Sunday, February 01, 2015

Do the things that evil hates

The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B: 1 Corinthian 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
If you could pick a super-power, what would it be?
I think I’d like to be able to cast out demons.
And my cool super-power would be so awesome that I wouldn't even need to say or do anything. Demons would see me coming and “pop!” Out they’d come!
That’s what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue near Capernaum. Mark says he is a person with authority. Jesus grabs the heart and won’t let go. So suddenly a guy jumps up and shouts “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
Jesus engages the unclean spirit directly, silencing it and calling it out. And with convulsions and shouting, Jesus drives the unclean spirit out of the man.
That’s what I want to do!
Imagine being able to spot something we don’t like in someone and just throw it out! The problem, of course, is that we’d always identify the evil in the other guy, never in ourselves. We’d always be tempted to be the one who decides who is good and who is bad and who needs cleaning up and who doesn't.
I think this temptation is what motivates the people who stand outside military funerals or gay pride events and shout hateful, untrue and disgusting things in God’s name to and about gay and lesbian people. I think this is also the temptation for people who join ISIS and kill people in the name of God. They think they are confronting evil…but they have become evil themselves.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1963, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The lesson we are learning again by watching a film like Selma and recalling the long non-violent struggle against state-sponsored racism is that minds—and hearts—were changed only when people refused to be goaded into violence by violence but instead did exactly the things that evil just cannot tolerate.
So my wish to have a spiritual super-power to cast out demons may sound cool but I think in the end it would not work. Because whenever we decide to fight evil with evil, evil always wins.
When Jesus encounters the unclean spirit he not on some spiritual search-and-destroy mission. And he is not a Gary Cooper-like lone sheriff who’s come to clean up this town. No. Instead he taught. It was his authority as a teacher that evil could not stand to be with. Jesus was doing the thing that evil hates. And that is the key.
If you want to cast out demons, do the thing that evil hates.
Doing the thing that evil hates is taught in Christian community. Just look at Paul’s teaching to the Christians in Corinth. In today’s epistle, Paul addresses a question sent to him about food sacrificed to idols. Corinth was a Greek city and this congregation had within it both Jews and Greeks. There were people raised in the synagogue and people raised in the religious supermarket that was Greek and Roman religion. The popular religions of the area were an array of different gods with a little deity for every possible need, and each cult had its own ritual. The meat that was sacrificed in these temples was not destroyed (as in Jewish temple practice) but turned around and sold in the marketplace.
We read in Acts (15:29) that one of the requirements placed on Gentiles who became Christians (without first becoming Jews) was that they were not to buy, serve or eat meat from animals that had been sacrificed to idols.  Some Christians in Corinth defy this rule and it was creating division. So they went to the apostle Paul to help straighten out this mess.
The Christians who ate idol-meat had a good case. They knew that the little fake deities were nothing compared to the One God made known in Jesus Christ. These Christians knew that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are freed from all these little godlets. They said that if Jews who follow Christ are freed from their law, so are Gentiles freed from theirs. Paul says that they are right. But being right is not the point. Caring for one another is.
He urges people to refrain from eating if it would be a scandal for others. But he also tells those who stay away from idol-meat to go ahead and have an idol-burger if they are served one by a Christian who thinks it’s just a burger. Paul says the most important thing is that everyone is to look out for the other person’s conscience.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his little book about demons and their ways called The Screwtape Letters, that if the Church of England (and we) were to follow this rule then the Church would become a “hotbed of charity” that would be make a demon’s work nearly impossible. 
I had to learn the hard way about casting out demons. It meant learning Jesus’ new teaching and authority as well as Paul’s model of liberty tempered by charity. It all started when I was a brand new priest. From time to time I’d end up at a Roman Catholic Mass…maybe for a friend’s wedding or a funeral or something. And I’d insist on receiving Communion. After all, I know my orders are as valid as theirs. I knew we believe the same thing about baptism and Eucharist. So I’d step up and tell myself I was being a “prophetic witness.”
A wise spiritual director, on hearing me talk about my “courageous witness….” reminded me that the line between being prophetic and being a jerk is pretty fine. In fact, I was putting my brother priests in a terrible spot and causing scandal to those who did not share my knowledge. This is what Paul meant when he says knowledge puffs up but charity builds up. Maybe I’m right, but evil just loves it when my knowledge becomes another Christian’s scandal. The fact that we Episcopalians welcome all the baptized to receive communion, no matter what flavor Christian they may be, does not mean I get to dictate how other communities do things. It’s sad and painful to be denied communion in churches where we share so much. But there are times when I sit because charity demands it. I sit because it is not about me, it is about we.
So, do you want to cast out demons? Here’s how. Do the thing that evil hates.
Evil hates justice and thrives on division. Seek reconciliation.
Evil loves it when we are silent about injustice and marginalize the poor. Speak up and work on behalf of the oppressed and outcast. 
Evil drives us to be selfish and care only for ourselves. Cast out evil with compassion.
Evil wants us to be alone and cut off. Drive evil crazy with your prayer, your trust in God, and your life in Christian community.
Evil flourishes when we hate in God’s name. If you really want to cast out demons, love.
Evil feeds on our resentment and our list of wrongs. Cast out evil. Forgive.
Evil wants us to focus on scarcity. Fight evil. Be generous.
Evil grows when we get caught up in anxiety. Cast out a demon. Let go of needing to control every outcome.
Evil needs violence—in every form, physical and emotional—so fight evil and live peaceably.
Jesus shows us, starting with his encounter in the synagogue and ending in his journey to the cross, that he had power and authority. But he always met evil on God’s terms. By simply living and doing what he was called to do; by teaching, healing, and being a companion to the outcast he did all the things that evil hates…he drove evil crazy! When Jesus was crucified, it looked as if evil won. But in fact evil was defeated. Forever.
We have that power and that authority right now. Through our baptisms, the Eucharist and the power of the Holy Spirit in this community, everyone in this room has the power cast out evil in wonderful, surprisingly practical ways of compassion, holiness and calm.
It turns out that we do have a super-power that casts out demons. We defeat evil whenever we do the things that evil hates.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On tragedy, recovery, and being "an wholesome example."

