A Surprise Nomination

Well, I thought this was a joke. An email from a Gmail account, purporting to be the account of a bishop search committee for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas. So naturally, I didn’t respond. I mean, why would I? I’m a layman! I’m neither a deacon, nor a priest. Fast forward a few weeks from November 22 to December 5. It read as follows:

This is [to] inform you that your name has been submitted to be considered for the position of Bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas. The search committee will contact you at the end of the open search process in mid December.

It turns out it wasn’t a joke. I received a telephone call from a woman on the bishop search committee asking how I want to pursue my candidacy. She didn’t tell me who nominated me, rather that they asked to remain anonymous. I told her that I required time to mull it over. I looked them up to double check, and they’re accepting nominations until December 15th as per THIS POST on their site.

I remain confused, as the Diocese of Western Kansas presently has a Bishop (and he’s a great one too!) who is only aged seventy years old, and thus isn’t required to retire for two more years! I didn’t even know that they were searching for a replacement. The diocese in whose borders I reside, however; has NO Bishop at this time, so I knew that there was a search going on in the Diocese of Kansas. I know… Kansas and Western Kansas. It’s confusing… And both looking for a Bishop?

I did some further research as to the election process, and as to my own eligibility. In the Episcopal church, representatives from the congregations of a diocese form a committee and elect a bishop. If he/she is not already a bishop, that person is consecrated by three existing bishops.

From what I can see of the canons, there’s nothing major that would preclude a layman bring elevated to bishop. There are obvious steps to precede, ordination as deacon then priest… But only the Romans stipulate you must be a priest for five years before eligibility to the Episcopate. Thus, it turns out, I really am eligible… Technically… Though Title III, Canon 11, Section 4 throws some doubt on the subject, unless time were written into the election to provide for ordination as Deacon and then as Priest:

…evidence of the Bishop-elect’s having been duly ordered Deacon and Priest as to the Bishop-elect’s medical, psychological and psychiatric examination required in Sec. 3(b) of this Canon…

I must point out, that the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas is particularly close to my heart, as when I was a youth, I was troubled. This resulted in my being in the care of the Saint Francis Boys homes in Salina, KS and in Ellsworth, KS, as well as my being in the foster care system through Saint Francis. The very first priest I ever met (of any denomination, despite having been baptized as an infant) was there – Father Thomas Campbell. It was through his loving kindness and support that I turned my life around, and I am greatly in his debt. It was also from his hands that I first tasted the Eucharist in any form.

I thought long and hard about what has happened in my life, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. I considered how odd it is for me, a layman, to be nominated to a diocese that I do not belong to, and which is two hours away from me. I recalled my history with that diocese, spanning back to my youth. I prayed, and I spoke with a spiritual director whose counsel I trust. Here’s how I finally responded… via email, of course (sans a few personal details):

To whom it may concern;

Greetings, in Christ. I apologize for not having responded sooner, as I believed this email to have been a prank. I realize after this afternoon’s telephone call, that it is not. I am not entirely certain how I feel about having been nominated… My first thought is to immediately say no, and to turn down this nomination. I am, by nature, quite bashful, and as is likely obvious, under-qualified. But upon further consideration and having spoken with my spiritual director, I can answer only – If it is God’s will, it will be, whether I reject it or not. And if it is not God’s will, no harm is done in going on the journey.

Before you continue further with any consideration, I should like to tell you more about myself. To that end, I’ve attached a copy of my resume, so that you can get to know me professionally. Also for your review is a link to the only published “religious” writing of mine: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1495299309. I hail originally from the [Eastern Christian] tradition. As such, my work was focused around the Eastern tradition of liturgy. I have studied the history and writings of the Christian Church for 13 years, even learning Hebrew and Aramaic to study the Old Testament directly, and Syriac to study the New Testament as well as a little of Greek and Latin to aid in that study.

[Paragraph about personal details and life history removed]

[Paragraph about personal income details and support of family removed]

If, as I suspect, nothing comes of the nomination, thank you for your time and for your consideration. I very much appreciate the opportunity to serve, regardless of what role I play. If however, I am selected for further interview, I very much look forward to speaking with you.

