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AWAY

Pat and I will be away from home from this weekend until June 15th, staying on Maui. Our younget daughter Megan is here to care for the zoo and the yard/garden. No doubt the church will survive our absence! I’m also on 52 weeks disability leave, although I am permitted to work up to 20% of normal hours!! As a priest is always on duty, it’s hard to figure what 20% of always is! So stay tuned. I will be back.

I’m feeling rather well actually, now that I’ve recovered from the last round of chemo, which was the worst of the lot. My feet and ankles still give some pain and make walking long distances a chore. Of course I can take one of those pain pills I’ve been given but they make me even more gaga than usual.

As a parting shot before leaving, someone named Richard sent me two rude emails about what he perceives my position to be about gay and lesbian people. He seems to blame me for the Bishop of New Hampshire not being invited to Lambeth. I assure him and you that I was not consulted.

One of my peeves about the present atmosphere is that it is toxic with invective from both sides. My second peeve is the inevitable rise of “tribalism”, a direct and frontal denial of the truth contained in Gal. 3: 28. Modern tribalism is a negative result of the use of lobbies and pressure groups to achieve justice for minorities, the marginalized and the oppressed. No doubt the positive results far outweigh the negative, unless imported into the Church.

I deplore personal attacks, spiteful invective and the attribution of ideas to people who have not expressed such ideas. Sure Luther used such invective. As such Luther was a sinner.

My position is that we have no official theological position from which we can conduct a debate about what “blessing” means, even blessings as authorized in wee books by TEC over the last 70 years or so. Blessings, outside the official liturgy were a 19th. century Anglo-Catholic practice, however splendid, slipped into general use without, as far as I can see, any attempt to define what “blessings” do or achieve. I have a copy of the first Book of Offices adopted by TEC, which ironically contains the approval of a very low church Bishop of Virginia, not the sort of chap to throw holy water at images. At best it would seem that a blessing involves the “lifting up” of the object or person(s) blessed in order that it/they may receive grace from God or be dedicated to God. This may involve some kind of a judgment about suitability. Do we bless fox hounds or the fox? At least in Catholic Christianity the authority to bless is given generally to a priest at ordination in all areas not forbidden by Canon Law or reserved to a bishop.

My second position is more a suspicion. I have never been comfortable with the debate about same-sex blessing because I have always suspected that the proposed practice is really short hand for same-sex marriages. At present our church is clear that marriage is confined to qualified males and females. Like it or not, that is both the doctrine and practice of TEC. (Of course the fact that something is established makes it a target for modern iconoclasts looking to smash another idol or tradition, often just for the hell of it. Being a “prophet” is heady stuff.) Certainly most modern reformers don’t fall into this category, but many do. Some of them are bishops. If we believe as I do, that in a precise sense our Faith is given by God, some things with which I disagree or doubt place me in an unequal argument with the Giver! I also know that the church has the habit of discovering the goodnes and utility of some non-essential things swept away by reformers and bringing them back as if they were new.

The trouble is, that with our modern tribalism, to express such doubts is an interpreted as an assault on all gay and lesbian people, individually and collectively. It’s rather like saying that as I question some Muslim beliefs, I dislike all Arabs/Muslims or wish to harm them or exclude them from the human race. Tribalism is the foe of unity simply because tribe is set before loyalty to the whole. Modern Iraq should teach us at least that. There are powerful people among us in TEC who put Cause, Party, Sexual attraction before and above the unity which God has given us in Baptism. They inhabit both ends of our ecclesial structure and they threaten to tear us apart in the quest for purity and justice. Yet there is no pure church on this side of the veil, and because we are forgiven people our justice must always be guided by mercy. The Lord’s Prayer bids us “forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive.” The Righteous at both ends of the spectrum are uneasy with this. They yearn to withhold forgiveness or to doubt the genuine nature of a confession and have no mercy for those who fall off the wagon. One’s convictions and adherence to the party platform must be certain or one is damned.

