Friday, December 29, 2006

Seeking Bloggers' Counsel

It appears that there's increasing pressure to convert our blogs over to the "new" Blogger. I'll confess I've been very, very hesitant to do so. This little blog seems to be working ok, and I am loathe to do anything to change it. My techno-savvy ranks about a lowly "3" on a 0-to-10 scale. I've learned to do the few things that I need to do here. But if I had a problem, I doubt I'd have enough knowledge to go into the template and fix it.

I've looked at the scant documentation that Blogger provides about the conversion process. But to me, it appears they're just singing 8 different verses of "Trust us, it'll be a snap!" followed by a chorus of "No problem!" I am more than a little skeptical, for I have visited some blogs shortly after their conversion, and they were a mess.

Are there other sites that address the issues of converting to the new Blogger, which I just haven't been able to find? And, remember, they need to be sites that are the equivalent of "Blogger Conversion for Dummies."

So I'd like to invite you all to kick-in here in the comments section and give me whatever tips you've picked up – or whatever websites you've found helpful – in your conversion process. [And, yes, as one who frequently writes about church topics, I am indeed aware of the double-entendre of using a phrase like "conversion process." But let's not get into fine points of theology just now, OK?]

I have heard that there's a way to "archive" all my entries and current settings so that, if there's a meltdown during the conversion, I could restore the blog as it now exists or could at least re-post all the entries. But exactly how do you do that?

What problems did you encounter in converting to the new Blogger? How did you fix them?

And – mind you – whatever tips and counsel you can offer need to be given very, very simply. Assume I'm an idiot when it comes to HTML, web design, and all this technology stuff, and you will be correct.

Thanks for whatever tips and "words to the wise" you can offer.

Presidential Travels

I never had strong feelings nor any specific thoughts about President Gerald Ford. During his presidency, I was busy in college and graduate school – exercising the life of the mind that makes "ivory tower" fall miserably short as a description.

So I don't have an axe to grind with President Ford, who died this week. I was touched to read the story from Episcopal News Service, detailing his life in and contributions to our Church. I had no idea! And am impressed by his life of service and faith.

However, while I now have a new-found admiration for the man and fellow Episcopalian, the plans for the next few days do force me to climb upon my hobbyhorse.

Did some airline introduce a new frequent-flyer program that I failed to note – something like "most plane flights traveled by a corpse"? Is there now a new category in the Guinness Book of World Records or some new championship for most funerals for one person? What is this new competition – started, it seems to me, with the death of President Reagan – to see how many plane flights a presidential corpse can take and how many funeral or funeral-like observances can be held?

He participated in the life of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in California, so there will be a private funeral service and public visitation there. Makes perfect sense to me. Then he'll be carried through the Capitol's House chamber, and there will be a state funeral at the Capitol. Then a funeral at the National Cathedral. Then his well-traveled corpse will be flown to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where there will be yet another funeral – this one at the Episcopal parish in which he and Mrs. Ford married in 1948. (I wonder how long it's been since he worshipped there.) And, at last – thanks be to God! – his travel-worn corpse will finally be buried in Grand Rapids, on the grounds of his presidential museum.

Now … does anyone but me see this as more than a wee bit excessive? Think about the Episcopal parishes in which you've been significantly involved in your life. Do you really want to have your corpse hauled from city to city for funeral services in each of them?

Something about this strikes me as decidedly unseemly. Kind of like using the salad fork to eat dessert – another thing we Episcopalians just don't do.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Thoughts After 10,000

The sitemeter tells me that the 10,000th visitor to this blog peeked in at 10:40 p.m. yesterday. I am amazed and grateful. It never occurred to me that so many people would find this wee blog. And I have found and made friends with some who have visited here. I have received much, much more than I have given. This milestone is a good point at which to say a sincere and humble "thank you." And I do.

Some of you have been visitors from the early days. You will recall that I began writing here in late July, when I was hurt and angry in the wake of our General Convention's vote on resolution B033. Not to re-open old wounds, but (for those of you who weren't plugged-in then) that's the resolution where our Church voted to "exercise restraint by not consecrating any bishop whose manner of life poses a challenge to the church and would lead to further strains on communion."

Much water has gone under the bridge since then. We've not elected any openly gay person to the episcopate – though two dioceses had such candidates. We've approved the consecration of a conservative bishop who has been divorced several times. And now we are watching and waiting to see whether Mark Lawrence – a man who has declared his disdain for the Episcopal Church – will gain the necessary consents to be bishop of South Carolina

While our Church labored mightily in General Convention to respond with integrity to the Windsor Report, we have watched the schismatics and their allies violate other points of that report. We have seen the Primate of Nigeria consecrate as bishop a rector in Virginia. We have witnessed secessions by parishes and a threatened one by the Diocese of San Joaquin.

In the midst of it all, I became involved with The Episcopal Majority. Those folks have been an incalculable blessing to me. It's amazing that one can forge such friendships on the basis of passion and commitment, without ever having had the opportunity to visit face-to-face.

Much virtual ink has been spilled in these months. And still we are no closer to a resolution. A few parishes and dioceses are being whipped into a frenzy by their rectors or bishops. But it seems to me that most of us ordinary Episcopalians have returned to our ordinary business of worshipping our God, ministering to our local and global communities, and caring for one another. The grand battles are probably coming, but they will be waged "upon a darkling plain," as Matthew Arnold wrote. Meanwhile, it seems to me, most of us average pew-sitters have brought our focus back to where it belongs: upon carrying out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in our local parishes.

When I began writing here, I was in a state of some agitation – to put it mildly. It took my sister and a couple of friends to point out that I was too much in "warrior mode" here; I let my anger dominate too often. I hope I have moderated in the past few weeks. Without a doubt, I will continue to be "political" and polemical from time to time, as I observe the goings-on in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. But I hope I can better use this blog to find my own voice, to articulate other issues and concerns, and to share my journey with others who are making their own pilgrimage.

