Sunday, December 30, 2012

St. Athanasius: "Upon this faith the Church is built"

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.

We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved. Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.

Writing to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.

Even the gifts that the Spirit dispenses to individuals are given by the Father through the Word. For all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and so the graces given by the Son in the Spirit are true gifts of the Father. Similarly, when the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word. This is the meaning of the text: My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him. For where the light is, there also is the radiance; and where the radiance is, there too are its power and its resplendent grace.

This is also Paul's teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:13): The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we posses the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In the beginning was the Word: A Christmas Reflection from the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, offers the following Christmas reflection on the Prologue of the Gospel according to St. John (a transcript is below the video).

It's a slightly strange way to start a Gospel you might think. We expect something a bit more like the beginning of the other Gospels: the story of Jesus's birth perhaps or his ancestry, or the story of Jesus's arrival on the public scene. 

But at the beginning of St John's Gospel what St John does is to frame his whole story against an eternal background. And what he's saying there is this: as you read this Gospel, as you read the stories about what Jesus does, be aware that whatever he does in the stories you're about to read is something that's going on eternally, not just something that happens to be going on in Palestine at a particular date. 

So when Jesus brings an overflow of joy at a wedding, when Jesus reaches out to a foreign woman to speak words of forgiveness and reconciliation to her, when Jesus opens the eyes of a blind man or raises the dead, all of this is part of something that is going on forever. The welcome of God, the joy of God, the light of God, the life of God - all of this is eternal. What Jesus is showing on Earth is somehow mysteriously part of what is always true about God. 

And that's why it's central to this beginning of John's Gospel - that he says the light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn't swallow it up. How could the darkness swallow it up? If these works of welcome and forgiveness, of light and life and joy, are always going on, then actually nothing can ever make a difference to them. 

And that's why at the climax of this wonderful passage, St John says, the Word of God, the outpouring of God's life, actually became flesh and blood. And we saw it - we saw in this human life the eternal truth about God. We saw an eternal love, an eternal relationship; we saw an eternal joy and a light and a life.

So as we read these stories we know that nothing at all can make a difference to the truth, the reality, they bring into the world. This is indeed the truth; this is where life is to be found. And this explains why at the end of St John's Gospel, he famously says that if we tried to spell out all that this means, there would be no end of the books that could be written.

So in the light of that overflowing joy and everlasting truth, I wish you every blessing and happiness for this Christmas and the year ahead.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"To what did Mary assent when she said to Gabriel, 'Fiat mihi'?"

To what did Mary ... assent, when she said to Gabriel, "Fiat mihi," "Let it happen to me"? Of course it was her womb that with these words she offered, to be God's space in the world. The whole history of Israel had been God's labour to take Israel as his space in the world. And it was indeed a labour, for Israel by her own account was a resistant people: again and again the Lord's angel announced his advent, begged indeed for space, and again and again Israel's answer was "Let it be, but not yet." Gabriel's mission to Mary was, so to speak, one last try, and this time the response did not temporize ...

"Fiat mihi," said Mary, giving her womb as space for God in this world. After all the Lord's struggle with his beloved Israel, he finally found a place in Israel that unbelief would not destroy like the Temple, or silence like the prophets, or simply lose, like the Book of the Law before Josiah. This place is a person.

~ Robert Jenson, "A Space for God" in Carl Braaten & Robert Jenson's Mary, Mother of God

H/t to Catholicity and Covenant for the quote

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rowan Williams on Changing a Non-Religious Person's Views

Noting his consistent engagement with the "New Atheism," Catholicity and Covenant calls our attention to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' response to the question, "What would you say to a non-religious person to change their views?"  His response begins around 16:31 in the following video, and I've also shared that response below:

I’d say try and find the best art, the best writing and the best music that’s come out of the religious context and ask where does it come from? 
It doesn’t come from nowhere: so the poetry of a George Herbert or a T.S. Eliot, the art of a Rembrandt, the music of a Bach or Mozart, or even, Arvo Pärt, or modern composers. That’s the world that religion helps to create, and I think I’d just say: ask whether that’s a bigger or a smaller world, a richer or a poorer world and start from there.

++Rowan here offers a generous invitation to non-believers, skeptics, and atheists not only to imagine what the world would be like if the best of religious contributions to history and culture had never taken place, but also to ask: If there is genuine beauty in the contributions of religious persons to this world, and if the moral values of love, compassion, and respect for the dignity of all persons promoted by religion are worth embracing, could it be that these are "echoes of a voice" or signs that point to the reality of God?  That strikes me as a civil and respectful approach to apologetics and evangelism.

Friday, December 7, 2012

St. Ambrose: "The Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation"

"The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church's foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress. There is a stream which flows down on God's saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace."

Fr. Tony Clavier: "The ties that bind us"

"Those now living, caught up in this conflict, are baptized. That should be a significant point, a ‘given’ in any discussion about how a Christian body manages dissent and conflict. The ties that bind us aren’t tribal, or structural or canonical. They are sacramental. Our church doesn’t own the sacraments. It exposes them, makes them available, in obedience to our Lord’s will and commandment. Our church’s clergy point to them, open them, in familiar acts of obedience. That obedience runs deeper than any oaths to man-made canons or structures."

~ Fr. Tony Clavier, on the Presiding Bishop's acceptance of Bishop Mark Lawrence's alleged "renunciation" of holy orders 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rowan Williams: "What we aspire to as Anglicans"

" ... what we aspire to as Anglicans is not to be a federation of loosely connected and rather distant relatives who sometimes send Christmas cards to each other, but a true family and fellowship in which we share our hopes and know that we are responsible for each other’s well-being and integrity before God."

~ Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 

Monday, December 3, 2012

St. Irenaeus: "God has a good will toward us continually"

There is no coercion with God. He has a good will toward us continually. He gives reliable counsel to humans and angels (who also are rational beings), to whom he has given the power of choice. Those who yield obedience therefore possess what is good freely and justly. It is given by God but preserved by themselves. … The human spirit is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will, in whose likeness humanity was created. Humanity is advised to hold fast to the good and thereby be responsive to God. This refers not only to works but faith as well. God preserved the human will free and under his own control … as is shown in Jesus’ word to the centurion: “Go. Be it done for you as you have believed.”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Moving on from the Cathedral to a New Parish

It is official.  After serving as the Canon for Parish Ministry at St. Andrew's Cathedral for almost seven years, I have accepted the call to serve as the sixth rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The discernment with this parish started back in late July.  With each successive step, it's had a Spirit-filled feel to it. It was a powerful journey with an extraordinary search committee.  I am fortunate to have been a part of it.

