Saturday, July 29, 2006

Orthodox Theologian Speaks on Modern Deserts

An interview with John Chryssavgis:

"Q: What unifies the desert fathers and mothers?

Chryssavgis: If there is one element that unites the desert fathers and mothers, in my mind it is their realism.

The unpretentious dimension of their life and experience, of their practice as well as their preaching, is something they share with one another and with all the communion of saints through the centuries.

And precisely because they are truthful and down-to-earth, the desert fathers and mothers are not afraid to be who they are. They do not endeavor to present a false image; and they do not accept any picture of themselves that does not reflect who they really are.

'Stay in your cell,' they advise us. Because so often we are tempted to move outside, to stray away from who and what we are.

Learning to face who and what we are -- without any facade, without any make-up, without any false expectations -- is one of the hardest and at the same time, one of the finest lessons of the desert. Putting up with ourselves is the first and necessary step of learning to put up with others. And it is the basis for recognizing how all of us -- each of us and the entire world alike -- are unconditionally embraced and loved by God."

Read the rest here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Meeting +John-David

And how I learned something about Church politics.

As some California bishops begin presentment proceedings against another California bishop, I thought I might tell a story about +John-David of San Joaquin. He's been in the Episcopal news lately because he's being charged with abandoning communion. In all honesty I'm not sure why, but according to these sources it has something to do with diocesan canons, and what some think he might do in the future. But the story is unfolding, and there is much more to this story than what we see in the news. It's an important story as any in the battle over who is genuinely Anglican in the United States. It's worth following.

It's worth following because the Diocese of San Joaquin is on the shortlist of dioceses disliked by the liberal establishment of the Episcopal Church, and will tell us much about how those on the edges of the Episcopal Church are treated by those closer to the centre of power. My own relationships in the Episcopal Church have developed within the perifery of the liberal establishment (though Presiding Bishop elect, +Katherine Jefferts-Schori, is a graduate of my seminary), and most of the voices I know here are fully consonant with the power-voices within the Episcopal Church, like that of presiding bishop ++Frank Griswold and the national church bureaucracy. All that is to say that I had never heard many good things about +John-David, until a conservative friend came under his wing after this friend came into some conflict with his own diocese over some familiar theological and ecclesial issues.

I went to Howard's diaconal ordination, but with some trepidation. As uncomfortable as I am with much of the politicking and theology of the Diocese of California, San Joaquin also has positions and policies that are at variance with those of my own diocese. I wondered to myself, should I insist on processing in the clerical procession? Should I even wear my clericals? I wasn't sure that my orders were recognised in San Joaquin. I was licensed in the Diocese of California, a diocese as different from San Joaquin as you can get. In the end I decided not to process, but I did wear my clericals. I'm sure of the validity of my orders, even if I wasn't sure that this diocese would recognise them.

At the end of the ordination I entered the receiving line along with everyone else. I was anxious to meet the bishop, as most of the bishops I've met (though not all, to be sure) have more serpentine wisdom than dove-like gentleness. Here I was, a crippled deacon from the Diocese of California, meeting one of the most conservative bishops in the Episcopal Church. I didn't know how this bishop would receive me.

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. +John-David held my hand tightly and smiled broadly when I met him. He was radiant, and genuinely interested in me and how I was doing. He spoke lovingly of his own time in the Diocese of California, and of some of the people we both knew. He was curious about me being a Canadian in California. He wanted to learn about my ministry in Marin County. In short, +John-David won me over with his gentleness and pastoral presence.

Are meetings like this a solution to our deep divisions? No. I'm not that naive. But the opportunity to meet, face-to-face, someone as demonised as +John-David, certainly revealed some things that I have a hard time remembering: There are a lot of good men and women on both sides of this chasm. Don't believe the demonisers. And above all, reach out to all those you meet with love, affection, and charity, just as +John-David did with me. If he had relied on his own preconceptions, he would have had every reason to look another way.

Instead, he reached out his hand, and taught me something about Christian charity and hospitality.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 17, 2006

Logos Bible Widget

Having been converted twice in my life, first to Christianity and then to Mac, I love it when they combine and cross over. (So call me a syncretist. I can get away with this one, can't I? Or does Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field qualify him as some kind of demigod?)

If you're like me, and willing to live with Christian and Mac devotion, check this one out: the Logos Bible Widget. I haven't tried it out yet, but it promises both Bible and Dashboard goodness.

(Note - It looks like Mr. Jobs needs salvation just like the rest of us. Kinda. At least according to some folks . . . via)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Feeling a Little Bit Jealous

Since Karen and I moved to California, I have wanted to see San Diego. It sounds like paradise, with cool ocean breezes, a lot of sun, and long beaches. Who wouldn't want to visit?

Well, Karen, for one. Or at least whenever we planned our occasional trips, if San Diego came up, she wasn't so interested. So we went to other places, which was fine with me. California is beautiful, and we have happily traveled all over the Golden State.

But I'm jealous, because someone is among the swaying palm trees right now, on a fully paid trip to San Diego, staying in a beautiful hotel by the beach.

