“God You Search Me,” Fran McKendree (video by “mulkwolf”)
In the early 1970s, when I was a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, a folk-rock band called McKendree Spring performed on campus. The same year, we also enjoyed Michael Kamen’s New York Rock And Roll Ensemble and Tony Williams’ Lifetime, featuring Cream’s Jack Bruce and guitar master John McLaughlin. The Andover administration was then offering us prep school boys fine music in lieu of coeducation.
McKendree Spring was on tour (with a fiddle and no drums, roots music before the term was coined) backing the second of its seven albums, “Second Thoughts,” which had a wonderful cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” as well as an original, “No Place To Fall,” that was my favorite song for about two years — or so I burbled over the weekend when I got to share a dinner conversation with Connecticut-born co-founder Fran McKendree at a clergy conference in Palm Springs. An Episcopalian since young adulthood, Fran appears regularly at clergy and youth retreats around the country while continuing to perform concerts and record. His new album, “Rise,” is praise music for the thinking person. During an impromptu after-dinner concert last night, he performed a 12-bar blues about the three-legged stool of Anglican theology:
Scripture, tradition, and reason/That’s where I take my stand
Accompanied by photos assembled by a YouTube philanthropist, Fran’s song above, “God You Search Me,” is based on Psalm 139, the composer’s favorite. A McKendree Spring live reunion album, “Live at the Beachland Ballroom,” came out in 2006 and is available at iTunes, but it doesn’t include my old favorite, and Fran’s composition, “No Place To Fall.” I still have the LP somewhere, but I mislaid the turntable in 1995. He’s going to check and see if he has a digital file to send me. God is good!
More questionable political labeling. At the London Telegraph, a woman in charge and gay people with rights equal “ultra liberal”:
[I]n the USA…clergy have abandoned the ultra-liberal Episcopal Church, which is run by a woman and where an openly gay bishop has been elected and same-sex unions blessed, in favour of churches in Africa and South America.
Episcopalians against marriage rights for gay and lesbian people say that they are counting on pro-Obama voters to pass Prop. 8, which would amend California’s constitution to ban same-gender marriages. Conservative blogger David Virtue:
The irony is that substantial numbers of black voters turning out for Obama will vote Yes on 8. Homosexuality goes against the grain for the vast majority of black church folks.
The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, an Episcopal priest in Seattle, is on the verge of being defrocked because she also professes a belief in Islam. Here is her story. Easy to ridicule her, but think about someone who is evidently called to embrace God in two seemingly irreconcilable faith communities, who can’t bring herself to renounce either, and who feels completely welcome in neither. Who would want to go through that? When people suffer in this way, it is sometimes good to still the voice of judgment in our hearts and remember that, in God and in Christ, nothing is irreconcilable. Remember that one about how God works?
All over the country, conservative Episcopal churches and dioceses, upset with the denomination’s prevailing views about gay and lesbian people, have attempted to leave the church-institutional while trying to keep their churches-structural. One of the largest to try to leave was the Falls Church in Virginia.
Now the local newspaper, with some of those who opposed the split as sources, suggests that the conservatives engaged in electoral monkey business. Names even come up of some who benefited from the Presidential events in Florida in 2000:
In accordance with the [Virginia] statute, [Episcopalians in good standing Robin Fetsch and Gail Turner] note, the number that voted to defect was officially reported as 1,221. But in December 2005, the church’s annual report listed its membership as 2,836 and in May 2006, its mandated annual Parochial Report to the Diocese listed membership at 2,484. Therefore, by either membership count, the number who voted to defect was less than a “majority of the whole number.”
They added that many long-standing members of the church were not allowed to officially vote, but told to complete so-called “provisional ballots,” more than 200 of which were cast, but none of which were counted in the reported vote count.
Turner said that neither he nor his wife, members for more than 15 years, were allowed to vote, and Fetsch added that her son, who was both baptized and married in the church, was not allowed to vote, either.
That’s because, it was explained to them, “membership” was defined as, for purposes of the vote, not only being baptized, but having received communion three times in the past year in that specific church.