Warm regards, Theophilus

I really don’t expect anything to come of it, as they obviously have many, many more impressive and advanced candidates available to them. But at any rate, I wish them success in their selection of a shepherd to lead their church in humility and in love. I will pray for the Diocese of Western Kansas, and close this post with the prayer from the Diocese of Kansas (separate from the Diocese of Western Kansas) in whose borders I currently reside, edited as appropriate to the Western Diocese:

Gracious and loving God, thank you for the directing presence of your Holy Spirit upon those who have been set apart to discern your call of the 6th bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas. Look graciously on your people as we lift up the search process in fervent prayer. Guide us to the faithful pastor who will nurture your people and cultivate the myriad gifts that abide in the people of this diocese. Empower this search with a spirit of joy and discernment as together we journey with Jesus the road ahead; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And from the Book of Common Prayer (page 818):

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

True National Character

There are many scales by which we generally weigh the character of a nation. Some for the better, some for the worse. And there are many measures by which nations aspire to be sized up. Many nations have a strong gross domestic product. Others own a great share of debt owed by other nations. Some have gold and diamonds. Others have a strong and stable government with relatively happy citizens. Still others are medically and technologically advanced. These are all categories that they have striven for recognition within. But to really understand the greatness or the lowliness of a nation, we have to look not at their accomplishments, but at the most unlikely statistics. How do they treat the poor? How do they treat those who are deemed a drain, non contributing… worthless? Whether or not you support abortion or choice, you must recognize that as society goes, life has been cheapened by its allowance. A medical and insurance system that weighs how many “good” years a person has left, how many children they have, who relies on them for support etc. prior to performing life saving medical procedures, cheapens life. A system that allows medically assisted suicide, and the euthanizing of those with severe disabilities, cheapens life.

But what is incredibly frustrating, more so in my view than all of the helpless previously mentioned, is the poor and the homeless. These people, many of them Veterans of our nation’s armed forces who served with bravery, honour and distinction, are viewed not as national heroes worthy of aid, but as a blight on society. People cross the street to avoid having to look them in the eye. People refuse to give them pocket change, because they may purchase booze. Cities plot to decrease their presence by banning them from public parks and lands. Cities install spikes under overpasses and in passageways where they are known to seek shelter in effort to make it too uncomfortable for them so that they will move on. They ban institutions from feeding them. They close soup kitchens over silly health infractions. They forbid their gathering. They ban churches from passing out blankets and coats to them in the winter. This is absolutely disgusting.

Taken as a package, we as a nation, and we as individual persons, are failing. We are not a great nation. We are a morally bankrupt nation. No matter what version of the “Golden Rule” you ascribe to, we are failing. We have lost our respect for life in general. Certain populations are deemed “disposable”. There was another nation that behaved in that manner once, and nearly every nation on the face of the earth went to war against, and defeated them. Gypsies, Jews, Gays, Priests, Catholics, Political Dissidents… And we are absolutely following their lead. No, we haven’t started to pinpoint races or faiths… yet… but it’s only a matter of time. The only way that a nation can truly be great and can be deemed worthy is through its kindness to the needy, to those who can’t give back, and to those unable to fend for themselves. If we as individual people are held to the golden rule standard, how much more so should the nation which represents us?  If we can’t care for the poor, the needy, the helpless, the weak, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, the minorities – then we as a nation are a blight upon humanity.

Every person of goodwill, must absolutely make it their mission to only vote for candidates that espouse the virtues of love, kindness, and humility. Those who will further the cause of the helpless.  The road that we are going down right now is the road to ruin. We have become a selfish and self absorbed culture. Everything has become about what makes us happy. We have reverted to animals. It’s time that we stand up and be human beings. Caring, compassionate, giving and loving, and uplift all of our fellow humans. We have laws for no child being left behind, but our goal should be, no one left behind.

On Faith and Feeling

I awoke to the following post, and it genuinely sparked my curiosity, as I am one of those people that worships only because I prefer to receive reward rather than punishment once I die and experience whatever afterlife awaits me…

“If we worship God because we are afraid of punishment and Hell, then we are not worshipping God at all. If we worship God because we hope to receive a reward now and in the future an entry to Heaven, then we are not worshipping God at all.”

Where does that leave those of us who, for biologically complex reasons, have brains incapable of “feeling” and emotion? Are we then doomed as a result of having been created incapable of having a real relationship with an intangible force as we possess only logic and reason, with no satisfactory spiritual-emotional abilities? For me, worship began only because my father it pounded into me. I neither see nor feel anything spiritually. But I did it to honour my father, and because I was taught that it is right. Due to the way the Divine saw fit to create me, I am incapable of truly believing in the unseen. The emotions that I do feel are 1. content, and 2. malcontent. I see in black and white with no shades of grey. I follow logic and emotion.

