Thursday, April 26, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 2

(2) How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

This question is responding to “An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant,” a brief theological reflection. It is, as the Study Guide says, an “initial theological introduction to the Draft Covenant which is to follow immediately afterwards.”

Perhaps the goal of the Covenant Design Group was explicitly brevity. Sadly, as a result of the brevity, this Introduction says almost nothing about the actual development of the Anglican Communion, and little about the Communion’s vocation.

Indeed, this Introduction would apply equally, I think, to all Christian bodies; and certainly to any that would fall within the historic bodies that might meet the standards of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. It asserts a “Communion of Anglican churches,” through which we are provided “with a special charism.” I think for all of us who would call ourselves Anglicans we believe these statements to be true. However, there is nothing in these assertions that distinguishes our “special charism” or even the parameters of our “Communion of Anglican churches” from the charisms of the communions of Roman and Uniate, or Orthodox, or Lutheran churches.

Perhaps there is more specificity on these questions in the further development of the Draft covenant. Still, it would seem to me that our understanding of our charism would be critical in developing the content of an Anglican Covenant. To give an (admittedly overly simplistic example), such possible perspectives as “to bring the world to Christ,” or “to participate in the building of God’s kingdom, “ or “to be co-creators with God in the restoration of creation” are arguably all connected, and perhaps inextricable. However, each statement predisposes a different understanding of mission, and of means. We have long spoken of ourselves as a “bridge,” embracing both catholic and reformed elements within the Christian tradition. However, we have wrestled for four centuries on how to balance those catholic and reformed elements. Those different perspectives, reflecting different approaches to Biblical hermeneutics, to understanding history and our place in it, and to the formation of theology and doctrine, are not clearly reflected in this brief Introduction.

Thus, the contrast is unclear between the “coherent testimony” that “our faith embodies, “ and “the wider Church.” Since the implication is that “the wider Church” is the body of Christ beyond the “Communion of Anglican churches,” and since the Introduction asserts “interdependence among ourselves and [also] with the wider Communion,” distinguishing our “special charism” and our “coherent testimony” would seem particularly important.

The Introduction asserts together, and implicitly equates, “the need for mutual commitment and [also for mutual] discipline.” We wrestle now with the question of just how much mutual discipline is necessary to demonstrate mutual commitment. Thus, it seems presumptuous to link the two without qualification. I would indeed agree that we must work out together how we will “be faithful to God’s promises through the historic faith we confess [as loaded as the word 'confess' might be here], the way we live together and the focus of our mission.” However, I believe we must be clear that the most important expression of “the faith we confess” must be “the focus of our mission;” and that it is out of that emphasis that we then determine “the way we live together.” That, I think, would be the proper sequence, and not the sequence as expressed.

Again, all these questions may arise out of the intent that the Introduction be brief. They will, I expect, be addressed in the body of the Draft Text. However, to respond to the Study Guide question as stated: I do not believe this Introduction clearly addresses the “development and vocation of the Anglican Communion.” The lack of even minimal specificity about what it might mean to be Anglican in the context of “the wider Church” prevents this from being adequate.

One Chaplain's Perspective

I participate in a Yahoo group for chaplains in One Person Departments. One of our ongoing topics is the stress many of us feel trying to balance the patient care, the experience of our initial call, and the administrative responsibilities that we all have. And we certainly do have those. Indeed, the smaller the institution, the more likely we are to have them. That’s partly a result of smaller leadership groups, and partly a result of our related greater visibility.

Still, those responsibilities do take us away from the bedside. And since that’s where we first found our vocation, emotionally it’s that much harder to be pulled away. So, we wrestle in our hearts, and we wrestle with our roles.

This is my most recent post to the list. In its way, it expresses my own sense of where my call is today, and how I seek to live it out.

I have struggled with my own perspective, but less so as the years go by. I did, though, have to reframe my sense of what I can do, and so my intent toward what I will do.

My stated intent is to create (or contribute significantly to creating, depending on my audience) a compassionate culture for care. That certainly includes bedside care, and for my hospital's size my referrals are about proportional to Tim's, if not a bit higher. That also includes good "industrial chaplaincy" in caring for staff. If I show them good care, both in the sense of providing it and modeling it, I believe they will be more sensitive to spiritual needs, and both make better referrals and provide more sensitive support themselves.

But in addition, that puts some perspective on the administrative time, orienting staff or chairing the Ethics Committee or participating in Joint Commission preparation. Yeah, it often feels far from the bedside; but I have seen how it affects what happens at the bedside. I have also seen how it confirms my authority with the administration so that when there is an issue I feel it important to raise, I know I will be heard.

I have often compared this to our parochial colleagues who speak of their role as empowering the ministries of all the people of God. I can't use quite the same language in the hospital, but I can maintain the same perspective. Everyone here contributes, for good or ill, to the explicit and implicit ways that patients and families experience spiritual support. If I can shape the culture, I have a shot at benefiting every patient - something I couldn't do focusing only on bedside care - and I can focus my specific gifts and specialized training on those needs and events to which they're best suited.

