Entangled States goes back to the future

Nick Knisely writing at Entangled States:

But things in the blogsphere have changed in the last year. Last spring saw the beginning of Episcopal Cafe, a team blog that Jim Naughton, I and others had been dreaming up for some time. It’s built up quite a readership in the 6 months or so since it went “live”. On a good day I might get 500 readers here. Episcopal Cafe can see upwards of 100,000. As one of the regular contributors and part of the news-team, much of what I would have once posted here is instead going to the Cafe. Which is a good thing because it's being seen by many more people.

And a few months ago I was invited by some friends to be part of Covenant Communion. That site is still figuring out how it wants to work and what sort of voice it will share, its given me a place to engage with other moderate and some conservative voices on what it does mean to be moderate/centrist within the Episcopal Church.

So with two major areas moved offsite, what’s left?

I think I’d like to return to my original thoughts here - how science and theology interact with each other. I’m particularly interested in how good science can inform good theology. I’m also interested in the more practical matters of the ethical challenges that decisions made from a scientific viewpoint have for the people affected by them.

Nick, we look forward to following your fresh thoughts, wherever they go.

The Blog is here

Sean McConnell writes in Episcopal Life Online: They're like monks of old, scribing texts on Scripture and theology, prayer and meditation, church governance and liturgics -- topics that resonate with them and their experiences of faith in the current day.

They're bloggers -- writers of Internet weblogs ("blogs," for short) -- whose readers respond with comments for posting online. Episcopal Cafe lists bloggers at The Blogscape. Another listing of many of the Episcopal blogs are found at epiScope a news gathering blog edited by the Rev. Jan Nunley. executive editor of Episcopal Life Media

Together they populate the "blogosphere," a communication environment that, spiritually speaking, includes content that comes as fresh air to some and rhetorical smog to others.

But an informal sampling of blogs shows that Episcopalians, for the most part, blog to build Christian community. Mainly, these blogs are virtual locations for gathering groups of people who love their church and express that love in diverse ways. A few writers may sow discord, yet most work to widen connections and collegiality that might otherwise remain untapped.

Regarding Episcopal Cafe - Sean writes:

A virtual newcomer, but already a frequently visited site, is Episcopal Café. (See article, above.) The Café is the brainchild of author and journalist Jim Naughton (The New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, ESPN), who is now canon for communication and advancement for the Diocese of Washington.

Episcopal Café is what some call a group blog, because it is managed by a fairly substantial and geographically far-flung group of writers, editors and news aggregators. One striking difference between the Café and other blogs is its requirement that people who post comments on articles use their full names. This is an attempt to keep the discourse civil and an air of accountability for comments made on the site, Naughton said.

"If people don't want to put their names on a response, then I don't want to read it," he added.

On blogs that "allow anonymous comments -- people can speak from the id without having to worry about being held accountable," Naughton said when asked whether blogs had benefited discourse in the Episcopal Church.

"I don't discount that this is sometimes liberating," he said, "but if you can be anonymously vicious in a community of people who are anonymously vicious, then you have a sort of cyber-tribalism."

Read it all here

USA Today on faith bloggers

USA Today features faith bloggers from a variety of denominations and points of view. Episcopal Cafe, Louie Crew, TitusOneNine, and others are mentioned as Episcopal sites.

The 2003 triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, inspired scores of new blogs in full battle cry over the vote by bishops, clergy and lay leaders to accept the election of an openly homosexual bishop in New Hampshire.

Blogging your beliefs is a lonely venture [for David] Virtue, "Even my wife doesn't altogether agree with me."

"It's hard to keep your day job" given all the research and reading required, says conservative Anglican blogger the Rev. Kendall Harmon. Harmon is canon theologian for the diocese of South Carolina, along with blogging at TitusOneNine.

"There is a truth and reliability quotient. I post stuff I virulently disagree with. The idea is to influence the discussion," Harmon says.

Canon Jim Naughton of the Diocese of Washington, D.C., creator of the Daily Episcopalian, a liberal blog, has seen it transformed into a multi-blogger site featuring art, essays, news and posts on faith "in the spirit of charity," the home page of Episcopal Cafe says.

Read the full article by Cathy Lynn Grossman, who covers religion for USA Today here

Duin joins beliefblogscape

Updated Washington Times religion correspondent, Julia Duin, joins the field of religion journalists with blogs. Here's how she describes her Belief Blog:

I plan to make this stand out amongst many of the current faith blogs, many of which are little more than daily religion digests with uplinks. Not here. I'm aiming at something closer to Ruth Gledhill's Articles of Faith blog in the London Times that has juicy details not in the dead tree version. I plan to go behind the scenes, add more details and do some original reporting. I hope to spread a wide net and touch on a non-Christian religion at least once a week.

Clarification: The blog "BabyBlueOnline" says that Ms. Duin is a member of The Falls Church which is part of CANA, a church in a property dispute with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. In an earlier version of this post, we repeated that she was a member of The Falls Church. Ms. Duin herself has written to us to tell us: "I am not a member of the Falls Church. Nor am I a member of Truro. I don't belong to any church at present." We regret the error.

Attention, Anglican/Episcopal bloggers

Cass Sunstein in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“When people end up in enclaves of like-minded people, they usually move toward a more extreme point in the direction to which the group's members were originally inclined. Enclave extremism is a special case of the broader phenomenon of group polarization, which extends well beyond politics and occurs as groups adopt a more extreme version of whatever view is antecedently favored by their members.”

Read it all, with particular attention to the "Colorado experiment."

Hat tip, Arts and Letters Daily.

Clergy family confidential

Tim Schenck, priest, dad and FOTB (Friend of this blog) has begun a blog of his own. Even if we'd never met Tim, we'd drop by his blog hoping for more nuggets like this lovely little item about reading the Grinch to his son's first-grade class.

