Archive for February, 2016

Taking a break from the blog…

February 28, 2016

I’ll be taking a week’s vacation from blogging while we visit grandkids in Phoenix. Watch for pix on Facebook though! Back March 7.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant!

February 27, 2016

What a joy this weekend to be able to attend a retirement dinner for a seminary classmate, Ed Little, Bishop of Northern Indiana! Ed and Sylvia were at Seabury-Western during the same years my wife and I were there and have been colleagues and friends ever since. Ed Little has been remarkably and faithfully consistent over the years. He was a thoughtful, articulate conservative in seminary and remains so today.

While being in a “theological minority” in the House of Bishops (as many of us were thirty years ago!), Ed has remained in relationship with everybody in the HOB, has served in leadership capacities, and has been personally supportive of our presiding bishops even when he may have disagreed with them.

As a “Communion Partner” bishop, he has been anguished over the stresses and strains in the Anglican Communion and has voted consistently against any changes in our teaching on marriage. Yet, he never speaks in anger, never threatens to leave the Episcopal Church, certainly never speaks ill of others.

In short, Ed Little is a Christian.

If other conservative bishops had followed his example, we would not have suffered the schisms of recent times.  The House of Bishops would have continued to have the witness of even more theological conservatives and we would have been able to model, even more than we have, that it is possible to remain together as fellow members of the Body of Christ even when we disagree.

If politicians today could learn from Ed Little’s gentle but firm witness and how to honor those “across the aisle,” assuming (as Ed has always done) that those with whom he disagrees have also reached their very different conclusions in good faith and with a attempt to be faithful and to strengthen our common life, this country would be in better shape as well.

It has been an honor to serve alongside Ed Little all these years. I have learned much from him. This church, and this communion, are better because of his witness and his ministry. Well done, good and faithful servant!


Finally (Too Late?) Trump Is Called Out

February 26, 2016

Well, it has finally happened. An “establishment” Republican has decided to take on Donald Trump, challenging his half-truths, deliberate misrepresentations, and narcissistic bluster. Whether it is too late remains to be seen, but I thought Marco Rubio was right on target last night. Ted Cruz less so.

The GOP slug-fest was still not actually a debate what with everyone talking at once, ignoring the rules, and hurling personal insults. (Compare and contrast with the thoughtful, civil arguments almost exclusively focused on the issues the Democrats conduct). But at least, Rubio called Trump out and seems to have landed a few body blows, even though many of the Donald’s supporters could probably not care less.

I am no Rubio fan and would prefer someone like John Kasich carry the Republican banner into the Presidential elections. But Marco is infinitely preferable to Ted Cruz and I’m afraid Kasich is just too far back to make up ground now.

One thing is clear: should it turn out to be Rubio versus Clinton, we could have an actual debate about two distinct visions for America if Marco can resist the temptation to make this all about Hillary’s e-mails and Benghazi. Both these candidates can (if they choose) be articulate spokespersons for Republican and Democratic philosophies and world views.

Let’s have such a debate (no matter who the finalists are) and honor the American people with a clear choice  between potentially viable and competent candidates for the Presidency of the United States.

Lord, Have Mercy. Christ, Have Mercy. Lord, Have Mercy.

February 25, 2016

A few days ago, I asked the question on Facebook: “Why do we spend so much time in our liturgies, begging for mercy, as though we were abused children and God was our abuser, rather than simply acknowledging our sins before the One who is the Source of all love and all forgiveness?” Comments included those who agreed and those who had convinced themselves that “Lord, have mercy” really is simply an acknowledgment of God’s mercy rather than what it plainly says.

Happily, in the Episcopal Church, are making some progress in this area as can be easily seen by comparing three of our most recent “Confessions of Sin” in The Book of Common Prayer and Enriching our Worship.

Rite One: “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.  We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.  Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us most merciful Father; for thy Son Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Whew!)

Rite Two: “Most merciful God, we confess that we sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.  For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.” (Better)

Enriching our Worship: “God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives.  We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created.  We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.  Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.” (Better still…but not best).

Let’s keep working on it!



“Apostolic Succession”

February 24, 2016

Today the church remembers St. Matthias, the J.V. player who was put in off the bench by the eleven remaining disciples to round out their player roster when Judas chose to take himself out of the game. They looked around for one who had been on the team (though not first-string) throughout the season and had the basic skills set necessary to do the job.

