Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Pale Blue Dot

July 30, 2008

In February 1990 the spacecraft Voyager 1 took a photograph of our solar system in which the earth shows up as a pale blue dot. I was on the way home from church on Sunday when I heard a recording of Carl Sagan’s response to the photograph. It is published in various places and available on YouTube as well. It reads as follows:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

This is particularly helpful to me as I try to sort out my own thoughts and feelings about what is currently defined and discussed as the conservative/liberal divide in the Anglican Communion.

I’ve been reading a spiritual memoir in the Thomas Merton tradition called A Long Retreat by Andrew Krivak, a writer who lives in London and who reflects on the story of his formation as a Jesuit before he left the order. In it he recalls wanting to serve the church with all his heart. I don’t remember ever wanting to serve the church as such. It was always there. The church in which I grew up and in which I perceived a call to orders was the Church of England. It was, in effect, a given. One person in the parish pursuing a call to orders had to decide in which denomination he was supposed to live out that call. Such was a choice or an election that I never made. My desire was do serve God in a way that made a difference in the world. I have enjoyed being part of a world wide communion and find myself with a great sense of loss and not a little anger as some sisters and brothers find that the leading of the Holy Spirit (a premise that I suppose they would need to deny calling it instead a wile of the Devil or some such thing) in the Episcopal Church means that they can no longer accept our Lord’s invitation and injunction to gather around the table with other people of God, be they women in orders, gays in orders or people who support them. Those strains in Anglicanism have generally been held in check by a generous theological understanding of a generous and graceful God. The things that have tested that generosity have been more matters of science and knowledge than moral issues of war and poverty and so on. Start with Copernicus and Galileo. Pick your scientist of the Enlightenment, perhaps especially Darwin, and see if those aren’t the times when the partial unity of humanity expressed and lived out in the church has been most threatened.

So I read and find myself challenged by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s second presidential address to the Lambeth Conference, again worth reading in its entirety. He finishes with the question: Having heard the other person, the other group, as fully and fairly as I can, what generous initiative can I take to break through into a new and transformed relation of communion in Christ?’ He earlier suggested that a generous initiative on the part of those with whom I find myself in agreement in our current conflicts would lead us open to charges of sacrificing a particular group of people or sacrificing a principle of relationship for a centralized authority in the service of some kind of church unity. As I think about forgoing a commitment to the full humanity of gay and lesbian people as such an unacceptable option. I would need some assurances that a central authority would not be used to try and bully the American and Canadian churches and their significant number of supporters throughout the communion to try and put toothpaste back in the tube. So perhaps the most generous thing I could do is to go away quietly and let the church be a pale imitation of Roman Catholicism and find some other way to be faithful than to be in leadership in an institution that believes differently than I do and which has many, many people who heartily wish that I was not part of the church making their lives difficult in some way.

However much that line of thought plays into the old conundrum of whether to engage in fight or flight, it is also in conflict with the vision of the gospel in which the whole of humanity is brought into right relation with one another and with our creator, and how that must mean staying connected in some way even if the connection is either extremely fragile or an irritant to one or another party.

For that reason we keep supporting friends we have made in Western Tanganyika to the degree we can, consistent with their bishop’s desire that we not be in formal relationship and why I hope we will find a way to be in relationship with the people of the Diocese of Juba. We will keep making clear that we understand Jesus’ invitation to the table for communion to be open to everyone who wishes to respond to God in that way, clear that the normal or ‘normative’ route to the table is through baptism while recognizing that sometimes we start as foster children at the family table before adoption. We will also continue to gather with others wherever we are invited to do so.

