Sister Joan Chittister famously said, "We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again." Reflecting on that journey -- a blog at a time -- is the focus of this site.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Good News on the Marriage Equality Front
Judge rules gay Rhode Island couple has right to marry in Massachusetts
by Denise Lavoie, Associated Press
BOSTON -- A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that same-sex couples from Rhode Island have the right to marry in Massachusetts, finding that Rhode Island laws do not expressly prohibit gay marriage.Wendy Becker and Mary Norton of Providence, R.I., argued that a 1913 law that forbids out-of-state residents from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be permitted in their home state did not apply to them because Rhode Island does not specifically ban gay marriage.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly agreed."No evidence was introduced before this court of a constitutional amendment, statute, or controlling appellate decision from Rhode Island that explicitly deems void or otherwise expressly forbids same-sex marriage," he ruled. The ruling has no effect on whether Rhode Island or any other state must allow gay marriage.
State Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he would not appeal Connolly's ruling.Reilly's office had argued that Rhode Island laws' use of gender-specific terms -- including both "bride" and "groom" -- made it clear that the laws' intent was to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
In a statement after Connolly's ruling was issued, Reilly said appealing the decision "would be a waste of time and resources.""This case has always been about respecting the laws of other states," Reilly said.Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented the couples, hailed the decision "as another step toward marriage equality.""We're thrilled," said Michele Granda, a GLAD attorney.
"We know that when (Rhode Island) couples are going to marry here in Massachusetts and then go home, their neighbors and friends are going to see that marriage equality is good for those couples and harms no one else."The decision follows a related ruling in July by New York state's highest court that said that's state law limits marriage to between a man and a woman. In his ruling, Connolly backed the New York court's decision, saying that state expressly prohibits gay marriage. The ruling means same-sex couples from New York cannot come to Massachusetts to marry.
After Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage in 2004, couples from many other states began lining up to get marriage licenses here. But Gov. Mitt Romney directed municipal clerks not to give licenses to out-of-state couples, citing the 1913 law.Eight out-of-state couples challenged the law.
In March, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts could use the 1913 law to bar gay couples from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont from marrying here. But the court said the law was unclear in New York and Rhode Island, and sent that part of the case back to a lower court for clarification.
Hail to the Chief!
Statement from Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies as posted on The Daily Episcopalian
The clarification from Bishop Griswold in his letter to the bishops is very important. The Windsor Report was issued as one part of a process. The responsibility for the response to the Windsor Report belongs to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a bicameral legislature with representation from lay and clergy as well as bishops.
At the 75th General Convention, our response was made. Our bishops certainly can and do meet together. However, when decisions affecting the whole Episcopal Church are made, representatives of the whole Episcopal Church need to be present for the conversations as well as the possible decision making.
Accordingly, the Global South Primates who recently met at Kigali have a right to meet, but no right to make decisions for the Anglican Communion. They have expressed concern about the perceived unilateral actions taken the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2003. However, their statement is truly a unilateral act.
In their statement they distance themselves from Bishop Jefferts Schori for holding views that are similar to those held by Bishop Griswold, Bishop Browning before and other Primates currently. There is nothing unique in her views. What is unique is her gender in the circle of primates. That seems to be their biggest objection.
I note with sadness that the Kigali communiqué does not extend the courtesy of referring to Bishop Jefferts Schori as a bishop, where everyone else is referred to with titles. It adds a low note that is not worthy of the faith espoused in the document.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Dodgers 19, Rockies 11
+Griswold on Camp Allen, Kilgali, et al
With regard to the gathering in Texas … it is important for you to know that the Texas meeting was in no way held at the Archbishop's initiative nor was it planned in collaboration with him.
I note here that Archbishop Robin Eames, Chairman of the Lambeth Commission which produced the Windsor Report, says in his introduction: "This report is not a judgment. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage toward healing and reconciliation." As such, I believe the "Windsor process" is a process of mutual growth which calls for patience, mutual understanding and generosity of spirit rather than stark submission.
It also needs to be said that the assessment of the responses of the Episcopal Church to the Windsor process is not the responsibility of self-chosen groups within the Communion.
From my perspective, being faithful to the Windsor process – and the Covenant process which is integral to it – calls for patience and rules out actions which would preempt their orderly unfolding. In my view, portions of the Kigali statement that take issue with the actions of the Episcopal Church in advance of hearing from the advisory group, and before the Covenant has an opportunity to be developed, are inconsistent with the Windsor process, as are continuing incursions of bishops from other provinces into our dioceses. Patience and respect for one another and our provincial structures are required on the part of us all.
The communiqué from Kigali recommends that there be a separate ecclesial body within our province. The suggestion of such a division raises profound questions about the nature of the church, its ordering and its oversight. I further believe such a division would open the way to multiple divisions across other provinces of the Communion, and any sense of a coherent mission would sink into chaos. Such a recommendation appears to be an effort to preempt the Windsor process and acting upon it would create a fact on the ground, making healing and reconciliation – the stated goal of the Windsor process – that much more difficult to achieve.
The Kigali communiqué questions Bishop Jefferts Schori's ability to represent all of our dioceses. The role of primates is to bear witness as fully as possible to the life and complexities of their own provinces. I have sought to bring to the primates' meetings the wide range of opinions and the consequent tensions within our own church. I have every confidence that Katharine will do the same.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
"The Fiction of the Fringe"
It is so very clear to me in re-reading Michael's clear words of faithful inspiration that we must redouble our efforts in these perilous-to-the-church-we-love-times to expose the false construct that seems to be dominating the discourse du jour: that somehow the mission and ministry of the church is being held hostage by a Battle Royal between (for lack of better stereotypical language) its liberal and conservative fringes. That both "sides" are insisting on their way-or-the-highway and there is no hope or interest in compromise, cooperation or reconciliation. It makes a great story but like many great stories it falls into the fiction category: the fiction of the fringe.
The truth is we -- those of us committed to the full inclusion of all the baptized into the Body of Christ -- remain committed to unity and to justice, to doctrine and discipline, to faith and order, to word and sacrament. And we remain committed to finding a way forward. Toward that end, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words of our brother, Michael (circa 2002).
Remember them, recall them and recount them the next time the "fiction of the fringe" rears its ugly head. And pray for the union of this church -- this communion: that it might find its way back to this Lambeth 1920 commitment to a unity that preserves integrity: "We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one anothers consciences." (Resolution 9:VIII)
FINDING A WAY FORWARD
An edited version of a speech first given
by the Reverend Michael Hopkins
at the Claiming the Blessing Conference, St. Louis, Missouri
November 8, 2002
What is this movement about?
It is about being clear. It is about being transparent. It is about witnessing. It is about how the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit compels us. It is about our love for the Church. This is my message to the Church at large and, in particular, certain portions of it who wonder if this movement is such a good idea. My purpose is to be crystal clear and utterly transparent.
First to the church in general. We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the continuance of as broad a diversity -- including theological diversity -- as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration. We understand this to be true even if the General Convention passes the resolution that we are advocating, to formulate a Book of Occasional Services rite for the blessing of faithful, monogamous unions other than heterosexual marriage. We know and accept that such a rite will not be used or even allowed to be used universally. We are quite deliberately advocating for a rite whose use would be optional for the sake of the unity of the Church we love.
