Admiral of Morality

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Fr. Jake returns

In the summer of 2008 Fr. Jake Stops the World blogspot went offline as the author accepted an evangelism post at Church headquarters in New York. What was seen as a boon for the wider Church, was certainly seen as a loss to the blogging Church.

In fact, the loss to the blogging Church was a loss to the wider Church, for there is power and grace in a nom de plume that is not always capturable otherwise. Why? Alas, this may be a mystery.

For several years as the Episcopal Church slept, Fr. Jake Stops the World gathered and detailed information about the activities designed to undermine it. In the process he attracted many regular readers and contributors who found a spiritual home.

This naturally drew the attention of Church leaders—but truth be told, the thunderous clarity of the eccentric and sometimes heretical Fr. Jake seemed muted and constrained at 815.

This observation should not be underestimated, and perhaps we might find in it somewhere a lesson. For even as we are reminded to recognize that our incarnational Church is built upon human experiences, there is true and enduring power in the written word and community.

The roundabout point is that as of August 6 Fr. Jake has returned online.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Lay of the Land

After the 2009 General Convention and the recent announcement of episcopal candidates for the dioceses of Los Angeles and Minnesota, it cannot be denied that The Episcopal Church is the gayest Church in all of Christendom.*

It is now beyond question that the Church has assumed as its charism within the Apostolic churches, leadership in proclaiming the theological and ecclesial equality of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons.

The implications of this fact for the Body of Christ, the Anglican Communion, and the Church itself, are not clear.

Why not?

Because as the Archbishop of Canterbury recently wrote, “very serious anxieties have already been expressed” about our Church’s decisions, and our recent decisions, will not ease these.

These anxieties have erupted and continue to affect our relationships, because the Church’s charism is viewed as misguided or as apostasy by many others.

Several other Apostolic churches have to some degree or another travelled on this path, by broaching and debating the issue. But none to the extent of our Church, which has brought the matter to the level of the episcopate, and therefore, to the forefront or background of nearly every Church- and Communion-wide meeting and discussion.

For nearly six years, the merest fraction of Church time but a sustained period in human terms, the Church has been consumed with this issue, to the clear detriment of others. It seems that we have not been able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

The 20/20 Initiative is but a memory. Church planting is pitiful. The state of our seminaries and our theological educational structures and principles is a C- at best.

At this past General Convention, the national church leaders and bodies ceded—no, rejected—responsibility for evangelism and the Great Commission, insisting that it was better done by the diffuse, smaller and more limited confines of our localities. This rejection of stewardship of the Great Commission by our national Church offices may be nothing less than a national abdication of our mission and responsibility as a Church. It is hard to see church planting and successful evangelism taking place within such confines.

It may be no surprise then, that into this vacuum of regular and renewed missional purpose has poured the round-robins of sexuality, affecting our relations with one another—within our parishes, our dioceses, our Church, our provinces, our Communion, and with our ecumenical partners. We often talk about and do nothing else, because this is all we are up to.

For the vast majority of individual gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons in our Church, or who consider themselves faithful or otherwise interested in this matter, the implications of this consummate attention are very clear and essential—a recognition by the wider Church of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that they experience on a regular and sustained basis. It is in fact these very incarnate realities that have forced the matter despite all difficulties because these realities are inescapable and irreducible.

Yet at the same time, these realities clearly conflict with the vast repository of Christian teaching, tradition, Scriptural interpretation, and the plain meanings of the Scriptures themselves. As the Archbishop pointed out, this has not changed since the earliest days of the Church. This reality is also inescapable and irreducible.

Other churches, most notably the Roman Catholic Church, have introduced aspects of worship, tradition, interpretation, and theology, into their own understanding of Christianity that do not rely on Scripture and that are in fact, rejected by wide parts of the greater Body for not being supported by Scripture.

The differences between these churches and our own have contributed to the problems in our churches: the lack of a central theological authority, our apostolic nature, and the very short time frame--in Church terms--of how we have addressed the sexuality issue.

Analogies to the issue of women’s ordination and election to the episcopate are therefore distinct for at least this one reason—time.

The Church and the Scriptures have clear images and realities of women serving in key roles, since the days of the Lord. We have scores of women saints we pray with and for and venerate. We have the example of the Holy Mother. We have thousands of years of women serving the Lord and our churches in various capacities to the extent that, for many of us, having them serve as deacons, priests, and bishops, was a natural progression.

This took 2000 years. In the meantime, we have learned to live side by side with complementarians and female priests and bishops.