Now, I'm an Episcopal chaplain in an Episcopal health system; and so when I introduce myself as the "Owner's Rep," they smile, but they listen. Still, working to shape the experience of all patients will, I believe, go much farther than I can go on my own.

(And on some bad days I still add to that, "or so I tell myself.")

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 1

I have already posted the release by the Executive Council of a Study Guide on the Report of the Covenant Design Group and the Draft Covenant. Let me begin my own process of responding to the Study Guide.

(1) Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?

I have considered the possibility that a covenant document might help clarify relations and means of relating between Provinces of the Anglican Communion. I am one who has suggested that a concordat might be better, especially in light of several existing concordats that seem to be functioning well ("Call to Common Mission," for example).

However, this is an answer only in the abstract. I am concerned by the Report of the Covenant Design Group, even prior to the Draft Covenant, in that the Group’s inclination seems less to strengthen than to harden the Communion.

First, let me question the “particular factors” that moved their proposal.

1. Content
The text of the Covenant would need to hold together and strengthen the life of the Communion. To do so, it need not introduce some new development into the life of the Communion but rather be the clarification of a process of discernment which was embodied in the Windsor Report and in the recent reality of the life of the Instruments of Communion, and which was founded in and built upon the elements traditionally articulated in association with Anglicanism and the life of the Anglican Churches.

The problem I see with this factor is the failure to acknowledge that the Windsor Report and any Windsor Process are themselves “new developments into the life of the Communion.” Those portions of the Windsor Report that speak of “elements traditionally articulated in association with Anglicanism” seem the portions least observed.

2. Urgency
While a definitive text which held all such elements in balance might take time to develop in the life of the Communion, there was also an urgent need to re-establish trust between the churches of the Communion. The faithfulness of patterns of obedience to Christ were no longer recognised across the Communion, despite Paul’s call to another way of life (Romans 14.15), and its life would suffer irreparably if some measure of mutual and common commitment to the Gospel was not reasserted in a short time frame. We were mindful also of the words of the Primates at Oporto, “We are conscious that we all stand together at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ, so we know that to turn away from each other would be to turn away from the Cross”.

This paragraph harks back to an earlier statement:

It was also recognised, however, that the proposal for a covenant was born out of a specific context in which the Communion’s life was under severe strain. While the group felt that it was important that the strength of a covenant would be greater if it addressed broad principles, and did not focus on particular issues, the need for its introduction into the life of the Communion in order to restore trust was urgent.

It is the very sense of urgency that should cause us to pause and reflect. It is a truism that “big cases make bad laws;” and this is the risk we run here if we allow a sense of urgency to overtake us. Certainly, we have experienced this sufficiently here in the United States in light of the threats to individual conscience and liberties that came in poorly crafted laws in reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Indeed, there is an inconsistency within the paragraph of the second “factor.” If indeed, “to turn away from each other is to turn away from Christ,” can we trust our “measure of mutual and common commitment to the Gospel” to rest on “patterns of obedience?” At best that is an urge toward standardization across the Communion that would undermine our cherished respect for expressions of the faith (not to mention episcopacy) adapted to local needs and conditions. At worst it is essentially works righteousness. If the alternative it “to turn away from Christ,” how much grace must we be willing to offer one another? Have we not been called to forgive one another "seventy times seven?" Here, however, the call of some perceived urgency pushes for “common commitment” defined by “common patterns of obedience.”

And yet, other crises have not met this sense of urgency. Despite the distorted, sadly optimistic presentation in the Windsor Report of the process of reception of women in orders, that issue remains unsettled, and the Communion divided. This division was highlighted by those primates who refused to receive communion with Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, not because she was Episcopalian, but because she was a woman. We are only now exploring a process of discerning the variations in hermeneutics in the Communion, surely a prior, pressing issue in determining “authentic Anglicanism.”

More critically, we have not determined what we mean by “interdependence,” or “autonomy,” or “ bonds of affection.” We suggest at various times that all of these are desirable, and worth some preservation, and yet we are not agreed on their meaning or parameters. These are surely critical understandings that would precede any effort to agree on topics that are not matters of core doctrine.

Thus, while I might think in abstract that some form of agreement might “strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion,” a poorly formed agreement, entered in haste, will surely threaten either the “dependence” or the “inter-“ concepts in interdependence. The life of the Communion will be harder and more brittle, but hardly stronger. If it is indeed our prayer “that God will redeem our struggles and weakness, and renew and enrich our common life,” we cannot deny our weakness by avoiding struggles – struggles that cannot, must not be rushed or preempted. An agreement formed and entered in haste will surely be repented at leisure.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Gaining Historical Perspective

As sometimes happens, it never rains but it pours. This time it’s rained pennies from heaven. I continued my search for scholarly responses to current issues in the Church, and discoveries began to multiply.

Specifically, I discovered the web site for The Whole Message Conference: Inclusiveness in the Anglican Church of Canada. The conference was held last week (April 13-14) and, significantly, just before the Retreat of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada. That event gained more attention for the attendance of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, I think we might well note this earlier conference as well. (Audio and/or texts of most presentations at the conference are available here.)

