Tuesday, April 28, 2009

God and Lord, He and She

“God” is a hard word.

It’s hard in many respects, not least in its sound. Its relentless use in liturgy to avoid persona, projection, or pronouns feels like an assault, a pulsing hammer on the psyche, like a bad migraine.

There are dangers here. “God be with you” instead of “the Lord be with you” may be a well-intended anodyne, but it completely misses the theological and spiritual essence of the Christian message. “God be with you” is an impersonal abstraction. It isn’t even a gesture into the apophatic because there is not enough content or meaning in the phrase to go beyond, especially when it is used at the opening of the liturgy. Why should I want this nameless, characterless abstraction to be with me?

While it may be salutary to wish to compensate for misuse of hierarchical images from the past, the message that underlies the lost phrase, “the Lord be with you” is not about hierarchy. It is rather a challenge, the drastic message that to be Lord is to be a servant, that the unfathomable mystery chooses to be embodied.

The same difficulty occurs with liturgical overuse of “she” or avoidance of “he” in reference to God. The desire to make people comfortable or to break stereotypes about the divine may seem a good idea in the short term, but when personal pronouns are scattered willy-nilly, or omitted altogether, they can block interpretation at a deeper level. The same difficulty occurs when the male pronoun is insisted on in every context, no matter how inappropriate. Pronouns can be tools of violence, asserting the very sort of power that Jesus seeks to subvert.

We need to consider why the male pronoun is at times as important to use as the word “Lord.” While we might wish it otherwise, men are usually stronger than women, express dominance issues differently, and, as noted in (male) spiritual writing through the ages, seem less often naturally inclined to contemplation (see, for example, Gregory of Nyssa’s writing about Macrina).

However culturally conditioned these perceptions may be, and however much one might feel it appropriate to challenge them, these attributes play an essential role in the central metaphor/paradox of Christianity. It is not the maleness that is important here; it is rather that the use of the male pronoun is a way of emphasizing the reach, the infinite extent between the potential for the abuse of power and the divine humility. The essence of the one who is omnipotent is outpouring love, negating our expectations. The use of the male pronoun to signify this paradox is the opposite of justification for male dominance and exclusion of women.

Instead, it tells us that what is most potent, most capable of exercising power, what is “holy and mighty, holy and immortal” is more humble that we can bring our selves to imagine or could ever be; that the willing humility of the divine made manifest in Christ is an appalling, terrifying humility which we would rather not see, because to put on this mind of Christ would require us to give up too much of the illusion we hold dear. Yet modern liturgy seems to want feed this illusion, to have its cake and eat it, making us comfortable, perhaps, but leaving us empty, caught by the webs of our own artifice, unable to mirror the outpouring that moves us into the transcendent, which transfigures and sustains our daily round.

The twenty-first century doesn’t like paradoxes; they don’t give instant results, and they aren’t comfortable. You have to sit with them, accept them on their own terms before they open the narrow gate to salvation, the freedom from the trap of our own circular thinking.

In short, our liturgical emphasis on not giving offence puts us in danger of confining our “worship” to the most superficial level of our minds. Forced neutrality or imposed gender assignments confine us equally. They put us in danger missing the message, of losing the liturgical richness of metaphor and imagery that awakens, animates and engages the depths of our souls in the ordinary round. Such liturgical flatness reinforces our narcissism.

Liturgy is supposed to help us turn away from our likes and dislikes, our comfort or discomfort, to go deeper, to realize our communion, our share in the divine nature, our inheritance with Christ, by pointing us beyond ourselves to seek into the beholding. The Christian message is shocking in its reversals of power, and it is these reversals that break us open to receive the love that seeks to give us more than we can ask or imagine.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Alaska is showing me her loveliest face as I prepare to leave. Tuesday brought an evening of mirrored water, Stephen's passage shimmering with gold rose hues, Mama Eagle crying to the departing sun from the very top of her enormous tree, then still, immobile.

