To learn from Monks

“If we could genuinely practice Benedict’s brand of hospitality, welcome each guest to our churches as the visitation of Christ, it might transform our guests as well as us. Instead of making th other into our image, I am invited to see the other as one who is make in God’s image and for whom Jesus Christ died.” (Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People)
Rule of St. Benedict 53:1 –

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcome as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'” (Matthew 25:35)

“Awareness of mortality exerts a unique power to focus the mind and heart on essentials.” (Columba Stewart, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition)
Rule of St. Benedict 49:7 –

“Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.”


I will be upgrading to a new version of Movable Type, my blog software. Not sure how long this will take and what the results will be, but I’m doin’ it!

The Vatican Speaks

Joseph S. O’Leary gives an overview of comments and opinions from various sources concerning Pope Benedict’s comments made during his Christmas address related to the “ecology of Man” and gay people (a bit of reading between the lines).

Yet Another Vatican Gay Furore

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent for the Times Online (UK), and certainly not a raving liberal, wrote a commentary entitled: “Pope ‘spreading fear’ with claim that Man needs protection from homosexuality
She writes in part:

“The Pope has been condemned by clergy and gay rights campaigners for arguing that mankind needed protection from homosexuality much as the rainforest needed protecting from environmental damage.
“Roman Catholic leaders in England, traditionally a liberal province, sought to distance themselves from the Pope’s remarks, claiming that he had been misrepresented because he never used the word “homosexual”.
“The strength of the reaction against his remarks from bloggers and other online commentators worldwide gave one of the clearest indications to date that the row over gays that has taken the Anglican Church almost to a schism is one that is close to erupting in the more tightly ruled Roman Catholic Church as well.”

Folks, this is just not going away no matter what Christian tradition one belongs to, or whatever faith for that matter.
“All truth passes through 3 stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
We are in stage 2, and I suspect will be for a while yet.

A playing out of the Culture Wars in the United States

Here is an interesting and brief discussion between two Anglicans commenting on the recent “departure” of four dioceses from The Episcopal Church.
From the New York Times video website:

“Christopher Wells, left, of the Living Church Foundation and Father William Franklin of the American Academy in Rome debate the schism in the Episcopal Church”

While I don’t necessarily disagree with most of what Dr. Wells says, it sounds like just more of the same. I agree that there are legitimate concerns made by conservatives that need to be forthrightly addressed and over the last few decades the liberal leadership has not. (See the quote I presented in my last post about liberals and governance!) At the same time, I absolutely agree with Fr. Franklin that what we have been witnessing has had more to do with the American Culture Wars than with honest theological problems dealt with in a traditionally Anglican way. The fingerprints of the “Institute for Religion and Democracy” way of dealing with these kinds of things are all over this (all one has to do is read the take on our Anglican problems by the conservative American-Evangelical media to understand).
An short excerpt from the New York Times video website
The full 47 minute debate:

A truism from Fiction

A quote from fiction that presents a a trustworthy statement, even if a bit rough around the edges.
“Safaris through ancestral memories teach me many things. The patterns, ahhh, the patterns. Liberal bigots are the ones who trouble me most. I distrust the extremes. Scratch a conservative and you find someone who prefers the past over the future. Scratch a liberal and find a closet aristocrat. It’s true! Liberal governments always develop into aristocracies. The bureaucracies betray the true intent of people who form such governments. Right from the first, the little people who formed the governments which promised to equalize the social burdens found themselves suddenly in the hands of bureaucratic aristocracies. Of course, all bureaucracies follow this pattern, but what a hypocrisy to find this even under a communized banner. Ahhh, well, if patterns teach me anything it’s that patterns are repeated. My oppressions, by and large, are no worse than any of the others and, at least, I teach a new lesson.”
– The Stolen Journals (from God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert – p168)

