"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

29 September 2018

Rejecting the In Persona Christi argument

Okay, I admit it, this set poorly with me when my kids were in sixth grade in Catholic school and the catechism questions on ordination came home for them to study.  Once in a while, their Anglican mom will rebel, help them to do so even, but it was particularly hard in the sixth grade when their religion teacher was the sweet Spanish guy who labeled all his exams "Nice Little Quiz."  I don't know if it was the English is his second language factor or the Nice Little Quizzes but I could never quite encourage rebellion.  Besides, he's a really sweet guy. 

But that's all neither here nor there... the question was something along the lines of why women can't be priests.  Y'all, gentle readers, know that I wrestle with this and have spent parts of my life and ministry on both sides of this fence, sometimes at the same time.  Nothing new there.  But the answer was one, which I'd heard before but still, which I find unsettling.  The answer was that women can't be priests because the priest stands in persona Christi at the altar.  Women, apparently, don't look enough like Jesus for ordination. 

Never mind that most of the priests I know are not Near Eastern Jews. 
Many are ordained at an age Jesus never saw in his earthly sojourn. 
Some are in need of glasses and other medical devices which would make them less than perfect for Temple worship, and therefore not "without blemish" either. 
And not a one of them is willing to die for my sins. 
Go on, ask every priest you know.  

But that is not even why I find that question really unsettling...  the part I couldn't put my finger on that day, but today I can is this:
The priest simply does not stand in persona Christi at the altar.
Jesus himself does that. 

Jesus. is. in persona Christi. at. every. Eucharist.  Full stop. 

As a deacon, it is counter to my identity to take the place of the priest.  Even when he is not physically present (the so-called Deacon's Mass) he is still the priest and his presence is known and honored there.  How much more is this true with Christ?  

If Christ is really present at the Eucharist, what business is it of the priest to stand in his place?

The ordination of the priest, however, is quite clear.  He is authorized to absolve and bless on behalf of the Church.  He has the voice of the Church.  At the altar, it is the prayers of the Church he brings to God.  When the Eucharist is celebrating with the priest facing the altar, as is traditional, he is present as the first among the people, being the voice not of Christ but of Christ's Church.  He is, in the words of the Eastern Church, in persona Ecclesia.  

The Priest, further, is not a part of Christ but a part of the Church and particularly authorized to be her voice.  

And here I do say "her."  

If the priest stands in persona Ecclesia, and ecclesia is traditionally not only a feminine noun (Yay Greek) but also traditionally feminized in imagery (Bride of Christ) even in the letters of the supposedly misogynistic Church Fathers, then there should be no barrier to a woman's priesthood in persona ecclesia.

I am not nutty enough to demand an exclusively feminine priesthood on this basis.... it would be a fallacy of another sort.... but it does seem that the argument opens an intriguing door.  

Am I coming out of the closet in favor of women's ordination to the priesthood?  No, I'm not.  Instead, I'm asking us to re-examine our arguments instead of just reasserting them. I am reluctant to stand in the generation that thought so highly of itself that it altered 2000 years of Christian practice.  I am hesitant to affect the entire sacramental relationship which binds the Church together.  I am unsure of the support from Scripture or Tradition for such radical changes.  And above all I am passionately in love with the whole of Christ's Church, much of which would consider women priests a stumbling block.  

But I am asking us to begin to think carefully about the images we use and what they are really saying, so that when the Church does settle these questions, she can do so with integrity.  

21 August 2018

Performance Art

During my vacation, I had the utter joy of attending choral Evensong, not once, but twice.  One day at Westminster Abbey and the next at Canterbury.  And yes, it was sublime in every way it was supposed to be.  The choirs were beautiful, the organ was powerful, the liturgy was the solid rock on which the rest stood firm.  Not to mention the beauty of the churches themselves....

Beautiful, and wholly unsettling.  Especially at Westminster.

We were herded into the Abbey for what was billed as prayer but was in fact a cultural event, a museum piece in music.  Under no circumstances were we to enjoy our surroundings.  The man seated next to my mother was upbraided by a verger for taking out his tour book, as if informing himself about the art and architecture in which he sat would take from the experience rather than add to it.