To those who have challenged me and those who have supported me: Please accept my most humble thanks.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Nigeria's Legislation

Much ink and many bytes have been spilled in references to the Nigerian legislation that would outlaw "gay marriage" and impose 5-year prison sentences for many other behaviors and activities that we in the U.S. take for granted (such as the ability to establish groups like P-FLAG or to allow movies like Brokeback Mountain to be viewed within the U.S.). Especially in the past month, a great many reporters and commentators in the secular press have begun referring to Akinola as the "Anti-Gay Nigerian" and to those in the U.S. who affiliate with him as "bigots" and "secessionists."

Are those characterizations unfair?

Over the past many, many months, Matthew Thompson of Political Spaghetti has done yeoman's work in tracking these developments. If you can only read one webpage, read this one.

I cannot possibly begin to summarize all the work and research he has done. I will, however, note these facts:

Go to his site. Read for yourself.

With many thanks to friends in the Episcopal blogosphere, I have been able to locate the actual text of the Nigerian legislation which Archbishop Akinola has not only praised, but for whose passage he has actively pressed. It is reproduced below.

It is sometimes difficult to find authoritative information from African governments, but the bill has been reprinted here.

Tonight, I shall simply reprint the proposed bill. In coming days, I hope to point out some of its implications. Mind you, these are implications that groups ranging from President Bush's U.S. State Department to the Episcopal Church's most liberal gay-advocacy groups agree upon. But which, somehow, the newly-minted Nigerian Bishop of Virginia (Martyn Minns) and his collaborators such as Bishop Duncan seem not to recognize.

So here is the actual text of the legislation.

A Bill For An Act To Make Provisions For The Prohibition Of Sexual Relationship Between Persons Of The Same Sex, Celebration Of Marriage By Them And For Other Matters Connected Therewith Be It Enacted By The National Assembly Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria As Follows:

1. Short Title

This Act may be cited as Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006.
2. Interpretation

In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires-
"Marriage" means a legally binding union between a man and a woman be it performed under the authority of the State, Islamic Law or Customary Law; "Minister" means the Minister responsible for Internal Affairs; "Same Sex Marriage" means the coming together of two persons of the same gender or sex in a civil union, marriage, domestic partnership or other form of same sex relationship for the purposes of cohabitation as husband and wife.
3. Validity and Recognition of Marriage
For the avoidance of doubt only marriage entered into between a man and a woman under the marriage Act or under the Islamic and Customary Laws are valid and recognized in Nigeria.
4. Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage, etc

  1. Marriage between persons of the same sex and adoption of children by them in or out of a same sex marriage or relationship is prohibited in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  2. Any marriage entered into by persons of same sex pursuant to a license issued by another state, country, foreign jurisdiction or otherwise shall be void in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  3. Marriages between persons of the same sex are invalid and shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.
  4. Any contractual or other rights granted to persons involved in same sex marriage or accruing to such persons by virtue of a license shall be unenforceable in any Court of law in Nigeria.
  5. The Courts in Nigeria shall have no jurisdiction to grant a divorce, separation and maintenance orders with regard to such same sex marriage, consider or rule on any of their rights arising from or in connection with such marriage.
5. Non-Recognition of Same Sex Marriage

  1. Marriage between persons of same sex entered into in any jurisdiction whether within or outside Nigeria, any other state or country or otherwise or any other location or relationships between persons of the same sex which are treated as marriage in any jurisdiction, whether within or outside Nigeria are not recognized in Nigeria.
  2. All arms of government and agencies in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not give effect to any public act, record or judicial proceeding within or outside Nigeria, with regard to same sex marriage or relationship or a claim arising from such marriage or relationship.
6. Prohibition of celebration of same sex marriage in a place of worship

  1. Same sex marriage shall not be celebrated in any place of worship by any recognized cleric of a Mosque, Church, denomination or body to which such place of worship belongs.
  2. No marriage license shall be issued to parties of the same sex in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
7. Prohibition of Registration of Gay Clubs and Societies and Publicity of same sex sexual relationship
  1. Registration of Gay Clubs, Societies and organizations by whatever name they are called in institutions from secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular and, in Nigeria generally, by government agencies is hereby prohibited.
  2. Publicity, procession and public show of same-sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria.
  3. Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.
8. Offences and Penalties
  1. Any person goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.
  2. Any person who performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.
9. Jurisdiction
The High Court in the States and the Federal Capital Territory shall have jurisdiction to entertain all matters, causes and proceedings arising from same sex marriages and relationships.
This Act shall prohibit in the Federal Republic of Nigeria the relationship between persons of the same sex, celebration of marriage by them and other matters connected therewith.

    Trinity's Lessons & Carols

    They dubbed it "Lessons & Carols, American-Style." What a humble name for a most powerful liturgy!

    Last night, while at home between our 5:00 "family service" and the 11:00 festival Eucharist, I had my stereo on the local public radio station. And I had the serendipitous delight of catching a broadcast from Trinity Wall Street, thanks to Public Radio International. Trinity dubbed it "Lessons & Carols, American-Style."

    Trinity, that venerable old institution in the Episcopal Church. Trinity, that parish that does so much to support the poor in this nation and throughout the world. Trinity, where George Washington stopped to pray after his inauguration, and where so many of the rich and powerful have gone to worship ever since.

    When the program began, I was only half-listening. But I gather that this version of the festival of lessons and carols was most profoundly shaped by the experience that Trinity endured in the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and by the parish's work to minister in the aftermath of that horrible event. That would be most appropriate, since the service most of us now know from England was shaped by the horrific events of World War I. Trinity's program is a powerful new rendering on an old theme.