So many church members either did not vote, or their votes were not counted, that instead of Yates’ claim in the church’s 2006 annual report that “90 percent of our church family strongly supported this decision,” the actuality was that “30 percent of the church family did so,” Turner said….
Meanwhile, noted Bush administration associates and fellow travelers such as Alberto Gonzales, Porter Goss, Michael Gerson and Fred Barnes flocked to the church, along with many political conservatives from around Northern Virginia. Over 80 percent of the membership comes from those circles, she claimed, adding that only 15 to 18 percent have real Episcopalian roots.
President Nixon did an event in Miami for this courageous House member not long before his death — and folks, she’s Episcopalian. MSNBC:
GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, said she was switching her “no” vote to a “yes” after the Senate added some $110 million in tax breaks and other sweeteners before approving the measure Wednesday night.
“Monday what we had was a bailout for Wall Street firms and not much relief for taxpayers and hard-hit families. Now we have an economic rescue package,” Ros-Lehtinen told The Associated Press.
Preaching during a back-to-school chapel Thursday morning to 700 first through eighth graders at an Episcopal school in south Orange County, California, I tested the kids’ political chops by asking them for the last names of the four major-party candidates as our headmaster (striking a bipartisan note, with both donkeys and elephants on his signature bow tie) looked on.
Obama, they answered with admirable confidence.
Biden, they said with somewhat less certainty.
McCain, they said, rallying again.
And when I asked for the last name of Sen. McCain’s running mate, they shouted — louder than for the first three put together — “SARAH!!”
Yep. She’s already cool.
*Pace the great Carlene Carter
At “Salon,” Mike Maddon describes his Sunday morning at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, the day after the Civil Forum featuring Sens. McCain and Obama. Like most political writers, Madden’s focus is on whether Republicans can continue to count on Christian evangelicals. While his informal survey of the congregation didn’t uncover any admitted Obama supporters, most observers believe that on a national level, younger evangelicals are less dependably Republican than their forebears (though often no less conservative when it comes to abortion, homosexuality, and non-Christians’ access to God’s saving love).
Maddon’s article has one odd note:
The audience Saturday night — and Sunday morning — was certainly conservative, even in the press filing center, where, surprisingly, some reporters stood and sang along when the national anthem was played before the forum.
If they were Americans, why wouldn’t they?
The church I serve, St. John’s Episcopal in Rancho Santa Margarita, is about two miles south of Saddleback, a mainline satellite spinning in the orbit of Pastor Warren’s Southern Baptist Jupiter. Driving past his sprawling establishment about 4:30 p.m. on the way to our Saturday evening service, my wife and I saw sharpshooters on the roof and CHP cars lining the adjacent highway. This morning, during our own civil discussion hour, we explored the crisis in the Anglican Communion over whether gay and lesbian people are entitled to a full life in the church in spite of the scriptural prohibitions that most Southern Baptists, and many Episcopalians, find insuperable.
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco: Still in the fold
The Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference ends without a schism, a modest but satisfying victory for an Archbishop of Canterbury who is proving himself a skillful navigator of the via media. Reporting for the New York Times, the great John F. Burns:
The outcome appeared to be a modest triumph for Archbishop [Rowan] Williams, a bearded, Welsh-born theologian with liberal views on gay and lesbian issues who was enthroned as the archbishop of Canterbury in 2003. That was just as strains among Anglicans over homosexuality were coming to a boil over the election of an openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire.
Archbishop Williams, 58, has been criticized by conservatives and liberals alike for his efforts to steer a middle course. Even church moderates have suggested that his acknowledged intellectual talents may not have been matched by the political skills and personal force needed to wrench a lasting compromise out of the contending parties.
But the conference document, called Indaba Reflections, prepared by a group of bishops, spoke of the “great affection and love” for Archbishop Williams among participants, suggesting that the gathering may have strengthened his hand. He spoke at a news conference with a tone of relieved assurance, while acknowledging more than once that the bishops had met under the threat of a breakup in the Anglican Communion, as the loose network that grew out of the Church of England is called. In one wry aside, he spoke of what he called the communion’s “current rather wobbly state.”
