Sunday, October 26, 2008

Presiding at the Eucharist

October 26, 2008

The Diocese of Sydney in Australia has approved a motion allowing deacons to preside at celebrations of the Eucharist. This is significant for a number of reasons, one of them being that it enables women (who may not be ordained priest but may be ordained deacon) to preside in that diocese. More significant in my mind is that the resolution as passed ( also sees no impediment to lay people presiding at the Eucharist but apparently the bishop of Sydney, out of respect for his colleagues in the GAFCON movement, has said that he will not license lay people at the moment.

For many Anglicans this is a significant departure from the traditional faith and order that has defined Anglicanism and is most certainly a problem for those inclined to more ‘catholic’ views of holy orders (often the foundation for arguments against the ordination of women). This is a much more complex matter than I can deal with here, but my own instincts tend to the idea that a) this is not worth causing division over and b) that there are times when it would be an aid to the growth and health of the church if celebrations presided over by people other than presbyters could be licensed from time to time. I am thinking particularly of the development and ongoing life of certain kinds of small group within a parish for example. I share the Diocese of Sydney’s belief that there is no biblical impediment to such a move, but recognize that there are historical, institutional, organizational and ecumenical concerns that make this far from simple.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The End of Anglicanism

October 24, 2008

In early October I wrote about my disappointment in the inscrutable decisions of the Archbishop of Canterbury as to when he speaks and when he stays silent and what he does or doesn’t do in the meantime. He has now met with the deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh in London. ( This is described as a ‘private meeting’ not unlike that he held with the duly elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, but which could not happen during the Lambeth Conference to which said bishop was not invited. Bishop Duncan, who has been adopted by the Province of the Southern Cone and supported by a number of English Bishops and international primates all of whom say they ‘recognize’ him as an Anglican bishop without a squeak from the ABC furthers the disintegration of the Anglicanism that I have known, valued and supported. I’m up for planting an Episcopal Church in London and starting an international network that could take the form of something like a religious order for people and congregations of many denominations bound by some basic principles that are as simply stated as the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral ( Any takers?

The Meta-Narrative

October 24, 2008

Two books have kept me wondering about the feasibility of Christianity providing a ‘meta-narrative’ or story that is at least potentially for everyone in a pluralistic age. The first is from William T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (T&T Clark, 2000) who argues that the Christian Story transcends time and space (in a sense) most particularly in the Eucharist which itself transcends geopolitical boundaries, class distinctions and the like. The other is by Lamin Saneh, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (Oxford, 2008) who explores what amounts to a shift in Christianity’s ‘center of gravity’ from the West to the post-colonial world. In the course of his encyclopedic work he makes the case that part of the genius of Christianity (and part of what contrasts it with some other major strains of religion) is its use of the vernacular and its consequent ‘translatability’ allowing it to take root in may differing forms in many differing cultures. In different ways, both authors are retaining the possibility of entering into serious conversation with people of other faiths and none with both a proper humility and also a sense that our story could be for others in the grace of God.

So far, so good. But where this begins to become problematic for me is when we come up against someone who also believes that their story is for everybody, that it ‘trumps’ all other stories, and is the pre-eminent vehicle for the will and grace of God. Is the ‘Christian stance’ to sit by and let that happen (as will happen in Europe as a matter of demographics)? Barring some major shift it seems that the majority of people born in Europe with in a couple of generations will be born into a Muslim household. Or is our stance protectionism, as in the various proposals for a European constitution defining Europe as ‘Christian’?

