Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Eleventh Commandment

Last Sunday at St. James’, we had the opportunity to hear Kerry McManus speak about what we, personally and collectively, can do to live with a raised environmental conscience. She left us with a good challenge: The Ten Percent Challenge. In our everyday lives, if we could reduce, reuse or recycle 10% more than we are presently doing, it would make a small impact in our personal days; collectively, if the world would take on the challenge with us, the results would be in the miracle category.

Ten percent is not particularly difficult. If one would walk only or use public transit, leave the car in the driveway, one day in a cycle of ten, it would be an easy challenge. Choose Sunday as your day, walk to church, stroll along the river and head home. What a gentle way to honour the Sabbath, save gas and reduce your carbon footprint.

In the reuse category, a very easy way to get on board is to stop using plastic bags that the stores offer for us to carry our purchases. We keep our cloth bags in our vehicle at all times; I have a large black bag which folds into a very small sleeve that I keep in my purse. As well, we are using biodegradable garbage bags in our home wherever possible.

Composting is the bright star in the environmental three R’s. Garbage to the curb is reduced and the earth is blessed with the wonderful by-product of compost: humus. Humus is black gold; it is a thing of beauty in the gardener’s eyes.

Humus is the Latin form of Adamah. Adamah is the Hebrew word for earth. From Adamah is derived Adam~literally earthling. Add the Hebrew word Ruach~literally spirit, and one has the making of the Original Formula: Adamah plus Ruach equals Adam. God sculpted man from the clay of the earth, breathed life into the vessel and created the most sacred union: body and spirit. The second century theologian, Iranaeus of Lyons, said: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”

In our world, at this very moment, I sense two tragic disconnects that are so destructive that the future of the planet is in serious question. The first disconnection, and back to our Original Formula, is that of man from earth. In these times of unprecedented waste, squandering of natural resources, extinction of species, it comes of no surprise that human disease and illness is at its highest level.

The second disconnection: man has been filling himself with the breath of selfishness, acquisitiveness, power and greed. As Rev. Nancy Roth says, “we have fallen prey to a kind of spiritual and moral breathlessness.” This breathlessness is easily witnessed with the marked decline in church attendance and religious affiliations of any type. Not surprisingly, the rate of environmental destruction is inversely related to the decline in church attendance.

“Man was to be healthy and full of life by breathing in the loving power of God. But man polluted his interior environment. What we see around us in the pollution of the air, the streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, our woods and forest and countryside, and in the jungles of our cities, is but an icon, a dramatic image, externalized of what man is doing within himself in the unlimited expanses of his “inner space.”, writes George Maloney in his book, The Breath of the Mystic.

Organic Prayer, A Spiritual Gardening Companion (Seabury Books, Church Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-59627-063-3) by Episcopalian priest Nancy Roth is the first volume on my summer reading list. It is from this powerful little book that this week's blog thoughts were derived. Nancy defines Organic Prayer as a metaphor for both the individual’s contemplation of God and for the individual’s attempt to live in harmony with God’s creation. “Because organic prayer springs from the reality of the human condition, it helps us integrate as whole people-mind, heart, and body. It does not distract us with an otherworldly ideal of holiness, but helps us to discover the sacredness of our ordinary day-to-day living. It helps us to discover God’s presence in new ways: within us and within nature as well as infinitely beyond us, known through creation’s mysteries and miracles, from compost to columbines. It opens our hearts to compassion for the rest of God’s creation, and our minds to the truth that we are all interconnected. Such prayer delights in the earth, whose breathtaking complexity and beauty is an icon of the Creator, more skilfully wrought than any Byzantine masterpiece.”

The church, the Body of Christ on earth, has a sacred duty to lead with organic prayer. The ten commandments teach us that love is an action, not a sentiment. The eleventh commandment commended for this postmodern world: The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: thou shall not despoil the earth, nor destroy the life thereon.

The Web Scribe

Friday, June 20, 2008


I am the first to admit it: There’s more that I don’t know about Anglicanism than I do or should know. In fact, the more time I spend in Anglican-land, the less that I want to know about the upper-inner administrative workings of this branch of the Christian faith tree. In this case, perhaps, ignorance is bliss.

