Wednesday, May 28, 2008


May 28, 2008

In the same Journal of Anglican Studies that I mentioned on May 26 there is an article by Philip Sheldrake, a professor of theology from Durham University in England and Roman Catholic writer on Christian spirituality. He argues for “keeping faith with the vital importance of reconciliation at a time when siren voices suggest that a quick divorce in the Anglican Communion would now be less painful, more honest and less distracting.” (p.108) In his quest for reconciliation which he sees as central to the inner life of the Church and the ministry of Christ he looks at the words we use, fear and loathing, spaces for change, catholicity, the spirituality of St. Benedict, hospitality and much else besides. In one section for example he identifies ways in which we deal with ‘otherness’ by different forms of exclusion.

He says we demonize, colonize, generalize, trivialize, homogenize and we ignore. We colonize “when we think of others as inferior and to be pitied. They become objects of our charity or our bullying.” We homogenize when “we say that ther is no real difference at all. In a well meaning way, we make premature pleas for tolerance and closure.” (p.110) here is much wisdom here and I am reminded of the work of Ron Heifetz of the Kennedy School on leadership and the work of Valerie Batts of Visions-Inc, both of which I have written about before.

This summer we are going to try offering a single major morning service at 10 a.m. for six weeks. Each of these services will be followed by a brief ‘summer GIFT class’ in Ellis Hall with a parallel offering for children. Our hope is that there will be a different kind of energy than we experience during the school year, more attuned to summer rhythms but still life giving for those who come for worship and stay until noon. I will plan to offer one of these brief talks on this essay by Philip Sheldrake. I hope I will see you there.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Theological Education in the Global South

May 26, 2008

One of the obscure journals to which I subscribe is called Journal of Anglican Studies, an Australian publication that comes out twice a year. The most recent edition (Volume 6.1 June 2008) includes a number of papers from the National Anglican Identity Formation Project. The assumption of the project is that Anglicanism has “embedded itself in local society and culture” that leads to a great diversity of expression, style and practices” according to Stephen Pickard, a bishop in the diocese of Adelaide. He writes: “The present divisions in the Communion are in large part related to this inculturating habit.” (p.9) He is asking ‘what really shapes the identity of Anglicans in their national setting?’ and looking to theological educators, especially those from the two thirds world, to provide part of the answer.

Almost all the authors talk of an increased need for ‘contextualizing’ theological education and training for ministry. Victor Atta-Baffo is principal of St. Nicholas’ Seminary in Ghana and explicitly bemoans the ineffectiveness of the Western models of theological education he has inherited. (p.44) I am among those who believe that the strengthening of theological education in Africa in particular (whence four of the six essays originate) must be done in Africa. We are about to welcome back Emmanuel Bwatta from Tanzania for the summer and intensive language training at Georgia Tech before he begins seminary at Sewanee in the fall. Our financial support for him will be limited to the summer and one round trip airfare per year of education, but explicitly not for the cost of his seminary training while his bishop declines to be in relationship with All Saints’. We had offered to fund an Atlanta-based seminary education theologically compatible with his bishop while Emmanuel was ‘in residence’ at All Saints’ and assisting on Sundays. This was unacceptable to Bishop Mpango, so we have been attempting to help Emmanuel further his education at Sewanee with funding put together by the seminary and his Bishop. I do not really expect that Emmanuel’s education will serve to straighten theological education in Africa however as the patter appears to be (and has been for along time) that anyone who can get Western education is promptly elevated to the episcopate upon his return to Africa. We are going to do better encouraging and funding African education for Africans if we wish to assist in deepening local theological education. For this reason I am using discretionary funds to send Fred Kalibwame to Uganda Christian University, another complicated exercise as the Ugandan Church and this university do not want to be tainted by funding from dodgy Episcopal churches like us.

