William Witt is one of the more persistent and eloquent writers about sexuality and the church. He has written one article for the Anglican Communion Institute that merits some reflection.
I do not have his erudition or his expertise. I have read far less than he has and do not write as well. I am merely a parish priest in a small, suburban church in White Plains, NY.
Professor Witt refers to his Southern Baptist inheritance as formational. Clearly this frames his relationship with God, and his appreciation of scripture. I come from a family very different that Professor Witt’s. My mother from a prosperous interfaith Indian family, and my father from Yankee scientists. They met in a doctoral program. My mother went to the Anglican church next to a prominent Music Conservatory; my father, the neighboring Unitarian assembly one block away.
So my instinct is charity towards other faiths. I am grounded in skepticism of any sort of easy, reductionistic, foundationalism articulation of faith. I also have been deeply inculcated with the ideas that science and empiricism are powerful methods of discerning truth, although I have some sympathy for the philosophical anarchism in epistemology, that allows for Christianity to hold some ground against science.
But I digress.
My own faith journey included, as with professor Witt, encounters with very holy men of generosity and magnanimity. For me, the person was The Rev. Canon Cyril V. Roberts, the chaplain to the Eastman School of Music. And, to be perfectly honest, music was my entry into the church. I am convinced that if Jesus were music, he would be, could be, a Bach fugue. This was before I heard Ray Barretto’s Acid or Tito Puente’s Hong Kong Mambo.
Roberts embodied a free openness that represented, for me, the hallmark of being an Anglican. Even though my own parents were secure and generous, Roberts was also joyful. So let me confess that in every way my first experience of Christianity was Joy – the joy that is almost impossible to resist when listening to Bach, as exemplified when being greeted by a man of profound, inexplicable happiness.
I was also never told that homosexuality was anti-Christian or unchristian or Christian. My mother did reflect some upon her instinctive homophobia, but as she was a poet, there we had many people at our dinner table who were gay. Admittedly, I don’t really care much about homosexuality, nor do I have any particular love for the category. And honestly, I spend far lest time thinking about sexuality than economics. So when I have read scripture, the codes against homosexuality seem quaint and mythological. The words of Christ Jesus, and the lives of the apostles still commanded my attention and inspired my faith.
So Witt and I come from different worlds, and I think this matters. I do read scripture, but with a much different intent than he does. Recently, as I was feeling a bit discouraged, I began reading the psalms; I then read a few chapters of Isaiah. And I felt a deep affection around me. I didn’t read the genealogies; nor did I read the Levitical codes. I was being selective: I read the scripture that reminded me of the Joy and security that God has promised through Christ.
So this is from where I begin reading his essay. I read scripture for my own edification and encouragement. But I’m also not the sort who places science in a subordinate role easily. I would not have thought to read scripture to determine if homosexuality is disordered or not. For me, it is almost like asking scripture to figure out how cars are made.
It is just as I suspected. I was never, myself, convinced by Christianity through appeals to the afterlife, divine punishment or "sin." Christianity may be a language that we teach people to speak - and it just isn't being spoken by those immersed in contemporary culture. Ruth Gledhill writes:
THE Church of England
has debunked the widely held view that young people are spiritual seekers on a
journey to find transcendent truths to fill the “God-shaped hole”
A report published by
the Church today indicates that young people are quite happy with a life
without God and prefer car boot sales to church.
If they think about
church at all, the images young people come up with are
“cardigans”, “sandals and socks”, “corrupt”,
“traditionalist” and “stagnant”.
Alright. We clearly need better fashion.
The authors began their
work believing that even if the young had little knowledge of Christianity they
would still have religious or spiritual yearnings. They were shocked to find
that they did not.
Personally, the premise is pretty faulty. I remember thinking more about girls than God. And it was a lovely young violinist at Evensong that converted me to the mysteries of the church. The music! What kids are interested in is power.
people do not feel disenchanted, lost or alienated in a meaningless world.
“Instead, the data indicated that they found meaning and significance in
the reality of everyday life, which the popular arts helped them to understand
and imbibe.” Their creed could be defined as: “This world, and all
life in it, is meaningful as it is,” translated as: “There is no
need to posit ultimate significance elsewhere beyond the immediate experience
of everyday life.” The goal in life of young people was happiness
achieved primarily through the family.
The researchers were
also shocked to discover little sense of sin or fear of death. Nor did they
find any Freudian guilt as a result of private sensual desires. The young
people were, however, afraid of growing old.
In their advice to the
Church, the report’s authors say that the first thing to do is
“avoid panic”. It recommends means of reconnecting with young
people such as through alternative worship forms, traditional buildings, church
schools and civic occasions where Anglican clergy often officiate.
However, the authors
also note the obvious contrast between the view of Generation Y that life is
generally benign with the figures showing rises in eating disorders, substance
abuse, teenage suicide, bullying and sexual abuse.
The authors conclude:
“We live in an instant culture, which c
be reached by instant missionary tactics.” And the desire for happiness
is valid and should not be criticised by clergy. “It can only be
outclassed by a Christ-like way of life, for in him alone is true happiness to
So what is at stake here? What is God telling us through this study? I think it is pretty clear that the traditional forms of evangelizing just won't cut it. We'll have to spend a lot more time thinking about who we are in relationship to youth culture.
Of course, it is possible that youthfulness should not be idolized. It is just one way of being fully alive.
in an average size parish, you would be expected to
be a housekeeper (Father, the windowsills are dusty!) day-care-center teacher, (Can you teach the three year olds about baptism?) cook (Father is preparing his fabulous Jerk Chicken for the barbecue!) computer operator (Father, have you updated our web-page? And we aren't getting your emails.) facilities manager (Father, can we have our baptismal party? Can we bring beer? No Balloons?) van driver (Edna needs a ride to the doctor, Father. Are you free on Wednesday?) CEO (we can't pay the bills, Father. Can you wait on your reimbursement check?) and psychologist (Father, I want to kill my husband).