For example, saints. Last week, I learned about the Episcopal Church in America saint, Enmegehbowh. St. James’ unofficial but brilliant reference doctor, Joyce Banks, quickly brought my attention to the Anglican Church of Canada saint, Henry Budd; the first Anglican Church of Canada Native Canadian ordained priest.

Saints have become a focus for my current spiritual growth. Specifically, I am interested in worthy notables, those modern saints without extraordinary miracles. Everyday people that give me insights into the ‘journey’ with their lives well lived. Like Evelyn Underhill, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or the most recent addition to the Canadian church’s listing, the 1992 addition of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman ordained into the priesthood, 25 January 1944 by the Bishop of Hong Kong. She died in Toronto in 1992; hence, her Canadian link.

Reviewing the life of an ancient saint can be equally beneficial. When I read about women such as Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen or Etheldreda, I am reminded of the courage and brilliance of the early women church builders.

What is interesting about Florence Li Tim Oi is the journey of her ordination. Although she was ordained in 1944, she resigned her license in 1946 to defuse the post-war storm of controversy her priesthood had created. The 1948 Lambeth Conference officially sealed the female ordination door closed with Resolutions 113-116 setting out that a woman’s work within the hierarchy of the church should remain as a deacon. Lambeth 1978, Resolution 21 – Women in the Priesthood: basically acknowledged that the American, Canadian, Hong Kong and New Zealand churches had admitted women priests to the presbyterate and seemingly saying ‘the world had not stopped spinning so we should just maybe get on with business and accept this radical change’. Lambeth 1988, Resolution 1 – The ordination and consecration of women to the episcopate: seems to be saying ‘that not only do we have female priests but now there are female bishops and the world had not stopped spinning so we should just maybe get on with business and accept this radical change’.

And in the end, Florence was given back her priest license, continued to practice her Holy Orders (which she never did stop doing sans licence) and received Doctorates of Divinity from General Theological Seminary in New York and Trinity College in Toronto. The world continues to revolve and women continue to contribute to the building of the church.

The study of this one Anglican saint’s life gave me an insight, in a general basis, into the complexity of Anglicanism. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope is the CEO and everybody reports to the CEO and, where every saint is venerated as a saint by everybody, the Anglican church seems to me to be the largest sitting committee in Christendom. In an organization where there is an implied super ‘first amongst equals’ (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and then there are implied sub ‘first amongst equals’ (the remaining primates of the worldwide communion), it doesn’t surprise me that events like the once-a-decade Lambeth gathering of ‘equals amongst equals’ (unless of course you are not invited, like Bishop Gene Robinson of the American branch of the Anglican Communion) are complicated events.

What is surprising and disappointing, in a gathering of equals, is that there are ‘unequals’ like Robinson. It is even more discouraging that there are equals who are declining to sit with their equals because they consecrated Robinson.

Equally confusing is the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem which will precede the Lambeth gathering and will include Bishop Don Harvey from Canada, Archbishop Peter Jensen from Sydney Australia, Archbishop Greg Venables, and a host of African and South Asian bishops; all of whom were invited to but will not be attending Lambeth. I understand that Bishop Gene Robinson was not invited to this gathering, as well.

On the GAFCON website, one of the ‘frequently asked questions’ is: Is this all over a gay Bishop? The answer posted is:

No. GAFCON is about churches being grouped by what they have in common. We’re for growth, we’re passionate about the truth. We want to look to the future. That’s what the conference is about-Global Anglican Future.

Another FAQ from the website: Aren’t you splitting the church? GAFCON’s answer to this question:

No. Communion depends on having something in common. Churches in the Global South are growing. They’re passionate about the truth and their faith. We are building on this strength. As the Anglican Communion develops, some of the old bonds are loosening, some new bonds are being formed. That’s a good thing. These bonds involve churches which are growing, and which have something distinctive to say to the world. GAFCON is enthusiastic about mission. Its focus is the future.

As I read that last answer, the 'old bonds that are loosening' are to the Anglican worldwide communion that is gathering for the Lambeth conference. The 'good thing', the new bonds, is gathering in Jerusalem for the GAFCON conference.

Which conference would Jesus attend? Isn’t Jesus a powerful and significant enough ‘something in common’ in the Anglican communion? Isn’t the commandment that Jesus gave us: Love one another? What is the truth? Too many questions.

