Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Over

We finished our business ahead of schedule this afternoon. The House of Deputies is still at work, but should finish by 6 PM tonight, making this the first General Convention in a long time at which all legislation was acted upon before the closing bell.

In the next few days, I will be writing a reflection letter to the Diocese that will go out on the web and on the E-pistle mailing list. I understand that our deputation will also be preparing a letter which will be posted in the next few weeks.

All in all, it was a good convention. We took some necessary steps forward towards full inclusivity, but did so in a way that was respectful to the our conservative members and to the wider Anglican Communion. Those issues aside, we also made some important changes in structure which will effect us on a more local level, such as changing our health insurance plans, adopting new disciplinary canons, affirming youth, campus ministry, evangelism, and Native American programs.

Going back to some of my earlier cautions of the last few blogs, I want to include here a few paragraphs from the letter that the Presiding Bishop sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury today. As always, the press has been creating misleading headlines about what we did here, and she wanted to set the record straight. According to Episcopal News Services:

"The letter to Archbishop Williams outlined Resolution D025, which was adopted at this General Convention, explaining that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and President Anderson understood Resolution D025 to be more descriptive than prescriptive in nature. It stated that some are concerned that the adoption of Resolution D025 has effectively repealed Resolution B033 but reiterated that is not the case. The letter continued, “This General Convention has not repealed Resolution B033. It remains to be seen how Resolution B033 will be understood and interpreted in light of Resolution D025.”

"The letter also states that the Episcopal Church “is deeply and genuinely committed to our relationships in the Anglican Communion.” It also says, “In adopting this Resolution, it is not our desire to give offense. We remain keenly aware of the concerns and sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in other Churches across the Communion. We believe also that the honesty reflected in this resolution is essential if indeed we are to live into the deep communion that we all profess and earnestly desire.”

"The letter expresses the profound appreciation of the Presiding Officers that Archbishop Williams, 16 Anglican Primates, and lay and clergy leaders of the Anglican Communion attended the General Convention and stressed the importance of finding ways to communicate directly about different cultural and ecclesial contexts."

The future looks hopeful, for our Church nationally, and more importantly, for the mission opportunities that await us, in spite of (or maybe because of) the financial constraints we are under.

I was proud to represent you as your bishop and to be part of this historical meeting.

The last picture I am posting is just for fun. The fact that we were able to have a good time together is a sign of health, as our chaplain reminded us. Since the creation of the Episcopal Church in 1789, there have been ten bishops named Smith.
Five of them now serve. One will be retiring soon, so this is the last time there will be so many for the foreseeable future. Here we all are. From left to right--
Andrew Smith, Connecticut; Kirk Smith, Arizona, Michael Smith, South Dakota; Dabney
Smith, Southeast Florida; Wayne Smith, Missouri.

Laura and I are headed for the Northwest for a few weeks of vacation. I will be back in the office around the middle of August. During that time both Epistles and this blog will be "on hiatus". I hope that you all have a restful and cool summer!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Catching our breath

Today was rather quiet compared to the last two. After the important decisions we have made, it was as if everyone was being rather thoughtful and taking the measure of what we had done. Sure, there was plenty of legislation to plow our way through. The House of Bishops approved the budget in about 45 seconds with no debate--maybe we just didn't want to deal with the pain we know it will cause. An estimated 35 staff people in NYC will lose their jobs, some of them long time colleagues and friends. As the Presiding Bishop reminded us, we believe in resurrection after death, and that will surely happen to the church as well. There is a lot that is dying, old ways of doing business, communicating, organizing. The church that is emerging will look a lot different than it does now, both in structure and in mission. And maybe, just maybe, we can now get beyond the controversies that have preoccupied us for so long to do the real work of the Kingdom. There was a bright spot tonight. Several hundred delegates, mostly young, gathered for a U2-Eucharist, using the music of the the rock star Bono. I stayed for a while, although the volume levels are a bit too high for these old ears. But as you can see from the video, everyone was having a great time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another historic day

