Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Eve Revisited




For clergy Christmas Eve is generally hectic. There has to be more than just one sermon for the week. We have our presents to buy and wrap. Some of us have family to see after. But when it comes to the actual service, the liturgy is quite magical. Candles enhance faces to the almost glowing. Familiar carols mean full-voiced singing from the congregation and Lutherans sing lustily as a general course. You can imagine what it is like when everyone knows the hymns! You feel the music rather than hear it!

This year I have enough familiarity now with the Lutheran rite that I could be relaxed as we began the service. The church was full—extra seats had to be unfolded. There were lots of kids to process to the crèche with.

Looking out on the congregation I realized that one family home to grandma and grandpa’s for the holiday took up three rows of seats. Another family took up four. By the time we got to Silent Night there was standing room only. Following the 7:30 service—mid-night mass is not generally practiced by small Lutheran congregations—there was a coffee hour. Kids who had grown up in the parish found Sunday school companions from 30 years before and caught up on what they were doing now. It was class reunion at its best. Children met their parents school chums. They stayed until 10:30 catching up and enjoying their youth through Christmas eyes. It was church at its best.

Most of our parishes are like this in upstate NY. We are the homes that many have left to find employment in other places. But the church is still “home”. Many thanked me for the service, but they had “built” the service many years before. It was deeply internalized even if they no longer attended. The new hymnal and liturgy did not faze them. The changes to the building were taken in and appreciated. There was no pining for what had changed—it was just the being in touch with a reality in their lives that perhaps they had not found anywhere else.

The message of the Incarnation that God is with us and has always been with us is lit in those faces. For all the tensions in the Church, Christmas Eve is the reminder to all of us who live the Church day in and day out that the message is already out there, embedded in the DNA of those who heard the Good News as children.

But the church is not home. It is merely the filling station. It is the place where we practice living the gospel enough so that we can take it to others in our actions. I doubt if anyone cared one hoot if a lesbian was at the altar. I doubt if anyone minded that there were gay folks kneeling next to them at the altar rail. The message was understood: God was there and they could touch him in the Sacrament and see it in the faces of others. That’s enough for me.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

T'was the Day Before Christmas



T’was the day before Christmas. The Church was a mess.
Sermons weren’t written; vestments not pressed.
Bulletins were printed but in great disarray,
In hopes that the Christ Child would …please, be delayed.

I in my snow boots and weather’d long johns
Found the shovel and ice melt all long gone
I scraped off the ice from the frozen front steps .
And hoped that no congregant would slip or upset.

The choir had practiced till blue in the face,
The coffee was perked and cookies all baked,
All was ready, or so we all thought.
But where were the candles that last year we just bought?

How can we have Christmas without candlelight?
How can we sing Gloria and sweet Silent Night?!
Hither and thither we searched and we sought
But no little candles were there to be found.
I could just feel my Neilson rating plunge to the ground.

O Baby Jesus, where are you today?
Can you find us candles right now? we pray.
And to my surprise in a closet most foul,
The wayward tapers came forth from its bowel..

All is ready. The church, finally done.
The crèche is a’ waiting, the sermon is fun.
The Christ Child is coming, Alleluia, Hooray!
May every one have a Blest Christmas Day!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Idols of Orthodoxy





Word comes from Ft. Worth that Jack Iker has resigned his ordination in the Episcopal Church. Hopefully this will save the continuing diocese of Ft. Worth much headache as it sorts out whose property is whose. At least now I can go to Ft. Worth and find a real Episcopal Church that professes what the Episcopal Church professes not fearing reprisal from the local ordinary.

For the past 30 years in some locales there have been those who have ‘gone whoring after other gods’. This phrase has always struck me as funny. But in the day that it was coined, Israel had to guard against participating in the religions of the nations around them. The fertility cults of those Semite peoples around them often employed what we would call temple prostitutes. Their religions often called for participation in fertility rituals. Today we hear the phrase as being distracted by the lures of the world: consumerism, egoism, nationalism, etc. But the present crisis in the Church is just as much a battle between those who adhere to a living God and those who are tempted by the gods of our day.

Karen Armstrong coined a phrase “the idols of orthodoxy”. It conjures the image of the followers of such gods as being in bed with a type of religion that most likely never was and will never be. It is requires an obeisance to an idea of a Church that could never have been a faith. Being subservient to orthodoxy is being caught in a time warp.

Now I have no problem with history and tradition and I am Anglican enough to know that it is in the past that we find the faith for the future. But faith can never be subservient to orthodoxy if it is a faith given by the Holy Spirit.
‘The Holy Spirit blows where it wills.’

Every time I am exposed to a rant from the “orthodites”, (I refuse to call them orthodox because that means ‘right thinking’. That implies that there is thinking going on!) I begin to lose the charity upon which my faith is founded. ‘Orthodites’ seem to only want to prove how ‘right’ they are rather than live out the transforming love that Christ holds out to those who are in relationship with him. It is also difficult to ascertain if the ‘right’ they cling to means ‘correct’ or what side of the aisle they sit.

Worship of the god of orthodoxy demands attention to detail, the constant search for the most historic and the discipline of inerrancy. There can be no dance with the ‘new thing’ that Christ promises, no cavorting with the Spirit that breaths life into an ever-growing Church, no transforming compassion.

The ordination of self-proclaimed archbishops, the development of extra-territorial gatherings that have more clergy than pew-sitters is basically sad. They had hoped that the Episcopal world was as back-ward looking as they. They had hoped to leave with a bang but the noise is more like a whimper. Yes, the loss of those Christians who have followed their bishops because they have not heard anything but what their bishops have told them of the Episcopal Church for a generation will find that there is nothing to their faith when the well of anger and self-righteousness runs dry. The Christian rightist movement will fade as the Boomers tire of the fight or grow too old to whore after their idols of orthodoxy.

Faith in the God of love, the Abba of Jesus Christ, requires our lives and our faith to change. Faith changes us and transforms the Church to be better and more compassionate. Perhaps we need to be less the passionate presence of Christ than the compassionate presence of a God who calls us to live into the newness of the Spirit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bishop of Washington responds to ACNA





Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington has written an open letter to the clergy and congregations of the diocese regarding the attempt to form a non-geographical province in North America.

First and foremost, let me assure you that the formation of a non-geographical province within an existing province is highly unlikely. Before the establishment of any such province, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church would have to give her consent, and it is difficult to imagine that she would do so. If consent was given, the Archbishop of Canterbury would then form a committee of primates to discuss the feasibility of forming the new province. If two thirds of the primates felt that such a new province would assist and strengthen the ministry of the Anglican Communion, then the primates would forward their recommendation to the Archbishop of Canterbury who in turn would forward his recommendation to the Anglican Consultative Council for final vote and action. At present, neither two-thirds of the primates, nor the Archbishop seem favorably disposed to this development.
....
The movers of the proposed new province embarrass themselves, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion by the self-serving media coverage they have worked so hard to achieve. The news of the proposed province appears at a time when more than 28 million Americans are living on food stamps, one out of every 10 new mortgage holders is facing foreclosure, unemployment is at its highest level in decades, the auto industry is “tanking” and the real danger of deflation or a possible depression looms large on the horizon. In the global south, millions live on $1 a day, and wars, ethnic and religious violence, poverty and the AIDS epidemic continue to wrack the African continent. To learn in this context that Duncan, Minns and their allies think that the most important issue facing the church is the sexuality of the Bishop of New Hampshire suggests a level of self-absorption that is difficult to square with the teachings of Christ.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bare ruin'd choirs





That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

(Sonnet 73) William Shakespeare


If you have ever traveled through the breadth of Great Britain you can see the “bare ruin’d choirs” that Shakespeare speaks of in this sonnet. While he is talking about his own mortality, he makes an allusion to the churches, monasteries and priories that were standing idle in his time a generation past the Reformation.
Henry the VIII had taken over the papal lands when he had separated from Rome in the 16th century. He sold the lands to fill the coffers of the crown. But the buildings remained. They stood only to be taken over by the rain and the birds. Today they can be found still standing, a Romanesque arch here, a gothic stair there. Their stones still can be found in the foundations of barns throughout the country.

The Reformation in England took place in the midst of a fit of pique by a king. But the theology of the Church in England was ready for it. While the divorce was the excuse, the sea change of faith had already occurred. The Church of England went its way and today we have an Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian presence in the world.

The present schism is providing the same “bare ruin’d choirs” in our diocese. Churches are being taken over by the diocese as those who cannot commune with Episcopalians any longer get honest that they cannot continue to worship in Episcopal space or spend Episcopal endowments. The faithful remnants have moved on to other Episcopal parishes that provide continuity, community and faith.
Now numerous Episcopal properties stand empty. No attempts at rebuilding Episcopal communities of faith are being attempted. No new theology is being proclaimed. No reforming effort is being offered the people who cannot attend the schismatic rhetoric.

