Admiral of Morality: March 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New findings at Stonehenge village

After excavations near Stonehenge in the winter uncovered 4,600 year old hearths, timbers and other remains of what archaeologists say was probably the village of workers who erected the monoliths on Salisbury Plain in England, further examinations of the structures have uncovered some of the earliest signs of competing tribes, which some of the university excavators in charge of the project have given the shorthand "liberal" and "conservative."

According to the researchers at the University of Sheffield, who began their excavations in 2003, the remains and artifacts still being uncovered include signs that the liberal workers introduced radical innovations into long standing practices. Among these were the use of a tool, such as a stone, club, or knife, to slay an animal for food.

Conservative workers, who some have taken to calling orthodox as a shorthand for their commitment to their practices, hunted and killed their food with their bare hands, and did not cook it. Another innovation introduced by the liberal workers at Stonehenge appears to have been fire, which they regularly used to cook their food, and which may have led to a speedier process of building Stonehenge.

One of the lead researchers, to whom the various excavators have from time to time brought their findings for review prior to publication, offered no interpretation about the findings, suggesting much study still had to be done.

"There is no evidence that the use of fire would have accelerated the construction phase of Stonehenge though given the spare record this is perhaps possible, though again I caution that such an innovation as fire during this period would have been viewed with suspicion and may not have been permitted within a certain radius around the stones themselves."

When asked about evidence that currently, fire is commonly used everywhere, and that many consider it a reasonable explanation for the expansion of civilization, the lead researcher said, "This may be true currently but it is difficult to inject into the language of archaeology and prehistory, current ideas and purposes which at that time may not have been known or suspected which would thereby cast that time and peoples in the light of what is commonly accepted now and not what was normative at that era which we must recognize was responsible for some very fine monuments of stone indeed, and given the limited purview of the village and its workers and the specific task to which they were turned, we must consider their situation as it was to them and not as we would wish it to be, which it must be noted may not be precisely as they would have regarded it, and be mindful that imposing upon such ancient and limited structures, again, with only parts of its construction beginning to come down to us more fully, that it is difficult to say that fire would have been useful to them in that regard and from this premise conclude anything whatsoever."

The researchers presume that the orthodox practice of cutting open the slain animals and drinking their blood and then eating the flesh raw only moments after, stemmed from long-standing and accepted practice, dating back to cave men times. The liberal or progressive wing of the builders, traced their lineage back quite far as well, but to a parallel tradition known as cave people, who preferred to skin and cook the animal.

"One possibility is that the tribes were complementary and that both in their own way could still eat, digest, and otherwise process their foods for energy and life despite the various practices brought to bear," the lead researcher noted.

When asked about whether the progressive or liberal workers who used the tools, had possibly used the tools they used for food, to wipe out the other tribe, or whether the orthodox tribe had simply died out as other tribes had adopted the rituals and practices of tool usage, the lead researcher said there was no evidence either way, but that given the amount of digging still to be done, it would not surprise him if other findings in the dirt pointed to something or other in the future.

The original findings appeared in Nature, National Geographic, and many other places in the winter. The New York Times carried a fine article noting the unearthing of the village.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Leading Jewish seminary okays gay students

The Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, said Monday it will start accepting gay and lesbian applicants, paving the way for gay and lesbian Conservative rabbis. The decision comes after scholars who guide the movement lifted the ban on gay ordination, The AP reports.

The Conservative branch holds the middle ground in American Judaism, adhering to tradition while allowing some change for modern circumstances.

The larger and more liberal Reform Jewish movement, as well as the smaller Reconstructionist wing, allow gays to become rabbis; the Orthodox branch bars gays and women from ordination.

Many opposed to openly gay and lesbian clergy at all levels, and blessings of their relationships (with or without official rites) justify their opposition on one line in the Torah and ancient Judaic traditions. We can only guess how they will continue to justify their opposition using that passage and those traditions, when the leading wings of Judaism now read their own Torah and tradition, as compatible with openly gay and lesbian rabbis.

The complete AP story can be read here.

A New York Times article, with brief reference to The Episcopal Church, is now available.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Presiding Bishop speaks about the recently concluded House of Bishops meeting

In a video at Episcopal Life Online, Deputy for Communication Jan Nunley speaks with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori for an update on the recently concluded House of Bishops meeting in Camp Allen.

++Katharine fields a number of incisive questions about the meeting, the resolutions, and the upcoming teaching and listening period planned for the whole Church. She envisions this teaching period as a way of engaging the whole Church in the decisions that "may or may not be made in September."

Her answers are clear, straightforward, and direct. She characterizes the meeting of the bishops as "truly a conversation of the whole."

Here's one exchange, about the pastoral council the bishops rejected:

Rev. Nunley: What is it about this particular proposal that flies in the face of our polity, that would require a change in our canons, that would require a change in our constitution?

