Sunday, September 30, 2007
It has been one of those days, and one of those weeks "when the self becomes too much with me." I don't know if I'm just tired, or if the fall is bringing with it the shortening of days and the ending of things. The news of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church seems to fall short of the high calling that I believe God calls the Church to be. Feeling tired and somewhat overwhelmed I was glad to run across this advice from the Mahatma (Great Soul), Mohandas K. Gandhi.
"I will give you a talisman.
Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test.
Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.
Will he gain anything by it?
Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny?
In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away."
Mahatma Gandhi, 1947
"Where's my board, dude?"
I feel like we are surfing the big waves of the North Shore of Hawaii these days in the Episcopal Church. The waves of sensationalistic news coverage of the recent House of Bishops' meeting in New Orleans are large waves indeed! As a newly ordained person in our Church I find myself in many conversations about this coverage, and the many, varied responses to it. Being busy planning chapels, preaching, teaching, participating in family life, and getting a bit of rest are occupying the vast majority of my time. However, in the midst of the wavy seas I was so glad to read two recent blog entries on the Episcopal Cafe blog that helped me to find a way to ride on through these waves. Roger Ferlo wrote a wonderful piece that gives some helpful perspective on the recent meeting of the House of Bishops, and I commend it to anyone who is feeling a bit weary by the recent rhetoric and news coverage.
"I thought I knew better. No good usually comes of this. In my long experience as a parish priest, there have been few occasions more dispiriting to me than these scheduled gathering of bishops. I say this not because I dislike bishops all that much. I admire a lot of them, count not a few as my friends, and most of the time feel rather sorry for them, isolated and misunderstood as they often are. But I find such occasions dispiriting because, in spite of everything I believe and teach about shared power and shared authority, I find myself buying the press’s line that the power and decision-making in the Episcopal Church in the United States are centered in the House of Bishops, and find myself hoping that whatever they decide this weekend down in New Orleans will set everything right.And I am always proved wrong. There’s no reason to assume that these men and women will be up to such a task. It’s not their job. It’s a job all of us share. That fact underscores one of the ironies of Anglican history. In spite of our reputation in other parts of the Anglican Communion as a prime colonizer of heretical values and American power, the American church goes about its business in a distinctly post-colonial way. We long ago shed our allegiance to meddling foreign bishops. For two centuries our church has invested decision-making authority in a duly-elected bicameral legislature where both the ordained and the non-ordained have equal voice and equal standing. "
"Who knows where Paul would have positioned himself in the present fracas. If anyone knew about disarray and fracture, it was Paul, and we know that he was never above fomenting a little disarray himself. But he was faithful. That’s all that can be asked of any of us in the end—fidelity to God’s embracing love as we have experienced it in Jesus, and fidelity to each other, members of Christ’s body, wherever we stand or refuse to stand on the issues that divide us. Signing on to this kind of love will get you pretty far, regardless of what the bishops say or don’t say—no matter what political catastrophes seem to lie in store for Christ’s body, wounded and redeemed."
Read the rest of Roger Ferlo's piece HERE.
The second piece was written by Susan Daughtry who offers her own perspective on the documents that arose from the House of Bishops' Meeting. Rev. Daughtry''s take is helpful, pithy, funny, and wise...well worth a read, whether or not you agree with her take on things ...!
Since all kinds of uninformed reporters in the secular media have been adding their opinions to the mix, I thought I'd throw mine in there, which may be worth all the money you've just paid to get to see it, and may be just as objective as your hometown newspaper.
Here's a short, slanted, and totally oversimplified summary of what the House of Bishops' response to the Primates' Communique says (which, for the record, is nothing new at all):
First, we still love our gay and lesbian people. We agreed last summer not to consecrate them (though we're not making promises about anyone who might be single), or authorize any prayer book revisions for them, so that you would not write us off entirely. But only for a while. And yes, there are some of us who are doing everything we can short of those two promises to speak up with and for them. (If that troubles you, please see point The Fourth).
Second, we still love you and all of our Anglican Brothers and Sisters (though we're seriously peeved at a particular set of you who are using some seriously sketchy funding to put forward a massive smear campaign, take away buildings that were pledged to us, and give away a bunch of purple shirts to people who couldn't be duly elected to earn them). We love learning from you and with you. We want to follow Jesus right alongside you. We think we have a few things to contribute to you, too. Please don't stop speaking to us.Read the rest of Susan Daughtry Fawcett's entry HERE
So, grab your boards and surf on over to read these two wonderful blog entries that may just help us to "hang ten" through these big waves....
Friday, September 28, 2007
I ran across the following article on "the wired pastor" on the Theolog blog, which is the 'web - log' (blog) of the Christian Century. As I sat at my desk drinking my Starbucks grande coffee, I thought, perhaps that it was an article about the "wired" pastor who drinks a bit too much coffee ... probably a good topic to engage. However, this wonderfully challenging piece is about pastors who feel the necessity to be "wired," to be "connected" at all times via blackberry, email, pager, cell phone, whatever; and is a challenge to those people who feel that 'need.'
The comments are also very interesting, as some who have responded think that the article goes a bit too far, that pastors may need to be accessible, but not available at all times. I wrestle with this issue, as I live very nearby my office, and am usually not more than a couple hundred of yards away from my telephone and email and all that. Who, in a congregation, needs to have the cell phone number of their priest or pastor? Perhaps some boundaries are needed, and also pastors may need to find a way to not answer every email immediately, and not every call that comes into them. On the other hand, I have had the occasion when emergencies do happen, such as when I worked in a hospital, and I did want to respond quickly to a situation, to be there for people in need.