Christendom’s first openly gay bishop, on the other hand, preceded any wider agreement or example of what it meant to have openly gay persons not only serving and worshipping by our sides, but any theological constructs carving out an exception to the general prohibition, outside of a generally Arminianist impulse that too often has been relied upon when objections arise.

Another difference is the lack of clear theological authority attached to many General Convention resolutions and committees, panels, and bodies issuing findings on the sexuality matter within our Church.

The conclusions of these bodies that have impact for the entire Church Catholic are regularly dismissed for not being based on theology. This may be not because they do not contain theology within them, but because they do not issue from a consistent and unified body responsible for preserving, interpreting, and transmitting our theology.

What they do issue from is the General Convention and various standing and ad hoc bodies whose constitutions, bylaws, and approaches vary over time, even from meeting to meeting—and which in any event have no authority beyond our own borders.

This per se is not detrimental but is indeed, the great gift of the Spirt to our Church.

But, but—along with this diffusion has always been, the belief and practice that movement in some areas but especially in the area of human sexuality, would be slow, consultatory, and desirous of the widest possible consensus. Slow not in human terms, but in Church terms.

This has not occurred. That it has not, may very well be a gift of the Spirit. It has been six years, or 30, depending on your point of view—a sustained period in human terms either way, but not much in Church terms, and less than a speck in God’s.

All around, for six years, we have regularly failed to live up to our better natures, and have attacked and derided, in clear and certain terms; and approached with hostility and animosity, those who disagree and who have been inflamed by our actions.

The speed of the conversation has magnified the best and worst impulses of our natures and forced our Church to drop and allow to wither on the vine, other important measures.

At least for the Church of this province, we have witnessed a weakening of our national structures as they have turned away from the Great Commission, intellectual study and educational theology, in order to address this issue.

If we examine our history, perhaps we might find that a slower pace had the virtue at least, of smoothing out the extremes of human behaviors and allowing us to disagree and plant churches at the same time.

But, this is not where find ourselves, and perhaps this is not where we are supposed to be just yet.

We are traveling through uncharted waters but we have placed our hope in Christ to get us through and all around us we signs of the Spirit.

As we proceed our Church is going to need us properly discerning the Holy Spirit and living into our discernment and charism, without at the same time being unwilling or unable to do what we have also done up to this season.

This applies to each of us individually but also to us corporately.

Right now, especially if you take a look at the pages of Episcopal Life, we are not precisely up to the task.

We are going to have to do double duty to fix this.

*This is not meant to be glib or facetious, merely to recognize, that what is discussed and examined in our Church as an issue of the Gospel or inclusiveness or rights or fairness or the Spirit, is outside of the Church, reported nearly always, especially in the press, as the gay church issue.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another pre-Lambeth story

This one is from the Economist. It is a preview of sorts of the upcoming Lambeth, and also surveys the recent controversy from the London blessing.

Here is a snippet:

"The Anglican ethos rests on an unspoken consensus, a tacit understanding that all manner of crankiness and eccentricity can be tolerated as long as the family somehow stays intact. But as any marriage counsellor will admit, there is not much you can do in a situation in which people are truly determined to put asunder a partnership which they once regarded as joined together by the hand of God."

Like the Catholic News Service piece noted below, the Economist piece positions Lambeth as a "high noon."

If tradition is any indicator, Lambeth will be just the latest in a series of Christian "high noons" dating back to the Crucifixion. But that turned out alright, didn't it?

Read: The Economist article is here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama VP Top 10 picks

Two women, two former Republicans, an independent, and a Hispanic make the top 10.

The following list reflects who's hot and who's not in the search for Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate. It's compiled by senior political editor Vaughn Ververs and the rest of the political team and reflects media speculation, buzz, reporting and a lot of guesswork.

1 Hillary Clinton
She won 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries, walloped the presumptive nominee in key states and retains the loyalty of a sizable chunk of the party. Conventional wisdom says this pairing will never happen but until that becomes crystal clear, Clinton has to remain high on the list.

2 Jim Webb
If being a Vietnam veteran, former Navy Secretary and the very face of the party's anti-war wing isn't enough, he's also from a key battleground state. Early media vetting has not been kind, however, and the Old Dominion isn't large enough to make the election all about Virginia, Virginia, Virginia.

3 Bill Richardson
The best choice if winning New Mexico and courting the Latino vote are paramount concerns. He may also have the best overall resume of anyone Obama will look at -- but his chances might be better if he had not run himself and turned in a puzzling performance.

