Friday, December 29, 2006

Those Who Don't Learn the Lessons of History....

As we come to the end of the year, I have had a song running through my head. It’s a song from my childhood, sung by the Kingston Trio and recorded on their “From the Hungry i” album in 1959. It was written by Sheldon Harnick in 1953.

Merry Minuet

They’re rioting in Africa (whistling)
They’re starving in Spain (whistling)
There’s hurricanes in Florida (whistling)
And Texas needs rain

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch

But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off

They’re rioting in Africa (whistling)
There’s strife in Iran
What nature doesn’t so to us
Will be done by our fellow "man"

Now, I’ve been humming this song for years. At the same time, as I come to the end of the year, a time of review, I’m struck by just how apt the song continues to be. There are certainly riots in Africa, and many have been replaced with actual combat. No sooner can one region come to terms than another comes to blows. They may not be starving in Spain, but as a result starving Moroccans are enduring hardship trying to get there. If there haven’t been so many hurricanes in Florida this year, those last year brought sufficient rain and damage to Florida and to Texas and to all points in between.

Some things just don’t seem to change. The French and Germans are still competing for leadership in Europe. Perhaps the Germans don’t hate the Poles anymore, and especially those that have come to Germany as migrant labor. There may not be any “Yugoslavs” anymore, but the Italians are still anxious about Albanians. And of all these old conflicts, we’ve been awed and amazed that it’s been the South Africans who’ve led in seeking reconciliation. Oh, right: it’s not the same South Africans, is it?

We’re still anxious about the mushroom cloud, and now from more quarters. Indeed, we’re particularly concerned about Iran. Not only is there strife within, but there is war to either side, and some of them feel they need the bomb more than ever; and the rest of us feel none the safer. And here at home we’ve been led by folks who don’t seem to "like anybody very much."

So, from 1953 to 2006, all too little has seemed to change. Let’s begin working in 2007 in hope that we won’t still be humming this little ditty in 2053.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

O Come Let Us Adore Him

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

In a little while I’ll be going out to sing about that story. No, I’m not caroling. I’ve been invited to celebrate this evening in a congregation that chants almost all of the service.

I have written before that I come from a culture that doesn’t much share emotions, and that it is in music that I can reach those feelings and give them release. The Eucharist sung may not seem the exact place to do that. On the other hand, I’ve been saying for years that Anglo-catholic liturgy is how Anglicans do Pentecostalism. It’s how we reach beneath the rational to find the emotional center, bring it up, and bring the two together. And so I will be moved again, feeling the Spirit present among us, as we sing of the presence among us of Him who sent the Spirit.

I am convinced that Christmas is the celebration of the hardest thing God ever did. We discuss how difficult was the Cross, and I don’t doubt it; but having become flesh, dying, and even dying painfully, was natural. Being God become flesh, resurrection was natural. But for God to literally condescend (con-descend, descend to be with) to become one of us, to empty of all that it means to participate in Godhead, literally for God to embrace and take on that which is not God but creature – this is an act beyond our imagining. If it were not revealed, we could never claim it; as indeed there are so many who refuse to claim it now. We who cannot choose to be God, can hardly imagine that God should choose to be us. We who so often wish we were God, who so often act as if we were God, can hardly imagine that God would give up that which we so desire, not understanding all it entails. That God should choose in a way, for a while, not to be God, and more should do so for us and for ours, is surely sufficient to leave us in awe and wonder.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”
And the Word became us, and dwelt among flesh.
O Come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Blessed Christmas, Beloved of God.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Some Final Comments on Volunteers in Chaplaincy (at Least for This Year)

Let’s return to volunteers in chaplaincy once again. Specifically, let’s return to PlainViews one more time. They have published another collection of comments on volunteers in chaplaincy in the Advocacy column, including one from a current volunteer, and one from a professional chaplain who began as a volunteer. I encourage you to go over and take a look. (They have decided that this will be the last column on the topic for a while, although they will continue to publish comments in TalkBack.)

Now, in discussions like this many opinions get aired, but I’m honestly not sure how many minds get changed. Some positions have been made clear.