But more notably was the beauty of the choir.  Under no circumstances were we to sing back to them.  Each phrase was sung antiphonally, by the professionals only.  To add our own broken voices would have been a desecration of their art. And so I squelched my "and with your spirit" and my "Christ have mercy" along with any other informed Anglican in that chancel.  As luck would have it, I sat in a familiar place in the stalls, but felt alienated from any role, let alone my familiar one.

The familiarity of the experience heightened my loss of voice.

And that strikes me as the opposite of the Kingdom, in which the very brokenness of our voices is turned to beauty and our performance art is nothing in our Lord's sight.

14 hours later, some man decided to drive his car into the crowd just outside that same Abbey church. And from Canterbury prayers were offered at Evensong.

I'm not sure how or if I should respond to those two Westminster images, placed side by side in my mind now, both melancholy.  But more vivid for me is how, in Canterbury, a genuine prayer broke through the performance art in response to the evil of the day.

I hope it does not always take tragedy for truth to break through.  I'm afraid it all too often does.

Christ have mercy.


10 June 2018

Global Politics and a Petty Pet Peeve

Granted I've been known to say that if all my peeves were truly pets I'd have a menagerie.  But this one gets under my skin in a special way.  Its the kind of peeve that quietly (I promise the objective observer will not notice) brings out the Southern in me, the woman who smiles softly and gives you the answer you're looking for, all the while thinking (maybe saying) "Bless your heart" in that way northern-folk think we mean it. 

For what it's worth, "bless your heart" means a lot of things and most of it is nice. But most people outside of the South think we use it exclusively as a nice way to say "you're an idiot."  To be clear, there are plenty of words in the Southern lexicon for that, and when we mean to call you an idiot, we will use those words.  But there is a tone of pity in some uses of the phrase, an "I feel sorry for you" that can sometimes be gently offered when one is, in fact, being an idiot but the Southerner is  too well-raised to even begin to think beyond pity.

Misuse of "bless your heart" is another pet peeve, though and we were talking about a different one.

The peeve is this: when people learn that my youngest son is from Korea and the first thing they can think to say in response is: "Oh, is he from North or South Korea."

Bless your heart.

While I'm smiling and giving the answer the ones asking think they are seeking, here is what I'm thinking:

1.  My first thought is how ignorant of global politics, culture and history this question is showing the person asking to be.  Korea has been divided, partitioned by global political leaders acting in their own self-interest for only 70 years.  Genetically they are one people.  Historically they share one history, only one tenth of a percent of which is marred by this modern division.  They share the same heroes and legends, traditional dress, preference for their own regional kimchi recipes.  Their language, though each has developed a little bit of its own dialect as the world has changed in 70 years, is the same.  They both look to King Sejong as "the great" for giving them an alphabet of their own.  (And for what its worth, the alphabet is phonetic, not pictograms.)  Most South Koreans have relatives in the North.  There was a lot of movement before that border closed, and the whole peninsula is only about the size of Pennsylvania.

2.  Followed so quickly behind #1 as to be simultaneous: "Will my response to you change how you treat my child?"  Does it matter to you whether his historical geography is rocky and good for mining, or farmland turned ultramodern city-scape?  Does his city of birth change who he is as a boy, a student, an athlete, a neighbor, a US citizen?  Who he is as my son, his brothers' brother, your child's friend?

So why do I post this now?  Because this week 2500 reporters are watching as the US President, a man who has no love for his own allies, greets a North Korean chairman who has no problem dehumanizing his own people for his gain.  As they shake hands, mug before the cameras, and studiously ignore 70 years of policy and suspicions and human rights abuses that makes that most heavily armed border in the world more than a chance of geography.  As they studiously ignore the needs of both Koreans and Americans, to seek their own glory for an hour's strut and fret on global stage. 

I am not, you probably guessed, optimistic.  But when the cameras are turned off, the reporters go home, and each nation retreats back to its own isolation, I hope North Korean people, in America's eyes will again be humanized.  That Koreans, with their glorious history, can just be Koreans to us, especially when we encounter them in America.  And maybe, someday, that change in our hearts can be the true foundation of a unified Korea. 

