Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fiscal Responsibility with Governor Martin O’Malley

(Update 08/02/08 3:06 PM: The video of the speech I wrote about in this post is now available online.)

Politically speaking, I’m a fairly liberal guy, or at least moderately left of center. I embrace universal health care, universal pre-k, and active scientific research. I do, however, have one very conservative sticking point that goes hand-in-hand with these liberal positions: good programs are only good programs if you pay for them. I am a deficit hawk with a thirty-foot wingspan. If I were in Congress today, I would have given serious consideration to voting against the recent GI Bill. I’m all for sending veterans to school on the government’s dime, but Congress didn’t pay for the program, choosing instead to add to the federal deficit and debt. I guarantee I would have voted against February’s economic stimulus package, something no Senate Democrat did. As I wrote at the time, the stimulus would add $150 billion to the deficit and do absolutely nothing to turn around the economy. Sure enough, here we are five months later spending a record $482 billion in the red but still mired in an economic funk. And who has to pay for all this? Certainly not the baby boomers in Congress! No, that would be me, and everyone else my age.

Fiscal responsibility matters. When you run large deficits, you can’t get anything done and risk giving economic control of your country or state to outside interests, which is why I attended a speech today by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) at the Center for American Progress. Governor O’Malley and fellow Democratic Governor David Paterson of New York have an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post about the current administration’s fiscal ineptitude. Elected just two years ago, O’Malley has almost erased Maryland’s $1.7 billion structural deficit. He spoke at CAP about why fiscal responsibility matters, how he fixed Maryland’s budget, and what else this has enabled him to do.

The Governor began by quoting a Wall Street Journal article that said the 50 states combined face a $40 billion shortfall, and said he approached his job with three goals in mind: “One, we will make our government work again. Two, we will make our government work again. And three, we will make our government work again.” He then recounted his favorite Groucho Marx gag. Groucho and his friends have a very expensive dinner. When the check comes, Groucho looks at it and, turning to his friend, says, “That’s outrageous! I wouldn’t pay it if I were you!” Large checks, O’Malley said, aren’t the only things being passed to the next generation (i.e., me), but also a crumbling infrastructure, an exhausted military, rising college tuition costs, and devastated cities.

O’Malley inherited a fiscal disaster when he took office in 2006, and set about fixing it, calling a special session of the state legislature in the fall of 2007. The work done that session, he said, was neither popular nor easy – four of the six bills passed by only one vote. These measures included reducing future spending growth, cutting 700 government jobs, saving $10 million a year by closing a notoriously violent maximum security prison, saving $20 million a year in overtime costs through the performance measurement system “StateSat,” and modernizing the tax code while lowering the income tax for 90% of Maryland residents.

The unpopular nuts and bolts of all this included raising the sales tax from 5% to 6% (a 20% jump), raising the tobacco tax by $1, and instituting “the first progressive income tax in Maryland history” – a new bracket for those making more than $1 million a year. At the same time, eligibility for the state earned income tax credit was raised by 25% and other taxes were capped and lowered. All in all, despite the tax increases, O’Malley said that 46% of Marylanders actually have lower tax bills now. The final piece of this fiscal package is still pending – O’Malley and the legislature were unable to settle a debate over gambling, and agreed to pass along the measure to the voters as a ballot referendum.

According to a handout we were given, 52% of the O’Malley budget cuts were from spending cuts, 35% from tax increases, and 13% from slots. With fiscal responsibility restored, Maryland now has a AAA credit rating. But O’Malley says the real rewards of fiscal responsibility aren’t in the ratings, but in the actions you are free to take. As a result of the budget improvements, Maryland has frozen college tuition (which had risen over 40% from 2001-2006), increased funding for community colleges, expanded adult literacy programs, put more resources into infrastructure improvement, and eliminate a backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples.

Podesta led off the Q&A by asking O’Malley how a strong federal partner could help. The Governor said he hopes the second stimulus package, if there is a second stimulus package (and I don’t think there will be, given the current Senate climate), will include major infrastructure assistance, as states can’t meet the current burden placed on them. He’d also like federal help in achieving universal health care and lower college tuition. I followed with my own question – “That’s all well and good, but the reason the feds can’t do these things now is the same reason you were unable to do such things two years ago. They have their own massive deficits. What do you think needs to be done to bring about a sense of fiscal responsibility at the national level, here in DC?” His answer focused entirely on the Bush tax cuts. He said he gives credit to Bush for one thing – ideologically, Dubya believes that government could be small and weak, and that’s a promise on which he’s delivered. The Clinton surplus disappeared because of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. The problem with federal deficits is not the national economy or even the energy crisis, but is ourselves. The growing income gap, the shrinking middle class, and widespread poverty are not fiscally responsible policies, yet we never raise them as national priorities. “We make our own circumstances, y’know? And the circumstances we’ve made have feebled our federal government.”

This, I believe, is the start of a good answer, but it’s not the whole thing. Yes, the Bush tax cuts and the desire to make them permanent are a large part of the current deficit. They are not, however, the entire $482 billion. The Iraq War is also a part of that, as is – and you have to blame the Democrats for this, not Bush – that stupid February stimulus package. The Iraq War costs $12 billion a month – $144 billion a year. Remove most of our forces and you drop that by maybe $100 billion a year. Erase the stimulus package, and all other things staying equal (and I know they won’t), that right there is around $300 billion in savings. Then you can talk Bush tax cuts. (Their total size might erase most of the budget, but at least some of the cuts were for the middle class). The problem with this scenario is that it only erases the deficit, it doesn’t create a surplus. I’m reminded of the brutal honesty Governor Howard Dean displayed during his 2004 presidential campaign, when he often said, he said things like, “You cannot promise people tax cuts, college education, health care and whatever else you want, and say, 'Oh, it'll all be fine.’ That's what George Bush is doing. I want fiscal responsibility in this country.''

I’m going to vote for Barack Obama, but he could use a dose of Dean’s honesty. He hasn’t told us how he’s going to pay for his health care policy and other proposals – and I’m not sure he really knows. It’s going to take defense cuts, a few (small and targeted?) tax increases, and even an embrace of the usually-icky Senator Tom Coburn’s demand that we erase old programs when enacting similar new ones. If Obama’s going to accomplish any of this, he’ll need O’Malley’s guts.

But back to the Q&A. Asked a question by ABC News' John Sentamu, O’Malley said that we often hear the refrain that government should be run more like a business, “But what business do you want it to be run like, Bear Stearns? …Enron?” Instead, we just need to make sure we have (and keep) more competent managers in government. And finally, when a woman asked if he has a backup plan for if the gambling referendum does not pass, he was very straight forward: “No, I do not!” with a smile.

Boil it all down, and in O’Malley you have a Democrat who reduced the size of government, is about to balance a budget, AND improved education and infrastructure. Yes, this included raising a few taxes, and his approval rating has taken a hit – a dismal 37% in March. He even pulled a mere 48% from his own party. Since CAP and the voters of Maryland seem to disagree about whether or not O’Malley is a good governor, I will withhold judgment. However, I did like what I heard from him today, his folksy-yet-professional demeanor was a nice touch, and I agree with him 100% when he says not all taxes are a “pestilence, a plague or a disease... Not one of us wants to pay more in taxes. But you know what we want even less? What we want even less is to leave our country to our kids in a worsened condition.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Good grief, the comedian's a bear!" "No he's not, he's a wearing a neck a tie!"

(Update: July 17, 2009: This blog's been getting an abnormally high number of hits lately from people Googling the old Muppet Show joke in this post's title. Not sure what's sparked all the sudden Googling of the phrase - would someone mind letting me know in the comments section? Anyway, sorry to disappoint, but this page isn't what you're looking for. This post is a bunch of church jokes that have nothing to do with the Muppets - I had just used the Fozzie joke as the subject line because it was funny and I wanted something funny.)

I'm really tired today... not sure why... I was originally planning to write about the presidential Veepstakes, but instead, I'll pass along these great church and God jokes I've gotten over the last week from my joke a day service, the Good Clean Funnies List. (Although the first joke on the list isn't GCFL; it's an all time favorite of mine so I found it on the google.

---

Three little boys were concerned because they couldn't get anyone to play with them. They decided it was because they had not been baptized and didn't go to Sunday School. So, they walked around until they found the nearest church. It was a Saturday, so only the janitor was there. One of the boys said, "We need to be baptized because no one will come out and play with us. Will you baptize us?"

