Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Friday
May122017

Breakfast with Frances Perkins

Tomorrow is the Feast of Blessed Frances Perkins. We’re having breakfast.

I’m joining a few friends for the 9:00 am Eucharist. Afterward we’ll gather at my apartment for breakfast. It’s all a celebration of Frances Perkins.

 A time for unity

I’ve spent some energy since the election encouraging clergy to contain the impulse toward self-righteousness. Further dividing our parishes isn’t a faithful pathway. Being so right that we’re wrong isn’t faithfulness. Friends tell me of sermons intended to make the Trump voter in the parish so upset that she leaves the building. Even more frequent are the sermons that sound like a Bernie pep rally. Admonishing parishioners to love and not hate is certainly of the Gospel. However, in many of our parishes the temptation to hate is directed at people we disagree with politically. Where are the sermons to help us love our enemies?

As part of my Lenten discipline:

I decided that I need to direct my attention, my self-control and “imaginative sympathy,” toward those I most disagree with.

I decided I needed to open myself to other ways of seeing and understanding.

I needed to be curious about what truth is carried by those I fear. 

My Lenten discipline has been to get out of my own bubble.  It included reading material to engage conservative thought with “imaginative sympathy.”

I've been reading thinkers who come at faith and politics in a way that differs from my own place of comfort -- some conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans -- specifically Michael Gerson's "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era" and John Danforth "Faith and Politics" and "The Relevance of Religion." I've also read Ken Woodward's "Getting Religion: Faith, Culture and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama" as a way of reminding myself of the shifts this society has been through.  I have also put on my phone connections to The Federalist, National Review, and First Things.

I’ve also been encouraging our largely liberal clergy to channel Vida Scudder. She gave an address in 1918 when the United States was at war and torn internally by fear of traitors and immigrants. It’s the time when what we had called “frankfurters” became “hot dogs.” There’s the Red Scare and the Spanish Flu. We didn’t trust each other.  We feared each other.                  

In her book based on that address she offered a reflection on All Saints Eve and the communion of saints. She said this --

Mechanical and automatic subjection to authority is bad, whether in state or Church; but voluntary self-control, born of imaginative sympathy, is the first qualification for democracy. A loving obedience to the will of Mother Church as she calls her children to follow the successive phases of her dramatic sequence, can furnish powerful aid in forming the interior habits which must be the strength of a socialized civilization. Our national life needs nothing so much as a sense of unity    Vida Dutton Scudder, Regarding the Church Year   -All Saints Eve

voluntary self-control, born of imaginative sympathy, is the first qualification for democracy

Our national life needs nothing so much as a sense of unity

 

From time to time

From time to time it’s good to celebrate our own way of putting together the faith and politics. In my own bringing together of these things I find myself convinced that responsible social policy and political action calls for attention to things like protecting and expanding the safety net, generosity toward those fleeing oppression and violence in other lands, and an emphasis on “justice for all."

If I were a parish priest with a mix of conservatives and liberals I’d probably identify a politically conservative saint and help organize a breakfast on that day, for that community.

But tomorrow – I’m with Francis Perkins. I get to celebrate my own political tribe.

 

Frances Perkins: had a vision

In February 1933, Frances Perkins met with Franklin Roosevelt in New York City. He had been elected President and he wanted her to be his Secretary of Labor. She arrived with her hopes written on a piece of paper.

She wanted the job and she wanted to do it her way. She told FDR what she wanted to do. The list included Social Security, health insurance, a forty-hour workweek, a ban on child labor, a minimum wage, and unemployment compensation.

At an early age Frances Perkins had developed a strong sense of social justice along with a capacity for courage and perseverance. On her graduation from Mount Holyoke in 1902 she was class president. At the final prayer meeting she selected a reading from Saint Paul. “Therefore my beloved breathen, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord ..”  The class made “Be Ye Stedfast” their motto.

She was a witness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911. She saw young immigrant women jumping to their deaths to escape the fire. There were 146 dead. That event shifted her from the assumption that her life was to include forms of volunteer social work to having a life-long vocation. In time it brought her, and her vision, to the Cabinet of the United States. Years later she wrote, “The New Deal began on March 25th, 1911. The day that the Triangle factory burned.”