++Katharine: I think it's a concern about our polity in several regards. One certainly has to do with the House of Bishops being asked to respond on their own. We understand ourselves, quite clearly, in almost every corner of this Church, as a Church that's governed by General Convention, and not solely by the House of Bishops, or solely by the House of Deputies, so that there is a significant reluctance on the part of most of the bishops to act unilaterally. Therefore to receive a request and respond to that request without consultation with Executive Council at the least, which represents General Convention between General Conventions, seems inappropriate. The other piece certainly has to do with the perception or awareness that constituting something like the pastoral council at least gives the impression that something beyond this Church governs the life of this Church....There is significant resistance to act as though we were part of a larger hierarchy beyond this Church, to do anything that gives credence to that idea.

On the mission of the Church:

Rev. Nunley: What's your sense of what God is doing with the Church right now?

++Katharine: My sense is that God is calling us back to the center point of God's mission, which is about healing the world, and our differences disappear in the light of the radically deep needs of people around the world.

Sound words, to me.

The communications office of the Church has been doing a fine job since the General Convention, in improving its communications to the entire Church and in delivering them in a timely way. Regular and ongoing communications, easily accessible, from ++Katharine and the rest of our national Church, are essential. They are all to be commended for the quality and commitment of their work so far.

Click here to watch the whole thing (about 15 minutes).

Duly noted

The Internet has simplified communications and made it quite easier to receive and send information. For churchgoers and the Church, this can be a double-edged sword. Good news, requests for assistance in times of distress and disaster, and keeping in touch with friends in far-flung parts of the globe, can simply and quickly be communicated. The downside of course, is that the work of councils and deliberative bodies can be accelerated, with poor results. Considered reflection, prayerful discernment, and civil discourse is too likely to be replaced by snap judgments, an eagerness to publish anything regardless of its usefulness and despite its corrosiveness, and a general unwillingness to reflect over time. A committed few can drown out the rest of us.

The Rev. Patrick Gahan, rector of St. Stephen’s Church, Wimberley, Texas, alludes to these new elements in Church life in a recent column for The Living Church. He writes:
The Christian life cannot be abstracted. Never has that fact been more important. Suddenly, a new Gnostic strain has emerged among some Christians leading them to imagine being “wired” is the same as being connected to the body of Christ. No Christians must exercise the faith shoulder to shoulder alongside other Christians. Our commitment to Christ and not perfect consensus leads us to act on the injunctions delivered by Jesus to tend to the young, old, marginalized and bereaved.

After General Convention, St. Stephen’s had one very conservative family and one very liberal one leave the parish. The families’ main experience of the church, however, proceeded from reports and blogs on the internet, and not with the people in the congregation. Following our Lord, we must focus our energies outside of ourselves in order to save us from the ugliest Episcopal sin of all — narcissism!

Rev. Gahan's piece is called "Daring to be a Different Church." It outlines five practical tasks for Episcopal revival at the parish level, that at his own parish, has resulted in great things:
In just 18 months, our attendance is up some 100 worshipers per Sunday, our monetary giving has increased by some 45 percent, and participation in our adult formation classes has increased by more than 100 percent. More importantly, St. Stephen’s has become a much more vibrant faith community because we have taken these five very practical roads to revival.
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Padre Mickey has been doing excellent blogging since Padre Mickey's Dance Party came online from Panama a few months ago. If you have never heard of The Lovely Mona or Friday Red Mr. Peanut Bank, you are missing something. Padre Mickey recently reported about his friend, the Rev. Cônego Francisco de Assis da Silva, Secretary General of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. For those who may not know, the sovereign Province of Brazil has a diocese called Recife. In 2005, the Primate of Brazil deposed the bishop of Recife and about 40 of the clergy there. Another primate, Venables of the Southern Cone (includes Argentina & Chile), then "annexed" the diocese of Recife to the Southern Cone province. Venables is fond of issuing press statements and other notices attacking The Episcopal Church.

Needless to say, this "annexation," which contravenes episcopal practice going back about 1500 years, has been on the Anglican Communion back-burner ever since, along with other backburner issues like corrupt bishops in Africa defending murderers and going to bat for hate laws, and Church of England bishops cutting their church budgets so they can pour more money into their own palatial homes.

The day after the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church issued their resolutions, the Rev. da Silva congratulated The Episcopal Church for its stand. In a comment called "Communion, not power," he wrote in part:
Some arguments that the whole Communion is in agreement with the ultimatum stated by the Primates' Communique are not true.

The Baptismal commitment is not optional. Orthodoxy needs to be congruent with the way we live. When anybody defends orthodoxy and does not respect another person's fundamental human rights they takes on the onus of pharisaism. In the light of the crisis that we are experiencing, I reaffirm my conviction that what divides the Anglican Communion today is not the view people have of sexuality or of rights of the homosexual. What divides the Communion is the dispute for power and control.
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In a post called "Gay Bishops," Lisa Fox of The Episcopal Majority and "My Manner of Life" blogspot, reports that on reading the latest Guardian column by Stephen Bates, her jaw dropped to the floor.
I looked again at Stephen Bates' blog at the Guardian. This statement about the primates' meeting left me slack-jawed:

They [TEC] were to stop consecrating gay bishops (though ironically, two of the 35 archbishops attending the meeting are known themselves to be gay).