    Here is the explanation from their website:

    For its fans, the King’s College Cambridge Lessons and Carols radio program is synonymous with Christmas. It’s about time that there was an American answer to this famous and beautifully done program – at least that’s what Public Radio International (PRI) and producer Malcolm Bruno thought.
    Bruno teamed up with Trinity Church's Music Director, Owen Burdick, to create A Vigil for Christmas, a program that featured the Trinity Choir and selected readings performed by actor Sam Waterston.
    Departing from the strict “lessons and carols” format, the program’s readings included psalms, Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, and a selection from Shakespeare. Musical offerings included works by Handel, Haydn, Pärt, and Howells. PRI made the program available to their syndicate and satellite stations, to be broadcast at their discrimination.

    The program is available here, including links to the audio broadcast and the printed texts of the lessons.

    You can hear the broadcast in high or low bandwidth. And the readings are available here. Prepare to have your socks knocked off! Especially in the final reading, from a 1925 address, including these words:

    Violence defeats itself. It is no way to achieve family life or education or religion or stable government. Those who rely on it as their mainstay and effective instrument are sure to miss what they are seeking to achieve. Always progress has consisted in carrying over human life from violence to co-operation.And now we face the next great step, the most momentous step in human history. Can we achieve a like result with our international relationships? Can we carry them over from brutality and organised slaughter to reasonableness and co-operation?

    Here, then, we face one of the most crucial and dramatic conflicts of loyalty that men ever dealt with. On the one side is a narrow patriotism saying “My country against yours,” on the other a wider patriotism saying, “My country with yours for the peace of mankind.” Is there any question where real Christianity must stand in that conflict?

    . . . [T]he Church has come down through history too often trying to carry the cross of Jesus in one hand and a dripping sword in the other, until now when Christians look out upon the consequence of it all, this abysmal disgrace of Christendom making mockery of the Gospel, the conviction rises that we would better go back to our first traditions, our early purity, and see whether those first disciples of the Lord were not nearer right than we have been.

    We cannot reconcile Jesus Christ and war – that is the essence of the matter. That is the challenge which today should stir the conscience of Christendom. War is the most colossal and ruinous social sin that afflicts mankind; it is utterly and irremediably unchristian; in its total method and effect it means everything that Jesus did not mean and it means nothing that he did mean.

    It would be worth while, would it not, to see the Christian Church claim as her own this greatest moral issue of our time, to see her lift once more a clear standard against the paganism of this present world and, refusing to hold her conscience at the beck and call of belligerent states, put the kingdom of God above nationalism and call the world to peace? That would not be the denial of patriotism but its apotheosis.
    What parish in America has more right to speak and sing and shout out against the excesses of "religion" in all its hateful manifestations?

    Powerful, powerful stuff – in this season when we supposedly celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

    Go. Listen. Read, mark, and inwardly digest. I most heartily commend this resource to you.

    Rome to Queers ...

    "Merry bleepin' Christmas!"

    It's truly amazing how the Web can lead a person from one thing to another in a veritable ... well ... "web" of inquiry. I can't even remember what search I had performed, but it led me to this truly delightful pairing of recent pronouncements from the Bishop of Rome.

    Pope Benedict XVI Calls for Overcoming Prejudices Ahead of Christmas

    "Jesus came for each one of us and made us brothers," Benedict said [Sunday] during his traditional blessing from his window overlooking the square.

    In turn, he added, people should strive to "overcome preconceived ideas and prejudices, tear down barriers and eliminate contrasts that divide — or worse — set individuals and peoples against each other, so as to build together a world of justice and peace."

    I remember that my former priest often commented that when he wrote sermons, he was very often preaching – first and foremost – to himself. I wonder if the Bishop of Rome does the same? If so, I wonder (but, of course, will never know) what specific "things done and left undone" he included in his confession that day.

    For we also have this lovely pronouncement from His Most Infallible Holiness: Pope Attacks Gay Marriage in Christmas Address

    Pope Benedict spoke out on Friday against legal recognition for unmarried couples and "dismal theories" on the rights of gays to marry which he said stripped men and women of their innate sexual identity.

    "I cannot hide my concern about legislation on de facto couples," the Pope said in a Christmas address to the Rome clergy. The Pope said granting legal recognition to unwed couples was a threat to traditional marriage, which required a higher level of commitment.

    But he saved his strongest words for those who suggest gay couples should be put on the same level as a husband and wife: "This tacitly accredits those dismal theories that strip all relevance from the masculinity and femininity of the human being as though it were a purely biological issue," the Pope said.

    Theories "according to which man should be able to decide autonomously what he is and what he isn't," end up with mankind destroying its own identity, he said.

    This strikes me as oddly in-synch with the words of own Pope-Wanna-Be:

    “Why didn’t God make a lion to be a man’s companion?” Archbishop Akinola said at his office here in Abuja. “Why didn’t he make a tree to be a man’s companion? Or better still, why didn’t he make another man to be man’s companion? So even from the creation story, you can see that the mind of God, God’s intention, is for man and woman to be together.”
    I am speechless. I would love to entertain a point-by-point discussion of what he has said and done just this week. But I'm too busy laughing.

    Sad News, Good News

    I was very sad to read this month that The Witness must cease publication, even in their recent Web-only format. This has been an important journal and then e-journal for progressives within our church since 1917, and its demise is a sad occasion.

    Many of us were delighted when Sarah Dylan Breuer became Editor of The Witness barely more than a year ago. She has done marvelous work there since assuming the reins.

    So far as I can tell, there is but one "silver lining" in this cloud. Now that Dylan is not giving every spare moment to collecting and analyzing news for The Witness, she may be giving newly-energized attention to the "Anglicana" section of her blog.

    Go there. Read that. And bookmark it for your regular reading. She is a passionate, evangelical voice for orthodoxy, moderation, and justice in this church of ours. As such, she is a rare voice indeed.

    Akinola Recoiled. Jesus Wept.

    Today's New York Times includes a profile of Nigerian Archbishop Akinola. The article's title is simple enough: At Axis of Episcopal Split, an Anti-Gay Nigerian.

    The first and last few paragraphs were the ones that particularly stunned me.

    The Times story opens with this:

    The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done.