A couple of the essays are quite revealing of unexamined claims that function as ‘plain truth’ for the authors but which are questionable on their face. Michael O. Fape is Bishop of Remo in Nigeria (and has an STM from Yale), and has written a useful account of mission work among the Yoruba and the theological education that has been the result. He is content to say, for example “We are called to a life of obedience to the scripture, which is the cornerstone of Anglicanism.” (p.30) The experience and testimony of converts, for him, ‘shows the truth of the scripture’. (p.21) He wants contextualized ministerial training (which appears to be, for him, the same as theological education) “without jettisoning the authority of the Scripture.” (p.30) I would prefer to think as the cornerstone of Anglicanism in these terms being to do with fidelity to God, revealed in the Scripture and the life of the Church as the gospel is ‘enculturated’. I am suspicious of language that appears to refer to the ‘authority of scripture’ as a kind of talisman without discernible content.

Much more useful in this respect is the contribution by Joseph Galgalo and Esther Mombo, both distinguished leaders in theological education in Kenya. They explore why there appears to be sudden interest in forgoing the theological inheritance of the Western models that they have inherited. They find the cause in the Anglican debate about Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10 regarding human sexuality. They see the work to articulate and defend the authority of scripture with the political realities of the Global South claiming and exercising more power within Anglicanism and the resultant practice of ‘boundary crossing’ being results. (p.34f.) They see Scripture, from the conservative perspective of being first based on ‘plain meaning’ and then tested against ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’. (p.36) They write (quoting James Dunn) “What this means is that ‘Plain meaning as it has operated in practice is already in some measure a product of the reader’s perspective, a negotiated outcome.’ Departure from this norm is interpreted as a departure from the historic faith and historic orthodoxy.” (p.36) The authors are clear that this renewed interest in theological education from a conservative perspective assumes that “a unity achieved or sustained on the basis of a false belief is a false unity”. (p.38) It is clear that for this perspective doctrine precedes relationship.

I think there may be a clue to understanding some of the intensity around these issues (with the resultant increased interest in indigenous contextualized theological education in Africa) in the contribution of Jenny Plane Te Paa, a seminary dean from Aotearoa New Zealand, who is celebrating moving from a mono-cultural form of theological education to a multi-cultural reality.(p.55) I find myself wondering if the ‘doctrine first’ movement (and not just any doctrine but ‘traditional, orthodox doctrine as it is claimed) is not really a movement for Christian mono-culturalism with lip service being paid to contextualization. As Bishop Fape makes clear this contextualizing movement is a good thing as long as it does not ‘jettison the authority of scripture’. Underlying some of these essays is the notion of an unchanging truth that gets contextualized but that there are limits to the expressions it can take Won’t this run up against the limits of Christian Platonism sooner rather than later?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gay Marriage

May 24, 2008

I received an email from a man wanting to come to church with his partner and wanted to find out whether they would be welcome and also wanted to make sure that their presence would not make others uncomfortable.

I was able to assure him that he and his partner would be most welcome. I dodged the second question. Clearly most of us at All Saints’ are comfortable enough around gay and lesbian people that we have not departed for places that we find less challenging. At the same time, while we are on record as saying that we do not believe homosexuality is de facto sinful, we are not of one mind as to what that could or should mean.

This has come up recently in a couple of ways. One is a conversation among GALAS about a revised mission statement that would explicitly expand the group from being for gay and lesbian Christians and their friends to including also bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT). The fact that this has led to some discussion, sometimes heated, suggests that we still have work to do. I am comfortable with the language although freely admit to knowing very little about the whole business of gender reassignment surgery, its whys and wherefores, and its effects on those who undergo it and their families. I’m also not inclined to accommodate Christian ethics to the reality of bisexuality. It seems to me that a bisexual person has the same challenge as the rest of us of seeking one person with whom to share intimacy of all kinds in a commitment intended to be exclusive and lifelong. Again, though, I have not yet listened to the personal experience of someone who would define themselves in that way and may have something to learn. In general I like one friend's proposal that all such labels be banned at church.

