Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Latest on Bishop Gene Robinson

As The Lead is reporting, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, informed Bishop Gene Robinson (by email!) that he was not permitted to preach or celebrate mass while in England:

Citing fears of creating a controversy, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to grant Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the right to preach or preside at the eucharist in England. Robinson received the news in an email yesterday morning.

Sources familiar with the email say Williams cites the Windsor Report and recent statements from the Primates Meeting in refusing to grant Robinson permission to exercise his priestly functions during his current trip to England, or during the trip he plans during the Lambeth Conference in July and August.

The Windsor Report does not discuss the ordination of a candidate in a gay relationship to the priesthood, and it is priestly, rather than episcopal functions that Robinson had sought permission to perform. The primates' statements, similarly, have objected to Robinson's episcopacy, not his priesthood.

Several provinces in the Communion ordain gay and lesbian candidates without requiring a vow of celibacy. It is unclear whether the Church of England forbids these priests from exercising their functions within its jurisdiction as a matter of policy, or whether Williams' ban extends only to Robinson. Many gay English priests live with their partners, but are expected to remain celibate.

The email, which came to Robinson through a Lambeth official, says Williams believes that giving Robinson permission to preach and preside at the Eucharist would be construed as an acceptance of the ministry of a controversial figure within the Communion.

Read it all here.

This strikes me as a stunningly bad move by the Archbishop. Many of the more conservative Anglican provinces (such as Nigeria) were already boycotting Lambeth and Bishop Robinson had already been told that he was not invited to Lambeth in any capacity. So what was the purpose of this move, which as the Lead points out, is directed to Gene Robinson as an ordained priest, and not as a Bishop?

I suspect that the best explanation is that the Church of England is itself dividing on the issue of same sex relatiionships, and this has more to do with keeping unity within the Church of England--especially given that gay Englsh priests are officially expected to be celibate.

Up until now, I had thought that the Archbishop was playing a careful and thoughtful game of allowing time and inertia to lead to some reconciliation among at least most of the Provinces. I am now not so sure. The progressives within the Episcopal Church are already asking why the Archbishop has forbidden Gene Robinson, but not other non-Windsor compliant Bishops, from preaching in England. This again from the Lead:

Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who gave his support to a failed legislative attempt to limit the rights of Nigerian gays and their supporters to speak, assemble and worship God collectively. Akinola has yet to respond to an Atlantic magazine article which suggests he may have had prior knowledge of plans for retributive violence against Muslims in his country that resulted in the massacre of more than 650 people in Yelwa, Nigeria.

Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Bernard Malango, the retired primate of Central Africa and one of the authors of the Windsor Report. Malango dismissed without reason the ecclesiastical court convened to try pro-Mugabe Bishop Nolbert Kunonga for incitement to murder and other charges.

Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone, who has now claimed as his own, churches in three others provinces in the Anglican Communion (Brazil, Canada and the United States). Nor has he denined permission to preach and preside to Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emanuel Kolini of Rwanda, or Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, all of whom have ignored the Windsor Report's plea not to claim churches within other provinces of the Communion.

Perhaps Bishop Robinson should make a few sidetrips to Wales and Scotland.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Defender of God and Evolution

I loved this New York Times profile of Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, and former Dominican priest:

An evolutionary biologist and geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, he speaks often at universities, in churches, for social groups and elsewhere, usually in defense of the theory of evolution and against the arguments of creationism and its ideological cousin, intelligent design.

Usually he preaches to the converted. But not always.

As challenges to the teaching of evolution continue to emerge, legislators debate measures equating the teaching of creationism with academic freedom and a new movie links Darwin to evils ranging from the suppression of free speech to the Holocaust, “I get a lot of people who don’t know what to think,” Dr. Ayala said. “Or they believe in intelligent design but they want to hear.”

Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution “is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for.”

. . .

Dr. Ayala, who is 74, was born in Madrid and studied theology at the Pontifical Faculty of San Esteban in Salamanca before coming to the United States in 1961, for graduate study in genetics at Columbia. From there he went to Rockefeller University, then Davis and then to Irvine. He became a United States citizen in 1971. He and his wife, an ecologist who works to encourage conservation efforts by resorts in tropical areas, have two grown sons.

Dr. Ayala said he remained surprised at how many Americans believe the theory of evolution is contrary to belief in God, or that the theory is erroneous or even fraudulent. (In fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to it as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.)

Sometimes, he says, people come to his talks determined to challenge him, usually by citing familiar creationist arguments — that a body part like the bacterial tail, or flagellum, is too complex to have arisen through evolution, or that scientists lied when they demonstrated that moths in England evolved to be darker as the Industrial Revolution covered their native trees with soot.

But he said he had yet to encounter a challenge he could not meet. When people ask about the bacterial flagellum, for example, “I bring up that by now it has been worked out in great detail how the basic parts of the bacterial flagellum have evolved independently and exist independently,” he said.

. . .

And he dismisses the argument that it is only fair to teach both sides of the evolution/creationism controversy. “We don’t teach alchemy along with chemistry,” he said. “We don’t teach witchcraft along with medicine. We don’t teach astrology with astronomy.”

He said he was saddened when he saw the embrace of evolution identified with, as he put it, “explicit atheism,” as in the books of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins or other writers on science and faith.

Neither the existence nor nonexistence of God is susceptible to scientific proof, Dr. Ayala said, and equating science with the abandonment of religion “fits the prejudices” of advocates of intelligent design and other creationist ideas.

“Science and religion concern nonoverlapping realms of knowledge,” he writes in the new book. “It is only when assertions are made beyond their legitimate boundaries that evolutionary theory and religious belief appear to be antithetical.”

It is important that Dr. Ayala “is not a religion-basher,” Dr. Scott said, “because creationists always showcase the religion-bashers in science as if they speak for all scientists. They clearly do not speak for Francisco and many others.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Ayala will not say whether he remains a religious believer.

“I don’t want to be tagged,” he said. “By one side or the other.”

Read it all here.


With apologies to my current law partners and all of my previous employers as well, the highlight of my career so far has been my service as General Counsel of the Army. While the work was interesting and challenging, the best part of the job was getting to know the Army as an institution, and even more importantly, meeting hundreds of soldiers. And as part of the unofficial "share our toys" program of my fellow service general counsels, I was able to meet members of other services, including a two day visit to the U.S.S. George Washington, an aircraft carrier.

