"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Verse inspired by 'O Oriens'

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

A poem for Advent.  More specifically, a poem inspired by the "O Antiphon" for 21 December, O Oriens (O Rising Sun, or Morning Star).  The O Antiphons will be familiar to anyone who has heard or sung the well known Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which is a musical setting of the antiphons, to be sung at evening prayer in the final week before Christmas.  The antiphons have a treasured and ancient history in the liturgy of the Church, about which more can be read here. 

I sat waiting in the darkness
For the sun to rise, bringing light
And warmth to cracked and bloody hands,
Grey eyes, and a body listless.
The darkness stretched onward, this night,
The longest, and cold.  Restless bands
Of wand'rers, shuffling in the gloom,
Muffled voices and stamping feet;
We all with frosty, bated breath.

The sun that rose did not rout death;
A winter sun of light, not heat.
I heard one, though, who cried, "Make room!"
A voice that spoke of another
Dawn, this one from on high, to break
Upon us, to scatter and draw;
A God who waits within a womb,
Descends to rise from out the tomb.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fr. Robert Hendrickson on the Need for Clarity

Lord, mend or rather make us: one creation
     Will not suffice our turn:
Except thou make us daily, we shall spurn
     Our own salvation.
~ George Herbert

In response to Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori's Christmas message, Fr. Robert Hendrickson of the Society of Catholic Priests, who blogs at The Sub-dean's Stall, wrote a post which lamented the lack of clarity in that message.  Specifically, he pointed out the Presiding Bishop's failure to explicitly use the name of Jesus, or even Christ (an observation which, unfortunately, has clear precedent when it comes to Jefferts Schori's Christmas and Easter addresses).  As a follow-up to that post, Fr. Hendrickson has posted a reflection that nearly perfectly expresses my own sentiments and concerns about the lack of clarity, catholicity, and Christological focus which seems to afflict so many of our spiritual leaders in TEC.  Read it all here.

"There is a desperate need for a faith in this country that is clear, welcoming, and theologically orthodox. I use the term orthodox not to create boundaries and limits but to indicate that we can be a Church that welcomes and affirms not because we are avoiding theological truth and spiritual rigor but because of them. I use the term welcoming not to indicate that we fling open the doors and just gather about and do yoga and hold hands – but because we welcome all into the life-giving work and labor of the Christian faith as we come to know Christ at the Altar and are sent out in reckless joy.
Those coming to our churches are not looking for one more place to be affirmed or marketed to – they are looking for a place that will unmake and remake them."               ~Fr. Robert Hendrikson 

Peace of Christ. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

N.T. Wright: Paul's Complex World, "Much Like Ours"

An excerpt from an interview with N.T. Wright, by Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service, about Wright's new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Though I don't particularly like the adversarial and controversialist tone struck by Merritt in the article's title, Wright has some great things to say, naturally (e.g. "depressingly shallow"; love it!)

JM: Some modern Christians have criticized Paul as “sexist” or even “anti-women.” How does your book inform conversations about gender? 
NTW: This view is depressingly shallow. Paul, like the other early Christians and like Jesus himself, lived in a complex world where, despite what some think, many women were able to live independent lives, run businesses, travel, and so on, while many others were part of traditional structures which still curtailed their options. A world much like ours, in fact! Into that, the main message was what Paul says in Galatians 3.28: in the Messiah, Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no “male and female”. We can see this working out when he refers to Junia as an “apostle”, and in the same chapter (Romans 16) mentions several other women who are in positions of leadership in the church–and where, too, he gives Phoebe the task of taking the letter to Rome, which almost certainly meant that she would read it out and explain it to the house-churches. 
At the same time, Paul was a deeply creational theologian, who believed passionately that men and women were created differently and that this God-given difference was not obliterated but had to be navigated appropriately and wisely. As with his political views, so here, he may seem to us to be saying two different things, but this only shows that we are trying to fit him into the Procrustean beds of our late-modern imagination. It’s like criticizing Shakespeare for not writing in 140-character Twitter sound bytes.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Shaping Quality of Our Every Moment

Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.    ~ II Corinthians 5:2-4

And that long record of our choices -- your
every choice -- is itself the final
body, the eternal dress.
~Scott Cairns, Disciplinary Treatises: 12. The End of Heaven and the End of Hell 

There are those passages of literature or philosophy that have stuck with me, as I make a conscious decision to turn them over in my mind, recognizing their value and wishing to internalize them. One such passage is in Mere Christianity, where C. S. Lewis speaks of our every decision as moving us in one of two directions, shaping us into a creature either more heavenly or more hellish.  It's a passage which first made an impact on me, I suppose, because I took it to express a deep truth that I needed to hear, an articulation of a difficult reality that helped me by encouraging me to face and understand that reality.  It seems I have need to be reminded again.