The death of Thomas Palermo is an unspeakable tragedy that was absolutely avoidable. As person, priest, and cyclist, this whole situation heaps layers upon layers of sadness in this situation that at times feels overwhelming. I wish Thomas Palermo had not died while doing what he loved. I want Heather Cook to be held accountable for her rotten choices. I go back and forth grieving for the Palermo family, feeling angry at and then sorrowful for Cook. On top of it all, I feel anger that somehow my church "let" this happen. My heart is broken for everyone in this awful mess.

Up until now, I have avoided discussing on-line the death of Mr. Thomas Palermo of Baltimore, Maryland after he was hit by the car driven by the Bishop Suffragan of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Heather Cooke. Part of this was to allow the investigation to move forward. Part of this was because, as a member of the editorial team on The Lead at the Episcopal Cafe, I wanted to preserve the integrity of our work there. And part of this is, frankly, because I did not want to add to the social media "trial by media" circus that others have addressed (here, here, and here) so eloquently.

Still there are many feelings to process. And there is much we have to learn and work through out of this tragedy.

The following came across my screen this morning. It is written by the Rev. Anjel Scarborough for the people of Grace Church, Brunswick, Maryland, and it summarizes well the facts as we now know them, and offers a useful perspective going forward. I am grateful to her for her wisdom. Here is an excerpt, but I urge you to read it all.
There has been much speculation and outrage expressed in the media – both in newspapers and on social media. Pastorally, I felt that refraining from speaking until the facts of the investigations became available rather than adding to speculation was an appropriate Christian response. Now that charges have been filed and having attended a clergy meeting with Bishop Sutton and diocesan staff this past Tuesday, I am in a better position to now speak to our Grace family as your rector....
...I want to address many of the questions which have arisen regarding this tragedy: How could someone with a history of driving under the influence be elected bishop? Did anyone know about this prior arrest? Did the search committee or standing committee fail to exercise due diligence in vetting the candidates for bishop? Bishop Sutton and the diocesan staff addressed questions about the search process on Tuesday and I want to share that with you.
  • Heather Cook self-disclosed her DUI to the chair of the search committee and Bishop Sutton. What level of detail she disclosed about her arrest was not discussed with us at the meeting. She received probation before judgment and satisfied all of the requirements of the court for her probation. In so doing, her record was eligible to be expunged. This was her first arrest for driving under the influence.
  • As per the national church’s guidelines, all of the bishop candidates were referred to a psychiatrist for evaluation. Heather was deemed fit to continue in the process. Exact details of what she discussed with the psychiatrist are protected under HIPAA laws.
  • The search committee and standing committee were told “a candidate has a DUI in their past” and both committees were asked if this would disqualify the candidate. No other details of Heather’s arrest were disclosed, such as how long ago it happened (4 years ago), what her blood alcohol content was at the time of arrest (the breathalyzer registered .27 – indicating severe intoxication), and the presence of drug paraphernalia and marijuana in the car (a charge which was dropped). This was in keeping with the national guidelines on handling sensitive information in a search process.
  • The information about Heather’s prior DUI was not disclosed to the electing convention per the national guidelines.
The conclusion I have reached is that our search committee and standing committee followed the guidelines from the national church but that our guidelines are woefully inadequate and naïve in addressing the complex problems of substance abuse and addiction. Questions regarding how one is managing and treating a chronic condition like addiction, or any other chronic condition which could impact a clergy’s ability to serve as a church leader, are questions which need to be addressed as part of the search process. I strongly believe our national guidelines need revision to address this deficiency but recognize that within the limits of what they could do our search and standing committees did their job to the best of their ability.
Some have expressed their feeling that the details of Heather’s DUI should have been made public to those charged with electing her. Heather was encouraged to self-disclose this during the walkabout meetings. She chose not to disclose. In hindsight, her lack of transparency over disclosing this raises serious questions about whether or not she was addressing her alcoholism. Indiscriminately publicizing the details of a DUI beyond the search and standing committees would have been akin to labeling someone with a scarlet letter: it is shaming. Shaming is never redemptive or Christian and serves to discourage those suffering from alcoholism and addiction from seeking needed treatment. Revising the process for more transparency in disclosing to search committees and standing committees would likely have resulted in Heather’s candidacy for bishop ending before her name was put forward for election.
I have been asked as to whether or not Heather was subjected to a criminal background check as all candidates for ordination are in the Episcopal Church.... The responsibility for running a background check for bishop’s candidates is that of the Presiding Bishop’s office at the national church, not the local diocese.
Some have made the blanket statement that no alcoholic should ever be ordained. I disagree strongly with that statement. We have many fine clergy in the Episcopal Church who are alcoholics in recovery. They have many years of sobriety to their credit and work solid programs to maintain their sobriety. They seek ways to be held accountable in sobriety and are transparent in disclosing their alcoholism when it is appropriate and when it can be of service to another alcoholic or to help educate others about the disease. Our church would be much poorer without their ministry. I do believe we need to better address the problems of clergy or candidates for ordination whose alcoholism is active and who are acting out in ways which damage themselves and others. I pray we can begin to address this in the wake of Tom’s tragic death.
In the end, this was an epic failure. It was the failure of a process to stop a candidate for bishop from being put forward when clearly her alcoholism was not in remission. It was a failure of Heather’s to choose not to treat her alcoholism and conceal her past. This resulted in the death of a husband and father – something which Heather will have to live with for the rest of her life and for which she may be incarcerated. This was our failure of Heather too. As the Church, we set her up to fail by confusing forgiveness with accountability. We did not hold her accountable to a program of sobriety and we failed to ask the tough love questions which needed to be asked. In so doing, we offered cheap grace – and that is enabling.
This tragic and painful situation has brought grief, a sense of betrayal, anger, and embarrassment to all of us in the Diocese of Maryland. Yet St. Paul reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The many failures which resulted in Thomas Palermo’s death should not have happened, but they did. I ask your continued prayers for the Palermo family as they grieve. I ask you to pray for those who will be charged with bringing Heather Cook to trial that justice may be done for Tom’s family and the cycling community. I ask your prayers for Bishop Sutton and the staff at the diocesan offices as they move through this painful situation and seek healing. And I ask your prayers for Heather Cook that she may face the harsh reality of her alcoholism and, in accepting the consequences of her actions, be drawn to seek treatment to begin living a sober life. As always, I remain available to discuss these difficult issues with you in the coming days and weeks ahead.
Faithfully,
The Rev. Anjel Scarborough, Rector
As a former hospital and emergency services chaplain, I am always drawn to want to learn from tragedy, and to improve things so that the disaster won't happen again. Or at least so that we respond better and better mitigate the damage. I can understand the anger from people who trusted Bishop Cook and are angry that the process that they participated in could have produced such a result. 
I agree that while the process for vetting the background was followed and everything done "right" (or at least as right they were imagined to be) when Cook was nominated and elected, we will have to to tweak and modify the process to do better going forward. We must do better at making sure that the leaders we select have good judgment and are "an wholesome example."
Having said that, we should not delude ourselves. As Blessed St. Murphy teaches, what can go wrong, will. We could do everything "right" and make no mistakes whatsoever and things can still go wrong. It is part and parcel of living as three dimensional beings who are both mortal and are subject to sin. 
Whether we are personally addicted or not, the AA saying applies in this case: "There but for the grace of God go I." Any one of us could have been Thomas Palermo. And any one of us could have been Heather Cook. This is yet one more reason that the Church celebrates Lent.
Still, Christians are not fatalists. We believe that God has healed and is healing creation through the incarnation and glorification and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that we have the choice and the power to align our actions to God's purposes. So we can and must work for change. We must do better. 
It occurred to me that one question, or one string of questions, might have helped this along. With with the clarity of hindsight, these are the questions that I wish the search and nominating had asked Heather Cook, and I hope that every future search & nominating committee asks some future candidate for the episcopate who has an addictions history:
"Have you ever discussed your addiction and your recovery with your parishioners and colleagues?"
and
"How have you integrated your recovery into your preaching, pastoral care, and teaching?"
and finally,
"Would you be willing to have a candid discussion of your experience with the whole search and nominating committee? How would you answer a question about your DUI in a public forum?"
My belief is that recovery is not just something you do, but something one lives. That really successful recovery happens when the person not only refrains from drinking or using drugs but integrates what it means to be in "constant recovery" into their daily living. Recovery requires the whole person in a living context: emotional, relational, medical, and spiritual
The point of this line of questions is not to see the person squirm in their seat.

