Sunday, August 27, 2006

Messy Christianity

The thing is of course is that we Christians have made a right mess of things from time to time. And while I don't approve of these messes in anyway, let's look at the Hebrew Scriptures and the incredible messes the people there got into. And then read Hebrews 11 and note the names of all those on the roll call of the righteous. All the same folks who royally screwed up in the Old Testament!! And what got them onto the roll call? Most certainly it was not their behavior. It was that they loved God and He loved them and these people lived daily with God.

I am not saying that as long as a person loves God, they can get away with anything they want. Far far far far from it. But what I am saying is that God's standards are not the same as those who criticize Christianity. They never will be anything but different from the critics'. So when we engage with the critics, we have to be prepared to do so from the position of the truth, from what we know of God.

Someone wrote to me saying "Regarding the church being humans - I always have a difficulty with these most obvious things. That is to say, I long to find some humans who .. well, like I say, perhaps I am naiive."

Some humans are very hard to love, I agree. Some humans impress me as wasting oxygen, I agree. Some Christians drive me up the wall, down the other side, screaming all the way, I agree. We have to be honest with ourselves. The truth sets us free, after all, and conversely unless we face the truth we can't be free. Unless we face up to the truth of how people affect us, we cannot choose to change our responses.

Perhaps the most challenging thing for me to do is to love everyone. I'll be honest, the only reason i even attempt it is because Jesus commands us to do so. And by golly, He loved all of us enough to die most hideously on our behalf. I am not proud of the fact that by nature, I would not be struggling this way. By nature I am a snob and as a result i can be pretty darned judgemental and critical. In other words, by nature I am just like all those people in the Hebrew Scriptures, cads and scoundrels; by nature, i am just like every other
Christian who contributed to the ugliness in our Christian history.

Thanks be to God, He loves me and He wants me. And thanks be to God, He doesn't demand perfection from me the way the critics of Christianity do, who are no closer to perfection than any of the rest of us, yet they blame us Christians for not being so. In fact they criticize us for something we have never claimed for ourselves. And that is something we have to make clear to them.

Anothert thing we have to make clear to them is that Christianity is not a religion of results, of goals or standards achieved. Christianity is a relationship of love: love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. A relationship to be nurtured and cherished. Not a religion of do's and don'ts... that is goal-oriented, results-oriented thinking. Daily life as a Christian is not goal-oriented or results-oriented. Jesus invites us to live with the tension of knowing that we can never achieve any standard of holiness in our lives but that we must accept with faith to keep on trying. All that we are asked is to try. We know that we will fail, that isn't what matters. Jesus asks us to put our foot on the first rung of the ladder of holy living and spend the rest of our lives trying to get the foot up to the second rung, knowing we will never make it. The glory of Christian living is in the trying, the striving. We get up every morning and every morning we place our foot on that first rung of the ladder. We get up every morning, haul up our socks and keep on keepin' on with God's business.

Holiness is in the trying and the striving, not in the results. This may be topsy turvey in the eyes of the critics of Christianity. So be it. The critics need to adjust their vision to see what it is God asks of us and then criticize us in terms of that, if they can. Because the greatest common denominator there is all of us are sinners and all of us fall short of the glory of God.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Disturbed by God: A Journey of Spiritual Discovery by June Maffin

Disturbed by God: A Journey of Spiritual Discovery by June Maffin
Anglican Book Centre,600 Jarvis Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2J6

This deceptively simple book charms us with vignettes from the author's life, significant moments when God intruded upon her and her response. The intrusions were no fun: serious illnesses, personal tragedies. The sort of things that makes us cry out "Where was God when...?" Unlike some books, this one tells us exactly where God was when, He was right there in the midst of the situation. Despite some pretty horrible stuff, Ms. Maffin does find God right there in the nitty gritty down and dirty of life.

