Thursday, July 31, 2008

Double Dutch


I was happy this morning to be distracted by the news that New York City schools will offer Double Dutch as a varsity sport starting this fall. And good on 'em, I say.

A fitting memorial to David A. Walker, for whom this article also served as an obituary, in my opinion. "Double dutch is believed to have been first played by Dutch settlers along the Hudson River and was later given the name 'double dutch' by the British, according to a history of the game written by David A. Walker, a former New York City police sergeant who was one of its biggest advocates for more than three decades." In the next paragraph we learn Walker died last week. The picture at the Apollo is due to the Double Dutch Holiday Classic, held at the Apollo each December.

He deserved a good obit, I think. New York cop and founder of the National Double Dutch League. There's a story for you. But varsity Double Dutch would probably make him just as happy.

And for another distraction, check out the video of the Double Dutch Holiday Classic here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Your Lambeth Update--and Rant! Yes, it's long, and if you don't give a fig about the Anglican Communion, don't bother reading this. Really.

On the 29th, Archbishop Rowan Williams gave his Second Presidential Address to the Lambeth Conference 2008. I read it through this morning and I'm still thinking about it, and none too happily.

"I want now to engage in what might be a rather presumptuous exercise — and certainly feels like a risky one," he said about midway through the address. "I want to imagine what people on different sides of our most painful current debate hope others have heard or are beginning to hear in our time together. I want to imagine what the main messages would be, within an atmosphere of patience and charity, from those in our Communion who hold to a clear and traditional doctrinal and moral conviction, and also from those who, starting from the same centre, find fewer problems or none with some recent innovations."

Here's what he says is the traditional perspective:

‘What we seek to do in our context is faithfully to pass on what you passed on to us — Holy Scripture, apostolic ministry, sacramental discipline. But what are we to think when all these things seem to be questioned and even overturned? We want to be pastorally caring to all, to be “inclusive” as you like to say. We want to welcome everyone. Yet the gospel and the faith you passed on to us tell us that some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God. Our love and our welcome are unreal if we don’t truthfully let others know what has shaped and directed our lives — so along with welcome, we must still challenge people to change their ways. We don’t see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person with love must mean blessing what they do in the Church’s name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle. We seek to love them — and, all right, we don’t always make a good job of it : but we can’t just say that there is nothing to challenge. Isn’t it like the dilemma of the early Church — welcoming soldiers, yet seeking to get them to lay down their arms?

‘But please remember also that — while you may say that what you do needn’t affect us — your decisions make a vast difference to us. In this world of instant communication, our neighbours know what you do, and they see us as sharing the responsibility. Imagine what that means where those neighbours are passionately traditional Christians — and what it means for our own members, who will be drawn to leave us for a “safer”, more orthodox church. Imagine what it means when those neighbours are non-Christians, delighted to find a stick to beat us with. Imagine what it is to be known as the ‘gay church’ in a context where that spells real contempt and danger.

‘Don’t misunderstand us. We’re not looking for safety and comfort. Some of us know quite a lot about carrying the cross. But when that cross is laid on us by fellow-Christians, it’s quite a lot harder to bear. Don’t be too surprised if some of us want to be at a distance from you — or if we want to support minorities in your midst who seem to us to be suffering.

‘But we are here. We’ve taken a risk in coming, because many who think like us feel we’ve betrayed them just by meeting you. But we value our Communion, we want to understand you and we want you to understand us. Can you find some way of being generous that helps us believe you care about us and about the common language and belief of the Church? Can you — in plain words — step back and let us think and pray about these things without giving us the impression that the debate is over and we’ve lost and that doesn’t matter to you?’
I would be very curious to hear from someone the Archbishop calls a "traditional believer" whether or not this in fact is representative of his or her belief. The thing I find troubling about this is that it presumes "traditional" means "non-Western" ("what you passed on to us," and "we want to support minorities in your midst," suggests that the point of view expressed is traditional and particularly African). But "traditional" beliefs are world-wide and, in fact, quite prevalent in our own country. The "minorities in your midst" are the very tradional believers whose point of view the Archbishop is trying to represent.

Meanwhile, here's the Archbishop's presentation on the "not so traditional believer," as he terms it:
‘What we seek to do in our context is to bring Jesus alive in the minds and hearts of the people of our culture. Trying to speak the language of the culture and relate honestly to where people really are doesn’t have to be a betrayal of Scripture and tradition. We know we’re pushing the boundaries — but don’t some Christians always have to do that? Doesn’t the Bible itself suggest that?