I know people have said -- and have said so often that it's now almost a truism -- that Bishop Gene Robinson is not the only gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. But nobody seems willing to come out (aside from retired bishop Otis Charles) and show a bit of the courage and integrity that Bishop Robinson has shown. And, frankly, as a person who has been "out" for a couple of decades, it really ticks me off that there could be others in the House of Bishops who are content to let Bishop Robinson take all the flak.

But there are gay archbishops, too? Who knew?? And, again, why the secrecy?

Mind you, I'm not on a campaign to "out" any bishops who need to stay in the closet. But it's beginning to sound to me like the Anglican Communion has a problem with truth-telling.

Yes, Lisa, you read correctly. At the meeting where under the careful watch of the Archbishop of Canterbury the primates wrote a lengthy and angry document demanding that The Episcopal Church never again consecrate an openly gay partnered bishop, that we discipline every priest who performs a same sex blessing and the bishop who does not intervene to prevent it, and that we relinquish our autonomy to them, there were in attendance two primates "known to be gay." Yet somehow, this did not appear anywhere in the document, is not generally known, and did not at all prevent the communique from being issued with straight faces (no pun intended) all around .

If this fact does not underscore the distinction between communion and power nothing does.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Bishop of California

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus is the eighth bishop of California. He was the first bishop of the Church to issue a statement defending the Episcopal Church, after the release of the Dar es Salaam communique. It is a very fine statement. He has composed another thoughtful and fine statement, excerpted below, about the recent House of Bishops meeting and the "Mind of the House" resolutions. He has a blog, "Bishop Marc's Vox."

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Since the Millennium year, and the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals for the halving of extreme poverty globally by the year 2015, the Episcopal Church has more and more engaged in this work of mission.

The way our church has gone about engaging the relief of global suffering has been by way of mutual engagement with our Communion partners, often through companion diocese relationships. This work has brought many of us, bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people, much closer to the vast ocean of suffering on the earth. Our hearts have been broken.

I think it is in this light, the light of a renewed sense of mission in the world, that we gained a new clarity about who we are, what our priorities are, and how we might respond to the demands of the Communiqué from Tanzania.

And let me be clear; I'm not suggesting that this is the first time such profound, heartbreaking connections have been made. The Episcopal Church has been deeply committed to the Mission of God throughout its history. The first missionary from the Episcopal Church to go to another country (surnamed Andrus!) went to Liberia in 1821, and missionary efforts have been continuous since then.

Rather, what has changed is the world. Mission is now conceived as being done within "communions of communions," that is, we recognize Christ in the many places the Church has grown, and we recognize, with St. Paul, that Christ has gone before us, inspiring humanity to stretch towards God in divers times and places. So, now we participate in the Mission of God in the context of globalization, mutuality, communion, and the Body of Christ, the World.

There were about a dozen Episcopal Church bishops at the TEAM Conference in South Africa, and I flew straight from that meeting to the pre-House of Bishops meeting of the Bishops Working for a Just Society. Thus, I and others, including our Presiding Bishop, had been baptized into the reality of the problems being addressed by the Millennium Development Goals before we arrived at Camp Allen.

The rhetoric of some critics of the Episcopal Church have said that we have let ourselves be distracted by the issues of human sexuality as the earth is being crushed under the burdens of poverty, war, and disease. At last the bishops of the Episcopal Church answered that false argument by saying, as I see it, that God's divine energy for justice empowers us to seek the same for gay and lesbian people, for women, for children, for all the poor of the earth, and for the earth itself. We have realized it is not an either/or equation, nor based on sacrifice, but on the overflow of compassion originating in God.

So, from that stance, we rejected the truly distracting things – demands that would hamper our polity, enmesh us in endless disputes, and truncate the ability of the Church to act, not as a free agent, but as the fully constituent member of the Communion we are and hope to be.

Let me also say that rhetorical flourishes that claim that our actions by resolution at Camp Allen will prevent us from doing the MDG work with our companion partners that we are doing and desire to do. If, for instance, the Anglican Churches in Nigeria and Uganda refused our partnering mission work, let me assure you that there is more than enough for us to do in South Africa alone, the epicenter of the AIDS/HIV pandemic. We are welcomed there, and the human need is beyond description.

As an example, in Mozambique, which is in the Province of Southern Africa, where four of our Pilgrims for Peace live, since we left there has been extensive flooding, and yesterday excessive heat caused munitions to explode, all through the day and into the night, killing eighty. And in Burundi, on top of genocide, AIDS/HIV and malaria, the people are facing the devastating effects of climate change in the form of an extended drought.

So, the bishops of the Episcopal Church acted against a backdrop of a deep and abiding, and newly understood commitment to the Mission of God, a global mission which we are enacting through companion diocese partnerships, using the lenses of the Millennium Development Goals. I think we can be justly grateful for our Church, and my sister and brother bishops; they have moved us in the direction of justice and truth.


Friday, March 23, 2007

From the Diocese of Melbourne: Don't let the Church's failings distance you from God

Roland Ashby is the communications director of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. He wrote the following at the end of February.

Sound words from God's people in Melbourne, Australia.

