Sunday, June 22, 2008


What precisely does faith in God mean? What does it entail?

Funny question for someone who's been a baptized Christian for over 55 years, an Episcopalian for 32 and an active one for 15 or so, off and on. But trust me, I have thoughts about what faith means and what it doesn't and a lot of it revolves around prayer.

Prayer is described as a conversation between an individual or group and God. Prayer is a form of worship, a safe platform for a rant against someone or some group or some thing and sometimes even against God Godself. Prayer is for acknowledging misdoings and asking for forgiveness but also for guidance to help render misdoings not done. According to some, it's a vehicle to claim what they believe God intends for them to have: a big house, good schools for the kids, a better (higher paying) job, or whatever it is they feel they deserve and should have by simply using the "name it and claim it" formula.

For me, faith is something I have but that I don't ponder a lot. Oh, I ask when I need something --- sometimes. Basically, though, I figure God will give me whatever it is God wants me to have and not necessarily what I want. According to my theology, God may send trials and some tribulation but it's my job to do what I need to do to get through them as successfully as possible without relying on the old formula of God sending this to test me or my faith. Sometimes, to quote the old saying, s*** just happens.

I also don't speak of my faith at the drop of a hat. I'm not ashamed of being Christian and Episcopalian (I'm really sort of proud of being part of The Episcopal Church, truth be told) but I aside from a window sticker featuring the Episcopal shield and admitting to being Episcopalian if I'm asked, I don't advertise. I can't decide whether my faith is mature or childlike because I can see aspects of both in it.

Adult faith says I screw up and must pay the consequences. I assume God's forgiveness even if I don't ask for it but I often acknowledge the mistake for MY sake, not for God's. It's like at work. If I make a mistake in data entry into the database my boss uses a particular color of orange to call attention to the mistake and signal that it needs to be corrected. I admit my own mistakes by using a darker, more visible shade of orange to indicate I know I made a mistake and I've corrected it, thus kicking my own butt harder than he could over having screwed up in the first place. It works for us. With God I don't usually spend a lot of time going over again and again that I'm a miserable worm of a person who messes up again and again and not worth the love and forgiveness God offers me even without my asking. Sometimes I don't even admit the fault aloud or directly in prayer. I figure if God can see inside me God can see the intent of fixing the mistake and judge whether it is self-protection thing or whether I truly am sorry. Maybe that's not a proper way of having faith but it's what I've got to work with.

The childlike part of me feels that God is always there, even if I don't consciously feel or know it. Like a kid who tries things on his or her own, I try things without necessarily having a parental figure constantly on guard in case I fall down when learning to walk or crash into a tree while learning to ride a bike. Like a child, I figure Daddy is somewhere watching over me but I don't have to continually ask "Are you still behind/with me, Daddy?" I guess I expect God to be there and don't really have to ask for it. I trust God will be/is there. We learn by making mistakes and good parents allow us to make those mistakes while still more or less covertly watching to make sure the mistakes are learning experiences and not fatal or even life-threatening ones. God's like that: watching, sometimes with bated breath and sometimes even reaching out to steady the wobbly but not continually pushing or propping up unnecessarily.

So for me faith in God involves a mutual recognition of each other's presence and requirements. I can ask for things just as any child would ask for a toy or candy but maturely realize I may not get what I ask for or even that whatever it is might not be good for me.

And most of all, it's recognition that God is there, even when I feel there is an unbridgeable chasm between us. that's the difference between being human and being God. God doesn't have unbridgeable chasms. Somehow that's a comforting thought.


What do you do when you don't know which way to go. You're stuck in a time and place and there's no clear road ahead in any direction. There isn't even a discernible road, only piles of rubble and shifting sand in all directions other than back where you came from and that direction is closed by a solid steel fence with no gate. You have to go somewhere and you have to do it soon. What do you do?

The intellect says to take baby steps in one direction or another, even if it turns out to be the wrong decision. Ok, that would work, I suppose. The emotion says to be like a bird caught under a net who finds that thrashing around only makes it become more enmeshed while sitting quietly and looking about for a hole would result in freedom from the trap.

Like everything else in the world, things are seldom all one thing or all another. The world is made up of colors, an infinite range of them, not just black and white. Adding that to the mix, that there are not just two possible ways to go but literally dozens (simplifying the color palette for simplicity's sake). With that thought the whole thing gets even more unwieldy and even more bewildering.

What to do. What to do.

