Sunday, October 25, 2009

Open Letter to the Diocese of South Carolina

    After several people from around the church objected to proposed actions about to be taken at the Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, Kendall Harmon, the Canon Theologian for that diocese asked this of me and others: "Why don't you all read the bishops address and see what he really said?" This is where you will find that address:

My response to Canon Harmon and the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina:
    I have read Bishop Lawrence's address to your convention and find it repeatedly marked by untruths (whether intentional or not), misunderstandings, misstatements and ignorance of the issues he references. On the whole I believe it represents a betrayal of trust towards the people entrusted to him by General Convention.
           Let me be specific. First, when he talks about my and others' "false understanding of the Christian faith" which is "founded upon human speculation rather than divine revelation" he does not know what he is talking about. There is no revelation separate from human experience and discernment. Neither Bishop Lawrence nor his Canon Theologian has an inside track on some Gnostic sort of revelation unknown to the rest of us. It would be interesting to hear about Bishop Lawrence's theory of direct revelation unaffected by human experience, intellect or judgment – such a theory would be an innovation of the first order.
           Second, what he attacks as "the Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity" actually predates his ordination. That Gospel goes back to Jesus' Parable of the Marriage Feast in which Jesus points us beyond our notions of the chosen to two different levels of the excluded. That teaching runs through several of Jesus' parables (available on request). It is also reflected in his actions and in his other teaching. The Gospel he attacks has also been dominant through history, beginning with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Book of Acts and later with such indiscriminate inclusions of Blacks, women and now gay and lesbian people. What is disturbing – and foreign to the teaching of our Lord -- is his Gospel of Discriminate Exclusivity (which, conveniently or not, matches his own proclivities).
           Third, he seems to claim that traditional teaching about Grace, Unconditional Love and God's preferential love for the poor and marginalized have somehow challenged "the doctrine of The Trinity, the Uniqueness and Universality of Christ, the Authority of Scripture, our understanding of Baptism and. .our Constitution and Canons." Where have Lawrence, Harmon and their advisors been when our PB has painstakingly clarified and corrected the incessant and almost instantaneous distortions of her sermons and speeches by the right? Where did they learn there is one and only one understanding of the authority of Scripture? One which, ironically, is closer to that of the Southern Baptists than traditional Anglicanism. As I noted in my "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church" (found on this blog), the real threat to our traditional understandings of the Trinity, the Universality of Christ, the Authority of Scripture and our Sacramental Theology comes from the self-styled "orthodox," themselves.
           I am one of the least of many, many pastors, lay people and theologians who have shown why tradition, Scripture and reason do not support the bishop's claims.  Does he not read anyone outside his own perspective?  
           His charge that "TEC was moving inexorably in what seemed an increasingly unbiblical direction" is the precise charge made by the pro-slavery people in the church against the abolitionists. I do not believe or infer that Mark Lawrence is a racist, but the similarity of arguments and claims should bother him.

I believe the last piece of his address is so wrong it is beyond laughable – and I enjoy a good laugh as much as anyone.  To quote, "When some were taking radical actions, disregarding the creeds and the canons, the defenders of orthodoxy were gentleman (sic) still fighting according to Marques of Queensbury rules. Those pushing the agenda were more like street-fighters."  What is there to compare to the libelous and scurrilous attacks of the DVD "Choose This Day" which was produced to undermine the trust of faithful Episcopalians in their church? Do you remember the language of that production, funded and produced by the people you and your bishop hold up as heroes of civility and fairness? Do "counterfeit religion," "enemies of Christ," "the church has been hijacked," "a foreign and alien and pagan religion," "a non-Christian religion" ring any bells? How about our "ignoring the cross?"  While some of the rhetoric on both sides has been harsh, nothing can compare to that still unrepudiated Trash Document "Choose This Day," followed by the on-going echoes of its irresponsible rhetoric by Bob Duncan and others.

While Bishop Lawrence's allies and others have accused those with whom they disagree as heretics and worse, I believe those so charged have consistently either defended themselves against the charges – or responded saying traditional Anglican comprehensiveness has made room for both our views. No one is pushing Kendall Harmon or Bishop Lawrence out of the Episcopal Church – there is room for both. What is asked of them is that they will cease battering others who, on the basis of our traditional understandings of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, hold a more traditional view of Christian theology and ethics.

Finally, when Bishop Lawrence charges that General Convention "has replaced a balanced piety in this Church with the politics of one-dimensional activism" he simply is terribly, terribly wrong. This claim of his is, strictly speaking, libelous as he is publicly and maliciously attacking the spiritual integrity and faithfulness of the vast majority of bishops, priests, deacons and lay people in this Church. An apology is required.
    I do not question Bishop Lawrence's devotion to our Lord, Jesus Christ or the sincerity of his beliefs. I know him to be a kind and pastoral person. I fault him on repeating slights, misunderstandings and untruths and for directing his diocese on the basis of those errors. My prayer is that he will read things like Tobias Haller's new book as well as the discussions on the more responsible blogs and websites, including Mark Harris's Preludium and others.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Response to Anonymous re: Hermeneutics, etc.

Dear Anonymous,

    First, thank you for your thoughtful response – I will try to be faithful in responding to you. I tried to post this in response to your comment, but this was too long. Others should reference your comment to the previous posting on the Seven Bishops.

