Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mickey Mouse Municipality?

Last Tuesday's unrest in Anaheim, which has suffered five fatal officer-involved shootings this year, has attracted the attention of Jennifer Medina at the New York Times:

These shootings have exposed deep fury in a city that is better known as being home to the happiest place on earth. About 1,000 demonstrators showed up at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night, leading to outbreaks of violence and two dozen arrests.

The police were bracing for more protests over the weekend and said they had adopted a zero-tolerance stance against any city code violations, like loitering.

In this largely working-class city of more than 340,000 people, the divisions are as varied as they are deep. While more than half of the city is Latino, only three Latinos have ever been elected to the City Council. But the rift is as much about class as it is about race.

For many activists, the blame lies with the City Council, whose members are primarily from eastern hills on the city’s edge, the wealthiest and least populated part of town. They complain that the Council has focused exclusively on development in the resort area at the expense of the city’s poor neighborhoods.

The photo by the AP's Damian Dovarganes shows the mother of shooting victim Manuel Diaz, Genevieve Huizar, who movingly pleaded for calm this week.

Peace Through Partnership

Alexander D. Baumgarten, who represents The Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., takes justifiable pride in the even-handed, classically Anglican position our church staked out on Israel and Palestine:
As one bishop pointed out to me after final passage of...resolution [B019], we just witnessed something nearly unprecedented in the past three decades since the General Convention began addressing this subject: bishops and deputies from a variety of viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict coming together enthusiastically and vocally in favor of a single resolution that calls for all Episcopalians to join the conversation. Equally importantly, the resolution calls for us to invite others into the conversation: Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, and other Christians. There are to be no outcasts in the conversation, and all voices are welcome on equal terms. I can attest firsthand how rare this kind of genuine dialogue and listening is in practice, and also how fruitful it is when it does take place.

One other very important theme comes out of this very important resolution: investment of our own treasure in the Palestinian economy, and commitment to visiting, and being in partnership with, the Anglican Church in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, a Palestinian from the West Bank, along with the Palestinian government, have repeatedly stressed the need for outside investment and the creation of economic infrastructure in the occupied territories in order to allow Palestinians to prepare for the creation of a future state. The Episcopal Church has recognized this before, but Resolution B019 gives new and important flesh to the concept.

Finally, it’s important to note what the General Convention declined to do. The House of Deputies overwhelming rejected a move to endorse boycott and divestment of Israel and the study of two documents that have been criticized by some – including the Episcopal Church’s chief operating officer, Bishop Stacy Sauls – as theologically problematic in their portrayal of Judaism. One deputy noted that these steps would have been “conversation stoppers” and that we can’t create a broader base of understanding and support for a just peace if we can’t successfully bring people to the table. Another deputy noted that economic punishment of Israel, which Bishop Dawani and the Palestinian government both have criticized, could end up hurting the Palestinian economy, as it is fundamentally intertwined with Israel’s.

Photos: Arab and Jewish schoolchildren in Jerusalem, June 2012
Hat tip to Norris Battin

Keeping Sabbath And Staying Home

Maybe I’m imagining it. I can’t give you hard data. But whether it’s because of the price of gas, the economy, or Orange County’s peerless weather this year, I’m pretty sure that more St. John’s congregants and school parents than ever have told me that they’re staying home this summer.

Staycation is a word, by the way – or technically, a neologism, which means a term that’s on the way to being accepted as a word. Its working definition is “no extra baggage charges or lost luggage, jet lag, jellyfish stings, or gaining five pounds on a cruise to Alaska.”

What staycation doesn’t mean is no fun, rest, or change of perspective. It doesn’t mean no Sabbath. The psalmist sings, “My boundaries enclose a pleasant land” [16:6]. We take our capacity for Sabbath wherever we go, just as we can ruin our vacations by packing our accustomed anxieties (and our e-mail-loaded iPhones) along with our sun block and swimsuits.

