things from which our worldly affluence and comforts were meant to protect us: cold and hunger, death and disease, danger and vulnerability. In this way, Francis embraced the Christian humility of accepting our true reality. And it is no small irony that Franciscans remain one of the largest religious orders in Christianity, and the largest in The Episcopal Church and wider Anglicanism, now eight centuries later. They offer an alternative to the narrow and often stifling confines of our socio-economic climbing and covetousness.

Would Francis recognize a world of highways, cars, airplanes, and the complexities of Western free market capitalism? Would he understand the power-brokering of our politicians and the tug-of-war between wealthy corporations? I would venture to guess he would see at work in our lives the very same dynamics he decided to set aside in the early thirteenth century. Would he understand our desire to have our pets blessed this time of year, of our friendships with the creatures of the earth, whether they swim, walk, slink, or fly? I’m sure he would, though he might point out as a dog trainer I know muses, that it is not so much our pets as we ourselves who require tough training in the realities of these relationships!

When I recently attended the life profession of a Franciscan brother in San Francisco, the preacher at the service made note of a critical aspect of Franciscan spirituality, rooted as it is so deeply in the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Poverty,” he said, “is not the absence of riches.” For Francis discovered a different kind of riches when he set aside the affluent lifestyle of his family and renounced his material inheritance. He discovered a charisma that built a movement capturing the attention of popes and prelates, politicians and peoples, and the imagination of a Christianity yearning to free itself of corruption. He discovered a wealth of inspiration that brought about the rebuilding of churches throughout Assisi and beyond, and radically challenged the indolence of overly wealthy monastic communities and the machinations of ecclesiastical officials.

“Poverty is not the absence of riches, but the absence of power.”

Francis gave up control over his own destiny, and made no pretense to take the helm of the movement his witness unleashed. While he was called upon to engage in high-level conversations with the rich and the powerful, he eschewed authority for simplicity and lived quietly and generously in a society of friars and sisters for many years. It was entirely the work of the Spirit moving among the people that re-formed Western Christianity subversively and from within at the height of the Middle Ages. When Francis embraced poverty, he gave up his personal power to control what God was doing in his midst and through him. And in an irony worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Francis became more powerful than he could have imagined, perhaps in the way our prayers in the Daily Office offer as a closing benediction: “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

Poverty in the fullest sense of the Franciscan vow and the witness of Christ and his first followers is about setting aside the personal power: the panoply of choices we all covet, the craven grasping to control our own destiny – so that God’s power, the unleashed an unpredictable wind of the Spirit, the insatiable life of the Divine, may go to work in and through our lives. It is an irony worthy of the Gospel that our worldly understanding of power and control diminishes us to the point of utter deprivation, of soul, of spirit, of community. Our material goods serve too often to more isolate us than comfort us, to dominate us with anxiety rather than to serve us with peace. Our pursuit of wealth as our culture not only poisons the earth, but poisons us into a false sense of security and control. Francis’ way of radical renunciation of material goods and choice actually unleashed more influence and power flowing from the Spirit of God than a hundred popes, corporate moguls, or presidents could muster – with all of their economic, political, and military might – for the Ages.

Francis discovered this in the marketplace as a youth when he emptied his pockets for a beggar. He was a laughingstock, yes, but isn’t it an interesting thing that we remember Francis’ generosity today, eight hundred years later as saintliness, his generosity as a reflection of God’s grace – and we cannot name even one of his friends who derided him as they clung so easily to their personal power and prestige!

To live into one of the greatest of all spiritual lessons, to give away power, to embrace poverty – it all begins with generosity: a generosity that Francis knew flows directly from the heart of our most generous God. . . from our God in Christ who embraces not just the beggar and the forgotten, but every leaf, every slinking creature, every speck of the Cosmos, every one of us. . . who gives away divine life even on the cross for us. . .and as Francis reminds us, wraps us up all together in a love of infinite abundance that transcends even death itself.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, church politics, music, and the misadventures of young parenthood at Caught by the Light.

John Henry Newman: a Study in Conflicts and Contrasts

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week. This is the first of two articles on John Henry Newman.

By Frederick Quinn

When Pope Benedict XVI pays a state visit to the United Kingdom this September 16 -19 an important event will be his September 19 stop in Birmingham, where, 120 years after his death, John Henry Newman will be beatified. This represents a major step toward becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The story line for much of the church and popular press is that Newman was a brilliant, saintly figure who left the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church through a carefully reasoned process. That is the Newman of most media presentations.

But the real Newman was far more complex. He once wrote, “O how forlorn and dreary has been my course since I have become a Catholic! Here has been the contrast—as Protestant I felt my religion dreary, but not my life—but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion.” Born in 1801 into a wrenchingly unstable London family, he converted to Evangelical Anglicanism in his youth, and while at Oxford became increasingly a part of the Church of England’s High Church movement in the 1830s. But this gets tricky. Newman, in Tracts for Our Times, made a lengthy case that the Church of England was an ancient, valid Catholic Church and Rome was corrupt, deficient, and schismatic in part because of its magnetic attraction to papal power. But much later in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua and other writings, Newman deftly avoided most of the sharp criticisms of Rome he had made earlier in the Tracts. And clearly, Tract 90, that argued the Thirty-Nine Articles could actually be considered documents favorable to Roman Catholicism, was a stretch even in its time (1841). Newman, one of the greatest ever writers of English prose, after his 1845 conversion, followed the Roman practice of not writing out sermons, and much of his literary production from them until his death in 1890 was a highly selective, immensely skilled rewriting of earlier material causing it come out favorable to his new allegiance.

Then there was Newman’s personality. Frustrated and often angry at Oxford, he had difficulty making common cause with colleagues like Keble and Pusey. Uncomfortable with women, he sought to lead a community of celibate young males in Oxford and at Littlemore, near Oxford, but their numbers and allegiances kept shifting. Frank Turner, in a magisterial work, John Henry Newman, The Challenge to Evangelical Religion (Yale University Press, 2002) concludes that Newman’s crossing the Tiber was never certain, and came only after many of the men he thought he was leading left him for Rome. Turner, with the patience of a skilled detective on a complex case, has carefully traced through Newman’s various reworkings of his earlier writings. The Yale historian argues, “Quite simply put, Newman became a Roman Catholic so that he could continue to remain a monk, and if possible, a monk surrounded by his Littlemore male friends. It was more nearly Newman’s personal social salvation than his eternal salvation that lay in the Roman Catholic Church in October 1845.” Newman’s written attempts to present his conversion as a supremely reasoned act constitute a “Whoa! Wait a minute!” moment in historical interpretation. The early 1840s were a conflicted and confused time when Newman’s leadership was severely challenged on all sides, from those closest to him at Oxford, and from influential high churchmen and evangelicals, plus his two outspoken brothers.

None of this detracts from Newman’s lasting place in nineteenth century English history. He shook the moribund English Church’s complacency, unleashed a current of theological and biblical argument that remains unsettled today, and, in Turner’s words, “as the first great, and perhaps most enduring Victorian skeptic” helped establish the robust foundations of late Victorian culture.

Newman needs to be considered across his lifetime of almost ninety years, as an often contradictory and difficult personality and a religious writer of genius, if one sharply selective in his manner of presentation. He was made a cardinal at age 78, largely for his unstinted loyalty to Rome. Today’s Newman, the elderly, irenic Roman Catholic cardinal of the Birmingham Oratory, would not have been recognizable to the abrasive, and polemical younger Newman of Oxford and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where during the 1830s and early 1840s he helped shape the character of modern Anglicanism. Hopefully the Newman that emerges in the wake of the papal visit will be the real Newman, in all his complexity and resilient humanity.

Frederick Quinn is a historian and contributor to Episcopal Café.

Beatifying the wrong Newman?

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

By Adrian Worsfold

There is one of those junction points coming in my life. I am attending my last Anglican church, as I reaffirm my basic Unitarian connection, and I am resolved not to attend any others, at least not in terms of involvement.

I have often mixed with people in the process of what might be called deconversion. The Sea of Faith Network, based mainly in the UK and New Zealand, but also in the United States, peopled by those who have followed the writings of Don Cupitt and similar liberal-postmodernists (as opposed to conserving postmodernists, like the Radical Orthodox), is a grouping that spans various stages of deconversion from those who are highly questioning liberal Christians, to those hanging on with the fingertips to those who have decided they are religious humanists. Some people are straightforward humanists. Some continue in church attendance for religious as well as social reasons, some change denomination, some continue for social reasons and others give up.

Deconversion can happen to anyone. Like conversion, it can be instant or cover a long period. It can go in a straight line (let's say downwards) on a regular basis and it can have periods of recovery followed by loss again. It is a very intense religious reflective period. It is very often marked in relationship and contrast to an institution, but it can also lead to changing of institution. An evangelical or charismatic can become secular overnight; or someone may go through the equivalent of salami slicing. It often happens in theological college, leaving ministers with personal struggles in front of congregations and the employment of all sorts of strategies, including, in some cases, a lot of Anglo-Catholic holy smoke.

History is full of examples. Joseph Blanco White was a Roman Catholic priest who deconverted first to Anglicanism and then to Unitarianism. Harriet Martineau, sister of the towering Unitarian theologian James Martineau, became a secular writer.

Now Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Britain, and many would wish that he was not. He is soon going to beatify John Henry Newman. Some people will then pray 'through' John Henry Newman. In the spirit of deconversion I'd like instead to beatify Francis William Newman, although I will loyally keep to his stance of not praying through anyone.

We need to examine the life of the other significant Newman.

At school between 1812 and 1821 his senior classical master, Rev. Walter Mayers, the writings of Presbyterian author Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) and the Calvinist author Thomas Scott of Aston Sandford (1747-1821) led to his subjective sense of conversion in 1819; and in 1821 F. W. Newman was confirmed in the Church of England by William Howley, Bishop of London. Prior to matriculation he shared accommodation with brother John Henry at Seale's Coffee House, Oxford. So here were two evangelicals.

