Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hoping for Death and Roseate Spoonbills

Ever since the BP oil disaster, I have been listening to the news and especially listening to Grandmère Mimi. Add her to your blogroll, if you haven’t already.

By the way: It’s not a “spill” or a “leak.” It’s a full-fledged cataclysmic disaster. No matter how the BP executives or others may want to spin it.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a hiker, bird-watcher, lover of nature. I used to live in Atlanta, where those lovely habitats were an easy drive from me. Better yet, my Atlanta job let me travel to some of God’s most beautiful areas.

If I could turn back the clock 30 years and re-enter college, I’d pursue a degree that would let me become a park ranger or some similar career as a naturalist.

In my hiking and amateur naturalist avocation, swamps and marshlands have been my favorite habitat. I have spent much time in the ecosystems along the Gulf coast. They are – or used to be – beautiful, delicate, subtle, and unspeakably rich worlds. They were worlds in which I spent time with God, even when I was very far estranged from Church and from God.

I remember spending nearly an hour in the Everglades with a friend and a great blue heron … quietly … just watching the heron be itself. Had I been a churcher then, I would have removed my shoes, knowing I was standing on holy ground. I have seldom had such holy moments. Far from church in those days, I knew I was with Some Holy Thing.

Of course, I didn’t have liturgical language in those days. And I wouldn't have talked about "God" in those moments. The "church" had beat God out of me -- had convinced I was dirty, unworthy, "not fit matter."

Another time, and later, in a “dark night of the soul,” hiking alone in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, I wanted only two things. I wanted to see a roseate spoonbill. And – full of despair, and at the end of my rope – I wanted to die. I intended to realize both on that trip.

In those days, my work took me often to the swamps and glades where one might expect to see roseate spoonbills. But they had eluded me for years. They weren’t present, or they were nesting just beyond the focal length of my binoculars. … So I went again to Ding Darling, hoping to see some roseate spoonbills and plotting my death. I walked and walked, seeing many of the creatures I loved in the habitat I loved. But, of course, yet again … no spoonbills.

It was getting on toward dusk when I heard a call above me and looked up. Though I couldn’t see them clearly, I knew it was a pair of spoonbills.
Photo credit*

I changed course, moving in the direction they were flying. As I walked, I saw more and more pink forms in the evening sky, moving in the same direction.

Pretty soon, I came to the marshy pond where they were landing, and I sat upon the bank. At first, I tried to count them. Ten. Twenty. Forty. A hundred. Wave upon wave of spoonbills came landing in that little pond, in pairs and small groups. I quit counting when it got over 140.
Photo credit*

And they kept coming. Filling the little pond … almost close enough to touch … though I would not have tried to touch them. I sat silent and motionless on the bank … watching them … grateful for that experience … and literally weeping at the beauty and grace that was spread out before me. Though they were simply doing what came naturally – eating at the end of the day – I was transfixed by their beauty and grace. Especially by their beauty. And by the simplicity of their lives: eat, fly, enjoy ... I might now even say "exult." And I was transfixed by that gift that had been given to me – I who had hoped to see one or two spoonbills, now sitting on the waters’ edge with hundreds before me.

In that evening, Nature brought me back to God … after church had beat God out of me.

As I sit here now in flyover country – very far from the lands that I love to walk – all I can do is watch and listen to news of the devastation happening along the Gulf coast. I still remember that evening with the spoonbills, who delivered me from death. And I wonder if we have destroyed that world forever.

* About the photos: I did not have a camera at the events I described here. The photographs I used here are from the Web, with credits.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Haiti Loses Lauren Stanley

“So long, and thanks for all the fish”

I was dismayed to read this week from Episcopal News Service that the Rev. Lauren Stanley “is no longer to be involved” as TEC’s missionary to the Diocese of Haiti. Lauren posted the news here.

You will remember that Lauren Stanley was TEC’s missionary in Haiti. And you may remember her full-blown joy, as I do, as captured in the photo here.

Lauren Stanley is the person who–after the horrible earthquake in Haiti–has done more than anyone I know to spread news and advocate on behalf of Haiti. She has kept Haiti in our consciousness through her blog, and many of her reports were picked up by other news sites, parishes, dioceses, and individuals

Her accomplishment is not surprising.

Before her ordination, the Rev. Stanley was a journalist. She has used that skill set to great advantage since the earthquake … keeping us all aware of the situation in Haiti.

For understandable reasons, TEC hasn’t done that with the kind of single-minded focus that Lauren had. For equally understandable reasons, the Diocese of Haiti hasn’t done it. When others would not or could not, Lauren kept up a passionate drumbeat on behalf of the Diocese of Haiti … lest we forget our brothers and sisters there.

The ENS story explained that Haiti "needs a different set of skills" now, and Episcopal Café followed their lead. Perhaps Haiti has used Lauren Stanley as much as they can, and – now that they have asked TEC for $60 million – they now want someone who can design and oversee construction of buildings.

I hear through the grapevine that TEC is going to place two missionaries in Haiti, one of whose duties will essentially replicate what Lauren was doing. So what’s up with that?

