Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Limitations (Crafton)

The Limitations of Like Minds
by the Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22)

Respect for conscience is the great gift of Anglican life together. You are not me, and you never have to become me. You have your own journey, and it is not mine. Together we serve the God who created us both, and we can do so even if we disagree, and even if our disagreement is about very important things. We do not have to be a community of like-minded people. We can just agree to serve.

A community of like-minded people has no internal method of self-correction and self-examination; the most it can do is monitor conformity to unquestioned norms. The friction of argument and the energy it produces is the potent fuel of ideas, in the human community. All our intellectual progress has been accomplished by questioning assumptions.

If an orthodoxy can bear such scrutiny, it remains as it was. If it cannot, it changes. So it has ever been. A questioning mind is not the devil's work. It is one of the fruits of baptism. We pray for it at the font.

That is why we have married priests, why we have women priests. It is why we have restored the ministry of deacons in the Church. It is why the disabled are not barred from serving in ordained ministry. It is why women who have recently given birth are not considered ritually unclean. It is why Christians need not observe the large and complex corpus of Jewish law. It is why the Church is very different in our century from what it was in the 19th. Or in the 16th. Or the 4th.

This is not a betrayal of principle. It is the way human beings live. We live in history as fish swim in water, and history only moves forward. The realm of God to which we look is without time, but the world in which we now live is bound to history. Eyes open, brain in gear and spirit available for instruction, we move with its current.

Don't try to abandon history, for you cannot, not while you are here. Don't try to stop it. Instead, talk to it. Look at it. Listen to it. The human family has many ways of being in the world, and all are instructive in some way. It is the height of hubris to think that we know all there is to know about God's ways because we understand our own. It cuts God out of our story, and makes it a very local story indeed. A story about us alone.

About the Author: Barbara Cawthorne Crafton is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director and author. She was rector of St. Clement's Church in Manhattan's Theatre district. She was also a chaplain on the waterfront of New York, and served both historic Trinity Church, Wall Street and St. John's Church in Greenwich Village. She was a chaplain at Ground Zero during the recovery effort after the WTC bombing. She writes and gardens at The Geranium Farm.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not In God's Name (Crafton)

by the Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (I Corinthians 8:9)

We can do whatever we want and God will still love us. Nothing we do can set us outside that love. That's true. But it's still not a good idea just to do whatever you feel like doing at any given moment, and most of us have figured that out by the time we're halfway through our teens. We cause ourselves untold grief until we get that through our heads.

And we can hurt other people, too. I am free to do whatever I want. But not everything I want to do is a good idea. I have limits. I'll suffer if I don't observe them. And another thing: I might hurt someone else by my example. He might see me behaving irresponsibly and figure it's fine – if I can do it, he can, too. Wonderful – now both of us must suffer unnecessarily, reaping consequences we might have predicted and could have avoided.

Does this apply to the current impasse in the Anglican Communion? Do we have an obligation to maintain an institutionalized cruelty to fellow Anglicans of minority sexual orientations because others have not been able to move in the direction of recognizing this cruelty as the sin it is? I don't think so. It is one thing to join another in his weakness and quite another to join him in his sin. A hundred years from now, probably less, hatred and persecution of homosexuals will look exactly as chattel slavery looks to us now. People will be unable to understand how we could have called ourselves Christians and also reject them. What is done today with scriptural texts condemning same-sex love will look like what was done in slaveholding days with the many biblical texts condoning slavery in both the Hebrew scriptures and our own. The sooner we leave this unlovely behavior behind, the better for all of us.

Arrogant? Culturally insensitive? I don't think so. I must love and respect and pray for my brothers and sisters, but I can't help them marginalize or injure anyone in God's name.

About the Author: Barbara Cawthorne Crafton is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director and author. She was rector of St. Clement's Church in Manhattan's Theatre district. She was also a chaplain on the waterfront of New York, and served both historic Trinity Church, Wall Street and St. John's Church in Greenwich Village. She was a chaplain at Ground Zero during the recovery effort after the WTC bombing. She writes and gardens at The Geranium Farm.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not about Sex (Dutton-Gillett)

It's Really Not About Sex
by the Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett

Just recently, the Anglican Communion website published a rather lengthy essay, "What is Anglicanism?," by the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda. [The complete text is now only available at First Things.] The essay is mainly a history lesson, in which the archbishop recounts the arrival of Anglican Christianity in his country, and the very real sacrifices made by many of those missionaries and by the newly Anglicanized Ugandans . (Indeed, the martyrs of Uganda are remembered in our calendar.)

