Monday, April 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code and Company

A few evenings ago I slipped down to Barnes & Noble, and spent an hour going through the religion shelves looking for books that are riding the rapidly rising Da Vinci Wave. I ended up with nine or ten volumes that I spread out on a table in the Starbucks section of the place and perused. I finally chose three or four to read and returned the other volumes to their shelves.

The last few days have found me going over these books in an attempt to get to the bottom of the Da Vinci Code phenomenon that has been riding high now for several years, and which is reaching something of a fever peak as the relase date for the move of the best-seller draws near. The hardback of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has now been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 159 weeks, and this week was its second week on the top of the paperback lists. There is now an illustrated Da Vinci Code, Da Vinci Code tour guides, and I expect all sorts of other ephemera will appear in coming months. This has become a big cultural "event."

Maybe it was fitting that I read The Da Vinci Code soon after it was published, on my way home from Minneapolis in July 2003, where I had been addressing a pre-convention gathering. (Needless to say, I have not be invited to speak at any gatherings in Columbus in June, and probably never will be again!). The book was commended to me be someone as a great read, and so it is. If you are looking for a page-turner, then this is it! However, from the supposed factoids on the first page, I was irritated by the way it played so fast and loose with facts, and was so badly researched.

Don't get me wrong, The Da Vinci Code is a terrific yarn, my problem was that its author seemed unable to separate fact from fiction -- which makes him a very contemporary kind of person! The book leans heavily on Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which when I read it some years ago struck me as a puzzling piece of pseudo-religious exotica, a book that seemed determined to make a massive case with a minimal amount of evidence. The Da Vinci Code is very much the same in its use of facts, scholarship, and evidence.

This week's New York Times Best Seller list has no fewer than three of these kinds of books on the non-fiction lists, and then The Da Vinci Code is there in the fiction lists. One of those non-fiction pieces is The Jesus Papers, written by Michael Baigent, one of the co-authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. He and his colleagues recently challenged Dan Brown in the British court system for plaigerizing. They lost their case, but gathered huge amounts of publicity, which translated into book sales, and in the midst of it out comes this latest offering that is sub-titled, Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. Coincidence?

There seems to be a cycle of these kinds of books. Every few years out comes another little batch filled with what purports to be 'new evidence' that Jesus did not die, Jesus did not rise, Jesus did not exist, Jesus married Mary Magdalene, or whatever the latest flavor of the month might be. With some of his own flourishes, Michael Baigent actually warms over and adapts the arguments of Hugh Schonfield, whose book, The Passover Plot, was published while I was in seminary -- and I remember clearly the delight I had in watching Michael Green, who taught me New Testament, using careful scholarship to demolish it and show was a shallow piece of work it was.

Well, just like alien space craft crashing near Roswell, NM, or extra-terrestrial research taking place at Area 51, there are some bad ideas that never die. Indeed, what Baigent and, earlier, Schonfield mostly do is re-present notions that have been around for at least 1900 years and regularly come up for air. Baigent writes well, and some of the things he asserts are fascinating, but the book is a little bit like attempting to make a fine Persian rug with colored grasses!

What fascinates me about all these kinds of books is that there are extraordinary juxtapositionings of ideas, facts, half-facts, and fictions, and then they are all tied together and something is made of them. Furthermore, they read like papers I wrote when a student, where I would attempt to make a huge case with very, very limited information. For a time, I thought I was a master at making one or two pertinent points stretch for ten pages, until a professor called my bluff and threw the paper back with a failing grade. At that point the penny dropped, if I was going to write something with substance I needed to do the requisite research and preparation.

As I read Baigent, I find that he doesn't stack up well against the great New Testament and Church History scholars whose work I have delighted in over the years: Oscar Cullmann, Joachim Jeremias, Tom Wright, Leon Morris, E. Earle Ellis, Howard Marshall, William Barclay, C. H. Dodd, Charlie Moule, and so many others. Reading his stuff is like watching a club golfer trying to make his way in an Open Championship at St. Andrew's. He might get some good shots off here and there, but he is no match for the real pros.