I have some questions, which I posted at The Lead:

Just whom do you believe is going to leverage the $60 million that Bishop Duracin has requested for the rebuilding of the diocese? Lauren Stanley is a communicator, who has been the strongest voice for Haiti since the earthquake. God knows, TEC couldn't afford to have a journalist/advocate on staff devoted solely to Haiti advocacy. I dare say Lauren has been – and could have remained– the best marketing/PR/fund-raising/communications expert possible. But (for reasons that are a mystery to me) they have chosen to release her from service.

Having some sense of the paltry sums our missionaries get paid, I dare say that Lauren Stanley would have done that work for a lot less $$ than whatever bloated fee TEC may pay some "fund-raising consultant."

God knows ... and so do I ... that TEC's communications staff has been nearly decimated under the Watt regime.

Apparently, Lauren Stanley is to be replaced by some sort of architect or engineering type. No doubt, such expertise is needed, and I am glad that TEC is going to appoint another missionary to provide that expertise. But who decided it was "either/or" rather than "both/and"? Can we really only afford one missionary to work among the ruins of (arguably) the most devastated diocese of The Episcopal Church?

Did Linda Watt and our Executive Council fall victim to a “theology of scarcity”? One wonders.

Lauren Stanley’s termination was announced by TEC’s Chief Operating Officer, Linda Watt. Watt has so little credibility that, when I hear the words “Linda Watt says,” I translate it as, “You lie!” Watt has a record of getting rid of many of the brightest and best. She canned Father Jake, she let Jan Nunley leave (who was arguably the best journalist on the staff), and now Lauren Stanley. We recall how she fired the cleaning crew. Her record speaks volumes about a hard-nosed bureaucrat who works very far from the Baptismal Covenant.

Watt apparently announced Stanley’s dismissal at the Executive Council meeting, several days before the ENS story appeared. At what point was Lauren Stanley informed of the decision? From the timeline, it appears that the dozens of Executive Council members were informed before our missionary in Haiti was. And that is wrong. It violates decency. More important, it violates the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have seen how Linda Watt fires people from our church’s employment. Now we have another – a missionary, who apparently received little or no warning. No time to find other employment. No time to find other health insurance. One day, Lauren Stanley was a valued missionary employee of our church. The next day, she was sacked by Linda Watt.

As a paid-up Episcopalian, I would like to hear more about how, when, and why all this came down. If The Episcopal Church values transparency at all, they will make that information available.

I am in awe of the people who offer their service as missionaries to our church. Some years ago, when I visited the Diocese of Lui (in Sudan), I got a little taste of the life they live. They face many challenges. They work in very difficult situations. They work for very little pay. They don’t have running water, showers, or electricity. They work among people very different than us. But perhaps the most terrible challenge they face is Linda Watt, when she decides they are inconvenient ...

I would like to see Linda Watt spend 6 months living in those conditions … far away from the luxuries of midtown Manhattan … and on a missionary’s meager salary ... and -- preferably with no one to abuse.

Bonds of Affection

For some people in the Anglican Communion, “diversity is a problem.”

Episcopal News Service posted this story, in which the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, decried the diversity in the Anglican Communion. Katie Sherrod has an account of Canon Kearon’s egregious statement to our Executive Council.

For other people, reaching across boundaries reveals unity and community.

I think there’s a parable in this amazing video. I give thanks to Padre Mickey for finding it and Fran for having the good judgment to share it further.

Please watch this four-minute video here or at YouTube. If you can do so without being deeply moved, you are a tougher person than I.

Now … shall we discuss the real meaning of “bonds of affection”?

Would the primates of the Anglican Communion recognize bonds as strong as that man and that gorilla? If not, there is no hope for the thing called the Anglican Communion.

Katie Sherrod Commits Poetry in Image and Prose

Katie Sherrod has produced a beautiful, haunting photo essay on the Anglican Covenant. It may be the most moving and articulate essay I’ve seen on the subject … even after all these years of Covenant talk. It’s poetry, by my definition.

Here’s just a snippet from near the conclusion:
And I know this is exactly what the proposed Anglican Covenant will do to the Anglican Communion.

It seeks to wrap rings of bureaucratic barbed wire around the Holy Spirit, imprisoning the Spirit in processes of discipline designed to enforce unanimity of theology, of interpretation of Scripture, and who knows what else.
True. But you must see the photos and read the reflections that lead her to the concluding words of wisdom and insight.

Now ... go read "Barbed Wire and the Anglican Covenant."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mitregate Illustrated

This is just too funny! Thanks to TexasBishop for posting this on Friday.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Note: This tiny size is the only size TwitPic allows me to post. If you click on the image, it will take you to the TwitPic page. Please do that, so I don't get in trouble.

Here's a bit larger version, but go here for the full-size drawing.

Let the people say, “Amen!”

06/28/10 Postscript: Dear friends: Bosco today has weighed-in and provided us a delightful commentary on MitreGate. Do go over to his site and enjoy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Actions Have Consequences

Over at Preludium, Mark Harris posted the questions the Executive Council was going to pose to Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. I was grateful to see the questions. And I’ve been grateful for the subsequent reports about the conversation.

One commenter, who calls himself “Sam,” made this comment:
Sounds like a bunch of whining to me.

Why can't our members on EC understand that ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES? They are all like George W. thinking that they can act with impunity and have no international consequences.
I intended to post my response at Mark’s page, but it was too long. So I post it here.