    Archbishop Akinola, the conservative leader of Nigeria’s Anglican Church who has emerged at the center of a schism over homosexuality in the global Anglican Communion, re-enacted the scene from behind his desk Tuesday, shaking his head in wonder and horror.

    “This man came up to me after a service, in New York I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you bishop, this is my partner of many years,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back.”

    Yeah, I can imagine Jesus doing that. Not!

    When I read that in the Times, I vaguely recalled having heard of that meeting and seemed to recall the "gay person" in question was the ever-joyful Louie Crew – he who so frequently reminds us all that "God loves absolutely everybody!" Indeed, it turns out Louie's own account of that incident was published in The Witness at God Always Feeds Us in the Presence of Enemies. Here is the relevant segment of the piece:
    In July 2002, I was a lector at the Enthronement of Peter Akinola (Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Nigeria) at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Mark Sisk (Bishop of New York) invited Ernest and me, among many others, to his home to meet the archbishop at a reception afterward. The archbishop dashed to the other side of the room when I introduced him to Ernest at the punch bowl. Later in the reception Cathy Roskam (Bishop Suffragan of New York) called me over to engage the archbishop in conversation with me. Looking like a deer in headlights, he summoned an aide across the room and abruptly ended the conversation. Ernest had watched the latter scene from the doorway. "What did you say to him that put him into a panic?" he asked. "Nothing. He does not know you and me and he wants to keep it that way. Otherwise, he might have to feed my sheep."
    In today's Times story, the reporters write: "Though he insisted that he was not seeking power or influence, he is clearly relishing the curious role reversal of African archbishops sending missionaries to a Western society he sees as increasingly godless." Then, in the penultimate paragraph of the story, we have this delightful quote from the lion of African Anglicanism.

    “Self-seeking, self-glory, that is not me,” he said. “No. Many people say I embarrass them with my humility.”
    Yeah, I can imagine Jesus saying that. Not!

    In contrast to my near-speechless shock at the archbishop's actions and words, the Reverend Michael Russell (Rector, All Souls' Point Loma in the Diocese of San Diego) is articulate and right on the mark:

    "He sprang backward." This shall be the first line of his commemorative description when it gets to Least [sic] Feasts and Fasts. He sprang backward from touching a gay person. How unlike Jesus or Francis or any of the multitude of Saints who actually honor the name Christian.
    And with that, I shall let my brother Michael have the last word.

    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    A New Litmus Test

    This morning I drove down to my sister's to spend this day with her. As I got in the car, National Public Radio was beginning the broadcast of "The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" from King's College, Cambridge, England.

    Preparing this blog entry, I tried unsuccessfully to find a link to the broadcast on the NPR site. However, I realized that most Episcopalians won't need a URL. As soon as I write "lessons and carols," you will hear it in your bones. You will recall how that service begins – with that boy soprano singing in his lovely voice, "Once in Royal David's City." Then, after he sings the first verse as a solo, the whole choir joins in, and eventually the entire congregation joins their voices.

    I always get goose-bumps and often become a little weepy as that service begins. To me, it speaks of much that is best about our Anglican tradition and our glorious liturgy. I still remember being shocked when I learned that this service only dates from the early 20th century!

    When the service ended, I thought: Yes, that's the benchmark! When King's College celebrates Nine Lessons and Carols, then Christmas is truly and really beginning.

    But I had another thought after it was all over. Many in our Anglican Communion are seeking to establish a "litmus test" about who is and who is not a "real" Anglican. As I recall, the Plano conference in 2003 offered one; the Network has its; some Episcopalians have tried to argue that certain General Convention votes were the litmus test. Now – since publication of the Windsor Report – some are arguing that an Anglican Covenant will provide the ultimate litmus test to define who's in and who's out.

    I'll be the first to admit I'm not a deep thinker. When the deep thinkers use terms like "ecclesiology" and "soteriology," I have to consult reference sources to remind myself what they mean.

    Here's what occurred to me today – on this Christmas Eve – in my simple-mindedness: I think that if your heart swells and your soul is stirred by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, then you're an Episcopalian and an Anglican. If you hear that lone voice begin to sing "Once in Royal David's City" and feels your soul rise along with all the other faithful, then you're probably an Episcopalian and an Anglican. If your heart soars as you hear the powerful words of Scripture interspersed with marvelous hymns throughout that service, then you're probably an Episcopalian and an Anglican.

    Yes, I'm sure the theologians in our midst will shoot me down in this. I can begin to anticipate some of the arguments they might offer. I'm too simple-minded. But it seems to me that a core part of our Anglican identity is not our "getting all the theology right," but is getting our souls in the right place and being willing to lift our voices with others who sit alongside us in our pews. I don't understand all the theological nuances in acknowledging my essential brokenness, my awe that God took human form, my joy in Christ's having redeemed me, and my "yes" to the need to join with God in redeeming all of creation. But I know I want to work with God in this. I know that the promise of "Emmanuel" – God with us – is the most glorious, comforting hope I have in my life.

    I have this sneaking suspicion about us Episcopalians/Anglicans: I have a hunch it has not been about right theology even from the beginning, but about right practice. Isn't this what Queen Elizabeth I was trying to get at in the "Elizabethan settlement," when the Church of England was tearing itself apart over doctrinal and theological conflict?

    So … what say you? Let's let the theologians argue about the jots and tittles that belong in the Anglican Covenant. And let's the rest of us agree that what really defines us and holds us together is a generous orthodoxy, a passionate love of liturgy that draws us closer to God, a passionate love for one another, and maybe – just maybe – a shared experience of awe in liturgies like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

    That's my simple-minded take on it, on this most holy night.

    Peace to all of you.

    Update: I thought to check the BBC website, from which the broadcast originated. You can access it here.

    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    No Charms ... No Jinxes

    I continue to hear echoes of Lane Denson's "Thomas" piece rattling around in my head and heart. I wrote about it the other day. Isn't it funny how, when you start focusing on an issue or theme, many other voices and themes seem to come to bear on it?