There was good news and bad news today. Let's begin with the bad: At a joint session with the House of Deputies we received the final draft of the budget. We were warned it would be painful, and it was. Many staff people will be cut, all programs will be reduced, and lots of great projects will be left unfunded. I was particularly disappointed that money for our partners in Mexico was reduced by 29%. The newspaper we partner with, Episcopal Life, will also be greatly affected. On the other hand, the larger church has finally instituted some cost saving measures I have advocated for years, such as reducing travel for face to face meetings and increasing the use of electronic communication. Some programs that had to do mission, such as Hispanic ministry, youth, and church planting were actually increased. Still there was considerable anguish. Before our session began, we all stood to sing, and I took a video of the members of our deputation. The House of Bishop's spent a long time later today fussing over the wording of a substitute resolution having to do with blessings of same gender unions. We started this process yesterday, and for short time we decided to try an alternative way of dealing with this highly charged issue, rather than word-smithing amendmend after amendment. But when the ad hoc group came back today, all they had done was to rewrite the original resolution. At one point, I found myself voting with the conservative members, not over content but over process. I still believe the church has to find a better way of dealing with controversial topics than a win-lose legislative answer. Let's take a page from non-western cultures who solve problems in a family way in which all are included. Since that effort came to nothing, I was glad to vote "yes" on the roll-call that approved the resolution. Our willingness to at least explore ways of blessing such unions will no doubt result in additional disapproval from the Anglican Communion and from the more conservative dioceses here. The situation has certainly changed with the fact that five states now recognize gay/lesbian marriage with an estimated 15 more to come in the next few years. Assuming that the House of Deputies concurs with us tomorrow, the operative words of the resolution are: "Resolved, that bishops, particularly those in dioceses with civil jurisdictions where same gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of the church; and be it further resolved, that this Convention continue to honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality." This passed 104 to 30. I will be discussing the implications of this with the clergy when I return, but it is clearly a step forward towards a more inclusive church.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The House of Bishops in Action

Here's a video of the House of Bishops in action (maybe that is too strong a verb!). The 150 of us sit together at tables, with the Presiding Bishop on a platform with the officers. The audience (when we are open to the public) sits around us. When we wish to speak, we raise a card with a number of our table to be recognized by the chair. I have at my table Thom (Idaho), MacPhearson (W.Louisiana), Lee (Virginia), Barbara Harris (Mass, retired), Alexander (Atlanta). The going can be either tedious, when a hour or more is spent fussing over a sentence or two, or fast paced, as when it is hard to keep up reading the legislation that is being considered. Three more days to go!

Don't believe everything you read!

Before I left Arizona, I cautioned people to be very careful about what they read or see in the media, which often does not fully understand how the church works, or is spinning events to fit an agenda. A case in point was the action yesterday. As I cautioned after the vote on DO25, this does NOT overturn the earlier BO33 of the 2006 Convention. It is far more subtle than that. What it does do is to reaffirm that the ordination process (including that of bishop) is open to all people. In essence, BO33 remains in effect until the time it is tested by the election of another openly gay or lesbian bishop. It is an importanted and needed step, but it does not "repeal" any earlier legislation. About the only media source that got this correct was the New York Times, and I commend their coverage. Other papers, including the LA Times and even our own supposedly in-house Episcopal Life overstated the case with headlines such as "Church Clears Way for Gay Bishops." I suspect that this incorrect reporting may cause many of the bishops to go slow when it comes to action on the question of same gender blessings. An important resolution on that topic which was passed by the House of Deputies was argued over and then postponed by our House this afternoon. I suspect that it may be replaced with a more pastoral and less legislative response. Maybe something like a gentleman's or gentlewoman's agreement that different bishops make the pastoral response to blessings they feel is necessary without a general policy being made--we will see.

Monday, July 13, 2009

No pictures, but breaking news!

