Monday, March 26, 2007
by Paul Bresnahan
The heavenly call of God reminds me to lift my eyes unto the hills from when cometh my help (Psalm 121) and to consider the heavens that have been fashioned by the fingers of God (Psalm 8).
As an urban dweller near Boston, I cannot help but notice when I lift up my eyes to heaven the frequent heat inversions we suffer from in the summertime and the mild winters we've had in recent years. This year we've only had a few inches of snow -- and in spite of the fact that we've had a few significant cold snaps, the overall picture seems to be that there really is a warming trend. Enter Al Gore's Oscar-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth and I find myself struggling indeed with the "upward call of God."
This is God's world. For good or ill, God gave us dominion over that world. And now many of us are concerned about the account we must someday give of the stewardship of what God has put into our hands. That day is coming sooner rather than later. What can any one of us do -- other than just throwing up our hands and running around like Chicken Little literally alarmed that the sky is falling? We've stared down the darkness before, as empires come and empires go. Now we face an even more daunting task -- the salvation of the very planet we live on.
Let's begin with Paul by recognizing that we must "press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." We've got to be in it for the long haul.
Warnings abound about global warming. This country sidestepped any serious consideration of the Kyoto Protocols in 2000, when other industrialized nations around the world began to bite the bullet over reining in CO2 emissions. It is ironic that the prophets of our own time are scientists and meteorologists, who have documented some disquieting trends that include the disappearance or dissipation of glaciers in the Alps and the Himalayas, the melting of the permafrost in the Canadian Northwest Territories, the breakup of the ice sheets at the poles, and the threat to polar bear habitat. The list goes on.
Without becoming alarmist, many are indeed trying to take a sober look at the realities of this "inconvenient truth." Al Gore's Oscar-winning movie by that title has brought renewed and sustained attention to environmental concerns we share as those given "dominion" over the created order.
Very recently, James Hansen, a NASA scientist of some repute and one of the earliest prophets of global warming, reiterated his concern that funding for climate research has been slashed and that the entire process of research and reporting has been hopelessly politicized (like almost everything else these days). In the New Zealand Herald Mr. Hansen is quoted as saying: "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now."
It is a disturbing fact, if it is true. I for one find the evidence disturbing and feel that there is much to be learned from an honest and open evaluation of the truth. That is the missing piece in the ongoing debate, it seems to me.
There is in the readings this week a theme of looking toward what lies ahead rather than what lies behind us. It is a biblical way of saying that there is simply no use in crying over spilled milk. It is not a bad way to live. In our political life, we always seem to be having hearings so that we can assign blame. There is an old axiom that states that "blame is always a cover-up." In other words, as we seek to find someone to blame for our woes we take attention off our responsibility for our own lives.
The scripture seems to ask us to focus on forgetting what lies behind and pressing on to what lies ahead. In our lesson from Isaiah today we read: "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing." God seems to be saying that something new is about to happen, and if we have our eyes too firmly fixed on the past we'll miss the miracle of what is yet to spring forth from God's creative and redemptive work.
The Psalmist recognizes God's way with us. Indeed, we doubt and wonder -- but ultimately it is the confidence of faith that opens us up to that which is possible. It is therefore reassuring that we have words like these from today's Psalm, which remind us about God's Grace that is always leading us toward redemption: "Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy."
St. Paul similarly asks us to answer readily "the heavenly call of God." He makes it clear that life when it is lived well recognizes that there is a "long haul" dimension to the struggles we face. The way he puts it is in those familiar and ringing words of scripture: "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." Those stirring words open the human heart to God's urging us on to something new.
Even in the Gospel, Jesus reminds Judas not to prevent Mary's extravagant and devoted loving care for her Lord. When Judas complains about how much could have been provided for the poor our of Mary's extravagance, Jesus reminds all who were gathered, and all who really care about the poor, that efforts to help the poor will always be available to us. And did Judas really care about the poor? Does the political system in which we live really care about the poor? What do you think?
There is always the present moment. There is always what is possible to do right in this living moment. This is the moment where God's Grace is to be found. Now is the moment to respond to the heavenly call of God. Forget what lies behind us. Let's move on to what lies ahead.
