Monday, November 29, 2010

Put the Mass Back in Christmas

A 30-second reminder for our Advent watching and waiting that the word "Christmas" is derived from the Middle English "Christemasse" meaning Christ's Mass, the worship service to give thanks for God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Taking on the Anti-Anglican Covenant Lobby

Benjamin Guyer recently posted two very good essays on the Covenant website that take on the anti-Anglican Covenant lobby. "In Praise of Rhetoric? Anti-Covenantal Myths of Puritanism and Anglicanism" Parts One and Two should be required reading for anyone trying to make sense of the debates over the Covenant, and particularly the spin on the Covenant offered by groups such as the No Anglican Covenant Coalition (a group that I've written about before), as well as Inclusive Church and Modern Church.

In Part One, Guyer exposes the failure of the following claims made by Inclusive Church and Modern Church in a recent advertisement:

Behind the campaign for an Anglican Covenant lies an attempt to re-establish a Puritan dogmatism. Reformation Puritans believed Christians should submit to the supreme authority of the Bible and therefore agree with each other on all matters of doctrine and ethics. Refusing to allow reason a role, their disagreements have often led each side to accuse the other of not being true Christians. This is why parts of Protestantism have a history of repeated schisms.

After lengthy discussion, Guyer concludes:

To summarize all of the above, MCU/IC makes three claims about Puritans. First, they claim that Puritans had a unique view of Scripture’s authority. This has been shown to be wrong. Rather, the supremacy of Scripture was a theological conviction that extended back to the medieval era and simply continued on in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Second, MCU/IC claims that Puritans had a problematic and erroneous view of reason. This assertion, too, has been debunked; Puritan skepticism about reason was in fact a common feature among all religious groups in the sixteenth century, and in sharing such views Puritans were simply part of their own historical context. Third, MCU/IC claims that Puritans have had a history of dividing against one another, claiming that each side was not in fact Christian. This has been shown, in the American context, to be false. The American context should take primacy over the English context as New England is where those who advocated a Calvinist reform of the Church of England lived. We cannot deny that antinomianism grew out of the “left wing” of English Dissent, but we do deny that all English Dissenters were simply Puritans. The death of Puritanism in the New World came about through revivalism, with its Dissent-like preference for subjective experience over the objective, received truths of Scripture and the Christian tradition. Finally, in our penultimate paragraph, we briefly drew attention to the brightly apocalyptic strain within Puritanism, thereby showing that the claims of MCU/IC fail on every count. Puritans were not literalists, but typologists; Puritans were not anti-intellectual, but widely read and deeply imaginative; Puritans were not divided into factions, but shared a broadly apocalyptic worldview.

In Part Two, Guyer takes on the ways in which the No Anglican Covenant Coalition "misrepresents [Richard] Hooker and the structure of early Anglican orthodoxy." In his conclusion, Guyer writes:

The Anglican Covenant does not change doctrine – indeed, in the first part of its first section, the Covenant text merely restates the basic outlines of long-standing Anglican norms. Because the Church is bound by doctrine but free in matters of polity, as Hooker rightly notes, the provinces of the Anglican Communion are indeed free to change their polity by entering into a covenanted life together. This does not, of course, alter polity in the way that the Puritans argued for; the Covenant envisions complete continuity in episcopal order (1.1.6; 3.1.3), conciliar consultation (3.1.2), and the Instruments of Communion (3.1.4). One cannot claim that the Anglican Covenant envisions any changes in current Anglican structures. One must recognize, however, that a covenanted Communion will be one that recognizes the need for seeking “a shared mind” (3.2.4) and for living in a committed and robust form of “interdependence” (4.1.2; cf. 3.2.2). This is very different than envisioning constitutional changes for any province – and the Covenant in fact eschews a centralized push for such alterations (4.1.3). The only changes in polity that the Covenant envisions are those which are created locally by a given province so that it may live faithfully in covenanted interdependence (4.2.9). The Covenant thus bolsters the creative capacity of each Anglican province to enter “freely” into deeper communion with other Anglican provinces by structuring and reforming itself for the good of the whole (4.1.1).

Richard Hooker advocated reason in matters which were otherwise indifferent. There is no divine command that Anglicans enter into Covenant with one another, but there is indeed Biblical command of charity and unity (John 13:34 – 35, 17:21). The Church is free to order its common life so that charity and unity might be witnessed to, and the Anglican Covenant has been proposed as the primary means for doing so in the Anglican Communion at this point in time. If it is rejected, Anglicans must be willing to answer two questions. First, how will the Anglican Communion embody charity and unity given that the current state of the Communion is now so fractious? Before any province in the Communion rejects the Covenant, it should keep in mind how much division and chaos has ensued amidst Anglicans in the five years between the time that the Covenant was proposed, drafted, and then finalized for adoption. To reject the Covenant is to prolong this process of division and chaos.

Second, and on a more personal note for the present author, I ask each province to consider how, if it rejects the Covenant, the Anglican Communion will be passed on to the next generation. Every generation is given particular institutions on trust. Does any generation have the right to deny its own children these same gifts?

Guyer argues that because the No Anglican Covenant Coalition fails to rightly represent and appropriate Hooker's articulation of Anglican orthodoxy, their arguments actually work against their anti-Covenant agenda. "We may therefore thank NACC," Guyer writes," for they have offered us a sweeping argument for why the Anglican Communion has every right to adopt the Anglican Covenant."