This afternoon we had our first controversial action. Deputies passed resolution DO 25 which essentially reaffirmed that the ordination process (including that of bishop) was open to all people. This was a movement away from the "restraint" of last convention's famous B033. Although BO33 was not exactly overturned (it will take an election of an openly gay person to make that happen, which frankly is not likely to happen anytime soon), this resolution was a defacto repudiation of that stance. When it came time for House of Bishop's to act, we concurred with the House
of Deputies 99 to 45.

I voted yes on this, in spite of what some inaccurate earlier reports said. It is time for us to be clear about who we are as a church in spite of the fact that it may make things harder for us in the Anglican Communion. The good news is the language of this resolution was thoughtful, considerate, and moderate in tone. I believe that even most of the my more conservative colleagues can live with it, even thought they may not have voted for it.

Tomorrow we will tackle blessings of same sex unions. I suspect that will be be a tighter and more difficult race. Please keep us in your prayers!

Weekend Update July 13

I have discovered that I have not had nearly enough time to update this blog. There is almost no break in the day, and even meal times are taken up with meetings, so now I will have to play catch up a bit. A friend remarked that Convention goes through three stages--introduction, confusion, and resolution. During the weekend it was almost business as usual in the sense that committee meetings and legislative session continued, but we did not seem to be accomplishing a whole lot, and the controversial topics have yet to be addressed. Here are some of the important legislation that was passed, however. 1. We reinstated the MDG spending in the budget. That comes to about a million dollars a year. Instead of simply reinstating the 0.7%, Convention increased this asking to a full 1%. Dioceses and parishes will be asked to do the same. 2. Pension benefits are now extended to all lay church employees who work over 1000 hours a year. 3. We adopted a new denominational health plan which should save a lot of money to most Dioceses. 4. We also adopted a new strategy for Hispanic mission, yet it is unclear if we can afford the price-tag of 3.5 million. If we can, Arizona will benefit directly from this. The one change the routine came yesterday morning at the United Thank Offering Ingathering service which is the main festival Eucharist of the Convention. All the bishops put on their "rochetes and chimeres" (red and white robes) and process into the hall. I've included a short video of the Presiding Bishop in procession along with the two previous PBs, Bishops Griswold and Browning. About 8000 were in attendance. I especially enjoyed this service since my old parish in Los Angeles sent a busload of parishioners to attend. Seeing everyone was a bit like old home week. Today Laura is with other bishop spouses doing a work project at a low income trailer park. This afternoon we expect some more heated discussions in HOB, and I will try to report on that shortly.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday July 10, Running Behind!

Yesterday was so hectic, that I have not had a chance to upload a new video. I've attached one of a typical morning (7.30AM) in our Committee Room. This work is beginning to wind down now that most of our legislation has been discussed and sent out to the floor. This afternoon we had a 4 hour House of Bishops meeting. The news item was that we approved an agreement with the Moravian Church (not many of those in Arizona, but lots on the East Coast). This arrangement is similar to the one we have with the Lutherans and represents another step towards Christian unity. Tonight was the Arizona delegation dinner. About 18 of us (deputies, ECW delegates, Altar Guild) had a good time at P.F.Chang's. We were joined by Chuck Robertson, who, although he works for the Presiding Bishop, still "belongs" to Arizona. Tomorrow is not so busy, and I will try to get some video of my public humiliation for having lost a bet on the Superbowl to the Diocese of Pittsburg!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

House of Bishops gathers, Wed. July 8

This was really the first full day of Convention. I started early with my committee meeting where we made some good process on the seven or so resolutions on our agenda. At 9.15 AM the opening Eucharist Convention took place with Presiding Bishop Schori preaching and celebrating. It was an impressive sight to see about 8000 Episcopalians from all over the globe united in worship. Logistically it was impressive that everyone was able to receive the bread and wine in about 10 minutes. In the afternoon there were more meetings and the first long session of the House of Bishops. We met for 1/2 hour privately before the visitors gallery is opened, and people come streaming in. We welcomed a large number of visiting bishops and Primates, including the Archbishop of Canterbury who gave an address about world poverty in the evening. I did not attend this, thinking it would be too crowded, but Laura did and found it very compelling. Some drinks with friends and then dinner concluded the evening. Lots of work, and also lots of socializing!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 7--Committees Underway