The other question that has arisen recently is related to our stated belief that gay and lesbian couples should be able to celebrate their commitments to one another in the midst of their community of faith. When our vestry passed that resolution I said that we would not offer such celebrations in the church building until such time as we could do it above board and in full accord with the life of the church. Since that time I have helped two couples to enjoy such celebrations and another is to occur in our parish this month. The question has come up as to why we are still not offering celebrations of commitment in the church, especially in light of the news that Al Saints’, Pasadena will begin celebrating marriages for gay and lesbian couples.. After taking soundings with our parish leadership, clergy and program staff it is clear that while there is a general desire to move forward, and even a desire that we pronounce blessing on such unions, but that there needs to be some process that makes clear why I am changing the current policy other than my sense that we will be waiting for ever given that the church as a whole, the diocese of Atlanta in general and even our own parish is enjoying not having to struggle with issues of human sexuality and unlikely to push for change in the current climate.

I have thought about what might make it timely to change the policy and offer celebrations of commitment in the church (even under the current rubric of response to ‘pastoral need’). One thing that is clear is that we need to see what result, if any, comes from the deliberations of Anglican Bishops at Lambeth this summer with respect to a proposed ‘Anglican Covenant’. A second and subsequent action might be to ask our Bishop to state publicly some standards for such services in the diocese. I have asked for a meeting with our GALAS group on the fall to see what further suggestions they might have.

We must be aware of the wider context of the society in which we live as well. Public debates about gay unions and marriage will have some effect on our life as well. My guess is that if inter-racial marriage is the best analogy for the movement towards the affirmation of gay marriage then it will both come to Georgia and be a long time in coming. We will not be ‘done’ with these questions as church until the society in which we live comes to some just conclusion about them.

In the meantime we have a number of couples waiting to celebrate their commitment ‘at the same altar as everyone else’ and others for whom nothing less than marriage will do. I think the legal status of such unions is important, but will say that liturgically a celebration of commitment looks and feels a lot like a wedding. Indeed guests will sometimes say ‘what a lovely wedding’. The niceties and nuances of distinction seem quite silly in such a setting and they will never satisfy those who are opposed to any public or ecclesial affirmation of gay and lesbian couples. If there is any purpose in our enforced time of waiting, it is balancing the demands of doing what is right with the time for more people to find themselves less anxious than previously about the possibility of gay marriage.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


May 22, 2008

A friend recently read the biography of Henry Ward Beecher. (The Most Famous Man in America. See entry for April 27, 2008.) It led him to question whether HWB’s rejection of the strict Calvinism of his father, Lyman Beecher, in favor of preaching God’s Love, did not somehow mirror a move, particularly in American theology, toward a kind of easy universalism and move away from traditional sexual ethics, with a missing piece being a recollection of God’s judgment. It was a comment rather than a systematic theology, but interesting on its own terms.

While I think the story of Jesus, and by extension the story of scripture is the story of God’s Love, and while I think it possible and even likely that God has and will find a way to redeem the whole of creation that was deemed ‘good’, it seems that love must leave open the possibility of its own being rejected or it is not love. In other words I find myself with the apocryphal Jesuit who said ‘I’m obliged to believe in hell. I’m not obliged to believe there is anyone in it.’ More seriously, I’m with the incomparable Karl Rahner and his idea of the possibility of an ‘ultimate No’, a fundamental rejection of all that makes for life. (The most readily available place to read this is in his Foundations of the Christian Faith, but it is not an easily accessible read and certainly not a ‘Christian primer’) I would not assume that everyone who rejects Christian faith is choosing this ultimate rejection of God, life, salvation, hope or any of the other good things that come to those who believe.

God’s judgment, then, becomes more of a consequence of who God is and the status of creation as fundamentally good, (though corrupted by sin) rather than a matter of something like ‘divine taste’. Turning away from what we can discern or discover as God’s desires or purposes (fully recognizing the limitations of anthropological language to speak of God,) will inevitably bring about God’s judgment and our being declared ‘guilty’ and in need of repentance.

