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Rabindranath Tagore

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Michael Lind, Salon, August 23,2011
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Entries in Episcopal Church (5)


Aid to Honduras

I read on one of the posts at NRO that readers have inquired about private aid to Honduras now that our President and the State Department have decided that they are to be punished for following their own [democratic] constitution.  I'm going to continue to research this, but I went to my old stand-by, Episcopal Relief & Development.  They operate all over the world and have a good record of effective aid and low overhead.  But, they don't allow donations to benefit a specific country unless there is a catastrophe that needs to be addressed (a hurricane hit Honduras a number of years ago and they set up an emergency fund then, for example.)

Aside: This is a pet peeve of mine and the Episcopal Church is especially good at feeding this particular peeve.  Take a look at this page.  Notice the quote from Lao Tsu, the Chinese (and pagan) philosopher, who offers a very nice idea about how to help poor people.  Would it kill Episcopalians to acknowledge that they are Christian and doing what Christ commanded?  Jesus said some pretty cool things on that subject, too. End aside.

However,  by startling coincidence, a young man to whom I'm closely related, is a member of Engineers Without Borders, and they have many, many projects down in Honduras, most in developing safe water sources.  You can donate to a specific project (pick a school-  I don't think it matters, but I'll go with University of Missouri Science & Technology).  I'll get more information about these projects and their financial needs, but safe drinking water is fundamental.  You can't go wrong helping people in this way.



Re: Dancing to the Precipice (Robert George)

In the wider realm of the American culture wars, Robert George has an op-ed about marriage, gay marriage, and the law.

He is writing about our society from a secular/legal point of view, but there is a fearful symmetry with respect to the movement within the Episcopal Church.  Normative marriage and family values have been deeply eroded in the United States.  Traditionally, religious institutions have been critical to supporting the norms and helping families stay together.  For the gay community, particular churches have been the means by which they gain a certain "moral" authority to change the definition of marriage, and none has more cultural influence among the elites than the Episcopal Church (even Tom Wolfe remarked about this in "The Right Stuff": John Glen, of course, was Episcopalian.)  If the Christian communities, and particularly the elite, intellectual, and historic Episcopal Church in America, give their imprimatur to the redefinition of marriage, then many people who identify themselves as Christian will be swayed.

In any church, there is a substantial population of people who trust that the leadership are doing "what's best" and don't give it much more thought.  There are a few who don't know enough to debate or even question the issue, if it ever arises in any discussion.  These people may feel uncomfortable about the way things are going, as I did for many years.  And there are many who are stalwarts of the church who put their finger to the wind and gauge the likely outcome.  In my church, I have noticed that most conservatives have voted with their feet.  Many left around the time that I joined or within five years. I hardly knew them, but I remember that it seemed evenly split politically when I joined.  My personal experience as an outspoken Conservative has been instructive.  I was the only person in the history of the Episcopal universe to have a group of parents demand my dismissal as a middle school Sunday school teacher- nothing salacious, mind you (thanks to some great Christians, they weren't successful.)  I think I'm the only person who's been there for 15 years with a college degree who has never been asked to be on the vestry (lay leadership.)  I've watched while others get asked to serve again, and still others who had only become Episcopalians and Christians in the last confirmation class be given places on the vestry.  Yes, it's very easy to stack a vestry with people who will play ball and be easily manipulated by the clergy and his/her allies. 

The Episcopal Church is a great prize for the Gay/Lesbian lobby and they will use it to some effect, even as they cut funding for evangelization (remember that?  bringing people to Christ?)  They are closing churches as we speak, but that's OK.  We have Ubuntu.  In the immortal words of Katherine Jefferts-Schori, it may be worth a schism.




Dancing to the Precipice

I just finished reading the biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, called Dancing to the Precipice by Caroline Moorehead. I'll refer you to the synopsis of the bio, here, which does a great job covering a long and eventful life. What is unusual about this biography is that Lucie herself left an extensive memoir, and much of her correspondence is intact. She was a French noblewoman, just 17 when the Bastille fell. She managed to weather the vississitudes of the times, although materially poorer by mid-life and destitute in Italy at the end, keeping company with her only surviving child.

What struck me about the descriptions of the ancien règime was how commonplace personal indebtedness was, and how that culture of high living at the expense of others translated into national fiscal irresponsibility. If I read this history correctly, the high living fueled envy, but it was the national debt that drove the revolution over edge into bloody madness.

Then there was the cultural preoccupation with "bon ton," a mélange of etiquette, good taste, and refinement that was the hallmark of the nobility. It's no wonder that so many of our words that have to do with good behavior and good taste are French. But "bon ton" was a superficial guide to was is truly worthy. And while noblesse oblige is a nice concept, one senses that not many nobles felt terribly obliged except to their own social lives, which was a major preoccupation.

