Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fwd: Bearing Fruits

I took a long break from my blogs. I hope it has the fruitfulness of letting soil lie fallow.

It is tempting to get depressed about the state of the church in general, and even more so if you are a mainstream Christian, and even more so still if you are a Catholic Anglican who has progressive stands on the issues facing the church, namely really homosexuality. I find myself on the one hand committed to the blessing of faithful same gender relationships, yet on the other quite attached to the Anglican Communion as a necessary part of our catholicity. And I feel compelled to say that in my opinion the conservatives state their theology in a more accesible and traditionally coherent form. So it is even harder when you feel compelled to say to those you support that you think they are actually doing less well at expressing their point of view.

The result of this is that one can feel very negative. Then I had a moment of grace. I remember those statues at my old seminary that followed the convention of portraying saints bearing in their hands their gifts for Jesus. Matthew has a book, a gospel. Paul has a church, presumably filled with Gentile Christians. If someone were ever to makea a statue of me what would it be holding? if I spend my time fretting over the state of the church it won't be holding much. So I will watch the battle, and if the opportunity arises ever to do anything then I will. Yet my energy is going to go toward working for Jesus where I am, and if God blesses me any statue of me will have a hand full.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

History does not always move forward

Okay, in time yes, but in a progression of human well-being and advancement, certainly not.  I think this myth is deeply ingrained in us, and highly unhelpful.  It makes us overly proud of who we are, what we think, and overly confident in what we have.  The good news is that who we are, what we think, and what we have is all very vulnerable to the changes of time  This is good news because we are unable to save ourselves, and any efforts we make in that direction are better deflected.  If we hold this false hope in progress, it can only hurt us.  However, our confidence may rest safely in the one who formed The Orien and the Pleades, who came as a babe, taught with divine wisdom, healed with divine compassion, challenged with divine concern, died with divine faithful love, and rose again with divine hope and promise.  Sadly, Americans are so convinced that the empire they have built is based on sure and certain gains that they cannot see the base of the empire crumbling before their very eyes.  Growing poverty, increased pollution, declining wages, poorer schools, ineffective political institutions, growing debt, unneccessary wars, heightened governmental intrusion in our private lives, the break down of public discourse, the isolation of intellectuals, the litany could go on, all betray our impending demise.  American faith in human progress has undermined any reasonable sense of vulnerability, and the false belief that we are safe has blinded us not only to our deep need for God, but even for God's relevence.  We retreat into cliche statements about God on the right and the left.  And these diseases are firmly entrenched in large swaths of the church, both left and right.  We are not at the zenith of the American age, I am convinced we are in its last five to ten years.  The Christian faith teaches that empires rise and fall, and this is the only reasonable Christian opinion of our Empire.  Our faith is not in Empire; Jesus himself was the challenge to Empire.  Unless we recognize this, and put it into practice in our lives, we are living a fool's dream, from which we will eventually be rudely, but thankfuly, awoken.
Pace e Bene,

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Response to the Divisions of General Convention 2006

My friend Bob, who runs an excellent blog, linked in the sidebar, has made some commments on his inner struggle with the conflicts at General Convention: http://hypersync/

I wanted to respond to his writings because his feelings so resonate with me. But rather than make a long, long, long comment on his blog, I post it here:

Your sentiments resonate with me. I always was attracted to the church because, firstly, it was traditional, drawing its breath (spirit) through the lungs of all those who went before. Secondly, it was a church based on loving relationships: what makes us Anglican is our commitment to each other incarnated in our bishops. Thirdly, it's worship, an understanding of faith as something that involves bodily and spiritual formation, and which only conservatively changes what is received. And lastly, the ability to allow dialogue on where scripture, tradition and reason witness to God in our context: a dialogue in which much latitude was allowed for the sake of people actually owning and incarnating their belief, rather than the temptation to just parrot them, and live a kind of schizophrenic (sp) faith, saying one thing, but not quite seeing how that meets the road, or if it really matches what one thinks with mind and heart.

I have come to believe that the divide in the Episcopal church has come because the "more left" side of the church challenges the traditional nature of our faith and the conservative approach to worship, and the "more right" challenges the process whereby we do theology, trying to impose an orthodoxy of a modern biblicist character. The conflict has called into question the relationship character of our unity, and is even visible at the very heart of our ordered ministry, the pick and choose mentality of who can be our bishop.

Truth be told I am coming to see some conservatives as demonstrating less faith in God than the liberals. I say this because they reach an almost irrational anger and reaction which I think betrays little faith in God's purpose and betrays a poor spiritual practice. However, it may be that the liberals are just temperamentally less likely to get so wound up. Nonetheless, I'd rather look for spiritual growth with liberals because I tend to come away from them feeling loved and built up in faith. When I read or am with conservatives, I feel tired, assaulted, and not built up in faith. I have to go with the "You will know them by their fruits" test, and so I tend to want to hang out with the liberals.

