Friday, July 31, 2009
Actually, I do think TEC is still a church - just one in very bad shape - much like the Church before Francis or Dominic - intellectually lazy, addicted to secular power and taking its queues from the secular world. But it seems that every time the Church gets into this position, God raises up a prophet (such as Francis - who was a Deacon by the way) to call the Church back into relationship with her Lord.That is part of what I am trying to do in my little neck of the woods - be that prophet that calls the Church back to her Covenant.
He lost the case but obviously won the cause, seeing as how they named a significant aircraft after him (albeit posthumously) less than a generation later.
Read the Mitchell case here and see if you don't start having associations with, well, this or maybe this or certainly this and probably this. And if you're a lawyer, this.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
In this post, he tackles the idea (illustrated by a quote from a reporter for The Guardian) that the words or "spiritual teachings" of Jesus are sufficient without worrying about miracles or other claims about the "fact" of Jesus.
Preaching from Mark's account of Jesus "walking on water" , Richardson says,
...many of the words of Jesus were about the Old Testament, pointing to himself. Our Guardian writer says, “Surely Jesus’ words are more important than his fact?” Jesus says no, my fact is precisely what matters. Who I am is the key issue.
Read the sermon and also some of the discussion in the blog comments.
<- My wife Melissa and Brother Benet, OSB, approach the altar at Blue Cloud Abbey near Marvin, SD. Melissa is about to sign her commitment as an Oblate of the Abbey. She will be keeping up a pattern of daily prayer that she's worked at for the past year, along with spiritual reading, reflection and life application.
I have no idea what the yellow gunk is. Being a spiritual kinda guy 'n' all, sometimes things like that just appear.
Along with direct funds for military operations, several schools and businesses in SD will receive military research funding.
Find out what he did here and read his impressions. You can also click on his site masthead and find out what he did in other parts of the country.
h/t USC College Magazine
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
OK, one more before we leave the gate: Episcopal "Peace" means sacrificing inconvenient people to the ruthless
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention condemn in any nation the first use of armed force in the form of a preventive or pre-emptive strike that is aimed at disrupting a non-imminent, uncertain military threat; and be it further
Resolved, That the Convention strongly admonish the United States Government to renounce its 2002 policy that asserts the right to act, by armed force if necessary, to "forestall or prevent" threats even if "uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack"; and be it further
Resolved, That ordained and lay leadership of The Episcopal Church promote the renunciation of "first use" military action as the established teaching of our Church, encouraging parish study and public witness.
Well, here's something to study and witness about: one of the regimes that this resolution seeks to protect and enable tests its biological and chemical first strike weapons on disabled children. And before you shriek about "right wing bloggers," the news of this first appeared on AL JAZEERA. (h/t Transfigurations)
FWIW, here's the policy for which TEC "admonishes" the United States and against which those of us in the Episcopal Church are supposed to "teach," evidently as an article of faith. You might not agree with this policy, but it is certainly a more realistic and responsible effort than a bunch of conventioneers dabbling in issues between visits to Disneyland.
I sense my fellow retreatant (ahem) about ready to get going, but I think it worth reflecting on the Al Jazeera story in light of the Episcopal Presiding Bishop's assertion of corporate/political salvation over personal/spiritual salvation. The individual "duty" to the collective and all that. Also in light of the Episcopal Seminary Dean who calls abortion "holy work" (although she states this in terms of radical individualism - why the PB inconsistently declines to contest that I will leave up to you to ponder. OK, gone. Out the door. I think.)
1) He is clear that long standing and global Christian teaching does not support Same-Sex "marriage" or the ordination of active LGBT clergy:
...whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.
In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.
This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.
In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences...
2) He seems to say that theology and faith trump other concerns when it comes to church unity, which is what traditional Anglicans have been saying for quite awhile:
To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'. (FWIW, even some of the more progressive folks at the SD blogosphere open house find Anglicanism's lack of a theological covenant bewildering - but then many here grew up Lutheran and they're used to the Augsburg Confession 'n' all.)
3) He opens the possibility that "elements" (dioceses? parishes?) could sign onto an Anglican Covenant even if the Episcopal denominational elite refuses:
It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.
I've not lived in the UK and frequently miss nuances of the language spoken there. So be sure to check out other Anglican blogs for other (and probably better) takes on what the Archbishop is saying. Also put your thinking cap on and read Sarah Hey's very good analysis of the limits of this kind of statement and options for Episcopalians who stand in the greater Christian consensus.
I am sure that the Archbishop of Canterbury will say something major (of course he did-Stand Firm just circulated it). or there will be some other blog-worthy stuff in the Anglican world or on the Northern Plains while I'm away... but the Plains are teaching me that some urgent items aren't all that urgent sometimes.
BTW I am not getting the usual heads-up emails when you post comments - will look into that later too. Sorry if I seemed unresponsive to some of your comments, especially on older posts.
God bless and keep you 'til we're back in touch.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Hal Perry is getting near "retirement" from work in the Corrections system, where he's been focused on a Christian effort to help people regain and make life-giving use of freedom. I put retirement in quotes because he already has a calendar full of accreditation inspections to correctional institutions around the country. He was good enough to speak to God's people at Good Shepherd on July 26th.
Five Loaves and two fish to feed 5,000
We all have those old favorite stories that we share with favorite old friends and family.
When you get together with certain people the conversation will get around to an old favorite that begins with "Do you remember when" and people will start to groan or chuckle with delight.
For Example, here at Good Shepherd there is an old story about an individual who will remain nameless who on a Shrove Tuesday during a pancake feed dumped a whole pan of sausage in the garbage can. That always manages to get a laugh or two although I can’t imagine why.
Well, the gospel story for today is an old favorite about Jesus and his disciples that has been told over and over again. There are some stories like the story of the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son or the story of the sheep and the goats that are told only once in the gospels.
But the story for today about the five loaves and two fish is not told merely once, not twice, not three times but four times. It is the only gospel miracle which is told in its fullness in all four gospels. Why is this story told over and over I believe it is because it captures the essence of the people involved, the essential truth about Jesus and about God?
So I would like to retell this story, but include elements from the other gospel versions and two other bible stories that are connected. It is spring time in Israel. The rains have made the hills green and the flowers are blooming. It is Passover time which is a time of great religious feast, like Easter is for us. It meant a holiday from school and work. People were taking trips and going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It was also popularity time for Jesus. He had healed people of their diseases and his popularity was enormous. He was like a rock star and thousands of people would gather to hear him preach. Kind of like they did at Woodstock back in the 1960’s.
