Monday, April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008

The Bishop of Durham has given an interesting address to something called the Fulcrum Conference in which he suggests among other things that we are in a ‘2 Corinthians time’. In our first Corinthian moments many were looking for the Archbishop of Canterbury to answer all the questions and set out with clarity what was right and wrong etc. Apparently some looked for that out of the Windsor Report and did not get it. He now sees ‘super-apostles’ appearing (presumably but not explicitly including the likes of Minns, Akinola, Sugden, Guernsey and the like) who are trying to clarify things with power plays for which there is no support within Anglican polity. You can read his lecture here:

In the same speech he argues, persuasively in many respects, for the development of an explicit Anglican covenant, now underway. He says :

The IATDC, the Windsor Report, and the Primates, have all suggested that we seek to work towards a more explicit 'Anglican Covenant', not in order to bind us to new, strange and unhelpful obligations, but rather to set us free both from disputes which become damaging and dishonouring and from the distraction which comes about when, lacking an agreed method, we flail around in awkward attempts to resolve them.”

Part of the problem as I see it (in what is no doubt a grossly oversimplified way) is that if your view of Anglicanism is that we are somehow a unified ‘church’, then all the business about conservative Episcopalians living in an intolerable environment beset by liberal (read heretical) bishops and ‘squabbles’ over property rights make sense. Those who believe homosexual people should be honored as such are just a wrong and unhelpful minority voice outside the bounds or norms (or something) of our common life. If on the other hand you think as I was taught, that Anglicanism is a communion of autocephalous or independent (in a sense) churches, in which relationship among those churches is in a dance with truth, each shaping the other over time, then the Episcopal church is an entity in which a new majority has finally emerged on the issues of human sexuality. Those who don’t like it are choosing to leave. They ought not take property held in trust for the mission of the church as this branch of Christ’s body has received and understood it and so on. This is the legitimate view of our leadership and they ought not be demonized for it.

Bishop Wright correctly identifies the tension as that between a minority voice being silenced or bullied into submission by a majority over against an unhelpful innovation that distracts the whole from important work and should be somehow ruled out of court. I think the task is to find a way for churches to honor one another in radically differing situations, to disagree in faith when necessary, to remember what is of ultimate worth (and that is not any particular –but unavoidable--enculturation of the gospel) and find ways to move forward together even at the price of some discomfort. Indeed this is what we do when we enter explicit relationship with a diocese in a culture in which the role and status of women is something we might judge to be less than fully human, yet justified on the basis of some alleged scriptural anthropology. What confuse some who hear me teach the scriptures and recognize my heavy reliance on the work of Bishop Wright is that I choose not to deify (or is it reify) a stance that condemns homosexual people as such and find that the whole biblical project stands with that modification of scriptural anthropology, just as it has with regard to the status of slaves and the status of women in many cultures,

Who knows what the summer and the Lambeth Conference will bring? I don’t particularly dislike the idea of a covenant as long as it is not a back door way of shutting down or excluding the voice of the American (or other) church, which itself represents a strong minority voice in many other churches of our communion, voices clearly shaped by faithful readings of scripture.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 27, 2008

I have not enjoyed a book as much as Debby Applegate’s The Most Famous Man in America (Doubleday, 2006) for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. It is the biography of Henry Ward Beecher for whom the Beecher Lectures in preaching at Yale are named. He was the son of the New England Calvinist Henry Lyman Beecher and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin renown. He was known as a great orator who after serving churches in the West (Ohio and Indiana) returned to be the fist and most famous pastor of the Plymouth Church He preached a ‘gospel of love’ over against the rigid Calvinism of his father in Brooklyn Heights and joined battle (eventually) on the side of the angels in the issues of the abolition of slavery, support of a woman’s right to vote and a mostly favorable ‘take’ on the importance of ‘Darwinism’.

Beecher was flawed in many ways resulting in a notorious civil trial for allegedly seducing the wife of a well known parishioner who took him to court. In regard to his relationship with women I am left with the impression that he was either a knave or a fool and probably the former. But he was also coming to renown at a time when the growing influence of newspapers was creating what we now know as ‘celebrity’ of which he was one of the first. This book is a wonderful social, cultural, religious and political history in a critical period of American life.