It’s the same with church. We don’t need to be in church to thank and praise God, talk to God from the depths of our heart, seek and obtain forgiveness for our sins, participate in sacrament, and live a more abundant life. But the discipline of regular attendance helps turn our minds toward the divine. By the same token, while we don’t need a folding chair, Corona with a wedge of lime, Daniel Silva novel, and stretch of beach on Maui to relax and enjoy life, they sure help set the stage.

If I’ve just described your vacation, you may not be even be reading this. If you are, put down that laptop get back to having fun. If not, here’s your guide to a five-star staycation:

Take little trips. Do we really need to be reminded of the diversions within a few hours’ drive? Since Kathy and I were on the St. John’s Holy Land pilgrimage, I decided not to take much more time away this summer. But I’m taking five or six days in August to drive to San Diego, see friends, and spend a couple of days on retreat, ending up at Camp Stevens in Julian to check up on my younger daughter, Lindsay, who’s on the staff. A six-day cruise to Mexico? Just fine. Spending six days (or six hours, if that’s all that’s available) doing exactly what I want? Priceless.

Do exactly what you want. A spiritual counselor told me that her definition of Sabbath was watching a whole season of “The West Wing” in one day. That’s because she loves “The West Wing.” Her point was that Sabbath is whatever you find enjoyable and reinvigorating – watching sports, baking cupcakes, playing video games, hiking, talking to friends, going to the movies by yourself, or just sleeping in. Above all, never feel guilty for indulging yourself. Remember that, at least in English, Sabbath doesn’t start with “sh” (for “should”).

Try something new in your life and at St. John’s. What I love most about vacations is the new or atypical: Seeing historic places, scuba diving, eating four meals a day. The staycation dictum is the same: “Just try it.” Rent a flute and sign up for a lesson. Download Scrabble or Angry Birds on your phone. Amaze and confound your grandchildren by learning to text or joining Facebook. Have a frozen yogurt with chocolate sprinkles. Have another.

At church, sample the noon healing service on Wednesday or the Saturday evening community Holy Eucharist. They only last about a half-hour, giving you more time for “The West Wing” or Angry Birds. Come to the fellowship dinner on Aug. 11 or yoga and the labyrinth on Aug. 16. Join a parish reading circle. If you’ve been tempted to try spiritual direction, what better time for a deeper conversation with God than the lazy days of summer? Call me and ask for a referral. If you’ve never tried the discipline of daily prayer by the hours, get out The Book Of Common Prayer and turn to pps. 137-140. Tell God I said hello.

Above all, if you’re not traveling this summer, remember why people go on vacation to begin with: For refreshment, reorientation, and (if we’re smart) relationship. We can fly around the world ten times without ever finding such comforts. We can rejoice in them without even leaving the house.

This post originally appeared in the Vaya Con Dios, the St. John's parish newsletter. My thanks to JP Allport for the labyrinth photo and for this cartoon:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Holy Toledo

Rt. Rev. Leonard Blair, the Roman Catholic bishop of Toledo, is the man whom the Vatican assigned to quiet the Leadership Council of Women Religious (which represents most U.S. nuns) because of its members' views on contraception, the sacramental status of gay and lesbian people, and women's ordination. During a proper grilling this week by Terry Gross on her program, "Fresh Air," Bishop Blair paused to gloat about reflect on another troubled denomination:
You know, it's very interesting. In the New York Times earlier this month, there was an article, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" And, you know, the author - and I don't mean to pick on Episcopalians, because I'm just quoting what this writer said in the New York Times, but he said today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict suddenly adopted everything urged on the Vatican by, you know, liberal theologians and thinkers and people who dissent. But he said instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded group, he said the church is really experiencing a tremendous drop in its - in practice. And I mean Catholicism is too having its share of problems. But, you know, this is - just becoming like the world and just accepting the secular culture's answer to all these things is not really a solution for people of faith.
The photo below of our bishops suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles, Mary Douglas Glasspool and Diane Jardine Bruce, shows exactly how our church looks. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters should be so blessed. But the Vatican's only solution is that the nuns and everyone else must continue to obey celibate male priests and bishops:
[W]hen it comes to the priesthood, and I don't know that on a program like this we're able to explore the theology of it, because it is a theological one; it's not political. It's not sociological. It's theological. About what the sacraments are and what it means for a man to stand at the altar and act in the very person of Christ as a priest.