I burned most of the left-over cardboard on the beach; above the crackle and flame the gulls' mewing floated across two miles of glassy surface from Portland Island. Ashes, ashes . . . . The mountains glisten with fresh falls of snow; there were even a few flakes Tuesday morning at sea level. While the cardboard flared I sat on a log. It was, I was; the moment for departure is almost here; time in this lovely, difficult place is receding.

Last night under a cloudless sky burned the last of what there was. Mama was still vigilant on her high spruce top as if she had been there all night and through the day as well; the gulls still murmured; the mountains shifted under the evening light from white frosting to purple haze.

Goodbye, goodbye . . . . I bow to you with a grateful heart.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Clarification "Signs of Hope, Signs of Despair"

The post "Signs of Hope, Signs of Despair: was written under considerable pressure, as was noted at the time of posting—as is this one. Friday is my last day in Alaska. But an email today alerted me of the need for clarification.

The post was written as a protest against the abysmal ignorance of sitting bishops of Christian history, theology and psychology, the fundamentals on which Christianity stand or falls. It was written to support a bishop-elect who seems to support these fundamentals (as opposed to the fundamentalism revealed by some of his detractors who advocate atonement/appeasement theology).

However, I must clarify that I do not know Thew Forrester personally. The email I received today suggests that he is a "consummate careerist" but if this is the case, how, then, is he different from any other American candidate for bishop of the past 30 years? Careerism, perhaps not by that name, is now. repellently, taught in seminary; at least Forrester has taken steps to hold such a tendency in himself in tension with his meditation practice, whether or not it this practice is integrated. At least he knows there is a problem.

I have just been re-reading Gerald May's "Care of Mind, Care of Spirit." What a glaring mirror it holds up to the Episcopal Church, to its bishops and its schisms, in terms of the degree to which it has succumbed to the values of "this world" and "the flesh", i.e., the lust for power, and all the ills that issue therefrom! At least Forrester appears to know there is a problem, which is more than can be said for a lot of clergy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Plus ça change . . . .

[Excerpt from testimony given before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors March 24, 1976 [!], the last county in the United States not to have a General Plan. The numbers refer to the proposed plan, which was stalled. At the time I was managing a vineyard and winery in Healdsburg, having despaired of ever being able to live my vocation.]

I wish to speak on the subject of minerals, page 72, paragraphs 2 and 3, and water, pages 83 and 84.

I speak for the Russian River, since the river cannot speak for itself. It supports agriculture and supplies water for much of this county's and North Marin's population. It is an invaluable scenic and natural area. The river is also home for many of the California species on the endangered species list.

It was once a great anadromous fishery, in spite of its seasonal nature. The great steelhead streams of New Zealand were stocked from its waters, which were alive with fish during the rainy season.

But this past autumn, the silver salmon became trapped above Wohler bridge because a summer dam is necessary for the Wohler pumps to operate efficiently; the summer dam had not properly been destroyed at the end of the season. The reason for the dam is that uncontroleld graveling upstream from the pumps has affected the natural movement of gravel, on which the pumps, on gravel wells, depend, the level of the water table, and most of all the purity, through filtration, of the water that serves a quarter of a million people.

The river valley still supports, in vastly diminished numbers, osprey, eagle, falcon, heron, egret, cougar, turtle and other animals. This wildlife, along with the fisheries, are jeopardized by timber extraction, graveling, denudation of the riverbanks, excessive pollution and use of firearms in so-called recreation by the public, and development on septic systems in areas where there are year-round streams, also refuges for vanishing wildlife.

The river cannot continue to support unregulated hordes of recreational users, who neither understand nor care about this valuable resource, who leave their beer cans, glass, garbage and underwear strewn throughout the valley. The osprey and other animals cannot forever successfully dodge the potshots of visitors who shoot at anything that moves, including human residents . . . .