This week saw a visit of N. T. Wright to Atlanta. (He is Bishop of Durham and was one of our centennial speakers at All Saints in 2003.) He was on a book tour in conjunction with his new book Surprised by Hope. He talked at Emory on ‘Why the resurrection matters’ and did his usual, articulate, logical and thoughtful job with the scripture, restraining himself to only one jab at ‘liberal bishops’ and that was more fun than mean. In some of the good ways he reminds me of Beecher (or vice versa) willing to use rather than court celebrity and media for the proclamation of the gospel. He puts together various strands of scholarship to articulate the resurrection of Jesus in ways that expand and deepen my own belief and assumptions. In some respects he is really not far from Marcus Borg who finds the essential testimony to be ‘Jesus lives’ and ‘Jesus is Lord’. As one parishioner put it, taking the two together is like looking at two very different styles of painting –one minimalist and one not—together leaving us a much more rich understanding than we would otherwise have had.

All of this rich writing and thinking about faith left me slightly dissatisfied with an affecting memoir of a South Korean woman who was adopted by a family in New Orleans and lived in Europe as a young adult. It is called Trail of Crumbs (Hachette Book Group, 2008) and subtitled Hunger, Love and the Search for Home. In the end she decides that home is really where her heart lies. I found myself wishing that her experience and insight could have led her to some kind of faith which I experience as a vastly more rich way of searching and place of discovery. But still I am glad to have read her book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 22, 2008 (2)

Last night our vestry met for our ‘changeover meeting’ prior to our new vestry taking office on May 1. Newly elected members attend and are enfranchised for the purpose of electing their officers. More often than not, these positions are ‘contested’ in the sense that more than one fine candidate is nominated and a ballot decides. It might be more biblical if we simply drew lots at that point.

One position that is not contested is that of Senior Warden, a position for which I hve the privilege of making the nomination in this diocese. It is our custom for the retiring senior warden to offer a meditation at this meeting. One of the great gifts, surprises and joys form me in the past year has been working with Della Wells. She is thoughtful, caring, effective and quick all at the same time,--a powerful combination. Her many gifts were on display in her stunning meditation last night. I will not seek to summarize it here and only say that we have asked permission to publish it in Saints Alive or online or both. Suffice it to say that she has inherited the family genes of her great uncle, Bishop Robert DeWitt, ( one of the three bishops who ordained eleven women as priests of the Episcopal Church (see

Another aspect of our meeting that was particularly striking to me was our time of intercession during one of our occasional celebrations of Eucharist together. As names of the sick were called out in prayer I was reminded how in any gathering of the saints, there are many who are carrying real burdens of love and concern for people close to them who are sick or suffering, mourning or in other need. When we share the desires of our hearts in the midst of the community of faith—whether formally during a Eucharist or informally in one or another of our parish groups—something real begins to happen in and by the grace of God.

Two conversations earlier yesterday addressed a tension for us in developing communities of enough trust that the real desires of our hearts, our hopes and regrets, our joys and sorrows can be shared. On one hand groups frequently need to be ‘closed membership’ in nature for such trust (and consequent growth in faith) to occur. On the other hand we need a way of moving people who desire such community within our parish into those groups quickly. Our GIFT program was designed to allow for both purposes, but the program has not worked for the second. Our idea that we would create a group whenever there were eight or ten people willing to covenant with one another still stands, but what we have had is one or two or three people looking for a group at any given time who seek other avenues for such community when the critical mass for a GIFT group is not immediate. We are now exploring whether they may be a way to integrate one or two people into existing groups from time to time without significantly disrupting the trust that has already built up for a small community.