 

Frances Perkins: pragmatic faithfulness

In 1905 she became an Episcopalian. Kirstin Downey, her biographer, wrote:

“She sought a more structured religion with a more formal ceremony… She reveled in its elaborate and archaic rituals. They helped her remain serene and centered at times of stress. The church’s teaching also gave her substantive guidance about the right path to take when confronted with decisions, and the hopeful message of Christianity helped her retain her optimism. Her devotion waxed and waned over the years, but nonetheless served as a bedrock and a way to seek meaning in life when so much seemed inexplicable. These religious leanings became progressively more pronounced over time.” (The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience)

Also over time Frances found her early idealism being reshaped with a new pragmatism.  She came to understand that to produce significant change she needed allies among politicians. Frances learned to work with Tammany Hall.

A few months after the Triangle fire she was working on a New York State bill to achieve a 54 hour workweek. At one point in that process she was faced with making a decision about whether to maintain her group’s position that the 50,000 women working in the canneries be included, in which case the bill was going to fail; or to accept what was possible which was to include the 400,000 women working in manufacturing.

Kirstin Downey wrote, “Frances, however, was becoming increasingly practical. … Her ability to accept human foibles, to see both failings and strengths, was becoming a core personality trait, bolstering her effectiveness. She found that making deals with imperfect people and focusing on their strengths provided a pathway to actually achieving social change.”

 

Breakfast with Frances Perkins

I had an icon written by Suzanne Schleck last year. In a recent exchange I told her that I was going to ask a few people to join me for breakfast on Frances' feast day. Suzanne's response was, "I'm sure Frances will enjoy being with a group of her fellow Episcopalian Democrats."

I'm glad it’s Easter and that Lent came to an end; I have gained a bit more respect for people I disagree with; and I long for a moment in which to celebrate my own preferred way of connecting faith and politics. So, here's to Frances Perkins.

 

rag+

Sunday
May072017

He sets his body between us and the danger

The preacher offered an image: “Someone comes into the church to do violence with a gun. There is nothing to stop him. The 'gate' between him and us is the baptismal font. That’s our gate.” 

Here’s the reflection that went off in my head.

Of course, the preacher's correct. Our lives are in the hands of God. The waters of eternity are our protection. The waters have great power and there is a violence attached -- the flood, the Red Sea, death and resurrection. 

My mind went off into its own sermon. I was seeking the complexity of the situation; the paradox we live within.

I guess the other element I needed to hear, and believe others needed to hear, was an acknowledgement of the ways in which people, at risk to themselves, place themselves at the gate. And that their action is also Gospel.

So, I found it upsetting to hear. One reason for my distress was real but not very immediate. I had been reading Reinhold Niebuhr. For a fourth or maybe it was the fifth time.  I’m a citizen of a nation at war. There are people who have placed their bodies between people with guns and bombs and the rest of us. 

The second reason for my being troubled was that I knew the story of one of the people serving as a greeter that day. She was at “the gate” for this mass. She was between the preacher’s “man with a gun” and the rest of us.

On another Sunday, some months ago, she had been the greeter. She saw a man wandering around looking the church over. Looking down the pathway to the parish hall. Looking into the narthex. It felt a bit “off” to her. She approached the man and asked if she could be of assistance. This man was from Homeland Security. He was going to make a presentation during coffee hour. All was well.

Later, during his talk, he made a point of affirming what the greeter had done. He noted how she had been very polite. But he also said that he had the sense that she would have taken stronger action if the situation called for it. He went on to say that as he walked around the outside of the building he was stopped in the same manner by two others from the parish. 

“The gate” was flesh and blood. People who, if this man had been the preacher’s “man with a gun” had placed their bodies between him and the rest of us. 

That’s the kind of situation Jesus was talking about. A shepherd who might end up laying down his life for the sheep. This is a situation where the sheep pen is probably a circle of rocks made into a rough wall. There’s an opening through which the sheep enter and exit. At night “the gate” is the shepherd lying across the opening. They are safe from wandering. The shepherd will act to stop the wolf or the thieves. He will use his staff and his knife to protect the sheep. He will engage in violence if need be. The shepherd places himself between the sheep and what would harm the sheep.

That’s what Jesus does for us.

He puts himself between us and the danger. He lays down his life for the sheep, for his friends, for us.

In the Liturgy for Good Friday that last collect includes this –

we pray you to set
your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and
our souls, now and in the hour of our death. 
 

In the end, Jesus is pretty non-violent about it. He offers up his life.

We miss the point if we turn Our Lord’s act as being about non-violence in all situations. We confuse what is happening if we twist things to make a political point about guns or war or violence.