In sharing some details of the founding of the Anglican Church of Uganda and its subsequent growth, the archbishop also weaves in another story, about what he understands to be the centrality of Scripture in the life of the church. Near the end of his essay, the archbishop makes what appears to be his central point:

In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built: The faith of the martyrs was maintained by the Word of God, the East African revival brought to the people the Word of God, and the historic ordering of ministry was designed to advance the Word of God.
And that Word, the archbishop concludes, must be "reassert[ed]" in the Anglican Communion. The essay makes clear the archbishop's sense that the North American and European expressions of Anglicanism (which the Archbishop of York has called North Atlantic Anglicanism) have lost their understanding of the Word of God, and seems to believe – as many in the Global South seem to – that this is the root of the Communion's current situation.

Reading his remarks, I was struck powerfully by his assumption that the way he understands the Word of God is the only correct way. Indeed, while he acknowledges a place for modern biblical criticism, he nevertheless seems to regard the Bible as self-interpreting, as quite obvious in what it means, and he seems genuinely alarmed that anyone could possibly reach an understanding of Scripture that is in any way different from his own. From such a perspective, it is easy to understand why he would reach the conclusion that we in the North Atlantic provinces have lost both our minds and our faith.

Of course, the Archbishop of Uganda and many of his fellow Global South bishops are not the only ones who assume that their way of reading the Bible is the only correct way of doing so. Plenty of us in the North Atlantic provinces share in that error. Many of us assume that the way we read Scripture is surely better and more faithful, and we become genuinely alarmed that anyone would read the Bible from what seems to be such a literal mind-set. From that perspective, it is equally easy to see why many of "us" would regard "them" with the same skepticism and bewilderment with which "they" regard "us."

I believe the archbishop's essay underscores what really is going on within the Anglican Communion and beyond. Debate about sexuality, or more precisely, homosexuality, is not really the issue; it is, rather, a very significant symptom. The real issue is this divide about how the Bible is to be interpreted and understood, and its place in the life of the church. Human sexuality is the current favorite battleground for this more significant debate about Scripture. And it is no surprise that in setting forth his views about the Bible and its place in the church, Archbishop Orombi indicates that he feels much more kinship with the evangelical manifestations of the Christian faith than he does with most Anglicans in the North Atlantic provinces. I am quite sure that, if the archbishop visited my town, he would feel more at home at the huge Baptist church down the street than in our parish. And realizing this leads me to feel rather less hopeful about re-establishing unity within the Anglican Communion.

If we are to restore unity amidst our differences, I don't think we will find it in the Bible. After all, the expression of the Word of God par excellence for Christian people is not the Bible. It is, rather, Jesus himself – the Word made flesh. At the heart of our faith, we see Jesus as the most sublime expression of the Word of God, and we are convinced that Jesus as the Christ is not locked into a particular period of history, but is a living presence in the life of the church today and in the life of each of us who seek to be his followers. The Bible is a tool – and an indispensable one – in coming to know the Christ, as are tradition and reason. But the tools can ever only be tools – none of them can ever replace the One whom they help us to find.

St. Paul has been much maligned over the years. He is regarded by many as a misogynistic conservative. But it is closer to the truth, I think, to acknowledge that whatever else St. Paul was or might have been, at heart, he was a mystic whose own conversion to the Christian faith was rooted in an encounter with the Risen Christ that was difficult to put into words. As Paul himself says, when it happened, he couldn't tell whether or not he was in his own body, and after it was over, he had seen things that were impossible to describe. But the result of this encounter with the Risen Christ for Paul was radical transformation – the kind of transformation that made Paul, the observant Jew, able to say – quite astonishingly – that in Christ, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." This leads me to conclude that in Christ, there is also neither conservative nor liberal, Global South or Global North, straight or gay. Rather, there are only human beings made in the image of God, baptized into the Body of Christ, each seeking to be transformed through our own encounter with the Risen Christ. Our life in Christ lies exactly there: in Christ. Not in the Bible, nor even in our tradition. And Jesus reminded his followers many times that life in Christ was often an unpredictable and personally crucifying experience.

The parts of Archbishop Orombi's essay that I found most moving were the stories he told of how Ugandan tribal culture was transformed in various ways through encounter with Christ. The archbishop's recognition of this transformation should remind both his Ugandan church and ours that our transformation in Christ is never completed in this life, and thus there is likely more in both his culture and ours that still longs to be touched by the healing and life-changing power of the Risen Christ. It would be a grave error for the archbishop and his church if they were to assume that no further transformation in their lives and in the life of their church and culture were needed. But it would be an equally grave error for me, or for us in the Episcopal Church, to make that same assumption, or to assume that we are somehow advanced beyond the world's other Anglicans in that process of transformation. Jesus is not done with any of us. We are all, in our own ways, incomplete. Perhaps this is where our true unity lies.