Francis William's first miracle was to be a polymath at a time of the increasing specialisation of intellectual disciplines. This was so especially regarding history and mathematics, never mind theology, and we should add economics and languages. However, his early need was to evangelise abroad, and he dropped his university work. He went in September from Dublin in 1830 on a missionary trip to Persia with six others, some of whom died, and he nearly did, in a largely futile effort to penetrate resistant religious cultures. He was back in 1833 to get a second rejection from his intended wife (who ended up as a Roman Catholic nun).

It was in that year that Newman first met a Unitarian at any depth during his new job as Classics Tutor at Bristol College. This was the son of Dr. Lant Carpenter. In 1835 he read Moses Stuart's Letters on the Divinity of Christ (1819) and thus John Henry Newman was writing that his brother had now become a Socinian, although on July 7 1836 Francis William took immersion as a Baptist in Broadmead Chapel, Bristol. On December 22 he married Maria Kennaway.

Most significantly, however, in 1840 Newman was appointed Professor of Classics at Manchester New College, where he met Unitarians James Martineau and John James Taylor. In 1845 he was writing for The Prospective Review, edited by James Martineau, J. J. Taylor, and Charles Wicksteed. He wrote a theodicy and then twenty articles mainly on the Old Testament, also in 1845, in A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, edited by John Kitto. He was developing his views to be seen in his arguably main work, History of the Hebrew Monarchy, published in 1847 anonymously to spare the feelings of his wife. When in July 1846 Newman was appointed Professor of Latin at University College, London, one student was, again, James Martineau. In 1848 his The Soul: Her Sorrows and Her Aspirations was of original thinking and a quick seller. Later in March 1850 came his more radical still, and arguably subjective, Phases of Faith; or, Passages from the History of My Creed. In the spring of 1850 a new friend Thomas Scott of Ramsgate was hosting Sunday evening lectures in London for free-speaking on religious subjects. Newman attended these and thus met important radical religious thinkers.

So the second miracle is that in the context of being able to change his mind, he produced new and original thinking.

In 1852 Henry Rogers, writing anonymously, attacked Newman's religious views as in his The Soul: Her Sorrows and Her Aspirations. Evangelical and conservative Christian reviews regarded The Eclipse of Faith; or, A Visit to a Religious Sceptic as their killer critique of the likes of types like F W Newman in England and Theodore Parker in America and this achieved six editions in two years. So next year, urged by friends, Newman responded with a second edition of Phases of Faith, with a response to The Eclipse of Faith and added more detail to criticise the notion of moral perfection in Jesus of Nazareth. The year after that Henry Rogers replied again with A Defence of the Eclipse of Faith so that Newman became regarded by many as someone alongside the anti-Christ.

In 1858 Newman published Theism, Doctrinal and Practical; or Didactic Religious Utterances and, in the Westminster Review, 'The Religious Weakness of Protestantism.' A year on came a largely sympathetic review about the liberal Anglican Benjamin Jowett's Epistles of St. Paul, with some focus by Newman on the intellectual difficulties and ethics of such Anglican clergy. A sixth edition of Phases of Faith changed his Reply to The Eclipse of Faith into a larger Reply to A Defence of the Eclipse of Faith. He commented in 1863 on another shaker of liberal Anglicanism, Bishop Colenso's Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined (1862): 'The Reformation Arrested' and 'The Future of the National Church.'

He was still quite sympathetic to such Anglicans, but was already clearly moving on, so that on April 24 1864 he went to South-Place Chapel, a Unitarian setting itself becoming ever more secular, and in response to the new historical-liberal effort of Frances Power Cobbe, in Broken Lights, raising Jesus to an heroic status, Newman wrote A Discourse Against Hero-Making in Religion.

Like other Unitarians he was already fiercely anti-slavery, and much of his political writing was towards emancipation. Late in his life, in 1889, he assembled his anti-slavery essays, from between 1863 and 1879, and published them as Anglo-Saxon Abolition of Negro Slavery. He was active for women's suffrage. He was also anti-alcohol and later started lecturing for vegetarianism, eventually becoming President of the Vegetarian Society between 1883 and 1885.

In April 1867 he was able to write a letter to The Radical, which was published as 'Why Do I Not Call Myself a Christian?' His ecclesiology, however, was similar to the broad comprehension of Martineau, so that In response to James Martineau's advocacy of a 'Free Christian' loose amalgam of Churches as yet one, in 1868 Newman proposed Thoughts on a Free and Comprehensive Christianity, as published by Thomas Scott.

From 1869 to 1883 he was a vice-president of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, after which he was elected president. He publically affirmed his support for the B&FUA at its anniversary in 1875 after he preached 'Sin against God'. In 1870 he was seen as the person to moderate a debate in Bristol between Rev. A. J. Harrison for theism and Charles Bradlaugh for atheism, soon himself next year to deliver a lecture there On the Causes of Atheism.

Newman did have a connection with the United States. Between 1871 and 1875 he wrote twenty articles for The Index, a new weekly paper for the advancement of free religion and secularism, edited by Francis Ellingwood Abbott, at that time a Unitarian minister in Toledo, Ohio. The first article was 'The True Temptation of Jesus.'

His position was constantly broadening so that in 1874 he revised his Theism of 1858, becoming Hebrew Theism: The Common Basis of Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedism. He was later to consider that this portrayed a far too optimistic position on immortality.

Despite his affirmation of a purer theism, he continued to be friendly towards Christianity as such, and affirmed all theists, and this was why he discontinued support for The Index, once F. E. Abbot had indicated some hostility to the Christian religion. Charles Voysey, minister of the Theistic Church, was editor of The Langham Magazine, and Newman sent him three articles in 1876. He invited Newman to give a sermon on April 13 1879, which was called 'Religious Mischiefs of Credulity' and given to the Theists' meeting at Langham Hall, London. He would later once occupy his pulpit. Religion, not History, was published in 1877 and he produced Morning Prayers in the Household of a Believer in God a year on. In 1881 came a pamphlet What Is Christianity without Christ? In 1892 Secret Hymns was a clever title for hymns revised so that theists could sing them.

So another miracle is his vast, continuing and rapid output of texts.

After a mild stroke in 1881 and following a number of family deaths (his wife in 1876, so he married her best friend and maid in 1878; his sister Jemima Charlotte in 1879; brother Charles in 1884) he started to consider his life's work; his Miscellanies (unpublished and published pieces) actually started coming out in 1869, but the second in 1887: there were to be five volumes and many were revised; he published Christianity in Its Cradle in 1884 (the year that bored by rote Latin learners could begin to read his Robinson Crusoe Latin translation) and it was much enlarged two years later. He also had published Life after Death? Palinodia, to modify the earlier impression for immortality. John Henry died in 1890, and Francis William showed sensititivity by staying away from the funeral, but the next year came his popular Contributions to the Early History of the Late Cardinal Newman, regarded by some as rather cold and hardly that of a brother. He kept busy: in 1893 The Gospel of Paul of Tarsus, and of His Opponent, James the Just, from Our Current New Testament came out, and he started its revision, called Christianity before and after Paul of Tarsus, with the Tales Accepted as Sacred in the Anglican Church, 1894. A year after that came the even more longer titled Hebrew Jesus: His True Creed; from Canonical Texts of the Anglicans, before Paul of Tarsus Was a Christian, with the Cardinal Prayer of Jesus as Our Sole Sufficient Creed.

Two years on, in 1897, he fell down his stairs, was bedridden and died.

Of course in proposing miracles towards his beatification, none of them are unique or reality-bending, because we of this stream do not pretend to believe in reality-bending miracles. Nevertheless, deconversion must be a miracle, because before it happens believers are insistent about their certainty of belief, the ground on which they stand. Either suddenly it has gone, or they realise it is going, and their personal story changes. They give up supernatural beliefs as being profoundly unreal to them and to everyone else in favour of the research demands of history, social science and science. God, if the term retains meaning, ceases to be a large ear that intervenes, and becomes instead what transcends

What strikes modern eyes is just how biblically drenched in language these nineteenth century intellectuals were as a baseline, from which they made the different categories from evangelical to pure theist (with the Catholic as those absorbed in that tradition). I often think they would be aghast at our relative biblical ignorance, even among some clergy, and would be surprised at our basic secular assumptions about every day life and causality, even among believers. Also evident is the inescapable shadow, in England, of the State Church, which he included in his last titles as a kind of institutional given for beliefs about Paul (as opposed to what Paul may have thought about himself).

It is often forgotten that Baptists maintained a General Baptist ethos as well as a Particular Baptist ethos more prevalent today. He was clearly liberalising as he was immersed, but his position was to become attached to the changing B&FUA as an identity of radicalness as he went towards pure theism.

We find that strange today too. Because of a basic secular knowledge and reasoning, today believers tend to be more human drama centred and so perhaps more Jesucentric regarding a tragic, heroic and curiously victorious figure, with less stress on the theistic. The nineteenth century discovery of the problems of history and the critique of the biblical text led to a reduction of the status of Jesus and towards more religious theism, 'Christ' when used started to become a general and cosmic ideal as Jesus was dropped in significance. The issue in the 1950s and 1960s was the problem of God, but the issue before had been Jesus and the Bible. I noticed this difference myself, after having encountered John Robinson's Honest to God (1962) and yet found in the 1980s a different debate within the long-made changes in Unitarianism.