To me The Grinch is really a Christian parable — it’s a story of conversion, repentance, and forgiveness. Or at least I started seeing these themes the year I had to read it every night for three months. Pitchers and catchers had reported for Spring Training and I was still reading about all the Whos down in Who-ville.

It's hard not to like a guy who tells time by the liturgial calendar, and the start of spring training.

One stop Christmas blogging

With all the furor about the Archbishop of Canterbury's statements (or lack thereof) about the Gospel accounts of the birth of Christ, we thought it might be useful to offer a host of Christmas related blog posts. But blogging religion professor James McGrath beat us to to. As he explains:

We've all heard of one-stop Christmas shopping, so I thought with the frenetic pace of holiday shopping, finding all the relevant holiday blogging experiences that are available might be a bit much to bear. Hence below are included links to many of the last couple of weeks' worth of blog entries on Christmas-related topics.

Read his full list of Christmas blog posts here. And his updated list here.

Feel free to list your own favorite Christmas blog posts in the comments.

Over 1,000,000 served

Congratulations to Father Jake Stops the World which crossed the 1,000,000 mark in total visits yesterday evening. Jake is a worthy Thorn in the Anglican blogscape.

Some recent posts at Jakes Place (in reverse order):

Sorting Out the GAFCON Gaffes

Reactions to the Southern Cone's Seizure of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Atwater

Should Lambeth be Cancelled?

Pittsburgh's Bizarre Scenarios

Ministering to the long-haul trucker

Paul Canady, deputy for youth in the Diocese of Washington, is also a candidate for Holy Orders. As part of his training he has just completed an immersion ministry at a truck stop in Carlisle, Pa. You can read about this off beat ministry and the people he met on this blog.

His story begins with the following item:

[O]n Monday, January 7th, 2008, I will head to Carlisle, PA, to spend two weeks with the Carlisle Trucker Ministry. You can go to this website to learn more about the ministry: http://www.pachurches.org/html/carlh.html

I'm not totally sure what to expect. But my phone call today with the chaplain overseeing the minsitry, Chaplain Dan Lehigh, made me feel a little bit better. "Ours is really just a ministry of presense," he said.

So a presense is what I will be to as many of the 20,000 truckers that come through Carlisle every day.

Please keep me, and this ministry, in your prayers. I'll do my best to update daily, but forgive me if I don't.

If you go along for the ride, you'll meet some interesting folks, and perhaps emerge with a new sense of what ministry means.

Digging the Bible

David Plotz, the Slate author who blogged the books of the Hebrew Bible last year is now digging the Bible--he is reporting his experiences at various archeological sites in the Holy Land. Here is a sample from his first post:

So, it's not exactly the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, it's not exactly much of anything—just a dirty shard of pottery the size of my big toe. But I found it. I had been scraping the floor of this Israeli cave when I spotted its sharp edge. I fished the piece out of the dirt and pushed on it, as instructed, to see if it crumbled. If it did, it was probably just the local limestone, which is as soft as a bar of soap. But my piece firmly resisted, so I brushed off the dirt until I could see smooth pottery, one side black, the other brick red. I'm the raider of the lost pot.

. . .

I've spent much of the last year blogging the Bible for Slate, writing about reading the Good Book for the first time. Now I've come to Israel to see the Bible, to dig it. I've read the stories. Now I want to see where they happened and to learn if they happened—to experience the Bible through archaeology, history, politics, and faith.

That's why I'm spending the day with Ian Stern. An American-born Israeli in his early 50s, Ian operates Dig for a Day, probably the biggest archaeology outreach program in the world. Every year, Stern's dig here at Maresha is visited by 30,000 to 50,000 tourists—most of them American Jews. They do spadework for Stern's academic research, get a hands-on crash course in archaeology, and experience their own history by digging in the dirt.

You can start with the entire series by reading the first entry here.

Whole lot of religion going on....

In what is supposed to be the most secular city in the nation, there is a whole of lot of religion going on this weekend in Seattle. But don't be surprised if it looks a lot different that what most of us are used to.

Tim Matthis, who describes himself as "your basic youth minister/AIDS activist, writes at "Relatively Faithful" about what's going on:

The Seattle Green Festival (HUGE! Tons of hippies, the Mayor, and so forth!)

Seeds of Compassion (HUGEST! The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Dave Matthews (blech), Rob Bell, Steven Charleston, sold out football stadiums...)

Healing our Planet Earth (A little less HUGE than Seeds of Compassion, but HUGER for Episcopalians than the Green Festival! Sally McFague, Katherine Jefferts Schori, ME (well, I'll be helping with sign-ins anyway))

Everything must Change (Less HUGE than the rest, but potentially HUGER for emerging church types. Brian McClaren and friends).

Why in the world is it all happening in the same city on the same weekend?! I can be at one of them anyway...

Relatively Faithful: The Weekend in Seattle....

The perils of the God Beat

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discusses the difficulties in covering religion during a polarized time. His description of his run in with the proprietor of Little Green Footballs will sound familiar to anyone who remembers a certain Anglican blog defending its right to discuss whether they would "waste a bullet" on the Presiding Bishop.

Hat tip: Religion News Service Blog

Earworms of faith

"Earworms" sounds like a fairly nasty parasitic infection, but in actuality the term refers to music that gets stuck in a person's head. Alda Balthrop-Lewis, a production intern at Speaking of Faith, made a contribution to the SOF Observed blog last week in which she discussed how she actually gets Bible stories stuck in her head:

What is it about Bible stories? For me they can be like catchy music; I’ll get one stuck in my head and then, while I wait for the bus or cut up vegetables or fold laundry, the story will run on repeat, offering its melodies, harmonies, dissonances. These ancient stories — so full of existential drama — can become obsessions.

She's had the book of Ruth in her head for months, and goes on to explain that she loves retellings of Bible stories, as well, with a few interesting links. You can read her post here.