I discovered this when I found this paper, "The Episcopal Church: A Half Century of Turbulence and Transformation," by the Rt. Rev. Arthur Walmsley, retired Bishop of Connecticut, and Chaplain to the Diocese of New Hampshire. I encourage you to take the time to read it all.

The real value and power of Bishop Walmsley’s paper for me is the review of the past half century in the Episcopal Church by one who witnessed it all. Indeed, he goes back more than 50 years to the end of World War II, recounting the events and charting the trends that established within the Episcopal Church the sense of God’s call to pursue justice.

Important to his witness to events is his ability to provide the facts that place in context some things we’ve assumed. He references the significant decrease in church attendance in Europe and the significant increase in the United States after the Second World War. He incorporates the tensions around formation of the World Council of Churches, and the efforts, largely led by Americans, to resurrect meetings of a Pan-Anglican Congress, one that would include all orders of ministry including the laity. He describes the series of civil rights issues (racial, gender, and sexual) and related ecclesial issues (African-American participation in the Church, ordination of women, Prayer Book Revision, acceptance of GLBT Christians) that have shaped the current context in the United States, and in the Episcopal Church. In that sense, he notes,

It goes without saying that as the US enters the fifth year of a disastrous war in Iraq, our government's justification of torture and rendition (including a notable case which has divided the US and Canada), the frequent incursions of the US militarily in Latin America throughout the twentieth century, our rejection of the Kyoto treaty and other international agreements have increased US isolation in the global picture. The Episcopal Church and other main-stream Protestant bodies have moved from being establishment elites to politically-marginalized critics of the government. (Emphasis mine)

Bishop Walmsley has a clear sense of the real issues in the Anglican Communion.

The question before the Communion is Which vision and implementing structures of Anglican community will prevail?. Will they be based on the work of an Anglican Consultative Council with its inclusiveness of all orders with the Church? Will the evident commitment among provinces north and south be to work together on the global realities embodied in response to the Millennium Development Goals or the more limited agenda of human sexuality? Or will the next chapter be limited to initiatives by the other three instruments of unity -- the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates' Meeting -- all of which consist of bishops alone? And which vision will inform further developments of the Windsor Report and the Covenant process?

His historical review is, I think, quite helpful in understanding just how we got here. I hope you’ll take the time to read it all.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Some Scholars Found

Not long ago, I asked the question, “Where are our scholars?” My point was that historically we Anglicans have looked to scholars to help us interpret Scripture, Tradition, and how we might apply Reason to them, in light of the issues confronting each generation.

Well, I continue to look; and thanks to the extensive resources compiled by Dr. Louie Crew, I found my way to the Windsor Report Papers. According to Dr. J. Robert Wright, Professor at the General Theological Seminary, and Historiographer of the Episcopal Church, “The following essays [were] written by students of the General Theological Seminary who were associated with my course in the spring term of 2005 entitled "Seminar in Anglican Ecclesiology and the Windsor Report."” So, these are papers prepared by some who will be clergy and scholars in the Episcopal Church. You can link from the main page to each paper and read on line.

I haven’t had a chance to read all the papers, but I have certainly found interesting those I have read. Check out, for example, Thomas Heard’s "When is a Primate like a King?" It is an interesting exploration of the distinctive differences in the authority and responsibilities of Primates in the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and the Church of Nigeria – Anglican. Or read Jefferson R. Hulet’s "Uses of Authority in the Text of the Lambeth Commission on Communion Windsor Report 2004." He finds a theme in the understanding of authority in the Church in the Windsor Report, one that implies greater authority for the Instruments of Unity over national synods. We’ve seen these issues lived out since publication of the Windsor Report. These authors argue for these issues as inherent in the Windsor Report itself, and as pertinent to the reception that is central to any understanding of a Windsor Process.

Some would say that the Windsor Report is old news, and that subsequent statements from Dromantine and Tanzania (links here), and subsequent actions of the General Convention (not to mention “facts on the ground”) have superseded its importance. However, each statement and each action returns again and again to the Windsor Report for reference and authority. Each step proposed for a Windsor Process refers back to principles and proposals from the Report. If we are accumulating layers of interpretation and response, the Windsor Report itself and the issues it raises remain the parameters within which the Anglican Communion wrestles.

So, I want to point to and highlight these papers written by some of our newest scholars. Our scholars are indeed thinking and writing. Whenever we can, we then need to bring them to the attention of the wider Episcopal/Anglican community.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Check Out the Episcopal Cafe

There's a new site on the Episcopal Church web scene. Take a look at the Episcopal Cafe. Episcopal Cafe has succeeded and incorporated Daily Episcopalian. It's also added areas on news, spiritual reflection, and wonderful resources on arts in the life of the Episcopal Church. You can see more at "About the Episcopal Cafe."

And, yes, I am a Contributor to the Episcopal Cafe. Looking at the other Contributors, I'm certainly in good company. I'll just have to work hard to measure up.

"Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside" will still be my primary outlet. I'm pleased to contribute to the Episcopal Cafe, but that shouldn't change things here all that much. I guess I'm just too extroverted and opinionated, and so I'll still be here as much as ever (or near enough as not to matter).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Brainstorming for Everybody: Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant

I want to return to my brainstorming theme. In my first post on brainstorming, one thought I had was that the House of Bishops might suggest its own draft for an Anglican Covenant. As I said then,

That could only be seen as active interest and participation in the Covenant process, without seeing any previous model as privileged. It could describe the House’s understanding of how autonomy and responsibility are balanced in “interdependence.” It might express an opinion on the relative authority of statements of Primates meetings and of actions of the Anglican Consultative Council. It could conceivably be available for the June meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the July meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England.

This could well be undertaken by the Bishops’ Theology Committee. With the announcement that the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council will attend the September meeting of the House of Bishops, presenting a draft at that meeting would be especially significant. Certainly, it could be offered by the House as evidence of a desire to remain in the Anglican Communion,

What brought this back to mind is the release by the Executive Committee of the Episcopal Church of a Study Guide on the Anglican Covenant Draft released as a part of the Tanzania Communiqué. A subcommittee of the International Concerns Standing Committee of the Executive Council has published the Study Guide in English, French, and Spanish.

Perhaps the most important part of the Study Guide is this paragraph:

All Episcopalians, including Deputies to General Convention, Bishops, members of Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards of the General Convention, as well as Standing Committees of Dioceses are encouraged to send their responses to: Response to the Draft Anglican Covenant, Offices of the General Convention, The Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY, 10017 by June 4, 2007. The Executive Council will then use these materials to inform its response to the Draft Covenant, which will be prepared by its October 2007 meeting. It is hoped that the views of all concerned will be expressed and reflected in the report produced by Executive Council.

This is exciting. One aspect of most Episcopal responses to the Tanzania Communiqué has been an emphasis on participation of all orders of ministry in determining God’s call to the Episcopal Church. (And remember that, according to the Book of Common Prayer, there are four, with Laity first. It’s on page 855.) That has been the reason for our insistence, affirmed by the Bishops, that only General Convention, and not the House of Bishops independently, could respond to issues of the consequence of participation in the Anglican Communion.

Now the Executive Council is asking all Episcopalians in all orders to respond. This is a real opportunity for all of us to be involved in brainstorming, or at least in the deliberative process. I certainly think this would be good grist for the blog mills, and I expect I’ll do some of that myself. In that conversation all of us might take part, whether Episcopalian or not. However, I think it more important that as many Episcopalians as possible send responses to this invitation, and to send thoughtful responses to the Executive Council.

Now, perhaps this seems a large task. The Study Guide itself is six pages, and has a series of questions. It looks in its way like an open-book final from seminary. On the other hand, this is not one of those tasks where “only those forms fully completed will be accepted.” I think there’s every reason to take it one question, one subject at a time, and send in what you do as you finish it.

So, let’s not let this opportunity pass. The Episcopal Church needs you – at least your thoughtful opinion – and is publicly asking for it. These are certainly important issues for our life together as Episcopalians and as Anglicans. Don’t leave it up just to us in the blogosphere, or the “chattering class.” Get in there: read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, and then write and send.

Monday, April 16, 2007

From the Morning Mail: A New Resource

I sometimes find new and exciting things in my morning email. This was one of those mornings. Today I received notice of the new website of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University. This involves work at both Duke Divinity School and Duke Medical School. I would be interested if all I knew was that Harold Koenig, MD, was involved. Dr. Koenig is the best known leader in research on correlations between religious and spiritual practice and physical and behavioral health.

But the site has more to offer than that. For example, I looked at the section on Research and Publications, to be pointed to “Religiousness and spiritual support among advanced cancer patients and associations with end-of-life treatment preferences and quality of life.” (Journal of Clinical Oncology 25:555-560). Through our System’s Health Sciences Library I was able to access the article on line; but any good academic library should be able to get you a copy through interlibrary loan.

There I found some interesting and disturbing information. To quote from the abstract:

Most (88%) of the study population (N = 230) considered religion to be at least somewhat important. Nearly half (47%) reported that their spiritual needs were minimally or not at all supported by a religious community, and 72% reported that their spiritual needs were supported minimally or not at all by the medical system. Spiritual support by religious communities or the medical system was significantly associated with patient QOL [quality of life].

This is disturbing to me, and should be disturbing for all of us. The data was taken from a larger study involving patients and (unpaid) caregivers in Connecticut, New York, and Texas. Five major cancer centers participated. My point is that the study sample is a pretty varied group, and not geographically or culturally narrow. So when it says almost three quarters aren’t feeling support from the medical system, that’s important to me as a chaplain. When it says nearly half aren’t feeling meaningful support from their religious communities, that’s important to all of us. That’s especially true when there’s a strong correlation in the group between feeling supported and experiencing a better quality of life.

The article is just data. It doesn’t get into why we may be failing large percentages of our patients or our parishioners or our siblings in faith. But it’s data we need to consider as we continue to discover our individual roles in carrying forward the care for the sick that is a part of every faith tradition – at least of every one I’m aware of. We need always to be considering how we might show compassion, and how we might show it better next time than we have before.