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Catherine Deveny claims in her opinion piece 'I used to be a believer, now I’m sort of an atheist for Jesus' (The Age 21/2/07) that she does not believe in God any more, yet does believe "strongly and deeply in love and truth." This, and her stated wish to "follow the example of Christ and be an atheist" perhaps speak to many today who are attracted by Christ, yet find much in the Bible that is incredible or unpalatable.

Aside from the fact that the Bible is 66 books containing a variety of literary genres and styles with multi layers of truth and meaning, many Christians who would perhaps share Catherine's incredulity or revulsion at some bible passages nonetheless choose to remain Christian in the great tradition of St Anselm, who did not chose to have an unquestioning faith, but rather a faith "seeking understanding."

From such a position it is possible to be open to perceiving and experiencing some of the profound truths of our existence. For some, the poets will perhaps describe this best. William Blake said, "If we cleanse the doors of perception, then we see the infinite in everything."

But how do we "cleanse the doors of perception?" I would suggest by breaking what Blake described as "mind-forged manacles." These, I believe, in this context are the manacles of language which can so easily manacle us to an illusory, alienating and dualistic perception of reality. In such a vision, we often see ourselves as subject and God as object, but this is to deny the very essence of God, who Tillich, a German Theologian of the last century said, is the very ground of our being: God is that which we consider to be ultimately most valuable, most worthwhile about our life. God is the very essence of our being and the source of our deepest consciousness. God is our very breath and our very life; not a grumpy, vindictive and capricious old man living at some distance away and trying to pull cosmic strings.

In such a non-dual perception there is a deep oneness, unity, interconnectedness and relationality to all life – something which the Christian mystics as well as quantum physicists agree on - and a powerful, transforming experience of God as the eternal, unchanging source of love and truth which Catherine so admires and seeks. It is this lived experience of God as love and truth which has been at the heart of Christian faith for two millennia; it was this which led St Paul and the other apostles to become martyrs for their faith.

It was from this that Christ brought us two great parables: The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan. Both speak of a radical and unconditional love and compassion.

And it was this which led Christ to the Cross--an unthinkable act for the rational mind! But such an act came out of Christ's union with God. Here, in this union, is a love so pure, a love so complete, that it is an integral part of its nature to suffer even to the point of death for those that it loves. In fact, to do other than this is not a real option to it, because to do so would be to violate its essential nature, which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams describes as "an eternal and unreserved self-giving."

Catherine says she is inspired by Christ's life and by the "great things" he said. But he was not just a great teacher, healer or charismatic revolutionary. His life and teaching came out of his complete union with God, a union with a pure and complete love.

Catherine – please do not give up believing strongly and deeply in love and truth, because in them you have already found God, and God has found you. Please do not allow some isolated bible passages, or the failings and inadequacies of the sometimes all-too-human institutional church, to prevent you from being open to an awareness of God.

The first woman to write a book in English, the 14th Century mystic Julian of Norwich, experienced an intensely life-transforming vision of Christ on the Cross. In her book, Showings, she reflects on the experience and asks God why she received such visions. In a moving reply, she is told to "know it well" that "love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eminent domain

The House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen this week are to be commended and thanked for the great gift they have given this Church and the world. Their unequivocal reaffirmation of this Church, its mission, and its people--all its people-- is simple, direct, and inspiring. Their words and actions speak not only to this Church, but to all people everywhere seeking evidence that God is calling them to Himself, and that He does not want anyone left behind.

The bishops' ringing affirmation of one of the foundational elements of Anglicanism--that national churches are established and governed by those within their jurisdictions--is an equally important contribution to the Church as we continue our reception of the primates' communique.

The principle is explicitly and repeatedly promoted in the preface of every Book of Common Prayer, in the same language originally adopted at Philadelphia in 1789. If we had to guess, this principle of "full and equal liberty" to model our institutions and worship consistent with the constitutions and laws of this nation, is probably never more important than when foreign bishops attempt to direct, influence, usurp or undermine, the fruits of that full and equal liberty.

The bishops reminded us all that regardless of the intent, neither the primates of the Anglican Communion, nor any other body or person outside our Church, can exercise the power of eminent domain over this church.

It's a principle that's rooted in our history and that informs our discernment. It is highly cherished. It's based on Anglican experience and practice for the past 500 years, and the constitution and history of this Church, not on any notion of "American exceptionalism." And the principle is not confined to this Church. Sovereign autonomy and discernment is particular to each and every church in the Anglican Communion.

With the reminder that we already embraced this principle and have been operating on it for generations, the Episcopal Church, comprised of and governed by all its orders, not just the one the communique wishes to hear from, can continue its reception of that document and associated items.

It must be said that given the stridency of the requests to ignore our own history, constitution, and discernment, both as a Church and as individuals gifted with reason and all the other blessings of this life, any such requests will likely continue to be met with extreme scrutiny.

Our reception and responses are being noted by many around the country and abroad. Though this attention may give some pause, we must welcome it as an opportunity to let all know that wherever they are and wherever they have been, The Episcopal Church welcomes them.