But that led me, as someone who wakes up every Easter morning with Christ the Lord is Risen Today (Lyra Davidica) stuck in her head, to wonder more about faithy earworms. Professor James J. Kellaris (also known as "Dr. Earworm") of the University of Cincinnati, notes that:

Some people believe that earworms are a manifestation of one’s subconscious attempting to send a message, or perhaps even the voice of God “trying to tell us something.” Anecdotes about an atheist getting hymn tunes stuck in her head seem to lend credence to this explanation. However, the theory doesn’t explain why most of us get silly nonsense like “Doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah-ditty” stuck in our heads.

From here.

Radiolab, a show from WNYC Public Radio in New York, examined the phenomenon a couple of months ago, interviewing 94-year-old Leo Rangell, who woke up after surgery some years back to the sound of a Rabbi singing outside the window. Or, so he thought. The piece goes on to examine "auditory hallucinations," when entire performances are dominating your brain but the orchestra is all in your head. Turns out that your brain and your ears are having a conversation. And that is here.

Rescuing the faith once delivered to all the saints

Katie Sherrod blogs the text of a talk given at her parish that describes how "the faith once delivered" was in fact developed over time and became, in Nicea, an integration of several strands of Christian tradition.

When the leadership team bent on “realigning” the Diocese of Fort Worth reiterates its goals, one usually hears the hope that if only the Presiding Bishop and the General Convention would leave them alone, they could . . . Well, let them say it for themselves.
Becoming a member Diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone would allow the Diocese of Fort Worth the opportunity and freedom to continue to practice the “Faith once delivered to all the saints” without being constantly distracted by the controversies and divisions caused by innovations hostile to traditional Christian norms.

Jan 9, 2008, letter from Bishop and Standing Committee
diocesan website

That formula—the faith once delivered to all the saints—reappears frequently in their communications, written and oral, as the summation of all they hope for, the engine behind their drive to abandon the Episcopal Church for some other ecclesial structure where they can do what they say they can no longer do as Episcopalians. Those of us who are happy to be and remain Episcopalians might be forgiven for wondering what they’re talking about—though such an admission would draw hoots of derision from the realigners: “Of course, you don’t know what that is!” But as is often the case with such stock phrases, the meaning is neither simple nor very like what its users intend.

Laying aside the rhetorical Molotov cocktails—controversies, divisions, hostile innovations—in the letter quoted above, the statement posits a historical phenomenon—a finite and identifiable configuration of Christian faith and practice—something solid, definable, and presumably superior to other options. Does such a thing in fact exist? Has it ever?


For the sake of concision, here follows an abbreviated account of the principal types of pre-Nicene Christianity. There were dozens, but we will deal with only the most important variations we know about :

• Primitive Jerusalem Christianity: no records; fresh, mysterious, simple; its message, the kerygma—God has acted again in history, the final age has begun in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus; history will close upon his imminent return; visions, ecstasy; Jesus seen more as messiah than divine being; amorphous organization around the apostles.

• Primitive gentile Christianity: the concept of messiah means nothing; the gentile church had no eschatological background for Jesus; Jesus is son of God (raises questions about Jesus’ relation to God the Father); Jesus is Lord (therefore present now, not postponed to a second coming); Jesus the son of God came to earth, died, was resurrected and restored, is now Lord and present to his worshippers; rejection of Torah.

• Pauline Christianity: what we learn in Paul’s writings and those attributed to him; Paul knew primitive Jerusalem Christians but went to the gentiles; the gospel is universal; the gospel is about God’s grace (salvation granted to the unworthy); accepted messianic eschatology, the end coming soon—but not a paramount concern; rejected exclusivity for inclusivity; sin is real, the Mosaic law makes us aware of it, we invariably violate it, no human way out, leads to death; Christ supersedes the law, is condemned by the law but vindicated by God in the resurrection, power of sin broken; life in Christ produces what the law cannot but with few hard and fast ethical rules; love, not law: little interest in Jesus’ life, emphasis on him as Second Adam, something new, “in the form of God” became man and died, God raised him and made him Lord; justification, reconciliation, redemption, grace; church is those who wait for Jesus and live in Christ; initiation in baptism, sustenance in the eucharist.

• Johannine Christianity: what we learn from his gospel and letters; Jesus’ life secondary to his relation to the Father and the divine nature of Christ; truth about God exists independently of history, so Jesus is more revealer of God than actor in history; introduces Greek concept of logos, that which makes God’s being intelligible to humanity; the preexistent divine logos is incarnated in Jesus, and both are now present in history (via the Holy Spirit, the paraclete) and eternity; history is a medium of revelation; judgment is now; life in Christ resembles Paul’s but more mystical, sacramental understanding (Cana/water/wine; Nicodemus/born again; feeding/bread of life); all guaranteed by the paraclete, “only spirit gives life, flesh is no avail”; skirts gnosticism (see below) but seeks to communicate Jesus’ significance to the wider Greek culture.

• Jewish Christianity: various records; outgrowth of primitive form, led by James and successors (Jesus’ family), hounded in and out of Jerusalem, none there by A.D.135; a continuation of Judaism, Jesus is messiah in succession to the prophets, not divine, not virgin born, will be Messiah/Son of Man at return; rejected temple ritual but retained much of Torah and OT; an ethnic religion; they loathed Paul.

• Gnostic Christianity: gnosticism antedates Christianity, has roots all over the place and a vast literature; gnosis = special knowledge, the peephole in the curtain between us and Ultimate Reality, revealed through cult initiation; proceeds from a kind of free-floating, non-specific sense of unhappiness with life as it is; strongly anti-Semitic; apocalyptic; emphasized dualism, the struggle between good and evil, creation mostly evil; posits a vast structure of spiritual beings connecting God to us; body and soul are prisons for spirit; deliverance through a divine messenger; Jesus is docetic, an envelope for pure spirit; rejects the world, embraces asceticism; short on concrete terms, relies heavily on myths; the world is not redeemed but rather escaped; tremendously appealing in its humanity, it garnered many adherents.

