Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where are the Episcopal and Anglican Bloggers?

Or, how I tried to make the most up-to-date blogroll of Episcopalians/Anglicans and nearly lost my mind...

So, if you look over to the right, you will see that I have a blogroll of Episcopal/Anglican blogs and websites.

I made this thing because...

"Blogging Episcopalians'" site hasn't been updated since the Pleistocene Age;
the Episcopal Church's website has just a handful;
I wanted some good stuff to read as I began my Episcopal/ spiritual blog;
no one else seemed to be doing it;
I am obsessive that way;
I love a challenge (see above).

So, if you know any good Episcopalian/Anglican blogs or websites, please let me know about them, and I will include them in the blogroll. Now, the rules are that these must be active blogs or websites. I pretty much eliminated anyone who hasn't posted or updated in a month. They can be snarky, but no haters.

I am also interested in other faith blogs, especially from mainline traditions. If you have any current ones of these, also please consider sending them my way.


Can milk be unspilled? Man asks to be "de-baptized"

If you think theological issues are misunderstood here in America, wait till you see this: A 70 year old Frenchman has sued in court to be "de-baptized," and a court in Normandy has sided with him.

In France, an elderly man is fighting to make a formal break with the Catholic Church. He's taken the church to court over its refusal to let him nullify his baptism, in a case that could have far-reaching effects.

Seventy-one-year-old Rene LeBouvier's parents and his brother are buried in a churchyard in the tiny village of Fleury in northwest France. He himself was baptized in the Romanesque stone church and attended mass here as a boy. LeBouvier says this rural area is still conservative and very Catholic, but nothing like it used to be. Back then, he says, you couldn't even get credit at the bakery if you didn't go to mass every Sunday. LeBouvier grew up in that world and says his mother once hoped he'd become a priest. But his views began to change in the 1970s, when he was introduced to free thinkers.

As he didn't believe in God anymore, he thought it would be more honest to leave the church. So he wrote to his diocese and asked to be un-baptized. "They sent me a copy of my records, and in the margins next to my name, they wrote that I had chosen to leave the church," he says.

That was in the year 2000. A decade later, LeBouvier wanted to go further. In between were the pedophile scandals and the pope preaching against condoms in AIDS-racked Africa, a position that LeBouvier calls "criminal." Again, he asked the church to strike him from baptismal records. When the priest told him it wasn't possible, he took the church to court.

Last October, a judge in Normandy ruled in his favor. The diocese has since appealed, and the case is pending.

"One can't be de-baptized," says Rev. Robert Kaslyn, dean of the School of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America. Kaslyn says baptism changes one permanently before the church and God. "One could refuse the grace offered by God, the grace offered by the sacrament, refuse to participate," he says, "but we would believe the individual has still been marked for God through the sacrament, and that individual at any point could return to the church."

French law states that citizens have the right to leave organizations if they wish. Loup Desmond, who has followed the case for the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, says he thinks it could set a legal precedent and open the way for more demands for de-baptism. "If the justice confirms that the name Rene LeBouvier has to disappear from the books, if it is confirmed, it can be a kind of jurisprudence in France," he says.

Up to now, observers say the de-baptism trend has been marginal, but it's growing. In neighboring Belgium, the Brussels Federation of Friends of Secular Morality reports that 2,000 people asked to be de-baptized in 2010. The newspaper Le Monde estimated that about 1,000 French people a year ask to have their baptisms annulled.

There is much anger across the continent by the recent pedophile scandals. In September, Germans marched to protest the pope's visit.

Christian Weisner, who is with the German branch of the grassroots movement We Are Church, says Europeans still want religion, and they want to believe, but it has become very difficult within the Catholic Church. "It's the way that the Roman Catholic Church has not followed the new approach of democracy, the new approach of the women's issue," he says, "and there is really a big gap between the Roman Catholic Church and modern times."

Back at the church in Fleury, LeBouvier stands by his parents' grave. When asked if the case has ruined his chances of being buried in the family plot, he says he doesn't have to worry about that. He's donating his body to science.
 I guess he could be removed from the baptismal rolls, and the Roman Catholic Church will probably be forced to do that. But even once his name is gone from the rolls, he still has been baptized. You can't unburn toast. You can't unbreak a glass. You can't un-baptize someone, either.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On using the Bible as the basis for defintion of marriage

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, has had comments printed in the press warning the British government not to legalize gay marriage:
“Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” says Dr Sentamu. “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are."
First of all, marriage is not a private matter, nor is it purely a religious matter OR purely a civil matter.

Marriage is a matter of civil control as an issue of contract, as an issue of property, and as an issue of inheritance, just to name the basic universals regardless of what country in which one lives. Here in America, marriage is also vitally involved in sharing of health care benefits and power in health care directives, as well. That is why you MUST get a marriage license for a marriage to be valid, but you do NOT have to have a religious ceremony for a marriage to be valid. The religious ceremony is optional.

