Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Applause for the Archbishop of Canterbury for his stand on global warming

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has taken a lot of flak recently, including in this space. So I want to take the opportunity applaud him for his courage in pulling together faith leaders from around the globe to take a stand on global warming.

I am mindful there are many who are skeptical, or deny that there are human causes to global warming, and others who maintain the church has no business wading into this issue.

His headquarters at Lambeth Palace issued this statement this morning. Here are the first two paragraphs.
The Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a meeting of faith leaders and faith-based and community organisations at Lambeth Palace to discuss the response of faith communities to the environmental crisis. With 40 days to go before the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit the participants have pledged to work together to raise awareness about the effects of ‘catastrophic climate change’ on the world’s poor and to take whatever action they can to "to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable practice." At the meeting a number of presentations highlighted the kind of action faith communities and faith-based organisations were already taking in the UK and with partners overseas.

In the first statement of its kind, signed by leaders from every faith community (including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha’i, Jain and Zoastrian) the signatories recognise "unequivocally that there is a moral imperative to tackle the causes of global warming" and that "Faith communities have a crucial role to play in pressing for changes in behaviour at every level of society and in every economic sector. We all have a responsibility to learn how to live and develop sustainably in a world of finite resources".
To read the full statement, please click HERE.

Praying for the victims of hate crimes

This week, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which the Episcopal Church, and the church's organization Integrity, worked hard to see enacted. This prayer was sent along with a press release from Integrity, and I pass it along to you:
Loving God,

We pray for victims of hate crimes;

for those who have been targets of violence

just because of who they are;

for their families and all who grieve for them.

We give thanks for all those who have

labored, lobbied and prayed

for inclusive federal hate crimes legislation

and for the Hate Crime Prevention Act

signed into law today.

Bless us, we pray, with the knowledge

that we are secure in your love;

that we can make a difference;

that you call us always to seek and serve Christ in all persons

and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And may the peace the world cannot give

reign in our hearts always.


You may be interested in the Episcopal Church's stand on hate crimes, particularly crimes against homosexuals. Here are some links to positions taken by our General Convention over many years:

Resolution Number: 1988-D055
Title: Condemn All Hate Crimes-- click HERE.

Resolution Number: 1988-D100
Title: Decry Violence Against Homosexuals -- click HERE.

Resolution Number: 2000-D009
Title: Condemn All Hate Crimes -- click HERE.

Resolution Number: 2000-C029
Title: Urge Congress to Enact Hate Crimes Legislation -- click HERE.

Also, you might want to see this 2002 report on the Episcopal Church's support for this legislation -- clicking HERE.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

La Ofrenda: All Saints Sunday and remembering those we love who are just beyond our horizon

This Sunday, November 1, is a major feast day on the Christian calendar -- All Saints Day.

All Saints Sunday has its origins in the ancient church when it was celebrated on the Saturday before Easter -- the day now called Holy Saturday when Jesus descends to hell to free everyone from the grip of death.

All Saints and All Souls days merged to become special masses for martyrs and those who had died anonymously. In later centuries, the day shifted into the weeks before Advent, and the day we now call "Halloween" is actually All Hallows Eve, or the even of All Souls Day.

This year we are continuing with a tradition we began last year from the part of the world where I come: La Ofrenda, a special table in the church where we display items representing people we love who have died. La Ofrenda is a major element of El Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's "Day of the Dead," and is popular in churches throughout California and the Southwest. I've seen many over the years and all of them are powerful.

This Sunday, please bring something that represents someone you love who has died; a photograph or a poem, or a candle or a paper flower. We will leave up our ofrendas until the first Sunday of Advent on November 29.

Last year our first Ofrenda was so popular we set up two more. Here are some photographs of Las Ofrendas at St. Paul's last year. I am told that we were the only Episcopal Church in Virginia with a Ofrendas, an honor I hope other churches might share with us this year.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ringing the bell: Sounding the alarm on climate change

On Sunday, we joined a world-wide effort to bring attention to the issue of global warming. After our worship, we rang our bell 350 times (well, more than that -- a lot of people wanted to ring the bell). The photos on this page were taken by Dudley Rochester -- thanks Dudley!

Our Green Team created a mural the length of the church nave with photographs of the earth "our fragile island home," interspersed with biblical verses and prayers.

We asked parishioners to file past the mural silently, in prayer, before going to the narthex to ring the bell. Many, many did -- and it was a powerful experience.

Meanwhile, in the parish hall, we asked people to write letters to our elected leaders expressing concern about climate change. We did not endorse any specific legislation, and we did not seek to engage in a scientific debate.

What we ask is that all of us take seriously our responsibilities as stewards of the earth, and that we repent collectively of the collective sin we bear for polluting this good earth. And we ask that our repentance include actions individually and as a community to save the earth, including urging our elected leaders to act with wisdom and regard for the whole earth, and not act out of greed or short-term economic or political gain.

We got a fair amount of attention. St. Paul's was the subject of a front-page story Saturday in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, which you can read by clicking HERE. One of our local television stations also covered the event.

I've been asked about why the church is involved in what looks like a political issue. It is true, climate change is a loaded political issue, with Democrats, Republicans and various other interests looking to score points, raise campaign contributions, and not necessarily do anything constructive. It feels as if there is nothing very Godly about any of it.

It is precisely into those places we are called to go as people of faith.

The church from time-to-time must make a prophetic stand to those who hold power: the leaders of the nations. This is one of those times. We share a common fate on this planet, and the Bible calls us over and over to speak the truth to those in power: God gave us this earth, it is ours for only a short time, and ours to give to our children and their children's children. We are called to leave this earth better than we found it, and so far our generation has fallen woefully short. Our calling leads us inevitably into the corridors of power.