There is no obvious baseline destination for a deconversion, and indeed it is wrong to think of it as happning more or less (as deconversion does, unfortunately, imply: the term is more about a process). There is, rather, a struggle with finding an appropriate language to best represent the subjective or postmodern religious sentiment one wants then to express, assuming a maintenance of a religious or spiritual sense. For some, a basic religious humanism is best, whereas a number will want a Western Buddhist programme, for others a Jesucentric tragic-heroism will help, for others still a simple theism makes sense, for a few a kind of spirit of common life-force in religions, philosophies and nature is their new perspective, and different folks find a rediscovery of Pagan earthly reference points for a new spirituality.

Against this, the inner political struggles of Anglicanism appear to be archaic, all focused on the contradictions of hierarchy, of being either in or out, whether at the international scene (in or out of an intended Covenant) or in a church hierarchy on the ground. That contradiction of in or out is at the heart of the American Church (a curious combination of democracy and purple hierarchy) regarding the broader Communion, identified as being 'out' by some other Anglican Churches.

It is archaic because when you deconvert, the only answer can be liberal and democratic, that is a basic freedom to organise your own beliefs, and a democratic formation of the church that helps you do something about them. In the end, such a position excludes Anglicanism as a whole, because it embeds hierarchy, as well as rejecting its core ultimately supernatural beliefs.

Still, I recommend Francis William Newman as a Saint for Deconverts, even among Anglicans, but especially for Unitarians, as a different approach to dogma from that of his brother, for giving up dogmas and unrealities and acquiring a freshness of thought and cooler spirituality.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

Holy Women, Holy Men, a different definition of sanctity?

By Derek Olsen

The first half of Ephesians 4 clearly lays out the purpose of the institutional Church: that we may all come “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13). Appropriately, then, we find it in our baptismal liturgy where parents and godparents solemnly promise that they will “help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ” (p. 302).
But what does this mean? What does this look like? If this is a central purpose of the Church, what guidance does the Church give us for what this may be?

In my doctoral dissertation on how early medieval monks read Scripture, I spent a large portion of chapter 2 looking at how the monks talked about saints. The monastic hagiographies—the accounts read in the liturgical Offices—gave communities a picture of sanctity, a glimpse of how the full stature of Christ looked, incarnate in different places and different times. Now, the history that I found in these could sometimes be…a little questionable, and I discovered that (for my purposes, at least) the less the monks knew historically, the better off I was. The least historical accounts were the most ideal: these texts sketched mostly clearly the idealized holy goals of monastic living.

Now—the Episcopal Church doesn’t talk about saints so much. In fact, within our prayer book only the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, Evangelists, Mary Magdalene, and Stephen the Protomartyr are so honored. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have them… Even before the authorization of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Episcopal Church envisioned a supplementary volume that would include Days of Optional Observance to liturgically commemorate heroes of the faith. With the authorization of the Prayer Book, General Convention also authorized this volume known as Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1979-A056) which commemorates Christians East and West from the earliest times down to the twentieth century.

Striving for clarity, 1994’s General Convention passed a set of criteria for subsequent additions to the book. The 1994 General Convention Resolution (A074a) can be found in full here. The money section is contained in the 8 bullets under Guidelines; the contents of these bullets describe qualities held by suitable candidates for inclusion:

1. Heroic Faith. This means bearing witness to God in Christ "against the odds." Historically, the greatest exemplars of such faith have been martyrs, who have suffered death for the cause of Christ, and confessors, who have endured imprisonment, torture, or exile for the sake of Christ. Following this precedent, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America has been very specific and has restricted the designation of martyrdom to persons who have chosen to die rather than give up the Christian faith, and has not applied it to persons whose death may have resulted from their heroic faith but who did not consciously choose martyrdom. There are other situations where choosing and persisting in a Christian manner of life involves confessing Christ "against the odds," even to the point of risking one's life. For this reason the Anglican Communion traditionally has honored monks and nuns like Antony, Benedict, Hilda, Constance and her companions, missionaries like George Augustus Selwyn, and people as diverse as Monnica, Richard of Chichester, and Nicholas Ferrar. More recently the Church has learned to honor social reformers like William Wilberforce and Jonathan Daniels for the same reason. Heroic faith is, therefore, a quality manifested in many different situations.

2. Love. "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing...So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:2b-3, 13).

3. Goodness of life. People worthy of commemoration will have worked for the good of others. It is important to recognize that the Church looks not only for goodness but also for growth in goodness. A scandalous life prior to conversion does not disqualify one from consideration for the Calendar; rather, the witness of perseverance to the end will confirm holiness of life and the transforming power of Christ.

4. Joyousness. As faith is incomplete without love, so does love involve "rejoicing in the Spirit"--whether in the midst of extraordinary trials, or in the midst of the ordinary rounds of daily life. A Christian may not fail in the works of love, but still lack the joy of it--thereby falling short of true Christian sanctity. Such joy, however, is as much a discipline of life as an emotion. It need not lie on the surface of a person's life, but may run deeply and be discerned by others only gradually.

5. Service to others for Christ's sake. "There are varieties of gifts...and there are varieties of service" (1 Cor. 12:4-5). There is no true holiness without service to others in their needfulness. The Church recognizes that just as human needs are diverse, so also are forms of Christian service--both within the Church and in the world.

6. Devotion. People who are worthy of commemoration have shown evidence of seeking God through the means of grace which the Church recognizes, having "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). We look both for regularity and for growth in the discipline of prayer and meditation upon God's Word; and we look for this devotion to be manifested not only in a person's private life but also in visible company and communion with his or her fellow Christians.

7. Recognition by the faithful. Initiating the commemoration of particular saints is the privilege of those who knew, loved, and discerned the special grace of Christ in a member of their community, and who desire to continue in the communion of prayer with that member now departed. Such instinctive recognition by the faithful begins naturally at the local and regional levels. Evidence of both (a) such commemoration growing locally and (b) such recognition of sanctity spreading beyond the immediate community is essential before the national Church has an obligation to take heed. It may, in fact, decide that the commemoration in question is best left to local observance.

8. Historical perspective. In a resolution on the Calendar, the 1958 Lambeth Conference of Bishops stated, "The addition of a new name should normally result from a widespread desire expressed in the region concerned over a reasonable period of time." Generally this has been two generations or fifty years after death.

Clearly items seven and eight are particular to the sanctoral process—otherwise, these criteria are a solid start towards what we’re looking for. This gives us a set of qualities that are specific enough to ground one’s character, yet broad enough to envision myriad ways in which they can be implemented.

This past year, General Convention authorized a new book. This text supersedes Lesser Feasts and Fasts and is entitled Holy Women, Holy Men. While it took some twenty years for guidelines to be placed in LFF, this new book has criteria in it from the start. Even at first glance it’s clear that something has changed, though. Here are the principles of revision from Holy Women, Holy Men which begin on pg 131 of the PDF from the Blue Book:


1. Historicity: Christianity is a radically historical religion, so in almost every instance it is not theological realities or spiritual movements but exemplary witness to the Gospel of Christ in lives actually lived that is commemorated in the Calendar.

2. Christian Discipleship: The death of the saints, precious in God’s sight, is the ultimate witness to the power of the Resurrection. What is being commemorated, therefore, is the completion in death of a particular Christian’s living out of the promises of baptism. Baptism is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in the Calendar.

3. Significance: Those commemorated should have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God and God’s people for the sake, and after the example, of Jesus Christ. In this way they have testified to the Lordship of Christ over all of history, and continue to inspire us as we carry forward God’s mission in the world.

4. Memorability: The Calendar should include those who, through their devotion to Christ and their joyful and loving participation in the community of the faithful, deserve to be remembered by The Episcopal Church today. However, in order to celebrate the whole history of salvation, it is important also to include those “whose memory may have faded in the shifting fashions of public concern, but whose witness is deemed important to the life and mission of the Church” (Thomas Talley).

5. Range of Inclusion: Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of lay people (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical representation. In this way the Calendar will reflect the reality of our time: that instant communication and extensive travel are leading to an ever deeper international and ecumenical consciousness among Christian people.

6. Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant commemoration of a particular person already exists at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church as a whole.

7. Perspective: It should normatively be the case that a person be included in the Calendar only after two generations or fifty years have elapsed since that person’s death.

8. Levels of Commemoration: Principal Feasts, Sundays and Holy Days have primacy of place in the Church’s liturgical observance. It does not seem appropriate to distinguish between the various other commemorations by regarding some as having either a greater or a lesser claim on our observance of them. Each commemoration should be given equal weight as far as the provision of liturgical propers is concerned (including the listing of three lessons).

9. Combined Commemorations: Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.” Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense (e.g., the Reformation martyrs—Latimer and Ridley; bishops of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste and Hugh).

The first thing that jumps to mind is that we have a genre change. This is not, as the list before it was, a list of criteria that gives us that snapshot of Christian maturity; this is very much a process for selecting historical personages for commemoration. Thus, these lists don't function in the same way, either rhetorically or catechetically. The new principles focus on process rather than qualities of life. As a result, the explicit naming of components of the mature Christian life have been curtailed. In their place we have business notes.

Naming sanctoral qualities is neither an abstract task, nor simply a liturgical one: it is a fundamentally theological and ultimately Christological task. The people the Church identifies as models—whether we call them saints or not—say something important about how we construct our understanding of the Christian life. How we construct the Christian life, in turn, speaks volumes about how we understand Christ. Just as we strive to see Christ in all persons, it is in the composite image of the saints that we find Christ at work in our own time, place, and station.

It’s not that I’m against the new criteria (although I’m not convinced that “memorability” is a theological category…), it’s just that I feel we’ve lost something. The guidelines of 1994 were like a few quick brushstrokes, or like the charcoal wisps on a sketch-pad that suggest a scene, a figure, leaving the rest to the imagination. They weren’t a full picture of Christian maturity—but they gave us at least a few key dots that suggest a shape. Leaning on Ephesians, looking back at the monks, I have to wonder: do we have anything like this now in our church—a clear sense of the goal; a useful, sufficient, and functional picture of Christian maturity? Have the new principles moved us forward or back?