If they ask us why we do this, we need to let them know the simple answer: we do this not in our name, but in the Lord's. He long ago exercised the right of eminent domain and claimed this Church as His.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Godly admonition

After having their choice for bishop declared null and void because they couldn't muster up enough consents, you'd think the Diocese of South Carolina and Mark Lawrence would go the extra mile and examine their own actions, and maybe try to reach out to the rest of the Church, and do their part to restore right relationship.

Think again.

Just days after ++Katharine called the election, the Diocese and Lawrence continue in the pattern that led to their troubles in the first place.

The president of their standing committee, the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, says on the diocesan website that Lawrence has been "persecuted" and that his failed election should "be a wake up call" to the "conditions" in our church. The Dioceses' director of communications, Kendall Harmon, opines that Lawrence's failed bid "speaks volumes that a double standard is used for conservatives."

Lawrence himself says that the failed election reveals a "theater of the absurd" in our Church, and that those who oppose him are "berserk" and "apoplectic."

The statement from the president of the standing committee, which must bear the brunt of responsibility for failing to do what every standing committee is charged with knowing, uses language ringing with anger and notions of martyrdom.

The statement from Mr. Harmon clearly suggests that he himself knows the intent and heart of each and every member of each and every standing committee that didn't grant consent. His statement also posits a campaign against "conservatives" by "the church."

The statement from Lawrence displays a lack of affection for the Church outside a very small sphere.

With statements like these as more facts for consideration, is it any surprise standing committees couldn't be convinced to grant consent?

The president of the standing committee must now tell his diocese why they engaged in a last-minute web campaign for consents when a web campaign for consents will never get you consents. What will get you consents is signatures, in writing, on real paper.

While McCormick is at it, he might want to tell the rest of the Church why the diocese selected as a candidate, Ellis Brust, who considers the Church heretical, and who at the drop of a hat, abandoned it? (In fact in 2003, when asked about his commitment to the church by CNN, Brust used language similar to Lawrence's "intention" statement. One month after he lost the election to Lawrence, he left the Episcopal Church.)

Perhaps the director of communications for South Carolina needs more training on communicating face to face with the Church's people, rather than spending so much time and effort blogging articles and hosting comments that attack them. Perhaps if Harmon had spent more time talking to real people in positions to consent to his diocese's candidate, he could be issuing different statements. While he is at it, he could answer questions he himself raises. Where is this campaign to drive people out of "the church"? Who is in charge? Who is in the campaign? Do they recruit new campaigners? If so, how? How do they plan their campaign? How do they then carry it out?

To Lawrence's complaints that the Church's people are "like an addict," "have cast aside scriptural faithfulness," and are indulging in sin, can now be added his belief that the Church is "absurd," and that those who disagree with him are "berserk" and "apoplectic." Are the standing committees that did not grant him consent, berserkers? We have never seen someone speak so badly of people he continues to tell us he loves so well.

The diocese now has to hold another election. They should do a better job of searching for candidates this time around. As a suggestion, they may not want to pack the slate with men who call the people of the church addicts, heretics, and apoplectic berserkers. And they may not want the public face of the selection processes, to again be men who insist "the church" is running a campaign to force people away.

Lawrence, Harmon, and McCormick's statements are no doubt partly motivated by bruised egos and consternation--but they are far too willing to offer this up whenever they get the chance.

They should heed the Godly admonition implicit in the standing committees' unwillingness to accept and promote their brand of dissent, and start telling us what they can offer the church besides consternation and angry press notices. Maybe they could even start a blog about it.

From the Sunday readings

Luke 15:11, The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Then Jesus said, 'There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me." So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.' " So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" And they began to celebrate.

'Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound." Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!" Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found." '

The Lord enjoyed teaching in parables and this is one of his most famous. The younger of two sons asks for his inheritance, is given it, wastes it, and is welcomed home with a feast. His brother, who lived righteously, is angered by his father's quick and easy willingness to welcome the prodigal brother, and with a public and effusive dinner at that. As with most of the Lord's teachings, indeed, as with much of the Scripture, the parable is rich with meaning and possible approaches. The parable's power rests in the clear message of the father's love and welcome for the son who returns home. It is a love given unconditionally and without a word of reproach. During his time on earth, the Lord spoke this message of love and effusive welcome repeatedly. It is simple, surprising, and has resounded through the ages.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Canada's Executive Council Recommends Blessings

The National Post of Canada reports that the Anglican Church's Executive Council, the Council of General Synod, has recommended that the Anglican Church take up same sex blessings. The Council has proposed a resolution to this summer's General Synod, that says, "the blessing of same-sex unions is consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada."

According to the Post, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, head of the Canadian church and one who favours same-sex blessings, said he recognized the possibility of an Anglican schism.

"Of course I do," he told Reuters on Monday. "It's a real risk."

According to the Post, the Council's decision, reached this past Sunday, "strengthens the alignment of the Anglican Church of Canada with the U.S. Episcopal Church against attempts by the broader Anglican Communion to fight same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexual clergy."

This could be; but proposing the resolution means the Synod will simply be considering the resolution. It may vote it down. Of course, there are no doubt some who view even a proposed resolution as an affront.