To not speak up about the sin of global warming endangers our soul, and endangers the lives of millions who are the most vulnerable in this world.

Our stance and actions are not done alone, nor done in a vacuum. The Episcopal Church maintains an advocacy office in Washington D.C., and our church has taken a consistent stand that global warming is real and that our elected leaders need to act. You can learn more about the Episcopal Church Public Policy Network and our stand on global warming by clicking HERE.

The Anglican Communion, of which we are the one and only branch in the United States, recently issued a statement on global warming in advance of the upcoming Copenhagen meeting of world leaders on climate change. The Anglican Communion states the case powerfully:
From all points of the globe we point to the reality of climate change and to the very serious effect it is already having upon our people; from severe weather events, to prolonged droughts, major floods, loss of habitat and changing seasons. Many of our peoples no longer have access to drinkable water, many of our farmers are no longer able to grow crops, and many of our peoples suffer from diseases which in the past have not affected us in our homelands. Sadly many of our peoples are now on the move in the vain hope that they might find another place to live, given the place of their birth can no longer support them.
Our faith and our ancestors have always taught us that the earth is our mother and deserves respect; we know that this respect has not been given. We know that like a mother the earth will continue to give its all to us. However, we also know that we are now demanding more than it is able to provide. Science confirms what we already know, our human footprint is changing the face of the earth and because we come from the earth, it is changing us too. We are engaged in the process of destroying our very being. If we cannot live in harmony with the earth, we will not live in harmony with one another.

You can read the full Anglican Communion statement by clicking HERE. A summary of the Anglican statement can be found by clicking HERE.

Finally, I've been asked is recent days about where to find understandable scientific information about climate change, and how to find out what is known and unknown about the human impact on the climate. The best single source I have seen is a website maintained by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. You can see the EPA website by clicking HERE. A thumbnail from that website includes this:

What's Known

Scientists know with virtual certainty that:

  • Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
  • The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
  • An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
  • The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
  • Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Postscript: Reactions across the spectrum to Vatican's bid to lure Anglicans

Was it such a big earthquake? A number of my conservative friends think not (and, yes, I have a few conservative friends and they try very hard to keep me honest, thank you very much). I thought I'd offer a roundup of reactions across the board from the last few days, some that agree with mine and some that don't.

To back up, as you may recall, last week the Vatican did an end-run around its own ecumenical office and announced it was establishing a new office to receive disgruntled Anglicans into the fold of Roman Catholicism.

For a factual summary of the Vatican's move, a good place to start is with a Q&A published by the UK Independent. You can read it by clicking HERE.

Now to the commentaries and analysis:

A few friends tell me they believe that the Pope's offer is a needed pastoral response by the Vatican, and they believe it was graciously accepted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Vatican's move, they believe, will allow for a more orderly exit of "traditionalist" Anglo-Catholics than we have heretofore seen (subtext, they had planned to go anyway). They may be right, and I applaud their willingness to find pastoral concern, not politics, as the primary motivation for Benedict's move.

That said, most commentators are finding this thick with church politics, and a few are finding a subtext of politics beyond that.

Oddly enough, much of the commentary in the Anglican world is consistent across the liberal and conservative divide. Many, but not all, are blasting Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams for allowing himself to be roped into a joint press conference with a Roman Catholic archbishop announcing the move.

Martin E. Marty, the preeminent Lutheran theologian of our time, said in a column Monday that the Vatican "blindsided" Williams, and Martin characterized the episode as "anti-ecumenical" by seeking to "pluck" Anglican priests. Martin nonetheless has sympathy for Williams' predicament:
Archbishop Rowan Williams, though embarrassed by the surprise announcement of dealings behind his back, was characteristically Williamsian and old-style Anglican, as he reacted not in anger but with patience. The Anglican communion for centuries aspired to promote “comprehension,” doing what it could to prevent heresy and schism but in a spirit of openness. The papal visit next year will occasion fresh thinking and policies.
To read Martin's full column, click HERE.

Rowan's participation in the press conference, and his tacit endorsement, seems out of character with his usual emphasis on exhaustive dialogue and careful process, leaving him open to charges that he is far more concerned with placating Rome than in talking with members of his own communion. The UK Financial Times' correspondent David Gardner had this to say:
As takeover bids go, it cannot be said to lack ambition. In some
respects it bears more the hallmarks of a coup d’├ętat than the
acquisition of market share. Pope Benedict’s all-but-unilateral
publication of an Apostolic Constitution to bring high church
Anglicans into full communion with the Roman Catholic church should
“in no sense at all” be seen as “an act of proselytism or aggression”
said Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, his body
language belying his soothing tone.
Yet, this head of a church that withdrew from the Catholic fold nearly
five centuries ago was not given even five days warning of the papal
decree. “I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late
stage”, he told the Anglican faithful apologetically. No one saw the
Roman tanks until they had ringed Canterbury.
To read Gardner's full analysis, click HERE.

By most reports, the Vatican move may have its biggest impact in luring Church of England priests to Rome. The impact on luring Episcopalians in the United States appears considerably less. As one of my conservative friends said to me, "We are closer to Dallas than to Rome," a reference to a meeting many of them attended in the Dallas suburb of Plano a few years back that set them on their current course. A number of former Episcopalians have set up their own church structures, they are fighting hard in courts across the land to keep Episcopal church property, and they do not appear enticed to go under the cloak of Rome.