I wonder how to work through this question of availability and accessibility, and just how "wired" the pastor needs to be. I wrote a bit about this in an earlier entry, "Which needs give our lives meaning" but the challenge and the discussion needs to go on!
Perhaps Jesus would have an ipod today? (But maybe not a blackberry!?)
The wired pastor
You’ve seen them, maybe you’re one of them: pastors who must be in touch at all times. The cell phone is either in use or strapped handily onto the belt, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. It’s best as a Blackberry or Treo, so it can vibrate every ten minutes with news of new messages. And just in case those fail, a beeper should be handy. You can never be too wired.
I can understand why some professions would cause one to need to be accessible 100 percent of the time: firefighters, psychologists with mentally ill patients and (given recent floods in this part of the country) plumbers come to mind. But why pastors? Certainly on large church staffs it’s a venerable practice to have one of the pastors on-call at all times in case of emergency. But I worry when I see wired pastors, ubiquitous as they are at church conventions and gatherings of clergy. I fear they conflate importance with accessibility, as if being incommunicado even briefly will lead to spiritual crisis. Must we be like other professions—doctors or financiers—and have a loop around our ear at all times? Or does pastoral wiring suggest anew the loss of confidence of the clergy vocation?
In response to our frenetic world, in which we can speak instantly to anyone around the world but have very little to say, I would argue pastors should be inaccessible more often than not. Part of our problem is that we get agitated if the email bell doesn’t go off every 30 seconds. Over against this, the pastor needs to teach us, to embody patience, or even silence. If my pastor, for example, is always instantly emailing me back, when is she praying for me? When is she quietly sitting in God’s presence, waiting for a word for us for Sunday? When is she nourishing her own soul in a way unrelated to her service to us, but just because God is good?
A seminary professor used to joke that church secretaries never tell callers, “I’m sorry, the pastor is unavailable. He’s praying.” Would that our cellphone voice mail messages would say the same or, better yet, that we wouldn’t have the devices at all.
Bill Cosby's Noah
There's fella by the name of Noah
Built an ark
Everybody knows he built an ark.
What Noah do? Well he built an ark
But very few people know about
The conversation that went on between the Lord and Noah
You see Noah was in his rec. room
Sawing away, he was making a few things for the home there.
He was a good carpenter
Whoompa, whoompa, whoompa, whoompa
Whoompa, whoompa, whoompa
Who is that?
It's the Lord, Noah
Where are ya?
What you want? I've been good.
I want you to build an Ark
Whats an Ark?
Get some wood build it
300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits
Whats a cubit?
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Here is one of the videos that I 'borrowed' from his blog...
Peace to all, and many thanks to Lester, from Deacon Peter!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 25, 2007
A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners
In accordance with Our Lord's high priestly prayer that we be one, and in the spirit of Resolution A159 of the 75th General Convention, and in obedience to his Great Commission to go into the world and make disciples, and in gratitude for the gift of the Anglican Communion as a sign of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of reconciliation throughout the world, we offer the following to the Episcopal Church, the Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and the larger Communion, with the hope of "mending the tear in the fabric" of our common life in Christ.
"I do it all for the sake of the Gospel so that I might share in its blessings." 1 Corinthians 9:23
The House of Bishops expresses sincere and heartfelt thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates for accepting our invitation to join us in New Orleans. By their presence they have both honored us and assisted us in our discernment. Their presence was a living reminder of the unity that is Christ's promised gift in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Much of our meeting time was spent in continuing discernment of our relationships within the Anglican Communion. We engaged in careful listening and straightforward dialogue with our guests. We expressed our passionate desire to remain in communion. It is our conviction that The Episcopal Church needs the Anglican Communion, and we heard from our guests that the Anglican Communion needs The Episcopal Church.
The House of Bishops offers the following responses to our Anglican Communion partners. We believe they provide clarity and point toward next steps in an ongoing process of dialogue. Within The Episcopal Church the common discernment of God's call is a lively partnership among laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and therefore necessarily includes the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council, and the General Convention.
* We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
* We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.
* We commend our Presiding Bishop's plan for episcopal visitors.
* We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end.
* We support the Presiding Bishop in seeking communion-wide consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.
* We call for increasing implementation of the listening process across the Communion and for a report on its progress to Lambeth 2008.
* We support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his expressed desire to explore ways for the Bishop of New Hampshire to participate in the Lambeth Conference.
* We call for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons.
...a wonderful entry from my mentor, blogger and friend Kathy Staudt on the Episcopal Cafe blog...
read the entire article here...
By Kathleen Henderson Staudt
What is the church for? In a 1938 lecture series on the BBC, collected in her book The Spiritual Life, the British writer and retreat leader Evelyn Underhill answered the question in a way that has challenged the church for the past century:
The Church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose; not a comfortable religious club established in fine historical premises. Every one of its members is required, in one way or another, to cooperate with the Spirit in working for that great end: and much of this work will be done in secret and invisible ways. We are transmitters as well as receivers. Our contemplation and our action, our humble self-opening to God, keeping ourselves sensitive to his music and light, and our generous self-opening to our fellow creatures, keeping ourselves sensitive to their needs, ought to form one life, mediating between God and His world, and bringing the saving power of the Eternal into time.Underhill appropriately focuses on the church’s mission in and for the world; to her mostly Church of England audience, she is challenging the image of the Church that became comfortable during the long centuries of what Loren Mead has labeled the “Christendom” paradigm, when most people were nominal Christians, even churchgoers, and the mission of the Church was seen as being overseas, far away and directed toward people distinctly “other” than the people in the pews. Mission was done by the institution; for the people in the pews, church attendance was a regular social obligation, to be taken with more or less seriousness depending on one’s particular spiritual needs and dispositions: to be part of a church was to support “a comfortable religious club.”
