Monday, March 30, 2009

Evening Prayer

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen

Evening Prayer (BCP, pg. 124)

Lee Davenport

Requiescat in pace
Lee McKinley Davenport (April 13, 1968-March 29, 2009)

If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that Lee Davenport was a regular commenter. Lee was one of my most faithful readers over the last several months, and he frequently offered comments on my essays, either in the blog or in a personal e-mail to me.

Lee and I “met” through my blog, then continued that friendship to his blog and to Facebook and “chat,” but mostly through e-mail. I recognized early on that he was struggling and suffering. I offered what comfort I could and occasionally spoke as his “big sister” or sometimes as his “old maid aunt” – trying to encourage him to be more careful of and caring for himself.

Lee killed himself yesterday.

I am still trying to accept that reality.

I learned this when I hopped onto Facebook during lunchtime. Those of us who knew Lee have been trying to share information and consolation.

Lee was dealing with more trials and tribulations than anyone should have to endure all at once. Lost his satisfying journalism job. Got a cancer diagnosis and had to endure hugely expensive chemo treatment without benefit of health insurance … and suffering the government bureaucracy to get disability benefits. Coping with huge financial concerns, lacking a “real job.” The dissolution of his marriage, coming out (first to himself), and dealing with his parents’ Bible-thumping condemnation. Searching – sometimes desperately, it seemed to me – for a lover and partner. It seems like life on every front was fraught with pain and felt hopeless to Lee. And he finally took the ultimate step on Sunday to be delivered from that pain.

I understand that motivation. I was there about a decade ago. But I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that Lee is gone from us. I cannot believe he fell that far into despair. I am as close to speechless as I get. I wish I could turn back the clock a few days so I could grab him and keep him from doing this thing.

Another friend of Lee’s wrote about how times have changed, now that we can feel so connected to people we haven’t actually met. Lee’s death leaves me feeling diminished. I’ve been as articulate here as I can be. Mostly, I just feel the “sighs too deep for words,” and I groan at the despair that led Lee to kill himself and I groan at his absence from this world.

As a Christian, I also trust that he is now safe in God’s fervent embrace.

I am reminded of one of the last comments Lee left on my blog . It appeared here – when I was musing on the lyrics of “Amazing Grace” and our status as “wretches.” Lee wrote to me:

No, you are absolutely not a wretch.

Just as I am coming to believe myself, you are truly loved. More deeply than you can ever fathom.

For many years, I have dealt with feelings of self-loathing, primarily because I never lived up to my parents' rigid standards and, more recently, because I committed the ultimate betrayal, coming out to them as what Dad calls a "queer" in an effort to shame and hurt. But his words don't shame and hurt. He's not my judge, and neither are the people who would deny me the right to be exactly the person God created me to be.

Your experience is so much like mine. I can change just three little words from your post and make them apply to me to a T. . . .

You're not alone. We're in the same boat with lots of people. I hope they all learn just how closely God holds them to his (her?) heart.

I know God now holds Lee in God’s heart. I wish Lee had really, really believed he was fervently beloved by God.

May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Lee.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ding Dong

The Bishop of Rochester is Retiring

That’s the Bishop of Rochester (CoE), Michael Nazir-Ali. He’s leaving his post 10 years before the anticipated date of his retirement. As usual, Thinking Anglicans has all the news that’s fit to print (and some that isn’t) here and here.

The diocesan press release claims that he intends “to work with a number of church leaders from areas where the church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation.”

Let us consider Bishop Nazir-Ali’s legacy to the church. He’s been a vehement, often vitriolic opponent of anything related to LGBT issues. He’s issued one jeremiad after another against The Episcopal Church (U.S.). He’s issued scathing attacks against Muslims in England. He’s been a whole-hearted supporter of all the schismatic actions and border-crossings designed to undermine TEC. He viewed GAFCON as a gift from God.

For the life of me, I can’t muster up one ounce of regret at his resignation. Instead, I launched into a round of the Doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

I find it pretty ironic that he says he’s going to be a bridge-builder, after the bridges he has burned between Christians and Muslims. As one wag on one of the blogs suggested, perhaps Bishop Nazir-Ali will work with Archbishop Akinola – since both are so committed to reconciliation in a Gospel context. [Yeah, that was ironic.]

Ah … but the Archbishop of Canterbury is grieving. He said: “Bishop Michael’s decision to undertake this new and very challenging ministry will leave a real gap in the ranks of English bishops. [Emphasis added] His enormous theological skill, his specialist involvement in the complex debates around bioethics, his wide international experience and his clarity of mind and expression have made him a really valuable colleague, and he has served the Church and the wider society with dedication and distinction.
In his new work with churches in minority situations, he will need all our prayer and support. It is a courageous initiative and a timely one. I am personally very glad that I shall still be able to draw on his expertise and friendship, and wish him every strength and blessing in his work.”

Methinks Archbishop Rowan's nose is growing very long as a result of issuing that statement.

If Nazir-Ali's resignation leaves a gap, it's the sort of gap that is left by the removal of an abscessed tooth. There may be a gap, but the cessation of pain is a blessing for which one gives great thanks.