I think what we need to do is gather the people who are sympathetic to liberal momentum for the inclusion of women and gay and lesbian people, and at the same time work to promote healthy understanding of tradition, and expose the wisdom of our traditional liturgy. We need to trust that God is up to something, that it tends to shake us up, and that God wants us to respond to our church and world with love, creativity, and the gifts of the spirit.

I sense these fights in our chruch are tied up in fighting and tearing down. I want to rise above them into being centered in God, say my office, read my Bible, study the tradition, enter into meaninful dialogue with people willing to both hear and speak, and build community to give to the church. I want to be centered, humble, loving and I want to speak my truth to liberal and conservative, whether in organic unity or not. I will not deny that the church is in crisis, but I will not allow that crisis to deflect me from solid trust in God. This is how I intend to respond.

Long Aside: Both sides are hurt by what I consider a weakened scholarship. This is sad because I believe the wisdom from sound intellectual pursuit is "spiritual". We tend to relegate spiritual to inspirational, almost magic achievement and insight. But I think a true Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit is based on our wisdom tradition, which recognizes the fruit of scholarly pursuit done with integrity as a vehicule of inspiration.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why General Convention doesn't do it for me

Well Resolutions can be broken. I had said I was not going to follow any of the news from the Episcopal Church's Convention. Yet, when so many people you know are there it is hard not to. Still, I will try to stay out of it as much as possible.

I am pulled in so many directions by this convention because there are several factors which are in conflict with each other. Let me try to itemize the different pulls here:

I am a traditional catholic Christian who takes belief seriously and so the left in our church which is so free and easy with tradition makes me uncomfortable. I do think there is a lack of faith in our talk about God (I do not confuse this with faith in God, because I think there is a lot more of that than the "orthodox" would have us think). This suspician of traditional God-talk is deepseated in much of the church because of a failure to recognize the wisdom of the people who created the tradition. The modern world belittles too much those from a pre-technological age, which I find ironic because I think we have become less sophisticated in many areas of human inquiry that the ancients were very adept in. This lack of confidence is partially a result of modern Biblical criticism, which I think in itself is helpful, but which has led some people to conclusions I find strange, mainly because faith in the Bible had been substituted for faith in God in many quarters. (This is another question) I also think that persons in this position frequently reach into social outreach as a substitute for adhering to a way of talking about God.

I think the people who mostly banter about the word "orthodox" and "tradtional" do not have a very sophisticated concept of either and so are not really "orthodox" or "traditional". They are actually reactionary. Not all, but many.

I believe God calls women to be ordained in the church, and I think the tradition has tended toward a preponderance of male imagery whereas I think we need to take steps to balance the imagery in our liturgy especially, and also in our theology, yet without substantially changing the liturgy.

I believe that a place can be made for gay and lesbian people who see their sexuality as a constituent part of who they are and would like to live within a blessed lifelong faithful exclusive relationship without the need for universal concensus. This argument is not about who beleives the Bible, it is about who is deeply immersed in traditional exegesis of the scripture which is far less reductionist than most modern so-called "orthodox" Christians.

The church is about Love and Holiness, Worship and Ministry. It demands not part of our life but all of it. We are in a post Constantinian Church which still sees the church as part of our life and the civic life as quite compatible with it. This is holding us back and not being addressed.

I take Christian Unity seriously and think we sometimes make great sacrifices for the sake of unity. At the same time I do not trust the pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit) in the Roman Catholic Church, and so I think we should challenge them more, yet at the same time I think we should take their concerns largely seriously.

Where is the attempt to build some common life and mission between the various separated branches of Christianity. Self-sufficiency is not only going to kill us, it is un-Biblical and I dare say, heretical. What are we doing in that regard.

So, in part, I guess I do not have confidence that the conflicts in the church are well thought out on the one hand, or address the true problems we face on the other.

....But hey, this is Joyful Rumblings. God is up to something, and my faith is in God in Jesus Christ, not the church or its convention. May my life be loving and holy, worshipful and serving. That is the best thing I can do for the church and for the convention, and out of love for my savior.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Is it really about Homosexuality?