The grizzlies are gone. The osprey and kites are being shot. The herons are quietly vanishing. Perhaps amid the growl and shriek of gravel extraction, the shouting and raucous passage of the canoeists [a canoe operator claimed 100,000 activity days a year on a river that was un-navigable for 6 months annually], and the constant staccato gunfire few will mark their passing. Only those of us who have one foot left in the marshes and the haunting genetic memory of another age . . . .

It has become a matter of self-evidence that realtor-planned communities—in other words, urban and suburban sprawl—have a marked increase in demand not only in terms of county services such as sewers and water, but also in terms of county services such as law enforcement, health services, and social services, because they have a higher incidence of both stress diseases such as heart attacks and cancer, and social diseases such as drug addiction and violent and white collar crime [AIDS and STDs were only just appearing on the horizon]. These result in excessive taxes.

Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century pointed out the public burden of urban blight. Economic advisors to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors some years ago pointed out that for every 100 acres of agricultural land lost to urban sprawl the cost to taxpayers can be $1 million or more. Last December at the cities conference in Miami a special report commented that inducements to growth offered 10 to 15 years ago are now liabilities.

As for the wildlife, it is not only part of our subliminal mythology—we name our cars after endangered species, for example, because of what they unconsciously symbolize—they are environmental barometer: their passing foretells of the end of viability of human life on earth.

But there is another, ethical side to this issue. Without the Gernal Plan, the death knell of agriculture in this country would be sounded. I am a farmer, and would like to point out that the official stand of the Farm Bureau does not represent my point of view, nor that of many other farmers interested in staying in agriculture.

The agricultural land in question is Class I and II land, the most valuable agricultural land there is. Only 10% of the entire earth's surface is arable. And there is a world food shortage.

There are those who say that Sonoma County land isn't good for much else than fruits and vines, both so-called luxury items. But what about the day when people will be thankful for a few turnips and potatoes and carrots, when each plot of arable land will be so precious that it is conceivable that it will be operated on a trust basis . . . .But what happens if all the arable land in Sonoma County is covered with ticky-tacky and shopping centers? How will we have any agriculture left? Are we forever to say to someone else, "Here, you grow our food?"

Every piece of arable land left anywhere, now, will mean the difference between life or starvation in the years to come. Years we may never see, but our children will.

Sonoma County is part of a state, country and planet, and is responsible, whether it likes it or not, to the larger units as well as itself, for wise stewardship of its resources.

We can no longer afford the kind of development that is born of superabundance, greed, and a taste for wasteful living. The General Plan gives us not only a greater sense of self-sufficiency as a country, but also recalls us to a sense of reality from our ventures into increasing grandiosity. We live in an era when time, technology and its requirements and population demands are telescoping dramatically.

The General Plan is going to be expensive in economic terms, but not as expensive as unregulated growth. It is also going to be expensive in personal terms. It is going to cost each of us something.

It will cost the farmer and the dairyman more in terms of guarding the land he tills or uses to preserve its fertility. This means long hours, some of them spent covered with mire.

It will cost the developer his dreams of empire. Perhaps he will settle for a squirearchy.

It will cost the graveler his self-certification to conduct open pit strip mining among the aquafers that help provide water for agriculture and a quarter of a million people. Perhaps he will settle for graveling in an area where skimming is necessary, or where no water or other resource is jeopardized.

It will cost the environmentalist his ivory tower privacy and require him to get off his apathetic gluteus maximus and make himself heard at meetings like this one, in order to make the plan work.

But these costs are nothing in comparison to the human misery that is inevitable without a plan.

It will require from all of us a reorientation toward a simpler mode of life, of attitudes, and a reassessment of our personal values. I think the implication of this last cost, that of acquiring self-discipline, is at the heart of the law behind the General Plan, and is beautifully illuminated in the editorial by David Bolling which appeared in the News Herald last Thanksgiving week . . . called "Greed, Apathy, and the Puritan Ethic."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Packing, sorting, throwing, boxing, taping—taping in particular my thumbs and forefingers, which have cracked from contact with fabric, cardboard, tape, plastic bins, books, papers, grime—making lists upon lists.