Back to the saints, ignorance and bliss. Some sixty years after her ordination, Florence Li Tim Oi is a saint in the Canadian and American branches of the Anglican Communion, and women priests and bishops are a reality within the Communion. It only took the Lambeth Conference sixty years to officially catch up with the reality of its laity and clergy.

Maybe I will just put all the lists of Anglican saints on one global, universal, all-inclusive calendar, for my own sake and purposes. My present focus for spiritual growth will be the past. There is so much to learn from these lives.

As for a sixty year wait on the current reality check for the Communion and at my age, I don’t think I have time; is ignorance bliss?

The Web Scribe

Friday, June 13, 2008


June 11, 2008 will be a day of record in the Canadian history books: the day of the formal apology by a prime minister for the residential school program sins committed against Native Canadians. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine called it “the dawn of a new era in aboriginal relations with the rest of Canada”. Although I don’t disagree, I am now aware of a model of relations that existed prior to the birth of Canada’s confederation that seems to have been lost in our history.

Alright, everyone: Raise your hand if you know anything about Enmegahbowh?

Enmegahbowh is honoured on June 12 by our sister church south of the border. He was the first Native ‘American’ to be ordained as a priest. Born as a member of the Odawa band and raised as a Christian, he had a complete knowledge of his tribe’s traditional healing ways as he was intended to become a medicine man. He used this cross-cultural background successfully in founding missions, training other native Christian leaders and developing mission strategies and policies within the Episcopalian Church.

The story goes that Enmegahbowh, at one point, attempted to cross Lake Superior. One of the countless and infamous Lake Superior storms raged during this crossing. Enmegahbowh had a spiritual turning point during the storm, a Jonah experience. Instead of carrying on with his original intent, he returned to Minnesota and eventually founded the St. Columba mission at Gull Lake.

Rev. John Johnson Enmegahbowh was ordained by Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple (at the right in the photo), the first bishop of Minnesota. Whipple was referred to as ‘Straight Tongue’ by the aboriginals in his diocese; a moniker justified by his actions. He was a straight-talking, hard-working, fair-minded and visionary leader. He was best known for his dedication to the welfare of the Native people, a man who definitely walked his talk. His views were not welcomed by many in his diocese and several of his fellow bishops deemed him to be a fanatic. Whipple gave Enmegabowh (in the centre of the photo) special dispensation for the missing Greek and Hebrew education required for ordination. Enmegabowh had refused to learn these languages stating that he “was sent to work among the living, not among the dead”. Throughout their careers, these two men were in continuous dialogue about the state of affairs of the aboriginals in their care. Both men were committed to the service of their brothers, with radical colour-blindness.

It seems odd to me that Enmegahbowh is only considered a ‘saint’ by the Episcopal Church in America. He is not found in the Anglican Church of Canada’s ‘saint listing’. Should he be? Given that he was born at Rice Lake near Peterborough, the son of a chief of the Odawa (Ottawa) band of Ojibwa, makes me think that he is more ‘Native Canadian’ than the credited ‘Native American’ cited by the history books. When he attempted crossing Lake Superior, he was trying to get back to Sault Ste. Marie. He was ordained in the year that Canada became a country.

For the one hundredth anniversary of his death, the diocese of Minnesota commissioned an icon by indigenous artist Rev. Johnson Loud to commemorate Enmegahbowh. The translation of the Ojibwa name is “The man who stands by his people”. The icon contains two critical symbolic elements: fire – the catalyst for change, and a peace pipe; a powerful summation of the man’s life.

At any rate, the prime minister’s formal apology was long overdue; maybe too is Enmegahbowh’s
‘Canadian sainthood’. And, maybe we should embrace the pureness of cultural relationships that was embodied by Bishop Whipple and the Rev. John Johnson Enmegahbowh, over one hundred years ago.
The Web Scribe

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Apostle, the Eunuch and YouTube

Brother David Steindl-Rast (O.S.B.) challenges us, as Christians, to forego the “narrowness, exclusivism, or sexism” that too often typifies an entrenched and defended posture in partisan communities – as the only viable and productive path to meaningful dialogue. Speaking from an entirely ‘different’ background, Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) censures the caution (when one ponders the parallels and overlaps of a variety of traditions) that we ought not to make ‘fruit salad’ of these practices with the delightful observation that “fruit salad can be delicious”! This parishioner’s thoughts on the political side of church till similar soil with yet another hoe.