  • There are some chaplains who decline to employ unpaid persons in pastoral care at all. While for some it is an issue of prestige, for almost all it reflects a distrust of health care administrators to either trust or learn from professional chaplains about the nature of the work, or the needs of patients.
  • There are some chaplains who are concerned about employing unpaid chaplains who do not have the credentials they would expect of paid chaplains. Once again, they are concerned about administrators; but they are also concerned about maintaining the highest level of professional competence in each patient encounter, even if that means fewer encounters.
  • There are some chaplains who are prepared to work with unpaid pastoral staff to increase the visibility of the service to patients, even if sometimes the patient’s first experience is not with the most trained or experienced person. These chaplains may also be concerned about administrators who expect certain levels of productivity.
  • There are some chaplains who must work with unpaid staff if they are to reach beyond patients in crisis to any great extent.
  • All chaplains who work with unpaid staff trade some time they might be with patients for time supervising volunteers.
  • The chaplain’s own sense of his or her own gifts, as well as some sense of administrative expectations, will contribute to each chaplain’s decision. Chaplains with an administrative bent, or with expectations from administration of participation in committees and programs, will choose differently from those who do not feel either that vocation or those expectations.

Some years ago the Association of Professional Chaplains sponsored a pilot study to learn whether it would be possible to study the practices of chaplains in one-person departments. The hope was to determine some professional standards and benchmarks based on the research. Eleven centers participated, and the results were reported at the annual meeting of APC in Cincinnati in 2002. At one end of the group, one chaplain spent about 90% of his time in patient care, and about 10% in administrative activities. At the other end another chaplain spent about 10% of his time in patient care, and about 90% of his time in administrative activities. Graphing between those two poles one could see an almost straight diagonal line as one noted how the other nine chaplains varied their balance of patient care and administrative work. The first two points we noted were that, first, we could study what those chaplains did; and, second, that each chaplain balanced his or her work according to individual choices and needs. Another point to note was, as I recall, that the greater the chaplain’s administrative time, the greater the likelihood that the chaplain would work with unpaid staff.

So, for the time being, that’s where I think we will leave this discussion. I am happy with the support of the volunteers who work with me, with their varied gifts and responsibilities. I am certainly blessed with the sense that I’m not trying to hold all this down by myself. Patients are blessed by the care that they provide. Those blessings are, to me, sufficient justification for my volunteer program.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Another Opportunity to Keep Things in Perspective

Well, I ran across this and had to post this, if only to keep things in perspective.

From CNN International:

7 injured as monks storm monastery

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) -- Two groups of monks clashed on Wednesday at a monastery facility in Mt. Athos, resulting in at least seven injuries, police said.

Fighting broke out between a group of rebel monks occupying facilities of the 1,000-year-old monastery of Esphigmenou, and a group of legally recognized monks on the outside.

From the BBC:

Greek monks clash over monastery

Violent clashes between two groups of Greek monks at a disputed monastery in Mount Athos left at least four monks in hospital, local police said.

Now, for all the difficulties in The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Communion, highlighted by decisions by congregations in Virginia that no longer wish to be Episcopal, things have not come to this. Please God we will be able to do better, to show the world better, than this.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

WIll Oregon Lead the Nation?

In my perusal of health care issues, I have noticed a couple of ripples in the pond caused by references to universal health care coverage. Both of them come from Oregon.

First, on December 10th a commission of the Oregon state Senate announced a draft bill intended to result in health insurance coverage for all Oregonians. Then, on the 13th Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, announced a plan he proposed that would provide health insurance coverage to all Americans not already covered by Medicare or military insurance plans.

Both plans have some points in common. Notably, both call for employers to move from individually purchasing plans for their employees to contributing a insurance pool through which insurance would be purchased. Both would also require some contribution by individuals toward expenses.

