Friday, December 30, 2011

The Conversion of a Conservative to a Liberal

By William Bronson

Growing up, I lived in a bubble. I saw the world working fairly well. My father had a successful small business in high tech carbide tool and die making. He had started it when his employer, a subsidiary of General Electric, was going to close its repair shop, which my father ran. He made a deal that he would continue the work as a private contractor and take on other customers as well. He and his partner worked hard and the company became a success. My brother subsequently took over when Dad retired and now my nephew has taken over from him. My niece also worked for the company and her husband still does. Through all their hard work, wisdom, and diligence, the company has prospered.

I went into aviation and flew first for Northeast Airline beginning in 1966 when I got out of five years in the Navy where I earned my wings. Then Delta bought out Northeast in the early seventies. Delta was originally run by some caring entrepreneurs and we were told we were a family. Then greed walked in, in the form of some savvy CEOs. Ten years into my retirement, they declared bankruptcy as some other airlines had done, and hired people back the next day at a fraction of their salaries. Meanwhile they dumped their retirees on the taxpayers through the Pension (partial) Benefit Guarantee Trust Corp. set up by Congress for the apparent purpose of enabling bad corporate behavior. The bankruptcies were related to the ruse of corporate raiding of pension funds during good times and then finding them short during bad times.

So I learned that not all corporations are created equal. Big business didn’t play by the same rules as small businesses. Looking at big business through historical lenses, it became clear that so-called free enterprise mainly meant that they were free to enlist the services of government and taxpayers through their so-called representatives to gain unfair advantage over competitors and labor.

Looking overseas, the picture appeared even worse. Colonialism and neo-colonialism have resulted in half the world struggling to subsist on less than $2 per day, while most wealth is held by the very few.  Now globalization and so-called free trade agreements have only accelerated the distance between rich and poor.

America is not left out, with financial game playing that resulted in a crisis and bank bailouts by taxpayers who were threatened that things could get even worse. Then foreclosures became rampant due to unemployment due to nervous markets due to all of the above. Then Occupy Everywhere arrived as bright young students burdened with debt supposedly to be paid off by cushy jobs figured out they had been had like the rest of us. They are using the same techniques as the Arab Spring only instead of malicious military dictators, the villain has become the oligarchy, the same oligarchy that was responsible for the dictators. It is a money game and Obama doesn’t know which side of the street he should stand on.

I used to believe, simplistically, that if government stayed out of the way, free enterprise would create utopia and private charity would take care of the poor, especially if our society was liberally sprinkled with conservative Christian virtues.

Now to my horror, much like Frank Schaeffer, I discover that I helped enable a government which with great hubris has spent trillions creating mayhem overseas under the pretense of protecting ourselves and democracy through its escalated war on terror which has become a cash cow for the military industrial complex that Eisenhower tried to warn us against.

Having just observed Veterans Day, we were treated on all channels to a depressing litany of ruined lives by those lured into the military by promises of $15,000 signing bonuses and college educations. Now left damaged and maimed, many of them have to sort out whether they were in fact saviors of democracy or pawns in a very sick money game.

What to do now? I suppose pray that 2012 will in fact bring about some new worldwide epiphany that changes things for the better.

* William Bronson, DMin ’08, was an airline pilot for many years and author of How to Get to Heaven.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms

By Kevin G. Thew Forrester

What if Beauty rather than fear held us? What if we knew Jesus not as life’s judge, but as our “Life-Giver”?

Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms is a guide for postmodern pilgrims seeking authentic spirituality transformation. I follow the lead offered in the wisdom tradition of early Syriac Christianity, where Jesus is known as the “Life-Giver” (Ihidaya). The Beauty of Jesus is that his life reveals how “to give life.” Jesus invites us into relationships which make us alive and give us “cause to live.”

In Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms, I explore what it means for our lives to be lived from “the ground of the soul, where God’s ground and the soul’s ground are one ground” (Meister Eckhart). We revisit some of the pivotal self-defining stories of the scriptures and the lives of the saints and mystics, seeking their meaning for us when read from the experience and wisdom of our gracious at-one-ment.

I begin by developing an “integral sacramental theology,” which is a theology that recognizes the graced core of creation and deliberately respects, receives, and converses with the various disciplines that study four dimensions of existence: individual and collective, internal and external.

I then practice this integral sacramental theology as we discover anew how the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, along with the stories of the saints and mystics, invite us to be transformed, awakening to the truth of our gracious one common ground.

All too often tribal division divides Christian from Christian, as well as Christians from persons of other spiritual paths. All too often baptism is experienced as a ritual of separation and division, not conformation of union. Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms is an invitation to discover that the baptismal waters dissolve illusionary walls separating sacred and profane, pure and impure.

Along with Nicholas Cusa, the 15th century German mystic, we are invited to discover our own prophetic and dissident voice: “God…is the enfolding of all in the sense that all are in God, and God is the unfolding in the sense that God is in all.”

I introduce Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagram as rich resources for helping us to realize personally, communally, and systemically, that health and wholeness is not a matter of ritual purity, but of primordial unity confirmed in baptism.