This is a similar concern as that within Christianity. I am not terribly worried about the end of Western hegemony and see it offering some real possibilities for the development of faith in our time. I am not worried insofar as I see such ‘hegemony’ as problematic for people of faith. It is the issue that Lamin Saneh spends time sorting out as to when missionaries were purveyors of Western colonial culture and when (as happened more frequently than we might realize) they stood in opposition to such in favor of the development of indigenous expressions of the faith. I don’t mind letting go of some kind of coercive ‘power’ for the good of the whole, but I do mind letting go of it so that you or anyone else can have it. That is a real issue of faith and a real stumbling block to my full embrace of a pluralistic vision for the world. All direction and help welcome.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Interfaith and Pluralism

October 13, 2008

Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by 100 People of Faith a new interfaith organization. The conversation there raised the question for me once again about the underlying vision of ‘pluralism’ in society. We were urged to think of religious differences on campuses, for example, as another kind of ‘diversity’ and work on what I call ‘understanding and appreciating difference’ following the work of Visions Inc. ( about which I have written before.

While I think I agree with the goal of a genuinely pluralistic society I see two major and related problems. One is that pluralism means that every individual or grouping of people must give up power to define and shape the world according to their vision. This means that I am not willing to give up any possibility of self determination that I might enjoy only to find myself being determined or defined by you instead. In other words the ‘salad bowl’ must not develop a predominant taste.)Organizations concerned with ‘diversity’ or ‘interfaith’ or whatever tend to take on their own (predominant) cultural norms and styles which is blessed as being ‘diverse’ but on an experiential level can seem to be a new hegemony of sorts.

The second challenge is that pluralism, especially religious pluralism is calling for recognition that no one faith or group within a faith has the ‘meta-narrative’ or the defining story (world view/perspective) for everyone. And yet religions are generally trying to make sense of the whole world and claim that their world view either can or should make sense for everybody. That is the basis for evangelism, crusades, turn or burn theologies and, I suspect, the basis for conservative movements within religions. I share with conservatives an unwillingness to give up the possibility that the Christian story is for everybody even if I differ from conservatives in my desire to approach people of other faiths with humility such as appears to be the goal of 100 People of Faith.

Church Antics

October 13, 2008

Giles Fraser, our Kanuga speaker, has published a column in the Church Times reflecting on his experience with us and how The Episcopal Church is alive and well in parishes that are getting on with being the church and are not could up in what he calls the ‘ridiculous’ Pittsburgh secession. You can read it here:

I am wearied beyond belief by our church goings-on. We have a situation in which a bishop has been deposed by a significant majority of the house of bishops for clearly ‘abandoning the communion of this church’. Some have raised questions about the process and so the ‘legality’ of such deposition, while others have attempted to muddy the waters in other ways. Six bishops of the C of E have declared themselves ‘in communion’ with Bishop Duncan now a cross territorial bishop of the Southern Cone and the Archbishop of Canterbury has said nothing. He has been unwilling to support the Episcopal Church (especially after he forced Jeffrey John to withdraw nomination to be Bishop of Reading in 2003 following the advice of his conservative council (York, London, Winchester and Durham). And he has been unwilling to speak strongly against the kind of antics of Archbishop Venables and his ilk who are seeking to step into the vacuum created by Archbishop Williams’s silence. The Windsor Report tried to deal with ‘process’ without dealing with the underlying issue of homosexuality and so became (among other things) a kind of way for those of conservative instinct to hammer the Episcopal Church. Conservatives keep declaring that Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire is not the issue but the symptom of much deeper division in the church but can’t really say what those are. So the Anglican Communion as I have known and valued it is falling apart as rich Americans try and homosexual-hating Africans try and impose their will instead of figuring out how to live together.

I can live with the end of white Western hegemony but resist its being replaced buy some African or ‘global south’ alternative. I think it is time for the Episcopal Church –the one described by Giles Fraser in which people are bound by their fellowship in the gospel rather than by political allegiance or opinion against the affirmation of homosexuals-- to be about creating intentional international alliances within national churches and planting churches where such alliances cannot be found.


