Wednesday, February 25, 2009

From Ash Wednesday, by T S Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death....

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Prayer 578

Dear God, I thank You for being so much more than my Father in heaven, but that You are my protector here on Earth and friend in my heart. I thank You for the blessing of fellowship in the morning, for hands clasped in friendship, for bringing two or three together in your Name. We are here because of You. We are here because of each other.

In the beginning You called the world into being, a world that danced and swayed throughout space before stars and through light and dark, just as each of us in our lives dance through light and through dark. I thank You for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, to help remind us that Your light is never closer or brighter than when it is leading us. You have called each of us from before we were born, called us and known us and loved us.

Dear God, let us be willing to allow You to lead us, to hear that call that You have for all of us. We are truly called into being when we are still and listen to Your call, and open to your love, which is the root of all blessings we receive from you in the miracle of each day. Amen.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

How long to female British bishop?

... and how exactly will this deal work?
The Church of England has reached an historic agreement on the consecration of women bishops.

After years of struggle to avoid schism, bishops have agreed a formula that enshrines the principle of equality for male and female bishops while appeasing opponents of women’s ordination. The first women bishops could take their place in the Church of England within three years.

The deal, published in a new report yesterday, provides for a class of “complementary” traditionalist bishop for parishes that refuse to accept a woman diocesan bishop. Such “flying” bishops would have to abide by the authority of the woman bishop, according to the accompanying code of practice.

Supporters of women’s ordination welcomed the agreement to recognise male and female bishops as equal but many are unhappy about the guarantee of a place for parishes “unable” to accept the ministry of women bishops.

Traditionalists drew comfort from the report’s provision for the continuation of the Anglo-Catholic male-only priesthood in the Church of England. However, many remain bitterly opposed to the principle of women bishops. There is expected to be fierce fighting over the detail when the Church’s General Synod discusses the proposed legislation and code of practice in February.

The Church faces a potentially disastrous series of court battles. Because the code of practice will not be legally binding, a militantly liberal diocesan bishop could refuse to delegate his or her authority to a traditionalist as petitioned by an Anglo-Catholic parish. The parish will then be entitled to seek a judicial review, leading to costly legislation and damaging publicity.

The dilemma over women bishops is exponentially greater than that over women priests and has threatened to be more schismatic even than the debates over gays. Christina Rees, of Women and the Church, said that she was “very pleased” with the published draft measure, but the group warned that the very existence of complementary bishops could undermine the authority of women.

The Rev Rod Thomas, the chairman of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said: “The outlook is very sad. We now have the prospect of much wrangling in the General Synod.”

I love the use of the fear of Roman Catholic reaction. Since the Catholic Church has declared that all Anglican ordinations are invalid, it doesn't matter who we have as bishops, either, now does it?

This decision merely opens the way for female bishops. Since there aren't any in the pipeline, yet, it will probably be years before a woman is actually selected.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Eye on the sparrow

“Why feed those damn sparrows
and finches?” My neighbor groused.
“They’re just ugly little
Dun colored things. Might as well
Feed the grackles, too, while you’re at it.”

And I do, for I believe in the God of Small Things.
One small bird cannot fall
Without notice, so who am I
To set up a velvet rope and a bouncer at the feeder?

This is the God of the uncut grass
Bowing obeisance to the summer wind
Seed heads bowed, nodding like somnolent watchmen
Thankful for the smaller gifts of wind and rain.

This is the God of cottonwood leaves
Applauding to the exhalations of
Exhausted hurricanes. This is
The God of infinite detail in a hazelnut universe.

This is the God of love without reason.
Surely we receive as much grace as sparrows.
Frantic beggars, they just hope for food.
Frantic beggars, we just hunger for God.

Every creature of God is good, praising with each breath,
Even as winter want implacably awaits.
Eckhart said, “Every creature is a book about God.”
It is given to us to read it, and be led back to love.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fort Worth, Quincy, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin: A problem of love

Today the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth under +Jack Iker announced that it too is leaving the Episcopal Church and aligning itself with Archbishop Venables and the Southern Cone. This is now the fourth diocese to cast off its ties to the Episcopal Church over disputes which ultimately are about conservative versus progressive interpretations of the Scriptural witness to us as Christians.