Here is the letter I sent out to the members of St. Andrew's Cathedral:

Dear Friends in Christ,

It’s hard to believe that this coming January will mark the 7th anniversary of my time among you as the Canon for Parish Ministry. And what a wonderful journey it has been! Together we have experienced renewed vitality and vision. We have joined our hearts and voices in beautiful worship. We have served as the hands and feet of Jesus among the needy in the community. We have shared joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, hopes and dreams. And we have been a family in Christ that cares for one another while welcoming anyone who seeks the love and grace of God.

When I think about how much all of that means, I find myself filled with mixed feelings. For I write to let you know that the time has now come for me and the family to move on to the next chapter of our lives in Christ. I have accepted the call to serve as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge. It is an exciting opportunity to serve in a wonderful parish. But after being among you for so long, this is also a bittersweet time for the Owen family. St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Jackson have become home to us. And Lord knows, we love the Diocese of Mississippi! And so, in the midst of the excitement, the thought of moving fills us with sadness. You are our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. And you have touched our lives in so many wonderful ways.

My last Sunday at the Cathedral will be December 16 (Advent 3). We hope to make the move to Baton Rouge later that week. The need to get Mary Emerson and Hobson situated and prepared to enter new schools makes such a quick transition necessary. It promises to be a whirlwind of activity and an emotional roller coaster. I ask your prayers for me and for Julie, Mary Emerson, and Hobson as we live into this time of transition. And know that you shall remain in our prayers as well.

It has been a privilege to serve as a priest among you at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. We shall always consider this sacred place as one of our homes.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

It's an exciting timeI ask your prayers for me and for my family, for St. Andrew's Cathedral, and for St. Luke's Episcopal Church and Day School.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thoughts on the Renewal of North American Anglicanism

... the best thing that will come out of the current crisis in North American Anglicanism is an abandonment of institutional idolatry.  

One of the great strengths of Anglicanism is its preservation of the doctrine that the Church is more than just a fellowship of believers, that she is an incarnational reality, an organic and tangible means by which Our Lord makes us one with Him. Yet this has also been our Achilles Heel as too often Anglicans have confused the mystical reality of the Church with the accoutrements of church life. We have worshiped the clerical collars and the vestments. We have celebrated our property and preached our pension plan. We have glibly pointed to our apostolic succession, as if it were a mechanical process, and we have said to the world and to the rest of the Christian Church, “This is who we are!” In short, we have celebrated ourselves instead of Christ. Is it any wonder we have split into so many pieces?

Yet I am hopeful because the collapse of broken institutions makes it possible for us to rediscover, in all humility, the true glory of Anglicanism which is found in the revelation of Jesus Christ. What Anglicanism has to offer to North America and the world is a surprisingly simple, holy, and beautiful path that leads right to the foot of the cross. It is the ancient and living faith of the apostles running through our liturgy and articles, pulsing within the pages of the greatest works of our theologians, and characterizing the pastoral relationships of countless clergy and people through the centuries that gives us the ability to proclaim that we are inheritors of the Catholic faith. I have no clairvoyance, but my strong suspicion is that the renewal of North American Anglicanism will happen far away from the places where ecclesial machinery is churning out one resolution after another, advocating this and anathematizing that. It will happen in parishes where Word and Sacrament are faithfully preached and administered by priests who find their calling not just in wearing fancy robes and standing in the pulpit but in the regular visitation of the people and in the continuous offering of prayer in the Daily Office. It will happen in small groups of young people who come together in far flung places to form new parishes and to build for the future. It will come in the late night reading of long forgotten books by long dead heroes of the faith who became heroes not through self-initiative but through total surrender to God.

Of course, the renewal of Anglicanism could take many forms, but one thing I am certain of is that a renewal is coming. I am certain of it because Anglicanism, at its core, is no less and no more than the Gospel delivered in the clearest way possible. In the end, it really does not matter what we call it. Perhaps the very names Anglican and Episcopalian will die. It will not matter if they do. The death of our structures is inevitable, as much as the crumbling of the Temple was inevitable. Nothing made with human hands, no matter how glorious it may seem, will exist forever. Only God is eternal and only Christ is our refuge. The heart of Anglicanism is Christ. No sin, even one as large as our ongoing institutional idolatry, can even come close to exhausting the saving power of Jesus.

~ Fr. Jonathan, The Conciliar Anglican

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost

RCL, Proper 28, Year B: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

[Listen to the sermon here.]

I have a confession to make: I am a Netflix junkie.

For those of you unfamiliar with Netflix, it’s a company that offers DVDs by mail and video streaming so you can watch movies and TV series at your own pace in the comfort of your home. For most of our time in Jackson, we’ve been subscribers. We’ve watched some incredible dramatic series, including Mad Men, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Justified, and most recently, Treme (which is about post-Katrina New Orleans). You know you’re hooked when a text message from your wife that says “MI-5 tonight” makes your day.

Of course, one of the downsides to watching these series on Netflix is that most of them have websites that give a summary of each episode. So if you hit a cliffhanger, the temptation to go on-line and find out what’s going to happen next can be hard to resist.

Then again, that’s always been a temptation. Be honest: how many of you have ever read the ending of a book before finishing the whole thing? Do you happen to know anyone who won’t go to a movie unless they know everything turns out ok in the end?

It’s been said that we human beings are “story-telling animals.” Whether tucking a child into bed at night, gathering around a campfire with family and friends, or making small talk by the water cooler at work, it’s part of human nature to share stories. Stories help us navigate our world and make sense of our experiences. And when we find ourselves in times of anxiety, uncertainty, or fear, we long to know how this particular story is going to turn out. What will happen next? How long will this go on? Will everything turn out ok?

That’s precisely where Jesus’ disciples find themselves in today’s Gospel reading. They’re walking through the Temple in Jerusalem – one of the most magnificent structures of the world in that day. And they’re so overwhelmed by it that they can’t help but say to Jesus, “Wow, this is incredible!” But instead of joining in on the awestruck excitement, Jesus responds by saying, “Oh yeah, well everything you see here – all of this towering beauty – is going to end up one big pile of rubble.”

Well, there’s definitely a story there! And the disciples want to hear it. “Teacher, tell us when this will be and what will happen to show that the time has come for all these things to take place” (cf. Mark 13:4 TEV). And so Jesus gives them a sneak preview. “Be careful not to be led astray,” he warns them. “False messiahs will come and fool many people. There will be wars and rumors of wars, with nations fighting each other and kingdoms on the attack. Natural disasters will kick in with earthquakes and famines. And that’s just the beginning!”

