09 August 2008

What is Donatism?

Donatism is a word that has been tossed about quite a bit in the past few years. About a month ago I was asked to write an article on the subject. This morning, I received an email from a TTLS reader who asked about Donatism. I decided to post my article as a reply to that email. So, Maryann, here is your answer. I used footnotes in an attempt to keep the material readable without explanations that break up the thoughts. This article is copyrighted, so ask before you copy it (as if it's good enough to copy!) My thanks to Fr. Scott and Fr. T for reading and commenting on the article prior to publication.

In the early fourth century AD, the church was experiencing another siege of persecution. In moments of weakness or under actual torture, many presbyters handed over copies of scripture, renounced the faith, and in many instances even denounced other Christians. These former presbyters were called traditori. [1]

The majority of the church felt that if a traditor wished to return to the church, he could after a period of penance lasting a few weeks to several decades, and rebaptism. [2]
Donatus, bishop of Caesa Nigraee, disagreed with the majority opinion. He preached his opinion and gained a sizeable following.

Things came to a head in 311 A.D. when Caecilian of Cathrage was consecrated bishop. One of the three officiating bishops, [3] Felix of Aptunga, had been a traditor. Donatus and seventy bishops withdrew their fellowship from the whole church, formed their own synod and declared the consecration null and void.

Emboldened by their own hubris, in 315 A.D. the donatists declared

  • “The whole catholic church was lost” (apostate) because sinners were allowed to officiate at the altars
  • That they themselves were the “only true church”
  • That, as the “only true Church,” they could not pray in the same building with apostates
  • They could not recognize any sacrament performed by “apostates” (this included marriage, baptism, Eucharist, holy orders) nor
    • receive any sacraments from the hands of apostates
    • be in the same building when apostate rites were being performed
  • That some sins were worse than other sins
  • That “committing” these super-sins forever barred persons from ordained ministry. (Naturally, Donatists leaders got to pick the 'super-sins')

Although repudiated by every council of the Church, it was not until the seventh century that the movement officially died. But Donatism is the heresy that just will not die. Like a weed in a formal garden, periodically donatism would raise deceptive bloom. During the reformation, Donatism made an appearance in the form of the Puritans who attempted to “take over” the Church of England.

Now that you know much more than you ever wanted to know, (but trust me this doesn’t scratch the surface!) the question you are asking is, “what does all this mean to me?” The answer is threefold:

  • Donatistism sets up a small group to be absolute judge of all others
  • Donatists proclaim that as the “only true church” they have the exclusive interpretation of “orthodox” teaching, scriptural interpretation, sacramental validity, sin, and an individual’s worthiness (it doesn’t matter if “you” believe that you are a Christian—they will tell you if you are or not)
  • Donatism is at work in the church once again

Logically, Donatism is an impossible theological position to defend because no one is morally pure. [4]. Therefore, by donatisim’s own rules, there are no valid sacraments or ministers – not even in their inner circle. Also, St. Augustine argued that Donatism actually eliminates God’s grace from having anything to do with the sacraments (and for 1,500 years, the church has agreed with him).

Anglicanism has always condemned Donatism. According to our catechism, Sacraments are:

[A]n outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same [5], and a pledge to assure us thereof. BCB 1928. p. 581 [6]

[O]utward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”

BCP 1979, p. 857

Notice the important part of the catechism’s explanation – we receive Christ’s grace, not the presbyter’s grace. Think of that Grace as pitcher of water. One may pour that water into an old cracked glass or a golden cup. The water is still water regardless of which vessel from which one drinks.

What makes Donatism morally dangerous is that it puts an impediment between God’s grace and us. It says that God is constrained by humans. It says that God can be God only when the human medium is good enough. It says “I know better than God does. It says that God cannot overcome sin.

Thanks be to God, all of that was repudiated on a cross outside of Jerusalem circa 33 A.D. To believe otherwise is to usurp the role of God and therein is the heresy of donatism.

How to spot a modern Anglican donatist (neo-donatist):

  • “The Episcopal and Anglican Church of Canada is apostate!”
  • “Thank goodness there are still real Anglicans left”
  • “He/she is [insert term] so I can’t take communion from him/her
  • “If the bible says it, that settles it.” (Always said as a conversation stopper.)
  • “You don’t respect the authority of the bible.”
  • “If you were a real Christian, you would see that you are wrong.”
  • “The faith once delivered to the saints” is a favourite quote of Donatists
  • An unhealthy obsession about certain issues and silence on other issues the bible condemns.
  • A propensity to use the Old Testament purity laws to govern the Christian church.(but very selective about which purity laws are still enforceable)

[1] Latin for “one who delivers” – as in hands over books and informs on people. Please note that the word is not “traitor”). Singular: traditor.