To me there is one tribe to which I belong, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout time and space, and locally rooted in this diocese and parish. Therein are individual people, alive and “dead”, marked on their forehead with the seal of the Spirit. I am bidden to honor and reverence these people, not because I or they boast of a tribe, as St. Paul remarks when “boasting” of his background, Phil.3: 1 – 5, but because of our common baptism and recognition that Jesus is Lord and has died for our sins and risen to give us new and unending life. In addition to this “tribalism” I am to honor and care for all people and this earth which God has made. Aloha!

NATIONALISM

I’m watching the present debate about immigration with some interest. Rather like the sexuality debate in TEC, the subject seems to bring out the worst and the best in us. It touches a raw, visceral nerve which all too often energizes beyond reason.

I fully recognize that there are things which touch us deeply “beyond reason”. I was so touched recently when the Queen was over here. I can’t explain -I can try but never explain – to an American the reason why I am a monarchist. But I am. No I don’t think it would work here. But I do get annoyed when Americans tell me it shouldn’t work there.

On the other hand, in a shrunken globe, we have to get used to living and doing beyond our own turf. It was after the horrors of the two world wars that, in each case, the nations involved underwent a spurt of internationalism in the founding of the League of Nations and later the United Nations. War was caused by nationalism, by the theory that our country is best, unique, the home of the Master Race. Racism was deeply involved, a racism which deemed all other peoples to be inferior to our own with the Jews, in the Second World War as the most dreadful and sinister.

I fear that there is a good deal of racism involved in the controversy about immigration. We want to build a wall patrolled by guards, the sort of thing Ronald Reagan attacked when he visited Berlin. The Israelis are building a wall to keep the Palestinians out, despite the fact that Palestinians have called the Holy Land home for two thousand years.

Nationalism, in its negative sense is irrational. We wrap ourselves in emotive symbols, cling to a myth which is a-historical, and warn all others to keep out. When such xenophobia is lived by a nation made up of many nationalities and peoples, the irrationality factor becomes the more obvious. Irrationality often leads to hatred and violence.

This doesn’t mean that love of country is wrong, or that respect for symbols isn’t “natural.” Justice doesn’t mean that the doors should be flung open to all. Decency and order is utterly necessary. However it does mean that laws should be based on practical matters and not on irrational nationalism.

If the world needs to learn to live together and share its resources with equity and “justice” -as an Episcopalian I’m becoming frightened of that last word – the more so should the church. I am reading about the same sort of irrational ecclesiastical “nationalism”and fear of domination by “others” in our present debate about a Covenant. Even our bishops, in their subjective and often rude message to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates adopted at the House of Bishops meeting in Texas, became ultra-conservative as they muttered about “colonialism”and “prelates” and affirmed that no one could tell TEC what to do!! God help us when our largely liberal bench of bishops sound like the late Jerry Falwell.

Simply put we need the rest of the Anglican Communion. We need our brothers and sisters to pull us up short when we do foolish things or get ahead of ourselves. We need them to share with us their thoughts, their prayers, their scholarship,their spirituality just as we need to share with them our Christian Faith and commitment to a whole Gospel for a whole humanity. And if they decide our manners are so bad at the table to warrant our being sent to our room, so be it. As we often say, we treat people as adults when they behave as adults.

Most of all we may learn from others what it is like to be Christian in a world where culture endorses anti-Christian practices and endorses other rival religions who threaten the lives of our own people. (Nigerian Anglican leadership drops counter-culturalism when it fails to fight against draconian laws aimed at gay people in order to prove to Muslims just how orthodox they are.)

We in America are so used to a cosy relationship with culture, and so keen to be seen as modern by the intellectual elite, that we easily abandon the counter-cultural reality of Christianity in order to accommodate our own doubts or to preserve our own respectability. Anglicanism has always been clear about the core doctrines of the Faith and equally tolerant and respectful of doubts and doubters. But when the doubters take over……….? I know many unchurched people who shake their heads when they read the burbling of doubting clergy. If they don’t believe why do they dress up and intone language which expresses clearly the things they tell us don’t really count? Is the Church a foretaste of the Kingdom or of an eternal debating chamber for the bright? For, as with the Gnostics, there’s no place in the church for ordinary folk who read little but the sports’ pages..

