Sunday, February 24, 2008


There is a Greek word that is often found in the First Letter to the Corinthians that I find Lutherans using –at least Lutherans of the pastoral type. The word is adiaphora. It is a term used in Christianity to denote things that are not necessary for salvation. According to Wikipedia it was used by Melancthon when there was some argument of what was necessary and what was necessary in the Book of Concord: "church rites which are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God."

It seems to me a way of saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Today’s Gospel reading of the Woman at the Well is a good example of adiaphora. The Samaritan woman challenges Jesus when he has told her that she has she has had 5 husbands and the one she has now is not her husband. “We worship on the mountains and you Jews say one must worship in Jerusalem” And Jesus says “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (Jn.4:23)

It did not take a genius or even a prophet to know that Judah was “cruzin’ for a bruisin’” in Jesus’ day. There had been one uprising after another against Roman authority. Most people understood that Rome would not tolerate endless rejection of Roman occupation. It was a mere 40 years after Jesus’ death that the Roman Legion bore down on the rebellious province of Judah and brought about the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of God that was the center of Jewish resistance. The region of Samaria and the province of Judah and the city of Jerusalem were placed under interdict which forbad the worship of the Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus, the prophet, spoke to a woman of Samaria about adiaphora. It wasn’t going to matter if the Samaritans worshipped in the high places. It wasn’t going to matter if Jews worshipped in Jerusalem because one day it would all be gone. How one worshipped didn’t matter much. But WHO one worshipped and in what manner DID matter. “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

All too often we Christians put an emphasis on things that are not necessary for salvation to distinguish ourselves. Episcopalians are likely to say that things must be done the English way. Lutherans often divide themselves between the German ways of worship and understanding and the Scandinavian ways. The Presbyterians are likely to say that we are predestined to salvation. Roman Catholics are likely to say that good works are a way to salvation. Methodists want to know if we have had a “spiritual experience” of God, while Baptists want to know if we have been baptized by immersion. Those outside of Christianity are often totally confused by denominational differences. They don’t understand why we sweat the small stuff.

Christians often have important doctrines that people must espouse, or sacramental actions demanded of them in order to “prove” they are of one flavor of Christianity or another. We even have a tendency to identify ourselves as being “liberal” or “progressive” or “conservative”, or “independent” or even “hard shell.” And yet it does not even touch what is necessary for salvation. And more often than not, what we argue over is for naught. It is adiaphora.

In the Anglican tradition we say that there are two sacraments necessary for salvation—Baptism and Holy Communion. And even those we fudge on—for God can save whomever God chooses! And we will never know. God does the saving—nothing that we do can change that. All we have to do is receive the work of God.
And that is about the most comforting thing that I know.

All the rest are ways of knowing God. For the Baptist to know in the believer’s baptism that Christ is present to her is awesome. For the Roman Catholic to find purpose and Christ’s friendship in the good works that he does brings him to his knees. For the Presbyterian to understand that events in her life have been planned by God since time immemorial is comfort indeed. For the Anglican or the Lutheran the finding of Christ in the sacrament of the altar is thrilling. All of it brings us closer to the God who has loved us more than life.

All too often we end up arguing about the things that are not necessary for salvation. We fight over minutia rather than share what we have in common. Rather than quibbling over how we handle the sacraments, perhaps we need to be talking about what the Spirit is doing in our hearts when we receive the Real Presence of Christ. Perhaps we need fewer rules about what to do with “reserved sacrament” and more discussion about how God changes us when we are humbled by his law of love. What would happen if we spent less time talking about how we are different and more talking about what we hold in common?

This is less a problem for lay folk than it is for us clergy-types. Clergy have a vested interest in all the ‘jots and tittles’ in the religious world. After all, that was why we went to seminary, wasn't it? It is how we can tell ourselves apart! We need ways of deciding who is in our flock and who isn’t. But the reality is that they are all adiaphora—things not necessary for salvation.