CRAFTING THE SERMON
Several years ago I went to a lake in northern Ontario where I used to go as a child. Something was terribly wrong up there in the beauty of that pristine lakeside forest -- the forest was denuded of the broadleaf maple trees that used to provide such lovely and abundant shade on a hot summer's day. Now those leaves were just a fraction of the size that I remembered them being. I asked my friends what happened. "Acid rain!" was the answer.
In one short lifetime a dramatic change had taken place in such a noticeable way. Similarly, the effects of global warming seem to have left their mark in so many places. Last fall our church hosted a singing group from St. Petersburg, Russia, and when I asked them about their weather at that time of year, they said that there was a time when snow would be falling by late November -- but no more, not since global warming. Nowadays winter comes later, is less severe, and does not last as long. The evidence is mounting that "this fragile earth, our island home" is suffering from many environmental abuses.
In so many ways, we as an electorate seem to have become much more passive than we used to be. We seem to have abdicated our responsibility to hold our elected officials responsible for those public policies which affect the lives we live. As the old Boston politicians used to say: "The only thing that apathy guarantees is that someone worse than you will govern."
That makes sense, doesn't it? It is not enough just to vote -- it behooves us to get involved, to get our hands right into the thick of things and to hold everyone's feet to the fire, including ourselves.
This planet is the only one we'll ever have. Environmental degradation is simply not acceptable. The Gulf coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita remind us that there is a grinding reality to poverty, neglect, inadequate health care, substandard education and housing for far too many of our own people. The reality is that our response to these storms has been anemic at best, and downright intentionally neglectful at worst. In other words, the connection between environment and public policy toward the poor are related. We are pouring money down the drain of some rather questionable international "diplomatic" policies, while we ignore and pull back from our commitments to our own vital interests domestically and environmentally.
In the very beginning God gave us dominion over the created order. That doesn't mean that we have the right to be irresponsible over what God has given into our care. It means that we are being called to be good stewards of all that has been given to us.
We have received a heavenly call. We may not all agree on how best to respond toward that call, but I suspect that we could strain and press ahead with more vigor and creativity than we have in the recent past. This is not just the responsibility of our elected leaders. It is the responsibility of good and sound citizenship. Many of us could use a course in Civics 101 these days.
No doubt many will be tempted to say: "What can I do against such insurmountable and complex problems?" What we can do is forget what lies behind and press on toward what lies ahead. Watch for it -- God is about to do something new again. True enough, there may be tears of sorrow this night, but joy will come in the morning.
When Jesus comes into our midst we will no doubt want to lavish him with expensive ointment and rejoice that he lives. My dear friends, Jesus is living today in the poor who cry out to us for help from those areas of this world where there are dangerous droughts and famine, where warfare and civil unrest make mere survival precarious. Jesus is living today in the very forests we love, and the glaciers that inspire such awe among us. God's glory is visible in the created order that we have been called to tend to with all the zeal of a mother caring for her child. Jesus is living among the vulnerable in our cities and in the lowlands of the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coast. We could lavish Jesus right now with the ointment of the healing touch of human love and generosity.
Many of our denominations are seeking to respond to the multitude of human needs by responding to the Millennium Development Goals as articulated by the United Nations. That in and of itself is a modest but hopeful beginning.
Yes, we have dominion over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the myriads of creatures and the very planet we all share. I am persuaded that there is a way to preserve what we have been given in a sustainable and responsible kind of way. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has made us his own. Therefore we press on toward that upward call of God. The prize for which we strive after is this: the heavenly call of God.
The greatest joy we will ever know is the Joy of sharing abundantly the generous love of God which we know in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. We don't have to look far to see that Person. That person is the multitude of men, women, and children in this world who seek the ointment of our generosity. That person is revealed to us in the beauty of this glorious planet. Now can you hear the Heavenly Call of God?
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
A Letter to the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire from your Bishop
March 21, 2007
I write to you on the last day of the week-long meeting of the House of Bishops, in Navasota, Texas. While an official “word to the church” will come from the House as a whole, at the conclusion of our meeting, news of actions taken yesterday at our business session will be appearing today. I want you to have my own reactions to go along with what you will read.
