Sunday, March 22, 2009

John 3:16

Over in Leeds on the fourth Sunday in Advent, Doorman Priest preached on "what is probably the most famous Gospel text known to Christians."
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life.
D-P writes "Taken literally this passage from John suggests that those who do not believe in the son will perish," and then proceeds to argue against taking the passage literally. Now I liked D-P's sermon, but I have to say "Sorry, D-P, but that is not correct. Taken literally, this passage (unlike John 14:6) asserts nothing at all about those who do not believe in the son."

A 2004 paper by Samuele Antonini points out that for students of mathematics, the false equivalence of a statement and its inverse is intuitive and the true equivalence of a statement and its contrapositive is not intuitve. The same is true for most people who are not trained in mathematics or formal logic. But what do the terms inverse and contrapositive mean? Taking the statement in John 3:16 as an example (and restating the may as will):

1. Statement: Those who believe in the son will not perish.
2. Inverse: Those who don't believe in the son will perish.
3. Contrapositive: Those who perish don't believe in the son.
There is a fourth possibility, the converse:
4. Converse: Those who do not perish, believe in the son.

Now we take 1, the statement, as true, based on our view of scripture. For most people, it is not intuitive that 3, the contrapositive, says exactly the same thing as 1, and so is also true.
2, the inverse, and 3, the converse, also say the same thing as each other, but, despite our intuition, their truth value cannot be deduced from the truth of 1.

But to leave the realm of logic and return to the substance of the sermon, D-P points out a corrective to those whose intuition tells them that statements 1 and 2 are equivalent. In the passage before this, Nicodemus mistakenly takes Jesus literally (John 3:4). In a 2006 sermon entitled No One Comes to the Father But By Me, John Thatamanil makes the same point about John 14:6.

I'll say more about this topic in my next post.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Litany in Time of War

Last year I hoped I would not be posting the following email this year:

Subject: Great Litany at the Isaiah Wall
From: Earl Kooperkamp

Dear sisters and brothers:

Please be aware of the following and pass it on to others who may be interested:

The Great Litany chanted in Solemn Procession:

The Fifth Friday in Lent, March 27, 2009 12 noon
The Last Friday in Lent, April 3, 2009 12 noon

Ralph Bunche Park (The Isaiah Wall) NW corner of 42nd Street and First Avenue
(across from the United Nations)

Vestments: Cassock, surplice, tippet and hood (clergy are asked to vest, and if lay members of Altar parties in parishes care to vest, please come in cassock and surplice)

Please join us as we ask for God's mercy on us for the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we mourn the deaths of the children, men and women of those nations and the death United States and other military personnel.

Sponsored by: St. Mary's Episcopal Church - Episcopal Peace Fellowship chapter

For more information, please contact Earl Kooperkamp, (212) 864-4013 or

Thank you for your kind attention and may you observe a blessed Lent.

Peace, Earl Kooperkamp
The United States invaded Iraq six years ago in the small hours of March 20, 2003. Here in New York, it was still St. Joseph's Day, March 19. We began chanting the Litany at Ralph Bunche Park during Lent in 2003. We've done it at least once or twice every Lent since. We intend to keep it up at least as long as there are US combat troops in Iraq. I'm going to lobby for continuing the practice while we have troops in Afghanistan.

If you are able to make it on either Friday, you will be welcome. As it turns out, I won't be able to participate on April 3rd and it's not likely I'll be there March 27th either. At the beginning of April, Liz and I are going to Vermont to see our granddaughter Aamnda and her parents. More on that later.

This coming Thursday, March 26, Liz and I are going to Bethlehem, PA, to attend the 2009 Campbell Lecture sponsored by the Lehigh County Conference of Churches. The speaker will be the Rev. Ian Douglas, of Episcopal Divinity School, speaking on Living into Unity in a Time of Disunity. We're staying overnight in Bethlehem and depending on the weather we might pop up to Heart Lake on the way home.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bishop Katharine on Morningside Heights

This past Monday evening, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gave the Episcopal Lecture at Columbia University. The event was jointly sponsored by the Canterbury Club and the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Columbia.