Inertia strikes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thoughts on THE Gay Blessing

The headline of the article reads:

Gay priest resigns after furore over church blessing

The furore? He and his partner, also a priest, had their commitment blessed IN a church BY a CofE clergyman WITNESSED by hundreds of family, friends and well-wishers USING the order of service for a EUCHARIST . From the article:

Much of the anger toward the couple came after details of the service were revealed. Traditionalists were angry that the men were able to enjoy a ceremony almost identical to a traditional church wedding, with readings, hymns, a Eucharist and a version of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer's Solemnization of Marriage.

How dare they! How dare they want their civil partnership AND commitment to each other blessed? How dare they want the same thing that thousands of more-or-less worthy young women pouring over bridal magazines and with probably far less sacramental feeling or knowledge want -- a church wedding with friends and relatives witnessing a momentous occasion in the lives of two people who have every intention of living together as a copule and growing old together? How dare they? How dare they indeed!

It's okay for brides and their families to go into debt to buy the perfect dress, perfect flowers, perfect rings, music, and even rental of the church (if necessary) in order to produce the "perfect" wedding of which they'd always dreamed. That probalby 50% of those marriages will fail and all will have the potential to fail has nothing to do with it. The church is willing to gamble and marry them to each other anyway. Oh, they undoubtedly love each other passionately at the time and fully intend to live up to the words they say to each other but it doesn't always work. Still, the church takes the risk of allowing a marriage ceremony to take place, sometimes scripted more carefully than a Hollywood movie shoot or theatric performance. It's perfectly okay --- if the two people getting married are of different sexes.

But turn the page and just let two homosexual men want to celebrate their commitment (after having already undergone a civil union) in a religious service of the Eucharist and the wailing and gnashing of teeth stretches around the world. How dare these two MEN flaunt GOD'S HOLY WORD and GOD'S SACRED SACRAMENT with their definintely UNHOLY and ABOMINABLE behavior? How dare they indeed! Honesty doesn't count for much and intent even less, it seems.

Funny -- the church doesn't seem to object to blessing dogs, boats, cars, snakes, houses, religious callings, fox hunts, intermnents, commercial fishing ventures, agricultural fields, cats, etc., but let two same-sex partners wish to have their commitment blessed and the outcry is deafening.

I wonder what Jesus would say? But then, Jesus didn't marry any couples of either orientation.

How dare these two men flaunt convention and even church law and custom? How dare they indeed. That there is more furore over their "blessing" than there is over the atrocities in Darfur, Zimbabwe and Myanmar is telling far louder than the dismay over two men having a so-called "wedding." How dare they?

How dare we ignore the plight of millions while busily condemning two?

I wonder what Jesus would really say? Where would Jesus put his efforts? Where shoud we as Christians?

Think about it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Memory of Childhood

I am young --- somewhere between 8-10 years old -- and I am sitting in one of my favorite places on earth, on a bluff overlooking my river back home. To my left and just down the hill slightly from me is a very tall, old pine tree that has withstood many storms that have felled lesser trees and even some that seemed greater. It must have very strong roots buried in the soil covering the rock of the bluff. While the roots cannot grow down perfectly straight because of the angle of the hill on which the tree grows, the trunk is straight and gives rise to many lush branches which produce many cones that are its way of reproducing itself. I love that tree.

I sit just over the crest of the hill so that I can't be seen unless someone walks close to the edge of the bluff and looks. Just from the road or even from the monument on the flat ground away from the edge of the bluff I can't be seen. That is fine with me; this is my secret place where I can hide in plain sight, where I can sit alone yet not entirely alone. I have the river, the tree, the birds and grass and all of nature to keep me company. I live in a small town and don't fear violence or danger because everybody knows everybody else and crime just doesn't happen there. I'm glad I grew up in that kind of safety.

The river below fascinates me with its tides and changes. Uncle Roy, who lived on the bluff several miles away, taught me to look at the river and see the ebb and flow of the tide without looking at the sandy beach below. He taught me to see the areas of red tide and the eddies where the rocks were close to the surface. I had already learned to see the imaginary white horses that rode to shore when the winds blew and the storms were coming and to listen to the gentle rush of the small wavelets as they lapped against the shore, pushing shells, bits of seaweed and other flotsam against the sand. I can't always hear the river's sounds from my perch on the bluff but hearing by the ears isn't always the only way of listening. I watch the color of the water change from blue to brown to gray and back again, not every time I visit it and certainly not changing color as quickly as chameleons and geckos can. Still, it happens and it reiterates that the river is a living thing, changing according to circumstance and reacting according to outside situations.