We need this word today when fewer and fewer people want to be tied up in denominational squabbles. If there is anything the Episcopal Church can teach the rest of main-line Protestantism is that church fights hurt. And the hurt is deep and often meaningless. It may be a way of purifying the Church, but in the end we are a scandal to ourselves and to others. And most of all, we have accomplished little.

Ultimately we as Christians are going to have to do some serious listening to those who are different from us. We are going to have to develop vocabularies and understandings of those who worship and think differently. We must be willing to hear the experience of the Holy One in the rites of others. We need to hear the Spirit and Truth that Jesus enjoins upon the Woman at the Well. "For the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Bully Bishops

At Father Jake Stops the World blog, I found this post by Mary Clara. Fr. Jake has been posting some of the best of the commentary on the Schism in the Episcopal Church. As one who has seen the effect of bully bishops in the Dioceses of Ft. Worth and San Joachin, it seems appropriate to address the problem that is facing TEC in the light of such schismatic actions. Mary Clara's post is timely and helpful for those of us who continue in TEC. The residual effects of bullying bishops will be with our system for years to come and we need to start to learn how to deal with them now. My thanks to Fr. Jake and to Mary Clara for their insight.

As the Instruments of Schism continue to grind their way through the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the nature and extent of the damage are being revealed. I write with deep concern for those in embattled parishes and dioceses who are struggling to save their church homes or beginning to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

Episcopalians in some critically affected areas are urgently requesting help from within and outside their dioceses. I believe that in some instances valuable help might come from consultants who are familiar with the dynamics and effects of bullying in organizations and workplaces, and who understand the social impact of certain kinds of personality disorders. This is not my area of expertise, but I had to educate myself about it some years ago when I had a couple of therapy clients and a close family member who were significantly impacted by workplace bullying. I’ve been hoping that someone with more experience or credentials would weigh in on the topic, but since they haven’t, I will put in my non-specialist two cents’ worth.

We know that many factors have contributed to the current movement to split the Church and create some form of international disciplinary authority for Anglicanism. Disagreements about doctrine and governance, differences in cultural practices and beliefs, personal ambition, power struggles, subversion and funding from outside parties, reverberations from colonial and missionary history, and other causes have been discussed at great length. What I haven’t seen is much attention to psychological factors, and specifically to the psychology of bullying. Where bizarre thinking and behavior have been observed in a particular place over a period of many years, leading to a catastrophic outcome, the possibility should be considered that a critical factor in the entire drama has been the success of a disordered individual in gaining a position of power and using it to play out on a grand scale his own internal need to split the world into pure and impure, good and evil, true and false, faithful and treasonous, saved and damned, orthodox and apostate/heretical.

A skilled bully is fully capable of wrecking the health of people he works with (especially in a supervisory capacity) and of destroying or disabling the organization he works for or oversees. There are degrees of bullying, but the most serious kind (which concerns me here) is an expression of certain personality types and disorders. This kind of bully typically struggles against feelings of being empty and worthless (thus is profoundly envious of other people’s capabilities and self-esteem). His inner world is characterized by a severe split between these extreme negative emotions and thoughts and the need to see the self as positive, even ideal. (The highly polarized world view supported by extreme evangelicalism would obviously be congenial to such a person.) He projects his intense self-destructive impulses onto others and thus believes himself to be an innocent victim under constant threat. Any disagreement with his views or questioning of his actions is interpreted as persecution. His destructive actions toward others are, in his mind, justified by this perceived danger to himself. His talents and charisma are systematically and relentlessly deployed in a calculated effort to gain power over those around him and displace his intolerable inner conflict and negativity onto the environment. Organizations (the business office, the church, the nonprofit corporation) provide the bully with an inviting container for his disordered projections and an arena in which he can safely play out his inner battles, which might otherwise destroy him.

Those around him must be either duped or intimidated into complying with his program, or else expelled. The bully has a thousand ways of breaking people down to the point where they either submit or leave: ridicule, isolation/exclusion, shaming, threats, lying, character assassination, ill-founded or excessive criticism, constantly changing the rules and shifting the goalposts, not stating what is expected and then punishing people for failing to meet expectations, playing people off against each other, and on and on. The aim is to eliminate anyone whose competency would show up the bully’s limitations or reveal his machinations, and to keep everyone else under tight control.