Well, okay... it is. 
In fact, if the person didn't squirm, even a little, when confronted with these notions, I'd be the most worried. 

And I believe that an outright "no" or a hesitant, conditional "yes" might tell us all we need to know about the readiness of this particular person for a public office of witness, encouragement, and example within the Church while also living a life of recovery.
The difficult part is that this question will prevent neither bad luck nor bad judgement. There is not a screening tool on earth that will guarantee that there will never be, at some future time, some future person, otherwise qualified and vetted in every possible way, who won't do something stupid, tragic, and deadly.

Part of the life of faith is that we do everything we possibly can with as much integrity as we can muster, and things still go wrong. The faithful question is how do we live faithfully and with integrity within that reality.
The question is not whether the person is in treatment or even if they have stopped drinking. The issue is whether the person is living a life of constant attentiveness, reflection, review, and prayer that recovery demands and whether this person is living in isolation or in community with those who can help her or him live their sobriety. 
Simply talking about alcoholism and addiction is not enough. Simply going to treatment is not enough. Tragically and ironically, Bishop Cook perhaps knows this better than anyone because she is the daughter of a beloved priest who was also an alcoholic who struggled with staying with the program right up until he died from his addiction. 
At the same time, there are many priests in recovery who have integrated their recovery into their living and into their stories and thus into their ministry in ways that have richly served their congregants. 
Put simply, they have discovered--probably the hard way-- how to turn their addiction and recovery into "an wholesome example to the people."

That is our challenge. If it were in our power to erase these horrible events and take back these terrible choices, we would. But we can't. We can only go forward. How we do that, and how we choose to live in the aftermath of sin, tragedy and death is crucial. The challenge before us as people of faith, as humans who carry around the image of God, is to accept and enter into the horror that we cannot change and cooperate with God into turning this into sacred, holy ground.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Can you come out and play?