The book would be worth reading just for that, but the author doesn't stop there. Each vignette is followed by "reflection starters", suitable for personal journal work or a group study. One of m,y seminary professors told me once that "There is no authority like that of a holy life" and this book reeks with that authority. June has lived the events. Unlike some sentimentally maudlin stuff about living with trauma, we know this author has grappled with the worst life can offer. So we can know that the proposed 'reflection starters' are the very issues with which she herself had to contend.

The last sections of the book are practical suggestions for a personal journal, group study, prayer, etc. I can assure you that if you read this book carefully and thoughtfully engage with the "reflection starters", you will know yourself much better. If used as a group study, the group will certainly bond intimately.

I confess that I was so intrigued by the "story line" that I did read right through that with only a brief glance at the 'reflection starters'. I don't recommend racing through it to find out what happens next, but that the reader do the homework. which i am going to return to the book and do myself.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Having read the Little Flower's rather flowery diary, I surprised myself by snatching this book off the bookshelf at Pauline Books and Media on Balboa. Gotta admit, I have a vested interest in sanity and will accept any help i can find. In his little book ( eighty two pages!!) Brother Foley has convinced me I need to re-read the Little Flower and look beyond the surface of the language of her times. Therese of Lisieux lived in the later nineteenth century in France. As a teenager she entered the Order of Carmel where she wrote many poems and her diary. She died a young woman of tuberculous and was canonized within the lifetime of her siblings and fellow Sisters.

What is the love that keeps us sane? God's love, of course, and ours for God and together we develop a relationship to nurture that love and to allow it to grow. Therese's perspective was to see all things in the light of eternity which allowed her to be deeply involved in life without becoming absorbed by it. Foley identifies four main ways Therese experienced God's love and shared it with others: secrets; "veil of ordinariness"; silence and loving freely with no strings attached.

About secrets: When we expose an intimate part of ourselves a quality of self-preservation is lost. We can never look upon that part of ourselves in the same way again because our view will have been inevitably altered by the opinions and judgements of others. Certain secrets are inseparable from our deepest identity and from our relationship with God. These secrets keep us connected to the eternal, preventing us from becoming dissipated in the world. We cannot be sane without being connected to our deepest self and to God. when we share our inner life indiscriminately, we lose it. Some memories are meant to function as solitary haunts into which we can retreat and find refuge from the world.

"Veil of ordinariness": Therese did not want to draw attention to herself. She wanted to be thought ordinary, average, commonplace, even as a mediocre nun. She considered that true sanctity, true holiness are expressed in authenticity and in a love of simplicity. By authenticity she mean a congruency between her inner and her outward selves, walking her talk, in other words. For her, the opposite of simplicity was not complexity, but duplicity. There are hidden snares of pride within our spirituality. The greatest danger us wanting to be known as holy and pride feeds on our fear of what others think of us. The hidden life counteracts a need for recognition and protection. At the same time, though, this might make a person more vulnerable to the misunderstandings of others. Therese paid this price as her Sisters did indeed think her a very mediocre nun.

About silence: There is a moment between thought and speech, however fleeting a moment it may be. In that moment the Holy Spirit acts, offering us the strength of restraint so that the hateful words remain unspoken and instead the life-giving sounds of kindness, forgiveness and encouragement can be heard. Therese teaches us two ways to now when to speak and how to bear the consequences: by choosing our battles wisely and by learning to mind our own business. when we chose our battles, we must also choose the humility to cede our rights, to defend ourselves. Therese realized that should she choose to justify herself in little squabbles, there would be no end to squabbling. More often we win by saying nothing at all because silence preserves our peace of soul.

Therese wrote in her diary that a person should live in monastery as if no one else were in it. That is surely a radical way to mind one's own business! She cautions against curiosity which increases our distractions and destroys the tranquility of our souls.This is a form of practicing the presence of God and doing something for the sake of God increases our consciousness of Him for the more we say 'yes' to God, the more it hurts to say 'no'.

