Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Anglican Covenant

December 23, 2009

So we have our Christmas present from the Archbishop of Canterbury: a revised fourth section of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Here is what Rowan Williams has to say about it:

"It’s quite important in this process to remember what the Covenant is and what it isn’t, what it’s meant to achieve, and what it’s not going to achieve. It’s not going to solve all our problems, it’s not going to be a constitution, and it’s certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don’t comply.
"But what it does represent is this: in recent years in the Anglican family, we’ve discovered that our relations with each other as local churches have often been strained, that we haven’t learned to trust one another as perhaps we should, that we really need to build relationships, and we need to have a sense that we are responsible to one another and responsible for each other. In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust.
"The last bit of the Covenant text is the one that's perhaps been the most controversial, because that’s where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down. It doesn’t set out, as I’ve already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions. It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that’s in question – or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the covenant what we’re trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they’re always going to be there."

And here is what it actually says:

Section Four: Our Covenanted Life Together

4. Each Church affirms the following principles and procedures, and, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself to their implementation.
4.1 Adoption of the Covenant
(4.1.1) Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the Covenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God. Each Church freely offers this commitment to other Churches in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of national or regional Churches, in which each recognises in the others the bonds of a common loyalty to Christ expressed through a common faith and order, a shared inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life.
(4.1.2) In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches.
(4.1.3) Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.
(4.1.4) Every Church of the Anglican Communion, as recognised in accordance with the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, is invited to enter into this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures.
(4.1.5) The Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches to adopt the Covenant using the same procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership. Adoption of this Covenant does not confer any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion, which shall be decided by those Instruments themselves.
(4.1.6) This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.
4.2 The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution
(4.2.1) The Covenant operates to express the common commitments and mutual accountability which hold each Church in the relationship of communion one with another. Recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion. Participation in the Covenant implies a recognition by each Church of those elements which must be maintained in its own life and for which it is accountable to the Churches with which it is in Communion in order to sustain the relationship expressed in this Covenant.
(4.2.2) The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, responsible to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, shall monitor the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion on behalf of the Instruments. In this regard, the Standing Committee shall be supported by such other committees or commissions as may be mandated to assist in carrying out this function and to advise it on questions relating to the Covenant.
(4.2.3) When questions arise relating to the meaning of the Covenant, or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant, it is the duty of each covenanting Church to seek to live out the commitments of Section 3.2. Such questions may be raised by a Church itself, another covenanting Church or the Instruments of Communion.
(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement, and may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result. Where appropriate, the Standing Committee shall refer the question to both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice.
(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
(4.2.9) Each Church undertakes to put into place such mechanisms, agencies or institutions, consistent with its own Constitution and Canons, as can undertake to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant.
4.3 Withdrawing from the Covenant
(4.3.1) Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. Although such withdrawal does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it may raise a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it, and trigger the provisions set out in section 4.2 above.
4.4 The Covenant Text and its amendment
(4.4.1) The Covenant consists of the text set out in this document in the Preamble, Sections One to Four and the Declaration. The Introduction to the Covenant Text, which shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.
(4.4.2) Any covenanting Church or Instrument of Communion may submit a proposal to amend the Covenant to the Instruments of Communion through the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall send the proposal to the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meeting, the covenanting Churches and any other body as it may consider appropriate for advice. The Standing Committee shall make a recommendation on the proposal in the light of advice offered, and submit the proposal with any revisions to the covenanting Churches. The amendment is operative when ratified by three quarters of such Churches. The Standing Committee shall adopt a procedure for promulgation of the amendment.

Things to note.
Check out 4.1.5. This will allow groups such as the breakaway North American Province to sign the covenant and seek recognition by ‘the instruments of unity’.
There is every likelihood that the Covenant reception process will prove quite divisive, but it will be difficult to make it go away even if a majority of provinces want it to.
4.2.2 ‘The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, accountable to the ACC and the Primates Meeting’ becomes a powerful body rather than a servant of the larger groups. They can declare actions taken by provinces as “incompatible with the covenant”.

I suspect that this whole effort will exacerbate division in the communion, not only between provinces (and other ‘groups’) that sign over against those that don’t, but within provinces between those who think this is a good thing and those who do not. It is clear that the Standing Committee would ask us to ‘exercise gracious restraint’ with regard to consecrating any openly gay bishops (until when..?) I wonder if they would also challenge the bishops of Uganda regarding their support for the idea that homosexuality is a learned behavior which should be discouraged through draconian punishment. Does that strain the ‘bonds of affection’ enough to be a communion breaking action?

Friday, December 18, 2009

What is a Jew?

December 18, 2009

The new British Supreme Court has ruled on a case regarding admission to a well known London school called JFS, formerly the Jewish Free School. A child whose mother is a Jewish convert and whose whole family is observant in a progressive synagogue was denied admission to the school which comes out of an Orthodox Jewish Tradition. The school sets its definition of a Jew by that of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in the Commonwealth, and Orthodox group, which says that a Jew must be born of an Orthodox Jewish mother.

The majority of the judges ruled that this is discrimination based on ethnic identity rather than religious belief under English law and since the school receives state funding (even though it is allowed to favor Jewish applicants) they have to follow non discriminatory admissions practices. Some judges suggested that the law might need to be changed to accommodate JFS concerns.

Others who have been denied admission (even when they have a close relationship with the school) ask why it is that an atheist whose mother happens to be Jewish should be preferred over the child of an observant convert. This is a reasonable question

One place where this kind of issue affects us is when we are trying to balance our desire to be hospitable with our desire not to be ‘used’ by people seeking a wedding at All Saints’. Some people want to meet all the requirements for ‘membership’ without any interest in the spirit of what it means to be an active participant in this community of faith. Others insist that their active participation means that their adult children who live elsewhere have a ‘right’ to be married at All Saints’. Our desire is to be generous and inmost situations we are happy and able to accommodate all kinds of circumstance. Where it gets tricky is when those desiring to be married start acting as though they have rented the church, the clergy and the staff along with their tuxedos. In the end we do plenty of ‘non member weddings’ but find that there is no rule or standard that ensures the kind of attitude that makes for a happy occasion for all concerned.

There are of course other places where ‘membership’ is an issue. Why should an active baptized member of the congregation who, for whatever personal reason chooses not to seek confirmation or reception into this branch of the church, not be able to vote in a vestry election, let alone offer him or herself for office?

I’m sure the Supreme Court ruling will complicate things for JFS in some way but suspect that no clear standard of membership will really achieve what they want, human beings being what we are.

You can read about the case here


December 17, 2009

Kabuki is a form of Japanese drama marked by stylized movement and singing with the characters wearing heavy make up and, occasionally, masks. I have been thinking about this as the Church has reacted to the election of Mary Glasspool as one of two Suffragan Bishops in Los Angeles. Her election is causing a furor of sorts because she is a partnered lesbian. (Who recalls offhand the name of the other distinguished priest who was elected first?) Since the election all the usual players have made all the usual and predictable moves. Rowan Williams has shown that he has more grasp of the polity of The Episcopal Church than some do and urged that her election not be approved by those bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees that will be asked to give their consent. He is still hoping for an Anglican Covenant that will keep conservatives in the fold. Others have colorfully praised the election as “another nail in the coffin of Christian homophobia”. Various groups have made various statements, but there just is not the heat behind all this that there was when Barbara Harris was elected a Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts and many thought the sky was falling, or when Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire and a similar furor followed. We are ‘over it’, pretty well confirmed in our various positions and moving on. The actors with all their masks and arcane costumes are taking all the right steps, but they no longer inspire passion.

