a priest's musings on the journey

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Perpective: Thoughts on the Presiding Bishop's Call to a Season of Fasting

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. Philippians 2:1-15

This ancient Christian hymn embedded in this excerpt from St Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians describes the essence of what the Christian life looks like. The core value of Christian discipleship is self-emptying, sacrificial love; the same humble attributes that were manifested in Christ, who for the sake of love for all of creation was willing to embrace the hard wood of the cross, so that through his suffering, God would triumph over evil. Jesus himself taught that if we wanted to follow him we would have to deny ourselves and carry our own cross. He taught that the essential attribute of discipleship is love: we are called to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves. St Paul fleshes out this commandment to love a bit further in the Epistle to the Philippians by admonishing us to inculcate a humility which “regards others as better than ourselves” and looks after the interests of others. In so doing we are exalted by God, as Christ has been, to “shine like stars in the world,” scattering the darkness of sin and evil and illuminating the world with the brilliance of the love of God which empowers and sustains us.

Having already been called to a life of sacrificial love and having already committed to live this life with an affirmation of the baptismal covenant, I understand that the Gospel of Love calls me to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. It is only within this context that I understand what
Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori is asking us to do when she calls us to a season of fasting and abstinence for the greater good. I am, in fact, willing to make sacrifices for the health and welfare of the body of Christ; however, there are some observations concerning this call to a fast that I feel need to be made.

First of all, it is all to easy for the heterosexuals in the Episcopal Church to agree to abstain from blessing same sex unions and from ordaining gays and lesbians who have been called to serve God’s Church as deacons, priests, and bishops. What kind of sacrifice is that for them? How can that in any way be considered an act of abstinence for them? If gay Christians are being called to such a great sacrifice, then heterosexual Christians should be called to an equally sacrificial self-emptying, for the sake of bringing healing to the larger Body of Christ.

Yet, thus far, there seems to be no call for the heterosexual members of the Church to bear the burdens of the gay members. What sacrifices will they make? How will the stoop down to shoulder a bit of the weight of the cross that gay Christians are being asked to bear?

The Presiding Bishop compared the disagreement with gay inclusion with the controversy over eating meat in the early Christian community. She writes, “In those early communities, the meat available for purchase in the public market was often part of an animal that had been offered (in whole or in part) in sacrifice in various pagan religious rites. The troubling question in the Christian community was whether or not it was appropriate to eat such meat - was it tainted by its involvement in pagan religion? Did one participate in that religion (and thus commit apostasy) by eating it? Paul encourages the Christians in Rome and Corinth to recall that, while there may be no specific prohibition about eating such meat, the sensitive in the community might refrain if others would be offended. The needs of the weaker members, and the real possibility that their faith may be injured, are an important consideration in making the dietary decision.”

It is with this controversy and its solution in view that she calls us to a season of fasting. The difference, however, is that in the Pauline Church, the strong were asked to abstain out of love and regard for the weak. Now, the oppressed are being asked to abstain out of love and regard for the oppressor. Of course the very notion is iconic of Christ,

Once again gay Christians are being offered as an oblation for the sake of “the greater good”. We are all being called to a season of fasting, but only the gay members of Christ’s body are suffering. Gay Christians are being asked to bear the weight of this cross alone. And they will bear it; once again gay Christians will place themselves in the wounded hands of the Crucified Christ, and offer themselves with Christ on the hard wood of the cross in order to draw all humankind into the saving God’s saving embrace. Gay Christians will humble themselves and deny their baptismal right to be full participants in the life of the church. Gay Christians will fast the blessing of the Church on their loving, committed, monogamous relationships. Gay Christians will submit to being excluded from consideration for service as a bishop in the Church. Gay Christians will offer themselves in sacrifice for the greater good because Christ has called his followers to lay down their lives for others. Christ has called his followers to love their enemies; and if we must love our enemies, how much more are we to live sacrificial lives for the love of brothers and sisters. Gay Christians will enter into this season of fasting, knowing that “weeping may endure for the night, but joy will come in the morning,” realizing that while it might be Good Friday, in some days Easter will come. They can endure a period of not receiving the sacramental grace offered by the Church in the blessing of their unions, because they know that the Church’s refusal to celebrate sacramental grace for them can not bind the Holy Spirit nor prevent God from giving His blessing to them in abundant grace. Gay Christians can make this fast, trusting that even if the Church excludes them, God will never abandon His beloved and nothing will ever be able to separate any of us from the love of God. Gay Christians will walk the way of the Cross, because Jesus has asked his followers to love one another as he has loved us; and that means loving those who persecute, exclude, and oppress.