It is, after all, rather hard to accept; that our every decision is weighed, so to speak.  We are constantly either doing right or wrong, and there is no middle ground, no standing still.  Talk about pressure.  Talk about moralistic legalism.  It reminds me of George Harrison's song "Rising Sun":

On the street of villains taken for a ride
You can have the devil as a guide
Crippled by the boundaries, programmed into guilt
Til your nervous system starts to tilt
In a room of mirrors you can see for miles
But everything that's there is in disguise
Every word you've uttered and every thought you've had
Is all inside your file the good and the bad

But in the rising sun you can feel your life begin...

On the avenue of sinners I have been employed
Working there til I was near destroyed
I was almost a statistic inside a doctor's case
When I heard the messenger from inner space...

Much as I love George (and no matter how good the song), I know I shouldn't be looking to him for theological instruction; other numbers from that same album, his last, Brainwashed, include "Any Road (Will Get You There)" and "P2 Vatican Blues".  The source notwithstanding, isn't it just this kind of slavery that Jesus came to free us from?  To liberate us from the strictures of a moral law that we bent creatures are incapable of keeping?  Thank God for grace, right!  No more pressure, no sweating the small stuff (or any stuff, really), because God has done it all.  We've been justified by faith, and the work is done.  Man, that was, well ... really easy, actually.  (What's that?  Cheap grace?  Yeah, I don't know what you're talking about ...)

The problem is, there's enough truth in that thinking to make it truly dangerous.  Jesus's death and resurrection did indeed free us from the tyrannical impossibility of attempting to justify ourselves before God.  It is through Christ alone that we are justified, restored to right relationship with God.  But grace is not cheap.  The Christian life is not easy.  And with the turning of the soul to God through Christ, the work of sanctification is just begun.  It is the work of being made holy, 'fit for heaven'.  It is a work in which the Holy Spirit leads, but we must choose daily to follow.  It is a work which continues for a lifetime (and I am inclined to believe it may well continue after this mortal life, as well).

It's easy to rationalize away that kind of hard belief when I'm faced with some temptation, some self-serving desire.  After all, I've been forgiven already, right?  It's not like I'm really harming anyone.  Getting so hung up on doing the right or wrong thing -- isn't that like 'works righteousness', or something?

It's interesting how the Holy Spirit draws to our attention those things we need to hear.  I'm a reader, so the Spirit often moves through books to get to me.  It seems I can't pick up a book these days without hearing this theme.  Here's a passage from a sermon by E. B. Pusey:
"Everything may, and does, minister to heaven or hell ... We are, day by day, and hour by hour, influenced by everything around us; rising or falling, sinking or recovering, receiving impressions which are to last forever; taking our colour and mould from everything which passes around us and in us, and not the less unperceived; each touch slight, as impressed by a single spiritual hand, but, in itself, not the less, rather the more lasting, since what we are yielding ourselves to is, in the end, the finger of God or the touch of Satan ... we are receiving moment by moment the hallowed impress of the heavenly hand, conforming our lineaments one by one, each faculty of our spirit, and this poor earthly tenement of our body itself, to the image of God wherein we were re-created, or we are gradually being dried up and withered by the blasting burning torch of the arch-fiend; each touch is of fire,  burning out our proud rebellious flesh, or searing our life; some more miserable falls sink us deeper; some more difficult victories, won by God's help over ourselves, the flesh, the world, and Satan, raise us on the heavenward path; but each sense, at every avenue, each thought, each word, each act, is in its degree doing that endless work; every evil thought, every idle word, and still more, each wilful act, is stamping upon men the mark of the beast; each slightest deed of faith is tracing deeper the seal of God upon their forehead."  
As Pusey describes it, there is a war on for our souls at any given moment, in which we take part, living our lives in such a way as yielding either to "the hallowed impress of the heavenly hand" or else to the "blasting burning torch of the arch-fiend."  No doubt many today (even some in the Church) would find such language dated, superstitious.  But the truth asserted here (and I do believe it so) may be  presented without such stark and colorful religious language.  Thomas Merton said, "A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."  Where Pusey presents to us the unseen spiritual realities, Merton presents the same principle in a manner more pragmatic and observable.  Even someone who is not religious would, I believe, acknowledge that we are shaped by what we desire, what we live for.