Going beyond our assigned reading for today, Jesus continues the preview by warning his followers that some of them will be arrested, others beaten, and many put on trial. Families will be divided, with siblings and parents betraying each other. And as a sign that the end has come, “the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, the stars will fall from heaven,” and the Son of Man will gloriously appear in the clouds with legions of angels (Mark 13:24 TEV).

The storyline and dramatic imagery are worthy of a director like Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas. And yet, to our 21st Century American ears, all of this may sound bizarre. Indeed, for some of us, passages like this may even be scary. And that’s because scripture like this has been used by some Christians to instill fear and foreboding about living in the last days and preparing to meet a righteous, perhaps even angry, judge when Jesus returns.

So what in the world are we to make of all of this?

Some context will help us out. The 13th chapter of Mark is an account of the political unrest, natural disasters, attacks on the church, and appearance of false messiahs which Jesus says will precede his coming again. It reveals that Mark’s faith community was suffering intense hardship and persecution. We know, for example, that Mark’s Gospel was written during the turbulent 60s of the 1st Century. It was a time when nationalist Jews rose up in rebellion against their Roman overlords, with many claiming the authority of messiahship for their actions. Rome responded with a heavy hand. In the year 70 A.D., 3 legions of Roman soldiers – as many as 18,000 fighting men – destroyed the city of Jerusalem, tore down its walls, burned its buildings, and slaughtered its citizens. One can only imagine the fear and chaos whipped up by these tragic events.

Living immediately prior to this disaster, Jews and Christians must have felt the tension in the air, as though something awful could happen at any moment. Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse confirms this sense of foreboding anticipation in the early Christian community. But it also affirms grounds for hope. Using dramatic language, Jesus’ words convey a sense of reassurance that the suffering will come to an end. The message to Mark’s original readers is clear: Be faithful and stay the course, for in the long run, everything will be ok. God will set things right.

In spite of our very different social and religious context, Jesus’ sneak preview of things to come still offers us grounds for hope in the midst of life’s uncertainties. For it reminds us that we are not the authors of the story of our lives. God is. And while initially that may challenge our need to be in control, it’s actually very good news in the midst of a broken, and often chaotic and scary, world.

We desperately need to hear that good news because, just like our forebears, we who live in the 21st Century have plenty of reasons for waxing apocalyptic. We still fear terrorism at home and abroad. We see the social decay of widening gaps between rich and poor. We hear of wars and rumors of wars in various parts of the globe. We see Christians suffering persecution in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, China, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan. We live in a nation deeply divided along political lines. Economic turbulence and insecurity continue to plague our nation and the world. Fires, floods, and hurricanes wreak havoc. When we really take a look at what’s happening in our world, it can be very overwhelming!

And then there are personal crises of faith. It could be a scary diagnosis, an unexpected surgery, or the death of a loved one. Or it might be the challenge of finding a job in an anemic economy, or the fear of losing a job.

All of these things challenge our faith by tempting us to live in the fear that it’s all up to us. If we can’t somehow manage to control current events – if we can’t write the story’s ending – then we are doomed beyond all hope of redemption.

It’s been said that fear is a greater evil than the evil itself. And that’s because fear motivates us to act in ways contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. For as the first epistle of John tells us, “fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). But the message we hear from Mark today is not about punishment. Jesus is not giving us reason to be afraid. He’s giving us reason to hope.

In our Sunday worship, we proclaim the mystery of faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Saying this, we affirm Christ’s lordship over the past, over the present, and over the future. Jesus Christ stands at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of all things. And so even though our earthly journey may take us through times of trial and tribulation, we Christians know something hidden from the rest of the world – something revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. And that something gets summed up beautifully in the Nicene Creed, because when we recite that Creed in our worship, we are saying that “God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, [and] that God’s new world has begun” (N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope). And that is the true story of this world.

By virtue of our baptisms, our life stories are interwoven into this larger story of God’s healing and redeeming work in Jesus Christ. And so we can look to the future with confidence and joyful anticipation. For the Good News of Jesus Christ frees us from fear of what may or may not happen in the future so that we can stay centered in the present. We are free from a fear of dying that keeps us from really living. We are free from fears of punishment that keep us from really loving. We are free to see beyond the changes and chances of this life to the joys of eternal life. And so we are free to focus on our true purpose – to be bearers of God’s coming kingdom, heralds who sound the Good News that this world’s troubles are not the whole story. There’s a conclusion that brings God’s gracious and loving purposes to fulfillment.

That fulfillment includes the eradication of death and disease. It includes the re-creation of all things into a new and eternal order of peace, love, and justice. It includes the healing of every hurt we’ve ever inflicted or suffered. And it includes reunion with those we love but see no longer in the most joyful celebration imaginable. That’s where the story of our lives in Christ is heading. And that, my friends, is an awesome ending.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rediscovering Classic Christianity by Reading the Fathers

For a while now I've been reading the postings at The Pocket Scroll: Classically Christian.  The owner says this about the blog:

  • A place to look back on the lives of those who have gone before us.  
  • A place to reflect upon their writings.  
  • A place to reflect upon their devotional practices.  
  • So brew some tea, grab a caramel digestive, and enjoy!

As an introduction to a Classic Christian Manifesto, the blog owner writes the following:

We stand pretty much 2000 years into Christianity. The tradition that stretches out behind us is vast (albeit nothing compared to the Eternity that awaits us in the New Heaven and the New Earth). Many voices, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, are calling us to rediscover that tradition. I believe that the rediscovery of what I call “Classic Christianity” is a task well worth investing ourselves in. ... Classic Christianity — more than just the old books. The poetry, liturgy, prayers, lives, art, songs, hymns, theology, devotional works, mysticism, contemplation, disciplines, worship practices, virtues, and history of 2000 years of Christianity — this is Classic Christianity.

The Pocket Christian is a wonderful resource for rediscovering "Classic Christianity" and thus for moving beyond what Thomas Oden calls the "inveterate modern chauvinism that assumes that human consciousness today is intrinsically superior to all premodern modes of thinking - and, conversely, that all premodern thinking is assumed to be intrinsically inferior to modern consciousness." Put positively, rediscovering "Classic Christianity" entails moving beyond the limited truths obtained via personal experience and the individual's exercise of reason into the conviction that the historic, universal Church is, indeed, the Body of Christ that contains treasures of wisdom and truth that far exceed our capacity to fully understand or rationally comprehend, much less experience in its fullness.  It's hard to imagine a more exciting or transformative journey!

