A Burning Patience


Pablo Neruda delivered a Nobel Lecture in 1971 on receiving the Prize for Literature. It is an amazing statement about poetry and life in community, and worth quoting from at length.

“I have often maintained that the best poet is the one who prepares our daily bread… The baker does majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colors, and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship.  And if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of community, the changing of the conditions which surround humankind, the handing over of human products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.  If poets join this never completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all their part of the undertaking, effort and tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity.  Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”

I can imagine my friends Fleda, Devon and Tom kneading the dough of daily poetry-bread, building community thereby, and restoring the whole dream of humanity. I can, on a good day, imagine myself kneading such bread. But more I can imagine “the work of all people” contributing to the bread, truth, wine, dreams, of the whole community, and in that can imagine taking my part in the restoration of human community as priest, printmaker, poet, and struggler with all the normal foibles of life, including the cancer that now preoccupies my time.

This last week was difficult for me on many fronts:

We elected a President in that awkward sort of way, where we give our popular vote to a gang of electors who are in turn pledged (mostly) by states to vote for the statewide winner in the Presidential election. And after all the rationale of just why we do this and how we do this we end up with someone who has a majority of electors, never mind who won the popular vote. It is a strange way of doing things, but there it is. So we have a new president elect – Donald Trump – with a small majority of electors apparently to his side. He will, without question, be kneading bread of some sort or another in the coming days.   Secretary Clinton with the popular majority will be looking elsewhere for how she will contribute to the “bread, truth, wine, dreams of the whole community.” But I am not easily confident that either will be able to nourish the whole dream of humanity very much, at least right now.

Leonard Cohen, whose poetry and song have been part of my life even before Pablo Neruda wrote his essay, died this week. “Suzanne takes me down…” to “Hallelujah…” to the wonderfully dark and twisted workings of his mind and soul have fed me as bread and wine for a new communion in apocalyptic times. Fortunately,  there is so much, because he fed himself and us almost every day, and we can always return to his poetry for nourishment.

More locally and precisely, concerning my cancer treatment, the radiation treatments this week have begun to affect my sense of taste. At least for a while bread and wine will fail the test as sacraments of community. So truth and dreams will have to come in other ways. I am learning to eat not for pleasure, but of necessity. But what kind of community does that entail?  Sure, “we do not live by bread alone, but by every Word.” But how is the word made tasty?  So I am afraid I am losing a grip on community as I lose taste. And I am longing for new words and signs. (Sigh.)

And this last Thursday I had to have a feeding tube put in so that as the tastiness of bread disappears and it becomes more difficult to swallow, I can circumvent the whole thing, and find nutrient without even pretending to eat.

It was, in other words, a week in which I have not been feeling very nourished at all… not the bread of politics, or the bread of singers, not the taste of common food or even the commonality of eating seemed immediately available.

And yet there has been nourishment of human community, of love, of support, even as we all have come to grips with the great puzzlements of increasing impairments.

And then I remembered Neruda’s essay, Toward the Splendid City. I remembered that Neruda began the lecture by recounting a difficult journey across the Andes between Chile and Argentina. He was, as many of us are now, on the lam. He spoke of strange small rituals in the mountains, where he and his companions left markers, as had so many others, in small sacred spaces, and how he joined in a dance high in the night sky, and how very small things – a bit of bread and some wine – made for humanity in a torturous time in his life.

So I got a copy and read it again. And there, almost at the end, Neruda quotes a prophetic utterance from Rimbaud the visionary. “In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities.” 

He says at the close, “I wish to say to the people of good will, to the workers, to the poets, that the whole future has been expressed in this line by Rimbaud: only with a burning patience can we enter in triumph the splendid City which will give light, justice, and dignity to all people.” (translation my own).


So I say to my friends it is indeed a time for burning patience.  The necessities of bread, truth, wine and dreams are all there, they are our gifts to one another.

And they are sufficient.


Dealing with Cancer.

I have cancer. Don’t know where else, but at least in some lymph nodes in my neck. As they say, “the news is not good.” I found out yesterday afternoon.  Kathryn is with me and her presence is wonderfully calming.  I wish there were ways to write each of you personally, but there it is.