I am unencumbered by the emotional slavery that leads so many to claim to be of faith and yet follow their own whims while attempting to justify it with the holy book whose rules they are breaking. I do exactly what the faith I follow requires of me. Always. Without any deviation. But I don’t really feel anything in this service. I act primarily because following the rules of my faith makes me a better person, and because when I die, I don’t want to suffer in any afterlife that there may be as well.

Where does that leave me? Personally, I believe that it makes me more prone to logic and reason. According to prominent Church folk from the middle to modern ages, that’s a good thing!

Autism and Religion

As most of you already know, I have high functioning autism. In some ways, this is a blessing, and in others, a curse. I see the world in black and white. There is no grey. There is no maybe. There is no “kinda sorta”. Things are, or they are not one way or the other. Logic is my guiding principle. If it makes no common sense, and has no logic, it is stupid and should be given no further thought. For this very reason, I’m often viewed as an asshole. I don’t pad the truth. I don’t engage in socially pandering methodology. It is, after all, illogical to be offended by the truth. I don’t make the truth, it simply exists. To get upset because I reveal it, is ridiculous. I have very few “feelings” or “emotions”. I am either content, or malcontent. I don’t “feel” love the way others seem to. I feel a close connection or bond for familial reasons, and defend what is mine, but it isn’t a deep seated emotion. It’s just a logical reaction of protecting what I have worked for. I have often wished that I could feel, mainly because the only real feeling I ever have, whether I am content or malcontent, is emptiness. I feel nothing. I am cognizant of that lack of feeling, and it makes me desire feeling.

With that being said, there is one area (yes only one) of my life and cognitive reasoning that troubles me, and that I DO consider to be a grey area. That area, is religion. There are a number of reasons why. Mainly, the idea that if there is a creation, there must be a creator. But the fact is that other than the creation itself, no sign of the creator exists. When I see a painting, I can meet the creator, or visit his/her grave. It’s tangible. But the idea of an unseen and unknown divinity being the creator of things that are seen and are known is difficult to grasp with any form of logic. Add to that all of the different people with differing messages that claim to have received a personal revelation from the Divine, and formed their own religions which to this day constantly go to war with one another and kill in the name of their god. And then look at all of the ancient inspired scriptures from the Torah, the Vedas,the Upanashads, the Bhagavad Ghita, the Sutras, the Tao Te Ching, the remnants of the Sumerian and Akkadian tablets, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and more recently the Bible and the Quran. So many “truths” given to the hand of man by the “divine”. And yet, the adherents make great claims of belief, but don’t live by the words they claim to hold above all.

Of greatest importance however; of all of the reasons I can come up with, is that I have been legally dead multiple times, and each time, there was nothing. There was no tunnel with light. There were no family members greeting me. There was no angelic music. There was no demon trying to pull me down. There were no visions of heaven or of hell. There was just nothing. I ceased to exist. Until I was revived, my personhood was gone. My hopes, dreams, aspirations, my consciousness… all of it was completely gone. This was the absolute biggest blow to any faith I may have had. The faith that existed only because my father hammered it into my over and over as a child. The faith that was only going through the motions to begin with. The faith that had no roots because I cannot believe anything that isn’t based in logic – anything that isn’t tangible – anything that cannot be proven. To me, the experience was, if anything; proof that there was nothing after death whatsoever. As a result, I wavered in my faith. This isn’t to say that I became a bad person and “sinned” in every way imaginable. In fact, I didn’t change at all. I simply stopped being so regular with praying and attending religious services.

Over the years I drifted back and forth, unable to really find myself or faith or belief at all. I have prayed at great length asking for feeling. For something, anything that would allow my faith to increase. I have prayed for belief. I have prayed for trust. I have received none of those things. So I pray, I attend religious services. To what end, I don’t know. Maybe just to be a good example to my children. Perhaps because it’s the only time I am around other people. Perhaps because a part of me that is unknown to my mind believes, and takes me. What makes it worse, is that they tell me that just going through the actions is worthless. Without belief, and without love for God etc. I am just a phony that has no chance of redemption. But for me, actions are all I have. I simply cannot feel, I cannot love something that I have no knowledge of existing. It’s bad enough that I cannot feel, not even for my closest family. But add to that a requirement to LOVE an unknown divinity in order to merit the world to come, and I suppose I’m as good as lost. I’ve heard a lot of people say “I wish I didn’t feel” after they break up with their significant others… well I’m here to tell you, being without feeling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, being without feeling is EXHAUSTING! To even be able to interact effectively with other humans, you need those feelings. I have to take my social cues from the actions, gestures and expressions of others. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. I don’t know why God chose to make me like this, but I refuse to believe that someone referred to as “Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who Cleanses” could hold it against me for not being able to do what He created me not to be able to do. This thought, and this thought alone is the only reason that I continue to pray and attend religious services.