22 November 2017

A response on the subject of Women's Ordination.... (Long, sorry!)

I am responding to a blog post found at toalltheworld.blogspot.com.  Go there first, please.  And admittedly this is just a longer and perhaps redundant version of my previous post.  But the internet keeps repeating itself on this issue, so forgive me. 

WRT: ToAllTheWorld-- Pressing on our two decade plus friendship in responding to this!

For the casual reader: Robert and I disagree on this issue.  That is not really the reason one should be surprised.  I should hope it possible to disagree with a brother in Christ and a genuine friend and not see that as anything unusual.  What is unusual is the depth of generosity he has shown in this disagreement, whether for the good of the Church or simply for the benefit of one or another sister in Christ who may be asking such questions in his presence.  On this I commend him.

My own position: I, like my brother blogger, hold to the importance and authority of not only Scripture but the tradition of the Church and reason informed by the Holy Spirit, in that order, for the formation of all opinions and positions theological and ethical.  I also agree with him that the Church herself has desperate need of unbiased, deep, dangerous scholarly and sacred research and conversation before coming to one mind, to which we must all submit our wills, however uncomfortably, if we are to become an Anglican Church in North America.  It is a risk all who are more interested in the good of the Church than in their own opinions, passions and callings should be willing to take. 

But herein lies the rub: it is a "risk" only to ordained women.  As a woman, a soft-feminist, and frankly as a Christian, I can see with both compassion, and admittedly at times frustration, that it is always the women, the vulnerable, who must take these risks.  Part of me will gladly compare the vocations of women to a rights issue (which this decidedly is not, more on that later) in the darker corners of my heart.  After all, no one in the ancient world considered freeing slaves and no one in the ancient world considered women quite fully human either.  Somehow, no matter how progressive and open minded and alert, no scholar or theologian quite realized that women are not ontologically deficient.  Jesus is another story, funded and followed, proclaimed and cared for by women, but then, he's the Son of God.  What do you expect?  Paul, perhaps, more a man of his age, can be remarkably progressive, commending Phoebe the deacon, greeting Priscilla, acknowledging the Church in Lydia's house.  A man of his age, however, is not going to insert any secret messages in his letters for ours.

The tradition likewise was written by men of their age.  Much of it is harsh. Much of it is openly misogynistic.  Much of it makes Paul look like a liberal.  But it has weight.  These are the chronologically and linguistically closest commentaries we have on the texts at question.  These are the cultural insiders.  We give them weight because they are closer to the original text than we are, culturally and linguistically and chronologically.

And so, reasoning and praying (that third step) I find myself about 90% convinced that women can be priests. The text seems to indicated a broad and generous understanding of women as proclaimers, pastoral caregivers, teachers, and even prophets.  I am completely convinced that women are not ontologically deficient and completely unconvinced that it takes a woman to act in persona Christi (as the Roman Church claims).  I'm even mostly convinced that in persona Christi is particularly unhelpful as a view of the priesthood, as it is held only in the West.  (The East is more likely to see the priesthood as in persona ecclesia (a term which I may have made up, but I don't think so) or standing not in the place of Christ but in the place of the Church, the Bride of Christ.  But then, I see no arguments for an all female priesthood.  But that is beside the point.

Even the Sacramentalist in me, for whom the priest is to make Christ known and present in the bread and wine, can point to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the ultimate woman priest, making Christ present and known in our midst beyond mere accidents of bread and wine.

So why am I not a priest?  Part of the answer (aside from more complex issues of vocation) is in that ten percent.  The shadow of a doubt, the desire to be an instrument of unity and not division, the passion for actual diaconal submission and service to the Church of God, forbids me to put my own sense of calling, my own desires, my own self in any form ahead of the body of Christ.  Ordination is not a rights issue.  Its a surrender of rights for the sake of another.  Its a "be subject to one another" issue.  I cannot fully love my brother in the Church if I do not put myself in subjection.

And aside from other issues of vocation, let me just take the gloves off here and say "this is lame."  Again it is women who are asked to be subject, but the men who cannot accept women as full human beings along with those who simply cannot accept women as priests (sorry guys, that you have to be lumped together here) are not asked to be subject to their sisters in Christ, and their brothers who would have women priests.  Mutual submission has never really been mutual.