To love freely means to focus on God and what God asks us to do while being unconcerned with the results of our actions. The Little Flower learned to let go of her need for results before she began. She let go of the idea that any of her efforts at holiness would ever succeed. Instead she embraced the idea that God asks us to try, that our goal is the trying. In God's eyes we are successful when we try and not by what we accomplish. By letting go of the idea that her efforts would bear fruit, she let go of what was not in her control. She found peace in differentiating between the wrong and right kinds of care. The wrong kind of care was to worry about the outcome. The right kind of care is to be attentive to the doing.

This little book has left me with several challenges: releasing my expectations in any situation; to give up expectations of reward or recognition; to give without any strings. The biggest challenge is that it is my choice to love others, to choose to look for the good in them, to choose to see Jesus in everyone.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Some thoughts on holiness

I've been grappling lately with a desire to give up my right to be right. Or rather, I should say, with my right to have others tell me I'm right. Ok, I love it when people do, who doesn't?

It seems to me, though, that when I go all over insisting that I am right or as good as or some such thing that I overlook the possibility that I might be wrong. And I have come to accept the chances are that I am more often wrong than right because I am just a fallible human being.

I dunno if any of you read my blog, not that I am the most prolific blogger, but I have been working with a metaphor recently. That of a ladder of holiness. As you know I am a nun, in my novitiate and I find the concept of holiness occupying my thoughts a great deal.

So, here in the USA and I suspect in most of the western world, but i could be wrong about that, success is defined in terms of achievement. An achievement that is measurable, quantifiable in some manner.

If we apply that model to holiness or any other paradigm of the Christian life, it is patently obvious that we will fail. We will never have any measurable degree of holiness or love or anything else.

Yet... God asks us to aim for holiness and to love etc. Does God set us up for failure? I don't think so. Does God want us to be frustrated? I don't think so. Then what is the answer???

The answer I am working with right now is this: that God merely asks us to try. To aim ourselves in that direction. To get back to my metaphor of the ladder: to place our foot upon the first rung of the ladder and attempt to get our foot to the second. All we are asked to do is try. We are successes as long as we try. We can give the idea of achievement and just aim for trying.

I like the image of the ladder because it reduces all Christians to the same level. We all have one foot on the ladder and we all are trying to lift our other foot to the next rung. We are all trying and that's the best we can say about ourselves. No matter who we are, no matter what position we hold in the church, we are all on the same place on the ladder.

As St. Benedict wrote in his Rule "Every day we start over." That means that monks who have been living the Rule for 50 years are no more advanced than the monk who has just joined up. This is true for every single one of us: every day we start over again.

I dunno about you, but I find that liberating. I feel like a truth has set me free. God loves me just this way. The cads and the sleazoids in the Hebrew Scriptures comfort me. Look at the names in Hebrews 11. Not the holiest people in the world. But God loves them and counts them righteous because they loved God and struggled to get their foot onto the second rung. God has liberated me from false criteria of success and invites me to be as messily human as I already am. All he asks of me is that I try.

Sure, within the Body of Christ, we all have different gifts. Let us always remember, that all the gifts are equally important and it is our sin that lifts one gift above another. As someone mentioned to me once, every body needs an asshole. It's crude, but it does jolt us into imagining just how diseased a body would become without an anus.

The Body of Christ is a mystery, one of the biggest. Let's think about our own bodies. There are plenty of unattractive bits. But they are all vital. Without one, the rest falls apart. So when we have negative reactions to a fellow Christian, maybe we need to give up our rights to have such emotions and instead ask ourselves, what part of the body of Christ is at work today? What is this part of the Body doing that we need to pay positive attention to?

I apologize, I know this is not very well thought out, I am just beginning to muddle through this. Please bear with me.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Someone recently said to me the word 'integrity' to Americans, at least to Episcopalians, now refers to acceptance and integration of gay people into to mainstream of the church.

Not to this Episcopalian it doesn't. I would even further contradict this person to say that isn't what it means to the American gay community, either. Not that I have any business speaking for the American gay community.