Two side chapels at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral demonstrate the aesthetic and theological breadth of American Episcopalianism. In one, the light coming through a stained glass window falls delicately on the floor, furniture, and altar; Jane Austen’s vicar father might have felt at home here. Nearby is the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel, dominated by a breathtaking 600-pound triptych by the late Keith Haring (whose chalk drawings of dancing figures were beginning to show up on Manhattan subway walls and floors in the early 1980s, when I was working for former President Nixon in New York). In Haring’s work, the tears of the crucified Christ fall on the Bethlehem baby.
For anyone following the passion of the worldwide Anglican Communion (80 million members, including perhaps 2.4 million U.S. Episcopalians), this British “Spectator” article, laying the whole mess at Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s doorstep, is worth a read. Theo Hobson says the humane and liberal-leaning ++Rowan made a virtual idol out of the global entity (as much as half of which, “united by its rejection of homosexuality,” is now making a bid to supplant him) instead of nurturing the historically centrist and accommodating church in the heartland of Anglicanism itself, namely the Church of England. Concludes Hobson,
It must be amazingly frustrating for the Archbishop of Canterbury to see the Anglican Communion gradually coming into its own at last, this body capable of being a more enlightened version of Catholicism, of pursuing Christian orthodoxy in a spirit of freedom and honesty, and then to see it taken over by a conspiracy of bigots, wide-eyed fundamentalist righteousness and sub-Calvinist sloganizing. It will be no consolation to him to realize that this new alliance will very soon be as irreparably schismatic as the old one.
Hobson says the English church’s centrism became “more of a memory than a reality” a half-century ago when “old-school Anglicans started staying in bed” on Sunday morning. Same thing in the U.S., more or less, when the mainline churches were too stodgy for the left and yet too radical for the right. This is not an age, evidently, for the Anglican virtues of humility and ambiguity.
Old tactic of conservative Anglicans: Spearheaded by U.S. parishes and dioceses that had left the Episcopal Church, persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion to ally with them instead of the Episcopal Church.
New tactic: Spearheaded by African bishops, they take 150-300 out of 7,347 U.S. Episcopal congregations and create an entirely new Anglican body of their own; we keep Archbishop Rowan Williams.
According to the New York Times, quoting a former Episcopal priest from southern California who’s just been made a bishop in Nigeria, here’s what it’s all about:
Bishop [Robert] Anderson said a new province would unite believers in North America who had abandoned the Episcopal Church in recent decades because they disagreed with the ordination of female priests and bishops, its interpretation of Scripture or its acceptance of homosexuality.
American Anglicans may have some decisions to make about those now clearly marching at the head of their movement — their new church leaders and also some of the church’s secular partners. Newly sworn in after a crooked, bloody election, Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe is backing the new Anglican group because of its superior moral odor:
[He] has condemned Archbishop Rowan Williams as lacking a “moral compass” and said that gays in the church are a sign of “moral degeneracy”. The embarrassing endorsement of their cause…came as hard-line Anglicans have been meeting in Jerusalem. In the past, anti-gay and homophobic rhetoric has formed a strong part of Mr. Mugabe’s attack against the West and against the human rights standards advocated by the international community. British gay and human rights activist Peter Tatchell has been badly beaten by the dictator’s security staff trying to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Mugabe for his abuse and crimes against sexual minorities. The comments came after two African archbishops declined opportunities given at a press conference earlier this week to condemn violence against lesbian and gay people, saying that it was not the churches’ business to get involved in arguments with governments.
But at that June 22 press conference in Jerusalem, where the dissatisfied Anglicans were meeting, Nigeria’s Peter Akinola, leader of the world’s largest Anglican province, both gave advice to government about how to handle gay people and also implied that he supported vigilantism — in the process sounding a little like the Iranian president when he said there were no gays in his country. Akinola:
If the practice (homosexuality) is now found to be in our society, it is of service to be against it. Alright, and to that extent what my understanding is, is that those that are responsible for law and order will want to prevent wholesale importation of foreign practices and traditions, that are not consistent with native standards, native way of life.
How exactly, Bishop, are you suggesting people be “of service”?
A colleague and friend, the Rev. Robert Gaestel, recommended an article in the June 2008 “Harper’s” by contributing editor Garret Keizer, also an Episcopal priest. It’s not available on-line without a magazine subscription.