I, and many others apparently, are much more concerned that Anglican Bishops in Uganda are waffling about whether or not they condemn a proposed law against homosexuality. The threat of a death penalty has been removed, partly as a result of international pressure (Our Presiding Bishop and even Rick Warren have made statements opposing the proposed laws on moral grounds but as yet nothing official from the ABC—He is ‘working intensively’ behind the scenes apparently.) There are some signs of right wing groups in the US funding and supporting aspects of the proposed law which criminalizes not only homosexuality, but the suspicion of it, outlining punishment for those who do not report such deviant behavior among their neighbors. That is worth getting worked up about and it is unclear to me what would be so terrible about the ABC making public his concern over the position of Anglican Bishops in the matter. He was willing to have an official opinion about an election in TEC within about twelve hours of its happening and making that statement public? Can anyone explain why a statement ‘urging’ his brother bishops in Uganda to take a clear position in line with various Lambeth Conference resolutions would be so terrible?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Chicago Consultation

December 8, 2009

The Chicago Consultation is made up of a group of Christians from the US and elsewhere, including many bishops and priests who gathered in Chicago prior to our last General Convention to “support the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons in the Church”. They have responded to Mary Glasspool’s election as a Bishop Suffragan in Los Angeles and to the ABC’s subsequent statement in a measured way. You can read this contrast to some of the statements to which I referred in my post of yesterday here

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bishop Mpango and Anglican Affairs

December 7, 2009

It has been a joy to have Bishop Gerard Mpango and some friends from the Diocese of Western Tanganyika as our guests over the past week. On Sunday they joined us for worship at two services and were impressed by the size of the congregation and the vitality of our (fairly traditional) worship. In his remarks he alluded to ‘difficulties in our relationship’ related to ‘politics in the Anglican Communion’ and his desire to forget the past and move forward in mission together. At a lunch in his honor after church he expanded those remarks. He acknowledged that following the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, he had to decide which way to lead his diocese. The province of the Church of Tanzania was divided but nonetheless pressuring everyone to fall in line with the conservative stance of much of East Africa. Was DWT going to go with Peter Akinola and his brand of the faith or try and be more participatory in the Anglican Communion in spite of real differences of biblical interpretation and, culture and life? It was the Lambeth Conference that gave him the will to move in the latter direction and to engage a three part companion diocese relationship with Gloucester in England and El Camino Real in the US. It was that same sense that led him to seek to re-engage relationship with All Saints’, Atlanta. As a sign of that desire, he was moved to visit at his own expense and bring other members of his diocese with him. Our vestry made a grant to the AIDS ministry of his diocese in thanksgiving for his visit. This gift addresses our relationship and the millennium development goals, as well as extending our commitment to give more to those in need in challenging economic times.

At he point of our lunch, the election of two suffragan bishops in Los Angeles was in the background. Two women were elected, the second of whom was declared to be a partnered (of twenty one years) lesbian. The Archbishop of Canterbury responded within hours warning of ‘serious consequences’ for The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop Mpango received this as ‘bad news’ but at least in conversation with me, he did not suggest that this was anything other than a difference in spite of which we would be in relationship. He is certainly concerned that bishops are ‘for the whole church’, but gave no sign that this would damage his three way diocesan relationship or friendship with All Saints’.

In a way, that response is one that I expect will be played out in a number of ways throughout the communion. Some blogs have expressed anger and outrage that the ABC would interfere in the affairs of TEC over people who love each other while being unable in weeks to make any kind of response to a hateful anti-homosexual bill being supported by Anglican bishops in that country. Others have trumpeted the same old (inaccurate) stuff about our moving away from tradition and scripture. The international press has largely reported the election and the ABC’s response without drama. And on we go.

I remain proud of The Episcopal Church. I also remain committed to relationships of mutual caring and respect with those who differ from us in many ways including our friends in DWT. The alternative is schism and separation rather than being in a place where we may all discover something of the expansive reality of God’s unutterable love.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Moral Philosophy

December 5, 2009

Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University has mounted a defense of the relevance of the discipline of moral philosophy in Cam Magazine (Issue 58, Michaelmas 2009, p.35-37). In response to those disciplines that would reduce human behavior to matters of genetics, or to some basic assumption such as the economic one that we are inherently selfish. He says “just as we need clean air, we need a clean moral climate,--and one of the tasks of moral philosophy is to worry about whether we have it.” He challenges the extreme individualism of much modern thinking pointing out that such things as language, money and law are ”socially constructed and sustained”.

Our friend Giles Frazer (who is once again going to be the presenter for adults at our Kanuga parish weekend next autumn) has take up a similar theme in a recent article in The Guardian, arguing against the belief of much modern atheism that children ought to be left to decide for themselves about religious faith when they are older. He makes the point that we are socially constructed and that transmitting societal values is comparable to teaching language to children. He distinguishes this from ‘religious brainwashing’.

Reading these articles leads me back to my fundamental assumption that what makes any of us who we are is some kind of sense of self together with all that we can call our ‘circumstance’, --our history, culture, adoptions and rejections, language and so on. I would count God as the source and prime mover of this circumstance (This is the phrase from José Ortega y Gasset: “I am myself plus my circumstance”) I reject anything such as the waiter of Jean-Paul Sartre that would define human freedom in extremely individualistic terms. In the same way I reject any kind of communalism that seeks to give ultimate power to some notion of community such as seen in the attempts of Lenin and Stalin to put the Marx-Engels philosophy into practice.

Immigration and Islam (2)

December 5, 2009

Ann Appelbaum is a columnist for the Washington Post. She has written a review of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West (Doubleday, 2009) I discussed this in an entry of August 13 of this year. In her review published in The New Republic (November 18, 2009 p.38-41). She takes issue with what she understands as Caldwell’s idea that Islam is incompatible with European Culture and always will be. “Having explained why no efforts at assimilation were made in the 1960s and 1970s, and why such efforts are not succeeding now, he goes on to predict why they will never work at all.” Applebaum tells us that she “belongs to the group who fondly and naively imagine that Islam may evolve”. She does not “see why Muslim immigrants will remain magically immune to all the integrationist influences that have shaped other immigrants into contented citizens of Western society.”

I find myself more in the ‘pessimist column’ than not on this one, --at least in the near and middle future. I am persuaded by Jonathan Sacks argument in The Dignity of Difference (See my post for September 7, 2009) that conservative religion in various forms is growing in response and reaction to ‘modernism’ and ‘globalization’. At the same time this conservative movement is squeezing any relevance that liberal religion holds precisely because it is aligned with the modernist project. The reality of the internet and the powerful claims of that mysterious idea of ‘identity’ mean that Caldwell’s conclusion is likely to be the right one: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


November 29, 2009

You may have heard of Marjora Carter. She is host of a show on Public Radio’s called The Promised Land and also one on the Sundance Channel called Eco-Heroes. She has been named one of the twenty-five most influential African- Americans by Essence Magazine and is a Genius Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation. What she did that led to these opportunities and accolades was founding and heading something called Sustainable Bronx, a community organization dedicated to Environmental Justice solutions through innovative, economically sustainable projects that are informed by community needs in addressing policy issues affecting one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. It is not unlike the transition town movement originally out of England but now international and growing in this country and might be helpful to us as we begin to think about the future of this city block on which we sit in the middle of a growing metropolis. Marjora Carter said something really compelling in her remarks to the Trinity Institute at the beginning of this year (January, 2009). She said: “As far as I’m concerned, people need three things to be whole: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. If any one of these things is missing, the other two suffer—and in communities like mine, at least two out of the three are hard to come by.” The article is called “Greening the Ghetto” in The Anglican Theological Review, (Fall 2009, Vol. 91, No 4) p.602

This kind of work could be the personal ‘way in’ to issues of sustainability and environment that I have been seeking. Many of the articles of that issue of ATR, (available in our parish library) address such things as ‘neighborhood ethics’ and ‘a theology of urban space’ that could be useful in our next phase of strategic planning.

Another great resource comes from our own Earth Stewards in the most recent All Saints’ Monthly in thinking about the spirituality of a sustainable Christmas. It is called 'Have a Green Christmas'.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ecologies of Grace, Chapters 10, 11, & 12

November 21, 2009

I have decided to bring this project to a close. I still think the idea of an online book discussion is worth pursuing, but am not sure that this was the ideal book to get us going. I find myself no closer to having passion for environmental issues than I did at the beginning. I am however still just as committed to the idea that we are to be stewards of creation. I will continue to try and remember to turn off the tap when I brush my teeth, support sustainable development and the like, all the while hoping that the work of ethicists and politicians can help us get to grips with what is going on in China and elsewhere.

In Chapters 10 and 11, Jenkins moves toward ideas of ecological spirituality and draws deeply on Eastern traditions, who following Maximus work for “reuniting nature and humanity within a cosmic economy of deification.” This is set over and against a perception that Western tradition has separated nature from salvation. (p.189) The theologians cited here push toward an articulation of the cosmic dimensions of salvation in ways that I find intuitive and congenial. It makes sense to me that our interconnectedness with all of creation means that what is going on in my life has something to do with whatever is going on on Mars and vice versa.