As for me, I have decided to find power and grace in this cross and in this fast. I will not be a victim; I will not be cast aside. I have recently discovered the tucum ring. It is a simple black ring made from the nuts of the Brazilian tucum palm by indigenous Indians and worn by the poor who can not afford gold rings and by those who choose its beauty over the beauty of a gold band in order to stand in solidarity with the oppressed poor. The tucum ring is a sign, a sacrament even, of God’s resistance of everything that is inhumane. It is a sign of the wearer’s commitment to stand up against injustice, oppression, sin, and all that disrespects the dignity of any of God’s beloved. It is a sign of hope that God will liberate the oppressed and relieve the pain of those who suffer. I wear it as a reminder that I am one with all who suffer injustice in the world for whatever reason, because we are all bound together in Christ. When one suffers, we all suffer; when one is rejected, we all have been excluded; when one is mistreated, we all are humiliated. I wear it because when one child of God is denied the sacraments, I am denied that same sacrament. When a committed, loving, gay couple is turned away from the altar and denied sacramental grace, then I have been denied grace as well; I wear the tucum ring because we are married to oppression until the Institutional Church acknowledges the liberation that God in Christ has already given all of God’s beloved. I wear the black ring because it reminds me that God is on the side of the oppressed, that God hears the cries of the poor, and that God is present, suffering and emptying out Himself in love in the midst of oppression and injustice. I wear the ring to remind me of the mystery that suffering and oppression somehow contribute to my sanctification and somehow enable me to be a bit more like God. I find comfort in the words of St. Peter of Damascus:

..the more a man is found worthy to receive God's gifts, the more he ought to consider himself a debtor to God, who has raised him from the earth and bestowed on dust the privilege of imitating to some degree its Creator and God. For to endure injustice with joy, patiently to do good to one's enemies, to lay down one's own life for one's neighbor, and so on, are gifts from God, bestowed on those who are resolved to receive them from Him through their solicitude in cultivating and protecting what has been entrusted to them, as Adam was commanded to do (cf. Gen. 2:15)." (Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 176)

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 12:38 PM


Well Father, you're a better Christian than I am. If the Presiding Bishop is going to surrender our provincial autonomy to a bunch of African zealots and fundamentalists, then I'm leaving the Church. I don't think we need "the Anglican Communion" to begin with, since the majority of "the Anglican Community" are just financial drains into which the American Episcopal church has endlessly poured money over the years.

Consecrate a few more gay priests, just to thumb our noses at them, and to tide us over in the Apostolic Succession, ruthlessly litigate against any rebel parish or diocese to keep our property as a Church, and leave the Commumion. It means nothing anyway, let's be honest.

So let's just leave them to their pigs and goats, and when the bishops over there can't buy that new model Mercedes they have their eyes on because the American Church no longer supports them financially, I bet things will change.

Bah! Matt's right. Organized religion has done more to retard Christ's Kingdom on Earth than all the Devil's work through all the ages. Nice theory if I believed in the Devil, and Hell, and all the rest of the crap they believe in over in Africa.

This whole struggle is about money, and power, and who is going to control the "Anglican Communion." If we, as a National Episcopal Church, show that we just don't care about being in the "Anglican Communion" their threats loose all power over us.

They want a battle, let's give 'em one! But I'm damned if I'm going to feel sanctified by being thrown back into the closet we all fought so hard to get out of.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:36 PM  
I am really really struggling with this. While I am in the Canadian church and not affected directly, I am disappointed that the shrieking of the right seems to have won the day. I hope this is Good Friday and that Easter is around the corner. Prayers for the TEC.
Blogger toujoursdan, at 2:07 PM  
As I told you several times, I tell you once more...

I ain't going nowhere and I'll leave only if they rebuke me.

The weaker they make me feel, the stronger I am, in Christ.

My greatest victory was when I realized, despite the entire world around me, that God loved me unconditionally. And they can't prevent me from announcing this love.

I miss you...
Blogger Luiz Coelho, at 2:37 PM  
How can one obtain this ring?
Blogger Ann, at 7:33 PM  
My ring was purchased in Brazil. I'll see if I can find out if they can be purchased in the US or perhaps online.
Blogger PadreRob+, at 8:23 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:02 PM  
Dear Fr. Rob,
I read your message in portuguese, translated by Luiz Coelho. Congratulations!
I use Tucum's Ring too.

Jailton T. Melo - Franciscan Postulant- Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil
Blogger Jailton, at 11:12 PM  
Congratulations Father Rob!
I use the Tucum's ring too.

Jailton T. Melo - Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil
Blogger Jailton, at 11:23 PM  
Padre Rob, my tucum ring arrived today thanks to a good friend. It's beautiful. I'll wear it in solidarity with all who are oppressed.
Blogger Grandmère Mimi, at 5:13 PM  

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