The day began at 8 AM with the first meeting of my Communications Committee. We seem off to a good start with very knowledgeable collection of talent from around the Country. We had a chance to get acquainted and to set our agenda for public hearings. At these hearings, anyone, deputy or not, can sign up to address the committee. This is democracy at its best. We also met at the end of the day to begin discussions on three of the seven resolutions we now have before us. At noon today the exhibit hall opened. The Korean drummer group from St Jame's School in Los Angeles (where I used to be rector) provided music. In the video you can see them warming up (my old colleague, Fr. Aidan Koh,the Korean priest at St James, looks on approvingly). One could easily spend an entire day in the exhibit hall. Laura plans to help at several of the booths including Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, where she serves on the Board. Our friend who made my special Arizona vestment set has begun his own company, (, and that set is on display there. Laura is keeping him company. Tomorrow promises to be another busy day, with a talk by Archbishop Rowan Williams in the evening. The House of Deputies and House of Bishops will also have their first full meetings.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday, July 6th--Ready to Go!

This was the last relaxing day we will have for a while--tomorrow is a 7AM to 9 PM schedule! Laura spent much of the day helping to ferry visiting archbishops from the airport. I spent the afternoon in the last orientation and briefing session we have before our committees go into session at 8 AM tomorrow. One person leaned over to me during the meeting and whispered half-seriously, "The purpose of this gathering is to raise our anxiety level." I am one of the co-chairs, and since I have never done this before, I am a bit nervous. Walking home from dinner tonight, I stopped at the local donut place and bought 2 dozen donuts to share with the committee tomorrow morning. Maybe I can buy their affection! The video for tonight is a peak at our hotel room. When I did this at Lambeth, it proved to be the most popular of my postings. I doubt that the inside of a American hotel room is quite as exotic, but here goes...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

here's the VIDEO!

Arrival in Anaheim

Laura and I had a quick trip to Anaheim today. The traffic was not too bad, although it was hotter in California than in Arizona, 115 degrees near Palm Springs! There are not too many folks here yet. That will change tomorrow. I have several meetings in the afternoon, and Laura has volunteered to help drive visiting dignitaries from the airport. We ran into Chuck Robertson in the lobby and ending up having dinner together. He has a complimentary meeting room, which he has invited our deputation to also use. That room supplied the backdrop for tonight's first video blog.

Trying to post the video, but we are having some technical problems. Three computers with us but none of them seem to work right--either I will post the video later tonight, or will get a new camera tomorrow!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

General Convention, Here We Come!

Laura and I are busy packing for our trip to Anaheim and General Convention. Since we will then be taking some vacation time afterwards, the car is getting pretty full!

I've imported my column in E-pistles for this week describing who will be blogging from convention. You can find that information right below this entry.

My plan is to post a short (1 minute) video every evening, beginning tomorrow, July 5.As I did at Lambeth, these postings will be an attempt to capture some of the spirit of the meetings and the human interest side of the events. I will also try to share my impressions of the work being done, although you can probably get more insightful analysis from other sources.

The plan is to attend the early cathedral service tomorrow morning and then hit the road, hoping to get to Anaheim by about dinner time.

The Episcopal Church in Arizona | The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona

The Episcopal Church in Arizona | The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Renewal of Vows

This morning I gathered with the clergy of the Diocese in the cathedral for the annual renewal of vows service.

I gave a sermon about the leadership in difficult times, and I used the example of the Antartic explorer Ernest Shackleton as a model. For the first time in the cathedral's history, a sermon included video!

