A Voice From the Not So Distant Past

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Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." R. Niebuhr

It is a good time in our national life to think on things we all agree on (or certainly should), and since we are the Church, to focus on those that have a theological dimension.  To do this I want to recall the Christian voice in public affairs most influential in the latter half of the 20thcentury (except perhaps Martin Luther King), Reinhold Niebuhr. A Presbyterian, he taught for many years at Union Seminary, and his most famous work was The Nature and Destiny of Man.He is often called a ‘realist,’ by which is meant a writer with a strong sense of the brokenness of human nature, of the doctrine of sin. Niebuhr himself would have attributed this insight to his study of St. Augustine. He famously opposed the pacifism of much of American thought in the years leading up to World War II, for, while pacifism is an indispensable witness to the Kingdom, here and now evil must on occasion be resisted.

If you consider the oft-cited quotation in the header of this reflection, you find in essence a Christian defense of democracy per se, not in terms of the social good, nor in terms of inalienable rights, but rather in terms of human nature in its twofoldness. Insofar as we are made in the image of God, our potential for idealism cannot be denied. We ought not to fall into resignation. But insofar as we are children of original sin, we ought also to avoid all forms of naïve utopianism, for we are capable of grievous wrong.  We humans need at once to be encouraged and restrained. We are ‘a little lower than the angels,’ and yet there is ‘no one righteous, not one.’ We need both avenues of progress and guardrails against tyranny. This sensibility is not lacking in our Constitution, whose balance of powers is a check against the authoritarianism we Americans fled, and its bill of rights is a guarantee of an element of freedom in keeping with the optimistic side of this seesaw. Things like term limits and financial transparency are consistent with this same ‘Augustinian’ skepticism. (I must confess I rather liked that proposal, offered by the ‘odd couple’ of Ted Cruz and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, to prohibit the lobbyist’s payday after public servant completes his or her service, a proposal neither party had any interest in).

In every American election, yet more important than either candidate is the electing itself.  Thus universal franchise and honoring the electoral result have an important  share in this theological warrant for democracy itself. We support them not only as Americans, but as Christians too.  They matter also to the rest of the world, for it is to these, in spite of all our flaws, that aspiring nations look, since they are signs of hope in a ‘city on a hill.’

 

Peace,  +GRS

Diary of a Bishop I

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Augustine of Hippo

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in Christ. In this season of being together largely apart, we are looking for ways to connect! In this spirit, I am offering a short account of some of the things I have been up to, not only the events themselves but the ideas that accompany them. I find that I am up to the usual things, but in a quite unusual way…it is doubtless similar for you. 

The Open budget Zoom discussion 

An unusual year has an unusual budget! We have tried hard to provide assessment relief for congregations, though these cuts are painful, as one could readily hear in this meeting. .]At the same we are meeting our mandate obligation to the national church in solidarity with other dioceses in financial trouble. We are also adding some money for feeding programs both in our diocese and in partner churches in south Dallas, since great need in greater Dallas is also a byproduct of the pandemic. The common thread is responding to the unique situation we find ourselves in.

Renewal 

Ministry is like your refrigerator; things get pushed to the back which often require attention. So it is for us, who have as a diocese benefited for many years from the Cursillo movement, which by God’s grace produced many devoted and energetic lay leaders.  Renewal Ministries has sought to keep its momentum forward going in this time when meeting is difficult by assembling a taped renewal movement resource.  I offered a talk on the sacraments and renewal which began with the image of ‘fire in the fireplace’ (from a book a generation ago by Charles Hummel). The image helps us see how the sacraments provide the focus and form for the work of the Spirit in our lives.

Virtual Discernment Day (August 10th)

Our discernment process continues, in spite of the virus. Ordinands always wade into a church of the future they cannot yet see, and this feels doubly true this year- I appreciate how intrepid they are.  Canon Jordan led the event with Sandy Mebus, chair of COM.  In my talk I used the example of the contemporary debate about virtual communion as an example of a new question that needs the theological wisdom inherited from the Scriptures to discern aright. (spoiler alert- I think it is a very bad idea!) That kind of wisdom requires the longer and more intense formation which residential seminary can better inculcate.