They actually came up with two possibilities and, just like in the Iowa Caucuses in case of a tie, decided to flip a coin to see who might actually get in the game. Matthias won the toss — and there begins the process the church calls “apostolic succession.”

One Sunday in 1988, this story from the Acts of the Apostles appeared in the Episcopal Church’s lectionary on one spring Sunday. The day before, I had received a call from the 7th Bishop of Iowa and the Diocesan Convention that I had been elected Bishop Coadjutor on the fourth ballot of their episcopal election.

Knowing that I would be receiving a phone call on the Saturday informing me one way or the other whether I would be leaving my post as rector of St.Mark’s Church in Cocoa, Florida, I had actually prepared two sermons for that Sunday — one in which I imaginatively saw myself as Joseph Barsabbas who had “lost” the apostolic election; the other envisioning myself as Matthias, the “lucky winner.”

Happily, I was able to preach the latter sermon and receive the tearful, standing ovation of a congregation I had come to know and love over the years. I will always be thankful for the Christian community of St. Mark who honed and refined some of the “skills set” I would need to carry out the life and work of a bishop for the next thirty years or so!

And I will be eternally grateful to the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa who trusted me enough to permit me to serve them as bishop for thirteen years, then allowed me to accept the Presiding Bishop’s call to leave them and serve as Deputy for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relations for another nine.

It is a joy to be back among these faithful people in retirement and to help out where I can “around the edges.” They are the true examples of “apostolic succession.” I was just privileged to accompany them for a while on the journey!



Walking Sammie

February 23, 2016

Out for a morning stroll around the neighborhood with our Golden Retriever, Samantha (Sammie). She loves nothing better than kids, so when a young mom emerged from the condos with her two little ones, about 2 and 5, Sammie began her happy dance.

“Hi,” said the littlest one, smiling and waving at us. “She just wants to play,” I announced, reining her in on the lead.” At which point the serious-countenanced mom gathered the kids in and rushed them into the SUV. The look said it all. She wasn’t worried about the dog, who was in any case all wagging tail and smiles. She was worried about the friendly man with the dog…who might very well be a threat to her precious ones.

It is so tragic that we have come to this. After all the training I have received about “safe church” and sexual abuse, I virtually never hug a child not of my own family — in church or anywhere else, for that matter. I remember some years ago, coming into the nave of a church and seeing a little girl with whom I was somewhat acquainted sitting by herself on the front pew. My first inclination was to join her, for company. My second inclination: No way. Might be misinterpreted.

I do not, for one minute, believe that we do not need to take such precautions and require such training in our society today. But we have lost something of immense value.



Pro Life and Pro Choice

February 22, 2016

Leonard Pitts, the controversial but always thoughtful, African American columnist wrote a piece the other day on abortion in which he identified himself as pro life and pro choice. Basically, he said that he found himself moved and persuaded by the familiar slogan that “Abortion stops a beating heart,” but believes only a woman, in consultation with her doctor, clergy, other advisers, should be able to make that decision. So, he is pro life…and pro choice.

I find myself in that same category. I believe that abortion is the taking of a human life, or at least a “potential” human life. Since no one on this earth, scientist or pope,  knows when human life in the womb actually begins, it seems to me that we must err on the side of the earliest possible moment which would be conception…or at least implantation. Abortion does indeed stop a beating heart.

But, tragically, there are times when human lives are legally taken every day. By soldiers in war, by the police in instances that are truly “justified,” in self defense or the defense of others. And while I am no fan of the death penalty because I believe it to be often unfairly administered and not a proven deterrent to violent crime, I accept that there are some acts so heinous as to warrant even this extreme measure.

So, in cases of rape and incest, in cases dealing with the life of the mother, and a number of other medical, psychological, and sociological realities which it would be impossible to enumerate or categorize, the tragic taking of a nascent life must be permitted morally. In these cases, only the mother whose body alone is the bearer and guardian of another human being — again, in thoughtful, prayerful, consultation with her physician, clergy or other counselors, family and friends as available — should be empowered to make that decision and given all the safety and support she needs to follow though on this most difficult choice.

This should not be a question of law, except to assure a woman’s legal right to make that choice. Society also has the responsibility to see that she has the comprehensive health care necessary to assure her healing and eventual flourishing in the years to come. With no particular pleasure or even satisfaction in the position and certainly no judgment on those who reach different conclusions, I stand with those who believe that abortion should be

Safe…legal…and rare.