Now, here in America, we often blend the two facets of marriage together, which partially obscures the reality of the two separate facets of marriage. But in Europe that is not how the system works. Couples go to the City Hall and have the civil ceremony, and then have a religious ceremony if they so desire it.

There are a lot of lovely traditions associated with marriage. But most of them are not Biblically based, and thank God for that, because, particularly in the Old Testament, marriage is not an institution which I as a woman would have wanted any part of.  Examples of polygamy are rife throughout the Old Testament. Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Saul, David and Solomon all had at least two wives and Solomon and David had many more. Deuteronomy 21:15-16 reminds men that they may not cheat their first-born son of his inheritance, even if he is the son of the less-favored wife. And then there was the issue of concubines. Lot's daughters got him drunk and had sons with him "to continue the inheritance." Granted, the refusal to practice monogamy almost always caused all kinds of trouble--think of Abraham and Hagar and then Sarah, or David and Bathsheba for something truly horrible from an ethical and moral standpoint. So to appeal to the Bible as a source of tradition and authority when dealing with the definition of marriage is to me completely reckless and ill-informed.

The fact is that the definition of marriage has never been set in stone. Most of us ignore St. Paul's advice that the best way to live is as a celibate-- although, he basically says between gritted teeth, get married if you must. Nice. Although brought up by a Christian mother, St. Augustine himself had a child with a woman who was not his wife before his reconversion experience. Throughout most of human history marriages usually lasted only a few years due to low life expectancies and high maternal death rates, in particular. It's hardly the modern era that invented step-mothers, step-siblings, half-siblings and so on. Think about classic fairy tales just as a starting point and you will realize that the so-called "nuclear family" is almost coterminous with the Nuclear Age.

Getting back to the consideration of gay marriage which initiated the interview with the Archbishop of York, the fact is that the word "marriage" connotes legal rights as well as religious significance. I used to believe that giving gay people all of the legal rights of marriage was sufficient, and so "civil partnerships" would be all that were required. I used to joke that I didn't believe gay people should have the right to marry, since they have already suffered so much (not intended as a slap at my husband, by the way, just letting my inner Henny Youngman out). And certainly, I guess civil partnerships are better by far than nothing.

But there is certainly something sacred to me about the religious concept of marriage, especially as someone who has been married for 23 years during all kinds of struggles as well as blessings throughout the course of that relationship. And how can I claim that God loves us all equally if I would also argue that God would deny any such a blessing? I would like to see MORE people dedicate themselves to the real commitment that marriage should signify-- including many people who already have the right to marry and yet fail to actually understand what marriage should mean in terms of their own behavior.

Some here in the US have argued that once gay people are given the right to marry, we would have to allow pedophiles to marry children (haven't noticed too much demand for that, but...) or practitioners of bestiality to marry animals. Ignoring the hateful aspect of remarks that lump faithful gay couples with such exploitative behavior, let me also point out that in those two examples, neither children nor animals are legally able to consent to intercourse nor to form contracts just as the most obvious refutation of this line of "reasoning." 

I would also think that anyone who is willing to make a commitment that promotes honor, fidelity, stability, selflessness, and devotion should be encouraged as a counterbalance to a flawed, fragmented society that usually glaringly not just lacks but denigrates these same honorable concepts.

Even in the Bible.

Interesting discussions for and against the Anglican Covenant

Interesting discussion at the Lead about the most current trends in the debate over an Anglican Covenant can be found here:

The text of the pamphlet by Peter Doll can be downloaded as a .pdf file here: Be ready for some pretty bitter (but hardly original coming from our British cousins) invective of Americans as imperialist, arrogant, impatient, narcissistic boobs who have of course created this whole mess all by our little lonesomes.

And here is a rousing defense of we arrogant American Anglicans by one of our English brethren, the Rev. Jonathan Clatworthy, here: His refutation of the parochialism and illogic of some of the arguments presented by Doll in his attack upon America are quite well done, and I highly commend it.

Other commentary can be found here and here

Friday, January 27, 2012

What Eucharist says about us

I saw this article about a situation in England this morning and it got me to thinking. First, here's the article from the HuffingtonPost, with relevant links:
Clare Ellarby says her child wasn't allowed to take his first Holy Communion because he has Down Syndrome.
In a letter from the Diocese of Leeds, Ellarby was told that her seven-year-old Denum Ellarby lacks the "concentration" necessary to prepare for Communion, according to the BBC. The Diocese also said children can "only proceed to the sacrament of First Communion when they take part in the Church's life and understand the Church's faith".

"It's just disgusting," Ellarby told the BBC. "I feel really let down by the Catholic faith."

A spokesperson for the diocese told the Catholic Herald "Denum's family has not participated in the regular life of the Church or in the preparation preceding First Communion. We hope that this will change as Denum grows and we are working with him and his family to help him achieve this."

The Christian Post reports that Clare and Denum's father Darren have started a petition in support of their son.