I’ll know more than I ever wanted to later, but for now it is enough to say that much of my attention turns to the unwelcome visitor and days ahead that are even less in my control than usual.  I’m a bit in reactive mode just now, but God willing will turn more proactive as possibilities for treatment emerge.

Cancer is not another name for death, but I am aware that cancer often deadens the life force. So my most proactive work right now is (i)  to pay attention to the work Kathryn and family and I,  and lots of health care people, have to do dealing with the cancer(s) and (ii) to pay attention to living creatively and with imagination. 

It also means that in this next period I will need to focus on these things and not others. So I will be resigning from a variety of civic and religious committees and stepping back a bit from the busyness of life.  But conversely I will hopefully step forward with at least some grace into those dangerous areas where body and spirit are tested.

So, I’m dealing. Kathryn’s dealing.

What I need from friends is your dealing too.  We will no doubt need help dealing with life not in control. I know I will need friendship and love. I will mostly need compassion.

What I don’t need is too many questions, too many assumptions, too many solutions. Dealing is not rescue. Dealing is not avoiding death (which is really bad theology.)  Dealing is a sacred walk. It is an example of the journey being the destination, which is about God NOW.

So…pray with me for a good walk, perhaps walking away from the unwelcome visitor, perhaps walking with it, but a good walk none the less, in which holiness and loving kindness is present. I’ll pray for you too. After all, we’re all dealing.


The Church of Brazil and its new prayer book.

The Primate of The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil sent me a copy of the new Book of Common Prayer (2015) for the  Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. It was a marvelous gift. It is a hefty tome, some 1181 pages long, printed on rather thick paper, so the book is BIG. It is the culmination of a great project.

The BCP for the national church in Brazil appears to be based in large part on the texts and organization of The Episcopal Church's 1979 BCP. But there is much that is new and sets it apart from TEC's BCP.

There are some really fine new liturgies. For example, there is a liturgy of the passion and one for the seven last words. There are a wide range of Eucharistic prayers - a Rite I liturgy and Rite II, with seven Eucharistic prayers. 

Each section of the BCP is introduced with a short commentary on the rites included. Even with bad Portuguese I get the meat of these commentaries. They are a fine addition.

The IEAB BCP is a great "cook book" of liturgical material. But like the TEC BCP it pushes the limits of being a manual that is a book held in the hand of the believer. 

The TEC BCP is of manageable size only because it is printed on thin paper. But the BCP in Brazil is on heaver paper and hefty. Too hefty to be really handheld. In the TEC BCP the careful observer will note that the spine gets broken and the pages pushed forward on those sections everyone uses, and the rest remain mostly unread and unused. I suspect the same will happen with the IEAB BCP.

Occasionally I return to the English "official" BCP which is in fact a wonderful "hand held" item. It is small, compact, and contains the core of English liturgical life. Of course it does not contain all that CofE worshipers now use. Additional materials are published and some of those provide the working norm for life in parishes. But the core material in the BCP provides a manual for devotion. And, it is manual.

The question then is this: Is it time both in the US and in other churches that derive their liturgical material from TEC to consider a smaller set of texts as the core, to be published in one volume, and a second body of material that includes materials used only occasionally. They could both be considered part of the BCP. Part II would not be a supplement, but rather a "volume 2" of the official liturgies of the Church.

The current BCP in the TEC and Brazil might be reduced to a 500 page book. A second book - including "traditional" forms of the Daily Offices, Eucharist, and the special services of Holy Week and other special observances, along with the Ordinal, and the Historical materials, could be published and be available as a kind of "Part II" of the official liturgical materials of the church.

The Church of Brazil has done a massive work. It is to be congratulated for having done so. But the expansion of the BCP to a larger and larger tome means practically that it is no longer easily manual... something to be held in the hand. It is a large lump. In an odd way it begins to be a professionals book, not a people's book.