In the way of things, I thought about a major decision that I made recently that mirrors Lucie's fortunes during the Revolutionary days. She and her husband, though loyal to the King, believed that a constitutional monarchy with representative government was the way to go. They weren't radicals, but they weren't unrepentant Royalists, either. In the back and forth struggle for the rule of France, the Royalists wanted the old days and old ways back, they wanted the beauty, the form, the magic, and were mostly unconcerned that all of that came at a steep and unsustainable price.

In the last three weeks, I decided to leave the Episcopal Church. Regular readers, and indeed, anyone who knows me, understands my differences with my church. As the last General Assembly asserted themselves against the Communion and against tradition and scripture and reason with the great roar of "This is who we are!" I at last felt that the day had come to find another church. It's very sad, because I'm like C.S. Lewis, when asked what he believed, he said, quoting someone else, "It's all there in the Prayer Book." Today, though, the chasm between what the Prayer Book (with the canons) actually says and what the Episcopal Church really believes and supports is very wide indeed. There is near-zero enforcement of any kind of orthodoxy: even in the relatively conservative Diocese of Texas, being a Christian is no longer the requirement for taking communion. But apart from that, the Church's ministry to families is truly destructive. Of course, as a matter of policy, divorce is O.K. Then, divorced priests are O.K. Then homosexual priests who marry with their bishop's permission to divorce later "if things don't work out," is also O.K. More than O.K.: it's courageous! In the case of V. Gene Robinson, things worked out well enough for him to have two kids with his very understanding wife, but not well enough for him to remain a faithful husband.

From my point of view, this tends to give the Episcopalian faithful a very muddied view of what Christianity means to the family. And, the Episcopal Church is technically agnostic on the issue of abortion: they just don't talk about it. At all. Not one peep. In 15 years, I have never heard a single sermon or heard a single lecture or read a single article by an Episcopalian about life in utero. True- I haven't done a Google search. But if I have to do a Google search to find out what the Church "position" is on something, that kind of tells me they don't want it known. And sexual continence? Never you mind. As one friend of mine put it, the church gives no guidance whatsoever about family life and intimacy issues except to permit.

The Episcopal Church is historic, and more than any other Protestant denomination, prides itself on its liturgy and the beauty of its service. None more so than my church. If it were in France, it would have "bon ton" up the wazoo. But, like Lucie in 1791, it is dancing to the precipice to the chants of "This is who we are!"

My husband asked me why I didn't know all of this 15 years ago. Like the Far Side cartoon with a caveman father scolding his son for bringing home an "F" in History, "You flunk something not even happen yet!" Of course, when I began my life as a Christian, I didn't know: I was looking to my priests to teach me. Over the years, I've grown very weary of the cognitive disconnect between what the priests say and what the leaders say and what the Bible says. The Bible says that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. Some priests don't really believe that and they are free to announce their "courageous" challenge to orthodoxy in any pulpit. One did: in my church. He, I believe, now has a plum parish position in a wealthy community in California. So I told my husband that my personal growth in Christianity is due in very large part to a couple of priests, who are not in my parish, and to personal friends (not necessarily Episcopalians) who have set wonderful examples of faith, and to the leadership I find in books, literature, and especially the Bible- I want to say "obviously" but as an Episcopalian, it isn't.

I think that a church as an institution has a duty to the world. TEC thinks that its overarching mission is to bring homosexuality into the Christian mainstream, a message that will dominate and define it. TEC will use its caché (another French word) to advance homosexual causes that go far into the political and will inevitably erode not only the Christian message of sexual mores and family, but of our religious freedoms generally. And it will go the way of the United Church of Christ, a shriveled and meaningless nominally Christian denomination, but with better vestments and more real estate. In other words, more "bon ton."

The decision to leave has been wrenching and a long time in coming.  I've already had one very painful conversation with a best friend in the church.  She is as disturbed by all of this as I am, but she won't leave: she's too attached to the "beauty."  The lovely and unmatched music, the vestments, the linens, the stained glass: it's very seductive.  And she has to live with the people who actively "drink the koolaid" of Ubuntu and "radical hospitality." But there are many, the dying breed, whose faith was formed in a church that no longer keeps faith with them.


Ubuntu and Me

It all started two years ago when I heard what was to become one of the three most memorably bad sermons I have ever heard. It was about Ubuntu. I was told in that sermon that African villagers have a concept that is really wonderful, the concept of Ubuntu, which means that there is no realization of the individual outside the community. Every one needs community. You know, no man is an island.

You know, we are all members of one body.

Whoops- you mean that 2,000 years ago a man called Paul, who lived in the Middle East/ Southeastern Europe articulated a concept of living in community AND HE WASN'T AFRICAN VILLAGER? Really, he was just explaining what it meant to be a follower of that Jew, Jesus, who himself also explained, at some length, what it means to be "in community," that we are, in fact, required to be "in community." He wasn't an African villager, either.