Predestination

There is a prevailing thought in Western culture, which sickeningly ascribes all things that occur to Divine will. This horrible notion is perpetuated ignorantly by well meaning persons at funerals, for instance. I’m sorry that your loved one died. It was God’s will. He/She’s in a better place now. God was just ready to take him/her home. When there are horrendous tragedies with high human cost such as school shootings, people are quick to declare that it was God’s will that it happen. That there is some sort of Divine logic in all of it. This is absolutely WRONG. And those that say such things are doing great damage. This line of thinking encourages anger at God by victims family. Why would God want this to happen? Why would G-d take him/her like this? etc. The correct response to such happenings requires knowledge (to the extent that we CAN understand the Divine) of the workings of Divine will. I won’t attempt to address any theological implications here, only to give a very basic understanding of the very fundamental precepts of these ideas.

The notion of predestination is comprised of two essential elements:  infallible foreknowledge, and immutable decrees. Predestination is further affected by an “external” element, and that is the free will granted to mankind. First of all, we must start with free will.

FREE WILL: (noun) –  the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

The age old question applies? Why would the Divine grant free will, and then punish us for our use of the gift? Greater theologians and philosophers than I have pondered this for centuries, and still have arrived at no mutually satisfactory response. I am left therefore, only to ponder the implication of how this “gift” relates to Divine will.

The human creature is created with potential, talents, deficiencies, handicaps and free will. What the human does with this “hand dealt” is entirely up to the human. One may have multiple handicaps, and turn them into strengths. Another with the same handicaps may become bitter to the world and behave as if everything is owed them. For this reason it is clear to see that “God made me this way” is nothing more than an excuse. The Divine does not create a killer as such. How they became so, is another argument best left to the Nature vs. Nurture psycho babble. But it is not something to be blamed on heavenly forces.

We can no longer proceed further without the inclusion of the idea of predestination. For our example of the murderer, we now have a set of decrees. This person, with these particular handicaps is to be born to this abusive man and his on again, off again girlfriend who, due to their own life choices, live in complete poverty. This is an immutable decree. A set of circumstances that cannot be changed. There are variables, of course… a social worker may notice, and set in motion governmental intervention resulting in the child being placed in a loving foster home, or a not so loving, but nonetheless safe boys home etc. But the base decree cannot be changed. This IS who the child will be born to. Now then, there are several roads that this child’s life may take. Free choice. Regardless of where he ends up, with his birth parents, foster parents, a boys home, or a teen runaway, every choice opens new possibilities and paths. Now we begin to see a taste of infallible foreknowledge. To divine eyes, which transcend all time, all is seen, all is known. All possible paths and variations are foreseen, and the free will choices that will be made have already been observed. This is not to say that the Divine in any way leads the outcome, but at certain junctures in ones life, He may, by immutable decree, cause certain persons to cross a particular path which may be helpful to the individual. But then again, the choice is on that individual to accept or reject the help, and take or leave that path.

In short, yes. God knows all and sees all. He knows the end. He knows what we will do and how. But it is not because He causes us to do so, merely because He, like a person watching a movie with the ability to fast forward and rewind, sees and knows what has been, what is, and what will be. The choices made are the individuals own. The paths taken, results of choices. The Divine lovingly created each of us with our potential. He decreed our start point. He gave us our strengths and our weaknesses, and then He gave us free will to do with them as we may. He never commanded a boy to go into a school with a gun and kill twenty kids and four teachers. He allowed that boy to make the choices that led him to that point, and even placed doubt in the boy before he did the horrid act. One last call of the conscience. Only He knows how many children have listened to that still, small voice, and not committed the act they had planned. But He CERTAINLY never made them do it. He did not decree that it should happen. He did not make it part of His “plan”. He allowed free choice to be made.