‘We are often hurt, angry and bewildered at the way many others in the Communion see us and treat us these days — as if we were spiritual lepers or traitors to every aspect of Christian belief. We know that no-one is the best judge in their own case, but we see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit’s gifts. And part of that is acknowledging the gifts we’ve seen in gay and lesbian believers. They will certainly be likely to feel that the restraint you ask for is a betrayal. Please try to see why this is such a dilemma for many of us. You may not see it, but they’re still at risk in our society, still vulnerable to murderous violence. And we have to say to some of you that we long for you to speak up for your gay and lesbian neighbours in situations where they are subject to appalling discrimination. There have been Lambeth Resolutions about that too, remember.

‘A lot of the time, we feel we’re being made scapegoats. Other provinces have acute moral and disciplinary problems, or else they more or less successfully refuse to admit the realities in their midst. But those of us who have faced the complex issues around gay relationships in what we feel to be an open and prayerful way are stigmatised and demonised.

‘Not all of us, of course, supported or took part in the actions that have caused so much trouble. Some of us remain strongly opposed, many of us want to find ways of strengthening our bonds with you. But even those who don’t stand with the majority on innovations will often feel that the life of a whole church, a life that is varied and complex but often deeply and creatively faithful to Christ and the Scriptures, is being wrongly and unjustly seen by you and some of your friends.

‘We want to be generous, and we are hurt that some throw back in our faces both the experience and the resources we long to share. Can you try and see us as fellow-believers struggling to proclaim the same Christ, and to be patient with us?’
There are parts of this that speak to me. But by and large I would say that I, as a "not so traditional believer" am not trying to speak to a disembodied context; instead, I, and I think many of us, have been converted because of flesh and blood people who have shown us that it is possible to be gay and Christian. We have seen the incarnation, as it were. The Archbishop suggests this when he says that we have seen gifts of the spirit in the lives of gay and lesbian believers. But that's the starting point--for me at least--and the reason for my position. I didn't start with the theory; in fact, my theory was changed by the people I met.

Once again, here too it seems that the Archbishop has not divided groups into traditional and non-traditional believers, but into cultures and regions. In this case, the focus seems pointedly to be The Episcopal Church. ("Not all of us, of course, supported or took part in the actions that have caused so much trouble," sounds a great deal like code, with "actions" a substitution for "consecrating Gene Robinson in 2003.")

Taking this on was risky and presumptuous. Of course there was no way the Archbishop could capture in a few paragraphs what each side of the divide on human sexuality believes. But it also seems disingenuous to say that this is about traditional and untraditional when it seems to me to be more about the U.S. and Africa. Surely there are "not so traditional believers" in Africa; we saw it in the Telegraph's list of the 50 most influential people in the Anglican Communion.

But mostly I resent the implication that I have come to my opinion about human sexuality as a result of bowing to pressure from the culture around me. I am not offering blessings to push boundaries. I believe what I believe because of love--love for people I have come to know and respect and care about. And, whether or not "traditional" folks believe me, love of Scripture. And there is no mention of love in the Archbishop's address.

I also resent the fact that the Archbishop has "not so traditional believers" speak about homosexuals. The truth of the matter is that many believers are homosexuals. The Archbishop says "they" show signs of the spirit; "they" will feel betrayed--as if "they" were not US. The not so traditional believer is not being asked to get rid of "them." We're being asked to cut off our own hand--and we don't believe that hand is causing us to sin.

Finally, I resent the rather namby-pamby tone the Archbishop puts in the mouth of the not so traditional believer. "We see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit’s gifts"--no! We DO see the Spirit's gifts. "Can you try and see us as fellow-believers struggling to proclaim the same Christ?"--no! We ARE fellow-believers (and I would not have said, but firmly believe "whether you see us that way or not"). I don't think it's helpful to be mealy-mouthed, here. I can't imagine Jesus saying to anyone, "Can you try to see me as the Son of God?" We know who we are; we are believers and Christians and beloved children of God and it's crazy to let any other people define us otherwise.

So. I'm disappointed. We'll see what comes out of the next couple of days, but I'd have to say from my perspective the era of waiting for the washing machine to be open continues.