I have begun to visit a Blog mainly frequented by Episcopalians who are against the current trend to normalize homosexuality as an acceptable orientation for faithful Christians. It has been enlightening. My life in the diocese of Newark brings me into contact with very many people have already decided that normalizing homosexuality is the correct action for the church. I also follow this discussion in the principal Anglican News sources and am intrigued by the reactions of the global south and the relative silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
It seems to me that a much larger issue to this debate is "how do we do theology?" I hesitate to use the word epistomology because that had an implication of knowledge, in other words, "how do we know?". Some are committed to the Bible in a way that seems to many Anglicans more Reformed not to say Puritanical and even Fundamentalist. Others say they are rooted in the Anglican tradition of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, yet in much of what they do there seems to be little exegesis or exploration of the tradition.
This seems to me to be the much larger issue, because we are a people who do theology in order to make decisions. I think it would be very useful to have an exploration of this subject with an aim to develop a method that we can all agree to. This I think would help us bring clarity to this controversy, and to the ones that will inevitably face the church in the future.
As I work on this project, I intend to post comments to this entry. My starting place will be to look at the Windsor report and the Episcopal Church document responding to the request of that report. I will analyze the method of theology presented in each document.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I contributed this to Titusonenine, Kendall Harmon's blog

Canon Kendall Harmon is a theologian in South Carolina, and his web-site, "titusonenine" often brings together interesting information from a variety of sources.

I responded, in too many words, to the prospect of the election of a gay or lesbian partnered person to be the bishop of the Diocese of California. This election happens this Saturday.


The Holy Spirit, I suspect, does not always look for the best candidate in the terms we might. In this situation a rather mediocre candidate might be the choice for love (not that any are mediocre).

I personally am one of those "reappraisers", a name I don't like and I'm not sure I can spell, but my desire is that the Diocese of California take a time out and not elect a partnered gay or lesbian person to see if we can have a real discernment in the church.

I find this discussion in the church takes such a polarized character that truly loving, discerning, prayerful dialogue is hard to find. It is happening in some quarters, but in most voices I hear, whether "liberal" or "conservative", and truth be told, in some comments I read here, it seems many folk are acting out of their less holy dispositions.

A true discernment requires deep faith, which means an unwavering commitment to the kind of love God has, a level of engagement with scripture and tradition and reason and prayer that requires real hard work and much time, an openness to listen to people deeply and thoroughly, humility in order to be able to say, "I am not sure", and not to succumb to mean spirited comments, and even more than that, power plays.

There are a lot more issues than homosexuality in the balance. Questions like: what is scripture? What is the authority of the church? What are the timeless truths of God and what different shapes can they take in different places and times? What is human sexuality and what purpose does it play? How do we have discussions on subjects that touch on taboo and purity so that we are appropriately open and not simply prejudiced? How do we deal with deep seated feelings of anger and rejection? How much change can an organization take in a short period of time? There are so many questions, and I do not think the quality of the dialogue we are having in the communion at large reflects very often the kind of faithfulness required to hear God’s voice.

If we do not engage in loving holiness I suspect even if the right decision is made the church has still lost. I feel less and less at home in our church, less over acceptance or rejection of homosexuality, than over the quality of the discussion. Does anyone else every feel the same way?

I would rather California not elect a gay bishop at this time, and hope that time will allow these kind of questions to be deeply and respectfully discussed by a much larger population. I want us to longingly pray that God will make us holy and humble, loving and open. If this would happen in the church I wonder if we would really be that concerned with what is right because we would be so overwhelmed by the graciousness that comes only from God.

But then again, the Holy Spirit, does not chose by our criteria, even mine, and I have no greater witness to that, than that I believe the Holy Spirit has grabbed me in my life, and though I try stubbornly to wrestle free there is no getting away it would seem. Go figure.

Blessings, John

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Reclaiming Christianity?"

The Sojourners email magazine drew my attention to an article that appeared in the New Republic, entitled "Taking Back the Faith". The writer tries to find the equivalent in the modern Christian environment of William Sloan Coffin, Jr., a voice for socially aware, or "liberal" "mainstream" faith. He then talks to many of the people that were suggested to him. He ends his article by pointing out that liberals often make people embarrassed about their Christianity and that this will hurt the Democratic party until it takes this into account. Here is the link to this article: .

A different question, however, is presenting itself to me. It seems that there is a strand in our culture which is allowed to dismiss religion as superstitious, irrelevant, corrupt, hypocritical, you add the adjective. This seems to be a problem that affects both the liberal and the conservative Christian. The reason the Fundamentalist get more press is because they offer more fodder for this stereotype to the media, and because many among them have managed to take a more media-centered approach they are more visible to the media, while the more mainstream or liberal Christians still remain largely invisible, centered in the parish and the denominational structures, .

An example of what prompts me to wonder is this: I saw the movie V is for Vendetta. In the movie fundamentalist religion had entered partnership with totalitarian politics and a Church of England Bishop was portrayed as one of the ring-leaders of the totalitarian political party. He also endulged in his sexual fantasy with young girls whom he hired. Religion was presented as monolithic and evil. Meanwhile the "savior" of the film took it upon himself to murder violently his opponents and to orchestrate the destruction of what he saw as symbols of oppression. Truly many of the people he kills are guilty of horendous crimes, and the authority which should be promoting justice were irredeemably corrupt; nonetheless, there is one scene where he kills about a dozen soldiers when the only one he seeks to kill, with perhaps some reason, he saves until the end. Perhaps the intent is to raise the very question, how evil does one become in order to confront evil. That question, for anyone religious, is as old as the hills. But the question it raised for me was, how has it happened that the organization which attempts to teach loving neighbor as self, and attempts to promote the pursuit of wisdom can be portrayed as monolithically patetic if not evil, and a character who commits needless acts of gorey bloody violence can be portrayed as the hero, and this does not outrage people?