But it was also tragedy time in Israel. According to the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist had just been beheaded. People were stunned. Remember that John the Baptist was at that time the greatest prophet the people of Israel had experienced for four hundred years. So it was grieving time remember that John was the one who baptized Jesus so Jesus to was grieving. He wanted to get away to grieve, to pray, to remember so he gets in a boat on Lake Galilee to sail across some four miles to a remote private area. Jesus took a four mile boat ride that is like the distance from Sioux Falls to Tea the problem was people could see his boat from shore so when Jesus got to the other side the crowd had already gathered.
And what was Jesus reaction to the massive crowd was he irritated or angry no, he had compassion and looked on them as people in need of spiritual feeding and he healed them and taught them. The day passed quickly and it got to be late in the day, one of the disciples came to Jesus and said the people do not have any food maybe we should send them home. According to John’s version of the story this is when as a test Jesus asks Philip. How are we going to buy bread so the people can eat? Philip replied, it would take more than two hundred denari, more than two hundred days wages and even that would not be enough to feed all these people. Jesus told the disciples to look around and see what they could find. Andrew found a young boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish and brought the boy and the food to Jesus. Jesus invited everyone to sit on the grass he took the food looked up to heaven and gave thanks gave the food to the disciples with instructions to feed the people and when everyone was full there were still 12 baskets of bread left. But that is not the end of the story a few days later it happens again this time 4 thousand are feed and 7 baskets are left over.
The amazing twist to this story is after seeing all these miracles the healings and feeding the masses the disciples still question where their next meal is coming from. Jesus knowing their thoughts asks them don’t you get it, don’t you understand, are you so hardheaded and hardhearted that you don’t know who I am. Don’t you understand that God’s generosity is so great that he will take care of all your needs?
That is the real story, the miracles are important to the time but service to others and pastoral care are what I get from this story. When I think of Jesus I think of the ultimate servant leader and what he teaches is to serve your fellow man. Here at Good Shepherd we have always taken on special projects like the Berakah House [Residence for people with AIDS] the Salvation Army [Community dinners] the MAP program and many others.
But the question is as always are we doing enough? Have we surrendered ourselves to God’s will? All of us as meager as we are have something to offer someone in need. Like the little boy with the bread and the fish if we offer it to God he will turn it into a miracle. So when you think of this old story don’t concentrate on the miracle concentrate on the pastoral care and service to others and create your own miracle. Amen.
Really good fellowship, food and first face-to-faces with these folks.
My major discovery? A very liberal blogger can look very conservative and a most conservative blogger can look like a healthy Jerry Garcia.
And yes, it is true, seafood enchiladas can be reheated on an open fire. Outside. In a safe setting. With water and earth ready just in case.
These are folks who have impacted their communities, the State and the wider world via this bloggy business. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
In a July 23rd letter to the Argus Leader, Robert E. Kolbe of the Minnehaha County Historical Society defended the commemoration:
"Most of those who came here seeking divorces took advantage of South Dakota laws that were lax... They generally lived well east of the Mississippi River... H.C. Woolworth of the five-and-dime fame set up his national headquarters here. The Gilmores, famous actors on the national scene, John Jacob Astor's niece, Bob Fitzsimmons, a world heavyweight boxing champion, and Lily Langtry also were here... If one is to talk about an economic stimulus for a community, the divorce dollars made Sioux Falls in those days and laid the foundation for us today."
The Episcopal Church's Missionary Bishop in those days, William Hobart Hare, was disgusted:
. . . "The rain, the deaths and, worse than all, the scandalous divorce mill which is running at Sioux Falls, with revelations of the silliness and wickedness of men and women, have made my return home a very gloomy one. I despise people who trifle with marriage relations so intensely that the moral nausea produces nausea of the stomach. I have a continual bad taste in my mouth. One of the family, after cultivating our church in Sioux Falls and playing the role of an injured woman, has turned a disgusting somersault. She was accompanied by her adviser, so called, by name, whom she married at once upon her divorce, and it turns out… She gave $1,000 to put memorial windows…in the cathedral. They are here, but I won't have them…the flaming placards of a low circus." (from Howe's biography of Hare)
This is an interesting exercise in history. Does one simply note information, or attempt to interpret it? Should the marker just report that Sioux Falls grew by by providing easy divorces to affluent people, or should it include value judgments about the "industry"? Or are the minority on the City Council right - this bit of history should not be commemorated at all?
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Manson attempted to get a mistrial by waving a newspaper headline of Nixon's comment at the jury.
So, President Obama's media comment about a Havard prof's beef with local gendarmes shows that as much as some things change, you can believe in some just stayin' the same.
Pres. Obama's pot-stirring also raises the issue of Federal criminalization of normally local law enforcement issues. We've moved from legitimate Federal involvement in protecting voting rights to any cross-racial exchange becoming a literal and figurative "Federal case." Except that cross-racial crime only seems to count as "hate" in one direction.
- + "Jesus chooses the marginalized." James and John appear to be from a successful fishing business, owned by their father with multiple boats and hired men. James was probably affluent by the standards of that time and place. The Apostles were a decidedly mixed lot, but "inclusion" did not mean "limited to certified victim groups."
- + "Jesus affirms us just as we are." James is transformed, dropping his old life to follow Jesus. 'Nuff said.
- + "Jesus rejects male anger and passion." James and his brother John were nicknamed "Sons of Thunder" by Jesus himself. Several incidents reported in the Bible indicate that James had passion and drive. Jesus did not reject James but corrected his temptations to violence and selfish ambition - pretty much as godly fathers and adult men train up boys.
- + "All baptized people are equal and entitled to all roles in the church." James wasn't just a member of the chosen 12 Apostles, distinct from the larger group of "disciples" and certainly from "the crowd." He was also part of a special group of three (with John and Peter) who Jesus called out, privately, to witness key revelations and miracles.
- + "The church should reflect what the culture is teaching." On the contrary. James' execution was a "crowd pleaser" and stimulated persecution of the church by the culture and its elites. The church prayed against what was happening.
Even if you are not a "church goer," this piece raises key questions about God, the created order, Jesus, and the implications of this faith for all people.
Hudson hosts the online ministry Anglicans in the Wilderness.
An Anglican Layman Wonders What The Nicene Creed Actually Says
"Forty years of alternative texts and expansive language have produced an undisciplined people and a theological wasteland." (++ Robert Duncan... 2006 at Nashotah House )
Two Nicene Creeds. Two Understandings of The Faith.