Again, as I read Baigent, I found my own brain putting some interesting connections together. There is a flavor about his writing that seemed to ring bells with me and I found myself asking where I had read material presented in this kind of way before. Finally, I realized that there seemed to be an affinity between Baigent and the way that John Shelby Spong writes. A pleasing style takes limited scholarship, evidence, and facts, and somehow manages to weave something interesting but highly questionable out of it.

The problem with The Da Vinci Code and its flotilla of other products is that these things get the kind of marketing that rebuttals will never get. Tom Hanks playing the lead role in the movie of The Da Vinci Code is going to be heard and believed by far more people than the attractive written response of a Lee Strobel (which I would thoroughly recommend).

People have always loved stories, and what these detractors from Gospel truth have done is to hijack the story and make it their tool for presenting their question mark that they want to raise over the Christian faith as it has been revealed. Somehow or other, in this age when narrative and illustration goes far further than careful argument, we have to learn how to repossess the form of the story so that it grabs the attention of those who are seeking after truth, much as Jesus's parables did for his followers two thousand years ago.

This is the point where scholarship, faithfulness, artistry, media talent, and resources intersect. It is not that the church does not have access to these (although perhaps not the financial resources that are available to Hollywood, etc.), but it does have an abiding story that when artistically presented catches imaginations. I find myself wondering whether it is an accident that this latest surge of pseudo-scholarly attacks on the faith come three or four years after "The Passion of the Christ" was in the cinemas, or maybe I am paranoid.

Yes, it is important that we challenge with evidence these cases which are made with such slender evidence, but it is also important that somehow we find a way to winsomely and wonderfully present the alternative case.

The other day a friend suggested I look at the Author's Note at the end of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Anne Rice is not a writer I have taken a lot of interest in, but at my friend's urging I got the book and found myself fascinated, for here is a novelist who really understands the importance of careful, methodical research and scholarship. In this afterword she tells of her journey from old-fashioned Roman Catholicism, through atheism, and back to the Christian faith.

As she had prepared to write this book she had expected that she would find fellow travellers among the more skeptical writers and scholars who have flourished since the Enlightenment, "and that Christianity was, at heart, a kind of fraud" (Page 312). She goes on, "In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horrified by it if he knew about it -- that whol picture which had floated in the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years -- that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I'd ever read."

Her assessment becomes even more tart: "I was unconvinced by the wild postulations of those who claimed to be children of the Enlightenment. And I had also sensed something else. Many of these scholars, scholars who apparently devoted their lives to New Testament scholarship, disliked Jesus Christ. Some pitied him as a hopeless failure. Others sneered at him, and some felt an outright contempt. This came between the lines of the books. This emerged in the personality of the texts" (Page 314).

I, too, sense that there is this dislike of Jesus in certain corners of the church, but that dislike turns to something stronger in the writing of a Dan Brown, a Michael Baigent, and others. All this means that those of us who love Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength, have our work cut out.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Outside of Logic and Reason

Some Holy Weeks and Easters have been a romp for me, others have been more like marathons -- this one has fitted into the latter category. So here I am on Easter Monday, exhausted and shell-shocked, sitting at my computer mulling over the last few days. Two things have kept coming back. The one is what I would consider to be the interrelated furor of the Gospel of Judas and the renewed interest in The Da Vinci Code sparked by the outcome of the High Court trial in London. The other was a conversation I had at our Easter Egg hunt with a young father whose family are on the fringes of our congregation.

While mothers and kids were scampering around the yard of the home where the Easter egg hunt was taking place, this young dad and I got talking about video games and gaming. That morning, as I had "chaplained" the YMCA Soccer Field opposite the church, and had noticed a geeky looking guy sitting apart from other parents. I had approached him with the eagerness of a Golden Retriever puppy, only to be held at bay by an icy glare.

It was then that I caught sight of the magazine he was reading while supposedly watching his seven-year-old daughter play soccer: an online games publication. It didn't take a split second to deduce that this parent was a loner whose life to some degree revolved around the fantasy world of an online game (or two). I backed off, but raised the subject in the afternoon when talking to this dad about his first grader's interests and how they are attempting to steer him away from getting lost in games.