We believe in our heart of hearts that our relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships, whether or not the term "marriage" is appropriate for them, and so, in our heart of hearts, we believe the rite used to publicly celebrate them should be equal. But that is not what we are asking for.
We are compromising, moderating our position, for the sake of the Church. We do so in the spirit of a resolution from the 1920 Lambeth Conference (Resolution 9:VIII): "We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one anothers consciences." We offer compromise in the spirit of that same resolution, which said, "We can only say that we offer it in all sincerity as a token of our longing that all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall be available for the service of our Lord in a united church."
These words were said in the context of ecumenical dialogue, but they are appropriate for our current internal dialogue, which looks far more like ecumenical dialogue -- dialogue across deep and serious divisions -- did in the 1920s. Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which any of us can live. But learning to live together must mean "mutual deference" not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being "moderates."
My second message to the church at large. We are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.
Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters.
First, we do not desire for you to go away.
Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to threaten these outcomes.
Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone.
We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each others efforts on that level.
Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion. You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there.
This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Churchs moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church.
We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.
The Reverend Michael Hopkins is currently rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Episcopal Cyrene in Rochester, New York, and the immediate past president of Integrity USA.
Monday, September 25, 2006
On the IRS and Strange Bedfellows
The leadership of the All Saints Church of Pasadena, California is under attack from the IRS for allowing a guest speaker to preach a sermon entitled, "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush." The sermon left no doubt in anyone's mind where the guest pastor stood on the Iraq war and President Bush's decision to continue to vigorously prosecute the war. But the pastor stopped short of endorsing Kerry for president nor did he instruct members of the congregation to vote for Kerry. Granted, while the sermon both in intent and in content marched the church right up to the IRS tax exempt line in the sand it did not push the church across. As I said before, I find the content of the sermon to be offensive and just plain wrong on the facts of the Iraq war but war is a moral issue and both sides of the issue must have the freedom to address the moral side from the pulpit without fear of government reprisal.
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane: Statement on the Global South Communiqué
I wish to offer this clarification of the position of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, in light of the potentially misleading impression that our Province has endorsed the Communiqué issued at the end of the meeting. Whereas Canon Livingstone Ngewu and I were present in Kigali, neither of us were made aware even of the possibility of a communiqué in the name of the Primates of the Global South, prior to its release.
Read it all here
Saturday, September 23, 2006
More on Kilgali: "Deja vu all over again"
I had the strangest feeling of deja vu while reading the communique from the recent gathering of conservative primates in Rwanda. It took me awhile to remember where I had encountered these imperialistic sorts of ideas before. But then it came to me.
Have a look here, and you will see that these plans date at least to a meeting among the Anglican Communion Network's leaders and their allies in the fall of 2003. (The document is Bishop Duncan's notes on the meeting, which surfaced during a court case.)
Read it all here
INTEGRITY RESPONDS TO KIGALI COMMUNIQUÉ
[September 23, 2006] Integrity expressed deep concern over the Kigali Communiqué issued yesterday by representatives of 20 "Global South" Anglican provinces following a conference in Rwanda.
"The most troubling part of the communiqué for me is that some archbishops will not recognize our new Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, at the February 2007 Primates Meeting," said Integrity President Susan Russell. "This unprecedented declaration by members of our wider Anglican family is a blow to those working for reconciliation within the Communion. How are we going to discuss and resolve our disagreements if there are those who are not willing to come to the table?"
Russell added, "The communiqué also made it clear that the represented provinces are determined to pursue a .separate ecclesiastical structure. for conservative Episcopal dioceses and parishes in the United States. This can only drive us further apart rather than bring us closer together."
Russell concluded, "We all need to be in prayer for the Archbishop of Canterbury atthis time. May the Holy Spirit grant him the wisdom and courage to do what needs to be done to preserve both the unity and the integrity of the Communion."
BACKGROUND: Kalgali Communique
Integrity Congratulates Newark Bishop-elect
Integrity congratulates the Rev. Mark Beckwith on his election as the next bishop of Newark. "The Diocese of Newark has long beena champion for the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgenderEpiscopalians," said the Rev. Susan Russell, President of Integrity."Integrity looks forward to that legacy continuing under the leadership of Bishop-elect Beckwith."
Russell added, "Integrity applauds the Diocese of Newark for an exemplary electoral process which offered to the Newark electorate the best possible slate of candidates. We believe that the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe's inclusion on that slate enriched not only this diocesan process but the whole church. Canon Barlowe is but one example of the qualified, faithful, and able LGBT clergy in the Episcopal Church. We are convinced it is inevitable that the Holy Spirit will move another diocese to call one ofthem to the episcopate."
Russell reiterated Integrity's opposition to Resolution to B033, which was passed by General Convention last June: "The canons of the Episcopal Church forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the discernment process for all orders of ministry. Whenever there is a conflict between the canons and General Convention resolutions, the canons must prevail. B033 is a simply not canonical. At least three diocesan conventions-Rochester, Olympia, and California-will soon be voting on resolutions recognizing that fact."
"Not only is B033 unjust, it has been totally ineffective at preserving the unity of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion," Russell concluded. "Since the passage of B033, eight dioceses in this country have requested 'alternative primatial oversight' from the Archbishop ofCanterbury. And just yesterday leaders from 20 Global South provinces issued a communiqué from Kigali declaring B033 an insufficient response tothe recommendations of the Windsor Report."
For more information on the bishop-elect and the tally sheets for the 3rd ballot election see the Diocese of Newark website
Friday, September 22, 2006
Letter from Camp Allen
[ENS] Twenty-one bishops sent a letter September 22 to their colleagues in the House of Bishops following a meeting held by the letter's signatories at the Episcopal Diocese of Texas' Camp Allen Conference and Retreat Center. Read it all here
P.S. That would be twenty-one out of HOW many????
Gauntlet from "the Global South"
10-b. At the next meeting of the Primates in February 2007 some of us will not be able to recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate at the table with us. Others will be in impaired communion with her as a representative of The Episcopal Church. Since she cannot represent those dioceses and congregations who are abiding by the teaching of the Communion we propose that another bishop, chosen by these dioceses, be present at the meeting so that we might listen to their voices during our deliberations.
There's more about forming a "separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion in the USA" etc, etc, etc. but if this doesn't send a message loud and clear to the ABofC, the ACO and whatever other combos there are in this increasingly dense Anglican Alphabet Soup that nothing short of schism will appease these this bunch I don't know what will!
The gauntlet is down ... let's see whether Canterbury has the wisdom, courage and/or backbone to deal with it.
More on the IRS @ All Saints
New York Times:
A California church under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for possible violations of laws against political activities by churches has denied the agency’s request for documents.
The decision forces the I.R.S. either to drop the case or to ask the Justice Department to take the church, All Saints Episcopal Church, in Pasadena, to court. The agency could also revoke the church’s tax exemption, but legal experts said that was unlikely. read it all here
Los Angeles Times:
At a news conference attended by 50 cheering supporters gathered before the marble altar at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Ed Bacon said his 3,500-member congregation did not violate tax regulations barring tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates when a former rector, George F. Regas, criticized the Bush administration two days before the 2004 presidential election.