It’s no surprise that ideas on health care should come from Oregon. After all, one of the first experiments in government efforts to control health care expenditures was the Oregon Health Plan. Beginning in 1989, the Oregon legislature passed laws that expanded the number of people in the state who would be covered under Medicaid. To help control the cost of the expansion, through public hearings and legislation the state established a list of 700 prioritized services that would be covered under Medicaid. The critics were quick to cry “Rationing!”; but in fact they were correct. Health care was rationed, with the intent that this would be done intentionally and thoughtfully, based on health care needs, and not accidentally or pragmatically, based on ability to pay or to use the system. It was also in Oregon that the Death With Dignity Act was passed in 1994 and confirmed in 1997. This was the legislation that allowed, under certain specified circumstances, and with clear procedures and safeguards in place against abuse or collusion, patients in severe pain and chronic life-threatening conditions to request from their physicians fatal doses of pain medications. Both of these actions in Oregon have been watched closely, and both have been criticized frequently. One could argue that the most important outcome of the Death With Dignity Act has been the impetus it gave to the movement for palliative care for chronic and debilitating pain. In either case, however, it has been clear that Oregon has been a leader in experimental approaches to providing appropriate health care options.

It is too soon to know whether the Oregon Senate’s plan for Oregon, or Senator Wyden’s plan for the nation, will have a chance, either at providing insurance to more people at reasonable cost, or at making it through the sausage making process of politics. It will be interesting to learn the details, and to see how these ideas develop. However, it is good to see that the effort to provide universal health care coverage continues. It’s past time.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I find myself these days looking longingly at sunsets. Sunsets can, of course, be beautiful, and well worth watching. But there seems to be something specific, something moving these days when I see them.

Perhaps it’s that I’m seeing them more than is customary. These days at my latitude the sun is setting as I’m leaving the hospital. On long days I arrive in the dark and I leave in the sunset – if things go well. If they don’t, it is as dark when I leave as when I arrive. I am conscious these days of not seeing sunlight, except sometimes through the windows by patients’ beds. If I can see the sunset, it is a light I see little of otherwise.

Perhaps it’s my own tendency toward seasonal affective disorder. I have never been diagnosed, but I remember enough years when January was a particularly difficult month for me.

Perhaps it’s the end of the day calling to mind the end of the year. This has been a difficult year – a year when most of my vacation time went to family funerals. Funerals, as family gatherings, are ambivalent events for me. I am happy to see family that I don’t commonly see, even as I am sad at the occasion. Let the sun set on this year: I will be glad enough, I think, to have it over and hope for better next year, next sunrise.

Perhaps it’s a sense of sunset on my home, or at least on the faith that has been home to me now for 44 years. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion face division and disruption in what can best be understood as a family fight. We will discuss for years – it will surely become the topic of a host of doctoral dissertations – just what acts, just what issues, just whose decisions precipitated these divisions. The pain and the sadness and the bitterness are the same regardless. Different wings of the family are choosing who is in and who out, who can come to the table and who can’t, and as with any family dispute, the destruction of intimacy is the source of the sharpest pain.

Perhaps it’s simply the awareness of the turn of the solar year. I understand the anthropological reasons that so many cultures have celebrations of the turn of the world from darkness to light in this season. Perhaps cultures in the Southern hemisphere do the same in June; I don’t know. I do know that for us in the Northern hemisphere, and the higher the latitude the greater the import, this season is one of watching days shorten and nights lengthen – dark, cold nights, unalloyed by romance or mystery. To know the hope of the sun return, of that change when nights begin to shorten and days begin to lengthen has long cheered us. Surely it is no coincidence that the coming of the Son falls right on schedule with the coming of the sun.

For all these thoughts, of course, the sunset is as necessary as it is melancholy. There is no sunrise without sunset, as there is no resurrection without death. And as beautiful as it is in its own right, the sunset is beautiful as the mirror of the sunrise it follows, as evocation of the sunrise it precedes. God in mercy keeps the world turning, and so provide for us sunsets for sadness at the loss of day, for awe at the power of the night, for hope at the promise of the expected sunrise.

I find myself these days looking longingly at sunsets.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Chaplains as Ministers

I was looking back at the conversation on PlainViews regarding Volunteers in Chaplaincy. You can look back at my comments here by checking my posts under the Volunteers label in the sidebar. You can find the posts on PlainViews in the Advocacy column. Look for articles on 8/16, 11/1, 11/15, and 12/6.