An analogous sentiment is apparent in parts of the Episcopal Church as well, and not just towards same-sex blessings. After the General Convention last June passed B033 with its "manner of life language" some dioceses nominated openly gay clergy to be bishops. Some in the Episcopal Church viewed just their nomination as a violation of B033.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Mail

My good Admiral: I must say I am disgusted by some of the goings on I have read about. While the principals of the Anglican community met in a seaside resort in Tangiers to soak up the sun and argue over cocktails about who is the best Christian I am working 60 hours weekly to keep a roof costing me 250 pounds per week over my head and my children's and to drop a bit into the mite box. All the while our "leaders" live in high style removed from the day to day workings of the world of course in the name of God. If they desire to be good Christians and to argue why don't they come down to [address redacted] in Newham and hand over all the quid spent flying around arguing because there is plenty of need of it in these parts. I will then assign three of my children to argue with the good and proper bishops until they are blue in the face, which should not take long since they are always on the verge of apoplexy over some rubbish or other anyway. Yours sincerely, L. Richardson, London, England, UK

Madame: Thank you for your letter. I too am often inclined to wonder whether our esteemed bishops, especially those in England who spend vast sums on their palatial homes by raiding the funds for church work, mighn't do more good if they were to know more often and first hand, about the real troubles and lives of actual living Christians. Perhaps we could all recommend at our respective synods, a new program, called, a week without a bishop, wherein a select group of bishops lay down their crooks and walk the paths of their sheep.

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My good Admiral: We write to you having recently organized the Committed Readers Against Zeitgeists, Innovations, & Episcopal Shortcomings (The C.r.a.z.i.e.s). We don't normally visit your site since it's full of lies, distortions, and other manifestations of your fallenness. We prefer to read the tried and true statements found at [site redacted]. Be that as it may we hope to impress upon you the solemn responsibility and oath you took at your baptism and/or confirmation, assuming you have done so. Did you not take an oath to "renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God", and to "renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God." We won’t dwell on each and every manifestation of your failures to abide by these oaths but will only note that the list of such is long and growing longer. Signed, The C.r.a.z.i.e.s, from parts various

Genetlemen: Thank you for writing and for your concerns for my well being. I note they are rooted in our baptismal vows. I too have noted with growing dismay at various places the failure to abide by the vows we have taken, which require us to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ," to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself," and to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." Alas, as you note, I am a sinner, and often fall short of these words. But with the help of the Church and of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has called me to Him and whom I acknowledge as Savior, and in whose grace and love I put my entire trust, I continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. Indeed, were it not for this Church and the grace of God, I have no doubt I would be lost. I take it you may feel likewise; therefore so that we may one day share our circumstances and thereby strengthen each other in our faith and prayers, I hope we may one day meet. If not in this life, then in the world to come, where He will have gathered to Himself all who have proclaimed His Name. Yours, The AoM

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My good Admiral: Greetings. Catherine of recommended your site to me with the suggestion that you might like to visit my site and link to it. It focuses on providing resources for liturgy and spirituality. You would get an idea of the "flavour" of what it offers by visiting and The site is Liturgy: Christian worship & spirituality - serving individuals and communities seeking to have worship and spirituality that is vital, transforming, and faithful. God bless your Lent and your mission and ministry on the web. Signed, Bosco Peters

Sir: I am quite happy to note your site and to recommend it to others. Grace and peace in the Name of the Lord. Yours, The AoM

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fasting from the Lambeth conference of bishops

The House of Bishops are asked to respond to the requests/demand of the primates and Canterbury, by September 30th. At his blog, Fr. Marshall Scott has begun an excellent conversation about various approaches the House of Bishops may wish to pursue.

Marshall has been an Episcopal priest for more than 25 years. He is a hospital chaplain in Kansas City, Missouri. His postings and comments at various blogs and forums reveal a keen mind, a generous spirit, and a commitment to our Church. His blog is called "Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside." He has graciously begun a "Brainstorming" series designed to iron out practical suggestions for the House of Bishops. He invites all to contribute.

Two of Marshall's recommendations are especially noteworthy.

First, is that the HoB respond to the demands to not consecrate a particular person, by instituting a general across the board pause on consents to anyone to the episcopate. As I noted on his blog, anything else--anything targeted at a specific group--is likely to divide the church and cause a great deal of spiritual harm in many parts of it. It would be an act of spiritual violence by one of our own institutions, against our own people. For this reason and others, our canons forbid discrimination.

Another fine point Marshall offers, is that the House of Bishops, the entire Episcopal Church, fast from the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2008. This means that our bishops voluntarily withdraw.

This would be coupled with a call for more frequent meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, and a resumption of our place on it, which we willingly and wrongly, it seems to me, withdrew from temporarily. Bear in mind that the Anglican Consultative Council is the only "Instrument of Unity" that has a constitution, and the only one that includes laity.

Here is what Marshall recommends. Please read it all. Feel free to comment here or, better yet, visit Marshall's blog and contribute to his fine conversation. He has many other excellent recommendations. (H/T to Canon Jim Naughton of The Daily Episcopalian.)