After some brief introductory remarks, Bishop Katharine fielded questions from the audience. I made a few notes on her remarks – these are not verbatim quotes and represent only what I took away from the evening-- they are the equivalent of a few sound bites.

“The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”
I have interspersed some comments of my own in [brackets.]
The corporate name of The Episcopal Church lifts up the missionary calling of our church. Bishop Katharine describes it as working towards God’s reign – by feeding the hungry, striving to end poverty, healing the sick, working for peace, for justice, for environmentally responsible actions.

The word “Society” in our corporate name highlights our interconnectedness – that we are interdependent. Churches in the Anglican tradition place a good deal of emphasis on the incarnation. As a consequence we take bodies seriously. As Christians, we say that the church is the body of Christ. [It should be obvious that this is a metaphor.] Theologian Sally McFague talks about all of creation as being the body of God. [Another metaphor.] When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. [“God hath created nothing simply for itself: but each thing in all things and of everything each part in other hath such interest that in the whole world nothing is found whereunto anything created can say, I need thee not.”– Richard Hooker: Learned Sermon on Pride. Compare specifically 1 Corinthians 12:21, Romans 12:4-5 and Ephesians 4:15-16, and more generally, 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31; Romans 12: 3-8;Ephesians 4: 11-16.]
On Sexuality
Taking the Incarnation seriously and taking bodies seriously means, in the Episcopal Church, that we take sexuality seriously.

Some of the tensions in the Anglican Communion over sexuality arise from the fact that in some cultures sexuality isn’t discussed at all and it is deeply embarrassing to have to discuss it.

Another characteristic of Anglicanism is lex orandi, lex credendi. We have very few systematic theologians – our theology is contained in our prayer books and our worship. The question of developing a liturgy for the blessing of same sex unions is fraught with tension, because the existence of such a liturgy would bring same sex unions right into the center of our life as a church – into our worship.
On Intra-Anglican Relations
Both the election and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and the election of Bishop Katharine as Presiding Bishop were seen in some parts of the world as just another example of American arrogance, alongside the arrogance of the Bush administration. The change in Washington, as well as the conversations in last summer’s Lambeth Conference, have helped ease things somewhat.

Americans who are bishops in African churches [Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda] do not attend synods in those countries. The local bishops do not like that and wish their primates (some of whom are near retirement) to correct the situation. This is a hopeful sign.
On Ministry
In our thirty year old “new prayer book” the Episcopal Church emphasizes the ministry of all the baptized. What used to be “Canon 9 priests” or priests ordained for a purely local ministry need to be viewed in the light of the ministry of al the baptized.
On Emerging Church
Because we take the incarnation seriously, we recognize that things don’t necessarily need to be the same everywhere.
On the proposed Anglican Covenant
In the latest draft, the first two parts seem ok. The objections are to the third part. The next draft is scheduled to be presented to the Anglican Consultative Council in May. We’ll have to wait and see what its contents are and what the ACC does with it.

The exercise itself may be the most important part of the process.
On the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury
We view him as first among equals. He has the authority to call people together for conversation.
All of the questions were friendly,but there were three questions that were somewhat challenging. First, there was a young man who asked Bishop Katanrine how she responded to those who challenge the validity of her ordination as a women -- after all, Jesus chose only men as the twelve.
Mary Magdelene was called "the apostle to the apostles." Women in leadership positions are referred to in Acts and in Paul's letters. We don't know very much about actual ordination in the early church. There's some evidence that the rules against ordaining women are post Constantinian.

[I'm reconstructing and perhaps making up this part.] Our incarnational theology of people and our baptismal theology of ministry both lead us to support the ministry of all persons.
Bishop Katharine was asked about the prophetic ministry of the Episcopal Church and mentioned two issues -- our stand against the death penalty and our stance for the right to abortion while we recognize that abortion is a moral tragedy. The same young man asked how we could support the right to an abortion while calling it a moral tragedy. In this case, my notes don't have Bishop Katharine's exact answer and I am not going to put words in her mouth.