April 22, 2008

Our intention in offering this blog has been twofold. One purpose was to continue to build our website to be more than a beautiful portal for newcomers, but also a genuine extension of the community of our parish with announcements and reviews, opportunities for conversation of which this is a ‘first effort’, interactive possibilities including but not limited to registering for events and so on. His continues to be a work in progress that will continue as long as we continue to devote human and financial resources to making it so. The second purpose was to allow for and encourage conversation between and among members of our parish and others. We know that the blog is widely read (or at least opened) by the number of ‘hits’ we get on this page, and I am most appreciative of those among you who have taken time to respond. I have become excited on the two occasions in the past year when the ‘string’ has been more than one response. But overall, this is not working.

I am not the ‘blog administrator’ but am told that we have occasionally received anonymous posts which we do not publish as a matter of policy, believing that we can be open and accountable to one another as members of the body of Christ. I’m also told that this is a shame as on occasion the posts would have made a thoughtful contribution. But that may be a clue as to why so few. I know it can be difficult to put thoughts ‘out there’ for all and sundry to read and judge, and if that was my primary experience of posting on this site I doubt that I would do it. Instead I try and remember that this is a place for essentially ephemeral thoughts in the hope of stimulating a conversation among a particular people, and not a public conversation with me alone (which is why I have not responded to posts, hoping that others would instead). Once in a while I have heard from people from outside the parish (sometimes anonymously) and I would welcome reasoned comments (as opposed to angry and vituperative) to be added to our conversation. At the risk of becoming a straw blowing in the wind, could I ask some of you who have posted to reflect on your experience in ways that might encourage others? And could I ask those of you who read but do not post to risk a comment suggesting why that might be? Some responses of this kind would help me evaluate whether to continue sharing my thoughts in this forum is of value or whether there may be some other unintended purpose for continuing of which I am not currently aware. I will be most grateful.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 20, 2008

This will be a long entry. I received a surprising email from a Sudanese Bishop elect with whom I thought we were going to be in relationship. What follows is his letter and my response.


Christian greetings to you.

Dear Revd. Geoffrey Hoare, this letter is to serve as a repetition to my last year objection to your unhealthy proposed partnership between your parish and the Aweil Churches. I called it unhealthy proposed partnership, because our meeting with your parish Global out-reach committee, began like this,

Mathew, have you ever heard about the Gay issue? With this malicious question, I felt offended by being forced to speak, on an issue, that is regarded as non debatable agenda in our society.

But there was no way for me to avoid giving an answer. As a result, my respond was that, I, always used to hearing the term Gay, through the international debate quorums, in which it has been described as negative approach towards bible teachings, by the liberalist. In addition, it approves the dangerous acts of the so-called Gay marriages in the church. That is between man with another man as well as between the females.

Mathew, we are hated by many people because of this Gay issue. Our money had been thrown onto our faces in Tanzania and in some other parts in Africa . We have been wrongly misunderstood by the Tanzanian church leaders in particular. According to us, Gay is a social issue and not spiritual as being misinterpreted. Deacon Abraham Nhial was the eyewitness when all these things took place.

However, we know that you, the Sudanese church leaders, have no problem with the Gay system. You are very special and not like the other people. You are the kind of the people who deserve our support, as the partnership concerned in this regard. what is your opinion? We have enough funds to provide you with all that you need. We understand that your diocese of Wau is going to split into two very soon. In which your home area Aweil will become an independent new Diocese. For this reason, we are to support you under the promise to fulfil our demands before you. Hopelly,you might be the one to lead this new Diocese. Deacon Abraham Nhial was the eyewitness, when all these things took place.

My second response was, so challenging. I opted to inform the meeting about the consequences that law breakers of this kind face, as being stipulated in our community norms. Issues like Gay or Homo –sexuality, have no room for discussion in our traditional community. It has a section in our community traditional laws. It is punishable. You can imagine, something prohibited by non believers in Christ long time ago upto date, what if it is the believers in Christ of that community? Condemnation ………..

Hence, my unexpected negative response, caused great panic among your parish global out-reach committee members. As a result, three members of your parish committee, boycotted the meeting with bitterness in their faces followed by words of regret. That was the end of our meeting. Furthermore, I did not wait for you to say goodbye. I was so upset. My spirit was so irritating. Yet, I was still taking this matter as the simple thing. But with all that respect from my side, you mistaken me and start speaking about me in connection with what I called the unhealthy proposed partnership. You spoke boldly as if I have mandated you to do so. Please, stop take advantages of other people seem to be in need. That is total hypocrisy rather than a servanthood attitude.