If Holy Week is about stripping, then I've had six weeks of Holy Week. Good Friday was crucifying, but not in the way you might think. There's a new priest in town, someone who purportedly knows something about liturgy. He was scheduled for the Good Friday service, so I went, longing to lose myself in the great silences of the liturgy.

It was not as advertised.

Instead, it was the person who drove me from the church in Alaska in the first place, a perfectly nice man who has been in Alaska forever but rigid, formulaic, cannot deal with silence or death or imagine that a layperson would ever be able to find a page by themselves much less understand the simplest bible story or fact of life.

The service (if you want to call it that—it certainly wasn't the Good Friday liturgy in the 1979 BCP reproduced on the leaflet) was all yakkity, yakkity yak. The presider clearly didn't like the Good Friday Liturgy, strolled in, began by preaching a 20 minute sermon composed of strung-together platitudes about the resurrection, ignored all the opening silences which would by then have anyway been pointless after that shattering, meaningless monologue, ignored the silences between the collects, skipped the prayer for the dead, preached again about the resurrection, told stories between the veneration prayers instead of having the veneration of the cross (or even a suitable substitute), and when it was finally all over and he mercifully (but much too late) shut up, the shocked silence of even this usually noisy congregation said it all.

A friend on the opposite coast sent me a list of ersatz liturgies about bunnies and the like to help lift my spirits. Perhaps we need to add a few more: one for Good Friday that ignores Good Friday, one for those who want the crown without the cross, one for those who hate silence and are afraid of death, who want to talking about rising again without having ever died. Didn't Usula le Guin write about this in "The Farthest Shore?"

When Sunday came I was still juddering from the Good Friday assault, so immersed myself in absence and silence, and endless packing.

About 11 AM a phone call from Seattle, my friend having just returned from Easter church, nearly weeping, saying "God is dead and the church has killed him."

A couple of hours later another, this time from the UK saying the same, only worse: blatant institutional guilt-exploiting, crucifying young men on cathedral greens, marching through the town accusing people of being guilty sinners, condemning them to hellfire, while all day a gruesome, grotesque, bloody projection of the details of crucifixion were projected on a giant screen at the west end of the cathedral where even little children (not to mention horses) would be frightened.

At her parish church, my English friend said, the New Fire wouldn't light at the beginning but for some reason it was at the end burning brightly unattended; so she sat and contemplated it while the dawn broke.

People keep asking me if I had a Good Easter. Some kind friends fed me a lovely meal that was all too brief; I shall miss them. But that's not, I think, what the question means. While I deal with the million problems attending on a swift exit, and stare down the black hole of wondering where I will end up, I've been asking myself, just exactly what makes a "Good Easter?"

Actually I think I've just had one.

All my expectations turned upside down; not having a clue what's going to happen next, meanwhile watching the ancient cycle of life renewing itself as the first chartreuse tips of skunk cabbage poke above the muck and crocuses turn their faces to the sun. The first warm day arrives, sun glinting off the marzipan mountains as I fly around the house, up and down the stairs inside and out, doing things as I think of them while pretending to be systematic.

The people involved in the first Easter had been stripped too. The crucifixion was crucifying, not liturgical. They looked down the black hole of the tomb, and then . . . .

What does resurrection mean? Are you ready for it? Don't believe it for a moment . . . .

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Caveat Adorator

[This article seems pertinent to the discussion in the previous post.]

By his stillness we learn to look death in the face

by Rowan Williams

[The Independent, London, March 28, 1997]

It has taken the post-Freudian suspiciousness of our century to point out the different kinds of ambiguity, the shadows, around the central Christian symbol of the crucifix. We can understand a bit more clearly how such an image of suffering patiently endured can work to produce guilt—"I did this, and yet he loves me"; or passivity—"Jesus endured injustice and pain without complaint; so must I". We might also notice how the crucifix can be a weapon: I identify my (or our) suffering with Christ's, and so endow it with more sanctity and significance than anyone else's; martyrdom can be turned into a not-so-subtle kind of aggression by the spiritually ambitious (something even the early Church noticed).