In his book Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, Rowan Williams uses the articles of the Creed as a framework for exploring the Christian faith.  The final chapter, then, addresses what Christians believe about 'the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come'.  He writes:
"Death is a nakedness to which we must all come, a spiritual stripping, as we are confronted by God.  The identities we have made, that we have pulled around ourselves like a comfortable dressing gown or a smart suit will dissolve, and what is deepest in us, what we most want, what we most care about, will be laid bare.  We are right to feel apprehensive about that, and we are wrong to brush away the sense of proper fear before God's judgment, however much we dislike the extravagant or hysterical expressions of it that have characterized some ages of Christian history.  To the degree to which we don't know ourselves -- a pretty high degree for nearly all of us -- we are bound to think very soberly indeed of this moment of truth."
However, the great and terrible Day of the LORD, "this moment of truth", is not simply a moment at the end of time, however near or distant that may be.  It is every moment of every day that we submit ourselves to the judgment of Christ; and the way I daily choose to live may be an indicator of the extent to which I am aware of this truth.  Williams continues:
"The coming judgment of Christ is something we have to be aware of day by day, not a remote or mythical prospect in the future.  Every day we have to become accustomed to the truth.  And what happens when all our defenses against the truth are finally taken away? When we have to come to terms with God in some unimaginable dimension where our usual strategies of hiding from ourselves and the rest of reality are not available?  How shall we manage being exposed to God and to our own consciousness as we really are?  The New Testament already speaks of this in terms of 'stripping away' -- St Paul can talk of our final destiny both as a frightening levelling of all we thought we had built or achieved (1 Corinthians 3.11-15, 2 Corinthians 5.1-5), and as a being clothed with a new 'covering' which is Christ's life (1 Corinthians 15. 53-4, and the same passage from 2 Corinthians).  Death means that something is removed that stands between us and God.  But the hope is that if we have accustomed ourselves to living with Christ in this life something has been 'constructed' that allows us to survive the terror of meeting the truth face to face: the truth has come to be, in some degree, 'in us', to use the language of St John's first letter.  At one level, we are left naked and undefended, with nothing of our own to appeal to or hide behind; yet we trust that we are gifted with the clothing, the defense we need."
One effect of all this is the belief that there is no moment or aspect of human life, no matter how fleeting or small, that is insignificant.  Human life truly matters, every bit of it, all the time.  I think this is an incredibly positive realization, and one that cannot but have a profound impact on the way we live our lives and how we relate to every man, woman, and child.  But I can and may still receive all this as a burden, a suffocating mentality in which I never have a moment's rest.  It need not be so.  To say that every moment of my life is shaping me for eternity in one way or another does not mean that I must be constantly and actively engaged in good works (that would not be possible, after all; and, not incidentally, there is an ancient tradition in the Church that regards Christians as called to lives of action, or contemplation, or both; but it is contemplation that is the higher calling).  The key is that, whether active or at rest, in every moment I am with Christ; I have been clothed with Him, have put my trust in Him.  As Williams says elsewhere, "God is at work in the continuing fellowship of flesh and blood human beings who have received Jesus' breath in themselves -- even at the (frequent) moments when they are not doing anything specifically Christlike..."  This is not 'works righteousness', at least not our works; it is the work of God, molding us when we choose to be with Christ.  Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.  Several translations render this verse 'that you believe in him', which unfortunately can give an impression of intellectual assent (even the devils believe) rather than whole-hearted trusting in God, believing Him to be trustworthy.  And so, at the last, because "we are gifted with the clothing ... we need", even Christ Himself, who has been working in us all our lives through to fit us for heaven, we may approach the throne of grace with confidence.  The One we see at the last Day will be our friend, and not a stranger.

I'll close now where I started. Having already considerably wrestled with the issue, I finally grabbed my copy of Mere Christianity and flipped through it until I found the desired passage. As he often does, the sage Lewis spoke to my heart and put the wrestling to rest; or was that You?
"People often think of Christianity as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't, I'll do the other thing.'  I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.  I would much rather say that every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what is was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is at harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.  To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power.  To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.  Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."

O God, the protector of all who put their trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
~ BCP, Collect for the Season after Pentecost, Proper 12

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Williams: The Breath of Jesus and the Sheer Thereness of the Christian Community

From Rowan Williams' Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief :
"According to John's Gospel, (Jesus) 'breathes into' his disciples his 'spirit', the breath of his life, so that they become equipped to do what he does and to speak with his voice to God and to the world.  By breathing into the disciples, he sets up a chain of human contact coming down to our own day, a chain of voices and faces in which Jesus is active.  The personal and direct contact with Jesus that is there before the crucifixion is renewed in the resurrection; and it is then taken to a new level as Jesus equips his friends to take responsibility for him and his Father, to be his body in the world.  It is the great new metaphor of the New Testament.  Contact with human beings who have received the breath of Jesus' life is contact with Jesus, as specific human beings pass on the mystery of God to each other across the ages.  To meet a Christian in whom this spirit is working is to be contemporary with Jesus.
Remember, Christianity is a contact before it is a message.  God is at work, God is communicating himself in flesh and blood, from the first moment Mary embraces her child.  God is at work in this presence even when Jesus is saying nothing in particular and doing nothing in particular.  And now God is at work in the continuing fellowship of flesh and blood human beings who have received Jesus' breath in themselves -- even at the (frequent) moments when they are not doing anything specifically Christlike, there is something to be touched and sensed in the sheer thereness of the Christian community.  If the risen Jesus is not an idea or an image but a living person, we meet him in the persons we have touched, the persons who, whatever their individual failings and fears, have been equipped to take responsibility for his tangible presence in the world."