Holding Beauty in My Soul’s Arms invites us all to dig deep and “mine the subterranean river of Christianity.” In the process we may well discover that we, like Jesus, are transformed into life-givers, because we, also, directly experience our at-one-ment.

What a beautiful gift it is when theology itself becomes a rich language that satisfies and enlivens anew. We are courageously drawn out again into the deep, where the grace of God invites marvelous discoveries, none more breathtaking than the realization that we, too, are beloved. Our souls awaken and know God as surely as the taste of fresh water on the tongue.

* The Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester, Ph.D., has served in the Diocese of Northern Michigan for the past ten years. He is the author of  Leadership and Ministry within a Community of Equals (InterCultural Ministry Development, 1997) and I Have Called You Friends (Church Publishing, 2003).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Of Priests, Football, and Idols

By Christopher Medeiros

Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno

The Penn State child sexual abuse scandal has been all over the news. Once again a pillar of the community, a person in power in a beloved American institution, was accused of abusing his authority and violating children. Once again the people in that institution allegedly did not only have safeguards to protect children. We are again looking at the structure of an institution (college football at Penn State) and how it may have developed in ways that may protected the abusers. Equally, or perhaps more disturbingly, Penn State college football fans expressed strong vocal support for those who allegedly knew about the abuse of children and never did anything about it.
Does any of this sound familiar? Am I talking about football or the church?

For me, someone from Fall River MA, one of the first places in the US to break the story of the widespread sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, this story is all too familiar.  In the middle of that scandal one of the parish priests I grew up with was arrested and sentenced on charges of child pornography. Also as that scandal grew the hierarchy of the church, and many faithful Catholics, believed that the abuse could be explained by looking at the horrible actions a few pedophiles, but not in looking in the ways the church itself operated as structured. It is the structure of the institution itself that allowed pedophiles to function and flourish.

Now the news is full of sensational details and questions about whether or not graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported the abuse to the police and why once head coach Joe Paterno was informed of the abuse he didn’t make sure Jerry Sandusky wasn’t fired and arrested. Penn State fired Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier on Nov. 9, four days after Sandusky was arrested. Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president, Gary Schultz, are accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Both have stepped down from their posts. In the midst of this, Penn State fans are rallying around Joe Paterno and the institution and see that the only fault is in the alleged abusers, not the system.

That questions of who knew about the abuse and who failed to report it are very important, but they are also a tantalizing distraction from looking at the ways this kind of thing can happen and can be prevented. It is clear in the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of college football numerous people might have known of or even witnessed Jerry Sandusky’s violation of young boys. Some people told some other people, but nobody pushed hard enough to report this to authorities and be sure it was followed through. Many people found many ways to ignore or minimize what was happening. As a result, not surprisingly, as the years passed, more and more children were violated.

Is it a coincidence that both college football and the Roman Catholic church are beloved powerful hierarchical organizations where white men have all the power and authority?  We as a society still have a tendency to create individuals and institutions that become idols which we shower with adoration and hand over inordinate amounts of power.

In today’s world the idolatry for us is not a golden calf in desert. Idolatry continues in the people and the institutions where we help foster a concentration of power in one or a few people. People we set apart and set above the rest of us. While those who abuse that power have individual responsibility when they abuse that power, we as a society have to look at the ways we create idols that are above accountability. We give people power and don’t look at how power has to be shared and kept in check in ongoing ways.

Yes, the abuser must be punished if found guilty. Yes those who didn’t report this must be held accountable, but if we are really interested in stopping this from happening again we must be wiling to look at the iconic hierarchical institutions we create.

What are things to look for?

  • Look for institutions where the relationships between those at the top with the most power and the bottom with the least power are extreme.  

    • In the Roman Catholic Church, the chasm between the laity and the people is enormous. There can be no “mass” without a priest. Individual churches have no say in what priests lead their congregations, they cannot dismiss a priest nor do they have any authority to hold their priest accountable for anything. Priests are closer to God; they have the power to act as the go-between for God and the people. Women cannot hold any position of ordained ecclesiastical power.  

    • In college football, the overwhelmingly white male owners and coaches, have lots of power and money. Under them are student assistants, like Mike McQueary, then players. These players are often young economically disadvantaged students on athletic scholarships, at schools where their academic backgrounds are far below the students they are in class with and who are many of the fans of their games. While children aren’t necessarily a part of this hierarchy, the power and money are structured such that those at top have so much power and control they are able away to get away with many things no one could. They are above scrutiny.  

    • In the business world at big corporations, is the janitor making minimum wage with no benefits while CEO and CFO make 30 million dollars?

  • Look for rigidity of power. Is power something shared, invested in different people at different times, or does it always stick to one person or one tiny group of people for long periods of time? Are roles rigid in the institution? People have different functions, different responsibilities in organizations; are those functions rigid or can people move between them? For example, could the laity at a congregation have a say about the type of liturgy/worship they do or would that be seen as overstepping their boundaries? 

  • Are there groups of people excluded from power, like women, people of color, LGBT people, etc? Are there many ‘kinds” of people holding power at different time, or does the same “kind” of people always seem to hold most of power?  

  • Is there accountability? Are there set mechanisms that monitor power? What voice do  people, at all levels within an institution, have about how power is used or misused? Are people afraid to speak up?