Most insidious of all, perhaps, there is the scent of something faintly pornographic in some kinds of concentration on this image, a naked man being tortured to death: what does it do to our souls to be confronted by this, day in and day out? We may become desensitised to it, not noticing what it is an image of—which does us no good; or we may find different kinds of doubtful satisfaction in contemplating a suffering body. Either way, what's happening doesn't speak all that clearly of the absolution and renewal that Good Friday is supposed to be about.

The problem is in the difference between suffering and death. Images of suffering, of pain and terror, are all too completely woven into the fabric of what we are and what our world is like. Our reaction to them in ordinary settings has just the same level of muddled feeling as I've been describing in relation to the crucifix—guilt, despairing resignation, questions about how an image can be used to good political advantage, and the flicker of prurient fascination.

Such images are dreadful but familiar; we have strategies for managing them. But death is something other than this, and true images of death are rare—because it isn't easy to find an image of absence, ending, the breakage and dissolution of the world.

Good Friday is importantly about death—not simply about an intense and dramatic suffering. The redemption Christians celebrate is not achieved by the fact that Jesus suffered more horrifically and deeply than anyone else (how could we know? and how could we maintain this in the light of the repeated nightmares of this century?); it is achieved by his death. Here, we say, is God's embodiment in a human life, promising welcome for the lost and renewal for humanity; and here are the systems of human meaning and power—religious, social, national, political—combining to destroy Him.

Good Friday presents us with a stark duality—human power revealed as hostile to meaning and hope, and divine meaning and hope exposed as completely vulnerable to human power. In death our systems are revealed as empty, God revealed as helpless. All images of a unified world go into the dark.

St John of the Cross wrote, in the 16th century, that Jesus achieved more in his motionless silence, dead on the cross, than in the whole of his ministry. Before this collision of God's truth and the world's reality, represented by the dead body of the incarnate God, all we can do is keep silent. But, for John of the Cross as for all Christians, that silence is the beginning of a global renewal: it is the darkness in which God is allowed to be God, in which the world, descending into its inner chaos, returns to the very moment of creation, when God speaks into the darkness. Our silence, our acceptance of the death of the creation in the death of Jesus, makes room for the word that recreates the broken world.

The more we surround this with the fascinating and dangerous emotional freight of "suffering" the further away goes the silence. Strangely enough, on Good Friday of all days, the crucifix may be the least adequate sign of what is happening. And what are the images we need? Who's to say?

Confusion is itself an apt response to all this. But there is the empty cross; the stripped church in which no sacrament is celebrated today; the few really persuasive representations of the dead Christ (Holbein, the Gero crucifix in Cologne); and above all, our own stillness, learning to look death in the face.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Signs of Hope, Signs of Despair

[With apologies for this less-than-polished post, a consequence of house-moving chaos and fast-approaching closing date.]

The controversy over the election of Thew Forrester as bishop of Northern Michigan is a sign of the times, a sign of the great danger that Western Christianity, particularly Christianity in America, particularly The Episcopal Church finds itself.

Forrester is a sign of hope: he understands, along with the earliest and greatest writers on Christianity such as Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, that realizing our union with God is the heart of Christianity. He understands with them that salvation comes through the encounter with God in the depths of the soul. God offers us the free choice to turn away from confusion and pain to explore the prayer of silence in its infinite depths. (For an excellent and readable history of union with God in Christianity, see "Becoming God: The Doctrine of Theosis in Nicholas of Cusa" by Nancy J. Hudson). It is the loss of this understanding that salvation comes through seeking the vision of God, from which everything else in our lives must issue, that has led to the flattening of contemporary Christianity in every sense.