Someone else is at home eating macaroni and cheese, baking in the absurd heat of the central valley, on-call and waiting to get paged to the hospital.

At least I get the satisfaction that she's sitting in meetings most of the day!

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Oliver O'Donovan on the "Gay Experience"

I know some of you are familiar with Oliver O'Donovan, especially those of you who were able to hear him speak in Winnipeg at St. Margaret's a while back, where he preached this sermon and lectured on topics similar to what he wrote in this book.

If you are not familiar with the Rev. Dr. O'Donovan, let me commend him highly. I imagine some of you may bristle at his evangelical assumptions and conclusions. However, to my mind, he is a theologian always able to say something interesting. And with the debates about human sexuality being so stuck and stale, something interesting about human sexuality is very welcome.

So if you're able to take some time and slog through the first of O'Donovan's "Web Sermons" over at fulcrum, it is worth the time. (He may be interesting, but he is learned - his prose is characteristically dense in this piece.) What piqued me was the following, at the end of his short summary of liberalism in Christianity:

" . . . There were some very good stories of emancipation to be told, testimonies to the liberating implications of the Gospel and the pastoral involvement of the church, the enormously influential struggle for civil rights in the USA, for instance, and the Latin American base ecclesial communities that gave new energy to Catholic witness in the face of poverty and economic injustice. These threw a lifeline to a floundering liberal imagination, offering a matrix by which the present could be presented as standing in perpetual judgment on the past, allowing the Western hegemonic tradition of modernity to re-brand its anti-conservative appeal . . . In grasping the lifeline, however, Western liberalism paid its price. From that point on, it became identified with one kind of moral cause to the exclusion of others. It became a church-party proper, a specific agenda to pit against other agendas.

. . . The gay cause is grist for the liberal mill while it is in militant mode, for the mill processes victim-classes in want of a fair deal. But Proudhon's "Justice, nothing but justice!" is as restrictive on one front as it is empowering on the other. It allows not the slightest observation on the aesthetic or emotional timbre of gay existence. To demand justice is to make this class like every other class, for justice is thought's weapon against arbitrariness. But when gay experience starts attracting interest and interrogation in its own right and for its own sake, its usefulness to the liberal project is at an end. For that raises questions that were supposed to have been settled long ago; it draws attention to the fragmentation of the modern moral world, and therefore to its insufficiency as a measure to judge the performance of the church.

Gays also pose existential questions. They interest themselves in the riddle of gay existence. Anexetastos bios abiôtos, said Socrates; the life that is unexamined is intolerable to live. And much of the gay Angst is to do with the difficulty of raising questions in public that seem overwhelmingly pressing when they directly concern oneself. The pastoral challenge that the gay phenomenon presents to the church, then, is not primarily emancipatory, but hermeneutic. And that is the supreme justification for a conciliar process that will take up the experience of homosexual Christians as its leading question. How is this form of feeling to be understood? What are the patterns of life with which it may appropriately clothe itself? As far as I can tell, it is deeply in the interest of gay Christians, men and women, that their experience - by which is meant not merely sexual experience, not merely emotional experience, and not merely the narrative of experience, but the whole storehouse of what they have felt and thought about their lives, should become a matter of wider reflection, reflected on by those who are called to live this experience, by those who are called to accompany them in their living, by all who share their understanding of living as something they owe an account of to God."

This is refreshing to me. Evangelical Anglican Oliver O'Donovan is saying that the floundering Liberal paradigm, through it's attraction to oppressed classes to which it can come to the rescue, has prevented the full expression of the experience of being gay. O'Donovan even calls for that fuller experience to be expressed and heard, and he wants to hear it.

I'll admit to being in very new territory. I'm not sure at all what "gay consciousness," "gay existence," or "gay experience" really is, though I have learned, on a social scale, to think in simple terms of "opressed classes." (The personal scale is very different and probably a little more complete.) I've lived in Berkeley for four years, at a liberal seminary, and I'm newly curious.

What would it mean to think of this experience as "hermeneutic"? What new conversations might happen if we thought this way? What new learning might take place?

To those more familiar with what O'Donovan is referring to, is he making any sense?

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 06, 2006

++Rowan on Christian Identity and Mission

I've been reading Rowan Williams' Why Study The Past?: The Quest For The Historical Church, and despite the unfortunate title, I'm enjoying it immensely. It's an excellent look at the two most important periods in the construction of Anglican self-identity, the Patristic era and the Reformation, tracing them under the categories of continuity and difference in the church through those periods. ++Rowan offers a treatment of both his thoughts on the subversive nature of doctrine, and how the church imagines it's relationship to culture in the periods on both sides of Constantine's Edict of Milan in the Patristic Period. He then points out how the idea that God is absolutely free to do his work among his people, and the reasons for institutional continuity of the Church in the English Reformation, made the English church so distinctive.