    I take responsibility for not be as clear as I should have been re: Bronze Membership. I was trying to make two points. First, the assertion by some conservatives that there is only one interpretation of a key part of the Bible is outside traditional Anglicanism. To take a few instances: Luke's account of the Virgin Birth is taken by Roman Catholics as literal and thus as core doctrine – many Episcopalians agree with that interpretation and many do not, preferring either to reference the meaning of Isaiah's prophesy in which the word Luke takes as "virgin" has a preferential meaning of "young maiden" or to treat this part of the birth narratives as metaphorical (retaining the sense of the passage as asserting God's initiative in the Incarnation while leaving open one or more literal meanings of the passage). I would also cite John 14.6, which most conservatives claim is the church's assertion that there is only one way to the Father and that is through belief in Jesus Christ. There are many reputable scholars who dispute that claim on a number of reasons (including Paul's argument in Romans 8-11). A third instance has to do with the Words of Institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The Roman Catholics insist on a literal meaning of the words couched in Aristotelian terms, while Episcopalians have settled on the Doctrine of the Real Presence, while allowing our people to believe the literal.

Why should orthodoxy be dependent upon one of several faithful interpretations of a key element of Scripture? As I understand it, through most of the history of our church we have allowed a certain level of ambiguity in our interpretation of Scripture, while ruling some things out of bounds. To put this another way, almost all religious language is metaphorical and even while dealing with metaphorical and other language we are dealing with different texts, both of the Hebrew and Greek versions of Jewish and Christian Scripture – and within the same ancient text we are dealing with historical and cultural influences in trying to derive an accurate translation. However, the point in all this is to honor Scripture as best we can (even in its complexity and ambiguity) and to remember that the end is faith in Jesus Christ.

My second point has to do with Tradition – especially with those parts of our tradition which have defined who is in and who is out. Our tradition, until recently, has included the treatment of women as property, the Jewish religion as dispensable, the support of human slavery and the exclusion of various minorities. Most of these have been overturned by a deeper reliance on the overall meaning of Scripture and by reason and experience -- but through all this the same arguments for keeping those parts of our tradition and for discarding them have been offered again and again. It is those arguments that dominate our discussions on the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the full ministry of the Church. I believe the liberals are using the same basis for their wanting to clarify or overturn this part of the tradition as was used in dealing with slavery, the full personhood of women and the status of Judaism. It seems to me that the conservatives want to beat the dead horse over and over again.

Regarding hermeneutics: we have not begun to engage one another on this issue. I believe the various sides are working in good faith. There are problems with the authority of the Law and of the Holiness and Purity codes. There are places in Scripture where Jesus refers to their on-going authority – and other places, primarily for me in the parables, where he clearly undercuts their authority. We are still struggling with the intent and authority of various parts of John's Gospel. As I have often argued, when conservatives and liberal are struggling over our Scriptural mandates, the former refer almost exclusively to John, the latter to the Synoptics. I hold that we cannot exclude one another on the basis of a preference for one Gospel tradition over another. Those who claim orthodoxy as their sole province make a different claim.

I hope this clarifies things – even if we continue to disagree. To be clear – are you saying there is only one reliable strain in these matters or only one interpretation that is faithful?

Tom Woodward

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Episcopal Institute to Meet with Seven Moderately Progressive Bishops

    The Episcopal Institute has announced its plan to meet with seven moderately progressive bishops of the Episcopal Church to respond to the current meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury and seven American bishops who have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the democratic process in the Episcopal Church. Each bishop will be accompanied by four priests and seventeen lay people from the representative dioceses in order to reflect the full ministry and wisdom of the Episcopal Church.

    The two sites under active consideration for the upcoming meeting are the recently dedicated Athanasius Room at the recently reclaimed Diocesan House in Fort Worth and the Starbucks located across the street from the Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

    The agenda for the consultation is consideration of several alternatives to the rumored Canterbury proposal of a "two-tiered" Anglican community. A spokesperson for the Episcopal Institute noted that "The problem here is three-fold. First, the notion of 'two tiers' is more appropriate to a football stadium than an international worshiping community. Second, if the concept of tiers is really accepted, it will not be long before we have between thirty-five and forty-seven different tiers given the nuances of a multiplicity of issues (such as human sexuality, social justice, the authority of the laity and differing styles of ecclesiastical vesture). Third, the notion of a multi-tiered Christian group has been tried before – with women, racial minorities and others – and has always proven inadequate to maintaining status quos."

    A different and more subdued spokesperson for TEI revealed that at least two different orderings of the Anglican Communion will be proposed at the upcoming meetings. The first is to divide the Anglican Communion into three different groups: PLATINUM, GOLD and BRONZE. PLATINUM membership would be those who agree with The Episcopal Institute's goals, including the full inclusion of all Baptized members in all ministries of the church. GOLD members would include those who embrace most of TEI's goals while respecting their differences with TEI as part of Anglican Comprehensiveness. BRONZE membership will be reserved for those who insist on a single interpretation (their own) of key parts of the Bible and who regard all Tradition as absolutely binding, except the parts they don't like. There will also be an additional SILVER membership category for the lay people of the Communion who wonder what the problem is because the core doctrine of the historic creeds is not at issue. SILVER members will possess all the rights, responsibilities and regard as Gold or Platinum members.

    The second proposed ordering of the Anglican Communion, favored by older members of the Institute, is the radical notion of Comprehensiveness, with differing provinces respecting the differing experience of other provinces while considering the unity of the Communion as a common belief in Jesus Christ and the decision to share with one another in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

    The Episcopal Institute has requested that attending bishops be accompanied by several clergy and lay people from their dioceses in recognition of the importance of the full ministry of the Episcopal Church.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

FORGIVENESS – A Matter of Life and Death

This is a cutting from my one act play "A Matter of Life and Death." Susan, a troubled young woman, has come to a tobacco store, figuring they knew about death, to talk about her plans to commit suicide. She is talking to the clerk, Harry, who later on is easily confused with God.