But Underhill recognizes that the institutional model, the “comfortable religious club,” is not a true embodiment of what the Church is called to be. Read the rest HERE.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
"Certainly Gentiles have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place Gentiles may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far the traditional theology of the church lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly followers of Augustine have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about not only the date of Easter, but the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place followers of Rome may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far the Celtic tradition of the church lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly Anglo-Saxon people have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place Anglo-Saxon people may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far Norman church tradition lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly recusants and dissenters have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place recusants and dissenters may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far the Established Church and Crown lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly colonials have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place colonials may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far Parliament lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly slaves throughout the Empire have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place slaves may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far slave owners let us move in that direction."
1900 - 1960's:
"Certainly African Americans have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place African Americans may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far white American tradition lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly women have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place women may hold in offices of the church. The question is how far the traditional patriarchial theology of the church lets us move in that direction."
"Certainly gay and lesbian people have a place in the church as do all the baptized. The debate is currently about the appropriate limits of pastoral care and the place gay and lesbian people may hold in the offices of the church. The question is how far the traditional theology of the church lets us move in that direction." (The Most Reverend and Right Honorable Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, 21 September AD 2007, New Orleans, LA, USA)
"As everyone knows, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached at the Ecumenical Service held Thursday evening. The Bishop of Louisiana had taken great care to ensure all was in order for the Archbishop. A member of his clergy was assigned to see to the proper transportation of the Archbishop's vestments. The good clergy arrived with the aforementioned vestments and placed them where instructed in the Green Room.
As the time approached for the service, Bishop Jenkins went to check that all was in order only to find the vestments were not there. A search revealed they had been moved but alas the Archbishop's tippet was missing! Bishop Jenkins called upon the good clergyman who had been responsible for the vestments and asked that he explain to the Archbishop the location of his tippet. The good clergyman realized the Hospitality Committee had moved things and said he suspected he might know where to find the tippet. A brief time later, the Archbishop, the Bishop and the clergyman were staring at the tippet.
It had been draped across the hospitality table serving as a tablecloth for the coffee urns. The Archbishop was reported to have said, "Well, I'm glad to see someone has finally found a use for the darn thing."
It's nice to know the Archbishop has a sense of humor. It must have served him well during his meetings with the bishops."
Saturday, September 22, 2007
1. Thou shalt not be perfect, or even try to be.
2. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people.
3. Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done.
4.Thou shalt spread thyself too thin.
5. Thou shalt learn to say “no”.
6. Thou shalt schedule time for thyself and for thy supportive network.
7. Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly.
8. Thou shalt be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
9. Thou shalt not even feel guilty.
10. Especially thou shalt not be thine own worst enemy, but be thy best friend.
Above all things remember to rest in the Lord Jesus who said “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Friday, September 21, 2007
Luke 16:1-13 (NIV)
The Parable of the Shrewd Manager1Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
3"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5"So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6" 'Eight hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
7"Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
" 'A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
8"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
13"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Once I began working as a school chaplain, I find myself struggling to stick with my previous practice of reading the Daily Office each day. Finding time for individual time with God has, perhaps ironically, been somewhat difficult in the busy days of ministry.
By contrast, I find myself on a cycle of preaching very often. I have several chapels to lead each week (5+), and this week, I am preaching at 4 different services. Twice to the upper school, once to the middle, and once to the lower school. I find myself exegeting, praying with the scriptures, and trying to find something to say that is new nearly each day. I'm a bit exhausted by it, but also somewhat invigorated. I am looking at preaching tomorrow on a bit of the Sunday lectionary from last week (Luke 15:1-10), while also reflecting on Matthew for the Feast day for St. Matthew on Friday. I'm not sure that Paul had in mind that we would preach without ceasing, but that is what it feels like right now ... !
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Very often people object that nonviolence seems to imply passive acceptance of injustice and evil and therefore that it is a kind of cooperation with evil. Not at all. The genuine concept of nonviolence implies not only active and effective resistance to evil but in fact a more effective resistance... But the resistance which is taught in the Gospel is aimed not at the evil-doer but at evil in its source.
- Thomas Merton
from Passion For Peace
Saturday, September 15, 2007
...and thank God he's able to give a moment of reflection to something other than the Anglican Communion!
"Yesterday, Dr Rowan Williams met Gordon Brown for the first time since he became Prime Minister and the Archbishop clearly intends to get more involved in the national debate. "Politics is so much about human issues now," he says.
In his four years as head of the established Church, he has shied away from being a moral arbiter and rarely given an interview. When we meet him, however, he talks frankly about everything affecting society, from Pop Idol to gang culture.
"Is our society broken? I think it is," he says. "We are in a phase of our culture where the fragmentation of society is far more obvious. It's not just families, it is different ethnic communities and economic groups. We talk about access and equality the whole time, but in practice we all seem to live very segregated lives."
He goes on: "Outside my front door in Lambeth I see a society so dramatically different from across the river or in Canterbury. There is a level of desolation and loneliness and dysfunctionality which many people have very little concept of. If you sense that the world you live in is absolutely closed, that for all sorts of reasons you are unable to move outside, if nothing gives you aspirations, there is an imprisonment in that, there is a kind of resentment that comes with that and a frustration that can boil over in violence and street crime."