Dr. Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Crafting a liturgy of remembrance on Día de los Muertos

By Sarabeth Goodwin

St. Stephen and the Incarnation’s Misa Alegría congregation was just six months old when I suggested we might celebrate Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – as a way to invite our English-speaking brothers and sisters to join us around the table. After all, most North Americans have some inkling of this strange and colorful holiday that is the Mexican commemoration of All Souls’ Day. My excitement waned when the proposal was greeted by silence from my mostly Central American congregation. Finally one person ventured, “Madre, this is not our custom.” I replied, “You know, it’s not really mine either, but let’s give it a try. Perhaps it will become our custom.”

With some hesitancy we moved forward… together. At our first celebration in the parish hall, our Mexican members built the communal altar while others watched. We decorated the Ofrenda with colored lights and bright-colored tissue paper cut with smiling skulls. There were flowers and fruit, and a large bone-shaped bread dusted with sugar and hand carried from Oaxaca where the mother of one of our members is the village baker. Photos of deceased loved ones nestled beside handmade paper skeletons. A tiny papier-mâché dog skeleton with a green hat held a loaf of bread in its mouth while little plates of food and even a bottle of Corona stood waiting. In the middle was a cross with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in its center.

All Souls’ Day is celebrated in many countries, most often by visits to the graves of loved ones, which are swept, cleaned and often ornately decorated with seasonal flowers. Families spread blankets and share picnics with others who have come to honor and remember their loved ones. These customs have roots in the European Middle Ages. In Mexico, the celebration brought by Spanish missionaries has incorporated elements from pre-Christian native cultures. As with many things Mexican, this fiesta has taken on color and energy with the richness of multi-layered symbolism. Perhaps it is the hint of these indigenous roots that surprise us and attract us too.

At St. Stephen’s, our custom of Día de los Muertos is an evolving one. What began as an experiment in folk religion has become a liturgy of remembrance. Our celebration of All Saints and All Souls are now seamlessly joined by a procession from the nave to the adjoining chapel where the Ofrenda in all its gaudy glory is censed and blessed. Alfredo sounds the conch shell used by generations of his family to summon workers to supper. The deep, mournful tone fills the soaring spaces of St. Stephen’s and fills our hearts as well. We call out the names of those we love but no longer see. We light tapers and set them in the sand in a large cooking pot. Brightly colored sticky notes bear the names of loved ones on the wall of remembrance. And in an extension of our Eucharistic feast, we share our favorite foods in a pot-luck of joy and remembrance.

We can now claim we have worked together to make this custom ours. We have been enriched beyond measure by our common worship. New life has been born out of a splendid celebration of diversity and tradition. The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, a feast day too often forgotten, helps us see the saints we have known, loved and still love side-by-side with the glorious saints that inhabit Butler’s Lives of the Saints sporting the halos in religious iconography. All are part of the Great Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us. In a bright and shining moment, we recognize the truth of the words the English speakers sing at the Offertory, “for the saints of God are just folk like me...God help me to be one too.”

The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin is Latino Missioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D.C.

Making saints: a response

By Derek Olsen

I believe in good people. Matter of fact, I believe there are quite a lot of them scattered throughout history in various times and various places. We can learn a lot from them about what it means to enact respect and dignity for others, to right the wrongs of society, and to bring people together despite their differences and grievances. Yes, I do indeed believe in good people and in following their examples.

I also believe in saints.

But I don’t believe that the first category is the same as the second.

That is to say, I believe that good people should be both honored and imitated by all—but saints are something different; saints are something more peculiar and more mysterious. I would say that most saints also fall into the first category, being a certain subset of “good people,” but to see them only as good people is a mistake.

My friend Donald Schell has written two (I, II) articles about how the people in the icon on the wall of the parish he founded got to be there. As I read his words I found myself alternately nodding and shaking my head. Yes—and no. But it moved me to think and to consider the difference between the good and the saints. From where I sit, there are two central factors in what it means to be a saint that make them fundamentally different from those who are good. First, the saints force us to consider what it means to live as a result of resurrection power.

Bloggers and Saints

When I need it—and it’s not that uncommon—I ask my wife and my parents to pray for me. People at church—I ask them to pray for me too. Why? ‘Cause we’re a faith community, a spiritual family who are bound together and care for one another and one of the ways that we do that is to pray.

I sometimes ask my bloggy friends to pray for me as well. Now there are several levels of relationships that I share with folks who read my blog. Some are friends who now live in different places. We’ve laughed, cried, and quaffed beer together. Some are lurkers who leave nary a trace and who, in praying for me, do me a good that I will never know and form part of the community that I will never know. But many are people that I have grown to know. I’ve never met them in the flesh, but I know them through their writings. In their writings I see them thinking through their struggles, their doubts, their joys—enacting the never-ending work of embodying our Baptism in the world, wherever that may be and in whatever circumstances we are found. I ask them to pray for me and I do the same for them. They too are part of my faith community, my spiritual family, and have a very real and tangible effect on my life—spiritually and otherwise.

Likewise, when I ask St Benedict, St Bede and St Cuthbert to pray for me, I approach them in just the same way. Call it the blogger model of the communion of the saints. I’ve never met them in the flesh, but I know them through their writings. In their writings I see them thinking through their struggles, their doubts, their joys—enacting the never-ending work of embodying our Baptism in the world, wherever that may be and in whatever circumstances we are found. I ask them to pray for me and I do the same for them. They too are part of my faith community, my spiritual family and have a very real and tangible effect on my life—spiritually and otherwise. (And there are a host of lurkers here as well!)

What’s that? But they’re dead, you say? But—that’s precisely the point, isn’t it. As Christians—particularly as Episcopalians who ground our theology in Baptism—we say that we believe that they live with the very same life that we do. Through our Baptism we have been incorporated into the life of God. The resurrection has rent the veil between life and death making it—while still very real, and shocking, and painful—different. Our common life flows through Christ, He who reminded us that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living and not of the dead. And therefore if God is the God of the living then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yea though they have died yet they live—and so do Benedict and Bede and Cuthbert, and so do we.

The communion of the saints that we refer to in our creeds is the admission of a mystery. That Christ binds us in Baptism with not only himself but into all who are bound into him. He is the vine and we are the branches and the branches entwine and entangle as we weave and grow and reach for the sun of righteousness and the source of our life. Each time I ask for intercessions from my extended spiritual family it reminds me of barriers broken down, of lives and loves united in Christ.

The Holiness that Shocks

The second aspect of the saints comes from reflection on Donald’s comment about “common law” saints. In the early days, of course, all of the saints were common law. Central control of the canonization process didn’t start until the twelfth century; the idea that only Rome could declare a saint comes from a papal bull issued in 1634. In early medieval England the situation was quite a bit different. Saints were declared sometimes by bishops but more often by local acclamation. The chief criterion, however was not whether the deceased were a “good” person. The question was not one of goodness but of holiness.

Now, when we think of holiness we tend to associate it with holier-than-thou-ness, of a self-righteous piety. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The holiness that received attention in the early medieval world was knock-your-socks-off downright weird holiness. As good Protestant sorts we don’t like to talk about this kind of thing, of course. The problem, however, is that the Bible doesn’t seem to have any problem with it at all. There are passages that we like to ignore or skip over like Acts 5:15 where the people put the sick in the streets so that Peter’s shadow would heal them as he passed by or like Acts 19:12 where the people took away cloths that had touched Paul with which they healed the sick and cast out demons. For these folks, holiness wasn’t about pious moralism—holiness was a tangible power.

Lantfred was a German monk who came to Winchester in the closing years of the 10th century. In his “Life of St Swithun” (yes, there Is a real St Swithun…) ,he describes the sick and injured who used to come to the saint’s shrine, sometimes so many that the monks would have to clear a path for the clergy to move through the nave. But it wasn’t just people coming. Lantfred recounts the issues of monastic disobedience that would arise whenever the bishop left town; they flat refused to get up and sing a solemn Te Deum at each miraculous healing by St Swithun—because they were getting roused out of bed four or five times every night! For them, the saints were the people through whom the eschatological power of God broke loose upon the world. Through their embodiment of Scripture and cultivation of holiness, power flowed from them to literally change the world through God’s love.

As modern people this sort of talk tends to make us uncomfortable. It safer to go and find good people to emulate. It’s safer to celebrate people who founded institutions and organizations we approve of. Surely these earlier stories were somehow just mistaken—does the power of God really work like that in the world? Surely they were just primitive—or perhaps deluded.
Or perhaps we’re not paying attention.

And perhaps ironically—this is another way in which Donald and I agree. When we ponder how change happens in the world, how injustices get reversed, how righteousness takes root in systems of injustice, perhaps seeing it as the result of collective political action simply isn’t enough. Perhaps we need to start looking more for the eschatological power of God—and asking for it.

In short, I’ve got a different understanding of who and what a saint is than what is depicted on St Gregory of Nyssa’s wall. There’s no doubt in my mind that all of the people there are good people and, as good people, eminently worthy of emulation. But that’s not a saint. The saints are our elder siblings in the faith, those who share with us the burdens and blessings of the baptized life and who point in a myriad ways to consciously living Christ in the world. More than that they are those through whom God has touched the world. Some in small ways, others in larger, but all in ways that proclaim the “already” of God’s reign and the defeat of sin, death, and the devil.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Making Saints, II

This is the second of a two-part article. Read part one.

By Donald Schell

Local commemoration is one of many ways our Episcopal church acknowledges and accepts what organizational researcher Clayton Christensen calls ‘divergent innovation,’ which he argues is a necessary force for positive change in ongoing organizations or institutions. Christensen calls the established ways of problem solving and innovation that serve an organization’s known good ‘sustaining innovation.’ Organizational structures that are very good at sustaining change also tend to suppress or prematurely co-opt unexpected or out of the box change that may be very good or even necessary, when it’s beyond established norms and rules. Christensen observes how vibrant organizations that know their own strength and weakness encourage (or at least allow) a certain amount of divergent innovation, irregular change outside existing structures. The vibrant larger organization watches local divergent practice patiently to see the value of the diverging work, and if it truly serves, will draw tested divergent innovation back into in a new, somewhat altered pattern of sustaining innovation.

