Friday, February 29, 2008

Interesting bits on Archbishop Akinola

One again, Father Jake really does stop the world with another post that is right on target. And don't forget to peruse the comments section, because there is certainly some great stuff there as well.

His topic: Archbishop Akinola as a source of instability in Nigeria, and as a supporter of atrocities.

And the blood cries out from the ground.

The rebirth of San Joaquin

More parishes in San Joaquin are vowing the "Remain Episcopal."
A growing number of Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin are opting to remain within the Episcopal Church (TEC) as the Fresno-based diocese prepares for an anticipated March 29 special convention that would elect a provisional bishop.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in a letter to be distributed via a new diocesan newspaper, notes the proposed convention date and reassures the people of the diocese that work is ongoing "to ensure that you and your fellow Episcopalians may continue to bless the communities around you well into the future."

"I anticipate convening a Special Diocesan Convention on 29 March, at which you will elect new diocesan leaders, and begin to make provision for episcopal leadership for the next year or so," Jefferts Schori writes. "That gathering will be an opportunity to answer questions you may have, as well as to hear about plans for the renewal of mission and ministry in the Diocese of San Joaquin."

The convention announcement follows a series of February 19-22 meetings with individuals and groups from Lodi to Bakersfield which the Rev. Canon Bob Moore called "very fruitful. We've been able to broaden the scope of people who may see a future in the reconstituted Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and that's been good," he said.

Moore noted as signs of progress the appointment of a 26-member steering committee to help continue the diocese (see roster below); 17 congregations who have opted to remain with TEC; the anticipated March 29 special convention to elect a provisional bishop; establishment of new diocesan headquarters in Stockton and a partnership with Episcopal Life Media to facilitate dissemination of information and to provide a new diocesan newspaper edition.

"It's an enormously big step," said Moore, of the new diocesan publication. "The lack of information here is profound," he said.

The Presiding Bishop appointed Moore, and later the Rev. Canon Brian Cox, as an interim pastoral presence to continuing Episcopalians after 42 of 47 diocesan congregations voted in December to leave TEC and to realign with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

On my other blog, I have a persona who occasionally steps in known as The History Geek, and she comments upon historical antecedents of events from the news or current events. So let's turn to my History Geek side for a little parallel.

In the American Civil War, the state of West Virginia seceded from the seceded state of Virginia. The mountain people of West Virginia had little sympathy with the concerns of the slave-owning plantation owners in the Tidewater region. Although hardly a bastion of abolitionism, the West Virginians had long resented the imbalance of power that had existed in state politics to their detriment. When Virginia voted for secession, the delegates from western Virginia walked out.

Now, here's the interesting part: Since constitutionally, a new state formed from an existing state has to have the permission of the existing state, the West Virginians simply asked permission from themselves to form their new state, since they were the only part of the state still under the authority of the Constitution.

San Joaquin stands in the same situation. And Bp. Schofeld can scream all he wants, but a fragment of a diocese that has seceded from the Episcopal Church has nothing to say to those who choose not to go with them. The people of the reconstituted diocese of San Joaquin may not agree with everything done in the Episcopal Church, but they have chosen to stay. I myself have qualms with Bp. Robinson's qualifications, but I refuse to ally myself with the homophobic rants of African bishops who would never countenance bishops of the Episcopal Church meddling in their own affairs.

And, of course, this site has some interesting information. Here's an interesting point of view:
...(T)he split now occurring, and that conservatives want made official, is distinctly un-Anglican. The heritage of Anglicanism is genuinely "big tent" and rich with compromises. That slavery wouldn't cause serious fragmentation within Anglicanism but the ordination of a gay bishop somewhere would, shows that Anglicanism itself--a centuries-old thing--has become the latest victim of a conservatism that is on the rise in many nations, including our own. That money from major GOP donors has helped destroy something so global and old, demonstrates its power, and leaves me in horrible awe.