Let’s make sure that Jerry Sandusky has his day in court and if found guilty is punished and never has ANY access to children ever again. Let’s look what kind of culture was created that might have lead people to not report the abuse of children.  The guilt of those who allow violation of children to continue must called to account. However, if we as a society are REALLY interested in stopping the abuse of the most vulnerable, the least powerful in our world, we have to look squarely and honestly at the people and institutions we help create and maintain. We have to be sure we don’t commit the sin of idolatry. We have to be sure that we don’t create people and institutions that are so powerful, that have so much control over others and so little accountable to anyone, that they are get away with horrible abuse.

* An earlier version appeared in Christopher Medeiros’s Spirit and Flesh blog at on November 20, 2011.

** Christopher Medeiros, MDiv ’99, is the Director of Admissions and Recruitment at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Heart is a Raging Volcano of Love for You

By Kevin G. Thew Forrester

What if liturgy and prayer reflected at-one-ment rather than redemptive violence? Love rather than retribution? Embrace rather than condemnation? Forgiveness rather than judgment?

My Heart Is a Raging Volcano of Love for You reflects my experience of liturgy and ministry as being of a single compassionate whole. The liturgical life of the church is the deep well from which ministry draws its divine vitality.

From the divine well flows the grace to freely serve. Otherwise baptismal ministry quickly devolves to egoic attempts to save the lost world.

I believe that a challenge before us as Christians is that we live in a time of much cultural change and fear. The predominant mythic-literal ways of understanding ourselves, God, and church are in transition.

As created beings, change and evolution are part and parcel to our life as creatures of God’s creation. And yet, it is also true that the break of the 21st century seems to have ushered us into a teeming flow of accelerated changes.

As the church in worship of God, engaged in baptismal ministry, we cannot help but be affected by the cultural whirlwind. However, perhaps we may perceive within the shifting winds a divine invitation to revitalize and reform our tradition.

The eucharistic liturgy of baptism especially celebrates the Living Font from which flows our Trinitarian call as Christians to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being – divine invitations of life that flow from the one Holy Source.

In the book, My Heart Is a Raging Volcano of Love for You, I explore how meaningful and authentic baptismal ministry cannot take place apart from liturgical renewal. The images of God and Christ and church and world and self inexorably shape our sense of dignity, our notion of justice, and our image of neighbor. How we celebrate in our worship greatly determines how we serve.

To paraphrase ancient wisdom – lex orandi, lex vivendi. This pithy affirmation points out that the church has traditionally recognized that worship and life are inextricably connected, one reinforcing the other; for better or worse.

In this second volume of my At-One-Ment series I develop new forms of prayer and liturgy that draw upon our ancient catholic tradition in dialogue with our contemporary, postmodern, cultural context. These prayers reflect what I describe as an integral sacramental experience and vision of life, which invite us beyond both the individualism of modernity and the fragmentation of postmodernity.

We need to realize that the liturgy at its heart is a shout, a song, a whisper, a plea, a thanksgiving, of love. We long to be united with the Beloved who ceaselessly gives us birth and calls us home. We cast about for words that might begin to express the cry of our soul to receive the divine kiss whose moisture gives us life.

My Heart Is a Raging Volcano of Love for You is an invitation to transcend the destructive redemptive violence of conventional atonement spirituality enshrined in prayer, liturgy and hymnody. Through conversation with mystics of both east and west, I invite the church to creatively express itself in prayers and liturgies flowing from our gracious at-one-ment with God, the Font from which flows all life.

Here are collects for Years A,B,C. Here are new liturgies for Great Three Days. Here is new expression of baptismal living reflective of ancient tradition, postmodern science, and our interfaith world. Here are prayers of a progressive Christianity with ancient roots.

* The Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester, Ph.D., has served in the Diocese of Northern Michigan for the past ten years. He is the author of Leadership and Ministry within a Community of Equals (InterCultural Ministry Development, 1997) and I Have Called You Friends (Church Publishing, 2003).

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Emerging Wider World of Ethics

William E. Scrivener

I have been a full-time hospital chaplain and a supervisor of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) since 1981.  In that time I have served two hospitals in Chicago (one pediatric, one community), a community hospital in Stamford Connecticut, and, since 1990, Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati.

One of my abiding interests throughout that time has been ethics. For a very long time that meant bioethics – an area concerned primarily with issues arising from treatment decisions being made or faced at the bedside.  I have been active on the bioethics committee throughout my time at Children’s Hospital and have participated in numerous consultations. 

These include questions around whether it is permissible to limit or end treatment, an older child’s right to participate in decision-making around his or her care, the permissibility of physicians refusing to provide care requested by the patient (or parents) which they believe to be futile, the rights of parents to limit pain control on their children, and many others.

Much of this will be familiar to those who follow these things with any regularity. But in the past few years we have begun looking at ethical issues that move beyond the bedside. One area of inquiry is research ethics. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has one of the largest pediatric research centers in the country.