[2] It was addressing Donatism that made the church decree that a person may only be baptized once, for all times

[3] Canon law has stated from apostolic times that there must be three bishops to perform the rite of consecration.

[4] See Romans 3.10-20; 3.23; 17.18-25; James 3.2; 1 John 8-19

[5] Meaning Christ, himself

[6] The 1928 catechism is word for word from the 1662 Prayer Book catechism

08 August 2008

Russia Invades Georgia

Pray for the world, and particularly the country of Georgia.

O God of love, O King of Peace,
Make wars throughout the world to cease;
The wrath of sinful men restrain,
Give peace, O God, give peace again!

07 August 2008

Robinson vs. Davis - A reader's question

Well, so much for my "one thread per day" rule. I've had three different threads today. All were important, though, at least in my eyes.

David posed an excellent question in one of the threads. It was such a good question that I have decided to give it its own thread.

James, you can answer this offline if you wish. In trying to find out where the GLBT Christian side rests, I wonder if you can answer a question for me. One the one hand we have Bishop Robinson in a loving one on one relationship with another person. On the other side, we have Mac Davis who surfs the Internet for sugar daddies and had sex with two seminary boys. Is there a difference that Christians should see in this?

I think an online discussion would be beneficial, as it will allow others to take part in the discussion. If you would like to contact me off line, that would be perfectly acceptable. Those who wish to join in this discussion should be polite and respectful. This is my blog and I won't abide rudeness or crudeness.

Amongst my GLBT friends, +Robinson is the norm. Almost all of my friends are in either committed relationships or looking for committed relationships. If you have read some of my posts, you will would know that two of my friends celebrated their twentieth anniversary by being legally married here in California. In fact, you should read those posts. You will find them here, and here. Monogamy is really the norm for most gay people as the number of same-gender marriages in California will show. In the local chapter of Integrity, commitment and monogamy is the majority status of its members.

The exception to this will be found primarily among those gay and bisexual males in their 20s. This exception will be found in heterosexual males of that age group as well. I have recently completed a degree from the local university. In one of my classes, a male student received a failing grade on a quiz. The professor (a woman) told him if he wanted some extra time, to talk with her. He replied he did not care that he had failed the quiz. This startled the professor and this was the exchange:

“Well if you don’t care, why are you in college?”

“Do you want the truth?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I’m here to have as much sex as I can possibly have before I’m too old for anyone hot to want me.”

That was from a heterosexual male. One heterosexual male. I cannot project his morals (or lack thereof) on all heterosexual males.

Mr. Davis’ alleged actions are those of one homosexual male. I cannot project his morals (or lack thereof) on all gay males. They are not typical of the GLBT community as a whole.

It is that aberrant activity that the press covers though. It sells papers. No one wants to read about two men who have lived together for 47 years, have a house, two dogs and leaky water pipes. Newspapers want sensationalism and that comes from covering the atypical gay pride events or other events where extreme behaviour and the actions of fringe members of the community can be filmed and published. That is like saying Americans' Fourth of July activities reflect a typical daily life of all Americans. I would submit that 75 - 80 percent of all gay people have never been to a pride event.

Having said that, yes, there are gay/bisexual men who use the Internet to find anonymous encounters and an infinitesimal percentage of males looking for “sugar daddies.” In any community, there will be predators and those who wish to use others for personal gain. When I was much younger, we called such people “Gold Diggers.” They were young heterosexual women.

The overwhelming opinion of the GLBT community is that commitment and monogamy are “where it’s at.” They dislike Davis’ alleged actions for many reasons one of which is that it gives the entire GLBT community a black eye.

The difference that “Christians should see in this” is that committed relationships are holy and the norm. Promiscuous and predatory behaviour is not holy and not the norm. This is true whether homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian, or bisexual.

I must take you to task for one thing, though. The use of "seminary boys" was inappropriate and inflammatory. Seminarians are not "boys," they adults. The use of the phrase would lead many to question the sincerity of your post.

So, this is the jumping off point for the discussion.

Today's evening hymn is the great Ave Maria for double choir by Franz Biebel. This is my favourite arrangment of the Ave Maria and it never ceases to reach into my soul and move me beyond words. The chords! And when the choir reachs the "Sancta Maria, Mater Dei" oh, the glorious melody just floats on clouds! I hope that this adds to yoru Sunday evening, and helps to prepare you for the busy week.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past;
be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope,
that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture
and the breaking of bread.
Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

Report on the Presiding Bishop's webcast

At two o’clock today, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev'd. Katharine Jefferts Schori, participated in a live webcast about the recently completed Lambeth Conference 2008. The Presiding Bishop was joined by the Rt. Rev’d. Mark Sisk, Bishop of the diocese of New York.

