Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Celebrating Works in Progress

Someone reminded me of a 4th of July article I wrote in 2005 for The Witness magazine -- one of their lectionary reflections. And while the readings are for Year A, I think the ideas in the reflection are still valid.

Lectionary Reflections for the Fourth of July (A)
Readings for Independence Day (U.S.), Year A, July 4, 2005
Deuteronomy 10:17-21
Psalm 145 or 145:1-9
Hebrews 11:8-16
Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus sets some high benchmarks for the church in the Gospel reading for the Fourth of July:

"Jesus said, `You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy."' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Be perfect? Clearly the church has a long way to go.

On the Fourth of July, we also celebrate the high benchmarks the founders set for the nation they were dreaming into being, the idea "that all men are created equal" being perhaps the most demanding of all.

We had a long way to go on that one the minute it was put on paper.

The man who wrote that phrase, and many who signed onto the document in which it is stated, owned human beings as slaves.

After the Revolution, only white male landowners could vote. Nearly a hundred years later, the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 gave black men the right to vote. It would take another century and the civil rights movement of the 1960s for black men and women to be able to safely exercise that right.

Women first demanded the vote at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 expanded that right to women of all races.

Now our nation is engaged in another struggle toward the ideal of equality for all -- equal civil rights for lesbians and gays.

This is mirrored by the struggle in the church, as lesbians, gays, transgendered and bisexuals step up to claim their places in the life of the church as baptized sons and daughters of God.

This is a pattern Jesus would recognize. At the urging of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus enlarged the circle of his ministry. And he kept enlarging it, reaching out to those on the margins time and again.

The church constantly falls short of the ideals offered us in the Gospel. It is -- we are -- a work in progress. But this process is inexorably driven by the fact that, as Walter Brueggemann said, the arc of the Gospel is always bent toward radical inclusion.

The United States of America also is a work in progress.

Our nation is a great experiment in democracy. And here, over time, the arc of history is bent toward justice, just as Martin Luther King said.

But this movement toward the founders' ideal is in grave peril today as our national leadership distorts American values in an unjustified war, treats prisoners of war in ways that violate the Geneva Conventions, and passes budgets and tax policies that enrich the rich while penalizing the most vulnerable among us.

Many parts of the church, including our own Episcopal Church, are beset by those who, in the name of "orthodoxy" or "tradition," will do just about anything to keep intact their vision of a patriarchal white-male-dominated church defined not by who is included, but by who is kept out.

It is easy to be discouraged by all this.

That's why the Fourth of July is a good time to raise our eyes to those impossible benchmarks set by Jesus for the church and by the founders for our nation.

Meditate on them. Let them firm your resolve, because the work is not easy.

"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. . . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. "

Yes, right now the gap between the reality and the ideal seems so huge as to be insurmountable. But it is in that gap that the Holy Spirit resides.

Let us gather up our courage, pledging our lives and our sacred honor, and get to work.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Barbed wire and the Anglican Covenant

I've been thinking about barbed wire.

Barbed wire is mean stuff, meant to control and punish.

Invented in the late 1800s, it's a simple thing, just two strands of wire twisted with sharp barbs spaced along it. Any person or animal trying to get through barbed wire is punished with painful cuts as the barbs slice skin and hide.

Prior to its advent, everyone had free access to the range. Native Americans, poor farmers and ranchers could graze their few head of cattle alongside the hundreds of head of wealthier ranchers. Barbed-wire ended that.

I began thinking about barbed wire while contemplating a piece of sculpture we have in our garden. For several days now, it has been haunting me. I mean, it's been there for years. I see it nearly every day. But just recently I found myself coming back to it again and again, sitting and staring at it as the song of the cicadas splintered the hot June air.

The piece was created by a TCU art student in the late 1960s who, sadly, did not sign it. Two bronze doves are imprisoned in rings of barbed wire. One dove's wing has been pierced by the sharp wire. Rust has stained the wing, looking like dried blood.

Still, it tries to fly.

But the dove is trapped and cannot take wing.

And I know this is exactly what the proposed Anglican Covenant will do to the Anglican Communion.

It seeks to wrap rings of bureaucratic barbed wire around the Holy Spirit, imprisoning the Spirit in processes of discipline designed to enforce unanimity of theology, of interpretation of Scripture, and who knows what else.