"Sure," said the janitor. He took them into the bathroom and dunked their heads in the toilet bowl, one at a time. Then he said, "Now go out and play." When they got outside, dripping wet, one of them asked, "What religion do you think we are?"

The oldest one said, "We're not Katlick, because they pour the water on you. We're not Babtis because they dunk all of you in it. We're not Methdiss because they just sprinkle you."

The littlest one said, "I know what we are. Didn't you smell that water?"

"Yeah! What do you think that means?"

"It means we're 'Pisscopalians!"

--

This year's severe drought has affected churches in northern Alabama, Tennessee, and northwest Georgia. Most counties in the area are enforcing strict conservation rules for water use, which is affecting baptisms at the churches.

Baptist churches are having to sprinkle for baptisms, the Methodists are using wet wipes for their baptisms, and the Catholics are praying that God will turn the wine back into water.

---

A Sunday school teacher was giving her class the assignment for the next week.

"Next Sunday," she said, "we are going to talk about liars, and in preparation for our lesson I want you all to read the Seventeenth Chapter of Mark."

The following week, at the beginning of the class meeting, the teacher said, "Now then, all of you who have prepared for the lesson by reading the Seventeenth Chapter of Mark, please step to the front of the room."

About half the class rose and came forward.

"The rest of you may leave," said the teacher. "These students are the ones I want to talk to. There is no Seventeenth Chapter in the Book of Mark."

---

One Sunday we sat in the front pew of our church. Our three-year-old son was playing with a stuffed animal and accidentally dropped it on the floor. Just as he was about
to pick it up, the priest walked over and stood in front of us. Our son looked up with a look of awe on his face and whispered, "God?"

It was all the priest could do to continue with his sermon, especially with us laughing so hard.

---

When my youngest son was three years old, one of his finches died. It was winter so we couldn't bury the bird, so I flushed it down the toilet. I didn't realize that he had seen me do this until I heard him crying behind me. Trying to make him feel better, I told him that his bird was with God now.

He stopped crying, looked at me a bit bewildered, and asked, "God is in the toilet?

---

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Adrift on the Via Media

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his “second presidential address” to the Lambeth Conference today. The Lead has the full text. The address is, if nothing else, extremely Anglican. ++Rowan tries to speak to both sides and bring them together, but alas, while he did this beautifully at General Synod, I'm not sure he has done so here. He began by almost redefining what it means to take the via media:

The answer, I hope, is that we speak from the centre. I don’t mean speaking from the middle point between two extremes — that just creates another sort of political alignment. I mean that we should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ.

He then valiantly tried to explain to the left what the right feels, and to the right what the left feels – although he called them the traditional and the not so traditional believers, rather than the left and the right. And here, I think, is where his address began to fall apart. In many ways, the inclusive liberal forces ARE the traditionalist forces. Many of Nigeria’s Anglicans are also Pentecostals who attend Anglican services in the morning and speak in tongues come evening. I have nothing against that, but let’s not suggest it’s traditional Anglicanism. What’s more, Ruth Gledhill had an article earlier this month suggesting that once upon a time, women may have been ordained. So please, don’t tell me, whose favorite hymn is “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” that I am not traditional. Additionally, one of the things he said we liberals might say was,

What we seek to do in our context is to bring Jesus alive in the minds and hearts of the people of our culture. Trying to speak the language of the culture and relate honestly to where people really are doesn’t have to be a betrayal of Scripture and tradition. We know we’re pushing the boundaries — but don’t some Christians always have to do that? Doesn’t the Bible itself suggest that?

Well, sir, it all depends on what you mean by “boundaries.” I readily acknowledge that the ordination of women and gays pushes the boundaries of typical understandings of the Church, but I do not for a second believe it pushes the boundaries of the Gospel. It is fine, of course, for others to believe so, but it is not fine for ++Rowan to paint that as the position of the liberal forces. I deeply appreciate his attempt to show each side the other in a new light, but if one is going to represent each side to the other, one must represent them accurately. Such an attempt requires a full understanding of both sides, and perhaps the good Archbishop has shown us that that is not an understanding he holds. This could also explain why he keeps trying to acquiesce to the GAFCON forces, hoping to keep them in our tent even though they have shown, time and time again, that they will not compromise or accept anything less than full control of other provinces.

On another note, The Lead also has a powerful piece about a violence against women workshop that I might share with both my Idaho and New Hampshire rectors. And by most bishops’ accounts, it sounds like the Indaba groups are generally productive and the media reports of Conference quarrels are a bunch of horse hockey. My own bishop has said so, and Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham, England devoted a whole post to debunking specific stories in the British press. The doom and gloom of the press aside, bishop after bishop is writing that there is a feeling of understanding and dedication unfolding at Lambeth. This is most welcome news.

I do not know where the Anglican Communion is headed. A number of proposals are being “considered,” but none are likely to come to pass. Mark Harris at Preludium and James at The Three Legged Stool both have good roundups of that business. Harris says that “It's just a matter of time before something blows.” He may be right. My own thought is that the Communion will continue, without the GAFCON forces but with as strong an Anglican an identity as ever. The only question, I think, is how much damage will we do to ourselves trying to compromise with those who will not compromise before we finally learn, or they finally leave? When will the ABC realize he should reach out not to the Akinolas and Orombis, but to the conservatives actually at Lambeth, actually in conversation? But perhaps it matters not. I grew up Episcopalian, not Anglican, and Episcopalian I shall remain.

STEVENS INDICTED!

I hate to post three times a day (I have another one coming this evening), but I am just so darn gleeful about this: Ted Stevens indicted on 7 counts. WOOHOOOOOO!!!!!! EXXXXXELLENT!

It is always sad when bad people get power or when power turns good people bad. It is disheartening that there are public servants within our government who deserve to be indicted or convicted, especially when one of the servants in question is the nation's third longest-serving senator. Nevertheless, as long as those folks are out there, it is joyful to watch them get theirs. There are few things I enjoy seeing more than corrupt authorities, those who abuse their power, get pulled down off their thrones and told that no, they are not better than the rest of us. I am not partisan about this - power is power and justice justice, and when in New Orleans, I volunteered on the campaign to unseat Democrat Rep. William Jefferson. Now Stevens, who has been under investigation for a long time, also gets his.

This is what happens when one party or one weak person holds total power for too long. The Republican culture of corruption here in DC is a very real thing, and one can only hope that a similar Democratic culture does not develop in the upcoming admininstration and 111th or 112th Congresses.



(We'll just ignore the messy fact that Mr. Stevens is an Episcopalian.)

More Lambeth Updates from the Bishop of Spokane

I don’t think I will post nearly as much about the Lambeth Conference this week as I did last week – but then again, I didn’t expect to post much about it last week, either. But I recognize that anything I have to say about Lambeth is an irrelevant drop in the sea – for the best analysis and news, keep reading and The Lead, TEC’s Lambeth Journal, +Gene Robinson, Susan Russell, and Elizabeth Kaeton.

I will only say one thing about Lambeth: I am opposed to this Pastoral Council business. I would also like to pass along these three weekend updates from my own beloved bishop, the Bishop of Spokane, Jim Waggoner. (BTW, the picture of him and his lovely wife Gloria comes from Ruth Gledhill.) In the first, he explains the Bible studies and Indaba groups. Here is a brief excerpt:

Through the daily Bible study sessions (75 minutes), followed by Indaba groups (2 hours) of 30-40 bishops each, we participate in exercises that make it impossible for anyone to sit it out. Most encouraging is the readiness of all to speak and to engage actively in discussion topics and questions. The language differences have not been a great obstacle, thanks to the pre-planning and translation equipment available - and the fact that most speak English at some level, even if their fourth or fifth language.

The Bible study group I lead is composed of two bishops from India representing two difference dioceses, one bishop from the Sudan, another from Tanzania, and a Bishop Suffragan from England… It is heartening to hear freely offered candid comments and insights on scripture passages. The study sessions have exceeded expectations timewise, quickly fostering honest and respectful interaction that is not at all always comfortable for any of us. In the commitment to candid communication I find real hope.

His second update is the most substantive. Here is an excerpt, but this one where I certainly recommend reading the whole thing.

Though there remain distinct and abiding differences on matters of ordaining gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate and the proposed Covenant, what is also distinct and most encouraging is that the overall tone of the conference remains far more positive than negative. Disagreement on issues does not normally translate into dislike or disrespect of one another. That for the most part holds true across the gathering. The more strident, critical voices making headlines are few and frequently misleading, especially if taken as the sentiment of the body here.

