Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Reflections on the Life & Times of Boris Yeltsin

This morning I watched some of the funeral service for Boris Yeltsin, which was broadcast on the BBC World Television News on BBC America. It took place in Christ our Savior Cathedral in Moscow, itself a product of Yeltsin's years as President of Russia.

The cathedral had been blown up by the Soviets under Stalin and the area was turned into the largest outdoor swimming pool in the world. In 1995 my elder daughter, Olivia, and I leaned over the railings and watched some of the last swimmers to use the pool enjoying themselves in the sunshine, yet it was soon to make way for a rebuilding of the cathedral, a symbol of the seachange that had taken place in Russia.

Boris Yeltsin tends now to be remembered as a baffoon and a bit of a drunken clown, but this is hardly a fair characterization. While Gorbachev prepared the way for an opening up of the country, Yeltsin was the man who not only slammed it through, but also provided leadership at a time when there could have been terrible bloodshed and hundreds of thousands of refugees spilling out of the east into western Europe. But none of this happened. He was often a contradictory figure, and while there was much suffering in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was the father both of freer markets but also religious freedoms the likes of which Russia had never known.

As I watched the funeral there were faces I recognized among the celebrants from the time when I was involved with the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1990s, and once again I was haunted by the extraordinary beauty of Orthodox liturgical music. There is nothing to beat the glory of a Russian church choir. Memories of the times I spent in Russia came flooding back, whether it was freezing ears and feet during the middle of winter, or extraordinary moments in worship in some of the country's ancient churches.

I have all sorts of questions of Russian Orthodoxy, and have been especially uncomfortable by the way it has wrapped itself in Russian nationalism, but having said that its presence right at the heart of an occasion like this is a telling example of how much Russia has changed. Much of this is a result of the courage, tenacity, and larger-than-life-ness of Boris Yeltsin and others. As he stood there holding a funeral candle I wondered whether President Vladimir Putin, when he was a member of the KGB ever thought he would be doing such a thing before the world's television cameras.

Yeltsin needs to be thanked over and over again for some of the things that he did, and those in the area of personal and religious freedoms could well be his greatest legacy. Lauren Homer, an attorney who worked in the area of Russian religious freedoms in the 1990s, has written of him, "Without President Yeltsin’s personal intervention and courage, Russia today would have only a handful of state controlled faiths. People of faith within and outside Russia owe Boris Yeltsin a huge debt of gratitude."

After the cathedral service, instead of being buried in the Kremlin wall behind Lenin's Tomb, Yeltsin's body was taken through the streets of Moscow to the hauntingly beautiful convent of Novodevichy, and became the first Russian leader to be laid to rest in consecrated ground since 1894. I have a small oil painting of the convent on the wall of my study, picked up for a few dollars at a Moscow street market when Russians hardly knew how they would keep body and soul together.

All this got me thinking afresh of those seven or eight years when Russia loomed large in my work and ministry. I first went to Russia along with an Episcopal Church delegation, thinking that we might pick up one or two projects that would excite the supporters of the ministry for which I then worked. We came as friends, wishing to share with our Russian counterparts some of the blessings that had been bestowed on us. Their church was in tatters, while we had much that we thought we could make available.

Today the roles are reversed. Their church now plays a significant role in the life of the Russian nation as ours lies in tatters, in many ways the victim of its own hubris and intellectual arrogance. One of the things that struck me in the time that I spent with ordinary Russian Orthodox Christians and clergy was how they had learned some important lessons during the seventy years of their humiliation, and I found myself praying that God will teach us the lessons we need to learn during this period of our own humiliation.

Picture of Books

Some of the books that will soon be going to new homes!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

For the love of books

I have in the last couple of weeks been dealing with that most thankless of all tasks when moving as far as we will be moving, and that is thinning my files and culling my library. I have no problem with ditching with delight and great glee tons of paper that gather in files, but books are a different. I know that I can't afford to take all of them back to England, and when I get there I won't have room for them anyhow, but thinning the shelves is like murdering my children. However, as they say, no pain... no gain!

My books illustrate the development of my thinking and my interests during these three decades that I have spent in ministry in the United States. It is interesting also to stumble across old friends that I brought with me from England in 1976, and what they say about where I was in interest and intellect half a lifetime ago.

Some of my books have been read from cover-to-cover, annotated, re-read, and literally chewed up, but of others I have read a few chapters then abandoned the work for some reason or another, and others I have hardly even opened. In fact, it frightens me just how many books I have bought but never actually read or properly used.

