Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving - its all about peace!

Speaking as someone who grew up in England the "Thanksgiving" we celebrated was "Harvest Festival". I recall it happening on October 30th each year, though I don't remember whether this was the standard date or just 'local church option'.

It was, of course, a thanksgiving for harvest - something we've done since the birth of humanity, I suspect.

And it's something deeply rooted in Christian history: the Twelve did it (with startling results) at Shavuot ("Pentecost" - "The Fiftieth Day" - which was, after all, a harvest festival).

But our modern celebrations of harvest - especially American Thanksgiving - have become about a great deal more than just than a thanksgiving for the crops.

Anyone in the travel industry (and I used to be one of those) will tell you that Thanksgiving is the busiest travel season of the year, and the Sunday thereafter the busiest day. People travel for Thanksgiving much more than at any other time for any other celebration.

I believe this is because - unlike Christmas or Easter, both of which focus for most people on something that happened "long ago, on a continent far, far, away" - Thanksgiving in this country is the time we celebrate each other - we travel to be with family, to give thanks, to celebrate what it means to be gifted with so much and so many wonderful people. I suppose that, if we really understood Stewardship then we would focus our educational efforts each year around Thanksgiving (and some of us do).

There's an old saw I first heard over here that goes like this: "England, where 200 miles is a long way, and America, where 200 years is a long time". Perhaps that explains why the search for the meaning of Thanksgiving focused on the famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the table you sat) meal provided to the starving colonists by the First Nations people of the East.
I suspect that the modern human obsession with specific causes - a certain person did this ("Luther started the Reformation"), a specific event was the sole cause of that ("The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the cause of the First World War") - might explain why we focus so much on the Pilgrim/First Nations meal and lose the deeper significance of this festival of thanksgiving.

But that's a modern "Johnny-come-lately" understanding of "Thanksgiving". The Thanksgiving celebrated today finds its specific origins in the Civil War and a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. But it is possible to see the influence on him of Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah Hale was the first to urge equal education for women and girls in this country. She was the first to start day nurseries for working women, the first to suggest public playgrounds, and the first editor of the first woman's magazine in America - the "Ladies Magazine".

Sarah Hale was the author of two dozen books and hundreds of poems, including perhaps the best known nursery rhyme in the English language: "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

And it was Sarah Hale who proposed as early as 1827 a national day of Thanksgiving as a way of avoiding Civil War, writing literally thousands of letters, and deeply influencing Lincoln's decision to set a specific Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving, therefore, is profoundly a day for peace, a day of peace, a day demanding peace.

So much for the Pilgrims!

The good news is that, for many of us, that particular origin of the festival has slipped away, to be replaced by the much more human and personal celebration.

And that, in my view, is all to the good! A focus on the Pilgrim's meal is more divisive for our nation than it is uniting.

And perhaps, if we could recapture Hale's vision, Thanksgiving could become even more powerful in our lives. Perhaps it could be even more than a day for family and overeating and become a day each year when all of us actively promote Jesus' vision of peace, where the lion will finally lie down with the lamb, and where we share a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where all are welcome and where we finally recognize that, in the end, its all about each other!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“Oops! What I really meant was.............”

Well, the Archbishop of Canterbury is back-peddling. We are told (not by him, but by “Lambeth Palace”) that his words are being misinterpreted.

Archbishop Williams did not, they have told us with straight faces, intend to say anything new. Well imagine my surprise! Of course he didn’t intend! That’s the problem. Archbishop Williams hasn’t intended to do a lot of things – nevertheless he has done them.

It is hardly surprising, considering The Letter’s effect, that Lambeth Palace has issued a "clarification". What was said publicly in the letter could have potentially devastating consequences for the Anglican Communion – as many people on both sides of the pond and from both conservative and progressive perspectives have pointed out.

Alas, for Canterbury, therefore. He is trying to use a half-empty bucket to put out a raging forest fire

Because that’s all that Canterbury has, considering the circumstances. No matter what 'clarifications' Canterbury might issue regarding The Letter (such as that he didn't really mean provinces were totally irrelevant - gee, thanks Rowan!) – no matter what the "clarifications" his original words could (and, of course, would) be interpreted as allowing dioceses to bypass their provinces and relate directly to Canterbury.