Overall there is a discernable readiness and general goodwill toward reaching increased levels of understanding and accommodation throughout the Lambeth gathering, but what that will look like in detail is yet to be decided. One primary tension is whether we will evolve into a federation of national provinces that are connected, but clearly independent of one another or become more a Communion unified in mission and interdependent. The latter is of course the preference, but the way there is not yet clear and a consensus is yet to come.

In the midst of listening, learning, and testing out possible next steps, we are exceptionally well served by the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and our own Presiding Bishop - and others as well — in that both model being non-anxious, centered, and unhurried in a body where anxiety could easily escalate to the level of reactive decisions that would be less than wise and lastingly harmful. Archbishop Rowan and Presiding Bishop Katharine are very present and relatively at ease in their comments and the conversations they are encouraging.

I am still bitter that the Archbishop has excluded my other bishop, Gene Robinson, from the Conference, for in a way that excludes me and certainly flies in the face of Christ’s welcoming message. (The Diocese of Spokane is my home diocese, but I go to college and participate in campus ministry in NH.) That being said, a number of Lambeth reports have said +Rowan is showing strong leadership. Jim Naughton’s report is especially encouraging. Perhaps the Welshman will guide us through this process after all. Here, then, is the third and final weekend update from +Jim:

In this update I want to note the London Day last week when the entire group made the three- hour bus trip to the city and participated in the Walk of Witness in support of the MDG’s, after which we were treated to events of memorably gracious hospitality at Lambeth and Buckingham Palaces.

Though the social events were beyond what most of us had ever experienced and ever will again, the spirit of the day was carried by the Walk of Witness in which more than 1,000 of us marched with placards in support of action to eradicate poverty and dire consequences it perpetuates. Though it was an unthreatening scene and a quite pleasant walk through town, simply being in the streets and saying publicly something of import made the Gospel itself seem more real and present...

Bishops from some of the most devastatingly poor countries have said to me that discussion of sexuality and like concerns are a luxury of the rich compared to the life threatening circumstances they must address daily. It reminds one of the scripture, “Your concerns are not my concerns,” says the Lord. And certainly challenges us to put in perspective that which is of highest priority.

These insights from within Lambeth Palace can be rather informative. It is interesting to know that the arguments surrounding sexuality are being seen as an American agenda, given that it is the poor provinces of Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya that seem to be driving that debate. Perhaps, then, we have not done a very good job responding to the GAFCONites after all. Of course, the other bishops +Jim quotes are compelling voices - it is not the Church's job to respond to GAFCON, but rather to respond to poverty and oppression, wherever it is found. And yet if we do not respond to GAFCON, we will unable to respond to poverty. To make a crude analogy, they are playing Tom DeLay to our Bill Clinton. Quite the paradox.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Greatest. Headline. Ever.

The story isn't all that exciting, but the headline is amazing. From page 2 of today's Washington Post Express, distributed for free at Metro stops every morning:

You May Be a Lawn Mower, but I am an Intoxicated Redneck.

YES!!!!

Sunday morning at the National Cathedral

(When I first got to DC, I wrote that I would attend and review a different Episcopal Church each week. That was on April 13, and now here I am, three months later, with my second installment. In the intervening weeks, I have attended a few churches and neglected their reviews, spent six Sundays traveling, and, well, slept in a lot. My bad.)

Yesterday, I went to church at the Washington National Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter & Saint Paul. It was the second time I have worshipped at the National Cathedral since coming to DC in March, and the third time ever. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, as the music was thrilling and the sermon engaging, but unfortunately, the ushers were rather overbearing and created a huge distraction, and I will not be back.

Unbeknownst to many, the “national house of prayer” is also a working Episcopal parish. Both yesterday and on July 6, I attended the 11:15 Holy Eucharist Rite Two service. On July 6, Cathedral vicar Rev. Canon Stephen Huber preached on loving our enemies, pointing out that for all the energy our politicians spend “convincing the electorate of their Christian credentials,” they also spend a lot of time and money killing rather than loving our national enemies. The July 27 sermon, from the Cathedral’s Canon Missioner the Rev. Canon William Barnwell, was much more compelling. It is not online yet, but I will try to remember to link to it once it is. The entire sermon focused on Romans 8:38-39:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

While I had been hoping for a sermon on the Lambeth Conference, Rev. Barnwell used this verse to explore the theology of pain, a subject I have only just begun to explore but hope to one day make the crux of my ministry. He listed a number of catastrophes, including recent storms and the Holocaust, reminding us why so many agnostics say if there is a God, he is either not good, or not God. Barnwell reminded us of Job, pointing out that God never told Job why he had to suffer, only that he needed to stop his self-pity and get up. For God to stop wars and conflicts, Barnwell said, would actually be a disservice for us, as it would rob us of our freedom. Instead, we just need to move forward in faith, allowing nothing to separate us from God. He admitted that it was not an intellectually satisfying answer, but said it was something more. “Can we explain it? No. Can we live it? Yes.”

The Cathedral is especially famous for its music program, what with its 10,467 pipe Great Organ. Yesterday featured the choir of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia , South Carolina , and they were wonderful. I was very moved by the introit, or opening prayer. Their beautiful voices filled every nook of the echoey church, and I almost wished we could skip the service and just have a concert – I would have felt every bit as close to God. I felt the same way during the anthem, “My soul, there is a country,” and the recessional, one of my favorites, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise.” The July 6 bulletin made no special mention of guest musicians, so I suppose it was just the regular Cathedral choir, but they were amazing, especially the soloist for the Anthem, “Precious Jesus.” I wish I could give you his name. I also got a real kick out of singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the recessional hymn – the black national anthem on the Fourth of July weekend. It’s a beautiful hymn in its own right, and paired with “O beautiful, for spacious skies,” was rather appropriate. In any event, music is perhaps the most important part of worship for me. Nothing brings me closer to God, and from its hymn selection to its musicians, the National Cathedral never lets me down.

Yet for all the beauty of its music or the theology of its sermons, I could never worship regularly at the National Cathedral. Visit for concerts and guest lectures, oh absolutely, what amazing programs they offer, but belong, no. One reason is that it feels very impersonal – as you leave, there are tourists snapping photos everywhere, many of them with no intention of worshipping. Another, more important reason was the ushers. I don’t want to call them “power hungry,” but both Sundays, they were gruff and overly stern. The Cathedral is very controlling in where it allows people to sit and which aisles it lets them use to reach their seats, which I guess makes sense given the size of the place, but there is almost an anger in the ushers’ voices as they redirect people, using their whole bodies and outstretched arms to block aisles. For those of you who have read Garrison Keillor’s “Leaving Home,” they reminded me of the way Keillor describes Lake Wobegon’s Lutheran ushers. I would type up the excerpt, but alas have loaned out my copy and do not have it handy. (Keillor will, btw, be giving a public reading at the Cathedral on September 29 - after I have left DC, doggonit.)

There was one usher in particular I thought was especially bad. I won’t describe his appearance as I have no desire to embarrass him, but his performance had no place in a church. Before the service, if anyone paused to admire the building’s windows or architecture, he would angrily point at them and give them fast and furious hand gestures to keep moving forward, even if there was no one behind them. During the service, if a family came up the side aisle, he would purse his lips and make demanding gesture towards the back. In fact, his lips were pursed almost the whole time, and his brow constantly furled. I rarely saw him speak, only make angry gestures. I was especially appalled when a young family tried to cross from one pew to another during the service, and he stormed over waving his arms. When he was close enough, he pointed at them and said, rather fiercely, “Do NOT cross the aisles!” His tone was an annoyed one, suggesting that the reason for such a rule was obvious (never mind that it was not posted) and how dare anyone break it. Fortunately, he did soften a bit at Communion. His directions were still a little too assertive, but they came with a friendly tone and a genuine smile, and I am grateful for that.

This usher, for all his good intentions, was far more distracting than any of the people he approached. I found it insulting that he would only angrily point at people, never approaching them in kindness, never giving them the benefit of the doubt. I very much wanted to ask him, “If Jesus were physically here today, do you think he would run up and yell at people who crossed the aisle?” but of course I didn’t. I tried instead to focus on the sermon or the prayers, but my mind just kept coming back to the usher. I tried to remind myself that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and that that includes ushers. This was more than likely my impatience getting the best of me, but maybe, just maybe, it was Wormwood himself at work.