It used to be that ethics in research concerned itself primarily with research protocols and making sure that patients/families participating in research were fully informed of the nature of the research, its risks and benefits, and gave uncoerced consent. But today research is faced with many other issues. What are the implications of genetic therapy beyond mere treatment? Is it permissible to do clinical trials in third world nations where the standards are not as strict as they are in the U.S.?  In our newly developing bio-bank (a repository wherein thousands of tissue samples, collected from biopsies and surgery, are typed and stored to give researchers a much larger sample to study), how do we insure that patients’ privacy is maintained?

The other area is organizational ethics. In a nutshell, organizational ethics is concerned with the task of bringing focused ethical attention to the management and delivery of healthcare and is likely to involve a broad scope of organizational concerns such as patient services, business and service plans, and professional integrity.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital has grown into an enormous enterprise. It employs nearly 13,000 people. It does about $1.5 billion a year of business. Its reach is not merely regional or national, but global. It is a highly entrepreneurial operation. So the challenge becomes one of creating a climate wherein potential ethical issues arising from all this activity can be recognized and addressed.

For the past six years or so I have co-led an effort here to develop an Ethics Center. This is envisioned as a program that will bring active ethical reflection to all the areas I have mentioned and do so in an academic setting which will produce scholarship and make a contribution to the larger ethics community. 

My involvement in this grew out of my sense that the traditional ethics committee was ill-equipped to handle the challenges I’ve outlined and also out of my experience of watching programs develop where it was not clear whether or to what degree potential ethical issues had been named or addressed. There have been, and continue to be, many challenges in bringing all this about.

Among these challenges are those of “speaking the truth to power.” I have had innumerable conversations with the senior leaders of this organization over the past several years, seeking to engage them around the issues facing us. One thing I have come to appreciate is something I could not really have imagined in my earlier days here, and that is the gift of a long-tenured ministry in a place like this. I have developed relationships over time, and have earned the trust of many people. This has, in turn, allowed me to develop my own style of leadership and to participate in what has been a very exciting enterprise – expanding the reach of ethical inquiry into the larger life of Children’s Hospital.

* William E. Scrivener, MDiv.’73, is the Senior Director of Pastoral Care at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He has served parishes in Norwalk and North Branford, Connecticut, and has also served as a Chaplain/ACPE Supervisor in hospitals in Chicago and Stamford, Connecticut. He is a certified Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, and a Board Certified Chaplain in the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Children of the Light

By Brendan Curran 

Brendan Curran

When I hear the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” sung in church I start to cringe because I wonder how we make sense of lyrics about victory trumpets, terrible swift swords, and our God militantly marching on to war.  In the context of our bloody history I wonder, “How many people, both soldiers and civilians, have been marched over in the name of our God?” I ask this question when I hear this song sung on Veterans Day when in our churches we might hold space to honor and hold in our hearts the people in our congregations who have survived wars.

A veteran himself, the author Kurt Vonnegut reflects on his birthday, Veteran’s Day, and reminds us of how it used to be Armistice Day—a holiday commemorating the ceasefire after World War I, the supposed war to end all wars. He writes, “We come to November eleventh, accidentally my birthday. It was once a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in World War I were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.  So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, and music for instance.
Kurt Vonnegut
And all music is.”

I agree with Kurt Vonnegut when he says all music is sacred and so I find myself wondering, “What is the meaning of the terrible swift sword of God that we sing about?” 
On Veteran’s day we thank our Veterans for their service and Kurt Vonnegut, by reminding us of Armistice Day encourages adding an additional statement to the expression, “Thank you for your service.” Armistice Day creates the moment to say, “Thank you dear friends for your service, AND...the war is over.” Kurt Vonnegut’s reflection reminds me of a story.
At the end of World War II, hundreds of Japanese marines and soldiers who survived catastrophes found themselves stranded, alone or in groups, on uninhibited or sparsely settled islands. Many of them survived extreme conditions and/or remote isolation. Many of these soldiers were found decades after the war had ended. 
Even after decades when these elders were discovered they were prepared to continue to fight, in some cases insisting the war could not have ended and Japan could not have lost. Most gracefully, the Japanese people did not treat these men like fools for believing the war had not ended, but rather, they welcomed them back to Japan with parades for what they had done.  Despite many of the soldiers’ persistent belief that they must continue to fight, they were also compassionately and gently told, “Dear brothers, Thank you, and the war is over.”  
The men on the battlefields on the last day of World War I described the sudden silencing of the gunfire as the voice of God. Maybe we too hear the voice of God in silent sacred moments when we let the love of God wash over us like light and say to ourselves, “Dear soul, do not be afraid. The war is over,” whatever the war may be. 
We have such a tendency to want to separate, to control, or to jump to being defensive. We cover our hearts in layers of armor because of fear. We have such a tendency to put on metal armor even though we have been shown in the resurrection of our brother Jesus how the battle is already over and we are to clothe ourselves in that light, shielded with the breastplate of love.  
St. Paul reminds us that we are children of the day and that “we are to wear love as our breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (I Thess. 5:8). St. Paul encourages us to shed our worldly armor and to wear the armor of light. The question appears, “How do we wear light?”
I can only think of watching the sunrise while standing on the rocks in Maine as a child.  It was one of the few times I’ve actually seen a sunrise. In the liminal space between night and day in the moment before the dawn you can hear and feel your own breathing moving in and out in tandem with the repetitive swooshing of the waves, and the sounds of seagulls and bells.
As the morning stars become illuminated you notice the gentle generosity of light. You sense a kinship with the opening life-giving power of light that touches your face, and the stars, and the sea gulls, and the rocks, and the world. Standing on the rocks quietly watching the sunrise, it becomes possible to realize how we can be as whole, as dignified, and as beautiful as the earth itself, which in quiet acceptance seems to so gracefully allow itself to be clothed in light.  
The question, “How do we wear the armor of light?” jumps out of the pages of the text and I think of the people I have seen wearing the breastplate of love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. I remember my grandmother watching the sunrise with me standing with her bare feet in a tide pool, beaming, clutching a rosary, blessing the moon and talking about how our Grandfathers and grandmothers shine in the stars. I think of how those who I have seen wear the armor of light show how love, like the sunlight, gently pulls away the mantle of darkness.  It melts our heart’s armor leaving us naked and open and free.

I remember the sea of candles held by thousands of people the evening before the Iraq war began. It had become clear that the bombing would start that night and so thousands of people gathered together on the foot of Dwolfe Street. It seemed there was nothing we could do to stop the bombs from falling and so they gathered and sang songs about peace. They sang about being like trees growing by the water. They sang about how we were not afraid. They sang about letting their little lights shine.
There was a mournful feeling in the crowd, but also empowering warmth in the light they created that seemed to say that the hope for a more peaceful world was blessed, and possible. Clothed in their light and held by their songs it became possible to hear in that moment a sudden silence, and a still small voice whispering, “Dear child, I am with you. I teach, ‘The war is over.’”  

The people’s light seemed to preach that our hope for salvation remains our greatest protection in a world breaking under the weight of our fear and our metal armor.   I learned that same night about a young woman who comes to mind when I think of our battle hymns, Kurt Vonnegut’s reminder of God’s voice in the silence, and the question of how we wear the armor of light.
Rachel Corrie
As the crowd dispersed that night, a man came frantically running into the crowd crying, “Rachel Corrie has been killed! Please let me tell you about Rachel Corrie!”  He told the crowds about the woman who as a young girl at the age of ten in her 5th grade essay wrote these words, “I am here for the children. I am here because I care. I am here because children everywhere are suffering and because 40,000 people die each day from hunger. I’m here because those people are mostly children. We have got to understand that these deaths are preventable. We’ve got to understand that people in the third world think and care and smile and cry just like us. We have to understand that they ARE us.  We ARE them. My dream is to stop hunger by the year 2000! My dream is to save the people who die each day! My dream can and will come true (she says) if all look into the future and see the LIGHT that shines there.”   
It was this little girl who had visions of light shining that the man spoke of when he told us of the 23-year-old woman who was crushed to death standing in front of a bulldozer blocking a well to save the only source of water for a village in the Holy Land.
I think of Rachel as a tree standing by the water. I think of Rachel as a soul who reflected the one who came for the children and who in dying declared the end of war. Seeing the haunting image of the woman Rachel at the well standing before the bulldozer clothed in the armor of light like a terrible swift sword, it can be easy to become lost in restless fears asking, “Why couldn’t the breastplate of love save her?” But I remember how all the messengers who declare the end of war and take up the breastplate of love force us to turn our faces east. 
The love revealed by those who have realized themselves to be children of the day show us that we see the God who is love when we make ourselves completely vulnerable to all the awfulness and beauty of the world cross. They show us how to dawn the breastplate of love and indeed to wear it means to DIS-arm. To wear it involves opening the heart to whatever we might want to push away.  It soothes us, allowing individual pain and suffering and those of the world to be held and transmuted by light. To wear it is to choose to relentlessly and joyfully surrender to a boundless love in the face of callousness and death.  It means that we become in the world the voice that says, dear friends, “You are the light of the world! The war is over.”  To wear the armor of light is to be lost in a love that makes no distinctions. 
I think again of the generous light of sunrise and how over the ocean in Maine it touches everything and extends everywhere. When we say to ourselves, “Dear soul, the war is over,” we allow our guilt, our inadequacies, our fears, our joys, our visions, and our dreams to be held in the love that is God.  As people who heard the sudden silent voice of God, we learn to hear the light of compassion as the trumpet that shall never hail retreat! 
We learn to see open and outstretched arms as God’s terrible swift sword! And we learn the dance of that “God marching on” moving as children of the day with our praying grandmothers, our old men asking for peace, our prophets and our martyrs standing by the water. We move armed in light and lost in love like the whirling poet Rumi who when dancing sings, “There’s nothing left of me. I’m like ruby held up to the sunrise! I will wear the sunlight as an earring!  The beauty of early dawn came over me! I saw it was pregnant with love, love pregnant with God.”
*Sermon preached at St. John’s Memorial Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School on November 14, 2011.
**Brendan Curran is a Master of Divinity student at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Queer Theology of Sainthood Emerges

By Kittredge Cherry

A queer theology of sainthood is emerging now as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people seek and find alternative ways to lead loving lives. Saints have been criticized as tools for enforcing conformity, but the desire for LGBT saints is springing up from the grassroots and the need is largely being met by individuals, not religious institutions. Most mainstream churches would not canonize any saints who were openly LGBT, so we must claim our own saints. 

The new expressions include my own LGBT Saints series at I have been developing a queer theology of sainthood in the process of writing more than 40 profiles of LGBTQ saints over the past two years. I had scant interest in or knowledge of the saints until a few years ago when I finished a series of books on the queer Christ (Jesus in Love novels and Art That Dares). Many people told me that they couldn’t relate to a gay Jesus, but they liked the idea that his followers were LGBT. At first I thought that LGBT saints were rare. Gradually I came to see that they are everywhere throughout all time and they are among us now. We have all met saints in our lives. They are ordinary people who are also extraordinary.

One of the greatest challenges has been to figure out who is a “saint” and who is “LGBT” or “queer.” If the boundaries of sainthood are slippery, then the definitions of LGBT and queer are even more fluid.

Saints Perpetua and Felicity by Br. Robert Lentz

Queer has a double meaning, as defined by theologian Patrick Cheng in his book Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology. It can be an umbrella term for marginalized sexualities and gender identities. But Cheng explains that the term also denotes an attitude. “In recent years, the word ‘queer’ has been used by many LGBT people as a positive label that proudly embraces all that is transgressive or opposed to societal norms, particularly with respect to sexuality and gender identity,” Cheng writes.

In light of this definition, the need for “queering the saints” becomes clear. Saints have been criticized as vehicles of the dominant morality, but for me as a lesbian Christian the opposite is true: LGBTQ saints can shake up the status quo. It’s important to re-evaluate familiar figures,  to recover those who have been lost and to recognize the saints of our own time.

Churches have tried to control people by burying queer history. The LGBT saints show us not only THEIR place in history, but also OUR place because we are all saints who are meant to embody love. We can restore the complex reality of saints whose lives are being hijacked by the hierarchy to enforce the status quo. Traditional stories of the saints tend to be overly pious, presenting idealized superheroes who seem distant and irrelevant. Saints have been used to get people to passively accept oppressive situations. Too often the saints have been put on a pedestal to glorify virginity and masochistic suffering. The emphasis on miracles disrespects nature, the ongoing miracle of life. Queer saints can help reclaim the wholeness, connecting sexuality and spirituality for the good of all. 

Another guiding light in my quest for queer saints has been the book Spitting at Dragons: Towards a Feminist Theology of Sainthood by Elizabeth Stuart.  She is known primarily as a queer theologian, but in this book she lays a strong feminist foundation that can be applied to queer or other communities. She found that sainthood has many redeeming qualities. She writes:

“The theology of sainthood is grounded in the concept of community; it is clearly a belief system that arose from the ‘bottom up’ and was often perceived by both the hierarchy and the laity as subversive, providing another system of authority beyond and above the clerical caste, and it was a process in which women were involved from the beginning as saints, proclaimers of saints, and devotees of saints.”

Stuart’s words can apply to LGBT people as well as women. LGBT people were deeply involved in sainthood from the start as saints and as followers of saints. I apply a “hermeneutic of suspicion” as championed by feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther. The dominant Christian culture tried to suppress overt homosexuality, so any hint of homosexuality that survives in the historical record should be given extra significance. 

Harvey Milk of San Francisco by Br. Robert Lentz
“LGBT” and “queer” did not exist as categories throughout most of the time in which the saints lived.  Many saints are said to have avoided all sexual expression, but they are still presumed heterosexual unless proven to be homosexual. Some deny the existence of historical LGBTQ saints because there is no concrete evidence of their homosexual activity. However, same-sex affection does not have to be sexually consummated for me to honor someone as an LGBT saint. They may indeed have been celibate. Deep love between two people of the same gender is enough because sexual orientation is more than sexual conduct. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as "an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions." Many official saints were nuns or monks living in same-gender convents or monasteries.  Naturally their primary emotional attachments were to people of the same gender. Soon almost all saints seem LGBT!

My definition of who qualifies as a “saint” continues to expand. First I considered saints officially canonized by the church, but I soon discovered that many have achieved “sainthood” by popular acclaim. The church didn’t even have a formal canonization process for its first 1,000 years. Ultimately all believers, living and dead, can be called “saints,” a practice that began in the early church. Yes, we are all saints! 

Dictionaries define a saint as “a holy person” or “an extremely virtuous person.” I rather like the concept of sainthood that emerged in comments on my blog, the Jesus in Love Blog. Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras wrote: “My definition of saint has absolutely nothing to do with what the hierarchical church defines, and everything to do with the quality of love displayed.” Or, as gay author Toby Johnson commented, “Being a saint means creating more love in the world.” 

Sainthood comes in many different forms. Some become saints by leading an exemplary life, but the surest path to sainthood is to risk or lose one’s for the good of others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Martyrs, from the Greek word for “to bear witness,” are a common type of saint.

Whether or not they died as martyrs, the lives of the saints were indeed difficult. Our lives are difficult too and that can become a point of connection. Like today’s LGBT Christians, the saints sometimes faced opposition from within the church. Some martyrs, including cross-dresser Joan of Arc, were killed not FOR the church, but BY the church!

People are drawn to the presence of spiritual power in the lives of the saints, and their willingness to use that power for others, even at great cost to themselves. The LGBT saints can inspire people to challenge unholy gender norms on our own queer paths toward sainthood.

*The images are by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. ©
Courtesy of (800.699.4482)

**Rev. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian author and art historian who blogs about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus in Love Blog. Her books include Equal Rites and Art That Dares.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Richard Hooker and the Occupy Movement

By Susanna Snyder

These also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. . . their name lives on generation after generation. The assembly declares their wisdom and the congregation proclaims their praise (Sirach 44:10-15).

Today, we celebrate the life of Richard Hooker – though I have to say that when I found out that he was the person I was going to be preaching about, celebration wasn’t exactly the word that sprang to mind. Panic, boredom, a groan maybe. Not only did I know nothing about him, but he’s always been one of those characters who I’d stuck in a box as a stuffy old quintessential English Anglican.

Born in 1553, he was a student and then fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford – and you don’t get much more establishment than that – he was then ordained and served as a priest in a range of parishes in the south of England.

He is known for writing voluminously about the structure, functioning and rationale of the Church of England in Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. In eight volumes, he explores everything from church-state relations to biblical interpretation, the Book of Common Prayer, ethics and theology. He was defending the religious settlement made under Elizabeth I against the Puritans.

What struck me, though, once I had spent a bit more time sitting with him and exploring the readings for today is that Hooker is actually a valuable icon of wisdom – an icon we can learn much from today. As the Occupy Movement continues to develop and take new twists and turns, I want to ask: what is wisdom and how might we go about acting wisely in the face of today’s economic, social and political challenges? What would Richard Hooker say about the Occupy Movement?

Wisdom is not knowledge – though the two are often confused – and it is wisdom that Richard Hooker was primarily interested in cultivating in the Church of England and sharing with the wider world. Whereas knowledge is about facts, information and content, wisdom is more about understanding, intuition and meaning. Wisdom is inhabited and lived: it resides in our bodies, souls and emotions, and takes shape in our relationships with others and creation. It’s not purely cerebral.

Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:6-10), interestingly speaks of gaining the “mind of Christ.” He doesn’t say brain of Christ or even head of Christ: “mind” suggests something richer and more multi-dimensional. Wisdom is about knowing others, ourselves, the world and God, rather than knowing about others, ourselves, the world or God.

Wisdom involves developing as a person and growing in maturity. It emerges through a process which takes place over time; it’s not something which you can obtain if you read enough of the right kind of books fast enough. It is about character rather than personality, and is profoundly counter-cultural in a consumer society geared towards immediate gratification.

It is often associated with age – though years are not a guarantee of wisdom. Wisdom is essentially about cultivating a habitus – a way of being, an approach to dwelling in the world – which enables us to act with insight and in hopeful and life-bringing ways.

Through developing habits of attending to what is going on around and within us, and then allowing what we observe to permeate the core of our being and shape who we are, we can come to an understanding different from the “knowledge” assumed by the world – or as Paul puts it, the spirit “of this age” – a spirit which sometimes nudges us towards things that do us harm, towards death.

The Occupy Movement is challenging some of the most unquestioned, death-dealing knowledge around today – the idea that a particular form of global individualistic capitalism is good for all and the only way of organizing the world – and as such, I can only imagine that Richard Hooker would give it his blessing. Its participants are, like him, expressing and practising wisdom.

The excesses of this form of capitalism are leading to the literal death of some in the Global South who cannot make enough money from their crops because of multi-national corporations taking over their land or driving prices down. In the Global North, international economic crises have led to millions being unemployed, not to mention the shriveling of the hearts of those who only value the material and whose only goal in life is to make more and more money and to have and have more stuff.

I think this is perhaps the most enduring gift that the Occupy protesters are offering to all of us: they are challenging the “fact” that this form of capitalism is the only way, that making money and doing as well as you can for yourself individually is all that matters, that profit is an unmitigated good. They are refusing to accept the logic of “business as usual.”

In an article in the Guardian, significantly entitled “Occupy London is a Nursery for the Mind,” Madeleine Bunting argues that where Market ideology has been firmly in the grip of ‘TINA’ (There Is No Alternative) for a generation, the Occupy Movement wants “to create the space to think of alternatives…Their first agreed principle is that the current system is unsustainable, undemocratic and unjust,” and that means “taking key symbolic public space … to use it for conviviality, living, learning and participation…The protesters’ aim is to open up space, physically and socially, for people to connect and thereby open up space in people’s imaginations.”

This is wisdom. It is wisdom because it is interrogating so-called facts with lived experience, pain, community and struggle and recognizing that perhaps they are not true after all. They are saying that humanity, community, people, equality are more important. Wisdom opens up alternatives, it speaks a truth which slices through endless talk and debate. All this isn’t to say, for a minute, that knowledge production and study are not important – sorry if you were hoping this was going to get you out of assignments or reading long texts! These are essential bricks on the road towards wisdom. Hooker put a high value on the intellectual and believed education to be crucial. Knowledge by itself may not make for wisdom, but ignorance certainly doesn’t either.

How, though, do we come to such wisdom – and when do we know what we’re sensing is not just our own preference or feeling? Are there steps we can take to cultivate wisdom?