Later the play takes a shocking turn as Harry, "wondering what it would be like to be God," struggles with his own guilt in the ways the world has become so evil. The inspiration for "A Matter of Life and Death" came from Jack Miles' provocative book, "Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God." Susan has just confided to Harry what she has done that, in her mind, leads her to commit suicide:

You're right. That's bad. In fact, that's really bad; but look, I'll forgive you for $100.

You will forgive me for $100? Are you making fun of me?

Am I making fun of you? No, I'm not making fun of you. I said I would forgive you for $100 and I will. And if that is making fun of you, OK. I'll forgive you for $500.

You'll forgive me for $500?

Do you want to hear me say it again?

O God, No. I just don't understand.

It's simple: I've got what you need - and you've got . . .


The amount is not so important.

But you just. . . .

I said, "The amount is not important."

SUSAN Then what is important?

HARRY That you know it doesn't come easy - that it's worth something.

SUSAN (taking some money out of her purse) Here's the $500..but what difference does it make if you forgive me?

HARRY Well, who else is there?

SUSAN The people I hurt.

Sorry. If they forgive you - that's for them. . . not you. If they forgive you, that allows them to go one with their lives. It really has nothing to do with you.

Can you say that again?

HARRY Honey, I'm not sure I said anything that smart the first time.

Are you saying that if they forgive me - that lets them go on with their lives? But it doesn't do anything for me?

HARRY Right.

But that doesn't seem fair.

HARRY That doesn't seem fair?

No. It's not fair.

What's not fair about it?

Well, for one thing, they are forgiving ME . . .but I don't get anything out of it! I'm not part of it!

HARRY Exactly!

I don't get it.

Exactly! You don't get it. They can't give it to you.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Episcopal Church 1 – Prelates 0

The Catholic News Agency ( is wrong and President Obama is right about the "worn attitudes" of those seeking to isolate and castigate gay and lesbian people.


The misinformation and pandering to fear by the right has been longstanding. GLBT people are fully human and are just as loving, caring and compassionate as those who attack them – most certainly considerably more so. I mean, give me a break -- the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not been in the forefront in talking about the mystery of human sexuality. Rather than more pronouncements they would do well to listen to people like Bishop Gene Robinson rather than villifying him and others.


I am grateful for the leadership of the Episcopal Church in these matters and for their willingness to look at the sacramental dimension of human sexuality rather than the Roman Catholic preoccupation with body parts.


When you get right down to it, the RC position is very similar to Hugh Hefner's Playboy Philosophy -- both focus on body parts instead of relationships and both seem unconcerned about the depth and quality of relationships in judging moral and ethical questions. Let's have sexually healthy people talk about the morality of human sexuality. Is that too scary for the Prelates? Episcopal Church 1 – Prelates 0.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An Open Letter to Stand Firm in Faith

I note that my posting privileges at Stand Firm in Faith have been withdrawn. You would have saved me a significant amount of time had you had the courtesy to inform me of your decision. Courtesy, though, is not something which characterizes your site.

More and more you have become the ecclesiastical equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, inciting and nurturing hate towards any and all who differ from you, without, yourselves, contributing anything positive.

I notice that your recent targets are, again, Louie Crew and Mark Harris, two men of complete integrity who have served the church both in the United States and abroad. As you have done with Ernest Cockrell, Ann Fontaine, Lisa Fox, me and so many others, you have taken their words out of context and then invited in your host of fear and hate mongers for further vilification of good people. As Rush Limbaugh discovered some time ago, spreading hatred sells – what Rush has not learned yet is that spreading hatred in ways he and you do rots your souls.

Your latest attack on Louie Crew must have taken you a good bit of time, searching through Louie's enormous website to find the picture you posted of Louie and Ernest. That must have brought your gang a lot of snickers and laughs. The real laugh, though, is on you. Louie is perhaps the most generous, most compassionate and self-giving and kind lay person in the Episcopal Church – and has been for decades.

Your Christianity is not something one can recognize in Holy Scriptures. You represent a small, angry, fundamentalist segment of the Christian faith. The Christian church is far broader than your singularly narrow point of view – we are Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Quaker, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Church of God, and on and on. Your belief that you stand above all other expressions of the Christian faith is ludicrous – compounded by your ignorance or disregard of the Beatitudes and the constant commands of Jesus Christ to love those with whom you differ.

Snickers and character assassinations do not a Kingdom make. They are only the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual bankruptcy. It is well past the time to put away your childish fear and hate mongering and to apologize and to make amends for the enormous hurt and distrust you have sown. Put very simply, it is time to grow up.

Thomas B. Woodward

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life is Sacramental

As the Episcopal Church wrestles with questions of blessing, we need to remember that the world is sacramental. Where there are signs of God's blessing God is present, sacramentally. Not to recognize or affirm that is a sign of spiritual blindness. While we may debate categories and theological niceties, the underlying reality is that God is present and active in full sacramental power in relationships previous generations declared unholy. Let us praise God for enabling us to see clearly what we missed so terribly over the centuries. The following is an old sermon – but I hope it speaks to the underpinnings of our lives now.

What is the most special thing for you about the Episcopal Church?

For me, I think, it is our understanding that life is Sacramental.

We don't live in a world that is WYSIWYG.

We don't live in a world of sticks and stones. .chromosomes and bones

where everything is just what it is. . . and nothing more.

When a young child goes out and picks up some special stones

and brings them to you . . . and gives them to you. . .

("I chose these for you, Mom, Grandma, Granddad, Uncle. . .")

What is the meaning of those stones?

We believe that we live in a world which is alive: alive with meaning and alive with love.

