Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Notes From Last Sunday

Wednesday on Public Radio, a middle school age girl read her essay dedicated to the subject of peace. She employed several images. The one that stuck with me is that of a baby. She described brushing the face of an infant with a rose petal, and the peals of laughter in response to the tickle. The girl mused in her essay that as the infant matures, the response of laughter to the rose petal would cease. Implied is the knowledge that as we age simplicity and uninhibited joy fades. Life becomes more complicated.

This is not to say that childhood is pain free. The needs and desires of small children are not usually articulated as requests. For all sorts of good reasons, small children can’t do or have whatever they want. But, I am struck by the flexibility of children. The outrage at unrealized expectations doesn’t seem to last long. Once a moment is past, it is past, and small children are on to something else, just as happy as previously.

Children seem to be very in touch with grace. They don’t spend much time thinking about what they deserve. There is the assumption that if a desire is expressed, it will somehow be met. This seems to come from the depth of their being.

Expectations and assumptions change. They become more restrictive later in life. Our Pharisee and tax collector are a perfect example. First, we see the Pharisee. He starts by thanking God that he is different than others. He has it all together. The Pharisee is certain that he knows the right questions and has the right answers. The Pharisee is so sure God must be happy with him. But, it is not reality; it is a show. It is all pretence.

The tax collector comes from a different place. He is well aware of his issues. He knows he is a rogue, ripping off his own people. The tax collector knows that he has fallen short. He is honest with himself and places himself at the mercy of God. The tax collector trusts God not his accomplishments.

On several occasions in the Gospels, Jesus uses the example of children. I can’t help but think that he is contrasting the open perspective of children to the closed perspective of the Pharisees. The tax collector strikes me as child saying sorry and expressing hope that the honest repentance will be accepted.

The tax collector bares his soul to God, uncertain as to what else he can do. He trusts that expressing the desire of his heart is more important than faking it, through articulating a litany of accomplishments. Righteous action is important, but action has little behind it without the heart.

Jesus seems more interested in the heart, than a list of fine activities. The heart is the starting point. Jesus contrast of those obsessed with proper action to those seeking interior transformation seems to bear this out.

The child on public radio is on to something. If we can stay in touch the simple and genuine joy found in a simple touch, maybe we could seek freedom from the selfish desire and pretense that draw us from God and one another. Maybe if we would focus on our hearts, we would truly act in meaningful and valuable ways. The Good News is that Jesus seeks to return us to that time, when we were open to joy and freedom. Jesus longs for us to know both in the very center of our being. It will only be as complicated as we allow it to be.

Friday, October 26, 2007


On October 23, Williams' press officer, the Rev. Jonathan Jennings, issued a clarification.

"It should be understood that the Archbishop's response to Bishop Howe was neither a new policy statement nor a roadmap for the future but a plain response to a very urgent and particular question about clergy in traditionalist dioceses in TEC who want to leave TEC for other jurisdictions, a response reiterating a basic presupposition of what the Archbishop believes to be the theology of the Church," Jennings told Episcopal News Service.

"The primary point was that -- theologically and sacramentally speaking -- a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses," he added. "The diocese is more than a 'local branch' of a national organization. Dr. Williams is clear that, whatever the frustration with the national church, priests should think very carefully about leaving the fellowship of a diocese. The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr. Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rowan Williams' Letter

After reading the letter to Bp. Howe, I am not exactly sure of the intentions of the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the one hand, he affirms the obvious and traditional understanding of the catholic Church. The Bishop and the diocese are the primary units of the Church. It is through communion with one's bishop in a diocese that we are one. This understanding of essentials developed within the framework of the early Church. It is certainly my understanding of the Church. By the year 107, Ignatius of Antioch said,"Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." Bishops and the Apostolic ministry are inextricable in the catholic Church.

Rowan Williams' comments about bishops and dioceses invoke the above. Functionally, I don't really know what he means. Does he foresee a structure where some bishops and dioceses are in full-communion with the Anglican Communion, and others because of a lack of Windsor compliance, are reduced to a more peripheral status? I don't know.

Williams might also be speaking more specifically about Central Florida. Howe is a catholic bishop and it is a fairly traditional diocese. Perhaps, Williams is encouraging churches in these kinds of situations to stay put. Maybe, they are jeopardizing full-communion status by leaving the organic unity of a Windsor compliant bishop and diocese? I don't know.

Time will tell.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

From The Archbishop of Canterbury To Bishop Howe

14 October 2007

Dear John

I've just received your message, which weighs very heavily on my heart, as it must - though far more so - on yours. At this stage, I can say only two things. The first is that I have committed myself very clearly to awaiting the views of the Primates before making any statement purporting to settle the question of The Episcopal Church's status, and I can't easily short-circuit that procedure. The second is that your Rectors need to recognize that this process is currently in train and that a separatist decision from them at this point would be irresponsible and potentially confusing. However, without forestalling what the Primates might say, I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor. Action that fragments their Dioceses will not help the consolidation of that all-important critical mass of ordinary faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church for whose nurture I am so much concerned. Breaking this up in favour of taking refuge in foreign jurisdictions complicates and embitters the future for this vision.

Do feel free to pass on these observations to your priests. I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'. I think that if more thought in these terms there might be more understanding of why priests in a diocese such as yours ought to maintain their loyalty to their sacramental communion with you as Bishop. But at the emotional level I can understand something of the frustration they doubtless experience, just as you must.