If any of these themes sound familiar to those following our intra-Anglican strife, this is no coincidence, and If you'd like a peek into the mind that wrote the recent 'Challenge and hope' for the Anglican Communion, this is a good place to start. As he does in 'Challenge and Hope' ++Rowan treats all angles with his characteristic charitability, while offering a constructive vision for the church grounded in our common historical identity.

But the passage (p. 56) that struck me most was this one:

"So, if it is not clear why we should be bothered about our fidelity to the formulations of Nicaea or Chalcedon, this analysis of the first Christian centuries may revive our sense that, whatever the conceptual toughness or oddity of the language used in these creeds and definitions, this was the least that could properly be said on the basis of the ekklesia as such, the sort of thing which, if not said, would alter drastically the Church's claim to be free to appeal beyond the powers of this world and to deny the ascription of unqualified holiness to any system of earthly government. To develop a point made elsewhere, if the language of the creeds is difficult for us, this may be less a function of its intrinsic conceptual problems and more a comment on the weakened urgency felt about our Christian identity and mission."

This resounded mightily with my experience. In much of our church there is a lack of conscious and differentiated self-identity between people in pews and people in the coffee shop on Sunday morning, along with a general disinterest in classical doctrine among most Christians, seminarians, and clergy. But I had never thought of the two as connected.

But it makes sense. If being a Christian doesn't necessarily mean being all that different from those around you, there is no motivation to discover that difference. But if being a Christian does mean being different, we are led to the texts of Christian differentiation: Nicaea and Chalcedon. Through these texts, along with the witness of Scripture, we discover exactly what we have to offer the world, and we are motivated into Christian explication and mission.


Monday, July 03, 2006

The Glory of Being Rickey

It is Rickey! He's not quite in all his glory, but he's glorious none- theless.

I think a tribute is in order. So, here's a few stories on the glory of being Rickey Henderson, starting with his habit of referring to hemself in the third person:

While in Seattle, Rickey struck out, and as the next batter was walking past him, he heard Henderson say, “Don’t worry, Rickey, you’re still the best.”

A reporter asked Henderson if Ken Caminiti’s estimate that 50 percent of Major League players were taking steroids was accurate. His response was, “Well, Rickey’s not one of them, so that’s 49 percent right there.”

The year he ended up playing with the Red Sox, he called San Diego GM Kevin Towers and left the following message: “This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

What life is like when you are Rickey Henderson:

In the early 1980s, the Oakland A’s accounting department was freaking out. The books were off $1 million. After an investigation, it was determined Rickey was the reason why. The GM asked him about a $1 million bonus he had received and Rickey said instead of cashing it, he framed it and hung it on a wall at his house.

During one of his stays with Oakland, Henderson’s locker was next to Billy Beane’s. After making the team out of spring training, Beane was sent to the minors after a few months. Upon his return, about six weeks later, Henderson looked at Beane and said, “Hey, man, where have you been? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

Henderson once fell asleep on an ice pack and got frostbite – which forced him to miss three games — in mid-August.

Henderson broke Ty Cobb’s career record for runs scored with a home run. After taking his usual 45 seconds or so around the bases, Rickey slid into home plate.

San Diego GM Kevin Towers was trying to contact Rickey at a nearby hotel. He knew Henderson always used fake names to avoid the press, fans, etc. He was trying to think like Rickey and after several attempts; he was able to get Henderson on the phone. Rickey had checked in under Richard Pryor.

And, finally, a story about Rickey in all his glory:

To this day and dating back 25 years, before every game he plays, Henderson stands completely naked in front of a full length locker room mirror and says, “Rickey’s the best,” for several minutes.

(Adapted from this source.)

Thanks, Joe.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Finding a Width of Hard-Packed Sand

I've been in California for five years now. But I've never been on the beach.

I've been near the beach. I've sat above the beach and I've looked at beaches. But I've never been on the beach. This is really just a practical matter, because all that happens when my tires hit sand is that they turn in one place, digging me into a deep hole. I don't go anywhere. So it's not that I don't love the beach, it's just that the beach doesn't work well for a guy like me.

That changed last weekend when Karen and I were on one particular beach in Half Moon Bay. We found a level entry off the path, where the sand wasn't too deep. After I got through that loose sand by the path, I found something I didn't think I would ever find here: I found that on this particular beach the sand has a little clay mixed into it. And when this sand gets wet, it gets firm and solid. There was a width of hard-packed sand on this beach that allowed me to actually spend some time on the beach. It was a singularly satisfying experience to put my hand in the water and just watch the waves so closely.

I wish I could now say that I've finally found a place here in California, like I did on that beach in Half Moon Bay. But I'm not sure I have. I've made many good friends, I've experienced some of the most beautiful geography and weather in the world, I've served in four different churches and I've studied hard. It has been good and worthwhile being here. But I've also dug myself in a little. I've gotten stuck. I've spun my tires. Those widths of hard-packed sand have been too few and far between.

I've been out of place here for most of these five years. Maybe one day I will look back and see just how appropriate it is to feel this way.

But for now I'm beginning to think it's just about the right time to head back home.

Labels: ,