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Friday, February 27, 2009

A personal statement from the Bishop Elect of Northern Michigan

I suppose our penchant in The Episcopal Church for creating 'tempests in a tea pot' comes to us naturally. It's in our DNA. We inherited it from the Church of England.

The latest 'perfect storm' comes to us from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan which just elected Kevin G. Thew Forrester as their bishop.

While some folks are screaming about 'the process' of nomination (he was the only candidate on the slate), others are tearing their garments about the fact that his man claims that Buddhist teaching and meditative practices give shape and form to his understanding of Jesus and his practice of Christianity.

Indeed, one particularly hateful 'orthodite' blog has started a letter writing campaign in a pathetic attempt to block the confirmation of his election (Gee, where have we seen this hateful dynamic before?)

I encourage you to read "Vocation, Shared Leadership at the heart Northern Michigan episcopal process" by Herb Gunn before you proceed.

As for his inclinations toward Buddhism, I encourage you to read the Bishop-elect's statement below. But first, a few observations:

(1) I think the entire flap about "the episcopal process" and the fact that there was only one candidate nominated for bishop is fueled by a decidedly un-Christian impulse for 'payback'. Like the horrible public Republican flogging of Bill Clinton was payback for the Democratic run impeachment of Richard Nixon, this is payback for the fact that the episcopal election of Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina failed to gain the number of consents of Standing Committees.

Oh, see how these uber-Christians love one another! Too bad they love what they believe to be orthodoxy more than those whom God has created.

(2) As for the hysteria about Buddhist-influenced Christianity, well, I think the newly elected bishop states his case very well and needs no defense from me. That being said, I do think the hysteria you hear from the Right side of the aisle is the sound of a line being drawn in the sand by conservatives who, now that the majority of 'orthodites' have left, are 'what's left of the Right."

This 'pissing contest' about Buddhism is just that, on a very deep psychological and spiritual level. This is about marking theological territory. This is about saying, as I read one blogger's lament, "We can not allow this Progressive runaway train to wreck our church."

I understand the impulse, but I question the understanding of how Christianity that is influenced by other cultural understandings is some how 'less-than' or dangerous.

Then again, these are the same folks who make such a fuss whenever any other spiritual practices are incorporated in Christian liturgy or theology.

You know. Like when Native American smudge-sticks were used for purification along with our beloved Anglican incense at the beginning of the service of Consecration of our Presiding Bishop at the National Cathedral.

You know. Like the guffaws that are heard in some circles whenever liturgical dance is employed.

You know. Like the sounds of protest fueled by ignorance when our Presiding Bishop used the words of the mystics and spoke of "Mother Jesus."

It is an attempt at Evangelical Christian hegemony writ large.

So, read the statement from the new bishop-elect. As he says, "There is nothing to defend here, only a gift." Amen. And, welcome to the "Junior House", bishop-elect Forrester. You are a fine, holy addition and I look forward to your leadership.


I now feel free, as the bishop-elect, to state my faith and zen meditation
practice in my own words. Please read below. I need you to know that I am deeply honored to have been trained in Zen practice and that it is integral to my spirituality. I state this below.

I also state clearly that I am a christian and not a buddhist priest. I find it rather tragic, however, that folks might try to put me/us on the defensive for the gift of interfaith practice and dialogue.

There is nothing to defend here, only a gift.

peace, kevin

My Christian Faith & the Practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation
Kevin Thew Forrester
25 February 2009

As a Christian, I am deeply aware that I live and move and have my being in Christ – as does all creation. I am honored to be the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Northern Michigan with the opportunity to serve and work with the Episcopal Ministry Support Team as well as the people of the diocese for the next 10 to 15 years, committed as we are to the ministry of all the baptized.

Each of us is formed in the image and likeness of God. As a Christian, I owe my life to our Trinitarian faith. Over the years my faith and spiritual practice have been largely shaped and profoundly imprinted by the mystics and the contemplative spiritual tradition.

I have grown in my awareness that the grace of God, which is God’s very Presence, cannot be circumscribed. Because of my faith in the gracious goodness of the Godhead, I am open to receive the wisdom from, and be in dialogue with, other faith traditions; not to mention the sciences and the arts.

I am quite honored, as an Episcopal priest, to have been trained in the art and practice of Zen meditation. I am not an ordained Buddhist priest. I am an Episcopal priest eternally grateful for the truth, beauty and goodness, experienced in meditation.

I am thankful for the pioneering work of Thomas Merton in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. I am also thankful for the current elders in our Christian tradition, such as Thomas Keating and David Steindl-Rast, whose practice of meditation (like that of Merton) deepened their own contemplative life and led them to explore the sacramental common ground we share through the grace of God. As a Christian I can be receptive to divine truth, beauty and goodness, because I know that “All things come of Thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.”

I have been blessed to practice Zen meditation for almost a decade. About five years ago a Buddhist community welcomed me as an Episcopal priest in my commitment to a meditation practice—a process known by some Buddhists as "lay ordination."

Literally thousands of Christians have been drawn to Zen Buddhism in particular because, distinct from western religions, it embodies a pragmatic philosophy and a focus on human suffering rather than a unique theology of God. “Lay ordination” has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition.