The Presiding Bishop said that Lambeth had been

A remarkable encounter between bishops from all over the globe. I learned what it is like to serve as a bishop in other places. There was a real sense of connections. Links that are vital and important were both formed and deepened.

She added that she had been enriched by new friends and the desire to work together to end suffering around the world. She concluded her opening remarks by thanking the members of The Episcopal Church for the prayers that sustained them during the conference.

One of the first questions concerned the proposed covenant, where we stand on it, and what happens now. Bishop Katharine replied

There was unanimity in rejecting the latter portions of the document – the so-called St. Andrew’s draft. There was also little willingness to accept point 3.2 and following, including the appendix.

There was a great willingness for a covenant that stated what we share in common, not one that defines who would be excluded.

Bishop Sisk agreed that there was a “wide willingness to have a covenant that was cooperative, built upon what we share.” He added that

There was a near universal feeling that any document that included sanctions was “out of the spirit of Anglicanism. There were a few exceptions to that sentiment, but very few. The prevalent feeling was that families do have standards, but families do not exclude other family members from the family. That is the spirit of Anglicanism.

As for the process, it was explained that the committee would receive comments from all those bishops who attended the conference. The comments will help form another draft that will be made public for comments, revised, and then sent to the provinces for more revision, approval, or rejection.

On of the questions asked was, how to help our liberal members [GLBT] see that restraint is not an obstacle. The answers were a revelation:

TEC has been living in gracious restraint for some time. I don’t see any church wide push to end that in the coming months. General Convention is the only body that can decide to do anything significant related to that. Individual bishops always make their own decision about what is best for their own diocese. All of us are urged to live in gracious restraint.

Bishop Sisk added that he was surprised

How little was known about our gracious restraint in the communion as a whole.

One U.S. Bishop took an opportunity to give a lengthy objection to language about a moratorium as a future possibility.

With clarity and passion, he pointed out that these have been acted on at great cost by TEC. The other bishops in his indaba group were completely unaware that TEC had been living in restraint.

The bishop’s comment was the first time most others in his group had heard of what TEC was actually doing. That bishop was encouraged that the document was revised to reflect out actions.

TEC has willingly provided seasons of rest; but we have to think about that impact has on our members and dioceses.

The Presiding Bishop added

There was a major lack of information and also major misinformation around the communion concerning this Episcopal Church of ours. The basic theological tenants that we believe were not even known in many places in the communion.

We assume that all the Anglican Communion believes the same tenants, but not everyone in the Communion believes we believe those.

When asked what the outcome of Lambeth will mean for the status of GLBT priests and members, the Presiding bishop said:

There is a clear majority of bishops who agree that appropriate care of [GLBT] members is of significant importance to us. This debate has been going on for forty years. Other parts [of the communion] may not understand that we’ve been working at this for a very long time. Conversations will not end.

She added that TEC recognizes the conversation has caused pain and embarrassment in places where it is not appropriate to discuss sexuality of any kind in public.

She said one bishop with whom she spoke said, "What you're doing is making it very difficult for me but your job is not to make my life easier. You need to be paying attention to the pastoral realities in your own context as I need to be in mine."[Thanks to Diane for this correction.]

Sisk continued

There is no 'them' and 'us' – there is only us [together]. When we consider these requests, it is we as a whole community.

In terms of gay and lesbian folks that are part and parcel, and integral to the Diocese of New York, Lambeth does not change their status one iota. Typical around our church, the role of gay and lesbian people is affirmed in our community life, resolutions and canons.

Requests made at Lambeth have already been responded to. No action will be taken beyond what we already responded to in general convention.

As to the impact on gay and lesbian folk, the actions of Lambeth don’t affect their life in our church at this point.

One interesting question concerned U.S. bishops who did not attend. In her answer, the Presiding Bishop said that

Despite statements by some Primates that no bishop in that province would attend, bishops representing every province in the Communion were Lambeth Conference – regardless of whatever sanctions awaited them back home.

One or two U.S. bishops did not attend for health reasons, and four did not “attend for various personal reasons.

When asked what the differences between Lambeth '98 and '08 were, Bishop Sisk responded that ’98 seemed to be designed from the beginning to produce 'winners and losers.' This conference was very different in that there were no opportunities for anyone to win or lose. “The decision to have no votes was good.”

Regarding the process to end incursions by other provinces, the Presiding Bishop said there is no plan.

[Among those who attended Lambeth] it was nearly universal that incursions do not reflect positively on the mission of the Church and that the incursions present challenges that people haven’t considered. The overwhelming majority see incursions as inappropriate and an act that needs to cease. That said, I’m not terribly hopeful that they will stop.