And then there are those persnickety issues of the Reformation. Most of my conservative friends are quite Calvinist and evangelical. While they may agree with Rome on a few (but not all) social issues, most of them fundamentally disagree on deeper theological issues of salvation, the nature of the sacraments, and ecclesiastical issues about the structure of the Church.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, the most visible of the "global south" of Anglican bishops dissatisfied with the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury, reportedly slammed the door shut on the Vatican's offer over the weekend. You can read about his response by clicking HERE.

Other African bishops are also rejecting the offer. You can read the reaction by the Kenyans, for example, by clicking HERE. Dissing both the Vatican and Canterbury, the All Africa News put it this way:
[Archbishop Eliud Wabukala] added that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had sent letters welcoming the offer but he was essentially dealing with local England context and does not apply to other provinces.
For some conservatives, it comes down to ordination -- who gets ordained, who doesn't, and who controls it. I am not prone to promoting David Anderson, the rightwing ex-Episcopal priest who received an irregular ordination as an Anglican bishop and who heads up the American Anglican Council. But Anderson had this to say about the Vatican's move and he urges everyone to examine the fine print:
The details are still sketchy, and much finally depends on the details, but there are clearly some trouble spots even for those Anglicans who are keen about the idea. Those clergy who were baptized and confirmed as Roman Catholics, then left Roman Catholicism for Anglicanism, were then ordained in Anglican orders, and are married, will probably find it difficult if not impossible to bring their Anglican orders into the new Roman Catholic option. In the past, married Anglican priests who were originally baptized and confirmed as Roman Catholics haven't been able to bring the orders and a wife into Rome. The issue is having a wife and a prior relationship with Rome.
Another sticking point is for married Anglican bishops who may wish to take advantage of this new option. Pending disclosure of the new rules and the small print, neither Eastern Orthodoxy nor Rome currently have married bishops, and haven't had for most of their history. Anglican bishops who are married and have no earlier sacramental relationship with Rome may only be able to take the new option as a priest.
There has been considerable commentary in recent days in various secular publications. Martyn Minns, leader of the Virginia breakaway Episcopalians, was quoted in The New York Times and The Washington Post as saying, "I don't want to be a Roman Catholic... There was a Reformation, you remember."

Maureen Dowd, the veteran columnist of The New York Times who was reared Catholic, commented that the Vatican's move should be seen as part of a wider campaign to reign in nuns and fight feminism in the pews. Dowd noted this on Sunday:
As the Vatican is trying to wall off the “brides of Christ,” Cask of Amontillado style, it is welcoming extreme-right Anglicans into the Catholic Church — the ones who are disgruntled about female priests and openly gay bishops. Il Papa is even willing to bend Rome’s most doggedly held dogma, against married priests — as long as they’re clutching the Anglicans’ Book of Common Prayer.

“Most of the Anglicans who want to move over to the Catholic Church under this deal are people who have scorned women as priests and have scorned gay people,” [author Kenneth] Briggs said. “The Vatican doesn’t care that these people are motivated by disdain.”
To read the rest of Dowd's column, click HERE.

Another commentator in The New York Times, A.N. Wilson, opined that Benedict's move will be the death knell of the Church of England. I think he overstates the case (The CofE has a habit of hanging on despite reports of its demise), but his point is worth noting:
The numbers of practicing Catholics in England is greater than the number of practicing Anglicans. Within a generation, there will probably be more Muslims than practicing Anglicans in the British Isles. Britain will no longer be able to endure the absurdity of the laws relating to the religion of the monarch, the Act of Settlement and Royal Marriages Act, which among other things forbid the sovereign to marry a Catholic. Or the Coronation Oath, which promises to uphold the Protestant religion.
To read the full column, click HERE.

Other commentators see it quite differently, not as the demise of the Church of England but as something more ominous in larger geopolitics. In a column the The New York Times Sunday, columnist Ross Douthat began by noting:
The Church of England has survived the Spanish Armada, the English Civil War and Elton John performing “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s Westminster Abbey funeral. So it will probably survive the note the Vatican issued last week, inviting disaffected Anglicans to head Romeward, and offering them an Anglo-Catholic mansion within the walls of the Roman Catholic faith.
Douthat wrote that Benedict's real agenda is confronting Islam in Europe, and to do so he is willing to gloss over differences among Christians:
But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam...
There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.
To read Douthat's column, click HERE.

Author James Carroll, a former Catholic priest, writes in The Boston Globe that the Vatican's move is part of its larger war on the modern world and science:
Last week’s anti-Anglican salvo from Rome shows how far the Catholic leadership has fallen from the heights of Vatican II. The invitation to “disgruntled’’ members of the Church of England’s extended family to abandon the Thames for the Tiber is a rejection of contemporary human experience, a resounding response of “No!’’ The church against the modern world, after all.
To read Carroll's column, click HERE.

On the other hand, a few media commentators, and a few friends, have noted that Benedict's move could have the unintended consequence of allowing Protestantism to creep in under the Catholic tent, and in the long-run, that may prove more revolutionary than the short-term earthquake in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The Washington Post ran a lengthy analysis on its op-ed page Sunday that is far more nuanced than anything I have written. Headlined "Is Pope Benedict a closet liberal?" author David Gibson, who has written a book about Benedict, makes the following point:
More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic -- such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest -- are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.

That is revolutionary -- and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.

And that could be the final irony. For all the hue and cry over last week's developments, Benedict's innovations may have glossed too lightly over the really tough issues: namely, the theological differences that traditional Anglicans say have kept them from converting, as they could always do.
You can read Gibson's full column by clicking HERE.