We didn’t have to wait long! Today, October 24th, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has done exactly this (see below).

That's the thing about a Pandora's Box: once you open it then you really can't close it, and the contents take on a life of their own.

This sad situation is not helped by the content of the “clarification” itself, as Forth Worth has clearly noticed.

The “clarification” does not change what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his letter, which was, in essence, something like this: "In the final theological analysis Provinces are irrelevant, only the Archbishop of Canterbury matters". And, most importantly that it is the diocesan relationship with Canterbury via its Bishop that matters, not the bishop’s or the diocese’s relationship with its province.

Thus this subsequent attempt to finesse The Letter is a classic example of seeking to close the barn door after the horses have bolted.

The "clarification" speaks loudly mostly by what is not said - that provinces not only matter, but the relationship of any clergy within those provinces is to the province first and then to the Communion. AT least, that’s the way Anglicanism has developed. Archbishop Williams is therefore making claims about the nature of the Anglican Communion that are really quite novel!

Novel, but not new. He is really turning back the Anglican clock to a pre-Reformation view of polity.

And that’s not gonna sell in our Province – nor, I would imagine, in plenty of others, including Canterbury and York.


Statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, October 24, 2007
http://www.fwepiscopal.org/news/FW102407.html or http://tinyurl.com/28jjst

Fort Worth welcomes Archbishop’s view on dioceses

We welcome the comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury, contained in a recent letter to the Bishop of Central Florida, where he reminds us that "the organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such," calling this a "basic conviction of Catholic theology." He goes on to say:

"I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'."

Given the current atmosphere and controversies in the life of the Anglican Communion, it is helpful to be reminded that dioceses, not provincial structures, are the basic unit of the catholic church. As is stated in the clarifying note issued by Lambeth Palace on Oct. 23, "The diocese is more than a ‘local branch’ of a national organization." Clearly, provincial alignments are intended for the benefit of the dioceses, and not the reverse.

It is indeed painful when a number of faithful congregations, striving to discern God's will in these days of controversy and seeking to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ, arrive at a moment of conviction that compels them to separate from their bishop and diocese. It is also difficult for a faithful diocese to reach the collective decision to separate from its national province.

Such congregations and dioceses, however, now feel compelled to take definitive actions to secure their future and to guard the orthodoxy of their faith communities in the decades to come. Affiliation with a heterodox province hampers their mission and witness, just as affiliation with an orthodox province enhances and strengthens it.

As the realignment of the Anglican Communion continues to unfold and take shape in the months ahead, we pray for the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit for all those who seek truth and unity in Jesus Christ, and we urge that such separations as must take place may be accomplished without rancor and litigation.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth

The Very Rev. Ryan Reed
President, Standing Committee

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Great Betrayal - Rowan Williams and the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it

At 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 21 any respect I have been able to maintain for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and any hope for the survival of the Anglican Communion as we currently know it, died.

At 5:15 p.m. I was reading the House of Bishops and Deputies List – a list-serv for members of those two General Convention houses – when I came across a copy of a letter dated October 14, 2007 from Williams to Bishop John Howe of the conservative Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. Bishop Howe read this letter to the Standing Committee of his diocese last Thursday (October 18), and released this afternoon.

The letter was staggering in its misunderstanding of the polity of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church and shockingly naive in its understanding of where most Episcopalians stand with regard to any interference in our own affairs by foreign Prelates.

Perhaps more significantly, though, it is the betrayal of beliefs that Williams held dear for so long – right up, in fact, to the point where he became Archbishop of Canterbury, when – he says – unity became his ministry.

It is now clear that Williams is willing to abandon any individual and even whole Provinces of the Anglican Communion in the cause of “unity”.

I say “unity” in inverted commas because it is not really unity at all, but the bowing of a misguided, naive, and incompetent leader to what one person has described as the “Bullydox” of the Communion: those very narrow “Neo-Puritan” conservatives who wish to reinterpret Anglicanism to be something that is not the “large tent” we are all so familiar with but a prison wherein they alone guard and define what is “acceptable” for others to believe.

