Recent publicity from my church

I was honored to be the staff member profiled in this month’s “Words of Grace“, the parish newsletter for my church, Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston.  The article starts on the bottom of the front page, and continues on page 4.

I am a parishioner, choir staff singer, and the IT guy for Grace, so am pretty heavily invested in everything that goes on there.  This is one of the big reasons why I am so sensitive about the ongoing conflict between the breakaway “Diocese of SC” and The Episcopal Church.  Grace remains steadfastly part of The Episcopal Church, which is absolutely where I want to be as well.  Grace also currently houses the ongoing official diocese of The Episcopal Church here, The Episcopal Church in SC (which is actually not allowed to call itself the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of SC” or other variations that make sense, thanks to legal aspects of the schism.)

Most of the time I think I have a great handle on the issues dividing the groups, and then other times I get confused because of various spin and intertwined feelings about the role of “sin” in life.    I am convinced that it comes down to whether women and LGBT people should be allowed to participate in ordained ministry, due to perceptions of biblical direction and sin.  I see nothing in women or LGBT people’s gender or sexuality that determines their spirituality (other than general rejection from those who believe the bible clearly orders these matters.)  In conservative, bible-belt South Carolina, I am in the minority.

Anyone who has read my previous posts may remember that I’m not particularly convinced that the Christian (or Jewish) Bible should be used as THE definer of “sin”.  As a “recovering Catholic”, I am well familiar with the role of sin and guilt in trying to live a good life.  I have been indoctrinated with the notion that something will happen to my soul after death, perhaps including judgement by God and/or St. Peter, or I will need to atone for my sins.  I don’t know if I buy that – certainly I have lots of doubt.  The conflict between the factions of the Episcopal church, and the many, many Christian denominations and other major religious systems have convinced me of only one thing – that religion is largely a creation of men.  Some people have had spiritual experiences, and some believe to have heard God speak to them.  Some people have dedicated large parts of their lives to the recording, analysis, and propagation of their beliefs.  I don’t know if it is possible to validate any of that.  Much of the beliefs of Christians are recorded in The Bible, which I understand to be a collection of inspired writings, but not necessarily a historical record.  I do think there is plenty in the book to learn and live by.

I strongly believe in science and reason.  My training in philosophy is relatively weak, and I tend to get lost on matters like exegesis.  I feel that religious discussion enters into a mystical realm where reason and judgement become intertwined.  I hate being judged, unless I’ve willingly entered into a competition.  I don’t think life is inherently a competition for salvation after death.

I usually avoid expressing my opinions about religion or politics on Facebook or other social media.  I suppose this space is technically social media, but it is mine, and I have some control over the dialogue.  I actively avoid becoming flame bait, and am also concerned about professional backlash.  Too many people that I am connected with on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. have widely divergent views.  Some of those feel the need to proselytize when they disagree with me. So, I hope it is understood that this space represents my opinion only.  I welcome comments here, but will stop them if I need to.

Besides the links above, I strongly suggest looking through these two for much more detailed analysis of the TEC schism in SC:  Warning: They are from the “liberal” view of the conflict.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that I am also a Democrat …

