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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Power of Seeming Certain

I've just returned from a really wonderful Clergy Retreat, our first with our new bishop, Mark Beckwith, who shared with us the vision that is beginning to emerge for him about the nature of his leadership with us and our vocation together in this place.

In anticipation of this Clergy Retreat, he had previously sent a copy of his remarks to the Presiding Bishop and asked her to join us and share her comments about this vision he has about and for the diocese.

Yesterday, she joined us in our Pocono Mountain/Golf Resort retreat on the Delaware River. She spent some time commenting on what Mark had written to her, and then did an astounding presentation about the language of religious discourse.

I had just been commenting on this very topic in my presentation to the good people of St. Francis in Stamford, CT where I was both pleased and privileged to visit this past Sunday.

I think the conversations we are having in the World Wide Anglican Communion about human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, like discussions about the ordination of women or reproductive rights in general and abortion in particular, are sorely in need of more light and less heat.

Depending on where you being your conversation about the Genesis account of Creation, however, you may find yourself, as some of us have, running smack-dab into a concrete wall.

If you begin with Genesis 1, God blesses each and every thing of what God has created with, "And it was good." And at the end of the sixth day, God saw everything that was made and "indeed, it was very good."

If you continue the Genesis account, you read in Chapter 2 of the creation of humankind in Adam and Eve in much greater detail, and that God placed them in the Garden called Eden.

In Chapter 3, the account of The Fall is given - where the human experiment "failed" and sin entered the world, as well as the human enterprise, in the guise of a snake who successfully seduced the new Edenites. This brought about the end of innocence and instituted the cost of eternal life for the price of knowledge and free will.

Bishop Katharine made a brilliant connection with the story of Genesis 1 and the baptism of Jesus. God said, "This is my beloved, with him I am well pleased," which is an echo, she reminded us, of God saying at creation, "It is very good."

Further, she connected the story in The Garden with the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, reminding us that Jesus was able to resist Satan because he had just been baptized and had a very clear sense of his identity and the fact that he was 'beloved' of God.

I absolutely resonated with her point that our understanding of our identity frames the way in which we view the world and the language we employ in our conversations about God and religion and the human enterprise.

If we believe ourselves to be wretched and fallen human beings, that sin came into us in the Garden by the temptation of Satan in the guise of a snake, we have a very different understanding of ourselves and the world than if we believe ourselves beloved of God - sons and daughters who claim our inheritance of eternal life through Christ Jesus because we, like the rest of creation, are worthy and, indeed, "very good."

The Evangelical, more Calvinist position begins with the wretchedness of humankind, and pretty much stays there, being eternally if not daily thankful for the salvation and redemption of the human condition by the suffering (emphasis on suffering) and death of Christ Jesus.

The traditional Anglican position has been to hold all three chapters of the Genesis account in tension - the fact that we are beloved of God and the fact that sin is in the world.

The idea of free will celebrates the gift of our God-given gifts of intelligence and reason, but does not negate the presence of evil in the world, nor our capacity to make wrong decisions and choices. But, neither does the capacity to make bad choices negate the inherent goodness of our humanity.

The truth is that God is a mystery, and we do well to understand that the best evangelism is one that invites others into a deeper experience of this mystery - not the certainty of answers set in cement tablets.

Bishop Katharine then did just that and had us meditate on the image of God coming to us and saying, "YOU are my beloved, with YOU I am well pleased."

After a time of silence, she invited us to share our insights. It was so much easier for many of us to concentrate on how others were beloved of God and how God might be pleased with someone else. Anyone but us.

Bishop Katharine asked us to consider how our conversations with each other might change if we began in a place of affirmation rather than a place of harsh judgement.

That is a powerful consideration, one that demands maturity and the employment of intelligence and reason, rather than judgement and condemnation.

On the way home, I was listening to a CD of the Indigo Girls (I forget which one). The song "You and Me of the 10,000 Wars" came on, and I heard these lyrics at different and much deeper level:

"try making one and one make one
twist the shapes until everything comes undone
watch the wizard behind the curtain
the larger than life and the power of seeming certain
the evil ego and the vice of pride
is there ever anything else that makes us take our different sides
i wanted everything to feed me
about as full as i got was of myself
and the upper echelons of mediocrity
and oh the dissatisfied with the satisfied
everybody loves a melodrama and the scandal of a lie
still you held your arms open
for the prodigal daughter
i see my eyes in your eyes through my eyes
still waters
still waters"

You know, so much of what happens in The Episcopal Church and in the World Wide Anglican Communion, is really just melodrama and scandal. When you get any distance at all from it, it's pretty immature and embarrassing.

Ever wonder why church attendance and membership are down in almost every denomination? Think no more.

Who wants to be a member of an organization which judges you harshly, insults your intelligence, and offers no hope?