Sam, I readily recognize that actions have consequences. I’ve known that since I was a toddler, when my parents had authority over me.

Since you mention George W., let me suggest this: When GWBush invaded Iraq, he should have been brought up on war crimes charges by the international community. There are systems and mechanisms for that, agreed upon by the nations of the world. They should have sanctioned him and the U.S. They had the right, the authority, and the mechanisms to do so.

But what +Rowan/Lambeth/Kearon are doing have no such justification.

KJS was elected by the North and South American primates to serve on the Joint Standing Committee. Rowan has no authority or right to ask her to resign, as he did. Only the Primates of South and North America have that power. Rowan was acting as a scofflaw … just as GWBush did … and just as the Anglican primates of Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Southern Cone have done. Lawless. Completely lawless. Acting by fiat, and hoping we will kowtow to their lawlessness.

If you have done any reading in the Anglican blogosphere, you know that many other bishops from the Episcopal Church in the U.S. have functioned in England with full vestments and mitres – including both male and female – for a very long time. Rowan’s sanctions against our Presiding Bishop were petulant. Long before this recent visit, +KJS had already submitted her papers for a prior visit, and she had been allowed to wear all the vestments of her office. In requesting papers again, Rowan may have been violating the procedures of the Church of England. In PaperGate and MitreGate, he was at least violating the precedents of his own church.

Yes, actions have consequences. If they are applied equally, I have no problem. +Rowan is not doing so. For whatever bizarre reasons, +Rowan and Kearon are coming out with “all guns blasting” against the Episcopal Church in the U.S., while giving a pass to the moratorium-violators in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Southern Cone. Very strange.

In the weird brain of Rowan Williams, actions have consequences only when it comes to the Episcopal Church (U.S.).

Further, +Rowan is well aware that he has gay/lesbian priests in the Church of England. In fact, he celebrated Eucharist with them several months ago. He also knows that same-sex blessings are occurring throughout the Church of England. And his Church of England is in full communion with a European church that has a lesbian bishop. Apparently he has no problem with that.

If he wants to apply “actions have consequences” equally, then he needs to sideline the Church of England in exactly the same way he is trying to sideline the Episcopal Church (U.S.). Or do “actions have consequences” only when Rowan is flexing his muscles against the U.S. church?

Actions have consequences, but only within the scope of powers that have been granted. Clearly, Rowan is trying to exercise power that has not been granted to him. Not one province of the Anglican Communion has granted to him the papal powers that he is trying to enforce. There is no document/statement/synod/do-hickey that has empowered him to intervene in the internal workings of Anglican provinces … and yet he and Kearon are trying to do so.

Do you think the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) would tolerate such interference for one red-hot moment? I dare say not. Nor should we.

Many of us – including Mark, me, and a gazillion others – continue to assert that the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of autonomous churches bound together by the Book of Common Prayer, the ancient creeds, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, and by bonds of affection. We are not a worldwide “church” – no matter how aggressively +Rowan and Canon Kearon seem to be trying to shape our Anglican Communion into a papal curia.

Rowan is not the boss of Nigeria. He is not the boss of Rwanda. And he is not the boss of the Episcopal Church (U.S.). He is only the boss of the Church of England. That rest of us are Christian friends and equals, who need to remain in fellowship and dialogue. In fact, I would argue, we need to engage in ever deeper fellowship and dialogue, so that we can model to the world the way that Christians who disagree should engage with each other. That is what my diocese is doing with the Christians in Sudan.

+Rowan had better prepare for the fact that his actions have consequences … as many people in the pews of the Church of England look more to Katharine Jefferts Schori than to Rowan Williams for spiritual leadership in the 21st century.

Rowan & Mo

Blame Ann for getting me hooked on Jesus and Mo. Today's strip seems oddly relevant to our Anglican situation. Substitute Rowan for Mo, and it pretty well fits, don't you think?

Our PB at Southwark

I am going to assume that you readers are following the news. I will assume that you know +Rowan (or someone higher than him at Lambeth Palace*) forbade +KJS to function or vest as a bishop, and that he (or someone higher than him at Lambeth Palace*) forbade her to wear the mitre that a bishop would generally wear. You can find relevant posts on Twitter or in the blogosphere by searching “mitregate.”

Now … mind you … I’m not going to get all hung up on whether or not a bishop gets to wear a silly hat … or what kind of hat she or he gets to wear. [BTW, Laura cracked me up with this one.]

But it is curious that the Archbishop of Canterbury (or someone higher than him at Lambeth Palace*) had no problem with Presiding Bishop Griswold appearing in full episcopal regalia at Southwark in 2006 . . . but then ordered +KJS not to vest as a bishop at Southwark Cathedral this past Sunday.

What is the difference? Is it merely gender? Or is +Rowan really trying to infuriate the Episcopal Church (U.S.), as Father Jake wonders.

Other bloggers were way ahead of me when they posted and commented on the sermon our Presiding Bishop delivered at Southwark. It didn’t strike me at the time, but now it does. Now I know that +Rowan Williams (or someone higher than him at Lambeth Palace*) made her submit proof of her ordination yet again, and now I know that he (or someone higher than him at Lambeth Palace*) forbade her to vest as a bishop.