Should I be mad / life

As I took a quick breakfast break this morning, I pondered:
– I got angry last night thanks to a misunderstanding with my daughter. She attended a school function (30 minutes away from home). When I got home at 7:15, my wife told me Bethany would need a pickup at 8:00 at school, but that she (Laura) would get up and go. At 7:50, I learned that the pickup would now be from a friend’s house (at least 20 minutes away) at 8:30. When we got to the friend’s house at 8:25, we learned that Bethany hadn’t even left school yet (20 minutes from that spot.) We told her to call when she left, and started driving. Her call came 5 minutes before we arrived at the school, and we told her to stay put. By this point, Laura and I were both unhappy. Bethany’s first words “is everyone happy?” did not get the response she wanted. She felt I was unreasonable for not calling her before we left for the friend’s house.
– The young girls are in full bloom here in Charleston. If you like attractive young women, this can be a real job benefit or curse here. I just remember, “I’m old; I’m married; I love my wife!” I feel like there’s practically nothing appealing about this nearly 50 year-old, pudgy gray-haired guy, but Laura says she finds me appealing. I try, unsuccessfully more often than I’d like, to avoid oggling. Damn, why couldn’t I be gay for a few moments? (CofC is 66% female, and I think most of the guys look like slobs.) Anyway, most of these young women are not fully cooked yet – most would run away upon viewing a drum corps show, a church choral performance, or my empty bank account! My wife wouldn’t, except maybe from the empty checkbook …
– Services for the disabled and poor. As I walked over to church Wednesday, I passed a person with a severely disabled child in a motorized wheelchair. The child (I think it was a young person) was grunting or yelping. I wanted to stop, but felt it would be an intrusion. I realized a couple minutes later that they were here to protest our governor’s town hall meeting, since she is strongly in favor of balancing our budget by cutting medicaid and services for the disabled, not to mention education at all levels. I couldn’t help but feel sad – if you have a disabled child, you understand the continuous challenge of life and advocacy for your child. But it seems like if you don’t, and/or you are a Republican, that challenge is too bad, but not your problem. (We know many caring people who don’t hold that view.) This whole budget cutting madness brings out the worst in people. “Hard choices”, “spending beyond our means”, “just because we started this program doesn’t mean it should stay forever” are all just some of the refrains. The cutting always seems to be driven by people who want to protect their money. I could go on a rant here, but am on the losing side. Ultimately it’s people like that child and my son that get hurt.

That’s enough for now. Anyone care?

Reading “The Declaration of Independence”

I just read “The Declaration of Independence”, probably for the first time all the way through.  At age 47, I feel like I should be ashamed that I haven’t done so before now.  Thank you to the Charleston Post & Courier for a most excellent presentation.  Usually I’ve seen the declaration shown in its parchment form – impressive, but very difficult to read.  This breaks it down into sections, and includes some extra insight into it.  For example, did you know that John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the only signer when it was presented, and that the other signers did so on or after July 19?  Or that the document originally indicted England for its practice of slavery, but that the continental congress deleted that indictment?  Also, it is very clear that they believed in rights given by their “creator”, although they don’t specifically mention the Christian God or some other denomination.

More thoughts about “illegal”

To further illustrate my point about "illegal", please read the following NY Times Op-ed piece:
Published: October 28, 2007
The gist?  The word "illegal" poisons the discussion, making it a black and white matter when it’s really grey.  We all do things that are "illegal" – like driving too fast, crossing streets against lights or in the middle of blocks, etc.  "Illegal" stops the conversation, and that’s bad if maybe it shouldn’t be "illegal".
This particular article is about illegal immigrants.  I’ve tried to stay neutral on this issue – I generally think that people that don’t legally enter the country should be fined and forced to pursue legal immigration, or be deported, but …
The fact is that it is far more difficult today to immigrate to the U.S. than it was for my great-great-grandparents.  The U.S. is a country founded by immigrants (they called them colonists back then.)  Now you have to jump through all kinds of hoops to come here, and even more to stay.  We’ve become very protectionist.  Meanwhile, there are scads of menial jobs that most citizens don’t want to do – things like picking crops, landscaping, and repairing roofs in hot climates.  Guess who does those jobs now?  Like it or not, we participate in a global economy that is forcing wages down, and many people depend on those "illegal’ immigrants.  Should we build an infrastructure to accomodate them, like making Spanish a second language here?  I don’t generally think so.  I think we should give them a way to be here legally.  If they want the benefits citizens enjoy, they can pay taxes like the rest of us.  If they want to vote, they need to become citizens.
Regarding my previous post about illegal downloading:
I listened to a media summit podcast, and was a little surprised to hear Shelly Palmer, whom I’ve developed quite a bit of respect for, come out quite strongly against a student who inquired about government control of "free" downloading.  His points are well taken:
  • The current laws of the land, via copyright legislation and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, make it illegal for someone to acquire a copy of a work (music, movie, etc.) without permission of the copyright holder.
  • A download may actually be free, but that is up to the copyright holder.
  • It is disingenuous for college students and other educated people to hold that most music and movies are free for the taking
  • Artists, studios, publishers and networks deserve to be paid.  They invest their capital, ideas, blood, sweat and tears to create things that we want to consume for information and entertainment.