If the sea change of the emerging church is upon us in Central New York as our leadership proclaims, then why cannot these buildings be places where such kinds of ministry could be started? Need our Episcopal lands be scavenged for spare parts? Need our once consecrated buildings be secularized? Is there no one willing to start anew with a Gospel that the young can hear?

Saturday, November 22, 2008





Katie Sherrod from Ft. Worth posted this.

Jack Iker is inhibited

Jack Iker has been inhibited from sacramental acts by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He now has 60 days to recant his abandonment of the Episcopal Church. If he does not change his mind, the House of Bishops will most likely depose him at their next meeting, which means he will no longer be a bishop of the Episcopal Church. This is what has happened with Robert Duncan, former bishop of Pittsburgh; and John David Schofield, former bishop of San Joaquin.

Please note that deposition is not a punishment for his theological beliefs. It is an acknowledgement that he has chosen to leave our church and can no longer function as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

These are consequences for the choices he has made, consequences he is well aware of.

These are sad days for those who have faithfully followed their bishop. Please pray for them and for Jack Iker, that they may find the spiritual home that is best for them. If some of them should decide that is the Episcopal Church, we will welcome them home with open arms.

Please pray for those of us who will reorganize the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.


Comment: Finally! I have been waiting for this day ever since I protested his consecration in 1991. It will take a bulldozer to get him out of the office and the churches in that diocese, but at least he won't be able to micromanage peoples' lives anymore.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"As for me and my house..."





"I am pleased you acknowledge that the debates with which we are engaged may be part of a valid development in Christian doctrine. I believe it to be so, based on principles of moral and dogmatic theology, one of which, at least, challenges the orthodoxy of the whole novel "complementarity" argument advanced against same-sex relationships in recent days. (Even Pope Benedict has noted the novelty of John Paul II's teaching on this subject.)

As to why now, or why us; we cannot fight the movement of culture, time and place -- we ignore these things to our peril. Occasionally the culture is actually ahead of the church, as in the case of slavery, which was ardently defended in the "orthodox" church while nonconformists were busy fighting it. So the time is now. And this appears to be the place." Tobias Haller, BSG


I was taken by Father Tobias’ reply to comments on this blog. While I have often asked God “Why me?” or “Why now”? this is perhaps the kindest answer to this question in the history of the Church or for that matter, me personally.

Over the past 10 years I have been listening and observing the change of the Church like I have never known. In the discussions at a workshop by Diana Butler Bass I found that we are part of a sea change of culture that has not been seen since the Reformation. I am not sure what this is going to mean for the future. What the Church will look like in 50 years is not going to be my privilege to see. The only thing that I can do is to remain faithful to the core sayings of Jesus to love others as I am loved.

History doesn’t really slowly evolve. Sometimes, there is momentous change in the twinkling of an eye. I would suggest that the bombing of Hiroshima was one such twinkling of an eye. We learned in that moment that we humans had the capability and the will to exact an awful vengeance--a vengence upon the whole of creation. Perhaps it was that act that precipitated the current crisis in the Church. It is a stretch, but in the 63 years since that event, life has become both more precious and more throw-away. It is these polls that disturb me.

“As for me and my house” I choose life—a life that is lived within the embrace of a God who values goodness, wholeness, truth, and peace. I have found that I do not live well polarized. I cannot sustain a sense of God’s love when constantly forced for reasons beyond my control to have to fight to be who I am because there are those who cannot open their lives to the goodness that God gives.

Yes, I am trying to change the understanding of Scripture. I am trying to allow the life of Jesus to have some bearing on these polarizations in life. The Chinese curse of “May you live in interesting time” has fallen upon us all in the Church. I know that my job is to try to keep before myself and those I serve, a vision of Christ that is welcoming and hospitable.

I have not always be able to do that. It is difficult when there are those who denigrate and exclude in the name of the One who loves me so much. The important thing about this blog is that it be a place where comments can be left and discussions nourished. Critique is allowed but only if it is respectful.

We are all experiencing this change in the Church. Some welcome it and some do not. Not all of the change do I welcome. I don’t find some of the new forms of worship that worshipful. The sound bite attention spans of many of the younger clerics worries me, but as for us being certain that we are going to set the curve on being welcoming and hospitable, I am proud of my Church.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Sodomite" and "Nigger" Diocesan Convention Pt. 3




I have always enjoyed Diocesan Convention no matter which diocese I was serving. It was a time in which I gathered with colleagues, heard a speaker or two that helped me renew my commitment as a priest and pastor. It was where I could have my voice heard through the legislative and elective processes so dear to my denomination. I met friends who shared the ministry both lay and ordained. I stood in the traditions of our Church sustained with a liturgy that lifted me out of my local congregation and into the realm of the whole national and international Church. Episcopal clergy are not members of their parishes; they are members of the convention of their diocese. Convention was where I understood myself to be a pastor, priest and Christian of something greater than my local parish.

Yes, it was a place where we could argue with one another about various manifestations of Christ’s love in resolutions, constitution and canons and the use of diocesan funds. But never did we deny that the faith we shared was in Jesus Christ. Never did we intimate that we were not faithful Christians because we held one position or another.

The debris left from the schismatic efforts of a few renegade bishops in the Episcopal Church is still with us. We have lost a couple of parishes because of these schismatic efforts but most of the Episcopalians have remained in other parishes in Binghamton. I had hoped that in past conventions we had made it clear what the mind of convention about LGBT persons was. I know I flinched when the Dean brought forth his resolution. Once again LGBT persons became the target for the neo-conservatives to beat up, diminish healthy relationships to sexual acts and deny LGBT persons the same kind of respect as heterosexual Christians. The discussion, though short, allowed some to continue to denigrate the faith of LGBT persons. Granted, the resolution passed unequivocally, but the damage was done. The Chair of Convention did not intervene with the speakers who insisted on calling the manifestations of love of LGBT persons sodomy.

We would not allow the word “Nigger” because the word has been used to denigrate African-Americans. We don’t use “Bitch” or “whore” or other terms used to denigrate the lives of women. “Sodomite” should not be used for the same reason. It is a dirty, ugly word that does not in anyway describe the love between LGBT persons. For the Bishop to remain silent when such language is used on Convention floor says that he either supports the use of such language or he is not aware of the hurtfulness such language to LGBT persons. It means that he is not being advised by people who are sensitive to the needs of LGBT Christians in his diocese. It means his support of LGBT persons is facile and wishy-washy. He does not stand in solidarity with those who have been excluded. It means he cannot practice what he preaches. I call upon him to exclude the word from use at all diocesan meetings because of its continued injury to the faith of LGBT persons.

Quo Vades? Diocesan Convention (part II)





Once again the Diocesan Convention provided no substance to the ministry of Jesus Christ in Central NY. Previously, the prevailing negative attitude of the Diocesan office had not permeated the fabric of convention. Not this year. The first speakers on Friday afternoon began a harangue of the People of God that continued throughout the weekend. It was clear that the frustration of the Diocesan office has ‘trickled down’ to the tenor of the convention.

We had jazz, we had power point, we had utube, we had liturgy that was cutesy, but like most of the work of convention, the liturgy once again did not provide a focus and a theme for the whole convention. A good chorus of Christ is Made the Sure Foundation might have reminded us of the kind of togetherness that many remember in this diocese. For a liturgical church the liturgy of our conventions for the past several years have been real disappointments. It is as if the leadership is grasping at straws in trying to keep us entertained at convention rather than engage the people of God to celebrate Christ among us.

When I conferred with the Secretary of Convention she told me that 53 parishes were represented out of 93---hmmm I say. But when I spoke with the Bishop he gave me a total of 88. The actual number by Saturday afternoon was 83. Who is to say how many congregations were represented at Diocesan Convention this year and for what portions of the convention were they represented? There were clearly fewer people this year. We ate in a smaller room.

All the doom and gloom missives about budget cuts served to cut less than 1% of the budget. There were mouthings about dynamic programs and strategic planning, but it is impossible to see it. What I see is a stagnant and moribund organization, not a vibrant, faith-filled Church that is willing to cut the budget enough to bring about real change in the diocese. This does not mean that good things are not going on in parishes all over the diocese. The People of God have been doing Christ’s work for a couple of centuries in Central NY, but it seems that it cannot be celebrated by the leadership of our diocese. It is easier to shake fingers and tell us of our failings rather than give thanks for the work that is happening in our parishes despite the lack of leadership.