And the way those things become real. . . is sacramentally.

That's how we express ourselves

and that is how God expresses . . himself/herself. . . .sacramentally.

Do you remember the Catechism definition of Sacrament?

"An outward and visible sign of an inward & spiritual grace.."

An outward and visible sign. . . .several small stones. . .

conveying an inward & spiritual grace. . . the child's love. . .

and God's love with it.

A lot of things are sacramental.

A kiss is sacramental.

A kiss is never just four lips in closest proximity.

With a kiss, we can manipulate, we can lie. . . .

or with a kiss, we can communicate love.

A kiss is an outward and visible sign. . .

of inward and. powerful spiritual things.

In the same way, a pat on the back, a hug or embrace,

a family meal, a bouquet of flowers - those are all sacraments.

And they are all . . more than just what we communicate:

they are also ways through which God. . touches our lives.

One of the basics of the Episcopalian faith

is that God uses the physical world to touch us.

There are several "official" ways God does this:

Remember the Seven Sacraments:

Baptism: through the water,

God cleanses us, renews us, marks us for his own forever.

Holy Communion: God uses the bread and wine

to feed us/transform us. . from the inside out.

God uses the holy oil and the Laying on of Hands

to give us strength & courage. . and to heal us.

And the same is true in Confirmation:

with the laying on of hands we are strengthened, commissioned.

I had a Seminary Professor who said:

"It is natural for the supernatural to act naturally."

The real miracles happen through the touch of a friend,

through the ministrations of a doctor or nurse,

through the devotion and thoughtfulness of a teacher or relative,

over coffee or cokes, bagels or cheeseburgers.

That is how God works.

If we believe that God is love

and that all love comes from God. . . through us.

Then that is how God works.

One of the things I always try to tell people

who are getting married is this:

You are each God's gift to the other.

It is through one another that you will experience God.

It is through one another that you will --

probably in the most profound way in your life --

experience the love, the forgiveness and the healing power of God.

That is because it is through one another

that God loves us, heals us, frees us, gives us peace.

We are God's gifts to one another:

in our families,

in our significant relationships,

through our acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.

Is teaching a sacrament? Yes.

Is nursing a sacrament? Yes.

Is changing diapers, raising children a sacrament? Yes.

Is running a business sacramental? You bet.

As are planning for the future, making love,

doing what is necessary for our home to be a welcoming and safe haven.

Is the presence of God dependent on the level of our skill

or the purity of our motives?


Sometimes, as Paul wrote,

God's strength is made perfect in our weakness.

And, yes, our intentions and our dedication and our self-offering

are important.

The important thing is to remember and to trust,

First that this is God's world.

The universe is alive with the presence of God.

And second, that God is love.

God is the source of all real love . . .

and God gives that love freely. . . through us.

Whenever, however we experience real love --

as giving or as receiving. . .

we are experiencing God's love -- as well as what is in the here and now.

When we reject God as the source of all real love

by rejecting those whose lives are abundant with that love

but in violation of ancient prohibition,

we reject God.

And third, those people who are significant people in our lives

are gifts to us from God.

May we learn to treat them like that.

Life is sacramental:

God is present through the good times. . .God is present in the bad times --

sometimes as judgment, . . . sometimes as forgiveness,

sometimes as comfort and solace,

and sometimes simply as fellow-sufferer.

Let us praise God who is present in our lives

in more ways than we could ever measure.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Should the Church Be Involved in Controversial Political Issues?

In response to a recent conversation about whether or not the church should be involved in speaking out on controversial matters, I offer these two excerpts from a talk by Albert Camus at the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg in 1948, found in his book, Resistance, Rebellion and Death.

     "What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally. When a Spanish bishop blesses political executions, he ceases to be a bishop or a Christian or even a man; he is a dog just like the one who, backed by an ideology, orders that execution without doing the dirty work himself. We are still waiting, and I am waiting, for a grouping of all those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that man can be something more than a dog. (p. 71ff.)

    "It may be, I am well aware, that Christianity will answer negatively. Oh, not by your mouths, I am convinced. But it may be, and this is even more probable, that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belong to it long ago. In that case Christians will live and Christianity will die. In that case the others will in fact pay for the sacrifice." (p. 74)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

School of Prayer – Meditation

SCHOOL OF PRAYER - Part IV – Meditation

Thomas B. Woodward

We will look at several forms and approaches to meditation, both secular and religious, none of which are too demanding for people with limited time or background.

I. Recollective Meditation.

This form of meditation focuses on quieting our distractions and returning to a natural state of undisturbed, relaxed consciousness – who we are beyond our thoughts. The most popular form of this form of meditation is probably an offshoot of Transcendental Meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson, in The Relaxation Response, compares TM and various other approaches to meditation and finds remarkable similarities. You can get this book at for the price of postage.

a. The use of a candle. Sit comfortably in front of a lighted candle and focus on the light given off as goodness, purity or another virtue. When you are ready, pay attention to your breathing and then breathe in the light and exhale the darkness in yourself. Don't be specific about the referents for the light or darkness. (Experience in the Committee on the Status of Women)

b. "I/We are in the presence of God." This introduces a brief meditative time before the beginning of a meeting – or of a new part of your day. (Dawley)

c. Dealing with distractions: when you are distracted in a consistent manner, you should consider focusing on the distraction as the matter to be addressed in your prayers at that time.