As a practical means for rediscovering "Classic Christianity," The Pocket Scroll commends a website called Read the Fathers.  Here's the invitation on that website's homepage:

By reading seven pages a day for seven years, you can study a vast library of theology, history, liturgy, apologetics, biblical commentary, and devotion written in the first seven centuries of the Christian church. We provide a schedule of readings, the texts in English translation, and—most important—a community to discuss what you're learning. Laypeople, clergy, seminarians, students, and Christians of all denominations will benefit from joining our community to read the church fathers.

The website offers suggestions for getting started and a calendar of daily readings.

This is a fantastic idea that I hope to take advantage of!

Friday, November 16, 2012

South Carolina Schism

"If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:15).

Watching the situation in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina unfold has been deeply painful to all Episcopalians (and other Christians) who care about unity.  No doubt, there's plenty of blame to go around.  But the bottom line is that this situation compromises our witness and makes us look no different than a world in which will-to-power politics trumps charity and good will.  We are modeling the Church of the Ugly Party for all the world to see.

In a posting entitled "For the Love of God," Bishop Dan Martins offers a summary of how things have gotten to this sad point, along with a heart-wrenching appeal to both sides in this debacle to "step back from the brink."  He writes:

Tragedy is the only word to describe all of this, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to overstate its scope. South Carolina is a strong and thriving diocese. It has consistently been a statistical anomaly in an Episcopal Church that is steadily aging and deteriorating. All eyes have indeed been on South Carolina, but for the wrong reasons. Rather than arising from suspicion and malice, the attention should be springing from envy and a desire to emulate. Its loss will be no mere statistical blip, and will probably exceed the combined numerical total of the previously departed San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy, and about half of Pittsburgh. For anyone who loves the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism, or just loves Jesus, this is an occasion of profound sorrow. 
So here's my futility exercise. 
To my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina, as you meet in convention this Saturday: For the love of God, step back from the brink. Lay aside that which is your right, in honor of him who laid aside everything for us, not counting equality with God something to be grasped. The entire Episcopal Church needs you, but none more so than we who have stood with you in witness to the revealed word of God and the tradition of "mere Anglicanism." I am begging you: Do not abandon us. Let us together be Jeremiah at the bottom of the well, bearing costly witness to God's truth. Let us together be Hosea, faithfully loving those who do not love us back, for the sake of the wholeness of the people of God. 
To the Presiding Bishop: Katharine, for the love of God, step back from the brink. Rescind the announcements you have made about the offices of Bishop and Standing Committee being vacant. Give peace a chance. Create space for the seeds of future trust and love to at least lie dormant for a season in anticipation of future germination. When the Confederate dioceses formed their own church in the 1860s, the General Convention, in great wisdom, simply refused to recognize their departure, thereby greatly facilitating eventual reconciliation and avoiding the schism that other American Christian bodies experienced in the wake of the Civil War. You are renowned for your calls for nimbleness and imagination in the face of the challenges our church faces. This is the moment for you to exercise precisely that sort of leadership. The legacy of your tenure as Presiding Bishop will be written in the next three days. Will it be a legacy of juridical gridlock, or bold generosity for the sake of God's mission? 
I am reduced nearly to tears, and they may yet flow. 
For the love of God.

Read it all.

Fr. Robert Hendrickson at The Curate's Desk also offers important comments on this situation in a posting entitled "Abandoning Communion?"  Noting the ways in which this ecclesial conflict mirrors the worst aspects of the American culture war, he writes:

It is tempting to assert our own rightness and importance when we feel most under threat. Pair this with an increasingly zero-sum mindset that has crept into the partisan language of so-called conservatives and so-called progressives and you will find a recipe for a near blasphemous inversion of Communion. 
The truly conservative approach would be to find that which is good and holy in our life together and hold fast to that despite the trials of the day knowing that the passions of the day are not heated enough to overtake our shared life in Christ. The truly progressive approach would be to embrace the multitude of opinions and allow the work of the Spirit to continue among those with whom we disagree. 
Yet we find ourselves at an impasse of sad proportions. I suppose what is most depressing is the utter pettiness of the entire matter. A growing diocese (the only one in the Episcopal Church) that is a founding diocese of this Church is no longer going to be part of the Episcopal Church – part of this Communion. In the name of being right both the Diocese of South Carolina and the Presiding Bishop’s office have squared off in a manner that is frighteningly banal. 
I say banal because it is the same small-minded, ungracious, and undignified malaise that has taken hold of our politics, economics, and culture more broadly. It is the fruit of 50 years of zero-sum thinking that has crippled our ability to be in true Communion. We talk of the Church being counter-cultural, speaking truth to power, blah, blah, blah. 
Never has the Church so looked like the dominant culture around us than in this new fight. Like those souls who found themselves on the losing side on election day, we have the ecclesiastical equivalent of people filing secession papers. Like the utter simple-mindedness of the election campaign, everything is now dismissed as either unabashedly revisionist and unholy or shamelessly retrograde and homophobic. I have heard fellow priests mocking the departing dioceses, priests, and bishops and saying, “good riddance.” 
The dialogue is poisoned because our hearts have been. Faith, Hope, and Charity have all taken a back seat to being right. 
Never have we been such a sad and wan facsimile of the broader culture.

Fr. Hendrickson concludes with an indictment of us all: "No one individual has abandoned Communion. We are all abandoning Communion."  Read it all.

And looking at the situation from "across the pond" in the Church of Ireland, BC at Catholicity and Covenant sums it up this way:

If the polities of this world too often regard diversity and common life as contradictory experiences, the Church is called in and through communion to experience diversity (catholic, evangelical, liberal) in a common life (baptism, eucharist, prayer, Scripture, episcopate). A failure by the Church to live out diversity in a common life - communion - is not only a matter of discipline. It goes to the very heart of the Church's calling to share in the life of the Triune God and to invite the world to enter into this life. TEC v. South Carolina is not merely a matter of an ecclesial version of Blue State v. Red State. It is a failure of Church to be Church.

A while back a clergy colleague told me that ideological warfare is always ugly. Looking at what's happening with South Carolina, I can see that he was right!

Pray for the Church.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Michael Ramsey: "The central fact of Christianity is not a book but a person"

The Bible is the sacred book of the Christian Church, but it would be wrong to infer from its exalted place in every form of Christianity that Christianity is a religion of the Book.  The central fact of Christianity is not a book but a person - Jesus Christ, described as the Word of God.  The books of the Old Testament came to have authority within the Church because Jesus Christ set the seal of his own authority upon them, and interpreted them as preparing the way for himself.  The books of the New Testament came to have authority because the Church recognized in them the authentic testimony of the apostles to Jesus Christ.  It is this relationship of the books to a person that makes them very different from a collection of oracles itself providing the basis for a religion.  Indeed both in Judaism and in Christianity, the religious belief in and experience of revelation preceded the making and the canonization of the holy books.  In both the Old and the New Testaments, therefore, the collection of sacred books was not the basis of the belief in divine revelation, but its consequence.