I have therefore been watching with great interest the PBS series Carrier. And I highly recommend that you start watching the program. The show is a person-focused exploration of life on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the military shows on other channels, this show does not focus on the gee-whiz technology of the carrier, but instead on the daily life of the sailors on board the carrier. And, perhaps most importantly, the show focuses on the enlisted sailors, and makes clear that the heart and soul of any military operation are the noncommissioned officers.

That being said, I do have one serious concern with the show. You would think from watching the show that the enlisted ranks were made up of kids from broken homes who would be drug dealers or pregnant single mothers if they had not joined the Navy. And you would think that discipline problems were rampant in the enlisted ranks. Neither paints the enlisted ranks fairly. While these make compelling stories on film, they do not reflect reality. Discipline problems are fair fewer now than in the Vietnam and even post-Vietnam era, and the quality of recruits in the military is also far higher.

What Carrier does make clear is this: the Navy does remarkable things with a ship using a large group of teenagers lead by leaders and mentors who are only a few years older. (The average age on the flight deck is less than 20). That is a testament not only to the U.S. Navy but the capabilities of these young men and women.


CARRIER Badge 125 x 40 Blue

You can view full episodes here. It is part of a pretty robust website on the Carrier series, which can be found here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Is Mathematics Discovered or Invented?

Nicholas Knisely has an interesting post up today that plays off two recent articles that discuss the nature of mathematics. The real issue here is whether there is an underlying order in the world that we discover or do we invent that order ourselves? In other words was Plato right:

A post on Slashdot (h/t) points to an article in Science News about an ongoing debate about the connection between mathematics and the nature of reality. (We were just discussing that question here earlier this week.)

The article in Science News begins:

"[A]re new mathematical truths discovered or invented? Seems like a simple enough question, but for millennia, it has provided fodder for arguments among mathematicians and philosophers.

Those who espouse discovery note that mathematical statements are true or false regardless of personal beliefs, suggesting that they have some external reality. But this leads to some odd notions. Where, exactly, do these mathematical truths exist? Can a mathematical truth really exist before anyone has ever imagined it?
On the other hand, if math is invented, then why can’t a mathematician legitimately invent that 2 + 2 = 5?

...Plato is the standard-bearer for the believers in discovery. The Platonic notion is that mathematics is the imperturbable structure that underlies the very architecture of the universe. By following the internal logic of mathematics, a mathematician discovers timeless truths independent of human observation and free of the transient nature of physical reality. ‘The abstract realm in which a mathematician works is by dint of prolonged intimacy more concrete to him than the chair he happens to sit on,’ says Ulf Persson of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, a self-described Platonist.

The Platonic perspective fits well with an aspect of the experience of doing mathematics, says Barry Mazur, a mathematician at Harvard University, though he doesn’t go so far as to describe himself as a Platonist. The sensation of working on a theorem, he says, can be like being ‘a hunter and gatherer of mathematical concepts.’"

Read the rest here.

The article on Slashdot about the piece above also includes a link to a paper recently published entitled "Let Platonism Die" which includes a claim that Platonism "has more in common with mystical religions than with modern science".

The point of which seems to be that there's a fundamental question about reality. Does it reflect a designers intent, and is that intent mirrored at all levels of reality, or is creation essentially a result of random processes and any attempt to find an purpose or meaning is simply a human desire for order projected onto the Cosmos.

Father Knisely, who was a theoretical physicist and astronomer before becoming a priest comes down on the side of a ordered reality:

I'm such a thoroughgoing Platonist (neo actually) that it seems obvious to me that mathematics (and science) is about uncovering the underlying order. But I'm also religious and believe I've encountered in one way or another the orderer, so perhaps my sense that mathematics is discovered isn't all that surprising.

Read it all here.

Andrew Sullivan on Torture

Be sure to read Andrew Sullivan's full post today on the morality of torture. It deserves a full read, but here are some highlights:

The manner in which free societies lose their moral compass is always incremental. Step by step by step, certain core values are whittled away. There is rarely a moment at which a government stands up, and asks its people if they wish to abandon such "quaint" notions as the Geneva Conventions, the rule of law, humane interrogation or habeas corpus. These things are abandoned incrementally or secretly, slice by slice, euphemism by euphemism, the chronology always clearer in retrospect than at the time. And each incremental step is always portrayed as a small but essential temporary sacrifice for the sake of security in a time of great and imminent peril.

And so defenders of torture have long argued that is is essential to make torture legal - but only in the ticking time bomb scenario. And yet, such a scenario has not yet happened and the United States has still indisputably abused and dehumanized thousands of prisoners in its custody, "disappeared" and tortured hundreds, and seen more than a dozen die in "interrogation". We now know, moreover, the following undisputed facts: the president of the United States and his closest advisers devised, orchestrated and monitored interrogation methods banned by the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo Bay and subsequently in every theater of combat; these techniques were used not only in the extra-legal no-man's land of Guantanamo Bay but also at the prison at Abu Ghraib where photographic evidence of many of the actual techniques explicitly authorized by the president - stress positions, hoods, mock-executions, etc. - was incontrovertible. We now know that those techniques that the president expressed "shock" at were already explicitly authorized for use by other agents by him long before Abu Ghraib was exposed.

Moreover, even after attempts by the Court and the Congress to rein in these methods - which were once prosecuted by the US as war-crimes - the president continued to defend, use and advance violations of Common Article Three in violation of the law and the Constitution.

Read it all here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Border

The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona has taken a decidedly unpopular position on the immigration issue--that it is a human problem, resulting from human beings trying to find a better life for themselves and their families, and that our faith demands that we treat immigrants as our neighbors. The result has been quite a bit of activity--including support of fair trade operations in Mexico that allow families to make living at home, health care visits to border communities, and displays of solidarity with immigrants.

My church, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix, has a new video initiative, and the first short video (about 6 minutes) is devoted to this issue. If you look closely you will see Bishop Smith in Naco at the most recent border procession. This is the first of a series of videos. You can find all of the videos at You Tube here. More context on what the video shows can be found here.