With continuing prayers and love,


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Father Jones

Check out Father Jones, the Anglican Centrist. He has some very interesting posts. I haven't been able to tear myself away to post myself.

His site is listed in my links.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Tactics supported By Stand Firm

Surfing the blogs, I came across this at Stand Firm. Commentators on Stand Firm have castigated the Episcopal Church for engaging in litigation to retain property that exiting congregations would like to take with them. In all but the rarest of cases, individual parish property is held by the Episcopal Church. The litigation is to stop exiting parishes from taking property that does not belong to them. All of this is very unfortunate.

The same crowd, that cries foul at litigation, offers instructions to misrepresent parish income that it might be kept by them. I understand the tensions of the present time. I even share some of the concerns of the more conservative wing of the Church, and I am even sympathetic to some of the issues of those exiting. But, I am dismayed at offering instructions on ways to steal from the Episcopal Church. They may have their i's dotted and their t's crossed, but it seems like theft to me.

In the post following this one, I say that religious people have a responsibility to live up the tenets of their faith. Apparently,
The Stand Firm crowd knows every allusion (and there are very few) in the Bible about human sexuality, but doesn't know the Ten Commandments.

Sarah Hey
An Affirmation of Faithful Stewardship: Those in Central Florida [and others], This is Your Chance

[UPDATED: I put this note in the comments below, but it's so important that I'm adding it here. "Some of your comments above about how dioceses determine pledges are simply inaccurate. I find it frightening that after four years of explanations people still don't understand how the diocesan pledge works. It's been four years.

Here we go.

Let's suppose that your parish is small. It receives a mere 100,000 into the general operating fund. The diocese looks at that 100K and says "you owe us 10%" -- in the case of South Carolina, for instance.

10% is $10,000.

Now . . . let's suppose that 20 of your best friends in that parish go to your rector and say "I'm sorry -- but our diocese is threatening parishes with lawsuits should they withdraw. Furthermore, some of the money that our parish sends to the diocese goes on to the national church. We 20 here pledge a total amount of $40,000. We can no longer donate to the General Operating Fund of the parish. We will need you to set up an alternate fund, accounted differently on the books, that will be a "designated fund" from which "no percentage may be given to the diocese nor used to calculate the apportionment amount for the diocese".

Immediately, the money give to the General Operating Budget of the church is cut to 60K.

This means that the 10% is now 6K that goes to the diocese.

This is not about saying to the rector "hey -- we want our 40K to be applied to the salary." This is about two separate sets of books, covering two separate accounts -- a special designated account, and a general operating account.

I know -- this has been done in parish after parish after parish after parish after parish after parish, all over ECUSA.

Folks, there are some parishes that don't just have 20 parishioners doing this -- nearly all 100 parishioners do it.

The result -- the money in the General Operating Budget is very small -- and from that, 10% dutifully goes to the diocese.

Those who sign the petition and don't understand how to get this set up at a parish -- get your group together at your parish, and then give me a shout by private email. I will put you in touch with people who have done this very thing."]

NBC News and Organized Religion

NBC news has run several pieces on the changing face of faith in the United States. The reports state what most us already know. People seem to be migrating away from so- called, organized religion toward more individualistic expressions of spirituality.

Those interviewed make predictable assertions. They invoke the wars and atrocities perpetrated in the name of God. It is true that much evil has occurred with religiosity as the justification.

One wonders, however, if religion is to blame, or more likely, are the adherents the culprits? This is a subtle distinction, but it seems to me that anytime people amass in a group, of any kind, both good and evil are possible. An essential good can be defended and enforced through twisted means. As groups claim to be the only correct band, it becomes easier to justify the ill treatment of those not in the group. This is not merely an extension of religion. It seems to happen when people choose camps to inhabit.

So, this is, of course, not unique to religion. How many suffer through accepted and enforced economic systems, forms of government and nationalism. We defend economics, governmental systems and nations by saying, they provide the greatest good for the greatest number. Our rationalizations might be true, but they have a real cost

Perhaps the Achilles heel of all systems is that people are involved. People tend to be self-centered and self-obsessed. We tend to look out for number one. We will manipulate and pervert the most righteous of systems to get what we want.

Religion has certainly not proved immune to corruption. Yet, religion and communities constructed by religion are indispensable. Solitary spirituality, disconnected from a community is prey to a greater risk of self-centeredness and self-delusion. A community can create a culture of self-transcendence. The solitary quest is, all too often, bound up in the pursuit of the individual, and not others. How is this any different than the self-seeking culture of which we are a part? In fact the solitary quest may be the perfect reflection of our rabid individualistic culture.

The good of the proper exercise of religion is in bringing people together in mutual care and support. The religious community reminds individuals that it is not all about us. Without individuals bound together through a common ideology, I don’t know how you avoid devolving into the mere seeking of individual comfort.

Religious adherents have great responsibility for one another. We are charged to cling to the core principles of our religion. We need not get caught up in defending or protecting God. God can take care of God’s self. We must be vigilant for our own efforts to twist our religion into what makes us comfortable and right, to the dehumanizing detriment of others. When we do, we have compromised the tenets of faith that brought us together in the first place.

Final point: The list of good things done in the name of religion is virtually endless and it is added to exponentially, every day.