Earlier conversation with a neighbor: "Hey Fr. John. Is your phone working?"
"I heard a couple pops and crackles on mine."
"don't worry, its just the NSA, protecting us from terrorists."
"Yeah, that's what I thought also."
Greg Palast reveals what is happening:
Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain't nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration. Five years ago, I discovered that ChoicePoint had already gathered 16 billion data files on Americans -- and I know they've expanded their ops at an explosive rate.
They are paid to keep an eye on you -- because the FBI can't. For the government to collect this stuff is against the law unless you're suspected of a crime. (The law in question is the Constitution.) But ChoicePoint can collect if for "commercial" purchases -- and under the Bush Administration's suspect reading of the Patriot Act -- our domestic spying apparatchiks can then BUY the info from ChoicePoint.
The letter is the first publicly announced personal communication from
an Iranian premier to a U.S. president since Washington-Tehran ties
were broken after the 1979 Islamic revolution, a former presidential
...“In this letter, he has given an analysis of the current world
situation, of the root of existing problems and of new ways of getting
out of the current delicate situation in the world..."
This is a diplomatic bombshell.
I've said this before. Iran's rhetoric about Israel isn't about Israel. Iran wants direct negotiations with the US.
We have a choice.
Negotiate directly and work with a solution, or continue this insane path toward war.
But Iran wants a few things. They might include pressure upon Pakistan to allow for a pipe through to India (Iran and India have had similar geopolitical interests); some assurance that we won't be belligerent. And some ways to develop an alternative energy plan that frees itself from oil dependency. Use just a little systems theory and you'll understand that what Iran wants is attention.
This means that Iran probably won't bomb anyone. In fact, bombing anyone is an expensive and insane proposition. Threats are far more effective and useful. Iran is uniting people on the home front, because the threats seem defensive there; and they make sure we're listening. They may continue to be aggressive. I don't think they will do much.
Ironically, Iran did the humane thing by reaching out to George Bush. It demonstrates that Iran may not want to be an enemy. I wonder what else they are seeking. But with this letter, they have changed the terms of the debate, forcing Washington to confront Iran directly with diplomacy.
It was a clever move on Iran's part. "Let's talk." Here is some commentary:
Every now and again I hear people talk contemptuously about the way liberals talk about justice. Well, this is the state of the country: David Callahan reports about the way one student justifies cheating, Why not cheat, he argued, given how many of
America's most successful people cut corners to get where they are?
Cheating is how the real world works, he said. Look at the politicians
who lie or the sluggers who take steroids, or the CEOs who cook the
books. The student also pointed to the hurdles he faced as he tried to
get ahead: high tuition costs, heavy student loans, low-paying jobs
without benefits. America wasn't a fair place for kids like him, so it
made sense to try to level the playing field by bending a few rules.
A 2004 poll of high school students found that 59
percent agreed that "successful people do what they have to do to win,
even if others consider it cheating." Young people believe in honor and
value integrity; they also worry that living by these beliefs could
mean ending up as a loser. In justifying her cheating, one student told
a researcher: "Good grades can make the difference between going to
medical school and being a janitor." Few professors have a ready retort
to this logic....
Students may be cynical about what it takes to
succeed these days, but they do care about fairness. And cheating is
nothing if not unfair. Cheaters get rewards they don't deserve, like
scholarships, admission to college or grad school, internships, and
jobs. Cheating is the antithesis of equal opportunity - the notion that
we all should have a fair shot at success and that the people who get
rewarded are the people who deserve those rewards because they worked
If you've been watching or reading the mainstream media, you are probably unaware that the Comedian Colbert gave a scathing satire of the punditry and the president at the Correspondents' whatever dinner.
He was amazing.
He was so amazing I couldn't laugh. How do you laugh when you are watching someone get eviscerated? He was so on target I was feeling sympathy for the President and for the spineless press corps.
The laughter in the audience - not exactly laughter - it was the embarrassed laughter you laugh when someone is says something that is about to get himself fired. Colbert decided not to play by the rules, which include don't say anything that will make the president uncomfortable.
Colbert hammered the anti-policy attitude of the president, and his unwillingness and inability to think through issues in favor of the simplistic phrases digested by the media. But if the media had not been so sycophantic toward Bush, Colbert would not have been necessary. He would have seemed merely rude. Instead, because the MSM have been unwitting collaborators, Colbert is our prophet.
Well, not really a prophet, but perhaps a hero of a sort.
And the next day after I saw this clip, I watched an MSNBC clip on the dinner that didn't mention him at all. This is a "liberal" media?
I recently received a fundraising letter from “Funding
Future Leaders,” an organization that is attempting to address the seminarian
debt crisis. The average debt, halfway
through seminary, is nearly $40,000 a year. And the Episcopal Church “is the only major denomination in the United
States that does not have a central funding source to support seminaries in
their education and training.” This was
the reason I went to the Divinity School rather than General. The Divinity School gave me a full
Building an endowment will not solve the problem that churches can't pay clergy, and that the education clergy get is too expensive. What
is missing is a comprehensive examination of what we can expect of clergy, many of whom are on their second career and have families; and
a reconsideration of how we might educate them. Why should we have full-time clergy and education always done on location?
As churches become poorer, they will call bi-vocational
clergy. These clergy may be, for example, social
workers, academics, nurses, lawyers and businesspeople. They may work full or part time in other
professions. This may be a
blessing. Mormon elders, for example, typically have
full time work, and I have heard that most Mormon services are shared by the members.