Archive for January, 2016

A Little Less Opinion, A Lot More Fact

January 8, 2016

Yesterday, a glossy, bronze statue was unveiled in Bechtel Park, Davenport, Iowa. According to the Quad City Times, it is called “Lincoln with Boy on Bridge.” The event commemorated was Abraham Lincoln’s participation in a law suit in 1853. The future President represented the Rock Island Railroad in a suit filed by a Captain John Hurd who owned a steamboat that collided with the railroad that same year. Some say this was Lincoln’s most significant case on his way to the White House.

While he was working on the lawsuit, Lincoln apparently walked onto what is now known as Government Bridge to get a first-hand look and encountered a young boy, who was the son of the bridge’s lead engineer. Satisfied with his surveillance and conversation, Lincoln is reported to have told the boy that he was glad to hear “a little less opinion and a lot more fact.” Davenport’s major Frank Klipsch observed, “This statue is all about kids and about the future, and I think that’s extremely important for this city.”

Extremely important for this city and the nation these days, I would add. For if today’s politicians do not find ways to hear and take seriously the voices and aspirations of our young people, if political campaigns to not begin to focus on “a little less opinion and a lot more fact,” we may fail in our search for new national leaders with the wisdom and wit, the genius for compromise linked to firm commitment to principles which marked out 16th President and his “team of rivals” who led this country through crises that make today’s pale by comparison.


Haters Gonna Hate

January 7, 2016

We were out for dinner together last night. Soon, two older couples (yes, even older than we are!) came in and took their places at an adjacent table.

One of the men had barely taken his seat when he began loudly complaining about President Obama’s promise to take executive action to tighten background checks for certain gun purchases. His point seemed to be how wimpy that made the President.

His male counterpart across the table then made a sneering reference to the fact that Obama was shedding tears while speaking of the mass slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I couldn’t believe it,” this man said, “He didn’t even know them!”

“Yeah,” replied his companion, “I really think he’s been sent here, undercover-like, to undermine this country.”

Thankfully, the waiter arrived with the menus at this point and the conversation moved on to their dinner choices. When my blood pressure returned to normal, I decided against taking him on in this public space (or breaking the nearest chair over his head — my first inclination!) but the lovely evening had certainly lost something of its luster.

What could prompt such vitriol? Partisan politics? Racism? Ignorance? Perhaps all of the above. Certainly, lack of compassion. Lack of the ability to “suffer with.”

To quote Nicholas Kristoff in today’s New York Times Op-Ed Guns, Tears and Republicans:

“The critics in the G.O.P. who scolded the president for weeping while talking about shooting deaths have it wrong. We should all be crying.”


It’s Not Just The Star

January 6, 2016

It’s not just the star

Guiding some Eastern sages

It’s light for us all

Christians take their Christmas trees down today. Actually, most of them already have!  But regardless, this is Epiphany and the Twelve Days of the Christmas season are over.  If the essential message of Christmas is that “God is with us” the essential message of Epiphany is that this message is for all the world.

The sweet story of some Persian astrologers (we’re never told how many there were) following a wandering star to a baby’s rough-hewn manger in Bethlehem is the gospel-writer Matthew’s way of telling us that he believes this Jewish child will grow up to be a “light to the nations.” The message of God’s love, seen in a particular way, in the life of Jesus is intended, not only for the people of Israel, but for all the people of the earth.

We are all “the Chosen People.” Chosen, not for privilege, but for a mission. The mission? To cooperate in building a world united in bonds of justice and peace. For Christians, this is done by following the example and teachings of a first-century Jewish rabbi named Jesus and by forming partnerships with people of good will everywhere who share that same dream. So,

It’s not just the star

Guiding some Eastern sages

It’s light for us all

Happy Epiphany!


What Is Real “Gratuitous Violence?”