Keizer views the crisis over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion as a consequence of the Christian church’s failure and even unwillingness to attend faithfully to Jesus’s call to his church, “Feed my sheep.” He hurls the gauntlet down to left as well as right:
My tendency — perhaps my temptation — is to see the church crisis, at least in America, as I see most other political disputes between bourgeois conservatives and bourgeois liberals: as cosmetically differentiated versions of the same earnest quest for moral rectitude in the face of one’s collusion in an economic system of gross inequality. It goes without saying that by touting this stark binary, I, too, am seeking to establish my rectitude. Still the question remains: How does a Christian population implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor, and environmental rape find a way to sleep at night? Apparently, by making a very big deal out of not sleeping with Gene Robinson. Or, on the flip side, by making approval of Gene Robinson the litmus test of progressive integrity…
The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, a gay man known to have a partner, became the flash point for the Anglican Communion’s crisis when he was consecrated in 2003. The Episcopal Church, one of 44 provinces or churches worldwide, has been harshly criticized by conservative Anglicans because it failed to overturn New Hampshire Episcopalians’ election of Robinson and because some of our bishops permit priests to perform blessings of same-sex unions.
Keizer’s indictment sounds like a leftist critique. Jesus wasn’t a leftist. rightist, or politician or any kind. Yet he and the prophets he came to affirm wept for the poor and the marginalized. As Bishop Robinson tells Keizer,
I don’t believe there is any topic addressed more often and more deeply in Scripture than our treatment of the poor, the distribution of wealth, of resources, and the danger of wealth to our souls. One third of all the parables and one sixth of the all the words Jesus is recorded to have uttered have to do with this topic…
I’ve italicized the phrase in the Bishop’s comment that speaks most clearly to my own sinner’s heart. However it is done by people on God’s earth, the forced redistribution of material resources will just make somebody else rich and strangle the wellsprings of earthly abundance in the process. But the soul’s miserliness can be mitigated without legislation or earnest young politicians telling us we can be better. We battle it all by our lonely selves by opening our hearts to our brothers and sisters, by myriad acts of self-sacrifice, by really listening after we ask someone how she is, by setting aside our pride in favor of the other’s perspective and position. Our quest for moral rectitude — whether insisting we’re right about homosexuality, the Iraq war, or who got to the parking place first — is our constant preoccupation and potentially an offense to the gospel, which commands that we never insist on our own way, seek the better position, or put ourselves ahead of our neighbor.
Since a Christian can barely get out of bed in the morning without straying from Jesus’s way, Keizer’s view is that our choice of denomination, church, and theological mindset just shows what set of compromises we find least unsettling or inconvenient. But if Jesus commands a loving, self-sacrificial, radically humble way, how does he expect us to feed his sheep, rectify injustice, or indeed defend the faith? Presumably only if we do these things, and all we do, lovingly, sacrificially, and humbly. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the Montgomery Improvement Association grasped the power inherent in these qualities. Can it be that Jesus is the ultimate means test, more concerned about process than outcome? The hardest thing for people, even faithful ones, is accepting that outcomes are in God’s hands alone.
To help the Episcopal Church help those suffering as the result of the earthquake in China, go here.
Ollie North made his fourth visit to the Nixon Library on Friday, speaking to 800 fans in the White House East Room of the Katherine B. Loker Center about his seventh book, American Heroes: In The Fight Against Radical Islam, a compendium of stories and photos from his numerous visits to Iraq and Afghanistan for Fox News’s “War Stories.” Asked after his 35-minute speech whether he thought the military draft should be reinstated, he flatly ruled it out. “Women now make up 15% of the armed forces,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without them. And yet America will never draft women — never. If we put in a men-only draft, the first man who went to court saying it was unjust to draft him and not a woman, it would be tied up in court for years.” Col. North is shown above with The New Nixon’s Jonathan Movroydis, whose interview with North will be posted here soon.