Jesus was more complex than that. He drives out the money changers in a fairly violent action - a whip, scattering their coins, overturning tables, driving them out of the Temple. (Mark 11: 15 – 17; Matt 21: 12 - 13, Luke 19: 45 – 46; John 2: 13 – 16). Then there’s the whole thing about the sword. It’s true that after the servant’s ear is cut off Jesus heals the man and tells Peter to put the sword away.  Jesus has decided he must “drink the cup.” 

But there’s also this – “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34); and this: “He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was counted among the lawless;' and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’ ” (Luke 22:36-38).

There does seem to be some complexity here.

It may help to read Moral Man and Immoral Society. A 2007 article by Paul Elie in The Atlantic described the book as, “a quick, deep thrust against the liberal accommodation with evil through naïveté, inaction, and confidence in 'reform' rather than the use of force. It’s a devastating critique of the yearning for purity and the radical forms that this yearning takes.”

 

Reinhold Niebuhr

Most weeks I read something on the Religion & Politics web site. Yesterday I read “Reinhold Niebuhr, Washington’s Favorite Theologian,” by Gene Zubovich

The writer begins by observing how Niebuhr was an important theologian for Presidents Obama and Carter and how John McCain dedicates a chapter in one of his books to Niebuhr. 

Reinhold Niebuhr is most active in the period when the world was dealing with the two totalitarianisms: fascism and communism. His task was to develop a theological stance that undergirded the West’s willingness and ability to engage half a century of struggle. He accepted the need to at times resort to violence in the protection of democracy.

The posting includes a quote by biographer Richard Fox about Niebuhr’s role in regard to those who had to exercise power and their need to “maintain faith in themselves as political actors in a troubled—what he termed a sinful—world. Stakes were high, enemies were wily, responsibility meant taking risks. Niebuhr taught that moral men had to play hardball.”

In 1940, the Second World War was underway, but America wasn’t fighting yet. Niebuhr argued with the pacifists, the uncertain church folk, and the America Firsters over what was responsible action in the situation. He had strong words. “If modern churches were to symbolize their true faith, they would take the crucifix from their altars and substitute the three little monkeys who counsel men to ‘speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil’.”

Zubovich summarizes Niebuhr’s stance like this – “Sin, irony, tragedy. These words leapt out of the pages of Niebuhr’s books and speeches. Humanity was fallen and redeemed through God’s grace, Niebuhr wrote. But that redemption is always incomplete and we can never rise to the standards set forth in the Bible. Only by accepting our limitations could we make the best out of an imperfect situation. In a world full of evil, we must choose good, but we must accept that we can never get rid of sin entirely. The irony of our situation is that we must often do what is considered evil for the sake of good.”

Is that what Jesus did in the Temple?

It’s not just soldiers and police officers who place themselves at the gate. It can be political leaders and theologians. It can be the greeter at mass. It can be any of us.

 

Bonhoeffer 

I have a handmade circular ceramic plaque on my wall. It’s just above my desk. At its center is a stick figure crucifix. Around the crucifix is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The artist lifted phrases from a longer section, “After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943,” in God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

The quote helps me understand how he might have come to terms with his participation in the assassination plot. It also speaks to me more generally about what is involved in being a responsible person in a fallen world.

I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil

I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all the times of distress.

I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are turned to good account.

I believe that God is no timeless fate, but that He waits for and answers sincere prayers and responsible actions. 

Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer weren't saying exactly the same thing.  What they did have in common was a sense that in the face of sin and human limitation, including our own, people are called to responsible action. And that God has mercy when our responsible action involves us in evil.

I believe that the parish church has two primary functions in carry out the mission of Holy Unity. 

The first is to worship; to glorify God.

The second is to form the People of God for responsible lives in the world.

Maybe in every age it’s true, but most certainly in this age it’s true – the formation we offer in our parishes must include moral and ethical formation. And that work needs to be grounded in common prayer, a pattern of reflection, and the ability to accept the complexity of the choices before us.

rag+

 

 

Resources

Some quotes from Niebuhr 

“A Man for All Reasons” in the Atlantic, 2007  

 Obama’s decision to not strike Syria when it used chemical weapons on its citizens --  “Which Niebuhr, President Obama?” Diana Butler Bass writes of the two Niebuhr bothers differing approach’s regarding President

She seems to tilt toward H. Richard who in the lead up to WW II spoke for caution. In these matters, I believe that Reinhold sees more clearly. If in their time, we had intervened earlier might the fascists have stepped back. And in our time, is President Obama had acted back then might we    Obviously, there’s no way to know the answer to those questions. And yet, those responsible for national security must decide.

