Archive for March, 2007

When “Truth Stumbles in the Public Square”

March 13, 2007

“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and righteousness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.  The Lord saw it and it displeased him that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene…” (Isaiah 59:14-16) 

A very painful two days, listening to testimonies from a delegation of Philippine religious and civil society leaders at an international ecumenical conference on human rights in the Philippines, March 12-14, 2007 in Washington, DC.  Many of these women and men, clergy and lay have lost friends and family members to what are being called “extra judicial” killings there.

There is a distrubing escalation of human rights violations in the Philippines. In total 833 persons have been killed in what international observers and human rights organizations all agree is a well-designed scheme to eliminate and intimidate leaders who speak out peacefully against human rights abuses of their government.

In response to the National Council of Churches in the Philippines appeal to churches and ecumenical bodies around the world to be in accompaniment with them in making their appeal to end these killings, Tony Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches in the USA was able to share that organization’s statement and work. I was able to share Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s letter (also shared with Condoleeza Rice,  Sen. Joseph Biden, and Rep. Tom Lanto) which concludes:

“I wish to assure you of the ongoing concern of many religious leaders in the United States and elsewhere.  We will continue to monitor and make known our distress over the deeply troubling human rights problems now besetting your country, and we will continue to actively support our partner churches in the Philippines as they work to bring these concerns to the attention of the international community, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission.”

The brave Philippine delegates will testify before Congressional staff and committees tomorrow. The latest word from the Philippines is that the government is sending military and police officials to “observe” the testimonies! Pray for the safety of our sisters and brothers…  

Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

March 12, 2007

“Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!” (Psalm 96:6) That line from yesterday’s Morning Prayer lectionary was still in my mind and heart as I hiked up Mt. St. Alban through the brisk morning air in the nation’s capital. In town for a series of different meetings, I had decided to get to the 11 a.m. Eucharist at our National Cathedral, a favorite place of mine for many years.

Seeing the magnificent, white towers framed by a bright blue sky is always a thrill to me. The founding concept of “a great church for national purposes” speaking truth to power, from hill to hill, in Washington — while not always realized — seems a noble mission for the Diocese of Washington and for the Episcopal Church. The huge nave was comfortably filled with many hunreds of the faithful, the music was splendid (but quite participatory; not a concert), and the “new” Dean preached a thoughtful sermon, taking on the complex theme of the Gospel for the day — “why bad things happen to good people,” theodicy, justifying the ways of God to humankind.

In the ecumenical movement, we sometimes speak of “ecclesial density.” Does this particular denomination or Christian communion have “ecclesial density,” meaning the size, the history, a cogent theological rationale, faithful communicants, and such other things that make it a church to be reckoned with, a church to be taken seriously as a church in the worldwide ecumenical scene.

When I visit our cathedrals such as this one in Washington or Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, historic parishes such as St. Michael’s and St. George’s in St. Louis, Trinity Church in New Orleans, or indeed countless large and small congregations across the Episcopal Church, I am reassured that we have such “ecclesial density,” that we are indeed “a church to be reckoned with.”

Despite our difficulties — and they are many — I am encouraged and renewed by the fact that such congregations are filled with solid, faithful Christians who seek nothing more, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, than to worship Almighty God, bear witness to our Savior Jesus Christ, and participate in God’s mission in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.

What else would you want a church to be?       

Growing Together in Unity and Mission

March 10, 2007

Bilateral dialogues are ongoing meetings between two partners seeking mutual understanding, finding common ground, and working for unity. In ecumenical conversations, the goal is full communion — and eventually the restoration of the full visible unity of the Church. From March 8-10, clergy and laity from the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches met at St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC for the 62nd meeting of the Anglican – Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the USA. This conversatioin has been going on for over 30 years!