It is also clear that, having squeezed our House of Bishops in such a way that a significant part of our own Province has expressed outrage at their apparent abandonment by their own bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has pulled the rug from under our Bishops’ feet and invited acts of disobedience by dissidents in any Province of the Communion who disagree with any internal issue of that Province.

In so doing the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems that will almost certainly destroy the Anglican Communion as we know it.

Many progressives – including myself – supported our House of Bishops’ recent New Orleans statement, and cautioned many within our province to control their anger at its apparent abandonment of some of our members. We now owe those members an apology – they were right not to trust Williams, and they were right that our House of Bishops should not have done so either.

The letter makes a number of astonishing assertions, claims, and statements regarding the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, including:
● He, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Primates of the Communion, has the authority to decide the “status” of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion (only the Anglican Consultative Council has any recognized constitution, and it is questionable if even this constitution can be said to have authority over constituent provinces)
● Provincial structure is irrelevant in the Communion; only the diocesan relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury through the diocesan bishop matters, as long as the clergy of the dioceses are “loyal” to that bishop (the Baptized are, essentially, “chopped liver” in this polity. Apparently “the head can [now] say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’”).
● By implication, the authority of the Constitution and Canons of our Province are not binding on the dioceses which make up our Province. Dioceses are therefore free, according to the Archbishop, to depart the Episcopal Church with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s blessing.
● Ironically, the Primates cannot have any authority or relevance either – only the bishops in their relationship to Canterbury seem to matter. Of course, this is inconsistent, but then, consider the source!
● Loyalty to the Windsor Report is more important than sacred oaths taken at baptism or ordination. The Windsor Report ceases to be a report and takes on a legal aura, becoming something that has binding authority within the Communion.

The message in all of this is clear – we have no friend in Lambeth Palace; the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to sacrifice us to his ‘god’ of Unity.

But this is also freeing for us as a Province: we now know what to expect, and can form our response without the need to wonder where the Archbishop will ultimately stand, because it will not be with us.

General Convention in Anaheim is certainly going to be interesting!

© October 27, 2007 Nigel Taber-Hamilton

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Embracing the Tenth Leper: a reflection

As many of you know, ancient Samaria is, today, a part of Israel and the West Bank - a sliver of land running from south of the Galilee region in North-Eastern Israel to about 30 miles north-east of Jerusalem. After the Exile, when the Israelites returned to the Promised Land, they split into two groups, "Judean Jews" who returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple there, and "Samaritan Jews" who built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim, believing that the destruction of Solomon's Temple was a sign of displeasure from God and they should not rebuild there.

Samaritan and Judean Jews hated each other.

Here, then, is a context for the story Luke repeats about Jesus healing ten lepers. (Luke 17:11-19)

These ten lepers were a community where the fact that nine are Judean Jews and one was a Samaritan Jew was less important than the fact that they were lepers. They had that stronger bond of their own sickness, the bond of their outcast status, the bond of their common humanity a bond that forced them to be together.

They were all outcasts from the ordinary and the every day – a minority classified by their sickness and thus spurned by their "cleaner" brothers and sisters.

But notice that Luke finds it noteworthy to mention that there are nine Judeans and only one Samaritan. The Judean/Samaritan split was only less important, not of no importance at all. The Samaritan is, even within this Community of Suffering, a minority. And, no doubt, even within this community he suffered the sort deprivations that are always glaring to a member of a minority but mostly go unnoticed or glossed over by the majority. Just as in normal society the lepers maintained social distinctions and hierarchy even though they had been excluded by their community of origin.

Even in their community of outcasts lepers would quite naturally have treated some of their number as outcasts.

In Jesus' story the ten lepers are really metaphors for the way “Community” worked and always works. His choice of lepers is revealing, therefore – there's another message for us – that we are all in need of healing, and some more than others. But we're often surprised by which ones need it more.

How does that sort of prejudice and discrimination work out today, I wonder? Well, like this: on the whole, when I've been stopped by a policeman, I haven't ever worried about there being a question of who owned the vehicle I was driving. If I owned a Mercedes or even a Rolls Royce, I still wouldn't have to worry about any assumptions around the ownership of my car!