(All Cathedral pictures courtesy Wikipedia. Screwtape is from the cover of the book.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What I Miss Most About Texas

I am the proud owner of a subscription to Texas Monthly magazine, a quirk of considerable amusement for many of my damn Yankee New Hampshire friends. There are few issues I have enjoyed more than the “quinquennial” “Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas.” Every five years, Texas Monthly reporters and editors fan out across the state, driving and eating all day long for many days straight in search of the state’s best barbeque. I may not live down that way anymore, but just reading the issue is enough to fill me up for a week. This year’s champ was a scrappier underdog and a bigger surprise than Rocky Balboa:

The best barbecue in Texas is currently being served at Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington [pop. 1200], a small restaurant open only on Saturdays and only from eight in the morning until whenever the meat runs out, usually around noon. Snow’s is remarkable not only for the quality of its meat but for the unlikeliness of its story. No one on staff had heard of it until we received a reader tip following our 2003 barbecue issue. To stumble upon a place this good and this unknown is every pit hound’s dream, and so we feel compelled to offer, as evidence in favor of our judgment, our story of discovery.

The story of Snow’s really is a fun read. Staffer after staffer had to check it out, they were so unable to believe the first reporter’s claims. My favorite TM writer, senior executive editor Paul Burka, rounded out the article:

I timed my arrival for one p.m. to see if Snow’s could pass the late-crowd test, but when I got there, the restaurant was closed. Sold out! Empty! Locked! I turned around and headed for Taylor to double-check Louie Mueller’s. The next week I made it to Snow’s before noon, but even as I was contemplating my choices, I heard Bexley telling a customer that the brisket was already gone—too late again. “Texas Monthly has been here the last two weekends,” he added.

“I’m the third,” I said. I ordered pork ribs, chicken, and pork butt. The pork ribs were fantastic. The chicken was perfectly done. The pork butt was tender and yielding. By the time I had finished, Bexley and I were alone. He called me to the counter. “I didn’t want to say anything while other people were here,” he said, “but my daughter is coming in today and I’ve put up some brisket for her. Would you like some?”

Never have I felt such an outpouring of gratitude for my fellow man. He reached into his private stash and put a single slice upon my plate. I took a bite . . . our quest for the best barbecue in Texas was over.

So why am I writing about this article now, two months after it first ran? Well, I remember thinkin’ when I first read it, “Man, I would love to try some of that Snow’s brisket! That might be worth a special trip back to Texas next summer… but man, those poor folks are going to be so overrun!” And sure enough, two months later, enter NPR’s John Burnett, who I also wrote about back in 2006 after meeting him at a book signing in New Orleans. Last Saturday, Burnett had a story about how, sure enough, the TM article has completely inundated the tiny staff at Snow’s. I recommend a listen… but not a special vacation.

Within Texas, the discovery of Snow's has been met with the excitement that elsewhere might herald the unearthing of an unknown Mayan city or the finding of an unfinished Hemingway manuscript…

On this morning, Snow's BBQ will sell out in about an hour. Some frustrated out-of-towners will climb back in their cars and vow to return next week even earlier. Miss Tootsie will worry that there's no barbecue left for her local customers, whom she's been serving for decades.


(Photo credit.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

It must run in the family

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson has long reminded me of another, even more famous Robinson. Back in the 1950s, Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey did not choose Jackie Robinson to become the first black baseball player in the majors because he was the best black player, but because of all the good black players, he was the one who could best handle the racist catchers with cleets up and the fans and newspapers hurtling racial slurs and broken bottles.

In today’s similarly toxic atmosphere, I believe that God, acting as the church's GM, has chose a new Robinson for the same reason that Rickey chose the old Robinson. There may be other GLBT priests who would make better bishops than +Gene (although I doubt it), but there aren’t likely very many who could handle the pressure as well. By asking +Gene to bear the burden of blazing the trails, to take the pain and to be the one to show conservatives that hey, the gay guys actually DON’T want to rape you and eat your children, God is creating a path for even better pastors who just aren’t as strong. If it is not +Gene who goes first, no one will be able to follow.

Although +Gene is not officially invited to Lambeth, his presence there has nonetheless been felt very strongly. Here is a post from his blog about his speech last night to other bishops, and several posts from other blogs, including bishops' blogs, with their thoughts about him. So, from +Gene:
This was my first opportunity to meet my foreign counterparts, and of course like my brother and sister American bishops, found this to be a wonderful, sobering and thoughtful experience.

After a presentation by some of our bishops about the polity and practice of electing bishops in our Province, and an introduction of me (via DVD) by laity and clergy of New Hampshire, I spoke. I told them that the one goal I had was that they might recognize the God I know and witness to in my life as the same God they know in their lives. I believe that happened.

During the question and answer conversation, several wanted to express their support, and did so movingly and sincerely, some through a translator. Both bishops and spouses contributed. Others asked good questions and listened intently to my answers. I could not have asked for a more respectful hearing. Comments made during and after the presentation revealed a deep yearning to heal this current divide -- theologically, culturally and ecclesially. The longing for Communion seemed palpable to me. Those who would prematurely announce the demise of the Anglican Communion obviously haven't talked to these folks!

From Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida:
One of the topics of the meeting was the absence of the bishop of New Hampshire from our gathering. I must say that we were very upset because due to security, Gene Robinson could not even meet with the rest of the bishops. Regardless of what position you may hold on this issue, as Americans we are used to more equality, and to have one of our duly elected bishops forbidden to meet with us is a travesty. This was a meeting of the bishops of The Episcopal Church, and it is sad that in the 21 Century we are still acting as if we were in the Middle Ages.

From Bishop Neff Powell of Soutwestern Florida:
We had a Provincial gathering of our bishops. Gene Robinson, as you know, was not invited to the Lambeth Conference, but nevertheless is in Canterbury leading "fringe events." He was barred from attending our meeting by our hosts on the grounds that the Provincial gatherings are official events of the Conference and being held within the bounds of the Conference. This announcement was not well received. We were discussing holding our next meeting outside the bounds of the Conference when it was announced that Gene would not be in Canterbury that day. So the story continues.

From Elizabeth Kaeton of Integrity USA:
It's an amazing experience. The excitement that surrounds one of his visits is like unto a 'rock star'. Everyone wants to tell him how much they admire him and to thank him for his courage and witness. The nice fellow over at the Coffee stand made a latte just for Bishop Gene and absolutely insisted that he take it for free. He did so with tears in his eyes saying, "It's an honor to serve you, sir."

And just for fun, from MadPriest, “Gene Robinson Could Be Next Pope”:
It seems very ironic to me that the only two provinces of the Anglican Communion that actually possess real, apostolic bishops are the Scottish Episcopal Church and T.E.C. They have the uninterrupted line. In fact, the argument the papacy used in the 19th. Century to discount the reality of Anglican orders does not apply to either of these two provinces. I expect there is some get out clause somewhere but it is possible that Bishop Gene is in full communion with Rome. Now, how do we swing the next conclave?

Stephen Colbert on the Lambeth Conferece

I don't agree with all the opinions expressed in this clip, and I don't think all the facts are quite accurate... but still, he's Stephen Colbert, and he's funny.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why Listening Matters

I think these two posts from two different TEC bishops’ Lambeth blogs speak to the importance of respectful dialogue, and of what can happen when we actually open our hearts to God and to one another, and what happens when we don’t.

When we do, from Bishop Neff Powell of Southwestern Virginia.
The Bible study group went very well as we began to discuss the matter of Gene Robinson and homosexuals in the Episcopal Church. The presenting issue for us was how this issue affects our efforts in evangelism. The African bishops said that in Muslim majority countries, openness to homosexuality made evangelism more difficult. I pointed out that in some places in our culture, especially with those under age 35, it was rather the other way around. I think, I think we heard each other.

When we don’t, from Bishop Pierre Whalon of our churches in Europe.

This got us deeply into the issue of the Sudanese statement concerning The Episcopal Church [calling for +Gene’s resignation]. As a lot of TEC dioceses have strongly supported the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, there were hurt feelings among the bishops and spouses. There is a Sudanese bishop in my Bible study, as well as three Tanzanians and three Barundis. I pointed out that while the Sudanese bishops have every right to tell us what they believe, it was done in such a way that we could not hear it, namely because they had not addressed us directly, but through releases and a press conference.