One question asked about money. The questioner wanted to know if TEC has been asked to “foot the bill” for the two million dollar deficit.

Yes, we’ve been asked, and the bishops have responded by providing bursaries for those who could not afford to be there. The Archbishop desires to come to the U.S. to do some fundraising. We have offered our assistance.

Note that the answer was not, “yes, we were asked and yes, we are cutting a cheque.” I find the fact that Rowan wants to come to the U.S. and ask the people he has attacked to give him money is bizarre.

When asked, given the fact taht TEC is basically a democratic governance, how TEC can subscribe to a covenant, the Presiding Bishop stated

General Convention has to agree to it. That is the only way we can do it as a church. Interesting complexities were raised in this process of talk about a covenant. There was some concern in the Church of England that Parliament would not agree to a covenant because of internal concerns about the Church of England.*

Once again, we see the idea of a covenant is dead on arrival.

When asked what impact Lambeth Conference will have on the average parishioner who sits on the last pew will be, the answer was interesting. Bishop Sisk responded:

One advantage, or benefit, of controversy is that we are part of a world wide communion. I would think that many of the nuances and intricacies will not affect that person one iota, and shouldn’t.

But what can benefit that person is a deeper sense that is widely shared – that we are in this together. Their horizon can be expanded by recognizing that they have a brother or sister in a vastly different part of the world, facing vastly different challenges, but who worship the same God.

There is spiritual danger in seeing the world around is as it is; the world around us is only a small part of the real world.

One of the final questions was “the real issue is not homosexuality but honesty. How do you deal with the call for moratoria on same-gender unions, when it is reported that other provinces are doing the same thing but not publicizing them.

Katherine responded.

How we deal with honesty is not just a matter of black and white, but culture ramifications. In many cultures, it is inappropriate and rude to say anything directly and baldly. It does damage. That’s part of reality.

Part of question of awareness is that subterfuge diminishes the community. It prevents the community from growing up to full statue of Christ which is where we are all called.

The webcast can be found here.

Corrections to this text will follow. I wanted to get a report out as quickly as possible, and I apologize for textual errors and for any factual errors contained herein. If you spot an error, plase let me know and I will correct it.

*Unless there has been a change in British law of which I am not aware, the approval of Parliament and The Queen will be necesary as the covenant will establish doctrine of the Church of England, the State Church.

Episcoapl bishop will ordain "gays"

I thought that headline might attract a few readers!

There is an ineresting wee article by Michael Paulson that appeared today in the Boston Globe.

Paulson writes that as the bishops of the Anglican Communion return home from Lambeth, things will continue to be a muddle. Conservatives contending that the Communion is moving toward schism and liberals contending that the Communion is stabilizing. He believes the path forward is unclear.

Most of his article focuses on the ordination of GLBT people. He sees the issue going on exactly as it has in the past. He quotes the Rt. Rev’d. M. Thomas Shaw*, Massachusetts, as stating it is “pastorally important” that he continue to ordain gay clergy. Additionally, he notes that Shaw’s priests will continue to bless same-gender marriages. Shaw added,

I haven’t authorized anybody to do anything; the local priests are dong so on their own.

However, he will not stop the priests from “acting on their own” initiative. Good on Bishop Shaw (and Bruno and Andrus).

Paulson wrote that

As for whether [Shaw] would follow up on his earlier intention to push for ending the moratorium on gay bishops and allowing church recognition of same-sex marriage when the Episcopal Church meets at its General Convention next year, Shaw said he would now wait until he meets with all the American bishops next month to decide how he will proceed.

Commenting on Lambeth, Shaw said

I don't think anything happened that is going to wow you or your readers.

Bishop Shaw who is seen as one of the TEC’s leading liberals was host to several gatherings in the UK to introduce +Gene Robinson to bishops from who view Robinson's homosexuality with concern.

We had frank and good discussions about expectations of one another, and what our context is pastorally, and how it differs from, say, Africa to the United States. I think people communicated well.

Paulsen has an interesting quote from the Rt. Rev’d. William L. Murdoch of the Anglican Church of Kenya. Murdoch as you might remember is the former the rector of an Episcopal parish in West Newbury and now the rector of an Anglican parish in Amesbury. Murdoch was “irregularly” consecrated. Murdoch states that he

[Expects] that the "boundary crossings" by foreign bishops into the United States [will] also continue, because there is no alternative for traditionalist Episcopalians in the United States.

Who is going to offer pastoral care to those churches that want to remain connected to the Anglican Communion but not the Episcopal Church "That's why our work will continue.

Murdoch said traditionalists are moving toward establishing another province, or branch, of the Anglican Communion in North America for disaffected Episcopalians.