Of course, several of us operating from a hermeneutic of suspicion wonder what Bishop Nazir-Ali is really up to. He wouldn’t leave his post if he didn’t have something else up his sleeve, and I really cannot believe he simply wants to take up a servant ministry of offering education and training to church leaders from areas where the church is under pressure. I strongly suspect he intends to stick his nose into provinces where it is neither invited nor welcome.

Is he preparing to do for the Church of England what Bob Duncan & Co. (courtesy of the IRD and AAC) have done for The Episcopal Church? Does he want to become Archbishop of the Really, Really Pure Anglican Communion? [Word has it that he was miffed that +Rowan was chosen over him as ABC.] That’s my best guess.

Addendum: It will be worth your while to go read Nick Kniseley's commentary on this news. I envy Nick's intellect and temperament.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hate the Sin?

How did I miss this one back in February? H/t to Robert for flagging it.

Father Matthew is at it again, with a wonderful video on that loathsome piece of claptrap: "Love the sinner, but hate the sin." That phrase is much beloved by those who claim to be "orthodox" and who hate other people's supposed sins. Father Matthew makes the radical observation that hate is not a Gospel value, and he does it with delightful humor. Check it out below or go to YouTube.

I've written about this before, particularly here. [Other posts will turn up if you search "hate the sin" on this blog.] As I've said before, "It doesn't matter how much fancy language they dress it up in. It's hatred. But it's hatred without the courage to own itself. It is single-issue condescension."

When anyone uses that phrase with me, I am fully aware that they not only hate what they perceive as my sin, but they hate me as well. Once you give yourself over to hate, you cannot be a vehicle for the love of Christ.

Reminds me of the slogan for this blog: "There are only two possible lifestyles: Gospel and not."

Friday, March 27, 2009

TEC and the MDGs

Many of us were dismayed this winter when the Executive Council approved a budget that eliminates the Episcopal Church's 0.7% line item for the Millennium Development Goals. It appears that the Program, Budget & Finance committee is still going along with those cuts this month.

Our church -- with the Executive Council majority concurring -- apparently decided to find all the ways in which we were effectively contributing to projects that were in the "spirit" of the MDGs and claim them in lieu of the 0.7% commitment.

I could play that silly game, too. I could look at my pay stub and see how much is supporting welfare, Medicare, health care for others, etc. ... and I could pretend those taxes constitute my 0.7% toward the MDGs. I could play that tawdry game, if I wanted to play by the rules our Program, Budget & Finance Committee now seems to be playing. But I'm not going to sink that low. They may play that game, but I won't do it.

And neither should our church.

The call to contribute to the MDGs is a call to give from the first fruits. The first fruits! -- not what we can weasel into a claim for giving. That is why I give a little more than 0.7% of my salary to the MDGs through my diocese.

My parish does the same. We are not large -- just about 140 ASA. But for the past three years, our parish has budgeted a line item of 0.7% to the MDGs. Each of these years, the vestry has sent those funds to support our diocesan relationship with the Sudanese diocese of Lui. We budgeted that amount off the top. We didn't try to weasel out an excuse, trying to find other areas in which we are supporting projects that "are in the spirit of the MDGs." We gave it off the top. My parish even kept that line in this year's budget -- despite the fact that we have a deficit budget. My parish "gets it" that we need to make this commitment from the first fruits.

My diocese did the same. When we met in convention last fall and wrangled with the budget, we saw that times are lean. Some parishes are not meeting their assessments. Endowment income is down. But no one suggested we eliminate the 0.7% line for the MDGs. Our diocese is deeply engaged in mission with the Diocese of Lui (Sudan), and no one suggested eliminating that 0.7% line.

I am doing it in my personal budget ... though it is something of a sacrifice.

My parish is doing it ... despite our financial struggles.

My diocese is doing it ... despite the economic uncertainties.

So ... I am furious that our Executive Council suggested cutting it out of TEC's budget and that TEC's Program, Budget & Finance Committee now seems to be leaping at this opportunity to weenie out.

The story about the Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance reports:
During their Maryland meeting, the PB&F members who review the program side of the triennial budget discussed reinstating the line item appropriating 0.7 percent in revenue for specific Millennium Development Goals spending.
When Executive Council passed its draft version of the 2010-2012 budget in January, it eliminated the line item in a budget-balancing effort. That line item in the 2007-2009 budget amounted to about $924,000. At the time, council said that the Episcopal Church actually spends "much more than 0.7 percent" on MDG-related programs, in the words of Executive Council Administration and Finance Committee chair Josephine Hicks.
That is a "weeny-out" argument. Do not let it fool you.

The committee met at a delightful retreat center of which I have heard. I wonder how much it cost us?

In the whole scheme of the Episcopal Church's budget, 0.7% is a tiny drop in the bucket.

I beg you: Find the names of your General Convention Deputies, and ask them to honor our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Beseech them to keep that pittance in TEC's budget. Remind them of Christ's preference for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the "least of these."

Or look at the note I blogged earlier. Canterbury spent over five million dollars for a meeting of a few hundred Anglican bishops at Lambeth. I dare you: Look into the face of a child in one of our Anglican provinces and explain to them how we contributed over $3,000 per bishop to attend Lambeth, but cannot give these people clean drinking water, seeds for their farms, literacy training for their people, basic vaccinations.