The bully uses the rules and customs of the organization to defeat their own purposes. He is extremely hard to fire or even correct or restrain because he familiarizes himself with the laws and policies that affect his situation and manipulates them so cleverly that they end up scarcely more effective than a pile of shredded waste paper. In his mission of control-and-destroy, he counts on other people’s trusting nature, their essential decency and fairness and their inclination to play by the rules, think and debate logically, negotiate in good faith, and give each other (and him) the benefit of the doubt. Having created a chaotic situation in which the rules cannot effectively be mobilized to defend individuals or restore the organization to healthy functioning, he punishes and attempts to induce guilt in those who try to undertake any creative or restorative action. Efforts to reduce harm or avert disaster are thus blunted or driven underground.

While he is constantly attempting to put others in their place, drawing boundaries that incorporate some and exclude others, the bully’s psychological boundaries are so unstable that he recognizes no limits to his own actions or sphere of influence. He keeps others off balance by continually shifting the boundaries, redefining the meanings of words, changing the mission statement, and reinterpreting the rules to mean whatever serves his purposes at the moment. Knowledge of the system (including ambiguities and gaps in the law, which never anticipated the kind of subversion he is attempting) enables him to play for time, advancing his agenda while others are busy conscientiously consulting the canons and trying their best to follow protocol and procedure.

A culture of bullying may develop. Like abuse in families, bullying in organizations can become systemic. The bully in a position of power surrounds himself with people he can rely on to bully those beneath them, keeping the foot soldiers or pew-sitters in line.

Bullies often bring out the worst in people and aggravate any existing weaknesses and problems in organizations. What is worse, they use the virtues and strengths of people and organizations to undermine them. Through the careful use of propaganda, a highly-placed bully strives to persuade his constituents or employees that the destruction and division being wrought are for their benefit and reflect the organization’s highest purposes (e.g., securing a ‘safe’ place for the souls of orthodox believers). It is, in reality, never about them; yet their souls and bodies, their time and devotion and talent, along with all the other assets of the organization, will be systematically exploited for the purposes of the campaign. Whether they are literate or uninformed, emotionally healthy or neurotic, fearful or trusting, able to tolerate divergent opinions or troubled by them -- each member, and all of his or her capabilities, attitudes, weaknesses and strengths are fair game for the schism machine. All will be drawn into the game of ‘separating the sheep from the goats’. Rules and procedures will be manipulated so that in many situations no one has any really good options for open, informed and positive action. The bully’s blame machine and polarization dynamics increasingly infect the entire community.

Eventually the inner pathology of the bully may dominate or even become embodied in the organization. The bully has achieved victory when his internal splits, his paranoia, his lack of a core positive identity, his boundary issues, his negativity and instability have been successfully displaced and given concrete form outside himself. The membership becomes severely polarized and alienated; the organization may either fragment or become so damaged as to have to shut down. Those left on the ground typically feel worthless, impotent, tainted, disorganized, incompetent, empty and exhausted. They find it very hard to recover mutual trust and to mobilize the legal and administrative resources to salvage the organization so that it can get back to its original mission.

There are serious health implications for the individuals and the organization that have suffered this kind of treatment. It is common for victims of bullying to become physically ill and suffer long-lasting or permanent psychological harm.

Where bullying has broken down an organization, harmed individuals and shattered relationships, an important first step in the healing process is to recognize that this is not a ‘normal’ situation of people behaving badly (for which they could ask forgiveness and learn to do better), or an ordinary (though serious) disagreement (about which there could be further study and negotiation); nor is it mainly a matter of inept administration or inadequate application of law or policy. The survivors first need to realize that they have been left holding the bag of a serious disease which is not itself communicable, yet which damages the mental, physical and spiritual health of all those it touches.