    That was the case when I read this piece, Barbara Crafton's "She Who Believed" – which seemed to add another dimension.

    But here is the truth: just as there are no charms, there are no jinxes. Neither hope nor despair makes things happen by magic. What they do is change us. Hope itself comforts and strengthens, right in the moment of hoping, whether or not what I long for ever comes to pass. And despair only ensures that I will experience every bad thing twice – once before it arrives and then again when it's here. Sorrow and disappointment will come to all of us on their own – we won't need to decide in favor of it. It costs us no more to allow ourselves to dream the reality God promises, and it makes us glad, right then and there.
    There are no charms, there are no jinxes. What powerful words!

    But the faith and hope we have in God … that may enable us to rise above charms and jinxes, beyond sorrow and disappointment. May it be so!

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    The Year's Midnight

    Dear and outrageously-patient readers, you and I are just beginning to get acquainted over these last 4-plus months since I began blogging. Blogger lets me enter my 1,200-word "profile," but – of course – 1,200 words can't begin to describe any of us.

    Here's a thing that matters very much to me, but which has not been worth my noting. I hate, loathe, and despise winter! That hatred is personal and visceral to me! I now live in the bleak Midwest, where winter is especially grim. The whole earth goes to brown and grey. There are no evergreens. My sister keeps trying to convince me that the earth is simply taking a long nap. But my southern soul feels something different; it senses that the earth and all creation is dying. That's how it looks and feels to me.

    And the earth stays dead for a very long time here. She starts to die in November, and she does not resurrect until April. And it's just about more than I can bear.

    And that's not all. Besides the fact that it feels like the earth is dying, it also feels like the sun is dying. In this latitude, we had only 9 hours, 28 minutes of daylight today. In this season, there is much more darkness than light. And that grieves this creature of the sun. When I get up in the morning, it's dark. When I leave the office at 5:00, it's dark. This is torture to somebody like me. I live for sunlight. In all my life, when I've gone house-hunting, there is only one sine qua non: the place must be very light and bright, have many windows on all sides. I'm flexible about the number of bedrooms, whether the floors are hardwood or carpeted, whether or not there's a dishwasher. But windows ... light ... openness ... -- they are not negotiable.

    So I did not take it lightly when I woke this morning, aware that this is St. Lucy's day [in the old calendar] – the winter solstice – and the very shortest day of the year. I hate this too-long-dark season.

    And I did as I have done every year now for several decades upon this day. I returned to John Donne – the most glorious poet who ever set pen to paper.

    I think of his poetry very often, and have done so since long before I became an Episcopalian (and Anglican?). But, for some reason, I always remember this poem on this day, this shortest day of the year. Read it with me. Rejoice in his gift of language. Weep in the sorrow he articulates better than I ever can.

    I give you John Donne's "Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day."

    A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day,
    Being the Shortest Day
    by John Donne

    'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
    Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
    The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
    The world's whole sap is sunk;
    The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
    Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
    Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
    Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

    Study me then, you who shall lovers be
    At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
    For I am every dead thing,
    In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
    For his art did express
    A quintessence even from nothingness,
    From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
    He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
    Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

    All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
    Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
    I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
    Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
    Have we two wept, and so
    Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
    To be two chaoses, when we did show
    Care to aught else; and often absences
    Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

    But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
    Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
    Were I a man, that I were one
    I needs must know; I should prefer,
    If I were any beast,
    Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
    And love; all, all some properties invest.
    If I an ordinary nothing were,
    As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

    But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
    You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
    At this time to the Goat is run
    To fetch new lust, and give it you,
    Enjoy your summer all,
    Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
    Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
    This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
    Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

    Out of Nowhere

    A few months ago, I became a subscriber to Lane Denson's Out of Nowhere. His essay today, simply titled "Thomas," came by e-mail, this being the feast day of St. Thomas. It's a moving meditation on the doubt with which Thomas is so often charged, turning then to the role of doubt and evidence and faith and risk and trust in our lives. Including this quite powerful (to me) insight:

    Faith is risk, and risk wouldn't be risk without doubt. And faith that comes only after evidence is no faith at all. It is trust, yes, but not faith. Faith is that act of the will, that daring commitment that climbs out on life's limbs and leaps. And that is all the evidence we get. Faith creates trust.

    It works two ways. My leap of faith is a kind of evidence for me and maybe also for you. And your leap is a kind of evidence for you and also maybe for me. Our faith as a community – all that touch and go – is what makes church church. The ekklesia – the called – doesn't even deserve the name if it is not first and foremost a community of this kind of faith – and probably of doubt, as well. And there is no evidence for that – even the kind that moves mole hills, let alone mountains – until there is a pulsing, dynamic, non-judging heart of love at its core.
    Something about those words speaks to me most deeply this week as I ponder the role of faith, trust, and love in my personal life as well as my spiritual life. Thank you, Lane.

    You can find his archived meditations at Out of Nowhere. If you like what you see, send a blank e-mail to to subscribe to his almost-daily messages, which you'll receive by e-mail.

    Be Afraid!

    I have my software set up so that it can tell me all manner o' things about who visits this blog, from where, and from which site. Among other things, it tells me if somebody runs a search on Google etc. that brings them to my wee little blog. And it tells me what search terms they entered into the search engine to bring them here.

    One around noontime today really has me frightened, and maybe even appalled! A user ran a search on Google with the search terms "how to be a good Episcopalian." And here's the scary part: That search brought the user to my meager little blog!

    Ponder that a while, if you dare.

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006


    I sure hope I'm not violating copyright here. But when a friend sent me this cartoon, I could not resist posting it.

    That about says all I want to say about those folks who spout that "hate the sin, but love the sinner" crap.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Minns, the Law, and all That Jazz

    Readers who closely follow events in the Anglican Peyton Place will recall that Martyn Minns, rector of the Truro Episcopal church in Virginia, was a made a bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria a while back, in clear violation of four centuries of Anglican polity. Last weekend he led his Virginia parish in a vote to secede from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Church of Nigeria. [I don't think those tablets Moses received said anything explicit about self-serving, thanks be to God!]