Because we typically say aloud in prayer the content of our Prayer Book, we must pay special attention because "by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matthew 12:37). It is important to remember that our liturgy creates a mental paradigm by which the Church as a whole and her members individually read, hear and appropriate the content of Holy Scripture.
This little paper addresses just one aspect of that liturgy, the Nicene Creed. My perspective is that of a layman whose encounter with the language of Common Prayer is not extraordinary. I represent not clergy or trained theologians, but the man in the pew that simply tries his best to understand and live by the Creed he professes each Sunday. As such, I have tried to understand the natural english meaning of the Nicene Creed and to allow it to shape my understanding of the Christian Faith.
I am compelled therefore to notice that my understanding varies radically after I read and declare it according to one or the other version of the Nicene Creed with which I am familiar. I have also paid close attention to what Anglican leaders say about doctrine, and so I further believe that the observed variations in the Nicene Creed bear upon several doctrines that grew up in the Episcopal Church from the 1970's, and which still exist among many Anglicans who left The Episcopal Church (TEC) to join the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). I am speaking of course of that rendition of the Nicene Creed that I find in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the alternative rendition that I find in the 1979 BCP. The 1662 BCP is declared as the standard of faith and practice in ACNA, but in actual regular practice the churches of ACNA still use the 1979 BCP.
The purpose of this paper is not so much to defend a particular version of the Nicene Creed as it is to defend the use of the Nicene Creed (for ACNA and for the Anglican Communion) as it is represented in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer... because that version is now acknowledged and proclaimed to be the standard of Anglican doctrine. It is a rallying point for the new Anglican future. Given the importance of clear understanding, and acknowledging the broad Anglican agreement to honor the 1662 BCP, it only makes sense to assure ourselves that we know what The Nicene Creed within that Prayer Book actually says.
There are many differences between these two versions of the Nicene Creed. They promulgate completely different understandings of the Christian faith. The following is a list of the most striking differences (to my layman's ears), and what I think those differences actually mean.
1. Personal Salvation
+ In the 1979 BCP, it says: "We believe in One God, the Father, The Almighty... We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ... We believe in the Holy Spirit... We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, We acknowledge one baptism... and We look for the resurrection of the dead"
+ In the 1662 BCP (and every version until 1979), it says "I" where you see "We" above. This is why a Creed is always called a "credo" and not a "credemus" Credo suggests that every man stands before the judgement seat alone but for Jesus, without reliance upon man or Church or human institution. It means that salvation is personal rather than collective, that God calls us to have a personal relationship with Him. Since 1979, a theology has grown up in the Episcopal Church wherein it now regards personal salvation as heresy... so says PB Schori. Indeed, what she now says about salvation has been the de-facto doctrine of many in the Episcopal Church for 30 years or more, and she is just now shedding light on it. But the true doctrine of our Christian Faith concerning the nature of salvation is precisely the opposite.
2. Revelation and Knowability of Truth
+ In the 1979 BCP it says "... maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen"
+ In the 1662 BCP (and every version until 1979), it says "... Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible." To say that things are visible or invisible is to acknowledge that no matter how much we know about our universe, there is some part of understanding which God keeps to Himself. By contrast, to say that things are either seen or unseen is to suggest that man's perspective matters, that Truth is not absolute, that we can see God if only for trying, that we are the masters of all that we survey and that God is powerless to prevent us from discovering the full extent of what can be known. Through the words "visible and invisible", God is teaching us the lesson of the Garden of Eden, that we can know the Truth only as He reveals it, and that we ought not to claim for ourselves any "fruit of the Garden" that He has reserved for Himself.
3. Relationship between Creator and Creature. The Sovereignty of God.
+ In the 1979 BCP it says "Through him all things were made"
+ In the 1662 (and every version until 1979), it says "By him all things were made." From Genesis we know that the heavens and earth were created by God. A creation "through God" means something entirely different. It suggests that God is merely the conduit of forces that are beyond himself, that He is a part of nature rather than sovereign over it. The language of the 1979 BCP waters down the plain meaning of God's sovereignty.
4. Relationship between God the Father and God the Son
+ In the 1979 BCP, Jesus Christ is said to have been "eternally begotten of the Father"
+ In the 1662 BCP (and every version until 1979), Jesus Christ is said to have been "begotten of his Father before all worlds." The 1662 language suggests that one begets and the other is begotten, that it happens before creation, and that there is a personal relationship between the members of the Godhead. Thus when we say that God is Love, we refer to the loving unity within the Trinity. By contrast, the 1979 BCP expression "eternally begotten" contains none of this understanding of relationship and love. It understands that Father and Son are co-eternal from our perspective, but it misses the fact that in God's sense of time there is a point at which at which the Son is begotten of the Father. Does it matter? The assembled bishops at Nicaea and at Constantinople surely thought it was.
5. Person and Nature of the 3rd Person of the Trinity
+ In the 1979 BCP, His name is "The Holy Spirit"
+ In the 1662 BCP (and every version until 1979), His name is "The Holy Ghost." Here I am going to refer to Peter Toon's fine essay called "The Holy Ghost and The Spirit of God." (You can read the entire essay here.) Excerpt: "An important sophistication of use by our forbears is lost by us when it is decided to adopt a Latin-based word, “spirit” (from spiritus), as the sole and only word to translate the New testament Greek word. Pnuema. With this lack of sophistication comes the danger of heresy. Where “the Holy Ghost” is truly known as a divine Person then the danger of such heresies as modalism is minimal. Modalism, which is common today, is the doctrine that there is one Person who is God and that this One Person reveals himself as Father, Son and Spirit, that is as three Modes of Being (not as Three Persons). As we seek to be relevant in today’s world, we need not try to be wiser than were our forbears. To do justice to the rich variety of meaning conveyed by the biblical use of both Ruach (Hebrew) and Pneuma (Greek) in relation to Yahweh/ the Father we need to make use of both “the Spirit of God/the Lord” and “the Holy Ghost.”
6. Reality of the Incarnation
+ In the 1979 BCP, it says of Jesus that "by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary"
+ In the 1662 BCP (and every version until 1979), Jesus "was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary". The entire salvation story is premised upon Jesus-God becoming Jesus-flesh so that He could both live and die in the flesh as a real man. It is necessary therefore to know that He came into the world in the way other men come. The original Nicene Creed states that He (The Holy Ghost) joined with Mary, making Jesus incarnate in her womb. The 1979 BCP downplays the story of His incarnation by saying that it was not the Holy Spirit (of God) that acted but rather only His power, and that Jesus just "became" (as if by magic) "from" the Virgin Mary at the time of his birth rather than at the time of his conception. The 1979 BCP therefore teaches a mystic (gnostic) union of man and god, and it also lays the groundwork for Christians believing that life does not begin at the point of conception.