But the same isn't true for an African American driving an expensive car. There's a telling phrase sometimes used as an ironic description of the supposed “offense” committed that causes African Americans to be stopped by the police: "Driving while Black". It's testimony to the consequences of having minority status within our culture.

Any minority person will tell you this. It doesn't matter if they're African-American, Hispanic-American, Native-American, Muslim-American or any other qualified American - because that's what it is, isn't it?! A qualified identity – a subscribed membership – an associate status that can be revoked at any time.

It means, ultimately, to be treated as less than a human being.

And how does it feel, as a minority, when you're treated as less than a human being? I don't know. In this culture I'm doubly privileged: I'm white, and I'm a man. And, in the Church, you can add two more privileges: I'm a priest, and I'm English. I really can't say that I have had a first-hand experience of what it means to be a minority, of what it means to be discriminated against.
I can only know, only get a brief glimpse, based on what people I respect and love have to say about that experience. What we take for granted is something that they notice.

Samaritans knew what it meant to be treated as less than a human being. Our Samaritan leper was no exception and so he immediately noticed when that didn't happen....when Jesus treated him as fully human, and fully equal – when Jesus 'included him in'. Not as a leper. Not as an outcast. Not as a Samaritan. Not as a 'thing' incapable of being a part of a community.

As a human being.

As a result, while the other nine ran off he did something different: he returned to give thanks!
Again the realism of the story comes through. What the other nine did was to run to the Priest, who could declare them healed, and thus give them their ticket back into the Community of the Pure. You bet they were happy. And they were only doing what Jesus told them to do, after all to show themselves to the priest. But because they'd had status before, because they'd been part of the majority, because they'd not known what it was like to be part of a minority, always sensitive to how they were among a dangerous majority....because of all these things it never occurred to them how truly profound and great was the debt of gratitude they owed Jesus. For these nine, thanksgiving was for later, in the Temple, not here, with this weirdo preacher.

But the Samaritan did understand, did "get it". And his first response? "Thank you, Jesus".
Thank you.

Once again, the outcast, the minority, the "less-than-human" teaches us all a lesson in grace, humility, and faith. And notice what Jesus says. The others are healed of their outward sickness. Only the tenth leper is made whole.

So here's a question: how do we overcome our own innate discrimination?

I think it's a journey for us, and we're all at different places on that journey. I want to tell you about one congregation that's on that journey.

I visited this congregation in 1999, as a candidate for rector in its search process. The congregation is on the East Coast south of the old Civil War border between North and South, and some way inland.

It didn't take long to figure out that, in this fairly conservative community, the congregation was finding the issue of homosexuality challenging. No surprise, really; if we all look back we can all say that it has become a challenging and divisive topic for our whole denomination.

This congregation’s organist – I'll call him Frank – was a gay man in a committed relationship. And everyone there knew it.

He was clearly loved and embraced by the congregation, as was his partner. When I gently asked how this could be I was told: "Oh, but this is different! We know Frank and Mark".

I suppose you could say that Frank and Mark were being treated as honorary "straights" and accepted into the club. But I think it was much deeper than that, and much more important. Frank and Mark being gay was overlooked because the relationships that existed between the members of that congregation – with each other and with them – were more important than any ideology.
Now perhaps that's less than we hope for – we who proclaim that we will respect the dignity of every human being. But no one is perfect. Those Episcopalians out East are on a journey, and one day, perhaps, they'll get there.

What they do know, even if they don't know it in their heads, is that Christian faith is not, in the end, about legalisms, not about any ideology that trumps human identity and belonging.

What they – and we all – know on some level is that it isn't even that relationships matter as part of our faith. It's that they're the only thing that, in the end matters. Our faith is relationships and their quality – with God, with each other, with self.

St. Paul says that how we love is, in the end, the final arbiter and definer of who we are as human beings. It is only when we embrace each other as children of God – only when we stop seeing difference as about our greater worth opposed to the lesser worth of others and start seeing other human beings also in need of god's healing touch – it is only then that we truly enter into the fullest meaning of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Thus does Jesus give us the charge, in this story, to continue the struggle for the inclusion of all people into God’s reign. And he even gives us a title for it: “Embracing the tenth leper.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Nuanced Bishops’ statement speaks to several audiences

When the House of Bishops gathered in New Orleans September 20-25 it was faced with some challenging questions. How, with integrity, could it address the concerns of a significant part of the Anglican Communion’s Primates while also maintaining a forward direction toward the Baptismal Covenant’s vision of full inclusion? And how could it do these things while also acknowledging that “bishops alone do not a Church make”?