My main aim is not to block you with your mission to Aweil or Sudan in general. But not to use me as a carrier of such scandallous mission. I am aware that, I am not the only person or pastor you knew from Aweil or Sudan in General. You have many others whom you might have already accomplished your deal with, concerning this partnership. I am saying this because, I did not see any reason why you had been ignoring my objections towards your proposed partnership. If there had been nothing of that kind, I think you would have been caring or showing some kind of reasoning over my objections to your request.

But, if you have that freedom of using other friends, I will have no authority to stop you from doing so. But, there is a saying, I quote, “ an already crowled hyena, never finds an animal to eat”. In the same way, your traps are already become known to ever God fearing flock, in the areas that your mission will be heading to.

In deed, there are vital needs in our area Aweil as you used to say. But I will not accept grants you uder the term Gay mission. Never, never. However, I will be very ready to receive grants, from ever generous God fearing person(s) communities, etc. whom their aims and purpose are to strengthen and encourage their own God given mission to progress, mainly to glorify God in this regard.

Our own vital needs in Aweil ECS church, shall never drive us into the pit of curses. Aweil churches and the common people underwent the following hardships within more than three decades, because of their unshaken faith in Christ.

(1) Islamic Mallitia-men torturing them to abandon both their own faith and their identity.

(2) Religious suppression through money and force by the hypocrites.

(3) War and the severe poverty. In the face of all this, the church was able to survive. Therefore, we will still be able to endure and survived hardships that are presented before us, in form of testing our faith. In the name of our lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Glory be to God alone. His justice and power, shall follow and guide His humble and faithful servants now and for ever, Amen.

You may be able to use other channels or persons, either in Sudan or in the United States. Howevrer, those who would collaborate with you, will do it on the basis of their own hypocrisy and not as Christ’s servants. After all, the Gospel must be preach, in and out of seasons, as the apostle Paul has put it. 2 Timothy 4: 2-5.

2 Timothy 6: 3-21. Please,let this chapter remind you.

Thank you very much.









My response :

Dear Canon Matthew Garang Chimiir:

I received your surprising letter in which you denounce our invitation to relationship with the proposed diocese of Aweil as ‘insincere’. I was unaware that you had stated any objection in the past and am sorry that your meeting with our global missions committee was so offensive to you. Your recollection of that meeting is quite different than the one that was described to me by others in attendance. I am certain that they had no idea that they were giving you offense and will be appalled to learn that they did.

The purpose of that meeting was to explore whether there were any barriers to entering into relationship with you. As you are well aware relationships in our communion are strained as many bishops decline to be in any conversation with members of the Episcopal Church in the U. S. who understand gay and lesbian people to be beloved children of God as they are. We are a parish that is not at odds with our leadership and wanted to be clear about that at the beginning of our conversation so that we would not find some political problem emerging later as had been the case for us with some dioceses in Tanzania.

We understood that we were talking to you as the bishop elect of a proposed diocese being created from the diocese of Wau, whose bishop, Henry Riak, had visited us in the past. It is clear that you do not wish to be in relationship with us on the basis that we accept and affirm the life and ministries of those in our parish who are gay or lesbian. That is your choice and we will most certainly honor it. We have no desire to proceed with relationship over your objection and are sorry to learn that you took offense at our desire to be clear. Please know that no offense was intended and, as is clear from your letter, stemmed from your being uncomfortable with feeling that you were in some way being asked to respond on a subject that you felt unequipped or ill-equipped to discuss. We too would rather not have to discuss something which for us is far from a central concern of our life and ministry, but which appears to be for so many in our communion.