Quite a daunting task, to "take responsibility for" God in the world; but I do believe that is an accurate description of the work of the Church, and of each individual Christian.  All we do has the potential to draw others closer to God or to push them further away.  This life in Christ is not a thing to be embarked upon lightly; thank God we have the "breath of Jesus" to equip and sustain us, and even to work within us and through us when we "are not doing anything specifically Christlike."

I love Rowan Williams.  I would love his writing in any event, but it's an added bonus that I can't help but read him without hearing his gently eloquent, sonorous voice, like he's sitting in my living room speaking with me.

Peace of Christ.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Devotion and Ritual in an Episcopal Home

Hear, O Israel!  The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.                                                             ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-7

Does the Episcopal Church actively foster a culture of Christian devotion?  Are Episcopalians expected and encouraged to have meaningful devotional lives?  Do we have recognizable daily rituals that enhance our faith and help us to grow in Christ?  I've been wondering over this for some time.  It was a blog post over at Episcopal Journey of Hope which finally impelled me to get some thoughts written down.  In that post, the author talked about hearing a radio spot sponsored by the Jewish Federation that was encouraging its people to "come back, learn the rituals, and participate in our programs."  This prompted the author of the post to ask "What are our rituals (as Episcopalians)?  How do they identify us?"  These are great questions, and to my mind, important ones.  I think there are faith communities that do effectively model and encourage this idea of "religion in the home", that is to say, faith as integrally woven into the daily life of the believer.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure my Episcopal Church is one of them.    

I begin with a look at the Jewish tradition. There are two broad aspects of the rituals of the Jewish shabbat that stand out to me.  First, as I understand it, it is traditionally a ritual largely presided over by the wife/mother, and so provides a sort of balance to the male leadership/prominence of the traditional synagogue.  The other is that the ritual is in the home.  So, there is this lived reality that the whole family, men, women, and children, have important roles to play, and that these beliefs are not something simply acted on occasionally in public, but rather form the fabric and rhythm of private and family life.

I think the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics do a pretty good job at this.  Every Orthodox home has (or is expected to have) an icon corner, a carefully prescribed sacred space within the home.  Among Roman Catholics, I have read about and experienced personally the concept of "the Domestic Church" -- the home as a smaller reflection of the community of the Church (e.g. husband/father as 'priest' of his home), and I think one would be hard-pressed to find a Roman Catholic home that didn't have, to a lesser or greater degree, prominent images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, rosaries, etc.  You know when you're in a Roman Catholic home.

Christians of a more evangelical stripe are certainly expected to live out their faith in daily life, and recognize that it's difficult (if not impossible) to do so without a conscious effort to develop their relationship with Jesus.  A defining characteristic of the evangelical culture is the assumption that Christians will be actively seeking to develop their faith outside of Sunday morning, both in small groups (Bible studies, cell groups, etc.) as well as individually.  In order to maintain "a personal relationship with Jesus", you need to "get into the Word" in your "daily devotions" or "quiet times", and so be "equipped to grow spiritually in your Christian walk."  These stock phrases of evangelical pastors may sound cliche to some, but they represent an exhortation to a way of life, not just a Sundays only affair.

I think this is all critically important.  No matter how vibrant one's church, I think it is very difficult to grow spiritually or to raise children in the faith without deliberately and sincerely implementing some level of devotion or ritual into one's daily life.  My concern is that perhaps we Episcopalians (as a whole) don't do this very well.  If this is true, it's the more pitiable in that this concern to provide the laity with a simple yet rich pattern for a Christian devotional life was one of the guiding principles in the creation of the Book of Common Prayer.  And, as a resource, our Prayer Book does this beautifully.  In my home, we have an icon prayer corner, where we keep our Bibles, prayer books, and other devotionals.  It's here that I pray the Daily Office (or attempt to with some consistency, at any rate), and where we have thrice-weekly family devotions, using a form of Compline modified for the use of little ones with short attention spans.  These devotions include the ritual of candle lighting and incense burning ('let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice').  Again, I think such a living into our faith and traditions in a way that daily shapes us and models for our children the integral nature of that faith is vital.  However, it was not primarily from my church family that I received such encouragement and instruction, but rather from my being raised by evangelical Episcopal parents, and from the influence of Orthodox and Roman Catholic friends.

I hope I'm wrong in thinking that we don't do a good job at this; maybe it's just my own limited experience.  As Episcopalians, do we expect our people to have lives of daily devotion and meaningful ritual?  Do we instruct and provide direction to that end?  If you were in the home of a parishioner, would you know, without having to ask, that this is an Anglican (or even merely Christian) home?

May God the Father, who by Baptism adopts us as his children, give us grace. Amen.
May God the Son, who sanctified a home at Nazareth, fill us with love. Amen.
May God the Holy Spirit, who has made the Church one family, keep us in peace. Amen.
                                                                                                                                                                                                ~BCP pg. 445

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Priorities for the Next Presiding Bishop?