One of the administrators of the Covenant website notes that Guyer "deftly demolishes the anti-Covenant lobby on the left, which is shown to be intellectually shallow (in particular: ahistorical and non-theological) and politically dangerous (because wantonly destructive of historic Anglicanism)." Regardless of whether or not one agrees with that assessment, Guyer has offered an important contribution to the discussion from a pro-Covenant perspective. I hope that his two essays will be widely read.

UPDATE: November 29, 2010

You can also read these two essays on Benjamin Guyer's blog:

In Praise of Rhetoric? Anti-Covenantal Myths of Puritanism and Anglicanism (Part One)

In Praise of Rhetoric? Anti-Covenantal Myths of Puritanism and Anglicanism (Part Two)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Church is Not a Democracy

"Democracy is the greatest and noblest ideal of the human community. But in its very essence it does not apply to the Church for the simple reason that the Church is not a mere human community. She is governed not 'by the people, and for the people' — but by God and for the fulfillment of His Kingdom. Her structure, dogma, liturgy and ethics do not depend on any majority vote, for all these elements are God given and God defined. Both clergy and laity are to accept them in obedience and humility."

~ Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann,
"Clergy and Laity in the Orthodox Church" (1959)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Remembering C. S. Lewis

Today is the Feast Day of Clive Staples Lewis (November 29, 1898 - November 22, 1963). The website of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church offers the following sketch of one of the 20th Century's great Christian apologists and spiritual writers:

“You must make your choice,” C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity. “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up as a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”

Lewis did not always believe this. Born in Belfast on November 29, 1898, Lewis was raised as an Anglican but rejected Christianity during his adolescent years. After serving in World War I, he started a long academic career as a scholar in medieval and renaissance literature at both Oxford and Cambridge. He also began an inner journey that led him from atheism to agnosticism to theism and finally to faith in Jesus Christ. “Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully,” he later wrote of his conversion to theism in Surprised by Joy. “Dangers lie in wait for him on every side … Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God’. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat. You must picture me all alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” Two years later, his conversion was completed: “I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did.”

Lewis’s conversion inaugurated a wonderful outpouring of Christian apologetics in media as varied as popular theology, children’s literature, fantasy and science fiction, and correspondence on spiritual matters with friends and strangers alike. In 1956 Lewis married Joy Davidman, a recent convert to Christianity. Her death four years later led him to a transforming encounter with the Mystery of which he had written so eloquently before. Lewis died at his home in Oxford on November 22, 1963. The inscription on his grave reads: “Men must endure their going hence.”

Lewis was a hugely important figure for me back when I was in high school. I devoured most of his books and essays before completing junior high, and I was eager to get my hands on more. In comparison to dry and boring experiences of worship and Sunday school, Lewis made the Christian faith come alive for me. He made theology exciting and intellectually challenging, the sort of thing one could give one's life to. It's no understatement to say that Lewis helped keep the flame of Christian faith alive for me during that period of my life.

Perhaps precisely for that reason, however, I tended to read Lewis uncritically. How vividly I remember the feelings of crushing disappointment that overtook me when, at the age of 16, I began reading John Beversluis' C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Beversluis takes on Lewis-the-apologist, placing his arguments under the microscope of analytic philosophy, breaking them down and exposing how (according to Beversluis) they completely and utterly fail. I only got halfway through the book before I gave up.

Beversluis was my first real introduction to the sometimes brutal world of philosophical argument. And he had demolished my hero. Or at least that's how it felt at the time. I put my C. S. Lewis books in the closet and moved on.

Recently, after about 25 years, I reread Lewis' Mere Christianity. It was a new book to me. I encountered things I simply do not recall from first reading it as a teenager (some of which I've blogged about recently). The third section of the book entitled "Christian Behaviour" is a particularly good (and brief) introduction to Christian moral theology. I also recently read one of Lewis' books I didn't get around to so many years ago: The Abolition of Man. Written in 1943, it anticipates the argument put forth by another author who has left an indelible imprint on me: moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and his book After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (first edition published in 1981). I think The Abolition of Man may be Lewis' finest contribution to philosophy and cultural criticism.

Whatever one may say about the strengths and weaknesses of Lewis' work, there is no question that his apologetic and spiritual writings have nurtured the faith of millions of Christians. Indeed, for some persons, Lewis' writings have been instrumental in converting them to the Christian faith (how many professional academic theologians can make a comparable claim for their writings?). And as one of my clergy colleagues recently noted, Lewis is one of the few writers in the 20th Century who published work in virtually every genre and it's all worth reading.

And so today, I honor C. S. Lewis for the role he has played in my life and for the countless ways his work and legacy continue to touch the lives of others.

O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom, to others the word of knowledge, and to others the word of faith: We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Clive Staples Lewis, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Debunking Gnosticism

In this video, Bishop N. T. Wright takes on conspiracy theories and pop scholarship supporting the resurgence of Gnosticism.

In response to one scholar pushing the Gnostic agenda, I offered some of my own thoughts a couple of years ago in a blog posting entitled "Beyond Pagels to Belief."