The City #27

When winter rolled around my first year in New York, I noticed that when it began to snow people pulled out umbrellas. They looked funny! Walking along as fluffy snowflakes fluttered in the air, pushed along by the wind, slowly descending and landing on the dog poop left on the sidewalk by an obnoxious, irresponsible, degenerate dog owner with no consideration for anyone else. Snow is white. Dog owners that leave their dogs’ poop for everyone to marvel at, well, they are black. (How is that for dualistic thinking and self-righteous judgmentalism?) People in New York don’t like deposits left on the sidewalk – really, really don’t like them.
Anyway, snow, winter, and umbrellas.
Growing up in the mid-west along a Great Lake, we had lots of snow during most of the winter. In places where winter is truly cold and snowy, well, people just don’t do something as droll as use an umbrella during a snowfall. Why would you, really? Half the time snow is falling sideways, anyway. What good is an umbrella during sideways snow flurries? What about blizzards? Useless.
I suspect it really does make sense, in a way. In New York City, 60% of the population come from somewhere else, and many of that 60% come from warm climates that rarely ever see snow. So, for those people, when water falls from the sky in whatever form, well, an umbrella is an appropriate response.
They’re wimps! They look funny.
This morning, I found an open umbrella just rolling around on the sidewalk as I headed to work in Manhattan. It had just started to snow a little (it had been drizzling rain, earlier). Who was the owner of a working umbrella? I went and investigated this bizarre occurrence only to find out that while the umbrella had wonderful spring-action-opening capabilities, it would not remain closed. A death sentence for an umbrella! There was a woman standing by me who said, “I’ll take it!” She was one of those that use umbrellas when it snows. Oh, well; I gave it to her and she was thrilled. Good deed for the day – besides, I was wearing clericals and it is always good to dispel those negative stereotypes applied to priests. Now, all that water falling out of the sky won’t muss her hair.
If I were back home, using umbrellas during snow is considered a bit weird. No one does it, except for those who happen to migrate from warmer places. I just looks funny.
UPDATE: Okay, okay, okay… Freezing rain. That might well be an appropriate time for an umbrella during winter. The stuff hurts! Freezing rain, but not for snow!

Newsweek and Gay Marriage

Considering what I wrote two posts ago, here is a brief portion from the cover story in the most recent issue of Newsweek on gay marriage:

“More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good—and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God’s knowledge of our most secret selves: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for “Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad.” Let the priest’s prayer be our own.” (Source)

Of course, the Religious Right will have a field day! But, they have a very sectarian interpretation of Scripture that they demand all adhere to, else those others are not real Christians. So be it.