The varied responses to the product of our bishops’ deliberations suggests that middle ground is often also a “no-mans’ land” surrounded by minefields, and some of those mines produced spectacular verbal explosions from both sides of the divide in the days immediately following their meeting.

However, understanding why the bishops said what they did requires recognizing both who their target audiences were and what parts of the Statement were addressed to which audiences.

The address was voiced for at least four audiences; 1). the Anglican Communion’s Primates, 2). Conservatives, 3). Progressives (including gays and lesbians), and 4). every baptized person in The Episcopal Church.

To the Primates – the primary audience – our bishops said: “yes, we confirm that there is a moratorium is in place on gay bishops; and, no, we won’t officially authorize public rites for the blessing of same sex unions.” But they also made it clear by their comments that Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is a bishop-in-good-standing of the Episcopal Church, that individual bishops can continue a policy of non-interference with regard to the blessing of same sex unions locally, and (most importantly) that the Primates should not be fooled into thinking that there is some sort of theological retreat from full inclusion in the Episcopal Church. Our bishops made it crystal clear directly to the Primates that gays and lesbians are full and equal members of the Episcopal Church. Our bishops also reiterated their rejection of the “pastoral scheme” for alternative oversight proposed by the Primates at their February 2007 Dar es Salaam meeting, offering an all but unanimous alternative.

To Conservatives our bishops said: “yes, we value our membership in the Anglican Communion and we hear your concerns that making our Anglican theological continuity clear and acting with caution and consultation are important values”.

To Progressives, including Gays and Lesbians our Bishops said: “Remember this is a response to the Primates – see what we said to them about ‘full and equal.’” It is very important to understand that the words regarding full inclusion were targeted at the Primates of our Communion and not gays and lesbians – if this were otherwise then the statement would indeed be contradictory. Our bishops were clear that they are not backing down on the journey to full inclusion.

To The Baptized: Our bishops said “we are very conscious that we are only a part of the Baptized, and that only General Convention represents the fullness of the Body of Christ as our Church understands it”. Consequently our bishops rested heavily on General Convention resolution B033 as the official G.C. standard in place between Conventions. It will be up to the 2009 General Convention, gathered in Anaheim, to go beyond B033.

If there is to be a split in the Anglican Communion the blame can no longer be laid at the feet of our province.

The statement from this House of Bishop’s meeting was not as clear-cut as that from the March meeting. In its expansiveness and near-unanimity, however, it is a remarkable document. Whether we like all of it or not we should still thank our episocopal brothers and sisters for their hard and diligent work on our behalf, not the least because they continue to emphasize the importance of our common journey toward the full inclusion of all people into Christ’s body.

© 2007 Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton

Friday, August 31, 2007

Oh no! It could happen HERE!!

Andrew Carey, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury and a leading evangelical within the Church of England, has written a piece for the evangelical "Church of England Newspaper" he calls Anglican Chaos where he bemoans "a further three consecrations of Americans to African provinces."

From my perch it is dawning on English evangelicals that they have a tiger by the tail!

"Oh no!" they are crying, "it could happen HERE, too!"

Having initially sought to support the Neo-Puritan Global South bishops' narrow theological perspective it has occurred to these evangelicals that incursions could happen in Blighty as well. Notice Andrew Carey's comment in his piece that "there continues to be talk about incursions by Nigeria onto English soil."

This represents a major problem for the evangelical wing of the English Church because it threatens their claim to broad support within that province. They clearly fear that any support they have from the "mushy middle" and the Anglo-Catholics will dissolve if there is interference in the affairs of the Church of England.

This fear is especially sharp since that interference is by foreign Primates from the evangelical wing of the Communion. Such a narrow interference would be very destructive of the coalition that Evangelicals have crafted, especially since it is becoming obvious that these persnickety prelates are more than willing to hold others accountable to their standards but do not even understand the meaning of 'reciprocity', let alone appreciate the founding and fundamental theological generosity of the Anglican fellowship of Churches worldwide.