Friday, November 19, 2010

What "Credo" Means

I recently came across an interesting posting over at Ship of Fools entitled "What is the etymology of 'credo'"? In it, the author expresses doubts about etymological explanations of "credo" in relation to the creeds (Credo in unum Deum) and other areas of Christian believing which make it largely a matter of "giving one's heart" to something or someone rather than making intellectual commitments to truths that can be stated in propositional form. The author writes:

“Credo” comes from “cor do”, which means “I give my heart”. It’s an inspiring etymology. But I think it’s incorrect, or at best half right, a “folk etymology”, like the (false) supposition that the English posthumous derives from the Latin post humum, “after the earth”, “after burial”.

The author continues by briefly discussing other perspectives on the etymological roots of "credo," and concludes by writing:

So, if the etymology really says anything about the meaning of the word, perhaps the better reading of “credo” is not “something we give our hearts to rather than our brains” but “something (or someone) we are willing to trust or commit ourselves to”: hearts and brains and (in the older, business sense of credo) money.

Read it all.

There is something important and appealing about understanding the word "credo" as meaning "I give my heart." After all, Christian believing is not just about intellectual assent to truth claims; it's about faith. And as H. Richard Niebuhr reminds us, at its core, faith is about trust and loyalty. We do well to remember that the ultimate object of the Christian faith is not a proposition, but a Person. It's about giving our whole selves in trust and loyalty to Jesus Christ.

But placing our trust and loyalty in Jesus Christ cannot be separated from how we understand who he is. In an important sense, trusting in Jesus presupposes being shaped and influenced by what scripture and tradition say about him. Indeed, were it not for scripture and tradition, we wouldn't even know about Jesus. And so, whether we realize it or not, faith as trust in Jesus cannot be divorced from an at least implicit (if also, at times, distorted or even reluctant) trust in the Church.

Understandings of Jesus as mediated and shaped by scripture and tradition can be raised to conscious awareness and stated in propositional form. Of course, any particular individual's understanding of Jesus may be more or less adequate, or even flat-out wrong. If, for example, my understanding of Jesus can be stated as, "Jesus is a harsh, arbitrary judge who is eager to condemn me to eternal punishment in hell," then I will be unlikely to place my whole trust in him. Hence the need for the individual's understanding to be placed within the larger community of interpretation's checks and balances.

Its good sides notwithstanding, I think there are possible dangers in using the etymological explanation of "credo" as "I give my heart." Paramount is the danger of affirming a dualism between head and heart, with the heart being more important than the head. Going that route, I can imagine "credo" understood as "I give my heart" serving as a justification for subjectivism and relativism. According to such usage, the important thing is that I trust God and what I "feel" about God, etc., not that I accept the substantive doctrinal content of the creeds or what the scriptures teach. Such a perspective can lead to the view that the creeds and the scriptures mean whatever I interpret them to mean, or that they really aren't that important anyway (my subjective experience becoming a kind of rival "scripture" and "creed").

Credo without the heart can lead to a soulless rationalism divorced from the compassion of the One whom we claim to follow. On the other hand, credo without the head can lead to a gullible sentimentalism susceptible to being "tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, [and] by their craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). So when it comes to the meaning of "credo," we need both the heart and the head.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Awareness of the Presence of the God Who is in Christ

" ... in the present experience of the Church, in its common life, in its prayer and worship, in its proclaiming and hearing of the word, above all, in its celebration of the eucharist, there is an awareness of the presence of God; and not just of any God, but the God who is in Christ, so that in knowing the living presence of the Father, we know also the living presence of the Son who is alive in the Father and we realize the truth of his promise to be with us to the end of the age. I am saying too that this present experience is, at its deepest level and leaving aside sensuous experiences which might accompany it in the case of exceptionally constituted individuals, continuous with the experience of the risen Lord granted to the first disciples."

~ John Macquarrie, Christian Hope (1978)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Addressing Church Decline

In the wake of recently released statistics on baptized membership and average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church (fast facts here), I read with interest a newspaper article entitled "Methodists face shrinking roles [sic]." According to the article, "The [Methodist] church has lost 2.89 million members in the United States since 1970, dropping to 7.8 million today."

The article says that the Methodist response to ongoing decline is threefold: "Better pastors. Healthier churches. Less bureaucracy." Regardless of denominational affiliation, I'm sure that all of us would like to see that happening in our churches!

But the question is how to achieve it. There's an unavoidable tension for most mainline churches between shifting into a full-blown mission focus on the one hand, and the maintenance needs of aging church buildings, clergy and lay staff compensation (with sky-rocketing health insurance costs), other bureaucratic needs, etc. Is it really possible to be simultaneously mission-minded and maintenance-minded? Or must we make some difficult, painful decisions about the maintenance side of church life? As I've noted in a previous posting, one of my clergy colleagues puts it like this: "This is about life or death. Choose mission or die." But perhaps choosing mission also requires a kind of death as the only way to new life.

Some think that the solution is to get more people into our churches. We should focus our evangelism efforts on growing our membership and average Sunday attendance. Certainly, such growth can be a sign of vitality. But the vitality that comes with more people showing up at church is not necessarily the same thing as genuine Christian formation. We cannot assume that church attendance equals discipleship.

Along those lines, I'm struck by another part of the newspaper article about the Methodists:

Some critics say the focus on growing membership goes too far. Thomas E. Frank, professor of religious leadership at Wake Forest University, said developing better Christians, not more churchgoers, should be the goal.