Point Second: Many have foreseen this split. The Anglican Churches in Africa are growing especially rapidly and are especially conservative and evangelical. The conventional wisdom is that they will dominate the Lambeth Conference in 2008. (One Episcopal priest expressed his frustration to me hyperbolically, "They're minting 12 new bishops a day!") By virtue of the simple fact that they will so hugely outnumber the bishops from the Americas and Europe by 2008 means that if they really want to invent a way for a national church to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion, they will.

And they will have to, because all of this is unprecedented. Lambeth is a consultative and advisory body officially and only. Period. It doesn't even have the mechanisms in place to dis-invite or excommunicate or kick-out or chuck a member. This is an important point, since most of the media coverage I've read misses the fact that the conservative bishops are calling for something that in essence isn't even possible without re-inventing the Anglican Communion itself, and making it a distinctly un-Anglican thing: something that's authoritative more along the lines of the Roman Catholic Church. If the conservative bishops have their way, it's really the end of Anglicanism as history has known it, not just an end to the participation of Americans and Canadians in some "Anglican Communion."

Pretty well stated.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'Fessing up to what we have done, and left undone

This morning's OT reading:
Genesis 45:16-28 (NRSV)

When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ You are further charged to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”

The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. To each one of them he gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel along the way.” So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”

When I was a kid, and I read this story, I felt like screaming to everyone: "Don't do it! You'll end up enslaved! Make sure you've got an escape route planned!" But of course, in this story, there is a larger plan that is being fulfilled.

And then, I always wondered about those half-brothers of Joseph. Did they ever confess to their father their role in the loss of Joseph, or did they really just act surprised that Joseph was alive, as if it was a completely unexpected miracle? What kind of a burden must that be to keep such a secret? And no matter how sorry one is for one's actions, until one owns up to them and takes responsibility for them, they will have a terrible power over the rest of one's life. Were they ever able to admit to themselves, much less to Jacob, their responsibility for Joseph's disappearance-- even once the danger of starvation was removed from them?

Really, it's hard to understand these men. They would have rather their father have thought a child torn to pieces by animals than grow up and get over their jealousy over their father's favoritism. They could have used the opportunity to admit to their father what they had done.They might have risked disinheritance, I suppose.

Joseph had them pegged, though. "Do not quarrel along the way," he admonishes them. "Don't be jealous because I gave the one brother who didn't sell me into slavery more than you. Don't fight among yourselves, since you have proven yourself so prone to it already." Joseph models wisdom and forgiveness in the face of injustice. He ended up being able to save his family, and for him, that made all his losses and suffering worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Paul, methinks thou dost protest too much...

Jeez. After reading yet another rant about sex from 1 Corinthians this moaning-- I mean, morning-- I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be able to keep from rolling my eyes:

1 Corinthians 7:32-40:

"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God."

Am I the only person who is driven batty by these last few passages? This is where the whole justification for clerical celibacy comes from, too.

Giving it up for Lent

I have been thinking about the discipline of Lent-- or rather, the default decision to give up chocolate for forty days each year by millions of people around the world. It's gotten so bad that a chocolatier that I know says that he hates it when Valentine's Day falls within Lent, because his sales are a fraction of what they are when Valentine's Day doesn't run smack dab into a season of religious deprivation.

It's interesting that we set ourselves up this way in the bleak midwinter. How many of us commit to New Year's resolutions with no hope of actually carrying them out for the long term? Then along comes Lent, and we get another chance to deprive ourselves, but this time within a more manageable timeframe. And, we get to brag about it every time we smugly pass up the chocolate-- along with half of the population, apparently.

My priest preached about this on Ash Wednesday. Instead of giving up something for 40 days, why not think about giving up something that is bad for you permanently, using Lent simply to start you on the path.

This year, I have decided that I am going to try to give up carbonated drinks--even the diet versions aren't good for you, and let's face it, I chugged those babies FOR the sugar and the caffeine. I have started drinking more tea and water. Since I have been addicted to Pepsi since I was about 12, I think about the discipline I am subjecting myself to every time I pass a pop machine-- which is often, because I work in a high school.