This has been an extraordinary meeting of the Bishops, characterized by respect, thoughtfulness and careful discernment, always done in the context of fervent prayer. There is a calm and peace about our meeting I have not experienced before, due in no small part to the non-anxious, but strong, leadership of our new Presiding Bishop.
As you no doubt know, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, at their recent meeting in Tanzania, issued a number of ultimatums to The Episcopal Church, with the demand that they be responded to by September 30. The Primates have made these demands of the Bishops of The Episcopal Church out of what seems to me to be either an ignorance of our polity (the structural ways by which we govern ourselves) or an unwillingness to accept that polity, which says that the governance of our Church is not undertaken by Bishops alone, but rather by a joint governance by bishops, clergy AND laity.
Part of those demands had to do with asking for an unequivocal moratorium on the consecration of partnered gay or lesbian people as bishops, and a moratorium on the blessing of same sex unions. Dire, although not articulated, consequences are threatened if such action is not taken. A process is being set in motion by our Presiding Bishop for us to talk with all the people of our church over the next several months in preparation for responding to these specific demands.
However, one action taken by the Primates has consumed much (but by no means all) of our time. This action was not asked of us, but rather was already set in motion to be imposed upon us by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates. That action, described as a “Pastoral/Primatial Scheme,” would create a Primatial Vicar, who would oversee those dioceses who feel they cannot function under the authority of our Presiding Bishop, either because they believe her to be “unorthodox” in her views (consenting to my election in 2003, and allowing same sex unions in her former diocese), or in the case of three of those dioceses, because she is a woman, and therefore unfit matter for ordination in the first place.
Our Presiding Bishop would, according to the plan, be “helped” in the appointment of this “Primatial Vicar” and the supervision of his/her work by a “Pastoral Council,” made up of people appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates, plus two appointed by our Presiding Bishop. This would be a Council in which our own Presiding Bishop and those appointed by her would not even constitute a majority. This process was already under way before we arrived at our meeting in Texas, with the Archbishop of Canterbury closing the nomination process for this Council prior to our arrival.
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of our bishops – progressive and conservative alike – see this as an unfair, illegal and wholly unprecedented assault on the polity and internal integrity of The Episcopal Church. Never before has any constituent member of the Anglican Communion been subjected to the authority of such an external body. Fears were expressed by most bishops that this would move us closer to a centralized authority in the Communion, and constituted an unwarranted and un-Anglican arrogation of authority to the Primates, unprecedented in the 500 years of our Anglican tradition and practice. It seemed to most of us that it was important to put a stop to this assault on our polity now, before it went any further.
Three resolutions were passed yesterday, with considerable, and sometimes overwhelming, majorities:
The first resolution called upon the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church (the elected body of laity-clergy-bishops who act for our General Convention, between General Conventions) to decline to participate in such a Pastoral Scheme, and to seek OTHER ways of meeting the pastoral needs of those dioceses who are not happy with the actions of The Episcopal Church. (The Presiding Bishop and Executive Council have numerous options for doing so, without the interference of groups of Bishops/Archbishops external to our Church, and our Presiding Bishop has signaled that she is ready and willing to do so.)
Second, the Bishops in a unanimous vote expressed their common desire to find a way to live together in the Episcopal Church during these contentious times, and called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with our House of Bishops face to face – a request he has steadfastly refused as recently as the Primates Meeting in Tanzania, claiming his calendar is too full to meet with us this year. We have asked him to reconsider, believing that this is not too much to ask of the Archbishop of Canterbury, given the seriousness of the issues which face the Communion, and given his having NEVER met with us since assuming his office.
Third, we offered a message to the Church for study and education, outlining our attempts to meet, in good faith, the requests made of us by the larger Communion, and the consistent rebuffs we have received in response. We re-articulate our profound desire to remain a part of the Communion – a desire that is shared by us all. We go on to enumerate the reasons we cannot and will not participate in the proposed Pastoral Scheme. And finally, we state as clearly as we can, the nature of who we are as a Church and our belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a union in which ALL the children of God – including women and gay and lesbian people – are called to full participation in the life and ministry of our Church.
