Read this text with an Oxford accent

RowanAgain.jpgAnglican-beat reporters, please repeat after me once again: The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.

And the second truth of Anglican corporate life is like unto this: The British will do their bloody best to write those resolutions in such a way that Americans get to keep writing checks.

Thus, to the surprise of no one, MSM reports about this week’s Anglican primates meetings are all over the map. No one can agree on who actually said what and if the words they said actually mean what they appear to mean. Ah, those British resolution writers are the best.

Let’s work at this backwards for a moment. Right now, the most important story on the news wires comes from up in Canada:

Canadian and U.S. Anglican officials denied media reports suggesting they have temporarily withdrawn from an international council at the request of leaders who condemn their position on homosexuality.

They have not yet made any decisions in response to the request, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, told in a phone interview from Northern Ireland where the meetings between the leaders took place this week.

“We’re members of the Anglican Communion, we will continue to be members of the Anglican Communion,” he said, noting that the talks were much like a family dispute during which family members “step back for breathing space, to sort things out.”

[The] Rev. Jan Nunley of the U.S. Episcopal Church Center also denied media reports in an email to inquiring about the church’s response.

“No, no decision has been made on the request for voluntary temporary withdrawal from the Anglican Consultative Council,” Nunley wrote.

These denials are in response to early Associated Press stories that opened like this sample from The Miami Herald:

LONDON (AP) — Anglican primates agreed late Thursday that the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada would withdraw from a key body of the global Anglican Communion after failing to overcome internal church disagreements about the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada.

A statement from leaders of Anglican national churches who met this week in Northern Ireland also called on the two churches to explain their thinking on gay issues at another Anglican meeting in June. . . . The two churches would temporarily step away from the Anglican Consultative Council, a key body for contact among the national churches and one of the four “instruments of unity.”

Some reports stated even more clearly that the Canadians and Americans had been forced out.

Whence comes this confusion? The answer is found, of course, in the work of those British resolution writers and the wiggle room found in the actual communique that is the foundation of all of these stories in the MSM and the blogosphere. Here is the crucial passage. This should be read with a strong Oxford or Upper West Side Manhattan accent for the proper effect.

14. Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.

And the key word? Righto, that would be voluntarily. Thus, this is yet another document asking the North American progressives to repent — if they choose to do so. Stronger action may or may not take place in the future. St this point, the North Americans are still smarting from a slap on the collective wrist, but nothing more than that. If there were stronger actions suggested, they remained behind the tightly closed doors of the conclave and, thus, they will have no effect until they are reported in the pages of sacred scripture.

So what did the progressive leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church say, in response to this public rebuke? As often happens with the bookish pronouncements of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, it is hard to tell precisely. Perhaps his words were written by scribes trained by the learned British. Here is the key passage that reporters are trying to parse at the moment:

Some will not be pleased with the request from the primates . . . that the Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada, “voluntarily withdraw” our members from the Anglican Consultative Council “for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference.” This request, together with the opportunity for a hearing with the Anglican Consultative Council (paragraph 16), gives space for speaking and listening. During this time the Episcopal Church will be responding to the questions addressed to us in the Windsor Report, as the primates have requested. We will have the opportunity to speak out of the truth of our experience. I welcome this opportunity knowing that the Episcopal Church has sought to act with integrity in response to the Spirit, and that we have worked, and continue to work, to honor the different perspectives very much present within our church.

What does this mean? Clearly, lots of learning, sharing and Spirit-filled negotiating will go on in the months and years to come. But did he say the Episcopal Church would heed the majority of the world’s Anglicans and stand down?

Inquiring reporters want to know. They may wait a long, long, long time for a clearly written resolution on that question. That’s the point.

UPDATED: After doing some digging (I work on three different computers), I found the email with the URL for the Associated Press story by Robert Barr that caused so much buzz in the early hours of this global story. Here is how it opened:

The U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada withdrew Thursday from a key body of the global Anglican Communion under pressure from conservative church leaders distressed by the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions in the two countries.

Though the suspension of the two churches was said to be temporary, it marked the first formal split in the communion over the explosive issues of sexuality and biblical authority.

Here is another example of a clear Barr lead on this issue, only this time it has a clear attribution to its source:

The rift over homosexuality that threatens to split the 77 million-member Anglican Communion cannot be resolved without someone admitting they’re wrong, the church’s spiritual leader warned Friday — a day after leaders asked the U.S. and Canadian churches to withdraw temporarily from a key council.

