Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is Facebook the new 1960’s version of the dreaded vacation slideshow?

I am old enough to remember the ritual of setting up a carousel slide projector in the living room, along with the three legged screen that was always dangerous to put up lest you lose a finger in the process, and sitting on the floor to watch the latest pictures from some relative’s travels. This was definitely pre-HD and big screen TV era when it seems that projecting anything on a large screen was exciting -- no matter how boring the pictures of the Florida vacation from your next door neighbor were.

On a recent trip to Germany I found myself enjoying trying out the camera on my new iPad, ditching a “normal” camera, and then posting many of the pictures that same day on my Facebook page: pictures in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, a shot of my delivering a report at the Community of Cross of Nails gathering in central Germany, gorgeous landscapes of vineyards with Riesling grapes along the meandering Mosel River, and the bustling streets of modern Dusseldorf.  And food. Why did I have such a desire to take pictures of each pretzel I ate, the best potato pancake I’ve ever eaten besides my own, and the incredible pastries on every corner? I have become my teenage daughter who Instagrams each piece of sushi she eats!

Well, in the end, I suppose that I find this practice of virtual vacation sharing simply -- fun. Isn’t that enough?  It does seem to be a way to take others along with you on a journey. And I’m good with that.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reflections on the role of the Community of the Cross of Nails for Oct. 19 presentation in Germany

My presentation October 19 to the German Community of the Cross of Nails in Holgeismar, Germany

The CCN in North America continues a journey and a process shared by others in the network: looking for meaning and message in changing times as the torch gets passed onto future generations. How is the Coventry narrative relevant and imaginative today? Some of the iconic crosses of nails in our cathedrals and churches in North America are somewhat dusty and others even forgotten. Currently we have 38 CCN Friends, 12 Partners and 1 school in the U.S., 9 Friends and 2 Partners in Canada, and 2 Friends in Cuba.

As many of you know, the work of the last two decades for many of the Episcopal and Anglican churches in the CCN network has been lived out in trying to reconcile progressive and traditional sides of the issues of gender and human sexuality as it relates to the interpretation of Holy Scripture, the ordination of gays and lesbians in open relationships, and marriage equality -- and dealing with the energy, tension and conflict caused by this focus. Many of our member communities have worked on these issues in the name of justice, gospel generosity and hospitality -- living out we believe one of the core CCN themes of celebrating diversity. 

The recent changes in the U.S. judicial courts opening the way for greater marriage equality -- accompanied by a rapid and greater openness in public opinion of same-gendered married couples -- has been surprised many who did not think these changes would come so quickly: myself included. We saw these social changes taking place in much of Europe, but many did not see their prospect for rapid change in America.   

We continue to see many of our faith communities in the CCN network reflect publicly on changing and pressing issues that cry out for local models for dialogue and reconciliation: the growing income inequality in the U.S., the lack of movement on immigrant reform status and rights, the growing concern about the changing weather patterns that are accompanying climate change. Part of the constant challenge and opportunity of focusing on forgiveness and reconciliation as a gathering vision and ministry of the network is asking: where does it not touch our lives?

One growing area of concern for many is the accelerating number of mass shootings in the United States and the political paralysis in government, specifically in confronting the powerful  National Rifle Association. Far too often, our churches are praying in the aftermath of the carnage of mass killings. We hold vigils, rallies, and protest the seeming insanity of rising number of mass shootings in a country that is awash with guns.

The National Cathedral in Washington D.C., a CCN Friend, and its new dean held a National Gun Violence Sabbath on March 14-17, 2013 that looked at the impact of gun violence in America and called on people of faith to work towards solutions.  Some numbers: In 2008, there were 39 gun murders in England Wales, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States. There have been 20 mass shootings in the U.S. in the past five years alone.   

In his excellent book American and its Guns: A Theological Expose (Cascade Books, 2012) Presbyterian minister James E. Atwood makes a bold claim that America suffers from idolatry with its guns.  He points to a statement by a former NRA executive Warren Cassidy who said “you would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.” Atwood quotes Martin Luther in his Larger Catechism, “if your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God.” Atwood urges peace fellowships to focus on gun violence, because any solution will require not just political will, but a spiritual, ethical and moral solution.