Integrity means what it has always meant: looking the truth square in the face unflinchingly and living life congruently with truth. Sometimes a commitment to integrity causes us to come to terms with things we or others may not desire to come to terms with.

The truth, whatever it may be, sets us free. And that's still the meaning of integrity. Even when used as a proper name. It takes integrity for GLBTS to face the truth about themselves, just as it takes the same integrity for heterosexuals to face the truth about themselves. Gender preference hasn't reinvented the definition.

It takes integrity to be fully truly human.

Even More Thoughts on my Recent Ember Day Letter

Getting tired of my ruminations, yet?

I have been seriously struggling with Benedict's teaching on humility and anyone who knows me will assure you that "humble" is not the first word that comes to mind when they think of me. Indeed I have confessed I don't know how many times my own sin of intellectual arrogance, which I consider a particularly besetting sin and which I grieve over. At the same time, truth must be acknowledge, I enjoy this sin. This is so wrong.

But kicking myself in the butt or slapping myself up side the head are not the ways to achieve metanoia, that true repentance in which we literally turn 180 degrees around and do otherwise. So it occurred to me explore what attaches me to this sin and it's a dreary list indeed: ego; flattery; being right when others are wrong , I could go on and on, but you get the drift.

All of these things obscure the reality of the achievement of earning my advanced education: that sick as i was with depression, a failed marriage, the stress of working at a job I hated but excelled at in order to pay my way through seminary. So i delight in the wrong things instead of thanking God for the grace, strength and ability to earn the education and get brilliant grades too!

But I am too attached to the achievement as well. Yes, it was extraordinary, but get over your fine self already, Gloriamarie, and move on. Sheesh!

Yet I cling to this because it says to me that I will succeed as a nun. I have the "right" theology, "right education", I can read books critically as well as spiritually, fumble my way though Latin and Koine Greek (although isn't it pathetic to be proud of a fumbling knowledge???) So I will be "right". Now there are reasons I won't bore you with here pertaining to childhood and early adulthood that contribute to my need to be 'right' all the time. Mainly because I bored you with that yesterday!!!!!!!! And sadly, correct others, also. Not charming, gracious or hospitable behavior, is it?

The truth is, I am a failure as a nun. First clue: my language is s full of me, myself and I and not Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My language is anecdotal and self-referential. Second clue: starting my novitiate did not make me a better person. Third clue: my Ember Day letters (which you can read on my blog) are full of whining about accountability or community as if i have no responsibility for them. I've gotten so much attention it's gone to my head.

God doesn't call me to succeed as a nun, to be right, educated or anything like that. He calls me to love Him with everything that I am. That and no more. What would success as a nun look like anyway? Holiness, right? What chance do any of us have at "achieving" holiness? None!! we are going to fail at becoming holy. All we can do, it seems to me, is to prepare ourselves as the farmer prepares the field, to allow holiness to use us, come through us. Our seeds are not good deeds, our seeds are the organic goodness we slurry into our fields: loving God, loving neighbor, loving self, keeping in our minds those things which Jesus stressed: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, providing for the poor, preaching the Gospel, prayer and meditation, developing the love between God and ourselves and our neighbor. Seeking to do those things which increase love and eliminate from our lives that which decrease it.

And the wonderful surprise is that we are going to fail!!!! And it's ok!!!!!!!!!! God calls us to put our foot on the first rung of the ladder of holiness and seek to get the other foot up on the second rung. which is never going to happen. As Benedict says: Every day we start over again. Starting again every day tells me I am never going to get my foot on that second rung. So I can stop worrying about it. I am free from the need to succeed as a nun and liberated to simply try.

We can detach ourselves from the need to be a success. Because after all, the world measures success in terms of reaching the goal. And our dear Lord defines it as getting up in the morning, hauling up our socks, leaving our egos out of the equation and just getting on with heavenly things, without all that pressure and stress.