The essence of this welcoming ceremony, which included no oaths, was my resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to awakening to the truth of the reality of human suffering. Meditation deepens my dwelling in Christ.

My experience continues to be that through the grace of meditation I am drawn ever deeper into the Trinitarian contemplative Christian tradition. I have been able to bring the practice of meditation/contemplation to the wider diocese through the gifts discovery process and through the founding of the Healing Arts Center at St. Paul’s in Marquette.

The Center is devoted to assisting people in their own spiritual journey, which includes the practice of meditation within the sanctuary and the exploration of Christian contemplatives and mystics.

Kevin G. Thew Forrester
Ministry Developer
Diocese of Northern Michigan
906-360-1915 (cell)
906-226-2912 (office)


Lindy said...

I don't think it's the Buddhist thing that's bugging people... at least not me.

It seems to me, and maybe I am off on this, but it seems to me that the process for electing/selecting a bishop was changed without approval from the diocesan governing body. They may even have come up with a very good way of doing it, I am not making a judgment about that. Just saying that I don't think they jumped through all the hoops.

In this case, that process worked out very well for our team. But, I wouldn't want to try that in Texas. I'm just saying that we should stick to the procedure. I am not convinced that this diocese did.

Ormonde Plater said...

Several years ago I served with Kevin on the Commission on Ministry Development. One of the insights he shared with us was a brief statement on a Trinitarian approach to a theology of ministry. This has had considerable influence theological reflection.

Bill said...

“. . . . .and led them to explore the sacramental common ground we share through the grace of God. As a Christian I can be receptive to divine truth, beauty and goodness, because I know that “All things come of Thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.”

There are a couple of issues here:

1) A lot of folks don’t like to even think that there may be common ground between different faiths. They think that only “they” have it right and everybody else is doomed.
2) They have never really accepted the fact that all things come from God and are de facto “Good”.

They won’t allow themselves to see the possible good that might come from other than their own narrow concepts.

It’s really central to one of the great tests in Christian theology as it coalesced in the early centuries. Pelagius argued that all things from creation are of God and from God and therefore good. Augustine argued that creation came out of nothing, “ex nihilo”. Augustine backed by the emperor won out and had Pelagius condemned. One outcome from this line of thought is that babies are born evil. Anybody who can look at a newborn infant and see evil needs a whack up-side the head. The other outcome is that if anything differs from accepted dogma, it must necessarily be evil. This thinking is so narrow minded their ears must touch each other.

Frair John said...

Okay, here we go:

Not being one of the "orthodite" but, insted, being interested in actual orthodoxy I can give you ONE Xer's reaction.

The Process: For the life of me I can't find it in me to like "total Minestry." maybe part of it is that I can't shake the feeling that it is a jargoned up way to avoid hard questions about mission priorities. It also looks like a "We hate authority and so will difuse it around this little cluster of people. We'll make it less "threatening" to our self actualization by reducing it to a "team." BTW - Take a look at the pictures of the Life Cycle team. I would venture to say that none of them are under 45 or 50. I would also say that no one younger was even invited to the table. Having served on enough "teams" both in and out of the Church to be all to well aquainted witht he margenalization that comes from not remebering JFK. You are only a part of "the Community" as long as you don't ask questions that are to pointed and don't bring ideas contrary to the preconcieved assumptions of the group.)

The Buddist thing: I'm unimpressed by his defence. I know enough about Buddism to know that it is more than a set of meditational methods. Zen in particualr has a point, one that runs contrary to he point of Christian meditation. "Is it bad for a Bishop to meditate?" Well that depends upon what the Bishop is meditating and to what end. Plug and play syncratism strikes me as having a simplistic view of at least one if not both religions involved. there is a condisending edge to what he wrote as well. It didn't feel like an honest evaluation and explanation. rather it felt like he was lecturing to people he barely had time to respond to since they were "not on with the program" an so ignorable.

The attitude of "Just get over it!" is irritating. As is the "He's explained it, so shut up!" The handy waving away of questions and objections as being the work of "the usual suspects" is also a form of contempt. +VGR was and is a horse of a different color. In fact, we're looking at an equine of another species.

Not being able to parse that out is only adding to my and other people's frustrations. Just because TLC says it, dosn't mean that it is just the work of the axis of evil. just because *I* dissagree dosn't mean that i am now some closeted fundamentalist.

Muthah+ said...

I applaud the meditation that the almost rt rev claims as his practice. I wish more of our bishops understood the basics of spirituality whether they be traditionally Christian or from other traditions. He has made it clear his love for Christ.

I do have a problem, like Lindy. We have a process which I like to claim as endowed with the Holy Spirit and that is a democratic process. I understand the care with which the diocese has used to find a candidate that they believe can best serve the diocese. But that process tears as the elective process that so characterizes our life together as TEC.

Over the past 15 years I believe that we have made a mockery of the elective process for bishop. We have made that process "dogs and pony shows' rather than times of discernment. We have made bishops unassailable authoritarians with the meddling in Title IV who are accountable to no one.