And, here, without further ado is the video:

Our African Roots

Scientists have devoted a great deal of study to the populations of humans that first emerged out of Africa, but little has been done to study the genetic diversity of humans within Africa itself. Perhaps this is is because most of the scientists are descendants of those who left Africa?

In any event, we now have a very extensive and interesting study of genetic diversity within Africa, which sheds light on what humans were doing in Africa before the great migrations out of Africa began. It appears that humans were separated into isolated small populations all over South and East Africa until about 40,000 years ago thanks to a severe drought. Here is a summary of the study:

A team of Genographic researchers and their collaborators have published the most extensive survey to date of African mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Over 600 complete mtDNA genomes from indigenous populations across the continent were analyzed by the scientists, led by Doron Behar, Genographic Associate Researcher, based at Rambam Medical Center, Haifa, and Saharon Rosset of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, NY and Tel Aviv University. Analyses of the extensive data presented in this study provide surprising insights into the early demographic history of human populations before they moved out of Africa, illustrating that these early human populations were small and isolated from each other for many tens of thousands of years.

MtDNA, inherited down the maternal line, was used to discover the age of the famous 'mitochondrial Eve' in 1987. This work has since been extended to show unequivocally that the most recent common female ancestor of everyone alive today was an African woman who lived in the past 200,000 years. Paleontology provides corroborating evidence that our species originated on this continent approximately 200,000 years ago.

The migrations after 60,000 years ago that led modern humans on their epic journeys to populate the world have been the primary focus of anthropological genetic research, but relatively little is known about the demographic history of our species over the previous 140,000 years in Africa. The current study returns the focus to Africa and in doing so refines our understanding of early modern Homo sapiens history.

Doron Behar, Rambam Medical Center, Haifa, said: "We see strong evidence of ancient population splits beginning as early as 150,000 years ago, probably giving rise to separate populations localized to Eastern and Southern Africa. It was only around 40,000 years ago that they became part of a single pan-African population, reunited after as much as 100,000 years apart."

Recent paleoclimatological data suggests that Eastern Africa went through a series of massive droughts between 135,000-90,000 years ago. It is possible that this climatological shift contributed to the population splits. What is surprising is the length of time the populations were separate - as much as half of our entire history as a species.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study is that it suggests that about 70,000 years ago the number of humans was only about 2000, and that we were on the virge of extinction:

Previous studies have shown that while human populations had been quite small prior to the Late Stone Age, perhaps numbering fewer than 2,000 around 70,000 years ago, the expansion after this time led to the occupation of many previously uninhabited areas, including the world beyond Africa.

Dr. Spencer Wells, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Director of the Genographic Project, said: "This new study released today illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history. Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, Genographic Advisory Board member, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Research Professor, Stony Brook University, added: "Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction."

Read it all here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Christianity and Darwinism

As readers of this blog have long known, I think that evolution and Christianity are reconcilable. You can be a Christian and still accept the latest strong scientific evidence for evolution by natural selection.

Noah Millman, however, offers a challenge to this view. He argues that while evolution is not really a challenging to a belief in a creating God, it is a challenge to Christianity, which makes claims about the nature of humans,and the nature of God. Here is what he has to say:

I continue to believe that both sides of the Darwin vs. Christianity battle are missing the most telling point. We should all agree that religious dogma has no bearing on the truth or falsity of a scientific theory. Heliocentrism is true; geocentrism is false. There is an enormous weight of evidence behind the theory of evolution by natural selection. There is going to be more and more evidence behind new theories about the workings of the human mind, and the interactions of the human genome and human personality. All religion can do is react to these discoveries and, as part of that reaction, caution us about drawing unwarranted conclusions (political, moral, what-have-you) from the evidence. But I don’t think that’s the end of the story, because I think science does have implications for the persuasiveness of specific religious doctrines, simply as a psychological matter. And I think evolution through natural selection is extremely uncongenial to the central Christian story about the nature of sin and evil in the world. Why? Because the Christian story has the entry of strife into the world come about as the result of human sin, whereas the core idea behind evolution by natural selection is that our existence – and the consciousness and ability to sin that comes with it – is a product of strife. Put bluntly: natural selection is not the mechanism that the Christian deity would use to create man in His image. Or, if it is, I’d like to see the explanation. I think that natural selection poses similar but less-acute problems for Judaism and Islam; it poses the fewest problems, I suspect, for Hinduism. Again: I’m not speaking of science refuting religion. I’m speaking of scientific results making certain core religious claims less persuasive. That should have implication for religious affiliation of the small group of people who have truly understood the scientific theories in question – which, in turn, will probably have some social implications. And those social implications should be of general interest, independent of the validity of either the science or the religion.

Read it all here.

Ross Douthat has a response here.

In my view Millman ignores the rich diversity of theological understandings of human nature within the Christian tradition. It is certainly not central to Christian teaching that humans, through sin, are the cause of strife in the world. And many Christian theologians have written a great deal about how acceptance of evolution may change our thinking about how God acted in his creating world. See my posts here and here.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Relativism, Post-Positivism and the Pope

Nicholas Knisely, the Dean at my church, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix, was a theoretical physicist before he became a priest. He has a post today at the Daily Episcopalian that explains Pope Benedict XVI's views on relativism versus absolutism, and notes that it is far more sophisticated than most observers understand. Noting that President Bush expressed his gratitude for the Pope’s teaching that "there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism has a danger of un-dermining the capacity to have more hopeful and free societies," Dean Knisely then explains that President Bush got it all wrong:

But a deeper question remains. Given that relativity is experimentally verified in the physical world, how should it be used in the realm of ideas? Do we want to argue that because relativity is a characteristic of physical reality, that it must also be a characteristic of morality? Should it be a fundamental characteristic of theology as well? (If that’s true, then much of the scholasticism of Reformation and Counterreformation theology is automatically overturned.) Benedict, back when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, tried to answer these questions. There’s a lovely summary of his thinking available online titled “Relativism, The Central Problem for Faith Today” that walks us through his objections. Apparently the President’s people based the President’s remarks on the title of the essay and not the actual text.