In new revisions of the TEC's  BCP perhaps the IEAB's BCP is a reminder that it is time to rethink what we want in a BCP. Do we want everything all in the same book, or do we want a book that we can hold in worship and in the quiet of our own place of secret prayer? Do we want a book that contains everything and becomes a cook book, or is it time to return to a people's prayer book, small enough to be a devotional manual?


Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon speaks his mind

Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon gave a major address to the meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). The Living Church thankfully saw fit to publish the whole thing, HERE. 

I want to suggest that this address concerns positive mission action on the part of the churches in Africa. But it is hard to get there unless one reads and rereads the text, and the text lends itself to flashy headlines and the preoccupations of the West with how it is viewed these days by the Churches in Africa.

Unforunately the title given for the article in the Living Church was "You are the Majority."  That title was taken from the following statement by the Secretary. It was the bridge sentence between his comments about the work of the Anglican Communion Office and his comments about CAPA and its work. He wrote:

"You are the majority of the Anglican Communion. You have resources of skills and experience in Christian discipleship and witness in challenging contexts to share with the whole Communion. Please do challenge and shape the work of the Communion Office to enable us to serve you and your ministries in the best way possible."

It was perhaps just too tempting. After all, the numbers game has been used and abused by the folk who have formed the Anglican Church in North America for years as a way of saying they are on the "winning" side in some fierce battle for the souls of Episcopalians and members of the Anglican Church of Canada. 

The notion was that ACNA (and its predecessors) was part of the real, the winning, the majority of the Anglican Communion and that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada were on the slide into the dustbin of the unfaithful, secularized and culturally compromised churches that no longer were legitimate witnesses to the faith "once delivered."  

So a quick read of this observation by the Secretary General would seem to be that it was a shout out for Anglicanism in Africa as the stalwart beacon of hope for the Anglican Communion, and an affirmation that all that ACNA has argued for in their claim to Anglican identity by identification with many of the churches in Africa.

That read I believe is wrong.

After careful reading and rereading of the Secretary General's address I believe a better lead is not "You are the majority" but rather something from what he says later in the address:

"CAPA should give a lead ... with on-the-ground action to empower and enable our people."   So the title might well have been "African Anglican Churches called to empower and enable the people."

My sense is the Secretary General's address is about a major new perspective on empowerment being raised again, one that might break the chains of colonial and neo-colonial perspectives of the older and mostly western Anglican provinces. 

He spells out first the reality of the churches in Africa, as he understands them, and the old perspective that continues to be touted by some in the west.

First he observes, 

"Through our work, we are the source of the gospel, of education, of democracy, of civil society and political parties, and of the reduction of maternal and child mortality on our continent.  

These were not imports from outside. These resulted from the work of our African grandfathers and grandmothers in the faith. They were the village evangelists, and catechists, and schoolteachers, and nurses and farmers and labourers and parents who brought to our continent the living Word of God, Jesus, through the written Word of God, the Bible, in the power of the Spirit. It was Bible-believing Christians who have transformed the face of Africa in the last 150 years, and we can transform it again. 

This is the truth."

Then the critique of the west:

"But this is in sharp contrast with how we are represented by others who do not have our best interests at heart. They present us as being 50 years behind the rest of the world. Their view of progressivism places them at the forefront of historical and social development — with us Africans bringing up the rear.

Even worse, deep down, they think that all of us, whatever our faith and commitments, have our price. They really believe that it will only be a matter of time before we fall in line with their view of the world, of culture, of marriage, of community either through conviction or, if not, then through convenience."

This assessment is not new. It was present in the work up to the Anglican Congress of 1963, which gave rise to the notion of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, MRI.  MRI was supposedly to address the problem of doner and receiver churches and the colonial attitudes that essentially placed all the decision making for mission in the hands of the mission givers. MRI failed at that task, even as it encouraged the emergence of new supposedly autonomous Provinces of the Communion and new ways of engaging in mission across the Communion.

