The official site of author Mark Galli

What God May Be Up to In the Land of the Bible

Why and how to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

The reopening of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders sounds like a dreadful rerun of an old B movie for many in Israel. Nearly everyone I met on my recent 10-day trip there was pessimistic about the two sides coming to any substantial agreements. Most of my conversations suggested that the Israelis and Palestinians were “stuck” with one another. No one could imagine anything but a repeat of past talk failures, and no one seemed to have any idea of how to move forward unless the other side changed in some fundamental way.

I felt the same way during my trip, at least until the last day.

My trip began the day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he had convinced Israel and Palestine to talk about talking again. It ended on the day when they actually agreed to talk about peace. I met a variety of people—West Bank Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, common citizens in Bethlehem, Jewish settlers in occupied territories, Jewish peace and interfaith activists, Palestinian activists in Israel, members of the Israeli government, Christian leaders, military officials on the Lebanon and Syrian borders. The trip was planned for me by the Jewish Federation of Chicago, but they did as good a job as can be imagined for a 10-day trip if one is to get exposed to the variety of opinions in this troubled land.

I asked nearly every person I met about their hopes for the talks, and as I said, not a one was hopeful. And neither was I, until I had a conversation with a well-respected and influential rabbi. That’s when a glimmer of hope sparkled ever so briefly….

To read the rest, go to christianitytoday

Why We Love The Dead Sea Scrolls

When I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Philadelphia in June, I started fidgeting almost immediately. The exhibit (at the Franklin Institute, running through October 14) begins by walking visitors through a display of archeological treasures (some 600, according to the publicity) from Israel’s history, dating from 1200 B.C. to A.D. 68. I had come to look at the Scrolls, and here I was wading knee deep through the ancient archeology.

There is a method in the exhibit’s madness, of course. For one, such history puts the Scrolls in the larger historical context. I’m guessing that the curators also recognized that having non-Dead Sea Scroll treasures would attract visitors who may not have much interest in the Scrolls alone.

All well and good, but I’d come for the Scrolls—where the heck were they?

So begins my reflections on my visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Philadelphia.  Still I remain curious as to why we car about old parchment with unintelligible writing!

Key Rings and Sin

I’ve been negligent about pointing to my latest essay.  Then I thought it was dated.  And then we have another shooting or two this last week.  So while this article is about the Colorado shooting, which now seems so long ago, this little essay seems as timely as ever (unfortunately).  Toward the beginning, I say this:

Why are we not shocked and outraged at this daily violence? If we were, would it do any good? What would it do to our psyches to be aware and outraged every day? Maybe we have no psychological choice but to move the violence to the subliminal regions. But then along comes a mass shooting, and we are aware, if only briefly, how much violence and fear of violence we live with daily.

To put it another way: it’s best we not think too deeply about our key rings, the symbol of dark principalities and powers that seem to rule our world.

To read the rest, go to Christianity Today.

Educating Boys

I’d be interested in hearing from teachers and school administrators about this David Brooks quote, and his column:

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.

The Golf Swing of Life

In the middle of a piece on the golf swing and Christian ethics, I say this:

We are not given ethical injunctions because we can in fact fulfill them. No, we are given ethical injunctions because they lay out the physics of the spiritual life, what is required to play the game of life. You can no more play the game of life without ethics than you can play the game of golf without learning the physics of the golf swing….  We are in the bad habit of thinking that ethics is a REAL SERIOUS BUSINESS, that our welfare and the welfare of the world depend on its proper execution. Not quite. The gospel is the end of ethics in this sense. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. The welfare of the world is a settled issue…. The wonderful thing about the gospel is that it takes ethics away as duty and gives it back as joy—precisely because we don’t have to do it anymore but get to do it in freedom.

If you are intrigued enough to read more, check out the full article on the CT website, and comment there or here!

Looking for Jesus in All the Wrong Places

I recently found myself in worship singing, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord / Open the eyes of my heart / I want to see You, / I want to see You.”

And then I ducked.

I ducked because I suddenly remembered that God had warned Moses that if Moses actually saw God, he would instantly die. Instead, God offered to cover Moses’ eyes while he passed by, and then, once he passed by Moses, to let Moses see his “backside.”

Since I didn’t want to die that instant—I had a playoff game to watch after church—I stopped singing. But I didn’t want others to think I didn’t love God, so I started singing again, but quietly, with a revised text:

“Cover the eyes of my heart, Lord / Cover the eyes of my heart / I want to see your backside / I want to see your backside.”

This version failed to inspire me for some reason, …

[To read the rest, go to Christianity Today.]


Calling a Fool a Fool

Recently I wrote a piece on things Anglican in which I called a spade a spade.  This piece is about calling a fool a fool. That fool would be me, and I suppose,  many people like me.  Let me explain.