The result would be the collapse of any semblance of a common front in England, whose province would then dissolve back into the three traditional groupings - the Evangelicals, the Anglo-Catholics, and the Middle.

No longer able to claim that England speaks with one voice the Evangelicals would lose much of their influence within the Communion.

Carey also identifies a similar problem within the Global South itself: "We are therefore left with the distinct impression, that far from being a united coalition the ‘Global South movement’ is itself subject to divisions. While most leaders share a common view of human sexuality, they nevertheless disagree about its importance, and mostly they disagree about tactics."

I'm sure these icebergs on the horizon are at least some of the reason for the greatly increased hysteria - with its concurrent increase in bluster and noise - now coming from our Conservative brothers and sisters.

It also promises a time of real possibility, for it is only when these conservative evangelicals realize that the situation has become too complex for simple answers that they will be willing to engage in conversation.

This is good news for our own province, and for the future of the Communion.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Synoptic and Johannine Christians talk past each other

At St. Augustine's we've been doing a series of Sunday forums on St. John's gospel - using old RSV Video Bible Study tapes from the '80's (love those wide lapels and aviator glasses!). Three things in particular emerged for me that are relevant to our current situation:

1. --John's community was quite isolated from other Christian groups and sometime during the preparation of its Gospel determined that it was the only community with the "Truth about Jesus". Essentially this gospel makes rather imperial "my way or the highway" claims with regard to Christian identity, belief, and practice. To be a Christian for the Johannine Community meant being a Johannine Christian (witness their attacks on Thomas "the Twin" as a way of attacking the community that gathered around Thomas or the Gospel of Thomas, for instance).

2. --In a time of persecution John's community was concerned about doctrine, its clarity, protection, and communication.

3. --Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where not primarily concerned about doctrine but were concerned about the experiential nature of faith - the encounter with the love and compassion of Jesus.

It seems to me that in a time when a community is threatened, and when concerns for its theological identity are central, it is more likely to fall back onto the Gospel of John with its isolationism and its concern for a doctrinal core. This is readily apparent in Irenaeus. While proclaiming the first Gospel canon by selecting (out of maybe hundreds) the "four pillars" (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) Irenaeus and the subsequent early Church understood John to be the central and most important pillar, with the other three as less significant, and gathered around it - the Christian Gospel tent was not a square but a triangle with a tall central pillar. John's gospel (with its concern for the protection and further formation of doctrine, especially against those who proposed different understandings) would remain central for a very long time.

So it could be said that when the Church is under threat, and doctrine is seen to be critical, John becomes the most important gospel.

And, on the other side, are the Synoptics. Beginning with Vatican II in the '60's, and copied the '79 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and other main-line Protestant denominations, a three year Sunday lectionary was adopted - Year A: Matthew, Year B: Mark, Year C: Luke, repeating, A, B, C, A, B, C, etc.

When you examine the lectionary in its entirety there is very little from John's Gospel.

We in the North Atlantic Community have become "Synoptic Christians".

For over 30 years our language as Christians has been formed around a vision of Christian faith that is less concerned with its settled doctrinal core, and more concerned with the experiential encounter with a loving and caring Jesus. At the same time, in the North Atlantic Community the Christian Churches have not seen any assault similar to that visited upon the early Church by emperors such as Nero and Diocletian. As a result we are much more able to tolerate diversity and see it as a "gospel value" because it is -- at least for the Synoptics.

Significant parts of Africa (including especially Nigeria, as we have heard so frequently from Abp. Akinola) _are_, however, concerned with doctrine and _are_ experiencing physical and theological threat - and the "theological threat" is doctrinal in nature.
---Doctrine, for them, becomes a central concern in their phenomenal growth in a culture of paganism where there are barely enough catechists to go around, let alone clergy.
---Doctrine becomes central to their deadly struggle with Islamic fundamentalism.

These African communities are much more likely to take the approach of John's community, or of Irenaeus: to draw away from a willingness to tolerate diversity, seeing it as a luxury they can ill-afford.

In these places it would be reasonable to argue that they have become "Johannine Christians".