At the Baptism for Daniel Kaimalino O Hawaii Hauanio - January 11, 2015

There is a great cartoon by Cuyler Black. It shows a kid holding a dripping wet cat over a washtub. Near him is an equally wet bird and a soaked dog. A voice from the other room says “Honey! For the last time, stop doing that to the pets!” The cartoon is titled: “John the Baptist as a kid.”
Sometimes I wonder what John the Baptist was like as a kid. Or for that matter Jesus? What was he like as a kid?
So was John the kid who not only played by the rules on the playground but protested when he thought the rules weren’t being followed? I wonder if he liked structured games or inventive play? Did he go off by himself in the woods for long periods of time? Did he like dressing differently than the other kids at school? When other kids had PB&J for lunch, did he eat bugs? If he had them, would John the Baptist have worn blinky shoes? Who knows?
Every Christmas and Advent, we hear a lot about Jesus’ nativity and a very little bit about John the Baptist’s. That’s because we really don’t know very much about their childhoods. Luke’s Gospel tells us that John is Jesus’ cousin and that his parents were very old. And that’s pretty much it about John. We have only two stories from Jesus’ childhood…the visitors who came when he was an infant—some scholars think he might have been as old as two when the Magi finally showed up—and we hear that he was a precocious kid who could teach experienced rabbis a thing or two.
In any event, it is easy to imagine John’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph for that matter, asking themselves “how will this kid turn out?”
If you think about it, what we are doing in baptizing Daniel is nothing short of audacious and a little bit risky.
Have you ever noticed that the baptismal rite in the Book of Common Prayer is mainly for grownups?  The expectation in the Episcopal Church is that baptism is mostly for adult converts to the Christian faith. The paragraphs about infants and young children appear as exceptions—special cases. But in real life we do the exceptional thing most often and the normative thing only occasionally.
So why not wait? Why not wait until the child is old enough to decide for themselves? Why not make all baptisms adult baptisms? Some Christian traditions believe that and act on it. But they face the same challenge we face: can a Christian household raise Christian children? Can children be a complete part of Christ’s Church? And can children exhibit holiness and experience God in their lives?
We believe the answer to all those questions is an emphatic “yes!” Christian households can and do raise Christian children. Children can and do experience the holy. Children can and do take complete part in the life of Christian community.
Some people hold off any Christian or religious formation until, they think the children can decide for themselves.  God can do anything and we have here many people who were raised in non-religious households who have an amazingly energetic faith—but here’s why I think that if you have the chance to raise your kid in the faith you should go for it with gusto.
How can children decide on something like their spiritual and religious lives if they have nothing to compare it with? Teaching them from your faith tradition gives a grounding and a baseline from which they can compare experiences.
Waiting sends the message that spirituality is not very important or that at best our faith is a secondary issue, akin maybe to a hobby.
But there’s more. Do we wait to teach our children other life skills until they need them? Imagine holding off teaching arithmetic until they are old enough to have a checkbook? Or reading until they are old enough to work? Or manners and self-care until they have to live on their own and can make up their own minds?
No, the reality is that we share our experience, teach them the joy and wonder of learning early so that it is part and parcel of their lives. Children live to learn. They vacuum of knowledge like little dust-busters. This goes for things spiritual and religious as well.
Beside, like it or not, we can’t hold back from teaching our kids ethics and values—including spirituality and what we believe about our place in the universe— because we do it all the time! Every single day! Kids watch and take in everything we do—and they take from that what we believe, how judge good from evil, and what values we bring to our relationships. They see how we make rules…and break them. They see how we treat people, about listen to how we talk about those who differ from us. They know what scares us and empowers us. Your home is the most important Sunday school they will ever know. It’s built in to what it means to be family.
Here’s the rub. Along all the other things we don’t automatically know how to do when we become parents, we do not know how to enter into a spiritual journey with our children.
If I am not so hot on prayer, how can I teach my kid to pray? If my faith is sometimes shaky—sometimes I wonder if I even have faith—how then can I teach my kids about faith? If I don’t know Bible stories, how can I teach them? Wouldn’t that make me some kind of hypocrite? Actually, no. What that makes you is a fellow-traveler.
The point is not perfect mastery of the information; the point is that you and your children are walking the life of faith together. You are entering a spiritual journey together.
By bringing Daniel for baptism, just as you did when you brought Lexi, you are entering into a spiritual journey where you are not only helping them in their formation, they are forming you. And you are bringing them into a community of fellow travelers. Places like Trinity are probably one of the last places left in our culture where people of different generations and where people with and without children all willingly come together in one place, routinely. All of us--parents and singles, grandparents and couples without kids--all of us come together to do the same thing: we discover, share, and learn God’s love. Together we live Good News and tell each other—and the world—what we have seen and heard.
When John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River just before Jesus came along, he was telling people that to really get the most out of their life of faith they had to get involved with their own faithfulness. He baptized because he was telling everyone that the spiritual life is not something that happens to you but something you do. God wants our participation. God wants us in the game.
As the cartoon on the back our bulletin says, Jesus was baptized so that we would know that he is taking on everything that life brings. This will eventually lead him to the wilderness for testing, into people's lives where he will meet people's suffering, to the places where he will teach and even to the cross. His baptism tells us that Jesus lived life by total immersion. Our baptisms is the beginning of life lived in total immersion! 

In bringing our children before God in the community of God’s people, we are also bringing ourselves. By participating with our kids in our mutual spiritual lives-- bringing them to church and worshiping with them, by receiving communion together, by taking time to pray before meals (even in the fast-food place), by allowing questions to be asked and, when we have to, by allowing ourselves the grace to say “I don’t know, I’m still working on that one…” and by working through the hard questions and hard choice together--we will discover that God is involved in every aspect of our living …good and bad, fun and routine, hard and easy.
Just like our children, we are on a spiritual journey of discovery. Our children invite us to take the time to play and pray so that we may discover how to follow Jesus in all that life brings.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Spoke too soon

It happens. In my giddiness, I spoke too soon. 
“that among the things that changed yesterday when Parliament and the Queen cleared away the final hurdles to women being consecrated Bishops in the Church of England is that apparently any lingering doubts about the validity of the orders conferred by women bishops in other parts of the Anglican communion has been resolved.
Well, I spoke too soon. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, read the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, the compromise that was written into the enabling legislation. And this is part of what he has to say:
This has come about because the compromise that the Church of England has adopted over the consecration of bishops who happen to be women is to give an assurance that there will still be new consecrations of bishops who still refuse to accept that women can be consecrated as bishops.
This means that some bishops of the C of E will not accept that other bishops of the C of E are bishops at all.
I say that is a novelty and I say that the situation is absurd.
Now, to be absolutely clear, I think that it is a great thing that great new opportunities are opening up to great people. Of course the episcopate should be open to women and men. Of course it is exciting that women are going to be consecrated in the Church of England. The price though, was a muddle that I think that many will one day regret. It is also a price that women are going to be expected to pay.
All this is just a further extension of something that I think will probably one day be called (inaccurately) the Anglican Heresy. I think this heresy (which strictly speaking is more of a Church of England thing than something which affects most Anglicans in the world) is the notion that one should be able to accept or reject a bishop according to whether or not they fit with one’s theological peccadilloes. This seems to me to have come in initially through the ministry of suffragans who often seem to have been appointed to give “theological breadth” to episcopal oversight in any one diocese rather than to simply share in the episcopal oversight of the diocesan. Thus we have had evangelical parishes wanting to associate with and be on the receiving end of episcopal oversight from an evangelical bishop and anglo-catholics doing likewise.
This got worse with the appointment of the so-called Flying Bishops who wandered around the Church of England ministering only to those disaffected by the ordination of women as priests.
It has now reached the point of absurdity with bishops being appointed who don’t believe other bishops being appointed to be bishops.
Notwithstanding the genuine joy that many feel at the forthcoming consecration of female candidates as bishops, I also know both male and female friends who feel somewhat hesitant at the terms on which this will be done.
Are we really getting to a point where some people will be ordained as bishops in the Church of England who will not be able to participate by the laying on of hands in the consecration of other bishops in the Church of England?
If so, that is a novelty of monumental proportions. It is an absurd situation which others within the Anglican Communion are likely to feel very concerned about indeed.
So, the Church of England teaches that a “bishop is a bishop is a bishop” except when someone says they’re not. 
On the one hand, the Church of England is free to create whatever muddle it wants. We (in the Episcopal Church USA) certainly did! On the other hand, how the Church of England handles this sets the tone for all the churches that make up the Anglican Communion. As I previously noted, we have learned the hard way that this type of conscience-clause doesn't work, doesn't satisfy the needs of the uncomfortable because there is never enough assurance, it is unjust because the compromise will fall solely on women bishops, and is a muddled witness. It is one thing to honor the conscience of a weaker brother in Christ (and in this case, the weaker conscience almost always belongs to a guy) but it is quite another to measure our progress according to the comfort level of the most resistant (or the most impulsive) member of the body.  

Monday, December 01, 2014

New tricks, same old dog

Someone asked me via e-mail how it was going with the Episcopal Cafe. Here is what I said.


I was the Monday newshound on the first day out of the new blog but I started pre-posting late last night. 
Remember that old Far Side cartoon of Rex the dog riding a unicycle on a high-wire in front of a hushed crowd while juggling, balancing a goldfish bowl on his head and using a hula hoop...? Well, just call me Rex. 
I am an old dog and this is a new trick! 
I thought I knew WordPress pretty well, but getting to know this new platform has been interesting... I know that good folks who are managing the back end are working hard and that Jon has my back. All day I saw improvements happening while I watched. 
As the day went on I either got (or muttered) comments like:

This is too slow...
Why does it do this?...
But it looked on fine on mine....!
Did you try clearing the cache?
huh?...
Well. Hmm. That was interesting....
404?!? Really?!?...
@#$%&!!!
Hmm. The old platform did this, how come we can't do that here...?
What's the HTML code for....?
Oh, what the heck! I'm going for it...!

In other words, normal stuff for the first day of a new platform. 
So we are learning and fixing things as we go. Already we've received some donations, and this helps because while we lived for years with an out-of-date publishing platform and had to hold together the old site with spit and airplane glue, now we have a platform that is both up to date and with which can (with the resources the donations bring us) make changes. 
It's been amazing how many people are really wrapped up in what we are doing. All the good feedback tells us that many in the Episcopal Church (and elsewhere) are rooting for us to succeed. I am praising God for that witness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Living God's kingdom on earth as it is lived in heaven

A sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - November 23, 2014.
So today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year. And denominations of every flavor all are celebrating with a fairly new common feast that is called either “Christ the King” or the “Reign of Christ.”
It is a feast of hope. That the Risen and Ascended Christ will bring together everything in heaven and on earth and that he will make all creation new.
And the picture we paint in our hymns and scripture lessons all point to God wrapping it all up and bringing everything together in Christ. It really is quite grand!
Now we might want to focus on Jesus’ kingship in terms what being a “king” means, and how that works with our mindset of individualism and our experience of democracy.
But let’s do something else: let’s ask “what kind of Kingdom does Jesus want?” What would Jesus’ reign actually look like? And how do we take part in it?
So before we turn to today’s Gospel, let’s turn to that prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. And what do we pray? We pray that God’s Kingdom will come and we pray that what God wants will happen on earth just as it happens in heaven.
So what would that look like if what God wanted happened where we live just as it does in heaven? Well, that the trouble. Because it depends on what your idea of heaven is.
If you think heaven is a cloudy, puffy place where everyone has a harp and wings, then I guess then you think heaven to be a really peaceful and quiet (except for all the harp music).  How would that show up on earth? Probably in a kind of religion that says we don’t ever talk about hard things: like poverty…or war… or sickness… or ethics… just speak nice, comfortable things.
If you think heaven is filled up with people who think and act just like us, then I guess that both heaven and life on earth heaven will look a lot like our Facebook pages. Everything familiar would be blessed. We would only watch what we like, hang out only with people just like us, and with folks that pretty much believe and act the way we think they’re supposed to.
If you think heaven is only filled up with people who do right or believe right or think right, then you probably think that life on earth should be managed and governed only by people who do, believe and think the right way.
The problem with these approaches is that we turn our biases, prejudices, and assumptions into different kinds of idols. We try to get heaven (and God) to conform to our image not the other way around. It’s easy to do…but not what Jesus has in mind.
If we really believe what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, then our prayer is that God will act and be present right here and right now every day just as God is present and at work in heaven. And that means that we want us—and our world—to match God’s what God imagines for creation. What will that look like?
Well, let’s ask Jesus—or at least today’s Gospel lesson!—where Jesus asks simply “did you do on earth what God does in heaven?”
What I love about this story is that Jesus’ sets it up exactly as how we would expect it. Christ returns in glory surrounded by angels. And he separates the nations into those who will enter to heaven and those destined for eternal punishment.
And what’s the criteria for entrance?
Was it right belief? Nope!
What it belonging to the right religion? Nyet!
Was it doing the right ritual at the right time? Nada!
In this passage, the criteria for entrance into Heaven was simple kindness.
Now some people think that this passage means that the ones being judged are people who cared for persecuted Christians (or not). As if somehow non-believers would have heard and been swayed by Matthew’s Gospel. 
I don’t buy that argument. This is not kindness reserved for the club, and “the least of these,” is not a narrowing statement but a broadening of our definition of “neighbor."
All of the Law and the Prophets are summed up this way: Love God with all your being; and love your neighbor as yourself. In addition, it is fundamental to Jewish teaching at the time of Jesus that the faithful care for the stranger no matter who they are. And that is the hinge for this passage: When the opportunity to care for the stranger arrived people acted according to their inner compass. The people being welcomed—or not— in the passage did not even notice that they had the opportunity to act and it was how they chose to act in the moment that became the criteria for judgment.
When did we feed you? When did we clothe you? When did we care for you? When did we visit you? Jesus’ answer: when you cared for anyone who was hungry or naked or sick or in prison or alone or in trouble, you cared for me. And that is how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
One of my all-time favorite movies is “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson and his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in Major League Baseball in 1947. Today’s Gospel made me remember a scene in the film when Branch Rickey, the manager of the Dodgers, gets a call from Herb Pennock the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Pennock wants Rickey to leave Robinson in Brooklyn, saying that if Robinson comes to Philadelphia, the Phillies won’t take the field.
Branch Rickey ask Pennock “You think God likes baseball, Herb?”
“What - ?” replied Pennock. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” shouts Rickey into the phone before slamming it down, “someday you're gonna meet God, and when he inquires as to why you didn't take the field against Robinson in Philadelphia, and you answer that it's because he was a Negro, it may not be a sufficient reply!”
Which makes me wonder what the difference is between standing before the throne of the King…or getting a phone call from an angry Branch Rickey? I’ll take the phone call. Because at least you have a chance to change your mind.
Speaking of change, during Advent, Father Andrew’s Illustrated, Simplified and Painless Bible Study will be look at Charles Dickens’ famous little book “A Christmas Carol.” A most subversive commentary on life in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, and a plea to live God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
As a preview, I will tell you what Dickens idea of hell is. They don’t go to a place where “goats” and “sheep” are sorted out but someplace far scarier. Instead of going to fiery pits, the wailing and gnashing happens right here on earth.
When Marley’s ghost leaves a shaken and startled Ebenezer Scrooge, Scrooge looks out and see a world “filled with phantoms” all carrying chains, cash boxes, safes, and bags of gold. And they wail because they see very clearly and feel very deeply the suffering of humanity all around them but have lost the power to do anything about it.
Marley’s ghost describes the symbol of his life’s work and focus: “I wear the chain I forged in life....I made it link by link, and yard by yard….”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 
Every day we pray that simple, radical prayer that Jesus taught and which we learned as children. We pray that what God does in heaven will be done on earth.
Jesus’ lesson today is that God’s reign is now. Jesus’ kingdom is here. Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, God has cleared away all that stands between us and God. In our baptisms we are united with Christ and marked and his own forever. And if we want to see God’s will happen on earth as it happens in heaven, then it starts now, right here, where we work, live and play in how we care for the hungry, the lonely, the sick and those in jail or any kind of trouble.