These are preliminary thoughts in what is a kind of ‘retreat week’, (a short retreat perhaps in contrast to Andrew Krivak’s seven or more years). They relate to what kind of parish we are becoming and the work of thinking and carting a vision for our future that is in its early stages. I am sure that we will become and increasingly ‘public’ church, marked by ‘public space’ with the Lord’s Table at the heart of all that we are, say and do. Those who accept the invitation to deeper commitment to following Jesus will find any number of resources for personal transformation as we deal with sin and live into the reality of God’s forgiveness.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lambeth (4): More on Sudan

July 28, 2008

I have received a number of comments from friends in Northern Virginia who are in parishes that know well Archbishop Deng Bul Yak and his ministry. On the whole they are somewhere between surprised and disappointed –not that the Bishop believes what he said, but that a man who has kept focused on the serious issues of war, genocide and famine in Sudan would be drawn into the mess. I still want to know the internal political processes or the pressure or whatever that led the Sudanese bishops to their statement and the Archbishop to his regrettable remarks about the Bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Lee of Virginia is quoted as follow in the Church Times Blog:

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia was one of those expressing puzzlement. “We had a meeting of six to eight American bishops with Sudanese bishops, all having diocesan links. It was a very helpful meeting because we respect and appreciate the Sudanese position and at the same time welcome their commitment to remain in relationship with us: we accept that we have much to learn from them and they seem to welcome our participation in their lives,” he said on Saturday.

“Archbishop Deng Bul made it clear at the press conference. He was asked what he would do if he were Gene Robinson. It was a speculative question and he said if he was Gene Robinson, he would resign. It was not a formal call from the Sudanese bishops. He did not repeat that to us as a demand at all.”

I have shared my thoughts with Archbishop Daniel who tells me he respects my views and hopes that I respect his as we are both coming from different backgrounds.

What I respect is him and his extraordinary Episcopal ministry in Port-of-Sudan and then Renk before being elected Archbishop and with it, the see of Juba.

What I know from a visit to the Sudan and further visits to Tanzania is that all norms, mores, roles and so on are different in Africa than I would enjoy or appreciate. It takes me a while to settle myself down when women stay in the kitchen serving men, when churches bend over backwards to find pastoral responses to situations in which people and especially church leaders fail to treat 2 Timothy as a rule book, and in which every choir needs to have its own electric instruments which all need to be set up and tuned before any rendition in a service of worship. Yes, I come from a significantly different background and neither need nor expect that my hosts would change their ways to suit me when I am a privileged to be a guest in their homes.

I assume that we understand that by the grace of God we are brothers and sisters in Christ who have been brought into relationship as a sign and work that is itself building for the kingdom of God, and extension of the blessing that is Eucharistic community in which we are al transformed by the Holy Spirit around the Table of the Lord. I assume that we can share and discuss our readings of Scripture and would be most surprised (and suspicious) if they were the same in every instance. All of this is reality and I can have full respect for those who differ from me in background and culture.

I also recognize that I too live in a different culture with different mores norms and assumptions than that with which I grew up, --especially with regard to the existence and status of gay and lesbian Christians. I have been changed and shaped in that same Eucharistic community and challenged to respond to the extraordinary love of Jesus, especially for those whom the powers that be would cast out. In this respect I am a convert to something that I freely admit is a development and one that is clearly unsettling to many. I happily bear witness to the fact that we have nothing to fear except the consequence of trading in the love of God for human law, desires, taboos and prejudice. I fully accept that the Sprit works in different places on different timetables and in differing ways. I think it unlikely that homosexual relationship will become truly ‘normal’ and accepted in my lifetime in the U.S. (I think that more likely in England.) And think it possible that it will never happen in Nigeria, although I pray that the hatred for homosexual people expressed in some of the laws of that land and echoed in pronouncements of the church will be modified over time.

There is one part of this debate that I cannot respect and which I believe to be profoundly wrong (even for followers of the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill) and that is the tendency to make political calculations that do not appear to understand the full humanity of the people that are part of that calculation. I do not respect arguments that say that Gene Robinson should resign so that the church can be at peace. I do not respect arguments that say that church unity can only be achieved at the expense of gay people. This IS deeply personal, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Every bishop who makes a pronouncement that seems to trade gay people for the pipe dream of peace on some other issue is failing to care for the whole people of God. The current version of this kind of argument that I find most tricky is the one that implies that Christians would not be targeted by Muslims if it wasn’t for some churches affirming gay people and their relationships as such. Muslims who wish to persecute Christians have always found an excuse to do so. I believe and hope that Christians would do better to proclaim God’s grace and love as a better way than any law and especially the code of Sharia. I could well be wrong on this point, but I still do not respect the arguments of Christians that would condemn a whole class of people for the sake of some kind of church unity.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Serenity Prayer