I mean, St. Paul talks about Christ being the groom and the church being his bride. That symbolism, theologically, is very much a part of our understanding of the Mass and the priesthood. And that's, I think, also why Christians who maintain their faith in a priesthood - namely, the Catholics and the Orthodox - do not have a female priest.

But churches such as in Protestantism, that speak only about ministry rather than priesthood, for them it's much easier to have women do that because it's a very different kind of faith about the meaning of these things.

The church doesn't say that the ordination of women is not possible because somehow women are unfit to carry out the functions of the priest, but because on the level of sacramental signs, it's not the choice that our Lord made when it comes to those who act in his very person, as the church's bridegroom.

Most of Jesus's followers and apostles were male. It could hardy have been otherwise in first-century Palestine, where women and children were devalued. The Son of Man taught in terms that men and women of his time could understand. Bishop Blair believes that the 21st century church must be governed according to these relatively primitive human standards, redolent with injustice and sin.

Not all Christians agree. The bishop's brief summary of Protestantism notwithstanding, in the 1970s and 1980s the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States decided that women should and must be priests and bishops. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit -- and having recovered, through careful study of the Bible and the church's early history, an understanding of Jesus's and St. Paul's high and highly counter-cultural regard for women as leaders in the church -- we have concluded that the Savior of all humanity is just as fittingly represented at the altar by a woman as a man. Roman Catholic scholarship helped make this leap of faith possible.

When The Episcopal Church shed 2,000-year-old Mediterranean gender norms, the harder debate about gay and lesbian people awaited. For making a place for all people as God made them, critics accuse us of moral relativism and abandonment of the authority of scripture. I can only speak for myself, an orthodox Christian who believes in the saving power of Christ's life, suffering, death, and bodily Resurrection as revealed in the New Testament and the creeds and traditions of the church. I'm skeptical only about the few passages that seem to command us to discriminate against woman and gay people -- friends, relatives, and colleagues living gracious, generous, faithful lives.

Perhaps because they've seen how gender and identity debates have roiled our and the other mainline denominations, Bishop Blair and his colleagues don't want any of it. That's why he doesn't quite hear what his sisters in the Leadership Council of Women Religious mean when they plead for open dialogue. He tells Gross:
[I]f by dialogue they mean that the doctrines of the church are negotiable and that the bishops represent one position and the LCWR presents another position, and somehow we find a middle ground about basic church teaching on faith and morals, then no. That's - I don't think that's the kind of dialogue that the Holy See would envision.

But if it's a dialogue about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters to appreciate and accept church teaching and to implement it in their discussions and try to heal some of the questions or concerns they have about these issues, then that would be the dialogue.

I think that the fundamental faith of the Catholic Church is that there are objective truths and there are teachings of the faith that really do come from revelation and that are interpreted authentically through the teaching office of the church, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that are expected to be believed with the obedience of faith.

And those are things that are not negotiable.
Many Catholics have left the negotiating table and their church. Some have even turned up at the Lord's table in our parishes. After alluding to declining membership in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Blair seemed to bring himself up short. He may have remembered the statistics that have crossed his desk about Catholics' declining attendance at mass. Gross, his interviewer, had also reminded him about clergy abuse scandals and Catholic women's disregard for the Vatican's teachings about birth control. "Catholicism is too having its share of problems," he admitted. Indeed: A spirit-killing, extra-biblical insistence on priestly celibacy. A penchant for secrecy and coverup. And a continued insistence on the diminishment of women.

Yes, the Episcopalians are struggling because our reforms are pressing the outside of the envelope. The Roman Catholics are struggling because, for the current Vatican leadership, reform is a dead letter. I know what page I'd rather be on.

A Modified Olympian Hangout

Long before realizing he would be prematurely retired in San Clemente, Richard Nixon envisioned spending the last summer of his presidency presiding over a bicentennial Olympics in Los Angeles.