This is how know “that Jesus reigns where’er the sun doth its successive journey run,” this is what makes God’s kingdom happen on earth just as it does in heaven. It is so simple that we can overlook it. It is the eyes and the heart and the will to make practical kindness happen, and the will to live mercy, and the faith and humility to let generosity lead us to unexpected places. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Godspeed, Farewell, Amen!

I only met Jim Naughton once.
We communicated nearly every day for seven and a half years, and with increasing regularity before that.
But we only met once.
It was March 1, 2014. I was chairing the Special Convention of the Diocese of Bethlehem that would elect Bishop Sean Rowe, the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania as our new Bishop Provisional. As President of the Standing Committee, it was my job to chair the meeting, oversee the election and along the way I would preach and celebrate the Eucharist. The Standing Committee had contracted with Canticle Communications to handle the press work and help us communicate to the people of our diocese why the Standing Committee chose to undertake this unprecedented arrangement.
So there I was, behind a table at the top of the chancel steps and there all the way in the back of the nave was Jim, laptop open, live tweeting the proceedings with Rebecca Wilson, also from Canticle. I had to stop and give a shout out saying something like “in seven years of almost daily interaction, this was the first we were actually in the same room.”
And when we got to talking during a coffee break, we were having such a good time that neither of us thought to get a picture. Not even a selfie!
It was appropriate that we were together in a Cathedral, during a church meeting, while history (or at least news) was being made. And it was appropriate that we never let a good photo-op get in the way of relationship. 
I write all this because today, Jim finishes up his stint as editor and chief cat herder at the Episcopal Cafe. I will miss working with him.
Back before there was a Café, there was the Daily Episcopalian, and before that was The Blog of Daniel. That first blog was meant to be a running commentary about a short-lived TV show centered on an Episcopal priest. There was a lot of buzz about this in the Episcopal Church, and I remember how people (including in my parish) were at the time grousing about all the little details the show got wrong. So I wrote a thing for my parish newsletter that said, essentially, that the point of the show was not for NBC to do our job of communicating the Episcopal Church—or the Gospel—to the world, but instead it was our job to listen and watch the show for what the culture is telling us about how they perceive us—what they think we are like—and what we can be—what the writers and producers wish we can become. These were actors, directors, writers and producers imaging themselves in our shoes and wondering what they’d do in our place.
Anyway, Nick Knisely, now the Bishop of Rhode Island, but then a priest in Bethlehem, passed the essay onto Jim and it went on the Blog of Daniel. Then I wrote a few things for when the Blog of Daniel became the Daily Episcopalian. Then one day I get a phone call about this idea of an online magazine for the Episcopal Church that reflected a progressive, independent voice.
Back then, there was a huge variety in the Anglican blogosphere (I know…I was one teeny-tiny part of that) and while there was lots and lots of opinion, there was only a few places that was gathering and reporting Anglican and Episcopal News with any quality or consistency. Most of them are still at it: Anglicans On-Line (the grand-daddy of them all), Thinking Anglicans, and Titus One Nine. The printed diocesan and national papers were dying fast. An attempt to start a news-gathering blog from the Episcopal Church's communication office (“Episcope”) showed much promise but was not supported and went away.
I remember the conversations that led to the Café. The vision was for something visually attractive, that covered news, reflected theologically, and fed spiritually. The Episcopal Café was born out of that. 
When Jim asked me if I could be a regular contributor to the Daily Episcopalian and one of the newsteam at The Lead, I was both thrilled and humbled.
I’ve had an attraction to journalism for most of my life. But other than dabbling on my high-school and college papers, I never really followed that urge. Working with the Café allowed me to get to know the Church on a whole different level, it has made me think, and it has made me listen. Along the way, Jim patiently taught our happy band of cub-reporters/bloggers…all of whom had other jobs and work to do…how to report and write on the fly. He taught us about fact-checking, and about how to distinguish a real story from mere rumor, and how to know what out there was worth passing along.
He let us try stuff: like the “Saturday Coffee Hour” where we’d gather all the little good news stories that were left in the inbox unused and summarize them on Saturday morning. And when the experiment ran its course, he helped us let it go.
He let us put up our very first April Fool's Day post, which has become something of a Café tradition. I like to think of myself as the unofficial editor of the April Fool's Desk at the Café. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
One thing about the Café that tickles me is our fanatical adherence to baseball. Even if the Episcopal Church is not really the official church of MLB, it was certainly the official sport of the Episcopal Café . Somehow, I think that fits that we at the Café keep tabs on the Church of Baseball while The Other Guys (you know who you are) follow tennis. 
I wonder what, Jim, the real journalist of the bunch, thought of all that ecclestiastical silliness.
We did get to do some real reporting…sometimes we ended up being the only reliable news that ordinary Episcopalians would have on the ground of what was going around them. Jim led the way with his investigation of the Institute for Religion and Democracy called “Following the Money” before the Café was born. 
Just when we thought that this job might not be needed any longer—that maybe with the daily battles that marked church life a decade ago largely over, our job was donethen came the blow-out between the faculty and the Dean/Trustees at General Seminary. For a while, the Café was the only consistent news-source following that story. Big papers like the Washington Post were linking to us! Jim led us through. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers who only met by IM, Tweet or e-mail. 
This surely demonstrated that the need for an independent news and opinion “paper” with a progressive voice has not gone away.
And when Jim decided to put out to the world that he was stepping down and put out a call for interested people--I must admit that this made me nervous--I was amazed to see what a talented and gifted group of people stepped forward and asked to take this on!
I am very excited and confident about the future of the Café, and can’t wait to see what happens when we go live with the new version next week. I am very happy to continue to do what I have come to love doing. 
But I will surely miss Jim at the Café and thank him for all he brought to me, the Episcopal Church and to the work of the Gospel.
God go with you in all you do, Jim!