Life and memories

I’ve got back into the “Dune” books and worlds of late. I first read “Dune” the summer after my senior year in high school, 1980. I was enthralled. I can remember sitting in a lawn chair on the beach where I grew up, at the water’s edge, while all my friends were playing in the water. I was reading a book on a beautiful summer day – not in the water. For me, that was something. No book took me like this one. It was given to me by a friend who thought I might like it. At the time in my life, it was the book and Science Fiction equivalent to what Kate Bush was to music (of all people). These books open imaginative worlds and futures unbounding. These books are examples of smart writing, IMHO.
Anyway, beyond the original trilogy, Frank Herbert wrote three more books. (The original “Dune” movie that came out in the 1980’s and the subsequent mini-series produced by the SciFi Channel only dealt with the first three books.) My parents got me the fourth book, “God Emperor of Dune” in 1981. I’ve started reading the book about four times and have never been able to get through the first part of it (I’ve owned it now for, what?, 27 years – my goodness). I think, now, that the reason for not being able to get into it is because it presents the main character (Leto II) as such a different type of character from the first three books. I think part of me doesn’t want the “magic” of the first three books to be spoiled.
So, on my drive home to Ohio for Thanksgiving I got the audiobook for “Paul of Dune,” one of a series of books by Frank Herbert’s son Brian, who has carried on the “Dune” universe and story. This book fills in gaps between Frank’s second and third books. It was actually quite good. I am now attempting to read again, “God Emperor of Dune.”
In all of these books, there is an incredible sense and connection with ancestry and tradition and bloodlines. For some characters, there is possible the possessed memories of all their ancestors. The lives and experiences of all ancestors continue on beyond their wisp of existence. The timeline in these books spans thousands of years.
These are interesting things, memories. Memories of an individual’s life and experiences that are shared and kept alive and those that are isolated and lost. Shared memories of an individual with others is a phenomena that carries connection and loyalty and love and companionship and a sense of belonging – “home,” perhaps. Not just memories that are told to another person – a cognitive understanding – but memories that are experienced together and become intrinsically part of the other, forever connecting the two or the few or the many. The individual – the personhood and the experiences – are kept alive and valuable by those who share in the life experience.
I suppose for most people, these kinds of connections and memories of experience are most poignantly realized through the process of growing up and growing old in families. In the family is the shared depository of the life experiences of people who are, ideally anyway, intricately bound. For my mother and father, for my grandmother, I am still the little baby crawling around as much as I am the 47 year old man. The life and experiences of the individual are kept alive through the experiential memories of the other family members far beyond the lifespan of the individual, beyond the lives of even the second generation. These are not incidental memories of experience based on just a few events or a few years, but experiences born of living together, coming to know one another intuitively, loving deeply the other person.
Companions in life and over the long run are very important. In the U.S., lifelong friends seem to be a rarity (as one gets older, anyway). I know only a few people who are still in continuing and regular relationship with childhood friends. It is a wonderful thing. Companions don’t have to be lovers, but it seems that only the beloved tethered together by love and committment tend to be for the long term. The value of someone else knowing you so well, so intimately, that they can easily guess your next move or finish your thought, yet they continue to accept and love and look out for you – the value of such relationships through good times and bad is nearly indescribable.
For single people, like I am now, so much of the lived experience of life is lost because life is not lived with another – so many of my experiential memories die with me. I know this sounds morbid, but it is the truth. There are lots of people who will have memories of me (or any single person) and incidents that we have shared, and those memories are not unimportant, but not the same. Friendships are essential to healthy living, I think. Friendships in many situations are better and more meaningful relationships than those shared with a spouse, but they are still not the same as with a life companion and a generally healthy family. The loyalty, the commitment to the other person is still not the same between friends as with a life companion.
Even with my family, we life such different lives now (and for the past 20 plus years) that we really continue on upon the back of our experiences growing up together. Large swaths of my life are simply unknown to them in an experiential way. No shared memories, these experiences of my life lost to them, and theirs to me. But, they have their own families and their family experiences live on in children and grandchildren.
Companionship is an important thing. Some are more prone to wanting such a thing as are others. I suspect there truly are loners, but I don’t know. To love and be loved, to know and be known are very compelling and I think intuitive needs and desires for most healthy people.
For me, these are poignant arguments for recognizing gay marriages, and perhaps the most base desire for it among gay people – in the same way straight people readily experience the normality and expectation of such things. Life long companionship – to love and be loved, to know and be known.
So, no life companion. As some point in life, being stuck in one’s ways makes the intermingling of lives more difficult. Melding lives together into one isn’t so easy. Yet, most of us do long for such a thing. I certainly do. When life is over, what of our lives continues on? What intimate, experiential memories survive in other people? Are those memories just of incidents shared, or are those memories deep, intrinsic, essential to another person?
This is what I miss most when singleness is concerned, particularly when singleness is not my choice. I regret the memories of experiences and feelings lost and that will be lost of my life – and the life of another with me. This is real life that is faced and dealt with. I’m not depressed (okay, perhaps a slight bit of melancholy or longing), but just recognizing the importance of living life with others and what is lost when not.
Well, Dune awaits.

A New Denomination, Finally

Here is how Christianity Today begins to describe this ostentatious event:

In a history-making gesture, conservative evangelical Anglicans, deeply alienated by the decline of the U.S. denomination, sounded a shofar to herald the creation of the Anglican Church of North America.
On a snowy Wednesday evening, about 1,000 worshipers, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, gathered in Wheaton, Illinois, for a worship service to celebrate the creation of the new entity, which comprises 656 congregations, 800 clergy, 30 bishops, and 100,000 people in regular worship. They represent the evangelical, charismatic, and Anglo-Catholic traditions within Anglicanism. (Source)