"They need to have more compassion," Clare Ellarby told the Post. "What they are doing is so cruel."
Now anyone who has ever been to Catholic Mass, particularly as a non-Roman Catholic, knows that the Roman Church takes quite seriously the idea that participation in communion implies one's full allegiance to the Roman Church. Non-Catholics need not step forward, because the table is not open to them. That's fine, and is certainly their right (I almost said "rite," but I am trying to be serious here). Those who partake in communion are expected to have a deep understanding of the act as it is understood by church doctrine, and it is presumed that non-Catholics do not share this understanding; hence it would be a mockery of a most sacred thing to pretend that mutual understanding exists where it doesn't by allowing non-Roman Catholics to take Communion.

The understanding of Eucharist (as we Anglican types sometimes prefer to call it, since we use the term "Communion" for other things, such as "Anglican Communion") here in the Episcopal Church, at least, is evolving. There are some who believe that Eucharist should only be given to baptized Christians who have made a conscious expression of faith and understanding, such as a Confirmation or First Communion, which I am not sure that the Episcopal Church does any more but is the Roman Catholic practice as we saw from the article above. There are others who believe-- and I attend a church that believes this-- that as soon as children (usually one who has been baptized, but I assure you that no one is checking for residue of chrism at the altar rail) reach out their precious little hands for the bread, they are gladly yet carefully given it, all the while hoping that it actually ends up in the mouth and not turned into a projectile. This is based on the idea of children being true children of God, especially if the children are, after all, baptized Christians. Also relevant, of course, is Jesus' admonition to his disciples not to prevent children from approaching him in Luke 18:15-16. Then there are those who offer communion to anyone in attendance at church, regardless of baptismal status or lack thereof, or knowledge of the same. And obviously, this is not an issue for those churches who do not administer communion as a part of their worship.

But to look at the case in hand: just how much of a "right" is it that a child be allowed to go through First Communion if they are cognitively (or behaviorally) challenged? Could it be that the Church is right to say that First Communion is not really a matter of age, and that perhaps the child in this case, Denum Ellarby, will be able later to go through this ritual if his understanding improves? Frankly, the argument that First Communion is not age-specific is undercut by the fact that the Roman parish where I worked as a teacher had all of their 1st graders go through the ceremony of First Communion if they had completed the classes. 

Now, Denum's mother admits that she was unable to get Denum to the first class. But when she inquired later, she was told that the class was "full." Full? Really? That's a bit of gatekeeping I find potentially troubling, personally. Also, and I am not trying to be snarky here, really, but I am not too sure how far the Ellarby family is going to get pushing an argument that "rights" were violated. There really doesn't seem to be a view to be discerned based upon actions of the clergy in the last few years that Catholic laity have any "rights" at all, beyond the right to obey. And perhaps the Roman Catholic Church in England is different than the one here, but I have seen kids of nominal Catholics be allowed to go to PSR and Confirmation classes without too much fuss.

I am not Roman Catholic, but I believe this incident presents a question to all Christians. My interest here is in the understanding of Communion beyond the Roman Catholic Diocese of Leeds' interpretation. 

Is it necessary that a person comprehend the theology of Eucharist in order to be able to receive it? Let's understand that, if we affirm this, we are then moving by extension toward a position that people with Alzheimer's or other neurological or mental health issues should also be denied communion. This also calls into the question of Last Rites or Extreme Unction, in which communion is administered to people who are in many cases partially, or barely, conscious.

Further, what does Eucharist say about us? Is it really a testing or winnowing mechanism to separate the goats from the lambs? Or is it an expression of God's acceptance of us? Is it a blessing to remind us that we all should also accept each other as children of God, no matter how imperfect our understanding of God's manifold and great mysteries as well as mercies? 

My answer is this:
Communion not only implies understanding on the part of the partaker but also acceptance and love on the part of the community gathered around the Table as a sign of God's acceptance of us as part of the body of Christ. As Communion is a sign of God's love for us, so our table-fellowship is a reflection of that unmerited love when we extend it to others.

We Episcopalians may know, especially if one attends a Rite I service, the Prayer of Humble Access:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
I think this is a beautiful bit of Eucharistic theology that expresses to me some amazing truths. Rite I also expresses that God should help us to "worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filed with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him..."

Perhaps Denum Ellarby has not demonstrated that he understands the concept of Communion. Will he ever be able to demonstrate sufficient understanding? Neither we, nor the diocesan officials in Leeds, can say for certain. The admission to Communion in the Roman Catholic Church is serious business, as I stated at the onset. But turn that another way: do the authorities then want to take the chance that this child of God, member of the Roman Catholic Church that he is, be denied a precious sacrament, indeed, a sacrament that denotes his membership in that said Church besides the Church Universal, for his entire life?  He is already part of the Body of Christ, no matter what. That is the awesome thing, and being admitted to Communion is supposed to be a recognition of that fact. After all, this child was born this way, and according to common decency but also to well-publicized anti-abortion stances of the Roman church, his life is just as precious and beloved to God and therefore to us as anyone else's.