7. Penalty of Sin, Purchase of Blood, and Our Calling through Baptism
+ In the 1979 BCP, it says "... We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins."
+ In the 1662 BCP (and every version until 1979), it says "... I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins." The greek word here is 'aphesis'. It can be translated under appropriate circumstances as either forgive or as remit, but in this particular case it should be 'remit' . For example, when a person repents of their sins the result can be forgiveness, but when there is remission of sin, the symptoms of sin disappear and sin no longer has power over an individual because the penalty is paid, the slate wiped clean. This is the meaning in the 1662 Nicene Creed. Remission of sin is the purchase of sin by the Blood of Christ, and we must not suggest that it can be reduced to God saying "I forgive you." Moreover, by mentioning baptism in this sentence, we know that the Nicene Creed wants us to comprehend the covenant established between God the Judge and God the Redeemer on account of His purchase (remittance) of sin. Note again that this "Baptismal Covenant" is between the Son and the Father, NOT between man and God (that strange aberration mentioned in the 1979 BCP and in no other version of the Prayer Book).
8. Assurance of His Return and Life Everlasting
+ In the 1979 BCP, it says "He will come again"... and... "his kingdom will have no end"
+ In the 1662 (and every version until 1979), it says "He shall come again"... and... "his kingdom shall have no end" In english, the imperative form of the verb-to-be is "shall", not "will". We know as Christians that it is not merely a matter of our prediction that Jesus is returning. Rather, we know that He is returning because He promised to do so. He "shall" because He is the creator of time itself and by his Word he said it would happen. The failure of the 1979 BCP to show the imperative form of the verb demonstrates a tendency to see God as in time but not as the master of time. The sad oversight leaves us with a small god that might not do as he says, and it brings into doubt both the sureness of His return and everlasting life.
A proper evaluation of the Nicene Creed is of considerable importance to the Anglican Communion while it is seeking to redefine and reorganize itself. After considering the truthfulness of the above points, I believe a decision should be made within ACNA and throughout the Anglican Communion whether use of the Nicene Creed found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer should be curtailed, and replaced with that version promulgated in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
This decision is an important waypoint on the road to an Anglican future. As the Anglican Church of North American (ACNA) takes another look at its Formularies, I hope that its goal will NOT be to seek for a compromise where the 1979 BCP carries weight, but rather look back to that version of the BCP which is already recognized throughout the Anglican Communion for its unique ability to bring to us (lay men and women) into a clearer and truer understanding of the Gospel of Christ.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Tomorrow, there will be a challenging guest post on the Creed, as part of this blog's continuing encouragement to prepare our hearts and minds before attending weekend worship services.
Your prayers for safe travel and refreshment will be appreciated - today and Saturday, our older son will be going over to Rapid City to visit the South Dakota School of Mines, where he hopes to enroll in 2010.
Tomorrow, I will be heading up to Madison for an open house and party for South Dakota bloggers, hosted by Mr. Madville himself. Definitely a journey out of churchville. Pray also for the shrimp & crab enchiladas I'll be working on (and maybe for those who eat them).
Sunday, our family will be working a concession both (fund raising for Lincoln High Football) at the The Sioux Falls Air Show. The Blue Angels are already getting ready in the sky over Sioux Falls.
Monday-Tuesday, my wife and I will be heading up to Blue Cloud Abbey, where Melissa will make profession as an oblate of the Benedictine order. Please pray for her and give thanks for the last year of constant prayer, study and spiritual growth in her life.
Bloggy stuff will be popping up here, so drop in even while I'm away.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I Samuel 8:10-18
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’
The moral infrastructure of this country is a shambles. Most of us "think" with our feelings and then engage our brains only for the practicalities of satisfying our wants. The old moral consensus is gone, which is why mainline denominations like the Episcopal Church are torn apart over "issues." When even the "mainline" is ruptured, chaos wells up from the fissures.
Psalm 50 was appointed for this morning in The Book of Common Prayer:
16 But to the wicked God says: *
"Why do you recite my statutes,
and take my covenant upon your lips;
17 Since you refuse discipline, *
and toss my words behind your back?
18 When you see a thief, you make him your friend, *
and you cast in your lot with adulterers.
19 You have loosed your lips for evil, *
and harnessed your tongue to a lie.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
(Mark 4:41, Wednesday Evening Lesson)
The last few months have been bittersweet.
There have been some truly kind efforts by folks in the Diocese of South Dakota to reach out to me, and I've tried to do some of the same. I am genuinely touched by folks who are making a real effort to do some of the hardest work that Jesus commands, which is to forgive when wounded. And in all the "stuff" going on in the Episcopal Church, you can be sure that there are wounds all around.
But at the end of the day, one "side" runs the national church, calling itself "inclusive" while piously intoning "Good riddance" to dissenters. I know that assessment will be a profound discouragement to those who've reached out to me, and my inclination is to fudge it a bit. But that's my sincere analysis of the situation, and their kind efforts deserve sincere response.
I will grant them the fact that the Diocese of South Dakota is more temperate, broad and inclusive of different viewpoints than is the national denomination. Today a new church member (the Lord done tooketh away but also giveth back?) told me about her upbringing on a military base. She grew up with Catholic and Protestant groups having their separate services, but in the same building with both traditions socializing in between. There was crossover attendance at Bible studies, youth groups and other events. As she shared this, it struck me as applicable to life in the Diocese of South Dakota. Like a military base, this Diocese is not a "normal" environment, but one with special needs and demands that can make even profound points of disagreement secondary to a few important things in common.
That used to be the Anglican "Middle Way" as well, I think.
But today the "few important things in common" are really, really elusive for Episcopalians. That's why I led with a verse from this evening's Bible lesson, when the first disciples look at Jesus and ask, "Who is this...?" Episcopalians, even here in South Dakota, can't come anywhere near a common answer.
I simply cannot fathom why homosexual clergy and marriages are non-negotiable, unquestionable understandings of Jesus for some in the church. I know that they would answer "Who is this?" with at least some reference to Jesus as an archetype of inclusion, but my mind can't get from there to some of their mandatory church policies.