Today’s Gospel, in which the word unity appeared over and over again, reminds us that unity is a note of authenticity, that we are one with Christ through the Spirit in the Father through baptism and belief that Jesus is Lord. It also reminds us that unity is the product not of concordats and strategies but it is the gift of God to be accepted. Unity is to be lived into and takes self-abandonment and crucifixion to make us new enough to accept it. The antithesis of Christ’s will is ecclesiastical nationalism -we have no need of you or if we do stay at a safe difference and don’t dare tell us what to do! After all we are Americans and Episcopalians!

PROGRESS

My last chemo session a month ago lasted fourteen hours. I kept rejecting Rituxin and breaking out in hives. My breathing was affected and I had pain in my arms and shoulders. The next three weeks were also rather dreadful. For over two weeks I had a constant fever, neuropathy in my feet and hands, pain in my legs and arms and terrible weakness.

When Pat and I went to the Cancer Center last Wednesday for my next chemo, I was filled with dread about the process and the follow-up. My blood was drawn and an IV put in my left arm and off we staggered to see the oncologist.

Dr. Craig came into the room with a smile on his face. He has a wonderful “bedside manner” and sense of humor as well as being very bright and in touch with the latest developments. I am one of two of his patients with this rare cancer. He has just lost his mother to cancer and has been much on our thoughts and prayers.

He announced that he thought I had been beaten up enough during the past six months. My labs continue to be good -although not entirely perfect – as total remission is rare with this cancer, and that he was not going to give me chemo on that day.

He told me that I would have blood work done in two weeks to monitor me but that I should concentrate on getting stronger and fitter. He will see me in July. If I have regressed I’ll be given a different “poison” given over a period of four days, one with mild side-effects. It’s worst feature is that it depresses the immune system and often results in shingles. Ugh. If I remain stable he will merely check on me at regular intervals. This is the normal life of someone with this cancer. People often live a productive life for years.

Thanks to the Church Pension Group I’m to be on disability for 52 days and can work up to 20% of a normal work life for a priest -I cynically said that many priests I’ve known work about that much normally – which means I can celebrate and keep on top of essential office work for instance.

The daughter and son-in-law of a parishioner in my former church. Trinity, Watertown, South Dakota are paying for Pat and me to fly to Maui at the end of this month. They are putting us up for three weeks in a beach-side condo and providing us with a rental car. I can’t believe it! This is so generous. Pat needs this break so much. She starts training to be an LPN in August and desperately needs a break.

I’m busy doing exercises, to the amazement of Mark, Philip, Abbey and Megan, our children. Mark has a thriving “extra-mural Anglican”parish,Philip is in construction, Abbey is changing jobs, and Megan is just back from Thailand and will begin graduate work in Oregon in 2008.

Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers. I’ve never had so many birthday cards in my life, including one from the Presiding Bishop, a touching and pastoral gesture to this old rebel!

JUSTIFICATION OF SCHISM

I suppose that if one looks at Church history from this perch, at this particular moment, it seems inevitably to be a story of division upon division and some have read this to mean that there is an inevitability about the process or even that this is obviously God’s will. “If they could do it then, surely we can do it now?”

However two other realities factor in here. The first is that we have now the experience of nearly one hundred years of intentional ecumenism. In this process a number of documents have been received by participating churches which commit us to visions of the Church in unity and call us to repent that our forefathers and mothers lost sight of the vision as they pressed their own agenda, an agenda which was usually less in worth than the vision they abandoned for the sake of “truth”. It has also to be said that the political nature of the united church from which they split – Medieval “Roman” Catholicism was often as adept in obscuring the vision as those who went off on their own. Perhaps we may simplify both th Great Schism and the Reformation by saying they were revolts against the outward and visible sign obscuring the inward and visible grace by the inappropriate use of secular style power.

We are heirs of those who went off on their own for nationalistic, dynastic and incidentally theological reasons and yet, very early on in the process began to grieve for the loss of the “catholic” in much more than sacramental and ritualistic terms. Perhaps providentially long before the Ecumenical Movement emerged, our Communion and particular church therein were putting in place and offering to others elements of “catholicity” which have come to be believed as important building blocks for a united Church. The Lambeth Quadrilateral is one example of such offerings.