    As usual, Father Jake is on the job! Father Jake analyzed Minns' and other parishes' willingness to affiliate with the Archbishop of Akinola, and particularly honed in on the question, "Does Abp. Akinola Want to Jail All Gays?" There he explains the legislation Nigeria's Archbishop Akinola is pushing to criminalize not merely homosexual activity, but even discussions of or statements in support of human rights for homosexuals in Nigeria. And don't miss Jim Naughton's marvelous piece, "Dining While Gay." After the votes in Virginia, Father Jake reports, "Truro and Falls Church Vote in Favor of Bigotry."

    Smarter and more thoughtful folks than I are hard at work analyzing this ecclesial chaos. I will be satisfied here to share a photograph that our friend Louie Crew has found -- a most damning photograph of now-Bishop Minns which, if discovered, may result in +Minns' being jailed for 5 years by his new Primate in Nigeria. (Is it just me? Or does that hug look suspiciously passionate??)

    Better stay in the U.S., Bishop Minns! In Nigeria, this could get you arrested.

    Update: Father Jake agrees with me! but, as usual, is even more articulate about why.

    Saturday, December 09, 2006


    Inspired by your kind comments on the prospect of my bell-ringing for the Salvation Army, I decided to write a follow-up.

    But first, a caveat: Do not get spoiled, dear friends in the blogosphere. In the last couple of days, I've been inspired to do more writing here than has recently been the case. I can't promise I'll keep it up.

    I did the deed. I did the Salvation Army bell-ringing stint from 4:00 to 6:00 this evening. I can't say I had any deep insights. But it wasn't as bad an experience as I feared it might be.

    Let me say the physical act of bell-ringing is a challenge that I had not anticipated. I'm accustomed to hearing that clatter of bells as I walk in and out of stores, but I never gave it much thought. Well … two observations: First, after about 15 minutes I thought my arm/hand was going to fall off. Then I spent about an hour finding a way to do it that felt comfortable. It's hard to find a tone and rhythm that you can sustain for two hours. The bells are cheap and schlocky. As a good Episcopalian, dissonance is just not acceptable. So I probably spent the first half-hour trying to find a cadence, sound, and volume that was acceptable to me. The single note of that cheap bell was grating. I happened to stick my hand into the pocket of the little apron they provide and discovered – lo and behold – there was a second, smaller bell. (Apparently, they equip each station for a pair of ringers – thus, two bells.) So I found a way to grip them together in one hand, and the two different notes were more pleasing to me. Second, the rhythm is a challenge. As some of my more ethnic friends can attest, I'm about the whitest woman around. I don't have much sense of rhythm. But I finally found a rhythm that didn't sound like the clang of a fire truck rushing out on a 9-1-1 call. So the 2nd hour wasn't as difficult as the 1st – and it went faster.

    And some of you kind folks have asked how my wrist and hand bore up. It was ok. Hard 'til I could find a comfortable position and rhythm. But easy thereafter.

    I expected to spend those two hours in invisibility and anonymity. I'm with Caminante who replied to my previous post: I don't look at the bell-ringers. If they're posted at one entrance, I go out the other entrance. If they're at the single entrance, I don't look at them.

    And I had some good testimony on that score. Real Live Preacher blogs here about his experience as a bell-ringer. [Hat-tip to Suzer for directing me to that entry. I read his blog pretty often, but had missed that one.] He wrote:

    A lot of things go through your mind when you stand in front of a store ringing a bell. First, the people-watching is amazing. Unless they plan to drop something in the can, people do not want to make eye contact with the Salvation Army guy. So you're free to watch and stare as much as you want. You're invisible. . . .

    And last, I must say that the Salvation Army bell ringer is not a real human being in anyone's mind. There's the pot and the sound of the bell and you, standing there like a cartoon character. The feeling of being a part of the scenery was so profound that when my shift was over and I walked into the Wal-Mart to buy a coke, it felt strange being allowed to walk among the people.

    Figuring I would be both invisible and bored, I had armed myself in advance. I took my current "book on CD" and a WalkMan, figuring I could tuck the WalkMan in my pocket, earbuds in my ears, and just go into my zone. And I had alerted some friends I might call them on my cell phone [also with ear-bud] for companionship during that long time.

    I didn't get a chance to enjoy any of that entertainment or distraction. I was too busy. People did meet my eye. A solid majority of them greeted me with a word or a nod – whether or not they dropped anything into the red bucket. What's up with that?? I thought I was supposed to be anonymous and invisible!

    I have a theory about that. [Hey! I have a theory about everything!! – not that any of my little theories is worth the price of admission.] This little town has just now topped 40,000 in its population. I'm used to living in cities. Cities have a certain anonymity about them; you seldom encounter folks you know in the grocery store, restaurant, etc. But in this little town, you do. In fact, during my two hours on duty, I encountered 5 people or families I knew from work, church, or other connections – most of whom, of course, stopped and visited with me. Maybe in a town of this size, you do look people in the eye, because there's a very good chance you'll know them.

    This makes me think again about my Blogger profile and my attitude toward this place. Ever since moving here in 1998, I have said I felt like a "stranger in a strange land." That is certainly true in many aspects. There's much about the culture here that is foreign to me. I'm a southerner in my bones; these folks are Midwesterners; and there's definitely a difference. And I loathe, hate, and despite the weather here; I miss the warmer climates where I have lived. I decry the paucity of civilized restaurants and the limitations of the grocery stores here. I'm frustrated that my county always votes for the most conservative candidates and votes on the conservative side of any ballot initiative. But today made me aware how much I appreciate the individuals I know here and the value of being in a place small enough that you actually can feel like you're part of the community. That was a humbling and important experience for me.