I remember being told when I was in seminary that you can tell an awful lot about a priest from his books (in those days there were no hers in the clergy business). As I traveled during the middle part of my time on these shores I was able to snoop through a lot of clergys' bookshelves, and these often told me things about the owner of these volumes, where they were, where they were going, and more sadly, when they stopped reading. It is surprising how many priests are still ministering merely out of the bits and pieces that they picked up during their years in seminary.

It goes without saying that most of us will buy more books by authors with whose presuppositions we are likely to agree, but it also goes without saying that an unbalanced theological library is one that is primarily made up of books written by those with whom we are most comfortable. Reading a book is engaging in a conversation, and a one-sided everyone agreeing conversation is hardly going to be particularly stimulating. Yet most of us seem to be happiest with such conversations, with the result that often the intellectual edge is missing and our creativity is never nourished.

My library illustrates the fads and phases of my life and ministry. There was a time, for example, when church growth fascinated me, and then there have been particular thinkers or writers who managed in differing ways to catch my imagination: Thomas Merton, Lyle Schaller, Eugene Peterson, Peter Drucker, Henri Nouwen, to name but a few. There are a lot of books about particular periods of history which I have drenched myself in, or odd little books that no one else seemed to appreciate, but which I have loved to death. Then there was "The Prayer of Jabez" -- how on earth did such a thin little thing become such a big best seller?

There have been those, "Why on earth did I buy that?" books. Some years ago I bought this huge turgid biography of King Alfred the Great. For weeks I struggled to get into it, and finally threw in the towel. Yet there was a genuine sadness that I hadn't been able to break into it when it joined the growing pile of those that will not return to England with me.

But biography is important. When I was setting out on my ministry I was working on a post-graduate degree in 19th and 20th Century church history. To my surprise one of my mentors became Max Warren, one of the greatest missionary statesmen of the Church of England. Canon Warren was getting close to the end of his life, his aging body had been weakened by a bout of tuberculosis contracted when he had been a missionary in Nigeria between the two world wars and then arduous ministry after that.

I remember the most wonderful day that I spent with him and his wife in his home less than a year before he died, when we worked over the thesis that I was trying to develop, him filling me with ideas and thoughts that have fed and nourished my thinking ever since. The thesis never reached the examiners, but the wisdom he shared is better than putting more letters after my name. One of the things that he taught me that day was the value of reading biography. Always try to have a biography on the go, he told me, and I loved the idea.

This is advice that I have kept, and so there is in my collection a large selection of biographies, many of which, alas, I am going to have to part company with. Much can be gained from reading the lives of men and women for faith, as well as those who might have struggled with the faith, and when the biographer is honest and gives a 'warts and all' picture it makes the subject so much easier to identify with.

My collection of biographies stretched from Winston Churchill to Max Warren himself, and from movie stars like David Niven to Christian writers like Patricia St. John. Just recently I have been reading Bill Bryson's funny autobiography, Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, about growing up in Iowa in the Fifties -- learned a lot about America from that one. I love learning about lives, and discovering the strengths and the foibles of all sorts and conditions of people has always been a great aid to being able to minister among folks and to work with them.

When I was in high school I was introduced to the Essays of Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon was a renaissance man during the time of James I whose many of whose pithy comments within the context of lucid but dense writing have become well-known quotations in the English language. In his essay on writing Bacon says, "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." In one way or another that piece of advice has stuck with me through my life and is reflected in the shape and content of my library.

Now I am preparing for these books that have been my collection, some of them for many years, to be scattered to the four winds. Already some are finding their way onto other people's shelves, and soon only a rump will be left for me to treasure as I take them back to my homeland and new ministry there. I am not a particularly clever individual, just average, but a lifelong friendship with books has helped me to fill in some of the gaps and to stretch the few talents that I have been given a little further than they otherwise might have gone.

I don't know how much longer the Lord intends to keep me as part of the church militant, but I hope and pray that I will always be surrounded by books. One of the great figures of the Anglican tradition in the 20th Century was Michael Ramsey. A large, brilliant, bumbling figure, we used to look forward to his visits to our seminary, although with all the self-righteousness of young men who knew that they knew best, we thought that his theology was at times a bit fuzzy.

Like the present Archbishop of Canterbury he taught theology before becoming a bishop, and was a man who loved reading and books. As his years ebbed away so did his eyesight, and I remember John Andrew, his former chaplain and at that time Rector of St. Thomas's Church, New York, telling me how at the end it became necessary to find people to read to him. I hope and pray that my eyes do not grow dim like that because I always want to be able to enjoy books.