Secondly not all incidents of disunity and quarrels cited to justify contemporary disunity resulted in schism. Of course there are levels of disagreement. Our first “Anglican” Divines after the Reformation sought to distinguish between what Archbishop McAdoo termed the “Hapex”, things necessary to salvation which all should accept even if they debate about or express doubts about them, and “matter indifferent” which are not core doctrine, but may be doctrine or tradition of a lesser nature established often by particular churches and perhaps by authority. About these things there may be a certain compulsion, as in Canons or official Liturgy, but no absolute necessity to conform, although there may be consequences for nonconformity!!! Nowadays in our church offense against adiaphora may have much greater personal consequence than denying core doctrines!!

Nevertheless as the Church worldwide for the most part is committed to the vision of unity -may this not be “development” – contemplation of formal structural schism may be an offense against both core doctrine “that they may be one” and adiaphoric teaching expressed in such concepts as an acknowledgement that baptism, the eucharist and ordination belong to the whole church and in a real sense effect communion, structural and “spiritual” with the whole Church in heaven and on earth. I term the latter adiaphoric because there has always been place among us for those who could not embrace such a “catholic” vision of church and sacraments.

Seeking to spiritualise baptism and the eucharist and engaging in activity which denies that which these sacraments actualize is a denial of the Incarnation. To claim the unity vouchsafed by the Trinity through these sacraments and then to justify schism and active hostile disunity is surely sinful? To engage in controversy in a hostile and belligerent manner is unchristian. To take seriously our unhappy divisions and the current manifestations thereof and to engage in serious discussions in an attempt to find a way in which all may move forward is a vocation: I suggest, a painful vocation particularly if one acknowledges the personal investment one may have in the issue at hand, one way or another.

This is why I firmly believe that all of us have to embrace Calvary at this present time and accept the pain involved in offering our thoughts and issues, campaigns and plans together as we nail them on the Cross. If we are prepared to die and offer up our most cherished desires and convictions, trusting our Lord to kill them that they may rise again in a glorious manner and stun us in their beauty then we shall move forward in God’s will.. Unhappily most of us want to justify, to cling to and to idolize the very things which lead from peace to terror, the terror of a divided, bloodied Church.

CANADIAN BISHOPS SPEAK

The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada has issued a statement to the other members of the General Synod of the Canadian Church which meets next month. The bishops have reflected on the matter of same-sex blessings and while unable to reach a consensus seek to embrace a common mind on the matter of pastoral care and the borders of theological reflection.

The first striking aspect of their statement is that it does not reflect the sort of majoritarianism nor claims to charismatic inspiration to be found in our own bishops’ reply to the Primates Communiqué. But there again, Canada hasn’t produced distinct forms of religion which reflect the particularity of Americanism at its most xenophobic. Joseph Smith was born in New York State.

Perhaps a majority of bishops in the Canadian Church are in favor of same-sex blessings. They might well have issued a majority report urging General Synod to proceed to permit them. Instead the Canadian bishops seem to take seriously the divisions in their church and their duty to be pastors to the whole church, at home and abroad and not merely political leaders of those who agree with them.

I am rather puzzled about the comment which promotes the ideal that Christians should pray together whatever the circumstances.

Perhaps this is a shot at those Primates who refused to take communion with the American Primate? I deplore the use of the Eucharist to lobby for or against any persons or opinions. The Eucharist has its own work and purpose among us and cannot be hijacked and turned into a political rally for or against anything. On the other hand no one is obliged to receive communion and there are occasioned when we had better not!!! If asked or if we take the initiative, praying with others is a Gospel imperative. With this said, this paragraph in the bishops’ statement is balanced and good.

The bishops go on to star a number of issues connecting gays and lesbians to sacraments and other rites of the church. Certainly no child should be rejected for baptism solely because of the behavior or lifestyles of their parents. Some would also say that a priest has to assess, as best is possible whether parents and godparents are prepared to bring up a child in the communion and fellowship of the church.

The Bishops go on to hope that no person may be denied communion or confirmation because of their sexual orientation.