Jenkins does explore the avenues of wisdom in the tradition and the intriguing idea of ‘practicing transfiguration’, which seems to mean the conscious narration of nature’s glory. (p.222)

In his conclusion, Jenkins reiterates that he is about the task of “rendering environmental problems urgent and intelligible to Christian communities…Moreover, insofar as ecologies of grace illuminate how environmental problems matter for Christian life, this book shows why ecology makes a claim on Christian identity, and how environmental crises could pressure change in the way churches tell their salvation stories.” (p.228)

For clergy, he specifically invites renewed reflection on the pastoral dimensions of ‘nature and grace’, on the ecological dimensions of the experience and telling of salvation. He sees the tasks of lament and discourse about sustainability going hand in hand. (p.234)

He signals how theologians are affected in their understanding of grace by such things as hierarchies with respect to gender for example and how a shift in understanding grace in one conversation will lead to new resources and views in another. (p.240)

I’m left grateful for this work, left with a deeper understanding of some of the theological and ethical issues in this field, left with remaining questions about the status of nature and disease with attempts to ’personify’ creation, and a continuing hope that there is something for Christians beyond oughts and should, but not persuaded of that as ye

Ecologies of Grace, Chapters 8 & 9

November 20, 2009

So from Aquinas we move to Karl Barth and the idea of stewardship after the end of nature. Jenkins looks to Barth to discover whether stewardship “remain a structurally dominant relation”. Instead of granting some privileged moral position to ‘nature’ this strategy starts from God’s claim on human action. (p.153) He then goes into a spirited defense of Barth who is usually used as a foil by environmental ethicists. Barth insists on the revelational priority of act over being. God’s act determines created reality, in both time and space, history and geography. And third, we know God’s act through the particular event of Jesus Christ. “God’s universal will is elective, revealed in and bound to a particular creature.” (p.155)

Barth ends with a stewardship of earthkeeping or caring for creation on one hand and a stewardship of wise use; earthly perception on one hand and hearing the voice of God on the other. (p.169)

In chapter 9 we go on to consider how, for Barth, Christ’s work makes the ’special place of human obedience’ (p.171) and are led down yet another theologically dense and abstract path to consideration of “the environment of Jesus”. This is brought back toward normal human experience in consideration of Barth’s inversion of ‘Servant as Lord and Lord as servant’ leading to the danger of anthropomorphism in consideration of ‘Humans as Lords.’

There is a great deal of material in these chapters as in those that have gone before that suggest that they are for the cognoscenti of environmental ethics and are mining Christian theologians for resources that might be helpful. I’m a fairly simple soul at one level and find it easy enough to say that God made the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good. That, of course raises the problem of evil which many theologians have reduced to being a consequence of a cosmic fall by which death is introduced to the Garden of Eden. I find the Thomistic approach more helpful than anything Barthian with his suggestion that there is something to be learned about what is of true and ultimate worth in this world through the reality of suffering. It does not excuse God from charges of setting up a world in which many creatures suffer and sometimes for the apparent good of others, but offers another way of thinking about them as moral issues. Based on that, of course we must care for creation, but are the theologians and ethicists helping us know what that means? I can see that our harmful emissions in the developed world are part and parcel of drought and starvation in other parts of the world and that must be addressed as a matter of ethics. I’m not so clear that we shouldn’t evaluate cost and benefit of ding such things as building levees in New Orleans, --clearly a manipulation of ‘nature’. So far in this book, I’m not being taken much further, but find myself glad that those called to this care and concern are going about it thoughtfully and carefully.

Ecologies of Grace, Chapters 6 & 7

November 20, 2009

From here Jenkins takes us into theological resources looking first at St. Thomas Aquinas. Jenkins view is that Thomas manages to combine empirical aspects of Aristotle with the mystical ascent and proclamation of the love of God found in Augustine. He sees the whole of nature seeking its fulfillment in God and so ‘sanctifies biodiversity’. He sees Thomas as setting apart specifically human practices, not in the cause of anthropocentrism, but in order to “explain creation’s common ordination to God.” (p.118) Every creature has specific but fundamental relation to the creator. This raises the question for me as to whether a lion is ‘being natural’ when it tears apart its prey for supper. While clearly part of ‘biodiversity’, is that part and parcel of ecojustice and if so, how?

Part of the answer emerges as Jenkins explicates Thomas thus: “Creatures represent divine perfection as they act for their proper ends, realizing the real relation to their creator that lies at the heart of their existence by realizing the natural perfections that govern the form of their essences.” (p.122) Creation includes “ordered unity and “real diversity” (p.123) and God’s grace uses creation to perfect humans among other things.

When Jenkins moves on to chapter 7 he begins by asking how ecological habits of friendship with God respond to natural evils. Once again we go off down a trail of learning to perfect our praises by understanding distinctiveness. Our naming of the animals in the garden is not so much dominion as recognition. (I confess as an aside that I am questioning the wisdom of trying to generate an on line discussion using this book as it is dense, complex and not yet taking me to an understanding of the environmental movement at an existential level.)

Thomas is clear, apparently, that God does not will natural evils as ‘privations for particular creatures’ (p.144). In the end it seems that natural evils function “to tutor charity in perceiving the lovable”. In other words evil is somehow brought in to the service of good. As theodicy, this does not really satisfy, but on the level of a spiritual response to God, I can affirm it.

In conclusion Jenkins summarizes Thomas saying “In Christ, all creation comes to God through God’s friendship with humanity.” An interesting reading of Thomas but hardly compelling enough to get rid of Styrofoam cups. What say you?

Ecologies of Grace, Chapter 5

November 19, 2009

Ecological spirituality asks questions such as ‘what is the value of this world?’ and ‘what is the place of humans, as both physical and spiritual creatures, in the created world?’ (p.93) A variety of approaches to this strategy, “each makes environmental issues matter for Christian experience by appealing to the ecological dimensions of fully Christian personhood.” They seek to articulate a radical relation of personhood and environment. While my pulse is not quickening as I read, I can get with this program a little more readily through remembering Ortega’s line from Meditations on Quixote, namely, “I am myself plus my circumstance.” Of course our environment is critical to and shapes who we are becoming. This strategy seems to have most in common with Eastern themes of deification and ‘the cosmic significance of personal communion’ and the like.

Jenkins takes us through various approaches to creation spirituality and what he dubs ‘sacramental ecology’, including one of my favorites: Teilhard de Chardin and his ‘spiritual cosmology’ seen through the lens of human evolution. He eventually comes to the question as to what all this transforming creativity of God is directed? (p.107) Without a clear answer as yet he heads into a survey of Eastern Orthodox thought and leaves us with the suggestion that ’wisdom’ or Sofia might be a fruitful path of enquiry.

Having surveyed the various ‘strategies’ and theological resources within them, I am still not persuaded that there is any other way for us to look at ‘nature’ except through human eyes. While that need not lead to a kind of irredeemable anthropo-centrism allowing us to use the resources of nature with no regard for ecosystems and other creatures , for example, I find it impossible to get my mind around the idea of some kind of ‘personhood[‘ or its equivalent being ascribed to ‘creation.’ The strategy that makes the most sense to me is that of stewardship as part and parcel of living into right relationship with God and all that God has made. Where do you find yourself amongs all these options presented thus far?

Ecologies of Grace, Chapter 4

November 19, 2009

“In contrast to the ecojustice focus on creation’s integrity, the strategy of Christian stewardship frames environmental issues around faithful response to God’s invitation and command.” (p.77) The status of nature within this strategy is that it is the environment of God’s love for the world, which good stewards inhabit responsibly. Any dominion over the realm of afforded humanity in this strategy is clearly understood as for the purpose of caring for the whole of creation, almost as God’s deputies in the matter.

Stewardship ethicists argue that we only encounter the nature constructed in our encounter with God. And there God confronts humanity with its disordered practices and calls them into authentic freedom. (p.82)

This strategy offers various models of redemption all of which lead to the question as to whether nature itself needs to be redeemed and what that might or could mean. Answers vary depending on how corrupt ethicists of this camp believe nature to be as a result of sin. In any event “stewardship theologies claim that redemption brings environmental issues under Christ’s lordship.” (p.92)

Does anyone have anything to bring to this discussion that redeems a stewardship strategy from being another set of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’, even if these are a response to tasting the first fruits of salvation?

Ecologies of Grace, Chapter 3

November 19, 2009

From here the book seems to pick up the pace a bit. “The strategy of ecojustice organizes Christian environmental ethics around the theological status of creation.” (p.61) Moral respect for nature is drawn into a wider narrative (and God saw that it was good.) Discussions of justice lead to discussions or environmental sustainability and human dignity. Jenkins surveys various ecojustice ethicists and suggests that they transform the similar and secular strategy. The integrity (with its ethical consequences) of creation is discerned through Christian spiritual practice through which we come to understand something of God’s relation to the world. (p.66)

One challenge of this strategy relates to uncertainty about the role nature might play to form humanity into intimacy with God. A second relates to how we are to understand those aspects of nature that are possibly signs of nature’s degeneracy rather than integrity. What are we to make of earthquake pestilence famine and flood? Is the human suffering caused by these ‘natural occurrences part of the consequence of the fall or are they something to be included in a full account of what God created?