Indeed, the 'bumper stickers' you see around this post came to me from someone who is deeply committed to the teachings of Jesus but has been struggling with church membership primarily because of what you see written on these bumper stickers.

When I got home, I intended to take a wee bit of a lie down, and instead I went surfing. I ran into this
article, wherein one of my favorite ultra-Calvinist families is 'celebrating' Halloween.

Understand, please: she is the product of a Baptist boarding school. They send their daughter to a school where they are admittedly "quite certain that they do not celebrate Halloween." Indeed, they even got challenged by her that the kids at her school said that "anyone who celebrates Halloween worships Satan. That's us."

These are people who believe the bible literally about Creation, the wretched wickedness of the state of humanity, the superiority of the male of the species, and even risk a sort of 'biological roulette' and use the Natural Family Planning Method of "birth control" - resulting in having four children in a little over five years - because of their beliefs about God and Creation and the intended order of the world based on the story of The Fall.

Why, then, celebrate Halloween? Well, because her husband has "fond and warm memories" of his childhood Halloween, "running around safe neighborhoods, receiving safe candy, not dealing with the theological implications of celebrating Halloween and ignoring All Saints."

I'm reminded that in Eucharistic Prayer "C" we thank God for blessing us with "memory, reason and skill." Well, they got the 'memory' part down, right? One out of three isn't very good odds, but you know what? It works for me - especially since it leads them all into a deeper experience of the Mystery that is God. That's the best kind of evangelism I know.

I think we, no doubt all - every last one of us, myself included - need to meditate more on the words God gave to us through Jesus at his Baptism, "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased." They are, as Bishop Katharine points out, an echo of God's words at Creation, "Behold, it is very good."

If we all did that, it just might change the tone and tenor of our conversations with one another. Indeed, we wouldn't be looking for someone to scapegoat for all of the ills and troubles in the church. It would reduce if not diminish the verbal violence that we hurl and lob at each other from our various positions on either side of the aisle of the church.

The closing words of that Indigo Girls song still rings more sweetly in my ears the more I think on these things.

"after the battles and we're still around
everything once up in the air has settled down
sweep the ashes let the silence find us
a moment of peace is worth every war behind us
you and me of the 10,000 wars"

words and music emily saliers
copyright 1990 godhap music (bmi


PseudoPiskie said...

Uh oh. You're going to be in big trouble again. You'll be perceived as having hurled more verbal violence in a familiar direction.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

In fact, I'm absolutely agreeing with their decision to celebrate Halloween. It doesn't make any sense. Fun often doesn't.

It's much more often about "warm memories" than theological positions.

Good on them!

Muerk said...

Two points...

1. Roman Catholicism is many things, but it aint Calvanist, yet it teaches the Fall and Original Sin.

2. I'm a Billings Ovulation Method (a form of NFP) teacher and user, and I have found it perfectly reliable for avoiding pregnancy. I think you're wrong about Natural Family Planning, it can be, if used correctly, highly effective.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Long, long ago, on a planet in another galaxy far, far away, I was a Roman Catholic who went to RC schools and an RC nursing school affilliated with an RC hospital.

While a sojourner on that same planet in that same far, far away galaxy, I was also a Board Certified Maternal-Child Health Registered Nurse, also certified in Public Health and an internationally certified Lamaze instructor.

I taught community health classes for an office of Roman Catholic OB-GYN docs, affilliated with the local RC hospital. The classes I taught included early intervention, prevention and screening for prenatal birth defects as well as family planning methods.

I taught NFP, and the 'little (not so funny) joke' we used to tell is that with NFP, you can expect four "mistakes."

As for the Calvinist-RC link - the old saying was never more true: "That which we reject, we become."

Finally, really I don't care what Rome or Geneva teach. I left Rome years ago and never looked back, nor desired the buildings or the furniture or the vestments.

I care passionately about what Canterbury and General Convention teach. And, within the Spirit of Gracious Accommodation, we hold in tension The Fall and Original Blessing.

I can disagree with your theological position and still make room for you in TEC.

I simply don't understand the mean-spirited need to kick people out who will not sign on the bottom line to a statement of belief - except to say that they start from a different place of Identity.

If you want to consider yourself a "worm and no man" - well, I feel badly about that, but that is your right.

I know myself to be beloved of God, AND I know myself to be vulnerable to the sin that is in the world.

I think that makes a huge difference in terms of my ability to tolerate ambiguity and difference.

That's really the only point I was trying to make.

Hope this is helpful to you, muerk.


Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant!

Brava, Brava, Brava!

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Jim said...

Rev. Elizabeth,

Thank you for your reply to Muerk, a beautiful piece of writing.


Muerk said...

Hey, don't trust me about BOM, look at the numbers...

I feel beloved by God too, I don't feel any need to see myself as a "worm". I too, feel bad for those who see themselves as terrible, sinful things. I just want to tootle along and live my life as God wants me to live it because he's my Lord and I love him :)

Do Anglicans have the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muerk asks: "Do Anglicans have the Sacrament of Reconciliation?"