I applaud the dio of N MI that they have taken seriously the journey toward calling a bishop that is right for them. But I do believe that that same discernment process should have been done with more than ONE person and the election be reinvested with the respect for the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth, I am curious as to why we are still concerning ourselves with the critique of thoses who have attempted to hijack our Church, who have gone off trying to take with them the buildings and the endowments of TEC? It is time to recognize that these exTEC's are no longer part of the diologue of TEC.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think there are pragmatics involved here that arise from the particularities of Northern Michigan that those of us who don't live there can't begin to imagine.

If we can say that the dioceses of SC and NH have the right to elect the bishop they want by the process they determine works for them, within the parameters of the Canons, then I'm not sure what the Big Flap is over this diocese and this bishop.

Having served on two diocesan search committees for two bishops in this diocese, I can tell you that the expense alone of the process is simply staggering. Is it really good stewardship to impose this expensive process on a diocese that is already struggling to do the work of mission and ministry?

It seems to me that the process of the election of their bishop has great integrity with their concept of Mutual Ministry - a valid theology of church which has been in practice for 30 years in rural places like Wyoming and Nevada. It probably wouldn't work in the Northeast Corridor, but that doesn't mean it isn't valid. It's theology is based solidly on an understanding of the authority of the sacrament of baptism. That's a pretty powerful theological basis, in my estimation.

I hope you take care of that headache, FJ.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're right, Muthah+ Those boys (and a few girls) get WAAAAYYY too much air time.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

You know. Like the guffaws that are heard in some circles whenever liturgical dance is employed.

Hey! I resemble that remark... ;-)

Anybody who can look at a newborn infant and see evil needs a whack up-side the head.

Bill, with all due respect, my friend---with how many infants have you sat up all night? I can remember telling friends after my elder child was born that I now understood EXACTLY what Augustine meant. ;-)

As for the bishop...

Well that depends upon what the Bishop is meditating and to what end.

And just how do you plan to get at that, Friar John? The man has given an explanation, but you find it insufficient. I suspect that means that, no matter what he says, you will not be satisfied.

FTR, I've got no problem with a bishop who practices ANY form of meditation. And I don't think it's my business to put him under the interrogation lamp and demand to know what he thinks about when he meditates. What's next? Demanding to know what bishops-elect pray about?!

I'm more concerned by reports of people in the diocese who are NOT orthodites who feel that Thew Forrester has been dictatorial in his treatment of the parishioners under his charge, and Machiavellian in his actions during the selection process. I do think it is important that those concerns be heard and not written off just because the Viagra-ville crowd is baying for Thew Forrester's head on a pike.

If consents are given, he will be the bishop for ALL of the people in the diocese, and any legitimate concerns that have been raised by people within it deserve a hearing.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for stopping by, Doxy. Your pots always either make me smile or think. This one did both.

MarkBrunson said...

Forrester's description of zen meditation - he specified the meditation techniques - was quite accurate.

I have heard - ad nauseam - the outraged claims of primary differences in Christianity and Buddhism. Amazingly, yes, two different religions are different. Forrester has said clearly he is not a Buddhist.

Zen not only can be practiced outside of Buddhism, but has specifically developed to allow such variations, both purely secular - bompu (sic) Zen - and that which can be used by those of differing faiths - gedo or "outside way" Zen - Centering Prayer is largely Zen meditation style, under a different name, just as Hesychastic Prayer is no more than mantra meditation under a different name.

The objections I'm hearing to Zen practice are based, frankly, in an outrageous level of ignorance and prejudice, often derived from a mediocre translation or the bizarre fast-food Aquarianism of the 70's-80's. The Western practice and understanding of Zen - and Buddhism - has had significant developments in the last 20 years, and American experience of Zen - and Buddhism - is more often than not influenced by acquaintance with American Buddhist "practitioners" who are simply looking for the flavor-or-the-month or are angry militant atheists too weak to go it alone.

Enough, already.

MarkBrunson said...

Your pots always either make me smile or think.

Elizabeth, you'll want to get rid of that post quick, or Viagraville will be throwing you and Doxy both to the DEA!

RENZ said...

Lindy, this is a VERY small diocese the governing body is a collection of the few who have the time and energy to devote to the task and are very much the "in crowd." They were very careful to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s, the chancellor is a retired judge.

That said, the "process" that looks so wonderful on paper was less than ideal, particularly because of the size of the diocese. It was very simple using this process for the few to drive the process towards their desired outcome.

Elizabeth, I sent you an e-mail at AOL is that address still valid?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Mark. Amen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

oops! That would be POSTS, Doxy. POSTS.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

renzmqt, my AOL account is still active. I would love to hear from you. You know, the notion of Mutual Ministry at the local level does not appeal to those in the congregation who are still working out of a traditional model of institutional (vs. baptismal) ministry. I'm wondering if the dissatisfaction with 'the process' is a normal part of the process. I mean, given the challenges that are unique to Northern Michigan, I doubt that a 'traditional' process wouldn't have ended up in the same place with the equal number of dissenters AND at greater financial cost. Just wondering out loud.

RENZ said...

I sent it this morning, let me know if you don't receive it. Thanks.