"I am concerned about a creeping theology that says what's important is to get people into the church," he said.

Dan Dick, Methodist blogger and former researcher for the Methodists' Nashville-based General Board of Discipleship, agreed. "If we don't know what to do with the ... people we already have, there's no reason to believe that we'll do any better with another million people."

Dan makes an important point, particularly in light of tendencies towards failing Christianity within many mainline churches. Answering the question, "How can we grow?" is not sufficient. Nor is growth itself. We need to also answer the question, "Why should we grow?" Which, in turn, presupposes an answer to the question, "Why does the Church exist in the first place?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

One of the Most Important Principles of Biblical Ethics

"It is one of the most important principles of biblical ethics, and one trampled in the mud again and again in contemporary debate: that God's grace meets us where we are, but God's grace, thank God, does not leave us where we are; that God accepts us as we are, but that God's grace, thank God, is always a transforming acceptance, so that in God's very act of loving us and wooing our answering love we are being changed; and, more dramatically, in baptism and all that it means we are actually dying and rising, leaving one whole way of life and entering upon a wholly different one."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wedding Consultation

Long-suffering, over-worked organist meets over-indulged bride with too much time on her hands.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Basic Fact in Modern Life

“The depreciation of the intellect, with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or the will, is, we think, a basic fact in modern life, which is rapidly leading to a condition in which men neither know nor care anything about the doctrinal content of the Christian religion, and in which there is in general a lamentable intellectual decline.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Great Sin: Notes on Pride

Our Young Adult Sunday School class is spending fourteen weeks discussing the "Seven Deadly Sins" (that's two weeks per deadly sin). Yesterday I spent time with the class talking about the sin of pride. In slightly expanded form (but not rewritten as a concise essay), here's some of what I put together to jumpstart and sustain what was a very good discussion.

In Sinning Like a Christian, William Willimon notes that pride is “a specifically Christian sin” and that "we would not know that Pride is a sin were it not for the example of Jesus" (p. 33).

The chapter on pride in C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity is entitled "The Great Sin." Lewis says that understanding pride as sin takes us not only to “the centre of Christian morals,” but also “to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals” (Lewis, p. 121). Indeed, as Alasdair MacIntyre notes in After Virtue, the New Testament "praises at least one quality as a virtue which Aristotle seems to count as one of the vices relative to magnanimity, namely humility" (p. 182). So what Christian moralists saw as “the great sin,” many ancient moralists viewed with admiration.

Willimon argues that in our time pride has enjoyed a “benevolent transformation” from the root of all evil to the root of all virtue (Sinning Like a Christian, p. 33). And so we talk about Southern Pride, Black Pride, Gay Pride, etc. In such a cultural context, pride appears to be an attractive virtue that affirms the values of self-worth, accomplishment, aspiring to do one’s best, and the desire for excellence. "Yet, to tell the truth," Willimon writes, "I can't think of much that is wrong with a healthy - within limits - sense of Pride except that Jesus was against it" (ibid., p. 37; emphasis in text). And again: "Jesus' exhortation to 'love thy neighbor as thyself' has been shortened to a hard and fast, ruthlessly enforced mandate: love thyself!" (ibid., p. 34; emphasis in text).

Willimon may be right that the triumph of the therapeutic in our culture entails excessive concern with self that, taken to an extreme, collapses into narcissism. But is it really the case that Jesus and the Christian moral tradition are against things like self-worth, accomplishment, doing one's best, and desiring excellence? Or has Willimon inaccurately diagnosed such things as manifestations of the Christian understanding of pride as the great sin?

C. S. Lewis helps to clear up possible misunderstandings. I'll mention two of them. According to Lewis, “Pleasure in being praised is not Pride” (Mere Christianity, p. 125). If a son or a daughter take pleasure in hearing a parent praise them for school work, for example, that's not sinful. On the contrary, that's a fitting response to a job well done. In addition, to say that a parent is “proud” of his/her child, or someone is “proud” of her school, or his country, or her church, etc., is not sinful. According to Lewis, these uses of the words “pride” and “proud” really mean “‘warm-hearted admiration’” for someone or something (ibid., p. 127). And that's a good and necessary thing. "To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin," Lewis writes, but then adds "we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God" (ibid.).

So what exactly is the sin of pride?

As already noted, C. S. Lewis calls pride “the great sin.” He equates it with self-conceit (Mere Christianity, p. 121). Pride, Lewis continues, is “the essential vice, the utmost evil” (ibid.). Pride is the vice in comparison to which all other vices “are mere fleabites" (ibid., p. 122). Pride is “the complete anti-God state of mind” and “the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began” (ibid., pp. 122, 123). Pride is “essentially competitive” and the cause of enmity between people and between human beings and God (ibid., p. 123, emphasis in text).

In Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues, here's how William C. Mattison describes the sin of pride:

Simply put, pride is selfishness, or putting ourselves first. There are obvious examples of this, as when people take what belongs to others out of concern only for themselves, and not those who are wronged. But the pride that is the root of all sin goes deeper. It is a fixation on one’s own life and desires. Indeed it is seeing all of reality out there through the warped lens of “what does this have to do with me?” When we are inattentive to the needs of those around us because they do not seem to immediately impact us, we are prideful. When we find ourselves reading any situation through its ultimate impact on ourselves, we are prideful. Being prideful entails seeing things not as they truly are, but how we would be with ourselves at the center. For the prideful person, all the world is a stage, and he is the star of show. In fact pride is self-centeredness, in the sense that the prideful person sees things and acts as if he is indeed the center of all things (p. 237).

