Tuesday, February 28, 2006
[As a service to those reflecting on the slate of nominees for Presiding Bishop and what it might mean about where we are and where we might be going as a church, The Witness offers a chance for readers to know a little more about the nominees … “In Their Own Words.”]
On the moral dimensions of the federal budget:
Both houses of Congress have adopted versions of the fiscal year 2006 budget that seek to relieve this financial pressure by cutting programs that serve to relieve the needs of the poorest among us. This response has come despite the fact that the U.S. Census reports an increase of 1 million Americans living in poverty from 2003 to 2004.
We have heard a great deal in the last few years about the place of faith in politics. I believe we haven’t heard enough. All of the world’s great religious traditions consider that compassion toward the poor is the bedrock of the outer expression of faith. …
Both budget versions ask the poorest and weakest among us to bear the burden of a more balanced budget. What kind of religion asks children, the elderly, the poor and those who live most on the margins of society to bear the burdens of the whole?
The teachings of Jesus, Mohammed and the Torah all challenge us to compassionate action on behalf of those who have no helper. Is it justice to ask needy children to pay for the war in Iraq? Is it merciful to take food stamps away from hundreds of thousands of people in order to rebuild the Gulf Coast? Are we doing the will of God in assuaging our greedy thirst for oil on the backs of native people who have no helper in Congress?
Micah’s words are a challenge to all people of faith: “What does God ask of you but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”
On the Windsor Report and the challenge of remaining in communion:
I was reminded today about how important it is to be constant.
That is another way of saying faithful, and it has much to do with one’s integrity. Jesus points to it when he says, let your “”Yes”” be “”Yes,”” and your “”No,”” “”No.”” Taking the road called “following Jesus” means learning to be increasingly constant. It does not mean that we change our minds readily, although constancy does imply having the stability or groundedness to take oneself lightly, to make decisions in all humility, and when faced with conflicting data, be willing to think about changing our minds. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church met in Salt Lake recently to receive the Windsor Report. You may recall that this Report was the work of the Lambeth Commission, gathered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to reflect on what holds the members of the Anglican Communion together. What does communion really mean to us as Anglicans? What bonds unite us? Who or what defines those bonds?
Our conversations as a House were at times difficult, but they were far more honest and self-disclosing than was the norm even a couple of years ago. Even as a community of bishops, we are learning what it means to live in communion-that it takes radical honesty, that it’s often exceedingly challenging, and that it takes great doses of constancy. We are slowly learning that God gives gifts to us in the most unlikely guises-people we find it hard to like, people with whom we disagree profoundly, and people we would rather ignore or marginalize. We are also learning that we can only be a real community if we’re willing to be faithful to our best and deepest understanding of the truth. The rub obviously comes when we begin to recognize that there are others around us who have radically different understandings of the call of God, yet hold those understandings with just as deeply constant and faithful integrity as we think we do ourselves.
Paul’s image of the church as the body of Christ continues to be the most helpful way for me to look at this kind of tension. We need all parts of this body in order to be a living and growing organism, and we can’t simply change all the arms into feet and still be healthy. We have to learn to live with our God-given difference, and learn to value and celebrate what the other parts of the body have to offer to the whole! The body soon dies if various parts begin to cut themselves off. We are not a salamander that can simply autotomize an endangered or ill appendage.
The only possible response — and it is not a solution or a resolution — is to learn to live with the tension that our difference engenders. That creative tension is a work of the Spirit, and it is the road that leads to more abundant life in communion. Lent is a wonderful time to ponder the deep roots of our faith, and constancy is one of the central ones. To be constant means to stand firm, but even more deeply the source of the word means “to stand with,” especially with those who most challenge us.
From “So Where is the Episcopal Church Headed Now?” a lecture given at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific:
The Anglican tradition in this country was born in a revolution against monarchy and its aftermath. We have been from our foundation a profoundly democratic church, insisting that priests and the laity hold council and govern in partnership with late-coming bishops. We have a colonial heritage that developed and maintained a church run by lay men and funded by lay women, often with a profound distrust of bishops with too much authority.
We are also heirs to a tradition that in the late 19th century affirmed that there were (and are) four things that hold us together as Christians. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral insisted that Jesus’ prayer “that we all may be one” is our earnest desire for all the churches of Christ. We acknowledge that all who have been baptized in the name of the Trinity are members of that larger church. That statement further acknowledged that human custom in terms of worship and discipline is mutable, and that we do not seek either absorption or schism in approaching the differences among us, and that unity among Christians is only possible by returning to the principles of the early church. Those essential principles of unity consist of: the scriptures of Old and New Testaments; the historic creeds; Baptism and Eucharist; and the historic episcopate, locally adapted. …
The way forward is going to require both much greater clarity about our own identity and much greater vulnerability to the truth of others. We are learning more about our own positions in dialogue and conflict with others, but it is a process that is meant to change us all. In order to go forward we are going to need to be willing to die, in the sense that the Body of Christ must be continuously willing to die if it is going to maintain its identity as a resurrected body. Each of us, and each portion of the church in tension, must repent of its self-centeredness and excessive hubris, seek reconciliation with its most hated opponents, and find new ways of living together. It will not be painless or easy, but it is the road to abundant life.