II. The Jesus Prayer

a. The classical form of the Jesus Prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The actual words of our short prayers can vary. We might say the classic version of the Jesus Prayer, or we might say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." or "Lord Jesus, have mercy." Or, we might say a Psalm verse, or a Bible quote, or some other prayer. (from St. Vladimir's Seminary). The prayer is repeated for long periods of time, often tied with our breathing. The end point is when we are repeating the prayer unconsciously.

b. While saying the Jesus Prayer, allow your mind to affix the five parts of the Five Finger Prayer to the time you spend in this form of prayer.

III. Meditation on an Object or Process

a. The Anglican use of the Rosary. Check this out on-line.

b. Michael Quoist's Prayers is a stunning collection of prayer/meditations on such things as a tractor and a Twenty Dollar Bill, as well as the events surrounding the Passion of Jesus Christ. You can find the book in the parish library and at Allibris for less than $2, plus postage.

c. Ken Feit's approach to joining American Sign Language to haikus. "Since my house burned down, I now have a better view of the rising moon."

d. Affirmations, as a way of contradicting the ways we have been badly conditioned.

e. Allowing the core of a story from the Bible to penetrate our hearts and souls. "Alleluia" and imagining various retelling of the core of the story.

IV. Jesus before my eyes, Jesus before my heart, Jesus in my hands.

This is the form of classic Christian meditation. It is similar in nature to our response to a successful advertisement: we are attracted to an image promoting a product, we begin to long to have that image for ourselves, we go out and purchase it.

The form of being attentive to a virtue or an image of Jesus in the Scripture, then longing for it in our own life, followed by a specific resolution for implementation or use of that virtue or quality is a needed corrective to simply meditating on a virtue without implementing it with specific action.

V. The Parables (and stories) of Jesus from the Inside

This approach can be used individually or in a group. It was developed by Walter Wink and based on a Jungian approach to Scripture. Wink believes that we can find important parts of ourselves in the various persons and elements in the parables and other stories – and can use that information in the spiritual transformation of ourselves.

First, select a parable or story from Scripture. Then discover the meaning of any technical terms that have an impact on the story (e.g., "What is a Samaritan? What is the significance of a Levite?" in the Parable of the Good Samaritan). Read the parable in more than one voice – and then ask yourself the question, "Who am I in the thief, the Levite, the Samaritan, and other elements of the story?"). Allow yourself to feel the pain, affirmation or struggle of that identification – and then ask for God's healing, guidance or whatever else you find you need at this point. (The Parable of the Good Samaritan) "The Parables of Jesus from the Inside," by TBW in The Sewanee Theological Review, Christmas 2003.

Other Matters

Basic meditation: You can subscribe to various elements of beliefnet – Christian, Jewish and Buddhist daily postings are often very helpful. They are free!

"Alleluia" based on the story of the healing of the demoniac in Mark's Gospel, with encouragement from Ken Feit.

"Recent Entries from the Diaries of God V," by TBW. You can find this entry at:
another entry is a little earlier in that year's postings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

School of Prayer – Praying the Psalms


Praying the Psalms

The Psalms were written at various times in Israel's history and were written for various occasions and needs. They have provided "the spiritual and theological grounding for both Judaism and Christianity. The Book of Psalms "presents nothing short of God's claim upon the whole world and that it articulates God's will for justice, righteousness, and peace among all peoples and all nations." (The New Interpreter's Bible, p. 643). They represent both human words to God and God's word to humans.

Allusion to Shakespeare and King James' Version of Bible: Psalm 46.

CATEGORIES OF PSALMS (not exhaustive)

Lamentation of an Individual (Prayer for Help – you will find yourself in these)
opening address
description of the trouble or distress
plea for God's response (often with reasons for God to hear and act)
expression of trust or confidence in God
promise to praise God (or offer sacrifice)
Psalms 5; 7; 11; 17; 26; 59; 109 (people falsely accused)
Psalms 3, 25, 56-57 (maybe by king or military leader)

Thanksgiving Song of an Individual
expression of praise and gratitude to God
description of trouble from which psalmist has been delivered
testimony to others
exhortation to others to join in praising God or acknowledging God's ways
Psalms 30, 34, 92, 107, 116.

Lament of the Community
same as of an Individual, but with first person plural.
Psalms 44, 74, 79, 80, 83, 77, 85, 89

Hymn of Song of Praise
opening invitation to praise
reasons for praise
recapitulation of invitation to praise
Psalms 100, 148, 150

Royal Psalms
Psalm 45 – royal wedding
Psalm 2 – coronation ritual
Psalms 72, also 18, 20, 21, 89, 101, 132, 144 for the king (on coronation day)

Wisdom/Torah Psalms (reflecting the spirituality of Proverbs and the Law)
Psalms 1, 37, 73, 128 (1, 19, 119 are Torah Psalms)

Entrance Liturgies

Psalms 15, 24

Prophetic Exhortation -urging decision about God's sovereignty, liturgical sermons
Psalms 81, 95

Psalms of Confidence/Trust
"eloquent professions of faith in God's protective presence and power amid threatening circumstances."
Psalms 16, 23, 91

The Psalms are intended for daily prayers of all the faithful. In our Book of Common Prayer, as you go through the Psalms, they are grouped by each day of the month, for morning and evening. So every month you will go through the whole Psalter.

Magnificat reflects Psalms 98 and 113
Royalty Psalms reflected in the Incarnation, title of Anointed One.
Nativity recalls content and movement of Psalm 29
Baptism of Jesus and Transfiguration, Psalm 29. 7
Beatitudes and Ministry of Compassion, Psalms 24, 37, 73; also 24, 37 and 73 (Beatitudes)
Entry into Jerusalem, Psalm 118
Crucifixion, Psalm 22; also influenced by Psalm 69

Psalms 23, 42, 43, 44, 84, 137, 139
Psalm 42, 84,, 93, 139 translated by Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms
"Praying to Big Jack," Anne Sexton, 45 Mercy Street
"Thanksgiving after Communion," "A Bird in the Hand," by Vassar Miller (If I Could Sleep Deeply Enough)
"i thank You God for most this amazing" by e.e. cummings (XAIPE)
"Thank You" by Robert Creeley (The Charm)
Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur"

Illustrations of contemporary reflections on the Psalms – use them!