C. S. Lewis notes the irony that people consumed by pride can also be among the most religious. How is that possible if pride is “the complete anti-God state of mind”? Perhaps we can find some clues as to why in a close study of Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted’ (Luke 18:9-14).

Lewis adds the following thoughts about the infection of religion by pride:

It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly (Mere Christianity, p. 125).

According to Christian moral theology, the antidote to the vice of pride is the virtue of humility. If pride “entails seeing things not as they truly are,” then humility means precisely the opposite: a right assessment of reality, the recognition of “our rightful, truthful place in the world” (Mattison, pp. 237, 238). And if pride is all about putting one’s self “at the center of all things,” humility is about moving beyond self-centeredness by placing love of God and neighbor at the center (ibid., p. 237).

Given pride's cunning ability "to smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life," we do well to distinguish between true and false humility (Lewis, p. 125). Here's how one article makes the distinction:

"True humility" is distinctly different from “false humility,” which consists of deprecating one’s own sanctity, gifts, talents, and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from other, as personified by Uriah Heep. In this context legitimate humility comprises the following behaviors and attitudes:
  1. Submitting to God and legitimate authority
  2. Recognizing virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one's own, and giving due honor and, when required, obedience
  3. Recognizing the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for what is beyond one's grasp

Ironically, false humility is actually pride masquerading as true humility.

What about the feminist critique of pride as sin? Here's Mattison's brief response:

A common feminist critique of the claim that pride is at the root of all sin counters that pride is exactly what some people – especially abused, neglected, or otherwise disenfranchised people – need in this world. As victims they need to assert themselves! But note that a just and accurate recognition of one’s proper place in the world, including asserting one’s self when that place is not recognized, is not the sin of pride, since it is neither self-centered nor inaccurate. The sin of pride is always both of these (p. 238).

In the New Testament, the paradigm for true humility is the example given to us by Jesus. The apostle Paul sums it up in his letter to the Philippians:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:1-11).

Commenting on this passage, N. T. Wright notes: "This is a God who is known most clearly when he abandons his rights for the sake of the world" (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, p. 104).

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," namely, the complete anti-Pride state of mind that voluntarily embraces the self-emptying of humility. How counter-cultural is this state of mind in our time? What does it look like when we Christians embrace and exemplify this state of mind? And when we don't?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Liturgy for Episcopal Church's "Seusscharist"

Just a few weeks ago, I noted that Calvary Episcopal Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was offering a "Seusscharist." As with other illegal liturgical revisions in the Episcopal Church, I expressed my opposition to this trivialization of the Eucharist as an act that signifies a "shocking lack of respect and reverence for one of the holiest things the Church does."

In the comments to my posting, one person asked: "Are we sure that this actually represents some sort of Eucharist transposed into Seussspeak, as opposed to simply a cutesy name for a common or garden-variety Eucharist?" At the time, I didn't know for sure how to answer this person's question. But I now know that the answer to that question is: "Yes, this is, indeed, a Eucharist transposed into Seussspeak."

The entire Eucharistic liturgy used by Calvary Episcopal Church is available here. But just in case it disappears, I'll share a few highlights. Before I do, I note that the pdf file for the bulletin says:

This 'Holy Eucharist according to Seuss' was developed in the Diocese of Central PA, and adapted for Calvary Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As I've previously noted with both Kevin Thew Forrester's revision of the liturgy for Holy Baptism and Church of the Holy Trinity in NYC's revision of the liturgy for Holy Baptism, only the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has the authority to revise or authorize liturgy for use in the Episcopal Church's public worship.

But on to the Seusscharist.

Here's the Seussspeak version of the Collect for Purity:

Almighty God
to you all hearts are open wide,
All of our want-wanting in you we confide
and from you our secrets we just can not hide:
Clean the thinks of our thumpers
And we shall be happy jump-jumpers.
So, by the help of your Holy Ghost,
Your Name we may deservingly boast;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here's the Seussspeak confession of sin:

God, we have wronged you
And we need to say boo-hoo
For the things we did and didn’t do
We are not content
we want to repent
One hundred percent
Oh so sorry we say
Won’t you forgive us this day;
So we can walk in your way

Then there's the Seussspeak Eucharistic Prayer:

Celebrant God be with you.
People And with you too.
Celebrant Lift up your hearts without sadness.
People We lift them up with great gladness.
Celebrant Let us give thanks to the Lord our God and Father
People To give him thanks is a great joy and absolutely no bother.

It is right and good-ful; blessed and joyful; holy and beautiful,
To give thanks to you our Father, Almighty and wonderful.

For you have given us this great time,
Filled with laughter, humor and rhyme.
And you have shown us your holy love,
That you have sent from heaven high up above.

Tooting our horns and stamping our feet
With angels and archangels and the whole holy fleet
With one voice let us all proclaim
The glory of your righteous name

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

O Father, merciful and divine,
You have made our world
And made it quite fine.

But we have been oh so bad
And made a mess of it all
You had every reason to be quite mad.