Sure, there are particular persons who He takes a more active role with. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, the Prophets etc… World leaders, world events and such. I have no doubt that it was Divine and Immutable Decree that the Nazi’s come to power, much as their forebears, Babylon and Assyria. Or that the United States of America be discovered, formed and established on Judeo Christian principles, and to go on and become a world leader for fifty years. But we know this already. The Tanakh/Bible makes clear that He places Kings on their thrones and guides the destinies of nations. But this little rant addresses only the individual level. That is the most basic terms that I can place on the most difficult to understand mystery of Divine will, decrees and free choice. Hopefully it made some sort of sense. If you want to know more, contact me and I’ll send you a reading list on the subject, by minds greater than mine could ever hope to be.

Birthday Thoughts

I have died several times, over the course of my thirty-five years. The first time, as an infant. I remember after being revived, seeing everything blurrily through the oxygen tent. Another time, as a toddler, I drowned. Another time as a teen, I fell from a second story roof. The list goes on. Death has courted me since birth. Each time,  heart had ceased. There was no brain activity. I was physically dead. And guess what? There was nothing. During the time I was dead, I didn’t float out of my body. I didn’t hear people trying to revive me. I didn’t see a light. No dead family members appeared to me. There was no heaven. I received no vision of hell. Not one single time that I died, did I see anything at all. I simply ceased to be. A priest that I consulted at the time, Father Daniel, encouraged me to remain steadfast in the faith. He explained that had I received any visions, or seen the afterlife, in truth, the Divine would have been removing my freedom of choice. Regardless of any justification, the nothingness still terrifies me. Sleeping terrifies me because it reminds me, every time I close my eyes, of the nothingness that awaits. Each time I go to sleep I wonder as the darkness envelopes me and I mentally slip away, will this be the last time? Will I see another sunrise? What about my family?

Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Truthfully, I don’t know. I like to think that I believe that there is, and I go through the motions…  Yes, I am faithful. Following a code of laws that I believe to be Divine. Attending religious services. Praying and confessing my sins, trying to do better, living according to a code that the rest of the world views as silly and antiquated. I am kind to others. I force myself to like everyone by killing that judgmental little voice. I do my best to not get angry. I give my tithes and offerings. I read the Holy Book, the Word of the Divine inscribed by the hand of man, His messengers. Is it really His word? I honestly don’t know. I like to think that I believe, but do I? The fact is, I am filled with doubt. All I know is what I can perceive with my senses, and even my senses betray me.

If the afterlife is real, as I like to think that I believe, what hope do I have? Will the angels at the moment of my final death draw swords and prevent me from uttering my final declaration of faith? Will demons scratch and grasp at me as I attempt to ascend? Will the accuser be able to pile enough in the scales to have me declared a completely wicked person? If I go down to punishment, will there be enough silver remaining once the dross is cleared for me to rise up again? If the afterlife is not real, I leave no legacy. I have done nothing worthy of praise. I have accomplished nothing worthy of memory. I have failed my ancestors and their legacy. I have not sacrificed. I have not gone without. I have been selfish and have only sought after my own comfort. I will go down to nothing, to darkness, I will cease to be, and my brief time upon this planet will have been wasted. A life filled with labour and affliction. Seeking after vanity and comfort. Wandering through life, only to find that my final destination is destruction. Either way, do I have anything to look forward to? On the one hand, a glimmer of hope, the minuscule chance of reward for an unworthy sinner, on the other, the end of it all. What is it about me that any Creator, any Divine, if such truly awaits me, would find worthy of consideration? If I do not sink into darkness, but instead go to judgment, what merit accompanies me in my favour? I am… unworthy.

Don’t bother speaking it… live it instead.

Any sentence beginning with “Religious people think…” or “Religious people are…” is merely an excuse to deny God. One that so scorns the very idea of having faith in anything greater than their own intelligence (or obvious lack thereof) that no confrontation, no matter how powerful, will ever sway them. It is always best, in every such situation, to turn and walk the other way. You are wasting your time, your breath, and hours of your life trying to convince someone who does not have an open mind to begin with, and whose only goal is to get you worked up while they sit back and laugh at your foolishness. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Spend your time serving God, and let your daily walk speak for itself. You have no need to defend the faith, merely live it. In this way, your witness is so strong that hearts can change in such a grand way that arguing and offering proof never could.