I have no doubt whatsoever that when I get back to England and get settled, more books, with titles old and new, will find their way into our home and my office. Let me finish these wanderings with another quote from Bacon which perhaps describes the way books should be used, "Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider."

Monday, April 16, 2007

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

I dislike being quoted in the press because the result is always mangled. Last week I was in a position where I couldn't avoid talking to a reporter, and as is inevitable what was published was partial at the best. This led to a conversation yesterday evening with someone who took exception to what had appeared. While the reporter did not actually misquote me, she took words from the beginning of the interview and words from the end, then put them together with no reference to the modifiers from the middle.

The issue was, of course, that depressing constant of human sexuality. Life and ministry are about a great deal more than sex, but these days a huge amount of what we do and say is interpreted through this grid of the politics of where we stand on the issues of sexuality.

For a number of years leading up to and following on from that critical point in this crisis in August 2003 I had been puzzling over why human sexuality had turned into such a hot potato. It always seemed that there was more at play here than what it had been reduced to, and which was now being as fiercely fought a fight as a Quidditch game between Gryffindor and Slytherin.

I reached the conclusion that actually sexuality was only a symptom, not the real cause of the problem. Treating sexuality as a stand-alone is about as intelligent as treating toothache without trying to find out the underlying cause. This meant reaching behind the battle to see what exactly is at stake.

My conclusion was, and this has been backed up since then by my testing of the hypothesis, that what we are dealing with is the issue of what it means to be human. How we actually "manage" sexuality is only a part of a much larger and more significant whole. Although it is obviously a highly emotional subject, I assert that it is only a small part of the enormous challenge that faces the 21st Century, which is to discover afresh what it really means to be human, and to appropriately define the limits of humanity and the boundaries for human behavior.

One of the reasons I have tried not to engage the sexuality wars as enthusiastically as some have wished is that I believe they are a skirmish in a much more significant debate and conflict. To fight over sex is to distort realities by focusing on only a part of the picture. The result of this is that the whole issue has been highly politicized in all arenas with parties backed into corners from which we lob shells, doing our best, perhaps, to do as much damage as we can to each other, rather than addressing the true extent of what is going on and what the issues really are.

The clue to a whole book is often found in the first chapter, even in the first few paragraphs, and Scripture is no exception. When humanity is introduced to us we are told that God set out to make 'adam' (human) in his own likeness, to have dominion and stewardship of the earth, and that he made them "in his own image, in the image of God he created him (adam); male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27). The rest of Scripture is, in effect, dealing with the implications of these few words.

Judeo-Christian culture has had built into its very being this high understanding of what it means to be human, and the dignity of the stewardship to which we have been called. This presupposition has shaped every aspect of our understanding of humanity, from the way our laws are configured, through science and medicine, to our social interaction and behavior.

But in the last few generations our culture has been abandoning any workable notion of a creator God. In the last 30-40 years the impact of this has filtered into society's perception of what it means to be human, and meanwhile we have been steadily letting go of any sense of the absolute. We are now at a point where increasing numbers are willing to negotiate what it means to be human.

What is being implied more and more is that human beings are creatures who have reached a particular point on an evolutionary continuum and now ready to move on. Behind such notions is the presupposition that we have reached a degree of maturity that permits us to direct the evolution of future generations. To some this may sound bizarre, but there are numbers of serious anthropologists, philosophers, and so forth toying with this notion, while developments in biogenetics, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, nanotechnology, and so forth, mean that such gameplans need to be taken seriously.

The truth is that in so many fields the tools are either in place or will soon be there to enable human beings to alter their physical, psychological, and ontological nature. Reading professional literature as well as thoughtful stuff in journals and news sources, it is clear that there are many who have no qualms about pushing this envelope as far as they can, while those of us who say, "Wait a minute, let's just get some definitions in place as to what it means to be human," are thrust aside as dinosaurs who ought to shut up and get out of the way.

Our confusion about the nature and place of sexuality is part of this much larger picture -- a symptom that what we have accepted as givens are no longer acceptable in this brave new world.

I believe that John Paul II recognized this and sought in his theology of the human body to address these realities, but his thinking, and that of others like Dr. Leon Kass, who has been Chair of the President' Council on Bioethics, is not being as seriously listened to because it requires caution and thoughtfulness on the part of those scrambling to make fresh scientific discoveries.