The Episcopal faith, the 58-year-old rector said, "calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism … always stopping short of supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office."Joined by members of other faiths, he added, "We are also not here for ourselves alone but to defend the freedom of pulpits in faith communities throughout our land." read it all here
Episcopal News Service:
The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon, rector of All Saints Church, announced September 21 that he will not turn over parish records to Internal Revenue Service auditors, paving the way for a court hearing on allegations the church engaged in political campaigning.
"We are here not for ourselves alone but to defend the freedom of pulpits in faith communities throughout our land," said Bacon, who was flanked by a sea of Muslim, Jewish and Christian supporters, parishioners and Los Angeles-area clergy, among them the Rev. George Regas, whose anti-war sermon sparked the IRS' audit of the 3,500-member congregation.
"American pulpits in mosques, synagogues, temples and churches must not cower from the responsibility to speak truth to power, include any and every expression of American exceptionalism that through policy and practice values American life above other life," Bacon told the gathering. "All life is sacred to God. We are called by God's vision to turn the human race into the human family." read it all here
And CBS News:
Has a story, a video and a chance to vote on whether the church or the IRS is "out of line" ... check it out here
Thursday, September 21, 2006
"We will find a way to sort this out as Anglicans, so we have a common future. But whenever you’re in a badly broken relationship, the first thing you need is space," he said. "If they take away the space of a diocese of being able to choose its own leader, they send a signal that the Episcopal Church intends to move totally contrary to the Anglican Communion."
Need a little more time?
Ready for the answer?
Kendall Harmon in his comments on his blog, titusonenine
I kid you not.
Take a minute to let it sink in and then ...
Help me understand how it makes any sense that the "space of a diocese of being able to choose its own leader" should stop at the border of South Carolina while other dioceses -- let's just start with New Hampshire and Newark for the moment -- don't qualify for the same "space."
This one not only "makes the heart sad" it makes the head spin!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Luna: Reflections of a Gulag Dog
They put it out here in case I wanted to "crawl in and curl up" (one of my moms said) but honestly ... can you see me doing that at this point? I know they call it a "crate" but it feels like a cage to me. Which brings me to the whole "dog run" issue.
"Dog RUN" my foot ... have you ever tried to actually RUN in one of these? I don't care how they try to spin it ... it's a jail and that's why Harvey and I call it The Gulag.
And last Sunday when they said, "Be a good girl: guard the house while we go to church" I figured a couple of hours and I'd be out chasing cats again. But Nooooooo ...Turns out there was more stuff going on over at All Saints about the IRS (whatever that is) that involved CNN, CBS, ABC and a bunch of other letters I don't even remember and took a REALLY long time ... much longer than a regular Sunday morning, which we're used to by now, but really!
So at this point all I can say is I'm sorry about the IRS and I really do get that sometimes there's more work than than you planned on having to do and you can't always get home when you thought you would and I'll TRY to stick to the tennis balls and the rawhide bones but I can really only be so responsible for what happens if they leave me alone TOOOO long. After all, I'm only a puppy but I'm thinking this "amendment of life" thing should work both ways: I'm willing to work on the destruction thing if they're willing to work on the getting home at a decent hour thing.
Deal or no deal?
Consenting Adults: What’s really wrong with B033
Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention surely has its faults. I have before addressed the fact that it can at most be taken as a strongly worded recommendation, since to do otherwise would be unconstitutional, and violate the principle of collegiality upheld in the Windsor Report, “What touches all must be approved by all.” Consent by bishops and standing committees is within their right, and no legislation short of a Canon to that effect can coerce them to act otherwise than they are free to do.
However, there are two moral problems and one canonical fault with B033, even as it stands, on which it falls short.
Read it all here ...
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Neighbor Love is Never Neutral
Homecoming Sunday -- September 17, 2006
I want to begin this sermon by once again expressing my gratitude to the Internal Revenue Service. Those brothers and sisters really know how to shine a spotlight on a church and swell the numbers of worshipers. I will try to explain briefly what is going on between the IRS and All Saints in just a moment.
But first I want to welcome those of you who have come as visitors to All Saints this morning. This Sunday is Homecoming Sunday, the annual celebration in which we kick off the new program year. We often have a bit of a summer diaspora here at All Saints. This is the Sunday when all hands are back on deck, ready, rested, and raring to go to celebrate a new year of transformation. We believe in transformation here – the transformation of those who worship together in order for each of us in turn to do our part to transform the world to be more like that dream God has for creation. A world that has not yet been but can be and will be if we will dedicate our energies to it. A world of healing, love, and justice for all, a world of peace among peoples and nations, and a world where every human being is fully alive without bigotry, violence, injustice, oppression, terrorism, war or torture.
Homecoming Sunday notes the reality that the more each of us is rooted in a community where we feel at home, the more joyful energy we have available for this journey of transformation of self, church, and world. As Anne Peterson’s Homecoming poem reads, “If home is where the heart is – Some safe, comfortable place Where one is loved as-is, without condition – Then you are home.”
So, my friends, members of long-standing, members who have just come, and those of you who are sniffing us out this morning for whatever reason, welcome. We have come together, come home today, to recommit ourselves to another year of worship that moves the heart and challenges the mind, another year of working for compassion, healing, inclusion, justice, and peace AND to have hearts full of joy while we’re at it.
Now, a word about our relationship with the IRS: If you need background information about the IRS investigation of All Saints, let me ask that you go to our website to download relevant historic documents, including a copy of the sermon that our Rector Emeritus, George Regas, preached prior to the presidential election in 2004. You can also find copies of the two summonses served on me Friday.
The more recent events calling for our prayerful attention this morning include the fact that this past July we heard from the IRS for the first time in 8 months. They had not answered either our written or oral communications to them since November of last year. The July 2006 letter requested a lengthy list of documents from us, including every instance in which we mention any elected official or candidate in our worship. Since we pray for President Bush by name Sunday by Sunday and because of the breadth of the other IRS questions, we noted that the volume of paper required to respond would be both overwhelming and irrelevant to the examination.
So in August we asked that all the IRS’ requests be reformulated with appropriate specificity. For those reasons and others, including the fact that All Saints wants to preserve our right to challenge the government’s procedures in the case, we respectfully requested that their demands be reissued in the form of an administrative summons. We heard nothing from them until this past Thursday afternoon when they called asking me to be available Friday to receive the service of two summonses by an IRS agent.
My senior warden, Bob Long, came over Friday morning. The IRS agent arrived soon thereafter. I received the summonses – one calls for a lengthy list of documents, the other requires my appearance at an IRS hearing next month. After the very kind IRS agent exited, wishing us good luck, Bob and I then analyzed the list of requests for documents and discussed our options with our attorneys by phone.
During this next week, we will decide which course of action we will now take. One option is to present the documents and myself for testimony as the summonses dictate. On the other hand we may choose respectfully to inform the IRS that we intend not to comply with these summonses. It would then be up to the IRS to decide to take this matter into the U.S. Judicial system for a hearing and ruling on whether or not the courts would enforce the summonses. A courtroom would provide a venue in the halls of justice for us to make our argument. Our argument is that there is no objective basis for the IRS to have a reasonable belief that we have in deed participated in campaign intervention. Furthermore we would argue that this entire case has been an intrusion, in fact an attack upon this Church’s first amendment rights to the exercise of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
I would be happy to receive your thoughts about our upcoming decision by email or letter. And I will keep you informed of all the legal proceedings.