Feast of William Wilberforce

Today is the feast of William Wilberforce, a hero of mine and the focal point of the movie "Amazing Grace" that I saw just one year ago at Chautauqua while I was the chaplain there. Then I got to give a homily on him for the morning service. The thing that I found odd about the movie is that they actually made the job of ending the slave trade sound EASIER than it really was. What was that about? I can't remember the particulars, but as I recall, the movie suggested it was FEWER years than it really was.

The movie suggested that Wilberforce got to see the fruits of his labors when in fact he died one month (!) before Parliament abolished slavery in Britain and its extended domains. One month! I'm sure he knew about it, though. What the movie showed was the end of the slave trade, abolished in 1807; what it doesn't show is that Wilberforce was in Parliament another 18 years, trying to end slavery; and he died 8 years after that. That's another 25+ years--in addition to the 27 years Wilberforce was in Parliament (beginning in 1780) before he saw the slave trade ended.

The thing I draw from William Wilberforce is that the task of righteousness is not impossible, but that I shouldn't be under the delusion that it might be anything less than very, very, very difficult. Difficult, long, and painful is not the same as impossible.

"Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feast of Mary and Martha

I'm feeling the need for a saint or two today and luckily for me, today is the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany.

I've always loved the passage about Mary and Martha while often disliking how Martha is portrayed, as a fussbudget obsessed with cooking and cleaning, thus suggesting women are unwomanly when they are not engaged in domesticity and putting them in the spiritual doghouse when they are.

Instead, I noticed the last time I got to look at this passage that the thing about Martha is that she invited Jesus into her home and then didn't listen to what he had to say. Which is something that applies to both sexes in whatever it is we tend to get caught up in.

I've always been a Martha supporter, mostly because she seems so unfairly maligned. But also because she seems more real than Mary--someone with the best of intentions who gets distracted by tasks rather than by any sort of evil intent.

"O God, heavenly Father, your Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Your Lambeth Update

Frankly, I can't make heads or tails out of the news I'm hearing from the Lambeth Conference, the bishops' meeting in England. But in yesterday's Lambeth Digest, there was a brief report that seems to be a metaphor for the whole thing:

Laundry dilemma
For major ceremonial events such as worship, bishops wear robes that are the symbols of their office -- the red and white rochet and chimere, or a decorated overgarment called a cope and matching headgear, the miter. But bishops meeting on the University of Kent campus have more mundane clothing concerns, also. A Canadian bishop, carrying two bags of laundry, stopped to greet a friend and sighed that the bags were not full of clean wash, since "the line was around the block" at the washing machines.

***

This is one I'll need to ponder a bit. But there's something beautiful and suggestive about this image: all these fancy Bishop duds are probably still clean and wearable while the daily clothes need a good washing that will take some doing to get. I dunno. It seems...perfect. And somehow emblematic of the church.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Yes, you can mock Obama

We West Coasters are a little more hip, I think, when it comes to satire about Barack Obama's supposed terrorist leanings. Hello, New Yorker, here is how it's done:

This is from the fabulous Bad Reporter, Don Asmussen, in Friday's SF Chronicle. It wins hands-down over the New Yorker because it's, you know...funny.

The volunteer army

I saw in yesterday's paper an obituary for "Gen. Walter Kerwin--helped end draft, create all-volunteer Army." He graduated from West Point in 1939, serving in Italy, North Africa and France in WWII, and served in Vietnam from 1967-1969. He was the army's second-highest-ranking officer in the mid-1970's, and, according to the Washington Post obit, "helped create a policy that scrapped the draft and led to the creation of an all-volunteer Army in 1973."

The article doesn't say what exactly his role was in creating this policy. What it does say is "The voluntary enlistment program has been in place for 35 years and is credited with the development of a more effective and professional fighting force."

This was a strange obit for me. It is far more suggestive than descriptive and as an obit almost dropped General Kerwin into history; he doesn't seem to have made it himself.

Mostly it made me think about what we call the volunteer army. How voluntary is it? I have a genuine question about this: how many people sign up for the armed forces because that is the only option they see? This is absolutely not to denigrate anyone serving in the military, but I do get the sense that though some people join proudly because that is what they want to do, some join as a means to an end, for the finances or stability or education. And so it has always been, I am sure.

God knows I wouldn't like to see the draft return, but the benefits of the draft as I see it is that a) a wider cross-section of society would bear the burden of battle; and as a result b) we as a society would be less likely to say "Send the army to take care of it," if the army were more us, rather than "them."