Instead of making a fuss
You sent your only Son
To live and die as one of us.

On the night before he died
Our Lord lifted some bread
And said with loving pride

“Dear friends, my body to you I give
Take it; share it
In you I will live.

From now on, whenever you meet
I want you to remember our time
And let this be the thing that you eat”

When they were done with their sup
Jesus again spoke with his friends
While high He lifted the holy cup

“For the New Covenant, this is my blood
A sign of the Lord’s continuing love
Let it replace the one from the flood

Whenever you drink this, think of me,
Keeping me close at heart
So that our friendship may go on endlessly

And so we now say

His death we recall
His resurrection we shout
When He comes again, it will be for all

These gifts are for you and not just a few
Fill this bread and wine truly with you

Your Spirit come down
And send it around

Make holy this food
To put us in the mood

To bring your grace
To the whole human race


I also note that, instead of an Old Testament reading or a New Testament epistle reading, the first reading in this Seusscharist comes from Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle. While not exactly the same thing as replacing the New Testament epistle reading with a reading from the Qur'an, this still liturgically places non-biblical literature on an equal footing with a reading from Holy Scripture.

Interestingly, the Lord's Prayer is not translated into Seussspeak, but rather remains in the traditional wording. Could it be that even in a Seusscharist some things are deemed too holy to be messed with?

Someone may say: "Aw c'mon Fr. B! Relax, dude, and stop being so cranky and insensitive. What in the world is wrong with any of this? It's so profoundly meaningful for the children, and it can help us adults make new connections to the divine, too. Lighten up!"

My response is to say that there is a divide in the Church between those who find profound meaning by doing sacraments "in a new way" and those for whom such innovations are a betrayal of a sacrament's integrity and a trivialization of the sacred to the silly (not to mention a violation of the oath of conformity on the part the clergy who enact such illegal liturgical revisions).

It strikes me that the perspectives on either side of such a divide are incommensurable and irreconcilable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

No Anglican Covenant Coalition Promotes Rival Covenant

Yesterday I noticed that a group calling themselves the No Anglican Covenant Coalition launched a website and a Facebook page to campaign against the Anglican Communion Covenant.

As I've noted in a previous posting, there are folks out there who castigate the very idea of an Anglican Covenant as "a product of as Stalinist a process as could possibly be imagined," "an unmitigated evil," and "a homophobic power grab." Using the rhetoric of "Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity," the No Anglican Covenant Coalition seeks to provide a platform for those who hold such views - as well as others who may have less rhetorically-charged reasons for opposition to the Covenant - to lobby for their cause.

On the website, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition says this about itself:

Anglican churches are being asked to adopt a so-called Anglican Covenant that seeks to bind them more tightly to one another and to codify procedures by which future disputes within the Anglican Communion will be resolved.

We believe that this covenant is ill-conceived. In response to the reputed “crisis” in the Communion, drafters of the covenant have favoured coercion over the hard work of reconciliation. The covenant seeks to narrow the range of acceptable belief within Anglicanism and to prevent further development of Anglican thought. Rather than bringing peace to the Communion, we predict that the covenant text itself could become the cause of future bickering and that its centralized dispute-resolution mechanisms could beget interminable quarrels and resentments.

We believe in an Anglicanism based on a shared heritage of worship, not on a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe. Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view the covenant as profoundly un-Anglican.

At No Anglican Covenant, we present the case against the Anglican Covenant and useful material for those studying the covenant or looking for arguments to support their opposition to its adoption. We also provide background material and track the status of the adoption (or rejection) of the covenant across the Communion.

There's more here.

While I find the sometimes shrill and paranoid rhetoric circulating in some corners of the blogosphere about the Anglican Covenant chilling, I have no objections to raising questions and engaging in debate about it. Its implementation may change aspects of what it means to be Anglican, perhaps in ways that cannot be foreseen and perhaps in ways that could be both good and bad. Given such possibilities, civil dialogue and debate make sense.

But to this creedal Christian, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition comes across as a forceful push for a "believe whatever you want, do whatever you want" libertarian approach to the Christian faith, as though such a free-for-all very loosely held together by liturgy is what it means to be truly Anglican, and as though that's what Richard Hooker was all about, too. (In an earlier posting I've written about encountering this sort of thing before in my parish work, with persons who want to pursue their own agendas without any accountability to others arguing forcefully that our Church lacks substantive content and binding teaching.)

And so I'm taken by the critical response to the No Anglican Covenant Coalition offered by Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under. As Peter shows, those who reject the proposed Anglican Covenant are themselves operating with a set of normative and perhaps even forcefully binding ideas about what it means to be "Anglican" that constitute a kind of implicit and rival covenant to the official Covenant. Here's part of Peter's response in a blog posting entitled "Wrongly named international Anglican Coalition favours covenant":

... the coalition favours a covenant binding Anglicans together, for what is an Anglican coalition with a website but a fellowship with a binding document, and what is a fellowship with a binding document but a covenantal community!

So unfortunately this coalition has the wrong name. It should be called 'Not that Covenant but this one: Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity'! Incidentally 'Comprehensive Unity' is a covenantal idea since it values unity around an agreed conception of comprehensiveness.

The website for the covenanting coalition describes its view in this way:

"We believe in an Anglicanism based on a shared heritage of worship, not on a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe. Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view the covenant as profoundly un-Anglican." ...