 

 

Monday
May012017

Reflection and a thicker parish culture

For about 15 years I served as the organization development consultant for a NJ non-profit that did affordable housing, ran the domestic abuse shelter in the city, and offered a jobs training program.

The former executive director and I have stayed in touch over the years. We're close friends. We e-mail relatively frequently. We've had a good exchange going all through April. It's included all the usual stuff about the weather and our health. Also some about the new President. 

She's written of her relatively new interest in meditation. She's not religious in the conventional sense though I once told her she reminds me of the Hebrew prophets.  

In her last message she sent me a link to a video by Father Thomas Keating .  It set off thinking about the relationship between mysticism and science.  "Somehow a "new" cosmology feels right to me."

Part of my response is below -- 

 

Thanks for the link to Keating. The videos are well done.

For many years now at the Order of the Ascension retreat - where I was last week - we'd have a period of centering prayer prior to the daily mass. Those who wished would gather. For most members those 20 minutes was what they did of centering prayer. The priest who initiated the practice, spend a great deal of time in centering prayer during the retreat. He's the rector of a parish in Arkansas. People in his parish had developed relationships among the men executed last week.  

One of the things, there are many things, that the Order has attended to has been the need for a more reflective spirit and capacity in parish churches. Last year we all read and had an email conversation on Esther de Waal's Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality. I had tea with her back in the 80s in Canterbury when her husband was dean of the cathedral and she had just written her first book on Benedictine spirituality. Early in Living with Contradiction she wrote --
It is very fascinating to see how, in the ten years since this book was first written, increasing numbers of lay people like myself are turning to the monastic tradition. Here they find support on their Christian journey which they often fail to find in the institutional church, where parish and diocesan life can be extremely busy, and seemingly lacking in any sort of contemplative focus.

When Michelle and I conduct workshops using our linked books -- In Your Holy Spirit -- we have an exercise that uses the five categories in the books (Heyne book; Gallagher book)




We identify five spaces in the room each connected with one of the spiritual practices. People move several times -- which is "easiest" for you, which "hardest."  The profile is always the same -- Mass and Community draw the most, then Service. Reflection is always low. 

Two of our members have started participating in training workshops on contemplation within the past year. Obviously there's a need.

Last week also included some use of David Brooks' thick - thin ideas about organizations. In general Episcopal parishes seem to be moving in thinner and thinner directions. It's unskilled and superficial thinking but many clergy get invested in what they believe will be easier and attract more people. We go in that direction even if such parishes have little impact in actually shaping mature adults -- leaving a mark on people. All related to the above on reflection - contemplation.  The Order is swimming against that tide. Makes life interesting. 

 

Martin Thornton, an Anglican asctical/pastoral theologian, was addressing the thinness of parishes in his Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation
It is interesting that whereas Sunday services are thought of in terms of numbers, an element of the vicarious is often imputed to the weekday Office of the priest. Yet Anglican theology insists that the creative channel of Grace in the world is not the priesthood but the Church; thus there is a most vital distinction between the priest alone and priest plus Remnant of one. There is no such particular distinction between priest plus one, and priest plus two, sixty, or six thousand. Those who are worried over lack of support might substitute ascetic for arithmetic. There is nothing so contagious as holiness, nothing more pervasive than Prayer. This is precisely what the traditional Church means by evangelism and what distinguishes it from recruitment.” 
I read a couple of journals connected to the USMC. It's partly a professional discipline of learning about the culture and dynamics of a "thick" organization to see what I can learn that might serve other organizations. It's also been a way of reflecting on parts of my life. Yesterday I read "Investing in Marines" The writer is a retired major. He makes a case for the Marines becoming an even "thicker" system in Brooks' terms. For example, he wants to keep people with one another in their units for longer periods of time to allow for more integration and skill development as a team. He also wants to drop more people early in both the officer and enlisted training programs, if they can't handle the intellectual and physical requirements. That's especially connected to the increase in technology that is used even in small units. 

Anyhow, my learning was this -- he wasn't suggesting a thicker organizational culture "just because." It was about the ability to cope with what they were facing in real life. It was about adaptation in order to fulfill the mission.  Martin Thornton who was writing in the 50's - 80's. As he got older he began to make the case that doing the mission in the modern world, being responsible human beings in daily life, required an increased need for staying grounded in the tradition (in this case through mass and daily common prayer) and reflection that helped you see more clearly and act more responsibly.