Ultimately, this dispute is all about love. That means that, for many of us, this is a dispute about the very nature of God.

I think most of us (with perhaps the exception of +John Shelby Spong) would agree that we are called to live according to the precepts handed to us in Scripture as one part of the infamous three-legged stool that Anglicans use to craft our understanding of our faith and theology. The difference sadly, boils down to these two questions, and these questions alone:

Is God a loving God, or is God a judging God? Does God call us to love or condemn?

These questions are vital to one's theology literally as well as figuratively. I would actually state that these questions are vital to how we live our lives, which is what theology should be.

One of the flashpoints for conservative displeasure and censuring of the Episcopal Church has to do with homosexuality and its status in the interpretation in Scripture. One could even make the case that the anger of the conservatives is over the call of some people to love those of their own gender. So this dispute is literally about love, one could say.

Conservatives ultimately interpret the Scriptural witness in four or five specific verses to mean God wishes to judge and exclude homosexuals. Progressives interpret Scripture not based on specific verses but on Christ's action in sitting at table with the most marginalized and despised of his times to mean that God loves all and Jesus is sent to all in love. Ultimately, the dispute is about strict interpretation of the Bible versus loose interpretation of the Bible, similar to political disputes about the interpretation of the US Constitution.

We could rehash all the particulars of this dispute, but that's been done better by others elsewhere. I myself have great unease about +Gene Robinson's path to the bishopric in particular, but it's not his homosexuality per se that troubles me, as I have explained previously, and listen, defenders of Bishop Robinson, we are just going to have to disagree about that. Then there's the dispute many of these conservatives have about the leadership of women in the Church, but this point merely reinforces the definition of the problem.

But what troubles me more than anything else is the anger that radiates from those who are leaving the Episcopal Church, and their Global South counterparts who are welcoming the self-exiled into their diocese and provinces. They seem to lack any love for their fellow Christians save those who agree with them theologically. They are full of rage, bitterness, judgment, and vindictiveness. To them the Church is only a Church if it is an exclusive club and I mean both meanings of the word "club"-- as a group and as a blunt weapon.

Any cursory examination of the words and actions of Jesus instructs us to act otherwise. The one recorded instance in Scripture when Jesus showed anger was directed at those who had used literal interpretation of Scripture to defile the sacred sanctuary of God. Jesus clashed with the conservatives of his time over their wrong intent justified upon isolated bits of scripture and tradition. This sounds familiar.

We are called to proclaim Christ crucified, a Christ who loved us so much that he was willing to suffer and to therefore witness to us through that love. Jesus loves us despite our pettiness and brokenness.

It is love that joins us together.

It is love that calls us to a personal relationship with God.

It is love that calls us to be the Body of Christ in the world in fellowship to each other.

Love calls us into unity, not division.

How wonderful and wondrous! How miraculous! All else pales into insignificance.

And I must ask: where is the witness of love in this current dispute?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The use of masculine language in worship: All language is political

A recurrent topic that has been debated in a theological community to which I belong concerns the language that is used on corporate worship. Some of us have been substituting the word "God" for masculine pronouns when chanting the Psalms and canticles during the daily office. Some other members of the community felt that the lack of everyone using the same words at the same time was distracting and wanted everyone to pray using the words in the prayer book verbatim. We had a meeting over this issue to discuss the topic openly. Those who did not support the use of inclusive language stated, variously, that when we pray together we are as a choir, and thus a choir should use the same words; and that masculine words are of course understood to be inclusive of both male and female.