I must admit, I find it so hard to hang on to my temper when I listen our bishop berates us and remind us that we need to be a welcoming church when I am not included in anything in the diocese. I don’t even get the basic mailings, am not allowed to attend regional meetings in preparation for convention. I am not the only priest of the diocese who is kept from such meetings. Many senior and retired clergy have given up on the diocese. They no longer provide their well-worn wisdom to a diocese that is run by consistently younger men and women who have less and less formation. Yet we were chastised at numerous places in videos, sermons and reports for not being inclusive. The diocesan staff and leaders of programs need to be indicted by their own words and repent of their own exclusionary actions.

Play Dough? Give me a break! This kind of trivializing of the convention process is not what we need. Diocesan Convention is not a visioning time. The Diocesan Convention is not even a time to celebrate what we have done in the past year and chart how we are to be about mission for the coming year. It is a time to take seriously the democratic process that is the center of how the Spirit of God works in the Episcopal Church. It requires knowledgeable persons who understand the finances of their parishes, who understand the legislative process and who are willing to serve both the parish and the diocese by staying for the whole of the convention. That we cannot even field people to serve on the various committees should tell our leadership something. It should tell the bishop, the dean and their staffs that all in not right in the diocese. It should say that perhaps their leadership is found wanting.

Why do we come to convention? --To play or to take on the serious issues facing the Church today? The legislative process is one of the most sacred duties that we as Episcopalians have. At center is a democratic process that has set the Episcopal Church apart from both the Roman and Anglican manifestation of the Church Catholic. It also holds together the faithful by providing a system of checks and balances that has allowed the Episcopal Church to deal fairly and respectfully with all Orders—laity, bishops, priests and deacons. To trivialize that process with reports that report nothing or give no clarity as to purpose or mission erodes the confidence of the People of God.

I was thankful for the resolution on the acceptance of SLGBT persons either partnered or not for the ordination process—we have been ordaining LGBT persons partnered and not, for years. The resolution allows the delegates to General Convention to be able to speak the mind of the diocesan convention. I was not thankful for those who continue to beat a dead horse on the issue, but I do believe that they should have a chance to voice their concerns. That is the nature of our democratic Church. I am always amazed at the fear that the neo-conservatives admit. I often wonder why they cannot turn the Church over to the love of God and let go of their fear. But that is one of the temptations of the neo-conservative evangelical arm of the Church. It seems they do not recognize that salvation is God’s gift, not something that we earn by works righteousness.

There was no report from Lambeth. As a diocese we spent a considerable amount to send +Skip and Bonnie to Canterbury. Why was there no discussion of the issues and how he found the World Wide Anglican Communion? Why do we hear nothing about the House of Bishops? Why continue to keep the Diocese of Central NY in the dark about issues that affect us and the larger Church? What is the bishop afraid of? Instead we hear about icons, and play dough! Is there no one in the leadership of the Diocese of CNY who can develop an agenda for Convention that will lead the Church into a considered discussion of the issues facing us? The blogosphere is rife with bishops who do keep their dioceses current and if it wasn’t for them I would not know what is happening to my beloved Church. We are not a communion that is moribund or life-less. Throughout the Episcopal Church we have come through a schismatic event stronger and more committed to the ministry of Jesus Christ than I have known in my thirty years of membership. Yet the Convention is not informed of this vitality. Perhaps +Skip doesn’t feel that vitality and commitment.

There is one thing about this convention that is positive: I did see many old friends and they are becoming less frightened to acknowledge our friendships. I made some more friends in this diocese this weekend. I will continue to be a noisy voice in the diocese. I will continue to discuss on this website the issues that are too scary to discuss within our Church family.

Diocesan Convention I--No, Doug, it isn't all about Sodomy!




I thought that we were going to get through Diocesan Convention without stirring up the old wounds. But the Dean felt a need to enliven a very boring convention by sticking a habenero into the stew. Resolution: May unmarried or partnered persons be considered for ordination? And the neo-conservatives were on.

To equate the love of partnered persons with sodomy, which one rector did, says that the priest does not understand the lives of partnered people and the depths of their love. Most of us have to overcome the blocks to our relationship that many would place in our way. It is a false message that says that people cannot have love for one another and their families unless they are married. This is not only unscriptural, it is pure bunk.

I have friends who have been married for almost 30 years. They have 2 grown children, live in the town where they grew up, own a business and one of the couple is the mayor of the village. The husband had tried to reconcile his feelings that he was really a woman all of his life. Years of therapy finally revealed that he was really a woman. Needless to say, this put much pressure upon his spouse. But the love that they had for each other was more important to them than gender. He was counseled to leave his spouse and live his town because he would not be accepted if he changed. Bravely he said no. He gradually entered into the life of the transsexual. They live happily together now as two women in the same town,—their love for each other, their family and God stands as a witness to us all of what it means to be faithful. The issue is NOT sex. The issue is love and how we live out God’s love for us.

All kinds of people live together. Seniors live together without the bonds of matrimony. Gay and straight folk live together. Sisters and brothers live together. Children live with their parents and parents live with their children. The issue is not sex. The issue is about the kind of love that bonds people together. This new age is going to see more and more non-married people living together—not because of sex but because of finances, because of the need for companionship, because of the need to have nurturing environments for children etc. Marriage is not the only manifestation of God’s love and to say that it is, is manifestly untrue.

My neo-conservative brothers (and I might add they are all male) are falling for the oldest of Pelagian traps. Their reasoning is that salvation has to do with following the law. The law does not save. We are not saved by being sinless. We are saved by God’s love for us in the life of Jesus Christ.

One thing that I have been reminded of by working with the Lutherans is that Luther understood the Word to be the Incarnate Jesus rather than the jots and tittles of the written word. Sola Scriptura has to do with the manifestation of Christ rather than the do’s and don’ts of the written page.

The world is changing. We are able to see the love of God in two people who live together in love rather than by any rules of institutions. We are beginning to see that Christ’s love can and is manifested in different configurations than heretofore. And the Church is beginning to acknowledge this. The resolution passed with considerable majority. Thanks be to God!

It was interesting that several Lesbians came up to me and thanked me for speaking on their behalf and contradicting the neo-conservatives’ hurting denouncement of their lives and faith. For those of the clergy who are Lesbian or Gay it is important for us to speak up not only for ourselves but for the LGBT people in diocese. This doesn't mean that straight folk cannot speak to the issue. It just means that Christ is seen the lives of LGBT people and LGBT need to be able to see Christ in themselves just as surly as the heterosexual manifestations of priesthood.

Even the teenagers at our convention wanted to talk to me following my response at the microphone. They invited me into their group wondering what all that rejection was about from some members of the clergy. The couldn't beleive that such things were being said by priests in their Church. Young people today are much more accepting than their elders. They also understand what Christ's love is about. However, they are not going to accept a church that are demeening of those who are different. It was gratifying that they do understand the message of Jesus so clearly.

It was interesting that some of the diocesan leadership was quite uncomfortable with me talking to the youth and interrupted our discussion on several occasions with very worried looks upon their faces. It tells me loudly that even though the diocesan leadership preaches inclusion, they are in reality just as closed and afraid as the neo-conservatives. I am gratified by the vote of Convention, but we have miles to go before CNY is the welcoming and affirming diocese that it once was.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Firsts: Robinson and Obama



From Times Online
November 6, 2008
Barack Obama asked gay bishop Gene Robinson what it was like to be 'first'
Bishop Gene Robinson

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

Barack Obama sought out controversial gay bishop Gene Robinson not just once but three times during his campaign to become President of the United States, The Times can reveal.

Bishop Robinson, the 80-million strong Anglican Communion’s only openly gay bishop whose consecration in 2003 has left the Anglican Communion on the brink of schism, was sought out by Mr Obama to discuss what it feels like to be “first”.

Bishop Robinson, who received death threats after his election as Bishop of New Hampshire and was advised by police to wear a bullet-proof vest at his consecration, also discussed with Mr Obama the risks incumbent upon being a high-profile leader in a country such as the US.

Bishop Robinson said: “At the end of the day you have to decide whether or not you are going to be paralysed by threats and by violent possibilities or whether you just move on and do what you feel called to do despite the risks.

Bishop Robinson, in London as a guest of the gay rights group Stonewall for its annual “Hero of the Year” awards dinner at the Victoria and Albert Museum tonight, said that Mr Obama’s campaign team had sought him last year and he had the “honour” of three private conversations with the future president of the United States last May and June.

“The first words out of his mouth were: ‘Well you’re certainly causing a lot of trouble’, My response to him was: ‘Well that makes two of us'.”



He said that Mr Obama had indicated his support for equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people and described the election as a “religious experience”.

Bishop Robinson described his conversations with him as part of Mr Obama’s “extraordinary” outreach to all religious communities, not just Christian groups. Mr Obama, although not a member of The Episcopal Church to which Bishop Robinson belongs, is a committed Christian with the United Church of Christ.