The reason recent trends in sexuality are part of this picture is because they are, I believe, a component of this renegotiating of what it means to be human. There are those who are suggesting because of their own biases that we are free to re-assess what it means to be sexual beings, and what it is to be made in God's image. Clearly, what Genesis 1 teaches, and this is then echoed throughout Scripture, is that part of this being made is God's image is that we are either male or female, and that men and women have not just a functional but an ontological complementariness. From this then emerges the whole flow of biblical teaching about being human, and sexual ethics.

It is my contention that this vital passage in Genesis 1 has not been given the attention that it deserves, and neither has it been looked at within the wider context of changes and movements in our culture that are calling into question and seeking to remake what it means to be human. There is a lot of work ahead of us if we are to find a way forward, but right now we are into lobbing emotionally laden shells rather than creatively engaging the whole much more worrying issue of which this is only part.

This passage is extremely challenging. It raise to the highest level what it means to be human because we are created in the image of God which means taking incredibly seriously the dignity of every human being -- and that means every man, woman, and child on this planet, no exceptions. But it also demands that we take with the utmost seriousness what all the given-nesses of our lives are about, our gender being a crucial part of this. In truth, serious study of Genesis 1:26-31, and Genesis 2:4-25 will stretch all of us to ask and try to answer some very uncomfortable questions.

I suspect that we will not find a way forward in the culture as a whole, or the church, until we are prepared to deal with the whole picture and not part of it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Call and Vocation

The Courtyard at Ridley Hall, Cambridge

Changing the country which is my base of operation for the second time in my life has, as you might imagine, been much on my mind in the last few weeks. Among other things I have thought a lot about the way God calls, guides, and leads.

In the midst of the crisis of the last few years I have found myself thinking a lot about the nature of vocation, and have a number of times wondered whether God is calling me to leave the Episcopal Church. I have watched others who I love and respect doing something similar, but a tension deep inside has prevented me from crossing that threshold.

Unraveling the reason for this has taken time. Certainly it has to do with creedal belief and ecclesiology, but I think it has also been because I understand vocation to be a call of God to do or be something, not the call of God to walk away from something.

Folks will now be saying, well, aren't you now walking away from the Episcopal Church? In a way I suppose that is so, but this is purely because I cannot be in two places at once. Actually, I have told my bishop and congregation that I will not be ceasing to be a priest of the Diocese of Tennessee, and I will certainly try to play my part in the life of the diocese even with an ocean in the way.

However, I will certainly not be engaged in the daily life of the diocese as I have been involved in the past. Some of this comes as a relief. Being involved in the internal battles of the church is important, but it hasn't done much to edify my soul over many of these years.

The call from God has been to something, and that inevitably leads us to back away from something else because cloning is not an option! Since my early fifties I have had this sense that a component of the latter part of my ministry would in some way be involved in training the next generation of leaders. I do not believe that us old guys should stick around forever standing in the way of up-and-comers, but I also believe that part of the stewardship of senior leadership is to insure that there are faithful men and women to take their place.

I served for a good few years on the Commission on Ministry of the diocese, taught a few adjunct courses, gave the occasional counsel to folks considering leadership and ordination, but that was about it. I had reached the point last year where I reckoned that would always be the level at which I would fulfill my responsibility in bringing to the fore younger folks to be tomorrow's leaders.

Then came the approach from Ridley Hall, Cambridge, as out of the blue as any that I have ever had in nearly forty years. Just as the call to move to the United States was unexpected when it was first mooted in 1975, so the call to return from the United States was a similar curve ball. From June until February we prodded it, tested it, and jumped through the various hoops that had been placed in front of us by a cautious theological college and the regulatory mindset of British employment law, prayed, talked, got cold feet, got warm feet, and so forth.

If God was going to slam the door in our faces, he would have done it in those months. But he did not, and while I have certainly had anxieties about the call that I have accepted, I am very much at peace that we are faithfully attempting to follow the path that Jesus Christ would have us walk. I have been called TO something, and that means letting go of other things here, which is the painful business in which I am involved at the moment.

During the next few years I will be Director of Development at Ridley Hall at a time when the seminary is rapidly expanding. Ridley has gone through a metamorphosis from being a troubled theological college with an uncertain future because of low enrollment a dozen years or so ago, to a vibrant place today that is bursting at the seams and planning to double in size during the next four or five years.

I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity, which is truly a gift from God. It seemed to me before Ridley came along that the best option I had was to take an early retirement, do a little interim work, write, and wait for my wife to end her career as a college professor before returning to the arms of our family in Britain. Bits of the above scenario attracted, but it seemed a waste that I still had health, energy, and some tread left on my tires. Then came this option which God had been preparing us for, a task whose job description could have been written with us in mind.