Pope Benedict’s critique of relativism shows that he’s not simply rejecting relativity in a sort of modern versus post-modern reactionary way as the President’s words seem to imply. What the Pope does instead is to look carefully at how various theologians have used relativistic and subjectivist philosophical systems. His critique centers on the observation that the move to reject the very existence of absolutes takes us to a place we don’t want to go. (It essentially forces us to reject any special quality to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.) But Benedict recognizes the possibility that while ultimate truth exists, it is unknowable by human beings except in approximation.

Painting with a very broad brush, in technical terms the Pope is arguing that Positivism cannot be proven and is even poisonous to theology, and he’s willing at least to enter-tain the principles of PostPositivism (and some of its specific children) as a way of continuing a conversation between science, theology and philosophy. ' . . .

The Pope thus is landing in the same place where most scientists are these days, in post-positivism. Post-positivists admit the impossibility of being able to make statements of fact in an absolutely true way, but still attempt to express truth in a way that is “good enough” for a given purpose. These good-enough expressions come with the caveat that they might be different (pluriform) in different contexts. Post-positivism instead cautions that all attempts to describe truth are ultimately limited and incomplete, but that the attempt should be made. It is not the same as the idea of philosophical relativity which says that there is no unique truth at all, and all claims to truth are equally valid. It’s an important distinction because the implications of a fully relativistic world view take us down roads we know from experience we should not travel.

But keep in mind that while Benedict cautions against the implications of relativism, he doesn’t attempt to solve the problem the way the President’s quote would implies. He does not embrace absolutism as a corrective to the dangers of relativism. Here is Benedict’s key point on the subject in the essay I reference above: “I am of the opinion that neo-Scholastic rationalism failed which, with reason totally in-dependent from the faith, tried to reconstruct the pre-ambula fidei with pure rational cer-tainty.” Benedict goes on to argue that truth can only be approached by means of a path that uses faith and philosophy in a respectful dialogue and that attempting to rely on one or the other is to make a fundamental mistake.

Why does this matter? Look how badly the majority of people have understood the point that the Pope was making. In effect they are force-fitting what he did say into a structure of modernity that they want him to support even while he is explicitly rejecting it. Why do they do this? The idea that there are no fully knowable moral absolutes is not easily accepted by most people. If science and philosophy won’t give us the absolutes we desire then we turn to religion for them, as is what seems to have happened here. The problem is that the absolutes are not readily available in religion either, at least according to Benedict.

This missing of the point is just another example of how desperately people want neat and easy answers to complex and difficult questions. The President’s people got the Pope wrong. They did so because they wanted to be able to say that we are right and others are wrong. (The press got the Pope wrong because they apparently relied on the President’s writers to do their work for them.) But it’s not just the President’s speech writers who chase after the mirage of absolutes. We all want to know for certain what God wants us to do. The problem is that what we want and what the universe gives us are often different. To quote Westley in “The Princess Bride”, we must all “get used to disappointment.” Instead we need to recognize that the best we do is to muddle through, trying to do the best we can and trusting desperately in God’s mercy revealed to us in Jesus. Somehow I think free societies will manage to survive as well.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Pope and Immigration

I think that immigration may be the sleeper issue of the year for the Christian community in the United States. I have been amazed at teh harsh and uncompassionate views on the issue that are taken by many professing Christians. Don't get me wrong, I agree that the United States needs to protect our borders, but we also need to take into account compassion in dealing with the tweleve million or so undocumented immigrants living among us--many of them for years.

The Pope spoke out on this issue this past week and was immediately denounced by the likes of Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs for doing so. I thought that the response of the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board was just about perfect:

It's not everyday that a backbencher in Congress draws international attention by insulting the spiritual leader of one in four Americans. But Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, the anti-immigrant obsessive, wasn't about to miss his moment.

Pope Benedict XVI called on U.S. bishops last week to "continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials and to help them flourish in their new home." Mr. Tancredo's response was to accuse the pontiff of "faith-based marketing" and claim that "the pope's immigration comments may have less to do with spreading the gospel than they do about recruiting new members of the church."

. . .

To Lou Dobbs, another Tancredo-like compulsive, all of this amounted to the pope "insulting our country." The CNN anchor said, "I really don't appreciate the bad manners of a guest telling me in this country and my fellow citizens what to do." You know the restrictionists have gone head-first into the fever swamps when they denounce a Christian religious leader for sounding like a Christian.

The pope welcomes immigrants because he's Catholic, not because they are. He isn't "marketing" his faith. He's practicing it.

Read it all here.

Dorothy Day

May 1 will be the 7th anniversary of the Catholic Worker's movement, and Marquette University Press has published "The Duty of Delight," a collection of Day's diaries, as well as a 2006 documentary, "Don't Call Me a Saint," is out on DVD. The Dallas Morning NewsReligion blog has further details:

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was a pacifist, a champion of the poor, a Communist (for a time), a writer, and a hell-raiser who took part in countless demonstrations in support of workers, women, the poor and the disenfranchised.

She spoke her mind. Before embracing Catholicism, she led what was once colorfully called a "bohemian" lifestyle. She had affairs, a common-law marriage, and a back-alley abortion, about which she wrote in a novel, "The Eleventh Virgin."

She died in 1980 at age 83.

On May 1, the Catholic Worker Movement celebrates its 75th anniversary. Today, there are more than 185 Catholic Worker houses around the world, promoting "nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken."

Read it all here.

Here is a preview of the video:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Episcopal Church and the MDGs

Conservative critics of the Episcopal Church seem to take great joy in challenging the recent efforts of the Episcopal Church to focus on world poverty, and in particular, on the Church's support of the Millennium Development Goals. Now, I do realize that at times the focus on MDGs becomes self-parody (most notably with the well-meaning MDG Stations of the Cross). Nonetheless, I think that these conservative critics are missing a larger bibical point.

As a starting point, I think that it is important to emphasize the affluence of Americans by world standards. All but the poorest Americans are rich--quite rich--by world standards. So, assuming that the conservatives are right about same sex relationships, what do you think that Jesus will be most upset about on Judgment Day: that we have a few hundred gay and lesbian priests in the Episcopal Church or that American Christians have done so little to deal with world poverty?