I would like to take this opportunity to put in writing the nature of the invitation that you are choosing to decline. The Christians of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta have been blessed in many ways by a ministry of friendship with people who find themselves refugees in America. In some respects we are a model for such ministries of friendship with in the Episcopal Church. For a number of years we have been especially pleased to offer haven and sponsorship to the Sudanese Episcopal Church of Atlanta, moving into friendship in many ways. Out of those friendships we find our hearts being changed by the Holy Spirit and gifts beginning to flow as genuine caring grows between people who are quite different from each other in many cultural ways. It is out of experiences such as this that we have sought to have genuine connection with Christians on each inhabited continent for the purposes of mutual sharing and encouragement, believing that God will bless such friendships.

We believe that it takes a long time to know and be known in an international relationship given the costs associated with being in each others’ presence, but that such relationship is still worth pursuing. We know that there are many needs of the kind you outline towards the end of your letter which we would like to understand and in which we would like to become engaged. (We are, for example, particularly interested in learning from you about your experience of Islamic neighbors as that becomes part of our reality here in Atlanta.) We have sometimes found that others are only interested in relating to us on a formal basis to see what kind of financial support we might offer. In our turn, we have declined to enter into such relationships. We already have much work that we have been given to do here in Atlanta and every one of our ministries could use additional funds. Yet we believe we are called into the Body of Christ wherever Christ is to be found, trusting that what we need will be provided as we become advocates and partners in prayer and ministry with those we have come to know around the world. We hope that all of our ministries are based in and flow from personal relationship. We have no expectation that we will think alike on all matters of faith. We have no agenda that our friends will like everything we think or do, or that we will approve everything in their life and culture. That, surely, is part of the reality of friendship in Christ.

I used to disagree with using resources for such relationships until I met your new Presiding Bishop and who invited me and some others to ‘come and see’ the realities of his ministry in Renk more than twelve years ago. I am now personally committed to the power of such friendships for proclaiming the love of Christ for all people and for the strengthening of the Church. We will continue, in all sincerity, to seek such relationships wherever there are Christians who are willing to be in relationship with us. If you are ever inclined to change your mind and decide that what God is doing in our lives in Atlanta is not something that you either have to like or affirm in order to be in relationship with us, then we will welcome hearing from you.

In the meantime I wish you well with the work God has given you to do.

Yours Sincerely in Christ,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April 15, 2008

One magazine that is regularly in our parish library is The Christian Century. It is a venerable publication whose current editor is john Buchanan, pastor of the beautiful Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Barbara Brown Taylor is a regular contributor. Mr. Buchanan has recently written some of the most sensible comments on The Rev’d Jeremiah Wright that I have read recently. You can read them here.

I’m finding the political sniping from both sides in the democratic contest rather tiresome, each seeking to exploit what their strategists see as ‘weaknesses’ in the other. I continue to like Hillary Clinton and at the same time continue to think it unlikely that the mathematics will go her way. I’d like to hear more that connects the war with our debt and so with the economic issues at home that seem to be at the forefront of the minds of so many waiting their turn to vote in a primary. I’d like to hear more about how the candidates plan to bring our involvement to an end. Senator McCain, for whom I harbor some admiration, along with the President seem to want to couch anything other than ‘stay the course’ as ‘defeat’. I am beyond worrying about what you call it. I’d probably go for something along the lines of ’bringing our occupation to an end’. Either way I’d like the same result.

I hear the arguments about ‘our responsibility for the mess we have made' and so on. What I have not heard is anything convincing about how our continuing presence is going to bring about anything good for wither the Iraqis or for us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April 8, 2008

Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam after Iraq (Free Press, 2008) is an extended essay in the form of a blog like screed by a former intelligence officer of the CIA who oversaw the ‘Bin laden Unit’. His name is Michael Scheur. He liked Reagan and Thatcher and scorns both Bushes and Clinton to boot. He is quite clear that the only basis for American foreign policy is the protection (and maybe extension) of American interests. One of those interests is in enforcing immigration laws with a particular eye to ensuring that America does not go the way of Europe in relation to Islam. He expects that birth and death rates along with other population studies will mean that Europe will be dominated by Islam in a few generations. More than that he sees some of the anti-Islamic sentiment of which America is still officially free exacerbating any possibility of a peaceful future. He has many other concerns, most of which involve our not using our strength when we could have (to kill Al Qaeda leaders without worrying about allies and coalitions for example) some of which I find myself supporting.