Well, first of all, I didn’t know that this new denomination and its members were alienated by the “decline of the U.S. denomination,” unless theological and pietistic plurality is considered “decline.” And, they do have members that represent these different Anglican traditions, but certainly not all faithful “evangelical… Anglo-Catholic” Episcopalians/Anglicans have joined up (alright, they may represent all Charismatics). Anyway…
So, there is now a new denomination (almost) coming out of the Common Cause Partnership and now within the Continuing Anglican Movement (here is a llist of all the different “Anglican” groups that are saving Anglicanism). It is called the “Anglican Church of North American.” They (actually in a statement by the new archbishop-to-be Bob Duncan, but I’m sure shared by most of the estimated 100,000 or so members) that this new group will eventually displace The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. According to Bob Duncan, “The Lord is displacing the Episcopal Church.” Perhaps, but I suspect the people of The Reformed Episcopal Church, of the Anglican Province of Christ the King, of the Traditional Anglican Communion, etc., had similar thoughts when they broke away and created a newer, purer “Anglican” expression in the U.S.
This new denomination will have much more support in their efforts from around the world than the previous breakaway groups (even considering CANA or AMiA). The time-tested Anglican structures and means of conflict resolution are under great stress and are in some cases breaking down and being replaced with a means of solving problems that will only result in continued division and diversion. Ultimately, whether this new denomination has a better go at supplanting The Episcopal Church as the Anglican Communion structure in the U.S. (or the Anglican Church of Canada) than did the other past attempts is yet to be seen.
I was talking with a guy who develops apps for the iPhone a while back about the effects the Internet has had on “community.” I commented that a negative aspect is being realized right now in the Anglican Communion due to the speed and ease of communication and interaction made available by the Internet. In times past when controversial decisions were made locally, there was time to consider, wrestle, and perhaps reform monumental changes in structure or theology within an individual Province before it became a breaking issue around the world. Now, there is no time for patience consideration and allowance for slow and reasoned process to work. Today, we have immediate international involvement in local issues and we want resolution NOW without regard to the fact that this stuff just takes a long time to resolve. So, we break apart because special-interest groups that are small and fringe can wield far more power and influence with a Website and e-mail.
A loud and continual drumbeat of “the sky is falling” gets far wider consideration and involvement than before. With our new found propensity to go to news sources that generally confirm our preconceived notions (less troublesome challenges to what we want to believe), we find it is harder to get fair hearings and reasoned debate. Conclusions are already drawn and propagated world-wide.
The leadership of this newish denomination justifies itself by attempts to establish grand linkages back to the Protestant Reformation. Today’s Anglican Communion Churches in the U.S. and Canada (and other provinces) are compared to the then Roman Catholic Church in its corruption and apostasy, and today’s reformers likened themselves to figures of the earlier Reformation (how about Ikar=Luther; Schofield=Cranmer; Ackerman=Calvin; Nims=Zwingli; Duncan=Menno Simons or Wesley – who knows?). I really think they overplay their hand by likening themselves and their activities to such reformers that “saved Christianity.” Interestingly, even some Protestant academics and theologians are rethinking whether the Reformation, as it played out, was really a good thing or not for the Christian faith in the West.
My final rambling comment has to do with the continued mantra of justification for schism (or separation) by this group being due to the apostasy of The Episcopal Church as proven by the decline in members – in their purity they will supplant by numeric growth the apostate, declining Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. Now, while I certainly agree that The Episcopal Church has declined in numbers over the last few decades for various reasons, including disarray in its common theology and praxis, the claim that the decline is proof of its apostasy is disingenuous. Why?, because Christianity is in decline in the U.S. (and the West), period. Even the Southern Baptists are worried about their own decline; even the Assemblies of God are wondering what to do about their growth stagnation. This is not the case in Africa countries were most Christian groups are honestly growing. However, growth in Africa does not translate to the correctness of theology or practice in Africa being transplanted world-wide. If it did, the demand might be that we all become Prosperity-teaching Charismatics.
There are a number of church bodies in the U.S. that are certainly growing, but generally this growth reflects individuals moving from one church to another, not numeric growth by the unchurched or non-Christians joining the ranks (getting them heathens saved). Growth within American Evangelicalism (Anglican or otherwise) is generally the moving of furniture from one room to another and not the bringing in of new pieces from outside. From my experience within American Evangelicalism and within The Episcopal Church, I witness far more non-Christians investigating the faith or disillusioned Christians trying to reconnect with God coming to The Episcopal Church than I ever did within American Evangelicalism. That is my experience, and I am sure lots of people will have other opinions.
Great problems and inconsistencies within The Episcopal Church must be dealt with honestly and forthrightly (which often doesn’t happen), but the schismatic groups need to simply quit using the decline in numbers as proof of their negative assertions about The Episcopal Church and their need to form a “restored” or “purer” or “reformed” Anglican presence within North America. It plays well with their adherents for the end game, but doesn’t boost their argument and probably won’t help them realize their goal.
Well, finally the new denomination is established. No more pretense. We will see what happens from here on out.