Most Holy Lord and Father, I prostrate myself before you in love and obedience and with praise and thanksgiving for showing me what an idiot and ass I've been. I know I make it hard for You to get through. Thank You for persistence. Now I've gone public with this. People are going to hold me accountable and that's ok. It will be uncomfortable maybe, but then, maybe, I need to listen to the uncomfortable words and maybe ignore any uncomfortable language that is used and concentrate on the hearing because it is Your voice speaking through them. You are calling me to give up my right not to be hurt, my right to be right because when I fight those battles, it is my ego at work and not your Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

More Thoughts on my recent Ember Day Letter

Things I wrote there have really haunted me. I have really been praying over it a lot. This weekend I was so bugged by, the need to figure it out so urgent, that I decided to go on retreat here in my home and really pray pray pray. I even fasted this morning, which I should not do as a diabetic. By retreat I mean, except for the daily phone call to check on mom who is unwell, I spoke to no one, did not leave my home except for some air and exercise, no TV, no radio, no email.

I am not at all pleased with the results of this retreat. I don't show up well at all and there is the crux of the matter. What I learned is that maybe 3/4 of my cry for accountability is not a desire for accountability but a desire for attention. I am selfish, ego-centric entirely wound up in myself. To some extent, this has been a survival tool in a toxic family and a way to cope with years and years and years of severe depressive episodes.

Since I have been deemed disabled, I have had the luxury and grace of the time to pay attention to myself, my thoughts, words, deeds, motivations, reactions etc... all important things in order to allow me to learn to manage my symptoms. This has taken me years. But the last 2 years I have been depressed, but not in depressive episodes. There is an important distinction. I have experienced depression as a normal reaction to events in my life. What did not happen was weeks and months of utter blackness.

For instance on August 29, 1994, my beloved cat, ChinChin, died. We were together for 16 years. I went into a depression so deep that by 2/17/95 I had lost 2 jobs and become ill with pneumonia for 5 months, which is the origin of my present day pulmonary problems. The State of California deemed me disabled as of that day as did Social Security a year later. That depressive episode lasted for years.

This year on October 2, 2005, my beloved cat, Ezra died. We were together for 19 years. Yes, I did get sick in December and was ill throughout march with pulmonary stuff, but I am not in a depression. In May a dear friend of many years died and 2 weeks ago another very dear friend died a hideous and horrible death. I am sad that they have died, but not depressed. I cannot tell you how huge a difference that is.

Therefore, I do not need the coping strategies that I needed in the past. In fact, they are holding me back, interfering and getting me the wrong results.

You may be wondering... what is the point... would you get to the point already.

The point is that I have been using these same old coping skills and applying them to my scrutiny of my novitiate. At some point they cease to be coping mechanisms and become self-centeredness. Or to use a grand old word we don;t see too much of these days, I am guilty of over-scrupulosity. So much so, I wonder the Holy Spirit has ever found any room in me in which to do Her work.

I am very accustomed to being told I am wrong. Grew up with it daily, encountered it at school all the time from my peers and being wrong is a pretty consistent message I have been accustomed to my entire life. None of you have been telling me I have been doing anything wrong. This has translated to me that I am not being held accountable, that you are not paying attention to me to tell me I am going at it wrongly. I have got to let go of this feeling that life is incomplete unless I am being told I am in the wrong somehow. I am so accustomed to being found in the wrong that I think I even create situations where I will be told it, just to end the tension and get on familiar, if miserable ground. I expect it from everyone, from God, you guys (used as gender inclusive term) and you aren't giving it to me. I think I have been craving negative reinforcement, how sick is that.

Rather the reverse is happening. You encourage me, support me, care for me. Through the Ember Day letters, I am letting people know something about me that has been a huge secret all my life. Except for the occasional spiritual director, no one has ever known about my hidden life. I've hoarded the secret because if I told anyone, people would use it as another way to tell me I've been in the wrong. It took me years to get up the courage to approach various communities and share with them my deepest longing. By some miracle, despite the fact that most of them communicated a message that I was somehow wrong for them, I persevered.