There is, I believe, a place for the Community of the Cross of Nails to be a part of this conversation and movement.  Our challenge is that in both national politics and church conflicts, the opposing sides are moving further and further apart.  Some commentators have made the claim that in Europe there is still a middle ground for compromise and consensus, but that ground is much smaller in the U.S. There is a growing gap in American society that is making it easier to create and foster new political enemies and spiritual “others.”  In so-called Blue America (Obama and progressive) and Red America (anti-Obama and conservative) we are fast becoming a society at war with itself in a time a relative peace and prosperity at home. One needs to look no further than the recent debt crisis and government shutdown in Washington.

With so many living and communicating via the anonymity of social media – Twitter and Facebook -- we are losing the need, practice and art of civil dialogue. Our society is forgetting how to set the terms of debate, disagreement and work for the common good. 

A growing vocation of the Community of the Cross of Nails could become one of creating more intentional and focused meeting places for people on all sides to learn or re-learn how to get the heart of serious issues that cause division.  In this way, we return to our core historical narrative but in an updated context. A defining context that is not post-War Germany and Britain, or Irish Catholic and Northern Irish Protestant, or even the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli divide. The one with whom we may be called to reconcile may be the person which whom we share a workplace, the parents of our child's friends at school, and the neighbor across the street.  Our driving hope remains in John 17:21 when Jesus said: That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. 

Responding to the Question: What role has World War I in the public memory of your country and will it be especially commemorated in 2014? And will your CCN take up the anniversary?

In current American society, World War II always looms large over demographics, politics, culture, and public memory. We are mindful that each day 600-war veterans die. The children born in the boom years after World War II are now reaching retirement age, causing a stress to social entitlement and welfare programs.

The shadow and memory of World War I is a more distant historical memory in American society, which invites clear benefits of centennial commemorations of the beginning of what was called a war to end all wars. The recent use of chemical weapons in Syria and the seeming pullback from a military strike on the Assad regime by Britain and the United States has allowed the issue of chemical weapons to reemerge in the public debate.  It was after all the use of chemical weapons in World War I, specially the chlorine and mustard gases that caused deaths in the tens of thousands and over a million casualties.  New gases were created and perfected during the conflict, causing some to call World War I the “Chemist’s war.” The use of gas in the Holocaust, in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and recently in Syria – to exterminate, kill indiscriminate and terrorize a population, gave rise to President Obama’s chemical weapon red line comment that gained much attention. In commemorating the beginning World War I, there is an opportunity for the CCN to share in the education of the work that reduce global chemical weapons stockpiles and pray and call for their elimination. 

Mark B. Pendleton
President, Community of the Cross of Nails-North America 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shutdown and Shut up!

As a self-professed political junkie I find it hard not to think of the current government shutdown as just another bad reality television show writ large.  Everyone it appears is following worn out talking points and falling into familiar narratives: the two sides are being blamed in equal measure, a Shakespearean plague on both your houses.  What does it say about our nation that we have reached this point? How do people compromise without being viewed as weak?  How is a country governed when it seems so equally divided?  Not good vs. bad people per se: just people who passionately disagree.

It does strike me that I wonder what it would be like if people were as passionate about their faith as they are about politics and ideology. Even the U.S. Constitution, clearly a human-made document that has had universal (and I believe a positive) impact on nations throughout the world, in the current debate captures the passions of people far more than that of Holy Scripture. 

I would like to say that we in the Church have a ready answer to the politicians in Washington D.C.: just get along.  But are we on solid and high ground? Our own Episcopal Church, even as we took steps to be more inclusive in our theology and practice of the past 20 years, failed to do so in a way that prevented many congregations and laity from leaving. To be sure, it was a minority of people, but nevertheless it tore apart communities and friendships. Even our so-called extremes – liberal and conservative – find it hard to live together in the same body. Is an Anglican Communion even viable when primates and bishops will not even break bread together?

In two weeks I will travel to Germany for a conference of the German Community of the Cross of Nails. I am invited to give a presentation on the issues that the U.S. is confronting in terms of reconciliation and peace.  What will I say?  That Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies and seek peace is still as vital as ever. I just never thought the enemy would be perceived as so local. The enemy for too many sits across the political aisle. Red and Blue America needs a proverbial “Come to Jesus” moment to ask ourselves: will our common humanity allow us to solve big problems that challenge us and work to create a better society and world?  I hope it does.