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

e.e. cummings

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

God's Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge & shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast & with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins


God acts within every moment
and creates the world with each breath.
He speaks from the center of the universe,
in the silence beyond all thought.
Mightier than the crash of a thunderstorm,
mightier than the roar of the sea
is God's voice silently speaking
in the depths of the listening heart.
Stephen Mitchell, translator

Saturday, March 07, 2009

School for Prayer – Resources from the BCP


Resources of the Book of Common Prayer


Several books – Occasional Offices, Prayers and Thanksgivings, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

View Prayer Books at: and for some supplemental texts.

In the future more texts and resources will be published on-line or in loose binders. (The Rite Stuff)

ASPECTS OF PRAYER: Contradicting Cultural Assumptions - meditate or reflect on "You are My Beloved" addressed to you.

Conforming Our Lives to Biblical Vision – Prayers for Prisons, St. Francis., Self-Dedication.

Burial Office – not the guilt and impersonal, celebration of a life (p. 493)
Lay Participation – prayers of people in almost every service.
Full humanity of women (Churching of Women – Thanksgiving for a Child)
New Ministry for clergy and lay people.
Prayers written by women – many different kinds.
Form for Private Confession
New Saints – Women, Aelred (p. 19), George Herbert, Evelyn Underhill, MLK, Jr. - more in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

THE DAILY OFFICE -- We now have many alternatives for Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as for Noonday Prayers and Compline (just before going to bed).

Rite One and Rite Two
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – Rite One
Morning Prayer – Rite Two (p. 75)
Noon Prayers (p. 103)
Evening Prayers (p. 109)
Evening Prayer Rite Two (p. 115)
Compline (p. 127)

DAILY DEVOTIONS (pp. 137 ff)
Early Evening
Close of Day

THE COLLECTS for use in daily offices and Eucharist as well as in private devotions.
Advent III (p. 212
8th After Epiphany (216)
"All Holy Scripture written. . . ." (p. 236)

COMMON OF THE SAINTS (lay ministry)
Ember Days (#1 at p. 205)
Vocation in Daily Life (p. 210)

Commitment to Christian Service (p. 420)
Thanksgiving for Birth or Adoption (p. 439)
Reconciliation of a Penitent I and II (private confession) (p. 447ff)
Laying on of Hands for Healing ( pp. 455 ff.)
Litany at the Time of Death (p. 462)

PRAYERS AND THANKSGIVINGS (p. 810) for many occasions, e.g.,
For our Enemies (p. 816)
Church Musicians and Artists (p. 819)
Armed Forces/Conscientious Objectors (p. 823)
In Times of Conflict (p. 824)
Leisure (p. 825) For the Oppressed (p. 826)
Prisons and Correctional Institutions (p. 826)
WWI Prayer (p. 831) (not knowing if person is alive or dead)
TBW for use at meetings "Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings. . ." (p. 832)
After Worship (p. 834)
Grace before meal when Jews are at table. "Blessed are you. . ." (p. 835)

Compline p. 134 "Keep watch, dear Lord. . . "
Burial Office p. 493 "O God of grace and glory. . . "
Prisons (p. 826)
For Knowledge of God's Creation (p.827)
Addiction (p. 831)
Self-Dedication (p. 832)
St. Francis (p. 833)
Thanksgiving for the Diversity of Races and Cultures (p. 840)
All Saints Day ("knit together") (p. 245)

Exorcism - there are provisions for its use in the Episcopal Church
Vocation to Pray for Parish - might this be your vocation?

School for Prayer – Session I

School of Prayer – Session I – Back to the Basics

WHO WE PRAY TO: We believe that the heart of reality is personal. The experience of Jews and of Christians is that Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier are personal (the Trinity is apparent in the Book of Proverbs).

GOD THE FATHER: In Diane Tennis' " God as the Reliable Father, " she shows that OT references to God as Father are all non-patriarch, non-paternalistic, loving and enfolding. We should keep the reality of God the Father, she says, in part because so few of us have had reliable fathers. It is also Scriptural and part of our Anglican tradition to pray to God our Mother.

Generally speaking there are several ways we pray: Impromptu, Set, Ritualized and Reflective Prayers - each is important in our living and growing spiritually.

IMPROMPTU:     Initiating – arrow prayers ("God help me get out of this traffic jam.")

SET PRAYERS – BCP, Lord's Prayer, St. Francis, Serenity prayer*, collections of prayers


    Daily Offices (rich array of choices, next week)


    Structured Prayer Life – mixture of set and impromptu

    The Eucharist – a comprehensive prayer and dance with several movements.


Various Forms of Meditation (e.g., "Jesus before the eyes, heart and hands")

     The use of Scripture, guides, lists of qualities.

OUR LIVES ARE A PRAYER: both an important truth and a cop out.

The Full Serenity Prayer

"God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it:

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen

                    Reinhold Niehbur.


No matter how good you are at something, it is always a good thing to go back to the basics.

    Pianists. .. even when playing Rachmaninoff, Chopin still go back to their Hanon scales.

    Jugglers go back to the motions of one club, one ball . . . back and forth.

    Saints, who seem so close to God – most got there because of the basics.

Today: a structure for a complete life of prayer you can use effectively with 30 seconds a day.