We prayed Morning and Evening Prayer together everday, alternating between the Book of Common Prayer and Shorter Christian Prayer (a Catholic daily devotional). Each day we also celebrated the Eucharist. That is both joyful and painful. Because Roman Catholic discipline does not permit Eucharistic sharing until full agreement has been reached on matters of faith, order, and polity, we are unable to receive holy communion together. So, at the Episcopal Eucharist, Roman Catholics come forward for a blessing rather than receiving the sacrament. At Catholic Mass, Episcopalians do the same.

I have often wondered about the wisdom of this. Perhaps we should just pray the Daily Office together and let it go at that. But, over time, I have come to see that participating in “real but imperfect” communion in this way allows us to bear the pain of separation and renews our energy for the long journey forward.

It is excruciating, for example, to have the Roman Catholic celebrant hold up the consecrated Bread and Wine and say (as, of course, he would at any Mass) “Happy are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And to know that we are not!  Equally painful for me to hold up those same sacramental signs and say, “The Gifts of God for the People of God” and know that the Roman Catholics will receive those gifts from me.

Yet, it is for that reason that we press on. At this meeting we shared news of our two churches, listened to and discussed two papers on “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” published by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission. We reviewed the first draft of a pastoral guide for Spanish-speaking Christians, which attempts to make clear both the similarities and differences between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches for new Latino immigrants who may find the terms “catholic” and “episcopal” confusing.

We discussed “Growing Together in Unity and Mission” which will soon be published for use by clergy conferences, seminaries, and local congregations. This international document summarizes, in very accessible fashion, the progress made in over 40 years of Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue, clearly articulates where we still disagree and new stumbling blocks which have arisen, and yet suggests very specific ways in which the two churches can engage in mission and ministry together even now.    

In the words of this new document,”Because we hope in the bountiful grace of God, we are encouraged to persevere, and to face the difficulties of growing together. We give glory to God, ‘whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20-21)'”

Unity and Justice

March 8, 2007

For the next several days I will be involved in the 62nd Meeting of the Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue here in the United States (ARC-USA). This is one of our longest and most productive ecumenical relationships, even though — of course — there are many issues yet to be resolved. Our “bonds of affection” on this dialogue are deep indeed and I always look forward to these twice-a-year meetings.

After that, I will remain in Washington, DC to participate in an Ecumenical Conversation on the Philippines, standing with our own Episcopal Church in the Philippines and our full communion partner there, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (the Philippine Independent Church). We seek to join with them in demanding that their government pay attention to the so-called “extra judicial” killings which have martyred Christian clergy and lay persons in recent months and years for criticizing the Arroyo government.

More on both of these meetings later…as we seek to serve both unity and justice.

  

The Greatest Among US

March 6, 2007

Isaiah 1:2-4, 16-20; Psalm 50:7-15, 22-24; Matthew 23:1-12.

 

The Episcopal Church has historically valued liturgy and sacraments, titles and ceremonial, spiritual disciplines and ascetical practices. So, a church like ours is particularly vulnerable, and needs to pay attention to, Jesus’ admonitions in today’s Gospel. Along with the scribes and the Pharisees we are warned about placing too much emphasis on honorific titles (like “Father” or “Teacher” or – by implication — “The Rev.” or “The Very Rev” or “The Rt. Rev.” or “The Most Rev!” Do we have “The Partially Reverend?” I can’t remember! It may be the only one we missed!

 

We are warned about getting too wrought up about our beautiful vestments or the latest designs for our naves and sanctuaries (our version of “the best seats in the synagogues!”). Most of all, we are warned about not practicing what we preach! About laying guilt trips on people when we ourselves may be guilty of the same things!

 

This is Jesus’ version of the prophetic message from people like Isaiah who used to quote the Lord as saying, “…incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me…”Ah, sinful nation…who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged!” (Isaiah 1). Hard words for
Israel…and for us.