The election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada have opened a potentially unbridgeable division between Anglican liberals — many of them in North America — and conservatives, who are strongest in Africa and Asia.

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No Communion in Anglican Communion?

PBandABC.jpgFacts are such pesky things. Every now and then one gets in the brain and just sticks there.

Earlier this week, religion reporter Jonathan Petre reported in The Telegraph that the global showdown of the Anglican primates might include some potent and poignant protests — in part centering on actions that will or will not be taken by U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (right, in the photo). Here is some of that story, with the familiar politics-of-sexuality references trimmed since Anglican-beat watchers already know all of that:

Conservative archbishops attending Anglican crisis talks this week will demonstrate their anger with their liberal counterparts by refusing to receive Communion alongside them, The Telegraph has learned. . . .

Insiders say that Archbishop Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria, has warned him that the conservatives will boycott the daily church services during the conference if the liberals are there. The problem could become most acute when Dr. Williams presides at Communion — a sacrament supposed to symbolise the unity of the Church — as Archbishop Akinola is thought to represent up to half of the 38 primates.

Now this is what I call a pesky fact.

Every since reading this, I have been going to Google News and typing in the words Rowan, Griswold and communion, with few results that tell me much of anything. There have been, of course, daily reports from the conservative cyber-scribe David Virtue, the fiery activist who has, in his own unique way, done much to yank many private Anglican events into the open. Everyone knows where Virtue is coming from, sort of like the reports from the official Episcopal press.

This Communion story may seem like an “insider” detail. But this pesky fact concerns a symbol that is also a Sacrament and, well, they are supposed to call it the Anglican Communion for a reason. I will keep looking, even though I realize that the Brits are doing everything they can to lock reporters out of every aspect of these meetings.

Nevertheless, please let us see if you see MSM coverage of the Eucharist issue. On the theological level, it is more important than the on-paper resolutions.

On a related topic, check out the following BBC item. This appeal for web-based feedback has to have one of the most biased headlines I have seen in a long time. Here is the item:

Will Africa split the Anglican Church?

Leaders of the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion have been meeting this week near Belfast in Northern Ireland to discuss an ongoing crisis that threatens to split the church.

The 38 primates will consider the so-called Windsor Report, published after the consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson in America and the blessing of same sex unions in Canada.

African and Asian leaders have started a campaign to restore order and to discipline an American Church which, they say, has departed from the Bible and Anglican tradition.

Would you back African bishops if they walk out of the meeting? Would you even ask the bishops to leave and create their own Church? Is the unity of the church not more important than disagreements over homosexuality? Shouldn’t the Anglican church modernise and accept that society is changing?

Let us know your views. . . . A selection of your comments will be broadcast on the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 26 February at 1700GMT.

Note the assumption: A stand to defend the ancient doctrines claimed by the overwhelming majority of Anglicans worldwide may split the church, not the innovations approved by the relatively small churches in North America. Why not stay neutral and say that the sexuality conflict might divide the Communion?

UPDATE: On the Google watch, there are two or three reports online with new information. One interesting detail: Williams made a strong appeal for unity, in an Evensong service that did not, of course, include Communion. There is quite a bit of new information in this fresh Church of England Newspaper report. Here is the money quote, from the leader of the American church:

Bishop Griswold entered the Primates’ meeting in a defiant mood, delivering a thinly veiled defence of his decision to consecrate Canon Gene Robinson in a sermon in Belfast Cathedral. He used coded theological language to compare the American Church’s action to the ‘White Martyrs’.

“We find ourselves overtaken by a compassion, which because it is of the Spirit and not the result of our effort or imagination, knows no bounds and can enfold all persons and all things. It is a compassion, which in the words of St Isaac of Syria, embraces not only humankind but the birds and the beasts, the enemies of truth, those who wish to do us harm and ‘even the reptiles’, which may be seen as representing those slithery aspects of our own humanity which we are loath to admit to the company of our ‘better’ selves and therefore often displace on to others as evil.”

I wonder if the “reptile” quote will be unpacked in the MSM.

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Rowan Williams, grim reaper?

williams portrait.jpg“Church ends taboo on mercy killings,” crowed the headline on Sunday’s Observer, and the story that followed, by social affairs editor Jamie Doward, carried on in the same excited manner:

Canon Professor Robin Gill, a chief adviser to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said people should not be prosecuted for helping dying relatives who are in pain end their lives. Last week Gill was sent by Williams to give evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating euthanasia.