A slightly different consideration of judgment is that of how we experience or receive God’s judgment. The formation of conscience is a tricky thing, but I know that I experience judgment in some way that is ‘hard wired’. It comes often as criticism and carries the immediate senses in me that something may be wrong, a relationship not as it should be or could be a sense of dread and so on. I then have to spend some time sorting out whether there is any merit to what I am receiving as judgment. Is the criticism valid? If so what part of it? Is it something I can do something about like repent and make restitution? The other day I consciously chose to ignore a person who I assumed was in need of financial assistance and experienced judgment. I was crossing to the other side of the street to avoid my neighbor. At the same time I felt assaulted because I was in this person’s line of sight as a result of opening a door to let some singers into a building for a rehearsal. I had my own agenda and it did not include what was, I predicted, a difficult encounter when I really wanted to be somewhere else. After a couple of days, I’m not carrying that personal sense of judgment as in ‘I have sinned in not talking to that man’ but am still convicted by the reality of a world or a system of which I am a relatively powerful part, that would make relationship with my neighbor so wrong before either of us have even met. There are other occasions where I experience God’s judgment in ways that do require changes that I can make individually and personally in order to live with integrity and those times remind me of my need for forgiveness and dependence on God’s grace.

I ‘m not sure how this works for someone with little or no conscience. How does such a person receive judgment? I think sometimes public declarations of guilt make a difference as in a court of law or some kind of public or communal censure. Some years ago I worked with an agency that, among other things, addressed issues of domestic violence. In those days there was little or nothing that could be done to change the behavior of male abusers, except and only in some instances, post conviction treatment. In other words the critical difference for those who were ‘treatable’ was judgment and the public declaration of guilt.

So, back to my friend’s comments and the question of whether there is a relationship between preaching God’s love, easy universalism and the abandoning of traditional sexual ethics in American life. I think there may be a connection in some senses, but that it is also true that taking God’s judgment seriously must include the possibility of rethinking our previous discernments of what God declares ‘good’ when those very judgments become part of what is breaking down the possibility of righteousness or right relation in a society. American society in particular has been able to make shifts in our understanding of anthropology that has helped overcome sins of the past. We are well on the way to revising our understanding of what it is to be human and made in the image of God with respect to slaves, people of different races, the status of women as something other than chattel and perhaps the possibility, fully recognizing that the development of sexual identity is a mysterious process for everyone almost always filled with some measure of ambiguity, that there is such a thing as a homosexual person. If we allow for that, then there is no need to make any other change in our sexual ethics (if we have decided that procreation or its theoretical possibility is not the sine qua non of sexual intimacy). We still want one partner in a relationship of lifelong fidelity and so on. We can still read the scriptures in light of this novelty in the same way that we can adjust to living in a non-biblical cosmology.

In other words cheap grace or an easy preaching of the love of God can lead to a na├»ve and easy universalism and also make the small step to alleged ‘free love’. But serious preaching of God’s love must include judgment and the possibility of the ultimate ‘no’ to life, and the very reality of judgment means that we will sometimes have to change course in the most fundamental and society-transforming ways as we seek to build for the Kingdom or Reign of God. What do you think?

Reminder to regulars: I’m not the ‘administrator’ of this blog but am told that occasionally we get submissions that are helpful but that we cannot publish because they are anonymous. My thanks to those of you brave enough to try and engage conversation in this forum. Please keep responding to one another.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Resurrection (2)

May 19, 2008

I keep thinking about the resurrection and what is important about it. I went back to my Easter sermon that has given offense to some brothers and sisters and find that I stand by what I said that seems to be the root of the offense:

We don’t have to understand the stories as factual accounts of anything in order to grasp the truth that God’s grace changes everything.”