Christensen description fits some important moments in the church’s history when leaders chose divergent practices, some of which did eventually lead to official or legal acknowledgment of needed change. In fact, among the twenty-five or so Anglicans and English Christians in the St. Gregory’s mural icon The Dancing Saints three are commemorated for mission and pastoral work that drove them to break church law - Charles Wesley (with his brother John, who is not on the wall at St. Gregory’s), John Mason Neale, and Li Tim Oi.

Each of these three official commemorations, the Wesley brothers, John Mason Neale, and Li Tim Oi (with her bishop Ronald Hall) commemorates people who broke church law because, facing a pastoral or mission dilemma, they saw no other good choice. They acted on their best, faithful interpretation of the work they believed the Spirit called them to. Their acts were public (that is, not in secret) but they weren’t aiming to make a public statement or even to change the institution (though they did).

In the late 1700’s John and Charles Wesley’s bishops wouldn’t provide them with the clergy they needed to serve the working poor of England’s industrial revolution, so these two Anglican priests broke church law to ordain the needed clergy themselves, reviving ancient Alexandria’s practice of priests ordaining priests. (And yes, it was John Wesley who initiated the break with church law and order, which deeply troubled his brother Charles. We put Charles’ icon on the church wall because his hymns with their deep patristic scholarship and powerful feeling felt truer to the congregation’s way and spirit than the sterner, more principled writings of his brother John.)

In the first half of the 1800’s, J.M. Neale, working with England’s rural poor and elderly, believed that more beautiful celebration of the liturgy would give them hope and joy, thus building up their faith and serving their lives and their conversion toward community in Christ, so Neale broke church law by introducing colorful fabrics for altar hangings, vestments, hymn-singing, candles, and a cross on the altar into regular Anglican liturgy. We forget that Anglicanism in Neale’s time, whether ‘high and dry,’ broad church, or evangelical, was literally by English legal decree unimaginably more austere than what we expect and love as ‘the beauty of holiness.’ Neale’s bishop brought charges against him in civil court, won the case, and inhibited Neale’s priestly ministry. The only place where the bishop couldn’t stop Neale from functioning as a priest was the old people’s home where he was chaplain, which had exempted from the local episcopal jurisdiction since the Middle Ages.

In 1944 with Japanese army occupying China in World War II, and no possibility of sending English priests in to mainland churches to celebrate the Eucharist, Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong authorized Deacon Li Tim Oi to preside at Eucharist in Macao, where she was serving. Then, when Bishop Hall decided that he’d made a mistake authorizing a deacon to preside at liturgy and say the Eucharistic prayer, he sent word to Li Tim Oi to sneak across the military lines so he could ordain her a priest. Li Tim Oi slipped back into occupied China to serve there until the war’s end, and Bishop Hall sent word by slow boat to Canterbury saying what he’d done. After the war, Archbishop William Temple rebuked Bishop Hall and demanded that Li Tim Oi stop functioning as a priest. Officially she gave up her license to preside, but back in communist China where she knew her ministry was needed, she continued to serve without break, eventually migrating to Toronto to tell her story.

Can we sustain communion if we don’t all obey universally accepted church law and order?
In 1981 when St. Gregory’s began explicitly inviting all to receive communion, we were putting words of invitation to common, though usually accidental church practice. No matter what a parish’s bulletin or other invitation to communion may say, unbaptized strangers and sometimes friends do receive communion. Many clergy have stories of conversions and baptisms that result from their not turning someone away from communion. As John Wesley reportedly said, the Eucharist can be a ‘converting sacrament.’ At St. Gregory’s when we made a public change in practice, announcing that Jesus welcomes all to his table, we didn’t attempt to change the church law. For the early and formative years of St. Gregory’s when Rick Fabian and I were founding rectors, William Swing was our bishop. Before he was a bishop, as a mission-minded rector at St. Columba’s, Washington, D.C., Bill Swing developed his own rationale for what we were doing which he shared with us, “Unless you have a valid missionary reason, you must obey the rubrics and canons. If you have a valid missionary reason, you must disobey the rules.” As our bishop he added, “Please do let me know what you’re doing.”

“Where do the canons or church law give a bishop the right to offer such a mandate?”
Or course the questioner already knows the answer to this one. NOTHING in the canons gives the bishop this power. Canons aren’t there to give a bishop authority to bless or guide our divergent innovation beyond canonical limitations. Divergent innovation doesn’t fit established norms. Beyond Christen’s organizational research, I’d argue that Bill Swing was speaking within the venerable English (and American) tradition of common law. Think of common law marriage, which, until recently, typically began with a couple breaking a law against co-habitation, or think of public right-of-way over private land, the public’s lasting claim to use a path that began as a trespass. Common law is messy. The law itself can eventually acknowledge that persistent, meaningful exception (even transgression) changes an act’s legal standing.

St. Gregory’s does NOT commemorate Elizabeth I because her ‘rule of law’ and prayer book conformity bind our church together. During Elizabeth’s reign law and conformity made us one, but English law hasn’t held us together in communion since Scotland broke off from the Church of England in the late 1600’s and America in the late 1700’s. We’ve had different church law and different Prayer Books for a long time. What’s held the Church of England, Scottish Episcopal, and American Episcopal churches together since the Elizabethan settlement has been our acknowledgment of one another’s ministries, and our readiness to share Eucharist together.

St. Gregory’s commemorates Elizabeth because she saw that a church that sustained common prayer in Christ could have room to disagree about what she called the ‘trifles’ of doctrinal points. Even beyond the good she imagined, Elizabeth made our church’s life and communion a process of learning. Elizabeth’s peace-making gesture created a space for discovery that has been our Anglican genius for four centuries. Queen Elizabeth’s vision contained something bolder, truer, and more lasting than her legal power to enforce a peace. Two ancient principles came together in what she offered us in finding our unity in common prayer ‘the rule of prayer is the rule of faith” (Prosper of Aquitaine, 5th Century) and “the voice of the people is the voice of God” (probably Alcuin, 8th century).

But don’t local congregations sometimes make mistakes? Isn’t there such a thing as bad practice? Aren’t some new practices shortsighted or just plain wrong?

Of course there’s such a thing as bad practice and bad practices. But anyone who loves learning and that knows creativity is a part of how our humanity images God, must delight in Genesis 2, the second creation story. The first story tells us we’re made in the Creator’s image, but the second story tells a very recognizable story of real creation, the trial and error work of any artist or innovator. Whether our church acknowledges it or not, testing, discernment, conflict, confusion, and revelation as we struggle to keep praying together has always been the church’s way. Mistakes, partial successes, and even downright failures are essential to learning. Elizabeth I didn’t invent the process.

I suspect (actually I hope and pray) that our wider Anglican Church’s present anxious effort to define unity by law and instruments of union will prove a failure our whole Anglican communion can learn from, because I believe and hope that Gene Robinson’s ordination as Bishop of New Hampshire will finally be remembered and commemorated as a moment of divergent innovation.

We’ve got certainties but the promise of God’s love and our best efforts to be faithful and serve as we hear and see ourselves called. Ultimately, through the mess, we’re walking a path that no one authorized, but one day, from all our trespass (at least as others seem to see it), it will become a public right of way. As perplexing and risky as it may feel, St. Paul lays the responsibility of faithfulness on us and gives us our best hope, “We have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)

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

Making saints, I

By Donald Schell

“Do I see Malcolm X up there dancing with Queen Elizabeth I?” the visitor asked, “And who’s the kid beside Elizabeth? Who made these people saints?”

Week by week, we’d often hear visitors ask about the icons on our church walls, and answering the questions for the years I was rector at St. Gregory’s, San Francisco, I found myself thinking about the glory and messiness of how the Christian church has managed to hang together and preach Good News for two thousand years.

Yes, I’d say, pointing up to her icon, that’s Elizabeth I dancing with Malcolm X to her right and Iqbal Masih to her left. We commemorate Elizabeth for her peace-making principle that people praying together would be the ground of our unity, not doctrinal uniformity. I usually began by talking about Elizabeth, because her vision helped shape the whole icon.

We remember Malcolm X, because on his trip to Mecca, God changed his heart and he renounced teaching hate of white people and became an orthodox Muslim, proclaiming and worshipping one God who embraced all humanity. Teaching God’s embrace of all humanity was what got him killed when he came back home.

And Iqbal Masih? He was a Pakistani Christian child sold into indentured servitude at age four. At ten he escaped from crippling work as a rug-knotter, and fearlessly told his story to the world, offering his voice and experience to support the Bonded Labor Liberation Front that was freeing thousands of child-slaves like him and teaching rug buyers around the world to ask who was making their hand-tied rugs, how the workers were being treated and whether they were being paid fairly. In 1995, when Iqbal Masih was twelve, he testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. That Easter he went home to his village to go to church, and that afternoon was shot dead, martyred in the street for helping other children find freedom.

Do the haloes mean you think they’re all saints?

Well, yes. But let me skip forward. Why tell the story now? Visitors to St. Gregory’s, San Francisco have been asking these questions since 1997, two years after Iqbal Masih’s martyrdom, when our iconographer, Mark Dukes, installed the first eight icons launching the just-completed project of surrounding the altar with ninety saints, following Christ’s lead, dancing the reconciliation of all. The New York Times did a brief photo story on the first eight saints, Sojourner Truth, Bartolome de las Casas, Miriam (Moses’ sister), Origen, Malcolm X, Elizabeth I, Iqbal Masih and Teresa of Avila. People outside church circles are interested in who the church holds up as our guides and examples, and when the list includes unexpected people, the interest grows.