In this January 1970 memo from his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, Nixon orders Secretary of State Bill Rogers to go all out getting the '76 games and promises to support a Moscow games in 1980 if the Soviets would back the U.S. bid. The Russians got 1980 anyway, and LA hosted in 1984.

The Nixon library has more documents at its Facebook page.

Lowering The Kill Rate

LA Times veteran George Skelton:
All we that such-and-such a proposal — banning assault guns, for example — won't eliminate murder. Well, duh. We've had killings ever since the first human crawled out of a cave.

But we can lower the kill rate by reducing the firepower and doing a much better job of keeping weapons out of the hands of mental misfits.

Invisible Ink

Penned in for 25 years

Rounding Down

Michael A. Black, a retired police officer, aims for the middle ground on gun control:
The pro- and anti-gun groups need to sit down and let common sense rule. We register automobiles and require proof of driving proficiency before granting driving licenses. Is it so unreasonable to consider a national or state-by-state registry for firearms? While I’m not totally opposed to concealed carry laws, why not require comprehensive background checks, psychological screening and training? And while it might be considered un-American to prevent an ordinary citizen from owning an assault rifle, would it be too much to ask why he needs to have a specially modified 100-round magazine?

God And Mr. Mozart

The Salzburg and other venerable festivals are programming more religious music.

Muslims' Conversion Therapy On Gaza

Just 1,500-3,000 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, live in Hamas-controlled Gaza. While Muslim extremists have been accused of violence against Christian institutions, for most Christians the pressure is more subtle, according to a report by Ibrahim Barzak and Diaa Hadid:

The informal social pressure can range from strangers on the street urging them to embrace Islam to colleagues at work or university persistently discussing their Muslim faith with Christian colleagues. Particularly vulnerable to the advances are youth wanting to join Gaza's wider society and gain greater opportunities for marriage and jobs – as well as unhappily married Christians, since conversion to Islam is one of the few ways to get a divorce from their Church marriages.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Massive Question

Those who think that anything goes in The Episcopal Church should read Mary Frances Schjonberg's coverage (supported by my Diocese of Los Angeles colleague, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist the Rev. Pat McCaughan) of the painstaking debate about open communion that took place at our recently concluded General Convention in Indianapolis.

According to our national church's canons [I. 17. 7], only baptized persons are eligible to receive the consecrated body and blood of Christ. Feeling that the canonical requirement might impede the movement of the Holy Spirit in a spiritual searcher's life, some priests and parishes invite everyone to come to the table, baptized or not.

No one checks congregants' baptism IDs at the altar rail. The question is whether priests
err by failing to articulate the rule or by flying in the face of it.

In Indianapolis, the Rev. Anna Carmichael, rector of St. Mark's in Hood River, Oregon, was part of an unsuccessful effort to persuade General Convention to abandon the requirement altogether. Her reasoning, as Schjonberg and her colleagues reported:
“While I understand that as a priest I have taken a vow to uphold the rubrics of the prayer book, I feel that sometimes pastoral care and pastoral sensitivity are equally as important as our theology behind what we do,” she said, adding that the Episcopal Church is always striving to extend its welcome to all people “and I hope that at some point our welcome will include unbaptized at the communion rail.”
In the end, the convention preserved the requirement. It even turned aside a resolution containing this sentence: “We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.” Opponents of the wording argued that while priests always reserve the right to make pastoral judgment calls, being that explicit would have amounted to a proclamation of open communion. At the core of the debate is TEC's passion for baptism as the first and greatest sacrament, the irreducible outward sign of membership in Christ. Some fear diluting its power by eliminating it as a condition for participating in Holy Eucharist.