With those legal details noted I want now to address what I see at stake in our religious and political lives as a result of this latest IRS action. The current administration of the IRS apparently thinks that religious organizations should stay neutral when political issues are concerned. What that thinking totally misses is that we do not have a choice about whether or not to be neutral in the face of dehumanization, injustice, and violence. Our faith mandates that always stopping short of endorsing or opposing political candidates, the church can neither be silent nor indifferent when there are public policies causing detriment to the least of these.
History is shamefully littered with the moral bankruptcy of people who were Christian in name but not behavior who were silent or indifferent or neutral in the face of dehumanizing and destructive public policies. We remember Christians who would own slaves, expecting them to have the Sunday meal prepared when they returned from church. We remember Christians who would go to Easter services not far from death camps brushing the ashes off their Easter finery to enter churches where their pulpits were silent in the face of the Holocaust. Neutrality and silence in the face of oppression always aids the oppressors.
Neutrality, silence and indifference are not an option for us. We must express our conscience in word and in deed or we will lose our soul in addition to losing our way. If the IRS is successful in chilling the voices in American pulpits and houses of worship, religion in America will lose all relevance and moral authority and offer nothing but impotence in the face of this war of aggression in Iraq, the genocide in Darfur, the explosive growth of terrorism, the violence of occupations in Palestine and Iraq, the global AIDS pandemic, the death of one child every three seconds in the world due to disease and poverty, torture in secret detainee camps, the shredding of the Geneva Conventions, bigotry based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation, underfunded public education, and the growth in poverty. Every human life is sacred: Iraqi, Iranian, Palestinian, Sudanese, North Korea, Israeli, Lebanese, and American and American pulpits must not cower from speaking truth to power, including any and every expression of imperial American exceptionalism that through policy and practice values American life above other life. All life is sacred to God.
For pulpits in the USA to become even more neutral than they already are will make religion even more of a problem than it is already. Jesus proclaimed that religion too frequently is not a part of the solution. Too often religion is not only a part of the problem. It is the problem. Jesus said that religious institutions can become like salt that has lost its flavor. Its only good then is to be thrown away. The book of Revelation (chapter 3) speaks of the Church of Laodicea that had become so bland, so ineffectual, so callous to human suffering, so cowering before the saber rattling of the empire of the day, so lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, that God said, “I will spew you out of my mouth.” That is exactly what happens to churches and other faith communities that do not stand up, speak up, and act up when human beings are not treated with the dignity and honor due those who bear the image of God. The fundamental commandment that pulsates at the core of our being is a three-fold love: To love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Love of neighbor is never neutral.
I have known a lot of faith communities who think religion consists only of beautiful worship, saying one’s prayers, all the while hermetically sealed in ignoring those forces which are destroying the least of these. All Saints will always invest great resources in movingly beautiful worship. That is often how the heart is opened and moved. At the same time we will never ask someone to check their conscience or their courage at the door. We stand in the prophetic tradition where movingly beautiful worship is valuable only to the degree that it heals the human heart and then empowers the people to daring action on behalf of the oppressed.
In our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures this morning, (Isa. 50: 4-9a), the prophet says, “God wakens me every morning, wakens my ear to listen like a student.” Listen to God speaking through the prophet Isaiah (1: 14-17) , speaking to us the students of God:
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Because your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of those without parents, plead the case of those who are widowed.
Listen to the prophet Amos when he speaks for God (Amos 5: 21, 23-24)
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.
23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream!
That is the prophetic tradition that tells us that we have no choice about the matters of justice. When Jesus preached his inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, the reading from which he preached was from the prophets – Isaiah 61 to be exact. This shows that of all the traditions and theologies in Hebrew scripture, Jesus was grounding his ministry in the prophets and their tradition. Here is the account.
Luke 4: 14-21
Jesus stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because she has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Psalm 15 has been summarized by some scholars as saying this, “Those who do justice dwell in the presence of the Lord.”
My friends, there is something about a moral argument that clarifies the mind about why we what we do. And I have never felt more energized and joyful than I do this morning about expressing with passion what is at stake in this argument we have with the IRS. And my heart is filled with hope that there are millions of Americans who are standing with us and will stand with us in the claim that loving your neighbor as yourself has no place for neutrality and silence in the face of anything that demeans another human being.
Whenever I am tempted to despair, tempted to think I am in this work alone, I think of the following quotation from Robert F. Kennedy. It both gives me hope and shows me how justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man/woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he/she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance…. I believe that … those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.”
Kennedy, Robert F., quoted in Make Gentle the Life of this World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, ed by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, p. 133
Welcome home, my friends. Happy Homecoming. Let us never forget that our true home is the heart of God where each of us is loved just as we are and each of us is given this beautiful, energizing, audacious gift to resist any efforts to dehumanize others or to block God’s dream of turning the human race into the human family. Amen.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
The IRS vs. All Saints Church: The Saga Continues
By Louis Sahagun -- L.A. Times Staff Writer
September 16, 2006
Stepping up its probe of allegedly improper campaigning by churches, the Internal Revenue Service on Friday ordered a liberal Pasadena parish to turn over all the documents and e-mails it produced during the 2004 election year with references to political candidates. All Saints Episcopal Church and its rector, the Rev. Ed Bacon, have until Sept. 29 to present the sermons, newsletters and electronic communications.
The IRS investigation was triggered by an antiwar sermon delivered by its forme rrector, the Rev. George F. Regas, at the church two days before the 2004 presidential election. The summons even requests utility bills to establish costs associated with hosting Regas' speech. Bacon was ordered to testify before IRS officials Oct. 11.
The tax code bars nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing or campaigning against candidates in an election.Facing the possible loss of his church's tax-exempt status, Bacon said he plansto inform his roughly 3,500 active congregants about the investigation during Sunday'sservices. Then he plans to seek their advice on whether to comply.
"There is a lot at stake here," Bacon said in an interview. "If theIRS prevails, it will have a chilling effect on the practice of religion in America."The congregants will have two choices: consent to the IRS request, or decline, whichcould result in the matter being referred to the Department of Justice and, possibly,U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, All Saints' lead attorney Marcus Owens said."The congregation's decision will be clear on Sunday or a few days afterthat," Owens said.
"My guess is they will be unlikely to respond demurelyand acquiesce in the government's request at this stage. The issues are too close to the quick of their fundamental religious beliefs."Members of All Saints have a long history of social activism. The sermon that attractedthe IRS' attention was delivered by Regas, who was well-known for opposing theVietnam War, championing female clergy and supporting gays and lesbians in the church.
The medieval-looking church, just east of City Hall, seems to embody staid, moneyedOld Pasadena, but the liberal outlook goes back decades. During World War II, itsrector spoke out against the internment of Japanese Americans. Regas headed the church for 28 years before retiring in 1995.
Exactly how the congregants will make their feelings known on the IRS issue is yetto be decided.
Read it all here.
Friday, September 15, 2006
More from Canterbury
[Today's Press Release from the ABofC's office]
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has spoken of his prayers for ordinary churchgoers who are ‘puzzled, wearied, or disoriented’ by the present controversies within the Anglican Communion.
In a Pastoral Letter to the Anglican Communion’ s Primates and Presiding Bishops, Dr Williams says that the 'ordinary people of God' do not want to see division as the consequence of the Anglican Communion’s difficulties:
“Many say they simply do not want to take up an extreme or divisive position and want to be faithful to Scripture and the common life. They want to preserve an Anglican identity that they treasure and love passionately but face continuing uncertainty about its future.”