I am, and always will be, an advocate for those who can't accept women priests and deacons.  I count many as friends, all as brothers (and sisters) in Christ.  I have, and will again if so called, stepped out and taken risks on their behalf.  Some of them, let the record show, have done so for me.  But the mood of the Church, on both sides, is not one of mutual submission.  The mood of the Church is one of political gain, debate, and dissent.

So in short, I agree wholly with Robert that the church needs an all-in risk taking, opinion changing, mutual trusting, theologically faithful study of the issue.  Ordained women should feel comfortable putting the chips on the table, if the table is truly our Lord's.  Others should feel compassion in addressing these women who hold nothing back for the sake of unity, ministry, and the authority of the Bride of Christ.  The men of the church, especially our bishops, should develop a sudden passion for the genuine ministry of women (beyond bake sales and altar guild, please!) and our women a real concern for the marginalization of men in our Churches.

I'm a vocational deacon, 100% sure that women can be deacons, but I place that on the table too.  There is no genuine study without going all the way back to the roots.  There is no genuine healing if anything is withheld.  I would be shocked to the core to be wrong, but it would be my place to offer my vocation (again and again regardless) to the glory of Christ and the unity of the Church.  But I ask my anti-women's ordination brothers (and sisters) to be cautious.  Make sure that the offerings of these women are honored, tended, cared for, and that submission, in all things Godly, is mutual.

ADDENDUM: 
Thanks to some friendly dialogue offl-blog from Robert (ToAllTheWorld)... an addendum must be made.  Sorry, that just makes this even longer. He asked if I were discounting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in calling Paul a man of his time.  God forbid it!  But his observation deserves my clarification.  From my reply to him (And I hope he will post from his message to me this morning):

 On Paul as a man of his time. I do not discount the inspiration of the Spirit, but you are correct to inquire there.  It is something I ought to clarify, and will do so.  In fact, I take a closer reading than those who might be more fundamentalist, those even who would consider it inspired-to-the-point-of-dictated. I marvel that God inspired and also preserved the personalities of the biblical writers.  Nowhere is this more clear than in Paul, who forgets his books and coat, writes through tears, is certain he will see the Philippians again (when he doesn’t), greets his friends by name, states his own opinion and differentiates it from inspiration, and shares a grudge.  Paul is so very, deeply Paul.  And he’s not the creep and misogynist he modern Church makes him out to be. 
 
And it would be very unlike the Holy Spirit to override that.  But here again is the parallel with the slavery issue.  The reader has every indication, from Jesus treatment of the oppressed, to the ongoing flow of the whole biblical text, to Paul’s ways of pressing and backing off, sending greetings and asking aid, that the subjugation of any person is wrong.  Women and slaves (ancient equivalents) flocked to the Church because their liberation, if not in a worldly now then at least in an ontological sense, was all over the message.  But nowhere does the individual biblical writer seem to step so far out of his own world as to see the full and radical implications of the poor over 2000 years.
 
My word about Paul is not a correction to Paul, but to us. 
 
I love discussing this with you, of all people, because we agree so very much in our disagreement.  It always kind of makes me laugh, but at the same time, its very sad that the Church as a whole can’t have a conversation like this.  I’m not sure where we forgot to love and trust one another, perhaps in the shouting matches of TEC, but we need to regain that also if the ACNA is going to hold.
 

19 September 2017

Exercising your salvation....


Recently in a Greek reading group, we wrangled a little with the idea of "working out your salvation with fear and trembling" in a way that reflects that the work is God's but we have a part in it, too.  We tossed around "live out" and "work out" as ideas needing to come together.  I came up with "exercise" which seemed trite and possibly weird, but the group liked it and the more we wrestled with it, the more I like my own idea, too.

Exercise it.  Like a workout in the gym.  Use what you've got, it didn't come from you.  Work out what God is working in.

All of those could be really lame church signs, but I'll take that for now.