Ecologies of Grace, Chapter 2

November 18, 2009

In this chapter Jenkins pursues criteria for what makes an environmental ethic ‘practical’ and suggests that a synthesis of the three schools or strains of ethics would provide a guide to some minimal standards of practicality. The challenges he sees to practicality are first a deep pluralism of viewpoints, and second the tendency to deal with that pluralism by finding an ‘unjustified keystone’ (p.39) or some other organizing principle that cannot contain the breadth of argument and therefore fails to persuade in a practical direction.

In addition to and partly as a result of practical questions, a second ‘clue’ emerges. As he puts it: “By consistently associating the ‘practical’ with social experience, pragmatists draw attention to the way ethical concepts make environmental issues morally significant within patterns of personal and social experience.” (p.40)

He spends the rest of this chapter describing proposals with a view to their ‘mutual intelligibility’ around a) nature’s standing; b) human agency; and c) ecological subjectivity.

With respect to Nature’s Standing: Some argue for an ethic based on some intrinsic value to nature dependent on neither an anthropocentric slant (i.e. justifying Nature’s value in relation to human life) nor an economic justification (i.e. nature is valuable in economic terms such as sustainability for life in the long run).

With respect to Moral Agency: ethicists seek to overcome problems of direct appeal to nature’s standing. An example comes from Steven Vogel. When the ethicist shows “the extent to which the world we inhabit is already humanized” she makes us “see the world we inhabit as something for which we are responsible, in both the causal and the moral sense of that word.” In turn we realize that we “produce the world through our practices and can change it only by changing those practices.” (cited on p.50) This collection of strategies begins by evaluating models of environmental Practice in their sociopolitical contexts. (p.51)

With respect to Ecological Subjectivity: the environment is considered as reciprocal subject (presumably in contrast to object of human activity). The diverse schools of thought within this strategy all know that “an environmental ethic must account for the ecological dimensions of human personhood. (p.57)

I confess that my lack of familiarity with this field of environmental ethics is making this heavy going for me and I have to work constantly to try and understand what is at stake in the various theories. Even when I think I understand the nuances of the various ethical approaches, I am still a long way from connecting these theories with my on existence except n a theoretical sense. Yes I am bound up with and shaped by my environment even as I in turn shape it by the way I live. Suggesting that I am, or ought to be, in ‘dialog’ with nature really doesn’t take me anywhere. I have no objection to the concept but am no closer to heartfelt caring in a way that makes this a priority for me or a compelling appeal. It all seems to be above my pay grade and I hope the people who have apparently managed to ensure that no new or significant accords will come from the Copenhagen meeting know what they are doing. Jenkins does help me grasp that ‘the debates’ about differing ethical premises can easily lead to inaction.

Can anyone help me with good questions after reading this chapter?

Church Typology

November 19, 2009

Over the years we have seen many schemes for organizing and thinking about differing kinds or types of churches. Anthony B. Robinson, author of Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations (Eerdmans, 2008) has published an article called “A New Apostolic Moment in Yale Divinity School’s Reflections (Fall 2009; p.8-10) in which he offers another typology.

He sees congregations falling broadly into three kinds. Civic Religion represents the kind of church people join as part of their civic and community life, a way to be engaged in the community, an expected norm of sorts. At All Saints’, in contrast to much of North America, we still enjoy a good measure of this kind of motivation for engaging the church. We see it made manifest when we tend to drift away from worship once our careers have reached their peak and our children are safely launched in life. We see it in a desire to hold on to an understanding of confirmation as he final act of baptism, something The Episcopal Church abandoned officially thirty years ago with the publication of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. We abandoned such thinking in favor of ideas such as the one we teach at All Saints’ that confirmation is the outward expression of an adult affirmation of lifelong commitment and the empowering of the Holy Spirit for specific ministry. The shorthand we use for this is ‘ordination to the laity’. While the church no longer thinks that confirmation is necessarily for everyone and is certainly not a kind of ‘get-them-done-so-they-can-get-on-with-life’ deal we still have plenty of people with the very reasonable (if often unexamined) desire to give their children what they had regardless of their level of participation in their own community of faith. We tend to handle this graciously, urging commitment and attendance but avoiding haranguing or chastising. Cultural change of this sort is well under way. It is inevitable and necessary given other changes in society but it is not brought about over night. What Robinson call ‘civic religion’ we have been talking about as the assumptions of Christendom, and age and reality that is still very much with us, but at the same time clearly passing away.

The “culturally accessible” church is most often associated with the movement that emerged in the 70s, flourished in the 80s and will be with us for a long time, namely the megachurch. The mentality of such congregations which might be characterized as ‘out with the old; in with the new’ has been around, certainly in North America since some of the earliest revivals and is arguably a basis for all Protestantism. At All Saints’ we have resisted this to the point of snobbery and our most recent congregational survey suggests that we will be unambiguously committed to our fairly formal and arcane worship for a long time to come even as we want to find ways to make it more welcoming and accessible to newcomers and visitors.

The third kind of church according to Robinson is best characterized as ‘communities of formation’ or communities of discipleship’. These may be congregations, new or old, large or small, conservative or liberal in theology, formal or informal in style. They tend to find themselves in some kind of tension with the society that surrounds them and see themselves as a kind of ‘apostolic outpost in the mission field’. They are neither characterized by comfortable familiarity (civic) or instant accessibility (culturally accessible) but by invitation and challenge, a generally higher expectation of commitment than some churches of the past, especially those who are emerging from Christendom kicking and screaming. In one way or another, this third type is the least easy to define and is clearly the direction that we will be taking as we follow our soon-t- be-ready-for-general-release ‘strategic plan for ministry’. As the direction is turned over to staff and ministry leaders to consider and bring into effect, we will begin to choose to emphasize those ministries that hold out the hope of our experiencing greater liberation in Christ marked by a greater capacity to roll with the warp and woof of life. (Traditionally these are expressed as the ‘fruits of the Spirit’.) We will be focused on engaging God and Neighbor as our city becomes increasingly multi-faith, multi-cultural and with it more divided and conflicted, in need of the kind of leaven we will be prepared to become. All this will be rooted in our worship, traditional or yet-to-be-developed, in which we remember and enact the foundational story of our Christian faith, orient ourselves to that which is of ‘ultimate worth’ (worth-ship), and are in turn shaped and challenged by God.

Ecologies of Grace, Chapter 1

November 18, 2009

Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology by Willis Jenkins is a book which begins by recognizing the difficulty of making environmental imperatives “intelligible to Christian communities.” He writes “climate change places new dimensions of society in moral jeopardy” and asks “but how is that preachable on Sunday mornings?” (p.3) He intends to trace strategies of ethical response to environmental challenges and then explore theological resources that can help their cause.

In a brief survey of secular emphases beginning with Lynn White’s 1967 article on “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” in which the church was indicted for unhelpful anthropocentrism he ends with sociologist Laurel Kearns three ethics or models among Christians in the US: eco-justice, stewardship and creation spirituality. This kind of triad (or trinity) will reappear often in this book in slightly shifting forms and shapes. (p.19) These forms broadly relate to three different theologies of grace: sanctification, redemption and creation. In turn we might recognize the various emphases of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Jenkins ends his introductory chapter with a personal story about his grandparents farm being annexed to allow the expansion of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. As someone who is not altogether familiar with the ethical discussion and debate that is the basis for much of this work, I find having a specific ‘case’ or ‘situation’ in mind helps me to evaluate what I am reading.

So questions for discussion include: a) can you think of personal stories that raise questions of environmental ethics? b) Do you share my suspicion that theologies of salvation might make it easier for many of us to engage the conversation at an existential level? Why or why not?

Annual Council

November 9, 2009

Our Presiding Bishop visited the Diocese of Atlanta for our Annual Council. She answered questions, met with a number of groups and ministries, as well as preaching at the Council Eucharist. She stayed on her message of ‘mission, mission, mission.’ Among the more interesting his she said in answer to a question was that neither she nor the Archbishop of Canterbury had made a statement about the proposed anti-homosexual hate legislation in Uganda at the request of those most affected. They consider that such ecclesial pressure would weaken their cause. A brief excursion into the blogosphere and we find that many people are angered, disgusted and confused as to why there has been no statement. It is not clear to me why the word is no out.