The House of Bishops might decide as a body that American bishops will voluntarily withdraw from the next Lambeth Conference, just as we voluntarily withdrew from the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. This should be balanced with a decision not to withdraw from the next or future meetings of the ACC or from meetings of the Primates. I think this would have value for a number of reasons.

It would define our withdrawal in terms of our interest in mission and peace, and not in someone else's terms of "discipline." It would include our understanding that this was not rejection of the Communion, that we were choosing to "fast for a season," and not to "walk apart."

It would get the Archbishop of Canterbury off the hook well ahead of a crisis, without requiring him to refuse to invite any or all of our bishops. While it is unclear just how much Archbishop Williams agrees with actions of General Convention, allowing others to continue to pressure him does not serve us. While he might or might not be grateful (at least publically), that's not the point. It shows respect for his office and our own emotional security by refusing to participate in a tug of war for paternal recognition.

It would pressure possibly schismatic bishops within the Episcopal Church to declare themselves. If the House has expressed its mind that no Episcopal bishop will attend Lambeth, any bishop who participates demonstrates decision to leave the House. Those who are committed to reconciliation, to remaining the loyal opposition within the House, will be willing to share in this fast for that purpose.

It will save a lot of money. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't contribute to supporting the Lambeth Conference, paying for all those other bishops to attend. I think we should. Our dioceses will still save a lot of money for mission in not paying the expenses of our bishops. Paying for others while not attending ourselves follows the Gospel model of going the extra mile. It may also "heap coals of fire...."

While there is risk that Lambeth without our bishops will make statements and take positions that we cannot accept, no one will be able to claim our bishops were complicit. Indeed, it will be hard to declare any position as "the standard of teaching for the Communion" if such a large segment of the bishops of the Communion do not participate. Considering that our bishops are a minority at Lambeth, such statements may be expected if we do attend. This would at least undermine the air of dignity and authority of such statements.

Declaring early that this is under consideration will give others in the Communion to express their feelings about our participation in Lambeth. Some bishops in the Global South have expressed willingness to see us excluded, however that willingness might be qualified. It would be interesting to hear whether others had a commitment to seeing us included.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Leaving the light on

It is going to take a very long time for most of the good people in the Episcopal Church to ever again trust much of the Anglican Communion, much less actively work to support and promote it.

It is safe to say that the Anglican Communion is hanging on to the Episcopal Church by the thinnest of threads. Where once Canterbury and its affiliated bureaucracies could count on a wellspring of goodwill, that reservoir has quickly dried up in the winds of Dar es Salaam. Such is life.

The image above is the correct one--it is the Anglican Communion struggling to hold on, not the Episcopal Church. Most of the opinions that have been heard and that can be voiced at national councils, have spoken again and again for the full and unreserved truth of the Gospel: in the Lord there are no outcasts. The Anglican Communion, through some of its bodies and bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, is insisting that the Church merely say this--but not live it. As a corollary, they urge our national councils to ignore their regular and historic discernment.

This is quite a straitjacket. It cannot not last for very long, if at all.

The cost to the Episcopal Church once it frees itself from it, will likely be another, second Anglican province. The Church of England are welcome to it. If being Anglican means preaching that Life and the Word go only so far, and that the Church itself does not live by what it wants others to, it is hard to envision a national Church in America that is proud or willing to affix Anglican to itself. More likely it would be prouder to acknowledge the pool from which it sprung, give a hearty salute, and be about its work and mission.

Canterbury and many other primates--including those who speak boldly but not at Communion councils, only when they are safe in their home territories--posit the Episcopal Church as a province of a quasi-imperialist Anglicanism. This is news to most of us. There are no doubt some who look quite favorably on this model, especially when implicit in it is a tradition of limiting the Church's membership and offices. This stream has a powerful and lengthy resume.

Since her return from Tanzania the Presiding Bishop has done her best to present the demands given her, and us, as a charitable solution. She is striving mightily to put the best face on what is clearly not only a bitter pill, but an outrage to our Church.

There might be charity in the details she presents on others' behalf, somewhere; they may even be found if we contort our discernment and squint enough. But alas, at no time in the history of our Church have we discerned a truth, or a Gospel imperative, and then as a Church, refused to implement it. Squinting will not help keep that light out of our eyes.

At the end of this "season," whatever this means, our Church should re-commit itself to what it already is: a Church where there are no outcasts, where the Lord is called Blessed, where His mercy is sought, and where the hand of mission and friendship is extended.

There will come a time when other churches will extend their hands in friendship to us, in the ways they have in the past.

We shall leave the light on.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Wrong answers

Standing Committees should be mindful of Mark Lawrence's statements regarding our Church as they consider whether to put him into a position where he may exercise authority in it. They will have to live with the consequences of his episcopacy.

Members of the Standing Committees should read Lawrence's words for themselves. They should consider whether at this juncture in the life of our Church, a man who approaches the Church from a position of hostility and estrangement, should be given a wider platform. Lawrence's answers to questions asked of him by bishops and Standing Committees are posted at Thinking Anglicans. Thinking Anglicans also has a page where Lawrence's answers to questions put to him by South Carolina during the selection process, may be read. Go here.

