July 26, 2006
July 28, 2006

July 27, 2006


More evidence of deep strains in the Episcopal Church appeared this week with a resolution adopted by the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Forth Worth. If it finally gets approved, it could mean the diocese will separate itself from the church. Again the question is: When do you stay and struggle from within and when do you leave? Anyone have a 25-word answer to that complicated question?

* * *


Jews -- and many Christians and others -- know the Sh'ma, sometimes spelled Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism.

As found in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, it says, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one," in the translation by the Jewish Publication Society.

ShemaIt is, in a summary way, the core of Judaism's monotheism. But something about it struck me with special force recently as I was reading a fascinating book by Michael Wex, Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods.

Here's what Wex had to say about the Sh'ma and its relation to Jewish, and specifically Yiddish, culture:

". . .Judaism has always been more of an aural than a visual culture. Where the eye has been the primary sense organ in Western Christian culture since at least the fourteenth century, the most important sights in Jewish history -- the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai -- are known only by dint of hearing about them. There are no pictures, no traditional iconography. The Torah doesn't say, 'See, O Israel'; the Torah say, 'Hear.'"

Yes, precisely. And I believe it's from this aural background that Christianity derives its affinity for the word, despite what Wex calls more recent Christian culture's preference for the eye. With Judaism, Christianity says God created by speaking the world into existence. Then, diverging from Judaism, Christianity calls Jesus Christ the Word of God, who, the author of the Gospel of John says, was with God in the beginning and was, in fact, God.

My own engagement with faith was first experienced not through seeing ritual or icons or statues but through hearing and reading words. Maybe that's why I've spent my working life with words. They have enormous power. They can change lives.

And how fitting that the Torah affirms this connection to the power of words by telling Israel to listen. I think we have lost something important by overemphasizing visual stimuli. Words heard and read form us differently from images flashed before our eyes, MTV-like. And if we care about the spiritual formation of our children and grandchildren (the subject of my Kansas City Star column this Saturday), we would do well to pay attention to the spoken and written word and to help the next generation grow into an appreciation of that.

P.S.: If you want an excellent little book explaining various aspects of Judaism in concise and understandable language, click here and you can read about and get a copy of Accessible Judaism, by Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of the New Reform Temple of Kansas City, Mo.

ANOTHER P.S.: The discussion in the comments left on this blog yesterday was lengthy and passionate. Again it was pretty civil. Thanks for continuing to try to see the humanity of those with whom you disagree. I'm not advocating Rodney Kingism. I like honest debate, and for the most part that's what's happening here.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.


Just Thinking

25 words
I'd leave any Church where I was too ashamed to bring someone, either because of what it condoned, or because of how it treated people.

SC in KC

12 words
"How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!"
Psalm 133:1

SC in KC

32 words, but they're the words of Jesus, so I think we can cut Him some slack...

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd."
John 10:16


"When do you stay and struggle from within and when do you leave?"

Coming from a Congregationalist tradition, my preference is always to stay and struggle. However, I can see how at times staying my do more harm than good. The difference between a healthy challenge and destructiveness or setting-up-stumbling-blocks is really fuzzy, but if a situation falls under the latter description it might be time to respectfully go separate ways.

There are also times when people of opposing viewpoints don't share a committment to staying together in covenant; the big example being Martin Luther, of course. He hoped to reform the Roman church, but the church was not willing to have him "struggle from within." In that case, what can you do? Between acquiescence and departure... I think I'd have to be true to my own discernment and walk out the door, always hoping to come around again in new light. -h

Dolores Lear

God/Life, One God, Triune Gods, Many Gods. How many Gods are there? Protestants have divided into many denominations. Time to Unite, not keep Dividing.

SC in KC

Regarding listening as a sacred activity...

Bill wrote...
"I think we have lost something important by overemphasizing visual stimuli. Words heard and read form us differently from images flashed before our eyes, MTV-like."

An excellent point, and one that suggests some deeper meaning. When we look at God's activities, we see that He isn't just a God who IS, but a God who DOES. He is active, and His activity reveals Him to us. To see the Creator, we can look at the created, but to know the Creator is to take part, actively relating to His creation.

The transient nature of God's revelations lend themselves more to stories than icons. Indeed, it seems that the very condemnation of idolotry would seem to fit this paradigm. Why worship a static image, when you can relate to an active God?

David Gardner

I am Episcopalian and for now, I will stay. Neither the church, nor Bishop Jefferts-Schiori can dictate my personal convictions.

Dave Miller

Howie, you wrote:
"...the big example being Martin Luther, of course. He hoped to reform the Roman church, but the church was not willing to have him "struggle from within." In that case, what can you do? Between acquiescence and departure... I think I'd have to be true to my own discernment and walk out the door..."

I'm pretty sure I agree with what you're saying here, Howie, but I gotta address one thing. In Luther's famous speech before the Diet of Worms, he said, "Here I stand," not "I'm outta here." The implications of his stand were clear in terms of a divided Christendom. But it was the Church of Rome which excommunicated Luther, not Luther who asked for a transfer of membership. I learned the importance of this from my seminary teacher who was a long-time member of the Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical dialog. The circumstances of the breakup are important as the parties consider a rapprochement.

Even today, many Lutherans consider themselves "evangelical catholics" at heart. I'm one of them.

Just Thinking

I've been waiting for SC to post, so I'll do it for him.

What's best for the Church in terms of Pastors, Elders, Bishops, etc? Well, first, it appears that those words are basically interchangeable and they mean over-seer. So who is the best to over-see God's family?

How many people with children believe that they should take advice about raising children from those who do not have children? Any takers out there for that one?

How many married couples believe that unmarried people are the best choice for offering marital advice?

If no one else is available, then I suppose it's okay to get a single person, but it just makes no sense to have someone over-seeing God's family that hasn't at least been successfully married and successfully raised children in the faith. If we were advertising for the job, then I think we'd list those as qualification. Here's God's Job Posting

1 Timothy 3
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

I know this sounds harsh, but single people really have no business as Pastors, Elders, or Bishops whenever there are people who are truly qualified for the job. They can be preachers, but they're just not very qualified to be over-seers of God's family.

I'd like to be President, but I've come to understand that no only is that not going to happen, but I'm really not qualified either. And you could make me president just for the heck of it, but I'll bet we'd all end up regretting it!!

SC in KC

I don't understand what this has to do with me, or with the topic under discussion. Can you elaborate, please?


The Episopal Diocese of Ft. Worth has been angry with the Episcopal Church, USA for decades. They are angry about the ordination of women and tried a number of years ago to separate themselves from the rest of the Church. For all intents and purposes, they have been separated from ECUSA for many years. As for them and the others who want to leave and be under the leadership of the Nigerian Bishop: I think now is as good a time as any to make your move. This way, those of us who truly want to work through our issues will be able to do so without distraction.

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