It is a document born out of fear that seeks to force an institutional solution onto a relational problem. It is designed to control and punish.

We are meant to be creatures of hope, not fear. Amid all the other challenges of reconciling the world to God through Christ, why on earth would we want to put this Covenant between us and the Holy Spirit?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Canon Kearon speaks

Here are some thoughts on the latest Executive Council meeting. These are MY observations and opinions, not those of the council.

Although I think the work we did around mission and ministry was our more important work, I want in this post to focus particularly on the Q&A session with Canon Kenneth Kearon. I have interspersed this with some Texas wisdom that I think is applicable.

The room for the meeting was set up as usual, with all of us sitting at round tables for five or six with microphones at each table. There were two podiums set up at the front of the room. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presided from one and anyone else making a report, presentation, etc., spoke from the other. There was a big screen between and slightly behind the two podiums on to which reports, copies of resolutions, charts, etc. could be projected. It was also used during the daily worship to project the prayers.

Wednesday was spent in prayer, private conversation, updates since the last meeting, and reports from the CEO and other staff members as well as reports from various committees about work already done and work to be done.

Thursday was spent in committee meetings, and Thursday evening we met with the bishops of Maryland and their deputies at dinner. Bishop Katharine and Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, are members of ALL the committees, and they sat in on various committees all day Thursday.

It was the task of the World Mission Committee to craft the questions for Canon Kearon, although they solicited input from all Council members -- and got it.

There's two theories to arguin' with a woman. Neither one works.

So Friday morning Bishop Katharine was at her podium and Canon Kearon was standing at the other. Bishop Katharine was half sitting on a stool behind her podium looking very relaxed and non-anxious, holding her hands loosely clasped in front of her. Canon Kearon, on the other hand, looked like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs

It began with Canon Kearon telling Bishop Katharine that he wanted the session to be private, with staff and press put out of the room. He talked about how the press was the enemy of us all and that bloggers would take anything that was said and distort it.

So Bishop Katharine said, "All those in favor of a closed session, please raise your hands." Four or five hands went up.

"All opposed?" Hands went up all over the room. The session remained open to everyone.

There was one positive moment when Canon Kearon said to Bishop Katharine, “I gather you’ve also been visiting England and there have been some issues that arose during your visit there. I just want to say I’m not a member of the Church of England, I'm a member of the Church of Ireland."

Most of us took this to be a back door apology for the way Bishop Katharine was treated by the Archbishop of Canterbury [he told her not to wear a mitre] -- "mitregate," as it is being called. By the way, Bishop Katharine remains amazed at the uproar over it, and she clearly is losing no sleep over something she calls “bizarre, just bizarre.” She did comment in conversation that the readings that day were wonderfully apt, being about the woman who knelt before Jesus with her hair uncovered.

Back to the session with Canon Kearon. After his oblique apology about the miter incident, it went downhill. You would think after the vote to NOT close the meeting, he would have gotten the message that we were in no mood to play his game of "Let's all us people in positions of power get together and make decisions without consulting with those most affected by them." But no.
Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

Then Canon Kearon looked out at a room that was at least nearly half full of people of color, and the first thing he said was the "problem of increased and growing diversity in the Anglican Communion has been an issue for many years." He said that by the 1990s leaders in the communion has begun to name "the diversity of opinions in the communion and diversity in general as a problem and sought some mechanisms to address it."

Jaws dropped all over the room. People looked at one another in disbelief. Had he really just said that? Yes, indeed he had. Whether Canon Kearon meant diversity of cultures, of people, or of thought, to see “growth in diversity” as a problem is astonishing in a leader in the Anglican Communion, don’t you think?

Another aside – throughout his presentation and in his answers he referred to The Episcopal Church (TEC) as “tech”, something that really grates on me, probably because it is how the schismatics always refer to The Episcopal Church.

Canon Kearon told us he would talk to us about “the way I see it because I don't think the way I see it is the way any of you see it."

You think?

Canon Kearon said during his statement that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has limited authority beyond the ability to call meetings of certain communion bodies, make some appointments and "occasionally articulate the mind of the communion."

"Everywhere I go, everyone wants him to act as a sort of an Anglican pope as long as he does what [they] want him to do.”