The Lambeth Conference itself and the archbishop of Canterbury, for all their efforts, were not able to come up with any new efforts at trying to put in place any instrument that could exercise discipline to correct the brokenness of the communion.

There it is again – punishment. Why is it that the “traditionalists” are so obsessed with punishment? Additionally, how is a cleric in another province/diocese/parish a threat to one’s spirituality? My spiritual wellness is not at risk because Uganda refuses to ordain women or gay people. It’s all about fear, well that and power.

Scholars say the impact of the conference, if any, will play out over time. According the Rev’d. Ian T. Douglas, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge (the only American on the Lambeth conference committee,

For the first time in a long time, bishops had the opportunity to talk face to face with one another and be honest about what's happening in their church.

It clearly impacted the bishops, but what that means when they have to make tough choices will be some measure. And as to how much that has affected the dioceses and the pews, we shall see.

It will be interesting to see how the US College of Bishops deals with the aftermath of Lambeth when they meet in September. I predict that nothing, as Shaw said, “Will wow your readers.” Some bishops will back off, but not all will do so.

We know that the Anglican Church of Canada is not going to back down, at least not on same-gender blessings. The Most Rev’d. Fred Hiltz, Primate of Canada, told Reuters in a phnoe interview yesterday (Wednesday) that

[It] would be especially tough for Bishop Michael Ingham of the British Columbia diocese of New Westminster to halt the homosexual blessings altogether.

Hiltz pointed out that the decision-making synods of four more Canadian dioceses have in the past year asked their bishops to authorize same-sex blessings.

We know that the Anglican Church of Scotland is not going to back down, either. During Lambeth Conference itself the Dean of the Glasgow cathedral officiated at a same-gender blessing.

What is that song from the 1960’s? Oh, yes!

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Bob Dylan recorded that song, but first guy to sing it was a man named Jesus.

* The Rt Rev'd M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE., was consecrated Bishop of The Diocese of Massachusetts in 1994 In 1975, he entered the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a religious order of priests and lay brothers in the Episcopal Church. Life professed in the society in 1981, he was elected superior in 1983. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from General Theological Seminary in New York and a Master of Arts degree in theology from the Catholic University of America

UPDATE: To prove that things truly are changing, go read this letter published in the Lead today.

06 August 2008

Presiding Bishop to address the Church

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will conduct a live webcast from the Chapel at the Church Center in NYC to talk about The Lambeth Conference on

Thursday, August 7
2 pm Eeastern (1 pm Central, noon Mountain, 11 am Pacific).

Access is available through the home page of the website: www.episcopalchurch.org

The URL for the webcast itself is: http://www.iian.ibeam.com/events/dfms001/27387/

Questions will be accepted via email: newsline@episcopalchurch.org

The webcast will be available for on-demand viewing after its conclusion. For more information about the webcast contact Neva Rae Fox, program officer for public affairs, newsline@episcopalchurch.org

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is also the anniversary 63rd anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima by the first atomic bomb used. Let us pray for the victims of violence and let us pray for peace.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Make sure to read Padre Mickey's post on the Transfiguration. You'll find it here. Thanks to him also, for the cool icon I shamelessly stole from his blog!

Between Friday at noon and Sunday at 9 p.m., TTLS had 1,001 unique hits. Very few people leave comments. Please take a momet to say "hello." I'd like to know who is reading and where you are located!

04 August 2008

Tell the disciples -- and Peter

When I am discouraged, I usually turn to the gospel of Mark. His is my favourite gospel and Isaiah is my favourite TNACH book. (Mark in almost any version but Isaiah only in the KJV – my Hebrew is nonexistent anymore).

I love Mark’s Jack Webb approach: “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Mark is so blunt. He refuses to sugar coat the disciples. Mark just exposes them, warts and all. They are fully human, petty, childish, dumb, and yet loyal to the end – almost. Mark is the “scratch and sniff” gospel. For all of these reasons, I love Mark and I love to teach Mark.

My favourite verse is 16.7 – But go tell his disciples – especially Peter – that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

I have heard that verse at least once each Easter for fifty years (I was born 4 August, by the way). But I did not understand the real (and most important) message it contains until this past Lent. I taught Mark for a group of UCC folk. These mostly women were the best class I have ever taught. They were open to all possibilities, receptive to new and controversial information and they never closed down, not once. Even when they disagreed, they continued to talk and ask questions, and at the end of each class, there was fellowship with everyone.

Preparing to teach chapter sixteen, I made a holy hour before I wrote my “lecture.” While sitting in the presence of Our Lord, I had one of “those moments.” I know that all of you already know this, but you must remember that I am, to quote Winne the Pooh, "a bear of very little brain" so it took 51 years to get the point.