And that, of course, is the value of a resource such as the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. I commend the center and the site to your attention. I think you’ll find a lot there that’s worthwhile.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

80% of Success: Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Easter (RCL)

We’ve all heard the saying, “80% of success is just showing up.” It’s a quote from Woody Allen, the actor and director. I did some diligent web surfing, but couldn’t find the context in which he said or wrote or published it. But we all know it, don’t we? It’s been used in motivational speeches public and private. It’s been used by corporate coaches and sports coaches, and by a lot of different folks offering encouragement to others.

Interestingly enough, it’s what came to me in reflecting on the lessons for Low Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter. There’s a sense that the theme running through the lessons for today is about “showing up.”

The centerpiece of the lessons today is the Gospel. We know the story: the disciples were hiding at the end of that first Easter Sunday, hiding from the world that seemed to have collapsed around and on them. And Jesus just showed up. The doors were locked. The room was probably quiet: these were folks who didn’t want to be found. And Jesus just showed up – suddenly, shockingly, Jesus was there, calm and smiling as big as life. Big as life: that was the most shocking part. They had seen him dead and buried. They had seen the tomb empty. They had heard from Mary Magdalene that he was really raised - but she was a woman; what did she know? Now here he was, standing in front of them, greeting them in peace! He blessed them, he breathed on them, he empowered them with the Holy Spirit, and they rejoiced at seeing him.

Unfortunately, Thomas wasn’t there. In a very real way, he experienced sadness and failure because he hadn’t shown up. He heard the joy, he heard the excitement, when his brother and sister disciples said to him, “He was here! He was really here!’ But he couldn’t join in. Thomas the Twin, Thomas the realist, Thomas, the first post-Enlightenment Christian, if you will: Thomas just couldn’t join in. Can’t you just imagine his disappointment? Can’t you just imagine his frustration, his anger at himself at not being there? So, perhaps it was as much defensive as it was pragmatic when he said, “Unless I see: unless I see nail holes, unless I see the spear wound, I can’t join in the celebration.”

And so the next week, the Second Sunday of the original Eastertide, Thomas did show up. And being there himself, he was there when Jesus showed up again, still as surprising and as calm and as big as life. “Here, Thomas,” he said. “look and touch. See and believe.” And Thomas was able to respond with all his heart and soul, “My Lord and my God!” Such a great change for Thomas just because the second time he had just showed up.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised after that that the disciples started showing up. The biggest story of them showing up will come to us at Pentecost. But today’s Acts lesson is a consequence of them showing up. That’s why they were being interrogated by the Sanhedrin, the Council of religious leaders in Jerusalem. The disciples kept showing up in the Temple, teaching about Jesus and proclaiming the coming of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, the verses just before this lesson we learn that they had been imprisoned for it. But during the night an angel came to the prison, freed them, and told them to do it again. And so when they showed up again, the Sanhedrin had them arrested and brought for interrogation. “We told you not to do this,” the leaders said. “We told you not to put this on us.” But Peter said, “We have to do what God called us to. We are witnesses that God has showed up, and has therefore called us to show up.”

And the theme is topped off by the lesson from Revelation. Today’s lesson is from the first chapter, the introduction; and John the Elder makes right off the bat the point he will emphasize and reemphasize throughout the text: “Look! He is coming. Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him.” No one will miss it this time when Jesus shows up again.

Now, wonderful and powerful things happen when Jesus shows up. The disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and were empowered to take the message out into a world that didn’t want them. And when, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they showed up, teaching about Jesus and proclaiming the Kingdom, the community grew. Remember all those reports in Acts that all of Jerusalem was listening, and that day by day thousands were joining? That was all the result of the disciples showing up and showing up.

Now, I know that last phrase seemed a bit odd and repetitious. I said that because their showing up, in the sense of being physically present, was only part of what moved the crowds. It was also important what – or in this case whom – they were showing. They were showing up, and then showing the presence of Christ. In teaching and healing in the Temple, and in caring for one another, they were demonstrating the presence of Christ in their midst. In a very real sense, when they were showing up, really showing up, Christ was showing up; for the people could see and know the presence of the risen Christ in the tangible, active presence of the disciples.

And that, of course, is our call even now, we who would continue to be disciples of Jesus. We are the successors of Thomas and of all the others for whom Jesus has showed up. We gather for Eucharist because we believe he continues to show up, present in Body and Blood in the elements of bread and wine. We trust that in receiving bread and wine we receive again the Holy Spirit as surely as if we had felt ourselves the breath of the risen Christ.

And so we are called to show up – to show up and to show up. We are called to be present in the Church and the world. Certainly, we are called to show up in church on Sunday; but we’re also called to show up in the world, present to friends and neighbors, present to our communities. And when we show up, we’re called to show up – that is, we’re called first to be present ourselves, and then to show by how we are present the presence of the risen Christ. Now, that may be a frightening thought. Like the first disciples, it might seem easier to gather alone, by ourselves, in quiet rooms. But we are indeed the successors of Thomas and the others, and we know that the risen Christ showed up then, and shows up now. Indeed, we have taken that wonderful image of Paul’s, and claimed that we are the continuing Body of Christ, called to make him present in our lives and in our world. We can no more hide ourselves away than could the first disciples once Christ had come back to them from beyond the tomb.