The spade in AMIA that still needs to be called such is schism.  I stand by that judgment despite the thoughtful push back I have received.  I have explained myself in my comments section and in my article. No need to beat that dead horse.

But one thing I was unaware of when I wrote that piece was my own motives for writing it. I knew I was angry, yet anger is not the problem, for one can indeed be angry and sin not.  It’s what motivated the anger.

A big reason I joined the Anglican communion was that I wanted to be a part of something that had an organic connection with Christians worldwide, and Christians back in time.  I had become increasingly dissatisfied with schismatic Protestantism, and I thought I could avoid that sin by entering the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The catastrophe of 2003 was about many things, certainly biblical authority and sexual ethics.  But it was also about church authority and communion.  What disappointed me most about the Episcopal Church was its flaunting of the explicit and clear decisions of 1998 Lambeth regarding human sexuality.  In short, TEC was being schismatic!  And many members of my Episcopal parish, I discovered, could care less, saying it was none of the Communion’s business how we ran our affairs.

Well, I cared a great deal, so naturally, I wanted nothing to do with such a church, and eventually off I went, looking for an Anglican body that would abide by the letter of the Lambeth law and preserve communion with the worldwide church.  I knew  things would be messy for a few years, but I was optimistic that eventually conservatives  in AMIA, CANA etc. would prevail in this sense: We would be recognized by the communion and by history as having done the right thing.

Today, I am unsure that this will happen, but stranger things have occurred in church history.  But I am sure of this: the motives for my reaction and that of many conservatives have now been exposed for what they are.  That occurred when the nine AMIA bishops recently resigned from Rwanda oversight.  When I read about this, I was stunned and angry.  When I discovered that the oversight we had was really no oversight, that we in AMIA had essentially been free-lancing for years—well, I was more angry still.  Why?  Because I joined AMIA to avoid schism, and here we were practicing schism!

And why did that particular sin make me angry?  Because I see myself as a person who is not a schismatic, not like those other sinners.  I have made my church choices based on righteous criteria! In short my identity as an Anglican is very much wrapped up in my self-justifying efforts.  I want to be in a morally superior institution.  That makes me feel good about myself.  To call a thing what it is: That’s self-justification, or self-righteousness.

Any one familiar with my writings can see that this sin is compounded by hypocrisy, because one of my big themes is that we are called to live graciously in a sinful church.  The church of course is also justified, but not by its moral purity and theological integrity or because it has proper standing with a bishop, but only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Among the many sins churches traffic in is schism.  To live in a sinful but justified church means living in a schismatic church.

We’re not given to admitting such, of course, but the Anglican communion as a whole is a schismatic church.  We rejected Catholicism for no good theological reason other than to justify a divorce and remarriage of a king. We have striven mightily to build up a rather impressive theology that has, yes, attempted to justify our separate existence, showing the unique things we now bring to the table of Christendom. There is much that right and true and wise in Anglican theology and liturgy (the Lord uses all sorts of things, even schism, to lead us into all truth).  But the plain fact is that schism is at the heart of our identity.

In this, we certainly are no different than Protestantism as a whole—though we like to imagine that Anglicanism is a noble third way!  And lo and behold, things don’t stand much better with Catholicism and Orthodoxy, who in 1054 mutually excommunicated one another, committing bilateral schism.  In other words, every Christian communion on the planet is living in a state of schism regarding another Christian communion.  There is no communion that can justify its current existence based on  the purity of its theology or ecclesial practice.  We’re all sinners–and all justified by Christ.

Because we are justified by Christ and not the purity of our ecclesial actions, we have the freedom to call a thing what it is.  New expressions of schism should be called such, and be repented of as soon as possible.  We in AMIA are still called to act as faithfully as we know how in this situation, which means arranging our ecclesiastical connections in ways we believe will be most fruitful for our churches and for the witness of the gospel.

But let us not kid ourselves.  To come under a “recognized authority” is still to come under an authority that is historically complicit in one schism or another.  To do so as an attempt to justify our existence is foolish, for there is nothing we can do to justify our existence.  Jesus has already done that.

Furthermore, to distance oneself from schismatics is, in the end, to distance oneself from sinners.  Schismatics are usually fellow believers (unless they’ve become heretics as well), the only difference is that they are sinning in a public way.  Who among us has not at some point wished to chuck the communion and go it alone?  If Jesus is right, to lust after separation with the heart is to commit schism in essence.  We are all schismatics, I’m afraid.

Again, that is not a call for ecclesiastical indifference but only a call for a little more self-awareness and  humility.  Certainly, these are not traits I have been exhibiting lately, and my only excuse is that it is just so much more fun to be self-righteous!