The full extent of the damage and pain now have to be brought out into the open. Anger and regret must be expressed, and losses mourned. Individuals and working groups will have to face their own weaknesses and acknowledge any contributions they may have made to the present debacle. People will have to come to grips with the ways in which bullying has messed with their heads, twisted their behavior, exploited their vulnerabilities, and even used their virtues to set them against their own best interests and isolate them from their fellows.

Anglicanism itself with its Broad Church tradition is vulnerable to exploitation by this kind of illness. This is not a reason to give up our tradition. Nor should individuals doubt their own gifts, whatever they may be, which set them up for being exploited in this situation. Like the bodies and souls of rape victims (and I choose this analogy advisedly), they must be healed and blessed and brought back into the community.

I submit, in fact, that the Anglican way, tolerant and inclusive, embracing such a broad range of theological views and liturgical styles, is a model of good mental and spiritual health. Where we see that model under attack, we should be suspicious. When new “Instruments of Unity”, or new powers for the existing Instruments, are proposed for our Communion, we should check for the hidden knives of schism beneath the purple robes. Wherever police powers are sought to regulate behavior in far-off places; wherever the urgent cry goes up to expel or punish heresy; wherever elaborate, self-contradictory, impossible-to-implement measures for defining who is in and who is out are urged upon us, we should suspect the busy hands of the bully behind it all.

Prayers for the healing of our Church.

Mary Clara
February 7, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Nestled in between the various buildings of the World Trade Tower was the little chapel of St. Paul, a chapel of the much more well-known Trinity Church, Wall Street—the bastion of the Episcopal economic might and prowess. When the towers of the World Trade Center came down, debris was sent everywhere, but somehow the Chapel of St. Paul was miraculously spared. The ancient graveyard that abutted the church was not so lucky. Feet of debris and ash fell into that cemetery.

St. Paul’s Chapel became the staging area for rescue workers and then became the place of ministration to those who were working on recovery for over a year following the disaster. That Lent, St. Paul’s put out a card of remembrance. On the face was a picture of the cemetery the day after the attack with the subscription: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is still the most sobering image I have of that event and it will stay with me the rest of my life.

On Ash Wednesday we begin the period of the Church Year that reminds us of our mortality. Lent was originally a way for the Church to mark the days before Easter that those waiting to be baptized had to prepare themselves for that event. It was a time of being at one with those who were surrendering themselves to Christ for the first time. It was a time of fasting, studying, praying and alms giving in solidarity with those who were doing the same.

It became a remembrance of Jesus’ time of temptation and retreat in the desert following his baptism. It became a time of preparing one’s self for Easter. But most of all it became a time of doing penance together—recognizing that there is spiritual power in doing spiritual discipline together even if in silence.

It was a time to think upon one’s sinfulness, not to grovel before God. But as a reminder of how easily it is to ignore sin, how easy it is to justify our sinfulness with our rationality, and how easy it is to dupe ourselves into believing that we are not sinful. So it is no small thing for us to have ashes place upon our foreheads as a reminder of our tendency to cut ourselves off from God.

In the times before Jesus, the sign of mourning was to sit upon the ash heap and tear one’s clothing. Even in observant Jewish homes today, loved ones tear a bit of their clothing at the event of a death in the family.

Christians sign their mourning at their failure to live up to the calling of Christ by acknowledging their faithlessness with ashes upon their faces. I never make a cross on people's heads. This is not a blessing we mark ourselves with. We need to mourn our lack of consideration for others who have been created by God. We need to wail at our blithe ignoring of God’s events in our lives. We need to fast and abstain from that which gives joy simply because we have failed to respond to the grace that God has lovingly heaped upon us. It is a sign of failure and yet it is the sign of our hope too. It is the sign that it is grace alone that makes us worthy before God and our fellow human beings.

Lent is not a time for scruples either—that overly pious denial of God’s goodness. This is not a time for rigidity. It is a time of discipline that is filled with the humble joy of being able to start anew. It is a time that reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But it also reminds us that God’s grace provides us with resurrection even in our most dismal abjection.

May the marks upon our foreheads be a reminder to us that God is not finished with us yet—not a badge of honor that we have been to church on a Wednesday