You can see the whole sermon, video and all, at the Diocesian web-site:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jesus' Facebook Page

This is very clever. You may need to zoom in.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wrapping up

The Sun finally came out yesterday, and many of the bishops headed for the lake, canoes, and splashing each other (see attached). We just finished our final Eucharist together and farewell dinner. Many of the attendees have already left, so it was a smaller group. Many agreed that this was one of the better meetings that we have had. There was a minimum of posturing and debating, and a much better collegial spirit. We listened to some great speakers, discussed the hard topics of the day (money), elected a new bishop for Ecuador, heard about new strategies for Latino ministry, and were briefed on some important changes in the medical insurance coverage (better and cheaper). I look forward to sharing all this with you when I return. In the meantime, you can access our pastoral letter to all the churches on the either or own or the Episcopal News Service website. I also understand that there will soon be a video of some of us singing gospel songs in the chapel on YouTube. Perhaps if you search under "singing bishops?" Tomorrow (Thursday), I will be pack on the plane, headed west. I will be glad to be back in warmer climes and familiar faces.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Full Day

Monday was a full day of work. In the morning we had a "stand-about" of the three candidates for bishop of Equador Literal. This Diocese in Province 9 has excercised its canonical option of having the House of Bishops elect their next bishop after the local process became too conflicted. We heard from three excellent candidates. The election is Tuesday night.

The afternoon was given over to our regular business meeting. Attached is a picture of the Presiding Bishop and her assistants moderating the meeting. We got a lot done, but it was a bit tedious at times. There were no real controversial topics, but still plenty of parlimentary manuevering.

Today was not all work however. This evening was the time set aside for our class dinner, gathering with my collegues who became bishops the same year I did. We enjoyed some local cruisine here in Hendersonville. I had cheese grits with shrimp, something I knew I could not find in Arizona!

Catching Up

Yesterday (Monday) was so busy with meetings that I did not have time to run up to the main building and access the wireless, so I will try to catch up the events of the last 36 hours in two separate entries. I've attached first a video of the "Fireside Chat" on Sunday night. The Presiding Bishop covered a number of subjects, including her impressions of the most recent Primates' meeting, which were generally favorable. The bishops assembled however seemed more interested in talking about money, or rather the lack of it, the recession being the unmentioned topic that is clearly on every one's mind. One bishop addressed the "elephant under the table" the fact that some of our wealthiest dioceses pay very little to the larger church. ( I am happy to say that Arizona for many years has paid its full assessment). What followed was a long recitation of financial woes, what my old rector used to call, "crying poor-mouth." Frankly, I've heard it all before. When I was a parish priest, I would hear stories of how obviously wealthy parishioners just couldn't afford to pay raise their pledge. As a bishop I hear from parishes who just can't afford to support the Diocese as much this year (even when they have done little or nothing to improve their stewardship efforts). Now as a member of the house of bishops I hear about how various dioceses just can't possibly help with the mission of the larger church. The real issue for me on every level is stewardship. The average giving of Episcopalians is 1.7% of income, far from the Biblical tithe of 10%. The Pew Foundation stated recently that Episcopalians are the wealthiest of all religious groups. Even in a time of economic duress, we can certainly afford to fund our mission. The money is there, what is lacking is the motivation. Maybe if we spent a little more time proclaiming the Gospel instead of crying "poor-mouth," we would be better off on every level-- parish, diocese, national church.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Good News and the Bad News

I am taking a moment to catch you up on what happened yesterday. I am sitting in the library, trying not to type too loudly, because the Presiding Bishop is sitting next to me, hunched over her own laptop, deep in thought. Today (Sunday) is a very light day. It is an intentional "sabbath time," a day to relax, rest, (do laundry), and digest what we have heard the last few days. We had church this morning, and of course there are the meals. The video I've included shows us in the dining hall at lunch. The dining hall is where much of the real work of the HOB gets done. While enjoying great southern cooking, it is also the place to catch up with old friends, discuss the business of the church, and to do those vital "bishop to bishop checks" of clergy looking to move. I have about ten names I need to get a reference for while I am here.