I just finished filling out the survey recently issued by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop.  A link to the survey can be found on the Episcopal Church website here.

The survey ends with two questions for respondents to answer by typing in a text box.  Those questions, and my responses, are below.

What are the three most important issues for the next Presiding Bishop during the term of office?

1. Providing leadership that is authentically Christian, that affirms and guards the Christian faith as a precious gift, and that is unashamed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as the hope and salvation of the world.  I believe this is needed at this time in the history of TEC, when there are increasing numbers who wonder (not without justification) whether we will continue to view ourselves as members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, or whether we will move into a vague, unrooted spiritualism, devoid of recognizably Christian doctrine.  Our identity is in Christ, or it is in nothing.

2. Vision for the future of the church, as regards its institutional shape.  This work (such as that being studied by the Task Force for Church Structural Reform) must be a priority.  In light of the massive cultural shift of the last several decades (post-Christendom, here we are!), we must seek to reshape our common life in ways that are pragmatic and viable, wisely discerning the difference between those things which can and should be changed, and those things which are essential to the health and integrity of our faith.

3. Serving as an example to help begin a healing time.  The bitterness attending the recent divisions in our church (and with much of the Anglican Communion) is a tragedy and a scandal.  This does not mean we need to go back and rescind decisions we have made, or to abruptly "change course".  It does mean that we should be moving always with humility and grace, not self-congratulatory triumphalism.  It means sincerely acknowledging the pain that has been caused to so many faithful Christians of goodwill, and seeking their forgiveness, while nevertheless continuing to walk the path to which we feel called.  It means NO MORE LITIGATION, but rather a radical, boundless charity, such as we are called to in our Lord Jesus.  It may take a while, but we should be laying this groundwork now.  Reconciliation (sooner or later, to a fuller or lesser extent) must occur.

What are three ways the Episcopal Church could improve?

1. Be honest and unashamed of our identity in Christ.  We are Christian people, who should affirm and be able to articulate what we believe about God, as well as about ourselves and the world.  I do not think our church is helped by a constant, public questioning of those beliefs which constitute the core of our faith (e.g. the articles of the Creed).  

2. Cut the 'relevant' crap.  Yes, the Church should be culturally conscious, and use that consciousness to bring the love of Christ to people.  But the Church should not seek to pander to the prevailing culture (that is a hopeless task anyway; before we've even got it figured out, it's on to the next thing); the Church is called to transform the prevailing culture by offering to it a way of life that is radically different: the way of Christ.  I think we Episcopalians have a way of being the Church that is distinctively beautiful, generous, and faithful, if we will but have the wisdom to know and live into our Anglican tradition.  (Btw, I'm 28 years old).

3. Provide more focused direction to Episcopal Church resources that exist for individual and family spiritual development.  In my home, we often turn to the educational and spiritual resources of other traditions (e.g. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox), simply because TEC seems to lack the depth and coherence of message that can be found there.


Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church.  Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace.  Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it.  Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior.  Amen.
~ A Prayer for the Church, BCP pg. 816

Thursday, September 12, 2013

To Be Shining Stars in the World

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain."
~Philippians 2:12b-16

Shining like stars in the midst of a broken, tarnished world. Unfortunately, I do not think that is an accurate description of many Christians in America today. It certainly is not true as regards the popular image of Christians in society. We seem rather to be viewed as judgmental, superior, lacking compassion, self-interested, and small-minded. In one way, this is a very unfair characterization, as I know so many faithful Christians who do not in any way match such a description. But there are enough who do fit the description (and not surprisingly, they are often quite vocal) to compel me to feel that the stereotype is justified. So, how do we change this, and become those who shine like stars in the world?

The answer, I believe, lies in the same passage above. It is not found in wielding the sword of righteousness and club of truth as a bold culture warrior. It is found in great humility, great dependence upon God, great charity, generosity of spirit, and above all else, holding fast to the word of life.

Peace of Christ.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

To Mary

At the very least, I find solidarity
In joining myself to that vast army
That has down through the centuries hearkened
Unto the Angelus bells.

More than solidarity, communion.
(No small thing, that for which we were made)
Still, I sometimes wonder if you hear us.
I’m inclined to think you do.

Though it’s not the same as when I address
Him, your true Son, who never grows weary.
The Creator of time is not pressed,
But you?  Do you never tire?

You, whose ruin was vast as the sea,
Is it not enough that your heart was pierced
Once by a sword, but you must evermore
Be moved by our sighs and weeping?

Perhaps you will accept this reasoning
For my sometimes failure in devotion.
It’s no lack of love.  I would like simply
To express my gratitude. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Catholic?

I consider myself to be a Catholic Christian, an identity which has grown stronger in recent years.  As an Anglican, I have a Protestant heritage which I cannot deny, but I lean considerably more to the Catholic shore of the via media.  I sincerely think of myself, and on occasion have described myself to inquirers, as Catholic, just not Roman.