If our church cannnot budget 0.7% "off the top" to care for the poorest people on earth, then I think we should quit calling ourselves a church.

Darn Digital Conversion

I'm waiting to hear how the TV "digital conversion" is going to do anything good for me ... or for anyone.

I live in the barren middle of Missouri. I watch PBS, C-Span, and (in football and baseball seasons) some of the sports channels.

I felt very lucky that we received two PBS television stations -- one from St. Louis, and one from western Missouri. They carried sufficiently different programs that it was great to get both of them.

Since the "conversion," I no longer get the St. Louis PBS station. I thought it was just a glitch and that I hadn't found its new location on the dial. Today I got a mailing from my cable company. Apparently the St. Louis station will no longer be carried here. Dammit!

Was the "digital conversion" designed to expand our options? Or was it merely designed to let Bubba watch NASCAR on a big-ass high-def TV?

[Exits, growling]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Big Blue Tent

Those of us who followed the events of last summer's Lambeth Conference well remember the big blue tent in which closed-session plenary meetings were held. Many of us quipped about the circus imagery. Journalists were livid about the security fence and guards that protected it.

Now comes this interesting story from Episcopal News Service, regarding the financial deficit of the Lambeth Conference.

Q: What did the big blue tent cost?
A: $597,000. Yep. You read that right. Over a half million dollars. It's in the ENS article, from a Lambeth report.

The total shortfall for the Lambeth conference was $564,000. And most of that is because the conference organizers forgot to budget for the $597,000 cost of the Big Blue Tent.

The ENS story is well worth reading. The stalwart may even want to read the entire report of the Lambeth Conference Funding Review Group. [But I didn't.]

I remember some discussion in the late summer and early fall of how Canterbury was going to make up the Lambeth Conference shortfall and whether he might ask the Episcopal Church to ante up. Frankly, if they can't even remember to budget for The Big Top ... then all sorts of other questions arise for me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Newbies Need Not Apply

I don't quite understand this story from Episcopal News Service. If I'm reading the report correctly, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson basically decided a priori not to appoint new Deputies to our legislative committees serving in Anaheim.


Reportedly, we are trying to reach out to newer members of the Episcopal Church. I have been impressed by the "newer voices" on the HoBD listserv. Many of them bring insight and fresh voices to the discussion. "New" Deputies to General Convention certainly are not "new" to the Episcopal Church; they are people who have been recognized as leaders in their dioceses.

If I read this ENS report correctly, the HoD President made a conscious, intentional decision to cut out new voices from the GC committees. I don't get it. I "get" wanting to have plenty of seasoned, veteran Deputies on the committees. That makes sense to me. But I do not understand a press release that essentially brags that "Anderson generally did not appoint first-time deputies to the committees."

Many of the first-time Deputies are seasoned veterans in their dioceses. Many have been active participants in the GC discussions. Apparently, that does not matter.

I am reminded, though, that PHOD Anderson also launched a private/secret listserv "for Deputies only" in the past year.

Here's a snippet from the ENS story:

Deputies are assigned to General Convention Committees
By Mary Frances Schjonberg

[Episcopal News Service] Just more than half of the 847 members of the House of Deputies will serve on the 76th General Convention's 22 legislative committees, according to a just-released summary of those appointments.

The vast majority of committee members are returning deputies. Of the 508 deputies who have previously been to convention, 442 will serve on committees. The committees hold hearings and make recommendations about resolutions proposed to the convention by the church's standing commissions, as well as bishops, deputies, dioceses and provinces. The current list of resolutions is available here.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson generally did not appoint first-time deputies to the committees, in an effort to allow the 339 new deputies to get a broad experience of convention. [Emphasis mine.] She said in a letter to deputies that she considered deputies' committee preference, experience as a deputy, service in the wider church, and demographic information such as gender, ethnicity, age, province and diocese.

Full story:

What do you make of this?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Caption Contest

Several of the clever bloggers in my sphere post these "caption contests." They are fun.

I have nicked this image from Clumber. Clumber writes of the former mavens of Good Shepherd/Binghamton:
It is refreshing to find that even as Mattine and Hostilium have found a new home, they have not neglected tradition, and are busily commissioning the sine qua non of a Proper Anglican Cathedral (I know, some of you want to argue that it’s not a cathedral… and I would agree with you, except I will add one word….. “yet”)… it’s not an Anglican Cathedral yet! Surely in this new “province”, the issue of job title inflation will soon set in, and Mattine will certainly be named as the new Bishop of Binghamton.

So with that peak [sic] into the future, they have set in place plans for the proper protection of their building, namely gargoyles. Herewith are the first two which they have had carved and are even now cementing to the side of the former Catholic church they now control.
In case any of you don't read his blog, I'm posting one of the gargoyle images here, and I challenge you to caption it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Calling a Spade a Spade

It's been all over the blogosphere for the last few days. Wacky wannabe organizations like the American Anglican Council, the ACNA [whatever that is], and the FOCAs have been bruiting the fact that the supposedly Anglican Church of Nigeria has recognized the ACNA [not to be confused with acne] as a legitimately Anglican province. [Update 03/23: When I wrote this last night, I hadn't seen Mark Harris' post at Preludium. He raises legitimate questions about whether the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) actually took any action to give official recognition to the dissidents ... or whether this is just another spin-job. Check it out.]