    As I worked this stint, one other thing struck me. I had taken my audiobook on CD, Walkman, and cell phone so that I could distract myself if need be. "Make the time pass," as I put it to myself. As I said, I never pulled them out of my bag. Here's the deal: There was a period where I was tempted to hook up to them and tune out of what little was happening on my bell-ringing stint. But I've recently become aware that there are spiritual issues about "being present" in whatever I am doing, and that these are issues I need to attend to. So I left my electronic distractions in the bag, determined to be present to whatever might appear before me. Not much did. But I'm glad I made that decision. At least I got to practice a bit of spiritual discipline in being present and not just distracting myself or wool-gathering.

    Last observation: I really am not ready to celebrate Christmas. We Episcopalians and Romans are in Advent. It was grating to hear that I should say "Merry Christmas" to folks who plunked money into the red bucket. It is not Christmas yet!! It is Advent. It is Advent, where we wait in hopeful anticipation. So I wore my big purple sweatshirt as my sign of the proper season. It occurred to me that instead of "Merry Christmas," I should say, "A blessed Advent to you." I'll confess, though, I didn't have the nerve to do it. My big purple sweatshirt had to do its own talking.

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    My Saturday

    Hooray! I made it all the way to Friday evening. This has felt like a very long week. Probably because all the snow complicated many things during the week.

    Friday night typically finds me looking forward to Saturday. That one-and-only marvelous day in my week that is generally unstructured. No office to go to. No church schedule. Mine, all mine! to do with as I wish.

    But not exactly. Not this week.

    I serve on the Community Ministry Committee of my parish. I had the sad misfortune – and/or made the grave mistake – of missing the committee's mid-November meeting. At that meeting, the committee considered the Salvation Army's request that our parish "staff" the bell-ringing stations at four stores tomorrow. The committee agreed to do so. But with little lead time, we didn't get enough volunteers. So, being a good committee member, I offered to serve if needed, if we weren't able to fill all the slots on our assigned schedule.

    That was not an easy offer to make, but I felt my committee responsibility required it.

    I loathe the military model that the Salvation Army has adopted! There's not enough money in the universe to make me sing, "Onward, Christian Soldiers." I do not like what I know of their Bible-thumping theology. And I think it's a "cheap trick" to hit people up on their way into and out of retail establishments.

    And then there's this. I find myself thinking about the idiocy currently afoot in the Anglican Communion and of the provinces that will no longer accept financial contributions from the Episcopal Church, because our church is supposedly "apostate" and thus our money is "tainted." I wonder: If the Salvation Army knew it was a lesbian ringing that stupid bell and collecting that money, would they reject all the donations and send me packing?

    Yes, yes, yes, I know! The Salvation Army also does a great deal of good in feeding and housing people who are on the margins. I commend their good works. But other organizations do good works, too – many of which don't offend me in so many ways. This is a good time of year to send extra donations to organizations like Episcopal Relief and Development and to all our local community organizations that support the poor, the suffering, the hopeless. And I would much rather devote my time and talents and money to organizations that don’t call me ugly names.

    And then there's this: As a kid, I painfully dreaded that season of the year when we Girl Scouts had to sell cookies. I could not bear going door-to-door and asking people to buy them. Of the various interests and skills I have, "sales" is most assuredly not one of them!

    But there I will be tomorrow from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at one of our bigger supermarkets, ringing the stupid bell, hoping people will drop some coins or currency into that red pot. Maybe I'll gain some sort of insight while I'm there; believe it or not, I actually am open to that possibility.

    Maybe there's another lesson there -- which I've just noticed while writing this tonight. I'm going to do this task tomorrow because I am committed to the community of believers in my parish. They have decided this is a Good Thing To Do, so I'll do it. Though not without a bit of whining, I'm deferring to their judgment. Maybe that's enough of a "lesson" for me to take into this experience. And I'll try to look at least as enthusiastic as this guy in the photo above.

    Name that Province

    There has been much brouhaha in the past week about the San Joaquin diocesan convention, which voted to remove all references to the Episcopal Church from its constitution, instead declaring itself a member of the Anglican Communion. Mind you, no ecclesial body can legitimately claim to be Anglican unless recognition is given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But that does not stop these guys! (And yes, they are almost all "guys.")

    One of the interesting aspects of the San Joaquin convention was the presentation broadcast to the convention by Greg Venables, Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone (comprising some scattered parishes in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay). The talk is available here or here.

    In it, he seems to assure the supposedly "faithful Anglicans" [a.k.a. secessionist Episcopalians] that he will have a new Anglican province created for them in the U.S., parallel to but separate from the tainted Episcopal Church.

    Venables' speech has been much discussed in the blogosphere. On an Episcopal listserv of some renown, there were serious questions about whether and/or how such a thing could come to pass. [The answer, in a nutshell: It could only happen if 2/3 of the Primates approve it.]

    But this was the very, very best moment in the discussion.

    In the midst of all these erudite questions about what Anglican polity allows, the Rev. Andrew T. Gerns asked the pithy question, cutting to the heart of the matter:

    "So what will they call it? The Episcopal Church, Missouri Synod?"

    I don't mind telling you that I nearly spewed my coffee all over my computer keyboard and screen when I read his modest question!

    [Incidentally, I commend Father Gerns' blog to you all. He's not a daily blogger. But when he writes, it's worth reading -- unlike me, who writes whether or not I have a significant thought.]

    Indeed! The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is obsessed with purity and with who's in and who's out. (Sound familiar?) You can't even take communion in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church unless you are known to the pastor. And folks are forever being thrown out of Missouri Synod churches for one reason or another. [Hat-tip to "jerseyjo" for kindly pointing out some errors about the LCMS in the initial posting.]

    In the Episcopal Church today, the purity movement seems to be directed from Pittsburgh. Or at least that's what Akinola has told us to believe.

    Therefore, I think this name should stick (but with a twist) for the purportedly pure Episcopalians who are feeling called-out from among us: let them be Pittsburgh Synod Episcopalians!

    PSE. It has a certain ring to it, I think. Just don't say it too fast.