The afternoon dad is in the retail business, and began talking about how big the games industry already is, and how big it is going to become. I was already aware of some of this from television, radio, and other news outlets, but Adam quickly gave a seminar in its growth curve, and how deeply it had dug into the lives of so many of their contempories and their children. I confess that my computer game experience has been limited to an occasional round of Freecell and variations on Tetris, but I have been amazed when browsing through places like Circuit City to see how realistic so many games now are. I can fully recognize how easy it would be for an impressionable or compulsive person to get caught up in this fake world to the exclusion of reality.

I have written before about my concern over our increasing inability to relate cause and effect, or action and consequence. Now here I was being given the alarming picture of just how big is another component of our culture that is facilitating this separation of reality from fantasy or imagination. It would seem that it is a sign of inner health to be able to allow an interplay of your inner being with the world around you so that each is appropriately interpreting the one to the other. All of us have mental boltholes into which we escape, but the majority know the difference between a pleasing fantasy and the reality around us.

However, I found myself wondering whether this indulgence in online entertainment is yet another erosive factor attempting to give the fantasy world a far higher profile than is appropriate for mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It may be harmless for two small boys to slip into the character of their favorite figure in Star Wars and then to spend several happy hours acting their imaginary world out, but is there a point in a person's development where such an ability is first counter-productive and then even dangerous?

I don't have any answers to such questions, but it seems that in the world of entertainment and illusion in which we live today, there are increasing numbers of individuals for whom this is a relevant question -- and will it go further? Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was made bearable for its inhabitants by large doses of illusion and consequence-less sex: how far have we proceded down this road?

This all then ties into what I perceive to be the fraying of the edges as we look at the wider world and irrational or a non-logical disconnect between actions and consequences. It may be good that postmodernity takes intuition more seriously (something I rejoice in as an off-the-Myers-Briggs-chart intuitive), but we cannot allow intuition and the warm fuzzies to take over in such a way that we abandon reason and logic.

Not only do we seem to be doing so, but this in turn is doing damage to the fabric of our culture and society. For example, falling in love (clearly a non-logical experience informed by Hollywood romances) has in the minds of millions become more important than remaining married -- with the most awful consequences. Or individuals are eager to buy themselves out of melancholy with ther credit cards, all the time ignoring the fact that eventually the bills need to be paid. In politics, business, world affairs, the life of the churches, we see equally abherent behaviors.

Which brings me to The Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas. I love the comment of Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary following a conversation with A. J. Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School, recorded in his blog about the Gospel of Judas before it was aired on National Geographic, that "we need to all have our baloney detection meters set to 'heightened alert' as we watch the special on the Gospel of Judas tonight."

In the following days Dr. Witherington in his blog (, unpacks this 2nd or even 3rd Century Coptic Gnostic piece using all the tools of modern biblical and historical research to demonstrate the baloney factor. He then goes on through Holy Week in his blog to take on James Tabor's book about Jesus founding his own dynasty -- with the same acute baloney meter in play. Here is a scholar using reason and intelligence to debunk something that is rather interesting but has very limited foundation in facts.

Yet, alas, our culture does not listen to the Ben Witherington's of this world, but the Dan Brown's who then take this half-baked scholarship and make a ripping yarn from it, and there is no doubt that The Da Vinci Code is a fabulous story. However, here again we see the inability of people to separate truth from fiction because having enjoyed the tale, there are many who have swallowed the Mary Magdalene mother of Jesus's children thesis. A few years ago it was "The Celestine Prophecy" that filled this kind of role.

There is much that was lost in the modern Enlightenment Age which we have in recent years begun to recover, and to our enrichment, but we do ourselves untold harm if we do so at the expense of rational and logical thinking. If I ruled the world, as the old song goes, I would insist that every high schooler take at least two or three semesters of good old elementary logic as a requirement for graduation. I would also provide remedial courses in logic in colleges, universities, and workplace in-service training.

The value of learning to think logically is that it helps you ask the right questions and to root out the fallacies upon which more and more of our postmodern life is founded. It feeds our internal baloney meter. It is like a correctional lens that helps us to see reality with a clarity that we might otherwise be missing. It is when we see reality clearly that we are able to recognize the place of Christ within this brew that is human life, and to minister Christ appropriately.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Millennium Development Goals

The other day one of our deputies to General Convention wrote to several of us, "There will be a great deal of pressure on us... to support the MDGs. In principle it is difficult for Christians to be against such lofty goals." The email then raised several concerns that this particular deputy had, asking for insight from this little group.