Also, some in the secular press see this as part of the larger struggle for gay and women's rights. Notably, the Los Angeles Times gave that assessment in an editorial last week, marking it as the position of the newspaper:
This week's announcement that the Roman Catholic Church will welcome disaffected Anglicans en masse is of primary interest to members of the two Christian communions. But this religious realignment is also a reminder to supporters of equality for women and gays and lesbians that they must literally preach to the converted if they are to win believers to their cause.
To read the editorial, click HERE.

Finally, there is Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada, who may be the wisest among us. He had this to say Monday:
I am just emerging from Diocesan Convention, so this is my first chance to respond to those who have wanted to hear my thoughts on the Vatican Statement inviting disffected Anglican congregations to become Roman Catholics, but the priests can still be married and they can use Anglican liturgies.

I really think it's perfectly fine. Some disaffected Anglicans are focused on issues where they will line up better with the RC Church -- particularly those who are opposed to the ordination of women. They will have to come to terms with some of the hot button issues in the RC Church, but if they can do that, their unity with a larger group of Christians will sustain their faith, help them be financially viable, and generally promote the gospel mission. We wish them well. We wish the Roman Catholic Church well. It is a good thing.

Other disaffected Anglicans are of a more evangelical persuasion and may not find the RC Church to be a good home. That will be for them to discern and not for us to judge.

Meanwhile, we will continue to seek reconciliation and greater unity with all our fellow Christians.

Lastly, if you are new to this blog, you may want to read my commentary on this HERE. Or maybe you've had quite enough of this, thank you, and it is time to move onto a poem or Autumn leaves something else. I couldn't agree more.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Monday Funnies

It is time for a little humor at the expense of the Church. Thanks to Max Davis for sending these groaners along. Enjoy your Monday...

A little boy was overheard praying:
"Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am."


After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong.
Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."


One particular four-year-old prayed, "And forgive us our trash baskets as
we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."


A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?"
One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."


A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3.
The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.
Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.
"If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.' "
Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus !"


A father was at the beach with his children. When the four-year-old son ran up to him, he grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand.

"Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked.
"He died and went to Heaven," the Dad replied.
The boy thought a moment and then said, "Did God throw him back down?"

A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"
"I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied.
"Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered.
The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"
Cartoon by Dave Walker.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Travels on my front porch: Have a blessed Sunday

It rained off and on Saturday, so we enjoyed the woods from our front porch. Sometimes a great adventure can be had without going too far.

The trees are ablaze in yellows, reds and orange; the openings in the clouds between rain squalls bring flashes of sunlight that make the trees seem on fire.

I am not preaching today, so no sermon from me here (The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms is preaching; her sermon will be on-line later in the day on our main website).

Rather than more sermonizing from me, I thought I'd pass along a poem by Mary Oliver, courtesy of our friend Karen in Tennessee, and a few photos taken from our front porch. Have a blessed Sunday...
by Mary Oliver

You can
die for it --
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
their small bodies be bound
to the stake,creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China ,
and India
and Europe , and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Walking up a mountain and down into the clouds

Yesterday we took a hike with a few friends up to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. The trail was roughly a mile in each direction, mostly through gentle forest. The last part was a scramble up big rocks. At the top we found a spectacular view in every direction.

Our reward was the walk itself.

This was all new territory for Lori and me. The trees are blazing red, yellow and orange. The day was very overcast, and at the top of the mountain we were enshrouded for a time in the clouds.

As we walked down, a member of our party, the Rector Emeritus of St. Paul's, proclaimed that we were "descending into the cloud of unknowing." And so we were, and it was quite wonderful. The smell of the trail was sweet, and the feel of soft earth under foot made me feel at one with the trail. A drizzle kept us cool.

You might say this was my homework assignment for the week. Earlier this week, in my Wednesday book discussion group on Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Altar in the World, we talked about her chapter on "Walking as a Spiritual Practice." Her point was to notice the walking; to not be in such a hurry to get somewhere.

We told stories about our favorite places to walk: in the woods, on beaches, on the streets of cities. I certainly can add this trail in Shenandoah National Park to my stories of places to walk.

I hope you find a place to walk today, if only to the mailbox, or to a comfortable place inside your home. May you feel at one with the earth, and at one with with the One who created it.

The photos were taken by Lori on our walk.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This Sunday we will ring the bell once more to sound the alarm on global warming

This Sunday, at about 11:15 a.m., the bell at St. Paul's Memorial Church will be rung 350 times in a worldwide effort to bring attention to the peril of climate change and prompt action by the world’s leaders. This is our second year in joining others by ringing our bell to sound the alarm on global warming.

Members of the parish will also be walking the “Stations of the Earth,” a graphic display inside the church focused on the perils of climate change. I hope you can join us either here or by ringing the bell at your church.

The Green Team at St. Paul's will be joining other faith communities across the nation in a campaign to ring their church bells 350 times to spread the call to action, in conjunction with founded by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben.

This event is especially timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark this December in which world leaders from more than 200 nations will gather to negotiate a new treaty on reducing global CO2 emissions.

The bell at St. Paul's Memorial Church was installed in 1957 and has been rung every Sunday morning since to call the faithful to worship – and has also been rung to celebrate joyful occasions such as weddings or to signal attention during times of national crisis such as 9/11.

While ringing the bell, parishioners will be encouraged to write Congressional representatives and the White House to urge support for reductions that will meet the target goal for 350 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

St. Paul's is a member of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, a non-profit initiative working for a more just, sustainable and healthier creation by reducing global warming. It is a part of a network of Interfaith Power and Light programs across the country and offers concrete opportunities for congregations and individuals to protect the planet.