So, what does this mean?  What is this catholic faith to which I lay claim?  
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity ...
So opens the Athanasian Creed.  Certainly, the catholic faith is nothing if not Trinitarian.  This is born out as well in the foundational Apostles' Creed, and the later Nicene Creed.  It is in the Nicene Creed, "the creed of the universal Church" (BCP Catechism) that we find the essence of the Christian faith, the summation of our belief.  If to be catholic is to affirm the Nicene Creed, then I believe we may say that the catholic faith is, in essence, "mere Christianity."

I'm not big on labels.  They can be useful and sometimes necessary, but they can also give rise to much misunderstanding.  I don't usually describe myself as Anglo-Catholic, simply because the title may be understood to mean a particular church "party," with members giving assent to an agreed upon platform on a whole host of issues.  For the same reason, I don't identify myself as an "Affirming Catholic."  I could adopt both these labels, for they are certainly more descriptive of my spirituality than not.  But rather than have people I only just met assume they know my mind on any given social or theological issue, I prefer to keep labels at a minimum.  I am a Christian.  Beyond this, I feel justified in claiming the name catholic as well, for two reasons.

Firstly, there are those in the Church today who claim the name of Christian (understandable), but who nevertheless do not believe in the truth of some of the most basic teachings which the Church has for centuries affirmed.  This one may not believe in the virginal conception of our Lord, this one may deny His bodily resurrection, this one may even deny the divinity of Jesus Christ (i.e. they deny one or more articles of the Creed).  I will not stand and accuse such a one, if they are baptized into the fellowship of the Church, of not being a Christian.  Certainly, such a one opens himself up to the charge, but who am I to judge the servant of another?  He may indeed, as is any Christian, be following Christ to the best of his ability, stumblingly, by grace.  The Christian life is a continual journey, and all are at different points along the road, and for each, to his own master he stands or falls.  But what I will say with confidence is that such a one is not a Catholic Christian.  That is, he does not affirm the historic, catholic faith of the Church.*  Or, put another way, it would not be surprising for an objective, outside observer to indeed question whether such a one is a Christian, since he does not assent to those basic beliefs that have fundamentally defined the Christian faith since its earliest times.  He may find Jesus an inspiring figure, the exemplary human, etc., but the catholic faith has always asserted that He was much more than that.  All of which is to demonstrate that the catholic faith may, I believe, be defined as "mere Christianity", or what the overwhelming majority of Christians, not only the majorities of bishops in councils, but individual Christians, the well-educated and the simple, in their private homes and in their hearts, have believed about the essentials of their faith for most of the history of the Church.**  It is this faith, in its essentials, to which I hold.        

The second reason is perhaps less important, but certainly not insignificant.  The word Catholic is generally associated with a way of being Christian which is recognizably different from the Protestant way.  Any reasonably educated person, whether or not religious, can identify this.  Put very simply, the Catholic way has more ritual, more reverence for the ancient ways.  Such things as the centrality of the Eucharist, and believing the same to be an actual sharing in the Body and Blood of our Lord; a high regard for the Church visible as a true instrument of God's grace through the Sacraments; the belief that the faith of the Apostles has been handed down to us not only in the Holy Scriptures, but also in the teaching and counsel of the Church; the keeping of prescribed devotions, understanding them within the context of the greater communion of saints; all these and more are marks that may be called recognizably Catholic.  All these and more I embrace.  

*  If I am not mistaken, the word catholic was used by the ancient Fathers precisely to differentiate the apostolic, Trinitarian faith from Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and all the rest of the heretical doctrines vying for influence in the early Church.

**  I realize this statement sounds something like the Vincentian Canon (the catholic faith is that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all).  I haven't studied the canon and its application in detail, but I'll confess that I don't find it all that helpful.  It seems to me to be more the expression of an ideal, not a foolproof formula for easily assessing whether or not one's stance on a given doctrinal issue is catholic (which is how it I've seen it employed on more than one occasion in online forums).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wm. Temple, on 'The Cleansing of the Temple'

Reflections on John 2:13-22, from William Temple's Readings in St. John's Gospel.
"The first visit to Jerusalem since the ministry began.  His coming means a purge.  So it is always, not less with the shrine of our hearts than with the Jewish Temple.  The place which should be ordered with the reverence appropriate to the dwelling-place of God is cluttered up with worldly ambitions, anxieties about our possessions, designs to get the better of our neighbours ... 
It is a tremendous scene.  The Lord dominates the multitude by the righteousness of His energy and the energy of His righteousness!   And at once there is that division among those who witness the scene, which St. John records as being the almost invariable result of the words and actions of the Lord ...
The Lord had exercised authority, but also He had made a claim which demanded vindication.  He had called the Temple my Father's house ... What are His credentials?  What evidence can He give that He really holds the divine commission which He has apparently executed?  Vain enquiry!  When God speaks to either the heart or the conscience He does not first prove His right to do so.  The divine command is its own evidence, and the heart or conscience that is not utterly numbed by complacent sin recognizes its inherent authority.
Yet He offers a sign; it is a sign which only those whose hearts are already His will be able to accept (xx, 29); but that is essential to His whole purpose, which positively forbids the winning by irresistible proof of unwilling adherents to His cause." 