July 24, 2008

A distinguished book editor called Fred R. Shapiro has researched a number of appearances of the Serenity Prayer that appeared before its publication by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1951. Niebuhr was a noted theologian who died in 1971 and is usually attributed as the author of the prayer. His preferred version is as follows:

God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other

After reading his article (Yale Alumni Magazine, July/)Aug 2008.p.35-39) and one written in response by Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton (p.40-41) I find myself persuaded that while there may be antecedents of sorts to Niebuhr’s publication of the prayer, the way a pastor prays the same or very similar prayers over time that become shared and ‘picked up’ by others makes it likely that the prayer is really and truly Niebuhr’s work. At any rate it is a wonderful prayer.

It ahs set me wondering –without any answers of course—as to the place of resistance in the face of change. These days in church and state we see sophisticated and always well funded resistance to change that is already underway. Should there be a phrase about knowing when to resist change? Or are all such conservative impulses ultimately doomed? Would it not be better to embrace and shape change that is underway? Your thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lambeth (3): The Episcopal Church of the Sudan

July 23, 2008

The Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan has made a statement from the Lambeth Conference on behalf of the bishops of his province as follows (courtesy of ):

Original Statement of the Bishops of ECS

In view of the present tensions and divisions within the Anglican Communion, and out of deep concern for the unity of the Church, we consider it important to express clearly the position of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) concerning human sexuality.

We believe that God created humankind in his own image; male and female he created them for the continuation of humankind on earth. Women and men were created as God’s agents and stewards on earth We believe that human sexuality is God’s gift to human beings which is rightly ordered only when expressed within the life-long commitment of marriage between one man and one woman. We require all those in the ministry of the Church to live according to this standard and cannot accept church leaders whose practice is contrary to this.

We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church’s witness in Africa and elsewhere, opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment.

The unity of the Anglican Communion is of profound significance to us as an expression of our unity within the Body of Christ. It is not something we can treat lightly or allow to be fractured easily. Our unity expresses the essential truth of the Gospel that in Christ we are united across different tribes, cultures and nationalities. We have come to attend the Lambeth Conference, despite the decision of others to stay away, to appeal to the whole Anglican Communion to uphold our unity and to take the necessary steps to safeguard the precious unity of the Church.

Out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we appeal to the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada, to demonstrate real commitment to the requests arising from the Windsor process. In particular:
- To refrain from ordaining practicing homosexuals as bishops or priests
- To refrain from approving rites of blessing for same-sex relationships
- To cease court actions with immediate effect;
- To comply with Resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference
- To respect the authority of the Bible

We believe that such steps are essential for bridging the divisions which have opened up within the Communion.

We affirm our commitment to uphold the four instruments of communion of the Anglican Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council; and call upon all Provinces of the Communion to respect these for the sake of the unity and well-being of the Church.

We appeal to this Lambeth Conference to rescue the Anglican Communion from being divided. We pray that God will heal us from the spirit of division. We pray for God’s strength and wisdom so that we might be built up in unity as the Body of Christ.

The Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng Bul
Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and Bishop of Juba

Those of you who follow this blog will recall the entry of April 20, 2008 and the unfortunate exchange of letters with a Sudanese bishop-elect for a new diocese. One of the things to bear in mind with statements such as that letter and now this pronouncement from the Sudanese House of Bishops is that the intended and real audience is not always the most obvious recipient of the statement. I wonder what transpired that led Archbishop Deng Bul to make such a statement only two days into a conference that is designed to be based on ‘listening’.

I have not been in close touch with Daniel in recent years. He visited All Saints’ in about 2000 and visited the Sudanese community in Atlanta. I was his guest in his former diocese of Renk in January 1998 and was privileged to preach at one of the services before the annual council of that diocese during which they affirmed the ministry of women and supported the ordination of women. He is now Bishop of Juba as well as Archbishop. He has emailed me from Lambeth inviting us into relationship with him and his diocese, fully aware of who we are.