I entitled this entry "good news, bad news", because yesterday we got a dose of both. Our main speaker was an economist from the Harvard Business School who briefed us on the depth and impact of the economic recession. The bad news? It is the worst economic crisis since the depression, and will effect us in some way for the next ten years (or at least the "seven lean years, the Bible speaks of). The cause? An unprincipled get rich quick "extended drunk" that effected us on every level. We are now paying the price for our greed. The effect on churches? Major, for even people who have money and jobs are now living in the grip of fear and will be less likely to give. The good news is that he is confident in the new administration, the attitude of the business students he sees graduating (who are committed to working rather than getting rich quick, the human resources of this country, and our innate ability to face hard times. We will make it through. His advice for those of us in church leadership? We need to counter the atmospshere of fear with a message of hope, and we have to redouble our efforts of faithful stewardship. As some of you know, I have been talking a lot with the clergy about this last topic, and will be doing a lot more in the future. Just as in the Great Depression, "We have nothing to fear, except fear itself." Perhaps in keeping with that theme, tonight we will be having a "fireside chat" with the Presiding Bishop. (I think she is working on her remarks right now).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Opening Day

Our regular sessions began this afternoon with a Eucharist in the Kanuga Chapel. Attached is a picture of Presiding Bishop Katherine preaching the opening sermon (with the Bishop of Nebraska's head in the foreground).

Then we gathered in the main meeting room for two presentations and discussion. The first speaker was Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort. His thesis is that Americans are more and more segregating themselves into like minded communities, where politics and life-style is shared. He does not see this as a healthy thing because it results in greater polarization. In order for people to understand one another, they have to be with one another, which only happens for most people at work, if at all. This has important implications for the church. The mega-church movement was largely fueled by an insight in the 1960's which said, define the parishioner you are after, and then create an environment that will attract people like him. This is one reason that the Episcopal church which promotes diversity does not do so well in a culture which promotes homogeneity.

The second speaker was the great Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman. His insights into Scripture are too technical to go into here (I hope to share them with the clergy at upcoming gatherings), but his argument was the the OT contains two "trajectories". One, found in the first part of the Torah--the priestly tradition--emphasis purity and absolute truth with no accommodation to society. The other, Deuteronomic strand, stresses adapting the truth of the tradition to changing circumstances. Both are biblical and need to be held in tension--absolutism vs. accommadation. He feels both liberals and conservatives have been following the first tradition (It's my way or the byway), and we need more of the second (let's go back to the source and see what we can work out). Without that corrective, we are can never find a way forward. In one of his more memorable phrases--"Final interpretations lead to final solutions." The total rejection of the other side.

So we have had lots to think about even in these first short hours.

Today (Saturday). We had an excellent presentation on the economy and its implications for church giving--and I will write about that tomorrow!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blogging from House of Bishops

Since our own Cathedral Dean, Nick Knisely is here at Camp Kanuga teaching bishops how to blog, I guess I had better get busy and start posting on my own blog. Those of you who follow this will remember that I did daily posting from the Lambeth Conference, including video. I have my camera and will try to do likewise these next few days. The setting for our meeting is the Kanuga Conference Center, just outside the town of Hendersonville, North Carolina. It is a great facility set on a small lake in the piedmont mountain country. The only problem for me with my thin Phoenix blood is the weather--damp and cold, with highs about 45 degrees. I am glad I brought my long underwear with me! I have been here since Wednesday, since I needed to attend a "pre-meeting" of bishops who are serving as mentors to new bishops. The spring meeting of the House begins this afternoon. At this point my guess is that our business over the next week will focus on the following: 1. Discussing the upcoming General Convention 2. Electing a Missionary Bishop for Ecuador 3. Looking at the impact of the recession on the wider church 4. Laying the groundwork for a closer union with the Moravians. We will also hear from Walter Bruggeman, one of the great Old Testament scholars of today, as well as from several other speakers. As always, daily Bible study will begin each day. I look forward to sharing thoughts and impressions with you over the next week. Your comments are always welcome!

Friday, February 6, 2009

One of my favorite writers, John Updike, died last week. He was an active Episcopalian, although most of his novels were “X-rated.” Still he was one of the modern masters of the English language. In an interview in 2004 at the Trinity Institute in NY, he had made a couple of comments worth quoting:

When I haven't been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there," he said, standing at a podium in front of the altar, against a backdrop of Byzantine-style mosaics and dressed in a gray suit befitting one of America's elder statesmen of letters. "It's not just the words, the sacraments. It's the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity."