Ah, but a 'shared heritage of worship' could mean something more precise, a 'shared heritage of worship' as defined by certain Anglicans, a sort of covenantal understanding of that heritage: here is our definition of it, do you sign up to it?

This description is also curious in another way. It pits 'shared heritage of worship' versus 'a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe' yet I am constantly told by Anglicans that we Anglicans express our doctrine in our liturgies. If I subscribe to the liturgies I subscribe to the doctrines!! What is this coalition trying to say here?

Then finally, note the nail which completes the building of an Anglican covenantal community, 'Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view the covenant as profoundly un-Anglican.' Here is covenantal Anglicanism smuggled into a sentence which appears to deny its possible existence: how can something be declared to be 'un-Anglican' if there is not a shared definition of what 'Anglican' is? Indeed the first part of the sentence makes just that claim: 'Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view ...'

In a nutshell this coalition is saying 'we prefer our covenant to the official Covenant'.

Peter sums it up like this: "I think global Anglicanism deserves a better quality of opposition to the Covenant!!"

Peter Carrell has written a brilliant piece, so read it all.

His posting "Why a Covenant is a good idea" is also worth reading.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

N. T. Wright on Biblical Inspiration & Authority, Autonomy & the Anglican Covenant

Canon Ian Ellis recently interviewed Bishop N. T. Wright for the The Church of Ireland Gazette. The interview covers a wide range of topics, including Biblical inspiration and authority, as well as autonomy and the Anglican Covenant.

Here's what Bishop Wright said in response to the question, "Is there a right and a wrong way to read scripture, and who decides which is which?"

It's a very good question. ... I think the text itself in any work decides what the right way to read it is, whether it's a newspaper report, or a Jane Austen novel, or a Shakespeare play. There is no one right way, but there are ways which converge upon and find meaning in the text. And when the text comes up in three dimensions and starts to throb and come alive, then you have a sense you're on to something here. But this is a big question about, really about how we read any text, and the Bible in that sense is no different except that for 2,000 years the Christian Church has believed that these books are actually - how do you describe it - given to us by God for the use of the Church. And so paying attention to them involves the same full human attention that you give to a Shakespeare play or whatever, with a whole other dimension as well. And that's a very complicated and exciting thing. And we'll never get to the bottom of it. There's no easy little rule of thumb. ... One of the great critics from two to three hundred years ago said, "Devote yourself wholly to the text and apply the text wholly to yourself." I don't think you can get better than that.

So how does Bishop Wright understand "inspiration"?

The word "inspiration" has come to be understood in a variety of ways because it, like many theological, technical terms, it's a shorthand for a story which we tell about God, about humans, about the world. And "inspiration" is a way of scrunching that story together into one word that then depending on who you think God is and how you think God relates to human beings, "inspiration" means different things. If you have a distant God with rather passive human beings down below, inspiration would just be God using human beings as typewriters. Now that's not the view of God and of humans in the Bible itself, so the Bible itself will turn against you if you start saying that. And somehow the other thing that gets missed out there, you see, at the end of Matthew's gospel Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." He doesn't say, "All authority has been given to the books you chaps are going to go and write." So somehow scripture itself reminds us that Jesus is the one still who has authority, and that if scripture has authority it's somehow delegated from him. And so you have to tell quite a complicated story about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and these books. Now, the word "inspiration" remains a great shorthand for that, but it's that that it's a shorthand for rather than some other theory.

After noting that it is a major issue facing the Anglican Communion, Canon Ellis asks Wright about the authority of scripture and how it is to be applied. Here's what Wright says in reply:

When I say it's more complicated than we normally think, it's not because I'm trying to be obfuscatory or just make life difficult. It's because you can't just say, "Let's pull it off the shelf," plunk, open at random, and then here's a word for today because you might find that [according to] Leviticus you're not supposed to have garments of two different kinds of stuff, and I haven't actually checked the labels on these shirt and trousers I'm wearing to see if that's so, but most Christians have actually felt that that was not appropriate for us today. But do we have a theory as to why that's not appropriate, but when Leviticus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves why that is still appropriate? So how do we decide how we read the Bible? And so I and others have explored this in great detail. And actually I think it's a very exciting thing to explore because the Bible is not just a commentary upon what it means to be a Christian from the side, as it were. The Bible is part of the lifeblood of being a Christian. And so authority isn't just something that you go and look up like a legal document and then bang people over the head with it. It's something that happens as the whole Church humbly listens to God, to one another, as we together read scripture. ...

And the other thing is when we talk about authority we often think in terms of, you know, the local council, or the government, or the U.N., or, what authority do they have. But actually the Bible gives us other contexts as well like a parent with a family, or whatever it may be. What sort of authority does a parent have with a family? It's not quite the same as the authority that the local mayor or district council have, or whatever. And so we need to think about the God who has authority and hence how we redefine authority in terms of who God is.

Canon Ellis responds by saying, "This issue is at the heart of the Anglican Communion's problems at the moment, isn't it?" To which Wright responds by moving from debates over Biblical authority to debates over autonomy:

I don't know about the word "heart." It's one of the key strands, it's one of the key strands as to how we read scripture, what we do about it, and that's why I wrote that book, because I was on the International Doctrine Commission in the early years of this century ... and we were wrestling with these issues. And the book Scripture and the Authority of God [published in the U.S. as The Last Word] grew out of that. And I actually dedicated it to Robin Eames, one of your own, who was the chair of that commission, and also to Stephen Sykes, who had chaired another similar commission. And it was an attempt to speak into precisely these sets of debates.