Read Jim's two farewell blog posts on The Lead of the Episcopal Café here and here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grace in and out of uniform

There is an old joke that sometimes pops up in ordination sermons. I forget the run-up but the punch-line is “It’s not a clergy shirt, it’s a projection screen.”
That line came to me when I read a piece in the Christian Century (and linked in The Episcopal Café) about the need for clergy to not be shy about wearing their clerical collars.
In it, the Rev. Samuel Wells, a vicar in the Church of England at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, talks eloquently about all the different ways that the clerical collar speaks to people. He related the different responses he gets to his clerical garb. One, person, a firefighter, appreciated his wearing the collar because he felt the cleric was taking him seriously. Another said that he should avoid wearing it because he felt “like you’re condemning us as sinners.” And the kicker was when, as a deacon, he turned aside an apparent request for confession from a bus driver on the technical point that deacons don’t hear confessions. Wells regretted that response saying, “My clerical collar had done its work.”
Sigh.
Been there. Done that. Bought the tab collar.
Already the column is getting quite a number of comments on the Café’s comment section and on Facebook, including, I suppose, this.
In many ways, I identify with Fr. Wells’ experience. I get all kinds of responses to my clerical garb. Almost none of it is about me, and almost all of it tells me something about the person who I am meeting. But it took me a while to learn that.
One of the things nearly every person preparing for ministry in a mainline denomination in the USA must do is take a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. As a former clinical chaplain who once held a board certification, I have taken quite a few of these. The most basic thing a person learns in their first (few) unit(s) of CPE is about how to carry their authority as a minister--how to give it and how to receive it. They also should learn about the basics of transference, counter-transference, displacement and projection. When you take that first CPE unit as a person not-yet-ordained, you have the distinct experience of having to function without “the uniform.”
Sometimes the uniform can be helpful. Like when I had my first clinical experience at hospital in England, where a bunch of us Yanks along with some Canadians were sent to do field placement. Dressed in our respectable coats and ties but talking with a funny accent, we found that none of the patients in our ward would talk to us. Turns out that we were confused with a group of equally young, equally earnest Mormon missionaries. When the deacon in our group suggested that we all go to the ward wearing cassocks, the patients began to open up. Why? Because they knew that we were somehow CofE and therefore “safe.”
Sometimes the uniform can get in the way. Like the times when patients refused to open to me in clerical uniform but would later chat away happily when I returned wearing a necktie with my lab coat.
Sometimes the uniform can open doors…which is handy when you need to visit a patient who has called you from the nursing home at 11 pm…and close them. I am aware that many of female colleagues have many strange, and sometimes quite horrid, stories of how people have handled the cognitive dissonance that comes when an unprepared person sees a woman dressed in clericals.
Sometimes the uniform means absolutely nothing. Like the time a young woman walked up to me in Barnes and Noble wondering if I could help her find a particular book. The black suit and clerical collar meant nothing to her, except that this well dressed person might work here as a clerk.
My dad used to say that the most important part of the car is the nut holding the wheel. The same is true of clergy garb. The most important part is the person wearing it and how they receive what is projected on that handy screen they happen to be wearing.
Once some members of my first CPE group pulled a prank on one of our fellow group members…and the supervisor quietly went along pretending not to notice because either the lesson was so rich or the situation so priceless…or both.
Our colleague was really bothered that as a lay person she could not wear a clerical collar (and her Bishop did not allow his seminarians to wear the then-common “seminarians collar”--if you don't know what that is, that's probably a good thing). So she was very glad when our lab coats came equipped with this very nice patch sewn above the breast pocket that said in large letters “CHAPLAIN.” She felt that the patch gave her an entrance that allowed all kinds of good things to happen.
She’d bring this fine intervention to group or tells us about an amazing conversation…and then she’d sell her own authority short by saying something like “well, if it weren’t for this (meaning the patch) I’d never have….”
So one of our number quietly and carefully removed the sewn on chaplains patch from her lab coat and then hung it up in its usual spot.
Of course, soon she came back with the story of another great encounter and, as usual, she gave at least part of the credit to the badge. Only when the ringleader of our little gag leaned over and put the patch in her hand and showed her that she went nearly a whole week with a plain white lab coat did she understand that the power of the encounter—the care, the listening, the prayer, the articulation of meaning and the consciousness of the divine—happened not because of the patch but because of the meeting of persons.
I have a habit I picked up in clinical settings of allowing my parishioners to decide what they will call me: Father, “Padre”, Andrew, Parson…whatever. And I choose to wear the archetype of my office for the same reason. Because how people respond to the trappings…the title, the symbol…not to mention my race, my gender, my age, my wedding ring, whatever…tells me something about the person of God in front of me at that very moment.
When a doctor tells me not to wear a clerical shirt in hospital because a patient might think they’re dying, it’s not about my shirt.
When a parishioner leans on me after a Eucharist because it’s one more week without her late husband and everyone has gone back to their lives except for her and everything, including the liturgy, reminds her of the love of her life now dead…it’s not the chasuble speaking.
I don’t care whether a person wears street clothes or pontifical garb, it's not the collar doing the work.