I am surprised by the Sudanese statement in light of the fact that the Archbishop has managed to avoid being drawn into conflict about homosexuality ever since I have known him, always preferring to talk of more important things to him such as the war that ravaged the South for so many years. (We could hear the gunfire about 50 kilometers south of where we were in Renk.) Now he likes to talk about Darfur and the bishops also made a statement about that, the text of which has not surfaced in a form that I have seen as yet.

I have never had a question in my mind that he neither understands nor approves of homosexuality. I have no trouble believing that he approves the content (if not the fact) of the statement of his House of Bishops. When he makes statements that sound as though he is denying that there are homosexual people in the Sudan, I hear him as saying that it is simply not a compelling or urgent matter for his ministry or the ministry of the Sudanese Church. I have no trouble believing that. Thus far, that has not been an impediment to sharing in the gospel and being open to the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit as we gather around the Lord’s Table.

Listening is a two way street. The reality of being Christian under a government that is aggressive in its imposition of sharia on all its citizens and then selective in its interpretation such that they allow or encourage certain kinds of persecution, requires a kind of faith that we do not often see in a place where we are free to worship without fear that our schools will be knocked down the next day. Some Christians have a tendency to want to respond to this kind of Islam on its own terms becoming more ‘moral’, more legalistic and more ‘firm’ than any Muslim group. I would prefer that they go a different direction and proclaim a gospel of grace, not needing to defend their American and Canadian brothers and sisters, but not needing to condemn us either. There are many African Christians who believe that their witness is made more difficult by American and Canadian actions in the same way that I think our witness is undermined by the proclamation of a conservative theology in blogland that bears no relation to the life and teaching of Jesus that I have been able to discern as yet.

Our global missions committee has only just been informed of the Archbishop’s invitation to us and it is my hope that we will want to find ways to accept it as I think we have much to learn from each other. I think (and pray that I am correct) that we would be in relationship with a bishop and a church who up to now have shown no sign of needing to play the politics of current Anglican disagreements at the expense of relationship. I see the Archbishop’s invitation to us as a real and tangible sign that while doctrine is important, relationship is more important in the end and we can accept that wheat and tares are growing together even if we all think our beliefs and commitments are the wheat.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lambeth (2)

July 21, 2008

After the Bishops’ retreat of the past few days ‘public’ Lambeth got underway yesterday. The English press had quite a variety of opinion in their reporting. The Independent saw a church that was being united successfully by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Times and Guardian were more inclined to point out things like the Archbishop clapping out of time to music and leaving through the wrong door and the like.

The Bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Right Rev Duleep de Chickera gave what was clearly an ‘inclusive’ sermon at the personal invitation of the ABofC. Later Rowan Williams gave a Presidential address that is worth reading in its entirety:

Most public commentators agreed that there were little or no signs that the Episcopal Church would be sanctioned or excluded from the communion. The absence of conservatives was bemoaned by all and sundry.

I’m unsure where I stand at the moment between ‘allowing new patterns of ministry to emerge within the communion’ (as in boundary crossings by bishops and congregations in search of congeniality and theological homogeneity) and continuing to uphold the organizing principle of Anglicanism as geographical with unity expressed in terms of communion with a bishop however flawed we might believe that bishop to be. I hear the pain of those who feel that homosexuality is deeply wrong. I have been there myself on an intuitive and visceral level. I do not think that pain means that we have a legitimate claim to have won an argument. In the end I was not persuaded by conservative claims about scripture, and was persuaded both by the official medical community and by members of my own parishes that my deep feelings related to taboo (which is not the same as sin) and could be defined reasonably as unholy prejudice. I do not think that Tanzania or Sydney have to change their mores on the same time frame as the U.S. (and maybe never). The English Church is only now putting in place the processes that will lead to women being consecrated as bishops in that branch of the church and we seem to be managing. Why can the same not be the case with regard to the ministry of homosexual people? The argument that it is contrary to scripture is essentially the same argument made against Copernicus and Galileo is it not?