And, with all their good intentions, other Episcopalians cannot fathom why sacrifice for our sin is a non-negotiable, unquestionable understanding of Jesus for me. Ask "Who is this?" and I have to say, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" - and they smile tightly and roll their eyes.
The Diocesan Vision borrows a Tribal perspective to express the church as "a sacred circle gathered around Jesus." But there's no agreement on Jesus - there's no true gathering point.
As I type that, I come up against a contradiction. I led off this post sharing that several of us did look to Jesus and obey his words about forgiveness. That is no small thing - and Jesus did describe the church as a family where brothers and sisters would keep on forgiving one another. So somehow a circle - even if temporary - formed around him for that.
But then I look back to the national church and see millions of donated dollars budgeted for lawsuits and "discipline" by the devotees of inclusive Jesus against the folks who want to announce Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God. I see the reality that folks who want to announce Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God usually can't get through the inclusive Jesus seminaries and, even if they do, won't have access to congregational leadership under inclusive Jesus bishops.
And so it goes. On the one hand, the Diocese of South Dakota where the challenges allow Jesus to show up and surprise us, despite disagreements. On the other, the national Episcopal Church which blends supposedly passe terms like "heretic" and "schismatic" with new terms like "homophobe" and "hater" to demonize people like me.
"Who is this...?" Ultimately, I would like to be part of a family that celebrates and shares a common reply.
IF you choose to comment, I would urge you to avoid being preachy, judgmental or argumentative. This is a chance to think about we might explain what makes us tick to those who seem to go "tock"... and isn't that always our job as "ambassadors for Christ"?
The party line has been, "It's just a few malcontents."
Let's assume that's right (it isn't, but let's just play along.)
The reality is that even a few departures are deadly news for the majority of TEC congregations. TEC's own stats show that most congregations are a) numerically small, with less than 70 folks on a good day and b) aging, on average older than other denomination and certainly than the general public.
Given those realities (again, from TEC's own reports and stats), the loss of just a person or two can have a major impact:
- + The loss of one major financial donor, by death or departure, can cripple the budget of a small church. It can be the difference between full- or part-time clergy, paid or volunteer secretary or music leader, hiring staff or keeping a building up to code for use.
- + The loss of one major "doer" in a small or aged congregation means that some ministry will not be done, or not done well. No usher greets the visitors. Nobody makes coffee for fellowship time. Nobody has a strong enough voice to lead the hymns and they are mumbled. Nobody tries to do programs for the few kids or teens who might be left.
- + The loss of one young person or family can devastate the morale of a small, aged congregation. There's no visible sign of a future for the church, and hope and any last bit of momentum evaporate.
- + The loss of one lay leader can send a small church into disarray. Smaller churches generally have "patriarch/matriarch" figures who exercise leadership and maintain the congregation's culture. When such a figure departs, there is a time of confusion as the new leader is recognized (not by a formal process, but by an unstated sorting of relationships and responsibilities). But this assumes a pool of people from whom to draw the new leader and a culture that is poised to continue. TEC congregations that are aged, without a new generation to receive their culture or without a pool of leaders, will try to keep their doors open but will increasingly close down.
These are examples of what can happen when just one key person leaves a typical TEC church. It does not take much to imagine the impact of two, three, five or ten individuals or families walking away.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Dakota Achieve has opened Inspirations, a gift shop at 18th & Cliff (a few blocks North of the Avera campus).
Paintings and jewelry by the special folks who get vocational encouragement through Achieve are the main offerings, although there are shirts, mugs and other gift items.
The shop just opened on Monday, and I dropped in and picked up a necklace for my wife. The items are reasonably priced and tagged with the initials of the person who assembled them. (Another Shameless Plug: "JJ" is one of my parishioners, the world's smiliest acolyte. If she's in the workshop that connects to the store, she will be glad to tell you that "Fr. Tim is a big troublemaker. Don't listen to anything he says." And you can tell her I said to bring some Tabasco for her rice crackers.)
All signs point to an organization that is trying to stay on an even keel while the ship sinks. The officers and crew seem to just want to stay afloat until they retire. Any thoughts of repairing the damage have been officially cast aside.
The proofs in the pudding will be
1) how the CIA is treated by this Administration. Our biggest lack is human intelligence and developing networks in hostile settings. Satellites can't give the kind of intel that is needed to interdict terror networks.
2) will the saved $1.75 billion actually end up in counter-insurgency development, or will the same Democratic Congress that sticks "Hate Crime" bills on the Defense appropriations legislation use it on pork for interest groups?
Well, in the original language of Resolution C061 at the Episcopal Church General Convention, restrictions on access to any and all ministries of the church were removed for:
...marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression... So cross dressing, multiple divorces and remarriages, dominance and submission, maybe? Now we are beyond the old line of "committed, loving relationships" and into personal dysfunction, fetishes and who knows what else in all ministries, lay and clergy.
Fortunately, this language was saved at Stand Firm.
I say "fortunately", because it was amended to just say that all ministries shall be open "to all baptized persons." They concealed their intent behind churchy words.
If the Episcopal Church is so sure that all of these changes are "from the Holy Spirit," than why the concealment?
As a Deacon in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Aposotolic Church, it falls to me to "interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world." [Book of Common Prayer, Ordination of Deacons, p.543]. What the world needs more than anything else is Jesus. TEC [The Episcopal Church] would rather give us litigation than Jesus. TEC would rather give us bureauracy than Jesus. TEC would rather give us unending arguments about the blessing of sin than give us Jesus.
We need Jesus. Please, Bishops and leaders in TEC, give us Jesus.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Pyongyang, July 20 (KCNA) -- The 15th NAM Summit, held in Egypt, expressed full support and solidarity with the DPRK striving for peace and security in the Korean Peninsula.
Didn't even know the "Non Aligned Movement" was still, uh, not aligned? Still moving? Whatever.
Nice to know that they recognized the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea for making military dictatorship, food shortages and nuclear proliferation so helpful to peace and security.
‘And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.’
How can you call yourself a loving, compassionate priest or minister if you won’t teach the people the Word of God?
Her narrow view of the 2nd Amendment, seven decisions that were overturned by the Supreme Court, including the recent Ricci v. DeStefano case, and her record of allowing personal views to affect judicial decision making, are all factors in my decision.
The first wave of human shields for Christophobic Episcopalian apostates were the LGBT&c. But check out the link to the Bishop of Nevada - he's already trumpeting "Sex? Why, we hardly dealt with that at all. We passed resolutions on so many important issues!"