Wouldn't it be a remarkable thing if all the Anglican bishops were to gather together at Canterbury next year fully aware of their own incompleteness, and seeking their completion in Christ and in one another? That would be by far the most powerful witness I could imagine, both to the church and to the world.

About the Author: The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett is a graduate of Michigan State University's James Madison College and the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He served churches in the dioceses of Missouri and Chicago prior to becoming rector of St. Elizabeth's Church in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1999. Matthew participated in the 2006 General Convention as the First Alternate Clergy Deputy from the Diocese of East Tennessee.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Puzzles and Mysteries (Cockrell)

A Dialogue on Puzzles & Mysteries
by The Rev. Ernest W. Cockrell, in dialogue with The Rev. Thomas B. Woodward

Editor's note: The Rev. Ernest Cockrell initially posted the first version of these comments on the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv. The Episcopal Majority invited him to post it on our site. He has slightly edited that HoBD posting for distribution to a wider audience.

Writing "Risks and Riddles" in the June 27 issue of Smithsonian (page 98), Gregory F. Treverton opened a new paradigm for me that may address the situation we Episcopalians face within our denomination and within the Anglican Communion, as he differentiates between a puzzle and a mystery:
There's a reason millions of people try to solve crossword puzzles each day. Amid the well-ordered combat between a puzzler's mind and the blank boxes waiting to be filled, there is satisfaction along with frustration. Even when you can't find the right answer, you know it exists. Puzzles can be solved; they have answers.

But a mystery offers no such comfort. It poses a question that has no definitive answer because the answer is contingent; it depends on a future interaction of many factors, known and unknown. A mystery cannot be answered; it can only be framed, by identifying the critical factors and applying some sense of how they have interacted in the past and might interact in the future. A mystery is an attempt to define ambiguities.

Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries. Treating them as puzzles is like trying to solve the unsolvable - an impossible challenge. But approaching them as mysteries may make us more comfortable with the uncertainties of our age.
In that paradoxical context, think of the primary "risks and riddles" that seem to haunt and separate us in the church today: interpretations of Scripture and of sexuality. It seems that many of us are treating both as "puzzles," when - from all our experience of both through the ages - they are "mysteries." Both are out of reach of ever completely "figuring them out"; both are grounded in the future, as much as they are the past.

What if all of us acknowledged the mystery of Scripture and sexuality, as each of us tries to come to terms with both as best we can, the "mystery" part allowing us a bit of leeway - a margin of acceptance - for each of our understandings, leaving behind any vestige of self-righteousness that surely is not the mind of Christ?

Having recently retired from Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California), I've been given the gift of attending services at sister parishes around the Diocese of El Camino Real. In the Scriptures and liturgies and hymns, I keep finding a deep unity which supersedes differences of thought and belief - safe places to wrestle with the puzzles and mysteries which confront us in every sphere. If we can only remember to differentiate between the two, I think our path ahead could be clarified, and perhaps we could walk along together, celebrating both while focusing our attention and energy on service beyond ourselves in the name of Christ! I think Jesus would like that!

Ernest W. Cockrell+
Saratoga, California

About the Author: The Reverend Ernest W. Cockrell, a native Texhoman, is the recently-retired rector of Saint Andrew's Church & School in Saratoga, CA, after almost 15 years there, preceded by 25 years as rector of Saint Gabriel's, Marion, MA. Through those years he has worked via teaching and preaching to connect religion with 20th/21st -century reality, so that Episcopalians can be literate without being literal; to bring peace with justice and security to Palestine and Israel (and to the United States!), by honest reporting on the situation there, attempting to bring a balance to a one-sided view delivered to most Americans, especially through his SAMA' program, "listening" to the words of the peacemakers there: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish - summarized in the "Sama Song." In addition to serving a four-year term on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of El Camino Real, he has been a deputy to four General Conventions, serving on the Committee for National and International Affairs. As the author of one novel, several smaller books, and composer of a number of musicals, he is presently in the market for an agent!

Tom Woodward's Response to Ernest Cockrell

I am struck by Ernest Cockrell's piece. He reminds me of the wisdom of Jacques Maritain, who wrote, "Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved."

There has been little appreciation for mystery is so many of the discussions throughout the church about Scripture and human sexuality. We have focused on the rightful interpretation of John 14:6 which has the Risen Christ saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." Some claim a literal truth for those words in a Gospel steeped in mystery and nuance, while others point to Biblical criticism and specific events noted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke before the church's proclamation of its understanding in John's Gospel. While that dialogue/debate is important, it is also unproductive as long as it takes place outside the context of our awareness of mystery and of how very partial is our understanding and appreciation of the limits of our knowledge.