I continue to pray daily for all bishops and those I know personally by name. I urge you to do the same. I am not disheartened by the news so far and hope that is true for Anglicans of all stripes who value our tradition.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lambeth (1)

July 17, 2008 (2)

A number of years ago I used to gather groupings of people with the same professional interests from time to time. The most enduring and useful of these was the one around media, the majority of people in the group being involved with print journalism (including some senior editors of The Washington Post), television and political staffs and so on. One of the most interesting discussions that I remember was how many of the journalists saw their role with regard to religion as being the translation of one sub culture(religion) to a majority culture (secular readers of newspapers) and how fraught with peril that task can be. This shows up in some of the commentary following Ruth Gledhill’s (of The Times) excellent blog which you can find here:

Our own bishops have their own Lambeth blog which may be found here:


July 17, 2008

As Barack Obama heads to Europe, I expect he will be questioned carefully about his stance on the war in Iraq. Recent news articles have been clear that his position is becoming increasingly nuanced and decreasingly committed to a timetable for withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Other news reports have made clear that condit5ions in Iraq are quite different than one year ago, that violence is ‘down’, that political ‘benchmarks’ are being met and that ‘the surge’ is working as military forces do a good job and soon. The political debate seems to be fundamentally about whether we should be seeking to withdraw or seeking to stay and accomplish some ‘goal’. The good news from Iraq should make it easier, --or at least less morally complicated—to withdraw (my preference), but others are saying that we should stay and meet more ‘benchmarks’. I’m not aware of any situation where the continuing presence of an occupying forced, however friendly and benign they see themselves as being, is ever perceived as good thing for the people of the invaded country in the end. (Even now we are still hearing calls for and end to the British presence in Cypress even though those bases are apparently strategically important for reasons that have little to do with Cypress per se.) There have been pretty cogent proposals floated about our keeping forces nearby (Kuwait and on the gulf itself) that suggest significant withdrawal is not an absurd goal. I hope new leadership will find a way to do what this country has sought clearly in the last round of congressional elections.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Blog

July 15, 2008 (2)

This blog is written with the purpose of stimulating conversation in our parish, either on the blog itself or in other settings. I have from time to time wondered whether it is useful but am assured by many of you that you value it even though you do not choose to comment online. I am grateful to everyone who does take the time to comment, the standards of which have been high.

It has been blessedly rare that the blog administrator has had to decline a comment, but that when that has been the case, it has always been submitted anonymously. Years ago I worked for a British Holiday Company in Tenerife and Miami. It was very clear that people would do things a long way from home and when they thought they had a degree of anonymity that were otherwise out of character and might well have been destructive to themselves or their families in another context. We’ve all hear some version of the phrase ‘what happens in Seattle stays in Seattle’. That is the same principle at work and it is unhelpful in the Christian Community.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a number of standards for the seminarians he taught in the Second World War. One of them was that if they ever found themselves in a conversation about someone not present, they were to go to that person as soon as possible and tell them what they said.

While we could just keep on declining to post the nasty, mean or destructive submissions we receive from time to time (and rarely), I have asked that every post be signed with the author’s real and full name. Those that are not will be declined with a request that they be re submitted when signed.


July 15, 2008

Another note from the past couple of weeks is about the ‘election’ in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe and his thugs intimidated his opposition with prison and violence, sneered at international opinion, claimed victory and then went to the meeting of African leaders who were unable to muster the courage or will to sanction him as so many of them were compromised by similar behavior themselves. I am not among those who think the problem is that Africans and their leaders are undereducated or stupid. I am among those who find this tendency (with related tendencies clearly on exhibit at GAFCON) to do ‘what I want, when I want’, to grab power and hold onto it in spite of any prior agreements or apparent commitments, and to do violence against anyone who challenges a ‘leader’s’ desire to do things his way, both disgusting and wrong. I recognize that this is the moral judgment many of our brothers and sister make about homosexual behavior. Why is the behavior of Mugabe and his supporters and his ilk not condemned with the same fervor by African Christian leaders? Is it that they can condemn and impugn things that can be tagged as ‘western’ without fear for their lives but cannot do the same thing art home? Who knows what needs to happen to help the vast majority of Africans who would really like to eat and live free from fear and raise their children without being surrounded by corruption, murder and even the fear of genocide from these bullies who would ‘lead’ them? At least the Christian leadership, while willing to be destructive of that it does not like, has not resorted to murder. This is written with an obvious measure of disgust but is not intended as polemic. I would love to hear from anyone with some genuine insight and answers that provide a measure of hope for that continent.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