I read verse sixteen and started into verse seventeen but the Holy Spirit slapped me up-side the head and made me read verse sixteen over and over and over. Finally, I understood the real message of that verse

I had always presumed that Jesus wanted the disciples to know he was going Galilee and would meet them there. Yes, that was important to know. He had chosen Peter as the first among equals, so Peter needed to be mentioned – to give him the place of prominence.

All of that is true, but I realized there was so much more in those few words.

The message is that Jesus wanted Peter to know – especially Peter. Peter was in deep despair: he had denied knowing Jesus, he had promised to stay with Jesus but fled in terror. Nevertheless, Jesus said tell Peter! Jesus wanted him to know. That is the real message. “Tell my friend Peter I'll meet him in Galilee.” I cannot articulate what understanding that did for me.

The Spirit was not finished with me, though. I understood that if Judas has been alive, Jesus would have said, “Tell the disciples -- especially Peter and Judas…”

Jesus had already forgiven them – he had forgiven them even before they knew what they were going to do. In those few words Jesus said, “It is okay – it’s really okay. I love you just as much as I did five days ago.”

In that moment, I understood that Paul, too, understood: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Neither slave, free, Greek, Jew, Gentile, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, radical, conservative, believer, or atheist -- nothing can separate us from his love.

Jesus lived with us; he knows our frailties and our weaknesses and yet he still accepts us and forgives us before we even stumble. In spite of everything, he knows about us, and yet he stills calls and claims us as his own.

His love is greater than our ability to screw things up. That is the real message delivered that morning.

Go tell the disciples, especially those who need to hear it most, that he goes before them into [the unknown] and they will see him there.”

That is the message to us today. As we tread unto the unknown, Jesus is already there waiting for us, having prepared all things for our arrival. He has the light on for us. Fear not.

Deo Gratias!

03 August 2008

A Witness for the Future

Now that it is eventide and I have completed Evensong, it is liturgically Monday, and I can post the following without violating my Lord’s Day Shalom.

Jim Naughton, who knows more about what has happened at Lambeth than almost anyone, agrees with my Saturday post. His posts, Low Clouds, Low Mood, and the final post have some important observations.

[The U.S. Bishops] were more pessimistic about the chances that the Episcopal Church will be able to move decisively toward full inclusion at our General Convention next summer.

As he points out, it does not matter how “provisional” the final draft is, the fact remains that the ABC, the Anglican Communion Office, want to drag the Anglican Communion back to the 19th century.

[They] want us to maintain our de facto ban on the consecration of partnered gay candidates to the episcopacy, and to ban either the authorization of rites of same sex blessings, or to root out the practice of same sex blessings entirely –it isn’t clear which.

Rowan states that if the American and Canadian churches do not accept the moratorium then “As a communion we would be in great peril.” Uh, Rowan, that boat sailed a couple of years ago. When we were in the deepest peril, you supported the Flat Earth Communion and created any future peril.

Naughton echoes what I have been saying for months – our bishops are going to back off from supporting the full inclusion of all members of The Episcopal Church:

If we overturn, supersede or otherwise mess with Resolution B033 from General Convention 2006, or if we move toward authorizing texts to bless same-sex unions, we will, at a minimum, set off another round of recriminations and endless meetings; we will endure additional efforts aimed at pushing us out of the Communion, countered, no doubt, by our own elaborate, energy sapping campaign to preserve our membership.

Even bishops who favour full inclusion are reluctant to pick this fight right now. Yet there is strong support for challenging B033 in the House of Deputies, and I worry that without creative leadership we may find ourselves in a power struggle as the convention approaches.

So, there you have it from a more authoritative voice than mine: The U.S. bishops are going to throw GLBT members under that speeding bus as “the act of love” necessary to attenuate the flat-earth-bible-literalist society – for a while.

If there is a power struggle at GC09, the bishops will learn where the power in TEC resides and it is not in the House of Bishops.

Rowan and “the powers that be” want the moratoria and a covenant in the worst way. Why Rowan wants it is a complete mystery, really. Why the “Central Committee” wants it is clear -- power and more power. Their dark ages attitudes may prevail, but it will be a very small Communion that “the powers that be” rule in their pontifical manner.

Thank heavens TEC has many justice-minded bishops including the Rt. Rev'd. Jon Bruno (Los Angeles) and the Rt. Rev’d. Marc Andrus (California). Both have stated that they will not end the blessings in their respective dioceses. According to Naughton:

Numerous Episcopal dioceses permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, but without a rite. Bishops Jon Bruno and Marc Andrus have already said that they would not attempt to stop the blessing of gay relationships in their diocese.

Turning to the proposed document itself, Naughton says:

The Continuation Group is composed entirely of people who disapprove of gay blessings or gay ordination, and both groups are led by men who have endorsed the call for a separate ideologically-based province in North America.