If you don't know or don't remember what the Millennium Development Goals are they are as follows:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development

The goals were established within the context of the United Nations in 2000, and have resulted in unprecedented efforts by many governments and groupings around the world to respond to these international needs and challenges.

Just glancing at them, they are hard to gainsay, especially for citizens of God's Kingdom. Having worked in global ministry until relatively recently and done a lot of traveling around the world as a result, I can from experience and observation say that each one of these targets is vital for the health and future of humanity. So, in many respects this should be a no-brainer for believers.

It seems that the problem with the MDGs comes in the unpacking and the application of them. As a Christian who has the privilege of a roof over my head, food on my table, adequate healthcare and access to education, then I have the obligation laid upon me by the compassion of Christ to take seriously the wants and needs of those who have few of these blessings -- which is a huge slice of the world's population. The conversation that Jesus had with his disciples which is recorded in Matthew 25:1ff makes clear the obligation of the agape (love) to which we are bound as the greatly blessed followers of the Lamb of God.

Yet the question is just how we are going to attack even the small sliver of these goals of which we are capable. This seems to be one of the places where we come apart because the bodies engaged in this task that some trust others do not. In response to this question about the MDGs were responses, for example, that denigrated the United Nations or praised it. (BTW, I think there is a different perception of the UN among those of us who come from smaller, weaker nations, than that held by so many Americans, citizens of the most powerful nation in the world). There are also very mixed feelings about the Christian and church agencies that might involve themselves in this work.

Having worked internationally, as well as being concerned about those we support who are able to put boots on the ground, food in bellies, and schoolbooks on desks, there is also the huge issue of accountability. After having been misled by even the most godly people, when I was working with Global South dioceses and in Russia, it became my practice when visiting somewhere that might be the recipient of resources to ask to see the accountant. I would also try to discover the network of interrelationships among those who would administer work at the receiving end, for in some places those with a job have a primary obligation to family, clan, or tribe.

The reason for this carefulness was simple: it did not matter how good people's theology might be, or how much they said they loved the Lord Jesus, money and resources going into so many places where they were a scarce commodity would too often get channelled off into other pockets or to meet other needs than those being funded. We might tut, tut, over this, but quite honestly it happens in the developed world as has been seen from some of the scandals that have surrounded certain significant philanthropies. Those of us called to administer funds and resources not only have a responsibility to the recipients, but also to the donors.

So, when trying to assess things like the Millennium Development Goals there are a whole series of questions that need to be asked and answered. Not only if these are appropriate goals for Christians to put their weight behind, but also how we are to approach the challenge, which challenges we are going to take on for ourselves, who is going to administer the work we commit to undertaking, and who is going to be accountable for the right use of funds and resources at every stage of the process. There are more questions, but these are a good starting point.

A further concern has to be what will happen to monies that might released for other work as a result of donations from the rich world, especially if one of the key partners is the government of a nation. If, for example, we put funding that might help with the area of public elementary education, will the government then withdraw funding from there and use it to help buy the president a jet or add another armored vehicle to that country's army? And if this happens, would this be a good thing or a bad thing?

Which brings us back to the goals themselves. In principle they all look pretty good to me, but the way I might interpret them, given my biblical Christian worldview and presuppositions, might be very different from the way that a secular body would interpret them. For example, having seen child mortality at first hand in needy countries, I am deeply moved by the reality behind simple song we all learned that "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world..." This means feeding, clothing, medicating, and educating must be on the front burner, but how do we relate to those for whom challenging child mortality means preventing the birth of "unwanted" children by means of abortion?

Since being asked this far-reaching question I have found myself trying to frame my own personal response to the Millennium Development Goals, which I have not had to this point. I have concluded that they are in principle a valuable tool to use to measure our involvement with the needs of the world, and that we as Christians will be failing in our discipleship if we do not support them. However, I would further suggest that there should then be a multiplicity of ways of responding creatively to them in our policy-making, giving, and involvement.