And when we will do that, when we will show in our lives the presence of the risen Christ, amazing things can happen. Just as those first disciples brought Christ to many, and so brought many to Christ, so we can also present Christ in our world. Even if it seems sometimes the world doesn’t want us, still the presence of Christ is compelling. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can proclaim the Kingdom. And as Jesus told Thomas, how blessed are those – how blessed are we – who have not seen and yet believe.

Among us and through us the risen Christ can still do great things. Empowered by the Spirit, we can be a part of them. All we have to do is proclaim that God has raised Christ from death, and has promised life for all who believe. Conquering death was the hard part, and God did that in Christ. All we have to do is continue to make that real and present in our world. And for that, the greatest part of success is just showing up

Monday, April 09, 2007

Free From Bondage 2: Episcopal Actions on Alcoholism and Addiction

In my last post I wrote about addiction. As an Episcopal chaplain, I think it worthwhile to note what the General Convention has said about addiction, and about the response of the Episcopal Church to it.

Let’s begin with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In the section of "Prayers and Thanksgivings," we find this prayer:

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen. (BCP p. 831)

As a Book of Common Prayer must be (it is a Constitutional matter for the Episcopal Church), the 1979 Prayer Book was approved in two successive General Conventions (1976 and 1979), in exactly the same text.

It should be no surprise, then, that subsequent acts of General Convention on alcoholism and addiction would reflect the themes that recovery is release from bondage into freedom, and that the Church is called to provide pastoral support. The 68th General Convention in 1985 passed A083, the recent resolution with the broadest scope. The resolution said in part,

The Episcopal Church acknowledges the need for exercising a healing ministry and for offering guidance to problem drinkers or chemically dependent persons and to members of their families.

Alcoholism and other drug abuse are recognized as treatable human disorders which are manifested by a three-fold impairment of the body, mind and spirit. The Church concurs with health authorities that alcohol and other substance abuse is a major health concern of our society. It affects not only the alcoholic or abuser's health and self-concept, but also interpersonal relationships with family, co-workers, friends and counselors. It may affect any individual, regardless of financial situation, education, employment, race or creed.

The Church calls on all clergy and lay people to take to heart the seriousness of the illness of alcohol and drug abuse and its manifestations as a disrupter of family, economic and social life; and urges all churchpeople to do everything in their power to offer forth the love of Christ in his healing ministry to those afflicted persons and families.

The resolution also called for diocesan committees on alcoholism and drug dependency; to treat addicted employees with “pastoral love and concern,” and to include treatment in insurance programs; and establishing a policy for use of alcohol at church functions. This consolidated earlier resolutions dating to 1979, calling separately for diocesan committees, educational programs, and pastoral support (1979-B122; 1982-D015).

The 70th General Convention passed three resolutions, reaffirming the statement of the 68th General Convention, and also supporting the development of church school curricula on addiction by the National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol and Drugs(1991-A100; 1991-D171; 1991-D172) . In addition, the 74th General Convention in 2003 called again for diocesan committees, educational efforts, and inclusion of treatment in health insurance plans for church employees (2003-A123).

In addition to actions of General Convention, there are actions of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. The Executive Council meets between General Conventions to carry out programs and policies approved by the General Convention. In 1983, the Executive Council designated “the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving Day as Alcohol Awareness Sunday throughout the Episcopal Church;…” (EXC111983.33)

The position, then, of the Episcopal Church as expressed in official acts is to acknowledge that addiction is a disease marked by bondage to the addictive substance. In response to that disease we are called to offer pastoral care and support, and especially to our own employees who suffer. Dioceses are called to have their own committees on the subject, and to offer educational efforts using both diocesan and national resources.

I have noted that it has been much more common in recent years to address addiction as a penal issue than as a health issue. We as Episcopalians should be bucking that trend, both in our Church and in our support for political and social actions. We might be (indeed, we almost certainly are) as tempted to protect our sense of "superiority" by seeing the behavior of others as "bad" rather than as "sick." The Episcopal Church, however, has called us to recognize that our brothers and sisters who struggle with alcoholism and addiction are indeed sick, bound in their illness both in body and in soul; and in recognizing that, to respond not to respond first with judgment but with compassion.

Postscript: After posting this morning, I found this news story. I think it fits my point to a "T." (Thanks to epiScope for this.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Free From Bondage

Through this Holy Week, "All Things Considered" on NPR has been running a series on The Forgotten War on Drugs. (I'm not sure that there's any intentional correlation with Holy Week. That's just an easy way to tag it in my calendar.) Thursday's report included this:

Peter Reuter, a longtime drug policy researcher at the University of Maryland, says studies show that treatment — even "not very good" treatment — is cost effective.