Yet I'm sure most priests have a story about someone who probably wouldn't have decided to be baptized without first being welcomed to the table. At St. John's, the wording in our Sunday bulletin (inspired by another LA Diocese colleague, the Very Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger; that's he above, celebrating mass for us pilgrims last month at Emmaus-Nicopolis in Israel) probably wouldn't pass muster with the canonical cops:
Episcopalians consider all baptized persons to be members of Christ's Church. Wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are invited to come to the Lord's table and receive the Lord Jesus Christ in the consecrated Bread (or Host) and Wine.
The first sentence is designed to do two things. Roman Catholics and members of other denominations often come to an Episcopal parish wondering if they're allowed to receive. We want to be sure to tell them yes. It also implies that membership has its altar privileges, while the second sentence creates ambiguity by implying that membership doesn't matter when it comes to Holy Communion. Folks have asked me about the ambiguity and ended up baptized, marked as Christ's own forever, as a result. The more traditional approach, of course, is to honor baptism by refusing Holy Eucharist to the unbaptized. That's the way my Roman Catholic wife and fellow St. John's minister, Kathy O'Connor, grew up.

Even though TEC doesn't require it, some families prefer to wait until their baptized children are old enough to understand the significance of Holy Eucharist. For such families at St. John's, Randall and Kristen Lanham offer wonderful early communion classes each spring, the Episcopal equivalent of the first communion process in Roman Catholic parishes.

If parents are willing, I and most priests will give communion to anyone old enough to exhibit the curiosity and a tooth or two. We figure that people are more likely to make a habit of church attendance if they can't remember a time when they weren't welcome at the Lord's table. And welcome is the operative word. In an era of mounting skepticism about the institutional church, it's unwise for any denomination or parish to fail to make hospitality a core value.

Besides, if we should stick slavishly to I. 17. 7 and try to keep the unbaptized from the communion rail, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters may have done us one better. Many have had the experience of being told one has to be a baptized Roman Catholic to receive communion. God bless those priests, especially at funerals, who make a point of saying that all are welcome, even though by doing so they're violating Vatican rules. That's why I never ask for the sacrament in a Catholic church when there's a chance that the priest knows I'm not one of his own. Why force my brother either to deny me the body of Christ or violate canon law?

For whatever reason, in late June we St. John's pilgrims didn't have to display that kind of sensitivity during an early-morning mass in the grotto at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. We stood a few steps from the traditional place of Jesus's birth as a Franciscan priest from Italy served us each Holy Communion. The photo at right above shows pilgrim Christian Kassoff being communicated.

The priest may have thought we were Roman. He may not have cared. But when I blogged about the experience, my friend Charles Frazee, a specialist in church history and his Roman Catholic church, wanted to be sure I understood that no Catholic priest is permitted to deny the sacrament to someone who seeks it, baptized Catholic or not, unless the person is known to be guilty of a grave sin (being Episcopalian isn't included). TEC doesn't have that kind of universal access stipulation in our canons. So, um, are we really stricter than the pope?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

40 Years In The Wilderness With Bruce

I came out with my soul untouched. The liberating prophet of rock and roll performing at Max's Kansas City in New York, Aug. 20, 1972.
Hat tip to No Depression

Sally Forth

Sally Ride's sister, Bear, described Sally's partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy, as a member of the family and added:
The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And I hope the GLBT community feels the same. I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.
Andrew Sullivan thinks the astronaut, who was fiercely protective of her privacy, should've spoken up sooner:
Her achievements as a woman and as a scientist and as an astronaut and as a brilliant, principled investigator of NASA's screw-ups will always stand, and vastly outshine any flaws. But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to.
In fairness to Dr. Ride, she also kept her illness secret from family and friends for 17 months. But she made no secret of one of the focal points of her life after NASA, the empowerment of young women. From her New York Times obit this morning:

In 2003, Dr. Ride told The Times that stereotypes still persisted about girls and science and math — for example the idea that girls had less ability or interest in those subjects, or would be unpopular if they excelled in them. She thought peer pressure, especially in middle school, began driving girls away from the sciences, so she continued to set up science programs all over the country meant to appeal to girls — science festivals, science camps, science clubs — to help them find mentors, role models and one another.