First, passing ecclesiastical legislative affirmations of them is cheap and easy, and is something American mainline Christians love to do, but developing a trusted partnership in the Global South requires a lot more effort -- and then the willingness to back that effort with years and years of support and follow through. We are even worse at that.

For a number of years now, my wife has worked with a particular Sudanese refugee camp in northern Uganda providing scholarships in an elementary school that is run by one of the Sudanese dioceses. Each year seventy or more students, primarily girls, have had their needs covered by parishes and individuals in the Diocese of Tennessee. This isn't big, but it makes a huge difference that could be amplified over the years as Southern Sudan settles down to nation building. I like such hands-on micro-partnerships very much because there is a relationship that does good and by its very nature demands accountability.

But there is a component of these goals that I have not looked at yet, and that is to "ensure environmental sustainability." This one comes home to each of us and our lifestyles. Those of us in the developed world, however responsible we seek to be, are the most profligate in the use of the world's resources. This is having its impact on the climate globally, which is surely going to lead to a lot of tears as a relatively short period of time passes. When the environment is handled irresponsibly, the poor and needy are almost always the first to be hurt.

This requires each of us to look at the way we live, the way we do transportation, the way we do church, the way we educate our children, and so forth, to ask some pretty fundamental questions, and then to act upon them. It may be politically correct to trumpet the value of the MDGs from the housetops, but are we prepared to take these goals into our own houses and start asking what the real implication is for ourselves and the way we manage our lives? This is where the rubber really does hit the road.

There is a lot to be dealt with in a question like the one that was asked by our deputy, and I am grateful to have been asked it. I do not know how adequate my responses are, but I would hope they are a springboard from which those who are brighter, more intelligent, and more dynamic than myself might launch themselves.

Monday, April 03, 2006

How Are The Boomers Aging?

It was an article in last Sunday's New York Times (March 26, 2006) that brought back to my mind the plight of Boomers. On the business page was a relatively small piece about the median size of the inheritance that Boomers are receiving from their parents' generation. Many had been hoping for gazillions, but what they are getting is around $29,000. As the article pointed out, once nursing home bills are paid, and so forth, the average Boomer will get about enough to buy little more than a new car.

But that isn't all. Social Security is now on an age scale that is sliding upward, and 65 is no longer the assured retirement age for this generation and those coming afterward. Then there are all these corporations who have found their traditional pension schemes too onerous and are transferring across to 401k plans. This means that those in their forties and fifties who are caught in the middle of this alteration are suddenly looking at far less in the way of a retirement haul than they had anticipated.

Add to all this the fact that the Boomers have been famously profligate with their funds, and it looks as if this a good portion of this generation is facing a financially bleak old age. All this is before assessing the price of healthcare, something all of us are going to need a lot more of in years to come, and is being
delivered through an expensive and tottering system. It would seem that a huge number of Boomers are going to have to work, and work hard, well into what we consider today to be old age. In addition, they are often going to find themselves doing it without the family support that they want and need.

Programmed to be self-actualizing, Boomers have not only been profligate in the way they have used their money, they have also been profligate with relationships. Marriages too often have been treated as disposable, which has meant that relationships with children (spouses, and former spouses) have been tenuous or badly damaged. While past generations of aging parents have been able to look to their offspring for assistance with growing old, many in this generation are in a big fix on this front.

As the first wave of Boomers is reaching sixty and is beginning to think about its golden age, it is discovering that the currency of these "bonus years" has acquired quite a tarnish. I have been talking and writing about this for quite a while now, but most of the time my observations have been greeted with the "How interesting" kind of response, and the page has been quickly turned so the subject can be changed. For many a Boomer just the idea of being old is hard to digest!

This does not mean that all Boomers are going to have a rough time of it. We are both sixty, and while Rosemary and I will certainly not be rich, as things look right now we are well placed for an active "retirement" that will be adequately financed (unless the whole world economic system collapses, and then we will all be in trouble!). There are millions like us who have paid our Social Security, have good pension funds, have salted savings away, have taken care of our real estate, and have managed to educate our children and maintain an excellent relationship with them.

