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Letters to the Editor
Episcopal Life welcomes letters and will give preference to those in response to stories. Letters should be no longer than 250 words and must include the writer’s name, address, phone number for verification. Pictures are welcome. Send to Letters, Episcopal Life , 815 Second Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail to letters@episcopal-life.org. All letters will be edited for brevity and clarity.

Get priorities straight
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My perspective on the world has been broadened by the experience of living in four countries, traveling extensively and shipping rag dolls to more than 20 countries.

From what I read and hear, the focus of the Episcopal Church -- its bishops, clergy and laity – is about spending energy and resources arguing about who is right, who knows what God is saying and who is the “real” church.  Is the church really called to be locked in a win-lose battle within itself, or are we called to respond to the needs of people in the world?

There are refugee camps in large European countries filled with people who aren’t allowed to immigrate into the country, nor are they allowed to return home. In Zambia and Cambodia and other countries, children as young as 5 years old are sold into prostitution.

HIV/AIDS is wiping out villages in Africa.  South Africa has a disproportionate number of orphans who themselves are infected with HIV/AIDS.  Dafur is in the midst of genocide.  Sri Lanka has tent cities from the tsunami a year ago.  Pakistanis face a cold winter in tents because the earthquake destroyed their homes.  People in New Orleans and Mississippi are dislocated and some no longer have a place to live because their temporary shelters will not be funded.

And we are arguing about who is right, who knows God’s will, who can read the Bible in the purest way. Is this God’s calling to us?  I think we’ve missed the point and are caught up in an egocentric exercise when we could make a difference in people’s lives and in bringing peace and justice to the world.


Review boosted sales
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A sincere thank you for the grand book review in Episcopal Life (“Not your usual cookbooks,” November). Our book, Food to Die For, or more precisely your book review, has brought us much happy attention and a remarkable number of sales since your review came out. Church bookstores and individuals across the country have found us and ordered and reordered. We are very grateful for this exposure. Our chapel construction is moving along with dedication in late April 2006. At this writing, almost $50,000 of cookbook profits have gone into building costs. Thank you for all your kind words.

Alarmed by dismissal
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I am astonished, dismayed and alarmed by the dismissal of the Rev. Jane Butterfield from her post as mission personnel officer of the Episcopal Church.

I have had substantial experience working on mission in Africa as one of the founders of and now a member of Jubilee, the AIDS-in-Africa ministry of the Diocese of Massachusetts. I can recall the period in the life of the church when the idea of mission had become distinctly unfashionable (even in an organization calling itself the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society). Others helped in producing the turnaround, but there is no doubt that Jane Butterfield played a major role in revivifying the role of mission as central in the life of the church and, one might now add, as a critically important influence in preserving the fabric of our communion in times of change.

I am astonished because I know the number of missioners sent by DFMS more than doubled during Jane Butterfield's tenure with nothing like a doubling of the resources available to her.


Butterfield’s wisdom appreciated
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The abrupt dismissal of the director of mission personnel, the Rev. Jane Butterfield, comes as quite a surprise to those of us in the mission field.  I doubt very much that negative input from those in the field had anything to do with the dismissal.

In my case, Jane performed admirably in directing my call, my discernment and especially in my final placement in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.  She had requested that my wife and I  spend nearly a year in Kenya with experienced missioners before our final decision.  This wisdom of hers is now daily appreciated.  I have grown in awareness and spirituality because of her direction. I am deeply grateful for her gifts.

For whatever faults may be in question, directing this mission person was not one of them.


Appreciating nonconformists
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In the December Commentary, “World Christianity under new management?”,  David Steinmetz seemed to argue for the “old rule” that a Christian teaching should be taught “everywhere, always and by all.”  Jesus and Saint Paul went against the flow of mainstream Judaism. Martin Luther was branded a heretic for his Gospel of Grace. In 1555, Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley were burned at the stake in England for “protestantizing.” The abolitionists and civil rights crusaders were a minority. Thank God for those willing to go against the grain.

British already here
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As a 73-year-old, lifelong Episcopal musician, I am astonished at the alarming headline "The British are coming!" (December).  The fact is, they have been here for a long time.

One thinks of T. Tertius Noble, Norman Coke-Jephcott, Alec Wyton and my own organ teacher, Alfred Brinkler, all of whom greatly enriched the worship of the Episcopal Church, as have the many priests in our church who were born overseas.  (And here I think of William Thomas Manning, Stanley Atkins, and my present rector, Edward H. Thompson.)