I am beginning to think the churches needs to wake up: there is more at play than the divisions within the church on theology here. I suspect it is the hierarchs of Consumerism realizing the threat Christianity and religion in general has on their devotees. If you cannot serve God and Mammon, and I for one do not think you can, then God is the enemy of Consumerism, and there will be resistence to the message of Religion from those who stand to lose money. If this is true then it has consequences on what we preach and teach. What do you think?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dark Ages America

Morris Berman has written a book making the case that America is very likely entering a dark age.  He compares our culture to Rome and draws similarities between the fall of that empire and the fall of America.  I am finding the reading very interesting as he provides the fruit of much research and study to support a thesis I have felt in my gut.  I want to read his entire book before making extensive comment, but I find it very interesting, and oddly, encouraging.  Are we as Christians called out to build communities to ride out the "fall" much as Benedict did for Europe in an earlier time?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The dullness of Our Blinded Sight

Yesterday I took Rasheed Toney, a young African American man, to the Marriott Hotel at the Newark airport to get a job application. We discovered that he has to use the web to apply for a job. He does not have internet at home. One has to ask for whom is this convenience? I cannot think of any other answer than for the company. Why do they think that anyone they would want to hire would have a computer? Perhaps they feel that those who cannot afford internet and a computer are those who they would not wish to hire. What it does mean is that a young man will have to go to the library or a career center to do his application, and then to follow up with his email account. This means busfare or quite a long trip each time. It seems to me that we so take for granted that people's economic circumstances are like ours that we frequently create larger obstacles for those who already have a more than fair share. Maybe I am overly concerned, but it does seem that there is not a huge effort to make things accessible to those who might in fact need our aid the most.

Monday, March 13, 2006

New forms for Community

Welcome. On my website I describe an invitation to reflection on new forms of Christian Community. It is my hope that the format of a weblog will be the place to gather data as we begin this discussion. It might turn out that something like a Yahoo! group might be better. This is to be seen.

So I invite you to respond here. Does this sort of group reflection interest you? Are you interested in new shapes of Christian Community for our time and place? Do you know people who are attempting just that? What do you think our first steps should be? Please post your comments here.

Thanks and God bless,

Elevated Places for Gangs?

In the Afterschool program we welcomed two inspirational speakers. They talked to the young people about taking their thinking to "Elevated Places" Basically the instruction is what I have learned is called "executive skill", the thinking that allows one to weight the outcomes from one's course of actions. The speakers' ideas were deeply rooted in the issues that confront the youth in my care. They spoke to the tendency many youth have to accelerate disputes to a violent level with sometimes lethal consequences. They spoke to the damage done to people by mysogynistic attitudes and gangbanging. They spoke of the consequences of drugs. They addressed the dangers of listening to music that rehearses one's mind in accepting all these behaviors.

What struck me the most was that these two gentlemen knew how to speak the language of the youth. Though it was clear that some of the youth did not want to hear what was being said, it was also clear that they had to listen to speakers. These ideas were not complicated, and the wisdom of them was transparent. What wondered about was why the youth did not want to hear what was being said. The only idea that comes to mind is that if you take away the gangsta culture from these young men they feel they have very little left that is theirs. They do not have much hope for a future job they are not unaware that their schools are not adequately preparing them. They come from families with struggles, and this is the future they expect for themselves. Recently one child when speaking about his future said, "When I am in jail..." That he would go was his foregone conclusion. The comments that these speakers made indicated that the spoke the language from within the culture.

It is interesting that gang culture is so villianized. What I found very interesting about the perspective of these two men was their affirmation of gangs. The fact that people gather together for mutual support is not the problem. The problem is the kinds of activities that gangs engage in: violence, mysogyny, drugs, prostitution, theft. The other problem with gangs is that they participate in the despair and attempt to build up self image by use of strength of violence, and honor on bullying and gang. I found myself wondering if the gangs are not the instruments we need to reach out to the youth. Could they be somehow convinced to truly act for the welfare of their members? Could they take their violent power and turn it into political power? With the amount of investment in private for profit prisons it is clear that the moneyed white community has no interest in the system changing. It must be the people themselves who must act for an improvement in their situation. The question is whether we on the outside can in any way be a catalyst for this process.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Off to a Simple Start

A first few simple steps toward having a weblog. Yea!