4 Kathleen Sebelius
A rising star who suddenly has Republicans wondering what's wrong with Kansas. She's not an insider, has executive experience and bolsters the "change" theme of Obama's campaign. But could it be too much change?

5 Tom Daschle
An early and eager supporter for Obama, who appears to have forged a close relationship with the former Majority Leader. A consummate insider helps soothe concerns of inexperience but also brings a lot of insider baggage. And what happened to Obama in South Dakota?

6 Sam Nunn
A growing presence in the speculation because of his national security credentials, the former Georgia senator has veteran experience and moderate credentials. He's well-respected on both sides of the aisle, and is seen as a grown-up, but may be too much of a greybeard for the Obama generation.

7 Ed Rendell
One of Clinton's staunchest supporters in the primary and a seasoned politician who isn't afraid to jump into a fight. Obama's loss in Pennsylvania has Republicans looking to steal a blue state and Rendell could bring stability. He was careful not to trash Obama in the primaries but there are plenty of things he did say that would be thrown back at him.

8 Evan Bayh
The Midwestern moderate was supposed to be among the presidential field. Instead he backed Clinton from the get-go. It was a good way to get on her ticket, but just being one of the most popular politicians in Indiana might be enough to get on Obama's.

9 Tim Kaine
Not as appealing a Virginian as Webb, he may be a safer one. The governor has executive experience and isn’t steeped in the ways of Washington and is Catholic to boot. With as many as three prospects from the same state though, the chances narrow.

10 Michael Bloomberg
The only name to appear on the list for both presumptive nominees, the mayor appears to be a better fit for Obama. The two have publicly flirted throughout the campaign and this pick could help soothe uneasy Jewish voters unsure about Obama. But a New York City mayor might not be the kind of change voters can believe in.

For full bios and more on the hotlist, go to the VP bios pages at CBS.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blessings and anguish for pastors in California

Gay partnerships, unions, and marriages and Christian responses to them, continue to dominate the news.

Some clergy members in California spent Tuesday officiating at same-sex weddings made legal by a State Supreme Court ruling that took effect on Monday night. Others spent the day speaking out against same-sex marriage.

And there were those who spent the day in anguish, torn between the laws of their state and the laws of their church.

The Rev. Kimberly A. Willis said she had not decided what to do because she wanted to be able to minister to all of her congregants at Christ Church United Methodist, in Santa Rosa, about 10 percent of whom are gay. But if she officiates at a same-sex wedding, she could be charged with violating the United Methodists’ Book of Discipline, put on trial and defrocked.

“It was surreal to watch this and think, How can I not bless these people?” Ms. Willis said. “I can bless a car, and I have. I’ve been asked to bless animals, children, homes, bread, grape juice, but I can’t bless a gay and lesbian couple. That’s unreal to me.”

The tension could also be seen in Bakersfield, where the Rev. Tim Vivian of Grace Episcopal Church and about a dozen of his parishioners sat on the edge of a courtyard outside the Kern County Clerk’s Office, where same-sex couples were marrying. Mr. Vivian said he was “in solidarity” with the couples but would not participate in the ceremonies because his diocese was in turmoil over the gay issue and his superiors had asked him to refrain.

When asked whether he expected one day to marry same-sex couples in his church, Mr. Vivian said, “Very much so.”

Read the whole piece at The New York Times.

There is often a rather remarkable disconnect between the teachings and preaching of a Church and reality. In the past, one has given way to the other, to be reformed for the better.

When the subject has been Church teachings that have in some way dehumanized or limited real living persons, the solution has been to give powerful witness to our shared humanity.

The source of this powerful witness has regularly been and continues to be, the gift of grace and Spirit freely given. There is no way to dam it up.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in our Churches.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

London priest: Why I blessed my friends' civil partnership

The rector of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, in the eye of storm over gay 'marriage,' explains why he decided he must bless a gay relationship

Today, the New Statesman has posted a full comment by Rev. Martin Dudley, titled, "Why I blessed gay clergymen's relationship."

On May 31 in a ceremony at his London parish St Bartholomew-the-Great, Rev. Dudley blessed the civil partnership of two friends and fellow priests, Peter Cowell of England and David Lord of New Zealand.

The church, is one of the oldest in Britain, dating back to 1123. The blessing followed the 1662 Prayer Book rite for the solemnization of marriage, which with a few changes, is used in marriage ceremonies around the English-speaking world.

