The Glorious 4th, red glare, witness and peace.

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, a day of remembrance that even in Lewes (the village by the sea) is multi-leveled, and multi-faceted. We watched the fireworks last night on the beach. Here is one great rocket's red glare....

I woke yesterday to read Susan Russell's fine essay on the 4th. Read it HERE. There is much to be thankful for and liberties are needed in order to express those thanks. The Mad Priest has some other strange and wonderful things to say HERE and HERE.

The same liberties make it possible to speak our minds and hearts, and so I was pleased to see a lead article in the Wilmington News Journal about the Lewes Silent Vigil, a group that has been witnessing the human costs of war for almost three years now. You can read that article HERE.

During the course of the day I was also catching up on the news, having been in Puerto Rico the past week. I was dumbfounded by President Bush's pardon of Libby and amazed by the articles in the Washington Post about the Vice President. The twisting of otherwise assumed characteristics of constitutional life in these United States - trial and, on conviction, punishment for offenses, and the normal understanding of the VP's office - made me all the more conscious of the blessings of liberty.

Critics of The Episcopal Church often compare our actions to an imperialism they clearly see in the workings of the United States as a whole. There is no doubt that The Episocpal Church has at one time or another acted in its missionary role with a paternalism that borders on the imperialism often seen in the state. But that paternalism is tempered in the church by the notion of perfect service, in which our liberties are subservient to the love we ought to have for one another. When I worked at the Episcopal Church Center I was reminded daily of that fact, for etched on the entry to the ECC was the phrase, "Whose service is perfect freedom."

Out there in blog-land the Confessions of a Carioca, the blog of Dan Martins, always has some tasty things to offer, and his latest, "A Valediction Forbidding Whining" and the two previous to it are thoughtful and wonderful pieces. Dan and I are often separated by a great divide, but by way of mutual friends salute one another and otherwise make amends for the testiness of these days. I was formed as a priest to a large extent by the low end of high church. At 14 I was low kid on the acolyte totem pole and at the Cathedral in New Orleans had the Saturday morning mass. The priest was also low on that pole, and he and I and maybe three or four faithful would make up the congregation. The service was Anglo-Catholic low mass - preparation prayers in the sacristy, foot of the altar prayers, last gospel, etc. It formed my sense of the Eucharist as a mystery beyond all telling and myself as standing on holy ground. As a result I have never doubted my vocation as a priest, knowing that God had called me to something new every morning that would require my voice and mind and heart. The freedom in knowing that the mystery of the faith was beyond my owning, but rather required my service, has stuck with me throughout the years. I suppose in that sense, low mass as I am, I am an Anglo-Catholic. So Dan's essay on the cost of a heart broken by the church's dis-ease struck a cord with me.

These are confusing times, both in the Country and in the Church. For this reason I found it particularly refreshing to be with the youth group from St. Peter's Church, Lewes, on a mission trip to Puerto Rico. We blogged the trip at SPYPR but suffice to say the young people confirmed my best sense of life in the faith. Among the things they remembered and appreciated the most was meeting and getting to know members of a congregation, San Paulo's in Arecibo, and after working with them coming back and going to Eucharist with them. They were delighted to know their way through the service (it being the Spanish version of the BCP) and when we got to The Lord's Prayer, which they had been practicing in Spanish, they belted it out as their own. They were home in the church that welcomed them on many levels, but most importantly they were welcomed as known companions.

Late in the day I posted several items on PRELUDIUM and was surprised that Kendall Harmon picked up on two of them, namely "The Gang of 13, or so. (Corrected 7/5)"and "The Council of Bishops and the moment of truth for the Moderator."After being away for a week or so from posting items on PRELUDIUM I have started writing again, but I am still trying to find a new voice a bit. The trip to Puerto Rico has reminded me of something about life in the Faith that is unmoved by all the doings in Anglican-land. Something in our faithfulness calls us always to both freedom and service, and that remains mostly not addressed by either the realignment crowd or the progressive, or by the great middle (whatever that is about).

I am convinced that the realignment crowd has made a mistake in believing that there is no room in the inn for persons in committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage; for believing that gay persons in a committed relationships, supported by the faith community, are none the less excluded from ordained leadership; for believing that progressives have abandoned the faith or become unbiblical; for believing that they must 'rescue' the Episcopal Church's members from the terrors of life in The Episcopal Church. I think the realignment community is actively engaged in a coup d'eglise, and I am willing to resist that attempt because I am committed to the life of this particular church - The Episcopal Church - and the community of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion.

Having said that, across the divide there are those who say, quite rightly, that we must not end up worshiping the Episcopal Church or even the Anglican Communion; that perfect freedom for Christians is in the context of service to Our Lord and the people of God; that no one's actions are in themselves justified; that the Bible does contain all things necessary to salvation. I agree.

My sense is that this particular Christian community, The Episcopal Church, is working out, with fear and trembling, its vocation in the wider Christian context - a world of churches divided and broken from one another by differences of doctrine, worship, biblical understandings, power and control issues, and sometimes silly small snit-fits. But fear and trembling is the order of the day, and that should bring us to some degree of humility.

I confess I don't do humility too well. In the first place, as a sometimes liberal I feel I must fight the temptation to give in to mere toleration when what is needed is resistance. Not knowing how to be resistant without being self assertive I drop the humility and am capable of some arrogance. Oh the other hand, as a sometimes progressive or perhaps visionary person, humility hardly enters since the vision overwhelms and carries me forward. Humility doesn't easily come to the progressive or visionary. It remains a virtue unrewarded. So fear and trembling are a good reminder.

Real divisive issues exist. That is why there are different churches. If there are those who don't like the decisions made by The Episcopal Church and want to overturn those decisions by whatever means possible, they should go at it. Indeed, they are going at it. It turns out that "whatever means possible" includes a well formed Grand Plan to supplant The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion with another Provincial body made up of the realignment folk, thereby increasing their sense of belonging to the catholic and undivided church and reducing The Episcopal Church to some sort of "denominational" or "sect" status. We must resist this effort with all our energy, faith and committent.

My sense is that we in The Episcopal Church, committed to this community's life and its engagement with the Anglican family of churches, need to be constantly insistent that we will live by our common ordered life, and maintain relations with other Anglican bodies to the fullest extent possible. What other Provinces do is their business. Those in The Episcopal Church unhappy with life in this community may of course leave. Other Provinces will do as they wish regarding relationships with varous breakaway groups or new formations of combined presence in the US.

But we need to be clear that we are about mission and will not be dissuaded by division. We will be true to the vocation we perceive God has set before us. We will support mission work and relief efforts as we have opportunity. We will remain part of the Anglican Communion, and if rejected by some will continue in relation as possible with those Provinces that will do so.

The service that is perfect freedom includes the ability to laugh a bit at ourselves. I have been taking seriously the divisions within the Anglican Communion, but it is important also to remember that the Anglican Communion is a gift, not a promise. It is something we have been given to work with, it is not the promised undivided church.

Sometimes, it seems to me, we need to laugh a bit and move to that place where our witness for freedom and perfect service is firmly grounded by sitting on the beach and watching the fireworks and being at peace. I've a poem on the subject at Two Fish Poems. Perhaps there is a place where Dan Martins, Baby Blue, the Mad Priest and even I might sit, watch the rockets red glare and go, "aaaaah."


  1. Mark,

    I know there are people out the who won't like what you've expressed here but I couldn't agree more with you. Thanks for this thoughtful and well written piece.

  2. Wow ... honored, I'm sure, to be mentioned in such a fine piece as this one! Happy 5th of July!


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