Links courtesy Episcopal Café’s The Lead.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

July in DC

My God, it's muggy out there. In the hour since my post on Zimbabwe, I walked the ten minutes from the church office to Union Station for a late lunch - and it's almost enough to make me miss the April snows of Idaho or the frozen nosehairs of New Hampshire.


No, no, scratch that, it IS enough.

Jesus is alive and well in Zimbabwe

I have no desire to elaborate, beyond what I said yesterday, about the Archbishop of Sudan’s verbal hemorrhage re: +Gene. For illustrious coverage on that front, read Episcopal Café’s The Lead, My Manner of Life, and Preludium. As for me, I am more interested in good news, which is why I am going to write about… Zimbabwe!

Yesterday’s official Lambeth press conference featured Bishop Sebastian Bakare, who was installed as the Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe in January, replacing a deposed supporter of the tyrant dictator Robert Mugabe. (Part of my current job has been writing a lengthy report about just how evil Mugabe is. The things he’s done – stealing poor children’s food aid to give to his fat supporters!) That previous bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, was the only diocesan bishop other than Gene Robinson to be denied an invitation to Lambeth.

Episcopal Café’s Jim Naughton wrote this about Bishop Bakare’s presser:
Bishop Bakare spoke of police surrounding his churches to keep worshipers out. “I was never, never so conscious of the importance of peace and justice as preached in the Gospel,” he said, adding that he could no longer preach a sermon to a Zimbabwean congregation without mentioning peace and justice.

The bishop skillfully avoided the media’s attempts to get him to make a statement about the issue of homosexuality. “We’ve got different issues,” he said. “In Zimbabwe, our issues are poverty, unemployment, no medication… these are the burning issues in Zimbabwe. At the present moment, we have the problem of being oppressed by a system.”

I applaud Bishop Bakare on so many fronts. First and foremost is the sheer courage he shows by continuing to speak out against Mugabe despite grave the danger to his own self. This strength of character is somewhat reminiscent of my hero, the late Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero. Second is his theology – peace and justice are found in the Bible more than any other message, and this is a world with a western ruling class that so desperately needs to here about them.

But third is his performance at this press conference, which showed two things. One, it reminds us what our priorities as a church and a Communion should be. The inclusion of our GLBT brothers and sisters is an important issue to some and their exclusion important to others, but surely we can all agree that speaking out against the twisted depravation of despots and the oppression of the world’s poorest is Christ's true priority. Bishop Bakare also reveals the media for the sensationalistic ostrich that it is – here they have a man who faces state-sponsored death every time he opens his mouth, a man guiding a scared, huddled flock beaten and tormented in a way we can only imagine from our fat Lazy Boy recliners in England and America. He is truly in the trenches – but does the media ask him about the social Gospel, the presence of Christ among the wretched masses, or even what we can do to stop the tyrant? No, they bury their head in the sand to these needs, focusing only on the sex.

If only Sudan’s Archbishop Daniel could follow Bp Bakare’s example, and talk to us about the genocide, civil war, Christian persecution that rage there. That is what Christ would focus on, and it is what his representatives should focus on, as well.

Please, pray for Bishop Bakare, that he may keep his courage and hope and continue to feel God’s presence, and also for the media, that their hearts might be opened and their cameras turned to what truly matters.

(Picture credits: Bp Bakare, Zimbambwe Baby)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lambeth continues, and so does my frustration

(Hooboy, this is a long one. Stick around, though, and there's a funny picture of Rowan Williams in it for you at the end!)

Most of the news pouring out of the Lambeth Conference this week is disheartening. But I don’t want to be disheartened. I want to be happy. I want to sing. Thus, this post will start with a look at the happy news – American reaction to +Gene’s exclusion, and a bit from Brian McLaren – before descending to its inevitable depths – hard-line rumblings and Rowan Williams’ utter failure to lead. But of course, I continue to insist that the Communion is NOT headed towards schism.

The Good News
Episcopal Café has a wonderful roundup of bishops’ reactions to their Bible studies and discussion groups. The reactions are generally positive, which is a good thing, as those discussions are at the heart not only of Lambeth but of our spiritual identities. My favorite of the posts comes from the Bishop of Arizona, Mark Smith, as he shares good news about two of my favorite figures of mine – Bishop Gene Robinson and theologian Brian McLaren.

We had a meeting of the American Bishops in the Big Tent this afternoon and one of the topics was the status of Gene Robinson, who you know has not been invited. There is some misinformation I want to clear up: Gene was NOT excluded from the HOB meeting! He was invited to join us and accepted. The problem was that we are in conference facilities and since he has not been invited to the Conference, he was not given security clearance. Know that the American HOB is concerned about this and it is working on a way that Gene can be included. Stay tuned…

Then tonight, in a plenary session, we heard Brian McLaren's presentation on the dynamics of making disciples in a rapidly changing world. His point, not a new one but one which he convincingly presented, is that the ways of the modern world, to which the Church for five hundred years has accommodated (or over-accommodated) are losing their currency. He also suggested that in the three basic cultures in place in the current world--non-modern, modern, and whatever it is that you want to call the one after that--the Church has yet to find a voice. He pointedly challenged this Conference to work in finding one, saying that the Anglican way has within it distinct gifts to do so. The coexistence of the three cultures, he also said, has in it the makings of many of the conflicts in a world-wide communion like ours. A long evening well spent.

For another cheery read, look to Allie’s firsthand reports at “Tales from a Lambeth Steward.” Also providing first hand reports of both the cheery and not-so-cheery variety are Elizabeth Kaeton at Telling Secrets, Susan Russell at An Inch at a Time, and Francisco Silva at Kantinho Do Rev.

The Not So Good News
But alas, not all is so chirpy. The Archbishop of Sudan, Daniel Deng, has called for Bishop Robinson to resign and be come “a normal Christian.” He brought up that old argument about Adam and Even vs. Adam and Steve. My problem with that is it suggests life is all about sex, gender, and reproduction. I would submit that in a discussion about love, grace, and even Scriptural interpretation, Adam and Eve are totally relevant. To take Rt. Rev. Deng’s flawed theology to its logical extreme, the Adam and Eve story has two people, not six billion, and one garden, not 200 countries. Shouldn’t most of this modern world be banished for not being an exact mirror of that one Bible story?

Sudan was joined by the Bishop of Fort Worth, Jack Iker, who said that all the bishops who support +Gene should withdraw from Lambeth themselves. (For the record, +Jack opposes the ordination of women.) That seems like such an absurd statement to me. In demanding that only people who agree with his views participate in a conversation, he is proclaiming that only echo chambers have value and demanding that the Anglican Communion cease to be the Anglican Communion. Bishop Iker, if you have no interest in a church based on dialogue and inclusiveness, I have to wonder, why did you become an Episcopalian in the first place? Isn’t it you who should leave this church, and let it to the conservatives, liberals, and moderates actually interested in a path forward together?

It would seem Sudan and Fort Worth have gotten to our normally cheery and ever intrepid Ruth Gledhill, who writes,

“This represents the hard-line conservative-traditionalist stance at the Lambeth Conference and it is widespread. I wish I wasn't writing this but things here are really not looking good. The Anglican Communion seems to be falling apart in front of our eyes and it is not a pretty sight.

Cheer up, Ruth! Remember, the hardliners, for all their rhetoric, are small in number – seven bishops out of 110 in the US, seven primates out of 34 globally – and are eating their own. Our church will be just fine. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a press conference, "Are we heading for schism? Well, let's see. If it is the end I do not think anyone has told most of the people here."

The Lack of Leadership
Ah, yes. The Archbishop, or as Allie the steward calls him, "ArchieRo". Earlier this month, I wrote that his reply to the GAFCON convention and his sermon at England’s General Synod suggested that he might at long last be emerging from his listless shell to finally show real leadership, but that the real test would come at the Lambeth Conference. Unfortunately, ArchieRo seems to be failing that test. When asked why Bishop Robinson is not allowed to participate at Lambeth, he gave the most confusing doublespeak answer I’ve ever heard. MadPriest went as far as to dub it his “homophobic quote of the day”:

The problem we faced within the Anglican Communion that bishops gathering for the Lambeth Conference represent not only their diocese but their participation in the fellowship of worldwide Anglican Christians. Where there are bishops whose participation in that worldwide fellowship is for one reason or another questionable, that is the reason for questioning their participation.