This is what I reported to the vestry about Council:

The presiding Bishop visited the Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta. Among the many things that she said (which I reported at a ‘rector’s forum’ on November 8) was the reality that attendance in worship is down throughout the nation while other indicators of engagement (baptisms, confirmations, membership and financial giving) is up. It seems that we are not alone. Nonetheless I note that vibrant parishes offer a variety of times and styles of worship and wonder what we are doing if worship is not at the center of what we do. We were ably represented by the clergy, Diane Barber, Bruce Garner, Richard Hall, Florence Holmes and Robert Wadell, who enjoyed a number of reports indicating that we are a healthy and leading diocese in the church as well as Cathedral worship at which the PB preached. The various major addresses of council are available here

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Environmental Stewardship

November 5, 2009

With the big meeting in Copenhagen coming up, environmental concerns are moving to the front and center for many eco warriors. I have been struck by a Newsweek editorial by Jon Meacham (November 9, 2009 p.5) in which he shares his more-or-less commitment to recycling but says “It is just that my lightbulbs and Diet Coke cans are not going to make up for the CO2 pouring forth from china’s coal-fired plants.” This echoes my recent post on Ecologies of Grace and fuels (sic) my sense of urgency that I find some kind of existential (or maybe simply emotional) connection to the importance of this work. I understand the ethical importance of caring for the environment and support work in that direction. I hope that those who meet in Copenhagen know whereof they speak and will act accordingly in some way that makes for justice for all.

Meacham believes that “Mammon trumps God” and “Human beings change their behavior only when danger is imminent or when money is at stake”. He hopes that “commerce with a conscience” is going to be the result of concerted government action. We see with the healthcare debate the difficulty of acting for the interest of all over the particular interests of an individual or economic interest group. Can governments express national interest in a way that becomes the equivalent of enlightened self-interest for all people? And can they do it bearing in mind the interconnectedness that means that poor countries still need the ability to grow their economies even while caring for the planet costs money?

Richard Hooker

November 3, 2009

Richard Hooker, whom we remember today, is credited with articulating the theology of the Anglican three-legged authoritative stool of first Scripture, then Tradition and Reason. As such he gave voice to the breadth of the Elizabethan Settlement making for a church that was both Catholic and Reformed, avoiding the excesses, as he saw it of both puritan Calvinism and popish Romanism. The day puts me in mind of a conversation I had with contextual education students at the Candler School of Theology about the strengths and weaknesses of various images or metaphors for the church (‘servant of God’, ‘body of Christ’ etc.). I have long liked the image of the ‘leaky chalice’, -- a container of sorts from which grace is somehow nevertheless dispensed if not always from the intended aperture. The point being that however essential that there be some sort of container or institutional form that is the vehicle by which the people of God pass on the story of the faith, the precise shape of that form is not of ultimate importance. It can, does, and should change over time. An argument over the faith and integrity of the church can all too easily disguise an argument over the power of the clergy, for example. This is why I read, admire and continue to find value in Richard Hooker without worrying too much about the future shape of the Anglican Communion. I do not anticipate it disappearing even though I believe that its essential integrity is in being an expression of catholicity that is first and foremost relational rather than strictly doctrinal or centered on some other authority such as that of a bishop or particular preacher.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ecologies of Grace

November 2, 2009

Ecologies of Grace is the title of a book by Willis Jenkins, (Oxford, 2008), an Episcopalian and the Margaret Farley Assistant Professor of Social Ethics at Yale Divinity School. He teaches environmental theology and ethics. I have been reading and thinking about environmental matters since St. Paul’s, Alexandria, provided significant leadership for the Diocese of Virginia and beyond under the leadership of the late Charles Allen Jr. I know that concern for the environment is important as a matter of stewardship. I have read many works extolling that point of view and many others taking the path that is known as ‘eco-justice’. I am sold as a matter of ethics, oughts and shoulds. I happily and enthusiastically recycle anything that can be recycled, usually remember to turn the tap off while I am brushing my teeth or shaving and make sure that places I work are not using large amounts of Styrofoam. But I have yet to succeed in connecting environmental concern with immediate existential concern. I hope the Kyoto Accord combat global warming (which I believe to be a real issue) and look forward to the day when we can develop the All Saints’ campus in an exemplary way that takes LEED standards as a minimum.

I’m reminded of so much of the work around issues of sexuality which seemed to be using scripture or tradition to make ethical arguments or calls to work of justice and so on. It was not until I read James Alison (our Holy Week preacher of a few years ago) that I read someone who incorporated his discussion of sexuality and reflection on his won experience into fundamental soteriology and so grew to connect ‘the issue’ with everything that really matters to all of us for life. The introductory chapter to Willis Jenkins’ book suggests that he might be able to accomplish something similar. He promises to look a three broad strategies within Christina environmental ethics in addition to some secular approaches. The Christian ones are “ecojustice theologies’, ‘stewardship theologies’ and ‘ecological spiritualities’. This last one, he says, “appropriate(s) themes of deification, by which personal creativity brings all creation into the gift of union with God.” (p. 19) I’m looking forward to finding out what that means and have some hope that this book might be ‘different’.

I plan to comment here as I go in the hopes that some of you might like to read along with me engaging some conversation through the comment section. You can order the book here if you are interested.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lutheran Colleagues

October 27, 2009

I have been with my pastor theologian continuing education and colleague group this year. We have been finishing our work on ‘allegiance and apologetic’ working especially with Daniel and Augustine’s Confessions. More on that later and elsewhere. Three of the group are ELCA Lutherans. (Our friend from the Missouri Synod has H1N1 and could not be with us). They serve in quite different settings from each other and enjoy quite distinctive theological emphases, but they are each dealing with the repercussions in their congregations of decisions of their General Assembly this summer which authorized the possibility of ordaining partnered lesbian and gay people and made a statement that declines to condemn homosexuality as inherently sinful. People in their congregations are showing the whole range of responses that we have experienced over the years at All Saints’, including seeing valued friends taking this as the immediate cause of their leaving the church or striving to get their congregations to separate from the ELCA en masse.

I find myself having a spectrum of reactions: sorrow that they have to go through this; sorrow that there are still so many people who cannot imagine God’s love and grace being at work in these decisions of their wider community of faith; massive relief and gratitude that we are largely through the turmoil of this significant shift in anthropological understanding; tired of discussing homosexuality apart from the reality of the lives of the people that I am given to love and serve and with whom I gather around the Table.

We have talked a lot about the insights of the family system theory of Murray Bowen and the reality that the systems in which we live do and will resist, sabotage, undermine change and otherwise seek stasis. I shared Giles Fraser’s memorable sermon at All Saints’ in which he asked us to change seats and then reflected on our resistance to change, and especially change announced and brought about by God through John the Baptist. We joined in hoping that we could recognize and acknowledge the reality that there is a significant change taking place as we move to a new understanding of homosexual people and that change includes a tipping of the balance of power on these issues in church and state. WE have also hoped that as we are all subject to God’s transforming grace we can help one another in our various disappointments to recover the role of the ‘loyal opposition’ where that is appropriate (rather than leaving in a huff for a place where we can have our preconceptions and beliefs affirmed rather than challenged.) As we have talked about the Communion of Saints’ and the unspeakable love of God expressed as the resurrection of the body after death, we have remembered that whatever happens we will keep working this out in the love of God.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More on the Vatican

October 24, 2009

The Anglican blogosphere is full of little other than commentary on what exactly the Vatican has done or not done with its overture to unhappy Anglicans. The news is apparently of such significance that the New York Times has even devoted space to correspondence about it. A little digging suggests that the legal mechanism that makes possible receptions of groups of Anglicans (as opposed to individual clergy and lay which has been possible for some time) within an ‘Anglican Use’ is in part a response to a breakaway Australian group called the Traditional Anglican Church. Apparently this lot petitioned the Vatican for some kind of recognition over two years ago.

The meaning of ‘Papa Ratzi’s’ (as he is affectionately known in some circles) move appears to be very much in the eye of the beholder. Archbishop Duncan of the breakaway Anglicans in North America has welcomed the pastoral accommodation but points out that there are ‘doctrinal differences’ about such things as clerical celibacy and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (interestingly, sex and power) that continue to divide ‘orthodox’ Anglicans from their RC bretheren. I had thought that most of the separatist groups Had merged into one North American province but apparently they continue to keep distinct identities so that we have Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA issuing his own statement that appears to claim the RC move is somehow a recognition of that outfit distinct from others. In spite of the predictions of various pundits, I think it unlikely that there will be huge numbers of Anglo-Catholics and other conservatives going en masse to Rome.