Perhaps Denum Ellarby has not outwardly demonstrated that he understands the concept of grace, but he is certainly himself living evidence of the concept of grace. He is most certainly a child of God and a member of the kingdom of God, as that passage in Luke attests. So are his family members, regardless of how often they can attend Mass (yes, I know it is an obligation according to Roman Catholic doctrine, but there are also exceptions in the case of illness or being physically unable to attend).

What would Jesus say? He did not speak about rules for attendance at Communion. He did not discuss Church doctrine, because there was no Church during Jesus' lifetime, regardless of what those "Catholics Come Home" commercials claim. But he did say this: 

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

Denum Ellarby cannot climb up into Jesus' embrace like those children in the painting to the right. But he, and all of us who see through a mirror darkly, can partake of the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. And the Church, broken, stumbling, and yet striving to become the kingdom of God it is called to be, should not hinder him.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An amazing search, an amazing life

Check this out. Fascinating. I will be reading this book.

Fishing For People

Mark 1:14-20, 3rd Sunday After Epiphany

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

The Episcopal Church is losing members.  This much is certain:
Membership in the Episcopal Church in 2010 was 2,125,012, with 1,951,907 in its domestic dioceses and 173,105 in the non-domestic dioceses, according to a report here. Membership in the church’s domestic dioceses in 2009 was 2,006,343, showing a decrease of 54,436 in 2010.
 What are we to do? Should we do anything?

There has been discussion over at the Episcopal Cafe here on what is non-negotiable-- what we will absolutely not be able to give up in the quest to open ourselves to new growth. There has been debate over the prayer book, the hymn, the liturgy, and a host of other things.

There's been this great post by Bill Carrol on how we should tell our story (And here is the link to his blog-- the link at Episcopal Cafe is not working).

And there's this one by George Clifford about the treasures our Episcopal Church holds.

I wonder if it has ever occurred to the PTB to ask those of us who came to the  Episcopal Church from elsewhere why we came. I mean, there are many in the pews who have made the journey themselves. I sometimes wonder why there continues to exist this divide between "cradle Episcopalians" and... there's not even a term for it. In the back of their minds, do those born into the Episcopal Church consider us "converts?"

Perhaps in a way we are. But regardless, it is usually those who have CHOSEN a church who hold the most devout feelings for that church. I know for me, the Episcopal Church is not a default position but a choice I freely made.

The things that pulled me inexorably to the Episcopal Church were these, in no particular order:
1) The respect for the minds and judgment of the people in the pews to debate and wrangle with questions of faith. We do not have any top-down hierarchy decreeing every little point of theology has to be understood in only one particular way.

2) The liturgy. It revives and inspires the soul. It is based on ancient practice, yes, but it speaks to my modern soul and raises that soul up to praise and worship of the divine creator, mother, father, mystery, eternal love.

3) The music. Some of the most beautiful melodies are found in our hymnal and other hymnals used in my parish.

4) The people. Due to the respect the Episcopal Church holds for those in the pews, you have some of the most wonderful people I have ever met here. Loving, happy people and struggling journeyers, couples and singles and widows and children and old folks and teenagers. All are here. All are welcomed. Women and men are respected equally. Old and young are respected equally.

5. The prayer book. There are so many ways to spend time listening and talking to Almighty God, and many of the most beautiful prayer forms are found right here or in the prayer books of other Churches in the Anglican Communion. Wherever you are you can pray part of the daily office or a prayer and know that there are others all around the world praying the same prayer with you. For whenever two are three are gathered together, Christ is in the midst of them.

6. The willingness of the Church to continue to examine its mission and to reach out to the most marginalized in society. Even when some of those are being marginalized bu others in the Anglican Communion. Especially when some of those are being marginalized by others in the Anglican Communion.

We do need to make clear what we offer. If I didn't believe that our church has so much to offer to so many joyful, thoughtful, prayerful, searching, loving, or hurting souls, I wouldn't be here, because of course, I am all of those things myself.

Cast down your nets.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Prophetic Call: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

 "The church has an opportunity and a duty to lift up its voice like a trumpet and declare unto the people the immorality of segregation. It must affirm that every human life is a reflection of divinity, and that every act of injustice mars and defaces the image of God in man. The undergirding philosophy of segregation is diametrically opposed to the undergirding philosophy of our Judeo-Christian heritage, and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot make them lie down together.

But declarations against segregation, however sincere, are not enough. The church must take the lead in social reform. It must move out into the arena of life and do battle for the sanctity of religious commitments. And it must lead men along the path of true integration, something the law cannot do."
-- The Rev. Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Call Sunday

January 15, besides being the day we Episcopalians celebrate in 2012 as the second Sunday in Epiphany; as well as the observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., prophet and saint; is also known as "Call Sunday." The boy Samuel is called by God; the disciples are continuing to be called.

How about you? Are you called?

Do you even want to admit it, if you are?

Let's face it: start talking about God talking to you in this day and age, especially in 21st century America, and people start shaking the wrinkles out of the straitjacket. I imagine it's even worse in Europe, the former seat of Christendom.