This gets a bit more tricky. Do we indiscriminately confirm people who, for instance are living together but not married? Obviously their future intentions must factor into a decision although all circumstances may not be the same. The next section highlights this when it makes reference to the “current teachings of the church”. The “current” teachings of the church state that Matrimony is a sacramental rite in which a man and a woman seek God’s blessing on their union. As I’ve said before this is the issue. A same-sex blessing as a concept is at best a fudge and at worst a prevarication. The debate is really centered on whether same-sex couples may be married by the church. I have no idea what blessing a civil union means anymore than I know what blessing Suzie’s tadpoles mean. It may make Suzie feel better –no harm in that – but what does it do to the tadpoles?

The bishops then suggest two options open to couples who wish their civil union or relationship be in some manner recognized by the church.

I am sure that I have blessed the homes of gay couples. They haven’t discussed with me what they do in private and I haven’t asked. “Don’t ask: don’t tell” some may say. Not so. If they had later sought to reveal to their bored friends the details of their sex lives, it is doubtful whether any bishop would confirm their being denied the sacrament The communion rubric hasn’t seen much use in hundreds of years. As long as the celebration of the Eucharist doesn’t take the form of a rally or lobby for or against the couple’s formal relationship but sticks to the Propers for the day or week, I see no real objection.

The bishops suggest that when a gay or lesbian married or committed couple seeks to hold a reception or celebration in a church for their life in Christ, again intercessory prayers for their mutual fidelity, the deepening of their discipleship and for their baptismal ministry may be offered, not including the exchange of vows and/or a nuptial blessing.

This again sounds pastorally sensitive. Granted it could be used as an affirmation of gay unions in general. Certainly both parish priest and bishop would have to take great care in framing the contents of such an ad hoc liturgical rite.

The bishops seek to encourage ordained gay and lesbians as they seek to be faithful to their calling at the present time.

Given the fact that the church has always ordained gay persons and that, at the present, their lives are probably under greater scrutiny than at any other time in the history of the Church perhaps the above section is necessary. To cling to the belief that gay and lesbian clergy have always managed well in the area of celibacy is to live in a dream world. The suggestion that being gay is the equivalent to having a call to celibacy is theological nonsense. On the other hand, if a priest or bishop is called and set aside to a special ministry and in ordination given special grace, the responsibility to set a worthy example to the flock of Christ is something to be attempted by all, even if seldom achieved by any. There are parishes in which a gay or lesbian priest may live with another without causing “scandal” as the rubric puts it. There are other parishes where this would not be so. This may not be fair -it certainly isn’t -but it isn’t solved by producing a fudge on Matrimony.

The bishops then note that same-sex blessings are not at present permitted by the Anglican Church of Canada.

Note “as of today” and “clearly permit.” Some of us would say that the doctrine and discipline of the Church, never mind “our church” –denominationalism at its best – does not permit same-sex blessings and that an extraordinary consensus not only within the Anglican Communion but in the wider Church would be necessary to change the Doctrine of Holy Matrimony as expressed in our formularies and the Book of Common Prayer.

But at least the Canadian bishops are more honest than our own. For it is equally true that the doctrine and discipline of TEC does not permit same-sex blessings. That we don’t own up to this fact is a scandal and may yet become a schismatic scandal.

The bishops suggest that there may be a development of doctrine on this issue. They do not prophecy when this may occur or how. The theory of “The Development of Doctrine” was formulated by John Henry Newman. He was warned at the time that his theory without specific terms of authority would lead to chaos. But, rather like theories of the atonement, no church other than the Roman Catholic Church has apprehended Newman’s theory as official doctrine. The assumption that Doctrinal Development is part of core belief remains a dangerous and divisive theory because at the least we haven’t found a theological and ecclesial formula to suggest how it works in a Communion without central authority.

One cannot refrain from contrasting the tone, language and dignity of this pastoral statement of the Canadian bench with the heated rhetoric employed by our own House recently. The time was, not long ago, that our Bishops collectively expressed themselves in the opaque language I call “815 Mandarin”. This time they broke the code and wrote something ghost written by people who obviously read political blogs or those of sports jocks. Perhaps our episcopal neighbors to the North might send a team down here to help our bishops recover their collective dignity