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.