Let us stroll through some recent Anglican Communion history.

Nigeria's Archbishop Akinola consecrated a whole bunch of disaffected white guys (many of whom – like Martyn Minns – had repeatedly run for bishop in TEC but repeatedly failed to get elected) as bishops of the Church of Nigeria. Strangely enough, none of the supposedly-Nigerian parishes in the U.S. show up on the Nigerian website. Rowan didn't invite any of them to Lambeth.

Uganda's Archbishop Orombi consecrated a whole bunch of disaffected white guys (many of whom had run for bishop in TEC but always failed to get elected) as bishops of the Church of Uganda. Rowan didn't invite any of them to Lambeth. Strangely enough, none of those white guys operating in the U.S. show up on the list of Ugandan dioceses.

Archbishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone declared that the diocese of Recife (in northern Brazil) was suddenly a part of the Province of the Southern Cone (in southern South America). Rowan didn't invite the renegade bishop of Recife to Lambeth. Nor did Rowan invite the white guys who are fleeing to the Southern Cone. Interesting enough, most of the former TEC bishops are now fleeing to this English guy who is archbishop of a Latin American diocese. Racism, anyone?

Let us remember that the Archbishops of Rwanda and Southeast Asia created that silly thing they call AMiA. Let us remember those are pitiful little parishes in the U.S. whose only clarion call is opposition to the Episcopal Church. And let us remember none have been recognized as Anglican bishops by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Not one of them was invited to Lambeth.

So ... the FOCAs (and their alphabet brothers) have attempted to bruit the fact that the pseudo-Anglican Church of Nigeria has recognized this group of renegades as High Holy Anglican Brothers In Christ. Don't fall for it. At least since the REC split off from TEC in the late 19th century, various splinter groups have been splitting off ... declaring themselves the REAL ANGLICANS. And what do we know of them? We know that every one of them has sunk into obscurity.

So let us now bring a memorial to all those High Holy Orthodites. The FOCAs, GAFCONs, AACs, ad infinitum have a clear (though not goodly) heritage.

Peace, be still.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bishops to TEC: I Can’t Hear You

First let me say: There is no news coming out of Episcopal Church Center anymore. It’s just spin and propaganda. I hear there are journalists on our staff, but they no longer commit journalism, as far as I can tell.

So I should not be surprised that no actual news reports came out of the Bishops’ meeting at Kanuga over the past week.

In the months since Lambeth, there have been some pretty significant events. Bubba Bob seeking the golden quaffle of a new Anglican province in North America. Bubba Jack & Bubba Keith pretending to remove their dioceses from the Episcopal Church while pretending still to be the Real Anglicans in America. Bishops deposed. Continuing incursions. ++Rowan appointing Pastoral Invaders to the Episcopal Church. A right fine mess all around.

And so our bishops went to spend almost a week in Kanuga. I wasn’t terribly anxious about the meeting, as things seem to be getting more and more clear, now that the more obnoxious trouble-makers are moving to warmer (Nigerian and Argentine) climes. But I did think the bishops might discuss all this, and that the Episcopal News Service might commit something remotely approaching journalism.

But no.

Here’s what we get from the ENS report on the recently concluded Bishops’ meeting:

Some media questions at the concluding news conference focused on comments made on bishops' blogsites, such as those written by Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada, about a response to the communiqué issued after a February meeting of Anglican Primates (leading archbishops and presiding bishops) in Egypt.
Edwards described the dilemma of exercising ‘gracious restraint' in same-sex blessings while cross-jurisdiction interventions continue, including in his own state of Nevada.
"There will probably be some move to repeal the ‘restraint' resolution to comply with the moratoria at General Convention this summer," he wrote. "What to do?"
Jefferts Schori and other bishops at the media briefing said the issue was not discussed at any plenary session. "We had a brief conversation, about one-half hour total, about communion-wide issues that will be in the mix at General Convention," she said.
HUH??? Over the course of a six-day meeting, our bishops squeezed in a half-hour to discuss the wider issues of the Anglican Communion? With a great number of dioceses proposing resolutions to overturn B033, support SSBs, reject the Anglican covenant ... the bishops found about a half-hour to discuss these issues?

Mind you, I'm happy to have "slow leadership" and a "non-anxious presence" guiding our church. But non-anxious deliberation is one thing, and ostrich emulation is quite another.

Was the ENS reporting just lazy? Or are the bishops ignoring the wider issues of the Anglican Communion as they are being expressed within our own dioceses? I am bumfuzzled.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Real Bishop Speaks

Grandmère Mimi has already posted this. I expect most of you saw it there. But just in case you didn't, I'm posting it here.

Bishop Charles Jenkins, currently Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, spoke to the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes. These are the most well-endowed parishes of our church. They have very sweet endowments. ... Meanwhile, Bishop Jenkins has announced he is resigning, because he is suffering his own demons since Katrina.

Read his whole sermon. I got it from here. It is such a brave and courageous sermon that I fear it may be removed from that site. So I am copying the entire sermon here.