Well, actually, no. We don’t want him to act as a sort of Anglican pope. That would be Rowan who wants to be an Anglican pope. It would be Rowan who keeps forgetting that he has "limited authority beyond the ability to call meetings of certain communion bodies, make some appointments and 'occasionally articulate the mind of the communion.'" And I dispute the latter point.

After detailing our offense – the consecration of Mary Glasspool “put this church out of step with the rest of the communion” -- he said we should have expected consequences because actions have consequences. But apparently not ALL actions have consequences. Can you say “interventions?”

"Each instrument of communion [Archbishops of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting]has condemned them and asked for them to cease, but we are a voluntary communion and have no [ability] to act against a province," he said. [Emphasis added.]

Get that? We have no ability to act against a province – except you just did, Kenneth.

It was at that point that Bishop Katharine quietly said, "Kenneth, we're ten minutes into the time we have allotted for this."

He said that put him in a dilemma.

Bishop Katharine said, "Can you wrap up?"

He was a bit nettled, but did sum up. And then it was time for questions. Canon Kearon said he would answer all the questions he "can" answer and may leave some questions unanswered. Bishop Katharine said she would send any unanswered questions to him to answer later in writing. As far as I’m concerned that is all of them, because I found his answers totally inadequate. For a man who used the word “logic” every other sentence, there was not a lot of it demonstrated.

When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

The first question was asked by Canon Rosalie Ballentine, chair of the World Mission Legislative Committee. Rosalie is from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands.

“”There is a covenant being considered that has in it certain processes, some of which have caused great concern for some of the provinces on how fairly they would be applied. For example, the Province of New Zealand gave only partial approval to the covenant, with members of its General Synod noting that Section 4 could “get into a situation where we sanctify a process of exclusion or marginalization” and that it might be implemented in ways that are “punitive, controlling and completely unAnglican.” Do the recent actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury give credence to these concerns?

Canon Kearon’s responses to all the questions were carefully parsed, often to the point of leaving more than one of us wondering, “Exactly what did he really say?”

He did say that “To remove people from representative functions [within the Anglican Communion] is not to be [exclusive]. Being in full communion does not require us to have people from [a particular church] representing the Anglican Communion.”

A “full communion relationship” does not commit any church body to “everything” done in connection with the Anglican Communion, he said, but indicates a shared fellowship.

He said the Archbishop of Canterbury was not anticipating enforcement of Part 4 of Anglican Covenant by removing Episcopalians from ecumenical bodies.

Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, asked the next question.

“There are always consequences to living authentically as Christians. Within relationships among Christians, however, we ought to have opportunity to question those consequences, lest all end up walking on eggshells. Is there such a process now? And, do you foresee a season of such sanctions or is the removal of ecumenical committee appointees from The Episcopal Church an isolated event?

Canon Kearon said he “hopes” removal of TEC from ecumenical bodies was an isolated act but repeated his remarks that we have not exercised gracious restraint.

As near as I could decipher his answer, he said – and these are MY words, not his -- that more sanctions might be forthcoming, depending on how much more power Williams thinks he can get away with arrogating to himself. One wonders exactly just how inflated Rowan Williams’ idea of his office really is.

Canon Kearon earlier had said, “...the aim has not been to get at the Episcopal Church, but to find room for others to remain as well as enabling as full participation as possible for the Episcopal Church within the communion.”

Now did you get that? We get sanctions for being faithful to our baptismal promises, to our canons and to classical Anglicanism in order to “find room for” other provinces who are crossing borders, promoting schism, and abetting the persecution of LGBT Anglicans.

Don't squat with your spurs on.

Blancha Echeverry from the Diocese of Colombia asked (in Spanish), “You have stated that The Episcopal Church does not “share the faith and order of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion.” Given the place of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral in our common life as The Episcopal Church, how was it determined that The Episcopal Church does not share this faith and order?

He said that we don’t share the understanding of same-sex relationships as the rest of the Communion.

Now, Mark Harris has done an excellent examination of this whole faith and order issue at his blog. Please go read what he says. But essentially what Canon Kearon seemed to me to be saying is that by fully including LGBT Christians in the life of our church we have violated a core doctrine of Anglicanism, something I find astonishing – and more than a little disturbing.

Jim Simons from the Diocese of Pittsburgh asked the next question. Jim was the sole member of their Standing Committee left after the previous bishop and other diocesan leaders left The Episcopal Church.