But there are other debates which are to do with structure and nationhood and locality ... [Canon Ellis breaks in with "autonomy"] ... autonomy. And what autonomy means. And it's very clear when you analyze the notion of autonomy, autonomy doesn't mean individual areas randomly doing their own thing. Autonomy is always used in the sense of people within a larger structure but having autonomy in certain respects. If they have complete autonomy to do whatever they want, they are no longer part of the larger body, by definition, I mean that's just simply analytically true.

Later in the interview, Canon Ellis asks Wright where he sees the idea of the Anglican Covenant going. Will it ultimately come to pass?

I think so because I don't think really there's any alterantive, and I think this is what the Archbishop of Canterbury has been stressing all along, that we might have preferred not to go this route, but actually we simply cannot afford - and I mean afford - to have the kind of unstructured mess that we've had. What the Covenant does is it doesn't foreclose on particular issues, it provides a framework within which you can have the discussion in a way which tries to keep all parties at the table. Obviously if a party decides to walk away from the table that's their business, but without some sort of a structured framework, what happens is, as always, that the loudest voices tend to win, or at least to drown out the other ones. And I have seen that happen and it's not a pretty sight.

But what if the Church of England doesn't adopt the Covenant?

Well, I mean, that is always a possibility, and if that happened then I suppose the thing would be dead in the water. But that's a notional possibility which I don't actually see as realistic. I think both Archbishops, and I think - I can't speak for them now, because I'm not part of it, but the majority certainly in the House of Bishops were quite clear that however much we might be anxious about it in some respects, something like this had to be done, has to be done. And of course, it is a long-term strategy. It's not a quick fix. It's not a let's invent it today and then apply it tomorrow and then the whole garden will be lovely. ...

The illustration I've used is ... if you imagine a bunch of students who are all friends, they decide to share a house in their second or third year, and it's going to be great, we're going to get on splendidly, etc., etc. And after a few weeks there are difficulties because one is always leaving cigarette ends in the kitchen, and another one never washes the bath out, another one's playing loud music at two in the morning. And eventually they're getting on each other's nerves and they say, "Look, we're going to have to have some ground rules here." And somebody says, "Rules? What are rules for? This isn't the army." And the answer is, "No, if we're going to live together we have to have some basics." So they say, "Okay, no music after midnight, no smoking cigarettes in the kitchen, whatever it is. And, you know, they would much rather not have had to do this. But in order to live together .... It's actually part of growing up, that you have to say, "Okay, let's sort this out." Of course, then you have the difficulty what happens when you just made that agreement and then somebody goes and does it again. And that's the real difficulty."

Listen to it all.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

St. Cyprian on All Faithful Departed

We should not mourn for our fellow humans who have been freed from this world by the summons of the Lord, since we know that they are not lost but have been sent before us. In departing, they lead the way. As travelers, as voyagers, they should be longed for, but not lamented. Neither should dark clothing be worn here, inasmuch as they have already assumed white garments there.

Let us give the pagans no occasion to censure us deservedly and justly, on the ground that we grieve for those, as if entirely destroyed and lost, who we say are living with God. Let them not censure us on the ground that we do not show by the testimony of the heart and breast the faith which we declare in speech and word! We are prevaricators of our hope and faith, if what we say seems pretended, feigned, and falsified. It is no value to show forth virtue in words but destroy truth in deeds.

Furthermore, the apostle Paul rebukes and blames any who may be sorrowful at the death of their dear ones: "We would have you be clear," he says, "about those who sleep in death; otherwise you might yield to grief, like those who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, God will bring forth with him from the dead those also who have fallen asleep believing in him."

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself admonishes us, saying: "I am the resurrection and the life: those who believe in me, even though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." If we believe in Christ let us have faith in his words and promises, that we who are not to die forever may come in joyful certainty to Christ with whom we are to conquer and reign for eternity.

As to the fact that meanwhile we die, we pass by death to immortality. Eternal life can not succeed unless it has befallen us to depart from the here and now. This is not an end but a passage, a crossing over to eternity. Who would not hasten to better things? Who would not pray to be more quickly changed and reformed to the image of Christ and to the dignity of heavenly grace, since the apostle Paul declares: "We have our citizenship in heaven; it is from there that we eagerly await the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body."

Let us embrace the day which assigns each of us to an [eternal] dwelling, which on our being rescued from this life and released from the snares of the world, restores us to paradise and to the kingdom. What person, after being abroad, would not hasten to return to one's own country? Who, when hurrying to sail to one's family, would not more eagerly long for a favorable wind so that one might quickly embrace those who are loved?

We account paradise our own country. A great number of our dear ones there await us, parents, sisters and brothers, children. A dense and copious throng longs for us, already secure in their safety but still anxious for our salvation. To these, my beloved, let us hasten with eager longing! Let us pray that it may befall us speedily to be with them, speedily to come to Christ.

~ St. Cyprian of Carthage, from the Treatise on Death
(written on the outbreak of a plague in the year 252)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Collect for All Saints' Day

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

~ The Book of Common Prayer, p. 245