At his web site, Lionel Deimel of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, has "The Annotated Mark Lawrence," and many other resources highlighting Lawrence's positions. Among Lawrence's views is transferring authority in The Episcopal Church to "the primates."

Throughout his responses to questions, Lawrence seems appalled that The Episcopal Church is asking him about anything of significance at all, as if he does not have to answer to anyone for anything.

The Diocese of South Carolina's hostility to much of the wider church and its selections for bishop undermine our church order and discipline. The Standing Committees must be prepared to refuse consent and with the consultation of the House of Bishops, make preparations for the continued pastoral care and spiritual direction of that diocese. One way forward is to put the diocese into a sort of receivership, under the guidance and direction of a primatial vicar, the presiding bishop, and the primatial council.

Lawrence's answers to legitimate questions by the Church bodies responsible for consenting to him are evasive and dismissive Network-speak. He insists that he is being asked questions because he "dares" to ask questions like, "Does the emperor have no clothes?"

Wrong. He is being asked simple questions, like, "What would you do if the diocese were to try to secede?"
I don't think that speculative questions of this nature as to what a person will do in some imagined future are either reasonable or helpful. I mean no disrespect by this, but I will say in all fairness, I can think up many such questions of an imagined future crisis that could send any of us into a conundrum of canonical contradictions.

Wrong answer. The answer is, "I will do everything in my power to stop it."

Anther simple question he is asked is, "Do you recognize Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and as your Primate?"
I recognize Katherine Jefferts Schori as the legitimately elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Sadly, I also recognize that her actions as bishop of Nevada in condoning same sex blessings, for which she has expressed no regret, put her in violation of the Windsor Report and, consequently, compromise her ability to function in primatial authority and relationship. This is not merely a consequence of her stated views, (which is one thing), but her considered actions after the Primate’s Covenant in 2003, as well as subsequent Primatial Communiqués, i.e. Dromantine, regarding the bonds of affection. How one parses the difference between elected Presiding Bishop and Primatial representation is one of the ecclesial challenges that, to a greater or lesser degree, those who have asked for APO must presently grapple.

Wrong answer. The answer is, "She is the Primate of the Episcopal Church. She is the Primate of South Carolina." Why is this the right answer? Because this is what ++Katharine is.

Lawrence is being questioned because during the search for a new bishop he indicated quite clearly that as bishop he will simply reinforce divisions and hostilities. This is a pattern consistent with the activities and approaches to ministry, of the Diocese of South Carolina. This is also a pattern evident in Lawrence's current diocese, San Joaquin, whose bishop urged his diocese to "leave" The Episcopal Church and who asserted that he himself has the power to declare his own diocese out of communion with any other in The Episcopal Church.

Before the selection process, Lawrence wrote a piece called "In Defense of Dissociation." (It may be read in full here.)

There, besides likening the Church to an addict, he said that the Church had abandoned the Gospel in a misguided passion to be culturally sensitive and intellectually flexible.
In its desire to be more relevant than thou, TEC has cast aside scriptural faithfulness, particularly the broad and demonstrable teachings of the New Testament that would convict our lifestyle of sin, and call into question our overly permissive approach to morality. Even more disturbing is our grave disregard of fundamental Christian doctrines such as the nature of God, the uniqueness of Christ, the integrity and unity of the Spirit's work, and the need of humankind for the redemptive work of the cross—for instance, assuming our sexual proclivities, given by nurture or nature, are, by that fact, necessarily God-given.

Lawrence is free to disagree. But when he disagrees, he doesn't just disagree. He clearly implies those who disagree with him are unChristian, apostate, and "like an addict." No doubt this clerical trash talk would continue if he were made bishop. Why does the Church want as a bishop, a man who considers the majority of its members, unChristian, and in the thrall of some "agenda" leading them away from God? Approving such a man would be illogical and destructive. What our church needs is bishops who build up the Church, not ones who attack it as it goes about its work and mission.

A better question may be, if Lawrence believes his Church is not Christian, then what is his point in being a bishop in it? Answer: to be in a position to remove from it, "a faithful remnant."

Would he face much opposition in his diocese? Probably not. Many clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina have long since passed from loyal dissent to outright hostility and hatred for The Episcopal Church. In fact, they voted for Lawrence, knowing full well what he has written and said. This is all the more reason to put that diocese into receivership.

When he lost to Lawrence, Ellis Brust, one of the other candidates the secessionists nominated as their bishop, immediately left The Episcopal Church and assumed the role of President for the Anglican Mission in America, which is not in Communion with Canterbury, and tries to absorb Episcopal parishes. Before that, he was CEO of the American Anglican Council, a group of "Episcopalians" who regularly undermine and attack the Church.

That South Carolina would nominate a person of so little fealty to their own Church, to be their bishop, does not inspire confidence in their ability to discern a positive way forward. They complain they are being "targeted." But their activities and selections undermine church order. The nomination of Brust alone is enough to warrant heightened scrutiny by the wider church.

Lawrence complains in his answers that he has not demonstrated any "action" to warrant denial of consents. This is his only defense, that he hasn't yet actually divided the Church.

He's right on that score. And the Church should not give him the opportunity to do it.