The problem was that support for the newer churches was accompanied by considerable suspicion that the newer churches, mostly brown and black, were not ready for self-administration, even if they had forms of self-governance. There was (and still is) the sense of "... Africans bringing up the rear."  The suspicion on the part of the churches in Africa and elsewhere was that,

"they think that all of us, whatever our faith and commitments, have our price. They really believe that it will only be a matter of time before we fall in line with their view of the world, of culture, of marriage, of community either through conviction or, if not, then through convenience."

MRI has failed to bring in a new way of thinking of mission engagement across the Communion. The old suspicions persist - that the newer churches are not up for the task and the older churches are imposing their culture, world views and theologies by the use of money. "They think that all of us have our price."  This suspicion (which had some merit) was magnified by those in the US church who were moe than ready to have TEC seen as a monster, buying Church's support for a price. And it wasn't helped by the apparent willingness of some in TEC to do just what they were accused of doing. 

In the 1970's Canon Burgess Carr believed that the only solution was to have a moratorium on all missionaries to Africa (and I presume all projects driven by foreign monies and mission personnel) so that the Churches in Africa could be free of colonial domination. His solution met with little support.

It was not until the emergence of two ideas in the last decades of the 20th and the first of the 21st Century that any of this was countered by new perspectives. 

These were: (i)the notion that mission was not defined by mission agencies and their agenda, but defined by God's call to peoples, by God's mission, for which peoples in various places and times are called to service, and  (ii) the notion that sustainable development was primarily the product of local assessment and response to issues directly by the peoples involved.

Thus, the argument now is that the future belongs to those called by God to God's mission locally, and those called to directly engage the issues faced by the Christian communities in place. Of course there are wider engagements, for at best none of us is an island. Of course there are local issues that are closely related to world issues and crises. But the beginning is with churches in local context. 

My sense is that The Secretary General was addressing the Council of Anglican Churches in Africa with a way forward that stresses the work of the national and regional churches  (provinces) of Africa. 

The Anglican Communion News Service posted an article that at least hinted to this. It's title is this: 

"African Churches urged not to be distracted by Western progressives."

Unfortunately the body of the article stresses the Secretary General's critique of "Western progressives," and the positive agenda not so much. Positive news doesn't sell well even in the church press.

It is only by going to the text that we can see what he proposes instead of that distraction.  It is certainly true that he apparently considers the western progressive agenda (whatever that is) to be wrongheaded. He affirms what has to be affirmed in much of Africa if there is to be any further conversation. He says,

"Our African churches can never be social progressives in the sense beloved of the West. We will never allow our churches to be taken over by views and programmes which suggest that the Bible is wrong. We will not crumble or bow the knee to a godless secular culture that despises the Bible and what it teaches." 

Well, as a western progressive, I think I'm no more up for "crumbling or bowing the knee to a godless secular culture that despises the Bible and what it teaches" than the Secretary General is. I suspect we differ strongly on what the Bible teaches.

But there it is. He flies the flag of independence from the West. I suggest he does so because independence from the West is necessary if the church is to speak to the nations in which it is placed and if the church is to promote sustainable people driven development. In the very next sentence of his address he states more positively:

"Actually, our African churches are already progressives. We are seeking to live our lives in accordance with the will of God in the kingdom of God, which is the real future for humanity that measures all human progress. And that kingdom is marked here on earth by the priority it gives to the poor in the ministry of the gospel and the concerns of the people of God."  (bold mine)

Remembering who he is speaking to, the Secretary General goes on to say,

"I have to confess to you that I am deeply disturbed by some of what is happening in the Communion and its churches today. I have seen Anglicans who are poor and marginalized in their own societies plead for their right to maintain Anglican orthodoxy in their own churches, only to be swept aside by a campaign to change the churches’ teaching on marriage and so-called rights of equality. This is something I take to the Lord in prayer again and again."

I am not sure who he is talking about when he talks of "Anglicans who are poor and marginalized in their own societies (who) plead for their right to maintain Anglican orthodoxy in their own churches, only to be swept aside by a campaign to change the churches’ teaching on marriage and so-called rights of equality".  Surely not ACNA.  The notion that ACNA is a poor and marginalized crowd is propaganda from within ACNA itself.