I'm always seeking to live out the call I feel, but not turn my life upside down too much at the same time. In other words, I am saying, "Here am I, LORD. Please don't ask me for too much."

How do you reconcile yourself to the fact that you are confusing business in church for obedience to a niggling, insistent, annoying, terrifying call? How do you protect yourself from the hurt that would inevitably ensure if outsiders cast doubts upon that call that you have been persistently given half-measures to for years? Hey, it's worked so far... why mess with a mediocre thing?

I imagine many of us feel that way. Do we dare answer, "Here am I, LORD, Your servant is listening?" Will I ever get to "Here am I, LORD. I give in?"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Liberty and Community

One of the things I have been pondering this week as I have read the lectionary texts for this second Sunday in Epiphany is the description of the relationship between God and us as individuals. This is NOT a description of what passes for personal piety in the popular media far too often.

I grew up with it, there in the Prong of the Buckle of the Bible Belt. too. In junior high, I was constantly being asked by the kids who lugged forty-pound parallel Bibles around during the school day if I had "accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior." The "personal savior" was always emphasized and given the intonation of a challenge.

Why, yes. Yes, I had. However, I didn't feel that meant to me what it meant to them. Just because I had welcomed the grace of God through Christ into my life did not mean that I needed to turn my eyes only toward the suffering on the cross for me and away from the suffering here on earth. Just because Jesus loves me-- and he does-- does not mean that I should not try to reflect that love back onto those who are also a part of his body besides me. It's not only about me and Jesus. Jesus calls us all into his body.

The misinterpretation of the concepts of freedom and liberty is actually not biblically based at all. This comes from an Enlightenment emphasis on individualism that is completely antithetical to the biblical concept of living in covenantal relationships with each other. For instance, a search of scripture in the NRSV shows 17 uses of the word "liberty" in the entire Bible, and in none of those instances is it used as a synonym for individualism. The use of individualistic terms by those simultaneously claiming to be fundamentalist Christians is specious at best: they may want to believe that God lets us honor our own interests over others', but it just isn't there.

This individualistic Christianity has become something of a civic religion in America. This self-centered Christianity originates in a literal reading of scripture over a devotion to the SPIRIT of scripture. It seems to be espoused, not surprisingly, by those who  also prefer a literal reading of the Constitution to a  view that takes into account the spirit of the laws (a quote from the Baron de Montesquieu, one of the major influences upon those who produced the Constitution, by the way.) This is a literalist Christianity when it comes to matters of other people's morality but a Christianity in which Jesus's love and forgiveness is a free pass from any requirement that our behavior be reformed in the future. This is particularly a problem politically in the United States. Witness Newt Gingrich's serial marriages and repeated infidelities, and Rick Perry's or Rick Santorum's  lack of compassion for anyone but themselves. Mitt Romney's oh-so-profitable adventures at Bain Capital were certainly legal, but were they moral?

The strictest interpretation of God's saving grace is directed at us as individuals, yes. But the spirit of God's grace has to move us to love others as we love ourselves. And in today's culture we seem to love ourselves intensely!

Everything is all about me, me, ME!!!!

"I need money." "I need an iPhone." "I need a fabulous meal." These are all things we say all the time. But now, this type of self-centeredness has entered the cant of American politics as statements (from people who self-identify as religious) as "I shouldn't have to pay for lazy people who won't get a job," or "The healthcare reform act takes away everyone's freedom to choose,"-- as if there are people who need health care who choose to forgo it. And sometimes, it seems that those of us who proclaim a close personal relationship with Jesus acknowledge we need his love and forgiveness-- but without needing any more burdens placed upon our very over-scheduled lives and attention spans, and showing damned little love and forgiveness for others' flaws and weaknesses.

One of the people who taught me in junior high prompted me to think about this as a kid. She thought of herself as a Christian and made sure we all knew she was a Christian. And yet there was no love for anyone in her heart that we could discern-- especially, I suspect, love for adolescents, which must have been particularly a trial for her. To her, this world was a place of evil and sorrow. Now if you thought about this long enough, that "evil" part seemed to include her students, and her relationship with her students reflected this repugnance and antipathy. Her love for God did not lead anybody else toward an understanding of God. And how else are people going to know God, especially if they come from an unchurched background, except through the example of those who claim to follow God?

God gives us freedom, but that freedom does not allow us to do whatever we like. That freedom places some serious responsibilities on us to be the agents of God's love into the world. Oh, listen, God's love is already there, but we spend so much of our time focused on worldly distractions with all their booming and crashing and shiny lights that we expect God's love to be just as insistent in its pull on our attention. No, the only way the rest of the world will notice God's love is through the love we as Christians show them. Our personal relationship with Christ is only as strong as our love for others.

Paul makes this point too in the epistle we read today from 1 Corinthians 6. Part of the epistle is this:
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
Paul is talking about the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. If we look at only our own relationship with Jesus, we take our eyes off the purpose of our relationship with Jesus.