So, look for your favorite environmental, political or cultural hobby horse in there someplace, especially if you are "liberal."
Meanwhile, behind all the words, the Episcopalian leaders denied that Jesus is the Savior. They said that his cross was a bit of unpleasantness, nothing more. They said (by their actions on the budget) that spreading the word about the Word isn't the mission of the church.
As Kendall Harmon put it, "Deafening Silence" on spreading the Gospel spoke volumes at General Convention. (His blog is having technical problems, but once it is up and running you can enter "silence" in his search function and see several good thoughts on the matter.)
While the headlines focused on "gay rights," the Episcopal Church was sneaking about behind that agenda to deny key tenets of Christian faith.
70% of the House of Deputies (clergy and lay people representing every diocese of the denomination) voted to "discharge" - that is, kill without discussion, the following resolution:
FULL TEXT RESOLUTION D058 SALVATION THROUGH CHRIST ALONE Discharged [REJECTED, KILLED, LIKE JESUS HIMSELF] in committee. Discharge upheld by House of Deputies, 75th General Convention.
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church declares its unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved (Article XVIII); and be it further Resolved, That we acknowledge the solemn responsibility placed upon us to share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6); and be it further Resolved, That we affirm that in Christ there is both the substitutionary essence of the Cross and the manifestation of God's unlimited and unending love for all persons; and be it further Resolved, That we renew our dedication to be faithful witnesses to all persons of the saving love of God perfectly and uniquely revealed in Jesus and upheld by the full testimony of Holy Scripture.
By making gays, lesbians and other sexual identity groups the target of so much debate, the national church effectively paints traditional Christians as bigots, "homophobes" and all around meanies. And so traditional Christians' objections are ignored when the issues are core statements of faith.
As a parish priest, I wonder what can be included in preparation for Baptism or Confirmation? Much of the existing language in the Book of Common Prayer has been disavowed by this General Convention:
Bishop - There is one Body and one Spirit;
People - There is one hope in God's call to us;
Bishop - One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People - One God and Father of all. (Liturgies of Baptism and Confirmation)
Question - Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer - I do. (Baptismal Covenant, reaffirmed in Confirmation)
Celebrant - Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People - I will, with God’s help. (Baptismal Covenant, reaffirmed in Confirmation)
...your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. (Prayer over the Baptismal water)
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate (Nicene Creed, required at principal Sunday services)
He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. ("Rite II, Prayer A" for the consecration of Holy Communion)
The majority of Episcopalian leaders, including clergy and lay people, reject the specific faith claims of the Book of Common Prayer. No wonder they talk so much about "sharing our stories" while passing a budget that eliminates all resources to support Evangelism. When it comes to Jesus Christ, they have no Good News to share.
While efforts to "include" LGBT&c people can be seen, even in disagreement, as an effort to express God's love, what in the world can motivate the theological rejection of Jesus Christ displayed by this denomination?
I feel like I am beating a dead horse, but the national church's own stats and surveys, which were given to all the folks at the General Convention, showed that Evangelism was not happening in most of the shrinking denomination's congregations.
More and more, I am convinced that we are seeing a very small group of people grabbing up financial resources in a "one generation" plan to maintain their positions and pensions, with no regard for the future of the church.
Fr. Martin, although a progressive's progressive, was obviously not in the inner circle of the club.
This coven seems willing to make all kinds of human sacrifices.
I know of five friends that I have personally talked to in the last few days that live in the South where I grew up, and four have told me they are outright leaving the Episcopal Church. Three of which because they no longer feel safe to have differing political and moral views on these issues and others, the 4th might still stay but is on the tipping point and I would be surprised if he stayed.
The 5th, who interestingly is fairly liberal on these issues, is just tired of all the fighting and doublespeak one way or the other, and is leaving due simply to what I could only describe as battle fatigue.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Just off the Interstate we were treated to the site of a farm auction - in this case working farmers in pickups or green & gold John Deere vehicles buying rusty (but certainly classic) tractors and manual farm tools as decor for their yards.
From the County road, we could see the little Lutheran church at the cemetery from a good distance away. A congregation has been there since the late 1800s, although a fire destroyed their original building and they put up a newfangled chapel in 1911.
The cemetery is beautifully maintained by a "bachelor farmer" (I'm just learning about this particular Northern Plains breed.) Some of the gravestones are getting hard to read, and some that are legible are in Norwegian so, as the groundskeeper says, "You can't read 'em anyway."
Should have been 105 degrees in mid-July, but we were blessed with a sunny day around 75 degrees. Grown-in trees provided a windbreak. If you are ever up here you will notice that most trees grow in straight lines and right angles around farmhouses and other places used by humans. The Plains, left alone, are mostly an ocean of grass. The man who planted the cemetery trees put them in before water lines came out to the church, and he had to haul water to the site to keep them growing.
The groundskeeper told me that the church is served by retired Pastors, but services are held there only late Spring, Summer and early Fall. The land to the east is no longer farmed and is returning to nature, so the County no longer snowplows the road out to the church. A plow can be hired to clear a way for a burial, but that's it. School buses no longer travel the road since it doesn't lead to any place with kids anymore. The groundskeeper (also the treasurer for the church) said, "I'll probably be out here working on the grounds when I die, so they can just dig a hole and roll me in." He said it with a twinkle in his eye. His parents are buried there and he'll rest with them.
The burial service was for a man of 87, leaving behind a wife with whom he had shared close to 3/4 of his years on Earth. As I pass 50 in age and come up on 20 in marriage, these partings become more acutely emotional to be around. If we really love a spouse in the way God laid it out, "two becoming one," then "advanced age" or "circle of life" or any other clinical or platitudinous explanation doesn't do justice to this brutal amputation, one that the "survivor" doesn't always survive for very long.
The departed was a WWII vet, one of the many we are laying to rest every day. It is harder and harder to get full military honors at their gravesides, because the Vietnam vets tended to lay low from an ambivalent public and didn't replenish the ranks of the VFW and American Legion. So the very folks who are dying now are the members of the organizations that normally render honors.
Thankfully, the gent we buried on Saturday was blessed with full honors. A team showed up to advance the Colors, fold and present the U.S. Flag to his widow, fire a rifle salute and play taps (more and more played by a "chip" inserted in a bugle, with simulated blowing by a human).