Let me make sure I’ve got this straight. +Gene’s participation is questionable because we question his participation… did I miss something, or did Donald Rumsfeld move into Lambeth Palace?

Say what you will about global fellowships, +Gene is still the leader of New Hampshire’s Anglicans, and to exclude him from the Conference is to exclude all of New Hampshire’s parishes, campus ministries, outreach committees, and more. To tell him he is not in communion with the Communion is to tell that to me. To make matters worse, +Gene is not being allowed to participate in the Episcopal House of Bishops meeting tonight, as the meeting is Lambeth-sponsored and received its resources (meeting room, etc.) from Lambeth and he is not invited to Lambeth events. The Archbishop’s office has tried to explain this away, but their excuse was thin: “This is NOT a meeting of the House of Bishops; it is a gathering of American Bishops at a meeting of the Lambeth Conference.” Call it what you want, but words don’t matter – it seems to me that if the house of bishops meets, then it’s a meeting of the House of Bishops.

But the Archbishop’s henchmen don’t stop there. Remember the “Banned from GAFCON” buzz? A poster floated about GAFCON listing the liberals not allowed on the premises… and it would seem Lambeth security guards have been given a similar poster of Gene Robinson. Dr. Williams had spoken out against GAFCON, but it would seem that such criticism stops only with their theology, not their even more ill-advised tactics. This is a shame – he was showing so much potential. One can only hope, and pray, that he’s holding back for a big finale.

(Picture credit = Allie)

Alas, a headline most misleading

I was disappointed to find that Riazat Butt's story, "Escorts on offer for lonely bishops at Lambeth conference," was not what I thought it was about. Where I expected to find an amusing jab at immorality was instead an amusing commentary on Gene Robinson's exclution. Shame on you, Ms. Butt, for arousing my interest so slyly.

I have two Bishops, but only one is at Lambeth. Here is an update from the Bishop of Spokane.

My writings over the last few days have indicated that I am active in campus ministry, sit on church committees, and attend Eucharists in New Hampshire, and am thus taking the forced exclusion of Bishop Robinson from Lambeth very personally. However, I am not actually canonically resident in the Diocese of New Hampshire. I love +Gene to death, but I maintain a fierce loyalty to the Bishop of Spokane, the Rt. Rev. Jim Waggoner, and so maintain my membership at St. Luke's Coeur d'Alene. In a way, I have two bishops, and two different perspectives on Lambeth. (For the record, +Jim did whole-heartedly vote to consecrate +Gene.)

When Bishop Waggoner left for Lambeth last week, he wrote to the diocese to share some background history about Lambeth and inform us that he would be leading a bishops’ Bible Study but will not become a blogging bishop. Here is his second e-mail, sent out last night. I look forward to meeting with +Jim in the fall so that I can hear much more about his Bible study and Lambeth conversations, as well as share with him my own quite different perspective on Episcopal blogging (heh heh) and my frustration over the treatment that my other bishop has received. If I know anything about Bishop Waggoner, it is that that frustration will be met with understanding and, more than likely, agreement.


As I wrote to the Diocese at the time Gloria and I departed for the Lambeth Conference, I have resisted becoming a regular blogger. Now, however, since the news accounts of Lambeth are beginning to increase and at times contain indisputably inaccurate information drawn from a seriously distorted perspective, I will be sending updates from my own participation, observation, and general perspective, which will be subject to their own degree of distortion as one person’s view.

Hospitality

To recap our early days in England, upon our arrival we immediately began the Pre-Lambeth Hospitality Initiative which included staying with a couple in the Diocese of Chichester and traversing the Uckfield Deanery (named for the river Uck) over the next four days. Our itinerary included a series of meetings throughout the Deanery, most of which were in people’s homes where we were in every place warmly received. The Diocese of Chichester is large, with nearly two million people and 21 deaneries. Two Suffragan Bishops serve with the Diocesan Bishop.

In many hours of conversation, only a small percentage was about the usual headline issues of sexuality and ordination of women as bishops; people were eager to hear about how TEC operates and voiced widespread misperceptions. It was enlightening to hear firsthand the impression that The Episcopal Church (hereafter TEC) was in turmoil and deeply divided throughout the country. The fact that most TEC eligible bishops were attending Lambeth seemed a surprise. This spoke to the influence of inaccurate reports about TEC in local papers.

At the various meeting venues, attendees posed straightforward and occasionally challenging questions which were more genuinely curious than contentious. A majority of the questions reflected a desire that the Anglican Communion not be divided. As Gloria and I listened and also spoke about our diocese and TEC, people responded quite positively.

Gratitude

They repeatedly expressed gratitude for the opportunity to talk face to face with someone from TEC. We learned a great deal from them about the richness of their history and the context in which the churches function, still influenced significantly by patronage, and eager, as are we, to get on with mission. Beginning July 15, training for those of us leading Bible study groups continued for an evening and a day. The outline of material is quite good and available in a slightly modified form on line at www.lambethconference.org/lc2008/resources/index.cfm. I hope you will take advantage of this offering and participate.

Preparation

Though last week the days were full, the work was primarily orientation and preparation for the official launch of the conference. In his Presidential Address, the Archbishop of Canterbury outlined his perspective and hopes for the conference. His remarks were focused clearly on a call to work on a form of Anglican Covenant.

For those of us attending and for the Communion, pray that we will be able to exercise spirit led discernment over special interest distortions. Keenly aware of and grateful for the privilege of representing you, Gloria and I send our best to all.

+Jim

Monday, July 21, 2008

The View from Jacob's Ladder

This was originally posted Sunday the 20th at 4:13 PM, but given today's high traffic, I've bumped it up to the top of the page. Scroll down for more recent posts about muffin discernment in Idaho and Bishop Gene Robinson at Lambeth.

Before I write my own reflection, I would like to note that each new video at Bishop Gene Robinson's Lambeth Gene Pool begins with Bruce Springsteen’s cover of the children’s song Jacob Ladder. Thus, while my musings today have nothing to do with Bishop Robinson, I would like to offer up Bruce Springsteen as a sort of processional hymn. Or perhaps you can play it in the background as you read. I saw him sing it live in Boston a couple years back - my, that was fun. (Cautionary note: The Boss just dithers around for the first 1:30 or so. Then the fun really begins.)



Today’s Revised Common Lectionary presents us with two options ripe for the preaching. The Gospel is Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43, Jesus’ parable of the weeds, in which He tells the disciples that evildoers will be collected and burned at the end of the age. The Old Testament is a bit lighter, and for us mainline Protestants, easier, territory: Genesis 28:10-19a, that old familiar Sunday School jaunt about Jacob’s ladder.

The priest at the DC church I attended this morning said that, when given a good Gospel lesson and an interesting Hebrew story, she takes the Hebrew story every time, and preached on Jacob’s Ladder. I’ve seen some blog posts on that latter ladder as well, but not too many on the Gospel. I’m even about to write such a reflection myself, but I do have to wonder, are we writing about Jacob’s Ladder because it is the more compelling passage, or because we are afraid of today's Gospel? The passage from Matthew talks of punishment, and implies – perhaps even flat out says – that God will cast some of His children aside. While I do think that the conservative church is a bit harsh and overwrought in its teachings on salvation, today’s Gospel is pretty blunt, and if we pass up the chance to tackle it in our sermons and reflections, we should ask ourselves hard questions about why.

But that being said, the Genesis passage did get me thinking, turning my thoughts to my Native American Studies major and the sacredness that is found all around us, in everything we do and everywhere we go. It was not the first, famous part about the ladder that grabbed my attention, but Jacob’s thoughts upon waking up:

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.


Jacob’s words remind me of the Western Apache understanding of land. I am no anthropologist and I have never worked or lived in Indian Country, so I claim no special understanding – or really, any understanding at all – of American Indian cultures or religions. What I know is the law as it regards to sovereignty. That being said, I absolutely love the book “Wisdom Sits in Places” by Keith Basso. Basso, a white guy like me, has spent considerable time living and working among the Western Apache, and this book is about the Apaches’ understanding of what wisdom is and how that relates to "places" - to land. One of the interesting things about the book is that Apaches do not name land after random famous people, but after events and topographical features. Washington State, for instance, wouldn’t be named after a dead President who never made it that far west, but might be called Land of Rainy Mountains by the Sea Borders Big Desert, or Wagons Arrived Here. One form of name describes an area so that you can see it without being there and perhaps easily find it; the other ties the land to an event that happened there once upon a time so that we can always remember the wisdom of our ancestors. (This works better with specific creek bends or fields than it does whole states.) If we think of our ancestors and reflect anew on the lessons they passed on every time we see a specific land formation or another place that resembles it, we keep those ancestors alive and burn their wisdom into our hearts. Their lives and thoughts are continuously shared in a powerful and relevant way. I promise you, you’ll get a lot more out of that on your next family roadtrip than you will if you say, for the thirty seventh time to two kids Gamy Boying it up in the backseat, “Wow, boys, look at that fault line! Isn’t that something??” (I love you, dad! And yes, they really were cool fault lines!)