Having an IMPACT: Our involvement in the Charlottesville community

I want to draw your attention to an important event earlier this week in Charlottesville that has the potential of improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable among us.

Members of the 31 congregations of IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together), a coalition of faith communities here, met on Monday evening to decide on an issue we should focus on in the coming year.

St. Paul's brought 39 people to the meeting, and I especially want to thank John Frazee for his tireless efforts and commitment to IMPACT. John also was elected co-president of IMPACT, and that is him in the photograph taken by the Rev. Ann Willms, our associate rector.

By an overwhelming vote, the issue of interpretative services is our focus. That may sound like a simple issue, but it is not. I think that is a gutsy move because the lack of such services negatively impacts some of our most vulnerable communities, particularly refugees and immigrants who make a living by providing services to the economically advantaged. I want to voice my own support for this direction.

Here is what John has to say about the meeting and the issue:
You might have already heard that the chosen issue was interpretive services. It was a landslide, not just because Church of the Incarnation had over 120 people there, more than half of them Hispanic. Many other congregations joined them. I believe it's because this is a very tangible justice issue, and we believe the research committee can find an achievable goal for the Nehemiah Action [the meeting in the Spring where public officials are invited and IMPACT presents proposals].

A quick background on the Interpretive Services issue - from the house meetings, they gathered the following problem areas:
- Lack of translation services in court system for Spanish and other languages spoken by the refugee population;
- Not enough Spanish language translation available in courts, police, emergency services, jail;
- Police discrimination: refusal of translation;
- Lack of translation materials sent home from school;
- And as we heard in the testimony: children are often compelled to translate for parents in situations where young people should not be required to participate (police, courts, family services).

Kay Lancaster was kind enough to send along this link indicating the LEP (Limited English Proficient) services available in our community. You can find the link by clicking

Now it will be the job of the research committees to find out where IMPACT can have the greatest effect in making sure that these services are sufficient or sufficiently utilized.

Which leads to the next steps: if anyone is interested in participating in either the pre-school education or the interpretive services research groups, please let me know. IMPACT has restructured the research committees, and will be leveraging a trained facilitator. This will ensure that the meetings are run effectively, including compilation and communication of meeting minutes and results.

And on a personal note, I am extremely excited about working with Vickie Johnson-Williams as co-president of IMPACT this coming year. Vickie is a warm, hard-working member of IMPACT, and I am blessed to have her as a partner. I am confident that IMPACT will continue to bring in new congregations, but I am equally committed to deepening IMPACT's roots in the existing membership. And, as an organization, we are still relatively young - so there's lots to learn. I look forward to getting input from all of you - please share your thoughts, ideas, dreams.

Thanks again for your continued interest in this important ministry.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vatican trying to lure Anglicans: What does this mean to us?

Church politics is like geology: the deep earth plates grind slowly, and eventually they set off earthquakes. What is on top of the earth is left crumpled and is never the same again.

This week we've seen another earthquake in the Church, and it is probably 7.2 on the Richter Scale. The aftershocks are continuing, and it will take years before we fully see what this quake hath wrought.

Pope Benedict XVI announced Tuesday he has formed a special office to receive disgruntled Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church. Under the pope's scheme, Anglicans may keep their distinctive form of worship, and men priests may keep their wives. Such priests must be re-trained and re-ordained since the Vatician has always considered Anglican orders to be "absolutely null and utterly void."

Amplifying the earthquake, the Vatican got Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to participate in a press conference announcing its move to scoop up Anglicans. You can read about Williams' participation and the reaction to Williams by clicking HERE.

Williams' participation must rank as one of the most boneheaded moves of his troubled episcopate. He said later he had been warned only a short time before by the Vatican about what it intended to do, which means he had more than an inkling of what was to transpire. In the very least, he should have declined to participate until fully understanding what Rome was up to. There are already calls in Britain for his resignation, and those calls may soon reach a roar across the Anglican globe, and rightly so.

To have lured the Archbishop of Canterbury to such a press conference was clearly intended to show at least tacit approval by the archbishop. The Vatican should be roundly criticized not just for this breach of Christian unity, but for taking advantage of Williams' best intentions of creating unity. The Vatican made him look gullible and spineless.

The Pope's move is predatory. Though advertised as pastoral, the timing betrays its intent. The Church of England is soon to vote on ordaining women bishops; a report recommending such ordination was issued only last week. The Vatican is clearly seeking to capitalize on the divisions within the Church of England, the Anglican Communion and our own Episcopal Church (the Diocese of South Carolina is set to vote on leaving the Episcopal Church this weekend). Some Catholic commentators (see The Washington Post on Wednesday by clicking HERE) are speculating that this is a sly way for the Vatican to pick up some married priests and thus fill a few of its empty pulpits (and I doubt the Vatican is looking to pick up property; it has plenty of buildings that need clergy).

None of this should surprise us. This move is coming from a Roman Catholic Church that is charging backward at warp-factor speed to pre-Vatican II liturgy and theology. The Roman Catholic Church still officially considers Protestants to be heretics; the incumbent pope, with none of the pastoral or public relations touch of his predecessor, dredged up the official Catholic stance that Islam is a "Christian heresy" (think of the audacity of that position for a moment: Islam is not even its own religion according to this pope). This also comes from a pope who welcomed back into the fold a Catholic bishop who denies the Holocaust. Benedict has demonstrated that he has no intention of ecumenical or interfaith dialogue except on his own terms. Meanwhile, the once vibrant theological and intellectual dialogue and scholarship within the Catholic church is heading underground. It was only recently that the Vatican repented of the wrong rendered to Galileo for having the audacity to prove that the earth is not at the center of the universe (and Rome is not at the center of the earth). Rome still has some catching up to do with the rest of us.