 

In a blog posting just yesterday I made the case that developing parishes with a denser, thicker culture included attending to our Benedictine heritage.  We might add to that helping people become more proficient at reflection.

rag+

 

Saturday
Apr292017

The Benedictine DNA of the Episcopal Church


Those who work on understanding organizational culture frequently share an assumption that a stronger and denser culture may be more sustainable and more likely to leave a beneficial stamp upon the life of those who participate in it. Such an organizational culture allows us to survive and to grow; to maintain our institutional identity and integrity while also adapting to respond to challenges and opportunities. 

Edgar Schein writes about culture as having three components – artifacts (how we work, how we do things in this parish, and related rituals and symbols), espoused values, and deeper underlying assumptions. The more these things align the healthier the organization is likely to be. When they are in significant alignment – we never get perfect – we find ourselves living with more depth and fullness.

The Episcopal Church finds much of its inner spirit in the DNA of Benedictine spirituality. It's a way of understanding ourselves and shaping parish communities for health and faithfulness. Accepting and embracing this reality gives us some significant resources for shaping healthier parishes. 

A significant element of our internal logic of our tradition, Schein's "deeper underlying assumptions", become more visible. A richer alignment is possible. We can more easily shape what David Brooks called A "thick institution" -- institutions in which participation leaves a mark on you and becomes part of your identity. Institutions with a distinct culture.


Institutional Expressions

There are two primary institutional expressions of the Benedictine tradition in the Episcopal Church. 

The parish church

The parish is the most important expression. The parish church may understand and act upon the Benedictine legacy of our tradition. Too many live it in a flimsy and thin way. Some don't even realize the legacy exists. There are others that are more aware and shape the parish life to express what is in our DNA.

"Parish churches get healthier when they begin to live into their own true self." For more on that take a look at an earlier posting – “Benedictine spirituality and the parish church.” 

Here are two Seattle parishes that offer their own sense of connection – Saint Paul’s and Trinity.

Benedictine Religious 

That comes in three primary flavors.

First, monks or nuns living in community that identify themselves as Benedictine with Benedict’s Rule at the heart of their life.  This includes communities such as the Order of the Holy Cross, the Community of the Transfiguration and Saint Gregory’s.

Second, there are dispersed Benedictine communities that gather once or twice during the year and live a form of monasticism in the world. They follow a rule aligned with the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict. Members strive to live in the light of Benedictine spirituality. Among the communities like this are the Companions of St. Luke

Third, A form of the Religious Life that rather than being monastic is a community with an active apostolate. In the Episcopal Church, there is the Order of the Ascension with a common life that reflects a Benedictine spirituality and an apostolate that includes Benedictine spirituality as part of the work done as parish priests, parish development consultants, and writers.


Where do we see this Benedictine DNA in our Episcopal church life?
 

First in the Book of Common Prayer – over two thirds of the book is about the Holy Eucharist and the Daily Office. And those two – mass and office – are what grounds a parish community in the common prayer and scriptures of the church. A second primary element is an orientation around holiness of life. In our parish communities people may find themselves caught up in the very life of God. It is the parish as a school for the service of the Lord. And third there is a climate - a tendency to embrace paradox, contradiction, and balance; a spirit of tolerance and acceptance, of moderation and comprehensiveness.

rag+

 

A few resources

In his "The Benedictine Spirit in Anglicanism" Robert Hale, O.S.B. (a Roman Catholic) wrote, "The Anglican spiritual theologian Martin Thornton, for instance, insists that 'the genius of St Benedict cannot be confined within the walls of Monte Cassino or any other monastery; the Regula is not only a system of monastic order,  it is  a system of ascetical theology, the basis of which is as applicable to modern England as it was to sixth century Italy.”

Hale also noted   "the essentials of the Benedictine spirit were rendered immediately accessible to the entire Church through the key and characteristic work of the Anglican Reform, the Book of Common Prayer. It is extremely important to note this decisive fact about the Anglican Reform: at its centre and guaranteeing its spirit stands not a towering reformer (a Luther, a Calvin), not a theological doctrine or a moral code—but a book of liturgical prayer. In this fundamental respect alone the Anglican reform has a clearly Benedictine spirit to it."

Anglican Benedictines     Religious Orders - Anglicans on Line

Spirituality in the Episcopal Church - From the Diocese of West Virginia  

The Benedictine Promise -  A tool for reflection in a parish church

 A Life, Not a Program - Benedictine spirituality is a way of life not a parish program.