The conviction in the Church that Jesus Christ was himself the Word of God (John 1.14; 1 John 1.1) rested on the belief that there was in Jesus the divine utterance, not only in his teaching and message, but in himself: the Word and the person were one.  Furthermore, the Word, who was made flesh, had himself been 'in the beginning with God', at work in the creation of the world, and in giving life and light to human beings.  Thus, in a sense hard to describe yet decisively perceived, the scriptures of the Old Testament not only prepared the way for Christ, but also revealed him, as the Word of God, now incarnate in him, who had been at work from the beginning.

~ Michael Ramsey, "The Authority of the Bible" 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A New Archbishop of Canterbury

It seems like every time I go off to the mountains of East Tennessee, I return to learn that major things are afoot within the Anglican Communion.  Most recently, it's the news (old news by now) that we have a successor to Rowan Williams as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury: the Rt. Rev. Justin Portal Welby (currently serving as the Bishop of Durham).

I know very little about Bishop Welby and thus far have had little time to delve too deeply into the information out there about him.  I was struck, however, by Carson T. Clark's tentative thoughts at Musings of a Hardlining Moderate. Carson writes:

While I remain a fan of Rowan Williams, I’m finding myself rather quickly coming to like Justin Welby as well. From what I’m seeing, he’s committed to intently listening to those with whom he disagrees and is serious by temperament yet loves self-deprecating/witty humor. I like this man already. Bishop Welby grew up in a broken home and without significant means, sent his children to public schools, and has experienced personal tragedy with an alcoholic father and a child’s death. Colleagues from the business world say he doesn’t come off as “churchy.” He’s theologically just right-of-center, has a passion for social justice, is egalitarian, and supports traditional marriage but isn’t a jerk about it. To put it in American terms, he’s neither a progressive nor a fundamentalist. From what I gather he’s something of a party outsider who exhibits steadfast integrity while challenging the status quo. To give two examples, he was originally rejected for ordination by a liberal bishop and openly criticizes unethical practices from the conservative banking industry. Perhaps most importantly, he has good, strong relationships with Archbishop John Sentamu and the Global South. It seems to me he’s the sort of irenic, principled pragmatist around which the Anglican tradition was historically formed. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner. In the coming months and years my prayer is that Archbishop Welby will, by the God’s grace, be able to help heal the Anglican Communion and save it from fragmentation.

While Carson sees Bishop Welby's commitment to "intently listening to those with whom he disagrees" as a virtue, others view that as a reprehensible compromise with heresy.  See, for instance, Matt Kennedy's comments at Stand Firm here and here, and also his posting here

A number of statements on Bishop Welby's appointment from around the Anglican Communion can be read here. See also the congratulations from Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk and the welcome from Pope Benedict XVI.

I certainly will join Carson T. Clark's prayer that, by God's grace, Archbishop Welby will find ways "to help heal the Anglican Communion and save it from fragmentation."  But as much as I will hope and pray for that outcome, I think an answer to that prayer will take nothing less than a miracle.  For it seems likely that regardless of what he does, the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion will continue.  If Archbishop Welby leads as an orthodox evangelical, he will alienate "progressives."  If he bends over backwards to appease "progressives," orthodox Anglicans will be mad at him.  And if he leads as a centrist a la Archbishop Williams, then pretty much everybody will be unhappy.  It's an impossible job!

Of course, as Jesus reminds us, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God" (Luke 18:27).  But that only underscores the reality that it will take nothing less than divine intervention to stop the fragmentation and begin the healing within the Anglican Communion.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Brief Post-Election Thoughts

Running up to this presidential election, I was struck by how many people - including both Democrats and Republicans - were basically in agreement with this apocalyptic proposition: "If my candidate does not win, the world will come to an end."  Some put matters like this: "The other candidate hates America, and if he wins, everything we value will crash and burn.  Our whole way of life will be thrown under the bus."  Now that we know the winner, some on the losing side continue to say the same things.  I note, for example, the rhetoric of "the day America died."  And then there's this title of an American Spectator essay: "Doomed Beyond All Hope of Redemption."

Many Christians are among those joining this chorus of hopelessness, doom, and gloom.  It's almost as if we've been deluded into believing that a mere mortal who gets elected into a particular position of power is somehow a Savior (or the Antichrist).  I don't deny that there are critical issues at stake in our political life.  Nor do I want to suggest that as Christians we should not act on our deepest values in the public square.  And I'm not saying that it doesn't matter who gets elected President.  But some of the hand-wringing, doom-and-gloom rhetoric has, quite frankly, struck me as idolatrous.

I'm reminded that many Christians have lived and practiced the faith under far more dire conditions than anything a Republican or a Democratic Presidential administration can dish out.  Indeed, many of them were imprisoned, tortured, and died for the faith.  And that tragic scenario continues to unfold in many parts of the world today (see, for example, the website The Voice of the Martyrs).  Even if one grants the argument that some conservative Christians today are making - that we'll see in the near future persecution and imprisonment for Christians who dare to publicly speak in favor of traditional biblical values against the current of "progressive" change - I'm not comfortable equating that possible scenario with what confessors and martyrs have and are experiencing.

Election day fell this year on the Feast Day of William Temple, the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury.  While taking another look at his life and legacy, I came across the following quote from a sermon he delivered at the Lambeth Conference in 1930.  It strikes me as appropriate for American Christians who may be tempted to take a turn to henotheism in the midst of our deeply polarized politics:

While we deliberate, he reigns; when we decide, he reigns; when we decide foolishly, he reigns; when we serve him in humble loyalty, he reigns; when we serve him self-assertively, he reigns; when we rebel and seek to withhold our service, he reigns - the Alpha and the Omega, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.


Please note: ad hominem slams against Republicans, Democrats, or anyone else will not be published!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Richard Hooker on Holy Communion

"Let it therefore be sufficient for me presenting myself at the Lord's table to know what there I receive from him, without searching or inquiring of the manner how Christ performeth his promise; let disputes and questions, enemies to piety, abatements of true devotions, and hitherto in this cause but over-patiently heard, let them take their rest; let curious and sharp-witted men beat their heads about what questions themselves will ... what these elements are in themselves it skilleth not, it is enough that to me which take them they are the body and blood of Christ, his promise in witness hereof sufficeth, his word he knoweth which way to accomplish; why should any cogitation possess the mind of a faithful communicant but this, O my God, thou art true, O my soul thou art happy?"

Friday, November 2, 2012

"A mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ"

We must not remain children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to be children in faith? St Paul answers: it means being "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely!