Gill’s stance marks a major shift by the Church of England and was welcomed by groups campaigning for a change in the law to allow for people to be helped to die under strictly limited circumstances.

‘There is a very strong compassionate case for voluntary euthanasia,’ Gill told The Observer. ‘In certain cases, such as that which involved Diane Pretty [the woman who was terminally ill with motor neurone disease and who campaigned for the right to be helped to die], there is an overwhelming case for it.’

His claims were last night seized on by pro-euthanasia groups as evidence that the archbishop is prepared to engage in a debate on an issue that has long divided the clergy.

Though Doward quoted Gill as claiming “the majority of churchgoers” would like to see the euthanasia law amended, while their bishops would not, there is no other hint at what the Archbishop of Canterbury has already said on the matter.

UPI took the trouble to ring up a Church of England spokesman for comment:

Arun Kataria, a spokesman for the Anglican Church, said Gill’s personal opinions did not signal a change in the church’s policy.

“We firmly oppose the legalization of euthanasia,” he said.

The Telegraph, which recently took flak for its headline suggesting that Williams doubted God’s existence because of the year-end tsunami, also dug deeper than the Observer:

A spokesman for the Church of England last night distanced it from Prof Gill’s views. They did not reflect those of anyone else in the church, he said.

“The Church of England made a joint submission with the Roman Catholic bishops on the Assisted Dying Bill, opposing the legalisation of euthanasia,” he said.

In a document he released in September with Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, Williams was clear:

It is deeply misguided to propose a law by which it would be legal for terminally ill people to be killed or assisted in suicide by those caring for them, even if there are safeguards to ensure it is only the terminally ill who would qualify. To take this step would fundamentally undermine the basis of law and medicine and undermine the duty of the state to care for vulnerable people. It would risk a gradual erosion of values in which over time the cold calculation of costs of caring properly for the ill and the old would loom large. As a result many who are ill or dying would feel a burden to others. The right to die would become the duty to die.

The Bill is unnecessary. When death is imminent or inevitable there is at present no legal or moral obligation to give medical treatment that is futile or burdensome. It is both moral and legal now for necessary pain relief to be given even if it is likely that death will be hastened as a result. But that is not murder or assisted suicide. What terminally ill people need is to be cared for, not to be killed. They need excellent palliative care including proper and effective regimes for pain relief. They need to be treated with the compassion and respect that this bill would put gravely at risk.

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Brother Ned, say a little prayer for us

flanders greets.jpgIn one of the most illuminating passages in his autobiography, Here I Stand, retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong recalls the strict environment of his childhood:

But the religion of our home was quire clearly the religion of my Presbyterian mother. Sunday was called the “Sabbath” and one did not work or cause others to work on that day. The Lord’s name was never to be taken in vain, not even by saying “My goodness,” for that was a clear reference to God, and the phrase “For crying out loud” was said to be a direct reference to the cross. I can recall having my mouth washed out with soap for saying “gosh” and “darn.”

After reading this, I find it easier to understand why Spong is so fond of using the word fundamentalism to describe what he hates. In Spong’s childhood home, apparently even Ned Flanders would have been the regular subject of mouth-washings.

From the other end of the spectrum: In my childhood home, a frequent source of entertainment was hearing my father bellow into the phone, after his Cajun temper had been ignited, that someone could kiss his ass. From my mother I inherited the habit of saying “God!” to express surprise — something to which I didn’t give a second thought until my early 20s, when a friend from Moody Bible Institute suggested I probably could find a less glib way of invoking the Almighty.

All this comes to mind because of Jeffrey Weiss’ report — under the copyeditor’s dream headline of “What the *^&%$#@!” — in today’s Dallas Morning News. Weiss’ balance is masterful, combining funny anecdotes with insights from scholars.

Weiss explores the strangest territory in explaining the standards of TV and movies:

Broadcast TV remains more cautious than many other cultural outlets. While “Oh my God!” can be heard virtually anywhere in prime time, ads are still a blasphemy-free zone. For instance, a candy bar ad not long ago had an angry guy shouting “Great oogly moogly!”