One sidelight came up for me. At least two colleagues took issue with my comments about chaplains being “advanced practice ministers.” They were concerned at my observation other allied health care professions made a distinction between levels of function within a broad professional purview.

Do chaplains have this separation, this designation of levels of function? At first it would not appear so. However, that reflects our failure to recognize ourselves within the context of ministry. The normative context of the believer is the local congregation, and the normative clergy is the clergyperson of the local congregation. Like the registered nurse, there are a variety of educational paths to becoming a clergyperson in a congregation, depending on the specific requirements and culture of each faith community. Still, there is so much in common across those specificities that ecumenical community clergy groups can become important sources of support.

I would suggest that we think of ourselves, as are advanced practice ministers. There are others—academics, spiritual directors, monastics—but that is where we are in the context of ministry.

For the concerned colleagues, to say we need as chaplains to see ourselves within “the context of ministry” was to tie our work closely – too closely – to the authority of the local congregation, and to deny that we functioned as allied health professionals.

Now, the second concern seemed easily enough addressed. After all, as I noted elsewhere, school nurses work in schools and provide some education, but we still recognize them as nurses. A physicist may work in research, or teach in high school or college, or work as radiation safety officer in a hospital. Their practices are different, but all are rooted in their training in physics, and in all of them they are physicists. So, while the most common experience a believer has of a cleric is in the local congregation, missionaries and health care chaplains and school chaplains and church administrators, each in their different venues, all continue to be ministers.

But I have to admit the first concern never crossed my mind. You see, I’m an Episcopalian, an Anglican. In the Anglican tradition, all ministry is first and foremost Christ’s, exercised in and through the Body; that is, the Church. And for an Anglican, the Church is, first and foremost, the whole Church. The Church is not the assembly of local congregations, but the Body of Christ. The local congregation is derivative of the whole Church, and not the other way around. Notwithstanding all the current arguments within the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church, there is consensus within the Anglican tradition that all ministry is an expression of the ministry of the whole Church, the whole Body, and not simply of an individual congregation.

In that image, I often speak of chaplains as the fingertips of the Body, reaching out and touching the tender, hurting places in creation. That is, of course, a function that all Christians are called to in one sense of another. However, we are quite self-consciously there, tips and fingers and hands, to provide sensitive and delicate touch to fragile and wounded persons.

For some colleagues, that may be entirely too theological, ignoring pragmatic considerations. Some come from traditions where the theology of the Church does hold that the whole Church is the assembly of congregations. Some of us – perhaps many of us – are sufficiently out of the mainstream within our own faith communities that any apparent link of our own individual ministries to local congregations and congregational clergy seems to undermine the independence and the openness that are hallmarks of clinical ministry. Some of us – and, again, perhaps many- have had to fight so hard to be recognized as professionals functioning within the clinical context that any acknowledgement of our accountability to our faith communities, faith communities that may not appreciate or accept the academic and scientific culture of the clinical world. There may be a number of reasons that colleagues may be anxious about acknowledging “the context of ministry,” if that is too closely associated with the local congregation.

I realize, too, that I write as an Episcopalian, a Christian. I cannot write otherwise: I respect and appreciate my chaplain colleagues who are not Christians. I can speak to their traditions in only a limited sense. I can’t speak from their traditions at all.

At the same time, my observation as one who has worked with and listened to non-Christians for many years is that all persons of faith have some sense that ministry serves the community of faith, is shaped in fundamental ways by it, and is accountable to it. That must necessarily include the ministry of the chaplain. That would suggest that within some faith communities the ministry of the chaplain would be impossible. It simply wouldn’t fit within the community’s understanding of the ministries to which a person might be called. With that in mind, while I can only speak as a Christian, I believe that my colleagues from other faith communities can translate the concepts into the forms of their own traditions.