July 13, 2008 (3)

Continuing the thought about what is essential in faith (see previous entry), I keep coming back to thinking that something essential at the heart of Christian Faith is personal commitment to following Jesus. This can take a number of forms and be phrased in any number of ways, but which must involve conscious choice and decision at some point in the life of the believer. There is nothing wrong with inherited faith, but at some point that must become ‘owned faith’ or it will be a flabby and useless thing. That decision, however expressed, will lead to our experiencing the promised of the Gospel as personal transformation in some way that makes manifest the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

I re-read John Fowles’ Daniel Martin over the past two weeks. Our flight attendant on the way to Paris had been a student of his and wanted to buy my ‘first edition’ of the book. The Sunday Times the first weekend we were away had a n article about Fowles and an affair he had with a much younger woman, almost acting out his book The French Lieutenants’ Woman. This novel which I believe was his last was an attempt to articulate non religious humanism and the essence of what it is to be English. I found myself variously gripped and bored as I made my way through the novel. I was reminded of some of Iris Murdoch’s writing in which she attempts to substitute some notion of ‘the good’ for any talk of God. They both succeed in avoiding the dark underbelly of religion with all its tendencies to become expressions of power and control. But they also leave me cold. There is no heart in the humanism. If you have ever been to one of those celebrations where someone without religion tries to find a way of marking the end of a life without the benefit of ritual, you might know what I mean. For a person of faith, these things seem somehow impoverished and wanting.

On the larger screen the world of religion and especially Anglicanism seems impoverished and wanting. The Church of England approved moves that should lead to the consecration of some women as bishops in four or five year’s time. The usual howls of complaint with inevitable threats to depart from those who feel that this is deeply wrong were well reported. There will probably be some unholy alliance of Evangelicals and Anglo Catholics in England to prevent this move before it happens.

This was tied up in some ways with the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem who rather than doing the honest thing and separating themselves from what they cannot abide, and within which they do not seem to be able to persuade a majority to agree with them, they have decided to keep on behaving as they have been, (crossing diocesan boundaries, demanding right thinking bishops, talking about their pain and so on) which is destructive of the faith and order that has marked Anglicanism over the years. They argue that the actions of the American Church and the Diocese of New Westminster were what were really destructive. Even granting the merits of that position, (which I do not), since when do two wrongs make a right?

I am struck again by the reported comments and blog entries of some who style themselves conservatives that in the face of being unable to be persuasive by argument they resort to declarations of pain and ad hominem attacks on those with whom they disagree. (You are being un-loving, unbecoming a clergyman, condescending, racist, forcing me out, abandoning orthodox faith and on and on and on.)

It could be that my desire to be ‘uncluttered’ and remember what is essential is a bit escapist in nature. But there is also something liberating about getting clear as to what is important and getting on with the business of saying our prayers and proclaiming the good news that God desires that we be freed from all that seeks to enslave us. What might be the distinctive marks of the community of All Saints’ that helps us to do that day by day? (a la communities of Jerusalem—see previous entry.)

Church Buildings

July 13, 2008 (2)

I was privileged to have dinner at the Paris home of a friend who has spent the past fourteen years restoring a Marais building to something like its former glory while making it a wonderful family home. When not being a banker, his passion is for the preservation and restoration of English Churches. He is concerned that many , if not most, English clergy see the heritage of wonderful old buildings as being a problem and burden on their ministries rather than a resource and possibility. I have a very limited understanding of the real workings of the C of E but hope there can be a way to allow these buildings to be an opportunity. When properly kept, they are in themselves a call to prayer and a witness to community. I suspect that part of the problem is not money per se but the ‘ownership’ and direction of ministry. ‘Parish shares’ for diocesan coffers and ministries seem excessive and are experienced as a tax. The rigmarole of the approval procedures for getting anything done (and being allowed to raise and spend money) appears to this long distance observer to be ridiculously cumbersome. The church is still an ’it’ and not and ‘us’ in most instances, and that has to be a problem.