Gathering Jewish, Christian, and Muslim “Hens”

February 21, 2016

Over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of being engaged in an online book study with a group of colleagues primarily from the Mennonite and Methodist traditions. We were discussing a book entitled Chosen? –note the question mark! It was written by a renowned Old Testament scholar named Walter Brueggemann, and in it he reassesses his uncritical support of the state of Israel in the Palestinian/Israeli struggle over the land called Holy in the Middle East.

Most of us Christians in this country have an overwhelming bias toward supporting Israel in this struggle. We hear stories from the Bible every Sunday like our Old Testament reading this morning from Genesis where God is portrayed as giving the land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants… for all time. And when we read stories of violence and terrorism today even in the holy city of Jerusalem, as we have again over the last few days, we weep with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel as he cries:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing. See, your house is left to you.  And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ’Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:34-35)

Certainly, I am one of those with a “bias” towards Israel and the Jewish people. My Lord Jesus Christ was a Jew. All of the apostles were Jews. All of the writers of the New Testament (with the possible exception of St. Luke) were Jews.

Like Paul in his Letter to the Romans, I believe Christianity can best be understood, not so much as a “new” religion, but as a branch… grafted on to the vine and deep roots of Israel’s tree. That’s why we read from the Old Testament  as well as the New every Sunday. I think it’s quite likely that Jesus did not even initially come to found a church… but to renew the faith and the practice of Judaism, of his own people!

And yet, because of studies such as the one I just completed with my online colleagues, and even more, because of a number of trips I have made to Israel and Palestine over the years, I know that there is another story…another narrative. It is the narrative of the Palestinian people who can make an equally ancient claim to the land Joshua once conquered.

It is the narrative of the more recent Palestinians who were displaced from the land of Palestine in 1948 when the world decided (quite rightly, I believe) to assure a homeland for the Jewish people who had just suffered the horrors of the Holocaust and who needed us to reassure them that this kind of thing would happen “Never again!”

It is the narrative of Palestinian Christians today who are caught squarely in the midst of the struggle between Arab Muslims and Israeli Jews. Sadly, most Christians in the United States are unaware that there are Palestinian Christians…in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and Ramallah…on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. There are even Palestinian Episcopalians there!

One of them, a friend I traveled with on one of my journeys, is fond of telling about the time a tourist said to him, “Oh, you’re a Christian! How long have there been Palestinian Christians?” His response: “Since the Day of Pentecost!”

Yes, there two narratives, two understandings of the complex situation in the Holy Land. And it is those two narratives, deeply believed and deeply cherished by both sides, which make a “two state solution” so difficult to achieve in the land of Jesus’ birth.  I’m sorry to have to inform you that my online colleagues and I did not solve the problems of the Middle East at the end of our book study!

But I think it’s safe to say that most of us would agree with at least one of Dr. Brueggemann’s conclusions in answering the question, “How should U.S. Christians be involved in promoting a solution (to the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma)? In my judgment, he wrote, Christians must be zealous, relentless advocates for human rights. This means exposing the violations of human rights by all parties and recognizing the imbalance of power that makes Israel’s violations of human rights all the more ignominious. Christians must be zealous advocates with the U.S. government to check unilateral support of Israel as a bottom-line assumption. Our longstanding commitment to the security of Israel must be coupled with protection of human rights for Palestinians, not one without the other.

Well, however, you come down on this issue, as we travel through the weeks of Lent and especially as we begin to trace the events of Holy Week which took place in and around Jerusalem, a city holy to each of the world’s three great monotheistic religions, please heed the Psalmist’s ancient plea to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Broaden your prayers and your concerns this Lent!

Pray that the Palestinian people may realize that violence will never be the path to that kind of peace. And that, if resistance to occupation and oppression must be mounted, only non-violent resistance has any chance of success.

Pray that the Israelis will heed the warnings of their great prophets that they may indeed be God’s Chosen People, but they are chosen for mission, not for privilege. They are chosen to witness to the God of justice who has always called them to welcome the stranger and the sojourner because they were once strangers and sojourners too.