Parish life lacking any sort of contemplative focus

Order of the Ascension: The development of parish churches 

Methods for “taking counsel” 

Levels of consulting in the parish

Picking quarrels and provoking trouble

Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church – See chapter on the “Benedictine Promise” 

Thursday
Mar022017

The Divine Generosity

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

That's the petition in last night's liturgy that most drew my attention. It was, for me, the voice of the Divine Charity, to use Underhill's words. 

I and many others of the church have been seeking a way to manage our uncharitable thoughts and contempt. I think that's the emotional starting place for me--I know I have been having those emotions. There are other words in the petition though -- "false judgments," "prejudice."  I haven't been quite up to acknowledging how those words may apply to me and those close to me.

Driving out the enemy

Just after the election I heard from some clergy about the pleasure a few clergy friends had taken in delivering sermons that drove some people out of the pews. There may have been some joking about a contest to see who could push the most Trump supporters to flee.

Most of us know there's something wrong with that. 

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are not the enemy. I imagine that the current conversation between Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood would be filled with demonic joy at being able to maintain their hiddeness as the followers of the Crucified One placed the label upon those "who differ from us."

The Divine Generosity  

Mother Sara asked me to cover tonight's mass. I do that when asked and when, on occasion, the assigned priest fails to appear. I'm happy in my semi retirement. I've asked to not be on the rota. But I fill in as needed. I enjoy celebrating in the parish's All Saints Chapel.

So, I read the propers and gave some thought to the homily. 

It's the Thursday after Ash Wednesday.  The Gospel reading is from Luke --

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it

There it is. One of the keys to understanding Christian spiritual life--lose your life to save your life.

Then what came to mind was a recent reading at Evening Prayer --

There we see that we are not to grow in wisdom and stature for our own sakes, in order to achieve what is really a self-interested spirituality. The growth is for a reason the points behind ourselves: in order that the teaching, healing, life- changing power of the Divine Charity may possess us, and work through us. We must lose our own lives, in order to be processed by that life: that unmeasurable Divine generosity which enters the human world in such great humility …  The School of Charity, Evelyn Underhill

For me Underhill's insight that, we lose our lives so we might be possessed by the Divine Charity, the Divine generosity, offers a way forward. I can decide to be generous in how I understand and respond to the new President's phrasing and strange use of language. And maybe some of the Episcopalians who voted for him can do the same in holy exchange. We can be generous with one another; with those who differ from us.

That doesn't mean we stop having the values we have. I believe that Christian ethics and morality call us to protect the weakest among us, to struggle against oppression, and to feed the hungry. We heard the reading from Isaiah 58 last night

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;

I hear that and I want the Affordable Care Act, protection for Social Security and Medicare, compassion toward immigrants, the safeguarding of voting rights, and the inclusion of all Americans in our common life.  The icons across the room from me are of Frances Perkins and Jonathan Daniels. That's where my conscience takes me. 

And at the same time I know that Paul Ryan, a baptized and practicing Roman Catholic, hears and believes the same words from Isaiah. And that his formed conscience takes him into a different place -- personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and strong families; that the role of government is to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.

Paul Ryan and the 39% of Episcopalians who are Republicans, and some of the 12% who are independents, and some of the Democrats that voted for President Trump (see Pew report)-- are not my enemy. We simply differ about how to go about letting the oppressed go free, how the hungry are to receive bread and how the homeless are to be housed.

Anglo Catholic insight

My Anglo-Catholic heritage offers a bit of insight to all this. The starting point was that the church is the Body of Christ, not an instrument of the state. I think it's fair to extend that to say the church is not an instrument of a political party.

We are not the resistance. The word is simply not appropriate for the church in the current situation. It is a word now clearly identified with and appropriate for the Democratic Party and the Left.  We are not the Democratic Party at prayer.

We are to pray for those in authority -- including this President, by name. "No despiteful usage, no persecution, could warrant her in ceasing to pray, as did her first fathers and patterns, for the State, and all who are in authority." John Keble at St. Mary's, Oxford, July 14, 1833.

A caution in my Catholic mind is that the Oxford Fathers, and many years before Thomas Becket, got the theology right and the politics wrong. 

We are those called to lose our lives to save them. We are those called to be possessed by the Divine Generosity. We are those called to be generous toward those who differ from us. 

 rag+