So, I will stand by my position: professional chaplains are advanced practitioners in the field of ministry. We find our practice in health care, and serve congregations made flesh often in one person at a time. We spend much of our time planning for accreditation surveys instead of weekly sermons. But we are first and foremost ministers, carrying into rooms of anxiety and suffering the care and compassion of the faith communities that called us forth.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Voting in Virginia

It’s a big weekend in the Diocese of Virginia. Two congregations, Truro Church, Fairfax, and The Falls Church of Falls Church, will begin a process of congregational voting on the issue of whether to stay in the Diocese of Virginia of The Episcopal Church, or to separate themselves and subsequently join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, associated with the Church of Nigeria – Anglican. Thinking Anglicans calls this to our attention here.

My guess is that the results are predictable. A majority of those voting in these two congregations will probably vote to leave The Episcopal Church.

Not that long ago I was watching the same process take place in Christ Church, Overland Park, Kansas. The congregation took longer to vote – four Sundays, I think, instead of two. However, the vote was entirely predictable. A majority – a supermajority approaching two thirds or better, if I remember correctly – voted to leave the Diocese of Kansas of The Episcopal Church and seek oversight from the Province of Uganda. No one knew exactly what the numbers would be when things started, but almost no one was surprised by the outcome.

You see, by the time of the vote, most of those who might have opposed it had already left the congregation. This was not so much an issue of manipulation or exclusion, although there were those who did feel that way. It was more the case that the clergy had established a clear trajectory, a clear direction for the congregation. It was established by the standards for Bible study and theological reflection, by tone and tenor, more than anything else. The rector became progressively more conservative in his interpretation, at least on some subjects; and there were plenty of folks who found that consistent with their beliefs. Many, and probably most, of those who didn’t find it consistent with The Episcopal Church has they had known it, found a different congregation, one that “fed them spiritually,” as we say; and most had done so well before the Christ Church congregation came to “40 Days of Purpose,” much less to a vote.

The current principles and spiritual culture at Truro Church and at The Falls Church are not new. They’ve been on this trajectory for a number of years. They may only now have come to a vote; but I believe them when they say the issues have been simmering for some time. I imagine that those who did not hear Christ at Truro Church or at The Falls Church left some time ago; and that those who stayed were those who did hear Christ in those congregations. Were people run off? Was their church taken away from them? Such things were said by folks who left Christ Church, and I expect they will be said here, too.

But mostly I imagine it’s a case of folks finding or not finding Christ in the particular environments of those two congregations, and then voting with their feet. So, regardless of the hype, it's not recent events, studies, or letters back and forth that will really affect the results of the processes in these parishes. It’s those other votes, cast some time ago, that will do most to determine the votes cast over these next two Sundays.

Toward An Episcopal Culture for Health Care: Justice

"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, loving your neighbor as yourself?"

This is one of the promises in the Baptismal Covenant. I've written before here and here of the distinctive North American use of the Baptismal Covenant, and especially regular recitation by all present at baptisms, confirmations, and the Easter Vigil. Certainly, this would be important in developing an Episcopal culture for health care.

But, what comes under the category of justice? . Health care institutions are only involved in the justice system at the periphery. Some of us have cared for prisoners, and there are health care providers in that system; but for Episcopal health care institutions this is not a formative issue.

Moreover, in health care justice has a rather specific connotation. Justice is the fourth category in "the Georgetown Mantra," the categories of respecting personhood that currently pervade clinical ethics. In discussions of health care ethics, the question of justice is how the issue under discussion affects others beside patient and providers, including family, other patients, and society at large. Justice issues can be as large as national decisions of health care policy; or as intimate as which of two eligible patients gets access to the one available donor organ or mechanical ventilator. It can be both at the same time, as when a hospital decides how much care can be provided to patients who can't pay, and has to decide how this applies to the person who just walked into the ER.

Justice is also the category under which money issues are discussed. Almost inevitably, when a money issue is raised in an ethics discussion it is prefaced with an apology: " I hate to bring up money, but.... " We are appropriately wary of "putting a value on human life (or suffering or rights)." At the same time, care does cost something, and funds are not unlimited. Corporations have, in the past at least, practiced the notorious "Pinto planning" - calculating the cost of a safety-oriented engineering change against the probable liability and legal costs resulting from not making the change. Many now are making decisions regarding whether to reduce health benefits of employees. We do make such decisions, if indirectly. When we do, it is certainly an issue of justice.