And pray that our Christian witness, in this country and around the world, may always be balanced and fair. And that it may be fueled by the passion and tears of Jesus himself in today’s Gospel:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Pray for the eventual gathering of those hens — Jewish, Muslim, and Christian hens – under the shelter of the Most High! As the Psalmist puts it this morning:

7) …in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe
in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27)

To Kill A Watchman

February 20, 2016

We lost Harper Lee this week, author of the renown “To Kill A Mockingbird” and the troubling “Go Set A Watchman” more recently. I’m pretty sure I saw the movie version of “Mockingbird” before I ever read the novel. At least it is now impossible for me to separate the towering figure of Atticus Finch from Gregory Peck’s masterful portrayal in that film.

It is said that, because the novel was read by many high school students, the figure of Atticus Finch inspired a generation of lawyers and it would not surprise me if this was not so. Growing up in the South, I was wrestling with all the complexities of the civil rights movement in those same 1960s.

Struggling with my own racism and that of my family, I read everything James Baldwin ever wrote, trying to get inside the mind and heart of a Black American and to understand just what the systemic racism of our country had done to the soul of an entire people. I knew few white people in my immediate experience who rose to the level of heroism demonstrated by Atticus in that first novel, but reading it at least gave me the hope that such persons could exist.

Naturally, I was ecstatic when “Go Set A Watchman” was discovered and may have been among the first to order it. It was a devastating read. The compassionate hero of my youth was portrayed not as a compassionate spokesman for justice, but as not all that different from his racist community, worried about desegregation and the pace at which the civil rights movement was progressing in the 1950s.

Could these two books have been written by the same author? If they were, in what order did they appear? Perhaps “Watchman” was a kind of first attempt, infinitely improved upon by the later “Mockingbird.” The general understanding today, accepted by the New York Times in today’s tribute to Lee is that they were indeed both written by her and in the order we received them.

One explanation is that the author was indeed depicting the same man (based not all that loosely) upon her lawyer-father who in the 1930s could exhibit a kind of concern and lawyerly support for a Black man wrongly accused.  And, yet with the passage of years and the challenges of the rapidly changing world of the 1950s in race relations and the impending transformation of the South and many of the “values” it represented, he could revert to the incipient racism and white privilege of his culture and come off as a much diminished character because of it.

I believe that it is possible scenario, as painful as it is to consider. One can see some of the same ambivalence in Lyndon Johnson and even John F. Kennedy as they lived through some of the same period.

I wish “Go Set A Watchman” had never been published.

But then, I wish the world was perfect too.

The Pope and The Donald

February 19, 2016

The Pope was wrong. Technically. In the recent dust-up between the Vicar of Christ and the vicar of corporate America, the Hair may have come out on top ahead of the Chair. When/if Pope Francis said that, because of Trump’s outlandish and cruel policy proposals (building a wall, deporting Muslims, etc) he was not “a Christian,” he was technically wrong.

One can be good Christian or a bad Christian, a conservative Christian or a liberal Christian, a heretical Christian or an orthodox Christian, a barbaric Christian or a compassionate Christian, but if you have been baptized with water in the name of the Trinity (as presumably Donald Trump was if he is indeed a Presbyterian) then you are a Christian.

Obviously what the Pope intended to say (and perhaps did say, if there are translation or language issues) is that the Donald’s behavior and policies and intentions are not in line with the Christian faith or with the teachings of Jesus. That is, of course, demonstrably true. In fact, if Matthew 25 does indeed give us any indication of the ultimate standards by which we shall be measured, Mr. Trump may have a very tough Judgement Day!

Of course, brilliant politician that he is, Trump has spun this encounter into scores of free hours (yet again) of publicity and likely parlayed it into votes in evangelical, dare I say, anti-Catholic South Carolina and beyond. It seems to matter not that he even blew this opening by claiming that the Vatican is set behind secure walls which they themselves built so that America can do the same. Anyone who has visited, or even seen pictures of, the Vatican, will know that it is wide open and visited by millions each year with little more than standard metal detector screening to get inside!

Of course, part of Francis’ endearing charm is his willingness to speak openly and often off the cuff even to reporters in the back of a plane. Even more endearing is his deep compassion for the poor and marginalized, the last and the least. Donald Trump has not the slightest interest in such persons who are, in his opinion, most likely “murders and rapists and some, he assumes, are good people.”

I only hope the Bishop of Rome’s honest attempt to call him out does not, in the strange calculus of this year’s political season, end up strengthening his appeal.