That is like asking the KKK and Arian Nation to draft a document on racial issues. But Rowan just doesn’t get it. Their biases doomed the document before the computer warmed up. Had the committee been a balanced group, the document might actually have worked because it would have been fair to all concerned.

What is apparent is that the Central Committee wants TEC out; that is all that will satisfy them. Why, I wonder? Perhaps they are angry that TEC foots the bill for the whole Communion. They certainly have chosen completely to ignore the fact that that TEC was found compliant with the Windsor report.

Rowan feels that the whole mess will be settled within a year and the provinces can then vote on the “covenant.” It is amazing to see how incredibly naive this man is. On the other hand, perhaps, he knows that he will be in retirement by then and his successor will be dealing with the issue.

What Rowan’s Central Committee is going to deliver is the death certificate. We will be singing “and it’s not only merely dead, it’s really most sincerely dead.” (Apologies to the Wicked Witch of the East.)

Naturally, gay and lesbian groups at the conference have objected to calls for a moratorium. This group will pay the full price. No one else is being asked to sacrifice a single thing. Williams was relying on an already marginalized minority to make sacrifices that absolutely will not preserve the unity of the communion. “Sacrifice has to be accepted voluntarily that’s true,” Williams said. “That’s why this means something about consent. There are those, I know, who won’t be willing to take on that kind of sacrifice." Well no kidding.

“There is something about the preservation of the global fellowship that is bigger than any of us.” poor Rowan, the global fellowship is over, it no longer exists. The GS has gone and yet TEC and the AC of C with is GLBT baptized are still being sacrificed for a dead idol. Talk about idolatry!

Rowan and his Central Committee have not even had the decency to talk with the people they are sacrificing. The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA said Williams was calling for sacrifice from people who had not been represented at the conference.

“I think it is said that the Archbishop of Canterbury has placed himself so far on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the gospel on this issue.”

I agree with the Rt. Rev’d. Dean Wolfe, Kansas,

Anyone who thinks we will come to a definitive conclusion overnight doesn't understand the church in general and the Anglican Communion in particular . . .

Wolfe said it was essential that the Communion not attempt to preserve its unity "on the backs" of gays and lesbians.” These things take time but in the end we tend to come round right."

Bishop Steve Lane of Maine said he was "really moved and inspired by the vision of catholic humanity and the vision of Christ in all" that Williams explored during the conference. However, he said he felt tension between that vision and what seemed to be Williams' request that "some churches sacrifice some of their members. I don’t think we can sacrifice a group of the baptized. That is beyond our power and it would be a grave wrong. "

Thank heaven that we have some Godly bishops.

I would advocate our walking away now, if it were not for the fact that the majority of the communion needs our witness of justice. We are large enough and strong enough to lead the struggle for justice -- if we chose to do so. The Episcopal Church needs the witness of other provinces, too; but our witness is a beacon on the hill for them. They see our efforts to embrace all people and they know that they do not stand alone in the struggle against injustice.

Brothers and sisters, the moment is here. God is offering us an opportunity of monumental imortance and consequence. Moments such as this do not often present themselves. We must chose to do the righteous thing becuase God will call on us to answer for how we respond to this opportunity.

As science moves closer to irrefutable evidence that there is a "gay gene," the ABC, his homophobic Central Committee, and the so-called “Global South” (in whatever alphabet soup they reincarnate) are going to look like the fools they are.

What a sad thing it is to realize most of our bishops may be willing to sacrifice their convictions and their baptismal covenants for the sake of a communion that is no more. It is heartbreaking to know the leaders of that communion are willing to abandon a huge portion of its membership while invoking the name of Jesus and the bible to do so.

But whatever they do, one thing is certain, the old communion is dead: A new and marvelous work has begun and the Lord's work will not be halted.

I’m going to let a hymn have he final words:

The church of Christ in every age,
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.

Across the world, across the street,
the victims of injustice cry
for shelter and for bread to eat,
and never live until they die.

The let the servant church arise,
a caring church that longs to be
a partner in Christ's sacrifice,
and clothed in Christ's humanity.

For he alone, whose blood was shed,
can cure the fever in our blood,
and teach us how to share our bread
and feed the starving multitude.

We have no mission but to serve
in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve,
and spread his liberating word.

Pentecost XII

Pentecost XII

Proper 13 - Year A [RCL]
By James Hinckley

Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17: 1-7, 16; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

The gospel for this Sunday is from Matthew, chapter 14, verses 13 to 21, and it is perhaps the best known parable of the Bible.

Or is it?

Well, yes and no. Yes, it is certainly well known. But no, even though it is commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Loaves and Fishes,” it is actually not a parable. Merriam-Webster defines “parable” as “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.”