Except for purely Jewish Christianity, all the above varieties and more were up and running concurrently—and adherents of all called themselves Christians—about the time the woman who became St. Helena went to Palestine and brought back what she promised were relics of the cross Jesus died on. Her son Constantine was running the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Raised a pagan, he converted famously to Christianity and was busy raising it to the status of state religion. But which kind? He gave the various church parties an ultimatum: clean up your act and give me a church that knows what it believes, an instrument of unity and centralization instead of the morass of claim and counter-claim and diversity and uncertainty I see now. So the church did what it always does: it held conventions—or councils or synods as they called them—meetings where people met and argued and voted.

Constantine forced an issue that had troubled the church for a long time, namely that Jesus had not returned to gather in the faithful, and that meant Christians had either to abandon that part of their faith or expand their understanding of Jesus’ gospel to encompass the possibility of a long and undefined future. The first choice was not a choice, so the church had to think: if the Second Coming, the parousia, is delayed or not what we think it is, then how are we to live in history? The councils Constantine set in motion undertook that monumental task. Working with the scriptures—some of which did not get into the Bible, by the way—and the work of people like Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and the other Church Fathers, they started knocking the edges off loose definitions. They excluded the gnostics as too gauzy, the Jews as too picayune and tied to the past. The purely secular need to achieve a degree of unity sufficient to guarantee the church’s survival drove them: there were plenty of applicants for the job Constantine had in mind for the Christians. And it paid off. The Nicene/Chalcedonian formula presented a Christianity erected on four bases: the creeds, the sacraments, the apostolic succession, and the scriptures, all defined by those councils—for the moment.

And a splendid formulation it was and is, still accepted by the majority of Christians today, though by no means all. At least part of its long success is due to the way it excludes and assimilates, rejects the outworn or the bizarre and accepts much that was then new and risky, closes the door on small certainties and opens it to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Classic catholic Christianity

• accepts Judaism’s insistence on the importance of history but rejects its obsession with ethnic identity; • accepts the gnostic yearning for salvation but rejects its grotesque mythical claptrap; • accepts the eschatological hope of eternal life in the Kingdom of God but rejects historical eschatology, a cataclysmic close of history at a predetermined moment; • accepts ethical freedom in the context of Pauline love but rejects the demands of the Torah and other hyper-detailed moral codes; • accepts John’s Christology and sacramentalism, the belief that God’s incarnation in Jesus expands in history, and rejects the docetist view that history doesn’t really count.

The formula has worked well because it preserves what is essential, lays aside what is not, and remains open to the possibility of adjustment to accommodate undeniable historical circumstance—and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Constantine’s insistence got good results.

Read it all here.

A bad idea whose time has come

The blog of St. Thomas' Church in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC says the Anglican Covenant is a bad idea whose time has come.

The writer has read the series on the Covenant on the Daily Episcopalian, read and listened to the discussion at the Tutu Center last month and summarizes why the Covenant is a bad idea.

It’s a bad idea for some fairly simple reasons:

* It is disingenuous (lacking in candor, giving a false appearance of simple frankness, calculating). Under the guise of a laudable quest for the unity of the Body of Christ, the Covenant not only is divisive, but actually would enable the disenfranchisement of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Communion, and all national churches — read: The Episcopal Church — who fully recognize gays and lesbians as full participants at all levels of the life of the Church.

* While the current draft explicitly states that “to covenant together is not intended to change the character of this Anglican expression of Christian faith,” in fact for Episcopalians it does propose a radical revisionism, making the so-called “bonds of affection” among the members of the worldwide Anglican Communion more important than the bonds of the radical hospitality of the love of Christ, particularly for the outcast, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised. The Covenant seems to forget: the measure of the kingdom is that “the last shall be first, and the first last.”

* The genius of the “primacy of Scripture” for Anglicans as the first and irreplaceable source of authority for our understanding of God and all creation is being replaced by a creeping authoritarianism of “the Word of God” - interpreted as if the past 400 years of Biblical scholarship had not even taken place.

* The broad and open doors of the Anglican tradition are being replaced by a rigid and boundary-guarding traditionalism, whose purpose is not really passing on the “tradition,” anyway, if “traditio” means passing on the scandalous story of God’s extravagant forgiveness, unconditional love, and boundless hospitality, which we enjoy not because of our merits, but because of God’s gracious gift to us — not because of our deserving, but because of God’s unswerving faithfulness. God doesn’t let us in the door because we believe the right doctrine; we believe in God because we trust what God has done, which includes letting the likes of me in the door, and inviting me to the table without asking me first to try to be anyone other than the person God has created me to be.

* The ecclesiology, or theology of the church, that defines Anglicanism as a communion based in our common baptism into the laos tou theou — the people of God, the laity — is being replaced by a new quasi-catholic clericalism. And while claiming that “Churches of the Anglican Communion are not bound together by a central legislative, executive or judicial authority,” the Covenant would authorize the bishops of the church to act as ultimate arbiters of biblical interpretation and theological belief.

* It is a cynical document, based largely on self-interest, guaranteeing the numerical majority of ultra-conservative primates the ability to demand doctrinal and behavioral conformity, and in the absence of that, to be authorized to pronounce non-conformists to be anathema, denounced and banned from full participation in the communion of the Body of Christ.

This Anglican Covenant is just a bad idea. But if its time has come, then it is time for the Episcopal Church to stand up and say “No!”

Read it all here.

I will stop the world no more

The Rev. Terry Martin, better known as Father Jake to tens of thousands of fans in the Anglican blogosphere, announced last night that he is closing down his blog to pursue some new possibilities. He will be deeply missed, especially by the hundreds of people who regularly left comments at what became a spirited, sometimes raucous online community.