While we cannot know what the reaction will be to these statements throughout the Communion, we must be who we are – the Church struggling to live out faithfully the ministry God has given us in this place and time. Like many great reformers before us, “Here we must stand. We can do no other.”
I believe these actions are true to our polity and to our identity as a Church. No matter how the media might portray this as a “slap in the face” to the Communion/Primates, it was not! We calmly and thoughtfully have said “no” to this encroachment on our polity and authority as a Church. We have also pledged ourselves to meeting the pastoral needs of the minority within our Church who are upset by the directions we have taken and by the leadership we have elected. We will also take seriously the demands made of us by the Primates – in consultation with the lay and clerical leadership of this Church, as demanded by our polity. That is not a slap in the face, but rather a responsible and respectful response to the inappropriate demands made of us.
I think you would have been proud of us as your Bishops. The manner and tenor of our decision-making was kind, respectful and prayerful. This was not about politics, but about this part of the Body of Christ attempting to exercise its leadership in appropriate and lawful ways. It was about respecting ALL the orders of ministry in our Church. It was about protecting our Church from inappropriate encroachment on internal matters. It was in the best tradition of the Anglican Communion.
Thank you for your prayers during this time. I have felt your support and love throughout. I have appreciated your attention to these Church issues, WITHOUT losing sight of our real mission as a Church – to proclaim the Good News of Christ in our words and in our actions to a world which so desperately needs to hear it. We will continue as a Diocese to commit ourselves to the Millennium Development Goals as a way of expressing our desire to do our part to meet the needs of a hurting world. We will NOT let these issues distract us from God’s mission – to preach Good News to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to release those in captivity, to bring sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. May God bless us richly in that ministry.
Your bishop and brother,
Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Several days ago at a Clergy Quiet Day, Bishop Cederholm shared this story. It is a rather well known story, but it is well worth repeating here. I had never heard it before. It is perfect for this time in Lent. ~Fr. Paul
One day Saint Francis and brother Leo were walking down the road. Noticing Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked, “Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?”
“Of course. It means to have no sins, faults or weaknesses to reproach myself for.”
“Ah,” said Francis, “now I understand why you're sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.”
“Right,” said Leo. “That's why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.”
“Leo, listen carefully to me. Don't be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire Him. Rejoice that He is what He is—your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you've turned to Jesus, don't turn back and look at yourself. Don't wonder where you stand with Him.”
“The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself, on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise Him from sunrise to sundown.”
“Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into His peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled-stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”
After a long pause, Leo said, “Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”
"No doubt about that,” replied Francis. “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It's an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew. To cry out, ‘You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,' that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn't come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.”
“Then how?” asked Leo.
“Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging, painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.”
Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul (Brennan Manning, pages 209-211).
Monday, March 05, 2007
From the Executive Council
March 4, 2007
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
We, the members of the Executive Council, met in Portland, Oregon on March 2-4, 2007. We are elected to represent the whole church between General Conventions.
We are conscious that this is the first meeting of a major deliberative body of the church in the wake of the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We are in a process of discerning what it means to be members of a global and multicultural Anglican Communion, autonomous yet interdependent, diverse yet living a common life as a family of churches.
At this meeting of Executive Council, the following actions were taken:
*Fulfilling a mandate from the 75th General Convention (Resolution A166) [http://gc2006.org/legislation
*Executive Council recognizes that the requests made by the Primates, directed to the House of Bishops and the Presiding Bishop, raise important and unresolved questions about the polity of the Episcopal Church and its ecclesiology. We have authorized the appointment of a work group to consider the role, responsibilities and potential response of the Executive Council to the issues raised by the Primates. The work group will make a report and recommendations at the June 2007 meeting of the Council.
*We wish clearly to affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons, particularly those perceived to be the least among us. We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.
*Further, we offer our prayerful affirmation to all who struggle with the issues that concern us: those who are deeply concerned about the future of their Church and its place within the wider Communion, and those who are not reconciled to certain actions of General Convention. We wish to reaffirm that they too remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.
It is our common baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that binds us together. We promise in our Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being. As we engage in conversations about these issues, may we “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In so doing, may we “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
The Executive Council is especially thankful for the thoughtful leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, and for their wisdom and patience.
Full letter at: