Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Martial Church

Although it may not seem like it at first, this post presents one view about being faithfully orthodox in the Episcopal Church.

In 1985, after many years of practicing gymnastics, I began studying martial arts, primarily in Tang Soo Do (the same martial art that the actor Chuck Norris practices). I also practiced Tesshin Gi-en, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, Iaido, Bo-jitsu, and a little Tai Chi. These arts are Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. In November 2005 I tested for fourth degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and achieved master’s rank.

The elements of training in martial arts include basic motions and techniques, which are the individual blocks, punches, kicks, etc.; breaking boards, bricks, roof tiles, and sheets of ice with hands and feet; sparring, or engaging one or more opponents in freestyle “fighting” with rules of engagement; self-defense techniques in which there are no rules; internal techniques such as meditation and focusing inner power into one’s movements; and kata, or forms—patterns of basic motions put together into classical routines, many of which are several hundred years old.

The motto of The Society of the Holy Cross, No Surrender, No Desertion, begins with the assumption that faithful, orthodox Christians are engaged in a battle. We are. We have been from the days of the Apostles. Therefore martial principles apply to the situation orthodox believers encounter in the Episcopal Church.

As mentioned in a previous blogpost, when I first began studying martial arts, someone asked me how often I expected to use what I was learning, and I responded “every day”. That meant, of course, that I expected that the internalization of the arts would shape how I think, react, and relate to others—not that I anticipated being in a fistfight every day. Now that I have been training for nearly 22 years, I have indeed learned some lessons about practicing the martial arts that also apply to daily Christian living including bearing testimony in the Episcopal Church. Here are some of them:

The basics are the most important techniques.
No matter how advanced a martial artist may be, he must practice the basics regularly. Though flashy techniques are fun, they are almost always ineffective in real life encounters. The grounding for success is knowing the basics very well. If one wants to be effective in the Episcopal Church—not to mention just being a faithful Christian—one must simply focus on the basics: say one’s prayers, read the Bible, go to church, study the Faith, serve others, follow the saints, give alms, make one’s confession, evangelize, etc.

Be completely committed.
Whenever one breaks a stack of boards or bricks, he must do so with total commitment. If there is any hesitation or doubt, he can be injured. The application for Church life should be obvious. Half-committed, timid actions will be ineffective and probably do more harm than good. In times of controversy, one must be bold and confident when it comes time to make a stand.

Be confident regardless of the situation.
In John Keble’s famous Assize Sermon preached in July 1833, generally recognized as the incident that ignited the Catholic renewal within the Anglican Communion, he said that the faithful orthodox Christian “knows that his is the winning side.”

In the essay I wrote as partial fulfillment of the requirements for achieving first degree black belt, Jesus as Warrior, I said, “the best defense is to be invincible.” Confidence is the first ingredient necessary for victory. In sparring, always look into your opponent’s eyes. Doing so exudes confidence. Very often one’s expression can determine the outcome of a sparring match before it begins.

One application for Christian life is always to keep in mind that one must be “squeaky clean” morally and in one’s knowledge of Jesus. Don’t set yourself up for defeat. Allow no unnecessary opening to your opponent. Always remember that you belong to Jesus and he is already triumphant. Don’t succumb to bitterness, anger, or despair. Pay no attention to rumors.

Avoid all unnecessary conflict, but always be ready to defend yourself and the Faith when it becomes necessary.
As Mr. Miyagi said in the movie Karate Kid II, “Karate for defense only”—but this does not mean that one cannot defend oneself decisively when necessary. Long before martial arts came to the United States, an American president advised that one should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Defensive moves can be as devastating as an attack.

Advanced martial artists must know how to spar on different kinds of terrain. People may spar on mats, grass, asphalt, gravel, etc. Be adept in all these possibilities. You cannot always choose the setting of engagement, so try to be skillful with all of them. In the Church, be ready, therefore, to give testimony in writing and in speaking; in preaching and teaching; in debating; in small groups and large; one-on-one; in deeds; and whenever people are angry, abusive, hurting, confused, or conciliatory. Be firm but never vicious, gentle but never wimpy.

Do not underestimate your attackers. You don’t really ever know how good they are until you engage them. Your opponent may also be as skilled as yourself. Keep in mind that, no matter how good you may be, you’re still going to get hit sometimes. Being invincible means you can’t be conquered, but that does not mean that you are invulnerable. Learn how to absorb blows as well as how to deflect them. In both instances, move to the counter-attack quickly and decisively.

Don’t anticipate your attacker’s aggressive moves. Let him begin what he’s going to do and then respond quickly. If you anticipate, you’ll probably miss the real attack and will then be blindsided.

Do not be intimidated by a show of power or a threat. Often a show of power is made because the attacker wants you to think that he has more power than he does. A house made of cards can be very large, but it’s still cards. “Saber rattling” is just rattling a saber—it is not drawing the sword.

Pick your battles—you don’t have to address every assault. Many of them are unimportant. Advanced martial artists know that more often than not, the best way to handle an attack is simply to avoid a blow rather than block it—just step out of the way. Learn how to decide which battles are important and then go in to win.

Realize that an advanced martial artist will spend most of his time with people who are less skilled than he. In applying that to the Church, that means that very often those who are dedicated to bearing witness or fidelity, with the best of intentions and much courage, may not be as effective as you would like. They may let you down or even misunderstand your strategy. They are still on your side.

Never forget that in every attack the attacker becomes vulnerable. Take advantage of that weakness. As soon as someone attacks you, he has made himself vulnerable to your response. Of course, the instant you yourself make a move, you also expose yourself to counter-attack.

Never forget that every strength has a weakness. For example, those who are strong on holding fast to the truth are often weak on love. Never flag in trying to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, but realize that you will never fully succeed.

Never turn your back on your opponents. Do not give them the chance to attack you unawares. It has seemed to me that the strategy of many of the faithful for years has been to “retreat”—to look for a way out, to look for self-preservation. In other words, we haven’t lost the war, we have forfeited it. We are looking for survival, not victory. To put it another way, we are looking for safety for ourselves and not the conversion of our opponents. And often a corollary of that strategy is that some of the faithful do not hesitate to attack those on our side who have not retreated. I have been attacked by many traditionalists who have left the Episcopal Church because I have not done so. Where I believe that I am bearing testimony, they see compromise and collaboration. Where they think they have taken the high ground, I consider that they have abandoned the field and increased the burden on those who continue the battle.

Follow the “rules” of engagement. In Christianity there is no such thing as “no holds barred”. Even in secular war there is usually some sort of rules (don’t blow up hospitals, etc.). We are commanded to love our enemies. We are not exempted from that command when we have to engage our opponents.

Take responsibility for your attacker. The devil is our ultimate enemy, not other Christians no matter how much we consider that they have abandoned the faith. They think they are being faithful, and their confidence must be recognized and honored. When you are attacked, try to win your opponent over by love; don’t strive to vanquish him by using verbal or any other kind of violence. Some of the greatest martial artists were trained to heal the opponent as soon as they had vanquished him.

Never forget what must come before any action.
The first lesson one learns in martial arts is how and why to bow, i.e. to show respect—to one’s instructor, to other students, to the place where one trains. Always treat others, including those with whom you will spar, with respect. “Love your enemies.” “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.”

Try always to stay in mokuso—that is, a state of meditation. Because he is trained always to be at peace, an advanced martial artist usually has a very low startle response. That means that he cannot easily be taken by surprise and will almost always be “in control” and able to respond quickly to an attack.

Remember that your training is dependent on those who have gone before you and on those who are your partners today. You are part of a vast community of the living and the dead in Christ, and should never act as a lone ranger.

Do not worry about victory or defeat.
Just do your best. Consider what I call “the Gideon Principle”: Gideon began with 20,000 soldiers to fight a host of Midianites, but God said that with so many, when victory came they would give the credit to themselves and not to him. So he whittled the number down to a laughably low 300 who were the bravest and most willing to fight the enemy. But because of their willingness to fight in the Lord, they didn’t have to. What they needed most and only was trust in God.

When the engagement finally happened, they fought only with three things: trumpets, torches, and shouts. That means they fought with joy and exultation and confidence (trumpets), with truth (light—the Gospel is a light that attracts, not a weapon that kills), and with fidelity and a sense of commonality and joyful public dedication to orthodoxy and obedience to God and human authority (shouts “for the Lord and for Gideon”). And the Lord did the rest. He always wins. His soldiers don’t have to worry about the outcome.

Remember that you have only one calling.
All aspects of martial training find their consummation in the kata, or forms. Practicing forms is where I now put the focus of my own training. When my students have competed in tournaments, in forms they have usually taken first or second place or both in all the divisions. There is only one calling that all Christians have, and that is to nothing less or other than holiness. Be dedicated to holiness above all. Everything else that is worthwhile is included in that pursuit. “Seek first the kingdom of God.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Nature of Love

Charity Anderson placed a good comment on my post “Priest and Friend”:

On the note of favorites, I have long wondered in what sense John was Jesus’ “favorite.” Just a few weeks ago someone suggested to me that Jesus actually loved everyone to the same degree, but that what set John apart is that he accepted or understood that love more than the others. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this suggestion.

I pondered that myself when I was writing that part of the blog. It’s an intriguing description. Whatever it means, I’m sure we can assume that it did not mean that Jesus loved John more than he loved the other disciples. As I said in the other post, We are nowhere told what that meant, but clearly it meant something within the perfect love that Jesus showed all of the Twelve, and there is no evidence that the other disciples believed that Jesus played favorites or that they themselves were loved any less.

Jesus actually loved everyone to the same degree.

Here is maybe where the notion of “favorites” gets off track. I think that people often fall short in their understanding of love by assuming that love can be quantified or measured or expressed in degrees. That leads to a lot of pain and misunderstanding, e.g. “You love so-and-so more than you love me,” etc. But love doesn’t work that way, and whenever someone tries to make it do so, love immediately ceases to be love. I think that love kind of flows into the openings that are made for it in both whoever loves and whoever is the beloved. And even those categories fall short because true love always gives and receives at the same time. “The more I give, the more I have,” said Juliet Capulet in the famous balcony scene.

True love puts each person in the right place, the place that is best for that individual. John had the “favored” position at the Last Supper—lying closest to Jesus. No one else seemed to have complained, and Peter even took advantage of it by urging John to ask Jesus quietly who was going to betray him. Having that favored place was obviously the right place for John and putting someone else there would have been a displacement of John and made that “someone else” uncomfortable. Jesus warned guests about seeking the highest places—the host was to decide where the place cards were to go, and the host who loves each guest perfectly will not make any errors.

Not everyone wants that favored place and it would be unloving to insist that someone take it if he didn’t want it. Remember the old joking observation about how few people want to sit in the front pew. If a person in authority puts someone in the “favored” position when he doesn’t want it, it is not loving—it is exploitation by abuse of authority. Or it might be saying, “I don’t trust you—you stay close by me where I can keep an eye on you.” And if someone seeks the “favored” position in order to be put ahead of others, that is not loving—that is selfishness. John may have been the “beloved” disciple, yet when he and his brother asked for the “favored” places when Jesus came into his kingdom, they were rebuked. At that point, James and John were asking to be set above the others, and that was not love.

If I were a guest at someone’s house for dinner, and the host said to another guest, “Here, I’ve saved you the choicest bit of the broccoli,” I assure you that not only would I not feel slighted, I would feel relieved, blessed, and known! Had I been given the broccoli, both the person who loved it and I who didn’t would have lost out. It would have been made obvious that the host really did not know our preferences. Love loves each person individually according to need, each according to what is individually best. This is why “loving” and “knowing” are two sides of the same thing.

How did Jesus love Peter and demonstrate that love for him? Or Andrew? Or Judas Iscariot, for that matter? By loving each in the right way, the way that was best for each one. Not only was John the “beloved” disciple among the Twelve, but Jesus also chose the Twelve out of a larger group of followers (he sent 70 of them out two-by-two, recall), and from within the Twelve he occasionally took “Peter, James, and John” apart for special experiences and teaching, and more than once it was Peter alone. Each according to what was best.

Love is neither only given nor only received—it is, rather, something in which we immerse ourselves. It is like an ocean that at the same time fills the entire ocean bottom and also flows into bays and the contours of the shore. It fully matches each place where it is, and to do anything other would be to do damage—like a tsunami. Love, by its own nature, must always want and do what is best for the beloved. What is best for one person will not be best for another. Trying to treat everyone equally is not love at all. But love cannot be hierarchical, either—rather, it has infinite variety, and the appearance of hierarchy is really just a part of the variety.

Love is multiplied in all of its variety with each loving encounter and relationship we have, so that loving one’s spouse, for example, drives other loves forward. Love cannot be competitive. Agape (charity), philia (friendship), storge (affection), and eros (male-female love) all overlap and support one another like colors on a palette, and in holy loving, each love goes into its right place, continually enriching the others.

Each person we love, we love in the way that is best and most fitting for that person. For a spouse that’s one way. For friends it’s another, for children and parents it’s another, for strangers it’s still another, etc. And in the circles of our acquaintance one can have “favorites” or even “hierarchies” depending on a number of circumstances, all without any other love being threatened or weakened. And it all applies in real life situations. It must, or it wouldn’t really be true love. It is so even with objects: I “love” both books and hamburgers, but I don’t eat my treasured copy of The Hobbit and I don’t flip over the top bun of my hamburger to see if there are any words inside it.

So what about our own human “favorites”? When a priest, pastor, teacher, etc. truly loves all the students, parishioners, etc., there are some who stand out in a certain way. The love that is shared between the two people is unique to those two without in the least diminishing or threatening the love shared with others. This is because love matches each individual, and every love is unique.

Of course, no human being loves in the way God does without flaw or error or sin, so the best we can do is to grow in the knowledge of love. We do so through the gift of the Spirit and growing in sanctity in the framework of Scripture and traditional Christian doctrine and morality. And from that knowledge comes our understanding of how one can love freely and powerfully without worrying about the cost or how one love will affect another.

Sadly, in this life we always fall short, and that is one reason why loving always includes pain in even the best of our earthly loves. True love works that pain into itself so that true love includes patience, mercy, penitence, and forgiveness. Probably that is why the truest love of all led to a cross. The One on the cross had been told twice, “This is my Son, whom I love.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Priest and Friend

Shortly after I was ordained, someone in authority (I have entirely forgotten who) told me that I could not be friends with my parishioners. Now I was young and idealistic and eager to do things right, so although I was disappointed and somewhat puzzled by the counsel, I followed it. Whoever gave me this advice wanted me to avoid abdicating the leadership that the ordained office gave me. Many other clergy had done so, seeking a measure of personal acceptance at the cost of their effectiveness. It didn’t take too much imagination to figure out that when people come to confession or are in need of encouragement, counsel, or even rebuke, if the priest had made himself merely “one of the bunch”, his ability to guide could be, and often was, compromised.

And I understood that. Even with my minimal experience, I had seen priests and bishops mistake their position—office and charge—for their personal sense of selfhood. They didn’t want to be “separate”; they wanted to be “one of the guys”. They encouraged everyone to call them by their first names, and played down the ritualistic recognition of their office as if such honor paid them were actually due to them as individuals instead of themselves as the priest or bishop. They abandoned leadership in the hope of personal acceptance.

Now of course, if one is a priest one must truly lead. That is the nature of the ministry. If one is a priest and parson (the official “person” in the community as Rev. Sam’s post points out, which I quoted in “Person and Parson”), one is charged with the responsibility to show what Christian discipleship is like—indeed to stand apart. Some of Blessed Sacrament’s newest members who came from traditions without priests see this as a great boon. They treasure the “apartness” of the priest during liturgy as a powerful and authentic part of their new and enriched experience of worship. Yet they want both the apartness and the personal intimacy. Can one have both?

Coming to appreciate the value of love for my parishioners gradually built up in me the downside of the apartness—loneliness. Of course, there were other reasons for that too. My background, personality type, and the shifting of my place in the wider Episcopal Church all contributed to that.

As the years passed and I grew in experience, I came to understand the value of genuine affection and love for one’s parishioners. My blogpost “Hugs and Kisses” is about that. This blogpost I am writing now is my twentieth. Some of my posts have been rather heavy, but “Hugs and Kisses” is still my favorite. That one, I think, reveals the workstyle of my heart more than any other. I really am an emotional person. (In a comment made on another blog about my post “Winner Take Nothing”, someone described me as “a romantic with a mind like a supercomputer”. A bit over the top but still gratifying.)

After about three decades in the priesthood, I realized that, in spite of someone’s best intentions, I had been given inadequate advice about friendship. I concluded that the over-professionalization of the clergy that was common in some circles when I was ordained makes one less effective than one could be, and removes a powerful source of support. No wonder so many other clergy swung too far the other way.

It is indeed an error to abdicate leadership in order to receive personal affirmation, but such abdication is not friendship. Being “over-professional” and not receiving the love and respect and affection of one’s parishioners not only builds wells of isolation and loneliness in the priest, it does not serve the parishioners well either.

Is it possible to be a leader and a friend both? It is. Swing the pendulum but let it stop in the middle. What is right? Naturally, we look to Jesus to find out.

On the same occasion (the Last Supper in John’s Gospel), Jesus said to his disciples, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13) and “I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Both. At the same time.

My stepmother, whose wisdom and encouragement seem to be appearing in this blog more than I anticipated at the beginning (thank you, Barbara!), reminded me recently that Jesus had personal friends: Mary and Martha of Bethany. She hoped that I would find my “own Bethany. A gift from your Savior just for you for such a time as this.”

That made me indeed think more of Mary and Martha. They were opposite sex friends of Jesus who ministered to him intimately. Mary even anointed him. And there was another woman who ministered to Jesus intimately—the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. And Jesus allowed that ministry to happen even though he knew that the Pharisees who were present would object to it! And normally they would have had good reason to object—it would have been considered unprofessional at best. But Jesus went on to explain to the Pharisees why it was okay, even necessary, for him to have that kind of contact with the woman.

These contacts were not only permitted but recognized as godly, even though in normal circumstances most people would have found them suspect. But Jesus permitted them and defended them because they were right and good and godly. The other people’s consciences had to be educated. That was the course that Jesus took rather than keep the contact with these women from happening. Similarly, when his disciples tried to push the little children away, Jesus rebuked them and called the children to him. Not very professional. Very godly.

The pattern was set in Scripture by Jesus himself. He fully understood boundaries, leadership, friendship, intimacy, and affection. Jesus does not come across to me as a “professional”, but rather as a lover—a lover of all people in whatever circumstance he met them and according to their need. And the way he loved people included letting them love him back, even in personal ways.

When I had a lunch date with a young woman in the parish not too long ago, she said that she had told her friends, “I’m having lunch with my priest.” And she was right. Yet it was not a business lunch, I didn’t wear clerical garb, and it didn’t have any particular purpose other than social—to further friendship, i.e. fun. Yet she spoke rightly—I am indeed her priest and that was never in question. I am also a man, a fellow Christian, and (I trust) one who is growing in friendship. No longer do I separate out these parts of myself, for that is artificial.

In previous blogposts I have mentioned how difficult it is moving boundaries. Now that some time has passed, I realize that moving them wasn’t so hard after all. I haven’t got it down pat yet, but knowing that I haven’t is part of the new insight. Boundaries do not have to be completely defined; trying to do so makes friendship, or any relationship, so rigid that it is almost choked for breath. Though the actual details of a friendship cannot, or at least should not, be completely drawn up, it is quite obvious what the boundaries must exclude. And what is left within the realm of possibility can still be quite intimate and deep.

So moving boundaries was not quite so hard after all. Like many other things, I just had to get used to it. It was like moving into a new house or rearranging furniture; yes, at first it is awkward, even problematic—but before long it becomes comfortable.

As I related in “Hugs and Kisses”, I chose to become an affectionate person, hard and painful and risky as it was, because I believed that doing so would conform me more and more to Jesus. To put it into a sentence, this is all I want in life. So in this case I have chosen to correct the well-intentioned but defective counsel I was given at the beginning of my ministry.

In short, while retaining that love called agape (charity), I have taken on the loves called philia (friendship) and storge (affection), and found that they deepen agape much more than I ever imagined. Wonderful and holy as charity is, it can be rather bloodless without friendship and affection. In fact, without philia and storge, agape is deficient.

I have learned that being so professional was really being selfish and unloving. When I said in the post “Office and Person” that when all I had to offer was myself I had nothing to offer, I was wrong. I have plenty to offer—like every other human being.

I have learned that friendship can cross many lines—gender, age, level of experience, ethnicity, and all the other things that can be in the human family. There is enormous variety of life among the individuals in God’s creation, and those who love find that there is no limitation of true love.

I have learned that one can have “favorites”. Agape is the love we are commanded to have for all, but there may be a few people for whom one need not feel affection, and there are obviously some people more than others that one would want for friends. And one may feel friendship with more intensity for some than with others. It is natural to do so because it is human nature. I suspect it is proper probably even among redeemed humanity. Among the twelve, Jesus had a “beloved” disciple. We are nowhere told what that meant, but clearly it meant something within the perfect love that Jesus showed all of the Twelve, and there is no evidence that the other disciples believed that Jesus played favorites or that they themselves were loved any less.

I have learned that, as one would expect, opening my self up to affection and friendship made me far more vulnerable to others than ever before, and that means that I can suffer heart-pain more than before. And this is good. It is a kind of pain that feels good—like the bite of an icy wind on the cheeks on a brisk early morning walk, or the sting of hot water in a steaming shower after a hard workout. I feel more pain than I did before when someone I love is far away. I have even found that this pain works backwards in time. In a new and deeper way, I now miss people with whom I was friends many years ago and with whom I have lost contact.

Early on in this transformation, I had a great fear of making mistakes because I was afraid of making myself vulnerable and showing need. I was saying to myself, “Okay, I’ll open myself up to people but only as long as it doesn’t hurt. That means I can’t ever allow myself to give them a reason to question or doubt me, to look foolish, or even show anything of my heart that anyone could object to or laugh at.”

So whenever I tried to offer only my self to someone, immediately I felt like a plastic spoon on a formal table full of silverware. Once I got past that and realized that most people were just like me—a little short of confidence and wanting to be liked for themselves—I became a little more at ease. I found that people were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt because they wanted it for themselves and that’s just a normal part of friendship. Give and take. Try, and sometimes fail and sometimes succeed—forgive and be forgiven. In short, you don’t have to be near-perfect to be liked.

In almost every case, when I have offered my self rather than my professionalism, people have responded positively. Almost without exception, they have said that doing so has made me seem “more human”. And they are right, and they find it encouraging. It has encouraged them to put more trust in God who guides us both, and it relieves the pressure people often feel to be perfect. So I learned that even when I offered godly friendship I was still leading, teaching, and encouraging people—almost effortlessly.

Thank you to Kyle Potter, who wrote to me by direct email after I posted “When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong”. He wrote, I look forward to reading more of your work, and seeing how you reflect on being both “priest and friend,” and how one conditions the other.

Here is it, Kyle!

By the way, your blog is outstanding! http://captainsacrament.blogspot.com/

Monday, December 04, 2006

Traditional Rector and Liberal Bishop

The number of hits on this blog since early this morning has been astonishing. I have read a number of the comments on my post "Winner Take Nothing" that people have put on referring sources, and feel that a reply to some of them is needed.

I suspect that the Bishop's parliamentarian advised him poorly (to be as charitable as I can) and the Bishop was sorry when he was given the advice. In fact, I spoke longer than the time I was allotted and he did not stop me. I have spoken in a similar tone to gatherings of clergy in the Diocese (where the rules are different), and the Bishop supported and affirmed me. He has both privately and publicly made certain that my voice was heard whenever I wanted to speak up. He has never made any attempt whatever to muzzle me—on the contrary, there are times he has invited me to speak and even to teach other clergy.

I wrote that I bent as far as I could in a generous and irenic statement but can bend no farther. It is fair to say that the Bishop has also bent. We have nine vocationers to Holy Orders, all of them traditional, and the Bishop has supported each one. Those who have come to the Commission on Ministry have all been approved because of the Bishop's influence.

At the Convention, I spoke after the vote on purpose. I did not intend to make a difference to the vote since that was a foregone conclusion and it would have been pointless to speak against the resolution during the debate. I spoke immediately AFTER the resolution on a point of privilege 1) to get the last word—which I did; 2) fire my warning at the time it would have most effect—which it did; and 3) not be subject to a time limit, since normally points of privilege are not subject to time constraints. Since, unexpectedly, I was given a time limit, I had to think on my feet. I am used to doing that and did so effectively. I think I got 2 1/2 out of 3, which isn't bad, especially considering the circumstances.

I do not think it was the Bishop who was primarily responsible for limiting my time since he has not done so in other settings that were smaller but more intense. In fact, being somewhat badly treated worked in my favor, since a number of prominent liberals in the Diocese have expressed personal irritation at how it was handled. Mild persecution works in one's favor. The effect of my remarks has already had good effect in the Diocese of Los Angeles and beyond, and I have gained more than I thought one lone voice could do in so liberal a Diocese.

I have my strategy and I am following it and it is working. One person can make a difference.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Winner Take Nothing

Below is my address to the Convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles that met in Riverside, California December 1-2, 2006. There were well over a thousand delegates and visitors present. On the first afternoon, by a large majority the Convention passed a resolution distancing itself from even the bland statement of General Convention on the Windsor Report known as B033.

After the vote was taken, I asked Bishop Bruno if I could address the Convention as a point of privilege. I said that I had not spoken in the Convention for more than ten years, but now the time had come when I felt compelled to speak. I added that though I usually prefer to speak without notes, in this case I was reading from a prepared statement so that there would be no doubt about what I would say. I indicated that my remarks would last about seven minutes.

A moment later, on the advice of his parliamentarian, the Bishop informed me that I would have no longer to speak than those who had done so during the debate on the resolution. This surprised me since I was not speaking on the resolution. I had the impression that the Bishop conveyed the ruling reluctantly.

Suddenly having to edit my remarks on my feet, I read only those parts of the following text that are highlighted in blue. My text was already heavily marked from being edited during the debate and was hard enough to follow as it was. Having to skip parts on sight while trying to maintain a coherent presentation was difficult. I wish I had edited it a little differently, but I did the best I could under the circumstances.

At the end, there was polite, scattered applause. I think that having to cut out about half of my remarks without notice dulled whatever impact I had hoped my words would have, but it was evident that most people present were not interested in my address anyway. But when the Convention adjourned for the day, two or three people came over and expressed deep appreciation for what I had said.

In preparing the text, I made every effort to be as generous and irenic as I could, and bent as far as I could without breaking any of the essentials of the Faith as recognized and proclaimed by worldwide Anglicanism. I cannot go any farther in that direction. Considering the response, I conclude, at long last, after years of effort, that there is no longer any need to try.

I am David Baumann, Rector of Blessed Sacrament Church in Placentia. I hold traditional views on most of the controversial matters before the Church. It has been more than thirty years since significant changes began in the Episcopal Church. Those responsible for them have claimed to be exercising a prophetic ministry. Perhaps once in a while those who are “prophetic” need to be prophesied to. I address all who are here, but mostly I speak to those who voted in favor of the last resolution.

Within the household of God from the days of the Old Testament, there has been a venerable liberal tradition of compassion and justice, essential for the well-being of the people of God. Liberals challenge the family of God to keep them from becoming complacent and hard-hearted.

The conservative tradition is also venerable and vital for the well-being of the people of God. Conservatives challenge the family of God to keep them from departing from what is essential. Both traditions need one another and are indispensable for the fullness of our Faith.

Even if everything that you believe and practice is totally right—which I doubt—how you have gone about making it so in our Church is wrong. For years, many in our progressive ranks have claimed that they are guided by the Holy Spirit and that anyone who disagrees with them does not have the Holy Spirit. I have heard this stated more than once by clergy in this diocese, and across the nation I have seen it written many times. This “winner take all” philosophy has resulted in increasing polarization within the ranks of the household of God to the point that now the entire Anglican Communion is in crisis. This cannot be evidence of the work of the Spirit.

The liberal positions have much to commend them. Though I disagree with the conclusions of many of them, there is much truth in what you hold dear. Look at the many worthwhile programs and ministries celebrated at this Convention and throughout our diocese. Over the years I have learned and I have become more compassionate, and participated in a number of ministries I probably otherwise would not even have thought of.

I have a strong and healthy parish, but we need the witness of those dedicated to peace and justice, for it is in this area that we are weakest. I am thankful for those ministries, and we at Blessed Sacrament need them if we are to be more faithful to Jesus than we otherwise would be.

Likewise, liberals cannot be completely faithful without the influence of conservatism, or you will be like a ship with a full sail but no rudder.

It is possible truly to be comprehensive. I believe that we at Blessed Sacrament have done it. We encourage people of differing convictions to join and participate in leadership. All are recognized as full members in Christ; no one is rejected or considered second class. We have uneasy moments sometimes, but we have no “winner take all” philosophy. At one time, we had both the national leader of the Episcopal Synod of America (now Forward in Faith) and the head of Integrity/Southland in our parish. They didn’t agree on much, but they learned to value one another and the contribution each made to the welfare of the parish. They both knew that they loved Jesus. Neither wanted the other to leave nor felt that their own departure was necessary. For both, Blessed Sacrament was their home.

When the Anglican Communion has been put at risk, when tens of thousands of individuals have left the Episcopal Church, when congregations now numbering in the hundreds have left, and when entire dioceses are on the verge of leaving, and when several provinces in the Anglican Communion are willing to receive and minister to all of these—is it not obvious that something has gone dreadfully wrong?
Blithely going forward with “business as usual” is hardly prophetic. It is not even wise.

The real problem is not that people have differing convictions on the issues. That has always been so, and many times it has been healthy and worked for the good of the Church. The real problem is that you continue to take actions and make statements like this resolution that further the alienation and drive the wedge deeper. This is not liberalism; this is arrogance.

Over the past thirty years, traditionalist priests in this diocese have taken early retirement, moved, elected not to speak (as I did), and stopped attending conferences and conventions. Some priests, and eight congregations, even made the radical choice to secede. All of this happened because they felt neither listened to nor cared about. If you value inclusivity and comprehension but continually fail to listen to the voices you need to hear, those voices will gradually cease. In this diocese they are now almost completely silent, as this lopsided vote indicates.

I cannot go further without commending Bishop Bruno, for he understands what I have described, and I believe he is as grieved as I. He exemplifies comprehension in his words, deeds, stated convictions, and where he puts money. When my Vestry and I met with him last summer and I shared with him much of what I am saying now, he responded, “At last—someone who knows my experience.”

You have much to say and to contribute to the welfare of the Church if we are to be faithful to the Gospel together. You have a message the rest of us need to hear, and only you can say it. But you cannot be faithful to Jesus alone. By neglecting the witness of conservatives you have led us, as a world family, into disaster. Though you have a message to give, you must also receive. Do you really think that the moderate and traditional voices have nothing to teach you? Do you really think that the rest of the Anglican Communion has nothing of value to say to you?

My voice is now a whisper in this diocese, but the few voices like mine that are left are not the minority. My voice is still the voice of the overwhelming majority of Anglicanism. If you continue on the path you have chosen, there will come a time when the voice of moderation will speak here for the last time. I suspect we are not far from that time now. When the voices such as my own have finally disappeared, do not think that you have finally won. You will, in fact, have suffered immeasurable loss. You will have ignored all appeals and put yourselves apart from Anglicanism.

When my voice, and those few remaining who could speak as I speak, have gone, the only voice left to speak for moderation and true comprehension will be one of your own, who will first have to be enlightened. When those who are left all agree with one another and you look around and see that there is no one who thinks differently, I hope someone will say, “My God—what have we done?”

Maybe then you will finally begin really to listen to your brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion. And only when that happens will they begin really to listen to you—and all will benefit. But so far you have been deaf, and so as of now, all suffer. I fear that only a few in this room understand that yet. If my words are prophetic, a time will come when everyone here will realize that all are suffering. On that day, then maybe the Church will indeed be changed instead of broken.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When One’s Life is a Gift

I only think of Terry McLaughlin every few years. Each time I do, it surprises me that my recollection of him is so infrequent, even careless, because he saved my life.

When I was about seven or eight years old, I went swimming at a friend’s house. I remember his name: Gene Boyce. Terry was an acquaintance of us both, and we were all playing together on that day. Gene’s pool was completely round. It was shallow all around the edges but gradually became deeper as one came toward the center. Not a very smart design.

All unaware, I suddenly found that I had wandered too far from the edge and was in over my head. I couldn’t swim very well and I was drowning. Terry saw that I was in trouble and swam over to me. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled me back into the shallows. If he hadn’t, I probably would have died—one of those statistics you read about in which a child drowns quietly in a pool while people are standing around talking and not noticing. There were adults on chaise lounges on the deck, but they were chatting and had missed everything.

I don’t remember seeing Terry ever again after that day. In fact, it took me a long time even to recall his name when, two or three decades later, I thought about the day I almost drowned.

I strongly suspect that the connections between people go much deeper than we can possibly imagine. What we say or do to someone today can affect them for a lifetime. Today I was reading one of my favorite books in the Bible: Philemon. It’s the shortest of Paul’s epistles, more a personal letter than an official communication with a church. In it he writes to Philemon who had come to Christ through Paul’s teaching. Paul is making an urgent appeal to him and in the course of his plea reminds Philemon of his obligation to him. Paul concludes with the words, “—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self” (Philemon 19). Paul recognizes that there are ties between people that can be not only life-changing, but life-saving. Whenever someone’s life has been saved, then that person will know that every moment thereafter is a precious gift. All life is a gift, of course, but that fact is driven home hard when we have skirted the edge of death and been brought back by someone.

A dozen or so years ago a young woman walked into church during a Mass, carrying a bouquet of roses. She had tears in her eyes, and walked up to me and handed me the flowers. Then she blurted out that I had saved her life by some counsel I had given her fifteen years before. She had been on the point of suicide and came to talk to me before doing the deed. She didn’t tell me that she was suicidal—just that she needed someone to talk to about some heavy stuff. She said that because of what I said she decided not to go through with it. I had no idea of how serious the matter had been until she showed up all those years later. She had moved away, but felt suddenly that she needed to find me and thank me, and made the effort to locate me and undertake the journey.

I wish I knew where Terry McLaughlin is.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Remembering Eden

I have called this blog, “John One Five” after John 1:5, of course—“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overpower it.” The underlying theme of the blog is holding fast to the Light in all circumstances. It is an aggressive statement of faith that there is always hope in every experience of adversity. Now that this blog has been up for a few weeks and I’ve written a dozen posts or so, I realize that the blog title is more accurate than I had imagined or anticipated in the beginning.

The first post, “A Little Bit of Green”, definitely had that theme, but as I glance through the others I have written, I see that all the others also did so in one way or another. I wholeheartedly believe that love is stronger than any loneliness, joy can triumph over all discouragement, peace can be found in any time of turmoil, hope exists in every circumstance, and light cannot be overpowered by darkness.

This conviction has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember, way back into childhood, and over the years has only grown. One expression of this confidence has been my enjoyment of the outdoors on a regular basis—even, or perhaps especially, in the cities and suburbs. “A Little Bit of Green” was an extreme instance of this, but I have become familiar with many places of delight (in Hebrew, Eden) in my own locale.

I know many parks near my home, and often go to them on days off; my monthly day of reflection; and occasional evenings, early mornings, or lunches on working days. The Fullerton Arboretum is one of my favorite places. There are also Hiltscher, Laguna Lake, and Hillcrest Parks in Fullerton, Parque del Arroyo Grande in Placentia, and similar oases of serenity in other local communities. Often I take my Bible, Office Book, and rosary and spend a half hour or so in prayer. Sometimes I take a picnic.

Once in a while, I find pleasure in taking someone with me who I hope will enjoy the great and small grandeur of a garden as I do.

Gardens do not have straight lines. These places have shadows, grass, and dark earth. Sunlight plays on leaves. One can hear a light breeze passing through the canopies of trees, and feel the warmth of rocks under the sun. Prayer is the natural language spoken in such a setting.

Even a wash adjacent to a shopping mall can draw my attention. Though it may have cement sides to contain any runoff from a rainstorm, at the bottom there are dry, yellow weeds clumped alongside water the color of strong tea. Dank and still as the water is, it still reflects sky, and there is splendor even in the weeds. The moss that grows in the stagnant place is a rich green

Most, but not all, parks are also accessible in the late evening or night. At that time, the silence is deepest. Moonlight, when it is present, alters the look of what is familiar during the day so that it becomes a portal of transporting delight. Prayer deepens into contemplation.

These places are very poor substitutes for Eden, but in my spirit I can draw a direct line from Eden to these oases of water, leaves, light, and enchanted gloom. Even our technological age with its abundance of buildings, concrete, asphalt, and noise cannot eradicate completely the ancient, racial memory of our spiritual origin.

Our sorry race may be cast out of Eden, but those who love the Lord always long for their true home. And in this world, God in his mercy places for us constant reminders of where we have come from, where we belong, and the hope of what will be when our great homecoming occurs.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Good Old Days

Some people know that between 1998 and 2005 I wrote nine novels and a few short stories that comprise the Starman series, a saga of a little more than half a million words. (Interested folks can learn more by checking out http://www.starmanseries.com/.) The saga is set in the middle years of the 22nd century. I wrote it in partnership with two friends. My partners were Christians, and the theology and spirituality of the saga is deeply Christian and orthodox. One plotted the books, another provided innovative ideas and scientific advice, and I did the actual writing and filling in of details of plot and characterization. It is a science fiction adventure story with the theme of personal responsibility and courage in a time of profound danger.

Although they were self-published, statistics show that during the years of their publication the books sold in the top 20% of all books sold in the U.S. (Note: you don’t have to sell very many to achieve that level. We have maybe 400-500 fans.) In addition, a publisher produced them as audiobooks on cassette tape and CDs. Our publisher was not very honest and so the actual sales figures given to us are vague, but their lowest estimate is that about five to ten thousand audiobooks were sold across the nation.

My partners and I were extremely pleased by the reception the books received, and found enormous fulfillment in writing them.

Although it was written for older children and adults, our saga was invested in the high moral quality of the series books written for juveniles in the 1950s, along with the sense of adventure, optimism, and encouragement of those days. Anyone who wants to know more about the classic series books of the 1899-1973 era might browse my website dedicated to one of the classic series, http://home.pacbell.net/dbaumann, especially the part that talks about the appeal of all the classic series books: http://home.pacbell.net/dbaumann/series_books_their_appeal.htm

The plotter of the Starman series, Jon Cooper, and I have been collecting series books for years. In addition to writing our own books in the same genre, we were meticulous in making our books scientifically accurate by today’s standards. Among our readers were NASA scientists who were drawn to the series for that reason, among others.

One of our readers—a grandfather named Roy who came across the books just three months ago—wrote to us and said, “The story has that fine patina of 50s pulp fiction that I remember so well.”

I was born in 1948, but Jon was born in 1980. I read the classic series books as they were being published, but Jon came to them long after their era had ended. I recently came across the Ted Wilford series, a set of fifteen books written 1951-1967. It is one of the finest and best-written of the classic series. On my recommendation, Jon collected these books also.

When Jon began to read the books, his foray into the 1950s world of Ted Wilford, coupled with the compliment paid our own series by Roy, led to an exchange of emails between Jon and myself on the subject of how the world has changed in half a century.

I’ve been reading the first Ted Wilford book [published in 1951]; I’ve read maybe 25% of it and have been enjoying it – the book is a lot of fun. One thing that has particularly struck me is how strange Ted Wilford’s world is. Has that much really changed in 50 years?

Well, yes, it has.

Ted Wilford actually went with his friends out into the hills for days at a time, completely without any sort of supervision, and no one seemed to mind. I realize that Ted is not nine years old, but even so I wonder how many parents would feel comfortable with an expedition like that today. The whole world seems so innocent; in the second book Ted actually gets into trouble for writing an editorial in which he expresses an opinion, and was told that in newspapers a person’s personal opinions must never enter into articles. The world seemed so open and devoid of any real evil and there was so much care and concern put into newspaper articles – it just amazes me. I can’t imagine a world like that.

Did a world like that really exist at one point, not that long ago? In the old black-and-white TV show “Dennis the Menace” you see young kids wandering all over town, all without adult supervision; they seem to have free reign to go wherever they want.

Yes, the world really was like that. It is how I grew up in the 1950s. I imagine that the way the newspaper business is presented in the Teds is somewhat idealized, but not much. I remember being taught in journalism classes in the early 1960s that one’s own opinion must not influence how one reported news. The news was to contain only facts, and quotes were to be direct and accurate.

When I was growing up, kids could wander all over the neighborhood and older preteens and young teens could ride their bikes miles away to play. High schoolers camping for a few days on their own? Well, I never did that, but I suppose that in small towns of 3,000 population or so it could well have been common. There are many series books from that era that imply that this was commonplace. And now that I think about it, I did actually do that once or twice with friends—we went into the hills near my home and camped alone for a night or two by ourselves.

If the Ted Wilford books are to be believed, the world has changed enormously since the 1950’s – changed beyond recognition, really. It seemed like a nice world – not a bad place to live, really – and I wonder how long it will be until we get it back again.

The 1950s were a great time. In a lot of ways, so were the 1960s. Things began to change, I’d say, in the mid-sixties. The series books of that era are pretty consistent in presenting the time as it was: the Rick Brants, Ken Holts, Tom Swift Jrs., Hardy Boys of the 1950s, and lots of other series, do reflect the time in which they were written. Certainly there was crime and immorality, but the overwhelming aura of the culture was upright. Divorce was extremely rare. Most moms with young kids stayed at home. Most people went to church.

Of course, there was still a lot of evil in the 1950s—racial hate crimes were common in the U.S., there was political oppression and atrocity in other parts of the world, etc. Air raid sirens went off once a month, to ensure that they were in working order. The fear of nuclear war was real. There will always be evil. It’s just that for mainstream America I think it actually was a better world. I really don’t think that this is just nostalgia for the “good ole days”; I think the days were really good.

I think that what I like most about the Ted Wilford books is the general atmosphere of the books – the little things that tell of an era that is as alien to me as the far side of the Moon. I would dearly love to live in a world like Ted Wilford’s – but then, one day I’ll be living in a much better one, and that’s something worth thinking about.

Rick Brant had such a sense of family; everyone on Spindrift Island knew each other and cared about each other, and you had the feeling that Rick knew the people in Whiteside just as well. You didn’t have an individual in a sea of individuals; you had a group, working together, caring for each other, and pitching in as needed. Honest people, doing the right thing, even if the right thing came at great personal cost – now there’s a world I’d like to inhabit.

In Ted Wilford you really get the feeling that you could trust the newspapers to give you an honest shake, and that the reporters were good-hearted people who were more than willing to go out of their way to help someone when they needed it. Even the Wilford family was close; Ted and his older brother got along just fine, and clearly had a close relationship; Ted thought nothing of spending time taking care of the much-younger Tim, and the two enjoyed each other’s company. I have trouble imagining an era where it’s perfectly ordinary for older teenagers to take up with a young kid and enjoy spending time with him – I’m sure it still happens, but it is most definitely not normal.

When I was plotting the Starman books I didn’t include any of the Ted Wilford sense of society because a world like that is just alien to me. You were able to draw on your own experiences and add touches of that – glimpses of a better world and a safer place. I can see the devastation and could write about a blasted New York City, but you came in and added the hope and renewal that was so needed to balance the equation. It just all came together.

I’m reading Arthur C. Clarke’s entry, or one of them, in the Winston Science Fiction Library [a set of 36 science fiction books written in the 1950s and ’60s] now: Islands in the Sky. What Roy described as the “patina of the 1950s” in the Starman series is easily found in the Winston library. It has a marvelous feel to it. As I read, it is effortless to move back into the era when I was a preteen in my neighborhood, with fields and orchards nearby, and the world just seemed fresh and clean. I think that Roy’s line, so easily tossed off in his initial email to us, is maybe the greatest compliment we have received about our writing. Man.

I suspect that nostalgia is something serious. Even where memory colors the good things and forgets the bad things, we human beings are longing for something beyond the world we live in. We are longing for heaven, our true home. As Jon wrote, "one day I’ll be living in a much better [world], and that’s something worth thinking about." If we cannot be fully satisfied until we are there, then we are in a good place—no matter where we are.

Friday, November 10, 2006

When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

I must say that I have been surprised at the responses to my post “Office and Person”—pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. More than one person told me a few months ago that when I allowed myself to be seen as vulnerable they respected me more, not less, and saw it as leadership rather than weakness.

Maybe “Office and Person” struck a note. It is the (fallen) human condition, I think, to desire to be known and to fear it at the same time. In Christ, we are called, even commanded, to know and to be known, to love and be loved, and to learn that “perfect love casts out fear”. It is an essential part of the spiritual life, of sanctification, to move through fear and beyond it into “knowing, as we ourselves are known”.

Jesus did not command us to “love our neighbor”; he commanded us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. That’s a much harder thing to do. When the command was first given in the days of Moses, it must have been electrifying. Well, it still is.

One person has observed that my blogposts express several themes, including “perseverance in the face of challenge” and “determination to follow the way of love” without being a sucker for the false allure of substitutes for or counterfeits of love. I think these themes are connected, even mutually dependent. Seen that way, maybe my posts “Hugs and Kisses” and “Jawbone of an Ass” are just different ways of saying the same thing.

Starting up a blog has opened up a new means to teach and encourage people. It is a way I can exercise these ministries where sermons, classes, retreat addresses, and spiritual direction sessions can’t. Self-disclosure can be done in a more appropriate way than in these other settings. “Risk-taking” is a little less risky, too. I’m glad I took the risk of posting “Office and Person”, and I thank those who posted comments. Glory to God whose love brings many people together.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Person and Parson

It’s been a little more than 24 hours since I put up the post “Office and Person”, and during that span of time I often pondered the wisdom of having done so. I was only moderately uncomfortable putting it out for public consumption, but people who care can’t read “heavy stuff” with indifference, and I suspected that most folks who read it wouldn’t know what to do about it except maybe feel ill at ease. Besides, it wasn’t my usual kind of post.

My doubts were pretty much resolved when “Rev. Sam” in the UK put this link up in the comments section: http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/2005/09/heavy-week-for-parson.html. I am grateful to him, and grateful to that parishioner of Blessed Sacrament who referred him to my blogpost.

I deliberately did not refer much in yesterday’s post to the grace and workings of God. I am quite aware of his place in my life and growing ability to love. This post http://johnonefive.blogspot.com/2006/10/hugs-and-kisses.html should be read alongside “Office and Person”.

Rev. Sam’s blog can be found at http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/ Rebecca Hatcher especially may want to follow the link and read his November 9 post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Office and Person

There was a time when my father and stepmother attended Blessed Sacrament once a month, commuting from their home over a hundred miles away in Palm Desert. My stepmother is an ultra-dedicated and super-effective Christian grief counselor, and led a grief support group at Blessed Sacrament on a monthly basis. (In my opinion, probably her greatest triumph was ministering so effectively to my father at the time of my mother’s death that they were married two and a half years later.)

Often after church and before the grief group met, we would go to the rectory for lunch and a visit. More than once my stepmother observed a phenomenon that eventually concerned her enough to speak up. It was obvious that at church I was “up” and excited and full of delight being with the members of the parish in worship and fellowship. And in sharp contrast, at home I was silent, withdrawn, and depressed, just moments after leaving the church.

I ministered to people with confidence and usually a measure of effectiveness, but I did not make myself vulnerable in the love I showed, and over time that weighed on me deeply. Probably my self-protectiveness had grown during long years of near-unsupported struggle against intense opposition from various quarters, in which unjust and often anonymous ad hominem attacks were commonplace. Fortunately, this part of parish life has been behind us for six or seven years. Surely, however, my closedness was caused by something more, some unknown thing older than that decade of persistent attack.

In many helping professions, including the pastoral ministry to an extent, reserving one’s personhood is appropriate for maintaining a professional boundary, but I had made a brick wall of it. As a result, in some areas of ministry I had become super-sensitive and raw. I knew enough to recognize it, but did not have resources to address it effectively.

That created in me the curious dichotomy my stepmother saw of my being jubilant at church and despondent, almost vacant, short minutes later at home. It seemed to me that even in a healthy and vibrant, loving parish people praised me for what I did, but no one really knew me as a person. Mostly it was because I did not let them.

As time passed and many of my colleagues disappeared from my circle for various reasons, mostly having to do with the corrosiveness to one’s soul when one is an orthodox priest in the Episcopal Church, I suddenly realized that I was, for all intents and purposes, alone. Simultaneously the parish was growing, and the demands on my time and skills and people’s need for counsel grew commensurately while, without support, my own resources weakened and drained away. Gradually, as slowly as the descent of evening causes light to fade, my own sense of personhood was dimmed. I had almost forgotten who I was, and there was no one left who could tell me.

“My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion” (Psalm 88:19).

My professional confidence and competence were built up in years of tempering through meeting opposition, learning, persevering, committing. Now, trying to find a way to minister in my person without abdicating my professional office is a knife-edge. It is, almost certainly, the most grueling challenge I have ever faced in my life. Attempting to do so is compelling me to address the subject of what it means to be a person and a priest at the same time, and truly and deeply grow in the knowledge of genuine, godly love. In some ways it has been happening with incredible power and speed over the past few months, though it has involved a dozen or more episodes of genuine fear, depression, elation, avid desire for intimacy, humiliation because of missteps, and other strident emotions that I am not used to.

Emotions now churn powerfully inside of me, but they do not come out into the open. For years I kept them in check, mostly for my own sake but also for the sake of others. My emotions are there now when I give counsel or spiritual direction; they are close to the surface when I preach and deliver retreat addresses. I do not wish to contain them so much now, but when I cautiously seek personal contact with people, I am intensely strained both with the desire to open my heart and the fear of doing so. Fear of being misunderstood, dismissed, or doing harm continues to smother my desire to be seen and valued as a person.

Just a few days ago, when I was in a good place, I wrote to my stepmother about these things, and she responded, “I think you are your ‘most bestest’ self in your thoughts and feelings shared this morning. A new you is emerging, you are cracking the shell that you've been captive in for so many years. I believe now your mind, your beautiful mind, and your heart, even more beautiful than your mind if that’s possible, are becoming new friends, perhaps for the first time ever. And you are finding safety in that, and newness and even exhilaration, yet you may be tempted to return to safer positions now outgrown.”

Though I expect it will return, my “good place” is gone now. Most definitely, at the moment I am not finding safety in whatever “progress” my stepmother saw, but I know that I cannot go back to the “safer positions now outgrown”. Things are too different now. That means that I am emotionally “homeless”. I am acutely wracked, with a relentless, grinding, heart-rending solitariness. Fear and desire, office and person battle inside me, and in the battle my usually confident self is a weak thing. Where my greatest need is, there my self falls most short.

I have almost forgotten how to relate to others on a personal level, and when I try I am painfully aware of what can charitably be described at best as “awkwardness”, but is more likely almost complete inability to connect. With ease and joy I can love people in the name of God. In my own person, I have almost nothing to offer.

John Lennon put it beautifully in the plaintive “Julia”, one of my favorite Beatles songs: “When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind.” But my heart does sing! It does! But almost no one can hear it.

Though I am no longer hated and despised by selected members of the parish, and in fact I am generally appreciated and valued by a wonderful and loving parish family, I cannot expect these beloved people to provide personal friendship. It is not fair to them. I know that most of them love and respect me as a priest; I hesitate to give them a chance to love me as a person. I do not know how to do it. When I have tried in the past, only in the most rare of instances have I been able to do so successfully; in all other cases it has been futile, and has put people into an awkward, unwelcome position.

I probably can’t describe the situation better than when I spoke to the Bishop in the presence of the Vestry last August. The words took me by surprise even as they emerged:

I have a fantastic parish and vestry. I need them now, in a way I never have before. The past six years have called forth a lot of new skills in me that I never had, but as the need for them is growing rapidly, I am becoming tired and not seeing or thinking as clearly as I used to. I am feeling hard-pressed and solitary, which I think is primarily the fruit of an accumulation of years of labor and finally becoming very, very tired.

I am afraid of asking for help from my parishioners, but I think that they are the only ones I can turn to for nurture—at least on a regular basis.

Of course, everyone has needs that only others can meet, but priests and others in helping professions are in a position that usually excludes them from getting those needs met by the people they spend most time with. But recently I have concluded that this is not the best pattern for Christian love. I believe that my people know that I love them, and I know that true love, if it is to be true, must be received when it is given. But I am not good at this.

Seeking support and strength from my parishioners is very hard. The few times in the past when I have done so, when I was in a hard spot, I didn’t know how to do it. I wonder whether I did more harm than good. Seeking support from my parishioners means shifting my boundaries and, once shifted, I don’t know where to place them. And shifting boundaries on people is not always fair to them.

Infused throughout my self is the immortal joy of the intimate knowledge of God, but I am always on the outskirts of human joy. For years I have loved the line in the psalms, “Whom have I in heaven but you? ―and having you, I desire nothing upon earth” (Psalm 73:25). But I know that this does not mean that personal intimacy is optional or an extra. Even though he was “ministered to by angels”, Jesus also longed for his disciples in his hour of painful vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane. Moments before that he had said to them, “No longer do I call you servants; I have called you friends” (John 15:15). How to do this is a puzzle I have not yet learned to unravel.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Among the 70%

My post of October 27, “Jawbone of an Ass” (http://johnonefive.blogspot.com/2006/10/jawbone-of-ass.html) provoked more comments thus far than any other post on this blog. Those from Jess are especially cogent. With her permission, I have taken excerpts from the “comments” section and reproduced them below. They deserve to be shared and engaged in their own right. They pick up where my blogpost left off, and have helped me to sort through my own frequent reflections on the issue of how one can be faithful to God, considering the current boiling of the Episcopal Church.

Referring to my “Samson” example, Jess wrote:
There are other Biblical examples though. Maybe we’re not Samson, maybe we’re Jeremiah, weeping because he knows Jerusalem is, for his generation at least, doomed. He stays, he is brave, he tells the truth, but he can’t save her. Or we’re Lot, and our family is not enough in number for God to spare the wicked city. Or we’re part of the church in Revelation that God is about to spit out of His mouth for its lukewarmness.

I agree that the Church eternal is the Lord’s. And so are we. So in the end, our faithfulness will serve the Lord’s purposes, and we will be seen to have been on the winning side. But the Episcopal Church may yet fall. Many temporal divisions of the Church eternal have. I hope not. But it’s not as without precedent as all that.

Also, how do we know the ECUSA is the Lord’s church, when it’s not the whole Church (that is, the Church universal), and some “churches” sometimes become apostate? Going back to the Sodom and Gomorrah idea, what’s critical mass for apostasy (or righteousness)? If there aren’t “ten righteous” left, should we make like Lot and run for our lives?

I’m not sure all of the examples can all apply at the same time to the same people . . . though I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them applied at the same time to different people.

New material from me:
Many blogs and other sources of material that are around are rife with complaint, name-calling, or simple listings of “what’s wrong”—a list of the offenses. Although it is important to know what’s going on, I think that this approach is hardly helpful. It’s little more than a prod—or shove—toward discouragement. In this material, there’s very, very little about the greatness of God and the solid grounding of hope. Giving a solid grounding of hope, I think, is one of my gifts—to myself, my parishioners, and the wider Church.

Jess’s reflections are among the most thought-provoking and serious I have seen anywhere—they are Scriptural, faithful, and realistic, and invite real engagement. Blogs of other members of Blessed Sacrament also feature cogent reflections on this subject, including Sarah's (http://iamsarahgrace.com/blog/2006/09/07/an-apologetic-for-leaving/) and Jonathan's (http://mrbubby.blogspot.com/2006/10/where-to-go.html#links). Even though my public comments (sermons, teachings, blog) are strong, I really do not think that I know it all, and I am blessed by people who help me stretch my mind and soul.

As Jess has pointed out, there are several Biblical models of leadership and direction when the people of God are under attack or in need of warning. Here is her list, plus some more that I have added as a result of the inspiration her comments gave me:

LOT was living in a city whose citizens were so rebellious to God that their city was slated for destruction. When warned to flee, Lot dragged his feet for so long that he had to be pushed out to save his life.

SAMSON fought his enemies with courage and effectiveness, even when hopelessly outnumbered.

GIDEON was hiding from the enemy when the Angel of the Lord appeared and called him a “mighty man of valor” who would deliver his people, even when he was just seeing to his own safety.

ELIJAH was discouraged and depressed (but not for too long) after fighting for the Lord alone and unsupported.

JEREMIAH prophesied to a heedless nation, repeatedly telling truth to those who refused to hear it. When the land finally came under judgment, he was taken by friends against his will into exile—but he bought a piece of land first to show that he was not giving up and to show that the Lord would restore his people in time.

EZEKIEL had one of the most chilling visions anywhere in the Bible. In sharp contrast to the magnificent vision of the Glory of God filling the Temple when it was consecrated by Solomon, Ezekiel saw the cloud of Glory depart from the Temple and leave it a secular hulk. But he also saw the purifying river that flowed from the precincts of that same Temple and swelled into a great spate that flowed into the Dead Sea and made it sweet.

DANIEL in exile maintained the tradition and became a visionary who inspired the people to return to their faith and practice it even among their enemies.

LAODICEA was the city whose people who were “spewed out” of the Lord’s mouth because they were so worldly that either faithfulness or enmity to God was preferable to him.

Of course, there is JESUS who sent his followers into the world like “lambs in the midst of wolves”, but also said that whenever someone refused to listen to them, they were to “shake off the dust” of the place from their feet and move on.

In the light of these Scriptural patterns, I discern questions in three areas:

1. What good am I doing those who differ from me? Is my witness effective or merely provocative? Is it good stewardship of my time and labor and commitment to be a voice among those who disagree with me? Even though they differ from one another, most Scriptural models lie in this area: Gideon, Samson, Elijah, Jeremiah. These are “sheep among wolves”.

2. How is the current situation affecting me and those who are with me? When does “perseverance” become toxic to me or others? When does one “give up”? The example of Lot cannot be ignored. This is where one “casts off the dust”. I think it is significant that Lot hesitated to leave, but “pushed out” he needed to be.

3. Finally, how will I know? Ezekiel and Laodicea provide some guidance, but there are no easy or clear answers. What lies in the future and what does faithfulness look like when one is swept along by forces beyond one’s control? Daniel shows how fidelity can be maintained and even flourish.

There are weaknesses and temptations in every course that is before us. If it were easy to know what to do, there would not be controversy in which dedicated Christians striving for fidelity take different courses of action.

In the meantime, powerful and fantastic things are happening in the Anglican world. As Bishop Ackerman said when he visited Blessed Sacrament last April, the Anglican Communion is in wonderful shape! It is sad, unfortunate, and trying that we live in a part of it where it is not so. We must remember that our Church is more than 75,000,000 strong, at least 70% of which is healthy and godly and amazing and faithful and fruitful. Blessed Sacrament is a part of that 70%, and I intend to remain a part of that Anglican Church.

For me, then, the question is this: what if the Episcopal Church is removed from the Anglican Communion? Should that happen, perhaps that will be the time when the wonderful people of Blessed Sacrament will come together as a body to seek the Lord’s will. We know that there are many, many Episcopalians who will be answering that same question. Whatever we discern, I am sure that the direction we take will be faithful and ... Scriptural.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ave Maria, Gratia Plena

On this glorious All Saints’ Day, my heart turns to you above all, O Mary, O blessed, beloved Mary. I can never forget the life-changing moment when I first fell in love with you. Years ago I was standing on a pier on a moonless night while ocean waves sighed beneath me in darkness. I gazed at the evening star, beaming with solitary, stunning beauty. Its pure silver light in a deep, deep blue-black starless sky inspired a spontaneous outburst of praise to you. I knew, of course, that it was the second planet, but in an instant of mystical insight I understood why one of your many ancient titles is “Star of Ocean”. Your ethereal loveliness ravished me and I was won to you for ever. I had known you before, but now I loved you from my heart.

Your loveliness is unsurpassed, for your beauty arises from being the one who is closest to Jesus. Surely, next to your Son, you are the greatest and most beloved human being of all time. All of us mortals, even the greatest of the Saints, fall behind you, made immaculate, and taken from the tomb and lifted body and soul to heaven.

When we see you, beloved lady, we see what redemption looks like. In praising you we know the amazing work of God our Savior. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, and you are the firstborn of the redeemed.

Only you of all mortals knew Jesus throughout his earthly existence, from his conception to his ascension. Only you are the mother of the Messiah. It was you who nursed him, who taught him to walk, who heard his first word. It was your hand that taught him to hold a spoon. It was your face that his infant eyes sought, your voice he wanted to hear. In the hidden years, only you and Joseph saw his infancy and childhood. As a young widow alone, you watched him grow into strong vigorous manhood.

When he manifested himself to Israel and then to the world, all humans were called to learn who he is and choose either to love or reject him. But when that manifestation began with his disciples, you had already come to the fullness of discipleship. At that beginning you taught others the essence of what it means to know your Son: “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.”

Less than three years later, when he had become loved by many thousands, you saw the perfect Man, your son, your only son, whom you love, die on the cross, cursed and outcast by leaders of his own people. Ah, dear mother...

There was a Christian man in a post office one Christmas not long ago who refused to purchase postage stamps that featured the likeness of yourself holding your infant Son, because, as he said, he “didn’t worship Mary”. When I heard that, my soul slumped within me and I felt such sadness for him. I thought, What a dreary love for your Son he must have.

O holy Mary, how can anyone think it possible to love Jesus and not love his mother? How can anyone think that one honors Jesus by ignoring his mother? I have loved you now for so long that I cannot understand very well those who don’t love you and yet claim salvation in the name of your Son. How could any son even of earth be pleased when someone closes eyes to his mother?

Yet I must not be too severe, for I can dimly remember the first time I spoke to you, and how my palms became clammy with nervousness. I was timid then, for I had been poorly taught, and somehow feared that by talking to you I might possibly diminish my love for your Son. I know now how foolish that was, and I flush with embarrassment! Who can possibly love you truly and not love your Son more than before? For your life, like ours, is hidden completely in him. Only in him does any love at all have merit.

O fair Virgin, when I addressed you on that pier, my heart was opened and I suddenly comprehended how vast and marvelous the world of our Faith is, and I was awed into adoration of our great God. I was drawn across the line from thinking just of “me and Jesus” and entered the vast eternal universe of wild and endless, immeasurable love. I discovered that far from being a sole voice, I belonged to an infinite orchestra of voices, a choir of uncountable millions bursting with the praise and joy of our Lord—a kingdom, as the Scriptures tell us, of “myriads upon myriads” of saints and angels! Of that kingdom, you, good lady, are the Queen, acknowledged in our hymnal as “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” who leads their praises.

From you alone, most blessed Virgin, your Son took his human nature. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” he said. But since he is True Man as well as True God, surely whoever sees him sees also his mother—he has your skin, your eyes, your hair, your mouth, your gestures...

When you exulted with Elizabeth over your calling, you sang, “all generations shall call me blessed.” You sang in the rhapsody of your jubilation over the fulfillment of the holy promise of God to his people and all the world, that was being achieved in you. Your voice was the first on earth that proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. You are the first evangelist, and you have never ceased.

Always, always you point the way to Jesus. No one could possibly truly love you for yourself without growing into the fathomless depths of love for your Son. All love that is true simply cannot be divided nor enter into any kind of competition—rather it expands and flows to cover all, and cannot ever be diminished.

My favorite of the ancient titles for you, my beloved mother, is Rosa Mystica—Mystic Rose. The rose is the world’s favorite flower, for its inestimable variety and limitless enchanting beauty. In every rose, I see you. My rosary is made of pressed rose petals that exude their fragrance whenever I hold it in the warmth of my hands. For more than a quarter of a century I have used this rosary every day. O holy Mary, my eyes are tearing up even now as I write, for love of you.

Loving you, my lady, has not only vastly deepened my love of Jesus. My love for you has enriched and enlivened my devotion to all women—little girls, children, teenagers and college students, virgins, new brides, mothers, the middle aged, the elderly, and widows. All of them can find themselves in you, for you were like all of them. So to me, their eyes look upon the world with your eyes, the eyes that saw Jesus, and in all of them I see you. With every hug and kiss I give them, I am praising and adoring you in gratitude that you consented to be the Mother.

You are the Echo of God himself, who created all things with the words, “Let it be,” and it was so. In the fullness of time you also said, “Let it be [to me according to your word].” Our merciful and humble Lord waited upon your consent before he began the new creation, the re-creation of all that had been spoiled. “Behold, I make all things new,” said your exalted and perfect Son in his triumph. Your words with his show the indissoluble romance of humanity with God, where love is beyond measure, an infinite and eternal ocean of joy. Oh, Mary! If only I could love God as you do!

This title was given you from the fourth century, to assure the faithful that your Son was God from his conception, a title designed to proclaim boldly who Jesus is. And from that title, devotion to you arises naturally. I especially love the four seasonal anthems that sing your praises throughout the year. For centuries the faithful have lauded you with these anthems. They are all exquisite, but I love best singing the Salve Regina, “hail, holy queen”, with its haunting, passionate, and intimate entreaty that ends, “O gentle, O tender, O gracious, Virgin Mary.” Oh! Whenever we sing that at Evensong, I want the song never to end. The extended notes cause the love they express to linger in the adoring heart, and such mine is.