In his letter, Dr Williams updated the Primates on the Windsor process, reporting the initial thinking of a group set up to advise in the wake of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (formerly ECUSA) held last June.
“It is … clear that the Episcopal Church has taken very seriously the recommendations of the Windsor Report; but the resolutions of General Convention still represent what can only be called a mixed response to the Dromantine requests. The advisory group has spent much time in examining these resolutions in great detail, and its sense is that although some aspects of these requests have been fully dealt with, some have not. This obviously poses some very challenging questions for our February meeting and its discernment of the best way forward.”
Read it all here ... including the full text of the Archbishop's letter to the Primates.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Ndungane in the News
Gays are God's children - Thu, 14 Sep 2006
[Capetown] Homosexuals are God's children, Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said on Thursday, ahead of a conference in Rwanda with the contentious issue of gays in the church on its agenda.
"We should try to find solutions of living with difference and otherness. Diversity is the creation by the Almighty... we need to embrace, all of us, in our differences and seek to walk together," Ndungane told reporters.
Tensions in the church have been growing since 2003, following a row over the blessing of same-sex relationships and the consecration of an openly gay bishop by the American Episcopal Church.
Ndungane, who leads the two dozen bishops in Church of the Province of Southern Africa, said same-sex legislation currently before Parliament should be upheld.
Read it all here
Requiescat Ann Richards
Other tributes come informally from those who knew, loved and worked with her -- this one by email from my Fort Worth friend, the marvelous Katie Sherrod:
She always had time to talk. And to laugh.
She was a recovering alcoholic, and every time reporters tried to get her to talk about that, she'd say, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." And that was that.When reporters would press her for one last comment, she'd say something like, "Don't squat with your spurs on."
She was a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. She was a Texas woman in the best sense -- strong, brave, loyal and uppity.I will miss her for a long long time.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Mark Harris Rocks!
Don't miss his reflections on the just concluded meeting of bishops in New York, aptly entitled: Well, the Skunk is on the Table
How about Alternative PRESIDENTIAL Oversight?
So I was ranting about this to a vestry member last night who didn't quite "get" the implications of it all and found myself saying, "OK -- let me put it this way: it makes as much sense for a diocese that isn't happy with the decisions of the Presiding Bishop to ask to be under the authority of the Primate of Uganda as it would for a state that wasn't happy with the decisions of the President of the United States to ask to be under the authority of the Prime Minister of Canada!"
And he paused.
And I paused.
And we both went ... hmmmm ...
And I think I'm going to leave it at that.
PS -- Here's the text of the President's 9/11 Address in case you missed the chance to get outraged at his further politicizing our national tragedy as a defense for his indefensible war.
ACN (Anglican Communion Network) Statement on the NYC Meeting
... interesting to me that now we're waiting for the ABofC AND the Primates to respond to their requests. And what about the "desperate situation" for faithful Episcopalians -- gay, straight and in-between -- who are stuck in dioceses bent on abandoning the Episcopal Church come hell or high water with no recourse as their bishops lurch like lemmings toward the cliff determined to drag them along off it.
Pittsburgh, PA —Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, thanked the people of the Network for their prayers and support during the just-completed meeting of Episcopal bishops in New York. The meeting, called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, has not led to a mutually agreeable way forward.
“It was an honest meeting. It became clear that the division in the American church is so great that we are incapable of addressing the divide which has two distinctly different groups both claiming to be the Episcopal Church,” said Bishop Duncan, “Our request for Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO) still stands. We wait on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Anglican Communion to answer our request,” he added. Among the many items discussed in New York was the fact that even if fulfilled, the APO request only deals with the situation of those in Network dioceses. While that situation is important, a far more desperate situation exists for congregations in non-Network dioceses. Bishop Duncan made it clear that as moderator of the Network, he will make every effort to see those needs fully and honestly addressed.
Bishop Duncan encouraged the people of the Network to continue focusing on the local mission of their churches in the days ahead. “In season and out of season, we have the Good News of Jesus Christ’s love to share with all the world. As I said after General Convention this summer, pray, but don’t worry.”
Source: ACN website
ENS on NYC Meetings
Conversation may continue later this year
Episcopal News Service
By: Matthew Davies and Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Despite "honest and frank conversations," a group of bishops with differing perspectives, meeting in New York September 11-13, was unable to reach an agreement on how to meet the needs of seven dioceses that have asked for oversight with a primate other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
"We're hoping to call another meeting later this fall to continue to wrestle with the issues," Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori said after the meeting concluded, adding that there is a "general commitment" among those present at this week's meeting to attend a subsequent meeting.
"It has occurred to me that it might be helpful to expand the group slightly so that it's not too large but includes the variety of perspectives" that exist, Jefferts Schori added.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and Jefferts Schori both said after the meeting ended that the conversations that took place were valuable. "According to some of the participants, it was for them the most fruitful exchange they've been able to have," Griswold said.
Jefferts Schori called them "open and frank, sometimes challenging conversations, but very healthy ones."
The co-conveners of the meeting were Bishops Peter James Lee of Virginia and John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida. Other participants, in addition to Griswold and Jefferts Schori, were Bishops Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, James Stanton of Dallas, Edward Salmon of South Carolina, Mark Sisk of New York, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, and Robert O'Neill of Colorado. Also participating was Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council, who facilitated the meeting at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.
A statement issued at the close of the meeting said that the bishops had confronted "the depth of the conflicts" they face and although they "could not come to consensus on a common plan to move forward to meet the needs of the dioceses that issued the appeal for Alternate Primatial Oversight ... The level of openness and charity in this conference allow us to pledge to hold one another in prayer and to work together until we have reached the solution God holds out for us." Williams responded shortly after the statement was released, calling it "a positive sign that these difficult conversations have been taking place in a frank and honest way." Williams identified "the openness and charity" of the discussions as "signs of hope for the future.
Griswold said that the sessions' grounding in prayer and Scripture reading helped the group see what it held in common and "created the spirit, the environment, in which frankness could occur."
Jefferts Schori said that the sessions helped her begin "to get a sense of the diversity of the context in which this church functions," that there are diverse perceptions and that "diocesan landscapes are not uniform."
Griswold echoed that understanding, noting the sessions showed the diversity that exists "even among people who are sometimes characterized as of the same mind."
The meeting was called after the bishops and standing committees in seven dioceses requested oversight from a primate other than the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, citing actions of the 2003 and 2006 General Conventions. The dioceses are Central Florida (Orlando-based), Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Springfield (Illinois), and San Joaquin (California). None of the dioceses' conventions have ratified the requests. The constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Communion's main policy-making body, makes no provisions for alternative primatial oversight. Neither do the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
Griswold said after the end of the meeting that the use of the term "alternative primatial oversight" itself was discussed.
"There was some disagreement as to whether it was appropriate even to use that term," he said. "There was some reluctance to use that terminology." The meeting was called after Kearon noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury, "though symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, has no direct authority over the internal life of the Provinces that make up the Communion," Griswold noted in an August 22 statement.
Kearon's point, Griswold said, was that such requests needed to be discussed and "a resolution be sought within the Episcopal Church itself."