So this sentence from her Southwark sermon sounds a bit different to my ears than it did before. She said:

It’s hard work to get to the point where you’re able and willing to see the Lord of love in the odorous street person next to you in the pew. It can be just as hard to find him in the unwelcoming host.
Simon the Pharisee was Jesus’ “unwelcoming host” in last Sunday’s Gospel. But – to my ear – Rowan Williams was the “unwelcoming host” to Katharine Jefferts Schori in Southwark last weekend. It seems to me that +Rowan is giving the Pharisees a run for their money.

Of course, I will never know what +KJS meant by that “unwelcoming host” reference – whether it was only a biblical reference or a reference to current events. But it seems to me that the shoe fits the Archbishop of Canterbury very well.

I am also struck by this comment at Thinking Anglicans, from a person who was at Southwark:

I have been wondering since Sunday why +Katherine carried her mitre over her heart during the Mass at Southwark. Was it her silent and dignified protest on behalf of the dignity of women and the Church that elected her, and continues to thank God that we did so?
Posted by: karen macqueen+ on Tuesday, 15 June 2010 at 5:07pm BST

I have seen photographs of +Katherine carrying the mitre under her arm, but that is the only comment I have seen that said she carried it “over her heart” at some point in the service. I hope it is true. For it would speak volumes against the tyranny of the man who is trying to morph into Pope Rowan I.

What do you make of this?

* The reason I added "or someone higher than him at Lambeth Palace" is that Ruth Gledhill is reporting that "'Lambeth Palace are [sic] investigating the way the leader of The Episcopal Church was treated in Britain this week ...." Apparently "Lambeth Palace" is investigating why "Lambeth Palace" behaved in this way toward Bishop Jefferts Shori. Solipsism, much? ....

June 18 addendum: It may be that I'm indebted to Grandmère Mimi for that insight. I visited many sites yesterday, including hers, and it's possible that her comment is what inspired my "or someone higher" snark/question/insight.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

MadPriest is a Genius!

I haven’t tried to blog about the many developments in the recent drama in the Anglican Communion. I have relied on others to cover and comment on it all: the two Pentecost letters [the fearful angry one from Rowan Williams, and the brave Christian one from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori] … the over-reaching letters from Kenneth Kearon booting Episcopalians off Anglican Communion committees … the wonderful speeches and sermons of our Presiding Bishop in Canada, Scotland, and England … the marvelous reception our Presiding Bishop has received in those other provinces of the Anglican Communion … the discussions about whether the Episcopal Church (U.S.) should continue to pay its full contribution to the Anglican Communion Office … the meeting of the Executive Council of General Convention now in progress … the news that +Williams apparently asked +KJS to absent herself from her elected position on the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council … and “MitreGate” – the travesty in which Rowan Williams forbade +KJS to wear her mitre at Southwark Cathedral in England and insisted that she present (yet again!) papers to prove her ordination and consecration. [As The Lead observes here, +KJS has been licensed previously to officiate in the Church of England; so Lambeth’s requiring her to present all the paperwork yet again cannot be anything other than harassment.]

Other bloggers have kept up with all that. There have been many marvelous posts all over the blogosphere offering news and/or commentary. Of course, news has come from The Lead, Thinking Anglicans, and Episcopal News Service. Great commentary has come from many other of my blogging friends – too many for me to single out.

But I must highlight this one. It’s the most hilarious commentary I have seen on +Rowan’s idiotic Papal Grab. In this one image, MadPriest rivals The Onion as the Most Brilliant Satirist in the Entire Anglican Universe. I bow in MadPriest’s general direction. He is a genius.

[Click on photo to embiggen.]

Go here to see the image and comments at MadPriest’s site.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Blogging Marriage

[Preface added Monday, June 14: Late Saturday night, I committed here an act of “blog-blurterry.” Yes, I just now invented that word; but most of you bloggers probably understand it. Occasionally, one shoots “blurts” into the blogosphere, rather than well considered and carefully nuanced essays. That certainly was the case in this one. I should have saved it as a draft for more thoughtful reflection on Sunday instead of posting this "blurt" on my blog.

A fine thing happened here, though. The community challenged me regarding some of my sweeping statements and some of my mean-spirited (or just oblivious) generalizations. We listened to one another. I grew in my understanding and gained some new insights. I am grateful for the dialogue. Please don’t only read this “first-draft” essay of mine, but click here to read my post together with all the comments. For at the end of the dialogue, I was at a rather different place than I started.

After the flurry of conversation here, I was tempted to rewrite the essay in its entirety, to reflect what I had learned through the comments. But that would lack integrity. I need to own up to what I first wrote, and I hope readers will appreciate what happened in the ensuing conversation.

What happened here is what I often see in some of my favorite blogs, but which seldom happens here: the community engaged in fruitful dialogue. I would like to see the Episcopal Church launch a similar dialogue about what marriage is in general and what Christian marriage is in particular. I know it has happened on a large scale in some parts of our church, but there has been no structured or widespread dialogue in my parish or diocese.

By the way, as a reward for your reading all the comments, I’m about to add another comment in this thread, which – while slightly off-topic – may be even more shocking than anything I wrote in the initial blogpost.

Read on .… ]

I recently attended the marriage of a couple in their mid-20s. I am related to the groom, whom I’ll call “Brad” in this post; I’ll call the bride “Jennifer.”