October 12, 2008

I have recently attended the twentieth iteration of something called ‘the gentlemen’s dinner’ to which I have been going on and off for eleven years. It is a gathering of friends put together by two graduates of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. They are ten years apart, one black and one white and the dinner is similarly balanced racially. There are more lay than clergy and more Episcopalians than others. The value of the occasion (apart from food wine and fellowship as though that were not enough) is that after dinner everyone is offered a chance to speak about what is going on in their lives or in the world. I will never forget the first time I attended in the wake of President Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal. There was such a stark difference of view or ‘take’ between black and white that the contrast was stunning. This year the contrast was more in the level of fear expressed in various ways by black members of the group rather than white. The fear was that Obama might not win when racism rears its head in the secrecy of the voting booth, or that assassination is a real fear when someone is allowed to shout ‘kill him’ at a McCain-Palin rally without any response from the candidates. (A weak response in the form of a call for civility came a couple of days later.) Some white members of the group had things to say about the state of the country and our political life, but without the fear factor. Republicans in the room were silent.

David Abshire, currently President of the Center for the Study of the Presidency has published extensively on the issue of civility in our society and ahs even applied such ideas to the Anglican world. I remember when republicans and democrats could have dinner together in a perfectly civil way and how that is tricky now if there is to be any political conversation. The joy and perhaps model of the gentlemen’s dinner is that we have honest conversation across lines of demarcation. Could there be a political equivalent and could the church be a place for that to be nurtured?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Market

October 9, 2008

The Templeton Foundation has published a number of scholars and politicians from around the world asking whether the free market corrodes moral character. ( Many of the answers are worth reading but I was surprised given the religious interests of John Templeton that no theologians were included in what is a theological question at one level. A few years ago the retired Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins published a book that I have found helpful called Market Whys & Human Wherefores: Thinking Again About markets, Politics and People (Cassell, 2000). In it he does a number of things first examining the language of faith and belief of the proponents of free markets suggesting that all too often talk of the markets reach the level of idolatry as proponents talk of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand’ and the free (meaning largely deregulated) markets as being ‘the only way’. He calls the following ‘the Gospel According to Economics:

God may not be in his heaven but all is still well with the world. The Market h as taken over and will provide increasing prosperity for rising numbers of the worlds inhabitants. We should not fret too much about poverty or pollution. We certainly should not attempt to regulate financial markets. Indeed we should rejoice at the increasing globalization and sophistication of markets in trade and finance, for this enhances their capacity to enforce the necessary restraints and disciplines of the market on all and sundry in ‘the real economy’ –governments, the governed, the managers of savings and capital, let alone the users of that capital in industry, commerce and services. This system ensures the greatest possible smoothing out of market volatilities and inefficiencies so maximizing the possibilities of production and consumption. The Market’s discipline is often tough but always benign. Such is the Gospel According to Economics. (p.21)

There is an old joke about the definition of an economist (probably better told about a theologian) being “someone who sees something working in practice and wondering whether it will work in theory.” He cites Professor Krugman (then of MIT, now of Princeton pointing out that economists tend to write nuanced work with the discipline of the academy keeping them honest as a opposed to the entrepreneur (or politician) whose interest is in keeping things simple even when professors are doubtful that there are easy answers to be found (p.85). Krugman also stated:

Economists know a lot about how the economy works, and can offer some useful advice on things like how to avoid hyper inflation (for sure) and depression (usually). They can demonstrate to you, if you are willing to hear it, that folk remedies for economic distress like import quotas and price controls are about as useful as medical bleeding. But there is a lot they can’t cure. Above all, they don’t know how to make a poor country rich, or bring back the magic of economic growth when it seems to have gone away.” (p.85)

Those who would claim more for ‘The Market’ than should be claimed often assume that the market is driven by human (read consumer) choices that are essentially predictable and rational. A group of behavioral economists are challenging that however. I have mentioned before Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Harper, 2008) which demonstrates the faulty logic of such arguments. Certainly heavily regulated or completely ‘managed’ economies such as we saw attempted in the former Soviet Union are discredited, but the visions of Milton Friedman and his disciples Ronald Reagan and Lady Thatcher have brought us no closer to Utopia that those of Marx and Lenin (even admitting that I prefer the former economics than the latter).