As a young man studying at Oxford in the mid-1950s, Updike said he devoured new translations of Soren Kierkegaard at Blackwell's bookstore, discovering him "so positive and fierce and strikingly intelligent, like finding an older brother I didn't know I had." He pointed to his classic character Harry Angstrom, of the Rabbit tetralogy, as an example of the Danish philosopher's influence. The Swiss neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth informed another character in the first book of the series, the Lutheran minister Fritz Kruppenbach, who faces off with an Episcopal priest in a scene Updike chose to read. Upon going to Kruppenbach's house to discuss Rabbit's desertion of his family, Rev. Eccles is treated to a diatribe against meddling in others' affairs. Kruppenbach sounds like a stand-in for Barth himself.

"When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ," he tells a disconcerted Eccles. "Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil's work."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Christian Unity?

January 18th was the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It begins on the Feast of the Confession of St Peter, and ends next week on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. This event was begun by the Episcopal Franciscan monks at Graymoor, New York in 1906 and has been a regular part of the wider Christian Calendar ever since, and is sponsored by the World Council of Churches.

It didn’t get much attention this year. There are probably too many other distractions both in Church and State right now. Also, ecumenical efforts, especially those organized in a top down manner from church leadership, don’t seem to generate much interest these days. There seems to be a fair amount of cooperation on a local level among various religious groups, but the days of big conferences on a national and world-wide basis seem to have passed. (I should note however that Phoenix will be hosting such a national gathering this coming April and the Diocese will be helping). Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church being a good example, have a hard enough time getting along with their own fellow members, let along with other churches! There is also the broader phenomenon of Americans disregarding the theological distinctions of their own churches as reported this past week by Barna Institute on religion ( American Christians seem to pick and choose what teachings or practices appeal to them from a wide range of traditions. Denominationalism itself seems to be dead, with Americans selecting their church not because of their loyalty to a childhood denominations, but because a local congregation (they don’t care much which) provides the kind of services they are looking for. The culture wars have also played a role. In recent years we have noticed such diverse groups as Roman Catholics and Mormons supporting “traditional marriage”, while Pentecostals and Episcopalians unite for border reform.

So in one sense we may be evolving towards a greater sense of unity, or is it interchangeability?
Still, we still need plenty of prayers, although I suspect that the challenges of the future will have more to do with interfaith than with interchurch relationships, especially with Islam.

You can find out more about the Week of Prayer at their website:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The most beautiful plane ever

As an aviation fan, I love to go to airshows. But my job keeps me away from these great events on weekends. But now there is YouTube, the next best thing!

My all time favorite plane is the P-51 Mustang. I once saw one take off from the Phoenix airport when I was about 12 years old, and have never forgotten that experience.

Here is a modest example via YouTube. The sound of this engine will give every aviation enthusiastic chills.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A movie worth seeing

At the risk of looking like I am giving free publicity to Hollywood, I want to pass on a movie “trailer” that was recommended to me by a young “emergent church” leader for the new movie, The Visitor. He commented, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could share our faith like the characters in this movie?”

I have not figured out how to import this video yet, but you can watch it at YouTube,
just go to "The Visitor trailer."

Although I have not seen the whole movie yet, it looks like it contains a lot of very sound theology. The premise is the involvement of a middle aged bored businessman in the lives of some undocumented immigrants who have occupied his apartment while he is away. In getting to know one another they both discover more about the meaning of life, which can only fully lived as we enter into the lives of others. This sounds very incarnational to me. Jesus not only fully enter into our lives, he invites us to gain our lives by loosing them in the service of others. Through a simple act of hospitality—allowing strangers to stay in his apartment--the hero of the story is literally “reborn,” and is able to move from depression and despair to a joyful new life. This movie looks like is worth seeing…and contemplating!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

This week I wrote to the Diocese about Epiphany, one of my favorite seasons...