January 5, 2016

I recently went to see “The Hateful Eight.” It’s a well-acted (if not always well-written) Quentin Tarantino film about the fateful meeting of a group of bounty hunters, ex-soldiers from both sides of the Civil War and criminals who are stranded in a stage coach way station in the midst of a Wyoming blizzard. The two and one-half hour movie unfolds to increasing psychological tension within the group, flashbacks and complicated plot revelations, ending in a quite-literal blood bath in which most everyone dies.

Some would call it “gratuitous violence” and it probably is. On the other hand, it dawned on me that the real mass shootings around the country and gun-related gang deaths on Chicago’s South Side and elsewhere is the real “gratuitous violence” in our day. The blood and gore shed in those instances is not the red food-coloring of Hollywood, but the very life of our children being poured out on our streets.

After years of virtually begging Congress to enact “common sense” gun legislation and receiving only rebuffs from members, President Obama has announced that he will attempt to issue a number of executive orders to do such things as expand background checks on gun purchasers by forcing more sellers to register as dealers, improving mental health services, and kick-starting so-called smart gun technology.

Of course, opponents of such measures cry fouls of executive overreach and of violating the Second Amendment. Undoubtedly, the courts will have to sort some of that out. In the meantime, I wonder how many real blood baths will occur across this great nation.

Just in case anyone out there still thinks such violent deaths still look like the sanitary ones on “Gunsmoke” or even on most television shows today, let me assure you that they do not.

They look a lot more like the final scenes of “The Hateful Eight.”

When will enough be enough?




Episcopalians and Presbyterians in the U.S.A.

January 4, 2016

Because some of my readers will be aware of the recent dust-up between the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church concerning an agreement reached by the C of E with the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland — without apparently even consulting the Anglican presence in that country, I thought perhaps it would be instructive to share the little-known agreement The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) — unencumbered as we are by “Established” Church status in England and Scotland — have reached. The following agreement has been ratified by our General Convention and the Presbyterians’ churchwide assembly as well.