After the “wedding” portion, at a certain point during the dancing that was part of the reception, a dear friend must have noticed the expression on my face. She asked, “What are you thinking?” Then the exchange went something like this:

I replied, “I’m blogging in my mind.”

“About what?”

“The difference between gay and straight marriages.”


“The difference. All these kids had to do was get a marriage license and then throw this party without God. … Do you have any idea how many gay people are yearning to make humble vows of marriage in the church?”

I should probably back up to provide some context. “Brad” and “Jennifer” are self-declared atheists; Brad is particularly loud and proud about the fact that he doesn’t believe in God. He’ll quickly tell you he is a scientist, and that he believes all this “Christianity stuff” is just a fairy tale.

Brad was raised in a liturgical tradition. I was rather surprised – and his grandmother was mortified – that they had their wedding in a “banquet center” rather than a church.

The thing one might call a “marriage” took less than half an hour, then there were three hours of dancing and partying.

Of course, they did their best in that banquet center to mirror the outward manifestations of what I recognize as a wedding.

Frankly, I wonder: If you don’t believe in God, why in the world would you make a Big Flipping Deal of the “marriage ceremony”?? If you don’t believe in God, then the “wedding vows” are – it seems to me – no more significant than the closing of a legal contract to buy a house. No one invites the community to the lawyer’s office for a house-closing contract, followed by a three-hour party. So why do anti-church people throw these big shindigs when they make their wedding contract in front of a State-sanctioned officiant? Why would an atheist bother to invite a bunch of friends and family to witness his/her God-free vows? If the wedding is just an excuse to throw a big party, why not just go down to the courthouse, say what the State requires you to say to make the legal marriage contract, and then throw the big and delightful party you want to have? Why make people sit through miserable “wedding” “vows” that are a paean to your self-absorption?

This couple did their best to make their wedding a God-Free Zone. They hired some schmuck in a brown suit to officiate at the evening ceremony. Mr. Schmuck kept his words and his prayers God-free except for that notorious/beloved passage from Matthew. I suppose he did that to give it some sort of legitimacy; honestly, I have no idea. Because God was (otherwise) completely absent from the “wedding.”

Mind you, I am not a theologian, nor do I play one on T.V. But I have read some fine theological thinkers – especially Tobias and Christopher Evans on this point.. [NB: Long ago, I bookmarked Christopher Evans’ most amazing “Liturgy for Binding and Loosing,” upon the occasion of his union with his beloved. I have the liturgy on my hard drive, but the link to his website no longer seems to be active. Christopher, if you happen to see this, please give me an active link, and I’ll hyperlink it. For the rest of you, if you want a copy of the liturgy, post your e-address (carefully) in the comments, and I’ll send it to you.] As I understand it, one makes one’s primary vows to and covenant with God, and then to one another. As I understand it, the couple enters into covenant with God, the Church blesses, and the community affirms and celebrates that covenant.

That’s how I would want to do it, if such a time ever came for me. Thank God for the Book of Common Prayer and its ageless words for the wedding liturgy. I would want them to uphold me and my beloved.

Frankly, my heart was sad as I saw this couple “do” their vows in front of the assembled group. It seemed rather empty to me. Casting aside their liturgical upbringing, Brad and Jennifer made up their own ceremony and their own vows. Saccharine, anyone? It was very Kahlil Gibran-esque.

The service was full of words about what love means and how they will "always" love each other … what commitment means, and how they will "always" remain committed to each other. But, of course, it was about their faith in each other, their love for each other, their friendship with each other. Which is important, of course. But there were no words about transcendence – about being held together by God or any divine power … because (of course) they don’t believe in God or any transcendent power. So when the going gets tough, they will cling to … what??? Cling to the current divorce statistics, and pray they can beat the odds?

Recognizing no force or Person greater than themselves, I wonder, to whom/what will they turn when the going gets tough … as it does for all married persons? I suppose they will just revert to the same power they celebrated in their marriage: the Great Church of My Ego. For that’s the faith to which their vows seemed to turn.

I will confess: There was a sense in which this “wedding” made this Episcopalian angry. I know so many gay/lesbian Episcopalians who yearn to be married in the church, to recite their vows before God and their fellow parishioners … who yearn to make a covenant before God and the community. But we are barred from doing so in most states. And we are barred from doing so in most dioceses.

But these two young people now have the full civil/legal benefits of marriage – and the more than 1,000 legal rights it confers – because they got Mr. Schmuck in his brown suit to preside at something they and the State choose to call a wedding.

Meanwhile, gay/lesbian couples who have been together for years and decades must engage lawyers to draw up contracts that give them half the rights and protections that this young couple now enjoys in their Godless marriage.

Something in that – and in the injustice of that – just flat breaks my heart.

[P.S.: Parenthetical shout-out to IT, because I know you’ll read this. IT, I can imagine that you may have a different view re: your marriage to BP. But – unlike the young people about whom I am writing – BP is a Christian. “Brad” and “Jennifer” are both proclaimed atheists. So I will welcome your thoughts, and I hope you don’t take my blogpost here as a slam; it most certainly isn’t intended that way. The point I am trying to make is the distinction between heterosexual couples who throw huge parties for their godless marriages vs. Christian gay/lesbian couples who yearn to have their covenants blessed before God in the church.]