So, how would an Episcopal culture for health care reflect justice among all people? Certainly, economic concerns would be one expression. In recent years, as so many Christians have wrestled with issues of human sexuality and family relationships, we have often been reminded that in the Bible there are many more references to economic issues than to issues of human sexuality. In most cases, those issues relate to economic behavior as an expression of justice and wholeness. The various laws related to the year of the Jubilee, and the restrictions on lending reflect that theme. The repeated calls for justice in Isaiah and Amos reflect behavior and class structures expressing significant economic differences. Micah tells us it is the first thing that God requires. Jesus’ proclamations of the Kingdom, whether in reading from Isaiah in Luke 4 or in the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, insist that the Kingdom serves the poor and the least. The promise that “the first will be last and the last, first,” seems to apply as much in financial status as in social status. I have already written about the poor in an Episcopal culture for health care. Caring for them is as much an expression of justice as of compassion.

Other aspects of justice would also seem to be important. For example, does the institution have policies to support a diverse leadership and staff? How many different expressions of diversity are recognized and celebrated? Issues of social justice respecting persons regardless of age, race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation may reflect contemporary political considerations, but they also reflect the Biblical tradition of welcoming the sojourner and the Christian tradition that all are equal before God.

Respecting patient rights in clinical and research ethics would also seem relevant to issues of justice. After all, justice is, as has been noted, one of the principles of “the Georgetown Mantra.” The intent in articulating those principles is to insure an approach to care based in respect for persons.

Related to that would be policies and practices in an institution built on obeying relevant laws and regulations. Federal, state, and municipal laws, and standards of various accrediting organizations are oriented directly or indirectly to protecting patients, families, and staff. And violation of laws would involve the institution with the justice system.

This is a preliminary reflection on how an Episcopal culture for health care would reflect this injunction from the Baptismal Covenant. Further reflection could center around our concepts of “peace” and “all people” and “neighbor.” However, justice is an appropriate place to start. It is where the injunction begins. It is a central theme of “walking humbly before God.” It would certainly be an identifiable dynamic of an Episcopal culture for health care.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Volunteers In Chaplaincy: The Discussion Goes On

Just a little update. The discussions regarding volunteers in chaplaincy at PlainViews have been going on. New comments (yes, including one from me) were posted at that site on November 15 and December 6. My friend Susan at Rickety Contrivances of Doing Good has shared her own thoughts and enthusiasm.

I will say that this has been the broadest discussion, at least in terms of venue and of shades of opinion, that I have seen on this topic. I think that, in the end, this will serve chaplains and patients well.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Think Bishop Schofield Has Missed a Couple of Things

This started, as so often happens, at Thinking Anglicans. The specific topic was the Diocesan Convention of San Joaquin. That Convention, led by Bishop John-David Schofield, passed on first reading changes in diocesan constitution and canons that would presume to distance San Joaquin from The Episcopal Church, and declare that diocese “constituent” within the Anglican Communion.

Among the other documents linked from the report on Thinking Anglicans was Bishop Schofield’s address to the Diocesan Convention. I read it, and felt moved to respond. Now, I initially responded on Thinking Anglicans; but I waxed eloquent (or at least verbose) and exceeded the 400-word guideline there (a wise guideline to which I humbly and happily accede).

But then, I have a blog. If I want to write so much, I can post it there. And here it is.

Perhaps there are many nits to pick in Bishop Schofield's address – issues of how accurately he recounts recent history, or how accurately he describes the positions and concerns of those with whom he disagrees; but others will do so, and probably better than I. Two things did strike me, especially in light of recent discussion in the blogosphere.

First, he specifically cited issues of ecumenical discussion and hope for union with Eastern Orthodoxy and with Roman Catholicism. Several recent discussions I've run across have noted that these are not the only large, international bodies of Christians with whom we interact ecumenically, much less nationally and locally in the Episcopal Church. A number of those other bodies are not so distressed at the ordination of women or full welcome of GLBT persons in the entire life of the Church, including orders. We are in conversation and sometimes in full communion with communities that maintain the historic Episcopate, but are not in communion with either Rome or Constantinople (the Lutherans, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, and the Mar Thoma Church come to mind). We may find the similar structures - especially an initially similar Episcopate - of Rome and Constantinople attractive; but they hardly describe the whole Body of Christ. Citing ecumenical issues with only a part of the Body illustrates Bishop Schofield's inclinations regarding centralization of authority, and, in my opinion, clericalism.