Thursday, June 6, 2013


In commemoration of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth (May 31).  I am, at least, consistent in my tardiness.  A reading from Jeremy Taylor, an appropriate verse of Scripture, and some original verse.  Though I didn't set out to do so, it ending up being a sort of non-traditional sonnet.

From The Life of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by Bishop Jeremy Taylor:
"Mary found no one so fit as her cousin Elizabeth to share the first emanations of her overjoyed heart, for she was to be the mother of the Baptist, who was sent as forerunner to prepare the way of the Lord her son.  It is not easy to imagine what collision of joys was at this blessed meeting; two mothers of two great princes, the one the greatest that was born of woman, the other his Lord.  When these who were made mothers by two miracles came together, they met with joy and mysteriousness.  The mother of our Lord went to visit the mother of his servant, and the Holy Ghost made the meeting festival ... By this God would have us know that when the blessings of God descend upon us, they should be published in the communion of the saints, so that our charity and eucharist may increase that of others, and the praises of God be sung aloud, till the sound strike at heaven and join with the alleluias which the morning stars in their orbs pay to their great creator."

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.   ~Colossians 3:16-17

Great the women who bore
The tidings in the hill country.
The highly favored one,
Her greeting at the door
Spurs the Forerunner to leap, he
Acknowledging the Son
Enthroned in princely state,
Beauteous in the womb of the morn.
The prophetess bows down,
Inspired, to relate
The revelation to be born,
And confirm her renown.
She cries, 'The mother of my Lord,'
And she, 'Magnificat,' outpoured.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Human Sexuality and the Church: A Time for Prayer, Study, and Reflection

(Preface:  I’ve been periodically toying with this post in various forms for nearly a year.  Because it deals with a controversial topic, and controversy ain’t my thing, I’ve intentionally delayed in publishing it.  I do so now for reasons which I hope will be apparent.  The thoughts here expressed are the product of a fair amount of reflection, but not as of yet a great deal of prayer and study.  Accordingly, please bear in mind the preliminary, rambling nature of this post: these are not fully formed conclusions, by any means.  I have tried to present these thoughts with honesty and humility, and I sincerely hope that nothing I have here stated causes hurt to any reader.  If I am disappointed in this hope, and if you feel so led, I would greatly value your input to help me understand that hurt, and how I can proceed with greater compassion.)  

A Prayer for Guidance
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I have generally not supported the efforts within the Episcopal Church to see variant sexual orientations accepted as healthy, God-ordained expressions of human sexuality.  I am not homophobic, and I certainly bear no hatred toward such persons.  I recognize that there are people within the Church, baptized members of Christ, who feel themselves genetically inclined to same-sex attraction, some of whom have formed committed relationships accordingly.  I know such individuals, and consider them friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.  They should be welcomed in the Church as members of the Church, and invited to partake of the life of the Church as they seek to live out their faith in the world.  But there is a difference between a community of sinners welcoming sinners and a community of sinners saying 'we have no sin'.  My views are primarily based upon what seems to me to be the fairly clear opposition of both Scripture and tradition on these issues.  While many proponents for full LGBT affirmation seem to simply dismiss Church tradition as the misguided ignorance of bygone eras which no longer have much to say to us, they have gone to great lengths to demonstrate how homosexuality can be viewed as compatible with Scripture, but I have thus far not found such arguments very convincing.  They seem to me to be strained interpretations to justify an already agreed upon way of thinking and acting.  While there are also, I believe, rational arguments which may be mounted against the LGBT movement in the Church, there are certainly also well-reasoned arguments in support of the same.  In any event, I do not find these purely rational arguments, whether against or for, to carry as much weight in the context of the Church's wrestling with these issues.  This is because I think the idea, commonly expressed, of the Anglican tradition's 'three-legged stool' as consisting of three entirely equal sources of revelation and authority is not actually accurate.  The ideal that I think has held true for most of the history of the Church is Scripture as the foundation, its teachings interpreted through the use of our God-given reason, within the community of Christ that is the Church (i.e. tradition).  It's only in recent decades that we have seen reason (often of a very individual, experiential sort) in the ascendant, sometimes even over and against Scripture and tradition.  (I should note, I have read Hooker only very modestly, and I have not yet studied Anglican history and theology intensively; does this seem to be an accurate analysis, or am I off track here?)  In fact, I think there are indeed strong arguments, speaking strictly as regards reason and experience, for full inclusion of LGBT persons in society.  Consequently, I do not generally oppose same-sex civil unions, and other such rights as a matter of state policy.  But as to the question of how the Church should approach this issue, I am more conflicted.
One thing that troubles me is what may be seen as a double-standard of sorts.  First, permit me to go off on a tangent.  As a teacher and student of history, I am much opposed to the overly simplistic parallels so often drawn between different issues and events.  For example, the U.S. conflicts in Vietnam and Afghanistan -- similar, yes; 'exact same thing', no.  No issue or event is ever identical to another, and we do ourselves a disservice when we gloss over these differences.  Another example, and more to the point: more than once, in observing not so cordial online ‘conversations’ over questions of human sexuality, I've read charges to the effect of, ‘You gay-bashers are the same ones who used the Bible to justify slavery back in the day!’ Well, not necessarily. Those are two quite different issues. Okay, back on topic.
The possibility of such over-simplification notwithstanding, here’s what troubles me: speaking generally, the rationale which keeps me from supporting the normalizing of same-sex relations in the Church (i.e. opposition of Scripture and tradition, despite some reasonable arguments to the contrary within the context of a broader societal shift on the issue) is precisely the same rationale which can be used to argue against the practice of the ordination of women.The ordination of women, however, has never bothered me (my Anglo-Catholic bent goes only so far).  Perhaps it is because I've grown up in a time when this debate has largely already been decided, at least within the Episcopal Church.  I think it's also because I have personally known several women priests, by whom I have been immensely blessed.  In my interaction with these women, I believe strongly that I have experienced Christ present in His true ministers.