From the cross your divine Son confided you into the care of your foster-son John. He, with whom you spent your last years, wrote the Gospel in which you are adored with such reverence that he could not even write your name. He only calls you “the mother of Jesus”. I believe that, next to your Son, he of all human beings knew you best, and put the mystical splendor of your own holy life into his Gospel. O Mary. Each time I open his Gospel, I can sense his devotion to you. You always point to Jesus, and, like you, John always points to Jesus: “These things are written that you might believe.”

You are the possessor of something that I can never have, even in heaven: femininity. As the firstborn of the redeemed, you are the archetype of the universe’s salvivic romance with God. Though I am a man, I am a member of the Bride of Christ, the Holy Church. Yet how can I, or any man, be bridal? Only by making you my mother and queen, the leader of those who pray, the first among the redeemed among whom I am numbered.

Only in the Church, of which you are the Mother, can I, or any man, participate in the nuptials of the Kingdom. Though I can never plumb the depths of what it means to be female, you have shown me its meaning. I explored that mystery in the retreat addresses I called, “God, Love, and Gender”. The women who heard that retreat were astonished that I understood femininity so well. But it was easy for me, beloved lady, because of you.

Our first mother came to be called “the mother of all living”, even after she fell into sin and disgrace, and brought all our race that followed into a place of hopeless grief. But in that dismal place you became our second mother when you said to the angel of the Annunciation, “behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” As your Son is the second Adam who bore our nature into the realm of death and then lifted it to the right hand of the Father, so your obedience reversed the disobedience of our first mother. Like her, you are “the mother of all living”. You are even her mother.

In the face of all our race’s failures, rebelliousness, and atrocities, if humanity has any reason to boast to the universe, surely that boast would be you. You are the first, greatest, and deepest lover of God. The medieval Anglican ascription is mine also—you are “my life’s light, my beloved ladye.”

Subjects being considered for future blogposts:
+ What it is like for an orthodox Anglican priest to have good friends who are atheists
+ Finding places of quiet in a busy world, and the necessity of doing so
+ Reconciling being a priest and a person—how can a priest enjoy personal relationships with his parishioners without compromising his ministry?
+ What it means to be an “evangelical Catholic”
+ Growing up in the “better world” of the 1950s

Friday, October 27, 2006

Jawbone of an Ass

“These are tough times for the Church.” Frankly I am sick of hearing that. It’s a true statement, but so what? It has always been tough to be a faithful Christian; some times are just tougher than others. When I have been asked to address the brothers of the Society of the Holy Cross or the members of Forward in Faith, I have said that we should guard against a defeatist attitude and realize that, “We were made for this age! This is the age in which heroes are made! This is a magnificent time for the faithful, a great opportunity! The fields are white for the harvest!”

People have welcomed the message, but I think few have heeded it. “We’re all having a hard time,” I heard more than once the last time I went to a meeting of fellow orthodox priests. Well, I’m not having a hard time. “Times are tough.” True—but so what? Why the long faces? I give thanks for these times. It would be much harder to grow in sanctity if things in the Church were bland and easy.

I’ve had enough of being told that I and those who believe as I do are victims. Does anyone else remember that we are called to be warriors? The Society of the Holy Cross, the oldest and perhaps the strongest, most admirable fellowship of Anglo-Catholic priests in the Anglican Communion, was founded in 1855 in a time when to be an Anglo-Catholic guaranteed pretty severe persecution—far worse than anything we’ve seen in our day. One of the Society’s mottoes was, and is, “No surrender, no desertion”. I love that motto. Yet in spite of it, among the members of the Society and other traditional believers, I often—not always—see surrender (to complaint, discouragement, name-calling, weakness) and desertion (finding a safe place for oneself, leaving the Episcopal Church, keeping quiet when one should speak). Where are the warriors?

Do the orthodox bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people really believe that the modernists, revisionists, and apostates who are in positions of so-called “leadership” in the Episcopal Church are actually in charge of the Church?? I am stunned to find that many actually believe this bald, secular lie. Have they no knowledge of history? Have they so little understanding of Scripture? Are they not really convinced that Jesus is Lord? Are they unable to live as if God knows what he is doing? Are they so busy being victims that they have forgotten their calling? Every battle the orthodox have lost in the past century, they have forfeited. Orthodoxy cannot be defeated, but it can be surrendered and often has been.

Where are those who, like Saint Hilary in the age of the Arian heresy, alone defended the Faith in a council of several hundred enemies and weak bishops? He rang his assertion that he would not compromise the Faith, and then offered to debate Saturninus, his chief opponent. Daunted and cowed by his courage and argument, the council declined the offer. In the same era, the inspiring Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, proclaimed the Faith so effectively that it became a saying: Athanasius contra mundum—Athanasius against the whole world! And he won!

Have we forgotten the many passages of the New Testament that describe Christian profession as a battle? Here are just a few—a few of the many!

“Contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) has often been quoted by traditionalists in these days. Though I have seen too few actually contending, the passage sets it squarely in our faces that we are involved in a battle.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of the present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12). The passage goes on to command and exhort, “Stand, stand, stand!” And as has often been pointed out, in the description of armor given to the Christian warrior there is no protection for the back. “No surrender, no desertion”.

The modernists, revisionists, etc. are not the enemies of the faithful. If anyone is a victim, it is these folks—not the faithful. The Church is fighting a spiritual battle, contending against supernatural evil with the salvation and welfare of souls at stake. And as far as fighting these principalities and powers, the outcome of that battle has already been determined: Jesus himself said, as he was about to enter the arena where the final battle would be fought, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul later wrote, “Christ disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15).

The faithful share in that victory! “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37)—not just “conquerors” but “more than conquerors”.

When I first began training in martial arts in January 1985, a member of the church was surprised and bothered that I, a priest, wanted to practice martial arts. He thought it was contrary to my calling. “How often will you use it?” he asked with amazement and perhaps even disgust in his face. “Every day,” I affirmed. And it has proven true.

When I tested for first degree black belt in November 1987, the exam was a brutal ordeal. Even experienced martial artists said they had never seen anything like it. For more than two hours I pressed through trial after trial, the last of which was sparring with rested fighters, one after another and sometimes two at once, who were younger and stronger than I was. Toward the very end of the sparring matches when I was barely able to hold my arms up, the class psychopath was put against me. He wore boxing gloves and came in with anger and violence. Noted for being out of control, he hammered and pummeled me, used illegal blows, and once even struck me to the floor—but at the end of the round, while he was huffing and puffing and his nostrils were distended with anger, I was still on my feet and serene.

My instructor told me I had failed that part of the exam. Now that I have more than two decades of training in the martial arts and have become a master, I know that he was wrong. I didn’t fail. He didn’t understand. He himself designed that exam and scheduled the sparring partners to ensure that I would be beaten at the end of the matches. Beaten I was, but I was not defeated. (The “psychopath”, by the way, later became a Christian.)

In the Diocese of Los Angeles and the national Episcopal Church, I have probably lost almost every significant vote that has come up on matters of doctrine and practice, but I have not lost any battles. Saint Paul described his ministry in these terms: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; ... struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

The struggle for the Faith is indeed hard at this time. I find it hard. I’ve been under spiritual attack since midsummer and it has gotten me down more than once, but I have not buckled, and I will not buckle. To hell with the devil. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The faithful are called to fight in ways we are not used to. We have few resources, and many of the faithful feel daunted and discouraged. They have forgotten that smallness and weakness are God’s greatest weapons. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Years ago I told the woman who would become my stepmother that, because of her life-changing ministry to the bereaved, she was an “earthen vessel”. I was thinking of this passage: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The faithful are just ordinary people, earthen vessels, who nonetheless are containers of the treasure of the Gospel. This is how God works. My stepmother responded that I was, “God’s little finger”. I had told her not long before that martial artists, in wielding swords, realize that when one is holding a hammer or a sword or similar item, it is the littlest finger that is the most important one. Small as it is, it grips the item more strongly than the other fingers. Similarly, small things are where God puts his power.

How could the faithful have forgotten this? Scripture rings with this theme! When Christians fall into purely secular behaviors and ways of thinking, they deserve the rebuke Paul gave to the wayward Corinthians: When you act like this, “Are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3) It seems to me that the orthodox in the Episcopal Church are bound up by their own hesitation, fears, discouragements, weakness of faith, and general unwillingness to fight. “The Elijah Complex”, I have called it more than once. Elijah, though a great warrior for the Lord, became depressed and discouraged. He dropped out of sight and journeyed to Mount Horeb where he encountered God, who encouraged him and sent him back to the battle where he found many others who, though quiet, had remained faithful. There is a time to be like Elijah, but it is not intended to be a long-lasting state. And Elijah went right to God when he was depressed; he didn’t just wander about aimlessly. It’s been long enough. It is time for the orthodox to stop being Elijah and become Samson.

At one time, Samson was being sought by his enemies the Philistines, and to avoid a battle his own people bound him with two ropes to take him to the Philistines. Samson allowed them to bind him, but when he was in his enemy’s hands at last, he didn’t just take it: “When Samson came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the ropes which were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of an ass, and put out his hand and seized it, and with it he slew a thousand men” (Judges 15:14-15).

I will be damned if I will give up. The orthodox Faith will never die. It is always triumphant. “No surrender, no desertion” means something. “Them’s fightin’ words!” My little finger is holding tightly to the jawbone of an ass. When I die, I want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

The next post on this blog is scheduled for November 1. It will have a very different theme.