I will admit that I am one who feels excluded and diminished by the very masculine concept of God that is put forth in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. As a historian, I understand the definition and rights of fatherhood that was in effect at the time and place of the Holy Land in the biblical era to be those that I really do not apply to my understanding of God. In biblical/Middle Eastern societies, the father was given the right at birth to either take the child that was newborn into his arms or not. To accept the child was not only to welcome it as his acknowledged offspring but to allow it to live; a newborn that was not accepted by the father was often then abandoned or exposed to the elements to die. As a mother who has given birth, I know what it feels to have a child grow beneath one’s heart and to have thoughts and hopes and dreams of that child constantly on one’s mind for the better portion of a year as it is part of you. In the societal systems in place in the biblical era, the parent who had no actual point of physical contact had the power of life or death over the child; the parent who had already nurtured and loved that child was at the mercy of the other parent’s whim, but it was a whim with lasting repercussions. To use this model, then, as a way to name the Divine brings to mind, for me, a vengeful, unloving deity who holds absolute power over humans and wields it in a capricious manner. But this discussion really goes beyond the use of "Father."

Beyond this objection, however, I simply do not believe that God has a gender, and I grow frustrated with the repetitive masculine pronouns that are used especially in the canticles and the psalms. This is just not who I understand God to be. Since all language is metaphor, of course no way of speaking about God is really going to be precise, but it would help if the language didn’t set out to be exclusionary as a deliberate choice. Let me be clear: I do not believe that God is female either. I believe that God has placed in both male and female persons qualities and characteristics than in our experience and acculturation have become categorized as male and female, and that these same characteristics may well be of divine origin. It is human nature to try to use conceptions of God based upon human experience and understanding, and of course a personal God is often envisioned “in our image” if only for the sake of satisfying our limited understanding—we see only dimly in a mirror now, but someday we shall see face to face, as St. Paul reminded us.

However, the very least we can try to do in the meantime is to be as precise as we can in our language (since it then influences and shapes our thinking and understanding). This doesn’t mean that claiming that masculine words and images really stand for both male and female will simply make it so. Masculine words and the images that they call forth from both the conscious and unconscious mind can not be merely default terms utilized for convenience but are instead culturally preferred because of the image of power and privilege that is subsumed within their meanings (If this were not the case, why else would many men insult one another by calling each other “girls” and “ladies?”).

It would be ideal if we could all use the same words when we pray to God and that those words would have the same meanings for everyone. (At this point I could ask, then why the objection to the use of the word "God" by all?)

But when we pray to God, we pray using our own native tongues. Therefore, I believe that the never-ending hymns of praise and petition that ascend to God in a heavenly and earthly chorus already are not using common words or common tongues. I merely seek to pray to God in as honest and fluid a way as possible from the depths of my being and my admittedly limited understanding. As I struggled with my preparation for this discussion, I was surprised at how deeply I really felt about this issue, since I consider myself not to be a radical feminist. This conversation within myself was difficult but precious, and would not have happened if I had not been a member of this community and if I had not felt valued enough to have our opinions sought and for them to be shared openly.

In the end, the decision was made that we would occasionally use material from Enriching Our Worship (an Episcopal alternative service manual), but that most of the time those of who were bothered by the masculine language would perhaps just say "God" quietly to ourselves instead of aloud while community prayer is ongoing. A comment was made about not making "political" statements during corporate worship. Even though this observation was made by someone whom I greatly admire and love in Christ, it rankles nonetheless.

I believe the connotation of the word "political" as it is used in this comment is comdemnatory, and implies that my concern is a petty political concern. As I have been at pains to explain, there are three things to keep in mind here. First, language shapes thought. Second, language is by its nature metaphorical and imprecise. Third, words have historical meanings, emotional meanings, and literal meanings.

For instance, take the word "political." This word's etymology comes from the Greek word "polis" which refers to the city-state or community in which one lived. Thus things that are political are things that affect the community. Turning back to our immediate problem of gender-exclusionary language, the insistence on using masculine language is not seen as "political," but using gender-neutral language is. Yet both usages affect the community. Therefore, this entire debate has been political. Asking me to pray part of the time quietly to myself during common worship time is a political request as well.

All language about the community is political language.