Just because I am allowed to do something, does not mean I should do it. If all the self-professed Christians in politics and business would follow this concept, imagine what a different world this would be. Instead of concentrating on our individual liberty, as Christians we are called into the BODY of Christ-- which includes others.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Then Shall You See and Be Radiant

Friday was the official Feast of the Epiphany, when the Magi sought out and visited the Christ child, becoming the first non-Jews to acknowledge and worship the Holy One of God as such. These wise men had read the signs and followed the star, and assumed that if they could understand what was taking place, then certainly the local king would not only know of the birth of Jesus, but would welcome that birth and be able to point the way for them so that they could go worship Jesus as they assumed Herod had done.

They were mistaken.

Herod and his followers were not thrilled by this news. They did not drop everything and go worship the newborn king. Instead, they saw this baby as a threat.

And they were right.

This baby was a threat to all those who held power. This baby is still a threat to everyone who holds power and uses it for the wrong reasons. As the psalm proclaims:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
--Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Jesus brings the love of God to all, and the Magi were the first Gentiles to recognize this. They were so moved by the signs that they had witnessed that they set out to find this incredible child that they believed had been born, not even knowing where they were going.

And that's the amazing thing. If we really allow God to rule over us, we don't know where we will end up either. That's a truly scary concept to our modern minds. We think we can box God into a couple of hours on Sunday, and the rest of the week is ours to do with as we will. A lot of us talk about "a personal relationship with our Savior," without ever considering that there might be a concomitant demand from that same Savior upon us. That star shone brightly in the sky. It led the Magi to the worship of the Son of God. We can be just like that star. We can reflect the love of God into the world.

To truly radiate that light, we have to make ourselves transparent to God's love. If we do this, who knows how we might influence those around us. It is nothing to proclaim yourself a Christian, if you do not have the love of Christ in your heart. Some of the most "Christian" people in actions may not claim the label of Christian. In the 1960s, Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner put forth the ideas that knowledge of God is innate, even if one is unfamiliar with scripture or religious teaching, and that it was possible for those had never heard the Gospel. He called these people "Anonymous Christians"-- people whose lives represented a holy way of living and who serve as inspirations toward the message of Jesus, even if they never set foot inside a Christian Church. I always think of the example of the Wise Men when thinking about this concept. God's grace shines through all nations.

The reading from Isaiah for the Feast of Epiphany illustrates this:
Isaiah 60:1-6
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Here were these visitors from another country, and God's wisdom shone through them. If only we could be so transparent! Come, O light to enlighten the nations! Amen!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Clerical Celibacy and... the Episcopal Church

I just got finished reading the Rev. Alberto Cutie's memoir, Dilemma. It was a very interesting book for presenting an insider's look at the difficulty faced by many Roman Catholics on their Church positions regarding human sexuality.

Of, course, being an Episcopalian and a woman, maybe I am just dense when it comes to the fact that I have always found it... um, odd... that officially celibate males have a real sense of perspective on issues of human sexuality, family planning, and married relationships. There is a lot of talk today, for instance, about Cardinal George's apology for comparing a gay pride parade to a Klan rally. He claims that he was speaking out of fear, and apologizes for hurting the feelings of others by his remarks.

This is interesting after reading "Padre Alberto's" book describing his move to the Episcopal Church after his relationship with a woman was revealed in the press in 2009. He details in his book about how he struggled against his intense feeling of love at first sight, his eventual decision to attempt friendship with his beloved, which then developed into forbidden intimacy according to his vows of celibacy, and finally the exposure of his relationship and the aftermath. The exposure of his affair (his term used in the book) no doubt was also fomented by the fact that the Rev. Cutie was a Latino media celebrity as well as a very telegenic spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami through his Spanish language talk shows and his nickname for these activities as "Father Oprah." Nothing sells more than outsiders' enjoyment of catching a Catholic priest (who has been giving relationship advice to the faithful) on a public beach with his hand on the derriere of a woman in a bikini, after all.

He rightfully protests against those who place Catholic clergy on a pedestal of superhuman saintliness. Of course, if you read the book carefully, you will see that he engaged in the same kind of objectifying of priests and of the priesthood itself throughout his career in the Church. Catholics are taught that their priests are completely set apart from the daily experience of the laity. That's how the whole thing works. And by requiring their clergy to hold themselves apart from normal everyday human intimacy, I believe that the Roman Catholic clergy DO end up with a lack of understanding of their parishioners' lives and troubles, just as the laity gets a skewed view of their priests' and bishops lives. The system is set up to create misunderstanding and division between laity and ordained. Further, this is not healthy for the care of the lay members of the Roman Church nor for its clergy.