David Howard.
The Apostle, The Eunuch and YouTube

BCE: Before Computer Era. For a tax accountant, those were interesting days. Well, for some of us, BCE stood for Before Calculator Era. Indeed, any accountant worth their mettle, could add columns of numbers swiftly and accurately in the latterly named times. But science kept gently nudging accounting forward. Soon, there were the hand-crank calculators and summing columns in one’s head became a lost art. The CE, Computer Era, brought significant changes to accounting practices. For tax practitioners, the availability of online forms from other countries probably reduced the sales of extra-strength pain relievers threefold. No longer were the procrastinating clients with their U.S. returns a problem. In the U.S., taxpayers are normally required to file federal, state and municipal income tax returns. Finding a paper return for Small-town, N.J. on April 14th BCE in a Stratford Ontario accounting office was an impossibility. This task, in the Computer Era is a no-brainer; the main complaint now is if the online form is not a fillable form.

Perhaps there are similarities for faith communities. What brings this to mind are the availability of websites that support followers of The Way. The Daily Office is an Episcopalian website that provides noon and evening online offices. It is visually attractive and usually has sound bites from choirs around the world. The discipline of observing daily offices is an important tradition of the Anglican Church. I am often surprised where this practice takes me.

This week, the poll surveys visitors on the question: Why did God tell Philip to baptise the Ethiopian eunuch? The scriptural reference is Acts 8:27-39. Interestingly, there is a YouTube video link, with the poll, that recreates this event recorded by Luke. Two young men, with background music from the movie Chariots of Fire, cleverly and succinctly bring the scripture reference to life.

I reread the biblical text and contemplate the question. The obvious reasons are purposely blanked out. Requiring some stimulus, I Google Philip and the Eunuch. 243,000 results; oh dear. Of the 243,000 results, one attracts me: The Ethiopian Queen of the Desert: researching theology, celebrating diversity. Let’s check this out.

The subtitle of the article is Philip and The Ethiopian Eunuch: Two Role Models for Inclusivity. The author has three university degrees and supports his article with references. There are no spelling mistakes (my first criterion for worthiness).

I’ve read the article three times now. It is a thoughtful and progressive look at the scripture; verse by verse I am given new insight to the text. Superficially, most commentaries (and many of the other 243,000 results as well) focus on the baptism scene and the road to salvation. This author opens my eyes to the profound yet subtle significance of elements of the text. The Ethiopian eunuch is as significant a character, now in my mind, as the Samarian woman at the well. In our age, we are numbed to the powerfully radical actions of Jesus, in the case of the Samarian woman, and Philip, in this case of the Ethiopian eunuch.

Interestingly, another YouTube video focuses on the present-day story of a young Ethiopian immigrant to Israel. His family went to Israel for a better secular and religious life. Neither has happened. The family has met only bigotry, exclusion, racism and poverty. The young man has found his identity through a theatre school and fully intends to fulfill the family vision. It has been a sad and painful journey.

Back to Acts 8 and Philip. Philip is a Jewish Christian who purposely engages the Ethiopian believer. What unfolds is a vision for the Church today. Philip, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, acts with unconditional and radical inclusivity. Philip does not hesitate to receive the hospitality of the nameless African neutered male and enters his chariot. The climactic scene has Philip entering water with the eunuch in a symbolic act of inclusivity; Philip baptises the eunuch to affirm that there are no barriers to life in Jesus. Philip does not worry the issue with words, he doesn’t check in with the authorities for approval, he doesn’t spend years researching if this is doctrine or core doctrine. He simply acts.

Did Jesus believe that the way to God was through the observance and fulfilment of covenantal laws? Did Jesus prescribe the Way for us? It seems so simple, unconditional and radical, the prescription: Love one another. Maybe, we the Church today, need to step back to the vision of Jesus. Spend less time talking about how we can or should be Christians; let’s act, like Philip.

Unlike the impact that the Computer Age has had on the day-to-day affairs of accounting professionals, access to the global Church, digitally, has complicated life for me in that it is constantly challenging my views, broadening my scope of awareness and continuously making me contemplate The Way. I don’t want to go back to summing columns in my head or being unchallenged in my faith.
The Web Scribe