I. Background
It has been nearly fifty years since the Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, proposed in a sermon at Grace Episcopal Cathedral, San Francisco, the establishment of a dialogue between the Protestant Episcopal Church and the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, in the hope that this would result in a united church that would be “truly catholic, truly reformed, and truly evangelical”. This would later be expanded to include the United Methodist Church and, subsequently, seven other denominations, including three historically black Methodist denominations. This would give rise to the Consultation on Church Union, which would subsequently be succeeded in this vision in 2001 by Churches Uniting in Christ, with ten denominations from the Reformed, Anglican, Methodist and Moravian traditions.
Historically, Anglicanism and Presbyterianism grew up as cousins, if not siblings, in England, Scotland and later in Ireland and Wales, and these traditions were transplanted into the American context during the colonial period. Having had common roots in Britain, as well as in the colonies, and being generally of similar socio-economic and educational levels, Presbyterians and Episcopalians have over the years engaged in conversations towards unity on and off since the 1890s.
The definitive statement of the basis for church union in the Episcopal Church, indeed in Anglicanism as a whole, is the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Originally an invitation by the American Episcopal Bishops to discussions of union with various other church bodies, churches from the Presbyterian tradition alone responded. There were no permanent results of these discussions, although these conversations were background to subsequent and serious proposals towards meger in the 1940s.
The current Presbyterian-Episcopal dialogue is a direct outgrowth of our common participation on the Consultation on Church Union. At the 1999 plenary of COCU, the PCUSA and The Episcopal Church were asked to consider engaging in a bilateral discussion in an attempt to address questions of ministry and polity which would need to be resolved if COCU was to go forward. The 2000 General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized a bilateral dialogue with the PCUSA> At their initial meeting, held concurrently with the inauguration of CUIC in January, 2002, it was decided that the dialogue’s conversations would take place within the larger context of CUIC’s Ministry Task Force which was to drafting a proposal for the recognition and reconciliation of ministries.
For PCUSA: Elder Freda Gardner, Co-Convener; Dr. Dale Gruder ; Elder Moon Lee; Elder Janice Sperry; the Rev. Dr. George Telford; and the Rev. Dr. Philip Wickeri. Staff support has been provided by the Rev. Robina Winbush and the Rev. Carlos Malave. The Rev. Dr. Lewis Mudge and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Small, Office of Theology have consulted.
For The Episcopal Church: James Foster; the Rev. Dan Krutz; the Rev. Dirk Reinken; the Rev. Saundra Richardson; the Rt. Rev. Douglas Theuner, Co-Convener; and Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett. Staff support has been provided by the Rt. Rev. Christopher C. Epting and Dr. Thomas Ferguson. The Rev. Canon J. Robert Wright has consulted.
The Dialogue has met twice annually since its first meeting in January, 2001 in a variety of venues, including seminaries, diocesan/presbytery offices, and at two Presbyterian-Episcopal congregations, Indian Hill Church in Cincinnati and St. Matthew’s Episcopal/Wilton Presbyterian Church in Wilton, Connecticut. The dialogue team was also in conversation with the concurrent work of the Ministry Task Force of CUIC.
The Dialogue has extensively examined relevant documents and deliberations from the past and present both in the United States and abroad, including the Formula of Agreement between the PCUSA and the ELCA, United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America; Call to Common Mission agreement between the Episcopal Church and the ELCA; and the Mutual Recognition and Mutual Reconciliation of Ministries draft document of the CUIC Ministry Task Force. At every meeting of the Dialogue, members have worshipped together using rites approved by either denomination or according to the authorized CUIC liturgy, with ordained ministers of each denomination officiating.
Among the most significant achievements of the Dialogue was the co-sponsorship with CUIC of a Consultation on Episcope held in St. Louis in October, 2006. In addition to opening and closing remarks by representatives of the Disciples of Christ and the Methodist tradition, there were five scholarly papers presented: one by an Episcopalian, two from the Reformed Tradition (PCUSA and UCC) and one each by a member of the ELCA and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. These papers, together with three bible studies By the Rev. John Ford (Roman Catholic) and other related presentations have been published in Call to Unity: Resourcing the Church for Ecumenical Ministry, generously published by the Council on Christianity Unity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
At its initial meeting in Memphis in January, 2002 members of the dialogue present all agreed that both churches were within the “apostolic succession” as defined by the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry statement: to stand in the succession of the apostolic faith. However the dialogue was still unable to agree on a basis for full mutual recognition and reconciliation of ministry. Disagreements centered on the concepts of
“personal” and “corporate” episcope. Episcopalians hold that in order to be in full communion there must be a sharing in the sign of the historic succession of bishops. Presbyterians believe that episcope has been passed on corporately from apostolic times through the laying-on-of-hands within the presbyterate and speak of a threefold office of ministry (deacon, presbyter, and bishop) within the local congregation as a reflection of the ordering of ministry within the apostolic period. Of concern to Presbyterians was the feeling that the CUIC Ministry Task Force proposal failed to recognize the significance of the presbyterate, which Episcopalians felt that they had done in the United States through the requirement of lay involvement and approval at virtually every level of ecclesiastical governance, albeit their lay people are not ordained as elders.
Mutual recognition and reconciliation seems to rest upon mutual acceptance of the concepts of “personal” and “corporate” episcope. Until this matter is mutually resolved it will be difficult to move into full altar and pulpit fellowship, the place where mutual ministry between the denominations seems most likely to have an effect at the parish level.. Because of that the Dialogue has met with collaborating congregations of each denomination and seeks to encourage church leaders to initiate and nourish additional relationships of that type. Although full mutual recognition and reconciliation of ministry still eludes us, we believe we have found a way in which to encourage preliminary altar and pulpit fellowship and, hence, to allow our congregations of both denominations to commonly pursue the mission and ministry of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, a reality which we believe already exists in the Mind of God.
To that end, the Presbyterian/Episcopal Dialogue requests our respective authorizing bodies to consider the following Agreement; to reconstitute the Dialogue for future deliberations; and that both of our Heads of Communion commit themselves publicly to this effort and to consider a public celebration of our progress to date and our hope for the future.
Agreement between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA)
1. We acknowledge one another’s churches as churches belonging to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church;
2. We acknowledge that in our churches the Word of God is authentically preached and the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist are duly administered;
3. We acknowledge one another’s ordained ministries as given by God and instruments of grace, and look forward to the time when the reconciliation of our churches makes possible the full interchangeability of ministers;
4. We acknowledge that personal and collegial oversight (episcope) is embodied and exercised in our churches in a variety of forms, episcopal and non-episcopal, as a visible sign of the Church’s unity and continuity in apostolic life, mission and ministry.
5. We agree that authorized ministers of our churches may, subject to the regulations of the churches and within the limits of their competence,1 carry out the tasks of their own office in congregations of the other churches when requested and approved by the diocesan bishop and local presbytery;
6. We agree that The Episcopal Church will invite members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to receive Holy Communion in their churches and the Presbyterian Church (USA) will invite members of The Episcopal Church to receive Holy Communion in their churches. We encourage the members of our churches to accept this Eucharistic hospitality and thus express their unity with each other in the one Body of Christ;
7. We agree to continue to dialogue in the areas such as diaconal ministries, historic episcopate, the office of elder, etc. that would lead to full reconciliation of our ministries and interchangeability of our ministers.
8. We encourage diocesan bishops and presbyteries to provide regular occasion for planning, discussing, resourcing for missional, educational and liturgical life together. In addition, to explore possibilities for new church development and redevelopment together.
9. We agree to develop a process to support and implement the above recommendations.2
1 Because we do not yet have reconciliation and full interchangeability of ordained ministries, all authorization for these special opportunities must confirm to the Book of Worship and the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. 2 Guidelines will be developed by each of the communions.
10. We affirm these proposals mark an important step in moving toward the full, visible unity of the Church. We know that beyond this commitment lies a move from the recognition to the reconciliation of churches and ministries within the wider fellowship of the universal Church