"Just getting people to cut down from using heroin three times a day to just twice a week, which is what you get while people are in treatment, will cut down on their criminality a lot," he says. "That reduction in crime has huge value, and the cost of providing treatment — particularly not very good treatment — isn't very high. Locking people up is very expensive."

So, putting addicts into addiction treatment is cheaper than the paying for the incremental costs for public safety personnel if the same addicts are out on the street. Whatever benefits treatment may have for the individual addict, treatment makes the rest of us safer and so costs us less money.

So why, then, have we spent more money - so much more money! - on law enforcement and corrections, than on treatment? The NPR report speaks of two possible reasons. The first is that there is so much of enforcement that is measurable, guantifiable: so many arrests made, so many pounds or kilos or tons siezed, valued in so many dollars. It is honestly hard to quantify some measures of treatment, and can appear distressing: how many patients post treatment are still clean at one month or one year or five years. Those numbers, those percentages go down, because some patients - perhaps most patients - relapse, and those declining values can look depressing, even disturbing. Indeed, the one number that is easily measured is how many dollars go into treatment; and like other healthcare costs, that number goes up without any increase in actual treatment.

The second reason suggested is that enforcement is sexy in a way that treatment isn't. We have seen on TV and in movies of the dramatic struggles and the dramatic successes of law enforcement. Sure, most of the stories are fiction; but the literary form is so compelling that news and documentary pieces take on the same "plot."

Enforcement is "sexy," too, to politicians and enforcers because it can drive acquisitions. All the "cool tools" - the planes and helicopters and radar systems and fast boats - have more than one possible application. Today's drug enforcement tool might be used tomorrow for homeland security or defense. This can excite people in enforcement (and the military), people who develop and build the equipment, and the elected officials whose districts are affected. A new fast chase boat can be a whole lot more exciting than new hospital rooms, even at the same price (and, no, I don't know for certain that they are the same price; but I know these toys aren't cheap).

Still, I fear there is another reason that politicians favor enforcement over treatment, and it's a moral one: it's easier to feel superior to addicts as criminals (and the criminals who maintain them), than for addicts as patients. It is easier for "us" to distinquish ourselves from "them" if "they" have bad morals than if "they" have a treatable disease.

I have seen that commonly when speaking with folks about the disease concept of addiction. Considering addiction as a disease can make a number of things easier. One can present clear symptoms, both physical and behavioral, and a predictable course for the disease. One can present treatment, and can discuss the affectiveness of various interventions, both medical and behavioral. Whether one wants to see it as demonstrated science, or as very good analogy, the concept has its strengths.

Many, however, still resist the disease concept, and most come down to the same point: "It lets the addict off the hook!" And they have a (limited) point. If addiction is a disease, the responsibility of the addict is limited: the addict didn't choose to be addicted. And, responsibility for some behavior is limited: the disease of addiction is at least in part psychological, and we don't hold fully responsible those with other psychological impairments.

At the same time, the disease concept does leave the addict responsible in many ways. The addict is certainly responsible for the first use, and for every use of the addictive substance until control is lost. No one becomes addicted without choosing to use. At some point the addict becomes responsible for living with the disease. That isn't really that hard a concept. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and allergic disorders require some responsibility on the part of the sufferer. Bad choices can cause illness, deterioration, and death. The addict in recovery is also responsible for living with the illness, for demonstrating healthy behaviors and maintaining the health support system that keeps the addict clean and sober. The addict is also legally responsible for crimes committed, and morally and emotionally responsible for harm done in family and other relationships. So, while the addict using is in some ways limited in responsibility, the addict prior to use or in recovery certainly isn't "off the hook."

The disease concept has another advantage: it reduces shame if the addict suffers a disease. For those concerned about responsibility, that’s not an advantage. After all, shame is the appropriate response, isn’t it, for moral failing? However, shame also brings about hiding and secrets. It encourages the addict to hide the problem; and that discourages the addict from seeking help. However help may be available – treatment, 12-step programs, therapy – the addict will not seek or accept it if it he or she is ashamed; any more than we are likely to address our own sins and shortcomings if we are ashamed. If we are guilty for what we have done, we may seek to correct and redress. If we are ashamed – convinced we are not worthy of forgiveness, of correction – we will simply hide. To think the addict somehow different is to think the addict less than human.

But those who favor enforcement over treatment cling to that fear of letting the addict off the hook, and call for accountability – and prison. They don’t do that only for drug crimes. Look at the growth in the number of prisons, and the number of inmates in them, in the past generation; and then think of how many of those incarcerated have been nonviolent drug offenders – users found holding, rather than dealing. We might well have saved some money putting those folks into treatment, even long term treatment. Instead, to “hold them accountable,” we have them in prison.

But, after all, it is hard to feel ourselves superior to folks who have a life-changing, even life-threatening disease than to folks who are morally weak. Sometimes, it is easier to fear less our own inhumanity if we can find someone we can point to as less than human.