But I'd like to take it to the next level. I have also decided that I am going to try to take ON some things that would help out those around me. I want to do it quietly, secretly if I can, without grandstanding.

Ann at what the tide brings in sums it up so nicely from a post from 2005:
I have always thought the Ash Wednesay Gospel was odd for the imposition of Ashes. We hear that we should not practice our piety in public but perhaps we take this so seriously we become afraid of practicing any piety before others and yet...
The prophet, Joel, calls to us -- “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the aged, gather the children, even infants at the breast and why -- so people will not ask “where is their God?” Let us show forth the holiness of our creator, so people will know that we are a holy people - commited to God and followers of Jesus Christ.
How might we do this? I suggest we move beyond chocolate to declare our own fast ---
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love
What will be your fast? What will be your feast?

Amen. Amen.

Changing Faiths: The American Way

There was a very interesting article highlighted in the news today about how loyal Americans are to the "faiths of their fathers:"
For the first time, a large-scale study has quantified what many experts suspect: there is a constant membership turnover among most American faiths. America's religious culture, which is best known for its high participation rates, may now be equally famous (or infamous) for what the new report dubs "churn."

The report, released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is the first selection of data from a 35,000- person poll called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Says Pew Forum director Luis Lugo, Americans "not only change jobs, change where they live, and change spouses, but they change religions too. We totally knew it was happening, but this survey enabled us to document it clearly."

According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%. Says Greg Smith, one of the main researchers for the "Landscape" data, churn applies across the board. "There's no group that is simply winning or simply losing," he says. "Nothing is static. Every group is simultaneously winning and losing."

For some groups, their relatively steady number of adherents over the years hides a remarkable amount of coming and going. Simply counting Catholics since 1972, for example, you would get the impression that its population had remained fairly static - at about 25% of adult Americans (the current number is 23.9%). But the Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic, and that ex-Catholics are almost as numerous as the America's second biggest religious group, Southern Baptists.) But Catholicism has made up for the losses by adding converts (2.6% of the population) and, more significantly, enjoying an influx of new immigrants, mostly Hispanic.

An even more extreme example of what might be called "masked churn" is the relatively tiny Jehovah's Witnesses, with a turnover rate of about two-thirds. That means that two-thirds of the people who told Pew they were raised Jehovah's Witnesses no longer are - yet the group attracts roughly the same number of converts. Notes Lugo, "No wonder they have to keep on knocking on doors."

The single biggest "winner," in terms of number gained versus number lost, was not a religious group at all, but the "unaffiliated" category. About 16% of those polled defined their religious affiliation that way (including people who regarded themselves as religious, along with atheists and agnostics); only 7% had been brought up that way. That's an impressive gain, but Lugo points out that churn is everywhere: even the unaffiliated group lost 50% of its original membership to one church or another.

The report does not speculate on the implications of its data. But Lugo suggests, "What it says is that this marketplace is highly competitive and that no one can sit on their laurels, because another group out there will make [its tenets] available" for potential converts to try out. While this dynamic "may be partly responsible for the religious vitality of the American people," he says, "it also suggests that there is an institutional loosening of ties," with less individual commitment to a given faith or denomination.

Lugo would not speculate on whether such a buyer's market might cause some groups to dilute their particular beliefs in order to compete. There are signs of that in such surveys as one done by the Willow Creek megachurch outside Chicago, which has been extremely successful in attracting tens of thousands of religious "seekers." An internal survey recently indicated much of its membership was "stalled" in their spiritual growth, Lugo allowed that "it does raise the question of, once you attract these folks, how do you root them within your own particular tradition when people are changing so quickly."

The Pew report has other interesting findings; the highest rates for marrying within one's own faith, for example, are among Hindus (90%) and Mormons (83%).