 

So, what is the remedy for all this? How do we “judge ourselves” so that we will not “be judged” negatively by our God? Well, Isaiah says – simply – “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17). And Jesus says, even more simply, “The greatest among you will be your servant. (For) all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) 

 

How are we doing on all that? Well, we obviously have a long way to go – as a church and as individuals. But I would invite you (if you’ve not already done so) to take a look at the web site as to what the Executive Council of this church did, last weekend, in Portland, Oregon. And what the Anglican Women’s network has been up to all last week!   

 

While many, across the land, seem preoccupied with re-arranging the deck chairs on our Noah’s ark of a church, Council spent most of its time on the Millennium Development Goals, on passing a balanced budget focused on God’s mission, on the just re-building of the Gulf Coast, on peace with justice in the Middle East. And the Anglican Women spent most of their time “seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphans, and pleading for the widows!”

 

Now, I don’t want to fall into the trap of “exalting ourselves” lest – according to Jesus – we find ourselves “humbled!” But the members of our Executive Council – elected to represent this whole church between General Conventions – and the network of Anglican women from around the world did indeed spend most of their time trying to find ways to heed Isaiah’s warnings and to follow Jesus’ direction.

 

And I, for one, want to commend them as some of the “greatest among us…who acted as servants. As ones who sought to humble themselves, rather than be exalted.” For 

 

“Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:24) Amen.   

Still No Outcasts in the Episcopal Church

March 5, 2007

Since the Episcopal Church is “episcopally led” but “synodically governed” (meaning that not only bishops make decisions for this church, but councils comprised of clergy and laity) it was important to see how the Executive Council would react to the recent Primates’ Meeting and the requests made of our church.

Meeting in Portland, Oregon, March 2-4, Council did a number of things: created a Millenium Development Goals “Inspiration Fund;” raised continuing concern about the peace process in the Middle East; urged an end to secret military detention centers and “extraordinary rendition;” passed a balanced budget for 2007; and a number of other things.

Among them was to state that:

“We wish to clearly affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons, particularly those perceived to be the least among us. We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.”

“Further, we offer our prayerful affirmation to all who struggle with the issues that concern us: those who are deeply concerned about the future of their Church and its place within the wider Communion, and those who are not reconciled to certain actions of General Convention. We wish to reaffirm tht they too remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.”

The Executive Council also created a process to allow for the full participation of all Episcopalians in the response to a draft text for a Covenant in the Anglican Communion. We will give this our best effort. But we will do so, as we have always done, with the full participation of all the baptized members of this church — lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

And the context in which we will do all this is as a Church With No Outcasts!  

Journeying Toward Jerusalem

March 4, 2007

I was struck by the first line of the Gospel for this Second Sunday of Lent: “(Jesus) went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and JOURNEYING TOWARD JERUSALEM.” (Luke 13:22). I find myself drawn to geographical references to the Holy Land like this one ever since a sabbatical I took years ago at St. George’s College located in the Palestinian section of east Jerusalem just a short walk from the Damascus gate into the Old City.

Jerusalem is a holy and timeless place. I have been back several times since and always look forward to the experience of “journeying toward Jerusalem” like Jesus. Of course, in our Lord’s case, the journey is rich with symbolism and meaning. In a way, Jesus’ whole life could be described as a “journey toward Jerusalem.” His whole life was moving toward some kind of encounter in Jerusalem.

His radical understanding of God’s inclusive love, his challenging of the religious status quo, his own special sense of vocation as God’s unique revelation — all these would have to bring him into conflict with the religious and political leaders of the day. And that conflict would have to be played out eventually in the capital and “see city” of Palestine — Jerusalem!

The former Dean of St. George’s College and retired Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, John Peterson, shared a theory of his with us during my sabbatical. He believes that one reason Jesus was tried, convicted, and executed by the Roman government with the full consent of the Temple authorities in Jerusalem was because he came from the north of the country, in the Galilee.

There, rabbis were accustomed to dialogue and debate and even arguing with Scripture and with various interpretations. While in Jerusalem, because of the Temple and the sacrificial system, things were seen as being much more “black and white.” If you commit this sin, you offer that sacrifice. Things were very “clear” to the Jerusalem authorities, and they could not handle Jesus’ rabbinical, dialogical way of getting at God’s truth.