Once I went to a free comedy show in my city’s amphitheater. The mayor was the master of ceremonies introducing five comics. At the start of the show, he looks out in the audience sees me and says “Oh! Hello, Pastor!” It didn't matter that I was wearing a t-shirt... four of the next five comedians still had to make jokes at my expense. If you can’t take the transference, get out of the kitchen.
These things—the titles, the garb, all of it—are nothing but tools. And they are good ones! Make no mistake: the symbols speak and it is often powerful! And just as often they take one to unexpected places. How well the tool works depends on the skill and artistry of the person using it.
You know what really pulls me up short? It’s when I am walking through the grocery store or the hospital, and I am saying “good morning” and looking people in the eye, and holding open doors and engaging in strangers in conversations and then I remember…oh, yeah! I’m wearing a golf shirt. No one “knows” who “I am.” Gee!
At moments like this, I have to laugh at how I am still learning that same silly lesson!

Graceful encounters happen… even when out of uniform!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A person is a person is a person

Does this sound as silly to you as it does to me?

Up until yesterday, if you were an Anglican priest ordained in a Church within the Anglican Communion and you were seeking to get a license to officiate in the Church of England, the gender of the Bishop who ordained you might impact whether or not you would obtain permission to function.

Until yesterday. 

The Questions yesterday evening at General Synod included this question and answer:
Mrs Christina Rees (St Albans) asked the Secretary General:
Q Is there any longer a bar on a man or woman who, having been ordained to the priesthood by a bishop who is a woman in another province of the Anglican Communion or in another Church with which the Church of England is in communion, being given to permission to officiate under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967, so as to make them then to be as a priest in the Church of England, given a Licence or Permission to Officiate?
Mr William Fittall replied:
A The decision taken by the Synod this afternoon means that it is now lawful for women to be consecrated as bishops in England. The rationale for the bar which the Archbishops have operated up to now under the 1967 Measure has therefore disappeared. The gender of the consecrating bishop will be no longer relevant when applications for permission to officiate are considered.

So among the things that changed yesterday when Parliament and the Queen cleared away the final hurdles to women being consecrated Bishops in the Church of England is that apparently any lingering doubts about the validity of the orders conferred by women bishops in other parts of the Anglican communion has been resolved.

A priest is a priest is a priest. 

When the Episcopal Church regularized the ordination of women in 1976, it did so by simply stating that the canons of this Church would apply equally to women as to men. But there was an allowance for people who did not believe in the ordination of women: that no bishop would be penalized for refusing to ordain any otherwise called and qualified woman nor in placing a qualified woman in pastoral authority in his diocese. No priest or lay person would be penalized for refusing the ministry of women. (Deacons, I suppose, had to live with their discomfort because no one seemed to object when women deacons had the "-ess" dropped off their office and they were integrated in with the other male deacons.) 

It was presumed that this refusal would be for reasons of conscience and not simply because the person was bigoted or sexist. 

The so-called "Conscience Clause" was passed in 1977 after the then-Presiding Bishop, John Allin, offered to resign rather than accept the ordination of women to the priesthood.
"No Bishop, Priest, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the sixty-fifth General Convention's actions with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate."
Jan Nunley described the "ontological ambiguity" faced by those first women priests that lingered nearly twenty years later:
And for the church's women bishops, the "conscience clause" puts them in a House of Bishops that is not unanimously convinced they even belong there. "Obviously I'm not recognized as a bishop by the bishops who say that women cannot be ordained. I'm not valid for them, I'm 'ontologically impossible' -- that's the language that's used," said the Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon of Washington. "Yet I have polite conversations with some of the bishops who don't recognize me. One evening Mary Adelia [McLeod, bishop of Vermont] and I had a very interesting conversation with a number of the ESA bishops. I think most of the people in that room were dumbfounded. You live with the ambiguity."
Of course, some of these folks who thought that a woman being a priest or bishop was simply impossible have left the Episcopal Church and now another denomination has to live with this ambiguity as the price of their independence.

The conscience clause, which became the norm for the Anglican Communion, did not work both ways. If a male bishop refused to ordain or place a woman priest or refuse to accept the validity of an ordination performed by a woman, that was conscience. If that person was called out on their stubborness, then that was just, well, cheeky.

And apparently in the Church of England those who accepted the equality of orders as fervently were for a long time not as fervently protected those who fought to exclude women...for reasons of conscience. So, until yesterday, those ordained by men might expect that their application to officiate in the CofE would be accepted, there was still some lingering doubt about those ordained by a woman. I'd be interested in hearing stories about both male and female clergy whose orders were questioned because of the gender of their ordaining bishop. 

This matters not because our Presiding Bishop can now wear her hat the next time she goes to England.

And it doesn't even matter that the paperwork might be a little easier for some American priest seeking to spend his or her sabbatical in England via one of those nifty "housing for work" deals that I hear about (but have never tried).

And it doesn't even matter because in hind-sight the conscience clause caused us more trouble by delaying justice and justifying sexism than the ordination of women ever caused by itself. (Imagine, if you will, if we decided that the exclusion of a whole race from orders was merely a matter of conscience. Oh, wait...! We did that! More than fifteen years after a letter from a Birmingham Jail, the House of Bishops finally turned away from that form of incremental racism in shame while at the very same time the House of Bishops was creating this "appeal to conscience!") We are still learning that it takes a while for us to learn.

It matters because the conscience clause got in the way of the practical application of the ordinary-but-revolutionary implication of the Gospel that was right there all along only we were too blind, silly, or prejudiced to apply it: that a priest is a priest is a priest.

And that's important because in God's grand scheme of salvation it turns out that a person is a person is a person. 

So when the first women bishops are consecrated in the Church of England, let's celebrate! But as the first men starts having vapors over the ontological impossibility of it all and claim to be the victims of discrimination, pray for them, and remind yourselves that except for God's grace it was ontologically impossible for any of us to even walk with God, let alone dare to be God's ambassadors of reconciliation. 

Today the Church of England officially teaches that a bishop is a bishop is a bishop. And a priest is a priest is a priest. And a person is a person is a person. Thanks be to God.