Monday, June 07, 2010

My Pentecost 2 Sermon

As I wrote earlier, I spent most of my time last week preparing to preach in my parish. It was quite the week! I hope to post a little piece about the process of preparation and about how I experienced the day. For now, I’ll just say it was a very good day, that I enjoyed preaching, and that I received very positive and humbling feedback.

I tried to post this last night, but I kept getting the "Blogger unavailable" error message. So here it is ... finally.

Without further ado, the sermon.

Photo credit

Pentecost 2 (Proper 5) Year C
Grace Episcopal Church, Jefferson City, MO
June 6, 2010

Readings from here:

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I often linger with some of the prayers in the back of our Book of Common Prayer, in that section called “Prayers & Thanksgivings.” One of my favorites – one that brings particular comfort to me – is the prayer for protection (page 832 of the BCP). It reads:

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the way of thy servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy gracious and ready help; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I draw comfort from the fact that our Prayer Book and our Anglican theology recognize right up front that our lives are beset by a gazillion “changes and chances” in this mortal life. Furthermore, our experience and our theology seem to say that these turnabouts are a normal part of life for us human creatures.

And that’s an important lesson for me. It seems that we are often tossed back and forth between despair and joy, strength and helplessness, health and illness, confidence and deep doubt, security and fear, hope and hopelessness.

I will confess that – when I am in either of those extreme conditions – I have a tendency to think it will go on forever. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

Today, we will celebrate the baptism of Stella [BlogNote: I’m deleting this infant’s last name from this online posting.] In her own way, I am sure that Stella has had her own experience of the “changes and chances of this mortal life” in her few weeks on this earth.

Today’s lessons certainly do seem to echo these extreme reversals.

Whenever we find Elijah and Jesus paired in Scripture or in our lectionary, we need to take heed. For people seemed to be confused about whether Elijah and Jesus were actually two different people. You will remember that, when Jesus was about his ministry, a great many people thought perhaps he was Elijah resurrected. The followers of John the Baptist ask if Jesus is the prophet Elijah. When Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?,” some say they think maybe he is Elijah. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus appears with Elijah (as well as Moses) at his side. Our ears should begin to tickle whenever the lectionary pairs these two men, for – clearly – there is something significant about the relationship between the ministry and identity of these two great men of God.

Today, we heard two stories of widows’ sons being raised from the dead. There is a direct link between them – and not just in our lectionary. For Jesus himself told the Elijah story, back in the 4th chapter of Luke’s gospel. There, in his very first sermon in Nazareth – when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath and consorting with Gentiles – Jesus explicitly cited Elijah’s ministry to the widow at Zarephath. [See Note 1]

Let’s look more closely at the parallels in these two stories.

First, both Elijah and Jesus have been on journeys when they come to the gate of the towns – Elijah to Zarephath, Jesus to Nain. What brought them to these towns?

In Elijah’s case, it was because God had explicitly told him: “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” God intentionally, and rather surprisingly, sent the Jewish prophet Elijah away from Israel, to a Phoenician region where the people worshiped Baal as their god.

Jesus arrived at the gate at Nain, having been in Capernaum, where he had healed the slave of a centurion. This centurion was a Roman citizen – a Gentile – one might even say a “pagan.” Jesus had not only healed the Roman soldier’s servant, but also said “not even in Israel have I found such faith” as that centurion had.

So our lessons today begin with Elijah and Jesus having made a journey that expressed God’s loving compassion toward Gentiles, who were considered outcasts and pagans by the Jews.

Second, in these parallel stories, a widow has experienced the death of her only son. This is a double tragedy, actually. For both widows had already lost the husband who protected them, and now the only son who might protect and care for them.

What did it mean to be a widow in those times? A priest – who is a friend of mine from the blogosphere – put it this way:

Women without a husband or son were the lowest of the low in society - forced to return to their families' homes - they would live a life beholden to anyone who would take them in. . . . Widows in the Bible symbolize all who have lost everything and are forced to rely on others for support and nurture. Our care of the "widow" shows our true discipleship.
The letter of James makes a similar point, saying: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress ….”

Third, we see a parallel in that both Elijah and Jesus are moved with compassion. The widows don’t have to beg them to heal the dead son. Both act immediately to restore life and wholeness. They restore these sons to life. But they also restore the grieving widows to a place of wholeness and security within their communities. As one scholar observed, “If religion has nothing to say to a grieving widow, it has nothing to say.” [See Note 2.] Full stop.

Elijah took the dead child from his mother’s arms, carried him up into his room, stretched himself over the child three times, and called to God: “Let this child’s life come into him again.” And so it did.

When Jesus saw the funeral procession in Nain, he stepped forward and touched the bier – the wicker stretcher on which they were carrying the dead man. In doing this, he violated the Jewish purity laws. But the needs of the persons outweighed those laws.

God wants health and wholeness for all of us. At God’s command, Elijah ministers to the Phoenician widow who worshipped Baal. By bringing the Centurion into today’s Gospel reading, it is clear that Jesus was going to heal Gentiles. And Jesus shows similar compassion for this Jewish woman and her son.