I continue to dislike the claims implicit in much of the Roman language of ‘reuniting with the Catholic faith’ and the like. Anglicanism has long represented an alternative expression of catholicity to Rome (even if we debate amongst ourselves what exactly is the difference) and one which I see as allowing local relationships to shape catholic expression, worship and doctrine rather than being defined first by doctrine promulgated from on high. I am also concerned that this move seems to be about recognizing and welcoming those who do not like women clergy, and anything resembling the affirmation of GLBT people especially where the episcopate is concerned. If I was looking to unite with ‘like-minded believers’ as one letter in the NYT would have it, I would expect hundreds of thousands of faithful RC adherents to come en masse to Anglican faith and worship even with all the complications of our various commitments.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anglicans and the Vatican

October 20, 2009

Many of you will have seen or heard of the announcement that the Vatican has announced a special accommodation for Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholic. The Archbishop of Canterbury has ‘downplayed’ the significance of this move. The New York Times article cites the Vatican as denying that they are ‘fishing in the Anglican pool’.

My immediate reaction is that I don’t have any trouble with this. There are many Anglican who wish that we were a more clear ‘doctrine first’ kind of Church whereby assent to doctrinal propositions becomes the standard for admission to the sacraments. I have argued here and elsewhere that Anglicanism is first and foremost relational in ways that shape doctrine under the Holy Spirit, but without something like a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Roman Catholic Church is a perfectly good expression of Christian Faith. I resist their succumbing to the temptation of believing that they are the definitive expression of the Christian Faith and that all ecumenical conversation is really about others joining them and coming under ‘their’ umbrella, rather than recognizing that we are all already under God’s umbrella. If we are only distinctive by virtue of history and custom, then we should reunite with Rome forthwith. If we are living the catholic faith with a slightly different emphasis, as I believe, then we should not.

Other news suggests that the Pope is looking to a possible visit to England in conjunction with the beatification of John, Cardinal Newman next year. He has made comments to the effect that Newman subjected his personal preferences and relationships to a greater view of truth expressed in the Roman Communion. That is certainly a view for which argument can be made but in the current climate rings polemical to me.

The Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

The Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

October 15, 2009

I attended a meeting of the board of trustees of BDS/Y. I served for about ten years until five years ago and have recently been re-elected. I was used to hearing upbeat reports while watching significantly challenging financial statements, but this meeting was different. In spite of the drop in the value of our small endowment, we had enjoyed significant benefit for a number of years by allowing the money to be managed alongside the Yale endowment. Even with the significant drop in endowment income we are significantly better off than in the years of my last term. Enrollment is up. Alumni and parish giving has reached levels that are the envy of other Episcopal seminaries. Enrollment is about as high as it can be (even in the three year master of Divinity degree program) without becoming a problem in the ecumenical environment of the Yale Divinity

Students, along with faculty and alumni if they so desire, will soon live by a well crafted ‘rule of life’. It is really more of a guide to expectations in a number of areas of life that are essential to ‘formation’. (I hope that will be available on the school website once it is unveiled.) A series of retreats during the three years of study culminate in a retreat at Canterbury Cathedral. All of this is happening with a skeleton staff and shoestring budget. Students there are not being prepared specifically for parish ministry. They are being prepared for that elusive idea of ‘leadership’. In practice this means that they will be able to function in a number of worlds, differing sized parishes, non profit agencies, political organizations and so on. Anglican life and rhythms of worship, history and so on are considered a ‘first language’ while students are to be educated also in a ‘second language’ of the ecumenical and even interfaith worlds. I am confident that supporting this school is supporting the ministry of the church in powerful and positive ways that will only become manifest at graduates make their marks with a Yale degree and a Berkeley Diploma or Certificate in Anglican Studies.

The future of theological education is also slightly unclear in an environment where over half of newly ordained Episcopal clergy have done the bulk of their training in ‘local programs’ such as the Anglican Studies program at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. (Another great program). As long as this is true many of our traditional seminaries will continue to struggle to keep faculty, maintain buildings, attract students and do the core work for which they exist. I’m not sure there is a ‘right’ answer (such as bishops requiring students to attend Episcopal seminaries) in a world in which many come to such training as a second or third career and are in some ways constrained geographically by family life and commitments. Even thought we always ask questions about and require that a person seeking Holy Orders be geographically flexible, that is hard to bring about in practice if the ordinands’ family do not understand that profession as primary for all of them.

Grace & Holy Trinity, Richmond, Virginia

October 13, 2009

Grace & Holy Trinity Church in Richmond, Virginia is one of a plethora of healthy Episcopal Parishes in the capital of the Confederacy. I have been privileged to be their visiting stewardship preacher and workshop leader for this year. They offer a variety of opportunities for worship that are enjoyed by an average of 300 people each week with more like 375 appearing at this time of the year: a quiet Rite 1 Eucharist with sermon at 7:45 a.m.; a lively 8:45 with plenty of children who leave for a homily at the time of the sermon with music provided by organ, piano and a band of guitars and other instruments; a traditional 11 a.m. Eucharist replaced by Morning Prayer once each month led by a wonderful choir and on the day I was present a quintet from the local chamber group. At 5 p.m. there is a service attended mostly be students from Virginia Commonwealth University that like Georgia State has grown significantly in quality, size and stature in recent years and has grown up around the church in downtown Richmond. This service drew nearly 30 people and was led by clergy and student leaders who receive a tuition scholarship. The music is simple—mostly praise style—not always unsophisticated and often quite beautiful even if the theology is sometimes lacking. That congregation engages with the preacher in some discussion during the sermon. There is something real and lively going on there.

I have not always enjoyed being a ‘visiting preacher’ but did on this occasion. It gave me great sympathy for those we invite to join us to help us engage the spiritual practices of generosity that we encourage during our annual appeals.

I emphasized the spiritual practice of generosity, especially with regard to sustained and sustaining giving. When I wrote to All Saints’ earlier in the fall and in preparation of our annual appeal, I Made some of the same points, suggesting in particular that giving $1 each week would probably be more beneficial than dashing off a cheque for $50 with the pledge card. What I did not make clear and wish that I had was that we are extremely grateful to all those who make a single gift each year and find other ways to engage and express their sustaining love for this community week in and week out.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dining in the Kingdom

October 5, 2009

I have just returned from our parish weekend at Kanuga where the Very Rev’d Mark Bourlakas led us in thinking about ‘Dining in the Kingdom of God’. Drawing primarily from Luke with help from the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ (which he said was produced as comedy but was really more like documentary for his family) he provided some valuable and important insights. He was assisted by his wife, Martha, who addressed some specific challenges of making space at the table for refugees and people with disabilities among others. They were both clear that the Kingdom Table is not for friends only, but for those by whom we are challenged. Mark drew his presentation together by thinking about the meal on the road to Emmaus and made the point that Jesus, the stranger, disappears once he is seen, recognized and known.

I was left with questions about whether and how we can or should draw limits in our lives. Is there ever a time when we should not attempt to offer hospitality? It seems that we cannot give our selves away in love if we are not first a ‘self’. There are clearly some times when I am open to the stranger and the person that I find challenging and others when I am not. It seems to me that in god’s economy there is room for everyone at the table, but that I (and you) are given particular cares and concerns or ‘burdens laid on our hearts’ and it is to those that we must be faithful trusting that God will provide others to care for those for whom we simply cannot make room.

Another set of questions revolve around power. It seems that there can be times when the offer of hospitality is an exercise of power. Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners from a position of weakness and was accused of aband0oning his friends at some level, or perhaps better put, accused of endorsing the actions of those with whom he ate and drank. Are there times when we should not accept offers of hospitality?

I heard from Della Wells, who with Jere is representing us on the Compass Rose Society visit to Malawi. They have been honored with a generous meal while surrounded by starving children and being told that they will cause a riot if they try and give food to any of the children who must watch them eat. The hospitality of their hosts is genuine, but it seems that the food was hard to swallow in such circumstance.

As we move toward organizing and shaping our ministry around formation in the faith and engaging the other we will have to confront questions such as these head on, even recognizing that there are no simple answers and no ‘law’ that will allow us to justify ourselves.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Church Planting in England

October 1, 2009

On my visit to England I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the religion reporter for the Sunday Telegraph who you may recall had picked up my blog piece about possible futures for TEC including our being removed from real relationship with the communion. We might then form alliances that would, among other things, begin church planting in England. There are a host of problems with such a proposal while we are still part of the Anglican picture, not least of which is that England (contrasted with Europe) is a province of the church. That does not change the reality that there is a great deal of frustration in England as best I can tell about the top-down realities of the C of E and the challenge of effective mission in an environment in which as much as 90% of parish giving might be expected to go for wider and worthy diocesan ministries without any affective or emotional ‘ownership’ on the part of people in the pews.