And while this story certainly illustrates both a moral attitude and a religious principle, it is presented by the author of the Gospel of Matthew as an actual event from the ministry of Jesus.

In fact, one reason it may be so well known is that the miracle actually occurred twice. These two incidents are cited in John chapter 6, Luke chapter 9, Matthew chapters 14 and 15, and Mark chapters 6 and 8.

So, what does it mean? Well, that was the very subject of a bit of seafaring chit-chat between Jesus and the disciples related in Mark:

“‘When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’

“They said to him, ‘Twelve.’

“‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’

“And they said to him, ‘Seven.’

“And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’”

Well, if the disciples, sitting not five feet from Jesus, found the meaning obscure, perhaps we may be forgiven for not fully understanding it either.

But one of the truly amazing things about the Bible is that it is indeed a living document. Taking virtually any of the biblical precepts, one can examine it in detail, turning it this way and that in various qualities of light as if it were a huge amethyst crystal, and gain refreshing insights not only into modern life, but into ourselves as well. Although written over 2,000 years ago, the Bible is a beacon that casts a brilliant illumination across the millennia to shine right in front of us today. Few if any works, even those of comparable antiquity, can even come close to this universal quality.

We may be just as perplexed as the disciples when it comes to interpreting these two events as they occurred in the year AD 30, but as we turn and examine this story from a modern point of view, discovering that “moral attitude and religious principle” is perhaps an easier task, and perhaps also much more useful to us as we resume our secular existence outside these walls. In fact, if we hold this story up to the light and gaze through it intently, perhaps we can see aspects of our own lives illuminated startlingly in a way we may never have anticipated.

Immigrants to the United States are drawn by the American dream, or at least the version of it that our own public image, broadcast and circulated around the world, portrays it: the lavish home, manicured lawn, multiple automobiles, and indulgences of every stripe. In fact, we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, driving an economy that itself is driven by our need to acquire “stuff.” If consumer spending on durable goods takes a nosedive, our economic growth goes right down with it. We wonder, perhaps, how many Third World countries have self-storage facilities to park the things they do not have room for.

Gazing still through this gospel story as we hold it up to the light, perhaps we can see even father back.

Was there ever a time when we were content just to be? Perhaps as newly minted high school graduates or college students our concerns were less upon acquisition and more concerned with survival – of ourselves or of the planet, depending upon our individual focus and that of our generation.

And what can we say about those times? Were they difficult? Certainly! But were they not also somehow simpler, less frenetic? More filled with wonder? We had time to think, to ponder, and to seek answers to momentous questions that we couldn’t even articulate through the medium of songs that we felt “said what must be said.”

Now if we look at the surface of this gospel story, we may see the image of our own faces mirrored in it. Is it a face that is too busy to think, too harried to ponder, and has that face abandoned the search for answers to questions that it has all but forgotten? Or perhaps, like the material possessions we seem to accumulate, the questions have multiplied to such an extent that we simply push them into a little box deep within our soul to be addressed later. When is “later”? Today is certainly later than those wonder-filled days many years ago. Is today late enough?

Now, perhaps, we are equipped to dive into the story of the loaves and fishes and extract our own meaning from those 2,000-year-old words.

Jesus is faced with a primitive dilemma: feeding five thousand men and perhaps as many more women and children with only five loaves and two fish. How can this possibly be done? There are, after all, laws of mass at work here, aren’t there?

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”

We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of “concrete reality” that we fail utterly to perceive the “divine reality” that exists right alongside it hidden, as it were, in plain sight:

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”

Linked with the Father by a bond of unimaginable strength, Jesus submitted this primitive dilemma to Him, and the unimaginable solution was manifest to the abject wonder of all. But how much should we really wonder at this today? After all, we have 2,000 years of experience reflected in the writings of scripture upon which to base our expectations. With all these years and with all those writings to inform our expectations, which of our dilemmas could not be solved by establishing a pathway between ourselves and God through Jesus and, just as Jesus did, submitting these dilemmas to God?

We need only exhibit the courage to transform ourselves into the wonder-filled souls of years ago, informed now by our faith that God is the long-sought source of the answers to those questions.

Will we be able to hear his answer when it comes? Will his answer be the answer we are seeking? Will we have the courage to “pass out the baskets,” trusting in our own complete faith that he has provided for our needs as may be best for us?

To borrow from our Baptismal Covenant, with God’s help, we will.

And what a great way to start “cleaning out our stuff.”

-- James Hinckley is a member of St. Timothy's Church in Fairfield, CT, and is enrolled in the Ministry Exploration and Education Program of the Diocese of Connecticut. E-mail: jameshinckley@optonline.net.