Cable, from The Sopranos to Bill Maher, bars few if any words. Comedy Channel’s taboo-shredding South Park started as an Internet-distributed short that featured a wrestling match between Jesus and Santa Claus.

Movie ratings also indicate a softening of attitudes said Jim Wall, the former editor of Christian Century, who is a longtime advisor to the appeals board of the Motion Picture Association of America.

“The ratings are designed to reflect what the rating board feels the average American parent would expect to find,” he said.

So even one f-word used in a sexual context is still pretty much an automatic path to an R rating, he said. But a bunch of religious expletives aren’t likely to move a movie beyond PG-13.

In fact, the official explanation of the ratings on the MPAA Web site mentions violence, profanity, drug abuse and sexual content as factors in determining ratings — but nothing about religious language.

I do not yearn for the return of blasphemy laws, or the Hays Code, for that matter. Nor do I yearn to hear 8-year-olds hollering “Jesus Christ” during what friends of mine once called a grand mal hissy fit. Weiss’ story includes one segment that helps explain the taboo thrill of certain language:

The sacred and profane are an odd pairing in most contexts, but stand comfortably together in foul language in most cultures. That’s partly because they both pull concepts where polite society says they don’t belong, said Geoffrey Nunberg, author of Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Controversial Times and a researcher at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Obscenity takes bedroom and bathroom activities and drags them out into the living room, he said. Blasphemy, on the other hand, hauls heaven down into the common world.

Both feel satisfyingly “wrong” when we want to vent our frustrations.

That reminds me of an angle worth some column inches. From screen-talking galoots at the theater to chattering gossips during a church service, mass culture seems to be losing any distinction between public and private space, or between the sidewalk and the sanctuary. Why is this?

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Veterans Day with the Devil

tap stonehenge2Satirist Harry Shearer makes explicit the comedic Stonehenge elements of the Episco-Druid story during Apologies of the Week (requires RealPlayer) on Le Show, his weekly broadcast of music, comedy and sketches.

After reading news reports’ common disclaimer that the Rev. William Melnyk and the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe-Melnyk did not return phone calls seeking comment, Shearer cracked, “They were busy heading for Stonehenge [full beat] to say they weren’t druids.”

Shearer played Spinal Tap’s bassist, Derek Smalls, so he knows his campy Stonehenge references.

For those who don’t have This is Spinal Tap handy, here are the lyrics to “Stonehenge”:

Where the demons dwell
Where the banshees live and they do live well
Where a man is a man and the children
dance to the pipes of Pan
‘Tis a magic place where the moon doth rise
with a dragon’s face
Where the virgins lie
and the prayer of devils fill the midnight sky
And you my love, won’t you take my hand
We’ll go back in time to that mystic land
Where the dew drops cry and the cats meow
I will take you there
I will show you how

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The druidry story transmogrifies

Oath_of_druids_1Newspapers in greater Philadelphia have begun reporting on the past Druidic interests of the Rev. William Melnyk and his wife, the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe-Melnyk, but some have lost the story’s finer distinctions.

"The online editor of Christianity Today magazine accused the church of ‘promoting pagan rites and pagan deities’ and the Melnyks of idolatry," David Bernard of the Chester Daily Local wrote on Nov. 6.

The same sentence appeared again three days later in a story attributed to "Staff and Wire Reports."

Ted Olsen of Christianity Today Online focused his critiques both on the rites composed by the two priests and on one rite’s distribution through the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries website. These are the only two paragraphs, in his varied comments on the rites, in which Olsen used the word idolatry:

But in this case, we’re not talking about something that’s merely unorthodox, or even heresy. We’re talking about pagan worship of Old Testament idols. We’re talking about a mock Eucharist, the center of Christian worship, that directly references a biblical text about idolatry–and stands proudly, "defiantly," with the idolaters.

One would have thought that the Episcopal Church USA might have argued whether it was really practicing a different religion. Instead, their challenge to [Nigerian Archbishop Peter] Akinola’s statement might be that it’s not new at all: Their idolatry has been around since Old Testament times.

Olsen wrote pointed critiques of the Melnyks’ rites, and wondered online whether Bishop Charles Bennison would have anything to say about the matter. But it should be clear to anyone who read Olsen’s articles that he saw the problem of idolatry as more widespread than the activities of two priests in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Further, both Olsen and Erik Nelson of the Institute on Religion and Democracy — who first called the rite’s attention to several bloggers — both commended the Melnyks for their letters of repentance to Bishop Bennison.