    Ron Popiel: "You can find prayer disciplines out there requiring 2 hours a day, 1 ½ hours a day, one hour a day. . .what we are offering you is not 2, 1 ½ or even 1 hour a     day, but 30 seconds a day."


FIVE FINGER METHOD OF PRAYER (hold up your hand – each phrase attaches to a finger)

I Love You

    For most, the hardest: it is easier being thankful, sorry, needy or generous. For me, the best place to start: say the words and be quiet or use a favorite Psalm.     There are a lot of ways we love God with our lives: working for justice. . . caring for one another . . .doing the dailies, but that is another dimension of prayer. Here we take time just to offer our love or our desire to love God.

Thank You

    A good place to start: just say the words or make or review a list, e.g.,     "Dear God, I thank you for x, y, z, . . ." The ore for which I am intentionally thankful, the more personal universe becomes. A priest in the Diocese of Dallas, Homer Rogers, looked nightly at his children when they were asleep as a way of remembering that his life with them was rooted in gratitude. Often when I preach a wedding sermon, I remind the couple that they are, quite literally, God's gift to one another – so in waking up, from time to time look at that scraggly, dragon-breathed person next to you and say to yourself, "This is my gift from God." The heart of many funeral sermons – what is it that God has been giving us in this life. . . .?

Thanksgiving is the Basis for our Life: Stewardship has to do with what we do, in thanksgiving, with what we have been given:

        not just our pledges,

        how we create our lives

        how we create and nurture our communities,

        what we give in our work, our friendships, volunteering.

I learned the basics of Stewardship at Esalen Institute: The only important question is "How am I going to spend my time?"

I'm Sorry

Episcopal Church is a full-service church: we confess sins of Commission and Omission; Commission is what we have done to hurt others, or hurt ourselves and . Omission is what we have neglected to do.

When I was younger, I used to have a check list of sins from the pamphlet "A Litany of Penitence." Good place to go for help in being comprehensive is Ash Wednesday litany or ask your spouse or best friend for help! (that is mostly a joke).

Hamartia: the word used for sin in Christian Scriptures is hamartia, a term used in archery for "missing the mark." It is missing "all that we can be" or "all that God wants us to be/ created us to be." We confess our sins and our sin (our     missing the mark in our vocation in the world.)

Help Others

God uses our prayers, much the same way God uses our actions. To get something changed in the community, God uses us in different means - letters, speeches, raising money, telephone calls, demonstrating. It may be that God uses our prayers in the same way. (Maxie Dunham)

Today Show – Rabbi Kemelman and Joe Garogiola. Joe asked the rabbi to open the interview with prayer. He then said, "Dear God, assist everyone watching this show to turn off their TVs, take out paper and pen and write their Congress people to pass the Voting Rights Act." We pray with words and action.

Parishioners know and feel your prayers. I have felt the power of others' prayers for me. Intercessory Prayers – like karma, there is something almost palpable about them (The Holy as the Fourth Dimension explained briefly.

Some find it helpful to keep a list – it is OK to cross names off.

Help Me

This is both the easiest and the hardest of the Five Fingers - easiest because we ask for little things (arrow prayers) and hardest because in asking, we entrust ourselves to God's care and to God's Will. Most of us want a relationship with God in which he serves us as consultant. Truth in that: Act as consultant in knowing God's will for us and the world and Act as consultant as we figure out what we want.

Frederick Buechner on Vocation: it is the intersection of what most needs to be done and what I most need to do. (The example of Rabbi Zuzya.)

Ask for what you want and what you need. Sometimes in asking, discover you don't want or need it. We are beloved children of God – so we ask within that relationship.

PHYSICAL PRAYER – ways of centering our lives in God:

When you get out of bed in the morning and your feet hit the ground, feel that connectedness to the heart and center of the universe – let that represent your rootedness in God.

When you have no attention span or are in intense pain, let your bed represent the hands of Jesus Christ, holding and enfolding you. "Into your hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit."


HOW AND WHEN FOR THE FIVE FINGER METHOD OF PRAYER: Choose a time for your five finger method of prayer and stick to it. Begin with something really short, like 30 seconds and then increase the time as you wish.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bishop Robinson’s Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

(with thanks to The Episcopal Café for its transcription)

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009


Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God's blessing upon our nation and our next president.


O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…


Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.


Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.


Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.


Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.


Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.


Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.


Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.


And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.


Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.


Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.


Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.


Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.


Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.


Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.


And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.



Thursday, January 01, 2009

Why the Venom? – A response to a question about Stand Firm in Faith

A woman who posts at StandFirminFaith wrote me twice in the comments section of an earlier entry on this blog, inquiring about my take on the animosity towards me at that web site. Here are my thoughts about the animosity expressed towards me at Stand Firm:

1. Early on Matthew Kennedy from SF launched a four part attack on a piece I wrote for The Episcopal Majority on "Falsely Accused," in which I debunked the charges of SF and others against the Episcopal Church. As I responded to Matthew's various points, the responses to me on Stand Firm took on an ugly, personal tone. That has continued.

2. From time to time I have offered on StandFirm an alternative point of view about theology, the authority of the Bible and about church property. A few have engaged in that conversation, but most have responded with close to vitriol, as though I had slimed their mothers. What has angered most has been my suggestion (it is not just mine: it has been a staple of Anglicanism for centuries!) that there are differing points of view than their own.

3. The third reason, I believe, is that whenever someone challenges anything held by what Veblen called "The True Believer," the fear and resentment level for the True Believers reaches an incredible pitch -- and rather than deal with the challenge, itself, they attempt to eradicate the source of their discomfort.