"Jake's place," as he called it, was the best spot on the internet to get in touch with what was happening among the liberal net roots of the Episcopal Church, to read a vigorous, sustained defense of the Church's efforts to include gay and lesbian Christians in its life and leadership, and to find sometimes scathing indictments of the tactics of the Church's adversaries, both within and without.

But Jake also called his audience to prayer, to contemplation and to self-examination, eager that in resisting extremism he and his readers not become extremists themselves. His was among the four or five most influential sites in the online Anglican world, and his departure will create a vacuum that won't quickly (or perhaps simply won't) be filled.

Good bye Jake, and hello Terry. We know our paths will cross again, perhaps even run parallel from time to time as you plan your future. In the wake of General Convention 2003, when it seemed that Church Center was unwilling to support what its General Convention had done, you stepped in and helped the majority of faithful Episcopalians find their voice and make it heard. Your blog has been a rallying point for people who have wondered about the courage of their leaders' convictions and were appalled by the rhetoric and behavior of some of the Anglican Communion's self-appointed saviors. You helped people sustain hope, not only through your eloquent advocacy, but by putting them in touch with one another--giving them a place to meet and to find solace and strength in one another's company.

Nice work buddy. Our daily trips through the Anglican blogosphere will be briefer, and less enjoyable, but we know you will be building the Kingdom using other tools.

(Mark Harris also has some new plans, although Preludium isn't going anywhere.)

The Anglican collider

Our friend Pluralist has fun with science.

Blogging bishops weigh in on the Duncan deposition

Bishop Stephen Lane of Maine discusses the deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh:

Opinions were divided on several issues. One was the matter of timing. Should the House wait until after the Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh? Another had to do with the offense. Was the threat to leave sufficient violation of the bishop's duty to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church? A third was relations with the larger church. Would this action sour recently strengthened relationships with other Anglican churches.

On the other hand, there seemed to be no doubt that Bishop Duncan was clear in his intentions to pull the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church. There was no disagreement about that. And there was little disagreement that such an action would cause great harm to the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the faithful Episcopalians of the diocese.

In my opinion the majority of bishops decided to take Bishop Duncan at his word and determined that his actions and intentions were a clear violation of his duties as bishop.

Both the discussion and the vote made it clear that the decision of the House was not related to theological positions or faithful dissent. The perspectives of all speakers received a respectful hearing. Time was spent in prayer at several points and just before the final vote.

Bishop Alan Scarfe of Iowa:

Whatever one’s vote for or against deposition, nothing could hide the sadness or the effect of churned stomachs. There is no joy in discipline, and whether we agreed or disagreed about timing, or procedure, or even appropriateness, neither could there have been any doubt that this action was coming. I could not help contrasting however with the holy moment when the Bishop of Rio Grande in New Orleans took his life decision into his own hands and read his letter of resignation. He received a standing ovation for his courage and conviction, and once again there were few dry eyes in the House.

If people want to deal with the House of Bishops at a distance, we are easy targets. In some ways we stand large and can seem remote. Our decisions can readily be cast as following some kind of agenda. Often of course it is the unconscious agenda of the critic in a strange reversed way. If, however, we want to deal with bishops as sisters and brothers in Christ, who are as strangely in awe of their calling and responsibility as any human being would be, then it might be understood when I say that this is a group of people who genuinely have respect and love for one another, and an acute sense of bringing their people with them into Council. This is so especially as we handle difficult decisions about one another. We anger each other, but we have learned to let grace handle how long we hold onto it.

(emphasis added.)

10 Commandments for bloggers

Ruth Gledhill writing in The Times reports that:

The Evangelical Alliance will on Monday publish the new Ten Commandments of Blogging. Articles of Faith now brings you an exclusive preview. You can also read the news story on this, now up at Times Online and in tomorrow's paper. They are:
1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.
2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.
3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.
5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.
6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.
7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.
8. You shall not steal another person’s content.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.
10.You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

Read the rest here.

A conversation with Marcus Borg

Gordon Atkinson, who blogs at CC blogs had a conversation with Marcus Borg. In his blog, he introduces "his thinking and explain why he is such a controversial figure, certainly among conservative evangelical Christians, but for many mainline theologians as well."

The conversation reveals how it is that the study of the Christian tradition has allowed Borg to remain Christian.

It all has to do with how you read the gospels. Most Christians in the world read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as literal accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

These are the texts; they tell us what happened. Many of us grew up in Christianity and have a history of reading the gospels in just that way. And we recognize the power of such a thing. After all, most people in the world will not have the privilege and joy of a higher education. For many of these, a simple, child-like approach to Christianity is their way. To scorn them or in any way make fun of them would be cruel and arrogant. And it would discount things Jesus said to praise such child-like faith.

Jung describes such people as living fully within their myth. And Jung understood, as do scholars like Joseph Campbell, that such people are the driving force behind most of human history.

Some of us went off to seminary to be trained as ministers. While there we were taught to engage the gospels in a very thorough and rigorous way. In doing so, it seemed very clear to some of us that each of the gospels developed out of its own tradition. Mark perhaps less than the others, but various traditions about the teachings and life of Jesus led to these accounts of his life and death, which differ greatly from each other. Jesus was a man who lived on this earth. 30 to 60 years after he was gone, various Christian traditions wrote down their gospel stories of his life. As humans it was inevitable that their memories would be influenced by their post-Easter experiences as the Church.

Most of us ministers have made our peace with this. We understand that the gospels clearly reflect early Church theology. That’s okay because that theology was the present experience of the friends of Jesus. It has value too. Our approach is to preach and teach from the gospels, taking the text as given. Trying to distinguish what might be the actual words of Jesus and the actual events of his life from what might be slightly embellished Church tradition is something that would be interesting, but ultimately it a question that cannot be answered. Moreover, we are busy with the real lives of people in our world who are following the spiritual path of Christianity as a means of salvation and spiritual growth.

Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar scholars have, however, taken up that task and have sought to distinguish carefully between the pre-Easter Jesus, who was a man defined by what he actually said and did, and the post-Easter Jesus, who is the figure venerated by the Church.

Please keep this in mind: These scholars are not dealing with spiritual communities. They are free, therefore, to pursue their scholarly work and publish and present their theories.

If my experience with Marcus Borg is indicative of other Jesus Seminar scholars, they understand the difference between the spiritual purpose of the Church and the scholarly pursuit of their discipline. But because the findings of the Jesus Seminar can be threatening to many and seem to undercut their spiritual life and journey, scholars from the Jesus seminar are often harshly criticized.

I was impressed by how passionate Marcus is about the life and teachings of Jesus and his own life as a Christian. Marcus is a worshipping, praying Christian man. That he is also a fearless participant in the search for the historical Jesus does not, in my opinion, negate that in any way.

And finally this: There are millions of people in our modern world who read the gospels honestly and who cannot help but have trouble believing them. People who grew up in the church and were nurtured by the scriptures sometimes cannot realize how difficult the gospels can be for educated people in our culture. Marcus Borg has made the spiritual journey of Christianity something that is intellectually possible for many intelligent, educated people. Thousands have told him that they were able to remain in Christianity because he gave them permission to express real and honest doubts and concerns about the text.

As I put it in my conversation with Marcus, he has kept a good many people in the game.

The conversation may be heard here.

Does this kind of inquiry "keep you in the game" or does it diminish your faith? What is the balance you have found in your Christian life?

Batting 1000

Our friend Mark Harris made his 1,000th post at Preludium today, and he's at the top of his game. He makes many fine points, but this one stands out:

7. The Archbishop of Canterbury has consistently misrepresented the nature of the Anglican Communion, believing somehow that he had to “save” the Communion as if it were a church, from splitting. There is no church to save. The wringing of hands by certain Primates was power play and public rhetoric. He bought it.

Sharp stuff from Religion Dispatches

Religion Dispatches, which will have a bright future if its early content is any indication, has two excellent essays about President-elect Barack Obama and the Religious Left--such as it is.

In one, Jonathan L. Walton asks:

Is President Obama destined to disappoint progressives? Our columnist channels theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, reminding us of the human potential for both good and evil, and offering a pragmatic approach...

In the other, our friend Daniel Schultz (Pastor Dan of Street Prophets) "addresses the Religious Left with suggestions, words of caution, a plea for compromise and a more broadly-conceived coalition than any to date."

Church Planting Central

There is a new blog in town called Church Planting Central, and it focuses on church planting and evangelism. I was taken both by this item on "The big E word," and this one on the parable below, which I first heard years ago and have been trying to find ever since:

Parable of the crude little life-saving station (by Dr. Theodore O. Wedel)

On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

Dr. Theodore O. Wedel was a former canon of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1931, he served for a time as president of the Episcopal Church. He penned this parable in 1953.

Be your own Primate

Our friend Pluralist has decided that he, like Bob Duncan, needs an Anglican province of his very own.

Africa looks to Obama

Chris Blattman is a Yale assistant professor of political science and economics who blogs about economic development and violent conflict. His research "examines the causes and consequences of civil war, the reintegration of ex-combatants, post-conflict economic and social programs, and the development of new forms of governance and peace building after war. Much of his work applies field experiments (and natural experiments) to conflict and post-conflict scenarios."

Blattman is currently in Liberia setting up a field experiment. His latest blog post:

The election is the ultimate icebreaker in the remotest of villages, buying us easy entry into conversation with big men and bystanders alike.

We passed a taxi on the road with a hand-painted windshield: “Obama will change the world.”

And the 400 ex-combatants at the reintegration center we work with? They stayed up the whole night watching the election on DSTV and sport Obama hats and t-shirts.

My favorite experience so far: the nation’s leading imam gripping my hand, looking me in the eye: “Thank you for electing Barack Obama.”

(An irony: Blattman is Canadian.)

Digital Satellite TV. Africans are not out of touch with events in the world as this post illustrates. Clearly hoping "Obama will change the world" is outsized, but when the nation's leading imam gives thanks there's something telling about that.

Blattman has filed several other posts during this trip to Liberia including one asking How would you reduce aid dependence?

I'm spending a lot of time in isolated villages, pre-testing our survey instrument. If you ask a villager who bears the most responsibility for building public latrines and wells, eight times out of ten you'll hear, "the NGOs". After five years of intense humanitarian aid, have people forgotten how to provide their own public goods?
He's also written one asking, Never write about Africa? Blattman can do so authoritatively. But it's a good question for most of us.


A number of folks have been having problems leaving comments on stories over the holiday weekend. The issue seems to be related to a change TypePad has made in the way they have TypeKey (the OpenID server) configured. (We use their OpenID server to authenticate the comments left here on the Cafe.)

The solution seems to be to clear your "typepad" and "typekey" domain cookies if you're having problems. (Look under the privacy settings on Firefox or Internet Explorer or "security" if you're using Safari.) It's fixed the issue for those of us on the Editorial Board and the Newsteam who were having problems.

Sorry for the inconvenience. We're working on raising the money we'll need to make some updates to parts of the blogs, and comments are right near the top of the list.

The vicar returns

The blogger formerly known as the Salty Vicar and Padre Mambo has returned to the fray and now lives at The Divine Latitude whence comes this essay on what Barack Obama's victory can teach the mainline churches:

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Happy New Year!

newyear.jpgA peaceful and blessed New Year wish from all of us here at the Episcopal Cafe to all of you. Thank you for reading here in 2008. May God be with you in the new year, and bless you on this Feast of the Holy Name.

The Ten Worst Habits of Preachers

Michael Jensen of Sydney, Australia, keeps the "The Blogging Parson" wherein he frequently discusses the art and craft of preaching. In this post, he names ten things preachers often inflict on hearers.