Nothing new in these thoughts, I know. Liberal cliche. But it's a strange mix of labels, though, isn't it? A volunteer army, and the result is that it is more professional. Perhaps it should be called a professional army. That seems more accurate in some ways.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beware the Feast of Pentecost!

 
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Here's an AP article that I would never have found were it not for the fanatical blogging ministrations of the Mad Priest. The picture is local, a place very near my new pizza joint. How could I resist?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man says he was so consumed by the spirit of God that he fell and hit his head while worshipping.

Now he wants Lakewind Church to pay $2.5 million for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.

Matt Lincoln says he is suing after the church's insurance company denied his claim for medical bills.

The 57-year-old has had two surgeries since the June 2007 injury but still feels pain in his back and legs.

He says he was asking God to have "a real experience" while praying.

Lincoln says he has fallen from the force of the spirit before but has always been caught by someone.

Lawyers for the church say other congregants saw him on the floor laughing after his fall. They say he failed to look out for his own safety.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cows? What cows?

I've started carrying my camera around with me, which explains the more chatty, "here's what I'm doing" nature of my blog these days. Perhaps one day soon I will have an original thought.

In the meantime, I'm doing the doting pet-owner thing. I have an Australian Cattle Dog named Keeper, a shelter dog who has become less nervous over time. I found a trail near my new apartment where there was significant physical evidence that cows are sometimes present. Keeper was thrilled to roll in the cow pies and I thought, "Hey! Innate cattle herding ability! What would happen if..."

We went this morning when cows were present.

 
 
 
 

He still rolled in the cow pies though.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Mucca Pazza at the Renegade Crafts Fair

 

One of the many things I love about my sister is that because of her I have experiences I never would otherwise. My sister is a crafter who owns a shop in Portland, Maine (shameless promotion, it's called Ferdinand, and you should check it out).

My sister and brother-in-law were in town to exhibit at the Renegade Crafts Fair, "Not your grandmother's craft fair," at Fort Mason. I happened to arrive just before Mucca Pazza, advertised as the "astounding circus punk marching band," and they were that. It's clearly for those who never quite got over the drug that is marching band. I especially like the loudspeakers on the heads of those with less brassy instruments: violin, as you see here, and also accordian, of which I never got a good picture.

I just thought you ought to see.
 
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The yoke of self-justification


My favorite magazine is Sports Illustrated. I tell you, it gives you an incredible lens for the days events (such as the article on long-distance runners in Kenya during post-election violence) as well as religion (forgiveness for the minor leaguer whose errant foul ball killed the first base coach Mike Coolbaugh), all in a clear and unpretentious style (well, sometimes there are pretentions).

This week in the brief blurbs under "For the Record," I was surprised by this write-up:

Confessed To losing the 1983 Wimbledon final on purpose, Andrea Jaeger. In an interview with Britain's Daily Mail, Jaeger, who became a nun in 2006, said that the day before the match she had a fight with her father--over, among other things, her consumption of potato chips--and she went to Martina Navratilova's apartment to call a cab. After being let in, Jaeger said that she realized she had "interrupted [Navratilova's] preparation for the final." To make amends, Jaeger, who was then 18 and ranked third, told the newspaper that she missed shots on purpose and often hit the ball right at the No. 1 player in the world. "I went on court in complete peace knowing that giving the match away was the right thing to do," she said. "I had to look myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. It meant more to Martina anyway."


OK, if I'm Martina Navratilova, I'm not thanking her for "helping" me win Wimbledon. There's more than a little arrogance and (I suspect) self-deception here. Was she "helping" Martina win, or was she punishing her father? Or was she unable to win anyway? Now, she's 18 and you do stupid things when you're 18 (and when you're older than that, of course), but it's a surprise that upon reflection she still thinks this was a good and noble thing to do.

Strange segue, but the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a crackerjack sermon on Sunday to the Church of England's General Synod. He was preaching on that wonderful text from Matthew, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light," and quoted from one of the desert fathers (almost wrote "dessert fathers," there, and I think that deserves a post of its own).