Griswold said after the meeting that participants used words like "safety and space" to describe what they felt they needed in the church. He characterized that need as a desire for a "changed environment in which controversial points of view are not treated as beyond the community or contrary to the community. They have a place within the community to be taken seriously and respected as held by genuine people of faith."
"The great value in this meeting was the ability to have face-to-face conversations with people who frequently are caricatured by others," Jefferts Schori said after the meeting. "Communicating on the internet about such issues relieves us of the incarnate necessity of engaging our neighbors."
She said that the meeting was "an attempt to provide ministry and pastoral care for all parts of the Episcopal Church."
Both acknowledged that the meeting took place during an anxious time not only in the church, but also in the world.
"We live in an anxious season that is not bounded by ecclesiastical reality; it's the global reality and I think the more we can actually be with one another, and ask not only what divides us but what do we hold in common and build from that common base, the more we will reveal whatever God is up to in this time," Griswold said. "In the midst of anxiety there is often incredible possibility and hopefulness."
"I am fond of reminding people," Jefferts Schori added, "that without chaos there would have been no opportunity for creation."
Griswold said that the meeting is part of the larger context of the Anglican Communion.
"While we were having our conversation, we were part of larger processes going on, the assessment of our response to the Windsor Report, [and] the unfolding of the covenant process," he said. "We now have a global perspective. We now understand ourselves in relationship to an Anglican community that is far more complex and diverse than even our own Episcopal Church."
Meanwhile, Griswold said, "the church continues to attend to its mission while also seeking to draw the diversity of opinions together and break down some of the walls of suspicion and mistrust that seriously hinder, no matter what perspectives we may hold."
ACNS Reports on NYC "September Summit"
That would be the sky that was going to fall after Plano, or was it after Dromantaine ... or maybe it was when the Windsor Report came out? I'll admit to having lost track.
I'll also admit to coming very close to losing interest. It is amazing what the full-immersion of back-to-the-parish-program-year can do to give you a little perspective on it all. Usher and LEM training, new acolytes galore, 140 kids for children's choir registration last Sunday and gearing up for Homecoming Sunday (AKA "The Rector's Back!") not only reminds me how much postive energy there is in the church but how little the ongoing "As The Anglican World Turns" soap opera impacts most Episcopalians trying to live their lives, love their Lord and love their neighbors as themselves.
Anyway, here are the ACNS resleases -- stay tuned for further developments but I think it's time to put away the "in case the sky really IS falling" hardhat.
ACNS 4187 USA 13 SEPTEMBER 2006
New York Bishops Meeting: A Statement
Issued 13 September 2006, 3 p.m. GMT
A group of bishops met in New York on 11-13 September at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and in consultation with the Presiding Bishop to review the current landscape of the church in view of conflicts within the Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury had
received a request from seven dioceses for alternative primatial pastoral care and asked that American bishops address the question. The co-conveners of the meeting were Bishops Peter James Lee of Virginia and John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida. Other participating bishops were Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishops Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, James Stanton of Dallas, Edward Salmon of South Carolina, Mark Sisk of New York, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, and Robert O'Neill of Colorado. Also participating was Canon Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
We had honest and frank conversations that confronted the depth of the conflicts that we face. We recognized the need to provide sufficient space, but were unable to come to common agreement on the way forward. We could not come to consensus on a common plan to move forward to meet the needs of the dioceses that issued the appeal for Alternate Primatial
Oversight. The level of openness and charity in this conference allow us to pledge to hold one another in prayer and to work together until we have reached the solution God holds out for us.
ACNS 4188 LAMBETH 13 SEPTEMBER 2006
Archbishop of Canterbury: Response to New York statement The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has responded to the statement issued earlier today from the meeting of bishops of The Episcopal Church (TEC) being held in New York.
Archbishop Williams said: It's a positive sign that these difficult conversations have been taking place in a frank and honest way. There is clearly a process at work and although it hasn't yet come to fruition, the openness and charity in which views are being shared and options discussed are nevertheless signs of hope for the future. Our prayers continue.
Monday, September 11, 2006
The candles massed in front of the altar burn in tribute to the names being read from the lectern – Naomi Leah Solomon, Daniel W. Song, Michael C. Soresse, Fabian Soto – as other names scroll above the altar projected on a video screen – John Bentley Works, William Wren, Sandra Wright, Myrna Yashkulka. The church is silent save for the reading of the names and the careful footsteps of those who come forward to light a candle -- the gentle thud of a kneeler lowered for prayer --the quiet rustle of pages turned in a prayer book.
“American Airline Flight 11”– Anna Allison, David Lawrence Angell, Lynn Edwards Angell, Seima Aoyamma. The names began at 5:46 – the west coast moment when the first plane struck – and will continue through the morning until we gather for Eucharist at noon. The table is already set. The red frontal – blood of martyrs – covers the altar. The chalice is vested, the missal marked. The credence table is ready, too: flagons of wine, silver chalices and ciborium lined up – ready to hold the holy food and drink of new and unending life we will share here at All Saints Church.
“All Saints” – Charles’ deep voice breaks the silence as he begins reading the next segment of the list of names: “World Trade Center, continued” – Paul Riza, John Frank Rizzo, Stephen Luis Roch, Leo Roberts. Earlier this morning from the National Cathedral Desmond Tutu offered ancient words of comfort from the prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name and you are mine.” As Charles tolls the names of the dead that assurance echoes again and again in my head. These names I do not know – some I cannot even pronounce – each and every one known to God. Beloved of God. “United Airlines Flight 93”: Christine Adams, Lorraine Berg, Todd Beamer, Alan Beaven. Gone from our sight yet gathered into God’s embrace -- seated at the heavenly banquet we can but glimpse through the sacrament we are preparing to share -- the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving we will offer at this altar.
I look again at the ciborium massed on the credence table – the candles flickering in the polished silver – the light of lives lost reflected in the vessels holding the bread of life. It staggers the mind to consider what they represent – the magnitude of the collective loss of love, joy, hope and possibilities taken on that day a year ago with such sudden unexpectedness. Takashi Ogawa. Albert Ogletree. Gerald Michael Olcott. The pain of death and loss mingles mysteriously in the promise of life and hope. Body and Blood. Bread and Wine.
Strength for the journey and hope for the future. Hope for a world where differences enrich rather than divide. Hope for the end of wars waged in the name of the God who created us not to destroy but to love each other. Dipti Patel. James Matthew Patrick. Sharon Christina Millan Paz. “Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith there is a place for you here.” Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Jesus and Verna and Jack
Proper 18B: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Mark 7:24-37
Sunday, September 10, 2006 ~ All Saints Church, Pasadena ~ Susan Russell
Can you feel it in the air this morning? Can you sense the energy and anticipation generated by new beginnings about to begin … a new program year about to start … a new school year just begun … and Homecoming is coming already next week! Where DID the summer go? Never mind that on the Pasadena calendar the New Year starts in January with the Rose Parade and on the church calendar the New Year starts in December with Advent – on the “Susan calendar” it’s September that feels like a new year … complete with urges to clear the decks, start new projects, make resolutions and -- oh yes -- buy something plaid and get a new box of freshly sharpened Crayola Crayons!
Those are last two are some things I hope I never outgrow – but there are some others I wish I could. And one of those is that measure of anxiety that seems inevitably to accompany the energy of new beginnings – new years – new adventures. Who doesn’t remember that butterfly-in-the-stomach-first-day-of-school feeling? Will I be able to keep up with the homework this year? Will I like my teachers? Will anybody sit with me at lunch? It seems to be a part of the human condition that the fear of the unknown consistently shows up as an uninvited companion anytime we journey out of our comfort zone – out of our context – out of what is safe and familiar and “home.”