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

N. T. Wright on the Public Reading of Scripture

The primary place where the church hears scripture is during corporate worship. ... This is itself a practice in direct descent from the public reading of the law by Ezra, Jesus' own reading of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, the reading of Paul's letters in the assembled church, and so on.  However different we may be personally, contextually, culturally, and so on, when we read scripture we do so in communion with other Christians across space and time.  This means, for instance, that we  must work at making sure we read scripture properly in public, with appropriate systems for choosing what to read and appropriate training to make sure those who read do so to best effect.  If scripture is to be a dynamic force within the church, it is vital that the public reading of scripture does not degenerate into what might be called "aural wallpaper," a pleasing and somewhat religious noise which murmurs along in the background while the mind is occupied elsewhere.

It also means that in our public worship, in whatever tradition, we need to make sure the reading of scripture takes a central place.  In my own tradition, that of the Anglican Communion, the regular offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are, in all kinds of ways, "showcases for scripture."  That is, they do with scripture (by means of prayer, music and response) what a well-organized exhibition does with a great work of art: they prepare us for it, they enable us to appreciate it fully, and they give us an opportunity to meditate further upon it.  The public reading of scripture is not designed merely to teach the people its content, thought that should be a welcome spin-off.  (The word "lesson" in this context originally meant simply "reading," not "teaching"; its modern meaning throws the emphasis in the wrong direction.)

More, in public worship where the reading of scripture is given its proper place, the authority of God places a direct challenge to the authority of the powers that be, not least those who use the media, in shaping the mind and life of the community.  But the primary purpose of the readings is to be itself an act of worship, celebrating God's story, power and wisdom and, above all, God's son.  That is the kind of worship through which the church is renewed in God's image, and so transformed and directed in its mission.  Scripture is the key means through which the living God directs and strengthens his people in and for that work.  That ... is what the shorthand phrase "the authority of scripture" is really all about.

Indeed, what is done in the classic offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, by means of listening to one reading from each Testament, is to tell the entire story of the Old and New Testaments, glimpsing the broad landscape of the scripture narrative through the two tiny windows of short readings.  ...

There has been a tendency in some quarters, no doubt stemming from a desire to keep services from going on too long, to prune the length of the readings - and to use that as an excuse for cutting out parts which might not serve as the kind of aural wallpaper people are used to, but might instead shock them into listening with alarmed attention.  Many debates within the church have been seriously hampered because there are parts of the foundation text - a verse here, a chapter there - which have been quietly omitted from the church's public life.  There is simply no excuse for leaving out verses, paragraphs or chapters, from the New Testament in particular.  We dare not try to tame the Bible.  It is our foundation charter; we are not at liberty to play fast and loose with it.

The sermon, which from early in the church's life was seen as primarily an expression of or reflection on scripture, belongs of course very closely with the public reading of scripture - not ... that scripture is read only to be preached upon, or that there is only one style of scriptural preaching.  ...  Precisely when  scripture is read in the way I have described, all kinds of opportunities will arise for fresh words to be spoken, illuminating passages that have been heard and reverberating with them, but also moving forward to suggest what fresh meanings they might bear for today and tomorrow.

Finally, of course, the reading of scripture during the Eucharist, at the very center of the church's life, witness and worship, is the crucial thing that forms God's people as God's people a they come together solemnly to "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."  Within that, it becomes a vital part of the personal formation of each individual communicant.  Scripture forms God's people, warming their hearts as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so that their eyes may then be opened to know him in the breaking of the bread.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Anglican Digest Board of Trustees Meeting

Early in the morning I'll travel from Jackson, Mississippi to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  It's time for the annual Board of Trustees meeting for The Anglican Digest.  A clergy friend who serves on the board nominated me last year to fill a vacant slot.  I don't know what he said about me, but it worked to get me appointed!

Here's what The Anglican Digest website says about this publication:

From its beginning in 1958 by Father Foland, THE ANGLICAN DIGEST (TAD) has sought to reflect "the words and work of the faithful throughout the Anglican Communion" and, in that respect, has proudly and consistently supported the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church. TAD has always been supported by its loyal readers; it is utterly independent of any convention, arm or agency of the Church. Independent, except, of course, for its loyalty to the orthodox Catholic faith as received by Anglicanism. It is a traditional, but not reactionary, voice in the Church. 
While its own heritage is Prayer Book Catholic, it is open to the needs and accomplishments of all expressions of Anglicanism: Anglo-Catholic, Broad, Evangelical. Its "market" is the entire Church, clergy and lay, those highly theologically educated and "babes in Christ." So the material in each issue is a mixture of themes for a varied audience, including ministry ideas for clergy and laity, devotional and historical material, as well as humor and news briefs from around the Anglican Communion.  
In short, its pocket-size pages are made up of "some things old, some things new, most things borrowed, everything true."
Published quarterly by SPEAK, the Society for Promoting and Encouraging Arts and Knowledge (of the Church) at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, THE ANGLICAN DIGEST is sent to anyone who desires to receive it. TAD is supported solely by contributions, suggested amount $25 per year, and a limited number of advertisements of organizations which, like TAD, seek to serve the Anglican Communion. Opinions expressed in articles in THE ANGLICAN DIGEST are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of its Board of Trustees. 

Take a virtual tour of Hillspeak, the home of The Anglican Digest.  And check out the guest quarters.

For information on how to receive The Anglican Digest, click here.  Also, consider making a donation.

I've enjoyed The Anglican Digest since I first became an Episcopalian back in my 20s.  And while it's a long drive to Eureka Springs from Jackson, I'm looking forward to being in such a beautiful place and to spending time with the other board members as we take seek to nurture and promote this ministry.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

C. S. Lewis: "An Entreaty for Permanence and Uniformity" in Worship

“It looks as if they [innovative clergy] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain — many give up churchgoing altogether — merely endure.

“Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value.And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best — if you like, it ‘works’ best — when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

“But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ ‘‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.’

“A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’

“Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. …But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit — habito dell’arte.”

h/t to the Internet Monk

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Musical Interlude with Linkin Park

Lately I've been listening to music by the American rock band Linkin Park.  I'm impressed!  I love the interplay between the two vocalists that often takes place in their songs.  And I note that the lyrics have a spiritual depth that cuts straight to the heart.  Below are three of their songs I find  particularly compelling.

"Bring me home in a blinding dream
Through the secrets that I have seen
Wash the sorrow from off my skin
And show me how to be whole again"

"I wanna heal, I wanna feel
Like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong"

"In these promises broken
Deep below
Each word gets lost in the echo"

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word"

"When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like downright malice. That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by so few men during their lifetime. Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God. They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace." 