Interestingly, today I came across this piece in the Huffington Post by Father Alberto about the revelation that an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles is the father of two teenaged children. Apparently, Father Cutie's situation was mentioned in some of the news reports regarding Bishop Zavala's secret family, and he therefore felt compelled to comment publicly. He ends his piece with some very wise words:
Leaving your familiar ministerial environment, daily life and work to follow your heart takes time and courage. Church reform also takes time. Hopefully, one day soon, all good men and women will be able to serve God in peace and freedom, without unnecessary non-biblical burdens. But in the meantime, wouldn't it be great if devout people would learn the value of greater compassion and forgiveness, especially to those who absolved them of their sins so many times? In situations like these, the words of Jesus are more relevant than ever: "Whoever has no sin, cast the first stone" (John 8:7).
 But what, you ask, does this have to do with the Episcopal Church? Well, that's simple. Father Cutie refused to abandon his relationship with his beloved, and thus was received into the Episcopal Church, where he now continues his ministry at Church of the Resurrection in Miami as a married father of two children (a son from his wife's first marriage, the other a daughter that he and his wife had together once they married after he left the Roman Church). There have been dozens if not hundreds of Roman Catholic priests who have also followed this path.

And there have been some Episcopal priests who have followed the opposite route into the Roman Church, as we were reminded this week with news that the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter has been established here in the US for former Episcopalians who wish to continue their unique manner of worship within the Roman Church. Supposedly, according to the article linked above, there are over a hundred Episcopal clergy who have applied to be accepted into this special diocese-like ...thingy. And the leader of this ordinariate? The married former Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande, the Rev. Jeffrey Steenson. Note the lack of "Rt." before his title. That's because the Roman church accepts married Anglican priests into the Church-- although they have to be re-ordained, which Steenson has done-- but it does not allow those converts to become bishops. So the Rev. Steenson will be an ersatz bishop of an ersatz diocese of ersatz Catholics who will also be Anglican-ish. And let's remember, these Episcopalians asking to be received into the Roman Church are there because they disagree on matters of human sexuality and gender when it comes to ordination-- the same basic issue that goes back to Father Cutie's reception into the Episcopal Church.

Clerical celibacy in the Roman Church has impacted the Episcopal Church for years. The Episcopal Church's evolving stance on matters of human sexuality and ordination of women and homosexuals likewise impacts the dialogue between not only the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion, but the dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, recall that a planned meeting over a "common statement of faith" between Anglican and Roman Catholic representatives was placed on hold in 2003 after the selection of the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, and that the presence of ordained women within the Anglican communion has caused open criticism from Rome. Father Cutie himself noted in his book the perceived unfairness that he could have been a married Roman Catholic priest if he had come originally from the Anglican position-- not that I find that a very persuasive argument that he should have been allowed to get married while remaining a Roman priest. I hope he did not become an Episcopalian simply to be able to be married while retaining his priestly ministry, but it DOES appear that way in certain parts of his book.

The Catholic Church's policies seem to view human sexuality solely as a gift for the creation of children-- children who will then replenish the ranks of the faithful in the pews, providing money for the maintenance of the celibate Church hierarchy who has no understanding of the creation, sustenance, and maintenance of families due to their own vows and policies of self-abnegation. Therefore, the Roman Church teaches that homosexuals are "disordered," since their sexuality is not tied to procreation at its most obvious level. Women in the Catholic Church are glorified by celibate clergy as wives and mothers of others, but denied any role in Church governance, nor are their experiences as women understood, much less honored. This all returns to the fundamental disconnect between those who make policy in the Roman Church-- who have created numerous barriers between their way of life and the laity's way of life-- and the life experiences of the vast majority of their adherents in the pews.

People who deny their own sexuality really shouldn't be looked upon as authorities on anyone else's. And it seems to me to be a sad situation all around.

UPDATE: and the New York Times asks, "Will more married priests change the Roman Catholic Church?"
And here's an item from The Lead about the attitudes of the Roman Catholic laity toward our gay brethren and sisters.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Each of Us Has a Name

Our names are not so simple as the one or two (or, in my case, three) names that our parents choose for us. We bear many names throughout our lives. I am called Leslie, Scoop, Mrs. Scoop, Mrs. Scoopmire. I have earned the name "Mom" from the children I have borne, and sometimes, from the children that pass through my classroom. One of my first children I adored called me "Eesie."

As I tell my students, people didn't always have so-called last names or family names. These developed over time, and usually were used to explain whose child you were, the job you held, or the place where you lived. Smiths worked with metal. Jones and Johnson meant that you were the son of John in the United Kingdom, and of course there were variations in different countries- Ivanovich or Johannssen, for instance. Washington was a place in England.

It used to be that the official naming of a child denoted that child's acceptance by his or her family, and names were chosen for their meaning. There also were some taboos in naming. In the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, a child should not be named after a living relative. Japan, Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, and Denmark have some sort of limitation on the given names for babies, with Denmark going so far as having a list of 7000 approved names. After once having substituted in a class with a kid named for liquid human waste, I can say that sometimes I have wished we had some limitations here in America-- especially after some yahoos named their kids ESPN in honor of the 25th anniversary of the cable sports channel. Maybe I'm just sympathetic after having taught school for so many years and seeing some real zingers of names on some poor kids who just wanted the anonymity of a name with fewer than twelve vowels in them.