The third challenging question was about a hypothetical ordinand who admitted that he no longer believed in the Resurrection -- the question was whether she would ordain him. Three things stick with me from her answer:
He seems on the face of it to be unusually honest.
She would want to have a long talk with him.
and finally,
God calls us to keep wrestling with our faith.
I have left out a good deal, but I hope I've given a flavor of what it was like to hear Bishop Katharine.

The audience included a dozen or so members of the Canterbury Club, other Columbia students, six or eight clergy unknown to me, and a group from Grace Church in Nyack, New York, including the Rev. Emily Sieracki, the assistant to the rector at Grace. Emily was sponsored for ordination by St. Mary's and the Columbia Episcopal Chaplaincy. Others there associated with St. Mary's, besides Liz and me, were Dean James Parks Morton and Pamela Morton, who are current members of the parish, and the Rev. Winnie Varghese, Episcopal Chaplain at Columbia and member of Executive Council, who was at St. Mary's while she was in seminary. And since our former rector Bob Castle ("Cousin Bobby") used to say to those who came to church at St. Mary's that they were now members of our parish, Bishop Katharine herself is now associated with St. Mary's.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


This morning I received an invitation to be become a Facebook friend of one of my Florida cousins. I joined Facebook in January 2008, but have been very inactive. In October, I became a friend to a Massachusetts cousin, but was still incative. In January, i became a friend to an internet store, Betterworld Books, but still was otherwise inactive. But tonight, I have acquired new friends from a 17 year old high school junior (I'm her uncle and godfather) to an 84 year old retired pastor (he's my uncle.) And just now I became Facebook friends with a blog friend -- one who came to Of Course I Could Be in New York. It opens up lots of possiblilities -- this person has lots of friends who I know -- some in person and some through blogs.

And so to bed.

Baptismal Covenant

The time changed this morning – Liz and I almost missed the change and would have been late for church. This morning we had some special guests – women from the Plainfield Community Church in Plainfield New Hampshire. The Rev. Suellen Luegers, pastor of the church was our preacher. The women had been here for a week, working in various community outreach programs – some based at St. Mary’s and some nearby. But most important, they brought us quilts which the Episcopal Church Women will give to families in a homeless shelter at the end of our block.

Today we had four baptisms of children – all siblings or cousins. As a result, we got to say the Baptismal Covenant – to my mind the best new thing in the 1979 Prayer Book. We promised, with the help of God,
  • to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,
  • to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord,
  • to to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself,
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

We have a fair number of baptisms at St. Mary’s each year, so we get to renew this covenant frequently.

If you Google “Baptismal Covenant Episcopal” you will find that some on the right hand side of the aisle find that the promise to “respect the dignity of every human being” is problematic. In 2007, Canon Gary L'Hommedieu of the Diocese of Central Florida wrote “What is unarguable is the novelty of the final promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." It is this final promise that distinguishes the 1979 baptismal liturgy from all previous ones, apart from incidentals of language. ... It is the final promise that comprises the spirit of the Baptismal Covenant. Or rather, the final promise IS the Baptismal Covenant. ... Even though the language of [the Baptismal Covenant] is purely abstract and non-specific, it typically finds application that is politically motivated and unabashedly partisan, and invariably to the left.”

Canon L'Hommedieu is spot on, save for one thing. He does not acknowledge, perhaps he does not recognize, that opposition to the “invariably left” application of “respect the dignity of every human being” is also “politically motivated and unabashedly partisan.”