Gregory, for example, explicitly states what is understood and implicit, that "salvation [is] the purification and illumination of the mind." [Hudson, p. 23]. This is not "platonism;" these early writers are actively anti-Platonist. The body and the created world are integral and inseparable, "the union of the mental with the bodily presents a connection unspeakable and inconceivable." (Hudson p. 19) "Its created being itself makes a true theosis possible." (Ibid. p. 22) Nicholas of Cusa says very plainly that the image of God in us is the mind's ability to transcend itself [by grace].

Much of the New Testament speaks of this union: Jesus' continual reference to the Father is a familiar metaphor and the heart of his prayer, particularly in the Gospel of John (14-17). The great kenotic hymn (Phil. 2-5-11) which lies at the heart of the liturgy for Holy Week and Easter, is a way of speaking about the laying-aside of our pretensions so that we may realize the divinization that is inherent in, even the purpose of, our creation.

These early writers do not speak of "original sin" or an inherited flaw in human nature. They understand that our difficulties arise from yielding to the "flesh" or "passions," that is, our believing that the appetites and distortions that flood into our perceptions are real and then yielding to them, their noise, their distraction. As Pascal puts it, all of our troubles arise from our inability to remain alone in a room. What we need to be saved from is this unreality in ourselves, the noise and chaos of our own minds that trap us in destructive behaviors and attitudes such as anxiety, greed, and dispersal. If it is our minds that trap us, then it is by turning our minds into the silence of God that frees us.

The earliest baptismal traditions do not speak of dying and rising (see Ephrem, for example), or, when they do, the dying is used as a metaphor for the changing of perceptions that is part of the catechetical process (see the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem.) The notion of the human person in this theology of union is exalted, and its aspiration at once humble and positive. But religious institutions do not like its constituents to think too much, or to be too whole. Therefore these fundamental insights about silence and union were suppressed to serve institutional consolidation of power.

The practices of 1400 years were abandoned, and the institutional focus changed from "putting on the mind of Christ," which focuses us on God in the infinite silence of the mind-in-the-heart, to "imitation," which locks us into narcissistic stereotypes at the most superficial level of our minds, stereotypes which are easily controlled by institutions.

But this policy has backfired. People are rediscovering the depths for themselves. But when they go to church to seek support for their prayer they encounter only banality, trendiness and a lot of noisy performance art. In consequence, they leave. They have discovered that the institution has cheated them of their spiritual birthright, and are turning to ancient and medieval sources for the support the churches can no longer (and will not) give them.

They reject denigration of the creation God has called good, the Creation God draws ever onward to realize its divinity. Julian of Norwich sums up the entire tradition. She repeatedly asks Christ, "what is sin?" But Christ tells her that he cannot even see sin; he can only see what is like himself, which is us, and all that is needed is to "seek into the beholding."

It is significant that modern translations of the bible no longer use the word "behold." This word is arguably its most important word in both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament. Each time it is used it signals an annunciation, the essential choice of turning away from our own skewed perceptions to be drawn into the light and life of God so that we may be transfigured. "Look" or "see," the words which have been substituted by translators for "behold" by contrast are analytical, and self-reflexive, while "behold" gives us a moment of being "lost in wonder love and praise."

Forrester seems to understand that if the church is to survive it must return to the practices from which the richness and depth of Christianity sprang and by which it was nurtured for more than a thousand years.

Yet the election of Forrester is being opposed by a number of bishops precisely on these grounds. Their writings reveal a shocking lack of knowledge—or a refusal to communicate—the history of Christian doctrine. The bishop of Southern Ohio insists on atonement theology, a theology that comes very late in Christian history and first gets toe-hold as part of a campaign to justify Charlemagne's bloody slaughter and forced conversion of the Saxons (see "Saving Paradise" by Brock and Parker for an extremely readable account of this history). Atonement theology was developed as a means to control, to exploit people's guilt, and it is one of the major sources of our cultural depression and negative aspiration today.