Can you read the gospels and really come to any other conclusion than that Jesus will be more concerned about what we did to help the one billion (yes, billion) people living in extreme poverty than the issue of same sex relationships?

Hard Lesson

Eric Von Salzen has a wonderful post on hard Scriptual lessons on the Agnlican Centrist blog (which is now a group blog). It is well worth a full read, but here are some highlights:

There are a lot of these hard lessons, particularly in the Old Testament, such as God banning Moses from entering the Promised Land because he didn’t do the water-from-the-rock trick the right way; King Saul losing God’s favor because he failed to kill all the Amalekites after defeating them in battle; and Psalm 137, which begins with that poignant lament, “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps”, and ends in a hateful fantasy of revenge against the Babylonians: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”

But the quintessential hard lesson for me is Abraham’s (almost) sacrifice of Isaac. Every year in Education for Ministry, I look forward, with interest and a little trepidation, to the week the Year 1 members read and discuss that story. What are we to say about a God who tells a father to murder his own son, and about a father who is ready to do so? Every discussion is different, but it’s always challenging.

Most of us prefer easy lessons to hard ones. Easy lessons are the ones that tell us that what we already believe is correct, that what we want to do is what we ought to do. The nice thing about easy lessons is that there’s so much to choose from. Given a little imagination and a good concordance, you can find scriptural support for just about any position that appeals to you. That’s why my baloney detector goes off whenever I hear someone try to end a discussion by saying “The Bible says . . . .”

You don’t learn anything from a scripture that says (or that you believe says) that you were right all along. It’s hard lessons that you learn from.

. . .

Jesus made it a practice to take easy lessons and make them hard. When a rich man asked him what to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus could have advised tithing, but instead he told him to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. A hard lesson for a man who “had many possessions” (and mighty hard for all of us, too). When a lawyer asked Jesus a similar question, Jesus could have been satisfied with the standard scriptural answer, to love God and one’s neighbor, but that was too easy. Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, which says that the most despicable person a good Jew could imagine – a Samaritan! – was his neighbor for these purposes. And as if that weren’t hard enough, Jesus added, “Go and do likewise”.

We can try to dodge the hard lessons, of course. We can dismiss the Abraham and Isaac story as a cultural vestige of a dark and primitive age that has nothing to teach us. That’s pretty easy to do. But you don’t learn anything that way. Our Catechism tells us that God inspired the human authors of the holy scriptures and still speaks to us through them; it also tells us that the Holy Spirit guides the Church and us in interpreting the scriptures. I think that means we’re supposed to work on it; we’re supposed to take the scriptures seriously, even when they’re hard. Especially when they’re hard.

I left out some of the best parts of this essay--read it all here. I agree that it is too easy to use the Bible as a proof text of what we already beleive. Confronting the hard parts--even when we ultimately decide that they reflect the biases of te times and not the revelations of God--are where we learn the most.

The Pope's Visit

Given that the current Pope and I are decidely on different sides of several theological issues, you might be surprised to konw that I am an admirer of this Pope--a critical admirer, but an admirer nonetheless. I hhighly recommended on this blog his Jesus of Navareth. I have therefore been following his visit to the United States with great interest. Be sure to check out my posts on the Lead today and tomorrow for some of my posts on that vist.

Yesterday, David Gibson had some very intersting observations about the Pope:

Call Pope Benedict XVI a "cultural Catholic" and you're likely to get puzzled looks if not angry rejoinders. Cultural Catholics rank right down there with "cafeteria Catholics" in the opinion of those who argue that only a deep experience of Christian faith and a tight embrace of church teachings can make one authentically Catholic.

To a great extent that would also be the perspective of Benedict, whose Augustinian view of man's fallen state and need for grace, discovered in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is almost Lutheran in its theology and evangelical in its expression. But Benedict is also, of course, a thoroughgoing Catholic, by birth and upbringing. And he recognizes that Catholicism is a culture as well as a religion, and that a strong cultural identity can cultivate faith in the present generation and pass it along to the next, as it has for centuries. ("Never!" Joseph Ratzinger once exclaimed to an interviewer who asked if he had ever thought of converting to Protestantism. The man who was to become Pope Benedict XVI had been so infused by "the Baroque atmosphere" of his native Bavaria, he said, that "from a purely psychological point of view I have never been attracted to it.")

. . .

In the Christian ideal, God has no grandchildren; faith must be ever new. But then how does the church encourage Catholicism as a culture while keeping the faith fresh and alive? It is an age-old question, the search for a link between the collective sense of a people and the requirement of individual sanctification. Answers have ranged from Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom to H. Richard Niebuhr's seminal work, "Christ and Culture."

For his part, Benedict seems to embrace a kind of "post-Constantinian" strategy that attempts the tricky two-step of, as the pope said, "cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church's living tradition." Benedict's approach is so novel -- as is the ever-changing world that the age-old church now inhabits -- that it's hard to know what to call it. Vatican expert John Allen has tried out labels like "evangelical Catholicism" or "affirmative orthodoxy." Yet neither seems to encompass Benedict's goal of making an Old World religion pulse with the vitality of a New World spirituality.

Perhaps it cannot happen, or perhaps Catholic identity will emerge in some unexpected form. Maybe even papal visits and huge public liturgies like Thursday's Mass at Nationals Stadium in Washington -- events that Cardinal Ratzinger viewed with some suspicion only a few years ago -- are an important way of encouraging a kind of Catholic culture. No researcher has yet been able to quantify the impact of these papal spectaculars. But the outpouring of pride and the experience of faith they create, in ancient liturgies and modern settings, may plant seeds whose fruit we will see in future years.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Science of Gratitude

Dave Munger of the blog, Cognitive Daily, has an interesting post today about a recent study that seems to show that taking time to "count your blessings" has positive effects on our mental health:

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough figured it would be worthwhile to explore this notion. Their method of study was both ingenious and simple: they would ask 201 students in a health psychology class to respond to a weekly questionnaire. Everyone rated their well-being, was tested on a measure of gratefulness, and reported on their physical health and level of exercise. The key to the study was a division into three groups. The first group listed five things they were grateful for each week. The second group listed five hassles or irritants from the past week. The final group simply wrote down five "events or circumstances" from the past week. This continued for ten weeks.