A brief thank you tour 

Virginia prepared two impressive testimonial plaques, and I drove to Texoma to offer one to Mike McGrew, who has done yeoman’s work on behalf of Camp All Saints in this difficult season, as well as Mother Nancy Powers, who is retiring after excellent work building up St. John’s, Pottsboro (as well as being a friend of the Camp). 

I believe that with God’s help we will be able to build on the efforts of both in the coming period post-Covid.

Prayer for Dallas 

Encouraged by the Mayor, we had an hour of prayer for healing and protection across a diverse spectrum of backgrounds and denominations. As I prayed them the words of the Great Litany rang true to our moment.  We were happy to be the host for this event, as a symbol of our spiritual and ecumenical unity. It is of a piece with our helping with feeding programs. The technical term is ‘holism’:  evangelism and outreach hand in hand is the definition of mission.

Welcome (August 23 and 26) 

We still have clergy comings and goings in this season, though we are not able yet to do the full kind of induction celebrations we would like to. I had a chance to offer a distanced blessing for Father David Miller (with Keeley) at St. Anne’s, Desoto, as he begins his ministry as priest-in-charge.

Justification (preaching in the Bishop’s Chapel throughout August)

I’ve been preaching on Romans from the lectionary throughout the month, as you may have been doing as well. Parishes have been borrowing the sermons off and on as clergy need them: in the next couple of weeks I believe that Good Samaritan, Dallas, and Resurrection, Plano will be using them. (I am grateful to Bishop Michael Smith who will be taking over this ministry for a month beginning in mid-September, and we hope to have a special mystery guest in the later fall).

I am struck by the way in which this season, of deep awareness of all we can’t do, opens us to the foundational reality of the utterly vicarious nature of our salvation- ‘while we were yet sinner, Christ died for us’ (5:8) so that ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ (8:1) Working through Romans is realizing how our house is on rock, though we may not feel so ourselves. Along these same lines, I have been working on a course called ‘Reformation Theology for Catholic Anglicans’ at Nashotah House for 2021. The goal is that students understand that we follow an evangelically catholic form of the Christian life. 

APNET 

While I haven’t visited in person, I have spent a good deal of time on the phone following the latest news from the Associated Parishes of North East Texas.  This is a new and collaborative venture which will constitute a new chapter in the life of this region of our Diocese. The linchpin is Bishop Fraser Lawton, assisting bishop and rector of St. Dunstan’s, Mineola, which functions as the pro-cathedral of the region. Trent Pettit was required to come. Home from his missionary assignment in south west Ethiopia due to COVID and unrest, and has done a good job as the vicar/priest-in-charge of the congregations in St. Philip’s, Sulphur Springs, St. Francis, Winnsboro, St. Mark’s and San Marcos, Mt. Pleasant, and William Laud, Pittsburg (as well as being a curate for St. Dunstan’s.  He is supported very ably by the other members of the team, Mother Ethel Channen and Father Gary Hill. Though so much change, we are hopeful that they will find new ways in which they can share one another’s ministries and bear one another’s burdens.

Meanwhile in the alternative reality called ‘Zoom’

Oh the places you’ll go (virtually).  I have listened with worry to a bishops’ continuing ed discussion in which some advocate virtual consecration in communion. I have sent a taped prayer of commendation for the family of the late Father George Mutengu in Uganda. I have done some liturgical bits and pieces for our own Convention worship. I have listened to a Zoom conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci in which he asked faith leaders to exhort their people to get the vaccine when the time comes (which I heartily endorse!)  I had a good conversation with our new rector at St. James, Texarkana, Dave Halt, and promised next time we meet he’ll get lunch! He has an array of interests, including a doctorate in Orthodox theology he is working on.  And I am preparing for a committee meeting with Archbishop Welby as he works to reconceive the Lambeth Conference in the midst of, and emerging from, COVID, a common disaster experienced differently throughout the world.

Please keep the people and ministries mentioned in your prayers, as well as your own priest and fellow parishioners. And ‘may the Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,’

+GRS

 

     

 

 

     

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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.

Amen.

GRS