The sins of schism, self-righteousness, and self-justifying behavior will be with us always, even to the end of this age. In fact, the church is already one, as Ephesians teaches (Jesus having broken down the wall of hostility) and the creeds affirm (“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”).  Jesus’ work is indeed finished, as he said. But we live between the time when the work is finished and the time when the work becomes manifest.  In the meantime, I believe we are called to humbly bear the suffering that such sins bring upon us, and yet do so in joy, knowing the forgiveness that is ours in Christ.



Fear Not, AMIA!

Why this Anglican sees opportunity in the midst of crisis.

The Anglican Mission in America parishes find themselves at a critical juncture. They have the opportunity to make decisions that will affirm the unity of the church and, according to Jesus, offer a stellar witness to an unbelieving world (John 17:20-21).  But it’s not surprising that at just such a time, we’re anxious and afraid.

I say “we” because I too am a member of an AMIA parish. I too have been anxiously reading the blogs and news sites.  I too have been concerned to do what is right when it feels as if we’re walking at the edge of a cliff and one little misstep will send us into the abyss.  That abyss might be parish disunity or the stalling of growth or loss of funding for a special project or maybe even the loss of a beloved bishop who also happens to be a friend. Whatever it is, we may find it hard to be people of hope in this season of hope!

And yet it is not unusual that a season of great portent is also a season of fear: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear (Luke 2:9).  Students of church history recognize that times like these are unparalleled moments. More specifically, we have an opportunity to demonstrate a faithfulness that can shape the future of Anglicanism and be a witness of the gospel.

Some facts in the current crisis remain in dispute, and it will take months or years to sort them out. We need to understand what, in fact, was the relationship between Chuck Murphy and the Rwanda Province over the last few years.  We need to see a detailed audit of finances.  But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine the worst case scenario. Let’s say that Chuck Murphy refused any accountability from Rwanda, that he lied to us about that accountability, that he misused funds.  To be clear, I’m not saying any of this is true; it’s a hypothetical example. But even if it were all true, none of that, in itself, would require us to repudiate his leadership. Bishops sin. What else is new? But a bishop’s sin is not sufficient reason to abandon one’s bishop, although it may be sufficient cause to call him to repentance. In any event, when it comes to speculating about the details of the “Rwanda affair,” I think we are wise to be patient and let the investigations, journalistic and financial, keep moving forward.

But unfortunately, there is another issue that has been made public; it is now part of the historical record: Chuck Murphy and eight AMIA bishops have removed themselves from Rwandan oversight, having done so for no particular theological or biblical reason. The issues are both personal and ecstatic.  By personal, I mean personality conflicts.  By ecstatic, I mean that the only spiritual reason given for the departure was Chuck Murphy’s sense that the Lord had told him personally that he was like Moses leading people out of Egypt: “I must now say … that I believe that the Lord’s present word to me (and to us) now directs me to look beyond Genesis chapters 39-45, and on into the Book of Exodus…. that Africa (Egypt) could no longer be viewed as [AMIA’s] lasting home…. Things have now been made very clear to me” [letter of Dec. 5, 2011 to Archbishop Rwaje].

I think it critical in such times that we say what a thing is–only the truth will set us free. And this thing that happened has a name: schism.  All the AMIA bishops who have resigned are schismatics.

This is a hard sentence to write and to read, because these are otherwise godly men, whose leadership we have admired.  Some we call friends and colleagues.  But there is no other word to describe what they’ve done other than the word schism.

This is troubling, first, because it contradicts Jesus’ expressed prayer for the unity of the church. Second, it threatens to make a lie of AMIA’s posture when we first left the Episcopal Church.  Some accused us of schism at the time, and we responded in one of two ways:  (1) It is not schism if the church we departed had lost its Christian moorings. Or (2) if it is schism, then it is one of the rare exceptions in which schism is the lesser evil. In either case, we held aloft a couple of theological ideals that were motivating us: The authority of Scripture and sexual/moral integrity. We did not leave on a point of personal inspiration.

Chuck Murphy has not tried to justify his departure from Rwanda on any biblical or theological grounds whatsoever.  The only ground, as noted, is a matter of personal spiritual experience: as he put it, “the Lord’s present word to me.”

In that little acknowledgement, he and those who followed him have joined the many examples in church history, who because of a point of personal inspiration separated from the church universal. Who comes to mind are the Montanists, the many apocalyptic sects of the Middle Ages and the Reformation, and the many sects of our times. We call these people schismatics.

Thus we in AMIA parishes find ourselves in a scary moment, and yet one in which we can take courage.  The very bishops we love and have given ourselves to in trust have become schismatics.  Some of them are doing so out of loyalty to Chuck Murphy, using justifying language that in one way or another harkens to their vow to support and to obey their bishop.  I would humbly suggest that one area that we are not called to submit to our bishop is when he wants to lead us into schism.

And I would suggest, the most loyal and faithful thing we can do at such a times is to tell our beloved bishops to repent and to submit themselves to the godly discipline of other bishops. The second thing would be for the parish immediately to regularize a relationship with a bishop who is in a relationship with a bishop who honors his vow to promote the church’s unity.