. . .

As you might expect, the students in the gratefulness group scored significantly higher than the hassles group on the gratefulness measure. But they also were more positive about the upcoming week and their life as a whole. They were even healthier than both the hassles and events groups, and they reported significantly more hours of exercise (4.35) than the hassles group (3.01). On the more rigorous measure of positive affect, which assesses many different dimensions of positive emotion, there was, however, no significant difference between the groups.

Emmons and McCullough suspected the reason positive affect differences weren't observed was that the respondents only reflected on things they were grateful for once a week. So they repeated the study on two different groups: a new batch of 166 health psychology students, and 65 adults with neuromuscular diseases. This time participants completed their questionnaires daily for 13 days (students) or 21 days (NMD patients). In of these studies, a significant effect of positive affect was found: Just writing down the things you are grateful for each day appears to cause to improve your overall emotional outlook. In the NMD study, respondents in the gratitude group also reported getting significantly more sleep and feeling more refreshed when they woke up in the morning.

The researchers speculate that simply enumerating things you are grateful for might be a treatment for mild forms of depression. They certainly seem to have confirmed the worth of the "count your blessings" platitude, and this research may offer some insight into research showing that religious adherents tend to be happier than non-religious people. Perhaps simple gratitude is one of the keys to the success of religion.

read it all here.

Bishop Kirk Smith on Sheriff Arpaio's Round-ups

The Diocese of Arizona has a Spanish language congregation, San Pablo, that has been hit especially hard by Sheriff Arpaio's anti-immigrant round-ups. For those outside of Arizona, our local Sheriff will put huge resources in predominately Hispanic areas of the county. They will look for small infractions--such as broken headlights and the like, with the hope of catching undocumented immigrants. (Meanwhile, thousands of felony warrants go unserved for alleged lack of resources).

Bishop Kirk Smith used his weekly column to point out how a Good Friday round-up hurt San Pablo worshippers:

Thursday night I spoke to a group of about 1,500 members of the East Valley Interfaith, an ecumenical group that works with political leaders to further such causes as public safely, education, health care, and immigration reform. It was apparent from that meeting that Arizona has a major church/state crisis on its hands as it reacts to the tactics used by the County Sheriff in his crusade to catch undocumented immigrants. Last Sunday, he interrupted a confirmation service in a Roman Catholic Church in Guadalupe. Last night the Mayor of Phoenix, the Police Chief, and representatives from the Governor's office were present to hear our concerns. I shared with that group the story of my Holy Week encounter with the Sheriff's Department, and I pass it on to you:

This past Good Friday I was driving home from church services in Tucson when I received a call from the priest at one of our Spanish-speaking churches in Phoenix. Her church is located just off Thomas Road, less than a block away from where our County Sheriff had decided to set up a so-called "command center" complete with trailers, radio towers, search lights, and scores of uniformed officers in SWAT gear. This was described to the press as his home-base for a campaign to catch illegal immigrants who had committed such horrible crimes as having a crack in their windshield or a burnt out headlight. The real purpose of course was to intimate innocent people, and in that he succeeded. Many of the members of are undocumented, and of course they were now afraid to come to Good Friday services. I went to the scene and tried to speak with the officer in charge. I tried to explain to him that not only were his men frightening law-abiding citizens, but they were in fact violating if not the letter, then at least the spirit of the Constitution by preventing people from going to church-it's called freedom of religion. Suffice it to say, the deputy, although polite, was not interested. He had his orders.

Two-thousand years ago the "Sheriff of Jerusalem," Pontius Pilate, handed our Lord over to arrest, torture and death on Good Friday. I wonder if our own Sheriff could not see the irony of what he was doing. But he is not the only one to blame. Round-ups of human beings are what happen when our fears make us forget the principles of our Constitution. Basic rights are violated when we allow self-serving politicians to exploit the lives of men woman and children to boost their poll numbers. Racial profiling is not in keeping with the principles of our country, our moral conscience, and our religious belief. And it has got to stop. Now more than ever we need a humane national immigration policy. Now more than even, Arizona needs the witness of Christians who will encourage our leaders to set fair policy that respects the dignity of every human being. Now more than ever Congress needs to have the courage to make just law, for if they don't, then unjust men will take it into their own hands.

I hope that I never have to witness the again the scene that I saw in this city on Good Friday. And I pray that the crucifixion that so many of our people are now experiencing, can with your help, turn to resurrection. Remember, my brothers and sisters, Pilate tried to put a stop to the power of mercy, love, and compassion. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

So much for my speech. The struggle, I fear, is just getting started. Both our Mayor and Police Chief have challenged the Sheriff. Religious leaders, myself included, will soon be publishing an open letter in the paper, legal challenges will be mounted. No matter what your views on immigration or your ideas on how to solve this immensely complex problem, the Sheriff's heavy-handed intimidation is not the way. I hope that you will join with me and others in the religious community who are doing their best to balance the laws of our country with the basic human rights of all God's children.

Read it here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rev. Churchill Gibson

The Reverend Churchill Gibson, the priest who married my wife and me, died earlier this week. I know that he touched many lives over the course of his life, but he certainly touch ours. He will be missed. Peter Carey has a wonderful collection of memorials at his blog.

Here is an excerpt from the VTS memorial:

Rev. Churchill J. Gibson, Jr. (1931-2008)
Virginia Theological Seminary mourns the death of the Rev. Churchill J. Gibson, Jr. (VTS ‘56), former chaplain at VTS and St. Stephen’s School. Churchill is the grandson of two bishops: Robert Atkinson Gibson (Bishop of Virginia, 1902-1919) and Arthur S. Lloyd (Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia, 1909-1910). His father was a much beloved rector of St. James's Church in Richmond for many years, his son Webster is the rector of Christ Church, Winchester, and Joe Pinder, VTS Development Officer for Communication Services, is Churchill's nephew.

