21 July 2010


“‘Bearing Witness’ is the Quaker term for living life in a way that reflects fundamental truths. Bearing witness is about getting relationships right.”

So begins a powerful book on sustainable economy, written by Peter Brown and others, called Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy. They note that modern science has moved away from reductionism, and they claim that “physical substances work and exist in terms of highly complex, interdependent, and changeable contexts and relationships.” Thus, the authors take the traditional Quaker term “Right Relationship” and apply it more widely—to the earth itself, to what it means for humankind to live in right relationship with the earth.

The grand premise of the title is worth the argument of this book. It is as good a primer as any about current “economic sustainability” conversations and issues. Somehow or another, the human race is consuming more of the earth’s stored energy than the earth can sustain.

Consider two other fine quotations from the book: “The economy exists for respecting and preserving life, not getting rich. Its frame of reference must be the laws that govern the cosmos as well as the earth—not just, for example, the laws of supply and demand. The economy can grow too big for the earth’s ecological limits, which means that endless growth is an irrational goal.” And “Economics based on consumerism and obsession with growth has become, in effect, the modern world’s state-sponsored religion.”

The last chapter of Right Relationship contains some ambitious political projects, proposing new governance principles, federations, and courts, ideas about which I must reserve judgment. However, I recommend the first four chapters of the book for their analysis and, in fact, for their theology.

Many of you know that I enjoy spending the summer season in the woods and on the water of northern Ontario, Canada. In fact, it is a place where I continue to learn about the wonder of God’s creation, and where I continue to learn about living in right relationship—with others and with the earth. I realize humbly that Ojibway and Cree Indians, some of the people whom Canadians consider “First Nations” people, have known about right relationship with the earth for a long time.

Three Day Road, the 2005 book by Joseph Boyden hearkens back to Ojibway and Cree First Nations culture, customs, and history, even though it is set during World War I, “the Great War,” when Canadians are fighting in Europe. One of the great sharpshooters of that war was a Canadian First Nations soldier, Francis Pegahmagabow, whom the book honors. I highly recommend this book, though it’s a war book, with some gruesome and gory images.

Three Day Road is also a tender book about the transition—sometimes quite tragic—from ancient First Nation customs to modern Canada. Its author, Joseph Boyden, represents a bit of that transition. Of Metis descent himself (and Scottish and Irish), he lives in Ontario half the year, and in the other half he teaches at the University of New Orleans. Finally, of course, the book is theological; a “three day road” is quite a journey.

(from the weekly Cathedral Times newsletter, here)

14 July 2010


On the Fourth of July, I always sing our official national anthem, written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, as he watched the bombing of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. I am a fan of Baltimore, and a fan of Francis Scott Key (a graduate of St. John's College, Annapolis, where my son also graduated).

However, on the Fourth of July every year, I also sing what I consider to be our nation's "unofficial national anthem," the great folk tune, "This Land is Your Land." The song represents the broad democratic identity of our country, and it speaks to our eternally hopeful and generous spirit. "This land was made for you and me."

It was the great folk hero, Woody Guthrie, who wrote that happy tune; and today, July 14, is the anniversary of his birth (today is also Bastille Day, when the storming of the Bastille prison added another spark to the fire of the French Revolution). Today, I salute Woody Guthrie's earthy wisdom and care for the common man (the common person). Those values are truly American.

03 July 2010


If you are running in the Peachtree Road Race this Fourth of July, swerve by the Cathedral of St. Philip for your holy water blessing! (Last year's video is on YouTube here. My remarks, "Why I Bless the Peachtree Road Race" are here.)

If you are not running, come to the Cathedral of St. Philip for praise and thanksgiving, using prayers for Independence Day, at 9:30 am (on the Front Lawn) and at 11:15 am (in the Cathedral).

God bless all of America on this Fourth of July! Join us in that blessing!