One of the desert fathers remarked, 'And how very easily we laid aside the yoke of Christ and burdened ourselves with the heavy yoke of self-justification' - There's a phrase to ponder – a heavy yoke of self-justification. That's the law, that's the curse. That's the waterless pit indeed - where we struggle ceaselessly, unrelentingly, to make ourselves more right, and to lay hold upon our future. We lay upon ourselves a heavy yoke, from which only the grace of Jesus Christ can deliver us. In a nutshell, we lay upon ourselves the yoke of desperate seriousness about ourselves.


There's a lot of chatter among Anglican commentators that this signified a change in direction for the Archbishop, that he's no longer going to be concerned about shoring up the Anglican Communion for the future and instead worry more about the here and now.

I know full well how preachers preach to ourselves first of all and congregations are allowed to listen in. But the message is also meant for the listeners, and I find it understandable but odd that no one has said, "In what way have I laid upon myself the yoke of desperate seriousness, the heavy yoke of self-justification?"

Which of course brings me back to Sister Andrea. It's been 25 years since she threw Wimbledon. She did not confess this in private; she confessed this to the Daily Mail. To me this smacks of a heavy yoke indeed. But this is not for me to say. Because it also brings me back to me. It's only for me to listen and wonder where have I put on this yoke of seriousness and self-justification. Far easier for me to see it in others. I'm going to have to work to see it in myself.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

BART magic


Some of you know that I have just moved to Contra Costa county, which is a completely different world from Alameda County, I tell you what. Hotter, for one thing, the benefit of which is I have a tomato plant growing on my deck, and it will probably produce tomatoes even.

It also takes quite a bit longer to get to A's games (I mean, let's get to the important stuff), as I found out on Monday when my parents gave me a ticket. Socially conscious Californian that I am, I was determined to take BART to the game. It required a transfer at MacArthur, but they schedule the trains so you can just walk across the platform and get on the train you need. Very handy, but still about an hour from one end to the other.

I'd never been to the North Concord BART station before and I couldn't believe how far it was from my apartment. The train was supposed to arrive (I thought) at 5:53 and I dashed up the escalator right in time, only to find that it was due to arrive at 5:57. Fine by me.

The ride in was uneventful, but wonderful. I'd never taken that BART route before and I decided not to read as I usually do on BART, but instead to look out the windows at the brown hills. They ought to be ugly, being completely dry and brown, but something about the way they fold makes them seem soft and lovely. It all changes past the Caldecott tunnel when Alameda County's more urban and flatter terrain takes over. It grew familiar and suddenly mundane as I reached the Colisseum just in time to get beef tacos before the game started.

But on the way home, things got magical. Our train, the Richmond train, was pulling into MacArthur at the same time as the train I needed to take, and looking across at the other train in the night, it appeared to be floating in midair with the lit windows showing where the train was hovering. We arrived at the station and I switched trains and I felt like we were flying off into the night.

When I reached the North Concord BART station, it looked completely different. There was a sign saying, "Use this escalator at night," which might have explained why we had to go up to a concourse instead of down as I remembered. Then I didn't have enough fare on my card, which was weird, but I had been in a hurry when I bought my ticket so I might have miscalculated. Then I couldn't find my car. Was there another parking lot?

Yes, you have figured it out. I had been at a different station, which explains so many things.

The thing about it was that arriving at the wrong station only added to the magical feel of the evening. It was surreal and wonderful. Who needs magic when there are experiences like this to be had every day?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Copying someone else's wonderful thoughts on fireflies

I read a bunch of Anglican blogs, and then I read the Bourbon Cowboy, Dave Dickerson, who is a mighty clever guy. He's a regular contributor to "This American Life" and has just finished a memoir on his days writing greeting cards for Hallmark while losing his faith. And he's working on another book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk"--a welcome addition to the world today, I would think.

On the 4th, he wrote an entry on fireflies that I liked a lot and hope he doesn't mind that I share. You can find it here.

We don't have fireflies out here in California. I do know from summers spent with my father's family in Missouri how magical they are. But I'd never thought of them as religious before today.

Such innocence....

I've been hearing about a short story collection called "Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest from Nigeria. I couldn't exactly remember the title or author, so I was glad to unearth the NY Times review that I'd noticed but hadn't read.

In the opening paragraph, we're told that when Akpan applied to the University of Michigan writing program, "Eileen Pollack, the director of the program, recalled recently, there was some hesitation on the part of the admissions committee. 'There were discussions about having a priest be part of workshops where students would be writing about sex and drugs,' Ms. Pollack said."

Then when he arrived, what do you know? “It turned out he had had more experience of the dark side of the world than all the other students put together.”