As we look at the Boom Generation, it seems likely, however, that there will be a strong mismatch between the Haves and the Have-nots. Some of us will be able to travel, live in our dream house, and watch our grandchildren grown from toddlerdom to adulthood, while others could well find themselves living in seedy isolation, working as greeters at Walmart, and be attached to the world through our Internet umbilical cords. My nightmare vision for certain males of our generation is that they will live alone in a one-room apartment indulging as they are able in the excesses of gambling and pornography that the online world is able to offer.

One thing that we can be certain of is that retirement is not going to be the same for the rising generation of elders. While the G.I. and Silent generations were able to look forward at a relatively early age to hanging up their cleats and settling into an easier and less stressful existence, possibly in some resort area in the country, Boomers face a much more bracing time, and this will present some
extraordinary challenges to those in ministry.

For example, as we get older we spend more time pondering our mortality. I am watching my contemporaries succumb to various complaints and diseases of aging, whether it be cancer or arthritis. Some of my peers are beginning to die as a result of their ailments, while others are unable to live the active and freer lives that they had anticipated by this point in their earthly journey. As these realities press in upon us, there is every reason to do what Boomers have spent little time doing, and that is wondering if there is anything after this.

I first focused on this in a big way when I wrote Brave New Church several years ago, and as I look back over the chapter about The Fast Approaching Gray Wave in that book, I see few reasons to radically modify my forecasts. This is a great opportunity for the churches, but I do not see us taking it seriously, and few if any have any strategies in place.

During the last couple of years we have been thinking about what might come when in due course we hang up our spurs here. What should we do, if our health holds steady, with those years that God gives to us when we do not have to be out there in the marketplace earning our keep any more. Right now we only have ideas, but they will be relatively easy to flesh out as the reality approaches and we become more focused on the task. What we are certain of is that ministry will not cease but will go on. Freed from the need of a package of salary and benefits it is possible that we will be able to take on tasks for which there are no funds available, or even to focus our ministry on working with our peers who have spend the whole of their lives at odds with the Christian faith and organized Christianity.

There are, in fact, all sorts of wonderfully creative things that churches and elder Christians are able to pioneer and to do. There is also a huge amount of incredible talent that is being wasted on golf courses all over the country, as Christians with fabulous skills to share have no outlet, so as a result they let themselves go to seed.

In a culture that is as youth-oriented and youth-fixated as ours, it is extremely difficult to raise much interest in the elder generation, but in many ways it is the next ministry frontier, and there are profound possibilities for the future. The problem is that these possibilities will not be noticed until they are upon us. Actually, with an older than average membership, North American Anglicans are beautifully placed to begin doing something about all this, but I suspect we are too engrossed in our own ecclesiastical navel-gazing to be able to do much constructive about it.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Email Daily Devotions

One of our ministries at the Church of the Apostles, South Williamson County, Tennessee, during the last three years has been an email Daily Devotion.

Each Monday to Friday it is delivered to your email box every morning and provides a Scripture Reading, a Thought for the Day, a Topic for Thanksgiving, a Topic for Intercession, a short Collect, and the readings from the Daily Lectionary for that particular day.

It is now being used by people in various parts of the world, and we invite you to receive them. If you would like to give it a try then email me at

If you don't like it after you have given it a try you can always email to get yourself removed from the list...

We are working on putting together a new website for the Church of the Apostles, and it will include not ony the usual stuff, but access to the Daily Devotions, as well as audio and video from our worship each Sunday. Our website has not been updated for a while because we are in this transitional period, but you can find us at

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ecclesiastical Meditions from a Lawnmower

It is that time of the year again in Middle Tennessee: plenty of rain, warm sunshine, sweet breezes, all of which make the grass grow and bring the mower back to the lawn. Just as against all reason my wife enjoys ironing, so I get pleasure from mowing the lawn, especially during these last couple of years that we have had a riding mower! Mowing gives a person time to think, and this afternoon I did.

As is always the case with lawnmower meditations my mind was initially all over the place, but little by little it became focused on one concern. In this case it was a comment made by a lay friend who left ECUSA for AMiA, and who said to me the other week, almost in wonderment, that it amazed him that folks like me had hung on for so long. I confess there are days when it amazes me, and regularly I have to ask myself whether it has to do with native stubbornness, the fact that I am so deeply entrenched in the Pension Fund, or what?