Inequality is, in his view, just a symptom of a wider moral vacuum. "I don't think that the huge wealth of some is the cause (of the problems), it is more that society just wants to reward business success and celebrity. If you're a teenager in Peckham neither of those are easily accessible."
Indeed, he is horrified by the triviality of modern society. "We are too celebrity obsessed, we have got into a dangerous cycle where fame is an objective in itself."
His children are 11 and 19. "I sometimes sit with them and watch The X Factor and it is heartbreaking to see people who plead with judges to get through because they just want to be famous so intensely," he says.
Broadcasters, he argues, are contributing to the moral decline. "There is a gladiatorial streak in the entertainment business now where increasingly humiliation is the way forward. That worries me, there is a kind of sadism that can't be good for us. It is the building-up and the pulling-down of contestants, it is pushing people into situations where they expose their vulnerability, encouraging a culture of shamelessness."
One of the Archbishop's key concerns is how the society we live in is damaging children. "What is lacking in children's lives is space. They are pressed into a testing culture, or even into a gang culture, they are bullied and manipulated until they fit in, they never have any time to develop in their own space."
He understands the urge to join a gang. "A lot of it is yearning for love, they want to fit in, if their families are as chaotic as some of them are, gangs give them a sense of belonging."
But he says pushy parents who rush children between ballet and violin lessons are suffocating their offspring too. "Children live crowded lives, we're not making their lives easy by pressurising them, whether it's the claustrophobia of gang culture or the claustrophobia of intense achievement in middle-class areas." "
Click here to read the entire interview
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
September 11, 2001: A Pacifist Response
I want to write honestly about September 11, 2001. But it is not easy. Even now, some months after that horrible event, I find it hard to know what can be said or, perhaps more difficult, what should be said. Even more difficult, I am not sure for what or how I should pray. I am a Christian. I am a Christian pacifist. Being Christian and being a pacifist are not two things for me. I would not be a pacifist if I were not a Christian, and I find it hard to understand how one can be a Christian without being a pacifist. But what does a pacifist have to say in the face of terror? Pray for peace? I have no use for sentimentality.
Indeed some have suggested pacifists have nothing to say in a time like the time after September 11, 2001. The editors of the magazine First Things assert that “those who in principle oppose the use of military force have no legitimate part in the discussion about how military force should be used.”1 They make this assertion because according to them the only form of pacifism that is defensible requires the disavowal by the pacifist of any political relevance. That is not the kind of pacifism I represent. I am a pacifist because I think nonviolence is the necessary condition for a politics not based on death. A politics that is not determined by the fear of death means no strong distinction can be drawn between politics and military force.
Yet I cannot deny that September 11, 2001, creates and requires a kind of silence. We desperately want to “explain” what happened. Explanation domesticates terror, making it part of “our” world. I believe attempts to explain must be resisted. Rather, we should learn to wait before what we know not, hoping to gain time and space sufficient to learn how to speak without lying. I should like to think pacifism names the habits and community necessary to gain the time and place that is an alternative to revenge. But I do not pretend that I know how that is accomplished.
Yet I do know that much that has been said since September 11, 2001, has been false. In the first hours and days following the fall of the towers, there was a stunned silence. President Bush flew from one safe haven to another, unsure what had or was still to happen. He was quite literally in the air. I wish he might have been able to maintain that posture, but he is the leader of the “free world.” Something must be done. Something must be said. We must be in control. The silence must be shattered. He knew the American people must be comforted. Life must return to normal.
So he said, “We are at war.” Magic words necessary to reclaim the everyday. War is such normalizing discourse. Americans know war. This is our Pearl Harbor. Life can return to normal. We are frightened, and ironically war makes us feel safe. The way to go on in the face of September 11, 2001, is to find someone to kill. Americans are, moreover, good at killing. We often fail to acknowledge how accomplished we are in the art of killing. Indeed we, the American people, have become masters of killing. In our battles, only the enemy has to die. Some in our military are embarrassed by our expertise in war making, but what can they do? They are but following orders.
So the silence created by destruction was soon shattered by the need for revenge—a revenge all the more unforgiving because we cannot forgive those who flew the planes for making us acknowledge our vulnerability. The flag that flew in mourning was soon transformed into a pride-filled thing; the bloodstained flag of victims transformed into the flag of the American indomitable spirit. We will prevail no matter how many people we must kill to rid ourselves of the knowledge Americans died as victims. Americans do not die as victims. They have to be heroes. So the stock trader who happened to work on the seventy-second floor becomes as heroic as the policemen and the firemen who were doing their jobs. No one who died on September 11, 2001, gets to die a meaningless death. That is why their deaths must be revenged.
I am a pacifist, so the American “we” cannot be my “me.” But to be alienated from the American “we” is not easy. I am a neophyte pacifist. I never really wanted to be a pacifist. I had learned from Reinhold Niebuhr that if you desire justice you had better be ready to kill someone along the way. But then John Howard Yoder and his extraordinary book The Politics of Jesus came along. Yoder convinced me that if there is anything to this Christian “stuff,” it must surely involve the conviction that the Son would rather die on the cross than for the world to be redeemed by violence. Moreover, the defeat of death through resurrection makes possible as well as necessary that Christians live nonviolently in a world of violence. Christian nonviolence is not a strategy to rid the world of violence, but rather the way Christians must live in a world of violence. In short Christians are not nonviolent because we believe our nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but rather because faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.