In the background hum here is the bishops' statement, that came out at about the same time, on women's ordination (to the priesthood).  These weren't tied together at first but I've tossed them concurrently in my mind enough that they are now.

First a comment on the WO-P statement itself.  It is deeply disappointing.  On the one hand, it announces that there is not scriptural warrant for the practice to be held as a standard but, hey, we're going to do it anyway.  Way to throw ordained women under the bus (and since the statement makes little to no distinction about whether we are talking about women priests or deacons, though everyone kind of knows they mean priests, the mess is double.)

In fairness, here's the quote: "However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood."

I have long been an advocate for a risky all-in study of women's ordination, first to the diaconate (which we can settle more easily but also remains an open question among various parts of the ACNA) and then to the priesthood. I am convinced enough of the foundation of my call to risk it, both for the good of the Church and for the good of the Order.  I believe there is sufficient scriptural evidence for the practice and to say there is not without really reconciling the question is as damaging as to say there is and must be for all.  While the desire to protect the consciences of those who disagree is essential to our Christian formation, so must be the desire to protect the dignity of the order and to those ordained to it.

Furthermore, just saying, "Well we carried it over from TEC, so we're stuck with it" is disingenuous.  Our ordained women deserve to live and serve without the shadow of rebellion in their ordination vows.  That can only be done in honest theological evaluation, risk taking, mutual submission, and seriously radical Christian discernment.

To date, few involved on either side seem willing to be wrong.

Which brings me back to Philippians.  Treat one another as more important than yourselves.

My experience is that we do this, at least as far as we are able to discern the need.  I have several friends who are vocally anti-women's ordination sometimes including to the diaconate.  I have never been treated disrespectfully.  I am usually welcomed in conversations, fellowship, even real Christian friendship, though I walk around as a woman in a collar.  I will not label those who are against women's ordination as misogynists.  Let the true misogynists have their title and don't dilute it by applying it to those who simply disagree, whose consciences may be more delicate.

How can I not be a stumbling block to those brothers (and sisters)?

So I am writing to ask one not-so-simple thing of each "side" in the discussion, based off Paul's command for mutual submission.  Each is something one side is uniquely poised to give the other.  Hang with me.  Not all of it is fun....

1. Ordained women... speak up for those who do not accept you. Guard their consciences as you would your own.  These are your brothers. Give them voice.

2.  Anti- WO advocates... don't just give lip service to needing to support women in ministry.  Recognize that the College of Bishops' statement in that regard felt to many of us condescending, like a pat on the head.  (Women hate that feeling!)  Do not assume that supporting women's ministry means women's groups (most of them are awful and many of us do not care two licks about being "Keepers of the home") , convents and religious orders (we don't want to be cloistered either... not at home, not at all), and coffee hour.  Recognize that when the COB is all male, there needs to be a way for women's voices to be heard among them.  Right now, most task forces and leadership bodies are mostly male run and led.  Send women to seminary.  Carve out places for women leaders.  Hire us.  Give us voice.

3.  Both sides... be willing to be wrong.  Even at great personal risk.  Ordination is not a right.  This is not about social justice.  Nobody has a right to be ordained.  This is about being faithful, putting the Church first, the whole Church... not just the part you like.  You're talking about the Bride of Christ here, and in this argument you must recognize that she has been abused, battered, and bruised in recent history by both sides.

There is a way forward.  It just isn't the obvious and well worn path.

26 July 2017

When near becomes a noun.

The French have a word for it, "proche."  Its an adjective and it translates pretty directly to the English adjective near.  If something or someone is close by, it is proche.  But unlike in English, proche also becomes a noun.  Best I read it, its a word for those people who are near us, too near to simply be friends, but not relatives by any temporal accounting.  The closest we might come in the Church is being brothers and sisters in Christ, but then, that still doesn't grasp the idea.  Jesus had twelve disciples, but only Peter, James and John seemed to be his proches. These are the people close to the heart, the only ones a true introvert can call "friends" without wincing at the weight of that word, the family beyond the familial.

Beth was my proche.   I don't have many.  Despite blogging and teaching and jumping headlong into more ministry that I can sometimes handle, I am a very private person.  So was Beth.  We were seminarians together, but not really friends then.  We knew and liked one another but Beth was the sort of person you had to cultivate before you could use the word friend, she opened up only slowly. 