In other parts of Africa - such as South Africa - where neither explosive growth or deadly enemies pose a threat the Anglican Community is able to be more tolerant, and is more likely to focus on Synoptic values.

While the alliance between some African and North American Christians seems logical there are significant differences that could well torpedo it. North American Christianity is not experiencing explosive growth, and North American Christianity is not experiencing deadly threat.

However, the affinity with the Gospel of John certainly does seem to be a common marker between North American conservatives and some African Christians.

All of this obviously has significant implications for our interactions. It would also help to explain why the responses to the diversity of much of the North Atlantic Community by some in Africa have been so virulent.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The late Bishop Jim Kelsey - a personal reflection

I first met Jim when I attended a Diocese of Northern Michigan "Visitors Weekend" one chilly April morning in 1999 - his warm smile and firm handshake signaling an authenticity that was transparent from the very beginning.

Our conversation was very quickly intimate - that's Jim, I came to see - and he took me back to his office to show me a picture of his family. We were chatting about the upcoming consecration, and he told a very funny story about wanting to have nearly 30 bishops participate in the service. "815 told me I could only have five bishops", he said. "I asked them why the limit and they replied 'well, there's only room for five signatures on the certificate'!" And then he said the words I'll never forget: "Doesn't matter about the certificate anyway, it'll just go in a drawer somewhere. The only certificate I have on my wall is my baptismal certificate."

In that moment I grasped what Jim - and, I believe, the Church - was (and should be) all about. I had never put any certificates on my office wall, least of all ordination certificates. But the first thing I did on returning home was to dig out my baptismal certificate and have it framed with the most expensive frame I could find.

Somewhere on the back I wrote this note: "Thanks, Jim."

Sadness and joy are bound together for me now - he is gone. And yet he will continue to live in my memory - as he will, I'm sure for anyone who knew him. I will always remember him with that same easy grin and quick chuckle that greeted me on that April day now eight years ago.

And I have this vision of him at the Pearly Gates reminding St. Peter not to get too carried away by the way some of the Church has come to view the First Apostle, which is so much less important - Jim is saying to him - than the ministry that Peter's baptism authored!

Rest in peace and rise in glory you dear, dear man.

How could he DO that?!

Those of you who have followed the somewhat amusing story of the Anglican Communion Institute on the House of Bishops and Deputies list (HoB/D) will recall that, as a result of the Grace and St. Stephen's debacle in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, the A.C.I. was revealed as "three guys and a computer"!

So much for "Senior Fellow" and all the other fancy titles.

You will also remember the 'tongue-in-cheek' competition I ran for the name of a new "Institute" that was to consist of but one member (yours truly) who would be President, Vice-President, Senior Fellow, Junior Fellow, Chief-cook-and-bottle-washer, and Janitor Emeritus! I am, after all, "one guy with three computers", so this grandiose scheme seemed entirely appropriate - mirroring, in fact, the same grandiosity of the "Anglican Communion Institute".

The result was (of course!) that I had to adopt a name that I came up with, rejecting all the many wonderful suggestions, because - well - "its all about me"!

"THe Institute" was the result. "TH" for "Taber-Hamilton" and simply add an "e": "Taber-Hamilton Institute" or "THe Institute" for short. No doubt many conservative pixies immediately ran out to grab the domain-name to prevent such a whimsical creation from ever seeing the light of day! This would be, of course, to miss the point that there is real humor in satire (While nitpickers might note that the name should really be "The THe Institute" it would be inconsistent of me to listen because - well - "its all about me").

Then I had to register with "blogger" to post a note about that wonderful man, Bishop Jim Kelsey, may he rest in peace and rise in glory, whose life was so tragically cut short in an auto accident on Sunday in the UP of Michigan. The result of registering was an immediate invitation from "Blogger" to create a blog and, well, "the rest is history"!

So then I had to select a name! What better than to use the same principle: "TH" for "Taber-Hamilton" and simply add an "e" and call it "THe Blog"?!

All of which is, no doubt, self-justification for an inflated ego (no doubt those same conservative pixies are now rushing off in glee to quote me - "permission denied"!). I can already hear the cries: "How could he DO that?!" The answer is, of course, quite simple - its always "all about me"!

So here it is - a new blog presented for your amusement - enjoy!