Channing Lefebvre, an American-born organist who stands up in comparison to any of the Brits I have named, used to say that the Episcopal Church should require that its organists first be trained to serve as acolytes, and at a young age.

It is not just the "cathedral sound" that British musicians bring to our churches, but an ingrained sense of liturgy and the place music has in liturgy.  The Episcopal Church seldom produces such musicians, although it certainly has the opportunity.  Last, to those who object to "American" jobs going to musicians from overseas, I would simply quote from the patron of the church where I now serve, "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek."


Weighing musical ‘trade-off’
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I enjoyed your article on church musicians in the December edition. I also love that pure English sound that the Kings College service provides to us each year.  But I think something is lost here in the discussion of English vs. American musicians.

Several years ago, I became a Roman Catholic and worship at the local Franciscan parish where the mentally ill and homeless are welcomed.  Do I like the praise songs that we sing during Mass?  No, I don't.  But our large church is packed at all four weekend Masses, our liturgy is vibrant and inclusive, and a large number of worshipers are teen-agers.

This vitality seems to me an acceptable "trade-off" for beauty. I still love the Episcopal Church, but perhaps the church should ask if it is going to grow in the 21th century or continue to put so much energy into creating that perfect sound that we all love so much.


Lack of appreciation
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It is a shame that Matthew Davies, who was a "choral scholar" at Canterbury Cathedral and now works for the Episcopal News Service in New York, shows such disrespect for other forms of church music and, by association, those who are led into the nearer presence of God through  that music.  To resort to calling contemporary music "happy-clappy and hip-hop" shows the lack of an appreciation for the beauty of lyrics and melody that a true musician usually has in abundance.

Wall offensive in practice
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I write to take issue -- in part -- with Robert J. Cook's defense of the security barrier being built by the Israeli government ("Wall Needed for Defense," Letters, January). Dr. Cook states that the security barrier is a purely defensive structure.

The purpose of the barrier may be defensive in theory, but it is offensive in practice.  As professor Asher Susser of Tel Aviv University quipped in a presentation to a visiting group of Christian pastors (of which I was a part) sponsored by the American Jewish Committee: "Good fences make good neighbors, but only if you build them on your own side of the property line."

The thing that changes the would-be defensive structure into an offensive and provocative structure is its location, the vast majority of which is built on Palestinian territory, in some cases cutting off farmers from their fields, children from their schools and towns from their water. If it were built on Israeli territory, I would support it.

Yes, the United States has built fences and walls along some of its borders to control illegal immigration, as have many other nations around the world. But neither the United States or these other nations have claimed the right to build these structures on the neighboring countries’ territory. So I would ask Dr. Cook his own question: "Why should the world's only Jewish nation be an exception?"

As a person with Jewish family members and ancestors, including some who have faced persecution and death for the "crime" of being Jewish, I unequivocally support the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself. But I make a distinction between the people of Israel and the government of Israel. And as "family," I reserve the right to hold them to the highest of moral standards.  Criticizing the policies of the Israeli government is not an anti-Semitic activity. On the contrary, it is the national pastime of Israel.


Un-neighborly thoughts
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Anyone seeking evidence of the relationship between classic anti-Semitic canards and the attitudes of contemporary Christians toward the state of Israel need only read H. Bud Smalley’s recent letter ("Not a Clear-Cut Situation," January), in which the cultic practices of Jews in ancient times are linked to the actions of the Israeli government today. Given Fr. Smalley’s views, it is a wonder he did not cite biblical passages such as Matthew 27:22-26 and John 19:13-16 as further proof of an age-old tradition of Jewish perfidy.

On the other hand, even if some Jews do have a low opinion of non-Jews, there is little in the history of the past 100 years, especially in Europe between 1933 and 1945, that would encourage Jews to think of gentiles as good or reliable "neighbors."


IRS stance perplexing
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About “The gospel according to the IRS”: I find it somewhat perplexing that the very government that is trying so desperately to bring religion into the public arena is now seeking to penalize a church for it's rector's supposed political comments. Evidently turnabout is not fair play.

There's a strong feeling within me that our government is being run by spoiled little children who will only tolerate their own rhetoric and must have all and sundry in agreement with them. No wonder our standing in the world community is at an all-time low.


Mission not common yet
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In reference to the article titled “Called to Common Mission: What does it mean to us?” by Ann Hafften (January), I would like to offer some comments.

1.  To say that the Episcopal Church “was born out of the 16th-century Reformation” is to have a very limited view of history and to discount the bishops from Britain who attended the early church synods of the fourth century.