Or maybe it's because I am sympathetic because I grew up with an unusual name. My mother wanted to name me Irene Katherine. My father wanted to name me Leslie. In an act completely representative of my parents' refusal to ever give an inch in the face of the opposition from the other, they smacked all three of those names on the tiny little baby I was. I was the only kid in school who had three names (including a hyphen between two and three just to make it MORE weird), because after all, this was Oklahoma, not Middle Earth, Hogwarts, a camp song, or the British Royal Family. My few Catholic friends (once again, Oklahoma) always asked if that third name was my confirmation or baptismal name, and it took my transition to the Episcopal church to understand what they meant.

Then, when I looked up the meaning of my names, it got more confusing. Apparently, my full name (including maiden name of Barnes) means "From the Grey Fort Peace Pure Of the Barley House" or possibly "Of the Gap." Maybe "Of the Gap" would have been appropriate, since I had a huge gap in my front teeth from the time I was nine until I was eleven, and the mean man down the street used to call me "Toothless" or "Gappy" when I was a kid walking past his house. And then there were the nicknames I received from various other acquaintances as a kid: Les, Lester, Lezzbo, Les Nessman, Luisa, Barney, Barney Fife, and, my least favorite: "Lezzzzzzzleee." I eventually made my peace with my name, but it took a while. Makes the whole scene where, in the film Dances With Wolves, Mary McDonnell explains why she is called "Stands With a Fist" especially meaningful for me, since I sometimes rewarded a playmates' wit about my name with a good smack to the breadbasket. After I once cajoled my then-boyfriend onto the dance floor at a party, I used to joke that my name was "Dances With Rhythmically Challenged Boyfriend." And he married me anyway!

But names, especially in scripture, are serious business. One of the first tasks that God assigned to Adam and Eve in the Garden was naming the creatures. The Bible is full of names being ordained for children to intimate what they will do as adults. Names are sometimes changed: Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah; in the book of Ruth, Naomi, in her anger at the loss of her husband and sons, demands to be called Mara instead; Jacob becomes known as Israel after he wrestles with God; Simon becomes Peter the Rock (and sometimes acts like a blockhead). In many of these scriptures, it is obvious that names contain power, which is why some devout Jews today write "G-d" instead of the name "God." Names have power. Names can be a shorthand for destiny in scripture, myth, and literature.

Each of us has a name, given by God, given by our parents, given by who we are or who we want to become.

The video above plays a song from one of my favorite albums of all time. The album is called Zero Church, and it is by Suzzy and Maggie Roche. The liner notes for this amazing album can be found here, and I hope that you will go and read the story behind how this album was made. The album was originally due to be released on September 11, 2001 a terrible date that itself has become a byword for tragedy. Zero Church is an evocative spiritual album without being in anyway heavy handed, saccharine, or any of the other things that, I am sorry, Christian music often seems to be to me-- my profoundest apologies to anyone who disagrees with me regarding that genre. It is just that I grew up when Christian radio stations first started to promote what became known as "Christian contemporary" music, and much of it seemed to not be very good music nor very good lyrics, and then there was the fact that it was just too darn preachy, and I had just left that kind of faith tradition on my way to the Episcopal Church.

But back to business. I was sitting in church yesterday, which was the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This song was playing in my head as I listened to the sermon. These are the lyrics, which are derived from a prayer in the Jewish Book of Blessings:

Each of us has name
given by God
and given by our parents

Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear

Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death

Even before his birth, Jesus was given a name by God through an angel. On the eighth day after his birth, he was taken to the temple for his circumcision and naming. Even though the Episcopal Church has placed this feast day on January 1, today would actually be the eighth day from Christmas. So I was thinking about the names we all bear today.

Jesus is the translation of Y'shua, which means, "Yahweh is Salvation." Of course, Jesus was not the only name that our Savior bore. When we were kids, my brother had a poster on his wall that had all of the names for Jesus on it. Isaiah 9:6, for instance, states that the child born to us shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Isaiah 53:3 names Jesus as the Suffering Servant by whose stripes we are healed; this legend was on one of the stained glass windows in my first Episcopal church to which I belonged, St. Luke's in Tulsa, and I used to look upon the image for hours. Hebrews 2:10 calls Jesus the Author of Our Salvation. Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, the Life; the True Vine; the Son of Man; and the Good Shepherd. Then there is the honorific of Messiah, or Christos, the one predicted for generations to be a light to the Hebrews and the redeemer of mankind.

Each one of these names reflects a special role that Jesus takes on for us. Therefore, each one of these names is a gift to us to try to help us, in our limited comprehension, understand the amazing thing that has been done for us through the incarnation of God, which is why Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means "God is with us."

God is indeed with us. Yahweh certainly does save. Jesus is proclaimed as the Messiah, as the point of contact between human frailty and God's infinite wisdom and love, the greatest gift of this Christmas season. Alleluia!