There is no mechanism in a peer-to-peer download to verify copyright, and generally no mechanism to provide payment.  File sharing, whether via newsgroups, Kazaa, BitTorrent, or even Windows File Shares, creates an easy way for people to get a digital copy of a published work.  Some people will do this instead of paying for the work, which deprives at least the publishers revenue.  Hurting a company is easy – they’re all evil anyway, aren’t they?  (It doesn’t matter that they provide most of us with jobs.)  No, I don’t think that’s reasonable.

I strongly believe that publishers should lead the technology and marginalize free file sharing.  Make it easy to get high quality files for rent (with all the DRM you want) or to own (DRM free) at reasonable prices.  Provide an ad-free network subscription to download TV programs – iTunes does that pretty well.  Find a way to sell lossless digital files.  But always preserve my rights to resell or give away what I’ve purchased, or discount the purchase over the price of a physical copy.  In other words, I can buy a book, DVD or CD, and can keep it till it crumbles, or I can sell it or give it away.  If I buy a digital version for about the same price, I expect to be able to do the same things with it; if I can’t, don’t charge me the same or more for the digital copy!

I understand better than most about the temptation to download music and movies for free.  I’ve seen people with stacks of burned movie discs, and can easily download lossless music from Knology’s usenet servers.  There are very active newsgroups for sharing all sorts of mostly copyrighted material – pictures, books, movies, music, software.  I can’t help but wonder why the posters of that stuff aren’t being sued?  It’s kind of like the drug problem – do you arrest the users, filling up the jails and ruining lives, or the dealers?  The real solution is to eliminate demand.  In the case of downloading, free is a tough price to beat.

The crisis in the Episcopal Church

I’ve found few things as distressing in recent years as the crisis within the Episcopal Church (ECUSA).  In 2003, the general convention of ECUSA ratified the election by the membership of the Diocese of New Hampshire of a non-celibate homosexual as bishop of the diocese.  This flew in the face of what orthodox (conservative) church leaders believe the bible tells them – that homosexuality is a sin, and that sexual relations between a non-married couple are sinful, which therefore prevent Jean Robinson from being eligible to be a bishop (and many would say even makes him ineligible to be a communicant in the church).  A small number of the bishops and priests then formed a schismatic group called the American Anglican Council  Mission and Ministry Network (the Network or AAC for short), which claims to be in a desperate fight over the very soul of the Anglican Church in America.  They claim that the threat to unity is ECUSA itself, which it says is pursuing a revisionist approach to the tenets of Christian faith, and which it also says is abandoning the foundations of "Holy Scripture".

This fight is particularly difficult for those of us who live in the Diocese of South Carolina, headquartered right here in Charleston.  Our bishop, Edward Salmon, is a founding member of the Network.  Effectively, most every Episcopal Church has had to fall in line with the Network.  One of the loudest voices in the AAC is a local theologian, who is constantly denouncing any view not lifted straight from the bible.  My family actually fled our nearest church, St. James, when they stopped referring to their membership in the Episcopal Church, substituting the name of the head of the AAC instead of ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and speaking in ever more fundamentalist terms against homosexuality and so-called sin as defined by "Holy Scripture".

We are now very happy members of Grace Episcopal Church, one of only two churches in the Charleston area that actually admit that they are part of the Episcopal Church.  Our rector, Donald McPhail, has along with our vestry clung to the notion of the Via Media, a core notion of Anglican faith that there is more than one interpretation of faith.