As we talk about the end of Christendom as short hand for describing a major shift in the official role of Christianity in relation to many governments, I do not want to see a religious vacuum that can then be filled by the nation of Islam. There is a great deal about the culture of much of Islam that I resist with every fiber of my being. I am not clear that Islam would be Islam for example without very clear gender roles for men and women which I view as a serious diminution of human freedom and potential. I’m all for freedom of religion and even some attempt at separating ‘church and state’, but resist regressive cultural shifts. In this I find myself conservative, but don’t want to be the kind that fights the culture wars by insisting on the Ten Commandments being displayed in court houses and the like.

The way forward must be positive rather than negative. I believe that means that we must be much more serious about articulating what about being Christian is really salvific, where we see the power of God at work in our lives, telling the stories of our faith and demonstrating in our lives that the Christian story and the community of Jesus is the way, truth and life for us. I believe we must be much more clearly evangelical and not get caught up in the party labels within Christianity. Those who call themselves ‘evangelicals’ fail to persuade me that their version of the faith is terribly good news in many instances. What I want for us is the sense of passion and urgency of our proclamation that they sometimes show in theirs. We do not need the prosecution of governmental and quasi official institutional structures to get on with proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ. We need clarity in our own hearts and lives.

April 7, 2008

I spent last week in Vancouver with a national colleague group that meets once each year. We were staying on the campus of the University of British Columbia and were blessed with good weather. The views of snow capped mountains over the water were stunning. The city itself had some fun areas, seemed pretty compact, boasts some good restaurants and reminded me a little of Geneva. It is a place to which I want to return and explore and a base for going north in to the Canadian Rockies. A gift in itself.

We generally spend time with one or two resource people for our conversation. This year we were led by Sallie McFaige and Herbert O’Driscoll, both of whom live in that area. Dr. McFaige taught at Vanderbilt for many years and has, for a while, taken an interest in matters environmental. She challenged us to consider the proper role of churches in addressing what she sees as the critical issue of climate change. She sees a need for us to shift our anthropology from one in which humans have dominion over the earth and its scarce resources in a lar4gely individualistic vision, to one in which humans understand ourselves more communally as part and parcel of God’s creation. I may not be doing her justice, but that is the gist of what I understood. Thus far I am with her. Where I parted company was with her fairly relentless and passionate view that the only way forward is for people in the West or developed world to make sacrifices, to give up much of our way of life, to travel less, to watch our carbon footprints, to recycle and so on. This comes at a time when many people in the developing worlds are just beginning to taste some of the advantages of development. (I’m thinking of China, or India who are about to enjoy a $2500 car that is far from ‘environmentally friendly’.) I’m reminded of a developer I met in North Carolina who said that ‘an environmentalist is someone who has already built their mountain home.’

I suspect the way forward is not so much to do with grim ethical pieties and more to do with the stewardship of abundance that we have been teaching for years. We know, for example, that a decision to have children cannot be an economic calculation, but that when we bring children into the world somehow the money piece works out alright. It has something to do with ordering our lives around what is truly important (that which is of ultimate worth). It is similar to saying that there is always enough time in the day when we are doing what we love to do. Or that we will have enough money for our lives when we practice generosity (in giving we receive).

We know that many people are drawn to what is generically called ‘spiritual practice’ and I think that the modest things we could do (such as recycling or using light bulbs that might be less damaging to the environment in the long run) could be seen as spiritual practice along with tithing and saying our prayers rather than as items on a list of things we ought to be doing like flossing our teeth and stretching for twenty minutes before we exercise and al the other things that are worthy but tiresome.

Herb O’Driscoll drew some parallels between the world today and the twilight of the Roman Empire giving rise to the preservation of a powerful Celtic Christianity. He made the important distinction between ‘Celtic spirituality’ which seems to be a modern Rorschach test of sorts and ‘Celtic Christianity’ which is really quite specific (and deeply related to the natural world). A useful distinction.