Rick Fabian and I, St. Gregory’s founding rectors have moved on to new work. St. Gregory’s new rector, Paul Fromberg, made completing the great icon a priority and saw to it that the congregation raised the funds to pay for the saints who would complete the line. This month with the icon finally complete, Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun magazine includes a picture story and an interview with the artist. Completion has me looking back at the project’s path and thinking about what some of those saints on the wall may teach us about communion in Christ.

The icon of Jesus leading the dance went up for Easter of 1996 several months ahead of the first eight saints. Actually, the original icon of Christ was a twelve-foot high charcoal draft on paper to hold Jesus’ place leading the dance until our iconographer felt ready to paint the finished icon of Christ. Mark said the multitude of saints would help him see something more of how to paint Christ, so while he was painting more saints in the line, he would be praying for his fullest vision of Christ leading the dance. Mark painted the canvas panels in his studio, and with a lift and scaffolding mounted them on the church walls to refine color touches to harmonize with the paintings already up, and to add the hand-polished work of the gold haloes. Over a dozen years new panels of saints joined the congregation’s dance six or eight at a time.
Our vision for the project came from St. Gregory of Nyssa, the great Christian universalist theologian who helped draft the final version of the Nicene Creed in 359-360 A.D. Writing elsewhere in a psalm commentary Gregory envisioned the beginning and the ending of all creation in Christ – a time of the whole rational creation dancing joyfully together, following the lead of Jesus the Word, a true Lord of the dance.

So what gave your congregation authority to make unofficial saints?

Actually, we believe God made them saints, and that God made and is making innumerably more saints, people named and unnamed, so many there’s no wall in the world big enough to hold their icon. But for our congregation’s work of selecting saints for the eighty-nine whose icons would dance with Christ, we began by brainstorming names, places, kinds of work, and grace-filled human stories from around the world and through history to begin our thinking about how human lives could show God at work. Then any willing St. Gregory’s member was invited into the long work of our saints discernment committee. Six lay volunteers and the two rectors took on the long task of sifting names, discussing reasons people had suggested specific saints, and trying to keep in mind the whole picture.

Why isn’t ______________ a saint?

The icon says nothing about who ‘isn’t’ a saint. The committee’s task was to choose eighty-nine saints (a number determined by the 2500 square feet of available wall space) whose dancing together would evoke, “All humanity in the light of God.” Immediately and painfully we realized that we could only focus on who we would include rather than what it meant to leave someone out. Each member of the committee had favorite candidates who didn’t make the list of eighty-nine. The work wasn’t an election process and it wasn’t choosing who to exclude. Meeting three times monthly for eighteen months, the committee kept asking, “What kind of witness is still missing?” “If we’re not looking for a perfect life, then what?” “Just what is a saint?” “What about _______?” With each provisional selection, we made notes of why we were thinking to include that one. We kept refining those notes, asked again, and when we found people, places and work missing, added names, reconsidered the whole list, altered some selections until we created our list for Mark to paint and wrote our list’s rationale for teaching, for visitors, and to make a record that would explain the icon when we were gone.

The committee’s work was an intentional process of local commemoration, formalizing the ancient church’s way of canonizing saints. We also deliberately acknowledged and borrowed from wider church processes of local commemoration, choosing, for example, names from a dozen recent new, unofficial saints that had been commissioned for niche statues at Westminster Abbey. To widen our own perspective on recent history, we phoned and talked with African American church leaders, with Hawaiian Episcopalians, and with church leaders in Africa and China.

When The Episcopal Church’s General Convention was considering whether to give Li Tim Oi, Anglicanism’s first woman priest, a saint’s day in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, our Episcopal Church’s way of canonizing a saint, the convention committee welcomed St. Gregory’s witness of Li Tim Oi’s icon on the wall (dancing in line between Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Heschel) along with other church’s stained glass windows of her as required evidence of local commemoration, a necessary first step in our church’s legal process for wider acknowledgment.

This year at Anaheim’s 2009 General Convention, we hope St. Gregory’s icon of Thurgood Marshall (dancing in the line between Cesar Chavez and Andrei Rublev) can support the petitions of Justice Marshall’s home parish (St. Augustine’s, Washington, D.C.) and diocese (Diocese of Washington) to add Thurgood Marshall to our church’s calendar.
Tomorrow: What do common law saints teach us about life in communion?

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

Discovering the saints

By Ann Fontaine

As I have remarked before in my essays, I grew up in a very low Episcopal Church, even too many candles were suspect. The result of this has been a lack of education in the “saints.” I knew about the ones like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul from the readings in church. We heard the words “according to St. John” or whoever each week as the gospel or epistle was introduced. But it never occurred to me what that even meant, much less that there was a whole world of saints that were missing from my life. Now I find them helpful and comforting.

First on my list is Anthony. Although he has many things to commend him as a saint, I mostly like him for his ability to help find things that are lost. One time my address book was lost. This was before I was using a computer to keep information for me or to find people. It was long before Facebook and its ability to find long lost friends. The loss of my address book meant losing track of most of the people who are important to me. I searched and searched but it was nowhere to be found. I decided that I would try St. Anthony and offered a quick prayer:

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can't be found

Shortly thereafter I was sitting on our sofa, talking to my husband about some unrelated matter, and there, sitting on the end table – in plain sight, where I had looked many times – was my address book!

Another helpful saint, according to friends, is Joseph. Of course we remember him as the man who stood by his wife, Mary, and helped raise Jesus but I am interested in him also as the one who helps you sell your house. St. Joseph house selling kits have become big business. I have not tried this as we have lived in the same house for over 30 years but friends swear by it. One friend tried for several years to sell her house. Finally in desperation she buried Joseph, upside down as directed, and the house sold in a couple of weeks. You are supposed to dig him up and take him with you – but she could never find him again.

St. Christopher is a saint I did know about as a child and although he has been debunked as probably not really existing – I still like him. For some reason the image of him carrying the child to safety is comforting. I doubt I will put his statue in my car but I think I will find my old silver medal of him and resurrect him in my life.

Finally I like to think about St. Christina the Astonishing. I had never heard of her until I was very ill and a friend sent me her story.

During her funeral Mass, she suddenly recovered, and levitated to the roof of the church. Ordered down by the priest, she landed on the altar and stated that she had been to hell, purgatory, and heaven, and had been returned to earth with a ministry to pray for souls in purgatory.

Her life from that point became a series of strange incidents cataloged by a Thomas de Cantimpré, Dominican professor of theology at Louvain who was a contemporary who recorded his information by interviewing witnesses, and by Cardinal Jacques de Vitny who knew her personally.

People who knew her were divided in their opinions: she was a holy woman, touched of God, and that her actions and torments were simulations of the experiences of the souls in purgatory; she was suffering the torments of devils - or she was flatly insane.


There is something about her that encourages me when I am ailing. Maybe it is just that my friend found her and sent her to me when I was feeling very isolated by my illness. The church had not seemed to care – no clergy nor any other church friends even called. My non-Christian friends were much more present. The gift of Christina was, she made me laugh again. The laughter came from the connection of friend and church, not at the antics of Christina. Proof for me - laughter is healing and a gift from God. Another friend calls laughter, “carbonated prayer.”

Saints, of course, have their sainted-ness from their commitment to God not to my needs and me. However, they speak to me in the daily-ness of life. They reassure me that it is in the moments of sorrow and joy, pain and loss, God is present. Even when the result is not what I had hoped for, they have given me companionship along the way. I don’t even need the internet to stay connected!!

Who is your favorite saint?

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

Wisdom and Hilda of Whitby

By Greg Jones

The concept of God's wisdom in late Jewish and early Christian Scripture is one with feminine overtones: the female name Sophia actually comes from the Greek word for wisdom. Similarly, Gloria is both a female name and a Latin word meaning the shining light of God's presence. This resonates with me, as a son whose mother it was taught him about the Gospel, and brought me to church faithfully each Sunday at St. Columba's in the mid-1970's.

To me there is something indeed "feminine" about the Spirit of God - as well as an obviously maternal dimension to the ever-abiding, ever-caring, ever-comforting presence of the God who gives us both first and second birth. This is what I teach to my parishioners, my friends, and my youngsters. This is what I will teach my daughters.

Importantly, I teach this not merely because it is my personal preference theologically, but because it is a part of the full Christian tradition, and rooted in the Scriptures themselves.

Consider the following verse from Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-25: "There is in [Wisdom] a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle. For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty."

I am reminded thus of the example of Saint Hilda of Whitby, whose feast day is November 18. She is the 7th century abbess in whose monastery was held the famous Synod of Whitby. For many Anglicans, the Celtic period ends in our tradition around the time of the Synod of Whitby. Hilda assented to the decision of the Synod of Whitby that Roman forms should replace Celtic ones, despite her Celtic Christian background. Her faith and wisdom guided her to make a compromise for the sake of the maximum degree of unity in the Christian household.

Bede writes that Hilda was deeply and widely revered for her wisdom and care for her own flock. He writes: "So great was her prudence that not only ordinary folk, but kings and princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it. Those under her direction were required to make a thorough study of the Scriptures and occupy themselves in good works."

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. A husband and father, Jones is also the author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004), and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. Jones is a graduate of Sidwell Friends School, the University of North Carolina, and General Theological Seminary - where he serves as a General Convention-elected trustee. He blogs at fatherjones.com.