This is not the same as saying that we don’t have to believe anything about the resurrection. Christianity without resurrection makes no sense. Certainly we affirm belief in the resurrection when we say the creeds. But we have great latitude within the faith, and considerably more latitude than our conservative brethren and sisteren would like, as to how we understand both what we are doing when we say the creeds and the content of what we mean when we say the creeds. As was clear in the sermon I don’t think that recducing resurrection to some kind of human psychological reaction to Jesus’ death is remotely helpful. But I think it is possible to hold such a belief and still say ‘Jesus is Lord’, and still seek to be a disciple. What God does with such a believer in the community of faith will unfold in time.

So I resist the doctrine police even as I claim doctrinal coherence. In the dance between doctrine and relationship (right relationship or diakosune) and in the event of conflict, I am on the side of favoring relationship as in ‘the law was made for humanity and not the other way around’. At the same time, doctrine functions rather as the law functions for Paul. It can be a mirror that helps us see the truth more clearly. Anyone who professes belief in the resurrection will wrestle with the consequences of that profession their whole lives long. Anyone who does not see how that is necessary might not have a living faith or trust in God that will sustain them in the dead of night.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


May 18, 2008

A number of opportunities have converged in a way that has me thinking about leadership. I have been teaching a contextual education course at Candler that is about preparing students for parish and other pastoral ministries. The assumption of the course has been that we are preparing students for leadership in a church environment that is very different from that of twenty years ago for example. We want them adept in and rooted theologically as a basis for managing their own sense of self through times of trial. One resource has been Edwin Friedman’s Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

A second reason I find myself thinking about leadership is that I am chairing a ‘taskforce on leadership’ in the diocese at the request of our Bishop. He is concerned about the development of leadership capacity in current clergy, the ability to measure and/or predict leadership capacity in those offering themselves for the discernment process that sometimes leads to ordination, and the development of leaders among the laity not only for parish offices, but for diocesan and national work. We are not very far along in this task but are already going back and forth between those seeking a working definition of leadership and those wanting to define desired outcomes and allow those to shape our task.

Finally, I serve on the National Advisory Council of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. The Dean and faculty are attempting to add specific and defined elements of leadership development into the Anglican Studies curriculum and are pulling together a group to help them sort out how to do that.

These are all worthy efforts, but the more I think about leadership, the less easy I find it to know exactly what we are talking about. Leadership seems to be one of those things that is very hard to define, but that we sometimes know it when we see it and other times recognize it only in hindsight. We know that leaders emerge in particular circumstances and that war time leaders have qualities different from those needed in peace time. Some leaders make the transition form war to peace and vice versa with ease while others flounder. We know that there are a variety of ‘leadership styles’ and no one right way of leading. We know that most leadership is relational and that leaders who have been in place for a while can take risks and accomplish things that they could not have done at the beginning of their tenure.

I’m finding it increasingly helpful to think less of leadership per se and more about circles of influence that can apply to just about anyone in just about any circumstance of life. Rabbi Freidman wrote for ‘parents and presidents’ when he wrote of leadership, with the critical issue being the self-differentiation of the leader/person of influence/person invested in healthy change.

If you are aware of current literature on leadership that is particularly useful you would be doing me and many others a great service if you would leave a comment with your recommendations on this blog. I’ll keep you posted about how this progresses.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


May 13, 2008

I recently had an egregious error pointed out to me from my Easter Sermon ( in which I said that the resurrection appearance stories were written down some eighty years after the fact, when what I meant to offer was an early date for Matthew and Mark, at least, of somewhere around 80 AD, making those stories eighty years after Jesus’ birth but fifty years or so after his death. I can’t do anything about the podcast, but will see about getting the manuscript altered for posterity.