Second, I find Bishop Schofield's image of Paul before Agrippa interesting. It certainly works to illustrate his perspective that San Joaquin is the prophetic voice. Or, perhaps it would if he were talking about San Joaquin. What impressed me was how very much he personalized the parallel with Paul. Yes, questions have been raised with and for him as an individual, ordained in The Episcopal Church (and for all his repetition of it, there is no institution called "The Anglican Communion" within which to be ordained - repetition doesn't make it so). However, his image of himself as so central, so pivotal, detracts from his focus on issues. Yes, there may be some consequences for him, but this is not about him, from either pole of the debate. His presentation suggests to me that he's not clear about that.

Let me make an analogy. I am a citizen of the United States, and of a State, and of a City. I am subject to all the laws of those various levels of government. I cannot deny one level to the exclusion of another, even it I might argue (even successfully) that the laws at one level supersede the level at another. Am I a citizen of the world? Yes, but only in a metaphorical sense. Am I subject to international law? Yes, but only under the terms of agreements between the United States. At this time, for all the promises or worries the phrase entails, there is no World Government.

In parallel (and if the analogy is imperfect, I still think it is apt), I am a priest with a specific position in a particular diocese within The Episcopal Church. I am subject to the canons and policies of all those levels of authority. I cannot deny one level to the exclusion of another, even if I might argue (even successfully) that canons at one level might supersede canons at another level. Am I a member of the Anglican Communion? Yes, but only metaphorically. Am I responsible within the Anglican Communion? Yes, but only under the terms of the relationships among those various provinces of the Communion, made somewhat substantial by recognition by the See of Canterbury and participation in the Instruments of Communion. And those relationships are provincial, and not diocesan. I am no more individually related to the Archbishop of Canterbury than to my own Presiding Bishop, or to the Primate of Canada or the Primus of Scotland. We share in Christ’s grace, and we are recipients of Anglican tradition; but in terms of the Anglican Communion, I am connected to them in and through the relationships between provinces. In those parallel structures of how we as human beings have organized ourselves under God, my specifically Anglican connections, unlike my general Christian connections, are through the structures and not despite them.

All in all, I do not find Bishop Schofield's argument persuasive. We have yet to see the consequences of his leadership of his diocese within the context of the institution he used to recognize as his church. In the meantime, I think it is important to see ourselves within the entire Body of Christ, and not simply within the Anglican limb; and to recognize that if I am heeding Christ’s call to seek and serve “the least of these,” I have to remember, however strongly I might feel, that this isn’t all about – it isn’t even, it can’t be, even mostly about - me.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Blogiography and Ephesians 4:15

People tend to be surprised when I tell them I have a blog. Some are confused, and a few have no idea what a blog is. Most are simply surprised, wondering how I would find the time and energy to write something with any frequency.

The fact is, there’s a lot to write about, just in keeping up with the day-to-day discussions on other people’s (busier) blogs, and trying to participate in a conversation. I mean, I’m certainly opinionated, and I enjoy laying my thoughts out; but it’s pretty dull without someone to talk back. I do get comments on many of my postings, and I appreciate every person who responds; but rarely has there been enough exchange to speak of a conversation. So, I go elsewhere, as Terry Jones, “coming in for an argument.”

That’s an argument, as in “An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.” And “An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.” Some of you will recognize that from the “Argument Clinic” sketch, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Episode 29. Those who do will remember just how far in that quest Jones’s character actually got.

All of which is remarkably prophetic of the blogosphere. Oh, on a whole there are many folks making statements that go beyond simple assertion to actually make an argument. On the busier sites there can be participants in the conversations that want an argument, an exchange of ideas with opportunities for people to think, if not to be convinced. At the same time, there is an awful lot of assertion and contradiction our there pretending to be argument; and even those blog sites that do encourage many voices will have to put up with a significant measure of that. It becomes quite tiring, really.