I have to admit I really don't know why there is this continued perception that clergy have never been touched by "the dark side of the world." That's kind of the job description, with the benefit and transformative power of redemption. I suspect people think that clergy want to keep themselves separate from such things for fear of being tainted. Instead, the best clergy I know participate in the world, seeing it as honestly as they can rather than trying to create some safely sanitized version of it.

The last few Sundays in the lectionary, we've been hearing Paul go on about this at length. Now, there's a guy who heard it all. No need to keep him out of your creative writing workshops. I'm not saying he's going to approve of people's behavior, but he certainly doesn't need to be protected from it. "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Rom.6:14)

I have to admit it pisses me off (ooh! A swear word! And me a priest!) when I hear this attitude about the naivete of the clergy. Alternatively, there's a kind of sweet innocence among the secular to think that there's some special type of person that in some way lives in a remove from the world. I'm not sure we should expose them to the truth.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Better Days

I couldn't figure out why I had the Bruce Springsteen song "Better Days" going through my head this morning until I remembered I had read the obituary for Madam Marie.

There are certainly worse things in life than being immortalized in a Bruce Springsteen song. I suppose that would depend on how one was described. But if I'm getting my obituary in the NY Times, I'd like it to be for something I'd actually done rather than something someone else had written about me, no matter how cool that person was.

And I would guess Madam Marie's life would make for some interesting reading. On the surface, she sounds like a novel waiting to be written. The woman had been telling fortunes on the Asbury Park Boardwalk since the 1930's, for Pete's sake! She had a life of her own. I wish the Times had done a little more research. Perhaps they should have consulted a colleague of hers and then asked Madam Marie for stories of her life directly.

Related to Uganda

Having spent even a short time there, I now find that news from Uganda seems to leap out at me all over the place. I was very excited this morning to see Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times about the graduation of Beatrice Biira, of "Beatrice's Goat" fame, a book about how the Heifer Project changed a person's life. I still remember from the book a description of her red dress, the single article of clothing she has. I saw a lot of that in Uganda with children wearing amazingly inappropriate and formal clothing every day. How exciting to see one small gift making a huge difference to one person who might, in her turn, make an even greater difference to many people.

For some time now, I've been...well, obsessed would be a fairly accurate word. I've been obsessed with trying to figure out the relations between Africa and the U.S. in the Anglican Communion. I've been encouraged to keep writing about that, and so if that happens to be an interest of yours as well, I'm going to give that some thought and attention over at my other blog that I started to describe my experiences in Uganda. In the meantime, over here I'm going to continue with little bits of things as they leap out at me, and as they interest me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gettysburg

For reasons still unclear to me, last Friday I was invited by a friend to see the movie "Gettysburg"--all four hours of it. Personally, I was more in a mood to see "Ocean's 11," but "Gettysburg" turned out to be a wonderful movie for all that I actually had to learn something, grumble, grumble.

I turned to my friend in the middle of it and said, "It reminds me of the Anglican Communion!" which is only something you can say to another Episcopal priest and expect to get away with it. I mean, there's less actual bloodshed, but the attitudes were strikingly resonant. Even the tag line works: "Same land. Same God. Different dreams." Change "land" to "church" and it works quite well.

I had an amazing amount of sympathy for the Confederates as they spoke of States' rights. I could understand why they looked at the well-supplied Northerners who never seemed to be able to get the job done and thought, "What the hell is wrong with these people?" (OK, that wasn't from the movie, but you could see they were thinking it.) The Northerners seemed soulless and clueless when viewed from the Confederate side of the line.

On the Union side, of course, there were wonderful individuals once you got to meet them. Joshua Chamberlain didn't talk about God quite so much as Robert E. Lee but clearly had a deep understanding of faith, if somewhat academic, what with being a Bowdoin College professor. The Northerners seemed less impassioned overall, but there they were, fighting and dying anyway.

But for all that there were numerous reasons for fighting, there was one glaring issue: slavery. And one glaring moral certainty: slavery was wrong. One of the characters, I forget who, asked, "Why couldn't they have just let us alone on this issue?" And it's difficult because there did come a moment when to force the issue required force. But slavery (I say with the easy assurance of well over a century) is just plain wrong. The north may be smug and arrogant on this issue, it may be rich and powerful and use that to get its way, but it was also right.

Today is the 145th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1-3 in 1863.