This matters because a friend has pointed out that I am being taken to task on an unfortunate website for my assumed lack of Christian belief based on the opening paragraphs of that sermon. It is a rather strange experience to be pilloried, quite personally in some instances (ad hominem attacks being standard fare on this site apparently), for saying that the experience and assurance of resurrection and its meaning for our lives is not dependent on any particular set of pictures in our heads other than those of the scriptures. I have had many conversations with many of you over the years about my own belief that the ‘something’ that happened in Jesus’ resurrection included something like what we recognize as a body, but something not instantly recognizable as Jesus in many instances. I have recently found Tom Wright’s term ‘transphysicality’ useful in describing this body. I consistently challenge the heresy both ancient and modern that what will survive us after our death is limited to some fairly Greek philosophical notion of a ‘soul’, and that new creation has all sorts of implications for our lives now including notably our stewardship of creation, sexual ethics, the morality of war and the like.

There are clearly a wide range of beliefs about what happened in the resurrection that are held by Christians who say the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds in good conscience. In a short sermon my attempt to liberate us from the sense that we are somehow outside of the possibility of God’s love if we do not follow what we suspect is the ‘new law’ of those Christians who in ways quite unbiblical, insist that right relationship with God in Christ depends upon a shared affirmation about the pictures in their heads rather than the affirmations of the creeds. Setting aside those pictures and the claims which amount to ‘think like me or you can’t be in my club’ can and does allow many people to find their way to faith with some integrity that is not possible when those claims are present. I once heard ‘growing in faith’ described as ‘growing towards the creeds’ and would like all of us to have the chance to do that before we are turned away by the alleged evangelical claims that we must share certain pictures in our heads before we will be able to know and trust in God’s love. Those with a strong stomach for Christian thought and behavior at its worst can check out this site:

If I did not think it unfaithful, I might find claims that there are really two completely different ways of being Christian and we should go our separate ways attractive. Obviously many of our brother and sister Episcopalians have decided to take that route and are now, inevitably and correctly, making the case that they are not leaving the Church. They do not seem to want to admit, however, that they are leaving the Episcopal Church, ‘this branch of Christ’s body’, as they no longer support decisions of the General Convention. This difficulty has power and property at its core and leads to the unedifying but necessary resort to secular courts. It is hard to hold a minority position within the Episcopal Church (as I have on many of our currently divisive issues for most of my ordained ministry) but not impossible, (nor will it be impossible for the Episcopal Church to hold a minority position within world Christianity even if it means some kind of 'impaired relationship') and there is always the reality of Peter’s vision in Acts in which he sees clean and unclean alike being redeemed by God, or Jesus’ parables of sheep and goats, the rain falling on the just and unjust alike and so on. This was manageable for me because of the reality and availability of the Eucharist in which we are all being forgiven and transformed by that forgiveness in the midst of the whole body of Christ.

This, of course, leads us to consider God’s judgment and the costliness of grace, but that consideration will have to wait for another day.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Thoughts on Power

May 11, 2008


Much will be made today of the power of the Holy Spirit. I suspect that in part it was the power of God the Holy Spirit that drew me to be a part of the charismatic movement thirty years ago. And it is, in part, the claims of power dressed up as certainty about God’s will that makes me suspicious of some who have been blessed with some kind of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

I have read recently Robert Kagan’s extended essay called The Return of History and the End of Dreams (Knopf, 2008). Kagan is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ( and has written for the Washington Post. He takes on the dream articulated by Francis Fukuyama in The end of History and the Last Man that the end of the cold war ushered in an age of unprecedented international cooperation and the beginning of the end of the nation state grasping for power. Kagan takes a snapshot look at the world, sees America remaining the sole superpower while strong regional interests align according to their forms of government, and Iran, Russia, China, Japan and India become increasingly powerful. He sees their being no guaranteed virtue in the exercise of American hegemony but thinks it better than any obvious alternative. He thinks the pre-modern roots of the rise of fundamentalist Islam articulated by Ayatollah Khomeini and others as Anti Western and Anti Modern will fail with the spread of technology and necessary opening of borders. (He acknowledges that these same technologies can and will be used by terrorist groups but believes that the attractions of being aligned with power, materialism and so on will mean that the terrorists will lose their appeal in the end.) I’m not sure I agree with everything he says, but I do find myself aligning with his conclusions that say, in effect, that power is here to stay and must be used for good by those who have it. He writes