According to Hooker, wisdom emerges from dwelling in the Spirit and through prayer. In Book Five, he writes, “Everie good and holie desire though it lack the form, hath notwithstanding in it self the substance, and with him the force of a prayer, who regardeth the verie moaninges grones and sighes of the harte of man (V.48.2).” In other words, Christians are praying all the time even if they do not realize it, and it is this which allows the Holy Spirit to move within us and form us into people with the “mind of Christ.”

God is the source of our wisdom or to flip this over, as Paul puts it, “we speak God’s wisdom.” God leads us on a journey towards holiness, something which Jesus explicitly asked the Father to do in the reading we heard from John: “Sanctify them in the truth… As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” What this also makes clear is that wisdom is less about doing something than being done to.

Wisdom emerges when we create a space to let God be God – it wells up in the gaps, in the silences, in the parts of our lives that we can’t make sense of, when we just sit with something, when we simply “are.” Paul writes, “for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” We don’t have to scrabble about frantically trying to become wise: we need instead to do something far harder – we need to allow ourselves to be searched. Wisdom is more about being acted upon than it is about acting.

For Hooker, divine revelation was essential. He believed that in order to move towards wisdom, we need to be attuned to the extraordinary in the ordinary and on the look out for divine glimpses of beauty, love, meaning and truth around us. Not everything can come from book learning. It is interesting that faith and spirituality have certainly been at the heart of the Occupy Movement – the spirituality tent in Boston became a central feature within days.

I do have a couple of questions, though. Is wisdom only available to Christians? Paul claims that “those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them.” I’m guessing that many of us know many people of other faiths or none who are wise. What’s more, is the “mind of Christ” clear?

In London, furore has erupted over the actions of St Paul’s Cathedral in relation to the protestors gathered on their steps. The Cathedral nearly took legal action to clear away the protestors and one canon resigned, seeing this as collusion with corporate City interests. The Dean was then forced to resign in the face of public pressure.

Some clergy are calling for the protestors to disband: the Bishop of London has invited the protestors to attend a debate, asking them, “pack up your tents voluntarily and let us make you heard.” Others are horrified that the Church has not taken a firmer stand. Rowan Williams is calling for attention to the underlying concerns. All believe that they are acting with “the mind of Christ” and are reacting as best they can in a rapidly developing situation.

This points to the final thing I want to say about wisdom. Wisdom, it seems to me, has something to do with the middle way. It involves being able to see and understand things from different angles and perspectives and only then, making decisions about how to move forward: it takes time to discern what is right.

Richard Hooker established the Anglican via media – the middle way – a quiet, moderate and serene figure who wanted peace rather than upheaval. He was treading a tightrope between passionate Catholics on the one hand and equally passionate Puritans on the other. I guess that this is where he would probably differ from the protestors: I can’t really imagine him camping out in downtown Boston or Wall Street today.

He would be listening to them and to corporations and governments, mulling over, sitting with all the different voices in prayer. The Church of England has often been accused of sitting on the fence and colluding with the powers that be – and I agree that it can be a cop-out way of maintaining the status quo – but I also wonder if sitting on the fence doesn’t sometimes have value?

I confess that I am someone who likes to try and see all sides of an issue and that, while I am horrified at the injustices of wrought by capitalist excess, I do not see all those involved in corporations as evil. I have also heard about the damage that the protest camp is doing to small independent businesses and caf├ęs by St Paul’s, threatening their livelihoods, and a Black British theologian told me of his concern that the movement is basically middle-class white do-gooders.

What’s more, as a wise friend of mine Rachel Mann has recently put it better than I can, “there is a danger of pretending that I – and my ‘holy’ perspective – is not compromised in any way. We are the compromised…I am caught up in exploitative capitalism… in ways in which I would often prefer not to acknowledge. I still think that the system I am caught up in is exploitative and unfair, and I am committed to change, but a moment’s reflection makes me cautious about lording it over the fall of individuals and institutional structures… I am cautious about my instinct that says that Jesus is entirely outside the walls of St Paul's and hanging around in the protester’s camp. That just feels too easy for me – it makes God too small.”

Sometimes, wisdom requires passionate prophecy – and thank God for the protestors, for those with enough courage to voice the alternative, to question assumed knowledges. Sometimes, wisdom requires a passionate stillness, a waiting, a slow discernment and the middle way of compromise in order to bring about change. So, I am waiting and watching to see what happens next. The protestors having made a wise and passionate statement against the status quo, how are we going to move forward? And who is going to mediate a constructive, wise middle way that will actually enact change?

I would like to close with some words from a poem by T. S. Eliot, another wise Anglican who came a few centuries after Hooker. They come from Choruses from “The Rock” (1934):

The endless cycle of idea and action…
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

* Sermon preached at the St. John’s Memorial Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School on November 3, 2011.

** Susanna Snyder is Assistant Professor in Contemporary Society and Christian Ethics at Episcopal Divinity School. Originally from the United Kingdom, she moved to Cambridge in 2010 via Atlanta where she was a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University. Her main area of research is immigration and religion, an interest which began when she was a volunteer supporting asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, and she is the author of a forthcoming book, Asylum-Seeking, Migration and Church (Ashgate).