He said that the Mr Obama was taller than he had expected and described him as “Lincolnesque”, both literally and metaphorically. They discussed the dangers both of being demonised by opponents and idealised by supporters.

Bishop Robinson said: “And I must say I don’t know if it is an expression here in England or not but he is the genuine article. I think he is exactly who he says he is.”

The bishop, who services on The Episcopal Church pension fund board at national level, said that another member of the board, who had been friends with Mr Obama since college days, shared this view.

The bishop said: “He is impressive, he’s smart, he is an amazing listener. For someone who’s called on to speak all the time when he asks you a question it is not for show, he is actually wanting to know what you think and listens.”

He said that this made a refreshing change from the Bush regime. "We’ve had eight years of someone who has listened to almost no one.”

He added: “To see the tears in the eyes of African-Americans, it’s just been a profoundly, I would say religious, experience, very exciting.”

They spent more time discussing international issues than lesbians and gays. “He certainly indicated his broad and deep support for the full civil rights for gay and lesbian ... I pressed him on the Millennium Development Goals. I wanted to know whether he thought more about them than just they were a good idea but whether he had any intention of pushing for their full funding and so on.”

Bishop Robinson said he feared that the economic crisis might affect this agenda. “I hope the United States will not shirk its responsibilities in aid to the developing world. That’s going to be a hard-fought fight, not just with President Obama but all the powers in Washington.”

The Anglican church’s first gay bishop and the United States’ first black President-elect discussed in depth the place of religion in the state.

Bishop Robinson said: “He and I would agree about the rightful place of religion vis-a-vis the secular state. That is to say, we don’t impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them based on the Constitution. You don’t say to someone, you must believe this because this is what God believes.

“I think God gives us our values and then we argue for those on the basis of the Constitution and care of our neighbour. And I think the Bush administration got very very close to the line if not going over the line in terms of offering support to religious-based groups who were using their social service arms to proselytise and evangelise which I would say is inappropriate.”

Bishop Robinson said that Mr Obama had not hesitated to talk about his faith.

“I find that remarkable, not only in a politician but also in a Democrat. For years it’s only been Republicans who wanted to talk about religion. All the Democratic candidates felt disposed to do so this year.”

COMMENT: +Gene Robinson is one of my heros. He is an incredibly generous person, one who has truely put his life on the line so that people like me can do what they are called by God to do. I post this because I find it incredible that President-elect Obama has sought counsel from my friend, +Gene. For me it is a sign of good things to come for LGBT people--but more than that. It says something about the networking that our new president will bring to his office. We always hope at the beginning of a new regime. I do hope that the President-elect will be able to bring the warring parts of our nation to the table of compromise for the betterment of the whole of the world.

Friday, October 31, 2008

One Voice-One Vote






I must admit I am getting quite jaded about the way that votes are counted in our nation, or even in our Church. I used to take great pride in the voting process of both our nation and the Episcopal Church. But after the fiascos of the last 2 presidential elections, the Florida Flimflam and the Ohio robbery, I get very unsure of the whole process.

We spend a great deal of money to have an election. There has been one relief in the unrelenting TV campaign ads in the national quadrennial affair: The campaign humor has been the best that I can remember! I have gotten u-tubes that have seen that have had me guffawing! Too bad there is so much at stake.

I will go and vote and exercise what I believe is my citizen’s duty. But I am not sure where the votes are going. I don’t know who is going to count them and whether my vote is going to be counted the way I have voted. I just have to have faith that my vote is going to go to the right person.

The same feeling arises when we vote in Diocesan elections any more. For the past few years, we have been using the single transferable ballot. We no longer have a single vote for a single candidate. We vote for our highest candidate and then second highest and so forth. The purpose is to save time. But democracy takes time. It takes time to know who the candidates are, what is their specific reason for running for office, and why I want to vote for them. The least we can do is count and report the votes for them.

The problem comes when we want to know the will of the Convention. There is no way now with a single transferable ballot that we can get the mind of the Body of Christ. All we get told is who won. We have no knowledge if there was a wide margin; we have no way of knowing if this is a close election or a landslide. And the way that a single transferable ballot gets tallied is anybody’s guess.

Am I accusing anyone of malfeasance? Not at all! I am just saying that we as a people have gotten away from good old fashioned democratic methods of One Voice-One Vote in our diocesan government. We are throwing away a very important charism of our Episcopal Church just as we are throwing away much of the liberty in our nation by choosing to “streamline” our voting process.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Episcopal Theology?




You know you are an Episcopalian…

…if you reach a point when you're not sure about anything theologically but you still feel completely at home at the altar rail and somehow know you're meeting God there, even though you can't begin to understand how.


I found this statement at the end of a list of funny statements that identify us as Episcopalians. I could not help the smile that came upon my face when I read this. And I couldn’t help but hear the rhetoric of the likes of + Iker, x+Duncan and those who damn the Episcopal Church that we don’t even believe in God anymore.

I majored in theology when I went to seminary. I had studied theology with the Jesuits at Loyola (NO) and Saint Louis University during my Roman Catholic incarnation, so I thought that theology would be a snap for me as an Episcopal seminarian. But the surety of Aquinas’ scholasticism was never an Episcopal thing except in some rather remote circles (i.e. Nashotah House). I soon found that jots and tittles were not observed in Episcopal theology especially at the Episcopal Divinity School. And for the first time in my faith life, theology and spirituality combined.

The more I became Episcopalian; the more I understood the unity of faith and reason. It no longer became an effort to suspend reason to know faith. This does not mean that my faith became more reasonable. Faith goes beyond reason because reason cannot encompass that which is Divine. It just became more reasonable to suspend it. The God that I knew, the Holy One I experienced, broke down those theological pigeon holes that once were convenient ways of describing God. My life became less involved with trying to describe God, or discuss God, and more involved with living with and serving God.

Today I read the likes of Spong, Borg, Wink, Heyward, Fox and find that it is not necessary to put theology into pigeon holes either. As I dance with the Lutherans I hear some heavy theology thumped by some, but mostly I hear the same kind of testing one’s relationship with God against how one is describing the activity of the Divine. And I believe this is a good thing. We are invited to the altar rail with a sense of wonder and acceptance that moves us beyond the ‘thou shalt nots’ and into a commandment to love.

I also see even theologians testing their theology with their spirituality rather than trying to fit God into “reasonable” arguments. I can no longer articulate salvation in the words of redemption economies. I have a hard time talking about salvation at all, except in the sense of the kind of universality that God wants to be a part of everyone’s lives. I have a hard time thumping a theology of human damnation from the fall because I know the mercy of Christ’s life among us. Yet in that acceptance I can know clearly how much I fall short of God’s desire for me. It is in the light of God’s embrace that I know my sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world which bring me to my knees in humility and remorse.

So I DO have a theology of God, Humanity, and Creation. I do have a notion of how sin affects the individual soul and the world. I believe in a sense of shalom that is offered to all which is how I understand heaven. My faith is quite traditional and orthodox no matter how I am seen by those who might label me otherwise. Can I count how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I don’t bother. Some things I can leave up to God.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Sickness unto Death"



I haven’t been posting much lately. Since vacation I have found it hard to write about the Episcopal Church. The various depositions of bishops and the continuing elections to leave the church leave me weary of the fight. I am glad that those leaders and those parishes have left. They have not been Episcopalians for some time. But I the malaise that I feel is about the church that remains.

The description of the September Diocesan Clergy conference was so insipid that it left me no longer angry but just tired. When the diocese cannot even afford a speaker to expand or develop the education of the body of clergy in its midst, it has ceased to be a diocese of any import. Or when the topics deal with navel gazing rather than the care and development of their parishes, there is no reason worthy of attending. The place where the conference is held has no chapel or musical center. The times for sharing and places to do so are cramped and uncomfortable. The atmosphere is angry and defensive.

In comparison, the Upstate Synod ELCA had about 1/3 of their clergy in attendance of all ages. There were ways to allow retired clergy to attend. There was a nationally-known speaker speaking on congregational development. It was held at a retreat center that provided a prayerful setting. Liturgy was centered on the tradition and came from denominational prayer books and hymnals. It allowed the clergy to sing the office reminding them of their seminary days and touching important spiritual centers of their lives. The afternoon of the second day was devoted to relaxation and collegiality. There was a golf outing, winery tours, card playing and good place to gather to share our lives and convivial discussion. It was a place and time of welcome and sharing.

I love the Episcopal Church. I have served in 3 different dioceses and under 7 different bishops. Even in the midst of the schism, I have found my denomination a place of energy and faith. But I have a hard time finding such energy or enthusiasm in my diocese. It is sad. The malaise that seems to be attacking the Clergy Conference also seems to be attacking churches in the area too. Kirkegaard may have been right.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Letter from the Bishop of Ft. Worth




A Pastoral Request from the Bishop
This message is specifically directed to every priest in charge of a congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. However, I am sending it to all clergy, vestry members, and convention delegates on our mailing list so that everyone will know what I am proposing.
As the date approaches for our momentous Diocesan Convention vote in November, many parish clergy have attempted to make certain that their parishioners understand the issues surrounding the proposal that we separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. In several places parish forums have been held, where outside speakers have been brought in to present the opposing sides on the question of realignment. Some of you have preached sermons on this subject, written articles for your parish newsletter, and even in a couple of places brought in General Convention authorities to speak to your people. In addition, several different groups have been formed in the Diocese, including Remain Episcopal, Via Media, and Remain Faithful, which have attempted to educate, organize, and motivate the laity to take sides on the question: “Should we remain with TEC or with the Diocese?” Legal counsel has been engaged, lawsuits are being anticipated, various steering committees have been formed, and outside assistance from the “815” church headquarters in New York is being sought.
An important factor that has often been forgotten in all of the controversy is the need for prayerful discernment that seeks, above all else, to know what God’s will is for us at this particular time in our life together as a diocesan family.
As your bishop and chief pastor, I am inviting and urging that every congregation in this Diocese enter into an intentional 40-day period of prayerful discernment to be concluded the week prior to our Convention on November 14 and 15. This means that our start-up day would have to be either September 28 or 29. Furthermore, I am proposing that we all use the same materials and process that will lead us in this venture. All the information that you will need may be found at this website: www.40daysofdiscernment.org. Please go to that site today or tomorrow and get everything you need in order to begin.
Fr. David Klein has already completed this program at St. John’s Church in Fort Worth, and I am certain that he is willing to commend it to you and to answer any questions you may have about it in advance.
I will not force any of you to comply with this request. At this very tense and troubled time in the life of our Church, I am simply asking each of you to respect and be guided by my pastoral direction and leadership as your bishop by leading your congregation(s) in this discernment program. Ultimately, no one from outside can tell you and your people what you should decide is the best way forward for your congregation. This 40-day program is to help each local congregation, as a body of Christian believers, to enter into a prayerful and reasoned process to help discern a way forward through the crisis that is confronting us.
Please let me know how I can be of assistance as we move forward together as the Holy Spirit leads us.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
September 3, 2008


Commentary

+ Jack Iker has written a letter to the parishes in the Diocese of Ft. Worth asking for a period of 40 days of discernment so that in November the members of the diocese can vote at Diocesan Convention on whether or not to leave the Episcopal Church. This letter is typical of the kind of information that +Iker and even his predecessors have made available to their priests and congregations for years. If it had not been for many who have moved to the sunny south from other areas, most Ft. Worthians would never have known that they were out of pace with the rest of the Church. It was also the heavy work of Via Media and now Remain Episcopal that have given members of the Episcopal Church in the diocese a view of the Church that has not been controlled by the archconservatives. In many ways the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth reflects the strong influence of the Southern Baptists whose conference is based in the city.

But the seemingly benign plea for discernment by +Iker has its teeth. According to this letter the diocese should enter a time of prayerful discernment. But the “but” is there. It should only be done according to the same information which will be provided by the diocesan office. Once again the Diocese of Ft. Worth is trying to control the mind of the diocese which is the most un-Episcopal—un-Anglican thing you can do.

One of the most important charisms of what it means to be an Episcopalian is the freedom of thought. We have always looked askance at the Roman Catholic hierarchy that tends to bend the mind of its members. We have always tried to stand ready to embrace more than one opinion. Again and again we have seen +Iker and the likes try to control how people think which is not only un-Anglican, it just plain doesn’t work. All it does show is how worried they are when people hear both sides. The years of anti-liberal propaganda is beginning to fail as the world begins to recognize that the issues are no longer Liberal vs. Conservative. The issues are whether Christianity is going to be relevant to a coming generation. The fights must stop because at present no one can hear the Gospel for all the bellicosity.

If anything has happened in this present age is that people can access all kinds of information at all times and in all places. As post-modern gurus are saying—no longer can people in power control information or process. What we must do is come to a place where community –that incredible mix of compromise and conversation must be at the center of what it means to be Church. The future of the Church is going to be less a matter of episcopal decrees and more about dialog. It is going to be less control and more about shepherding. Our bishops are going to have to be more in touch with the people of his/her diocese. The role of the bishop will be less the leader and more the pastor—one who can serve and listen rather than one who sets the agenda of a diocese.

Whether the Diocese of Ft. Worth votes to leave or not, there will be Episcopalians in Ft. Worth. Like the Diocese of San Joachin, there may some churches that will go. But a good number will remain faithful and will continue to be part of the Church knowing that the arguments that +Iker and the like propose are old hat and no longer important to the future of the Anglican Communion.

As we saw at Lambeth, the Anglican Communion is not about to divide. Yes, we disagree but it is not in us to split. We may be more willing to fight than switch. But we are still family. We are still unwilling to divorce even though we disagree.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What's it all about? Lambeth




After all the hype of the past almost 3 years, what has the Lambeth Conference accomplished? I have read several reports including the two missals from our bishop and his wife and am still puzzled by what has happened and why we spent inordinate amounts of energy, time and money on this conference. Maybe it was one of those things that ‘you had to be there’ to understand.

I am quite satisfied that it tried to legislate nothing. In that the Archbishop of Canterbury was wise. Bp. Sisk said that there was considerable difference in the whole conference because there was no attempt to bring legislation to the floor. The purpose of the whole conference was to listen.

+Gene Robinson quoted ++Desmond Tute about Lambeth
"We meet," he said. Full stop. That's what we do. We hold a common belief and hope in the Risen Christ, and because we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, we meet. We meet, and let God's Holy Spirit work among us, to allow us to see our common humanity, and to discover the Christ in "the other." While that might not look like much to the rest of the world, it is an amazing "product." It is precisely what we need during this difficult time. We don't need -- perhaps cannot possibly discern -- the answers right now. What we DO need and CAN discern, is that we are all in this together. That God IS working God's purposes out, even if we can't always see it. Even if we are in the midst of conflict and pain.”

And perhaps that is what we should allow our bishops to do—to meet, to talk and to listen rather than try to legislate.

From all the reports that I have gotten from bishops, members of Integrity, from the left and the right, the process of Indaba (small group listening intently to others) groups provided the kind of forum that the Church needed. Using a uniquely African formula for such discussion is not only politic, it may have provided a way around the posturing that is inherent when leaders of any kind get together. It called from the mainly manly group a type of listening that they are not used to doing. And in that, the Holy Spirit CAN do her work.
And evidently did.

I am deeply indebted to such people as Susan Russell, Elizabeth Kaeton, Katie Sherrod and Cynthia Black who went and talked and met with people to let them hear from us here at home. The members of Integrity and those who were stewards from all over the world—all of these spoke by their actions to the needs of LGBT persons. Even more I am indebted to those LGBT persons from Africa and India who put their lives in danger but spoke up about what it means to live in their countries as a gay person. It is these witnesses to the issue that need to be held up as the real heroes of Lambeth.

I am also encouraged by brave stance of + Marc Andrus of California who has said he will not abide by the moratoria.
“Archbishop Rowan in his final presidential address, given just after we received the reflections document noted that, “There will be some who cannot abide by these moratoria, and in this they signal that there are steps to deeper unity they cannot take; or it may be that they conceive of deeper unity in other ways.” I take this to be a profound and generous idea. In not abiding by the moratorium on same-sex blessings I take it as incumbent on me and on us in the Diocese to actively labor to both understand the position of those to whom that moratorium is important, and to convey the reality of our life together to the world. I must redouble my efforts at inhabiting a deeper unity.”
Knowing +Marc, I know that he will do just that; these are not just words of kindness.
I doubt if those bishops who attended Lambeth will come away without being in someway changed. Whenever we journey for a fourtnight with other, whenever there has been solid and important sharing going on one is changed. But with that said, it is absolutely imperative that those of us who call for the end of homophobia in the Church, must also be willing to enter into a deeper unity with those who are not yet ready to hear this from us.
I find that when I have been confronted with those who are willing to share their fears, I am much more willing to take those fears into consideration when I am trying to articulate what it means to be Christ’s own in the world. But we must be mindful that not only must we listen to the fears of a world that cannot yet address the gay issue in their own lands, we must be willing to continue to address the needs of gay folk in our own.
The continued need to abolish the moritoria on same-sex marriage, the consecration of GLBT persons to the episcopate, the support of gay clergy in their parishes and ministries and the welcoming of LGBT persons to our churches still remains our business. It still remains to be the way that we have allowed ourselves as Church to speak of what Christian inclusion means.
For those in African, issues of Christian inclusion mean something different. And they need to address those differences themselves. But we must at the same time remind them that there are LGBT persons in their midsts that are being discriminated against. The same way that our African or Latin American brothers and sisters have to remind us of our consumerist sins, or the use of power in this nation.
The end of the conference and the Archbishop’s (ABC) address is so reminicent of General Convention. While there had been no legislation and the bishops had worked hard to hear each other, it was clear that the ABC wanted to push his desire for a Covenant and to continue the Windsor Process. It was like the end of GC2006—a blatant overthrow of the process that had been worked out in the trenches. It was as if the Indaba groups meant nothing—and perhaps the ABC had not participated in one—the need to be incharge came to the fore.
Where does this leave the Episcopal Church? No place different than before it. What will it mean for General Convention 2009? More of the same, I fear.
But if the Bishops of the Episcopal Church are going to be people of integrity they must be willing to end the moritoria. If they are going to stand for something but still continue to disallow the on-going process of including LGBT person into the life of the Church, then they are nothing but clanging cymbals. But if they are to end the moritoria and take up the real work of inclusivity and unity, then we will be a better Church for it.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Messiness of the Holy Spirit


I have been watching the various comments by bishops at Lambeth. It is good to hear that the bishops are speaking with candor in their small bible study groups.