The question I’m asking this morning … this “new year” … is not how to get rid of that fear – since we seem to be stuck with it -- but how to move forward anyway. And the answers I want to share this morning come from three voices of witness to the power of God’s love to transform even the fear in our hearts into strength for the journey -- a trinity of sorts: Jesus and Verna and Jack.
Let’s start with Jesus – always a good place to start! The gospels are full of the words and work and witness of the ministry of the rabbi who left the family carpentry business to proclaim the kingdom-come that Isaiah described for us this morning: then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. That’s the kingdom he proclaimed -- in today’s Gospel According to Mark we have a unique window into what it must have been like for Jesus to take that message out into the world – out of his comfort zone – out of his context – out of what was safe and familiar and home. Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.
Sounds like he was trying to get a little vacation, to me. And what does he get instead? A woman – a Gentile woman – tracking him down and asking for healing for her daughter. As one of the commentaries on this text puts it: Given that Jesus has traveled to Tyre, a Gentile stronghold, it's hardly unexpected that he should run into one of these despised people. What is perhaps surprising is that this Gentile woman would turn to Jesus for help, but of course a desperate woman will do almost anything to help her sick child. Jesus, however, is not inclined to help her. Moreover, he turns her away in language that implies there is a limited supply of food-- that only some may eat while others will go hungry. Surely Jesus of all people should know that God's goodness is bounteous, that there is more than enough for everyone. And this is essentially what the Gentile woman points out to Jesus. There's plenty for everyone; even for those who are the outsiders. And Jesus -- apparently moved by her words -- promptly heals her child, and never again in Mark does he refuse to heal anyone or question anyone's worthiness to be healed.*
This turning point in Jesus’ ministry came about because he was willing to listen and be changed by the voice he hadn’t expected to hear or even wanted to listen to. Following his example gives us the courage and the power – in spite of some unavoidable fear and trembling – to proclaim abundance even as others declare scarcity, to preach peace even if it is an election year, to embrace new beginnings even when they challenge our old understandings. For as disciples of Jesus – as the Body of Christ in the world – we follow the one who was willing to go where God led him even if it meant finding out he had to change his mind about a thing or two along the way.
And that brings me to the second person of my trinity this morning: Verna … Verna Dozier. Teacher, preacher, biblical scholar and theologian, Verna’s death last week at the age of 88 caused one eulogist to write, “May she rest in peace and rise in glory: we are poorer for her passing but so, SO much richer for her life and witness!” An African American, a woman and a lay person, her voice was a voice the church hadn’t expected to hear or – I suspect -- even wanted to listen to. And yet like the Gentile woman in Tyre insisting that Jesus hear her plea and heal her daughter, Verna stood her ground and insisted that church hear her plea and heal itself of the clericalism and institutionalism distorting its vision -- hampering its mission – keeping it from becoming all that God intended it to be.
In her 1991 book, The Dream of God, she wrote “God has paid us the high compliment of calling us to be coworkers with our Creator, a compliment so awesome that we have fled from it and taken refuge in the church. The urgent task for us is to reclaim our identity as the people of God and live into our high calling as the baptized community…that the dream of God for a new creation may be realized."
I first encountered Verna when a copy of The Dream of God leapt off the shelf of the old Diocesan Center bookstore and into my hands. As I was preparing for ordination her words were my constant companions as The Dream of God became part of my seminary-survival-kit – reminding me over and over and over again not to confuse God with the church – challenging me to balance academics and action. I only heard her preach once – in 1997 in Cincinnati at a national justice conference – and what I remember most were these words, “Don’t tell me what you believe – tell me what difference it makes that you believe.” Her foundational thesis – that the church has failed in its high calling to be the Body of Christ in the world because is has too often settled for worshipping Jesus instead of following Jesus -- became a core value of my own priesthood -- and I am deeply grateful to be part of this All Saints Church community that not only shares but lives out those values.
Finally, her words about faith and fear are ones I have turned to again and again – especially whenever it’s time to once more step out into new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities. “Doubt” said Verna, “is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today."
Freedom from the fear of risking because we might be wrong frees us to get it right --by opening new doors, challenging old assumptions, chancing new undertakings. And let’s face it – there is an urgent need for new possibilities we cannot even imagine today to overcome the very real challenges facing the world we live in today: war-torn, terror-wracked, politically polarized and often demoralized we are bombarded by voices in the culture who feed our fears, I fear, precisely to keep us immobilized. “Give us 22 minutes and we’ll scare the pants off you” could be the tag line for the local radio news – and as Gary Hall noted in his sermon last month, you can’t watch CNN for 15 minutes without one of the anchors asking a version of the question, “Are we safe?” Butterfly-in-the-stomach-first-day-of-school fears pale in comparison with the anxiety of this post-9/11 world – all the more reason to remind ourselves of those voices of witness to the power of God’s love to transform even the fear in our hearts into strength for the journey: Jesus and Verna and Jack.
Send us anywhere you would have us go … only go there with us.
Place upon us any burden you desire … only stand by us to sustain us.
Break any tie that binds us … except the tie that binds us to you.
This is a blessing I love … one I give whenever I have the chance and I don’t believe there’s been a single Sunday since I’ve been at All Saints Church that someone hasn’t asked me for a copy of it … so that tells me I’m not the only one it touches in a very deep way. It is a blessing I inherited from the priest who sponsored me for ordination – she herself inherited it from the bishop who ordained her back in 1977 in the Diocese of Newark: John Shelby Spong … AKA Jack.
Now, Jack Spong was and continues to be a controversial figure in the Episcopal Church. I’ve read most of what he’s written – agree with some of it, disagree with lots of it and frankly don’t quite get a great deal of it. But I love that we’re part of a church that gives us – all of us – you and me and Jack Spong and everyone inbetween -- the freedom to think things out, to imagine things through, to risk being wrong. And that’s what I love about Jack’s blessing: I love its focus on the freedom of knowing that wherever we go, God goes with us. Whatever burden we bear, God stands by us to sustain us. Whatever ties bind us or restrain us or restricts us pales in comparison with the tie that binds us to the God who created us in love and then sent us out to love one another in return.
Send us anywhere you would have us go … out of our comfort zone – out of our context – out of what is safe and familiar and “home” … into this school year, program year, election year … confident that no matter where we go, you go with us.
Place upon us any burden you desire … and help us remember that you will stand by us to sustain us through even the burdens that come from not from you but from the brokenness of this world that has failed to live up to your dream for it: the burden of having a son in Iraq or a daughter in Afghanistan; the burden of disease, of loneliness, of depression, of addiction.
Break any tie that binds us … ties to “how we’ve always done it” … ties to living in safety rather than reaching out in risk … ties to the fears that persuade us to build walls rather than bridges.
To claim that blessing as our own is to claim the freedom it promises: to claim the power of God’s love to transform even the fear in our hearts into strength for the journey – the journey we make together with Jesus and Verna and Jack – and with each other – one new beginning at a time! Happy New Year! Amen.