I have only recently become acquainted with the relatively new field of cognitive linguistics and cognitive science in general. Central to that discipline is the discovery that most of human thought and reasoning is not conscious, is based of cognitive frames sometimes called metaphors, and, because we exist in our bodies, is embodied and inextricably tied to our emotions. Most of my reading in this field is in the writings of George Lakoff. Lakoff observes that much of our political, and I would say also religious, thought is informed by the metaphor of the family. Now there are at least two models of the family out there. One is the nurturant parent model and the other is the strict father model.

Very recently I read on some blog or other a definition of politics as being about decision making and a refutation that said no, it was about power and who gets to exercise it. In either case, I think I’m right is saying that the ecclesial and theological perspective of both religious progressives and religious conservatives are politically motivated.

to be continued ...

BTW, tomorrow evening PB KJS is speaking at Columbia University, a few blocks from here, and I intend to be there. I hope to report on what she says.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Annual Meeting

Yesterday we had our Annual Meeting at St. Mary's.

I made a motion, which was carried unanimously, that we communicate to our diocesan delegates to General Convention that we urge the repeal of B033. I originally forgot to include support for same sex blessings, but we managed to tack it on before the meeting broke up.

I know that the support of one parish is not terribly significant, but it's important for our small congregation to be reminded of our connection to the wider church.

At one point in the discussion, it was mentioned that St. Mary's was the sponsor of two of the Philadelphia Eleven (the first women in the Episcopal Church to be ordained to the priesthood in 1974, not the 2004 anti-gay demonstrators) and that my signature, as Clerk of the Vestry, appears on the documents sent to Bishop Paul Moore in support of the ordination of Carter Heyward and Emily Hewitt. I mention it only to make the point that we (and I) have been pushing issues for quite a while. It's part of who we are.

I'm put in mind of another part of who we are by MadPriest's recent sermon on Mark 1:9-15. We minister to the marginalized. For several years we operated a weekly soup kitchen -- just over a year ago we urned it into a food pantry. The siginificant point is that a large part of the staff consists of people who first came to us on the food line. Many people from the line have become involved in the church. These days we also provide bag lunches in a Saturday outreach program to homeless people in our general neighborhood.

Three weeks ago, Estelle, a sometime member of our choir, passed away. Her passing was noted by Padre Mickey as well as several others who remember The Ronettes. Estelle is just one of the many fragile folks who have gotten some fellowship at St. Mary's.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

S words

In October 2004, the website Radical Calendar said of Fr. Luis Barrios that he “doesn’t hesitate to call God, Goddess.” This past Saturday, February 28, MadPriest, picked up a Living Church story that said that in an open letter, Fr. Barrios said it is his “duty to our Goddess to build a better world.” At the Living Church website, this “news” is dated February 26, 2009. The actual open letter appears on a website where the posts are not dated. The letter itelf is dated January 27, 2009. In a comment to the post at MadPriest, at first I said I did not believe the quote and then I had to admit that it was accurate. In this case, I posted first and googled later – not a good idea. In the course of googling, I came to realize what is going on. Later on, in the comments at MadPriest’s, David [Dah + veed] Allen put it better than I could: “The statement was issued in English and Spanish and it says Our Goddess (Nuestra Diosa) in the Spanish as well. It appears that Padre Luis is an alternating inclusive, using both masculine and feminine language for Our God (Nuestro Dios) in the same passages.”

The problem for me is that “our Goddess” is an imperfect translation of what Fr. Barrios means when he say “nuestra Diosa.” This is partly because English no longer has grammatical gender (differentiated third person pronouns do not constitute grammatical gender.) So “Goddess” is not simply the feminine form of “God,” it has other connotations, especially the form “the Goddess.” Moreover, “-ess” words in general are now problematic for many people.

That said, now that I understand it, I am not bothered by Fr. Barrios’s use of the word “Goddess.”

Of course the pseudo Anglicans of the radical right are all over the story, mostly because of the protest for which Fr. Barrios was arrested, but also because of some of his earlier activism and what I admittedly intemperately call their own inability to comprehend inclusiveness in any form or to tolerate diversity of opinion. But that's to be expected.