2.  While “full communion” with the Lutherans may have begun in the year 2000, it “will not be fully realized until both churches determine that in the context of a common life and mission there is a shared ministry of bishops in the historic episcopate.” We are on our way, but we are not there yet. True “full communion” is still to be obtained.

3.  In August 2001, the Evangelical Lutheran Church unilaterally rejected one of the key elements of Called to Common Mission and voted to allow an ordained person other than a bishop to ordain men and women to the presbyterate. There may have been only a few ordained in such a manner since then, but the principal of “Episcopal ordination only” has been rejected by the ELCA. Had we known the mind of ELCA before their unilateral action, it is doubtful that CCM would have been passed.

4.  This action by the ELCA has practical implications as well as theological ones. Since the ELCA has since 2000 ordained some to the presbyterate by persons other than bishops, these pastors, I would think, would not be eligible for interchangeability with priests in the Episcopal Church. Hence, there now exists within the ELCA two groups of ordained persons: those whom we recognize as interchangeable with our priests, those whom we do not recognize. Should ELCA presbyters consecrate persons to the episcopate in the future, the chaos and theological divergence will be even more profound.

‘Birth’ statement disputed
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While it may be convenient for some of the factions of the church to advance the myth that the Lutherans and the Anglicans had the same “birth,” unfortunately, it just can't be historically supported. One would have to first assume that they were both born out of the Roman Catholic Church, arriving via Augustine of Canterbury in AD 597. This would seemingly contradict the many legends of Joseph of Aramathea founding the church, but, more importantly two significant facts:

  1. The Stowe Missal, which dates to at least 100 years before Augustine, and

  2. Constantine I, the first Christian Roman Emperor, ruled much of the Roman Empire from York England early in the Fourth century. When Rome came into peril, he had enough English military might to not only save Rome from the invading German barbarians at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, but also to move all of Christian Rome to safety in present day Turkey, establishing Constantinople as the center of all Christianity.

This and numerous other significant facts cause me to think that the effort at unification might not be based so much on truth as political expedience.


Defending ANWR preservation
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I read with interest Marc Small’s comments in the January issue regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His characterization of ANWR as a “large semi-artic swamp” is a gross oversimplification, as is his statement that there are no trees or great herds of animals. The 19.2 million-acre land area has the greatest variety of life of any park or refuge in the circumpolar arctic.

To Mr. Small’s statements that Alaskans should have a right to make some money off this wilderness, let me remind him of what the acronym ANWR stands for. The “N” stands for national, which means Americans, not just those wishing to make a profit off the activities of big oil corporations. The WR stands for wildlife refuge – pure and simple. That means a refuge from roads, bulldozers, tankers, housing complexes – generally, human intervention.

I find it particularly disgusting that in this era, when 60 percent of Americans are obese, when they are driving larger and larger, gas-guzzling cars and when evidence of the consequences of burning fossil fuels mounts, that there are people like Mr. Small who can only see as far as their own wallet.

Some have said that opening ANWR for oil exploration will “decrease our dependency from foreign oil.” This is completely incorrect. The oil taken from ANWR would reduce our dependence by only 3 to 4 percent and would have no effect on prices or overall supply issues. I would invite Mr. Small to just spend a few minutes with his computer to learn more of these facts.

Personally, I look forward to the time when the wealth of our nation is based not on what it decides to exploit, but what it deems worthy to set aside for preservation.


Article ‘unreliable’
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Your December edition carries the very best example of an absolutely disgraceful journalism, “Report warns against drilling.” I base this on several points.

First off, the report is only referred to in the vaguest of terms. Who wrote the report? Your reader deserves at least enough information to be able to check the report independently. Second, the article sites the concern for the breeding grounds of the 120,000 caribou in the area. This flies in the face of reports that the caribou herds have increased since the advent of earlier arctic drilling and pumping of oil. Short of a plausible explanation, the article is seriously flawed on this point.

The point concerning the “7,000 native Gwich’in living in 15 villages in northeastern Alaska and Canada” is interesting. They live on 1.5 million acres in Alaska and more areas in Canada. With a population density of one person per 200 or more acres, the adverse effects of loss of less than 1 percent of the land to exploration seems difficult to understand much less accept.

And, pray tell, just how have “human rights” been endangered? If the article is unreliable, on these points can it have any credibility?


Put stewardship first
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It is disturbing to read, among the January letters, from Marc James Small – who I assume to be, as a reader of this publication, a professed Christian – that his personal profit and the coffers of the State of Alaska are more important than the stewardship of God’s creation.