*Karen Keely in "The Witness"
Thursday, September 07, 2006
By Their Fruits Shall You Know Them: An Analysis of AAC and Network Activities
Over the past ten years, the Episcopal Church has been subjected to increasing attacks for its breadth of theological perspectives and its hospitality to all. Since the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living in a committed monogamous relationship, the attacks have become more strident. A small but vocal faction, comprised of people both inside and outside the Episcopal Church has used significant resources to paint a false picture of our Church. These actions are similar to the attacks of the McCarthy Era, when a lie would be told often enough until it was deemed to be true. Half-truths are particularly useful to this approach because they require of the truth-teller a more detailed and sophisticated response than the attacker wields in the initial assault. The Internet only assists this kind of campaign of misinformation, offering a hood of anonymity to those dishonorable enough to wear it.
Regrettably, it is necessary to make a careful rebuttal of the unkind and dishonest representations of our Church which are antithetical to the spirit and words of Jesus, who calls us to be “one as the Father and I are one.” The American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network have created, through expensive DVDs, websites, and slick printed material, a gross distortion of our church that must be confronted.
Read it all here
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
"Don't tell me what you believe ...
... tell me what difference it makes that you believe." -- Verna Dozier
As the loudest voices in the church today keep insisting “tell me what you believe and I’ll tell you whether you belong” take a moment ... or two or three or four ... with me to cleanse your ecclesial palate and read these tributes to Verna Dozier ... prophet, teacher, preacher, and champion of the ministry of the baptized.
And remember what a difference it is made in so many lives that she believed!
And pray that we might be given the grace to go and do likewise.
"Truly Verna" by Michael Hopkins
Episcopal News Service
Jane Holmes Dixon in “The Witness”
“Remembering Ms. Verna” by Elizabeth Kaeton
Saturday, September 02, 2006
A Prophet Goes Home to Jesus
Verna Dozier, teacher and prophet, has died.
Verna Dozier, author, teacher and theologian, died Friday afternoon at the age of 88. Dozier, a parishioner at St. Mark's Church on Capitol Hill, taught in the District of Columbia's public schools for 34 years before retiring in 1975 to devote herself exclusively to a ministry of writing and religious education.
A popular lecturer and workshop presenter, her most influential book was The Dream of God: A Call toReturn (1991.) Earlier this year, Seabury Press published Confronted by God: The Essential Verna Dozier, a collection of her writings.
Dozier lived at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville, Md. for 14 years. In 1992, she preached at the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Washington. In 1999, St. Mark's installed a stained glass window in honor of Dozier and her sister Lois, who had died a year earlier. The window features the prophet Amos, Dozier's favorite, and figures of the two Dozier sisters.
In 2003, Dozier won the first Bishop's Award from the Diocese of Washington.Funeral arrangements are not yet complete. The Washington Post is preparing an obituary which may be published on Sunday, September 3.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Speaking of Hegelian Dialectics ...
The Church of England is currently being tortured by a dead German philosopher. An unlikely story, I know. But not when you recall that the head of the Anglican church is a former Oxford don with a deep love of Hegel. And it's partly because of Hegel - specifically Rowan Williams's commitment to Hegelian dialectics - that morale in the Church of England is so low.
For those who didn't spend hours in the student bar plotting the overthrow of global capitalism, it may be worth a recap. The dialectic proposes that human culture advances through a serious of oppositions. A thesis is opposed by its opposite, an antithesis, which is then taken up into a synthesis of the two, shifting culture into a whole new territory. Here is Dr Williams's explanation: "Reflection requires that the plain opposition of positive and negative be left behind. Thinking is not content with the abstraction of mutual exclusivities, but struggles to conceive of a structured wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories."
The Canterbury dialectic was in evidence at a summit of bishops who were considering whether they should remain a boys' club. It works like this. Take someone who believes that women ought to be bishops. Take someone who believes women ought not to be bishops. Put them in a room with flip charts and shake them all about, and you come out with a synthesis. Or a structured wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories. But you don't. What really happens is that you come up with a bodge and a room full of very angry Christians, exhausted by the politics of eternal negotiation.
Following Hegel, the archbishop believes that all oppositions can be nuanced into resolution. It's a matter of faith for him. The dialectic describes the path a divided humanity must travel if it is to reach the good infinity, the kingdom of heaven. It's the way of personal and social transformation under which all human conflict will come to an end. The lion will lie down with the lamb.
Long before Hegel drew breath, Anglicanism has always had something of Hegel about it. After all, the genius of the Church of England is to create a synthesis of Catholics (thesis) and Puritans (antithesis). But whereas historic Anglicanism believed that compromise between different theologies was a price worth paying for a truce between them, Dr Williams's dialectical Anglicanism is an encouragement to war.
For dialectical Anglicanism just cannot say no. Every no always comes with its attendant yes. And that means, it can't resist the bigotry, sexism and homophobia that is currently making a nasty comeback in the Anglican pulpit. Whether it be those who would treat women clergy as second class or those who compare gay Christians to beasts, the logic of Dr Williams' position is always to accommodate. Commendably inclusive, some presume. But this sort of inclusivity offers little protection against those who would undermine the tolerance that has been the Anglican trademark. When dealing with well-organised and well-motivated bullies, it's a hopeless philosophy.
Worse still, the dialectical quest for unity is callously indifferent to the casualties of its grand plan. Isaiah Berlin was right to call the dialectic "a sinister mythology which authorises the infinite sacrifice of individuals to such abstractions as states, traditions or the destiny of the nation" - or, one might add, to the unity of the church. Even Hegel admitted that the dialectic is a "slaughter-bench" on which the welfare of individuals is counted as collateral damage. Isn't that precisely what happened to Jeffrey John?
But the saddest casualty of Hegel's system of reconciliation is the archbishop himself. Holding all these opposites in tension is grinding him down. He presents as Christ on the cross, taking upon himself the pain of the church's division. Each new fight is a spear in the side, yet he continues to maintain faith in the reconciling process of nuance. If he's right, it's a work of supreme Christian sacrifice. If he's wrong, all this pain will have been for nothing.
· by Giles Fraser
The Church Faces a Foreign Policy Challenge
The Church Faces a Foreign Policy Challenge
Because it differed from typical legislative business, responding to the Anglican Communion posed a challenge to the 75th General Convention. Typical business is conducted without much explicit concern for a wider communion of churches, but in June the General Convention found itself engaged in the ecclesiastical equivalent of conducting foreign policy. The interactive character of this activity usually makes it an executive responsibility.
In the United States, for example, the State Department and the Office of the President, not the Congress, manage foreign affairs. This arrangement puts diplomatic expertise at the disposal of those who must act expeditiously, consistent with expressed legislative and electoral preferences. Despite similarities between American and Episcopal Church polity, however, the Presiding Bishop is not our president, and neither the House of Bishops nor the Executive Council is our State Department. The Episcopal Church conducts much of its “foreign policy” legislatively.
Ideally, to respond to a foreign policy challenge, a government develops a consensus regarding the status quo and articulates long- and short-term objectives. Analysts devise possible responses, consistent with resources and constraints, and evaluate their advantages and disadvantages. Decision makers then choose the plan seen as most likely to advance the nation’s goals, including idealistic ones such as promoting international peace and justice.
Did our church engage in an analogous intellectual—and spiritual—exercise in the run-up to and during the convention? Yes, but we could have done better, and the coherence of the process degraded as the convention wore on.
Read the rest here