In Great Britain, same sex couples may enter into civil partnerships, giving participants rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage. But neither the Church of England nor the Diocese of London have officially adopted ceremonies blessing them.

Needless to say the event has set off quite a bit of discussion, debate, and repercussions.

One of the civilly partnered men, the Rev. Dr. Lord of New Zealand, has apparently resigned his license as an Anglican minister.

The Bishop of London calls all involved "reckless and self-indulgent" and is instituting "an investigation."

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, earlier today issued a rather unusual joint response to the blessing: they listen to the reports of the recent service with "great concern"; they cannot say more due to the bishop of London's "investigation"; clerics are free to "disgaree with the Church's teaching" but cannot disregard it.

In his defense, Rev. Dudley tells the Guardian of London, "I am surprised and disappointed by the fuss. It was a joyful, godly occasion. Why turn it into a controversy? It was not a rally or a demonstration.

"Nor is it the first time there have been prayers, hymns or readings following a civil partnership. It may be that this ceremony had rather more knobs on. It may also be the only one we know about."

Here is part of what Rev. Dudley says in the New Statesman today:

"For today’s Church of England it is as if the 1970s never existed; the lessons have been forgotten. There has been a retreat from exploring the depths, pushing the boundaries to the point where words strain, crack and sometimes break as we struggle to express in a suffering world the foolishness of God and the all-embracing love found in Jesus Christ.

There has been a return to uncritical fundamentalist use of biblical “proof texts”, ripping verses from their theological and literary contexts. There has been a flight to the safety of rigid law and inflexible dogma and a consequent desire to unchurch those who will not conform.

So on a day late in 2007 when my friend and colleague Peter Cowell asked me to bless the civil partnership that he was to contract with David Lord in May this year I was ready to answer “yes”. I did so not to provoke the so-called traditionalists and to deliberately disregard the guidelines published by the English House of Bishops, not to defy the Bishop of London, whose sagacity I respect, or Archbishop Rowan, who I have known and admired for 25 years, but because to respond in any other way would have been a negation of everything I believe, of everything that makes me who I am, as a man and as a priest."

Read it all at The New Statesman.

Why I love the Episcopal Church

A sermon recently preached by the Rev. Terence L. Elsberry, Rector, St. Matthew's Church, Bedford, NY:

I’m preaching this sermon in response to a request. When I told someone a few days ago that at today’s ten o’clock service we were going to commission our vestry, the person said, “Terry, why don’t you preach a sermon on what the vestry does and where the word comes from in the first place?”

My friend went on: “We have all these quirky words in The Episcopal Church—vestry, warden, glebe, verger—but how many of us know what they really mean? Why don’t you tell us?”

So in response, I have for you this morning not a typical sermon but a teaching of sorts. And I also offer a confession: all the quirky words are part of the reason why I love The Episcopal Church.

Read it all here (scroll to last page).

Monday, June 16, 2008

The power of witness

Many Episcopalians/Anglicans are so reserved and grim faced even in the midst of a wonderful liturgy, that a newcomer might think he'd just walked into a wake.

The giveaway that the congregation isn't a funeral service is that there is no casket. Or there is a baby happily tumbling around in the the pews and being snatched up from the edge of the baptismal font by a flustered parent.

Being the frozen chosen might be a badge of honor in some parts and is every Episcopalian's God-given right. It may even be an attractive characteristic for many seekers.

True, being frozen is sometimes the result of five, six-verse funereal hymns. But it can also be an impediment to attracting and keeping newcomers, and to living a life of full discipleship.

Too often, we're so reserved we don't even speak about our own faith in a way that is accessible, open, and honest.

A life of discipleship should encourage and permit this. Because sometimes, the best testimony about our faith is not only a life lived, but a life shared.

One good example of the power of witness is currently online at Newsweek. The author is named Jimmy Doyle and he was recently confirmed in The Episcopal Church, at St. Thomas the Apostle in Los Angeles.

He writes that even as a boy he felt called to Christ, but that as a gay person, he did not live a life of discipleship until he encountered our Church.

Here, he found "a Christianity that was alive and evolving, one that delighted in difference and saw God's creation in many things."

Take some time out of the day to read Doyle's story. (Go here.) It is simple, honest, and a strong witness to the Lord.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Catholic News Service on Lambeth: "Time of reckoning for ecumenical dialogue"

The Catholic News Service (CNS), may be the oldest and biggest wire service specializing in religious matters. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which shapes policy and governance for the Roman church in America, created it in the 1920s.