What I find particulary laughable is the continuing AAC contention that the battle is not about homosexuality.  Yet, in nearly every newsletter from them (I pick them up from the various former Episcopal churches that I sing at regularly) they mention Bishop Robinson, ECUSA’s refusal to reverse the actions of the general convention (which I think can only be done by the next convention), and various opinions about homosexuality.  A recent issue had a lengthy article about conversions from gay to straight, a practice now denounced as harmful by the American Psychiatric Association!

The net effect for me and my wife has been a serious erosion in faith.  Religion appears to be an almost purely man-made creation, with little of actual authority to back it up.  As Bill Maher constantly jokes, we put a lot into our belief in an invisible man in the sky.  This vaunted "Holy Scripture", the Bible, whichever version that is, doesn’t seem to be much more than a committee driven creation of men over a few thousand years.  We end readings from it in church with "The Word of the Lord", or something similar – really?  I will be the first to admit that I am no Bible scholar; from what I’ve heard from some of the actual Bible scholars here at the College of Charleston, I’d probably be even more confused if I was.

There have always been multiple ways of understanding and practicing Christianity.  The Christian Bible (the New Testament) is a evolving collection of writings from the first few centuries of the church following Christ’s death and resurrection.  They are supposedly inspired by God, and may even contain some of the actual words of Christ, the only documented time God has walked among us and talked to us.  (I suppose God spoke to Moses, Adam and Abraham, although I’m not sure whether some of those (Adam) aren’t just an invention of some priest.)  It’s funny that Christ has nothing to say about homosexuality, although he certainly had lots to say about being judgemental and hewing to the "law" of established religion.  "Love one another as God loves us."  Oddly enough, many people don’t seem to think that applies to people who are homosexual.

For the record, I am not a homosexual.  I am, however, convinced that it is not a "choice", any more than I "choose" to be heterosexual.  I’ve had lots of (non-sexual) contact with gay people over the years, particularly in the artistic community.  I believe it is simply a part of how God made some people, and is wholely irrelevant to their faith and ability to bring their faith to others.  From what I can see, homosexuals are just another group of people who are different from the "majority", and are therefore discriminated against.  South Carolina has a particularly rich history in the practice of discrimination!  It’s somewhat disgusting to see a whole system of churches, sometimes right next to one another, separating black and white people.  In Charleston, there are many Episcopal Churches near African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches.  AME churches are effectively black Episcopalian churches.

Theoretically, much of the "law" of the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, was reformed by Jesus.  Somehow, this didn’t reform the "law" against homosexuality, although it did allow shellfish.  It seems that if Jesus didn’t specifically say something, the "leaders" of the churches can pick and choose what we supposedly believe.  That, in turn, can be used to enforce "morality".

Personally, I think it’s all a load of crap.   You’ll notice I put this entry under the category "News and politics" rather than religion.  I don’t see much difference between the two.

I grew up as a Roman Catholic, although I was never won over by the church.  I always had a problem with the idea that our faith and values (the rules) were supposed to be rigidly defined by the hierarchy of the church, and yet massive numbers of people would discard those rules when it came to sexuality (birth control, abortion, sex outside of marriage, etc.).  Somehow these same people were "good" Catholics.  You could, for example, follow the law of the church and practice "natural family planning", aka use the "rythym method".  As MAD Magazine put it, Catholics are nice people, but are sometimes a bit off-beat!  In a world of exploding population and severely dimished resources, this seems like an irresponsible approach.  One day, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Clark DeLeon pointed out that people who choose their beliefs have a name: Protestant.  I found that my new wife, who had grown up Episcopalian and was arguably far more faithful that I, was excluded from communion in the Catholic Church.  Then I discovered that Episcopalians had a liberated view of the role of women, with female priests and bishops.  They even seemed to believe that the Bible was open to interpretation (imagine that!)  Then, I discovered that some of the best church musicians were Episcopalian.  I’ve been a "recovering Catholic" ever since as a member of the Episcopal Church.

I’ll probably take a lot of guff for all of the above.  You are free to believe what you wish.  I am sorry for you if that is not the same as what I believe.