But what does a pacifist have to say in the face of the terror September 11, 2001, names? I vaguely knew when I first declared I was a pacifist that there might be some serious consequences. To be nonviolent might even change my life. But I do not really think I understood what that change might entail until September 11. For example after I declared I was a pacifist, I quit singing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I will stand when it is sung, particularly at baseball games, but I do not sing. Not to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” is a small thing that reminds me that my first loyalty is not to the United States but to God and God’s church. I confess it never crossed my mind that such small acts might over the years make my response to September 11 quite different from that of the good people who sing “God Bless America”—so different that I am left in saddened silence.
That difference, moreover, haunts me. My father was a bricklayer and a good American. He worked hard all his life and hoped his work would not only support his family, but also make some contribution to our common life. He held a war-critical job in World War II, so he was never drafted. Only one of his five bricklaying brothers was in that war, but he was never exposed to combat. My family was never militarized, but as Texans they were good Americans. For most of my life I, too, was a good American, assuming that I owed much to the society that enabled me, the son of a bricklayer, to gain a Ph.D. at Yale—even if the Ph.D. was in theology.
Of course there was Vietnam. For many of us Vietnam was extended training necessary for the development of a more critical attitude toward the government of the United States. Yet most of us critical of the war in Vietnam did not think our opposition to that war made us less loyal Americans. Indeed the criticisms of the war were based on an appeal to the highest American ideals. Vietnam was a time of great tension, but the politics of the antiwar movement did not require those opposed to the war to think of themselves as fundamentally standing outside the American mainstream. Most critics of Vietnam (just as many that now criticize the war in Afghanistan) based their dissent on their adherence to American ideals that they felt the war was betraying. That but indicates why I feel so isolated even among the critics of the war in Afghanistan. I do not even share their allegiance to American ideals.
So I simply did not share the reaction of most Americans to the destruction of the World Trade Center. Of course I recoil from murder on such a scale, but I hope I remember that one murder is too many. That Americans have hurried to call what happened “war” strikes me as self-defeating. If this is war, then bin Laden has won. He thinks he is a warrior not a murderer. Just to the extent the language of war is used, he is honored. But in their hurry to call this war, Americans have no time for careful discriminations.
Where does that leave me? Does it mean, as an estranged friend recently wrote me, that I disdain all “natural loyalties” that bind us together as human beings, even submitting such loyalties to a harsh and unforgiving standard? Does it mean that I speak as a solitary individual, failing to acknowledge that our lives are interwoven with the lives of others, those who have gone before, those among whom we live, those with whom we identify, and those with whom we are in Christian communion? Do I refuse to acknowledge my life is made possible by the gifts of others? Do I forsake all forms of patriotism, failing to acknowledge that we as a people are better off because of the sacrifices that were made in World War II? To this I can only answer, “Yes.” If you call patriotism “natural,” I certainly do disavow that connection. Such a disavowal, I hope, does not mean I am inattentive to the gifts I have received from past and present neighbors.
In response to my friend I pointed out that because he, too, is a Christian I assumed he also disdained some “natural loyalties.” After all he had his children baptized. The “natural love” between parents and children is surely reconfigured when children are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul says:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.2Christians often tend to focus on being united with Christ in his resurrection, forgetting that we are also united with him in his death. What could that mean if it does not mean that Christians must be ready to die, indeed have their children die, rather than betray the Gospel? Any love not transformed by the love of God cannot help but be the source of the violence we perpetrate on one another in the name of justice. Such a love may appear harsh and dreadful from the perspective of the world, but Christians believe such a love is life-giving not life-denying.
Of course living a life of nonviolence may be harsh. Certainly you have to imagine, and perhaps even face, that you will have to watch the innocent suffer and even die for your convictions. But that is no different from those that claim they would fight a just war. After all, the just warrior is committed to avoiding any direct attack on noncombatants, which might well mean that more people will die because the just warrior refuses to do an evil that a good may come. For example, on just-war grounds the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were clearly murder. If you are serious about just war, you must be ready to say that it would be better that more people died on the beaches of Japan than to have committed one murder, much less the bombing of civilian populations.
This last observation may suggest that when all is said and done, a pacifist response to September 11, 2001, is just one more version of the anti-American sentiments expressed by what many consider to be the American Left. I say “what many consider” because it is very unclear if there is a Left left in America. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the support to the war on terrorism given by those who identify as the “Left.” Yet much has been made of the injustice of American foreign policy that lends a kind of intelligibility to the hatred given form on September 11. I am no defender of American foreign policy, but the problem with such lines of criticism is that no matter how immoral what the American government may have done in the world, such immorality cannot explain or justify the attack on the World Trade Center.
American imperialism, often celebrated as the new globalism, is a frightening power. It is frightening not only because of the harm such power inflicts on the innocent, but because it is difficult to imagine alternatives. Pacifists are often challenged after an event like September 11 with the question, “Well, what alternative do you have to bombing Afghanistan?” Such a question assumes that pacifists must have an alternative foreign policy. My only response is I do not have a foreign policy. I have something better—a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill.
Indeed I fear that absent a countercommunity to challenge America, bin Laden has given Americans what they so desperately needed—a war without end. America is a country that lives off the moral capital of our wars. War names the time we send the youth to kill and die (maybe) in an effort to assure ourselves the lives we lead are worthy of such sacrifices. They kill and die to protect our “freedom.” But what can freedom mean if the prime instance of the exercise of such freedom is to shop? The very fact that we can and do go to war is a moral necessity for a nation of consumers. War makes clear we must believe in something even if we are not sure what that something is, except that it has something to do with the “American way of life.”