 ~ C. F. W. Walther (1811-1887)

Monday, October 1, 2012

"The Church is only the Church insofar as it offers the Sacraments with meek heart and due reverence"

In the midst of church decline, we continue to hear discussion about moving from maintenance to mission and, in the wake of the recent General Convention, "restructuring" the Episcopal Church.  Those are important things to tackle.  But I often have the sense that basic questions are not raised and answered in these discussions.  For instance, what exactly is the Church's mission and how does she go about fulfilling it? Why does the Church exist?  What is the Church?  Perhaps answers to these questions are often assumed.  But it sometimes appears that, in practice, these questions get answered in terms dictated by administrative and maintenance needs (we want a bureaucrat called a "rector" or a "canon," a good manager and problem solver, more than we want a priest), or by ideologically-driven social justice advocacy and ecclesial culture war politics.

In a posting at The Curate's Desk entitled "The Church which is His Body: On Restructuring, the Episcopate, and the Sacraments," Fr. Robert Hendrickson offers a perspective that goes beyond Church bureaucracy and politics to the heart of what the Church is and why the Church exists. Concerning who to ordain to the priesthood, for instance, he doesn't focus on social justice activism or administrative skills as the most important matters:

In a meeting some time ago, I was asked what traits I thought would behoove the Church to look for in potential new ordinands. Rather than entrepreneurial, forward-thinking, flexible, or the many other qualities that are desirable in any new employee, I think the Church is best served by finding men and women of the Altar – men and women who see the whole of their ministry offered in the life-giving exchange of the Eucharist. 
I pointed out that there are many ways one can serve. There are many ways one can care for people. There are many ways to do social work, therapy, social service, and the many other good and caring ways in which we minister to the hurting and the lost. A priest though has one role, one function, to offer the Sacraments. All of our other roles – teaching, healing, preaching, and more flow from the Altar. More broadly this is the whole ministry of the Church, which is His Body – we offer the means for men and women to find themselves in the Presence of the Holy One

Here's how Fr. Hendrickson lays out what makes the Church truly the Church, differentiating her from all other institutions and groupings in society:
The Church is only the Church insofar as it offers the Sacraments with meek heart and due reverence. It seems to me that in the conversations about restructuring the Church, or a missional Church, or the many other ways we can imagine the Church changing that we are losing the simple fact that we first and foremost offer the Sacraments. If one visits the Episcopal Church’s website and clicks on “What We Do” you will not find the Sacraments. They are certainly listed under “What we Believe” but they are not just what we believe – they are what we do, who we are, how we are meant to be, and what we are called to be more of. 
We are initiated in baptism, fed in the Eucharist, express our devotion in confirmation, find forgiveness in confession, seek healing in anointing, embrace love in marriage, and some seek new forms of service in ordination. The sacraments walk us through the life cycle, drawing us to God and back to God and home to God. They are the foundation of ministry and unify the faithful in grace. The administration of the Sacraments cannot be unwoven from our pastoral function, nor from our teaching function, nor from social justice for it is through them that we are healed, united, and learn of God’s mercies.

Fr. Robert continues by calling for a move away from viewing the role of bishops in the Church through "a power-politics informed adversarial lens" or through the reductive lens of "managerial acumen" to "the traditional lens of Sacramental leadership":

In our conversations about the life of the Church, I think we would do well to think of the bishops’ office not as an administrative or managerial one but again as a Sacramental one. We would be well served by ordering our life along the lines of Eucharistic Servanthood.

And in his concluding comments, he draws the ministries of all the baptized together at the altar rail:

At the altar rail, we are transformed in joy and judgment into the Church.  Our joy is unity and we are judged as we are called to ever more loving service.  We share with all believers in a line of priests, prophets, martyrs, and saints.  We share in the councils and witness of the church and take up the call of Christ to share in living Sacramental witness to God's redeeming love.

Read it all.

Offering the sacraments "with meek heart and due reverence" for the life of the world lies at the core of what it means to be the Church.  Clarity on that identity and how it translates into Eucharistic servanthood can go a long way towards helping us stay focused on what's really important in an age of church decline and accommodation to the world's agenda-driven, divisive, will-to-power politics. And while it won't cure all of our ills, I believe that returning again and again to the basics that constitute the heart of our identity as "that wonderful and sacred mystery" - "the mystical body of [God's] Son, the blessed company of all faithful people" -  is an essential means for maintaining a clear sense of purpose (BCP, pp. 515, 339).  Those basics are laid out for us in Holy Scripture, the liturgies of The Book of Common Prayer, the Sacraments, and the Catholic Creeds.  May we embrace and ever hold fast to these basics of Christian faith and practice.  For they are the means by which we make it possible for all persons to find themselves in the presence of the Holy One.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Musical Interlude with Manafest: "No Plan B"

"No turning back
There's no other path
And I know that this road is my destiny 
I've got to stick to the plan 
Cause there's no plan B"

I came across the song "No Plan B" while surfing channels on the radio the other day.  It's by Canadian Christian rapper and rock artist Manafest (his real name is Chris Greenwood).  While I'm not a big fan of rap, this song has captivated me.  The lyrics and the music form a seamless whole that I find compelling.  And in the lyrics, I hear someone who, perhaps with difficulty, has come to terms with a calling to a particular path in life and the need to let go of the past.  While not without doubt and struggle, now there is acceptance, determination, and the courage to stay the course. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

St. Augustine on the Breadth of Catholicity

"There may be something catholic outside the Church catholic.  The name of Christ could exist outside the congregation of Christ, as in the case of the man casting out devils in Christ's name.  There may by contrast exist pretenses within the church catholic, as is unquestionably the case of those "who renounce the world in words and not in deeds," and yet the pretense is not catholic.  So as there may be found in the church catholic something which is not catholic, so there may be found something which is catholic outside the church catholic."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking News on Christian Origins

BREAKING NEWS: video footage of 1st Century preachers sheds stunning new light on early Christian origins. According to one scholar, "This calls everything we thought we knew into question and opens up all kinds of liberating possibilities for expressions of faith."