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against African villagers, per se. Except maybe one, from Kenya. Who went to Hawaii. But I digress.

My problem is with a church that feels the need to use a (pagan and rather commonplace) concept that is foreign to our faith TO EXPLAIN WHAT WE THE FAITHFUL SHOULD BE DOING TO LEAD A FAITHFUL LIFE. 66 books in the biblical canon, 5000 years of history, plus the writings of the church fathers and all the examples of the saints, countless works by theologians and religious through the ages, but we need African villagers to tell us what it means to be Christian. Can you just hear the little liberals screaming, "That's it! Eureka! Ubuntu! The answer to life's persistant questions! Finally, a value-neutral, multi-culti, easy-to-spell word that isn't from a dead (or even resurrected) white guy!! OMG! OMG!"

It doesn't really help that Robert Jensen, a soi-disant Marxist-Leninist Feminist Atheist Christian professor of Journalism at UT, touted the concept of Ubuntu as just the ticket for adjusting Christianity to suit the sensibilities of the enlightened classes of church-goers who don't buy into the whole "supreme being" mumbo-jumbo.

As I sat in the pew thinking all this, little did I know that the Episcopal Church was plotting, at that moment, to adopt "Ubuntu" as the theme of the 2009 General Convention. Everyone knows about these triennial events because in 2003, it was the GC that confirmed the adulterous, divorced, and homosexual Vickie Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.

So here it is, the Ubuntu design of the General Convention (which, by the way, has voted to end the ban on the ordination of openly gay ministers, which is a repudiation of the wider Anglican communion.)

The website for the convention says that this is a Trinitarian design. Well, isn't it big of them to have a Christian tie-in? And I must say, I see the Christian imagery- it just jumps out at you, doesn't it?

Anyone who can come up with how this represents the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (without cheating) gets a prize. If you come up with an entertaining interpretation, you get a bigger prize.


George Tiller: "Saint," "Martyr"

As a Conservative Episcopalian, one has to swallow a lot of stuff to stay in the church. I do all kinds of things for the sake of mental hygiene, although I suppose there are people who would criticize my membership in an institution that I think has gone gravely wrong on matters of moral import. I find, mostly, that the leadership is rather self-oriented overall. I will say, though, that this remark, made by a cleric of my church, sickens me.

"This is about the loss of a man who was a saint and a martyr," [the Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale] said in an interview before the service. "He was a prayerful man who put his life at risk to protect others and died for it. People are in shock, outrage and mourning. They need a place to go."

A rabbi said that Dr. George Tiller ""joins the list of martyrs for ethical decency and human rights, killed for healing with compassion."

I remember reading an article in a "woman's magazine" that indirectly involved George Tiller. It was a story about his clinic that transformed me from someone who had a rather pragmatic view about abortion to one who is decidedly pro-life. I read this story probably 15 years ago. It was written in the first person about by a woman who was pregnant with a baby who was microcephalic. She opted for a late term abortion so that she wouldn't have to spend six more weeks gestating, go through labor, and give birth to a baby that would likely die shortly thereafter. She described the terrible sadness of the baby's deformity and her trip to the Kansas clinic, and walking past the protesters (who didn't harass her) and of going through a three day ordeal to abort the baby.

The narrative was careful to include elements of her personal situation that would banish all elements of qualifying judgment from the reader's mind, and instill empathy in the target audience: she was married, the pregnancy was wanted, she was mature, middle class.

What I gleaned from this article was that there was no medical necessity for the abortion, at least with respect to the mother's health. The medical necessity, it seemed to me, was to ensure the death of the baby. Even with ultrasounds, doctors can't really predict the viability of a microcephalic, and once a baby is born, the possibility of having to deal with a seriously disabled baby who defies the odds would be the real problem, and indeed, a frightening prospect. I don't remember now if she actually said that or implied it, but that was what I got out of the narrative. The facts otherwise made little sense with respect to her decision, to travel, by herself, and spend a week aborting her baby at a remote location. In fact, the narrative had a quality of "not exactly true, but it could be true" scenario created for the readers of Women's World, or Ladies Home Journal. We now know that some hospitals and doctors allow women who are pregnant with defective babies to have a "therapeutic" abortion, in which case the mother's cervix and vagina are treated with a medicine that causes the cervix to dialate to the extent that it can no longer retain the fetus. I don't know if this method was available fifteen years ago, or if its use has simply become more common as the culture has become more casual about life and anxious about less-than-perfect outcomes.

Or, the other possibility, that has only recently occured to me, that stories like this are planted in magazines to increase the receptivity of mothers to the possibility of ending a pregnancy by defining their own pain or inconvenience as a medical necessity.

There are circumstances in late term pregnancy that require the delivery of the baby early to save the mother's life, but it's very rare indeed that the mother's health is contigent on the killing of the baby. The idea that George Tiller killed to save lives is a terrible lie.