As Bishop Wolfe from KS and Bishop Frade of Southeast FL have said today, they don’t expect to iron out the issue of homosexuality in the Church at Lambeth. Thanks be to God! Lambeth couldn’t do that anyway—it is merely a meeting of bishops, not the representation of the whole of the Church. Nor could it speak on something about which men—and it is overwhelmingly a meeting of men—can speak only once every ten years. It is the media that want quick answers from Lambeth, not those of us in the Church.

What I am seeing from the various blogs and news commentaries is a meeting that is less about making decisions and a group of folks who are about listening. And Lord knows, we need to be about that in the Church.

It is clear from the reports from most of the bishops I have followed that some sort of Covenant is not going to be acceptable to TEC. The Anglican Communion has never been a church with a magisterium or a block of doctrine to which one must subscribe. And I would guess that the majority of Anglicans don’t want this either. It is just too easy for such a body of doctrine to be used as a bludgeon and interpreted by a small group to wield power. And while it might give us a better understanding of the faith, it would hamper the continued growth and movement by the Holy Spirit in the Church.

The Holy Spirit makes for a messy Church—Thanks be to God!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

So difficult yet so simple---





"I found some astonishing things in the course of my study that had never occurred to me. Frankly, in the days that when I thought I’d had it with religion, I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract, and, to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief, which we make such a fuss about today, is only a very recent religious enthusiasm. It surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word ‘belief’ itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I’m exploring in a book I’m writing at the moment, to mean an intellectual ascent to a set of propositions — a credo. ‘I believe’ did not mean ‘I accept certain creedal articles of faith.’ It meant, ‘I commit myself. I engage myself.’ Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy. In the Qur’an, religious opinion — religious orthodoxy — is dismissed as zanna — self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian.

So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice." Karen Armstrong


A few years ago when I first read Karen Armstrong’s autobiography The Spiral Staircase I found that there was so much in her life that paralleled mine. In her work I found a soul-sister, a woman who had tried to follow God in the only way she thought a woman could—by being a nun. In those days, women could only aspire to marriage or the convent. I knew I was not called to marriage, to raise children to the glory of God. Ergo…

And while I respect highly the lives of the sisters with whom I lived, my calling was not to be second class citizens in a patriarchy which did not practice what it preached. What Karen Armstrong found impossible and what I still find impossible is to see that faith is a matter of beliefs. And now even as an Episcopalian, and even working for the Lutherans, I can not boil faith down to a body of dogma or confession to which I assent.

Faith is a relationship, pure and simple. It is the on-going, ever-widening familiarization with the God of all creation. Unlike Bishop Spong, I know God as person. I am impressed with those who can relate to that which is not person. But frankly I can only really relate to God who is beyond, yet within, who is person and personable. Call me anthropomophic and I will agree--it is how God interacts wtih me.

I am not saying that doctrines aren’t important—they certainly help me talk about God—they give me a way to discuss the ineffible. But the doctines do not hold the truth of the Divine—they merely catagorize it. What holds the truth of the Divine is the relationship, that intimate encounter that Moses knew that made him radient on Sinai—that Samuel knew that emboldened him to speak to Eli—that Paul knew on the road to Damascus--and countless others have embraced over the past 4,000 years.

Scripture is an important part of our relationship with God. It tells us stories of those who too have had relationships with the God of all creation. It has given us ways to journey with God but its law is merely road sign. It is the way that we live out the journey that is important.

It is how we live that is important. It is the practice of being totally human while being embraced by the Divine that makes us faithful. That is what it seems to me what Jesus is saying in the Gospels. Do my actions reveal the God that loves me? Is God incarnate in me by the way I live? Arggggg! It is so difficult! And yet at the same time, it is so simple.

Monday, June 30, 2008

GAFCON




It must seem to those nations represented by Gafcon bishops that the Anglican Communion is a terribly inequitable place. Those African bishops represent a distinct majority of Anglicans in the world. And yet it is the white, western bishops who still run the Communion.

The GAFCON Statement, (Global Anglican Future Conference meeting in Jerusalem as a protest to Lambeth) is a desperate declaration that the Thirty-nine Articles should be the standard by which the Anglican Communion should be run. And yet, that is not the story. The whole effort is still a demand for power. The proposed Primatial Council concept is not a call for equality in the Communion. It is a desire to wrest control of the Communion from the Western hegemony that still calls the shots. It is a clear rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a sign of unity for the Communion.

This may be the first real threat to the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury in recent centuries, but it is certainly not going to be its last. If the “liberal” church agenda is what is being attacked by GAFCON, it must be remembered that it is the “liberal” agenda that has given the African or Latin American Church much credence at all.

The use of the Global South by the unwieldy fringe elements of neo-evangelical and the uber anglo-catholic elements in the American church has been disgraceful. It has flamed anti-American/Western sentiment through out the Communion in order to attempt a power coup on TEC. This coup has been thwarted by the last General Convention, the House of Bishops and the election of ++Katharine Jefferts-Schori as Presiding Bishop in the US. But it has not cooled the issue in other countries. It has just opened Pandora’s Box.

Lambeth will not be able to do anything to assuage the brittleness of the emerging countries’ testiness. GAFCON will never be able to garner enough support in the wealthier countries to make their desires known. A breech between the two parties has formed, not because of sexuality or moral lassitude. It has been created by policies deeply engrained in colonialism, in imperialistic economy, and educational opportunities denied.

Should there be a legislative body for the Anglican Communion? I don’t think so at the present time. The standards by which an elective body operates are not the same from one country to the next. Even elected bishops are not seen as essential in the UK and certainly not seen so in much of the Global South. Those western nations would not accept such heavy handed authority in their churches as proposed by GAFCON.

There is a tendency to ignore the GAFCON bishops for their short-sightedness. We tend to belittle their efforts to voice their anger at nations who keep them from being able to deal with such immense issues of economics, AIDS, national development, literacy, etc. The only thing that they can really do is voice their fear at the loss of local culture in the face of western consumerism. And ultimately are we not afraid of the same thing? Are we in the West not also afraid of losing our autonomy in the face of globalism?

The manipulation of the bishops of poor countries by big right-wing money elements in the Church will go down in the history as one of the most shameful acts of Western Christianity. But what it has done is amplified the voice of Africa and Latin America in ways that they have never been heard. And when the right-wing money goes away, those countries will still have voices.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Solemnity of Peter and Paul