What a gift bin Laden has therefore given America. Americans were in despair because we won the cold war. Americans won by outspending the USSR, proving that we can waste more money on guns than they can or did. But what do Americans do after they have won a war? The war was necessary to give moral coherence. We had to cooperate with one another because we were at war. How can America make sense of what it means for us to be “a people” if we have no common enemy? We were in a dangerous funk having nothing better to do than entertain ourselves with the soap opera Bill Clinton was. Now we have something better to do. We can fight the war against terrorism.
The good thing, moreover, about the war on terrorism is it has no end, which makes it very doubtful that this war can be considered just. If a war is just, your enemy must know before the war begins what political purpose the war is to serve. In other words, they need to know from the beginning what the conditions are if they choose to surrender. So you cannot fight a just war if it is “a war to end all wars” (World War I) or for “unconditional surrender” (World War II). But a “war on terrorism” is a war without limit. Americans want to wipe this enemy off the face of the earth. Moreover, America even gets to decide who counts and does not count as a terrorist.
Which means Americans get to have it any way they want it. Some that are captured, for example, are prisoners of war; some are detainees. No problem. When you are the biggest kid on the block, you can say whatever you want to say, even if what you say is nonsense. We all know the first casualty in war is truth. So the conservatives who have fought the war against “postmodernism” in the name of “objective truth,” the same conservatives that now rule us, assume they can use language any way they please.
That Americans get to decide who is and who is not a terrorist means that this is not only a war without clear purpose, but also a war without end. From now on we can be in a perpetual state of war. America is always at her best when she is on permanent war footing. Moreover, when our country is at war, it has no space to worry about the extraordinary inequities that constitute our society, no time to worry about poverty or those parts of the world that are ravaged by hunger and genocide. Everything—civil liberties, due process, the protection of the law—must be subordinated to the one great moral enterprise of winning the unending war against terrorism.
At the heart of the American desire to wage endless war is the American fear of death. The American love of high-tech medicine is but the other side of the war against terrorism. Americans are determined to be safe, to be able to get out of this life alive. On September 11, Americans were confronted with their worst fear—a people ready to die as an expression of their profound moral commitments. Some speculate such people must have chosen death because they were desperate or, at least, they were so desperate that death was preferable to life. Yet their willingness to die stands in stark contrast to a politics that asks of its members in response to September 11 to shop.
Ian Buruma and Vishai Margalit observe in their article “Occidentalism” that lack of heroism is the hallmark of a bourgeois ethos.3 Heroes court death. The bourgeois is addicted to personal safety. They concede that much in an affluent, market-driven society is mediocre, “but when contempt for bourgeois creature comforts becomes contempt for life itself you know the West is under attack.” According to Buruma and Margalit, the West (which they point out is not just the geographical West) should oppose the full force of calculating antibourgeois heroism, of which Al-Qaeda is but one representative, through the means we know best—cutting off their money supply. Of course, Buruma and Margalit do not tell us how that can be done, given the need for oil to sustain the bourgeois society they favor.
Christians are not called to be heroes or shoppers. We are called to be holy. We do not think holiness is an individual achievement, but rather a set of practices to sustain a people who refuse to have their lives determined by the fear and denial of death. We believe by so living we offer our non-Christian brothers and sisters an alternative to all politics based on the denial of death. Christians are acutely aware that we seldom are faithful to the gifts God has given us, but we hope the confession of our sins is a sign of hope in a world without hope. This means pacifists do have a response to September 11, 2001. Our response is to continue living in a manner that witnesses to our belief that the world was not changed on September 11, 2001. The world was changed during the celebration of Passover in a.d. 33.
Mark and Louise Zwick, founders of the Houston Catholic Worker House of Hospitality, embody the life made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus. They know, moreover, that Christian nonviolence cannot and must not be understood as a position that is no more than being “against violence.” If pacifism is no more than “not violence,” it betrays the form of life to which Christians believe they have been called by Christ. Drawing on Nicholas Berdyaev, the Zwicks rightly observe that “the split between the Gospel and our culture is the drama of our times,” but they also remind us that “one does not free persons by detaching them from the bonds that paralyze them: one frees persons by attaching them to their destiny.” Christian nonviolence is but another name for the friendship we believe God has made possible and constitutes the alternative to the violence that grips our lives.
I began by noting that I am not sure for what I should pray. But prayer often is a form of silence. The following prayer I hope does not drown out silence. I wrote the prayer as a devotion to begin a Duke Divinity School general meeting. I was able to write the prayer because of a short article I had just read in the Houston Catholic Worker by Jean Vanier.4 Vanier is the founder of the L’arche movement—a movement that believes God has saved us by giving us the good work of living with and learning to be friends with those the world calls retarded. I end with this prayer because it is all I have to give.