Give me your tired, your poor…

January 3, 2016

There is probably no more painful, volatile issue facing this nation, and countries all around the world, than the problem of immigration. Whether it’s dealing with undocumented people already here, or massive migration due to war and famine in Africa, or the more recent wave of Syrians  (and other Middle Easterners) moving across Europe, fleeing violence and terrorism in their home countries — the problem is huge.

And, of course, the problem is exacerbated by real, or imagined, fears of terrorism at home, the need for border security and how to do adequate background checks to be as sure as we can that people entering our country (or the other nations of the earth) are not intending harm. I don’t claim to have easy answers or comprehensive solutions to any of this.

In this country at least, that will have to be worked out in the messiness of the democratic process until some just and reasonable consensus can be found. But of one thing I am certain: we cannot run away from this issue or pretend that we do not have a responsibility to address it. For people of faith in the United States, that’s not only because we have always been a nation of immigrants and Lady Liberty proclaims to the world:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

No, it’s not only because of those noble sentiments that we have to be open to immigration, but because – as Jews and Christians – we hear texts like these every weekend: “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest part of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company…and they shall never languish again…I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow…” (Jeremiah 31:8, 12c, 13b)

Passages like these reminded the people of Israel that they had once been exiles themselves and their prophets have always called them to welcome the stranger and the sojourner as well.

And, of course, no less a light than Pope Francis has made this urgent plea, commenting on a passage from the Gospel according to Matthew:

“We believe that Jesus was a refugee, had to flee to save his life, with Saint Joseph and Mary, had to leave for Egypt,” Pope Francis said. “He was a refugee. Let us pray to Our Lady who knows the pain of refugees.”