As I sit near the tree and look out at the river, I feel the soft leather of the book I brought with me. I bring it quite often when I visit this spot and even if I don't have it with me, parts of it are engraved on my brain and come to mind easily. I was given the white book on a special occasion and was told to treat it respectfully. Somehow taking it with me to the bluff didn't seem to be disrespectful; after all, what better place to read the Psalms, the book I usually chose to read, than sitting alone in the midst of creation with God's creatures around me. Sometimes I read to the tree, sometimes just to myself -- and God. It was very easy to feel God there, probably easier than almost anywhere else I have ever been. It is my childhood "sacred space," more sacred even than the church I attended every Sunday and sometimes during the week for rehearsals, Bible study or prayer meeting. It was my very own church and I loved being there.

The last time I went home it had changed. I could no longer sit where I had so often as a child and watch the river because the hillside had been covered with gigantic vines with huge leaves that blocked the view while, I suppose, "stabilizing" the soil of the bluff so that it did not erode and endanger the monument. Still, my tree was there, looking older and a little more tired as if competing for nutrients the vines stole from the pine tree's reserve was becoming too hard a task. The river seemed to watch the struggle but could only observe from its bed, the part of the world God had carved out for it. That was some years ago. Does the tree still stand? Has someone cut some of the vines so the river can be seen again? Have human beings "improved" the whole area so that it seems more natural and more stable? I don't know.

I only know that I have the memory of the safety and comfort of the place I love best in the world. For me, that will be what "home" is: the river, the bluff, the tree -- and God's presence.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Current Reading

I've finished reading a few more books: +Gene Robinson's In the Eye of the Storm, John H. Westerhoff's Living as a Prayer Book People and Fredrica Harris Thompsett's Living With History. Although different in outlook and premise, all three seem very closely related in my mind because all of them deal with not just the past or the present but the future as well.

+Robinson's book deals with his own history as well as the page of history in the church which was ending the day he was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. That page was turned and a new page begun upon his consecration. Since then he has been at the center of a storm. Storms are caused when cool/cold air collides with warm/hot air and the dichotomy of inclusivity/exclusivity or "traditional orthodox"/"progressive reappraisers" seems to be another such collision. As well as being the person at the center of the storm and some see the precipitating event, +Robinson also represents the eye of the hurricane that seems to swirl around him, the eye that is calm, clear and quiet. History is not always kind to those who stand in the middle of the storm: think of Galileo, Luther and even the Apostle Paul. Gene Robinson is a story of the present.

Fredrica Harris Thompsett looks at history as an unfolding and we as human beings are part of that unfolding. History involves all of us, not just the names in books that remind us of events and controversies. This is a book that focuses on our past and how we came to where we are now. The book was written in 1999 but it is easy to see in the 1999 words some of the coming troubles and squabbles we have in the current church as a whole and not just the Episcopal Church in particular. There have been schisms, squabbles and dichotomies throughout the history of the church, even from the very beginning, and that trend has continued through the whole of church history. There has never been complete agreement on everything, sometimes not even on essentials. History continues to repeat itself, it appears.

John Westerhoff looks at history through specific lenses involving the Book of Common Prayer and its meaning and effect on us as Anglicans and Episcopalians. He uses history to trace the development of the prayer book we use and how those developments have shaped us as a denomination and as individuals. From the history of the creeds, our common statements of faith, to the covenants in which we enlist (such as  baptism, marriage and ordination) and even how we pray collectively and individually, it has all come about through changes in understanding and culture as well as perceptions of the guidance of the Spirit over all.

I love it when things come together. I didn't deliberately plan to read those specific books, especially right now, but having done so I'm glad I did. Much of what I read was familiar from having just finished Year Three of EfM (Education for Ministry), echoing what I read in the text during the year. From that and the books I've read lately I've come to the conclusion that the more things change the more they remain the same. History is not a set of dead dates and people but a continuum upon which we move, sometimes with giant strides and sometimes with seemingly drunken lurches. Sometimes we retreat, sometimes we go forward.  All we can do is pray to God, follow Jesus' lead, trust the Spirit and try to live a Christian life.

Then all we have to do is figure out what that "Christian" life means based on lessons from the past, experiences of the present and hope for the future.