So, what does this logical incongruity portend for my views on TEC’s trajectory regarding human sexuality?  Well, I’m not sure yet, but I intend to embark on a focused time of prayer and study on this issue as I begin my summer.  (I’ve also never really studied the Biblical and theological underpinnings of the move to ordain women; probably something else I should get to sooner rather than later).  I feel that the time is right for me to engage in such a study, primarily because I am at the beginning of the process of seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church, and I want to be very honest and transparent throughout that process.  I think it would in some measure be irresponsible, or at least ill-advised, for me to continue further in the ordination process without having a more solid understanding of where I stand on issues of human sexuality in the life of the Church, and why.  To this end, I’m currently putting together a reading list; any suggestions would be appreciated.*

It may seem odd that I have not long ago settled this question in my mind.  There are a couple of reasons why I have put it off.  Perhaps the primary reason is not a very good one: by nature, I’m pretty averse to conflict, and this issue is as contentious as they come.  As an observer of the debate (sometimes it’s a conversation, but very often it’s a no-holds-barred debate), I’ve heard plenty of vitriol from both sides, and that grieves me.  It doesn’t strike me as Christian, and for that reason it’s not a debate I’ve been eager to wade into.  Fr. Matt Marino, who blogs over at The Gospel Side, said something a while back that really resonated with me:
"It is a difficult choice we are making as a church. 1/3 of our church sees the sexuality conversation as a justice issue. Justice must be stood for. 1/3 see it as an issue of revealed truth which therefore must be opposed. 1/3 wonder what will be left when the justice people and the truth people are done with all of this."
That pretty well expresses my view at this point, wondering what will be left after the dust settles.  And it also summarizes the second and more meaningful reason why I haven’t devoted myself to taking a stand in the debate.  Honestly, I just don’t view it as that important.  I’m sure that sounds harsh to those who are LGBT and to their close friends and family, and naïve to those who feel that this is indeed a fight for the soul of orthodoxy in the Church.  I think I can understand both of those responses, but for myself, definitive statements about human sexuality are not really at the heart of the gospel.  It seems that this issue has been blown quite out of proportion, and caused far more indignation all around than it ever should have warranted.   I’m quite willing to allow for different views within the Church – I don’t think answering this question ‘correctly’ should determine whether or not one is welcome in the Household of God.  To clarify, I’m definitely not an advocate for an ‘anything goes as long as we’re honest’ approach to Church doctrine and discipline.   It’s not possible to have true community without some boundaries, i.e. some degree of agreement and unity.  But I think we find such boundaries in the historic Creeds, built as they are upon the foundation of the Scriptures, and agreed upon by the undivided Church.  This is the summation of our common, catholic faith.  It is this faith that is presented so beautifully in the Book of Common Prayer. (Incidentally, this is also why I find it so disturbing when we have bishops and priests who cast doubt on or openly reject the Creeds, or who seem to have little regard for the authority of the prayer book.)  As one who has grown in love and devotion for Jesus through just this faith, in just this church, I sincerely hope that I will continue to find a welcoming home here in TEC, as I always have, regardless of where I may find myself on this issue after a period of prayer and study.

I would greatly value your prayers as I begin this endeavor.


* My reading list so far:

Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion - Oliver O'Donovan

Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views - Robert A. J. Gagnon & Dan O. Via

Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality - Tobias S. Haller

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality - Wesley Hill

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate - Justin Lee