Looking back, Churchill has joked that he spent most of his life on Seminary Road. He attended Episcopal High School and, following graduation from the University of Virginia, attended VTS where he earned an M.Div. in 1956. Later he served as chaplain at St. Stephen’s School from 1966 until he joined the VTS faculty in 1977. Concurrently, he served as a chaplain at the diocesan camp at Shrine Mont (1964-84) and as an assistant rector at Emmanuel on Russell Road (1962-95). Professor Tony Lewis remembers Churchill as his 10th grade English teacher and high school chaplain at St. Stephen’s. Many of Churchill’s former students look upon him as being one of the most influential people in their maturation, having treated them with respect, utter honesty, and complete integrity.

Earlier this year the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to confer upon Churchill Gibson, Seminary Chaplain from 1977 to 1996, the title of Professor Emeritus, as of February 28, 1996. The designation of Emeritus status was made in appreciation of and in thanksgiving for Churchill’s many years of service and many contributions to the Seminary Community.

Said the Rev. Bob Prichard, professor of Church History at Virginia Seminary, “It is Churchill’s wit and his deep and abiding concern for matters of social justice that people most admire and revere. Churchill Gibson could make and still does make the Christian enterprise believable and oh so much more delightful. According to Churchill, 95% of ministry is just showing up!”

Read it all here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Give It For Good!

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation have a new campaign, urging americans to take at least part of the stimulus check and use it to help alleviate global poverty:

The Basic Idea

Take the "economic stimulus check" you'll get from the government in May (or a similar amount if you don't qualify for a check) and pledge to give all or part of it to organizations working to alleviate global poverty.
Our MissionTo start a conversation about what it means to be a Christian in a society that encourages overconsumption. To hold up a vision of choosing compassion over consumption.

Why A "Stimulus Check" Campaign?

How we spend money has spiritual underpinnings. Our society encourages overconsumption far beyond our actual needs. It's both morally and economically unsustainable.Now, the federal government has rewarded the overconsumption that led to economic slowdown by providing many tax filers with an "economic stimulus check" of between $600 and $2,100, encouraging Americans to go out and consume even more to bolster the stagnant economy. This fiscal policy is doing nothing more than feeding our national addiction to overconsumption – and continuing the destructive cycle that got us here in the first place.

Let’s break the cycle and find more creative -- and Christ-centered -- uses for these "stimulus checks." Jesus says that as we compassionately care for the poorest of the poor, we care for him (Matthew 25:31-46). This time, let's choose compassion over consumption.

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation is committed to following Christ's call through the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals. So we are engaging all Americans in this campaign to commit those stimulus checks to the MDGs. While fully understanding and appreciating that for millions of Americans, the checks will provide much needed relief in everyday living expenses, for millions more of us, the funds are nothing more than ‘found money.’ Let’s give it away – all of it, a tithe, or the 0.7% that we are all encouraged to commit to relief of extreme global poverty.

Read it all here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

From Creationism to Evolution

Chris Tilling, a blogging thologian, has a very interesting post about his own change in views from creationism to acceptance of evolution:

As we've been discussing evolution again in the comments on an earlier post, here is my own little story of how I moved from poor, unhappy and lonely creationist to revived happy, popular, wealthy, victorious and blessed evolutionist.

I actually became a Christian listening to a tape by Ken Ham (who, in retrospect, looks suspiciously like the missing link to me), and consequently 'creationism' was a very important topic for me, for years. Evolutionists were for me either atheistic naturalists or, if claiming faith, compromised to the core. However, a number of factors came together that have since caused a change in my view.

First, my doctrine of scripture changed such that I did not need to affirm a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 to still believe it was text inspired by God, a step precipitated by reading Goldingay's Models for Scripture. I believe that my doctrine of scripture became, in this phase, more scriptural, and I appreciated the differences in genre in scripture. A text could say something true without me having to read it literally (cf. Jesus' parables). At this point I could accept Christians who promoted an evolutionary view, though I had too long swallowed the teachings of 6-day creationism to suddenly become convinced by Darwin and his followers.

Second, while creationists were still perpetuating quasi-intellectual claims about dinosaurs living with humans and such like, I started to find myself convinced by the science of evolution, by how the theory could explain such diverse material from biogeography, palaeontology, embryology, morphology and genetics (for the last I refer to Sean B. Carroll's brilliant book, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution).

Third, it became clear to me how the ancient world of creation myths had shaped the biblical material. Biblical cosmology operated, as did the other myths, with a flat earth, and the differences between the biblical accounts of creation and flood were of the same milieu as other Akkadian literature, such as the Enuma Elish, and the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh flood stories. I then started to see what the biblical text was trying to do in its context; I could hear the text again, unclouded by concerns with proving its supposed scientific worth, something I found very exciting. It was making subtle and creative theological points about God, humanity and the world that implicitly critiqued these other myths, and their idolatry (e.g. God just speaks and creates, other gods had to e.g. kill each other to form the landmass with a god's dead body). As Enns writes, 'To put it this way is not to concede ground to liberalism or unbelief, but to understand the simple fact that the stories in Genesis had a context within which they were first understood. And that context was not a modern scientific one but an ancient mythic one' (Inspiration and Incarnation, 55). I remembered that no one was there when God created, and the text does not present itself as 'prophecy'. Rather, it adopted and critiqued the myths of its ancient worldview. Had God inspired a text that told ancient Israel what happened at a scientific level, they would not have understood anyway. God was speaking in and through an ancient worldview.

As I wrote on this blog before: Yes, I believe evolutionary theory is correct. Yes, I believe in God the creator of heaven and earth. Yes, I believe Darwin, despite errors, was basically correct. Yes, I believe that Genesis 1 and 2 is the inspired Word of God. Yes, I believe humans evolved from lower life forms. Yes, I believe we are made in the image of God.

Rad it all here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Abortion and Sex Selection

William Saletan has an article on Slate that discusss new evidence that the use of abortion for sex selection is happening in th eUnited States--at least anmong some populations:

Two days ago, economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examining the ratio of male to female births in "U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents." Among whites, the boy-girl ratio was essentially constant, regardless of the number of kids in a family or how many of them were girls. In the Asian-American sample, the boy-girl ratio started out at the same norm: 1.05 to 1. But among families whose first child was a girl, the boy-girl ratio among second kids went up to 1.17 to 1. And if the first two kids were girls, the boy-girl ratio among third kids went up to 1.5 to 1. This 50 percent increase in male probability is directly contrary to the trend among whites, who tend to produce a child of the same sex as the previous child.