Jonathan Rauch is certainly on the progressive side of advocating for gay marriage (see his book, “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights and Good for America.”); but his comments in The New York Times on 3 July 2010 ("A 'Kagan Doctrine' on Gay Marriage,") contain a modest argument for a transitional arrangement on the matter. Essentially, he recognizes that majority preference may be a valid justification for the definition of marriage. Recently in California, that majority vote (in Proposition 8) overturned the allowance of same-sex marriage; and, of course, many states presently define marriage as the lifelong union between a man and a woman, not between two persons of the same sex.

But Rauch seems satisfied to let the debate continue and for one side to gather majority strength, not to have a decision or definition explicitly handed down from the courts. He has same-sex marriage in mind, when he so interprets Kagan's careful comments, which were: “The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people.”

Rauch may, or may not, be accurately interpreting Elena Kagan's remarks before the Senate confirmation hearings (that is another matter). However, he does use his interpretation of her remarks to construct a modest proposal. The proposal, he acknowledges, will "sting" both sides of the absolutist debate. (says Rauch: "She [Kagan] seems to be saying that protecting minority rights is the Supreme Court’s job description, but also that a civil rights claim doesn’t automatically trump majority preferences. This is something absolutists on both sides of the gay marriage debate don’t like to hear, but it has the virtue of being right.")

Of course, it will sting advocates for same-sex marriage, because the present voting California majority voted against same-sex marriage. However, Rauch's argument has the feature of allowing some future majority to determine otherwise. Thus, another vote, at another time (as different states presently differ in their various definitions of marriage) could overturn that definition.

The Episcopal Church has taken some historic steps in recognizing lifelong commitments between persons of the same sex, but we are also part of a larger, cultural discussion. Any permanent sort of progress will take even more time than many of us have already consumed. Jonathan Rauch's remarks remind us that political progress takes time.

Says Rauch: "the gay-marriage debate, while assuredly a civil rights argument, is much more than that. It is also a debate about the meaning of marriage, about the pace of change in a conflicted society and about who gets to decide. Whatever the activists on both sides say, nothing in the Constitution requires the Supreme Court to short-circuit the country’s search for a new consensus, either by imposing gay marriage nationwide or by slamming the door on it with an aggressively dismissive ruling. Sometimes the right answer for the courts is to step aside and let politics do its job."

I would translate Rauch's perspective into Episcopal ecclesiology in this way: Some parishes have determined that same-sex relationships should be blessed in a way equal to the blessing of a heterosexual marrage. Some dioceses have made similar determinations. The General Convention of The Episcopal Church may soon also affirm an offical public liturgy for same-sex blessings. But it would not be prudent for a parish to force that determination upon all its members, nor for a diocese to force all its parishes into such an agreement, nor for General Convention to force all dioceses to conform to one definition.

The work of the Holy Spirit takes time if it is to be truly long lasting. Legislative victories and judicial judgements are gratifying and worth celebrating, but they do not completely determine a matter. Often those victories last only as long as a quick seed sprouts and then withers because it has no depth of soil. It is the Spirit that provides the good soil, the depth of soil, that can bear fruit a hundredfold.

In fact, the process is a bit like marriage itself. No wedding ever determines a real marriage. A pronouncement may make the arrangement legal, and a priest may even bless the relationship. But the real marriage occurs over time, as two parties learn to live and to love together. They disappoint and they thrill one another. They betray and they honor one another. Ultimately, if they are truly married, they bless one another. It is that blessing, ultimately, which comes from God. It is of the Spirit, and it takes holy time.

02 July 2010


I read Stieg Larsson's first two books last year. I ordered his third last Winter from the United Kingdom, because it was not due to be released here in the United States until this past Spring.

Suffice it to say, then, I am a fan. I am struck by an underlying moral code that drives both the main characters, when they, and much of their surrounding culture, live so easily in a liberal, rootless, world. Now, his early death and disputed, complicated, estate have become another installment in the mystery series (chronicled quite well in "The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson," by Charles McGrath, The New York Times Sunday magazine, 17 May 2010).

As a fan, I was delighted to read Nora Ephron's quick, one-page summary of the three novel drama, here in The New Yorker magazine (titled, "The Girl Who Fixed The Umlaut")! What fun!