It wasn't physically easy for some of these senior vets, clearly WWII generation themselves. They trailed heavy old Garand M1 rifles, the Infantry staple that shot down the Thousand Year Reich and the Rising Sun. With effort, they fired three volleys. The M1s made a percussive "Boom," very much a bass to the tenor "Snap" of the contemporary M16s used at most ceremonies today.
The military presence helped me draw more from the Bible reading at the grave, For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here were men who had lived in tents, in impermanent things that gave them some comfort for a little while.
For a little while, as things go, the Lutheran Church was the center of a web of life, as communities grew with the crops that God-fearing people wrestled from the land and the weather. Now, the church is out on the horizon, the road to it closes when it snows, and the cemetery is more abundant with memories and stories beyond our knowing.
For a little while, as things go, the farms bordering the cemetery gave sustenance. Now, the old rusty tools are at the auctioneer's, the school buses grind along other roads, and nature reclaims the land for its own abundance with an ease we can't imitate.
For a little while, as things go, a man grew up, farmed, fought a war, became one with a woman, raised generations (both horses and humans), danced and made people laugh. Now, his material remains rest in the ground, those who shared his life weather a season without his presence, and God welcomes a soul to something more abundant than words can tell.
That's some of what these Northern Plains said to me on Saturday.
During the healing prayer time today, a parishioner came up and interceded for the parish and the Episcopal Church. This woman had read the lessons for us just a few minutes before, and God led me to pray with her from the Epistle:
...you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. Ephesians 2
I don't remember exactly what we prayed but I do recall offering the chipped, cracked stones to God, who can perhaps shape us into something worth putting back on that foundation of apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as our cornerstone. Only God can take the debris we've become and make a Temple for the Spirit.
That image was part of my sermon today, as we offered a public liturgy of healing prayer. In the Gospel reading from Mark 6, we read that when Jesus was in the vicinity, "people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was." Those with the need couldn't always bring themselves to Jesus - but those who loved them did the lifting.
In Mark 2, Jesus heals a man who was lowered to him through a roof by a group of friends: "they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, 'My child, your sins are forgiven.'" (emphasis added). Again, the "lift team" is decisive in getting a person into the presence of Jesus and his power.
Give thanks for those who pray for you. Most of us have "lift teams" carrying us, even if we are not always aware. Most of us are probably part of a lift team for someone else at the same time. Let's keep setting one another "right down in front of Jesus."
Saturday, July 18, 2009
And right as this little word “fire” stirreth rather and pierceth more hastily the ears of the hearers, so doth a little word of one syllable when it is not only spoken or thought, but privily meant in the deepness of spirit; the which is the height, for in ghostliness all is one, height and deepness, length and breadth. And rather it pierceth the ears of Almighty God than doth any long psalter unmindfully mumbled in the teeth. And herefore it is written, that short prayer pierceth heaven.
The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 37
Fr. Timothy Fountain
Healing Prayer Sunday – A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark
1) The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
The church need not have a big, splashy plan to “do miracles” or “put on a healing service.” The power we seek is with Jesus, even when we are tired or wrapped up in other demands. Jesus can bring healing right here, right now – it isn’t something the church conjures or manipulates. It’s not magic, it’s Jesus with us through the Holy Spirit.
2) Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Don’t focus on your disposition, but on the compassion of Jesus. Notice that the Good Shepherd shows compassion to “the crowd.” These were the drop-ins, the lookie-loos. They were not his committed disciples or chosen apostles. This tells us that his compassion is here, however near to him or how far from him our hearts and understandings might be.
3) When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
If you are seeking healing, get “the church” out of the way. Don’t worry about “if you’ve been good enough,” don’t worry about if you’ve followed the service well enough – notice that the people in need are carried right to Jesus himself – that’s where we want to go in our prayers for healing right now.
Notice that it doesn’t take much – indeed, people who are sick are “on their mats” – they don’t have power to put on some “holy” or heroic show. It was enough just to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. Just to reach out – that’s all we need to do in prayer. The New Testament is very clear that eloquence or length are not required for effective prayer. Just reach out toward God in Jesus’ name.
Finally, be aware that the prayers of others are helping you. Notice how the people carried the sick to Jesus. It’s not the only time this is mentioned – in fact, one of Jesus first healings was in response to the faith of the “lift team” that carried a sick friend to him. The people who have been praying for you, who have encouraged you to receive healing prayer today – they are your “lift team.”
Let’s reach out for Jesus in prayer, and carry our needs and the needs of others to him…
Friday, July 17, 2009
It is worth noting that I have not made any public communication, beyond this blog (which is not universally read), with the parish about General Convention. The only things that have been out and about were requests to pray for the Convention and for our South Dakota Deputation. I was clear that we would not have any "forums" until all of the business was done and we could get official, final versions of resolutions, budget and other actions. We will have one of our Diocesan Deputies coming out to share impressions, but that isn't until September.
In other words, my initial "leavers" and "potential leavers" are looking at news sources and coming to their own decisions. I haven't even had a chance to state my reaction to the Convention, and people are already out the door (or looking toward it) because the decisions of the Convention speak for themselves.
FWIW, the specific language in our July prayer focus has been:
"Please pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which meets from the 8th - 17th of this month. Ask for God's will to be done and for the wisdom to understand and respond."
It sounds like God is answering that prayer with "redeployment orders" for at least some of Good Shepherd's people. We have been blessed to have them for a time, and they will be blessed by and blessings to the churches to which they are led. Departures have been with hugs and blessings all around, although I am mightily sad.
With vactation coming up, I have been lining up both clergy and lay ministers to lead Sunday services in my absence. One of my lay preachers (he works in prisoner rehabilitation - see "Glory House" in my useful links) came in so I could have a look at his sermon idea...
I almost cried for joy.
He is preaching on Mark's account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 folks, which comes up in a few Sundays. Right in the middle of his message, he makes the point that Jesus, the disciples and even the crowd were all in distress and despair over the news that John the Baptist had been executed. For the crowd in particular, it seemed as if the one voice of long-absent prophecy had been silenced.
Yet right in the middle of that miserable news, the miracle happens by the power of Christ. (And, I would add, Jesus and his disciples promptly get back in their boats and right back to work preaching the Good News).
Thank you, Father. Despite my unworthiness, despite all the ways that my sins, flaws, failures and limitations have contributed to the corruption and decline of The Episcopal Church, your Spirit brings an encouraging word and turns me back toward the compassion and power of your Son, Jesus Christ.