Are you kidding me? Of course we do.

Why are you blogging here if you don't even know the basics of the faith of TEC?

Never mind. Don't answer that. I think I already know the answer

Muerk said...

I was under the impression that Anglicans didn't keep the 7 Sacraments, but retained only the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. But since there is such variance in Anglican practice, I wasn't sure.

What I should have asked is, do Anglicans retain a liturgical rite whereby individuals can confess their sins to a priest and be reconciled with God? I'm interested in that because you hold such a positive view of the human condition, I wondered if you found it necessary to still acknowledge human sinfulness in a specific liturgical setting.

And I'm here because I'm interested in watching the arguments develop and see different opinions and how they are each defended. I comment on pro-choice blogs too, even though I am staunchly pro-life. I also read and comment on Stand Firm, Midwest Conservative Journal and Fr Jake's.

I enjoy reading polemical blogs.

Bill said...

First: I do not believe in original sin. I look at it as sort of a cop-out. People claiming they were born into sin and that is the reason it is just so hard to be good and honest. Give me a break.

I was born perfect just the way God made me. Every wrong thing I ever did, every sin I ever committed, was me, not someone else. People really need to start taking responsibility for their actions.

Second: I love Halloween. It’s probably my favorite time of the year. One of my favorite images comes from the movie “Meet Me In St. Louis”, where Margaret O'Brien, Judy’s precocious little sister is out on a scary Halloween night. Absolutely marvelous. It has nothing to do with Satan and all to do with having fun. If I can’t get to at least two Halloween parties each year, I consider myself a social failure. This year I made three parties, two dress up at work days, and a trip into NYC for the Village parade. I could die now and be happy but please bury me in costume.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


If you pick up a BCP (Book of Common Prayer), you will see all of what makes us Episcopalians who are Anglicans.

We are decidedly NOT a 'protestant denomination' but rather, an integral and important component of the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' - which we say in the Nicene Creed each week as part of our public Eucharistic Service - and in the Apostle's Creed when we say the Daily Office or attend a funeral or baptism.

Like other churches who claim catholicity, we have two Great Sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist) and five Sacramental Rites.

Yes, we have a liturgical order "Reconciliation of a Penitent" in our BCP. Two, in fact. One in the high, poetic language of the Elizabethan era (Rite I), and the more contemporary language of Rite II.

That is meant for private confession, with one person and her priest.

Every week, during the main Eucharistic Service on Sunday, there is a corporate confession of sin - personal and corporate.

It comes at the end of the Prayers of the People and before Eucharist. Absolution is assured by God through the church and her priests.

However, during Lent, many of us even start the service with the Confession of Sin.

If one is doing either Morning or Evening Prayer, there is also a confession of sin.

If you read my essay again, you will discover that while you are correct, I do have a positive regard for the human enterprise and condition, I do not deny that there is sin in the world or that we are not vulnerable to it.

Indeed, this is why we have public confession of sin built into the prayers of our Eucharist and Daily Office, IN ADDITION TO liturgical rites for private confession.

You know, muerk, this information is available to you in a variety of ways - books, a conversation with your local Episcopal priest, on the internet - which you can read.

While Blogs can be educational, they are designed to be conversational.

Do yourself and other bloggers a favor and take responsibility for your own education.

David@Montreal said...

O.K. so I'm repeating myself- but I'm Canadian, so I'm allowed to!
Thank goodness & Thank God for the Great ++Katherine and the Elizabeth+ both of them great and interesting blessings in and of the Church.
The two of them in the same room? WOW!
What a privileged time to be alive in our Communion

Hiram said...

The great thing about being absolutely certain about uncertainty is that you can then do whatever you please.

Muerk said...

"Do yourself and other bloggers a favor and take responsibility for your own education."

Yes ma'am!

Thank you for your reply and yes, I have been chastised and I shall ask no more annoying questions.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, Hiram, but how can you be certain?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The only thing that's annoying is your arrogance at assuming that those whom you quite obviously do not hold as equal to you, theologically or in quality of faith, also have to endure the burden of providing your education about our deficient faith and theology.

pruittcommunications said...

I am confused by the images on your blog that say things like, "Don't pray in my school and I won't think in your church." While it is clear that you come from a more liberal position theologically than myself, I wonder how these messages fit with the post. (Not complaining mind you, simply making an observation.) Are the images with the slogans meant to stand on their own or do you see them relating to your blog post? I guess in the end, I would see your post quite a bit left of center theologically, but the slogans even further left of center, so they don't seem congruent. I guess that is where my confusion comes in.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wow, you're a little late to the party, eh Terry? I'm less left of center than you think, but that may be because you are more right of center than you know.

Thanks for stopping by. Even if you are 8 months late.