MARCH 5, 2009

Speaking from Washington, D.C., the then President of the United States, George W. Bush, once demonstrated a bit of compassion fatigue with us. I think he was frustrated with us (and may I say we were too were frustrated – to put it mildly) anyway, his frustration came out when he said, and “those people down there need to understand . . .” and on he went. The next day an African American friend of mine, Bishop J. Douglas Wiley, asked, “Bishop Jenkins, have you ever been called one of those people before?” I replied that I had not. “Welcome to the club,” said Bishop Wiley. So welcome to the world of “those people.” If I may adapt the words of a beloved hymn, “I hope you mean to be one too.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a letter of encouragement to Louisiana in November of last year. Rowan Williams’ description of what God has done with “those people down there” is worth sharing. The Archbishop wrote; the whole story is really one of how the Church itself gets converted to being itself by the pressure of these moments when you have to decide for or against the most needy. Now, I want to put that into an image you can understand – this conversion is the movement from fear to hope. Let me say it again, the conversion to being ourselves is the movement from fear to hope.

This conversion is not an easy movement. As I watched, heard and listened to my city being evacuated to 18,000 Zip Codes across this land, I stood on the edge; I looked into the abyss of despair. I thought I had lost all my worldly possessions but that was not the issue. I watched people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, calling out from the roofs of their homes, I saw the horror in the Superdome, I knew what was happening at the Morial Center, I saw the bodies coming to the morgue at the Hansen’s Disease Center in Carville. I watched as we were flown out, bussed out and floated out from home. Friends, in that moment it was for me either a life of hope or death.

What it would be like for the Church to make the shift from fear to hope? What it would it be like for this Church, and especially those who are gifted with an extra capacity for generosity, to move from fear to hope? A first sign of this shift would be to boldly move beyond the technical to the adaptive changes. As did Dr. Martin Luther King in his speech at Riverside Church, that famous speech “Beyond Vietnam,” when he boldly challenged our thinking about the Vietnam War, the Church must boldly challenge the nation to realize the value, the dignity of each human being.

You know, we are building houses here through the Jericho Road; in a separate and distinct ministry the Diocese is rebuilding the houses your parishioners as volunteers gutted. We yesterday celebrated the fiftieth rebuild of the 920 houses we gutted. We could be rebuilding the ghetto. Let me say that again, if we were just about building structures, we could rebuild the ghetto. Instead, the Diocese through our office of Disaster Response and Jericho Road is about building homes, transforming lives, and changing neighborhoods. We are not building another ghetto that can be measured by the number of structures completed; for us to move from fear to hope is to move beyond the measuring stick. You cannot measure adaptive change; you cannot measure human dignity, you cannot measure compassion, you cannot measure mercy. Our ministry here, and it is our ministry, it is not mine, it belongs to the whole Church, is not about rebuilding what was. You can be darned proud to be an Episcopalian in south Louisiana. You know, the waters and winds of Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, washed away the thin façade of American respectability. Yes, post-Katrina New Orleans is America’s failure, but that failure began long before we were baptized the second time in muddy water. When that façade was washed away we saw the horror of centuries of racism, we saw the results of inadequate heath care and education, we saw the wound of a multi-generational trauma that goes back to the middle passage. And let me just say it whilst I am on a roll: I see the evil of an attempt to socially reengineer this city. I look that evil in the eye, and say, you will not succeed here. Instead, the Church stands for the life of grace and possibility in the beloved community of Dr. King, in that community in which our values are made manifest.

Some are thinking, “ it is a good thing he is retiring. “ The stress is too much for Jenkins. Perhaps so. I have been threatened physically, my reputation, which was never much, is hurting badly, but friends, I have learned to live in hope and not fear. I am told that we are trying to do too much; I must be realistic in these hard times. The Episcopal Church shall not abandon the field lest we give into fear. This is a Church of hope and that hope shall give life to the continuing conversion and sanctification of the faithful. To live in hope is to live a generous life even when the temptation is great to live otherwise. I can do nothing more than hope, I can do nothing less than to make that hope manifest.

Fifty-one percent of the children from pre-Katrina New Orleans are gone from here. In many cases, these youngsters realize they are not cared for, good riddance some would say. These youngsters have turned against themselves. It is ok to shoot a black person in New Orleans. It is so common that little notice is taken. Yet, your Church, through St. Anna’s parish, the Diocese of Louisiana and her Deacons will not let the city forget. Not only do we keep a murder board giving the name, age, and circumstance of all who are murdered in this city, we take to the mayor, the DA, and the chief of police a rose each week for every person slain. There is not a program out there that is going to change a population that hates itself. There is not measuring stick here. I am talking about theology, the spiritual change of heart and the intellectual change of mind that enables one to see dignity in oneself.

On June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers—a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schermer, 24—were murdered near Philadelphia, in Nashoba County, Mississippi. They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on trumped-up charges, imprisoned for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who beat and murdered them. It was later proven in court that a conspiracy existed between members of Neshoba County's law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan to kill them. I have talked to the man who gave those three youngsters the car they were driving that day. They were afraid to go into the evil but they went, hoping they could make a difference. And so they did.

Brothers and sisters, my gift for you this night is a challenge, in these hard times, let us manifest the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.