“There is strength in the liberal democratic idea and in the free market. In the long run, and all things being equal, they should prevail over alternative world-views, both because of their ability to deliver the material goods and, more important, because of their appeal to a most powerful aspect of human nature, the desire for personal autonomy, recognition, and freedom of thought and conscience.” (p.102f.) “The future international order will be shaped by those who have the power and the collective will to shape it. The question is whether the world’s democracies will again rise to that challenge.” (p.105)

I am reminded of the conclusions of another Kagan, Donald this time, in On the Origins of War (Doubleday, 1995) In one example:

“The Cuban missile crisis demonstrated that it is not enough for the state that wishes to maintain peace and the status quo to have superior power. The crisis came because the more powerful state also had a leader who failed to convince his opponent of his will to use its power for that purpose.” (p.548)

I discovered and was put powerfully in touch with some formative experiences of my own while engaging in some anti-racism training some years ago. My discovery then amounted to this: I do not need to have power of you, but I have a very great need and desire to ensure that you do not have power over me. This makes it somewhere between difficult and unlikely that I will ever voluntarily renounce the great benefits I receive by being an educated and otherwise privileged white male. I have no objection to anyone else’s advancement but will resist, with al that I am and all that I have, being controlled by some other power. I’m sure this is why I have such a strong antipathy to anything that smacks of manipulation or cant by those of my co-religionists who are so sure of themselves and what they believe is the will of God that they will seek a major realignment of power within Anglicanism, for example. I am dismayed that it has come to a matter of lawsuits over property, but am delighted that the leadership of the Episcopal Church is acting to preserve our identity and relationship with the wider communion even if the bullies and manipulators believe that they are doing a good thing. They must be resisted and have thought that they can take advantage of a rather flabby and undisciplined liberalism which has characterized our particular branch of Christ’s body for a while.

Friday, May 2, 2008

May 2, 2008

I’ve been rather dismayed by the whole business with Jeremiah Wright. Leaving aside his rather strange personal attacks on Barack Obama, he does seem to be sparking some conversations about race that the candidate has said the country ought to be having. He is also making clear in his person and his pronouncements how complicated that conversation really is. I still prefer Hillary and still do not understand why the two campaigns aren’t trying to have a conversation about some kind of joint approach to the country. I suppose it is because they both really believe that they would be the best President. I’m concerned that it will be hard to broker a unified front at the convention and that one or other of them will go away without a clear role moving forward, but suspect that is what will happen to the detriment of the party and the risk that we will be led by someone who wants to keep this war in Iraq going indefinitely. I rather wish that Obama had responded to the reality that a conversation about race is complex and is underway now rather than simply playing into the hands of the pundits, publicly breaking relationship with his pastor (while talking about unifying the country), and failing to comment on the reality that on any given Sunday what Wright says can be heard in most if not all pulpits of black churches led by pastors of Wright’s generation.

I’m heading to a board meeting of Visions-Inc today and continue to find the model developed by Valerie Batts to be a useful lens for looking at what is going on in the political arena as well as a way of talking about ‘otherness’ in ways that are personally transforming for anyone who chooses to engage the conversation. You can find her theory in an article called “Is Reconciliation Possible?” published on the visions website here: She looks at some ways in which modern ‘isms’ (racism, sexism, ageism etc) are made manifest and how those manifestations are mirrored to some degree as ‘internalized oppression’. She explores four levels of conversation (personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural) and points out how often conversations are over before they have begun because one party is talking institutionally and the other personally , for example.

We talked about this in GIFT last Wednesday. Our staff has done some sustained work with this model and our new Senior Warden, Tom Cox joined us on one of our retreats. If any of you are interested in doing some work using this model, send me an email (or post a comment) and I’ll see if we cannot become the site for in introductory four day workshop at All Saints’.