“The number of these brother (and sister) refugees is growing and, in these past… days, thousands more have been forced to leave their homes in order to save their life. Millions of families, millions of them, refugees from many countries and different faiths, experience in their stories tragedies and wounds that will not likely be healed…Let us be their neighbors, share their fears and uncertainty about the future, and take concrete steps to reduce their suffering.”


In the final analysis, that’s what the Church asks of us. Not to wait until we have solved all the problems, not to avoid wrestling with the issue just because it’s difficult and uncomfortable, but…along with the other nations of the earth to “take concrete steps to reduce their suffering.”


That’s the least we can do, it seems to me. Those of us who trace our heritage back to the people of Israel who have been refugees and immigrants for so much of their history. Those of us who follow the Christ Child who himself – Matthew’s Gospel tells us — was once a refugee in the same part of the world where we find so many of them today.


That’s the least we can do….it seems to me…


In this New Year…









The Bowl Games as A Spiritual Discipline

January 2, 2016

                           The Bowl Games as a Spiritual Discipline

I wrote yesterday that I intend to address not only politics and religion in this re-newed blog “That We All May Be One: Reflections on Unity,” but literature, music and the arts, even sports when such things may advance the cause of the unity we seek. So, here goes:

A few days ago, realizing that my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes were to face the Stanford Cardinals in the Rose Bowl, I e-mailed a former seminary professor who had concluded his illustrious career as a professor at Stanford:

“OK, Iowa Hawkeyes versus Stanford Cardinals! A gentleman’s wager?”

He responded almost immediately, “$10. We’ll work on becoming gentlemen later. Happy 2016.”

So, some 24 hours later, after Stanford crushed Iowa 45-16, I wrote,

“My tear-stained ten-spot will be in the mail to you as soon as I can get an address. Sorry we collapsed and didn’t give you guys a real game. I remain, Your humble(d) servant, Chris  P.S. Hey, Susanne and I will be in San Francisco the week of April 10. Are you two close enough that we could take you out to dinner?”

And his gracious reply, “Elation around here of course, but the game was really hard for your guys, who – defying all odds in big time USA sports – handled themselves with dignity to the end! That, too, is a victory! And yes, let’s do have a meal during that week in April. That would be a grand reunion!”

That We All May Be One? Reflections on Unity?

Yep, even during the humiliation of losing “the Granddaddy of all Bowl Games.”





New Year, New Blog

January 1, 2016

                                            New Year, New Blog

Well, not exactly. More like New Year, re-newed blog. For years “That We All May Be One: Reflections on Unity” has focused mainly on ecumenism, spiritual renewal, sermons, etc. As I move into retirement, I find that my passion for unity is still the same, but I am much more interested in the unity of all people and the building of a just and peaceful world which I believe is the job assigned to us by the God I continue to serve.

So, I intend this web log to become a (mostly) daily reflection on current events seen in light of the quest for that kind of unity. Since 2016 is a Presidential election year (had you heard?) there will no doubt be some attention paid to that aspect of our common life, but I hope I can do that without excessive partisanship.

I clearly have my party and my candidates, but in a day when name-calling and partial truths (not to say, lies) stain the debates and the ratings-hungry media propel the most extreme and outrageous candidates into the spotlight, I hope to steer clear of that kind of rhetoric and highlight good ideas and approaches, from whatever party or candidate I believe will foster the unity, justice and peace for which we all yearn.

Hopefully, these reflections will range far and wide, beyond politics and religion, but will take a look at other aspects of life – literature, music, film, social media, spirituality, even sports – as these things contribute to the unity and wholeness of the human family. I will welcome comments and conversation either on the blog site itself or on Facebook and Twitter to which it will be linked.

My intention is to keep these reflections to a few paragraphs or a page at the most. We are all busy and, besides, most things that are truthful can be said in very few words. It’s when we begin to embellish that we often go astray.

So…let’s see what the New Year has in store!