Even for Western Europeans, Twelfth Night, which used to formally mark the end of the Christmas season, is now mostly forgotten. I try to be a purist and keep my Christmas decorations up until tonight, but I think I am the only one on the block. As for Christmas music on the radio, forget it! That disappeared at noon on Christmas day!

Biblically, the central characters of Epiphany are the Magi or Wise men, mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew. Although we usually like to make their arrival the spectacular climax of our Christmas pageants, giving them the title of Kings (because of the Old Testament prophecy about “kings shall come to the brightness of thy rising”), or bestowing upon them exotic names like Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior (not done until the 8th Century), or even assuming that there were three of them (because of the three gifts mentioned), Matthew had something else in mind. He mentions them, not because they were so grand and wise, but because in his day they would have been considered odd and rather, well, dumb. The word Magi, comes from the Greek magoi, the root of our English word, “magician.” What we are dealing with is something like ancient near eastern astrologers (hence their interest in the star over Bethlehem). But to Hebrew minds such astrologers would have been considered as sorcerers, a practice prohibited in the Torah. Not only were they theologically suspect, but they were politically dense. Going to King Herod, a raving paranoid despot, to ask where they might find his successor was hardly a bright idea!

Just as Luke has Jesus’ birth welcomed by shepherds, also ritually unclean occupation with a reputation of dishonesty, so Matthew has Jesus welcomed by a committee of “cracked-brain astrologers.” Once again, it seems that God picks the most unlikely, the most politically suspect marginalized, the most socially marginalized people to do God’s work. And that, my friends, is good news for us!

Like the Magi, many of us have come a long way (physically and emotionally) to Christianity. Just as they did, we have scanned the heavens for a sign of hope. We too have wondered if this little baby could somehow be the answer to our prayers. Like them we might not be the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. But we are wise about one thing-- like those oddballs from the East, we seek Jesus still.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christian Charity

Here is an interesting piece that I've sent out to the Diocese this week.

Slate offered a provocative essay on whether American Christians give too little to charity. The answer appears to depend on what benchmark is used. Christians are generous compared to nonbelievers, but perhaps stingy compared to what our affluence can afford and what our churches tell us to contribute:
The run-up to Christmas, with its street-corner Salvation Army kettles and church food drives, would seem a lousy time to find out that Christian charity in America is not what it's supposed to be. But in the recently released Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money, sociologists Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell argue that too many American Christians—"the most affluent single group of Christians in two thousand years of church history"—are guilty of Scrooge-like stinginess. At least one in five American Christians, they write, gives no money at all to charities. In some churches, the miserliness rate is even higher. More than 28 percent of Catholics, for example, don't donate to charity. Bah, humbug, indeed.
But are Christians really so stingy? Looked at comparatively, Christians could be commended for their relative generosity instead of rebuked as misers. Their charitable giving stacks up pretty well against that of nonbelievers, who appear to be even tighter with their charitable dollars. More than half of nonreligious Americans contributed no money or property to charity, according to Passing the Plate, and the percentage of income donated to charity by the average nonbeliever was less than 1 percent, compared with nearly 3 percent for American Christians. And some categories of Christians distinguished themselves as givers. The average evangelical Protestant, for example, gave a sturdy 8.2 percent of annual income, according to surveys cited in the book.
Despite all the exhortations, though, it seems that relatively few Christians—even those who give regularly—have followed church teachings on exactly how much to give. Most American Christians belong to churches that promote tithing—giving 10 percent of income to the church. Tithing's roots extend back to the Old Testament commandment to give one-tenth of agricultural produce as a sacred offering. Though it's often associated with conservative and evangelical Protestant churches, tithing is also taught, for example, in the more liberal Episcopal Church, which teaches members "to practice tithing as a minimum standard of giving." Yet fewer than one in 10 Christians gives as much as a tithe of their income. The 2.9 percent of income given by the average Christian may seem reasonably generous, but it falls significantly short of what many Christian churches desire.
If tithing is so widely taught, why is it so seldom practiced?
(Thanks to Episcopal Café)