As Lambeth 2008 gets closer (we are only 32 days out), we are bound to see quite a few stories about the Conference, from quite a few different perspectives.

CNS has run a piece with a headline baldly stating that this summer's Lambeth is "a time of reckoning" for Anglican-Roman dialogue. What are Episcopalians/Anglicans to make of this?

On the one hand, the piece presents the Roman view in somewhat usual fashion. The piece quotes "the Vatican" anonymously; and otherwise, revisits many events that Roman Catholics as a body, do not agree is possible—-women's ordination, women's consecration, +Robinson.

On the other, in a fine display of "schism" euphemisms, the piece makes clear that "splintering," "factions," and "new groups," do not improve dialogue. Hear, hear.

CNS's review of Lambeth itself, is given short shrift. They do say that, "Over the last 140 years, even without legislative authority, the Lambeth Conference has been the Anglicans' most effective unifying instrument." Ecce signum!

But there isn't much in the piece about the conference per se, other than that the Romans tend to view the idea of a strong Covenant as very good, and the notion of a strong, primal Archbishop of Canterbury, as even better. Tsk, tsk--do we really need bandwidth to understand that this is the Roman position? (No.)

The CNS piece gives the sense that many Romans are still somewhat miffed that Anglicans have the following: decentralized authority, public disagreements, women priests and bishops, openly gay clergy, and a dynamic theology.

Could be.

Perhaps we Anglicans, will have to keep meeting with the Romans to dialogue about this?

The CNS story is here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Confessions of a "die hard cyber-girl," and other tales

When at sea it is second nature to calibrate based on all manner of information gathered via long distances. We adjust for winds, tides, heights, temperatures, depths and so forth, and don't much think twice about adjusting based on a voice we've never seen or a readout of data compiled by computer.

Even so, if we are over 18 or so, we might still wonder just how real and enduring cyber/virtual/online discussions and interactions can be, and how these might affect our physical interactions and discussions.

No doubt the wondering ends, when a physical world discussion or interaction, is based on or highly informed by, a virtual one--say, when a package examined and purchased virtually, arrives at our doors the very next morning. In these instances, the cyber world becomes very real indeed.

It's not so much that the virtual world affects us, but the extent to which it now does, that makes us wonder.

Many people of college age and younger, do not wonder much about it at all.

For them, cyber interaction is regular and typical, and in fact, often far superior to physical discussion and communication. Indeed, for most of them, the cyber interaction is essential to the physical interaction, and can be far more regular.

Why is this so?

There is a good deal of research and emerging study in this area. One thing we can be sure of is that one reason for this incredible fondness for and reliance on virtual communication, is because by the time a young person turns 18, cyberspace is already an old friend.

Consider what Kathryn Seiferth, a freshman at Tusculum College in Tennessee and a self-described "cyber girl," writes in the latest issue of Trinity Magazine, the parish magazine of Trinity Church, Wall Street.

She says, "I happily embrace my role as a child of an age in which nonverbal conversations are more common than not....This idea of being connected, despite distance, is a quality that defines my generation."

Young Seiferth's essay examines how "empathy" plays out in cyberspace. As you can probably tell, she thinks there is oodles of it there; just not always.

Hers is one of several essays in the current issue of Trinity Magazine, examining empathy in various contexts. Others include prison, the confessional, and the parish kitchen. There is also an article on "A Theology of Empathy."

Go here for the full "cyber girl" article.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Regula, dear readers, and thank you

Since no entries were made to the website for a short period this past winter, several readers wrote to inquire as to my whereabouts, and as to the status of the site.

In the Episcopal contemplative tradition modeled on The Rule of St. Benedict, there are regular periods of prayer, meditation and contemplation. Much of this tradition occurs within a monastic or other contemplative community, of which The Episcopal Church has several.

These communities generally follow the rule of life formulated so well by St. Benedict. This rule, or regula, to use the Latin—which gives us the more expansive sense of the word's term, which is as a method or approach to spiritual formation—does not require holy orders, and many have written elsewhere, about the rules' usefulness and development in their lives.

In my own life, there are regular periods of contemplation, study, and prayer, during which no posts may appear, and no correspondence may be answered.

Alas, these periods might seem extended by the instantaneous standards of electrical impulses; by human standards, these times are surprisingly short.

Notwithstanding,—thank you, dear readers, for your notes of interest and concern, and your continuing visits.

Grace and peace in the name of the Lord.