Ernest is right: mystery allows for the full presence of the other, while puzzles define the other as "in" or "out." Jesus taught with mystery – seldom, if ever, through puzzles. We still wrestle with the meaning of Jesus' parables. While we preach about his interactions with Mary and Martha, with the poor and the marginalized, with Zacchias and the Syro-Phoenician woman and with Pilate, we must know that we are dealing only with surface understanding and not with the mystery of two human beings of incredible complexity, much of which is not known and will never be known even to themselves. We do our best to deal with the puzzles. What does it mean that he sits at a table eating and drinking and telling stories with those the religious establishment has consigned to the garbage heap? It means more than a liberal theologian's facile words about inclusiveness, though those words are undoubtedly a part of the meaning and sense of the story.

Our dialogues and study will be different when we lay aside or at least put into perspective our labels and definitions. Paul's reference to such images as men "lying" with men has to do with actions completely separated from personhood. Paul, of course, should first have considered the personhood of those he consigned to damnation, for that is where he would have encountered the mystery he has foolishly ruled non-existent. Paul does, in other places (as in Galatians 5) look for the presence of God's blessing in persons' character rather than their characterizations. How different that is than what we find in Romans, where he reduces the image of God in thinking, feeling, spiritual persons to a function of his own fears and ignorance.

We can argue specifics as long as we want, but we will always fall short of understanding the sacramental nature of our humanity and our sexuality as long as our context is that of instrumentality rather than mystery. Our Christian theologies stand under judgment from the simplicity of our Jewish brothers and sisters. In his short book I and Thou, Martin Buber wrote movingly about the crucial elements of mystery and the holy as we think about and interact with one another and with God. Abraham Heschel, in Who Is Man, argues much the same thing, insisting that we take account of the full humanity of each other as we discern our way with others as religious people. Each and every one of us is a "thou." Anything short of that is a slight on our Creator.

Tom Woodward+
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Ernest Cockrell's Response to Tom Woodward

Tom Woodward fleshes out my reflection on puzzles and mysteries in very practical terms that are helpful in our continuing discussion on two points of conflict – Scripture and sexuality – as he focuses on the “sacramental nature of our humanity.”

I add only a couple of perspectives to his words, drawing from personal experience.

After a number of courses on the Bible in college, I had just about given up on any possibility of connecting religion with reality. I persuaded the dean of the divinity school to let me skip “bible courses,” focusing rather on Hebrew, theology, and other esoteric wanderings of the mind. But then I heard that the Old Testament professors were the world’s leading archaeologists, and I thought, “I can do that!” It was there that my conversion took place as I was able to read Scripture in its historical and cultural context.

Expanding that biblical world to include the New Testament, I have sought to integrate in my study and teaching the worlds of religion and reality, faith and reason – an easy step in the direction of that wonderfully Anglican three-legged stool of tradition, Scripture, and reason. My conclusion has been to affirm that we live in a biological and physiological world where “gravity works every time” – an ordered creation that includes an orderly progression of illnesses as well. That attempt at understanding is the “puzzle" part of creation.

However, there is more! I begin every explanation of scientific orderliness – whether in the physical world or the Bible – with the words, “We live in mystery.” There are always more facts to be discovered, so I really appreciate the words of the retiring primate of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland: “Lord, keep me always in the company of those who fearlessly seek the truth, and hide me under the shadow of thy wings from those who think they have found it.” That is a bit like one of my favorite sayings: “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

As I continue my quest to come to terms with real reality, I keep being led deeper into awesome mystery.

The more I learn of life, the more I stand in awe: intellect and spirit united as one, even as both keep their respectful boundaries. It’s not that puzzles are bad. Sometimes they can lead to the mystery. It is that puzzles are simply limited, penultimate, even as they are too often mistaken for the Ultimate. That’s where the mischief comes in! The word “idolatry” comes to mind. Remember that hymn text? “Time makes ancient good uncouth.” The eternal Spirit – the ultimate Mystery – keeps redefining “good.”

Let me come down to brass tacks from all of the above: It is especially painful to hear people using Holy Scripture as a force against other people in a way that – to my understanding - Jesus would have never approved. From my point of view, it is unseemly to use the Bible to baptize prejudice. Jesus’ interactions with “the poor and marginalized” revealed an inclusive Creator. Tom expressed it well and beautifully: “Mystery allows for the full presence of the other, while puzzles define the other as 'in' or 'out.'”