The Ten Worst Habits of Preachers

My assumption in this list is a culture that values the preaching of scripture very highly. This of course should not be assumed at all! There are actually worse crimes than these that include doing violence to the text of scripture, or ignoring it altogether, or waffling and calling it 'spirit-led'.

1. Merely 'explaining/teaching the Bible' and not preaching the living Word of God. (I think we should ban the phrase 'we are now going to hear the Bible explained'. I don't need it explained. I need it preached.)

2. Introducing us to the text and not to the issue addressed by the text.

3. Providing overelaborate explanations of the biblical-theological background to no great end.

4. Moralising from the Old Testament.

5. Reading every OT text immediately in terms of Christology without regard to its own particular context and meaning and purpose.

6. Speaking down to the congregation; assuming we are simpletons and do not read or think for ourselves. That our questions just need better information in order to answer them.

7. Getting Penal Substitution (or whatever the hot-button issue is for your church!) from every single text.

8. Illustrations that confuse more than illuminate. That's...most of 'em.

9. Never referring to self and own Christian faith in sermon. (Of course, the opposite is worse: using the pulpit for autobiographical purposes. Yuck.)

10. Making ill-informed generalisations about culture/sociology from a knee-jerk conservative standpoint.

11. (sorry) Pop-psychologising.

From your perspective--either as the preacher or as the preached-to--what would you add to this list?

How should we respond to the poor?

The bloggers Wormwood's Doxy and Under There have had a moving dialog on what we owe those less fortunate than us, and it is worth reading in its entirely.

A sample from Doxy, whose essay is prompted by an encounter with a homeless man named William who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and its wake:

It is one thing to talk about “homelessness” or “the homeless”--it is quite another to look into the weary eyes of a human being who tells you that he slept in a bus shelter last night because he had nowhere else to go.

The Wall of Doubt is what I encounter every time I am faced with the failure of common decency--and let’s be honest and acknowledge that this is what is at the root of homelessness and abject poverty. These things are based in the failure of human beings to love and care for one another in the most basic ways.

That Wall is the rock on which my faith is tested--the stone that threatens to shatter what little confidence I have that there is a good and benevolent God in this universe.

Much better minds than mine have wrestled with the theodicy problem through the ages. I am under no illusion that I will be the one to solve the puzzle. But the problem takes on new urgency as I consider the fact that there is nothing I can do to help William.

And from UT's response:

You see, I approached the whole ministry to the poor and homeless thing with some very flawed assumptions. Back then I really thought it was my mission to change people and make them ready to fit into society. “Housing readiness” is the technical term for the model that says let me “fix” you so you will no longer be homeless. If I can make you more like me then you can finally be a respectable citizen. The hubris of such a position is staggering and yet it was shamelessly my position. That was before I came to realize that “society” is a cultural/geographic construct that is very fluid over time and space. There will always be people who do not fit into what society terms “normal.” I also know that the kingdom of God has most often been hidden among the “freaks and the misfits.” Today we in polite society would, like both of their families did, try to have Jesus and St. Francis committed and stabilized on medication.

Please join in their conversation, either here on the Cafe, or at either of the blogs quoted above.

An afternoon blessing

Props to Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News, who offered this yesterday as the afternoon blessing at the paper's religion blog:

May you remember, in writing for publication about Episcopalians, not to use "Episcopalian" as an adjective. (The adjective is "Episcopal.")

We commend it to headline writers everywhere.

A Lenten e-fast

Terri Jo Rayn in the Waco Tribune:

They say the first step toward recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

And Greg Garrett, Episcopal lay preacher and Baylor University professor, admits he has an addiction that threatens his walk with his God: Facebook.

The ubiquitous five-year-old social networking site, with an estimated 175 million users, “is the biggest distraction to my observance of a holy Lent,” he said. “It’s turned into an excuse to do anything other than what I ought to be doing.”

So as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, he’s reclaiming his low-tech spiritual life by going on an “e-fast” for the 40-day penitential season of Lent.

One can acknowledge that Professor Garrett has made a wise personal choice, while still wondering whether the numerous people who loudly proclaim that they are going off-line for Lent aren't blaming technology for personal failings. No?

Are you a Christian hipster?

We assume, of course, that Cafe visitors are, by definition, Christian hipsters. But if you are uncertain whether you belong to this group, contemplate this item from Brett McCracken at the blog Still Searching:

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April Fool's Day elsewhere

You've read our April Fool's Day offering, now have a look at others, including one from our friend, Pluralist.


Frank Lockwood of Bible Belt Blogger thinks there is something significant about the fact that language about governmental transparency has disappeared from the introductory copy on the IamEpiscopalian.org Web site. Mark Harris does not.

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Church of England fights proposed "equality" bill

Over at Comment is Free, Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans examines the Church of England's opposition to the "equality" bill currently before Parliament:

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Jake is back

and just in time. Have a look.

The Mad Priest is on a roll

No one has illuminated the danger that the proposed Anglican Covenant presents to the Church whose leader is proposing it as well as the Mad Priest.

First this, then this, then this. Money quote:

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Preludium gets 1 million visits

Congratulations to Mark Harris upon the 1,000,000 visit to his Preludium blog today. Go visit Preludium and get him started on 2 million!

Can 7,000 bloggers have an effect on climate change?

Beginning in 2007, "Blog Action Day" encouraged bloggers to blog on one day (October 15th) about one global issue, in 2007 it was the Environment, last year, "Blog Action Day-'08" was focused on the End of Poverty, and this year the focus is Climate Change. Check out the "Blog Action Day" website, and then check out 7,000+ bloggers all blogging for an end to Climate Change.

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Mad Priest loses his job

The Rev. Jonathan Hagger, better known as Mad Priest, has lost his job. Ruth Gledhill has the sketchy details in Mad Priest's Lonely Farewell. Jonathan spoke about his situation in his sermon yesterday.