In the current collapse of world markets, I have little sense that ‘bailouts’, ‘adjustments’ or ‘rescue plans’ will be much more than band-aids. I hope I am wrong and that a world recession is avoidable. I worry that we are going to enjoy too little ‘management’ coming too late and that we are going to have to take our medicine. In the old days the prophets would have attributed such disaster on a massive scale to the judgment of God on human greed and folly. And I agree with them provided hat we do not attribute the manipulation of the economy to God (which I consider as idolatrous as giving divine power to The Market itself,--another entry for another time). These days which are already resulting in some serious adjustments in the lives of many people with many more such adjustment to come (even if the rescue plans and interest rate cuts serve to restore confidence among investors, thus making credit available once again so that we can get back to ‘business as normal’) have the effect of demonstrating how completely interconnected we are to one another throughout the world, how fragile are our alliances where money is concerned (watch the members of the European Union acting independently of each other to some extent), and how The Market invested with divine power as though we have nothing much to do with it is a capricious God to which we have all too often sold our souls. In the Church we talk of God who founding economic principles are concern for those most vulnerable in society (the widow, the stranger, the orphan and so on) and who calls us to recognize what is of true and ultimate worth, revealing our folly and granting grace for us to move toward right relationship with God, one another and all of creation. Troubled times lead some people to look to God for a fix to the trouble. God looks to us to remember what matters and adjust our lives. It is time to seek the true community of faith in God’s economy taught (sometimes well and sometimes badly) and lived (sometimes well and sometimes badly) among those who follow Jesus, the Savior.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kanuga Weekend

October 7, 2008

This Kanuga weekend was one in which all the parts worked together to make a spectacular and integrated whole. The programs, parties and worship all came together, thanks to most of us in attendance volunteering to leading one or another aspect of the weekend, around the theme of ‘baptized in dirty water’. I will remember all of it for a long time with Will White’s baptism in the lake and that meditative procession to the chapel that followed with white streamers in the procession and the chiming of handbells as we made our way up the hill for a fantastic sermon from Giles Fraser, (our speaker for the adult program on Saturday). We gathered singing “Down to the river to pray” and our choir sang “Wade in the water” at the offertory as we remembered that baptism is less cleansing than drowning and that we are made a new people. I discovered that I am not too old to receive the gift of a genuinely religious experience in the palpable presence of God and be filled to overflowing with affection for you who I am called to serve.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

October 7, 2008

At our parish weekend at Kanuga, our speaker Giles Fraser ( defended his friend and former tutor Rowan Williams by explaining that the English reformation and Elizabethan Settlement was essentially a peace treaty between various ecclesiastic factions (primarily Puritan and Catholic) within a national church. The purpose of that ‘treaty’ was to keep the largest number of people possible within the same church. Giles is of the belief and opinion that such a vision and treaty is informing the Archbishop’s decisions with regard to the Anglican Communion as a whole.

My ‘take’ in response and in light of our own bishops response to Lambeth (see previous entry) is that he may very well be right but that the reason the Archbishop’s decisions are not good in this regard is that he is viewing the communion (in spite of his own experience in the Church of Wales) through a thoroughly English lens. The rest of the constituent provinces of the communion do not have the same ‘container’ in the form of a state church with a particular history in law. From where we sit his attempts to keep the maximum number of people at the table through compromise looks like on one hand placating conservatives at the expense of the Episcopal Church in particular; and on the other hand looks like a leadership vacuum that the likes of Peter Akinola and Greg Venables are rushing to fill. Meanwhile Pittsburgh continues down the road of San Joachin (with Fort Worth and Quincy not far behind) with their continuing attempts to bring about the non catholic, non traditional and schismatic idea of a second North American province calling itself Anglican. From an English perspective this would be quite simply illegal. From where we sit, our PB says people and clergy can leave but parishes and dioceses cannot and the schismatics are saying ‘watch me’ and long costly law suits result.