As for being Anglican, let us not forget that our church broke with Rome 500 years ago, and there were very good reasons for that beyond the divorce of King Henry VIII. We stood on the side of Martin Luther in our belief that we are saved by faith alone, not by our works. We are Protestants of the large tent who remain catholic in the sense of believing in the universal church that is truly universal.

Benedict is not our pope, and he is not one of our bishops, but he is our brother in Christ even if he does not recognize the same in us. We have long since moved on from Rome, and whatever illusions anyone had of reunifying with Rome will, at best, need to wait for another pope, perhaps in another century.

Where does this leave Anglicanism?

Benedict's move probably shreds Rowan Williams' effort to forge a "two-track" Anglicanism with the conservatives on one track and the progressives on the other. Rome just hijacked the first track, and bumped the archbishop off. Williams' effort at forging an "Anglican Covenant" now appears very hollow indeed. Perhaps we should thank Rome for putting the nail in this ill-conceived notion.

If anything, the Pope's move will have the unintended consequence of making it easier for us to move ahead with building an inclusive Anglicanism that truly embraces the gifts of all the baptized. An estimated 1,000 Church of England priests may soon leave for the Roman church, taking with them their votes, and that will make it easier on the Church of England to begin ordaining women bishops and openly gay people. Those whom Williams is desperately trying to keep are leaving, and that will make it harder for him to declare that the American Episcopal Church is "out of communion." If anything, the Church of England will look more like us. An inclusive Church of England might even grow when not dragged down by endless church infighting, and that can only strengthen our communion in the long run.

Meanwhile, what Benedict may soon discover is that a bunch of crabby Anglicans have now become crabby Roman Catholics. Those not satisfied with one church are not likely to be satisfied with another. It rarely works that way.

I don't know if anyone has kept track, but I would be willing to bet that in the last 30 years more Roman Catholic priests have become Anglican than the other way around. Benedict's move does nothing to stem that slide, and if anything, the continued rigidity of his church will only continue to chase people out. Perhaps we should set up a special Anglican office to receive Roman Catholics? Maybe Rowan Williams should have said something like that at the press conference. He is too decent to be that snide, but it would have made the point.

Interestingly, the news outlets in the United States report that none of the break-away bishops in the Episcopal Church are interested in joining Rome. They have gone too far down their own road, and I rather suspect they enjoy their new found independence and have no intention of handing it over to a headquarters in Rome. Why should they? They were never much interested in unity with those different from themselves to begin with. Quite probably, this move by the Vatican will only increase their isolation, rendering them neither Anglican nor Catholic, but rather a new denomination of Protestantism.

The Vatican will say that this move is pastoral in its intent. Let us pray it will turn out that way. It is my hope that our brothers and sisters who are unhappy with the Episcopal Church will find a home better suited to them. They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have a very conservative friend in the Central Valley of California who renounced his Episcopal ordination to join the Roman Catholic Church as a lay person. He is still a friend and still a servant even if we disagree on many issues. The Central Valley desperately needs Roman Catholic priests. I hope he is able to reclaim his vocation. But he might have done that anyway without all the histrionics from Rome.

Finally, I am reminded of an amazing historical fact that I learned when taking church history from the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Lyman at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Here is that fact: For two-thousand years, despite all of the patriarchal church hierarchy, despite all of the church in-fighting and schisms, despite all of the tragedy, oppression, inquisitions, despite all of the malicious or merely stupid bishops, despite all of that, the Holy Spirit always finds a way to emerge in the hearts and minds of God's people. The Holy Spirit finds us in our every day life, and finds us in churches of every stripe and in faith communities of every sort. The Holy Spirit blows where it will.

All we need do is open our eyes to see and our ears to hear, and maybe stand somewhere to feel the breeze. The Holy Spirit is always in the midst of us, and is even in the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo of Archbishop Rowan Williams, left, and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, right, at Tuesday's press conference. Photo by Matt Dunham, Associated Press.

Listening: You are not alone

A few days ago, our friend Karen in Tennessee sent along this poem. It is written by a fifth grader, and just stopped me in my tracks and made my day. I hope it makes yours...

Waiting in Line
by Nick Penna, fifth grade

When you listen you reach
into dark corners and
pull out your wonders.
When you listen your
ideas come in and out
like they were waiting in line.
Your ears don’t always listen.
It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find
answers to questions you didn’t know.
If you have listened, truly
listened, you don’t find your
self alone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mission and ministries are expressions of prayer

I came across this posting the other day on the BLOG of my friend Andy Doyle. I met Andy at a CREDO retreat a few years ago. The retreat was for clergy in mid-career, and was meant to help us focus on our calling and discern what God has for us next. Since that conference, Andy was elected bishop of the Diocese of Texas, where he now serves. He wrote this about mission and ministry last week and I highly commend it to you:

All our mission work and our ministries are expressions of the life of prayer that we lead. The work that originates in prayer is work that makes Christ real in the world around us. Mission and service bring the community of the Trinity into the real world. The same God that propels Jesus Christ into the world in order to draw people to the Father, through prayer, sends and commissions us on the same errand. We are to bring people into a closer union with God. We do that work by responding to people who wish to learn how to pray with companionship that helps them find their way along the journey of conversion. We must teach others to pray.

Our prayer leads us to help people find and discover their own vocations. We use our work of prayer to do the work of discernment with others. We are guides along the way listening with people as they seek to discern their own unique calling into ministry. Our prayers for the poor, widowed, sick, homeless in Christ bridges the chasm between us and sends us out, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to work for healing and reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration.