Wounded Bird on hiatus

June Butler, aka Grandmère Mimi, who keeps the blog "Wounded Bird" is taking a well-earned rest. After three years of nearly continuous blogging, theological reflection, and commentary, she has decided to go "cold turkey" and come back sometime in the future on a less frequent basis.

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Episcopalians prominent in Huffington Post religion section

Thanks in some measure to the good work of the Church's Office for Communications, in some measure to relationships with progressive think tanks and in some measure to the talent of some of its members, the Episcopal Church has enjoyed a certain prominence in the recently-launched religion section of the popular Huffington Post Web site.

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Primus of Scotland thinks aloud

David Chillingworth is Bishop of St. Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He keeps the blog Thinking Aloud, which may make him the only blogging Primate of the Anglican Communion.

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Worth a visit

Two items of note in the Episcopal blogosphere: the Vital Posts blog at ecfvp.org was launched one week ago and is picking up steam, and the Rev. Ruth Meyers, chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, has written a summary on the meeting the commission held with members of Province 1 (New England) of the Episcopal Church to discuss the experiences of dioceses in jurisdictions in which same-sex civil marriage is legal.

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New tools for evangelism

The November issue of Vestry Papers, from the Episcopal Church Foundation is online. It focuses on technology and evangelism and includes the article "Tweet if you love Jesus" by Bishop Kirk Smith.

And while you are at the site, read this sweet, brief All Saints Day story by Richelle Thompson.

Five hospice haiku

Steve Thomason is a Hospice physician and an Episcopal priest and keeps the blog Uncommon Ground. He shares five "Hospice Haiku."

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Ideas from Seth Godin

Some ideas on ideas from Seth Godin:

Where do ideas come from?
From Seth Godin's blog

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Meeting real life

Scott Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, writes in Call and Response about churches and says that instead of grieving our loss of cultural influence, congregations can be places where real life is met and lived.

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The Anglican Scotist dies

We note with sadness the death of Todd Bates, who blogged under the moniker Anglican Scotist. Further information is available here.

Christ has no online presence but yours

Meredith Gould, writing at Loyola Press DREConnect, reflects on the hesitation that many in the church still feel towards social media.

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Ruth's new blog

Ruth Gledhill, who staffs the religion desk at the The Times has long been a source of news about the Anglican Communion and the Church of England. Sadly much of her reporting is now locked up behind a paywall so that we can't link to it (and send her readers she deserves). But she's just started a personal blog.

She writes:

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"a preacher kinda question"

Hugh Hollowell, Mennonite minister and founder/director of Love Wins Ministries, tells a story of finding Jesus in a Crack House on the blog Two Friars and a Fool.

"I laugh, and give serious thought to bringing up incarnational theology, using this as a teaching moment. But then I decide I cannot add a bit to what she just said..."

An experiment in urban church building in Seattle

The Rev. Peter Strimer, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Seattle, writes regularly for the Vital Posts blog at ecfvp.org. Since June, he has been chronicling his parish's efforts to re-establish a mission in Seattle's Lake City neighborhood. The series, which began with this installment in June is well worth following.

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Something must be done! Really?

The Revd. Malcolm French writes at Simple Massing Priest about the Covenant. First he takes on the proposition that There Is No Alternative, and then he wonders out loud hos the Church of England, under the same Archbishop of Canterbury, can manage to hold on the open-ended view of full communion as a member of the Porvoo Communion while demanding the approach of the Covenant for the rest of us.

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Year in Review: Telling Secrets

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton who blogs at Telling Secrets has an Episcopal Year in Review. Kaeton asked her readers to tell her what stories they thought stood out:

It's the eve of the new year of 2012. Already, 2012 is distinguished by an optimism that is probably mostly due to the fact that it's not 2011.

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Christianity in Crisis: responses to Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan's essay "Christianity in Crisis", has sparked a number of thoughtful responses, and a reply to one of the responses from Sullivan himself.

Diana Butler Bass, a friend of this blog, raised some issues at The Huffington Post that she believes Sullivan missed.

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Kentucky Derby: only sadness on Derby Day

Kurt Wiesner, member of The Lead news team reflects on Derby Day:

The biggest sports day of the year for me used to be Derby Day.

My mother’s love for horses sparked my interest in The Triple Crown, and especially the Kentucky Derby.

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Snarky for Jesus

Bishop James Mathes has written an essay for Daily Episcopalian about the quality or lack thereof of the comments here on Episcopal Cafe. In a similar vein, Father Tim Schenck asks in a recent blog post whether snark is unChristian, and concludes that it is not. He says, in part:

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Diocese of Bristol votes no confidence in Synod vote on women in the episcopate

The Church of England Diocese of Bristol passed a vote of no confidence in the ability of the General Synod of the Church of England to effect the clear will of the majority of Church members in relation to women bishops:

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Upworthy had almost 3X more web visitors than the NYT last month

Conrad Hackett (@conradhackett), a demographer with the Pew Research Center tweeted tonight that Upworthy had 87 million unique visitors last month, while The New York Times had 31 million.

What do you figure that means?

"One man's beauty is another man's fish house"

Two people of good faith are having a respectful disagreement, and I find this such a refreshing development in our church that I feel obliged to call attention to it.

Father Tim Schenck does not think that the chambered nautilus that now adorns the previously vacant pediment of St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston is an appropriate symbol for the front of a Christian cathedral. He writes:

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Israel and "apartheid"

The always perceptive Morgan Guyton offers a careful, compassionate take on the recent controversy that ensued when Secretary of State John Kerry said, to quote Guyton, "that unless a two-state solution can be brokered between Israel and Palestine, Israel will either end up with a democratic society without a Jewish majority or an apartheid state in which Palestinians don’t have equal rights."

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Bishop of Georgia on GTS and social media

Yesterday, in his regular email communication to the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase speculated on the role social media has played in the on-going events at General Theological Seminary.

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