And it is terrible to see him write despairingly of "so-called rights of equality."  But there it is, and it will have to be addressed. 

Yet, with all this he then asks,
"So as we meet, what can CAPA offer the African Anglican churches today?"

His answer is revealing of what the "real challenges" include.

"The Real Challenges 

May I humbly put forward what are the real challenges that the church in Africa faces? I wonder if you agree. You may have others to suggest.

How can we release resources for enterprise solutions to poverty? Facilitating a water production plant here; pioneering employment for families devastated by HIV/AIDS there; instituting banking for the poor so that they can have access to further economic resources for their own development?

How can we build a new generation of leaders in a country like South Sudan? This is an agenda for CAPA to respond to. It was CAPA who called in 2008 for a response to the newly liberated country of South Sudan and sent a delegation to consult with Archbishop [Daniel Deng Bul] and his colleagues. This led directly to the founding of Manna-Microfinance by the Diocese of Juba, the most successful small business loan service in the country to date.

How can we overcome the impact of tribalism in our nations and our churches? You will have experienced this problem over and over again, with each tribe wanting its own diocese and its own bishop far beyond the realistic resources of the people of God to sustain this wish.

What does it mean to be a citizen of our nations? What does citizenship involve?

Should we promote a religious or accept a secular basis for our multifaith nations to ensure their cohesion and prosperity?

How can we prepare and protect our churches and our nations in the face of militant Islam? It is hitting the Middle East and Europe at the moment. It has already hit hard in Nigeria and parts of East Africa.

Can we help our people and our politicians understand what is really going on, draw on the resources of Christian faith and our communities to address it, and face it down? Not in the name of defeating anyone, but in the name of preserving communities of God’s faithful people to hold forth the word of life and the good works of the gospel."

He then cautions against becoming embroiled in the agendas of "other people," by which I believe he means the issues in the "Western progressive" churches.

"Very few of our provinces have the skills, resources, or networks to address these problems. And so we tend to leave these problems to others. We then become totally embroiled in the agendas of other people in the Communion, which, while important, are not central to the life of our churches or our nations. Yes, it is important that we maintain our faithful witness to the truth of the Scriptures and the churches’ teaching on marriage as set out in Lambeth 1.10. That will never change. But our churches are called to do far more than that." (bold mine)

He then returns to the list of concerns he has for the Church's presence in African nations.

"May I suggest that CAPA should give a lead in embracing these challenges with practical responses, with on-the-ground action to empower and enable our people?

Many friends and supporters in Anglican and other churches, and in international agencies, are waiting to engage with churches that are committed to the goals of sustainable development.

There is no lack of money for work that genuinely helps people gain a better life for themselves and their children through inspiring and enabling their own enterprise and ethical commitment."

It is too narrow a focus to look at the Secretary General's remarks about "Western progressive" churches. The more important part of his challenge is about "more than that."

I believe these remarks concern a clarity of direction for the Churches in Africa that is independent of the ecclesial and theological fights in the West, independent of the suspicions of the past, guided as they are by givers prejudices and receivers being reduced to beggary. His positive questions for CAPA's future, for the future of the Provinces in Africa are important and are clearly stated. 

I belive too that, looked at as a whole, this address is less an attack on the West and more a call to the Provinces of Africa itself.

The Secretary General ends with these comments:

"I believe CAPA should focus on these initiatives:

Facilitating the Anglican Provinces of Africa so they can engage with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. This should be facilitated by the Anglican Alliance, and there is every possibility that such partnership, backed by the [Anglican Consultative Council], would get adequate financial support from state and private sources.
Equipping the Provinces to understand and respond effectively to the challenge of Islam. A small committee should be tasked with developing a programme that supports and builds provincial initiatives. I would suggest that the Barnabas Fund and PROCMURA could and should be asked to assist with this programme.
Educating: Producing a programme of education and training in citizenship that will deal with the issues of tribal conflict, tribal belonging, and identity as citizens."

So, a question for us "Western progressives," is this: What of this agenda can we embrace and support? And how do we deal with being maligned by the same voice that speaks of new possibilities for engaging sustainable development?