"I will not allow this situation to turn into a witch hunt of any sort," Bennison said in his first statement (PDF) on the conflict.

It never was a with hunt. It was, instead, another case of the blogosphere being a few weeks ahead of mainstream media in breaking and reporting a news story.

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To everything there is a season — and a liturgy?

MenopauseThe story of Episco-Druid rites has moved from the Anglican blogosophere to print, and in two very different forms.

Julia Duin of The Washington Times reports the story, adding the detail of Bishop Charles Bennison’s statement (PDF) about the controversy.

Religion editor Shirley Ragsdale of the Des Moines Register writes a column that praises the Women’s Liturgy Project by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries but does not mention the rite attributed to the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe Melnyk, or the firestorm of criticism it attracted from conservatives.

Ragsdale begins with this description of the liturgical landscape:

Women make up more than half of churchgoers, but so much of their lives is ignored in terms of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies.

There are ceremonies to baptize their babies, but no rituals to mark the passage from girl to woman or to celebrate conception or pregnancy. There are few rituals to mark losses such as miscarriages or passages such as menopause.

. . . The intent is to create liturgy that can be used within the context of a Sunday morning service to mark menstruation, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, menopause and other changes or loss. Having passed almost all of those female milestones with little fanfare from my faith tradition, the idea that a woman’s church family might pay attention to some of them is appealing.

As a teen, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated an announcement in church when I got my first period, but I can imagine that a coming-of-age service where a number of girls could be recognized for reaching young adulthood might be something to be proud of.

Actually there are liturgies to mark “the passage from girl to woman” (and the passage from boy to man). For liberal Episcopalians, Journey to Adulthood offers spiritual formation, pilgrimages and a churchwide service called Rite 13.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether prayers about menstruation or menopause ought to become part of a Sunday service.

Ragsdale is strongest in telling the story of a Presbyterian woman who joined her sisters in persuading their mother to give up her car keys for the sake of her safety:

After dinner, one daughter said a prayer: “God, we are truly grateful for our mother and grandmother and friend. She has always been there for us. So many times she put each of our needs before her own. We ask you to be with her now in this time of sharing and in the days ahead when she will be sad because she cannot do the same kinds of acts of neighborliness and mercy that she could do when she was able to drive. Bless her and us, for this is a day of endings and beginnings.”

There were stories about the kindnesses the mother had performed, including emergency trips to the hospital and reliable transportation to church. Then they volunteered to make the mother’s transition easier. Grandchildren and teenaged neighbors offered to drive for her. Daughters committed to mother-daughter outings.

When the stories and promises concluded, the mother reached into her purse and with tears in her eyes handed the car keys to her daughters. It seems likely that the mother’s bitterness about giving up her independence was tempered by the sweetness of the prayer and ritual performed by her family and friends. I like to think that because of the ritual, the family was more likely to follow through on their promises.

It isn’t exactly liturgy. But it could be. The congregation could recognize the mother’s contribution to the church and join in the promise part.

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another way: Isn’t it amazing that this woman’s family rose to the liturgical and pastoral challenge without an official Service of Diminished Driving Capacities? And could it be that this mother and grandmother might prefer not to make her painful transition the focus of a corporate service?

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Druids and goddesses and Episcopalians, oh my

midsummerdruids.jpgEvery now and then, a religion story breaks out online that truly defies a quick and easy blog report. This is certainly the case with the slap-fest that is taking place between our friends at the Christianity Today blog and the trailblazing liturgists at the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries.

To get up to speed on the amazing story of the little neo-pagan Eucharist that could, start with Ted Olsen’s initial reporting at the CT blog. Read it all. There is no way for me to crunch this story down into a few paragraphs, but I can at least let you see the most explosive summary statement. And note that Ted Olsen absolutely nails the larger global story here, the larger story that we will have to look for in the mainstream media. That is, we can look for it once the mainstream media finishes with John Kerry and George Bush and realizes that the front lines in the bitter Anglican sex war may have moved. Here is how the story begins:

Imagine for one moment that you’re a leader in the Episcopal Church USA. You know that within the next few days, a global commission is going to release a report on how the global Anglican Communion should respond to your church, and is likely to be critical of the ordination of an actively homosexual man as bishop. You know, and have said yourself, that the debate isn’t just about sexuality: It’s about how one views the Bible. And you know that all eyes will be on your denomination over the next few weeks. What do you do?