Starring alongside North was Cindy Farnum, a middle school teacher at St. John’s Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, where I serve as vicar. Ms. Farnum’s husband, Major Peter Farnum, a 20-year Marine Corps veteran who served in Desert Storm and Bosnia, left last week for his fifth deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. This tour feels a little different for Cindy, since her and Pete’s first child was born 11 months ago. Since she was feeling the slightest bit unsteady, what better move than to stand in front of Ollie North (who inspired her husband to become a Marine) and 800 others and lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance? Thanks to the Nixon Foundation’s Anthony Curtis for this photograph.
In a letter to Anglican Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Myanmar, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, writes:
“I am heartened to know relief efforts are underway to help hundreds of thousands of people who are without clean water, food, or shelter. Our hearts grieve with all those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods. In the face of such loss, all I can offer in my prayers for you is the totality of the love of God, even in the face of all that on earth is disfigured by natural disaster. ‘This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’ (John 6.39). Please be assured that your brothers and sisters across the Communion are holding you in their prayers.”
Click here to help the Episcopal Church help the people of Myanmar.
The Old Baptistry, Washington National Cathedral
When Ron Howard visited the Nixon Library last year to film a few scenes for his upcoming movie “Frost/Nixon,” the still photographer for the production, Ralph Nelson, turned out to be a cousin I didn’t know I had. See, my newspaperman father Harvey’s brother was once married to Ralph’s…oh, never mind. He’s my cousin, and a crackerjack photographer. He’s worked on “The Green Mile,” “Ocean’s 12,” you name it. Follow this link to his new blog and Ralph’s wonderful portrait of Garrison Keillor, among many others. (See you at the Hollywood Bowl in June, Ralph!) Appearing above is a shot of Ralph and his Apple, on which he’s fiddling around with a photo he took of my wife Kathy and me posing with Frank Langella while portraying our beloved boss. I just heard about Ralph’s blog from his sister, Bebe, my other cousin — no, not that Bebe, but…oh, never mind. Here’s Bebe’s blog. We don’t agree about too much politically, but we both love the Episcopal Church.
J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and boss of all us deacons and priests, has, with his wife, Mary, left for the Holy Land to spend part of a well-earned sabbatical touring sites holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In writing to us about his trip, he enunciates the theme of Abrahamic reconciliation as a path to peace in the Middle East. After all, three billion people of faith trace their roots to the same patriarch, the husband of Sarah and father of Ishmael and Isaac who followed the voice of the most high God from Ur of the Chaldeans (modern-day Iraq) to the promised land some 4,000 years ago. As the bishop wrote us this week:
[We] will visit Palestine, Syria, Israel, Jordan and Egypt in an attempt to trace the roots of reconciliation in all three Abrahamic faiths. We are planning to interview people of Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths and to focus on our commonalities, in order that the Abrahamic faiths can be reconciled. It is important to us that we see that, even though we have many differences with Judaism and Islam, we need to focus on the commonality of our life together. It is my prayer that the result of this sabbatical and [our] last two years’ work in the Holy Land will come to fruition, affording a better understanding — by me and our community — of the importance of reconciliation…. We will also focus on children in all these locations, interviewing them and finding out how they feel about reconciliation, in their own words. We hope to bring back a fresh understanding about how they cultivate reconciling hearts while coping daily with violence and hostility. I was inspired to talk to children after meeting a 12-year-old girl on another trip to the Holy Land. She told me young people are going to change the world in a way we cannot. She was a pretty tough girl. She told me she thinks we adults have too many preconceived notions about what is possible.
Godspeed, Mary and +Jon. That tough, hopeful 12-year-old reminded me of someone I met last summer in Jericho. Our group of a dozen pilgrims had just walked four miles through the desert and were — in one mind, body, and spirit — making our weary way to our air-conditioned bus. Some Palestinian children were standing around, politely asking for money. Saying no was inconceivable. After I had given something to a little girl and turned back toward the bus, I felt a tug on my shirt. She pointed to my camera. Here is a prayer for peace.
“The Tudors” v.2 begins Sunday, with an excellent Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) who’s got more of the mean-girl-in-high-school thing going on than Natalie Portman. The “Salon” critic wants more introspective Tony Soprano in her Henry VIII. Not an awful lot of difference between the two, now that I think about it.