What would be so dreadful if The Episcopal Church as a whole withdrew from the Anglican Communion? It would make many Anglicans throughout the world quite happy and we could get on with planting vibrant congregations in England and elsewhere instead of sitting on our hands while the communion disintegrates over its fear and loathing for gay and lesbian Christians and our (tentative, timid and painstakingly carefully slow) affirmation of them.

Presbyters Conference (2)

October 1, 2008

I was particularly struck by the sense that both our bishops reported following Lambeth that of all the world’s bishops it is the English (not the Scots, Irish and Welsh) who really don’t understand something important. It is hard to nail down exactly what that is, but it accords with what I experience when I am in England. It is captured by a question that someone asked a few years ago: “When is the Church of England gong to join the Anglican Communion?” They shared stories of bishops who seemed to think that double standards were a necessary part of gong along to get along and for whom observing the proper form keeps everyone happy and then letting the clergy do what they need to with the understanding that their bishop won’t support them if they are ‘discovered’ misbehaving or whatever.

I have had the impression that England is happy to focus on America (fanning the flames of anti-Americanism along the way) hoping against hope that they won’t have to deal with rifts in their own church that are as deep, if not deeper, that in the US, Canada and elsewhere. The Episcopal Church seems to be happier since our bishops (even those who are no fans of the consecration of Gene Robinson) have started to define themselves and have, with sadness but with clarity, allowed those who need to leave to leave and those who want to stay and be destructive to get deposed. The legal and punitive responses probably don’t amount to much in the great scheme of things as such, but they serve to reveal a continuing sense of identity among our bishops which I appreciate.

Presbyters Conference

October 1, 2008

The annual clergy conference of the Diocese of Atlanta was led by Ian Douglas of EDS, ( a missiologist, a leader of the design team for the Lambeth Conference and a delegate from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Consultative Council. He identified some major cultural realities that shape the context in which we minister including the end of Western hegemony, and the new Pentecost of emerging churches. He used a (very) broad brush to help us navigate that whole territory that is sometimes called post-Christendom or post-modernism. In the light of that he saw two major responses to the challenges this brave new world offers the Anglican Communion. First, he identified the instrumental response which is largely about definition and control (in both its ‘official’ and schismatic/reform manifestations). He prefers the second that is Anglicanism defined as Anglican Christians relating to ‘the other’ across all kinds of boundaries and through all kinds of networks. That is what he saw happening at Lambeth and is the foundation for his confidence as he looks to the future. Any one who has followed this blog for any length of time will recognize the congeniality of this approach with my own.

At the same time however I was reading A Royal Waste of Time by Marva Dawn, (Eeerdmans, 1999). Dr. Dawn is an Adjunct professor at Regent College in Vancouver. This is a slim book posing as a fat one, a collection of sermons, articles, previously published chapters and so on generally about worship. I’ll say more about it in another context, but for now I want to note that her theological response to the same postmodern world that Ian Douglas was addressing is very similar to his. In amongst her descriptions of a world in which we are all ‘aching’, ‘hungry’, ‘desperate’ and yearning’ for authentic experience of God what she sees is missing is a ‘meta-narrative’ that is of course provided by the Christian Story. Dr. Douglas also sees Jesus as the defining image and story for the salvation of the world.

The question becomes how the Christian Story can be a meta- or defining narrative for all people without it lending itself to supporting some kind of power structure. Are we simply to forgo our (white male dominated or Western) hegemony in favor of a new hegemony of Archbishops in the Global South and their well funded and unhappy Western allies? Are the mighty being cast down from their thrones and the humble and meek exalted by switching positions or is there some other way?

My initial response is that they are right to resist Christianity being one offering of ‘spiritual practice’ among many. But I also want to resist the idea of meta narrative or organizing story being a vehicle of power. I’m not sure it is enough to note that the story has a self-critical principle within it. I’m more inclined to think that the proper antidote is more along the lines of the readings offered by Rene Girard, James Alison et al focused on the intelligence of the victim and Jesus’ constant and redemptive grace toward all people administered through the sacraments. There also may be some possibilities in thinking more about relativity rather than relativism.