June 29, 2008
Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 87:1-3, 5-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
John 21:15-19
Today we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Unlike my own Episcopal tradition, when a major saint’s day falls on a Sunday, Lutherans celebrate the feast day, so the readings are different, the tone is different and the subject of the sermon is different.
The feast of saints Peter and Paul is an interesting one because these two saints were paragons—the absolute authorities in the Jesus movement of the first century.
Peter was the leader of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles—those who were not from Jerusalem. Saul of Tarsus, began as a persecutor of the Christians because he was a good rabbinic Jew who thought his faith was being attacked from within by the Jesus movement. Then in an dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, Saul comes to believe in the risen Christ and become its most celebrated apostle to the Gentiles.
The early Christian movement—you can’t call it a Church yet. It was merely a movement in the years between the death of Jesus and the death of the apostles—about the year 67. It was a time of tremendous evangelism. It was a time when people heard the stories of Jesus, his life, his message that God cared for us, his death and resurrection and it brought people to a new understanding of what it meant to be faithful to a single God. It was a faith that was not determined about what you were to eat or wear. It was a faith about transformation of one’s life. It was a faith about achieving shalom—that sense of balance in one’s life and community. In some places the followers of Jesus’ Way lived together in community. In some places they met in synagogues. And in others, they met in peoples’ homes.
But it was these two saints that directed the movement at its very beginning --Peter, the staunch Jew following the Jewish customs and Paul, the virulent Pharisee who found that the message of Jesus crossed cultural bounds and opened the Way of Jesus to those who had not been born Jewish.
Judaism at the time of Jesus was one which was really solely for those who were ethnically Jews—those whose mother had be of the lineage of one of the tribes of Israel. And depending upon which party one belonged to, the tribal aspect of one’s faith colored how you observed your faith. But in the few generations preceding Jesus, there were those from the various nations around the Mediterranean who had come to follow the ways of the Jews without becoming circumcised. These followers of the ways of Judaism were called Proselytes.
Following the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus, many were drawn to this new way taught by Jesus. Many who were not Jewish flocked to the communities that worshipped God according to the teachings of the Christ. And the spread of this religion throughout the Empire was rapid. Even in Jerusalem the early Christians had to appoint deacons to serve those who were unable to attend the prayers of the worshipping community. It is interesting that some of those deacons have remarkably un-Jewish names, hinting that the early community was both of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.
In the book of Acts, we hear of a growing dissension between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Evidently the Jerusalem Christian community was sending missionaries to the churches that Paul was starting in Galatia, Rome, Corinth and Thessalonica telling those churches that they had to be circumcised if they really were to be followers of Jesus. It isn’t surprising because even among the Jews of Jesus’ day, the difference of how one observed the rules of kosher were problematic.
Paul ministered and preached to those who were not Jewish. He traveled through Asia minor and Greece sharing the Gospel. He called those who were not Jewish to submit to baptism as a sign of their embracing the teaching of Jesus. He did not require that they become Jewish first, or observe the whole of Mosaic law.
Finally sometime around the year 50, Paul went to Jerusalem because there were concerns that Gentiles who had become Christians were not observing the same customs as the Jewish Christians. Paul confronted Peter and the Jerusalem leaders with the issue—especially the one of the eating of non-kosher food. Peter capitulated to Paul’s understanding of what righteousness meant and accepted baptism as the sign of one’s faith in Jesus rather than circumcision and observance of Mosaic Law.

Now this long history lesson has very little meaning to us today because we are long past recognizing Mosaic Law as the measure of one’s faith. Peter and Paul were the ones who worked out what it meant to be Christian and it changed the character of Christianity from being a sect of Judaism to being a different faith altogether. But we still celebrate these two saints together not only because they were great followers of Jesus, but because they taught us how to agree to disagree. The sad part is all too often, we don’t pay attention to the hard work that these two saints must have done to come to a compromise so that all could worship in the same Church.
And I believe that it was the work of these two devout followers of Jesus—two Jesus called to minister to those who wanted to worship God in holiness and truth.
Peter was a fisherman, a devout Jew, an early lover of Jesus, perhaps impetuous, and one who like us, allowed his fear to get the better of him in the face of Jesus’ death until he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. From that point onward, we find that Peter was an important and courageous leader of the faith. Paul, who never knew Jesus in this world, was like all those who had come to know the Christ from others. He taught with the fervor of the twice born. These very different men, these men who came to know Jesus found their commonality was in their love of Jesus. They did not stand on personal privilege or ego. For the sake of the Church they found that they could compromise.
It is a lesson we need to hear today. We need to hear that two great men, great lovers of Jesus, with great talent and great abilities could come together and say yes to ways that could lead the Church out of confusion that could have killed the Church before it was really born. We need to hear of a faith in Jesus that bridged the gaps of culture and the wisdom of those who could lead the neophyte religion into a new place.
I am thankful that we have this feast today. Peter and Paul teach us much. Those with ears, let them hear. Amen

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Seduced by God's grace


Proper 7A
June 21, 2008

In the reading from Jeremiah today is a passage that many preachers identify with. The translation as it was read this morning is a bit more elegant that the Hebrew actually intends. The word enticed really has a more earthy sense to it. It would be better translated seduced. Jeremiah feels that he has been seduced into being a prophet by God. He has had to proclaim the doom that God will bring down on Judah to the scorn of those who laugh at him. Jeremiah in this passage laments his lot. He complains that he has to cry out to the people that the Babylonians will come and take Judah captive, but he cannot do otherwise. He tries to keep silent, but the truth burns in him until it must come out.

I understand Jeremiah’s lament. I know what it means to be seduced by God’s truth and love and to almost naively point out flaws or lack of integrity. Folks do not really like whistle blowers. The majority of folks do not appreciate those who find the chinks in the constructs of their businesses, political systems, organizations or churches. We like our world to be comfortable. And even though it doesn’t work quite the way that we want, we are willing to put up with the chinks if we don’t have to look at them too hard.

When I was a child living in Jim Crow South, there were two different colored water fountains in stores—one for white folks and one for “colored people”. For most white folks in Ft. Worth, those 2 drinking fountains were just part of the construction of society. For me, even when I was young, those 2 drinking fountains were signs that there was something radically wrong with society. Even as an 8 year old, I would drink from the “colored” fountain much to my mother’s embarrassment. As I grew older, that construct of society became more and more a sign of what was wrong about my society rather than something that I could ignore. I got kicked out of a high school history class because I was not outraged that white women didn’t get to vote before black men did. My radically southern and bigoted world history teacher was horrified that I might believe that black folk should be equal. After all she was a good Christian woman who went to church every Sunday! Something burned in me—it was not just orneriness. It wasn’t just a matter of being different. Something inside of me claimed a priority of Truth with a capital T.

Truth is a mysterious thing. We sometimes think that we know the truth of something because we recognize the facts about something. But the kind of Truth that Jeremiah had to deal with—the kind of proclamation that he had to make was not something that he could explain. It was something that burned inside of him. It allowed him to speak the truth that no one wanted to hear—that the leaders of his country were selling his nation down the primrose path. He had to proclaim like Jonah that if the people of Judah continued in the path that it would be to their destruction. He could not be silent even when he wanted to be.

One of the major criticisms of mainline Protestantism these days by the younger generations is that we don’t practice what we preach. We preach love and kindness, but often time our churches quarrel viciously. We say we are welcoming and big happy family, but we tend to include only those who look or act like us. I am not talking of St. Luke’s or even the Lutheran Church. But I am quoting what I am hearing from surveys of the 40 and younger crowd by various organizations about mainline churches throughout the country.

Part of the problem is that we are not familiarizing young people with what Truth is. We are not teaching people of all ages that what is honest is part of their own relationship with God. When we are baptized we enter into God’s understanding, God’s holiness and we will forever struggle with what is Truth, what is Holy, what is Right.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear those words that give us all pause:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
Jesus understood the call to integrity. He knew the call to be a whistle blower in the name of God. Jesus knew his disciples when they went out to spread the Gospel would not have to know exactly what to say or how to preach. But he did know that if they could be true to the voice inside them—be true to what was honest and true, that they would serve God as did he, as had Jeremiah, as had Moses or whatever saint that had preceded them.
We have all been seduced into believing that we can walk the Christian path simply by being good. But that is not what Jesus teaches us in this passage. Sometimes we have to color outside the lines. Sometimes we have to step outside of what is acceptable behavior to follow the Lord of Life. We must demand of ourselves a willingness to pay attention to the holiness that God has opened up within us. We have to be willing to not accept a lesser form of living than the integrity that Christ holds out to us.
For those of us who have embraced Christianity we must be willing to practice what we preach—we must be willing to look at how we respond to the Truth we find within us and how we live it out in out lives. The cost of discipleship can be severe. It may mean rejection by those we love the most. Peer pressure is not just a phenomenon of the young, you know. Peer pressure is “keeping up with the Jones”, “being part of the team”, “fitting in”, “go along to get along” or “just being one of the guys.” It is as much a problem for adults as it is for kids.
Paul reminds us in Romans that in our baptism we have died to all that is not of God. We have been renewed by God’s love in baptism. We have opened that space so that we can know what Truth is and we can live in the promise of that baptism here and now. Yes, it may cost us, but the reality of God’s promise is much greater.
I serve here at St. Luke’s because I spoke the Truth to my bishop. He did not like the Truth that I spoke and has forbidden me work in my own church. The cost of that truth telling almost broke my heart. And the loss of access to my beloved denominational home is painful to me still.
At the same time, God has called me here. God has opened new truths to me in a way that I could not have imagined 10 months ago. God has promised that his eye is on the sparrow. We need not fear what comes from being a disciple. The Gospel is the promise of new life every day—it may not be the life you were planning, but it is the life of living with integrity the life that God has given us in baptism.
I would charge you to look at the places in your lives where you are just “fitting in”. I would invite you to challenge yourselves to live the lives that God has opened for you in your baptism—lives that are drawn to the Truth that resonates within you. And I would invite you to live those lives with integrity, boldness and love. Our world needs to hear that Truth —the truth of our beings, the truth of our baptism, the truth of the Gospel. AMEN

Monday, June 16, 2008

One Bishop's pastoral letter on Same-Sex marriage





Written by The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Monday, 09 June 2008
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry. I am writing to you now to recommend a path to use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers, and our continued witness to God’s inclusive love.