Which is all the sadder, since the blogs I frequent are those of professing Christians, and specifically (usually) professing Episcopalians and Anglicans. I don’t know that those blogs are any better or worse than non- Episcopal and Anglican blogs, religious or otherwise. I only know that they do carry their share of blind assertion and contradiction and repetition adulterating, and sometimes overwhelming, efforts at argument.

That brings me to a comment I heard from my mother as I was growing up. I was instructed “to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.” I suppose often enough I was disagreeable, which usually meant loud and stubborn with an occasional moment of spite thrown in. And often enough I think my mother wanted me to be agreeable at the expense of my actually disagreeing. But in principle, the point was worthwhile: not to stop honest disagreement, but to present it calmly, rationally, or at least politely.

Now, that was frequently tied to the injunction from Ephesians 4:15 “to speak the truth in love.” I grew up in a culture that largely avoided emotional display, and in a household that largely avoided conflict. I suppose in that context it was not unexpected that “disagree without being disagreeable” and “speaking the truth in love” could sound a lot alike. It was also tied, in some mysterious way, with “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Yes, it made for some terrible mixed messages; but, well, there you are.

As I look at Episcopal and Anglican blogs, I find myself wrestling with what it means, “to speak the truth in love.” With that in mind, I did some digging, and found some variation in how different English translations have dealt with that phrase.

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (NRSV; RSV; NIV; KJV)
“we will speak the truth in love” (New Living Translation)
“Love should always make us tell the truth” (Contemporary English Version)
“we will lovingly follow the truth” (The Living Bible)
“we are meant to speak the truth in love” (Phillips Modern English)
“by speaking the truth in a spirit of love” (Today’s English Version [“Good News Bible”])
“If we live by the truth and in love” (Jerusalem Bible)
“let us speak the truth in love” (New English Bible)
“living the truth in love” (New American Bible with Revised New Testament)

Now, not all of these are the same provenance; but certainly all of them are faithful. All of them reflect the Greek: aletheuontes de en agape. But, they certainly see some nuance in understanding. Mark the difference, for example, between focus on verbal communication and on the spirit that motivates the speech, or the life that gives context to the speech. And other commentators see and apply the broader context. In my Arndt and Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon, the note is made of behaving “in such a way that the spirit of love is maintained.” In my Interpreter’s Bible, the commentator wrote, “The meaning of aletheuw is wider than this: it includes such senses as “apprehending the truth, “ “living by the truth,” “being true,” not only in speech but even more in the whole inward disposition.”

And in that light, I am saddened by some of what I read on Episcopal and Anglican blogs. Sure, some there are trying to disagree lovingly, even if they don’t always manage not being disagreeable. Most are there lovingly, trying to form an argument. But there are always those on both ends of any discussion who are simply into contradiction, and whose speech seems to carry little of the love to which we are called. To do that would require, I would think, some humility, and some sense that the other person is worthy of respect, even if a given opinion isn’t. Simple contradiction isn’t an argument; and playing “Gotcha!” can’t build up the body.

Moreover, in that light, what might I expect of the lives, the contexts, from which unloving speech arises? If the Greek carries beyond simple verbal assertion to encompass the life, the soul that speaks, what sort of person should I expect? Now, I’m the first to recognize that people are as truly themselves on line as they wish to be, and certainly no more. I cannot be certain of any person, based solely on what I read on the screen. At the same time, I think – I hope - that most of us in these conversations are trying to be honest, at least in the opinions we express; and not simply choosing our words to pick a fight, or to pick a scab.

In these Christian and specifically Episcopal and Anglican blogs, there are some discussions that can bring me to thought, to reflection, to be concerned for others and to honor others. I seek myself to speak the truth as I see it, as lovingly as I can – and still trying not to be disagreeable. For the exchanges I enjoy I will still seek to share thoughts on line with others, hoping all will “speak in love the truth they live.” And I do that knowing I’ll see some things that, all in the name of Christ, speak without any apparent love at all. It will make me sad. I can only wonder what Christ himself must think.