“I am Jim Simons, a priest resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh which, as I’m sure you are aware, went through a recent and painful schism. Currently, there are over 100 priests, deacons and one bishop canonically resident in the Province of The Southern Cone as well as another Bishop canonically resident in the Province of Rwanda functioning in our diocese without licenses and laying claim to some of our parishes. This is in clear violation of the canons and it is also not unique to our diocese. What if any disciplinary action do you anticipate toward provinces who engage in such jurisdictional incursions?

Canon Kearon replied that he sent letters to Southern Cone, Rwanda, et al at the same time he sent letters removing Episcopalians from ecumenical bodies asking for clarification of their actions, but added that “no instrument of communion” has addressed the questions about interventions by bishops from other provinces. Note that earlier he had said that all the instruments of communion had condemned interventions and asked that they cease. But that is apparently not enough to get Kearon to take action against them, while a "proposal" from the ABC in his Pentecost letter that Episcopalians be removed from ecumenical bodies is acted on by Kearon virtually the next day.

Jim followed up, asking whether any of the “instruments of communion” will address these question, Canon Kearon said he hoped so.

Later Mark Hollingsworth, Bishop of Ohio, addressed Canon Kearon, saying he had a bishop in his diocese doing confirmations and ordinations and meeting with disaffected Episcopalians, so he is really clear about what an intervention looks like and is puzzled that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Canon Kearon have so much trouble figuring that out.

Canon Kearon then made a strange comment about how some of those bishops and priests “appear to be Americans” and so it is difficult to figure out if they are intervening in The Episcopal Church or not.

They don’t just “appear” to be Americans, they ARE Americans. So what? They are still intervening in The Episcopal Church under the auspices of another province in the Communion. This is not hard to figure out, Kenneth.

Lee Alison Crawford, a priest in the Diocese of Vermont, asked, “As a lesbian priest, in a 20-year relationship, legally recognized civil union in my state for ten years , and serving in a congregation, I ask this question because inclusion is very important to me. In his Pentecost letter, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “We are praying for a new Pentecost for our Communion. That means above all a vast deepening of our capacity to receive the gift of being adopted sons and daughters of the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It means a deepened capacity to speak of Jesus Christ in the language of our context so that we are heard and the Gospel is made compelling and credible.” Removing people by executive action seems counter-intuitive to furthering inclusion. How is the exclusion of Episcopal Church members reconciled with the language of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter?

Canon Kearon essentially answered by saying that one form of exclusion for faith and order issues is not the same as other forms of exclusion. I am still seeking enlightenment on that reply.
Then Bishop Wendell Gibbs, Bishop of Michigan, asked the stumper, “The Church of England remains in full communion and ecumenical dialogue with the Old Catholic Church, which blesses same-sex unions, and the Church of Sweden, which has a partnered lesbian bishop and blesses same-sex marriages. Given this fact, how are we to reconcile the removal of Episcopal Church members from ecumenical bodies?

LONG silence ensued. He looked at Wendell like a calf looks at a new gate. He clearly didn't know where to go.

Canon Kearon hemmed and hawed and finally said that there are different types of full communion and that the sticking point is being able to represent the Communion vis a vis faith & order. Wendell stressed the point of who the Church of England is in communion with, but Canon Kearon had nothing more of substance to say.
So. It gives one pause, doesn't it? And makes it really clear why we fought the Revolutionary War.

If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Texas Republicans and the oil industry

A story in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram was about Texas Republicans calling for an end to the deep-water drilling moratorium. It said the moratorium is hurting the oil industry.


DALLAS -- Rep. Joe Barton and other Texans in Congress asked President Barack Obama on Saturday to call off a six-month moratorium on deep water oil drilling to avoid hurting the drilling industry more than it has already been damaged.
Republican House members led by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, say they'll file a bill Tuesday calling for an end to the moratorium, which they say is creating financial hardships for businesses and workers in the deep water drilling business.


As a Texan I'd just like to say -- read any story about whole fishing industries in multiple states along the Gulf Coast in danger of dying; read about birds, dolphins and other forms of sea life that are already dead and dying; read about whole recreational industries in danger of dying because of the reckless drive for profit by ONE part of the oil industry on ONE deep water well -- and then tell me why ANYONE would be feeling sorry for the oil industry or support Texas Republicans in this insanity?