A taxi driver, most of whose comments appeared to be from the ‘radical left’ of the political spectrum deplored the ‘nanny state’ which appeared to him to be increasingly invasive and attempted to usurp individual liberties. This cannot be unrelated to increasingly high levels of taxation, --nowhere near those of the 70s but much higher than in the US— which appeared to stifle creativity, imagination and risk. (Why bother?) There are many institutions, staffed by caring people, doing good work hat would be threatened by any proposal to let parishes decide how much to pay their clergy and which missions they will support in their regions. There would be less need for administrative structures as a result. This is not my problem to solve, but I heard the Archbishop at the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society wondering about what kind of heart for the gospel he was seeing in some ordinands who appeared to be constricted by scruple or preference as to what kind of parish they might be willing to serve. I also heard others admiring the church planting work of Holy Trinity, Brompton, home of the Alpha Course who seem to be making things work in a slightly uneasy relationship with their parent institution.

I read a short autobiography of Donald Reeves, one time rector of St. James’, Piccadilly whom Margaret Thatcher once called ‘a most dangerous man’. He revived St. James’ as place of relevant ministry and gospel life in the heart of London during his tenure as rector but found himself constantly at odds with and frustrated by the institutional drains which harmed rather than helped his ministry as he saw things. At All Saints’ we are talking about how to be alive and relevant rather than complacent and dying in the years to come. We are blessed to be part of a wider church that recognizes that healthy parishes are the foundation for the ministries we carry out together as dioceses and General Church. We know that all ministry is essentially and fundamentally local and that anything else has the potential to inhibit the proclamation of the gospel as much as serve it.

The Bible in the Church

October 1, 2009

On project that is getting underway under the auspices of the Anglican Communion Office is called ‘The Bible in the Church’. We were introduces to this work at the Compass Rose Meeting. Essentially this is an international project to help Anglicans become aware of the hermeneutic or interpretive principles that they bring (in fact rather than in theory) to the interpretation of the scriptures. I am not optimistic that we will be able to develop or discover ‘Anglican’ hermeneutic principles. I am more hopeful that we can discover what is valuable about distinctive principles.

While I was in England I also took another look at an old book by Lyle Schaller looking at alternative futures and strategic planning for churches. I wanted to make sure that we were covering all the bases with our prayer, process and planning. I am daily more convinced that the direction that is emerging within our committee, vestry and staff both honors our historic concerns and commitments as a parish and offers an exciting way to conceive and shape our work going forward. I do not expect us to come up with one of those plans with seven strategic initiatives and fifteen tactical bullet points ‘to do ‘lists under each one. At this point I expect that we will agree on an understanding of defining vision that will shape all of our ministries in a variety of ways over time. It will be along the lines of emphasizing our commitment to formation for confident Christian Faith (remembering our foundation as a Sunday School) and seeing the essential mission of ‘engaging the other’ as a way of describing what we do (remembering our commitment to ministries of justice in the world). I can imagine changes as a result of such a vision that would be radical if we tried to order everything about our parish in this way on day one, which over time will be more understood as development of who we are.

Recognizing, understanding and appreciating difference is easier said than done. This has been the mission statement of an organization about which I have written before called Visions-Inc. Whether or not and to what extent they might be helpful to us as we seek to respond to the Gospel remains to be seen. What I do not doubt is that it will be hard to find the greater unity beyond clear and contradictory interpretive principles about scripture which lead to clear and contradictory conclusions about ethics or the preferred shape of the society on which we live. I do not believe that it is God’s desire that we separate from those with whom we disagree (especially at the points at which we feel our position is coming to the fore or we feel that our power is being eroded.) That means that we have to find a bigger vision and hold fast our trust in God’s fidelity to us. When I am back with my books I will take another look at Margaret Wheatley’s book Leadership and the New Science which I remember as a book that looked at things like chaos theory and fractals in terms of an ever-widening perspective in what is ‘real’, allowing us to be clear and honest about the tensions we know are present in our relationships with each other while holding fast a greater vision of the way in which God sees all of creation.

The Compass Rose 2009

October 1, 2009

The Compass Rose Society is reclaiming its original identity as a missional and connective society in the Anglican Communion and moving away from trying to raise money for projects (however worthy) of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). As such it is once again showing signs of being the kind of society I thought we were joining when All Saints’ became a member in 1999. We were represented at the meeting by Della and Jere Wells who are joining the study and mission journey to Malawi for the next week. Sam and Boog Candler were also present from Atlanta. Sam is on the board of the society. They are doing the work of making connections between people within and throughout the Anglican Communion. We are proclaiming that our need for connection across boundaries and our unity in Christ is greater than our need to be theologically correct. Members of the Society are individuals, families parishes and dioceses (from Episcopal and at least one ‘breakaway’ parish) who make an initial gift equivalent to $10,000 or more and then continue to give at least $2,000 each year for projects either supported as a result of a society visit to a part of the church in need and in the company of the Secretary General of the ACC or at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. You can learn more here, and I would be glad to talk to anyone interested in joining, doing extraordinary work and enjoying the privilege of dinner with Archbishop and Mrs. Williams as long as they are gracious enough to host us.

This year we were to be addressed by the Bishop of Jerusalem who was denied permission to travel out of Ben-Gurion airport only days before he was due to leave. As a Palestinian, he could have left through Jordan but did not have time to make those arrangements. His report was emailed and read to us. In it he referenced the extraordinary difficulty of travel imposed by the Israeli authorities. This was one more example of how difficult things can be for anyone who lives in what the Bishop calls ‘The Land of the Holy One’. Appeals that are based on the sufferings of Palestinians are always dodgy to my ears unless they also acknowledge the reality that many Palestinians and their allies are committed to the eradication of Israel and the denial of their right to exist as a nation. I know that the sufferings of Palestinians are real and I know that Christians are a shrinking minority among Palestinians. I also know that when push comes to shove the predominant Palestinian identity is Arab and Muslim and that identity will ‘trump’ the others. I am nervous about the tendency of Anglicans to give uncritical support to the Palestinians without clear statements that Israel exists and should be able to exist without being threatened by its neighbors. At the same time it must be possible for us to question Israeli policies without being declared anti Jewish or suggesting ‘moral equivalency’.

At dinner we were able to ask the Archbishop questions. He is very good at taking the questions seriously and giving thoughtful answers.

I asked: “Our bishops came home from the Lambeth Conference wondering when the Church of England was going to join the Anglican Communion. What do you imagine they meant by this question and what, if any, response would you like to make?”

In his answer, he thought it possible that some English bishops have an over exalted view of their position which might give an unfortunate impression. He was quick to defend the C of E as being a church in which every diocese puts considerable resources toward relationships in the wider communion. These are the kind of answers I would probably have offered were I in his shoes. They do not of course address the realities of power in the communion or any particular way in which some apparently view the C of E as avoiding entering the communion fray. I note this as observation without judgment implied.

I was heartened to hear the Archbishop recognize (albeit with some gloom) that we may be headed to a covenant that some Anglican provinces cannot sign, but which doe not represent the end of the world. We will still be the church in mission, caring for the neediest among u and establishing relationships in Christ throughout the world. It is my impression that as The Episcopal Church has continued to define itself, so the Archbishop has become clear about what he wants and what he sees as the way forward. The consequence of that greater definition appears to be the most people are settling down and happy enough to let things play out without the sense that there is a power vacuum which bishops in Durham, Lagos and elsewhere are quick to seek to fill.


October 1, 2009

It has been wonderful being back in England for a few days. I was able to celebrate my father’s birthday at one wonderful restaurant and see one of my oldest friends (about to be married and move to Australia) at another. The best meal was lunch in the company of other friends at Rousillon. These were all squeezed in around the annual meeting of the Compass Rose Society (see next entry) including dinner at Lambeth Palace. Each day I was able to run and walk around various places in Central and West London. The city is noticeably and more than I remember polyglot, visible in the mix of races and costumes, the shops, other businesses, billboards and the newspapers.

At the same time I re-read a book from long ago: John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy which captures so much of the England I knew from thirty years ago with all the characteristic attitudes expressed by the characters of the novel. Last year my book club wondered whether Le Carre could be read as serious fiction and this book should leave no one in doubt about the correct answer.

All of which is to say that rather than finding myself nostalgic, I found myself energized in the same way I used to experience excitement and anticipation as I took a train into New York City. (I see that is the subject of Edward Rutherford’s latest book, --one that I will read before long.) It is not so much the institutional expressions of England that captured my imagination on this trip. The death throes of ‘new labor’ under Gordon Brown were on the front pages most days and the Church qua institution shows no discernible signs of life. I was more aware of a sense of possibility, a kind of renewal, even with all the problems we have with coming to terms with difference. We can make a start through recognizing, understanding and even appreciating what difference can mean and wresting some positive outcomes from the challenges of a multi cultural, multinational, multi faith world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Compass Rose Annual Meeting

September 23, 2009

Next week I will attend the annual Meeting of the Compass Rose Society which includes the wonderful privilege of dinner at Lambeth Palace hosted by Archbishop and Mrs. Williams. Generally there is a question and answer period before hand with the Archbishop. In some years when I have been in attendance he could be forgiven, based on the questions, for thinking that all those who support the Anglican Communion and wish to see it thrive are ardent supporters of the move toward some kind of Anglican Covenant behind which he has chosen to throw his support.

