Zen and the art of Episcopal news

purple-buddha-head-vietnamThose rowdy Anglican conservatives out there are very upset that the mainstream press has not paid more attention to the election of Father Kevin Thew Forrester as the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. If you wish, click here to get a sense of just how upset they are. As it turns out, there is an Associated Press report on the wires. Here it is -- every word of it (as best I can tell):

ESCANABA, Mich. (AP) -- The new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan is an ordained Zen Buddhist.

Northern Michigan's Episcopal congregations and delegates overwhelmingly elected the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester at their convention on Saturday. The diocesan Web site says Thew Forrester "has practiced Zen meditation for almost a decade," and the Buddhist community welcomed his commitment by granting him "lay ordination."

The Web site says Northern Michigan's new bishop "resonates deeply" with "his own interfaith dialogue with Buddhism and meditative practice."

Now, it is true that if you do a Google News search, you don't get very much.

Then again, if you do a Google search of the Web itself, you turn up all of the usual suspects in the world of alternative, conservative news. You see, once again, we are dealing with a "conservative" story, for some reason. The election of a Buddhist -- or someone with a serious attachment to Buddhist beliefs and practices -- is not a mainstream story. The question, of course, is, "Why?"

As you would expect, the mainstream Episcopal press has covered the story a little bit. Here is a chunk of the report in The Living Church. The key fact is that this election was totally predictable.

Fr. Forrester, the only candidate on the slate, was elected on the first ballot, receiving 88 percent of delegate votes and 91 percent of congregational votes, according to a diocesan news release.

The bishop-elect has served the diocese since 2001 as its ministry development coordinator and more recently as rector of St. Paul's Church, Marquette, and St. John's, Negaunee. The announcement of Fr. Forrester's nomination sparked controversy last month because he is also a practicing Buddhist and said he had received Buddhist "lay ordination" and was "walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together."

You can hear the yawn, can't you. After all, this is not as big a shock as news about a Muslim Episcopalian or even a brace of Episcopal druids. And I would argue that this is not a first for the Episcopal Church, anyway.

The key is that word "ordination." What does it mean in a Buddhist context, anyway?

episcopal_church_usa_sealClearly, there is nothing new about an Episcopal leader practicing elements of the Buddhist faith or seeing them as compatible with Christian doctrine. After all, more than a decade ago, I wrote the following for the Scripps Howard News Service about the election of the denomination's new presiding bishop:

It is the Most Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold III's custom to begin his day at 5 a.m. with prayer and yoga, a heels-over-head ritual that symbolizes what some call his Zen-Benedictine approach to faith.

The graceful, bookish cleric didn't stand on his head in the National Cathedral during the festive rites in which he was installed as the Episcopal Church's leader. But the new presiding bishop did challenge his church to wholeheartedly embrace the ambiguity of modern life.

Each person must discover "the truth which is embodied in each of us, in what might be called the scripture of our own lives," he said. ... With their legacy of "graced pragmatism," Episcopalians are uniquely gifted at blending the "diverse and the disparate," the "contradictory and the paradoxical," the "mix and the muddle," he said. In a flock committed to finding the "via media," or middle way, "different dimensions of truth, different experiences of grace, can meet together, embrace one another, and share the Bread of Life."

Here is a postmodern credo for the next millennium: The truths are out there.

So here is the question about Forrester's election: Where's the news hook?

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