We are a body, an organic, living thing. Christians are the body of baptized folk called into service to the dream of God, where the poor hear good news, the captives are set free, the sick are healed, all are fed, housed, clothed, and people live together in peace. All are free to bless God and each other in creative and productive relationship. Communion may exist most effectively and incarnationally in partnerships that effect that dream, rather than in structures designed to control and contain untidy ecclesiastical politics.
In other words, I don’t think Jesus is as interested in instruments of unity as he is in whether or not we’re serving his brothers and sisters or feeding the hungry. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are going to survive if we manage to work together at healing the world.
On multicultural and Total Ministry:
We’ve just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, when we recall that the Spirit speaks in a language audible to many, many different sorts and conditions of folks. I’ve been in Australia recently to talk about our experience of Total Ministry in Nevada, and to learn from the experience of what Australian dioceses call Ministering Communities in Mission. I can tell you that we are very much the same under the skin, even though our contexts vary widely. We are all focused on the need for a greater sense of mission in our local faith communities, and on the need for healthy leadership among the members of our congregations. The ways in which mutual ministry communities develop vary widely, but they encourage their members to claim their baptismal ministries and put their gifts to work in transforming the world around them. Healthy examples exist in both ends of New Zealand, eastern, central, and western Australia, and Tasmania, and all are composed of people whose baptismal vocation is a servant kind of ministry. I’ve heard stories of sheep stations (ranches) where people gather from miles around for worship once every three months, aboriginal communities where leadership is slowly emerging, and Sudanese communities who are claiming a new life in Australia, as well as more urbanized communities where collaborative leadership is beginning to change the culture of the church. In many instances the Australian and New Zealand experience is more highly organized and clearly structured than it has been in Nevada in recent years. Nevada can offer the experience of several generations of team leadership in local congregations, and the assurance that this way of being church continues in faithfulness. Our Commission on Ministry continues to wrestle with how best to provide support for leadership development in living out a baptismal understanding of ministry. I will share my experiences with them, and I’d urge you to ask the members of COM about what they’re up to!
On electoral politics and the Baptismal Covenant:
I have been grateful to our media for their coverage of the individuals and issues in this election. When you go to cast your ballot, I hope you will consider what issues are important to the individuals for whom you vote. I have been surprised at the variation in reasons for which some candidates are standing for election. The Reno paper had a series in early September, in which they asked candidates why they were running. Included among them were such self-centered statements as, “I want people to listen to me,” “I don’t believe we should have any more of those people in Nevada,” and others where the candidate did seem to believe that his or her job would be to better the lot of all members of society.
As you go to the polls, consider how an issue or candidate will help you to live out your baptismal vows and the gospel expectation that we will be God’s partners in building the Reign of God here at home and across the world.
On sources of authority and the theory of evolution:
Episcopalians acknowledge three sources of authority on questions of faith: scripture, tradition and reason. Our scriptures are the writings of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), the Christian writings (gospels and epistles) and several other books called the Apocrypha.
Tradition means the fruits of millennia living in community — our ways of worship and our ways of interpreting scripture, which include the analogical and metaphorical.
Reason implies, as one old hymn puts it, that “new occasions teach new duties.” We believe that revelation continues, that God continues to be active in creation, and that all of the many ways of knowing — including geology, evolutionary biology, philosophy, and arts such as opera, punk rock or painting — can be vehicles through which God and human beings partner in continuing creation.
Given this worldview, we are compelled to use the resources God has given us. Not to use our brains in understanding the world around us seems a cardinal sin.
As a scientist and an Episcopalian, I cherish the prayer that follows a baptism, that the newly baptized may receive “the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” I spent the early years of my adulthood as an oceanographer, studying squid and octopuses, including their evolutionary relationships. I have always found that God’s creation is “strange and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). …
The vast preponderance of scientific evidence, including geology, paleontology, archaeology, genetics and natural history, indicates that Darwin was in large part correct in his original hypothesis.
I simply find it a rejection of the goodness of God’s gifts to say that all of this evidence is to be refused because it does not seem to accord with a literal reading of one of the stories in Genesis. Making any kind of faith decision is based on accumulating the best evidence one can find — what one’s senses and reason indicate, what the rest of the community has believed over time, and what the community judges most accurate today.
That is not to say that the tradition or community understanding is always correct, as we might note in the aftermath of Galileo’s discoveries. When the various sources of authority seem to be in tension, we must use all our rational and spiritual faculties to discern the direction in which a preponderance of the evidence points. To do otherwise is to repudiate the very gifts God has given us.