Clergy and lay leaders in the diocese have been working for the rights of LGBT people and for their full inclusion in our Church for more than forty years. Today, we continue to walk a journey that includes:
• Bringing the witness of our LGBT sisters and brothers to this summer’s Lambeth Conference,
• Combating a ballot initiative this November that will attempt to take away the rights recently recognized by the California Supreme Court,
• Providing leadership at next summer's General Convention to bring our marriage practices and theology in line with our fundamental baptismal theology.
For far too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state’s Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field.

To that end, the Diocese of California seeks to provide, by advocacy and example, a way forward for The Episcopal Church so that the marriage of same-sex couples will be a part of our official marriage rites, without distinction. Although The Episcopal Church does not have canonical rites for same-sex marriage, it is our goal that all couples be treated equally by the Church, as they are equally loved by God.

I therefore provide you with the following pastoral guidelines:
• I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service and then being blessed in The Episcopal Church. I will publicly urge all couples to follow this pattern.
• For now, the three rites approved for trial use under the pastoral direction of the bishop, adopted by resolution at the 2007 Diocesan Convention (see appendix), should be commended to all couples (again, regardless of orientation) to bless secular marriages.
• All marriages should be performed by someone in one of the secular categories set forth in California Family Code, section 400 (see appendix), noting that any person in the state of California can be deputized to perform civil marriages. The proper sphere for Episcopal clergy is the blessing portion of the marriage.
• The understanding of The Episcopal Church currently is that blessings are an extension of the pastoral office of the bishop. I ask that you continue to inform me of all same-sex blessings.
• Couples who have been married under the auspices of the California Supreme Court ruling must have the same pre-marriage counseling as that required of any couple seeking marriage or blessing of marriage in The Episcopal Church. This should be understood as an offering of the Church’s support for marriage.
• I urge Episcopalians, clergy and lay, to volunteer as Deputy Marriage Commissioners. There are over 4,000 civil same-sex marriages planned in a short period of time in the city of San Francisco alone and the city is asking for help in meeting demand. I intend to volunteer for this at my earliest opportunity. This would be one sign of affirmation for the Supreme Court ruling from our diocese. By city requirement, clergy will not be allowed to wear collars when presiding at secular marriages. (For more information about how to be deputized, see the attached appendix.)
• All people receiving blessings of civil marriages in the Diocese of California are free to use the same degree of publicity (e.g., newspaper notices).
These are interim measures as the Diocese of California and The Episcopal Church continue our journey in the context of this prophetic opportunity provided by the California Supreme Court’s ruling. I have already initiated a process to arrive at a more studied, permanent answer for Episcopal clergy presiding at same-sex marriages in this diocese. That process includes the formation of a panel of diocesan clergy to make recommendations about how to move toward equality of marriage rites for all people. These recommendations will be discussed across the diocese resulting in an official diocesan policy.
In the coming days, I will publicly state my opposition to the initiative to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. The Diocese of California will publish advertising around June 17 celebrating the Supreme Court ruling and inviting same-sex couples to our churches for pre-marital counseling and nourishment in communities of faith.
As always, I welcome your wisdom, your insights and your input on these matters, and I continue in my commitment to work for a Church that sees all of God’s children through the same eyes that God does.

Peace,

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Post-modernism: Now I get it!




I have spent the past week at two rather bracing events. One was the ELCA Upstate Synod Assembly. If there is anyone that Episcopalian dioceses could learn from, it is this Synod’s efforts of what a gathering of Church can mean for the faithful. I was impressed in how it went about electing a new bishop. It was done with such respect and grace that my breath was taken away. Granted, the Lutherans elect their bishops for a six-year term. A sitting bishop must then run again if s/he wishes to continue as bishop. In this case, Bishop Marie Jerge was re-elected. But it is a process that perhaps we Episcopalians could entertain in the future. It would mean that there would never be situations such has happened in the dioceses of San Joachin, Ft. Worth, Pittsburgh where “bully bishops” have besmirched the Church by trying to lead their churches out of the community of the faithful.



The theme for the Upstate Synod’s annual meeting was “We are called.” Throughout the three days of meeting we heard people from all over the synod and beyond about their understanding of call. They were pastors, and lay folk, young and old, who understood their baptism to be their ordination to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. I was especially thrilled with the young people: high-school and young adults (post-high school to 35) who spoke of their faith with a unique humility and situated in the reality of their lives. The hope that they communicated enriched my own faith.

The liturgy was truly “the work of the people.” And while I have always been proud of Episcopal liturgy, the Lutheran ethos of music enfolded the liturgies in four-part sound that filled up the whole convention center and wafted to heaven. An African-American United Methodist bishop preached a sermon that moved people to applause and cheers. I came away from this meeting of NY Christians renewed and enthused—what I believe that church-wide gatherings are supposed to do.



Friday and Saturday I spent at a workshop by the Rev. Dr. Diana Butler Bass. Dr. Bass spoke about her recent book Christianity for the Rest of Us. An Episcopal priest who teaches at Virginia Theological School in Alexandria, VA, Bass writes from a moderate position about the directions of the future of the Church. She is fundamentally a church historian who because of a Lilly Grant reached into mainline Protestant churches to see what congregations were growing and why. She earmarked Ten Signposts of Renewal in churches of thriving mainline congregations. She focused on the practice of faith rather than on belief or denominational tenets. She found that churches that practiced hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection and beauty with intentionality were congregations that were thriving. They were not caught up with the conservative-progressive dichotomy that is destroying many churches. They had a diversity of young and older congregants and they served their communities.

During her talks, Dr. Bass talked about the coming generation—not the Gen Xers, not even the Millennials. She talked about the sea change that is going on in the world—in science, commerce, communications. The same kind of sea change that was going on in which Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to discuss, or that Jesus addressed to the Jewish establishment and the Roman Empire. She says that in the light of this “New Reformation” we will see the gradual changes in denominationalism—not the end of denominationalism but broader boundaries given for those of us from the reformed traditions.

In the light of the move from Established churches to Emergent churches she says that the polarity of conservative and liberal will fall away. Doctrinal authority for the coming generations is not going to be about a single truth—but truth as it is encapsulated in culture.

A master story teller, Bass shared a story in which Phyllis Tickle was caught up in a Q & A session in a diocese in which there was much Conservative/Progressive dissention. Someone asked her if she believed in the Virgin Birth. Before she had a chance to even respond to the question, someone shouted, “that’s Spong’s question—he should be put out of the Church, he is a heretic”. Someone else jumped in at that point from an equally liberal position and the fight was on. She watched as a teen-age boy tried to ask a question. Finally when the boy asked his question, he said, “I don’t know what the adults are arguing about. I believe in the Virgin Birth. It is so beautiful; it is bound to be true, even if it didn’t happen that way.”

The movement from my modernist upbringing in which one truth was sought after to an era in which truth is something that is viewed from its context and truth is more likely to be multiple is a difficult jump to make. And yet it is the kind of understanding of faith that I have always tried to teach. But if anything can get us out of the push-pull dialectic that we have been in for the past 10 years, then perhaps centering on post-modernism may be the salvation of the Church.

Bass likened the next 100 years to a river out of its banks. We do not know what Church is going to be in the future. She says that denominations will doubtlessly change radically in the next 50 years but not go away totally. But it will be the practice of Christianity that will remain. So it is important that we practice what we say that we are. Younger people are critical of those who cannot be who they say they are and I must admit, so am I.

‘Walking one’s talk’ has been at the center of Christianity since the time of Jesus. Jesus chastised the Jewish establishment of his day to not be like the Pharisee or the Priest who passed by the beaten brother in the ditch. He lauded the Samaritan who had no responsibility to the injured man but who because of his love of humanity tended to him. Jesus continues to charge us to a practice of faith that demands of us transformation of our lives and our world. If Christianity is to be known to future generations, it will be because there are those of us who practice what Jesus taught us—not merely spout biblical passages or thump their prayer books.

But the love of Jesus Christ will be lived out if we but take the time to do so. Maybe my living out of Christ’s love will not look like someone else’s. And that is not going to matter much as long as we are willing to recognize that what we are trying to do is live out Christ’ love. If we are not willing to recognize that attempt, then we don’t deserve to last.