Scene: a time in the not-too-distant future. A non-descript office, with some books, and small table with a kneeler in front of it and an emblem above it. The emblem consists of a combination earth/peace sign flanked by two doves in profile, and is illuminated by two crossed laser beams coming from below. There is another table nearby, with a transprojector on it.
The machine beeps, and the following message begins to scroll on a large overhead screen. No one is present to read it.
[ENS (April 1). From an undisclosed location. Transcript of remarks by the Presiding Bishop.]
As Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I feel an obligation to address the rumors, which are rampant in these troubled times, that the "end times" are beginning, and that the so-called "Second Coming" is at hand.
We of course are all aware that every prophecy that has been made to date about "the end of the world" has proved to be untrue. After all, we are still here to make that statement, and so I say it again, with no little confidence: every prophecy to date has been false.
What is so special, then, about the latest one? Nothing, that I can see -- because it is not specific, and it is not the utterance of just one person. It is, as I say, nothing more than rumors and vague whispers.
Are we having earthquakes? Yes, we are -- the latest one on the Atlantic seaboard, as you know, eliminated The Episcopal Church's last main source of income, our rentals from our former headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, when the ensuing tsunami flooded all of lower Manhattan to a depth of a hundred or more feet.
Fortunately, as you know, I and my staff of two (plus my part-time secretary) had relocated to Oklahoma a good four months ago, where the rents are much cheaper. Also, as my COO informs me (she is one of the two; the other is my canon treasurer), the building was insured, and our lawyers right now are reviewing the policy to see just what is covered and what is excluded.
But there have always been earthquakes, so that is nothing new. Are we having wars? Of course -- mankind has always had wars, and these times are no exception.
Had Israel simply followed the repeated recommendations of our General Convention, dropped its blockade of Gaza, pulled out of Jerusalem and withdrawn to its 1967 borders, it is safe to say that nuclear war would never have broken out in the Middle East. But Israel did not follow those recommendations, and so now we have the unfortunate situation we have there.
But I am happy to say that our Standing Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy is meeting right now with the Standing Commission on International Peace with Justice Concerns, and they should have some new recommendations for living into the horrendous events going on there as I speak. The only problem is that, even though there are only two of them able to meet, events appear to be moving faster than those two can agree on what to recommend.
People in our Church are complaining, too, about the mandatory chip implants we introduced a while ago in order to make the tallying of Average Weekly Attendance so much easier on our stressed-out and overworked clergy. Some are calling them the "mark of the beast."
I am here to tell you that there is absolutely no basis for such talk. The three sixes that you see when you first take one out of its little box, before implanting it as per the safe and easy directions, are actually three nines, because that is the way they come from the manufacturer. Those nines are automatically advanced to zeros the first time the chip is activated, so that it can begin to record thereafter the number of times each parishioner thinks of going to church, starting with "001", and so on.
I am assured that the chips could not have been manufactured any other way and do their intended job. Also, having four digits rather than three would have been too expensive -- they tell me we can still keep track every time they roll over.
And please remember -- we were one of the last churches to adopt the chips. We did so only when the government told us it would cut off our funding if we could not provide a more reliable count of our weekly attendance, such as it is, as measured by our intentions. I'm sure I don't have to remind you of our official motto: "It's the thought that counts."
All the churches, and all those atheist and agnostic gatherings that so outnumber us, are using the chips to provide the government with the data it needs to disburse the money it appropriates. With the loss of all our rental income, it now becomes more important than ever to maintain a steady cash flow, and the chips are the only means of doing that.
As far as persecutions of Christians are concerned, I want to stress the fact that there are no persecutions of Christians who are members of the officially recognized Christian churches, such as The Episcopal Church.
The persecutions that are going on are all persecutions of Anglicans -- and as we all know by now, Anglicans are not Christians. They ceased being that when we expelled the last of them from our Church some ten years ago, for abandonment of communion.
It is not our fault that they have not chosen to tithe to our government, in exchange for the bounties it gives us -- they could do so, and I am told the persecutions would stop. But they are stubborn, and insist on "witnessing" to the one they call "the Way, the Truth and the Life."
As we who are the official, enlightened Christians know by now, every religion recognized by the government has the privilege of choosing their own messiah. That is why some have the Budda Christ, others have the Zoroastrian Christ, and so forth, and why we have our own personal messiah, which we call simply "the Force Within."
Anglicans, and the religion they profess to follow, simply do not allow enough room for the largeness and variety of the human spirit. And also, they still require the barbarism of what they call "baptism" before you can be invited to share what they arcanely refer to as their "sacraments." Though I consider myself broad-minded, I could never ask anyone to try to live into that.
Finally, I want to say something about our country's most wonderful and magnanimous President-for-Life. Unfortunately, some people are risking the full wrath of the law by referring to herhim -- in secret, of course; they wouldn't dare risk it in public -- as the "A. C." (You know what I mean, because we are forbidden to use the words those initials represent.) All the things that are said about herhim -- about herhis ambition to rule the world, about herhis having miraculously recovered from some unspecified wound, and so forth, are simply not true. Why, I had breakfast with herhim just the other day, and s/he was perfectly normal and gracious with me. In fact, I will tell you what s/he told me -- s/he said:
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[At this point, the transcript of the Presiding Bishop's talk was interrupted, presumably by the exigencies of the ongoing war, which has spread from the Middle East. ENS is working on recovering the connection, and will have a further announcement just as soon as it can be reestablished.]