Lack of charity unwelcoming
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Louis Richards in his letter "Dialogue Time Wasted"  (December) cites a number of reasons why he thinks it is wasted time for Anglicans to engage in ecumenical dialogue with the Church of Rome.  Some of his issues with Roman Catholicism reflect classical Anglican apologetical positions, and I cannot take issue with them, but they are stated with such an extremely polemical and uncharitable language that it surprises me that you would publish them in Episcopal Life.

We can certainly bear witness to our Anglican historical convictions with integrity while engaging in respectful, honest, charitable dialogue with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.  Setting up straw figures to demolish does not build up the body of Christ. As a veteran of  more than three decades of regular, intense and open dialogue with very well-theologically informed Roman Catholics here in New York, I know from personal experience that convergence comes from genuine and honest conversation.  I have never experienced anything but respectful listening from our Roman dialogue partners.

The kind of language Mr. Richards uses ("No meaningful dialogue can occur in such a poisoned atmosphere") is what in fact poisons the atmosphere.  No one can enter into meaningful dialogue with people who open (or rather shut down) the conversation with such language. He concludes his letter with the by-now standard wish to "continue our great Anglican tradition of welcoming all to Christ's table."  

Aside from the reality that welcoming all to Christ's table is indeed neither the Anglican tradition nor canonically accurate, his letter is certainly not welcoming to Roman Catholics, who as sincerely hold their convictions as we do ours.  His lack of charity toward those who disagree with him is neither inviting nor welcoming.


Many apologies called for
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I could not agree more strongly with Nell Braxton Gibson’s heartfelt reply to reader Joseph Mwangi (“Readers, columnist debate worth of apology to African Americans”).  A sincere apology is the least an oppressor can offer the people whom they’ve oppressed. This simple act would do wonders when it comes to healing wounds that have so long been allowed to remain superficially closed.

Unquestionably, the colonists who forced men and women from their native Africa owe an apology to those they transported to foreign lands.  Further, the descendants of the native African slave traders who tore these same people from their homes and lands owe an apology; the Italians owe an apology to the people of all races that were so brutally enslaved by their Roman forbearers; the Mongolians of today owe an apology to the peaceful people of Central Asia whose relatives they captured and killed; the people of Mayan heritage living in Central America owe an apology to those whose ancestors were the victims of not only slavery but human sacrifice; and the descendants of the Native American Powhatan tribe owe an apology to the surviving relatives of the Chesapeake and other indigenous tribes whose ancestors were either subjugated, slaughtered or enslaved and whose ancestral lands were stolen so ruthlessly.

Perhaps if we all said we were sorry at the same time the world would be a better place.


Promote forgiveness
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I have a better idea for Ms. Gibson. Christ may have implied that apologies for transgressions were desirable, but he mandated that we forgive all transgressors. The most striking example of this is in the Lord’s Prayer, probably the most concise and definitive of all of Christ’s instructions.

The forgiveness petition is the only one in the prayer that is conditioned on an action by the petitioner. Inherent in the admonition is that forgiveness not only is our obligation, but is an opportunity for miraculous liberation for both the forgiver and the forgiven. I recommend that Ms. Gibson, rather than focusing on an apology for slavery (from whom, to whom?), take the moral high road by practicing and advocating universal forgiveness for the past practice of slavery by both whites and blacks.

Indeed, what a Christian coup it would be if the Episcopal Church would take the lead in such a shift in the slavery paradigm. For example, it could promote in all Christian denominations (black and white churches) that one Sunday a year be declared a “National Day of Forgiveness for Slavery.” That would be powerful symbolic and practical tool for getting beyond slavery as an issue in our society while promoting continued enhanced racial harmony.


Disagreeing with columnist
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After reading Nell Gibson’s column in the January issue (“Readers, columnist debate worth of apology to African Americans”), I got the distinct impression that she is not too fond of the people of the United States. I beg to differ with her regarding what we as a people do to give aid and comfort to our own poor as well as the victims of natural disasters world wide.

Let me quote directly from the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The hunting of human beings to make them slaves was greatly aggravated by the demand of European colonies. The native chiefs engaged in forays, sometimes on their own subjects, for the purpose of procuring slaves to be exchanged for the Western commodities. They often set fire to a village by night and captured the inhabitants when trying to escape.”