Times reporter Denise Grady put her reference to Ride's partner near the end of the story, where survivors' names usually go. One assumes it was her and O'Shaughnessy's wish to come out that way, elegantly, simply, as though it were no big deal, which, someday soon, it won't be. Could she have done more to spotlight being a pioneer for lesbians as well as women? Reading her obit, I felt this great American had done enough for her country. Godspeed, Sally Ride!

Will McAvoy, My Hero

For his new HBO series "The Newsroom," Aaron Sorkin has created an idealistic hero akin to President Josiah Bartlett of "The West Wing," this time a cable TV anchor played by Jeff Daniels. Here's McAvoy in a conversation with his boss, played by Sam Waterston:
I'm a registered Republican. I only seem liberal because I believe hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When Mum's The Only Word

A reader and commentator called anniegetyourfun at "Wonkette" has a suggestion:
Maybe we could pass a law where, after some kind of tragedy like this, no one is allowed to say anything about it, and we all just send money to a fund to help the victims and their families. You could send a card with the money, but the only message allowed on the card would be "I am so sorry for your loss and pain."

Misericordia, misericordia

Luke's gospel records that when Mary was pregnant with the child she would name Jesus, she sang a song about God's just and righteous power (related to Hannah's song in Hebrew scripture) that the church calls the Magnificat [1:46-55]. She proclaims that God pledges to cast down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek. It also includes these words: "And his mercy endures from generation to generation for those who fear him."

In J.S. Bach's "Magnificat in D," composed in the first third of the 18th century, the words are set to a sublime duet for an alto and a tenor. Here's a recording available on YouTube that is no more powerful that the one that Lisa Naulls and Mallory Walker offered during our 10 a.m. service at St. John's this week. They're shown during an early-morning rehearsal. Daughter of NBA and NCAA basketball legend Willie Naulls, Lisa is a gifted mezzo-soprano, vocal coach, and conductor who, as a section leader in our parish choir, raises the roof on a weekly basis. Mallory, a regular sub at St. John's, is a nationally-noted tenor who was profiled by the New York Times in 1984.

They were accompanied on organ by our choirmaster, Bob Miller, who had selected Sunday's music long before the world heard the news about James Holmes' mercilessness on Friday morning. In response to such acts of savagery, the church sometimes struggles to find the right words. From Aurora to Damascus, it can appear that humanity's inhumanity is virtually boundless.

But Lisa and Mallory knew just what to say. From the brimming heart of the brave Palestinian girl chosen to bear and mourn the savior of the world had come God's retort to all injustice and cruelty, in her time and ours. Et misericordia a progenie in progenies timentibus eum. His mercy endures forever.

Bill Of Goods

Bill Kristol calls out Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats for being cowardly and foolish because they don't push harder for limits on purchases and ownership of semiautomatic weapons. Oddly, he offers no criticism of Republicans for making gun control a third-rail issue. Is he implying that, unlike Democrats, they just don't know any better?

California GOP Has "Become A Cult"

Adam Nagourney reports on the decline of the GOP in California, which has gone far to the right of its two most dominant figures:

Registered Republicans now account for just 30 percent of the California electorate, and are on a path that analysts predict could drop them to No. 3 in six years, behind Democrats, who currently make up 43 percent, and independent voters, with 21 percent.

“It’s no longer a statewide party,” said Allan Hoffenblum, who worked for 30 years as a Republican consultant in California. “They are down to 30 percent, which makes it impossible to win a statewide election. You just can’t get enough crossover voters.”

“They have alienated large swaths of voters,” he said. “They have become too doctrinaire on the social issues. It’s become a cult.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Happiest Place In Simi Valley

Former Nixon library director Tim Naftali has put his seal of approval on a new exhibit about Walt Disney:
[T]here seems little doubt that the library exhibit will draw a new audience — always a priority for presidential museums, which live daily with the encroachment of time and the danger of irrelevancy. “These presidential museums belong to everybody and should have a wide appeal,” said...Naftali... “It shouldn’t just be for the presidential historians."
Richard Nixon knew the legendary Disney founder well, having helped open Disneyland along with his family. Of course the new exhibit's at the Reagan library, where it's nearly doubled attendance.