Remembering the dangerous
Dr. Martin Luther King

Now it has been spoken
He would come again
But would we recognize
This king among men
There was a man in our time
His words shine bright like the sun
He tried to lift the masses
And was crucified by gun…

He is a picture of Jesus
In his arms so many prayers rest
With him we shall be forever blessed

Ben Harper, “Picture of Jesus”

By R. William Carroll

I’m writing this on the eve of the feast of Martin Luther King. He was assassinated forty years ago, on April 4, 1968. With the rest of the country, we celebrate his birthday in January, but there is something even more powerful about the day of his death. Saints are remembered then, because many of the first saints were martyrs. King was certainly a great martyr, a Christian witness who gave his life for his testimony to the Gospel. He was also a pastor, who died tending God’s flock. In response to the teaching and example of Jesus, King came to understand that oppression was not only bad for his people, but for all people. “Until all are free, none are free.” At the same time, he understood the dreadful asymmetry of position between the oppressed and the oppressor: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Every saint is a picture of Jesus, who shows us possibilities for our own life in Christ. Elizabeth Johnson, in her feminist interpretation of the communion of saints in Friends of God and Prophets, makes use of J. B. Metz’s notion of the “dangerous memory” of Jesus. As we remember “blessed Martin, pastor, prophet,” (LEVAS II, hymn 46) his memory is also dangerous. We remember King as “moral conscience of his nation,” “teacher of Christ-like non-violence,” “preacher of Christ’s love for neighbor,” and “champion of oppressed humanity.” (Ibid.) We dare not let our politicians tame his memory, as he becomes part of the pantheon of civil religion, invoked with ease by leaders who stand against nearly everything he stood for. As hypocrites do when we invoke God, we honor King with our lips but not with changed lives.

We need to remember how King marched with striking workers and tied the struggle for civil rights to the struggle for workers’ rights, in a society that is increasingly hostile to labor’s right to organize and bargain collectively, in which politicians from both major parties knowingly adopt policies that promote capital flight to the least worker-friendly regions of our nation and to the least worker-friendly countries in the world. (I write this from the heart of the rust belt, in the poorest county in Appalachian Ohio.)

We also need to remember King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and how he tied it to the oppression of poor people and people of color, in this country and abroad. Now, after five years of war in Iraq, more than 4,000 U.S. troops are dead, and, by one count, 700,000 or more Iraqi civilians. And for what? Has it made us safer? Has it brought democracy to the region? Or was it, as many of us suspected all along, a grab for oil, which is now at or near peak production? One can do a lot of things already with alternative forms of energy. It’s hard to fuel an F-14. The now bipartisan effort for “energy independence” (with different emphases from party to party, and regrettably including a resurgence of nuclear power and a push for so-called “clean” coal) indicates that even the powers that be know we need to do something—and soon.

Frequently, King pointed out that so many aspects of his thought were taken directly from Jesus, sometimes by way of Gandhi and the theology of the Social Gospel. So much of what he named the “beloved community” was akin to what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God. Likewise, his emphasis on non-violence and love for enemies comes straight from the Sermon on the Mount. But, as obvious as it may be (for those with ears to hear) that King’s central teachings are rooted in the Gospel, it is equally obvious that the Church has not caught up with him, any more than we have caught up with our Lord.

We still live in a world that crucifies the prophets, and the Church itself is all too willing to forge alliances with the legions of death, instead of the power of love. The Good News for us this Easter season is that God’s love is real, and it is always, already with us, whether we accept it or not, whether we respond to it or not. God’s love is not even defeated by the cross, where the arms of Jesus open wide to embrace the whole world in all its ambiguity, violence, and sin. The risen Lord returns, not to condemn us, but to bless us, forgive us, and make us whole. His love will not leave us in our sins, nor will it simply accuse us in ways that make us unable to act. “I am with you always,” says Jesus. And, in him, so is Martin Luther King.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll serves as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio (Diocese of Southern Ohio). He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He co-edits The Covenant Journal with Lane Denson and keeps Blog of the Good Shepherd. He is a novice in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

The Feast of St. Matthias

The feast of the Apostle Matthias is celebrated in some traditions on May 14 and in others on February 24.

Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus-- for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) "For it is written in the book of Psalms,

`Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it';

and

`Let another take his position of overseer.'

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:15-26 (Feast of St. Matthias)

By Luiz Coelho

The story of St. Matthias' election as an apostle was one of the biblical stories that intrigued me the most when I was a child. I often asked myself why Jesus had chosen Judas in first place, knowing that he would hurt him so much some years later. If he had called Matthias in the beginning, there would have been no betrayal. “Jesus would not have had to suffer the way he did. He could have just ascended into Heaven after finishing his mission on Earth,” I used to think. After all, I loved (and still love) Jesus too much to imagine him suffering.

Curiously, I also have a Matthias in my own life: Matthias is my step-grandfather. Like the apostle, he became a member of my family after the “other ones”: Matthias is my grandmother's second husband, and therefore, not my biological grandfather. In fact, I never met my “true” grandfather; he died years and years before I was even born. Matthias was the only grandfather that I knew. He was the one who cuddled me, laid me on his lap and played with me during my childhood. And that also made me wonder: “why, if it was in God's plan for me to have him as my grandfather, didn't he meet and marry my grandmother in the first place?

People often ask themselves similar questions. “Why did it happen, if it wasn't supposed to be?” “Why the pain, the sorrow, the change of plans, the deception?” I often catch myself thinking about going back in time and changing things in order to prevent happenings that ended up in failure. I don't think I'm alone in such fascinations. There is even a hobby, called “Alternative History”, that seeks to propose alternative versions to some chapters of world history, if certain events had not happened.

I wonder whether or not those early disciples who gathered in Jerusalem 2000 years ago to elect a new apostle had similar thoughts. Even after seeing the risen Christ, some of them probably still questioned their new experience of Jesus, and I imagine some grieved to have Jesus taken away from them. They were human beings after all! However, they trusted God and moved on; they listened to the Holy Spirit's voice and, gathered in prayer, cast lots to determine who God had chosen to help lead the Church through those difficult times.

And, they succeeded. The Gospel message spread, more and more people heard about the Good News of God in Christ. Matthias was a blessing to the Church. He planted Christ's message in the Caucasus, and has been respected and venerated by many faithful around the world.

Like the earliest disciples two thousand years ago, we are also called to move on, to discern the Divine will, to seek to conform our lives to it, and to proclaim God's redemptive message – even in the midst of daily sorrows that fill us with despair, make us question our discernment of the Divine will and lead us to wonder how the world around us would be with the absence of suffering and sorrow. The Church is also called, as the Beloved of Christ, to struggle for truth and integrity- a calling from which God will not repent, even though we have a history of betrayals, negligence and hatred towards God's children, and even Jesus himself!

However, when we the Church humbly gather together in prayer and submit our will to God Almighty, the master of time and space, there is room for healing transformation. We do not need time machines or alternative histories; we only need the serenity of knowing that what was meant as evil against us can be redeemed by God and transformed for our good, and can become a joyful opportunity for us to learn how to follow the Divine guidance.

St. Matthias, pray for us, so that we can be God's representatives in this broken world. Amen.

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

Joseph's dream

By Roger Ferlo

In the big Catholic church I attended when I was young, there were two larger than life statues of Mary and Joseph opposite each other on walls flanking the sanctuary, each presiding benevolently over its own side altar. Although the two statues were the same size, and given equal prominence (the church’s designers paid ample homage to the gods of symmetry), Mary’s statue was where the action was. She always had more candles lit in front of her than Joseph did. Brides left their bouquets on her altar before departing down the aisle. And to top things off, every year on the first of May someone built steps high enough for a little girl in a white communion dress to climb up and crown Our Lady with a wreath of plastic roses. Joseph never turned his head during any of this, staring straight ahead, holding a very intelligent-looking toddler Jesus in the crook of his arm.

Given how little attention anyone paid to him, you had to wonder what Joseph was doing there at all. The sculptor depicted him as relatively young, a thirty-something or so. An unusual choice, as most artists through the centuries (perhaps as a way of coping with the strange notion of a virgin birth) have depicted him as old enough to be Mary’s grandfather. In most nativity scenes I’ve seen he’s usually two steps back from the action, sometimes even asleep at his post. And even when awake, you most often see him holding on to his staff for dear life, perhaps still wondering what hit him.

Years later, living in New York City, I encountered an image of this neglected Joseph more complicated than the one that quietly presided over my catholic childhood. Around Christmastime I took the long subway ride uptown to the Cloisters to visit Robert Campin’s fifteenth-century master painting of the Annunciation—Gabriel’s unlikely announcement to Mary that she would bear a son without Joseph, so to speak, anywhere in the picture. The work consists of three panels The large central one depicts the main event as Luke describes it and this fifteenth-century Flemish painter imagined it—a ravishing angel, his wings shimmering in the exquisite layers of color of which the Netherlandish painters were masters, invading the quiet space of a courtly lady’s bedroom. Campin paints Mary at just the moment before she turns to face the angel (in effect, Campin allows us to see Gabriel before Mary does). In an instant, in the next breath, she will turn and see God’s ravishing messenger face to face, the way Moses saw God on the mountain. But where Moses comes away from the mountain bearing God’s word carved on tablets of stone, Mary would quietly leave this cloistered chamber bearing the silent Word encrypted in her very womb.

Once again, in this painting as in the church of my childhood, Mary is where the action is, in the full and shining Technicolor of this central panel. The panel to the left is much drabber, depicting the artist’s patrons looking in from the outside, as well a mysterious figure that may be a portrait of the artist himself, hovering at the courtyard gate. And, in the panel on the right, there is yet another clueless Joseph, hard at work in his carpenter shop, busily crafting mousetraps to catch Satan in. As usual, he is slightly out-of-it, painted facing away from the action in the central panel, totally absorbed in his task, oblivious to the great scene unfolding in the panel to his right.