There is another side of this, too, and that is the deepening sense of burden that I have had for Britain during the last few years. While there are places in Britain where the Christian faith is remarkably robust, there is also this strong secular undercurrent that has radically reshaped the nation's values and mindset over the last few decades. There surely is in much of Europe a walking away from its Christian heritage and this leaves a frightening vacuum. The Britain to which we are returning is certainly not the country that we left as thirty-one-year-olds.

I have wondered over the years as this burden has increased, what someone like me could do to contribute to helping turn things around. Other than ministering to the elderly or, perhaps, taking a small parish or chaplaincy, I couldn't see that there was much that I could grab hold of. Ridley Hall altered that altogether.

British seminaries have always been hand-to-mouth operations when it comes to financial resources, something that raises huge stewardship issues (but that's another story). Ridley is forging ahead seeking to train leaders who are skilled and appropriate for post-secularist times likes these, but to train them properly there is a need for fresh resources and new facilities. The theological college is functioning out of the same buildings it was using when Queen Victoria was on the throne!

Now, there's a challenge for a seasoned guy like me to get his teeth into as his active ministry begins to draw to a close. Not only would such a resource help train new leaders for this time, but it would keep on giving and train leaders for several generations to come. Perhaps some of those coming through Ridley Hall will be the folks who will shape the post-secularist Christianity that will work in Europe in the 21st Century and beyond, as well as present a gracious face of truth to the advance of Islam.

When I was working in New England thirty years ago, I heard an old Baptist minister talk about finishing well, and how difficult that is. One of my prayers in the years since then has been that God would give me the strength and capacity to finish well. I give thanks to the Lord that an opportunity has been given to me that will, I think, give me a shot of doing just that.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Church of the Annunciation, New Orleans

Rev Jerry Kramer orienting folks from Resurrection, Franklin, to New Orleans now

When a group of us from the Church of the Resurrection, Franklin, Tennessee, were in New Orleans working with the Church of the Annunciation the other week, there was a crew from PBS there doing some coverage of this and a Methodist church in another part of the city.

Jerry Kramer, Rector of Annunciation, has just sent me the link to the program, and it gives a very fair idea of the challenges that are still facing our brothers and sisters in Christ down there in what was once the Big Easy but what is now a big mess that is taking a very long time to rehabilitate. The mindset in the video gives an idea why folks from Resurrection, Franklin, are already eager to go back to support Annunciation in the near future.

You can find the text and the video that PBS aired today on their Religion and Ethics program at, and be ready to be challenged.

The years that I have spent ministering in the Episcopal Church have been a mixture of agony and ecstasy -- in recent years there has been more of the former than the latter. However, the images that nourish me as I look back on my thirty-one years as a priest of the Episcopal Church are less those of garbled theology and confused ethics, ecclesiastical politics that are out of control, and a seemingly endless procession of specious bishops who wrapped themselves in today's chaotic zeitgeist, and more those of which this little video is a sample.

Jerry Kramer, and his wife, Stacy, are, in effect, saying that what is before us is not about the declining institution that is the Episcopal Church, but is about the Kingdom of God. They haven't got time to play the messy game of church politics in order to get their own way regardless of the consequences, rather they are dealing with issues of life and death. They and their colleagues and congregation are an example of those who are prepared to minister faithfully in the hardest place and not to give up, even when the going gets tough. This gives us a pretty fair reflection of what the Gospel is all about.

Most of those pushing agendas in the Episcopal Church today are saying that the Christian faith is about me, my preferences, or the concerns of my particular bias or pressure group. This is in contrast to the faithful, bold witness of the likes of the Kramers who are saying, "No, there is much more at stake here -- people's lives and people's souls, and we are called to stand with them and help rebuild this place in Jesus' name. We surrender personal preference in favor of serving Christ our Lord."

Actually, from my many years of experience there are a good few such folks in the church with the same determination to faithfully serve Christ, but most of them do not find themselves in the sort of circumstances that the Kramers are, and able to get media attention. Nevertheless, they get on and do what is required regardless.

The people in New Orleans have been pushed into a situation where the option was to launch out into the deep of faith or go out of business. Dozens and dozens of churches in New Orleans already have, and more will follow, Episcopal congregations among them. What Annunciation is seeking to do is more than rebuild a congregation in a marginal area of a devastated city. They believe the Good News is about the people of the Church of the Annunciation rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the work of rebuilding, organizing, and being a beacon of hope amidst so much devastation -- whether the television cameras are there or not.