To God, it seems, there is no litmus test. Pagan Roman soldier. Baal-worshipping Phoenician. Observant Jew. God wants wholeness for all of them. Jesus “came and proclaimed peace to [those] who were far off and peace to those who were near ….” [Eph. 2:17] Archbishop Desmond Tutu frequently and dramatically puts it another way, as he so often says: “God desires to draw all … allall … to himself.”

We hear a 5th parallel in the two lessons today: The power and the healing actions of Elijah and Jesus make it obvious that these are men of God – people through whom God is acting mightily. And the people respond with astonished praise.

After her son is restored to life, the widow of Zarephath declares: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” Remember, this is a woman who had worshipped Baal as god!

After the man in Nain is resurrected, the assembly “glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’"

And how about us – you and me? How about our compassion and our deeds? What do they say? Do they point beyond ourselves so that people see through us to God, who loves them beyond their wildest imagining? [See Note 3]

Let’s turn now to the Psalm. It appears that the Psalmist has suffered some of the dramatic turnabouts that life brings, and that God has rescued him from some sort of severe “dis-ease.”

As we prayed the Psalm a few minutes ago, did you hear the many contrasts in it? First, the Psalmist remembers the great deeds that God has done for him.

  • While he “was going down to the grave” … God restored his life.
  • God’s “wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye” … but God’s “favor for a lifetime.”
In the midst of the song, the Psalmist tells of a dramatic reversal. He writes:

While I felt secure, I said,
"I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."

Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear. [Ps. 30:7-8]

That is, he had grown secure – maybe even arrogant -- about God’s favor. But then the next reversal came, and he realized that without God, he was nothing. So, we hear, “I cried to you, O LORD.” He asks God to have mercy and be his helper – not that God will shield him from every misfortune. Once he does that:

  • God turned his wailing into dancing.
  • God put off his sack-cloth and clothed him with joy.
He ends his song with these words:

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
This is not the song of one who believes he is now immune to suffering. He knows there will be other nights of weeping, other days of sackcloth … days when he feels he is going down to the grave.

He gives up the illusion that he is “as strong as the mountains” and the false confidence that he can never again be shaken.

But he has determined that he will clothe his life in songs of praise and thanksgiving – no matter what may come. Through all the changes and chances of this life, he has decided he will give thanks and praise to God forever. In fact, as some commentators have observed, he recognizes that “praise and thanksgiving are the vocation of the living.” [See Note 4] Hear that again: “praise and thanksgiving are the vocation of the living.”

Think on that. Perhaps praise and thanksgiving are our vocation – the primary work to which we are all called. That anchor can keep us from being yanked to-and-from in our daily and hourly dramas … an anchor that can keep us from being tossed around like tiny boats in a storm ... an antidote to the tendencies of our inner drama queens.

So what are we to take away from today’s lessons?

First, we learn from the stories set in Zarephath and Nain that praise is the proper response to seeing God’s nature and God’s works. And from the Psalmist, we learn that a vocation of thanksgiving can keep us balanced in the darkest pits and on the highest mountaintops. It can help us maintain wholeness and holiness as children of God.

Second, we must ask who is going to do the “mighty works of God” today – here within Grace Church, in Jefferson City, and throughout the world.

Neither Elijah nor Jesus is physically with us today to raise the dead, to heal the sick, to show compassion in a hurting world. So who is to do that work now??

My friends, you know the answer.

Over and over again, the New Testament says that we are now Christ’s body in the world. As we join Stella in affirming our Baptismal Covenant today, we will promise again to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” and we will promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Stella, and you, and I … We are the precious gift that God has placed in the world to carry on God’s ministry. If a person is to be comforted by Christ, we must do it. If a person is to be fed, we must do it. If a person is to be given clean water to drink, we must give it to them. If the hurting people in this world are to feel the compassionate touch of Jesus Christ, they will feel it through our hands and through our prayers.

Let us pray:

God of all compassion,
as you moved in the lives of Elijah and Jesus,
move in our lives,
inviting us to journey to unknown territory,
to listen for your voice,
and to speak your prophetic word
in a world that needs to hear.
Empowered by your Holy Spirit,
grant us the courage we need
to journey, trust, listen, speak,
and accept your commission
to be your faithful servant people. Amen. [See Note 5]

1: For some of the phrasing in this sentence, I am indebted to the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on Luke (pg. 157).
2: NIB/Luke, pg. 159
3: Deep thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton, who introduced me to that phrase when, in my own dark night of the soul, I most deeply needed to hear it.
4: NIB/Psalm, pg. 796.
5: Modified from here

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Anglican Smack-Down

As Viewed by Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass has posted an intriguing essay at Beliefnet: “Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori: Anglican Smack-Down.” Many of us have been focusing on the theological differences in the two letters and what they may signal for the relationship between The Episcopal Church (U.S.) and the wider Anglican Communion.

Butler Bass takes a different tack. She suggests it’s a conflict between two different views of what it means to be an Anglican Church. She sees it as a conflict between "top-down Anglicanism” and “bottom-up Anglicanism.” It’s an intriguing read on the dueling Pentecost letters.