I find myself again sympathizing with Joseph. Compared to Mary’s, Joseph’s encounters with God in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew is the only gospel writer who takes any interest in him) are played out in a minor key, more like our own. As Luke tells the story, Mary encounters the angel of God when she is fully awake, fully aware, in the broad daylight of a thrilling revelation. But Matthew’s Joseph encounters the angel only in the dark of night, deep in a dream, that ancient, shadowy passageway connecting divine wisdom to human understanding.

Dreams are a form of chaos, most of the time, and one would think that Joseph’s dream would reflect in some distorted and frightening way the chaos of his own life—a young woman pregnant, and not by him; the fear of public disgrace; a need to keep everything quiet; the urge to hide his shame in a darkened room, devising paltry mousetraps to ward off the Evil One. And yet, in the midst of chaos comes this startling dream—startling because it clarifies rather than confuses, but clarifies the chaos by paradoxically deepening it. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…” The writer of this gospel must have known that this was not the first time someone named Joseph would be forced to trace his way through a landscape of dreams. That first Joseph, Jacob’s son, dreamed his way out of exile in Egypt to lead his undeserving brothers into a world reconciled and restored. And so too this second Joseph will dream his way into exile in Egypt and back (“Go, take the child and his mother, and flee into Egypt”) carrying with him in the crook of his arm a second Moses, a second Joshua, a second Adam to redeem our chaos and make our pathways straight.

We latter-day Josephs, men and women both, know a lot about chaos these days. Endless wars and bombing and fears of dying; melt-downs of public conversation; a politics poisoned by bigotry and xenophobia; God’s own earth poisoned by our own greed and unmindfulness. But it is not just the outer world’s chaos that haunts us in this Christmas season. It is also the chaos of what an artist like Campin would understand as our inner worlds—our deepest desires at cross-purposes with each other. We feel it when we want at the same time to embrace our families and to escape them; when we harbor private griefs or grievances in the midst of public joy; when in spite of the holiday, or because of it, we seek to escape to a darkened room, to banish all semblance of dreams, to sleep in blankness. And yet, as with Joseph, the dream will come however much we try to block it, making of our mixed desires and the world’s distress the stuff of revelation. If there is any hope left in a season so bedeviled by endless consumption and endless desire, it lies in Joseph’s dream: that deep in Mary’s womb is buried not the sign of our shame and guilt but the sign of our salvation.

The Rev. Dr. Roger Felo is Professor of Religion and Culture, Associate Dean and director of the Institute for Christian Formation and Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Anonymous apostles

By Roger Ferlo

About 50 new seminarians showed up here at Virginia Theological Seminary last week, three weeks before the start of the regular term. They’re here to get a head start on their required courses in Hebrew and Greek, and to undergo the time-honored training in the oral interpretation of Scripture that the seminary underground still refers to as “Read and Bleed.” Half of the newcomers seem to be in their twenties and early thirties, continuing the youthful swing we have experienced here in the past several years. (You have to admire these young people, committing themselves to a lifetime working in a church that too many people in my generation seem intent on tearing apart.) As to the other half of the class, a large number seem to be newly retired, in the way we baby boomers retire in our mid-fifties. There aren’t too many people in their 40s. My seat-of-the-pants demographic theory about this is that if you are going to go to seminary in these parlous times, you are more likely to try it either in your twenties (when you are still relatively free of commitments, except, of course, for that sizable college debt), or in your late fifties, after you’ve sort of completed the trajectory of your first career, maybe seen your kids through college, and sense that you now have permission to do with your life what you’ve always known you wanted to do.

I changed careers pretty dramatically in my early thirties, so maybe I’m projecting. To be fair, the best part of working in an Episcopal seminary is that you never really can predict where people might be coming from, or what brought them here. In their first session together last week, one guy introduced himself to the group by looking at his watch, and then declaring that it was now almost exactly 72 hours since he retired from the military. A woman of a certain age marveled that the student sitting next to her was young enough to be her daughter. Several people identified themselves as recovering lawyers. One of the youngest men wore a T-shirt that revealed an amazingly elaborate network of tattoos on his right arm—perhaps setting a new trend in clerical dress.

Whatever the case, here they are, part of our lives for the next three years, God bless them all. Their nametags dutifully hanging from their necks, they gathered yesterday with the rest of us for a Eucharist in the chapel at 8:10 in the morning. I suspect that they were too distracted by a looming pop quiz on Hebrew verbs to listen closely to the sermon, which might have been just as well, as I was the preacher, and it was St. Bartholomew’s Day, and St. Bartholomew does not provide you with the most inspiring of sermon texts even in the best of circumstances.

It was those nametags that set me going. I hate wearing nametags. Maybe that’s why I’m always attracted to the unnamed people in Scripture, like the anonymous woman who washes Jesus’ feet in Mark’s version of the story, or the unnamed young man who runs away naked to avoid being captured by the police who are arresting Jesus in the garden (did he too wear tattoos on his arm?). I think of St. Bartholomew as part of their company. He didn’t really have a name, at least any name the gospel writer cared to record. Roughly translated, Bartholomew just means “son of Tolmai.” No real claim to fame there, nothing really to put on a nametag. Matthew, Mark and Luke mention him only once or twice. John, on the other hand, seems never to have heard of him. As usual with mysterious figures like this, legends have accrued, the most persistent one being that he was flayed alive somewhere in Armenia (“read and bleed” with a vengeance), and that his body washed ashore on the Italian island of Lipari (a long way from landlocked Armenia), where a cathedral still stands in his honor. Colorful rumors, but not much to hang a sermon on.

This being the case, I decided to keep to that ancient principle of Episcopal homiletics--when in doubt, start with the collect. Whoever wrote it knew the score. The collect repeats all we know of Bartholomew—that he had the grace to believe and the courage to preach (and even the latter is only an inference from the scarcest of scriptural data). This being the case, we are made to ask not that we would love and venerate Bartholomew (it’s hard to love and venerate a relative cipher), but that we would “love what he believed and preach what he taught.” The feast of St. Bartholomew thus becomes a feast of holy anonymity.

I more or less said all this, and then looked out on that crowd of newly washed seminarians. I thought about my own ministry through the years, and realized that if what was said of Bartholomew could one day be said of us—that because of what we said or how we acted or who we were, others could be brought to love what we believed and to preach what we taught—well, then, maybe this priesthood thing would mean something in the end, long after our names were forgotten. The priestly life can be such an ego-trip—witness the clash of prelatial egos now bedeviling our common life. “I came among you as one who serves.” Bartholomew knew this about Jesus, and about himself, and acted accordingly. In spite of the occasional need for nametags, a little dose of this holy anonymity in love’s service might do all of us a world of good.

The Rev. Roger Ferlo is Director of the Center for Lifetime Theological Education at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he also directs the Evening School of Theology. His books include Opening the Bible (Cowley 1997), Sensing God (Cowley 2001) and Heaven (Seabury 2007).

Missing Saints and Psalms

By Deirdre Good

Last Thursday was St. Bartholomew's Day. How many Episcopalians know saints like Bartholomew or other saints and their days and why does it matter? Once upon a time if the saints day fell on a "green" Sunday we celebrated the life of that saint and even if people only went to church on Sunday or if the saints day fell on a Sunday once every seven years, church-going Episcopalians got to know a few saints beside the patron saint of their own local parish. If they were Anglicans they might know St George or St Patrick. Reduced knowledge of the Saints is one of the casualties of the modern prayer book. This year we lost the feast of Mary Magdalene on July 22nd even though that date fell on a Sunday. The 1979 Prayer Book mandates that when a saint's day falls on a Sunday, the saint's day is subordinated to Sunday liturgy.

Another casualty is the psalms. Even though the 1979 daily office lectionary includes the entire psalter, the Sunday churchgoer is no longer exposed to the daily office. Both of these losses, knowledge of saints and recitation of the psalms, reduce diversity in our churches. Loss of knowledge about saints reduces the diversity of models of what it means to be a Christian and loss of psalm knowledge reduces the range of human relationships with God available to the language of prayer.

There has been an effort to include more celebration of saints in "Lesser Feasts and Fasts" but for (most) people who worship only on Sundays, only the Sunday liturgy is available. Even the red-letter days such as the feasts of the apostles and St Mary, are relegated to a weekday service on Monday. And nobody goes to church on Monday! Not even (most) priests!

Starting from Advent 1, all the Psalms are covered in the Daily Office by Epiphany 8 (14 weeks) and some more than once. Why some Psalms (e.g. Psalm 1) are repeated twice is a mystery. However this is only the case if an individual says the daily office. If you go to church on Sundays you only get psalm snippets. In most of the liturgies I attend, clergy elect not to read the whole psalm.

Of course the church is always in the business of recreating itself and its liturgies. In this particular case, it simply needs to rethink privileging Sundays over Saints Days. But most churches don't present the fact that there are saints to be celebrated in the coming week or readings to enrich personal or corporate prayer life. This is a missed opportunity.

Assuming that reading the word of God is central to the life of worshipping Episcopalians, we need to be intentional about providing a context in which people have greater exposure to reading about saints and the psalms.

What might this look like in our parishes? Here are some ideas. It might look like having more than one psalm per service. It might look like inviting people to read the entire book of psalms for Lent or Advent. It might involve inviting people to follow readings like those in the recently published St Helena Breviary.

A priest friend of ours lamented that he was assigned to preach on the feast of St. Bartholomew three years in a row. Why not supplement the assigned gospel with the Gospel of Bartholomew? It contains an account of Jesus' descent into hell-a declaration of the Apostles' Creed that we say in Morning and Evening prayer, at the Easter Vigil, and at baptisms-and it provides an opportunity to think about the symbolic language reflected in the creedal affirmation that there is no place untouched by Jesus' presence. Knowledge of the psalms gives range, depth and texture to our prayer life. Reading about saints and traditions associated with them fills out and celebrates traditions of holy lives.

Deirdre Good, a professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary in New York City, wrote this with Julian Sheffield and The Rev. Dr. Kris Lewis.

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