He takes the questions written on cards from members of the society in attendance, reads them verbatim and answers them thoughtfully and thoroughly. I’m chewing on what I would like to ask him and would welcome (with no promises implied) any suggestions you might have.

Anne Graham Lotz

September 23, 2009

Newsweek (September 21, 2009 p.17) reports that Billy Graham’s daughter is promoting a new book called The Magnificent Obsession. She is quoted as saying “Religion is an impediment to knowing God…Procedures, rituals, creeds: how in the world can they help you connect with God?...If you’re sprinkled when you’re baptized or dunked when you’re baptized, it doesn’t matter as far as your salvation goes.” She does also leave some room for finding fellow travelers when she says “You can really love the Lord, but after a while, if you’re all by yourself, the fire goes cold.”

I met Ms. Lotz in 1983 (although there is no reason why she would remember me.) I was a newly ordained deacon and went with some parishioners to the immensely popular Bible Study Fellowship in Raleigh where she was a primary teacher. Even then it was clear that individual salvation was her concern and that there was not sense of church, except perhaps as an optional extra. There was certainly no explicit theology of church, or the place of the church in the life of faith, or ecclesiology. I thought of this then as I do now as the Christian equivalent of being ‘spiritual, not religious’. It is a reasonable resistance to the idea that any ‘experience’ (of salvation or anything else spiritual) is necessarily mediated in some way. The problem is that there is no such thing as the unmediated experience, --at least at the point at which we think about describing it in words.

There is a sense, then, in which the Church mediates our experience of
Christ through the ways in which we tell and respond to the story of Jesus, generation to generation. I’m with Ms. Lotz in resisting prideful claims to have the only and authoritative way of telling and interpreting the story. I’m not with her in considering Christian Community to be either optional or dispensable.

End of Life

September 23, 2009

Some things have become clear in the health care conversation. One is that providing insurance for everyone is going to cost money and that money is going to have to come from somewhere. Two is that people who are currently insured do not want to lose the coverage that they have and that with a change in the system there is some likelihood that something will change for everyone involved. Three is that no one really knows what drives health care costs and that if there is not to be overt rationing of resources then our behavior has to be changed in some way regardless of insurance, if we are going to reduce or manage the amount and proportion of GNP (or whatever) our society spends on health care. Each and maybe all of these realities are going to be resisted by someone. We have more or less adjusted to the changes that brought about ‘managed care’ and those changes, while not fun, appear to have slowed the rate of growth in health care costs, and we can all adapt to any changes that come out of the current reform.

My instinct is that it is the third of these issues (cost control) that generates the most difficulties for us because it is so hard to know exactly what is driving costs in the first place. Is it doctor’s insurance in a litigious society? The cost of development of drugs and ever-more-accurate, ever-more-expensive diagnostic tools? (Hands up everyone who has ever had and MRI for a headache.) The existence of good insurance with little or no ‘co payments’? Insurance Company shareholders insisting on profits? Or is it just a plain old combination of these and a host of other factors all being driven by our fundamental fear of death? Apparently 30 percent of Medicare costs relate to the last six months of life. I can think of numerous situations in the past thirty years where medical costs near the end of life could have been reduced and treatment in the face of death made a great deal more humane for everyone (patients, families, nurses and doctors) if only there had been some serious conversation about the patient’s wishes while she or he were able to have those conversations. My attorney always addresses the need for a medical power of attorney whenever I revise my will (which is good), but that doesn’t really lead to lead to clarity. I can say quite clearly that I want aggressive and expensive treatments to have a more than 70% likelihood of being effective in restoring me to some kind of enjoyable quality of life, and I want the people who know and love me to judge what that would be for me. I do not want to say that there is no point or worth in a life in which a person is severely handicapped or incapacitated. I do not want to make those kinds of decisions for others and I certainly don’t want any laws that could lead to pressure on patients to do anything other than affirm life (even though I suspect that some things that pass for affirmation-of-life are really a far of death that is part and parcel of an already-happened spiritual death.)
Years ago, when it was still common to be in the hospital for eight weeks following a hysterectomy, for example, I put on a well attended Sunday School class on ‘the hospital experience’. A chaplain talked about end of life choices and planning. Afterwards a doctor, who acknowledged that he had gone into reconstructive surgery in part because of his abhorrence of death, asked some pointed questions. The chaplain’s response was affirming of the concerns and work of that doctor. He said “When I go to the doctor, I’m not really looking to speak with someone who is comfortable with death. I want someone who is gong to make me better.” Well said. The doctor’s office is not the place for conversations about choices at the end of life to happen any more than meeting with a bereaved family is the time to teach what makes for good liturgical choices about funerals. But those conversations need to happen somewhere and regularly if there is to be any hope of really controlling health care costs through changed behavior. We don’t want to reduce or be cavalier in any way about the importance of the gift of life. At the same time we don’t need to be turning some technical measure of life (breathing, heartbeat, brain activity) into an idol. We can put on classes and create safe spaces for conversation, but what will make us want or need to attend?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Niqab in France

September 7, 2009

The debate over Nicholas Sarkosky’s attempts to ban the wearing of the niqab in France gets at much of the dilemma I experience in relation to Islam. If you do a search for relevant articles, look for the burqa rather than the niqab. The burqa is the head covering worn by some Muslim women in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere which has a gill of some kind covering a woman’s eyes, where the niqab leaves a slit in the head covering making a woman’s eyes visible to others. The hijab is a headscarf which is often worn by Muslim women in America.

The view of some in France, as I understand it, is that these head coverings are signs of the oppression of women in a male dominated religious culture and therefore fundamentally at odds with the liberal values of secular France. Some Muslim women however point out that they are French nationals, often born in France, who are highly educated and who choose to wear the niqab as a sign of their own religious commitment to modesty in a secular state which they see as having no moral boundaries or center. So is this a question of civil rights or freedom of religion?

I have seen some blog sites in which many of the commentators are convinced that the fundamental underlying issue represents neither civil rights nor religious freedom but a full fledged hatred of Islam and a determined effort to make France inhospitable to that faith.

My efforts to understand my own responses to Islam have led me to read Islam Under Siege (Polity, 2003) and Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (Brookings Institution Press, 2007), both by Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He identifies three primary streams or models for Islam which he identifies with three places in South India.

The stream he associates with ‘Ajmer’, home of the founder of the Chisti order and sympathetic to those familiar with the more mystical traditions of Islam represented by Rumi and generally familiar as Sufism. Adherents of this model can be austere and puritanical all the way to people who might use drugs and or alcohol, (prohibited in Islam) in service of their mystical pursuits.

The ‘Deoband’ model includes all mainstream Islamic movements from the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia to the Muslim brotherhood or Hamas in the Middle East. They all seek to trace their view of the world to Muslim tradition in a conscious way. Ahmed would include Ibn Taymiyya from the past and Syed Qtub more recently among those who represent this model. Our friends at the Al-Farook Masjid of Atlanta would fall into this broad category which can include that minority who resort to terror all the way to people simply trying to keep the traditions of their tribe or culture in foreign lands.

‘Aligarh’ represents a modernist Muslim response to the world. This is where Ahmed finds himself and bemoans the declining influence of the movement as many of his coreligionists (and many conservatives of other faith streams) seek to reject Modernism and its consequences in the face of globalization with no perceivable moral center. This model includes genuine democrats and military dictators (Muhammad Abduh in Egypt in the 19th century to the Shah more recently. They wish to preserve what is essential to Islam while engaging modern ideas. They may be extremely devout or effectively ‘secular’.

Clearly none of these models provide and exact match to the complexities of Judaism or Christianity, but they help us see the same trajectory of growing conservatism in reaction to what many perceive as a world out of control, a world of instant communication and no moral guiding principles, a world in which global markets are good at creating wealth but dreadful at distributing it in any way that makes for community or justice, a world in which the gaps between rich and poor are growing ever more severe.

The excellent Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks has pointed a way toward addressing these challenges in another excellent book called The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (Continuum, 2002), in which he argues for constructive engagement between peoples of faith.

The French debate about the niqab does not admit of simple or simplistic analysis but points to a whole host of issues and challenges in the large sweeping currents that affect all of our lives.

More to follow in due course.