She sets up the conflict:

While (somewhat ironically) attending a conference in Washington, DC entitled "Building Bridges," [my link here] Rowan Williams sent out his Pentecost letter to Anglicans worldwide which, after saying a lot of nice things about missions and diversity, pulls rank and proclaims that he's going to kick people off important committees whose national churches have violated a controversial document called the Anglican Covenant. [LF note: I believe his reference was to the Windsor Report (which is merely a report and not Sacred Writ), not to the Anglican Covenant which no province has yet adopted.] This includes the Canadians (who let gay Christians get married) and the Americans (who recently ordained a lesbian bishop in Los Angeles) and some Africans (who ordained some Americans who were splitting churches in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania).

In response, Katharine Jefferts Schori essentially, but in a nice sort of Anglican way, accused Williams of being a theological dictator–or, as she says in understated fashion, "Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism." For non-Anglicans, trust me, those are fightin' words.

This is not a conservative/liberal argument (both Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are theologically liberal). This is a fight between rival versions of Anglicanism–a quarrel extending to the beginning of Anglicanism that has replayed itself periodically through the centuries down to our own time.

Butler Bass even suggests this is an epochal event:

But once every few hundred years, the tensions explode. This is one of those times.

The argument isn't really about gay and lesbian people nor is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy. Rather, the argument reprises the oldest conflict within Anglicanism – What kind of Anglicans are we to be?

She observes that other churches/denominations are having similar conflicts.

Of course, given my pique toward the Archbishop of Canterbury, I do love the way she characterizes him:

But he thinks that he's in charge – and he'll be captain of his Titanic until the last.
It’s a good read, and a wholly different perspective than I’ve seen elsewhere in the blogosphere. Hie thee hence for the full essay.

How to Prepare a Sermon


But I am afraid this has been a recurring problem as I've begun actively trying to write ye olde sermon.

Thank you, Dave Walker. You always seem to know just what to draw.

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker from here. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

See ... I'm doing it again. Alas ...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

KJS Responds to Rowan

And now we have the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church responding to Rowan’s letter. I have often been critical of our Presiding Bishop and her writings, but you’ll hear no criticism from me for this letter. It is gentle and yet quite firm – even poetic and expansive. “We are who we are.” “We invite you into deeper engagement.” It seems to me that she hit this one out of the park. Please take time to read her letter in full.

It seems to me that Rowan’s “Pentecost” letter and Jefferts Schori’s letter present what our worthy opponents often describe as two Gospels. Rowan seems to return to the old Babel, in which he wants all the Anglicans to speak with one mind so they can build a tower into heaven. KJS seems to be speaking about Pentecost – in which there is room for people to speak their own realities.

How did Rowan respond to TEC’s action? With a call for more discipline, more rules, more strictures, more centralized power in the model of the Roman Catholic Church, with its few white guys in the center of power. His desire is to cut off and cast out.

And how does Katharine respond? With humility and a statement that we may not be right, with a call for fuller and deeper engagement, and with a recognition that different people in different cultures may faithfully live out the Gospel in different ways. Her desire is to gather.

It seems to me that the Gospel is rather more on her side, while the Roman curia is more on Rowan’s side.

It seems to me that Rowan’s letter seeks rules whereby he can cast people into Gehenna, and Katharine’s points toward to the New Jerusalem.

Rowan wants to cast out. Katharine wants to gather.

I think I have a sense of which side Jesus would be cheering.

Compare and contrast.

I have never been more proud of our Presiding Bishop. Thank God that – while she spoke with humility and openness – she neither quibbled nor cowered about who we are as the Episcopal Church!

“Choose this day,” indeed. Do you want to be part of Rowan Williams’ New Roman Catholic Church? Or do you want to be part of Katharine Jefferts Schori’s diverse and traditional Anglican Communion? For me, it’s a no-brainer.

Thank God for this letter from our Presiding Bishop!

Responses to Rowan’s Loathesome Letter

I am determined to focus my energies on my sermon prep. In keeping with that, I have not commented on the odious Pentecost letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he comes out swinging hysterically because the Episcopal Church consecrated a godly priest as a bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Nor will I call attention to his venom against one of our new bishops, compared to his complicity with the bishops who actually murder and imprison people. Nope. Not going to do it.

Strangely enough, his letter was prefaced by a press release and Q&A. [How weird is that??] I just can’t put the energy into parsing and analyzing the Archbishop’s letter; all I can say is that it is abysmal, and he seems more and more irrelevant to my life in the Anglican Communion. But others have written well, and I assume you all are reading the same blogs and websites as I. Others wrote in some depth, offering helpful analysis – including Mark Harris, Father Jake, Grandmère Mimi, and Caminante. Thinking Anglicans has a great round-up of responses from within the church and from the news media here and here. Earlier, Jim Naughton asked what the Episcopal Church might/should do if we are “dis-invited” from some Anglican Councils; once the letter appeared, he responded to the Archbishop’s letter. Also at the Episcopal Café, Andrew Gerns did some fine analysis.

Today, I was struck by the response of Marc Andrus, Bishop of California, whose comments are here. He cuts to the heart of the matter, and avoids the kind of venom and derision that I surely would have employed. He manages to be kind and respectful, while outlining critical problems with the Archbishop’s letter. What a bishop! Hats off to Bishop Marc.

And deep thanks to all your others who have taken the time to analyze the vicious letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury upon the feast of Pentecost.