4. The fourth reason is that the SFiF site has served for many as a dumping ground for disaffection and hatred -- and when that stream of "Ain't They Awful" is interrupted, any disrupters are quickly and soundly punished. I don't think this trend has been there for the full life of SFiF, but when you read through almost any string there are recurring themes:

-- ++Katharine Jefferts Schori is a fake and a heretic;
-- Anyone leaving TEC is a hero;
-- Any moral, ethical or theological viewpoint (no matter how well grounded in historical Christianity or contemporary scholarship) that differs from the narrow outlook of the SFiF leadership is "heretical," "apostate" or of Satan.                          -- Anyone challenging the Stand Faith sense of their own orthodoxy must be annihilated and there is no limit to the sarcasm, personal attacks and wild charges used to accomplish those attacks. Witness irenic, conciliatory remarks by me and others are invariably met     by further personal attacks – their latest characterizations of me have been "heretic," "fraud," "abuser of my former parishioners," and other, worse, terms.

5. Lastly, there is the SF assumption that any of their staff and regular contributors can do no wrong in their personal attacks – and that when I, or others, draw attention to the scurrilous attacks, we must be discredited. That is often followed by references to what happens at the House of Bishops/House of Deputies list serve as "much, much worse" – a charge that is demonstrably wrong.

These, of course, are my own observations. I have had some meaningful conversations with Matt Kennedy through emails -- though he has informed me that if I showed up at his church he would not give me communion. I believe there are descriptive words for such an attitude and behavior, but they are not for me to throw around!

The voice of conservative Christianity is a voice which deserves to be heard and taken with utmost seriousness – but this use of it to tee off on those not of the same mindset is a cruel distortion of Christian conversation.

(adapted from the response at:


On The Occasion of St. Edmund’s, Elk Grove Departing TEC

I read on David Virtue's web site this morning that the vestry and others in St. Edmunds, Elk Grove, Diocese of Milwaukee had officially left the Episcopal Church – and in a gracious spirit well known in that diocese, they left behind all claim to real and personal property. When I was serving at St. Francis House, Madison a few decades ago, an old friend, Bill Ohlenhausen, drawn by the mysteries of an offshoot of the Orthodox Churches, renounced his Episcopal Church ordination and left with some parishioners to explore their spiritual journey outside the Episcopal Church.

There are a few other parishes in my old Diocese of Milwaukee that, in essence, left the Doctrine if not the Discipline of the Episcopal Church long ago. Being a Christian in the far North dominated by conservative Roman Catholics and even more conservative Lutherans (though with many mainline Lutherans) is not an easy task. There were times when it seemed like it would be easier working among Muslims! However, now, with the false promise that they will remain Anglican if they leave TEC, some are declaring what they experienced long ago.

I do not see this as a judgment against The Episcopal Church: quite the opposite. This is not about the authority of Scripture, but about whether the resurgence of a Selective Biblical Fundamentalism Bordering on Biblical Inerrancy (SBFBBI) is the true and sole legacy of the early church.

Apparently none of the clergy at St. Edmunds bothered to tell the drafters of their statement that there are at least three different notions (later doctrines) of the Atonement in the New Testament (St. E's statement seems to claim there is only one). They have also failed to inform those voting to leave that claims to be following "the faith once delivered to the saints" is, upon even cursory examination, false and even bogus.

I'm sure that in the Diocese of Milwaukee, as in other dioceses where the Selective Biblical Fundamentalists Bordering on Inerrancy have left TEC, there will be genuine compassion and care for those leaving -- but a sigh of relief that this bogus approach to the Christian faith is no longer competing with the real heirs of the apostolic faith.

What a great history the Diocese of Milwaukee has had! While pretty fiercely Anglo-Catholic for most of its history, there has always been a tolerance and an embrace of other expressions of the Christian faith. When I served as Episcopal Chaplain to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, my predecessors included Alden Kelley (the great champion of the Ministry of the Laity when the notion was just beginning to take root in the wider church), Gordon Gillette, a pacifist priest run off the campus by the full weight of the United States Navy, Dan Corrigan, later Suffragan Bishop of Colorado, a great Anglo-Catholic and later ordaining bishop of the Philadelphia 11, Carroll Simcox, one of the early influences leading to the spitting off of the right wing of TEC, Charles Boynton, later Suffragan Bishop of New York and leading Anglo-Catholic, and Arthur Lloyd, a powerful leader of the Christian Socialist movement in the American Church.

During my tenure at St. Francis House, we were the first Episcopal congregation to serve as a Sanctuary church for political refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala (with great affirmation from Bishop Wm. Wantland!). We served as a shelter for the homeless men, women and families who came our way and operated a food cooperative where homeless and down on their luck neighbors would join our students for a great evening meal when they needed it. The Integrity Chapter founded there in 1978 is still thriving – and serving men and women not only in Madison but around the State. We served a large contingent of international students, including many from Nigeria and the former Zambian Ambassador to Russia, Martin Kaunda (none of whom had the slightest qualms about the work of the Integrity Chapter in their midst). At the heart of our ministry to the university, the city and, in many instances, the State of Wisconsin, were Biblical fundamentalist, Christian socialists, ordinary lay people and non-stipendiary priests, higher ups in the Tommy Thompson administration and on and on. ANY THOUGHT THAT A THEOLOGICAL FUNDAMENTALISM WOULD DRIVE US APART WOULD HAVE PRODUCED LAUGHTER AND DERISION.

That is the Episcopal Church I love – and, like those reading this, have labored for – over years, decades and generations. How we have tolerated those who, in the name of a narrowness not known before in our spiritual heritage as Anglicans, have driven us apart is a truth that has so far eluded me.