So what does this have to do with Jacob? Jacob had a stirring dream that revealed to him God’s will and plans. Had Jacob come along 4000 years later and had his story chronicled not by J, E, or P but rather St. Luke, we would no doubt have us a story about the Holy Spirit. The ladder is beautiful imagery. It shows us we are connected to the angels, and that we have our own direct path to God. God’s words reveal to us once again not only His power, but His love and grace. We are reminded that He has wonderful things in store for us, and that He always keeps His promises.

But for all the power of Jacob’s dream, he is not the only person to encounter the Holy Spirit. The obvious example that springs to mind, since this is the Pentecost season, is the Pentecost story in Acts 2. There are also the visions John had in Revelations and the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Daniel. Of course, the Holy Spirit isn’t relegated to the Bible. Anyone who has ever felt touched by a child’s smile or felt God’s presence atop a mountain trail or in a communal worship service has had a miniature version of Jacob’s dream. Some people even claim to have had such dreams themselves, and who are we to question them?

My point is this. The vision and discernment Jacob experienced at Bethel was special, and as a result, he declared the land where it had happened to be holy and blessed. If the land at Bethel is holy because there a man was filled with the Holy Spirit, or because a man there discerned the will of God, isn’t the land anywhere else these things happens also holy? Wherever a person discerns and comes to feel that God wants them to get married, or move, or start a new job, or become clergy; wherever they have seen the Spirit’s light descending or are filled with a rapturous joy, this land is their own Bethel. And since so many millions of God’s children have been touched by His Spirit, or have been guided through discernment, it is obvious that these holy places are everywhere.

Jacob’s ladder shows us not just what is above us or where the ladder reaches, but also shows us what is all around us, in this beautiful earth that God was kind enough to create. Anywhere God has touched one of His children, a ladder stands. The Apaches, in their belief that all land is sacred to the Spirit and interconnected with the past and with our hearts, have it right. Every story has a place, and every place has a story. Maybe this is why the angels on Jacob’s ladder weren’t just ascending to Heaven, but also climbing down to earth.

Discerning God's will... with muffins!

A little over a year ago, our little Idaho parish (St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Coeur d’Alene) hired a “transitional deacon,” who was ordained a priest earlier this summer (pictured at left, h/t Robert Peterson) and is now the full curate, or assistant rector, or whatever you want to call him. By all accounts, Fr. Dave’s ministry has been amazing. He has started a well-attended third Sunday morning family service, writes a weekly email newsletter, experiments with adult education (a class based on HBO’s Six Feet Under!), and more. One of my chief regrets about spending my time in New Hampshire and DC is that I’m not in Idaho to learn from Dave’s ministry, but at least I can rejoice from afar in the energy that he has brought to our parish life.

Each of Fr. Dave’s email newsletters contains a sermon-like reflection at the end, and I rather liked the most recent one, and with his blessing, thought I’d pass it along.

Food has been in the news lately. I’m one of those live-to-eat type people (instead of eat-to-live) so I like to read stories about food. One story that I follow is how the City of New York is handling food.

As you may remember, the city council passed a law that made it illegal to use transfat in any food prepared and served in New York. Recently, the city council declared that all chain restaurants must print the calorie count of each food in the same size and font as the price. The law goes into effect on Friday (with up to a $2k fine per violation).

New Yorkers woke up this morning to a shock – their Starbucks scone has a calorie count of 470 and their favorite chocolate chip muffin at Dunkin Doughnuts has 630 calories! According to an msnbc.com article, T.G.I Friday’s serves a pecan-crusted chicken salad, with mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and celery, which weighs in at 1,360 calories. Compare that to the cheeseburger and fries that has 1,290 calories.

The City Council passed this law in an attempt to curb rising obesity rates and the onset of diabetes. This measure could reduce the number of obese New Yorkers by 150,000 over the next five years, and prevent 30,000 cases of diabetes, according to the MSNBC article.

I think this is an exercise in truth telling. It’s a way for the consumer to evaluate more than just taste and value. This is a way for the consumer to decide how many calories she or he is going to ingest. Truth telling is not easy. Sometimes, hearing the truth hurts. Sometimes it is shocking (a 630 calorie muffin, OMG!!!).

Jesus was in to truth telling. It seems that he constantly was telling truth that many did not want to hear – things like, you clean the outside of the cup but the inside is dirty; are you sure you can drink from the cup that I am about to; you take the speck of dust out of your neighbors eye but what about the log of wood in yours; ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Jesus was also into giving us choices. You can choose to treat others and you wish to be treated. You can choose to follow His ways. It is your choice to love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t force love. It is only a choice. Not even God can force you to love God, yourself, or your neighbor. It’s all your choice.

How do we find the truth in our daily life. More to the point, how do we find the calorie counts in the things we choose to do? Jesus was fond of saying that the truth will eventually be uncovered. But how do we know what the 610 calorie cookie is in our life?

Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about food labeling in our part of the country. Nevertheless, we can find those places in life that we should avoid. We do this through discernment. In my view, an important role of the church in our life and in the community is helping with discernment.

Discernment starts with prayer and being open to God’s will in your life. Discernment also happens in community. Through dialog and discussion with people you trust in your life; through weighing positives and negatives with a trusted friend, and then praying to let God’s will be know; through these actions, you will begin to see where the 470 calorie scones are and were the healthy food is to nourish yourself.

If you need help discerning something in your life, let your community know. We will walk with you along the dark and murky path until your path becomes visible. After all, we cling to the hope that what is in darkness will be made light, that what is not known will be made known, that things that are old will be made new, that things covered will be uncovered, that those who grieve will find gladness, those who are sick will be made well. … all for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

I think I’ll head out and get a chocolate chip muffin. Or on second thought, maybe I won’t.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Unity in Diversity"

Pray for +Gene.

Earlier today, I wrote that I believe it likely more preachers will speak today about Jacob’s Ladder than about the actual Gospel story, the parable about separating wheat from weeds. Well, according to Thinking Anglicans, the Gospel did carry the day across the pond at Lambeth. The Bishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka preached on the parable, pulling from it that we should dedicate ourselves to "rigorous self-scrutiny, unity in diversity and prophetic ministry."

The only thing I know about the Bishop of Colombo is that his diocese donated some wonderful tea to the Diocese of Louisiana when I worked there, and it was a big hit with the hurricane victims we gave it to. I also know that “unity in diversity” is a concept that demands full inclusion. If we are not a welcoming church, than we do not reflect true diversity. If we turn any of God’s children away, then we are not the unified body of Christ. “Unity in diversity” demands that the bishop of New Hampshire’s Anglicans be allowed to stand next to the Texas Anglicans and the Sri Lanka Anglicans at Lambeth Palace this week. Unfortunately, that is not to be the case.

In an attempt to placate conservative rabble-rousers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, did not see fit to invite Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to the Lambeth Conference. This ban has been counterproductive, causing not healing, but pain. The conservatives are not placated, but we in New Hampshire have been voiced to join the GLBT crowd as a voiceless community. +Gene movingly writes that he too is in great spiritual pain. Please pray for him tonight, and this week.

Never have I felt more in need of your prayers. As I write this, the opening service of the Lambeth Conference is going on at Canterbury Cathedral. I am a few miles away -- but it feels like a much further difference…

The level of fear and anxiety, especially among the Conference powers-that-be, is out the roof. No matter what I say, no matter what assurances I give, I seem to be regarded as a threat, something to be walled off and kept at a distance. Greeting a few American bishops in passing, and then at a dinner for General Seminary alumni last night, has been pleasant and supportive. But even though I thought I was properly prepared for the feeling of being shut out, I am stunned by the depth of that feeling…

I don't know how all this is going to play out over the next two weeks. At the moment, I am feeling like the ancient Hebrews, wandering in the desert looking for God's daily manna, just to get through. With all the exclusion and meanness that has come my way over the years, you'd think this would come as less of a surprise. But surprise me it did! And it hurts, especially at the hands of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

So please, pray for me. Pray that God will reveal to me what I am to do and how I am to do it, best reflecting God's love and spirit of reconciliation. Pray that when given an opportunity to speak to one or to many, God might replace my words with His words, my heart with His heart. In the end, I keep reminding myself, I'm going to heaven.