Tomorrow we will give praise and thanks for all that God has done, and especially what God has done in Christ, to set us free from sin and death – from our own vices, our own inhumanities. Let us remember those whose lives, whose sins, know real bondage in addiction. Let us remember them, praying for their liberation in this world even as we give thanks for our liberation, and theirs with us, in the next. And, let us remember them when politicians want more money for “the war on drugs.” Perhaps its time to bring those victims home, to treat their wounds, and not simply to lock them away. We will be part of offering them new hope and new lives. And, who knows? We might improve our safety and save some money along the way.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Among the Notes, Notes of Interest

As I spend the morning in my annual Holy Week meditation, I have the computer up and running. I even move my fingers on the keyboard, and accomplish a few, relatively mindless tasks, while the music I know so well is replayed, reinforced. But the bright monitor, the moving fingers allow me to at least appear to be “at work,” here in the hospital, even while my head moves to the rhythm and my mind rehearses the lyrics and my heart feels – my heart feels....

So let me take a few moments to highlight two new blogs of interest, and especially of interest for those who come here looking for information on healthcare and other chaplaincies in the Episcopal Church.

The first is Diocesan Chaplains “News You Can Use.” This blog is the work of Dr. Maggie Izutsu, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest at Austin, and Consultant for Chaplaincy to the Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church; and of Shelly Fayette, a seminarian at Union Theological Seminary interning in that Office. They’re writing about matters related to “diocesan chaplains” – which is, basically, most of us. Military and federal chaplains have a special relationship to the Office and to the Bishop Suffragan. The rest of us, while remembered and served by the Office, are still responsible primarily to our own diocesan bishops – and so, “diocesan chaplains.” Maggie and Shelly are addressing issues in various arenas of chaplaincy and pastoral care, including health care, and how the Office serves us all.

The second is The Bishop’s Notebook, the blog of the Bishop Suffragan himself. The Rt. Rev. George Packard is Suffragan to the Presiding Bishop for Chaplaincies, including direct responsibility for military and other federal chaplains, and advocacy for healthcare, corrections, and first-response chaplains (police, fire, etc.). He is also responsible for the Episcopal churches in Guam and Micronesia, and has led the Episcopal Church’s responses to disaster, beginning with his personal ministry at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, and continuing through the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005. His blog includes news and personal reflections on his experiences in his many and varied responsibilities.

If you’ve found your way here looking for information on chaplaincy in the Episcopal Church, check out these blogs as well. They will have much you will find useful, and even more you will find interesting.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What to Talk About

Our hospital has an agreement with the local school system to participate in a “Health Professions Exposure” program. (My wife, bless her, asked whether we would need to quarantine them after their “exposure.”) The intent is to give interested high school juniors and seniors a chance to see professionals working in the hospital and to learn from them something of what each job is actually like, how one prepares for the position, and what the professional likes best about the work.

I’m speaking tomorrow to two groups of such students. (The first group is as 7:30 a.m. I hope they’re awake.) I had planned to focus on how we talk about ethics in health care, and how that is different from ethics in the larger culture. However, the coordinator of the program sent some questions that the students themselves had raised. Those questions were really more about how one becomes a chaplain, what the work is like, etc. So, I’ve had this evening to do more work from scratch than I had originally planned. (I really hope that 7:30 group is awake!)

All of which caused me to think: what would my readers want me to talk about in that setting? So, I invite you to comment. If you have experience in health care ministry, what should I tell them about the work? If you don’t have that experience, what would you like to hear about?

Yeah, I know: I’m not likely to change anything between now and 7:30 tomorrow morning; but I’d still like to know. And I will consider addressing interesting topics in future posts here. So, hit the "Comment" link and let me know: what do you think I should talk about?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

See This Film

I have been “Into Great Silence.” I could, I suppose, have said, “I have seen ‘Into Great Silence;’” but that would not have conveyed the experience. It is a meditative experience, sort of an afternoon’s silent retreat.

“Into Great Silence” is a documentary, a film recording glimpses, visions, and portraits of life in Le grand Chartreuse, the motherhouse of the Carthusian Order. The Carthusians live a life of contemplation and study, punctuated by the opus dei, the cycle of Offices and Eucharists. Each monk spends almost all his time in his cell, seeing other monks only at the Offices, and on Sundays, when they share lunch, their only community meal, and have time for recreation and conversation. Choosing to avoid “unnecessary speech,” and living so much of their lives in isolation, they live largely in outward silence. And yet through the movie it becomes clear their lives are full and joyful.

I highly recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it. I have two caveats:

  • First, this is not a date movie. It is not about plot; there is none. It is not about action or dialogue, because there is little enough of those, either. It is about sharing in some small way in their lives, including in the contemplative experience, to the extent one can in a movie theater. It you have experienced and enjoyed a silent retreat, or participating even for a brief stay in the rhythm of monastic life, you will have some sense what to expect.
  • Second, this really should be seen in a theater. I can’t imagine this will have the same feel to it if you wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it on your couch or your bed, hearing in the background all those small and familiar sounds of your life. Go to a theater, get out of your world so that in some small way you can get into theirs.

But do go. The experience is engrossing and compelling. I am not called to that life – blessedly few are – but I feel I have glimpsed the power of that vocation for those who feel it. Go and see for yourself. It’s worth it.