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I note that my posting privileges at Stand Firm in Faith have been withdrawn.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)