Great God of surprise, our lives continue to be haunted by the spectre of September 11, 2001. Life must go on and we go on keeping on—even meeting again as the Divinity School Council. Is this what Barth meant in 1933 when he said we must go on “as though nothing has happened”? To go on as though nothing has happened can sound like a counsel of despair, of helplessness, of hopelessness. We want to act, to do something to reclaim the way things were. Which, I guess, is but a reminder that one of the reasons we are so shocked, so violated, by September 11 is the challenge presented to our prideful presumption that we are in control, that we are going to get out of life alive. To go on “as though nothing has happened” surely requires us to acknowledge you are God and we are not. It is hard to remember that Jesus did not come to make us safe, but rather he came to make us disciples, citizens of your new age, a kingdom of surprise. That we live in the end times is surely the basis for our conviction that you have given us all the time we need to respond to September 11 with “small acts of beauty and tenderness,” which Jean Vanier tells us, if done with humility and confidence “will bring unity to the world and break the chain of violence.” So we pray give us humility that we may remember that the work we do today, the work we do every day, is false and pretentious if it fails to serve those who day in and day out are your small gestures of beauty and tenderness.
Notes1 “In a Time of War,” First Things (December 2001).
2 Romans 6:3–5.
3 New York Review of Books, January 17, 2002, 4–7.
4 “L’arche Founder Responds to Violence,” Houston Catholic Worker, November 16, 2001.
The South Atlantic Quarterly 101:2, Spring 2002.
Copyright � 2002 by Duke University Press.
The world in many ways has changed since September 11th, 2001 -- and our protracted War in Iraq was originally justified as part of a War on Terror. But before actions were taken against Afghanistan and Iraq, I remember well the strangely quiet, clear skies above Philadelphia on those days when we all looked to one another, flew flags in support of our common loss, and looked to find meaning in what appeared to be a hopeless time. May we remember the unity that we felt in those hours, and may we remember that life is short, so that we may Choose Life!
And we do not have much time
To gladden the hearts of those
Who travel the way with us.
So be swift to be kind,
And as we go,
May the blessing, the love,
the joy, and the peace
Of the Holy One
Who is in the midst of us
Be among you and remain with you
Monday, September 10, 2007
Biblische Ausbildung: Procession at the Start of the Fall Semester
My Old Testament professor from Seminary has posted these two pictures on his blog that include some of the wonderful people who teach, mentor and advise students back at VTS...time moves along, and it is quite amazing that the past 4 months have passed in a blink of an eye!
Thursday, September 06, 2007
This morning, I had the great fortune to do a 'blessing of the backpacks' liturgy along with our middle school chaplain for our entire middle school. It was great fun, and a great way to get the year started...we asked for blessing over the water and then asperged (splashed) water on our students and their backpacks. A hat tip goes to my friend Mike who shared a blessing of the backpacks liturgy with me that I adapted for use by a deacon and for middle schoolers.
"...bless these lowly gifts, loving God, that their loyal presence and silent service keep us every mindful of your grace in our lives. May we hold them in care and, following their example, be for one another the reliable friends these tokens are for us. Amen."
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
And then there is the deeper issue of generosity of time, of presence, of love ... clinging tightly to these "possessions" only cause me to lose them ...
But it is a noble, and strange quote ... in doing some looking around the Internet, I found that Hollins College has a similar motto, as well as Converse (?) College ... is it Biblical, I have had trouble finding it in the Bible. I did find it quoted in a William Barclay commentary on Romans. Barclay 'quoted' this quote but didn't offer a citaton ...
Interesting, noble, strange...
Sunday, September 02, 2007
After preaching a sermon today and after a lot of time wrestling with the lectionary for this week, I was glad to run across this wonderful and challenging sermon from Curtis Almquist, the Superior to the St. John the Evangelist Society (SSJE) up in Cambridge, MA. "Knowing Our Place," challenges me as I begin working this week at an independent, Episcopal school that largely caters to the affluent in this city. I will be eating lunch, and sometimes dinner, with the students and faculty and wonder how open our table is here ... and whether our own sense of being Christian would be challenged by Jesus' table fellowship....
Curtis Almquist, SSJE
September 2, 2007
Luke 14:1, 7-14There’s more going on in this story Jesus tells than meets the eye. Jesus’ most obvious point is about distinctions between people, the invidious, sometimes tempting desire to distinguish ourselves from others to make ourselves look better, more important, higher than we might otherwise appear. I’ll come back to that. There’s also something more subtle going on here in this story about who is at the table. In Jesus’ day, given the practices of both Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, there were no controversies about what to eat and with whom to eat. The cultural mores were absolutely clear. Eating shows our common vulnerability. Eating is a very revealing necessity. Whether you are a prince or a pauper, you must eat. In Jesus’ day, you ate with your peers. Period. To do less, to lower yourself to some other class or caste of people would be a violation and a vulnerability to be avoided. In our own day, in our own culture, there are some similar norms.
Read the rest of the sermon here.