Remember again: He preached this sermon to the wealthiest parishes in The Episcopal Church. I am awed by his sermon.

Seldom have I heard or read such a brave and prophetic sermon. And it comes from a brave, faithful man who is soon going into retirement.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I’m finally settled into a motel room and am online again. And neither of those were easy feats, as those few of you who slog through this long post will learn.

I had a safe and pleasant drive to Springfield – nearly 150 miles and not one of them on an interstate. I love country roads! The temperature was perfect, so I drove with the moonroof open, listening to a good audiobook and enjoying the sight of some few green harbingers of spring.

The forum today went ok – much better than the previous one (which was the first in this series of seven). I enjoyed reconnecting with some colleagues whom I don’t see often. One fellow rushed up after the meeting to talk with me; he remembered me from a workshop I taught back in 2004. Yikes!

Tomorrow, along with two of our archivists, I’ll make site visits to consult with a couple of organizations in the area. That will entail about a hundred-mile-circuit. Then the 150 miles home. The day will start early and probably end late.

This evening was a little more interesting than I wished. After drinks and an early dinner with friends, I got to the Springfield hotel where my office had made reservations. Except – oops! – there was no record of any reservation, and the hotel was sold out. In fact, every hotel in Springfield is sold out. Turns out the city is hosting the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships. Yes, apparently there really is such a thing! According to the hotel clerk, there will be something like 1,000 tournament games this week. God only knows how many good little homeschooled Christians are in town. (No, I don’t know how many of them are being raised with an undercurrent of hostility. [Let the reader understand.]) The very kind clerk – God bless her – made some calls and located a room for me about ½ hour south.

When I got into this motel room, after a few minutes of settling in, I began looking around for information about connecting to the Internet. None of the literature in the room mentioned it, and there is no Ethernet cable. Needless to say, I broke into a cold sweat. This is an older Days Inn; judging from the looks of the place, it seemed entirely possible I might have to go all evening without e-mail, blogging, or Facebook – which would mean going cold turkey ‘til tomorrow night when I get home. I cannot remember when I last went 36 hours without being online! With fear clutching my heart, I phoned the front desk and was much relieved to know they do have Wi-Fi; he gave me the “Web key.”

But then I couldn’t get connected. I hit the “view available networks” again and again, but kept getting the message that there were none. I tried all sorts of settings, with increasing desperation … and a growing sense of resignation. Finally, I did something or other that got me connected. I still don’t know what I did right, but I remember having the same experience on the trip two weeks ago; I haven’t had all that many road trips since I’ve been using this computer, and I need to figure this out, write down the sequence, etc.

So now I’m back in my real virtual world. And boring you all out of your skulls, aren’t I?

So here’s a little something funny to share. As I was driving to today’s meeting venue, I saw a billboard that absolutely cracked me up. What follows isn’t the actual billboard; I don’t have my camera with me, but I found an online site that let me put their name and “slogan” onto a “stock” image. The actual billboard had an address and phone number and something about the services they offer. But this was the large-font message on the billboard.

As one who has to take a large dose of anti-anxiety medication before going to the dentist – yes, even for a routine cleaning – I truly love this billboard.

I hope that makes up for this long, probably boring travelogue.

It’s been a long day. For absolutely no apparent reason, I woke at 5:20 this morning. So off I go to catch up on some e-mails, etc. before the alarm sounds too early tomorrow morning. As I prescheduled the "Hamlet's Cat Soliloquy" to post during my travels today, I have one more I'll schedule to post tomorrow. I promise it will be more edifying that this meandering travelogue of mine.

If you've read all the way to the end, tell MadPriest to give you 200 days off Purgatory.

Hamlet's Cat Soliloquy

I can’t tell whether this is copyrighted, so I’ll just give credit to my source. I'm also using the photo from that source.

As a student of literature – especially literature of the Renaissance and 17th century – I especially loved this.

My cats live indoors … but I know some of you let your cats go in and out. This is for you and your feline companions.

Hamlet's Cat Soliloquy
Written by Henry Beard
from his book Poems For Cats

To go outside, and there perchance to stay
Or to remain within: that is the question:
Whether 'tis better for a cat to suffer
The cuffs and buffets of inclement weather
That Nature rains on those who roam abroad,
Or take a nap upon a scrap of carpet,
And so by dozing melt the solid hours
That clog the clock's bright gears with sullen time
And stall the dinner bell. To sit, to stare
Outdoors, and by a stare to seem to state
A wish to venture forth without delay,
Then when the portal's opened up, to stand
As if transfixed by doubt. To prowl; to sleep;
To choose not knowing when we may once more
Our readmittance gain: aye, there's the hairball;
For if a paw were shaped to turn a knob,
Or work a lock or slip a window-catch,
And going out and coming in were made
As simple as the breaking of a bowl,
What cat would bear the household's petty plagues,
The cook's well-practiced kicks, the butler's broom,
The infant's careless pokes, the tickled ears,
The trampled tail, and all the daily shocks
That fur is heir to, when, of his own free will,
He might his exodus or entrance make
With a mere mitten? Who would spaniels fear,
Or strays trespassing from a neighbor's yard,
But that the dread of our unheeded cries
And scratches at a barricaded door
No claw can open up, dispels our nerve
And makes us rather bear our humans' faults
That [sic] run away to unguessed miseries?
Thus caution doth make house cats of us all;
And thus the bristling hair of resolution
Is softened up with the pale brush of thought,
And since our choices hinge on weighty things,
We pause upon the threshold of decision.