My use of the word "God" in place of "he" was not meant to distract from others' worship, but I can see how it does, even though I have been trying to just say it quietly. The problem is, since there are several women in the group who do avoid the use of the masculine, I guess it ends up that those who are praying the office as written are surrounded by people praying otherwise. And we are being asked to be quiet--even at times-- during corporate worship. THAT is certainly a political request.

I am beginning to think that the only solution is for me to not pray aloud at all, which certainly, if we continue the metaphor of the "choir," diminishes the choir. Perhaps I should not even show up for choir practice, since my voice distracts. I am certain that this is not the intent. But to expect me to pray contrary to my understanding of God is certainly a political choice, and by that I do mean to use the condemnatory sense of the word.

Further, these words are not just ways of speaking about God-- these are ways of anthropomorphizing God-- something which I think is a grave mistake. That is why I do not say "she" when I speak of God, either. God has qualities of male and female, and we humans have been given those qualities each to each according to our function and our needs. There are also qualities that God has that we as finite beings do not have. But the insistence, nonetheless, is to use "he." If God is "he," and I am not "he," then I am not created in God's image. I think I've heard this before from Tertullian.

And if we continue in this vein, no doubt the next charge that could be levelled against those who say "God" is that we are being argumentative, which is always a favorite response when someone tires of a discussion rather than finishing it. It comes right before "Because I said so" in rank of utility.

I am not making these points in bitterness but in honesty, not just to make a point but to try to pray authentically to God as I understand God. To use a light-hearted example: if I was in an actual choir, and the choir chose to sing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, I would not be able to hit that high note when the word "me" is sung at minute 4:04, and probably not the "let me go's" that precede before that either, since I am somewhere between an alto and a mezzo soprano in my singing voice. But wait, not everyone sings the same notes in this song, nor do they actually all sing the same words at the same time.... All well and good. I don't mind dropping out from time to time. Perhaps some of my fellows ARE praying their understanding of God as "he." But do I want to belong to that choir? If the choir to which I belong insists on picking music that I can't sing, what good am I doing in that choir?

Or perhaps both sides are a bit tone deaf to the effect our words have. There's another extension of the metaphor for you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dear Judge Charles Spurlock: What's wrong with this picture?

Makes me wanna holler.
A Franciscan priest from New York pleaded guilty to raping three teenage boys during overnight trips to Boston in the 1970s and 1980s and was ordered Tuesday to serve time on probation.

The Rev. Frank Genevieve avoided prison time as a Suffolk Superior Court judge sentenced him to a suspended sentence of eight to 10 years, with five years' probation.

Genevieve was also ordered to have no contact with the victims or any minors, to register as a sex offender and wear a GPS device to monitor his whereabouts.

Prosecutors said Genevieve, 52, met the first victim in 1977 through St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Troy, N.Y., where he served as a Franciscan brother and was later ordained as a priest. During an overnight trip to Boston, prosecutors said, Genevieve shared a bed with the boy at a rectory and sexually assaulted him as he tried to sleep.

Genevieve was accused of attacking another teen in 1981 in the back room of a church during an overnight trip to Boston to celebrate the boy's confirmation. The third victim, prosecutors said, was attacked in Genevieve's car after a day trip to the New England Aquarium.

"We're grateful that these three victims disclosed their abuse to us, we recognize their bravery and that they were willing to testify, had it been necessary," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement.

Genevieve had ties to Massachusetts as a former teacher at Christopher Columbus High School in Boston. He also served as an assistant priest at a Cape Cod parish from 1998 to 2000.

Genevieve was indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury in 2006. Prosecutors said that because Genevieve returned to New York after each visit to Boston, the Massachusetts statute of limitations did not expire.

The Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception, which oversees Franciscans, said previously that Genevieve was removed from active ministry in June 2002. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany said it did not supervise the priest because he was a member of the Franciscan order.

Probation and a suspended sentence. I'm sure the victims feel much better, and that'll make child rapists think twice. That Judge Spurlock sure did a great job protecting society. Good Lord.