To do this will not be easy for parishes who love and respect their bishop. But those who do so will show themselves and the world that they take church unity with the same seriousness as did Jesus: “Father, may they be one even as we are one” (John 17).  And they will participate in answering the prayer we pray in Advent, when in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” we sing the line “Bid thou our sad divisions cease.”

To take such bold actions will divide some parishes and cause rifts in longstanding and close relationships.  As a result, it may set back a parish mission or program we had our heart set on.  In short, suffering of one sort or another may result.  Yet as we well know but as we are apt to forget at such times: it is just in such times that the Lord is with his people.  What he spoke to Israel long ago, he speaks to his church in all times and places:

But you, Israel, my servant,

Jacob, whom I have chosen,

the offspring of Abraham, my friend;

you whom I took from the ends of the earth,

and called from its farthest corners,

saying to you, “You are my servant,

I have chosen you and not cast you off”;

fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:8-10)

As this passage suggests, we have even another opportunity at this historic moment: To see the righteous hand of God once again uphold us!

So What’s So Bad about ‘Chaplains’?

It’s becoming increasingly common to infer that when a pastor becomes a “chaplain,” the church is in trouble. A few years ago, one website encouraging “innovative” ministry listed five types of pastors that a church might call: Catalytic, Cultivator, Conflict-Quelling, Chaplain, and Catatonic. The page clarified that “each of these types carries positives and negatives,” but it seemed clear that the further one went down the list, the more problematic was the pastor. At the top of the list were Catalytic pastors, who are “gifted in the prophetic and tend to be charismatic leaders. These pastors have lots of energy and are focused on the mission of the church … that is, reaching the community for Jesus Christ. In the ‘right’ church, they’ll grow it without a doubt.”

A Chaplain pastor, on the other hand, was mired near the bottom. A Chaplain pastor is “wired for peace, harmony, and pastoral care. This is the type of pastor that has been produced by seminaries for several decades, though a few … a very few … seminaries are retooling. Chaplain pastors eschew change and value status quo. They don’t want to stir the waters; rather, they want to bring healing to hurting souls.” And if that weren’t bad enough, “Chaplain pastors don’t grow churches. In fact, a Chaplain pastor will hasten a congregation’s demise because they tend to focus on those within the congregation rather than in bringing new converts to Jesus Christ.”

The assumptions here are all too common, I’m afraid. So we hear in many quarters that pastors should be leaders, catalysts, and entrepreneurs, and the repeated slam about pastors who are mere chaplains.

[To read more, go to Christianity Today.]

Starbucks Homeless Bathrooms

I was visiting San Francisco recently and happened upon a Starbucks.

Okay, that isn’t hard. There is one about every block.  That’s like saying I was in San Francisco and I happened upon a homeless person.  There’s also at least one every block.

And when I walked into Starbucks on O’Farrell and Ellis for my 7 a.m. pick-me-up, I happened upon a line of homeless people, waiting in line to use the bathroom.

Apparently this is a coast-to-coast phenomenon.  A recent NY Times article discussed the problem in the big apple.  It’s so bad, as one employee put it, Starbucks has become New York City’s public bathrooms. Starbucks employees have tried in vain to lock the homeless out of their bathrooms–apparently they don’t think they were hired to clean up all manner of bodily fluids they find there after heavy homeless use–but Seattle headquarters won’t permit the ban.

In San Francisco, my Christian sensibilities bumped into my aesthetic sensibilities and started a pushing match.  I don’t know who has won.

On the one hand, I wanted to have compassion on the homeless.  Surely the dignity of being able use a bathroom was the least one could wish for them.  On the other hand, I choose to buy coffee from Starbucks because (a) the coffee, and (be) the atmosphere.  I expect it to be full of people of my social and economic class and who abide by my sensibilities–one of which is sleeping inside, taking baths, going to work, wearing clean clothes, and so forth.

In my case, it’s no doubt a good thing to have the homeless intrude my space.  Otherwise I’d probably hardly every run into them, given my lifestyle and schedule.  But let’s say you’re a person who works with the indigent day in and day out.  Is it okay to have a Sabbath from them? Do these good people have the “right” to find a business establishment where they won’t run into people they end up having to serve?  Is it okay to go to a place because it is socially comfortable? Must charity always trump, whenever and wherever the needy show up?

As I said, my Christian sensibilities say, yes, charity must always trump.  And that’s fine.  But I know myself.  I’m not proud to say that if this remains the policy at Starbucks, I’ll just start looking for a coffee shop that just serves coffee to people like me.

And then when I want to serve the poor, I’ll sign up to take a shift at the homeless shelter, maybe grabbing a coffee of the day grande on the way there.

As I said, I’m not proud of this.  But I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll end up doing.