Then I opened my big mouth and I spoke of my longing to Christie, my spiritual director and my priests and eventually my bishop and such a miracle. No one telling me I was wrong. Only a whole lot of attention telling me I was right, so to speak. Imagine the shock to my system. I've been waiting ever since, I realize, in some trepidation for one of you to burst my balloon ever since and tell me I am wrong. I even wrote an Ember Day letter trying to create a situation where you would tell me I was wrong.

You haven't done it. Not once since November 2, 2005 have you told me I am in the wrong. I have been trying to perpetuate the dynamic by trying to find the message, demand the message. I am very skilled at "acting as if" and have a high tolerance for pain, so I have perhaps camouflaged my doubts with my public persona (which I don't like very much and am whittling away at) and pretended not to be in pain, be it mental or physical ( as with this knee thing), although, I suppose the use of the walker gives it away that I am in physical pain!!!!!!

So... where does this leave us? I can only speak for myself, but I have to face the fact that I have no idea what healthy accountability looks like. Fr. Mike said something to me last Sunday at the coffeehour, I have been mulling over all along.

For the benefit of the rest of you, on his first Thursday back from GC06 and vacation, he joined my table at lunch and I pelted him with the questions that had been building up in me since GC06 and longing to ask him. He answered them and said that he would be done with GC06 on 8/6 when he would address the congregation about what happened and then he was going to concentrate on the MDG and being a priest here so he was glad to get all of my questions out of the way because he knew i wouldn't give up until I was satisfied. I puzzled over that for a while and thought I detected a "Gloriamarie, you are wrong" message and so i asked about it. he told me he had meant it as a compliment and that I did have to be aware that when I have a lot of questions, other people might not get theirs answered. I responded with a breezy (more acting as if) "When I was in 1st grade, Sr. Padua, may she RIP, also encouraged me to ask every single question i had because if i had the question, I could be sure others did to and who was going to have the courage to ask it, so i always do, not being shy.

Fr. Mike might pull his hair out at this point, but even after telling me he meant it as a compliment, I still heard a "you are wrong" there. Which got me to thinking about selfishness, which led to all the fretting and irritation that resulted in this weekend being a retreat.

So that's that. I have no idea what accountability should look like. I have to learn to live without 'you are wrong messages" and only having a dim sense that i am doing right by the absence of the negative messages.

I have been looking for accountability from people when the nature of my vocation says that it should be God. As I told Christie when she asked me what did I think God was saying to me, "It feels like God is laughing at me and telling me the answer is right under my nose. if i would only open my eyes." Took me a while to hear the Holy Spirit, but I believe She is telling me to sink into my Rule, to let it enfold me as a featherbed wraps itself around the sleeper.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"Don't Call The Conservatives"

Posted but not written by me. I believe this should have as wide a circulation as possible:

Don’t Call Them Conservatives
Posted by Teresa Mathes

I was raised by conservatives. In Southern California, where I now live, this is rather like saying you were raised by wolves. But I like to think the people who raised me did a good job: they gave me a strong sense of family and of community obligation; they taught me to respect social institutions. Conservatives, my mother often said, valued what was best in society and tried to preserve it. She abhorred mob tactics, half-truths and secrecy. “If you have to hide it,” she’d say, “You shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

I was also raised Episcopalian. My grandfather helped build the church in which my mother was married, then my cousin, then my sister and I in our turn. I was graduated from Sewanee, a liberal arts college owned by the Southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. I have sung Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, lunched with a Primate of New Zealand and dined with an Archbishop of Canterbury. By the time I was twenty-eight, I was on a first name basis with Jack Allin and Cecil Woods, and if you don’t know those names, it only proves how pathetically, arcanely Episcopalian I am.

Of course, if you do know those names, you know how un-Anglican all this boasting is. The Episcopal Church in which I was raised was a church of civility, a church that thought before it spoke. Some would say we thought too much and spoke too circumspectly. So I am being very clear here about the position from which I speak. Because what I have to say is that the AAC and the ACN do not represent true conservatives.