These and many life them are the true faces of the Episcopal Church, and are building as Paul put it, not with that which is transitory, but that which reflects the eternal. The Apostles said, "For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done"(1 Corinthians 3:11-13)

In Christ's name I honor them, give thanks for them, and ask that I might be able to emulate their faithfulness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Looking Through Binoculars

The View Through My Study Window

My desk is set near a window so that I can look across the rapidly greening Tennessee countryside, and this morning I was treated to a bevy of turkeys wandering around the field behind the house. Distracted from my work I grabbed the binoculars and perused their behavior for a while, before realizing that these were as good an analogy for something I have been trying to write for several weeks.

The fact is that the view you get depends on which way you look through the binoculars. If I look through them normally I see the turkeys in all their spring glory, strutting across the grass and grubbing around for food. However, if I turn them round the other way the view changes and I can hardly make the birds out at all so distant do they appear to be.

Several weeks ago while reading something by Katharine Schori said to the Diocese of East Tennessee, it dawned on me that her way of thinking is so alien to me because she is looking at the faith and what its implications are from a diametrically opposite way to myself. While it is chi-chi among Episcopalians to put far more weight upon the Baptismal Covenant than it was designed to bear what I realized was that the Presiding Bishop, whether she realizes it or not, is interpreting it from a reverse direction to the way it is set in the Book of Common Prayer -- which reflects the historic approach to believing.

I have come to conclude that one of the reasons why the Millennium Development Goals figure so prominently in Dr. Schori's thinking is that she seems to start into the Baptismal Covenant with the very last question and affirmation: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"

I am not one of those who has real difficulties with the Millennium Development Goals. There is absolutely nothing wrong in striving for justice, peace, and human dignity, and I would assert that these are very important outcomes from believing, but they are outcomes and not the starting point. As one who when called by Christ into his fold was committed to bringing in the Kingdom of God, then obviously justice, peace, and human dignity are part of the mix, and we should chide ourselves and our forebears that so often we have forgotten this.

However, we should not hold our whole way of understanding the faith through the lens of justice, peace, and human dignity. When that happens we come up with a very different perception of what believing is about. The Baptismal Covenant, despite its shortcomings, lays things out in the right order. The starting point is the Trinitarian God who has called us into his family, redeemed us, and made us his own -- then it goes on to the fulness and nature of our response to God's initiative, and the nature of Christian discipleship.

When the last part of the Covenant is made first we immediately start defining the nature of discipleship in our own terms, and that then allows us to define the nature and call of God in light of our own perceptions. As a Christian believer I believe passionately in what might broadly be labelled justice, peace, and human dignity, but I must define what they mean in light of God's nature, God's call, how God has revealed himself, and what God wants me to do and be.

By turning the Baptismal Covenant on its head, I then, in effect, define these elements of the life of faith in my own terms, projecting my own preferences back onto the Godhead. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so much that comes out of this school of thought in the church reads so much like the platform and manifesto of a left-leaning political party.

Because those on that particular end of the spectrum handle the Baptismal Covenant in this way, it should come as no surprise to us that the whole biblical doctrine of the covenant then gets misconstrued. Reading the Presiding Bishop's stuff, it would seem that she tends to blur the distinction that exists between the covenant community of faith, called to witness Christ into the world, and the whole human race.

Restoring God's people to unity with one another, for example, takes on the a strong social justice flavoring. She says, "The world is not reconciled, as long as some live without..." Well, yes, but neither is the world reconciled when the covenant community of grace fails in its obligation to share the faith which is their stimulus to action as citizens of the Kingdom, witnessing in Christ's name.

One of the great weaknesses of North American Anglicanism is, as a result, pointed up, and that is we want to play down or reinterpret the evangelistic component of the church's mission. This obviously happens because if you wishfully think that all will be redeemed, then there is obviously little incentive to encourage people to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ -- despite the fact that we talk about this in the Baptismal Covenant in no uncertain terms.

The challenges before the world are enormous, and the church is called to follow the leading of God in working with those challenges during these Kingdom times in which we live. Both those who might be called conservatives and those who might be called liberals have not done justice to what the Scriptures teach about bringing in God's Kingdom, and course correction is always necessary

The King has come to claim his own, the bring about transformation, and he calls the covenant community of grace to be partners with him in this task. Yet if our perception of the nature of God and the nature of our call is out of kilter, then we are going to distort the breadth of our vocation.