I have to say that my own experiences agree with the results of this study. Born and christened in the Methodist Church, then dragged kicking and once even screaming by my mother into every charismatic and fundamentalist sect there is except for the Assemblies of God, for some reason, with a long dark night of the soul in particular at the Church of Christ and the Southern Baptists. At the age of 14 I was luckily introduced to the Episcopal Church, and once I had a car, I never looked back, even when my parents forbade me from attending it because it was too "Catholic." I loved the fact that worshippers were encouraged to think for themselves. I loved the music. I loved the liturgy. I loved the Prayer Book. I loved the fact that no one started shrieking at the top of their lungs randomly. I loved the fact that Episcopalians were far more prone to talk about how to live by Christian principles instead of cherry-picking verses to support oppressing someone else-- (Jack Iker obviously didn't attend my first parish).

Withe the data on the Roman Catholic Church, I think that the situation here in the US is not that much different from the situation in western Europe-- many are nominal Catholics who rarely attend Mass and are alienated from much of the doctrine and lack of social action. Many former Catholics that I know resented the fact that the laity's needs and concerns receive no consideration whatsoever, chafed at the marginalization of women when they provide the backbone of the faithful, and denounced the failure of a celibate clergy to understand the needs and concerns of the people in the pews, people for whom they are supposed to act as shepherds, pastors, and counselors. In Europe, people remain on the roles but stop attending services. Here in the US, I think it is just more acceptable to actually exercise some free will and find a religious situation that is more suitable and accessible to their own concerns.

As to the question of whether some churches might be tempted to dilute their beliefs in an attempt to gain and hold members, you've got to say that that happens. Look at all the churches and books and evangelists preaching the so-called "Prosperity Gospel," which I find pretty empty.

Rather than look at religious affiliation, my interest is in how one lives one's life. I have a relative who trumpets how much time she spends at church-- but if you really examine it, she spends time in an enormous, mall-like building owned by a church drinking lattes, watching movies, and learning flower arrangement. Precious little outreach or spiritual formation goes on in all these hours. She could do all of these things in a secular environment, since there is no religious content whatsoever in any of these activities. Nothing much is required of those who participate. Her children engage in fund-raisers for mission trips in which they go to Sea World instead of performing actual mission work right in her hometown, because that's not enough of a "treat." These types of mega-churches seem to meet people where they are-- which is fine, at the outset-- but then never seem to move people beyond a superior feeling of belonging to a very clean social club.

Certainly, we see these types of churches in every denomination, and the Episcopal Church certainly has parishes which are gigantic networking sites rather than places of worship. Our culture's message of "I'm okay, you're okay" and reliance upon the self-esteem doctrine has reinforced that change and growth is unnecessary in our personal lives.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Wandering Feast of St. Matthias the Apostle, the man who replaced Judas

Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

St. Matthias was the disciple chosen to take Judas' place. Now, there's an interesting position in which to be.

It's one thing to try to take the place of someone who is beloved, who is mourned and missed after they have left. But Judas? Judas, who betrayed with a kiss. Judas, who accepted money-- thirty shekels of silver coins, most likely-- to sell out his friends.

Judas, tradition tells us, killed himself, and the blood money he received he used to buy a field. Acts 1:18 has the particularly gruesome story about what happened to Judas as he walked in his field. St. Matthew's Gospel says that Judas hanged himself in remorse after trying to give the money back to Jesus' enemies who had paid him. Since the money was "blood money," the chief priests of the Temple could not accept the money back, and instead used it to buy a potter's field in which to bury paupers and strangers. No matter which story appeals more to you, the idea of Abel's blood "crying out from the ground" after he was slain by his brother, might come to mind from both of these stories.