Now that I think about it, perhaps this is a form of “unity in diversity.” Thanks to the exclusionary nature of Lambeth, it can be said that Yankees, queers, and a bishop in Christ’s church all stand united this day. In shouldering this pain, Bishop Robinson has become a Christ-like figure, taking on the burden of all who asked him to represent and lead them in their faith. Represent and lead us. And for that, he has my prayers.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Way a Pastor Should Be

The Lambeth Conference has started, but I don’t think I’m going to blog about it the way I did GAFCON. I’ve got quite a lot of writing to do at work, and it would be nice to catch up on some personal reading, as well. Plus, the new Batman movie is out. Grandmère Mimi has compiled a good list of Lambeth blogs at the top her sidebar, I agree with what most of the Three Legged James says, and The Episcopal Café’s Jim Naughton is giving us the real news the MSM won’t, and Ruth Gledhill is my queen. Go read them.

I do, however, want to pass along this bit from Bishop Gene Robinson’s blog. While yesterday’s post was powerfully personal and painful, it is Thursday’s post I have been meaning to pass along for a couple days now. +Gene wrote this after his sermon in Putney , England was interrupted by a heckler. This speaks to just why he is more qualified to be a bishop than most.

I noticed Nick in the congregation. He was the young waiter from the cafe that is built right into the entrance to the church. He had served me lunch the day before, and then later told me that he was gay and Christian. He said his mother was Catholic and had told him that although it made her sad, he was going to hell. Nick was there to receive the Body and Blood of Christ with a large congregation who did NOT think he was hellbound.

And then, after the service, there was Emily. I had been told about her by her vicar. She's about twenty years old and has muscular dystrophy. Her mobility is impaired, and her speech is labored. And she has recently announced to her family and friends that she is lesbian. She told her mother and her vicar that she wanted to be there to meet Bishop Robinson. I made sure she was brought up to the private space where we all gathered after the service.

She walked onto the terrace tentatively. I greeted her, noticing that her hands were very weak. With great difficulty, and needing time to shape each word as carefully as she could, she told me what my words and my ministry have meant to her. I asked her if I could hug her, and she melted into my arms for a long embrace. In that moment, I remembered why I was here in London , why I was talking about God's love for all of God's children. I remembered how MANY of God's lgbt children have never heard those words about themselves, or believed them. I was here for Emily, and Nick, and countless others I will never know. God loves them so much, and it must break God's heart that they doubt it. My job is to help rid them of that doubt.

Friday, July 18, 2008

An Arbitrary President

The Hill reports:

The White House announced Friday that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that troop reductions should be “based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal.”


You know, I actually agree with the President here. An arbitrary date for withdrawal would be a terrible thing. A non-arbitrary date, however, a date with meaning, might be a good idea. A date based on something like the secure presence provided by the withdrawal of one to two combat brigades a month. I’ve never heard the President discuss that kind of an idea, he only wants to talk about the arbitrary critics. I wonder what he’d think of the more intellectual non-arbitrary proposals? There are plenty of them out there. He should give them a look.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Christian, a Jew, and Barack Obama

Teehee! From Andy Borowitz:

A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, "This joke isn't going to work because there's no Muslim in this boat."


Head(ache)lines jump across the pond

My day began today, as it is often wont to do, with growing anger at the press for the way it is covering the Anglican Communion. This time, however, it wasn't the American press, but the British press.

First of all, the Press Association runs “Gay bishop to deliver UK sermon.” Similarly, Retuers has a story entitled “Gay bishop calls for firmer leadership.” It’s not Reuters’ implied sexual innuendo that bothers me so much as it is the media's practice of never referring to Bishop Robinson as anything but the “gay bishop.” As a legal resident of a New Hampshire and a communicant, if not member, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, I wish they would call him the “ New Hampshire bishop” rather than the “gay bishop.” It’s not just that the press is slighting him; they are slighting ME, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury when he decided my campus ministry is one of a very few undeserving of representation at the supposedly-Communion-wide Lambeth Conference. When you put the focus on a diocesan bishop, you put the focus on that diocese, and the media’s coverage of +Gene is a slap in the face to all Granite Staters. As Grandmére Mimi of Wounded Bird asks in a comment at MadPriest, why don’t we obsessively call the other bishops “practicing heterosexuals” every single time we refer to them?

When I was done with the Reuters story, I moved on to the Telegraph’s “Gay clergy split is 'most perilous crisis' in Church's history. Reporter John Bingham informs us that, “An open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and the more-than 800 bishops attending the conference is demanding an urgent overhaul of the [Lambeth Conference] to allow time to deal with the matter.” What Mr. Bingham does not tell us is just how many signees that letter has. It is this practice of only reporting half the facts that encourages the erroneous belief of an impending schism. Let’s remember that a majority of bishops have declined to boycott Lambeth; that most of the attendees at the conservative movement’s pinnacle conference in Jerusalem were local priests, not regional bishops; that only 5 or so of the over 30 primates were involved in planning said Conference, which didn’t even speak for all of Africa; and that many of the 40 million Anglicans Nigeria, and like it Uganda, claim as members actually attend many churches throughout the week and don’t consider themselves strictly Anglican or tied to their Archbishops.

Such reporting is all over the place. The BBC’s headline about a recent interview with the Most Rev. Katharine Jeffers Schori: “Sexuality stance 'embarrasses' Anglicans.” The reporter doesn’t actually say it was an interview, but I presume it was because I can’t find such comments in either of Bishop Katharine’s Sunday Salisbury sermons. A throwaway line of hers in the article was that other provinces feel embarrassed by American actions. She was merely trying to acknowledge the views and feelings of our brothers in Christ; there was no deep meaning or shocking revelation behind this sentence, and it was hardly the crux of her comments – yet the BBC put it in bold. Take a look yourself; I doubt you’ll characterize it the same way.

What is most disappointing is that all of these news organizations are British. Normally it is the American press that gets it so wrong, and the Brits come to our saving grace. Yet this week, even the normally intrepid Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London has taken to running factual inaccuracies. Rev. Mark Harris, also a Gledhill fan, tallies them up over at Preludium.

Reading these articles and fuming over all these unreported facts, a new question crossed my mind: why is it considered a collapse of the Communion if Nigeria and Uganda leave, but not if America and Canada are kicked out? Why are these new, forty-year old provinces considered more crucial to the structural integrity of the institution than its second-oldest province? Why are some bishops considered more important than others?

Some say all this is because the media is hungry for controversy, and will find it anywhere. I say that anyone who puts a headline above their readers’ spiritual wellbeing is being reckless and irresponsible.

To end on a happier note, with a breath of fresh air and reconciliation, let’s turn back to Bishop Robinson – not to the story of his sermon heckler, or even to myriad of flattering articles about him, but to his own recent words:

This church is not ours to win or lose, it is God’s church . It may be looking pretty rough now but God will take care of it. It may look a bit different in the end but God is not going to abandon his church so we don’t need to be so afraid.

We are not at liberty to think we are on the selection committee for God’s family. Our job is to be on the welcome committee and the sooner we learn that in the Anglican Communion the better off we will be.

I don’t believe God stopped revealing himself when the canon of scripture was closed. God promises to be with us and never let us go. We are promised that the spirit will lead us into all truth. I believe that God is now leading us to the full inclusion of people of all types of sexuality. Maybe where we’re headed is just to acknowledge that all of us are incredibly diverse and God loves us all…

Why am I going to Lambeth? I’m going to do my very best to let whatever light of Christ there is in me to shine. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want those guys to meet and not be reminded of my presence. I want to remind them that they are in charge of their flock and they have gay people there and that gay and lesbian souls are every bit as worth saving as straight souls. I want them to have a chance to meet me and get to know me – because it is in meeting and communicating that the world is changed. I want gay people to know that they are God affirmed.

If you want to see what the church is like after it has stopped obsessing about sexuality, come to New Hampshire.