Besides, aren't evangelicals like me supposed to be sticklers for correct theology, so why on earth am I clinging to the hopeless wreckage of a church that is so compromised some folks find it difficult to think of it as a church? Yes, we are sticklers, and I think that in the last few years I have become more of a doctrinal stickler than ever, but this is precisely the reason I stay rather than taking my toys elsewhere, although elsewhere would a lot more comfortable.

As I rode my mower, the spring breeze in my face, I started to ennumerate reasons why I stay. As I have said before, it is certainly not because I still love the Episcopal Church as a denomination. Respect for ECUSA has long since evaporated, and my attitude toward those in leadership is somewhere along a continuum from disdain to despair. But as my friend, Bishop Ed Little, wrote in Christianity Today just recently, quoting another friend, Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, "The true identity of the church as Christ's body is in no way diminished by the imperfections of its human members."

Bishops Ed and Jeff are neither of them saying something new, because doesn't the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion state that "in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments?" (Article XXVI). The compilers of the Articles did not make this up, they were standing on the shoulders of the likes of St. Augustin of Hippo, and neither was Augustine out on a limb of his own because he was merely extrapolating from the words of our Lord Jesus.

When Jeffrey Steenson was a seminarian and I was his field education supervisor, I remember having several conversations about Jesus's parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30), and about the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), where the Lord makes it blatantly clear that it is not for us to measure the visible community of faith. It is when time is wrapped up and eternity begins that the Sovereign Judge who knows the secrets of all hearts will work that one out, separating sheep from goats.

It is because I want to be faithful to Scripture that I am still part of the Episcopal Church of the USA. The seamless robe of Christ has been torn just too many times for me to want to be part in ripping it further. I understand the discomforts that have led so many to leave, but understanding does not give me permission to follow.

Another significant reason is rooted in the history of our Anglican tradition, especially its evangelical emphasis. We evangelicals look particularly fondly upon Thomas Cranmer, the Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury, who did not demolish the historic structures of the church, merely renewed them by cleansing from the tradition unnecessary accretions that had attached themselves to English Christianity during the centuries leading up to the 16th.

Deep within our spiritual DNA is the assumption that if God could reform then, then he will enable reformation again. Of course, we assume reformation is essential for within our consciousness is the Reformation's watchword, Semper Reformandum. The church is, in one way or another, always in need of reformation, and that reformation will not take place if all those with a reformation vision march rapidly for the doors as soon as things get uncomfortable.

But as well as being the spiritual children of Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, we are also the spiritual children of those Puritans who stayed after the Restoration of the monarchy following the English Civil War and Commonwealth. With so many of their fellows leaving as part of what became known as the Great Ejection in 1662, it was not easy for those stalwarts who stuck with the Church of England to do so, but they did and much that was good in following generations can be traced back to this particular root.

Since then there have been other opportunities to leave, like the rise of Methodism, and the cruel demise of Anglicans on this side of the Atlantic following the War of Independence, but often from that tiny handful who have stuck it out have come the seeds of future renewals and revivals of faith. Evangelical Anglicanism has this tenacious streak, and deep within it is a providential sense that God has put us in this tradition for an hour like this.

There is still more, for it is love of biblical truth that makes us want to challenge the excesses of overt error. We are not given the truth to keep it carefully protected, wrapped in cotton, hidden in a bank vault, but to be put to use. Being a bearer of truth means willingly entering into debate and dialogue with those who have missed the point when measured by revelation and the catholic faith, for it is only by engagement that minds, hearts, and souls are changed. This does not mean that we believe we have got it right, for all of us are called to measure our convictions against the scrutiny of Scripture's message.

I guess this is why I echo the words of Ed Little:

Why do I not join those who have left or are leaving? Why do I stay? Serving a broken and divided church is a hard calling, and I do not minimize the difficulty of the task or the inevitable disappointments that I will encounter on the journey. But the Lord, for his good purpose, has (I humbly believe) thrown into one church Christians of radically different and sometimes theologically incompatible perspectives. Is it possible that in the midst of this painful discontinuity, he may do a work that none of us can foresee? It is in that hope and in remembering that he is Lord of the church and in charge of the big picture that I follow Jesus in the Episcopal Church.