Like many Episcopalians, I had scarcely heard of these organizations; then, just over a year ago, my husband was consecrated Bishop of San Diego. Over time, I learned that AAC stood for American Anglican Council, a group of parishes that objected, among other things, to the consecration of Gene Robinson. The Anglican Communion Network (ACN) appeared to be an association of bishops with similar views. These names were used interchangeably with “the conservatives,” so when the groups began to distinguish themselves by their actions, I was astonished to see those actions labeled “conservative.”

For instance, both the AAC and the ACN attack the idea of gay marriage as a violation of orthodoxy, yet they enforce no position on divorce, even among their own clergy. Now, I’m inclined to be merciful when it comes to divorce, having been abandoned by a deadbeat father and raised by a single mother, but if you’re going to take the Scriptural hard line on sex and relationships, you have to face what Jesus said about divorce, which is, “Don’t.” As a social institution, the American family is far more endangered by divorce and its attendant poverty than by monogamous gay couples. Trust me, I was there. Maybe that’s why the only time Jesus mentions sex and relationships is to tell people to keep it together. If the AAC and the Network truly represent conservative values, they would work for better premarital counseling, support of young families in our transient society, and mediation between troubled couples. Maybe they’re working on these things, but there’s nothing on their websites about it.

When it comes to community obligation, the AAC and the Network look good at first. Their websites are heavy with associated parishes, presumably working together for a greater purpose. They hold regional meetings and conferences to advise new members and generally pump up the faithful. Problem is, they’re more clique than community. AAC priests in this diocese routinely avoid diocesan gatherings, even social ones. When we held a series of four receptions in our home, less than a third of the AAC clergy came; at diocesan convention, one was too busy handing out pamphlets to meet my eyes, even after I put my hand on his shoulder to say hello. At this year’s consecration of deacons, only one vested for the service.

As for the Network, the majority of their bishops attend House of Bishops meetings by booking rooms nearby and holding their own meetings; the Network bishop nearest San Diego has not attended the last three meetings of the House. These are men (all men) who were asked at their consecration to “share with your fellow bishops in the government of the Whole Church.” People who neglect their responsibility to govern have nothing to say to me, especially in times of conflict. As my mom used to say, “If you don’t vote, you’ve got no right to complain.”

Which brings me to that business about preserving what is best in society. To many conservatives, Gene Robinson’s election represented a profound challenge to the traditional understanding of moral fitness for ministry, and it did so without even stopping to define what a new understanding might be. To people who consider preservation important, this is a reckless way to proceed. It is throwing out the baby and keeping the bath water in hopes that you’ll find another baby beneath the surface.

So how have these self-described champions of conservatism responded? Sadly, by throwing out even more of our venerable traditions. They have spent the last three years crossing diocesan boundaries to perform Episcopal functions, violating an understanding that dates back before the Fourth Century Council of Nicea, and they have actively worked to siphon church property to such cradles of Anglican tradition as the Diocese of Bolivia.

This is where the AAC and ACN fall farthest short in my view. The Internet now bristles with memos leaked to the press or uncovered during lawsuits that reveal a common theme: threats to “separate,” plans to secure church property, commitments to “realignment” and to “guerrilla warfare.” There is nothing preservationist in this behavior, and it is especially repugnant for its air of secrecy and deceit. The memos are marked “Confidential” and “For Discussion Only;” letters advise parishes to “innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons” and caution against passing information electronically.

The conservatives I know would be ashamed of such behavior. I know I am. I am ashamed that the AAC and the ACN are now synonymous with conservatism and I wish to give genuine conservatives back their name. The conservatives I know are honest, civil people who would scorn secret memos and “innovations” meant to skirt the canons. Let’s face it, that kind of behavior also represents a profound challenge to the traditional understanding of moral fitness for ministry. As Mother would say, “If you have to hide it, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”