Driving & Planning

Another week ... Another road trip.

My organization is doing a long strategic planning process. I am not in charge of the process. If I were in charge of it, it would be more well organized. Alas! ... But I will be in charge of writing the strategic plan, so I am attending all the meetings so I can hear what people are really saying.

So here I am ... heading out again on the road.

This time, I'll be in southwest Missouri for a couple of days. I hope to be in e-contact ... but that will depend on the hotel's connectivity.

Next week, it'll be Kirksville ... but Maria won't be there. :(

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Finally! I've been hearing folks talk about the huge bonuses being paid to some of the AIG staff. I heard AIG claiming "they couldn't help it," because contracts had to be honored. As if they were helpless!

Through all this, I thought about the auto manufacturers who came with hat in hand, asking Congress for doles ... and they and the U.S. Congress made the deals contingent on the companies renegotiating their contracts with the unions. They did it. The auto workers swallowed deep and agreed to modify their contracts to reduce salaries and benefits.

Now ... AIG is claiming that they "can't help it" -- that they must pay these obscene bonuses to the people who destroyed the company. And I wonder: Why is it that the auto companies can renegotiate their contracts with blue-collar workers, but -- for some reason -- AIG can't renegotiate their contractual obligations with the high-paid thieves who destroyed their company???

Just this evening, I finally heard someone on the PBS Newshour ask the same question. No one answered the question to my satisfaction. But at least the question was raised.

BTW, this topic strikes me close to home. I have the vast majority of my retirement fund with VALIC ... which was purchased some years ago by AIG. I have watched its value decline month after month, as I know many of you have too. ... So I take this AIG crap pretty personally.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Many of you know that I grew up in the guilt-laden Southern Baptist tradition. (I ditched it in my early 20s, when I could no longer tolerate that fundamentalist, simplistic view, once I had been exposed to more serious study of scriptures and theology in my Roman Catholic college.)

I grew up loving the song, Amazing Grace. I had no problem with the opening line:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I had been reared to believe I was [as my sister and I can now shout and laugh together] “a worm and the daughter of worms.”

Then I moved along. I couldn’t believe I was a worm or a wretch.

Though it is sometimes difficult to feel in my bones, I am coming to believe that I am a beloved child of God … as the Episcopal Church rescued my sorry soul from despair.

A couple of friends have sent me this clip of a beautiful singing of “Amazing Grace.”

or view it here. (BTW, I'm a fool for bagpipes!)

I can hear it now, and I can love it again. The “wretch” term no longer grates as it once did. I think that’s because of the thinking that’s gone along with my recognizing my creatureliness. No, I’m not a “wretch” in the sense of worthless refuse. But I am only one of God’s creatures – wholly dependent on God, friends, and the church to help me work out my salvation.

Watch it, if you have about 4½ minutes. It’s quite moving.

Joy Personified

Thanks to Ann for this alert.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the sole guest on CBS's Late Late Show on March 4. The 40-minute program (without commercials) is available here. I watched it online last night, and it's delightful.

Abp Tutu talks about the healing that came through South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the importance of forgiveness in our lives, his joy at President Obama's election, and (as they say) more, much more. Through it all he is laughing, playful, joyful. He doesn't talk about religion or spiritual issues per se, but as I watched, I thought: Yes, this is what holiness looks like!

One wonders: Why in the world didn't Rowan Williams appoint Archbishop Tutu as one of the "Pastoral Visitors"?? [Story here.] Surely no one in the world is better qualified in the ministry of reconciliation.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

2nd Sunday of Lent

Is it ok to say I am “enjoying” this season of Lent? Yes, I know it’s a penitential season. Yes, I know it calls us to reflection and assessment of the state of our souls. Maybe it’s wrong to say I am “enjoying” it. But I am savoring it. I am letting myself flow into it. I need this liturgical season.

It is good for the state of my soul to confront these truths once a year. I give thanks for the liturgical season, which brings me off my high horse from time to time.

Today was a good one for me in my parish. Let me remind you of the collect and the Gospel.

The Collect
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

I’ve never really understood what Jesus meant when he said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Surely we’re not meant to go through our days with a wooden cross slung across our shoulders. Without a doubt, Jesus was saying something serious and substantive to his disciples – and to us. But what the heck did he mean to those of us listening in the 21st century?

I’ve been in the Episcopal Church since 1997, so I’ve heard this reading at least three times. Today, my friend Marc was the preacher. And he articulated it in a way that finally made sense to me.

What Marc took from today’s text was obedience. Jesus walked all the way to the cross out of total obedience to God. It’s not about the scourging and the blood he shed on the cross. It’s about his complete obedience to God. Here’s how Marc put it in his sermon today:

Jesus began to explain what was expected of them if they, too, were to accept the Divine imperative: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He did not call them to theological reflection. He did not summon them to faith. And, He did not ask for belief in His Messianic kingship. Jesus simply demanded of them what His heavenly Father had demanded of Him: obedience.