The Bishop of Southern Ohio objects to a revision of the baptismal service that Forrester wrote "in which references to salvation are replaced with references to union with God." If salvation is not union with God, then what is it? What does the Bishop of Southern Ohio think salvation is?

The bishop of Southern Ohio further writes that he opposes Forrester because "...our (unrevised) Baptismal liturgy (Book of Common Prayer, beginning at p. 299) is extremely clear about what it means to be a follower of Jesus: we are to turn to him - the same Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and rose again and continues to invite us into a personal relationship with him - and accept him as Savior." What does he mean by "savior?" How more personal a relationship can there be than to realize union with God through Christ indwelling?

What does this bishop think "turning to Christ" means in a practical day-to-day practice? It means this silent prayer, this beholding in which the humble God, the creator of all, allows us to hold divinity within us, even as we the creatures are held and sustained by that divinity. It means that all our obsessive thoughts and ways, our favorite idols of doctrinal declaration are left behind.

The Bishop of Southern Ohio appears to be hung up on slogans without any understanding of what they mean in practice. Turning to Christ means putting on the mind of Christ and gazing always on the Father. It is by this means that we realize that we are heirs with him and are saved from our pathological narcissism.

Like many of us, Forrester has turned to meditation to deepen his prayer. He is an active member of a Buddhist community. The bishops who object to his election show their ignorance of this tradition by citing his commitment to the community with whom he meditates as a barrier to his confirmation as bishop.

But Buddhism is not, strictly speaking, a religion: it does not worship a god or gods, but teaches detachment from mental idols. It is an acutely observed philosophical psychology that uses an elaborate metaphorical system to illustrate how the mind works and while engaging the emotions and the whole person, bringing all to a single focus. While some practitioners may literalize these metaphors and use them superstitiously, this is clearly not Forrester's practice, nor is there any conflict in his practice with Christianity. In fact, many contemplative Christian monasteries encourage the practice of sitting Zen style and actively use Zen texts.

There is also no comparison of Forrester's situation with the recent de-frocking of Ann Redding, who claims to be both Muslim and Christian. By contrast with Buddhism, Islam is most assuredly a theistic religion and the use of the word "Allah" is vexed. While some might say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God under separate names and that all are children of Abraham, Christians in Malaysia, for example, cannot use the word "Allah" (the only word in Malay for "God") for fear of offending Muslims.

Furthermore, Islam is rigidly hierarchical, while Buddhism and, in theory—in spite of the institutional church's opportunistic adoption of the very hierarchical system that Jesus spent his life opposing—Christianity, are radically dedicated to the sanctity of every human person and to more lateral ways of conducting human affairs, as we recently have heard again from the Dalai Lama.

The link with hierarchy, of course, is key. As long as bishops insist on the slogans of atonement, implicitly undermining the aspirations of their congregations, they hold them in thrall by exploiting their guilt. The self-help industry operates in the same way: its message is that there is always something more wrong with you that needs to be fixed and only another self-help book can tell you how. Institutional Christianity in the West latched on to this idea of exploiting guilt in the Middle Ages to increase its power and wealth, and even changed the Eucharist from a celebration of thanksgiving for our theosis to the notion of sacrifice and atonement. (See the excellent discussion in "Saving Paradise.")

In short, the Episcopal Church is at a crossroads: if Forrester is not confirmed by the House of Bishops, then it will have taken another step along the road to extinction. To return to the essential truth that Christianity is about union with God and that everything else—prayer, interpretation, liturgy, ethics, solitude and community—should flow from that yearning and encounter is institutional Christianity's only hope.

To truly convert the church would require radical re-education of clergy and laity alike, but particularly of clergy. This re-education would include a re-evaluation of what power in the church means, and it would be based on the recovery of the silence tradition, taught and practiced individually and collectively by laity and clergy alike as the starting place.

As a bishop-elect, Thew Forrester is the first sign of hope that in fact this conversion might be possible. The ignorance displayed by the bishops who oppose him—out of envy, perhaps (for envy they crucified him)—is cause for despair.