What the real leaders of the Episcopal Church did was to take an action that makes ordaining a homosexual man as a bishop almost a non-issue. They started promoting the worship of pagan deities. This is not a joke nor an overstatement. In all truth and seriousness, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA are promoting pagan rites to pagan deities.

These sentences were written an eternity ago, in blogosphere terms. So much has happened since then, including the church’s establishment lashing out at Christianity Today, a magazine with a staff that is more than a few people who fluently speak the lingo of Episcopalians and even neo-feminists. It also should be noted that the main links to the controversial liturgy have — surprise — suddenly gone dead. But the printable version is still over here on another page. That’s where you will find all kinds of interesting images, such as:

“Blessed are you, Mother God, for the fertility of this world. We thank you for the sight and scent of flowers, for the way their shape evokes in us the unfolding of our own sexuality, and for their power to remind us of the glory and the impermanence of physical beauty. May our days of blossoming and of fading be days spent in your presence.”

Dipping her fingers into the bowl of salt water, one of the women says, “Sisters, this is the water of life. From the womb of the sea, Mother Earth brought forth life. From the womb waters of our own bodies our children are born. In the womb shaped fonts of our churches, we are baptized into community. This is the water of life.” Touching the water again, she continues. “This, too, is the water of our tears. Our power to weep is an expression of God’s love in and through us. We weep in sorrow for that which we have lost. We weep in anger for the pain of others. We weep in hope of healing and wholeness, and we weep in joy when our hearts are too full to contain our feelings.”

Dipping her fingers in the water, each traces a tear on the cheek of the woman beside her saying, “Remember, sister, tears are the water of life.”

That’s really old by now. Journalists should print out a copy quick for the files before that vanishes as well.

The Anglican blogosphere is all over this, especially the conservative heavy hitters here and here, the digital turf of Dr. Kendall Harmon and the amazing Canadian Anglican Web Elves (don’t ask). And CT continues to fight on, especially with this long and very detailed report.

There is so much to report, from the work of the Episcopal priest named Bill Melnyk, who is the same person as the Druid leader Oakwyse, and his neo-pagan partner Glispa, who is also the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk — the woman who helped steer the feminist Eucharistic rite onto the Episcopal website in the first place. And the roots of some of these rites run back to their work with the modern druid clan called Tuatha de Brighid and perhaps, via some raisin cakes (it’s a long story) to the ancient goddess Asherah, the female counterpart to Baal.

Rites that connect to Baal worship are generally frowned on in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Like I said, we will have to see how the mainstream press handles this story, if it does. Watch the unusual interfaith evangelism forums, such as and the award-winning religion pages of the Dallas Morning News.

This story is moving rapidly, but keep clicking and hang on.

Let me close with two observations.

The first is that this story is old, old, old in several ways. After all, it has been more than a decade since I witnessed an Episcopal diocesan bishop lead a Eucharist that included this chant:

OBA ye Oba yo Yemanja
Oba ye Oba yo O Yemanja
Oby ye Oba yo O O Ausar
Oba ye Oba yo O Ra Ausar

Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens
Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens
Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life
Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life
Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors
Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.

– From the printed worship booklet for “Liturgy and Sermon, Earth Mass — Missa Gaia,” distributed on Oct. 3, 1993, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

And second, it was just a few days ago that the bookish Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said that the key to the splintering of the Anglican Communion is that there are issues even more important than the redefinition of the Sacrament of Marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions. What happens if Anglican Christians start worshipping other gods? Will they still be Christians? Remember, Wright said:

The critical thing is there are some differences which would divide the church. For instance, if somebody decided to propose that instead of reading the Bible in church, we should read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur’an, most Christians would say this is no longer a church and that’s a difference that we simply cannot live with.

I also believe that the Decalogue in the modernized Book of Common Prayer continues to contain these words:

God spake these words, and said: I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me. Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.

You can bet the farm on the fact that the worship of other gods, by name, is frowned upon in the growing Anglican churches of Africa and Asia, tense regions in which doctrinal clashes between Christianity and pagan religions are not taken lightly. It may be trendy for hip American clerics to experiment with the worship of ancient gods and goddesses from Africa. But African Christians will not be amused.

If the Episcopalians have decided to drop, edit or re-refine the Decalogue, those of us who cover the Godbeat/godsbeat will really have a story on our hands.

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