WE HAD A SEASON OF PRAYER LAST YEAR, BUT WE NEED TO KEEP IT UP. I AM GETTING INFORMATION FROM A SIOUX FALLS SEMINARY GROUP THAT IS BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS ON THE RESERVATION, INCLUDING A SISTER IN CHRIST NAMED DEB NEWCOMB. SHE WRITES:
"It means so much that you care. There are many Lakota that, while they don't know about Christianity, they are interested in our Jesus. And they know that when you pray, you talk to the same God that they call Creator. They are trying to understand us as much as we're trying to understand them. Whatever you do with this information, however you pray, know that what you do is appreciated not just by us, but by many of them, too."
Lost a good Vestry member. At my request, he will be detailing his decision in a letter to be shared with the Vestry and sent on to the Diocese.
Lost at least 3 young families and a bunch of kids.
A couple of these losses are families that were the first fruits of members taking the risk of evangelism - this is going to hurt morale very badly here.
One of them said, "I just can't see myself inviting other people, knowing what the denomination is really doing. So how can I stay?"
Don't think I will be offering much commentary today. Still just taking it in and taking it to God.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
In the course of those conversations, which have become pretty long threads, I have been exploring a few different ideas and I throw them up here only because they might be useful to your own thinking out loud. I don't claim that these are definitive answers, and I can see some "holes" in them, but I think that I am onto a few ideas worth sharing. In no particular order:
1) I'm struck by how little "Christians" make of the big gift, which is the presence of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament when we get together. Instead we are fighting over entitlements to clergy titles and ceremonies for our personal stuff. I mean, why should I need a certain aspect of my life "blessed," if the whole of my being is in the presence of the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit? Why are we fighting about this or that ceremony when we are invited to share the Body and Blood of Christ? Maybe that's why so many young people find church "boring" - the adults aren't even engaged in the great reality and dwell on trivia. That's why so many people speak of being "spiritual, not religious" - because the "religious" people have no vital spirituality.
2) I keep thinking of the Bible passage in which Jesus said, "The prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before the religious leaders, because the prostitutes know their need of God." Jesus hung out with absolutely everybody. His apostles, if you look at possible implications of their names and backgrounds, were an assemblage of people who would not normally mix. But here's the deal: Jesus didn't go around telling them, "OK, I'm gonna whip a ceremony on you and tell you that you're holy." He didn't say, "OK, because the religious authorities are too puffed up, I hereby consecrate all of these prostitutes, just as they are, as religious leaders too." (He could have - "temple prostitutes" were known in many of the old civilizations.) Nor did he declare prostitution a holy vocation to "affirm" the prostitutes. What made the prostitutes or any of us holy was a) recognizing that we've wandered far from God and b) recognizing Jesus as the Way back. If we demand all kinds of ceremonies and stuff to declare us holy, is it because we really don't recognize our own distance from God, and think we're entitled? Or is it because we don't recognize Jesus with us as the Way, and we think we need the other stuff? Something doesn't track in the LGBTQI( ) religious argument - it seems like puffy self-justification on the one hand or profoundly primitive anxiety on the other.
3) But the gays, lesbians and assorted other capital letters are not the "problem." The marriage mess is a straight problem. It was heterosexuals who decided on "trial marriage" and serial marriage, rejecting Jesus' description of a life long husband-wife bond established by God "in the beginning." (BTW that's the best counter when somebody justifies gay marriage with, "Jesus never said anything specific about homosexuality." The answer is, "Right, but he did say very specific affirmative things about what God created marriage to be.") But back to my point - if marriage is not what Jesus said, and it is just a temporary contract one makes for personal satisfaction, then why shouldn't gays or anybody of any description have access to it?
4) This leads me into my most contentious idea. At some point, churches have to either get out of the marriage business altogether, or else say, "We tried the cultural model and were cavalier about divorce and remarriage. We repent and from now on will not bless marriages for people who've been divorced." Two objections were immediate on the Facebook threads, a) what about all the hard cases, like people who were abused and b) how will we get those divorced people to come to church? My thoughts on a) are: don't base your standard on the hard cases. The 50% divorce rate indicates that most divorces are symptoms of poor relationship choices or skills, not emergencies. There can be gracious room to honor hard cases, but, let's face it, folks who know anything about abuse will tell you that a person who divorced one abuser will often find another one for marriage #2, or 3, or 4... How about a message of repentance and maybe the suggestion of a single life as holy? As for b): I go back to point 1 above. If we aren't reaching folks with the message of Jesus, if we have to "meet their need" in hopes of making them "come to church," haven't we missed the point? Which gets me into another thought...
5) Churches that grow spiritually and numerically often make significant, sacrificial and challenging demands of their people. Jesus spoke of a hard road to a narrow door that few find. His disciples are supposed to "carry the cross." But many of the old denominational churches have bought the common argument, "If we make demands, people won't come/will be offended/will leave." (That's in play with gay marriage, BTW - "If we don't allow it, all the 'young' people will refuse to come to church!") The favored clergy personality is people pleaser, not teacher and leader. The result is that these churches don't offer any compelling, life-changing message to unchurched people. Few people come and the ones that do tend to be high maintenance people sense the church's desperation to "find members to pay the bills." These folks need endless coddling while they make demands and take offense at things. Piss poor disciple material.
6) As you might discern, I am leaning more and more toward that great, vapory cloud of people who are "spiritual, not religious." The Episcopal Church talks about being this, but a "Presiding Bishop and Primate of All the Americas" or whatever the hell it's called, with a bazillion dollar secret budget to go around suing people, is the worst of "religion" as many folks understand it today. Institutional, self-serving, out of touch, ad nauseum. I'm tired of fighting over this or that little factions demanded rituals and affirmations when we can't even come up with a coherent message about Jesus.
7) But just for the record, let me say that "spiritual, not religious" is a bunch of BS the minute you name it as a belief system shared by two or more people. Jesus himself said that his spiritual presence would be real when "two or three gathered in his name," a point the Presiding Bishop was after before she got into stupid ideological comments about how personal faith in Jesus is "heresy." "Religion" is the shared expression of spiritual experience. The minute you say, "Hey, I meditate. Wanna join me every Tuesday at 2?", you're into religion. The question always becomes, "When are the externals of the 'shared expression' eclipsing the inner reality of spiritual experience?" The Episcopal Church is so overlaid with externals that I despair of it ever recovering life in the Spirit. And no, I don't for a minute buy the myth that the LGBTQI( ) subculture is inherently spiritual. 40 years in L.A., dude. They're just people - and they screw up spirituality with the best/worst of us.
8) OK out of gas for now. Maybe more later. Maybe not.