Another part of our conversation was about ‘cleanliness’ which on reflection was less about the absence of dirt than it was the absence of clutter. Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey with the darkness inside the buildings, the thousands of tourists, the tombs and art, the bits and pieces, the equipment that goes with constant restoration and so on, make them a bit busy. I was disappointed to se that the church in which I worshipped in Cambridge at the end of the 70s is no longer led and cared for by a community of Anglican Franciscans and now has been ‘junked up’ to some extent with a n area set aside for chair storage, children’s toys and other bits and pieces that have a regular place. This is all separated by a plastic partition rather than something thought through and suggesting that someone cares about how the place looks. St. Paul’s Cathedral was so packed that we decided that we would not go in.

The contrast came with St. Severin, the University of Paris church. This was a great discovery for me with an extraordinary pillar that looked as though it had been twisted. Really extraordinary. I enjoyed St. Pierre in Montmartre again, -probably for the same reason that it seemed to have been ‘de-cluttered’. Perhaps the greatest find was St. Gervais which was immediately striking as a house of prayer. It soon became evident why. This church is the home of one of the monastic and lay Communities of Jerusalem, ( the same group who make the incomparable Vezelay ( their home. Their literature says their vocation has five distinctive characteristics. They are city dwellers. They rent their housing avoiding becoming too settled and accumulating property. They are wage-earners but work only part time as a way of expressing solidarity and challenge to the workplace and keeping them from succeeding on an economic or social level. They are part of a diocesan church and have no cloister. I wonder if there couldn’t be something in this for a ministry centered on All Saints’.

I realize that this awareness of clutter has been moving in my spirit in a number of ways. I seem to be going through one of those periods in which I do not find allot of physical movement in worship (bowing, making the sign of the cross and so on) terribly helpful. I have been thinking about how to keep the altar from being too ‘busy’ for example. These are not earth shaking changes in me but seem to be about returning to what is essential for me and for us and our strategic planning group goes about its work.

Paris, Pride, Velibs and the Homeless.

July 13, 2008

An article in today’s New York Times mirrors one that appeared in the London Times within the last week. It is about the free (or nearly free) bicycles that are all over Paris and which appear to be used mostly by locals for everything to commuting to shopping. There is money to be made by someone of course, and there are problems with vandalism, theft and an increase of bicycle accidents, but overall it seemed an innovative and good thing as I spent a fabulous week in the Marais with Sage, Alexander, Joanna and Ruthie.

Our visit coincided with the Parisian Gay Pride festivities which seemed to center on the Marais to some extent. We didn’t see the march but witnessed thousands of post-marchers making their way wherever they were going down the Rue St. Antoine (where we were staying). This was the predictable excuse for those with a need for public exhibitionism to do their thing and it was not without entertainment value as we ate our supper. What really struck me however was how little pride these marchers seemed to take in the city through which they were marching. The levels of trash they left behind them were the real obscenity of the day.

Somehow that must be related to the vandalism and theft of the velibs. Perhaps also to the ubiquitous smell of urine in every alley, street corner, along the river or otherwise in any place where a homeless person might sleep. I noticed that the homeless tended to be loners rather than setting up in groups. But Paris also has a pretty good system of free public lavatories. They must be more trouble than they are worth to people who seem to have little or no sense of belonging or mutual regard. Perhaps the anonymous, public ‘city’ is an appropriate object of blame for anyone with a grievance and therefore not something in which to take pride. It sounds a bit like Atlanta.

Or closer to home, it sounds a bit like All Saints’ Church as we wonder if there is alternative to heavy policing of those who would sleep in our steps but who seem incapable of self regulation. They leave their trash (which is mostly harmless) but also evidence of drug and alcohol abuse and the smell of urine around the entrances to our place of worship and our cemetery. Ideas and thoughts on this are welcome. Richard Hall has pulled together a group who has spent a large part of some nights out trying to establish some relationship with those who sleep on our steps (and would welcome additional volunteers) and encourage some self regulation, but while we haven’t given up, the signs are that this is not enough to bring about change in the behavior of ‘our’ street people.