My note to the HoB/D listserv was a sincere effort to reach out to lay people and clergy of every persuasion. In real humility, I keep trying to live that inclusiveness I experience in the Jesus of the Gospels, even as I feel excluded by some literalist brothers and sisters who seem to judge others on the basis of a compartmentalized, selective choice of passages from Hebrew Scripture and from Paul’s letters read out of context. I accept their ideas, even if I think they are limited; they do not accept my ideas, even if they may be limited.

Where does this leave the Episcopal Church, with all the litigation spinning around us like an Oklahoma tornado? I think the only thing we can do is to keep being faithful to Jesus’ vision as each of us understands it, knowing that we are all acculturated, all aware that time really does make our definitions of good uncouth, and to try to be as patient with each other as our loving, forgiving God is with us!

Ernest W. Cockrell+

Thursday, July 05, 2007


One of the marks of the Episcopal Church we all love so much has been its ability to look at its life with a certain sense of humor. With all the rhetoric of division flooding the Anglican Communion, we at The Episcopal Majority believe that this is a good time to celebrate this part of our glorious tradition. We hope, in the weeks to come, to expand this offering in order to inform the church of a resurgence of the ancient observance of the Feast of Fools (with thanks to Harvey Cox) which played such a necessary part in the life of Eastern European Christianity in medieval times.

None of the following is copyrighted, so use and abuse these as best suits you, remembering that jokes and humor are always best when the speaker is the butt of the joke.


Summer always seems to be time for small carnivals to make the circuit of small towns around our country. A friend told me about attending one of these carnivals over in Espanola, New Mexico. Apparently the big attraction on the midway was a strong-man. My friend saw the guy take a steel bar and, standing over a glass tumbler, begin to twist the bar tighter and tighter until several drops of liquid fell into the glass tumbler. When the oohs and the aahs died down, he challenged those present to come close to his feat of strength. After a two-minute pause, a sweet little old lady in a gingham dress made her way next to the strong man. She took the steel bar, twisted the bar almost effortlessly until the liquid squeezed out of it filled the glass tumbler. The strong man, utterly amazed, asked, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” “Oh,” she said, “I’m Berniece Johnson, and I am the Stewardship Chairman over at St. Bede's.”

The Authority of Scripture

Last month, while I was walking around downtown, I saw a guy who looked terrible. His clothes were starting to fray, he was unshaven, and he was walking with what must have been for him an uncharacteristic stoop. In my best pastoral tone I asked him if he was OK. He said he was not. He told me that he had lost his job without another on the horizon. His health insurance had run out and, because he couldn’t afford clothes for his kids, they were staying away from school. “We are eating beans out of a can and my wife is ready to leave me, it’s so bad.”

I offered my assistance, meager as it was. I told him that whenever I get in trouble, I always go to the Bible. He said he was desperate enough to try anything. I asked him if he had a Bible at home. He said that was about the only thing he had left. So I gave him the following directions: “When you get home, take out your Bible. Close your eyes and thumb through your Bible until the Holy Spirit tells you to stop. Then, with your eyes still closed, bring your index finger down on the page – and there will be God’s answer.” The fellow said he didn’t think it would work, but because of my kind pastoral concern, he would try it.

Two days ago I saw the same guy downtown – and did he look terrific! He had on clean clothes, he was clean-shaven, and there was a bounce to his step. When he saw me he came running over and gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever had. “It worked!” he cried. “It worked – and I am the happiest man alive.” I asked, “So you went home and took out your Bible?” He said, “I went home and took out my Bible.” I asked again, “And then you closed your eyes?” “I closed my eyes and began thumbing through the pages of the Bible." “And then, when you felt the Holy Spirit tell you to stop?” He said, “I stopped. I put my finger down on the page where the Holy Spirit told me to put it.” And I asked, breathlessly, “And when you lifted up your finger?” He said, almost reverentially, “And when I lifted up my finger, there it was: God’s Answer!” “My God,” I thought to myself, “what could that be?” so I asked him: “And what did it say?” He said, “When I lifted up my finger, there it was, plain for all to see: God’s Answer.” “What did it say?” I asked. He looked at me with such grateful eyes and said, “Chapter 13.”


Before the service last week, several people in the congregation commented on the bandage on my chin. I told them that while I was shaving, I was thinking about the sermon and I cut myself. Following the service, the counters told me we had received seven separate notes in the collection plate saying, in effect, “Next Sunday why don’t you think about your shaving and cut the sermon!”

About the Author: The Rev. Thomas B. Woodward is the fool-in-residence of the Episcopal Church Institute, whose members are still waiting for a website.