Hat tip to Thomas L. McDonald at God and the Machine

Thursday, September 20, 2012

St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the Glory of the Body

Bereft of their bodies, the souls of the blessed ones have neither the wish nor the power to reach their ultimate end.  Therefore, until such time as their bodies are restored to them, souls cannot be absorbed into God with that fullness which is their loftiest, their perfect, state.  Neither would the spirit yearn once more for the fellowship of the flesh were it possible to reach the perfect condition of human nature in aught other way.  In all verity, the taking up and laying down of the body is not without purpose unto the soul.  For precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

But if death be precious, how dear must be life, above all the life to come?  One cannot wonder that the body transfigured will be of use to the soul, since even now, in its frailness and mortality, there is much help that is given by the body, manifestly.  He spoke well, indeed, who said, to them that love God, all things work together unto good.  Whether in this life, or in death, or in the final resurrection, the body availeth much to the soul that loveth the Lord.  In the first case, it produces the fruit of penitence; in the second, the boon of rest; and in the third, the last condition of beatitude.  The soul is right in deeming that since the body is of service to her in every state, it too should have a part in perfection.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Edward Bouverie Pusey: "To think of God becoming man"

Today on the Episcopal Church calendar we remember Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882).  Here's a brief snapshot of his life and witness from the website For All the Saints:

The revival of High Church teachings and practices in the Church of England, known as the Oxford Movement, found its acknowledged leader in Edward Bouverie Pusey. Born near Oxford, August 22, 1800, Pusey was educated at Christ Church College in that city’s University and was elected a Fellow of Oriel College in 1823. Not long afterwards he studied in Göttingen and Berlin, where he became acquainted with many leading German biblical scholars. During the next years he devoted himself t the study of Hebrew, Arabic, and other Semitic languages both at Oxford and in Germany. In 1828 he was ordained deacon and priest and was also appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church, offices he held for the rest of his life. At the end of 1833 he joined John Keble and John Henry Newman in producing the Tracts for the Times, which gave the Oxford Movement its popular name of Tractarianism.

His most influential activity, however, was his preaching – catholic in content, evangelical in his zeal for souls. He drew on the Greek Fathers and the Christian mystical tradition, and his sermons, while stressing the heinousness of sin and the nothingness of the world, rise to contemplative rapture in their emphasis on the indwelling of Christ, salvation as participation in God, and the blessedness of heaven. But to many of his more influential contemporaries it seemed dangerously innovative. A sermon preached before the University in 1843 on “The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent” was condemned by the vice-chancellor and six doctors of divinity as teaching error, and Pusey was suspended from his university pulpit for two years, a judgment he bore patiently. However, the condemnation secured a wider publicity for the sermon in printed form and drew attention to the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which Pusey defended with devotion. In another university sermon, preached in 1846 on “The Entire Absolution of the Penitent”, he claimed for the Church of England the power of the keys and the reality of priestly absolution. The sermon encouraged the revival of private confession in modern Anglicanism.

In the following excerpt from one of his sermons, Pusey waxes eloquent about the Incarnation.

It surpasses all thought, it amazes, it confounds, to think of God becoming man; the Infinite enshrined within the finite, the Lord of all blended with His servant, the Creator with His creature!  It is a depth of mystery unsearchable.  We must shrink with awe when we pronounce it.  Of old they fell down and worshiped, when, in our Creed, they uttered it - 'God was made Man.'  It was an unimaginable condescension for God to create.  From Eternity, in Eternity, (since it had no beginning), He was Ever-blessed, Love loving Love in the Holy Spirit, Who is the Bond of Love and Unity.  He was, in Himself, All-perfect.  He needed nothing, changed not.  And yet, in that He created, He did a new thing, and formed those who needed Him, as though He needed them.  He formed them to serve Him Who needed them not, and He accepted their service.  It was much, as Scripture saith, to 'humble Himself to behold the things which are in Heaven and earth.'  But that He, Who is All in all, should add something to Himself; that He Who is a Spirit, should take into Himself that which was material; in a world that God (if we realize to ourselves what that word GOD is) should take into Himself what is not GOD; one must stand speechless with awe at so amazing a mystery.  How must we be amazed and scarce believe for joy, to think that that which He so took was man, ourselves, our fallen, sinful, in Him Alone unsinful, unsinning nature.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thoughts from a Graveside Service

Every now and then we get a call at the Cathedral where I serve requesting a priest for a graveside service. It could be for someone who has little to no church affiliation. Or it could be for someone who was a member years ago before moving away.

One of those calls came the other day, this time for a lady who was a member but had moved away many years ago (long before I came on board as a canon). And so this morning I went out to the cemetery vested in my cassock, surplice and stole to offer prayers and words of comfort, and to commit to the ground the body of a woman I have never met.

It can feel a bit awkward doing this service not knowing the deceased or any of the family. That's yet another reason why I give thanks for The Book of Common Prayer.  For regardless of who the deceased may have been in this life, or whether or not the officiant knew him/her, the prayers in the burial office always hit the mark.  And that's because (as the Prayer Book puts it): "The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy.  It finds all its meaning in the resurrection" (BCP, p. 507).  The risen Jesus is the true focus, not death or dead bodies, and not even how wonderful (or not) the deceased may have been.

And so I said the prayers.  I read a passage from Romans, the 23rd Psalm, and a passage from the Gospel according to John.  And before the committal, I offered the following brief homily (which I'm reconstructing from memory):

We are gathered here on this beautiful September morning with heaviness in our hearts.  Even when it's not unexpected, and even when someone is ready, the death of a loved one hurts.  It's painful to be separated from someone we love.  And so we gather to grieve the loss of N
But we also gather in thanksgiving for a life well-lived.  N. touched the lives of countless persons - family, friends, and strangers - with her love and kindness.  Only God can fully know the many ways that her life was a blessing to so many others.
And we also gather in thankful expectation for the future.  For the truth at the heart of our faith is that for all who die in the Lord, life is changed, not ended.   
The scripture readings we heard speak directly to that truth.  In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes the staggering claim that nothing in all of creation - not even death, which seems so final - can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  That love is eternal.  And it is stronger than the grave.   
We also have the reassurance and the promise from the lips of our Lord himself that he will never drive away anyone who comes to him.  Anyone who believes in him has eternal life.  And he will raise that person to incorruptible life and joy on the last day.
And so we know that N. is now in the closer presence of the One who loves us more than we can possibly imagine.  She has been reunited with her husband and with all those who have gone before.  And we have the sure and certain hope that all of us who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus will one day be reunited with loved ones.  We, too, shall be raised to new, incorruptible life in a world that knows nothing of disease, death, or decay.  
And so we give thanks to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

I have to hope and trust that, by God's grace, these words were sufficient for the family and friends who travelled from far and wide to bury a much-loved mother, grandmother, sister, and friend.

One thing I do know for sure about this morning's service: in ways that I cannot fully articulate, I walked away from it feeling renewed in my calling as a priest.  Even though I did not know the family (and they were most gracious to me before and after the service), it felt right to be there.  And my own faith in the reality of Jesus' bodily resurrection and the future "completion of God's purpose for the world" was strengthened (BCP, p. 861).  That is a true blessing!