Now, thirty silver coins may not sound like a lot to us. There are three different kinds of shekels that are mentioned in the Bible. But at the same time that Judas' drama was playing out, one kind of shekel was very important for the religious life of Israel. Each Jewish male over the age of twenty was required to pay an annual Temple Tax of one-half shekel. This is estimated at twice the daily wage of a common laborer in Palestine at that time. Therefore, a shekel was four times the daily wage of a laborer. Using this standard, Judas was paid four months' wages for his betrayal of Jesus. A third of a year's wages. A lot of money, certainly. But enough to convince you to betray those you love? It's still hard to imagine.

But Judas was associated with the concept of money. He was the apostle who was given the responsibility to keep the common purse for the holy association of Jesus and his apostles, according to the Gospel of John. Surely he was considered trustworthy to be given responsibility for the common purse, which makes his betrayal all the more appalling. The one most trusted by Jesus sells him to torture. If you who have ever been betrayed by someone who has claimed to love you, you can certainly identify with this story. And of course, those whom we love the most also have the power to hurt us the most. Our beloveds rest in close proximity to our hearts.

Entire theories have been written about the story of Judas, by scholars such as Garry Wills, Bertrand Russell and Raymond Brown, among others. The idea of whether Judas was merely helping Jesus fulfill his destiny creates quite a few conundra. Was Judas condemned to Hell? Was Judas a symbolic figure used to help fulfill prophecy? No matter what, thousands of words have been written, and his name has become synonymous with betrayal.

But what of St. Matthias? We can't even agree upon which day is his feast day. The Book of Common Prayer lists today as his feast, where it was celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church before 1970. However, in leap years, like this year, some believe that his feast day should be on February 25. Lutherans remember Matthias on February 24. However, the Church of England's Common Worship schedule lists his feast day as May 14. The Orthodox remember him on August 9.

So little is known from Scripture of Matthias, although there is a "Lost Gospel" attributed to him. He is not even mentioned in the Gospels, and the story of his choice by lottery to replace Judas is only told in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Clement of Alexandria tells us that he was one of the seventy-two (or seventy) disciples mentioned in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. He supposedly was martyred in Georgia (the country, not the state) and buried there, although Trier, Germany also claims his burial spot. There is an abbey dedicated to him, and supposedly Saint Helena (busy bee that she was in finding relics, like parts of the True Cross) was involved somehow in the removal of Matthias' body to that spot. He is depicted with an axe or a scimitar, since tradition holds that he was stoned, then beheaded.

His story doesn't appeal to us the way that the betrayal by Judas does. He is patron saint of alcoholics, victims of smallpox, and tailors; Billings, Montana, and Gary, Indiana claim his patronage as well. Nothing against Billings or Gary, but I think you see the problem.

Matthias was an also-ran. He wasn't as beloved by Jesus as Judas was. He was in the circle of seventy sent out to proclaim the gospel perhaps, but he wasn't originally in the inner circle. Just as the Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 16:1-13) for St. Matthias' feast talks of rejection of an annointed one, Matthias fulfilled the same purpose, but without the glory of being David. His election to the apostles was more to round out the number to twelve, as the other eleven still wept and wondered over the actions of the one that Matthias replaced.

I think many of us are like Matthias-- lives full of mystery and sacrifice unrecognized, with people confusing us with someone else, maybe even feeling second best. But the great thing about St. Matthias was, despite all the conjecture and the confusion, that he was actually chosen. As I struggle with answering the ways that God has chosen me, I will think about Matthias today. And, to be safe, tomorrow. Even though I may be confused in doing so. It won't be the first time or the last time, either.

A Living Prayer

"Take my life and let it be a living prayer, my God, to thee."

That line, from an Allison Krauss song, was the inspiration for the URL for this blog.

This is where I hope to discuss my thoughts on tradition, faith, and reason, which will definitely involve discussing my beliefs as an Anglican and Christian. It is a struggle to try to live each day in faith, but it is a struggle that is precious, nonetheless.

I'm not perfect, by any means, and I don't pretend to be. I can be irreverent. I can be impatient, I can be unkind; I can be everything that St. Paul wrote that love is not. But I try to be better than that.

Thank you for walking with me a while.