    Thursday, December 07, 2006


    Perhaps I should begin with some apology or at least explanation for my long absence from the blog, but I don't know quite what to say. Sometimes I have energy and inspiration to write here, and other times I don't. This has been a time of "don't."

    And it seems I should try to do some catch-up here – explaining what I've been doing, or what I've been thinking about the goings-on in the Episcopal Church or the wider Anglican Communion. But if I try to do that, I'll never get to "now." So I'll stifle that urge and begin with now.

    With at least this one exception.

    Some of you are aware that here in Missouri we got hit very hard by a snowstorm a week ago tonight. It was an awesome storm – technically called "thundersnow," for there was awesome thunder and lightning as the snow came down. It was a thunderstorm, but the precipitation that fell was snow instead of rain. An amazing sight. I had seen it once before – from the 8th floor of a hotel in Washington, D.C. in the mid-'90s. It's a sight and sensation one does not forget. Like something is profoundly wrong with the created order. A sort of "apocalyptic" event.

    Our little town was pretty much socked-in the next day (Friday). The official snowfall total was 13". It was so heavy during the night that snowplows could not operate. So they had a tough job the next morning, when the snow ended. Not only was every school in the region closed, but a great many factories and retail establishments. Most tellingly, even the nearby casino closed! I didn't think that ever happened!

    I simply cocooned in my house, taking it easy, enjoying the cats' companionship, and managing to avoid the various chores and tasks that I thought I should do with that unexpected day off. My car was stranded in the garage, at the end of a very long unplowed driveway; having no particular need to get out, I just stayed home all Friday … and Saturday. I didn't need to be anywhere until Sunday church.

    Saturday afternoon I had the television on, half-watching some football games. Every station had that slow "crawl" at the bottom of the screen, announcing the "closures" for Sunday. I was surprised to see church after church after church was cancelling services. I smugly remarked to a friend that it seemed all the Protestant churches were cancelling services. "Weenies!" I called them; "What a bunch of weenies!" And with great self-satisfaction, I remarked that neither of the Episcopal churches in the area were cancelling, nor were any of the gazillion Roman Catholic churches. No, we're made of stouter stuff!

    Now, as I move into this snow tale, you need to know (or remember) that I am a daughter of the South. I just do not "do" snow!

    I only live a couple miles from church, and had already decided I would walk instead of trying to deal with the car and driveway. I didn't even consider skipping church. I need to be in church. And recently it has felt that I especially need to be in church – need that special connection with God and with my faith community.

    Sunday morning broke bright and clear – beautiful blue sky. It was a darn cold 16 degrees, so I bundled up, tossed the essentials in my backpack, and headed out. I was surprised at what I found. No sidewalks had been cleared until I got downtown (where our parish is located). Almost no cars were moving. (But a great many were buried under four-foot snowdrifts.) The walk was sufficiently strenuous that I was actually hot by the time I got to church, but I knew better than to remove my hood or unzip the parka.

    (This is a photo of my church in a much more pleasant season.)

    I got to church a little before 10 a.m. – late for Adult Forum, but plenty early for the 10:30 service. As I reached the corner across from church, I noticed there wasn't a single car parked on the street. Understandable, I thought. Attendance at Adult Forum is probably down; folks probably used the parking lot behind the church. Then I got close enough to see our front door. And I could see a sign had been posted on the front door. "Uh-oh," I thought, "probably not a reproduction of Luther's theses." Indeed it was not.

    The sign read:

    Services Cancelled
    Sunday, December 3

    How angry was I??? Words don't begin to suffice – or at least not any words that I wanted to use on a Sabbath morning.

    I just stood by the doors for a while, catching my breath and collecting my thoughts. (OK, truth be told, I was also doing a fair bit of stewing and fuming.) Then I became aware that I was really, really, really cold, and getting colder!! So then I started thinking: Maybe somebody else will come to church … in a car … and they'll give me a ride home, 'cause otherwise I may freeze to death out here. But there were no cars. Nobody was coming.

    So I headed back toward home, retracing my steps along our downtown main street. I hoped my favorite coffeehouse might be open so I could go in and warm up for a while. But, no. It was closed. Then it occurred to me: about 4 blocks off my route home, there's a huge Roman Catholic church that has three Sunday morning services. And I thought: "OK. The Episcopalians are now revealed as weenies! But I bet the Romans aren't!!" So I headed in their direction.

    As I got close, I could see there were indeed several cars parked on the street in front of the church, so I knew I would at least find the doors open. And I did. Services had started at 10:00 (according to the sign outside), and it was now 10:15. As I stepped into the narthex, I could hear they were just beginning to read the Gospel. So I was home free. (I figure it "counts" as long as you arrive in time for the Gospel reading.) I unbundled myself and opened the doors into the church.

    Wow!! The nave was completely packed. There was not a single seat to be had, and there were about 20 or 30 people standing in the back! So I took my place there in the back, among the other late-comers, and was profoundly grateful to be with other believers on that first Sunday of Advent.

    We are assured in Scripture that wherever two or three are gathered together, the Spirit will be present with us. Apparently, the Romans took it literally on this Sunday, and they worshipped with a more-than-full house. But for the Episcopalians of my parish . . . ?

    I learned later that the decision was made to cancel services in our parish because the parking lot by our church was still covered in snow and unusable. [It's not our lot. It belongs to the city, but we get to use it on Sundays and at night.] And that was true. But surely I am not the only person in our parish who desperately needed and wanted to be in church that day.

    Later that day, I was fulminating to a priest friend about these events. He told me about a Sunday when he had to hike 4 miles through the snow, to hold services and celebrate the Eucharist with the half-dozen people who showed up, and that it was one of the best services of his tenure there.

    We cancelled services because parking might have been a problem. The Romans held services and had a standing-room-only crowd. I'm so ashamed of us! At the next vestry meeting, perhaps I should propose we change the sign outside to "The Weenies of the Episcopal Church Welcome You." Truth in advertising, and all that. Whaddaya think?

    So . . . that's my rant, and I'm stickin' to it!