There's no plausible innocent explanation for this enormous and directionally abnormal shift in probability. The authors conclude that the numbers are "evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage."

So what is causing this? While the authors of the study suggest the persistence of cultural norms, Saletan suggests that the availability of early and cheap methods of detecting the sex of the child is the reason:

Sex selection of this magnitude has previously been documented in China, South Korea, and India, but not in the United States. Here, the authors note, the usual economic and political rationales for sex selection—dowries, "patrilocal" marriage, China's one-child policy, and dependence on your kids' support in old age—don't apply. From this absence of practical motive, some experts conclude that the study shows persistence of a cultural tradition as the populations in question migrated to the United States. But traditions can fade, and this one "is unlikely to persist in subsequent generations," one demographer told the Associated Press.

If you look at sex selection as a cultural phenomenon, that may be true. But if you look at it as a technology, the opposite is just as plausible. The spread of fetal or embryonic sex-identification tests, which can be taken in the privacy of your home at increasingly early stages of pregnancy, makes it easier for sex selection to spread beyond its original cultural base. So does the emergence of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which lets you chuck your conceived offspring before pregnancy even begins.

In fact, the 2000 census data reviewed by Almond and Edlund suggest that within the base population, selection of male fetuses has indeed increased. "The male bias we find in the U.S. appears to be recent," they write. "In the 1990 U.S. Census, the tendency for males to follow females among Indians, Chinese, and Koreans is substantially muted."

The most obvious factor is technology. Referring to data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, the authors observe, "Between 1989 and 1999, prenatal ultrasound use among non-Japanese Asian mothers rose from around 38 percent to 64 percent of pregnancies." They add: "Since 2005, sexing through a blood test as early as 5 weeks after conception has been marketed directly to consumers in the U.S., raising the prospect of sex selection becoming more widely practiced in the near future."

Read it all here.

As Saletan points out, this is a disturbing example of how modern technology is irronically combined with a patriarchal tradition to reach a result that causes both sides of the abortion debate to be disturbed.

Form Critical Bible World

Mad Priest is always--and I mean always--quite funny (while also making a serious point). And he has attracted a large community of Anglicans with the same irreverent humor. I laughed out loud when I saw this post and the initial comments. So what is our response to the Creation Museum?

I found it here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

On Teaching Children About Science

As a father of a very curious and active three year old who loves animals, I thought this was very good advice from E.O. Wilson:

The worst thing you can do to a child, in my opinion, is take them on a hike through a botanical garden where there are the names of the trees on the side. Rachel Carson once said, so true, take the child to the seashore, turn her loose with a pail, and tell her to go explore the tidepools. Don't tell her the names of any of these things. Let her find them, let her touch them, let her bring them to you, talk about them, and then you give her the name.

These squeezed-in lives of children who are taken occasionally to a park like that or a zoo to see the labels is all part of what I like to call -- I hope I'm not offending anyone -- the "soccer mom syndrome." I believe that soccer moms are the greatest enemy in modern life of natural history and proper biological education.

Read the report here.

In defense of soccer moms, I must add that my son's inevitable question when exposed to a new animal is "What's its name?"

Exciting Episcopal News

Today, April 1, the Lead announces some exciting news about a new partnership between Major League Baseball and the Episcopal Church:

As a part of opening week festivities, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori announced today that the Episcopal Church has been designated the Official Denomination of Major League Baseball. The move was announced today in a teleconference with reporters.
"Faith oriented promotions have increasingly become a part of many minor league team," Selig said. "We felt that it was time to tap into this important demographic."

"We also want to reinforce our family friendly image while at the same time reaching out to a wide cross section of life-styles, incomes and tastes," Selig said. "We are pleased that the Episcopal Church will join us in this first partnership between a major sport and a church."

Many denominations were considered for the endorsement. Some traditions did not make bids for theological reasons, but unnamed sources described the behind the scenes competition as intense.

"The Baptists and Catholics both made strong bids," said a baseball official familiar with the negotiations. "And it is true that both traditions brought strong numbers to the table." Few commentators expected the Episcopal Church's bid to be as strong as it was.

Selig said that Episcopalians bring the right mix of arcane tradition, an appreciation of minutiae and a tolerance for long stretches of relative inaction that make them "a good fit for us."

"We believe that Episcopalians understand the nuances of the game and won't meddle with our traditions too much."

As part of the agreement, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori said that a Suffragan Bishop for Baseball will be appointed. A name will be presented at a special House of Bishops meeting called for the purpose in May. The ministry of the Suffragan Bishop for Baseball will be to coordinate the ministries of the church in the baseball environment.

"The designation of Official Denomination will be a boon to our evangelism," said the Rev. Jan Nunley. "Reflective MLB logos will soon appear as a part of the well known Episcopal Church Welcomes You signs in front of every Episcopal Church and along many streets in towns and cities across the US."

Observers also noted that the designation will also help the public differentiate Episcopal Churches from other churches that have recently appropriated the Anglican "brand" for their own use.

"The Episcopal Church encompasses many nations that differ along language and cultural lines—from the Dominican Republic to Taiwan--but we all share a love for Baseball," Nunley said.

"Theologians and poets have long described how the rhythms and traditions of baseball speak to us on many levels," Jefferts Schori told reporters. "Baseball shows us the presence of God in everyday things, that sublime combination of individual and team effort which reminds us of the Body of Christ and in the end God wants us all to come home."

Saying only that the marketing possibilities have "yet to be worked out" neither Selig nor Jefferts Schori would comment on rumors that pre-packaged Holy Communion and box-score editions of the Book of Common Prayer would be offered at kiosks at major league parks.

While some religious and sports commentators expressed skepticism at the move, and some wondered if the Presiding Bishop had the canonical authority to establish such a relationship, others were more forgiving.

"Baseball and Jesus." Nunley said. "They go together like peanuts and Cracker Jack."

Be sure to read it all here. One of the commentators to the story reports that the Book of Common Prayer will be revised to add the following new intercession:

"For the absolution and remission of our sins and offenses, and for the lifting of your ancient curse upon the Chicago Cubs, let us pray to the Lord.

"Lord, have mercy."