Would Ms. Gibson require that African chiefs also apologize, or does she only target white citizens who, by a huge majority, had ancestors who never, ever owned a slave? We would all like to see a level playing field educationally for our nation’s students, but perhaps that could be more easily achieved if more parents sat down with their children and went over homework, set goals, insisted on courtesy to teachers and enforced curfews. Responsibility, like charity, begins at home.


‘Ruined’ public education
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Jonathan Kozol is a guilt-ridden white liberal whose good intentions have ruined public education in the United States (“At least apologize,” Commentary, November). I went into public education to give the benefit of what I have, only to be disrespected by students, colleagues and supervisors. In thirty-six months, I taught in the worst and the best schools (what few that we have).

Black and Hispanic kids reject education, saying, "It's for the white man." In that South Bronx, 70 out of 1,900 children make from kindergarten to high school. At 170th Street and Grand Concourse, only teachers get off the bus and subway every morning, while students wanting to learn use public transport to get out. Taft High School, just above the station, was once a prime school, not anymore.

Don't knock the kids at the specialized high school. They are hard-working and respectful. They are deserving. It is there for the rest of the local kids, if they would give up their street culture of hip-hop and baggy pants.


Can’t have it both ways
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An excerpt of the sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Regas delivered at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., was published in the January issue. "An IRS audit will not diminish the prophetic ministry of All Saints Church," Regas is quoted as saying.  The Rev. Ed Bacon, Rector, states: "What is at stake is that precious, holy freedom from intimidation when religious leaders enter that sacred place called a pulpit."

With all due respect, "diminish[ing] the prophetic ministry" or seeking "freedom from intimidation" are not the issues here, but rather the legal obligations of All Saints as a corporate entity.  Any church is free to exercise its First Amendment rights or pursue a prophetic ministry or maintain the sacredness of its pulpit.  However, such churches are simply prohibited from using tax-deductible contributions to fund such worthy efforts if partisan politics is involved.

Perhaps this is why William Stringfellow, noted lay theologian of the 20th century, encouraged Episcopal Churches to renounce any tax-exempt status.  Stringfellow argued that this was one way in which the government sought to mute criticism of its policies from religious leaders.

In short, you cannot have it both ways.  A church cannot claim the benefits of tax-exempt status but then not honor its obligations that are an integral part of that status. The sermon by Fr. George Regas (if one reads all of it and not just self-serving excerpts) comes dangerously close to crossing the line.  Under the circumstances, an IRS investigation is hardly surprising.


Republican plans defended
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About “The gospel according to the IRS” (January): When, oh, when are Episcopal Clergy going to stop this silly, Manichaeanism of dividing humanity rigidly between the caring "prophets" and those of us Republicans and Bush supporters who supposedly have hijacked Christianity for the rich, right-wing kooks?  These clergy need a course in basic economics.

For nearly 40 years, I have been challenging the elite Clergy Left in our denomination to  come up with an alternative to the profit motive. It is a ninth-grade mathematical formula, the multiplier effect, that states that if you take money out of a system, the monetary value of what is left decreases rapidly.  If you put more into the system, the value increases.

Translated into elementary economic theory, if you take money out of the system via taxes, you dramatically decrease the profit base that produces those taxes that pay the bills for "prophetic" deeds.  No matter how noble the cause with which the left robs the private sector through taxes, there is nothing that says businesses must stay in business to pay taxes to support those services.  They can go out of business or go offshore.  Either way, there is less of a tax base to produce revenue for all the noble causes that Bill Moyers and his ilk desire.

While the Republican plan is not perfect and is vulnerable to abuses, the Bush and Reagan plans strengthen small businesses and provide jobs, producing the opportunity for dignity and independence regardless of race, creed, gender or color.  The far left, on the other hand, wants to suck revenue out of the system, put it into the hands of the government and clergy elites who claim to know what is better for us than we ourselves and distribute it according to the dictates of an elite cabal.  This is communism and has totally failed around the world.


Issue not one-sided
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Re:  “The gospel according to the IRS”:  the rest of the story. I think we all can understand the agitation of the two priests who wrote concerning what they feel are unwelcome and unwarranted intrusions of the IRS regarding political speech in the pulpit.  I personally doubt that many such investigations occur, but assuming the contrary, why should the IRS be interested?

The writers would have served us better if they had at least mentioned that there is a real, abiding issue here which is: Should open political speech be subsidized by the government (in the form of tax-exempt church contributions) when many in the country may not agree with the particular choice made by the priest?  There is also a little constitutional matter, which, in shorthand form, is called separation of church and state.  This is a tough issue and at least merits some mention in a featured article.  It is not as one-sided as the good priests make it out to be.