These two perspectives — absolute clarity, black and white “easy” answers versus dialogue and continual seeking after the deeper truths of God’s ongoing revelation — frame much of the debate within our own Anglican communion today as well as throughout much of the Christian world. Indeed, these differing perspectives are present in other great religions of the world as well.

How can we engage one another — without rancor or premature closure — as we together seek God’s truth on our “journey toward Jerusalem?”       

No Outcasts

March 3, 2007

I spent Friday evening, along with a small group, at the home of Ed and Patti Browning here in Portland, Oregon, where we are for an Executive Council meeting. The last Presiding Bishop to have served a twelve-year term (and one of the few who actually made it for the whole twelve!), the stress and brutal travel schedule had taken its toll on Ed (and Patti) by the end of their time in 1998.

They both look fabulous these days. Ed keeps his hand in by occasional preaching responsibilties (he’ll preach at the consecration of the new Bishop of Hawaii soon) but mostly they enjoy their view of Mount Hood from their country home and enjoy growing and selling blueberries from their one-acre plot. “We made $3500 last year,” Ed said with remarkable seriousness!

He listened intently to our “takes” on the Episcopal Church’s “current difficulties” within the Anglican Communion and early discussions the Executive Council has had on the matter. At the end he said, “I try to keep up as best I can with what’s going on. It’s a very difficult position we’re in right now. I pray for Katharine and for all of you as you provide leadership together. I hope we can find our way through this. However it all sorts out, I hope we will not sacrifice the vision of a church with “No Outcasts” we have grown into over these last decades.”

Ed Browning ordained me as Bishop of Iowa in 1988. I served a six-year term on Executive Council under his leadership and that of Pam Chinnis. I did a good bit of ecumenical work on his behalf, at the invitation of my predecessor,  David Perry, in the 1990’s. In all that time, sitting at Ed’s feet in over 20 Executive Council meetings, as many House of Bishops meeting, and several General Conventions, I always came away from the experiences more committed to, and excited about, this church and my service to her as a bishop — and more hopeful about the possibilities.

There is something about his gentle, compassionate spirit coupled with his fierce commitment to the poor and marginalized for the sake of Christ that is most compelling to me — and to many, if not most, who know him well. This world, and this church, in my opinion, are holier and more just because of the life and witness of the Brownings.      

David

March 1, 2007

Rarely does the choice of scripture for a saints’ day more accurately describe the saint commemorated as this reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 2:2-12) describes St. David of Wales whose feast we celebrate today.

 


St. Paul begins by reminding the church at Thessalonika that he “had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.” Well, in the 6th  century, David had to have the courage to leave the safety of his Welsh monastery to do battle for the Christian faith against the Pelagian heretics of his day (who basically taught that we are the essential actors in our own salvation rather than the grace of God we discover in Jesus Christ).

 

This was the “gospel” the apostle Paul proclaimed as well and he says in today’s Epistle:

“…just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the truth of (this) gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.” He goes on to confess, “As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery…nor did we seek praise from mortals…But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you…”

 

According to his biographers, St. David of
Wales could be strict in the governing of his own monastery; yet he was loving and even gentle in disciplining others when he was called to do so. That’s not an easy balance to strike as anyone in leadership knows well.

 

Paul says, “you remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day…while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers.”

.

Well, the Christian believers of
Wales are witnesses to the labor and toil of their most famous patron! They are – in many ways – the harvest of his labors, the mature grain spoken of by Jesus in today’s Gospel. (Mark 4:26-29)  St. David founded some eleven monasteries, led an early pilgrimage to the
Holy Land, and was a scholar, a leader, and a man of prayer.

 

We give thanks for his life and witness today. So I close with words from his 11th century biographer: “May David, whose festival we devoutly celebrate on earth, unite us by his intercessions to the angelic citizens, God being over all!”