Thus, while we share with Christ the burden of the cross, its weight is borne not on the shoulders of faith, humility or even selfless love. Rather, these are the by-products of the principal summons of Jesus to those who would follow Him: to obey without hesitation, to obey unfailingly, simply to obey. As it was for Jesus so, too, is it for us that in this sentinel act of unreserved obedience we are lavished with the unbounded grace of God. And through this grace, we are given access to the very faith, humility and selfless love essential in our response to the crises of our individual lives, our experience as followers of the Christ and our witness to a troubled world.
This is a radical notion for me. I have yearned for faith, humility, and selfless love. What I hear here is that those gifts follow after obedience.

Marc also said:

Clearly, for Jesus, the way of the cross defined His obedience to the Divine imperative. While the suffering He endured was both real and substantial, it was, nevertheless, the manifestation of His unflinching obedience to God, not the essence of His Passion. Likewise, the cross we are commanded “to take up” if we are to follow Jesus is only possible if we empty ourselves at the foot of His cross, abandon the hubris and vainglory of our self-indulgent lives and prostrate ourselves in humble contrition. Void of a life of our own, we are then free to pray with Jesus: not my will, “but Thy will be done.”
That is the posture I have been pursuing – or at least one which I wish to pursue: one in which I have the courage to abandon my hubris, vainglory, and self-indulgence.

I hear those words again. I must empty myself at the foot of the cross. I must abandon my hubris and my vainflory, my self-indulgence. I must offer myself in humble contrition.

And then – maybe then! – I will be able to hear God's voice and know what I am to obey.

Marc continued:
Indeed, the way of the cross, the foundation of our experience of Lent and our life as a community of faith are firmly fixed in obedience to the unambiguous, non-negotiable and preeminent demand of obedience to God.
Those are hard words. And yet I welcome them. Marc’s exegesis made more sense to me than most. I am ready to believe that in “taking up the cross,” Jesus was referring to utter obedience to what God calls each of us to do. For him, it was the literal cross on Calvary. For us, it may be other forms of selfless obedience.

But here’s my problem. How do I know – how do any of us know? – whether it’s the voice of God we’re hearing? or some other voice? How do you discern it’s God’s voice that’s calling you? If you’re being called to sacrifice or self-indulgence, how do you discern which voice is speaking to you?

This is a question with which I have struggled. For decades. I’ll try to tell a couple of my own stories in the next few days. Meanwhile, I want to hear your words.

Lenten Discipline

I wrote on Ash Wednesday about my desire to experience a holy Lent. I chose not to give up anything in this season. That liturgy hit me square in the face with my hubris, with the sense of my “creatureliness.” It hit me with a profound sense that all that I am and all that I have comes from the grace of God. I am too prone to a sense of self-sufficiency and a tendency toward hubris.

The days since Ash Wednesday have reminded me I am a mortal creature, just like all God’s other creatures.

And so I found a new Lenten discipline this year: I vowed to look for opportunities for gratitude. Since all I am and have is a gift, I want to be more intentional about recognizing and giving thanks for those gifts.

Mind you, I’m not adopting the “I am a worm and no man” sense from the Psalms. I am not groveling. I am simply trying to cultivate a sense of gratitude.

I am finding joy in this discipline. It is so easy to whine about what I don’t have. But it is a blessing to be open each moment to the gifts that are bestowed on me, without my warranting a one of them.

Friday, March 06, 2009

High Crimes

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on war crime charges over the conflict in the Darfur, as reported by ENS and many secular sites. Most of the mainstream reports have remarked that this is the first time a warrant has been issued against a sitting head of state.

Ever since hearing this news, I’ve been conflicted.

First, there’s no doubt in my mind that President Bashir is a war criminal who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. The deaths and atrocities in Darfur are grabbing the headlines, but he’s also responsible for much of the devastation in southern Sudan, where my diocese is active. His government intentionally targeted churches and schools for their bombing raids, in an effort to destroy the stable structures of that culture.

Everyone paying attention knew that the ICC warrant would probably have terrible repercussions. Indeed, Bashir has now evicted many NGOs and relief organizations from Sudan. A dear friend of mine has had to leave, for reasons that are not yet clear to me. My diocese is scheduled to send another team into southern Sudan in May, and we are watching this very closely.

News reports have made much of the fact that Bashir is the first “sitting head of state” to be charged with war crimes. I ask you: Why did they single him out, while completely ignoring the war crimes perpetrated by U.S. President George W. Bush? The man ordered or condoned torture. It seems clear he is responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens.

An NPR report a couple of nights ago quoted an official of the Hague as saying they were about justice, not expediency. They surely knew that violence would break out in Sudan, but they issued the warrant regardless. Why did they not have such a “pure” sense of justice when evaluating the actions of the former President of the United States?

Why did the ICC feel powerful enough to act against the President of Sudan, but not against the President of the U.S.? It’s a puzzle to me.

And it’s personal to me, because I know people in Sudan who are now suffering.

No, this isn’t a post in which I have clear answers. Mostly, I am just puzzled, grieved, and questioning.

Addendum: Thanks to Ann (in the comments) for pointing to this NY Times editorial by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.