We were adjunct instructors together.  By that time we were indeed friends, and when I needed someone to vent a frustration to, ask advice of, celebrate a minor publication with, or complain about the lack of a steady gig to, she was there.   She got me.  I didn't have to explain in order for us to share the humor in our situation.  We thought and taught in some ways quite alike.  I remember one term teaching New Testament and she had a bunch for Church History, when I mentioned I was assigning my students a large timeline project.  So was she.  The poor students- we shared a significant overlap in course list- had two big timelines in the works.  We both wanted them to have tools for ministry when they were done.  They, on the other hand, were probably anticipating due dates rather than ministry.

We were moms together, homeschooling two fifteen year olds born a week apart.  Sometimes they got along, my son and her daughter, in their shared geeky interests.  Sometimes they profoundly did not.  It didn't matter, we shared curricula, ideas, and frustrations equally whether our kids appreciated the relationship we had built for them or not.

Beth passed away yesterday.   It took twenty years of cultivating a friendship with Beth-  she even measured her time in PA by how old (and tall, and eventually bearded) the infant I was holding when she met me grew-  but she let me walk a rough road with her the last couple of years.  She hugged me when I lost my dad (2000) and I hugged her when she lost her mom (2015).  She shared her struggles and I shared mine.  We laughed together when she lost her hair to chemo and it came back with the curls both of us wanted from childhood.  We prayed together in her last days. 

We blogged together too. She's over at Endless Books (on my blogroll) and she was far more the verbal craftswoman than I. 

Bon voyage ma proche et à Dieu.

25 June 2017

A book review

Some sweet friends gave me a pretty little notebook for Christmas.  Its the kind of notebook that you don't really want to take notes in.  Its the kind of notebook that makes me feel like my thoughts detract from the book rather than add to it.  Were I an artist, the unlined pages would no doubt be filled with elegant sketches and some day when I grew old and grey(er) my grandchildren would marvel at the talent in that pretty little notebook. 

But I'm no artist.  And so I was left with the question of what should I put in a notebook that would not be disposable.  What notes would I want to keep?  And so I decided to keep a running list of books I have read, starting January of this year, titles and authors. 

Entry #22: Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

I wonder if I am reading more books now that I am recording them, competing with the empty pages of a blank notebook.  Nonetheless, Girls of Atomic City captivated me.

Atomic City, for those who may not have guessed, was Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  I grew up on the other side of Anderson County from Oak Ridge, but my father remembered growing up in Oak Ridge itself, when it was indeed a secret city.  It was on no maps in its early days, and you had to have government credentials to come and go. 

According to Kiernan, nobody in Oak Ridge talked, not even among themselves, about what they did there in the early days.  My grandfather never did.  I asked my mother recently, as she was always close to her father-in-law, if he had ever shared those details with her.  He had not.  I do know that the family arrived in Oak Ridge sometime between late 1942 (my father was not born there) and 1948 (when I have a dated letter by my grandfather detailing his thoughts to a patent lawyer).  I know they had left by 1953, when my uncle would have graduated from Norris High School. 

The women in Kiernan's narrative often arrived in Oak Ridge without knowing where they were going or what work they would do there.  It may have been Oak Ridge where my grandmother moved into a house she'd never seen, but I have no other details about my own family's arrival there. 

I have an address (from the same 1948 letter) on East Drive.  That is all.  Kiernan describes the "Cemestos" (asbestos and cement composite) houses intended to last only a few years, though many still stand and house families, like that house on East Drive.  Alphabet houses, given letter names for the size and style of the houses, I wonder how my grandfather rated a "D" house.  (A houses were the smallest.) 

So now when I find pictures of Oak Ridge, I wonder who those nameless people are... women in a store (does she have my grandmother's nose? could we be related?) boys building a soap-box derby style airplane (could that be my uncle?) 

Kiernan's women were real women, many still living when her book was published in 2011.  Their stories of mud, "hutments," radiation, and secrecy have me captivated.  I wish I could interview my own Atomic City family and hear their own stories.