Sermon – St Mark’s Episcopal, Richmond
Psalm 112; Ecclesiasticus10:7-18; Hebrews 13:1-7; Luke 14:1, 7-14
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
The desert winds whip wildly and the tent gives little shelter. Their wateris running low, and their feeble bodies are suffering with the extreme temperatures. In the daytime, the sun roasts the sand and any living thing feels the suffocating heat. In the night, their animals shiver with cold, and the old man and woman wrap themselves tight. Their journey has brought them out of the land of their birth, away from the gods of their ancestors. This journey has brought them, in their advanced years, to this place. There are a few trees here that have somehow withstood the ravages of the desert. These trees are known as the Oaks of Mamre, and legend tells that their growth and survival depend on divine help. But, in the desert, anything that lives depends on divine help. In the desert, there is a careful dance when coming into contact with others. The prevailing practice is to offer hospitality to those who need it, to offer help, and to extend a hand, water, food, and even shelter. However, there is also an abiding fear that those asking for help may turn violent, and there are many allegiances and alliances to navigate in this land. The man and his wife are traveling in new lands, and are often the ones who need help, and often are the ones to give it – but there exists an abiding risk to this journey, even though God told them to go.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Into this camp walk three strangers, asking for food, for water, for hospitality. The old man and his wife give food, water, and offered them shade in the desert heat. The three strangers sit together, and offered thanksgiving for this hospitality, for food, water, and for the place to rest. The three strangers also offer conversation. As they sit together, facing the old man, they asked about his wife, who had returned to the tent cleaning up after she set the table and brought out the bread, the hummus, the grapes and the wine. The three strangers tell the old man that his wife would bear a child. Who were these three strangers? The old woman, hearing the conversation, laughed to herself for she had long ago given up on the thought of children of her own. The conversation continued, and the old woman brought out more food and wine, offering hospitality even as she, too, wondered who these three strangers were. Eventually, the three strangers bid farewell, and offered great thanks to Abraham and Sarah for feeding them, for water, for wine, and for the hospitality in that desert place.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
This beautiful line from Paul’s letter to the Hebrew refers to that wonderful story in Genesis 18 when Abraham and Sarah encountered three strangers who were actually angels from God. Abraham and Sarah entertained them and showed hospitality to them. This encounter forms one of the key pillars in the Jewish and Christian notion of hospitality for the stranger. Hospitality can get watered down sometimes, if it only pertains to what kind of finger sandwiches or punch is served at a reception. Both Paul and the story in Genesis point to a radicalized form of hospitality. In Hebrews, Paul offers the admonition to show hospitality to strangers – and then names two kinds of strangers that might be offered hospitality: prisoners and those being tortured. Of course it is important to remember the context for this letter. Paul is writing to Christians who are under siege, and some of them have been carried off to prison just for being Christians. To offer hospitality to these prisoners does not mean doing a little prison ministry for an hour a week. Without a visit from a friend, a prisoner would starve, would have no clothes, and could die of thirst. The hospitality given to prisoners by others would offer them the possibility of life. Where this hospitality gets radicalized is that while visiting these strangers, a Christian would put themselves at risk for being jailed as well – the Christians were under siege, and those helping Christian prisoners might be punished. So, when Paul admonishes his listeners to offer hospitality “as if you were prisoners,” this is no metaphor. Paul knows the risks of offering this hospitality, and calls his listeners to this high calling of risky radicalized hospitality.
Likewise for those who are enduring torture. Those Christians who offered hospitality to them would also put themselves at risk for torture. Paul calls his hearers to this high calling of radicalized hospitality because without it, it really is every man for himself, every woman for herself, every child for him or herself. Paul is calling his hearers to this high calling of living as the body of Christ, even though the risks are great. It is in these actions of hospitality that the Body of Christ becomes whole, becomes strengthened. In effect, the church itself is not the building where we go, but in the ways that we bring ourselves to care for and offer hospitality to, one another, and to those strangers, even more importantly. To neglect hospitality is to neglect to see that God calls us to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is the calling of every Christian to practice radicalized hospitality. This is not just the calling of the clergy, not just of the Franciscan monks, not just the calling of the do-gooder types. Offering radical hospitality to the stranger is a calling for all of us. In the early church, it was the role of the deacon to help turn the eyes, ears and hearts of the Church to the needs of the world. In particular, deacons offered hospitality to those who were poor, in prison, and in need. The deacon did not to do this work on his or her own, but worked to inspire those in the to work to respond to the cries of a world in need.
And so, as a deacon I want to raise questions that emerge from radicalized hospitality in our present context: (1) How would radicalized hospitality affect our discussions about immigration reform? Could this theology help move the discussion to a different level? (2) How might radicalized hospitality help the current discussions and debates in the Anglican communion? Could our hearts be open wide enough to hear those with whom we vehemently disagree? (3) Could radicalized hospitality help us to engage more productively with people from other faith traditions? Perhaps our common heritage from the dry deserts of the
I don’t know the answers to these questions … but I raise them as a deacon in this pulpit.
An early deacon was St. Stephen, who served the church in this way, and suffered the fate of many Christians when he was martyred, perhaps under Saul’s supervision. Some people claim that St. Francis was a deacon, and even if he wasn’t, he still embodied that diaconal ministry of service, of radicalized hospitality as he lived with and cared for lepers and the poor and the outcast.
The Good News is that this hospitality is no project of our own, this hospitality is no human invention. God gives us the gifts to open up our hearts to those strangers in our midst, and those strangers all around us. I think we’ve all experienced the ways that turning to others in need cultivates a joy that is deep and abiding, we may “have entertained angels without knowing it”!
The Church exists most boldly and most fully in the sharing of hospitality between people, this is where we experience Christ. God gives us the power to create that space where love for neighbor is cultivated, enabled, and modeled. God gives us the gift of bringing people together in order support one another. There is a saying of the desert monastic, John the Dwarf, which illustrates this point quite well:
“You don’t build a house by starting with the
roof and working down. You start with the
They said, “What does that mean?”
He said, “The foundation is our neighbor
who we must win. The neighbor is where
we start. Every commandment of Christ
depends on this.”
The goal in this life is to build up one another and to work with diligence to bring one’s neighbor to Christ. The church is built on our cultivation of radicalized hospitality of care and love to neighbor, and to stranger. God sets a high calling before each of us, but, God is with us, and God gives us the gifts to open up our hearts to those strangers in our midst, and those strangers all around us.