Our prayers lead us to be the voices of those who have no voices. Our prayers bring the work of companionship with the oppressed and the deprived into a stark reality. And the Holy Spirit sends us out to be the very real human resources who offer dignity and love to those people who believe they are lost and without God's love. Furthermore, prayer will lead us to stand up and act on behalf of those who are abused.

If we are to follow Jesus we are to work at prayer. If we are to follow Jesus prayer will originate our work. In one we come to know our place within the community of God, by the other God's community roots itself on earth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Monday Funnies: A dividend for your day

This is a light-hearted look, with a serious edge, at who we are as Episcopalians. Not exactly a "Monday Funny" but close enough. Thanks to Peter Carey for passing this along...

The Monday Funnies

We have a few groaners to start your Monday. Welcome to the Monday Funnies, with the usual cartoon by Dave Walker...

Years ago, the chaplain of the football team at Notre Dame was a beloved old Irish priest. At confession one day, a football player told the priest that he had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner at a recent football game.

"I lost my temper and said some bad words to one of my opponents," he confessed.

"Ahhh, that's a terrible thing for a Notre Dame lad to be doin'," the
priest said. He took a piece of chalk and drew a mark across the sleeve of
his coat.

"That's not all, Father." said the confessor. "I got mad and punched
one of my opponents."

"Saints preserve us!" the priest said, making another chalk mark.

"There's more. As I got out of a pileup, I kicked two of the other
team's players in the... in a sensitive area."

"Oh, goodness me!" the priest wailed, making two more chalk marks on
his sleeve. "Who in the world were we playin' when you did these awful

"Southern Methodist."

"Ah, well," said the priest, wiping his sleeve clean, "boys will be

* * *

A collector of rare books ran into an acquaintance who told him he had
just thrown away an old Bible that he found in a dusty, old box. He
happened to mention that Guten-somebody-or-other had printed it.

"Not Gutenberg?" gasped the collector.

"Yes, that was it!"

"You idiot! You've thrown away one of the first books ever printed. A copy recently sold at auction for half a million dollars!"

"Oh, I don't think this book would have been worth anything close to
that much," replied the man. "It was scribbled all over in the margins by
some clown named Martin Luther."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

All of us can be great because all of us can serve

Today's sermon is based on Mark 10:35-45

“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”

By now, most of you are aware that the Episcopal Church has been mired in a contentious battle that was sparked by the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Gene is gay, and his elevation to bishop prompted a number of parishes to leave the Episcopal Church.

There was another fight before that. A decade earlier, when the Episcopal Church began ordaining women, some parishes left in protest. A few years before that, when the Episcopal Church changed the prayer book, some didn’t like that very well, and so they left.

A generation before that, the Episcopal Church decided to repeal a ban on divorce, and that prompted some to leave in protest over that.

A century earlier, the Episcopal Church split over the question of slavery. Episcopalians fought and killed each other in the Civil War.

And before that, the Anglican Communion, of which we are a part, split apart over how to worship. At issue was music and vestments, and mission work in the world. The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, had a vision for a reformed Anglican church. But those in control of the church did not share their vision, and so Wesley’s followers split to become the Methodists.

Or go back before that, to the Protestant Reformation. The Church of England, a vital arm of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, went its own way, as did the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin elsewhere in Europe.

And before that, around the turn of the Millennium: in 1054, the Eastern Orthodox church split from the Western Catholic church, the last straw a fight over a single line in the Nicene Creed.

And before that, in the fourth century, there were sects of Christians known as Pelegianists and Donatists and Athenasians and Arians – none of them agreed about much of anything. The Nicene Creed was a document forged from those controversies to put an end to those controversies. Not all signed on at the time or after.

Go back another 200 years. The Christians could not agree on the nature of Jesus. Some said he was fully human, others said he was fully spirit, and some said he was fully both.

Or go back to the first followers of Jesus, the ones we hear about in today’s gospel lesson. This long march through church schisms I have described this morning begins right here, with this group of crabby disciples, jealous of each other and squabbling over who should sit where at the side of Jesus.

Since then, Christians have been arguing and splitting, building new churches that they believe are the purist form of Christianity. And when the newest in this pantheon falls short, someone takes up the newest call for purity, splits and builds another, and another, and another. The drive for purity trumps all else.

That tendency, of course, is not confined to Christians. There are dozens of sects of Jewish, Muslim, and Hindus, each claiming to be the true and greatest guardians of the faith. That seems to be a very human tendency, and I would suggest, a very human sin.

Jesus walks right into the middle of this in today’s gospel. He has a very direct, simple answer to those who claim to be greatest: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”

The greatest among you is the one who serves.

The greatest is not the one who gets their doctrine right.

The greatest is not the one who lives a pure unblemished life.

The greatest is not the one who writes the most learned theological books, or has risen to the most exalted rank in the church or the world.

The greatest is the one who serves.

As Martin Luther King once said, in perhaps his greatest sermon, all of us can be great because all of us can serve.

All of us can be great because all of us can serve.

Each of us can be servants – in the church, in the classroom, in our homes, in our work. We can serve boldly whether it is in a jail, or with one other person in a hospital room, or on the streets. All of us can be great because all of us can serve each other.

You do no need me to tell you that we live in an uncertain time. Unemployment is stubbornly high, the economy is sluggish, the world remains a dangerous place with our country immersed in two wars, and threats to peace looming elsewhere.

And it is precisely in times like these when the greatest opportunities to serve come.
All of us can be great because all of us can serve.

Each of us is called to be servants to each other and the world in which we live.

Servants are great because they are good listeners, and are open to people no matter their station in life, or where they come from, or how they look or how much money and education they have, or don’t have.

Those who serve are slow to anger, quick to forgive, and are patient, kind and generous. Servants do not seek to control, but seek to open their hands and hearts to others. That is a very high standard of servanthood, but that is what it means to be great.

Rather than striving to build a pure church, let’s strive to build a church that is a place where people can come with their wounds and their questions, and their doubts, and not be judged for being, well, human.

That kind of church will not look very neat or pure, and it might even look a little messy; it will have contradictions aplenty, and people will be more important than doctrine. But a church like this will be brimming with people.

And Jesus will be right in the midst of us while we build this church, bringing heaven to earth.
Bringing heaven to earth is about serving.

Thy will be done, on heaven as it is on earth.

All of us can be great because all of us can serve. AMEN

Saturday, October 17, 2009

St. Paul's this weekend

There is a lot going on this weekend at St. Paul's, so today's posting is a bulletin board (and if you haven't seen yesterday's, do please scroll down):

Today (Saturday) 10:00 am to 2:00 pm: you are invited to help make artful posters and banners for the 350 Bell Ringing Event on Sunday Oct. 25. This is the second year we have rung the bell to draw attention to the issue of global warming.

It will be a great rainy day activity! Please join the artists in the 3rd, 4th, & 5th grade room at the end of the second floor hall in the Church School Wing. For more information about the cause, clicking HERE.

Sunday, October 18 at the 10:00 am service: The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York City, will be our guest preacher. A reception honoring the Rev. Forbes will be held in the Parish Hall following the service.
The Rev. Forbes will also be the speaker for the local United Nation Association Chapter Meeting later in the day at 3:00 p.m. at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, Unitarian Universalist, 717 Rugby Rd.

Monday, Oct 19 at 6:30 pm: IMPACT Annual Assembly at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. This is a coalition of 31 congregations, including St. Paul's, working on social justice issues. We will be voting an issue to focus our energies for the year. The issues under consideration are: (1) availability of interpretation / translation services; (2) Pedestrian safety; (3) Jobs and wages. The pre-school education is being carried over from last year. Songs, prayer, democracy, justice! For more information clicking HERE.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Roadside Shrine for your day: Endless Streams and Mountains, and the art of Chiura Obata

Regular readers of this space may recall that a week or two ago, a friend pointed out that this blog is to her like a roadside shrine, a place to pause to ponder the Holy, or just a place to rest awhile, or maybe smile. I like that a lot, and I continue to ponder anew how to create a shrine in "virtual" space.

Today, I'd like to offer you another shrine: the art of Chiura Obata (1885-1975), whose paintings of the mountains still inspire many people, including me, with their simplicity, shimmering color and rhythm.

Obata first entered the Sierra Nevada in 1927 and he went back again and again over many decades. His paintings were recently featured in the Ken Burns' series on the national parks, and rightly so.

As someone commented in the documentary, it took an artist born in another place (Japan) to help us see our own place.

Obata was a loyal American, and these mountains were his palate. But in the hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was incarcerated in an internment camp with other Japanese-Americans during World War II. In the camp, he taught others to paint. He also painted scenes from the camps, capturing the dust, the wind, and the melancholy. Another day we will feature those paintings.

My favorite poet, Gary Snyder, who spent considerable time in Japan studying as a young adult, chose Obata's art to illustrate his book Mountains and Rivers Without End. The painting at the top of Yosemite Falls, painted in 1930, is on the cover of Snyder's book, which won the Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1997 (his earlier works won a Pulitzer in 1974).

For many years I used the first poem, called "Endless Streams and Mountains," in my Morning Prayer meditation. Here is that poem, with some other paintings by Obata.

May peace and holiness follow your day.

Endless Streams and Mountains
Ch'i Shan Wu Chin

By Gary Snyder

Clearing the mind and sliding in
to that created space,
a web of waters streaming over rocks,
air misty but not raining,

seeing this land from a boat on a lake
or a broad slow river,

coasting by.

The path comes down along a lowland stream
slips behind boulders and leafy hardwoods,reappears in a pine grove,

no farms around, just tidy cottages and shelters,

gateways, rest stops, roofed but unwalled work space,
—a warm damp climate;

a trail of climbing stairsteps forks upstream.

Big ranges lurk behind these rugged little outcrops—

these spits of low ground rocky uplifts
layered pinnacles aslant,

flurries of brushy cliffs receding,
far back and high above, vague peaks.
A man hunched over, sitting on a log
another stands above him, lifts a staff,
a third, with a roll of mats or a lute, looks on;
a bit offshore two people in a boat.

The trail goes far inland,
somewhere back around a bay,
lost in distant foothill slopes

& back again
at a village on the beach, and someone's fishing.

Rider and walker cross a bridgeabove a frothy braided torrent
that descends from a flurry of roofs like flowers
temples tucked between cliffs,
a side trail goes there;

a jumble of cliffs above,
ridge tops edged with bushes,
valley fog below a hazy canyon.

A man with a shoulder load leans into the grade.

Another horse and a hiker,

the trail goes up along cascading streambed

no bridge in sight—comes back through chinquapin or
; another group of travelers.
Trail's end at the edge of an inlet
below a heavy set of dark rock hills.
Two moored boats with basket roofing,
a boatman in the bow looks
lost in thought.

Hills beyond rivers, willows in a swamp,
a gentle valley reaching far inland.

The watching boat has floated off the page.