Friday, April 27, 2012

C. S. Lewis on "the popular idea of Christianity"

"For when you get down to it, is not the popular idea of Christianity simply this: that Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and that if only we took His advice we might be able to establish a better social order and avoid another war?  Now, mind you, that is quite true.  But it tells us much less than the whole truth about Christianity and it has no practical importance at all.

"It is quite true that if we took Christ's advice we should soon be living in a happier world.  You need not even go as far as Christ.  If we did all that Plato or Aristotle or Confucius told us, we should get on a great deal better than we do.  And so what?  We never have followed the advice of great moral teachers.  Why are we likely to begin now?  Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others?  Because He is the best moral teacher?  But that makes it even less likely that we shall follow Him.  If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced ones?  If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance.  There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years.  A bit more makes no difference."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Environmental Stewardship Sermon

As part of a year-round focus on stewardship (which is an effort to move beyond equating the word "stewardship" exclusively with giving money to the Church), we recently observed an "Environmental Stewardship Sunday" at the Cathedral I serve. This topic is probably not my strong suit, so I was a little nervous about what to say and how it would be received.  I'm not sure I really addressed the idea of environmental stewardship adequately.  But I've been humbled by the responses of the people who heard this sermon.  (You can listen to the sermon here.)

Growing up on a cotton and soybean farm in the Mississippi Delta was in many ways a boy’s paradise. I can remember spending countless hours playing outside with our wire-haired terrier Grover. Stepping out of the house, we could wade through a field of cotton to a ditch filled with tadpoles and crawdads. Sometimes we’d go back behind the house to the orchard where apple, pear, and fig trees stood like sentinels around my dad’s garden filled with tomatoes, green beans, and squash.

If we didn’t want to stray too far, Grover and I would cross the street to go down to Beaver Dam Lake where cypress knees, moss, mosquitoes, dragon flies, snakes, turtles, and fish make their home. While there, we might visit Peanut, the pony who lived in the pasture by the lake and who loved to eat the green horse apples that fell from the trees and that looked like cantaloupe-sized Martian brains. At night, I could hear the deafening chorus of frogs, katydids, and crickets from the lake as I went to sleep. When the moon was full, its soft light was so bright you could see your shadow on the ground. And in the summertime at night, the fireflies lit up the landscape as though the stars had descended to earth from heaven.

Those boyhood days were wonderful times, offering unique ways to experience the natural world. However, there were signs that not all was well in paradise. One instance in particular made an indelible imprint on me. It was the time of year when turtles would come up from Beaver Dam Lake into our yard to lay eggs. One day a particularly large turtle was crossing the road in front of our house when a pickup truck came barreling down upon her. Rather than slow down and change lanes to miss her, the driver ran right over her, crushing her shell into fragments and scattering broken eggs across the road. There was no doubt in my mind that it was a deliberate act. And even though I was only about 10 or 11 years old, as I looked at the gruesome carnage left in the road, I felt in the depths of my being that I had witnessed a cruelty that can only be described as evil.

We read in the book of Genesis that, from the very beginning, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). As one Eastern Orthodox theologian points out, “the world has been called and chosen by God to be beautiful” (John Chryssavgis, "The World as Sacrament," p. 7). And we human beings who have been made in the image and likeness of God are called to care for and enhance the beauty of the world.

But down through the ages, we have marred the world’s beauty with ugliness. We have violated the sacredness of life that God, from the beginning, calls good. Sin has dulled our capacity to discern in creation the holiness of God and the gift of a moral order in which all beings find their rightful place and purpose. Instead of a beauty with it own intrinsic, God-given value, we too often see only opportunities for satisfying our greed.

And so while we as Christians affirm that creation is good and expresses the divinity of God, we must also acknowledge the tragic truth that everything has been corrupted and perverted by human sin. God’s creation is good, but fallen. And because “everything is fallen,” it follows that “absolutely everything requires transformation” (John Chryssavgis, "The World as Sacrament," p. 7). As the apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, the whole creation “groans” and “travails” in its longing to be “set free from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21, 22). Creation yearns for redemption.

The fallen state of God’s good creation, coupled with our capacity for using science and technology as forces for both good and evil, confronts us with a critical choice (cf. Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars, pp. 124-125). Shall we treat the world around us as “an image that reflects the presence of God” such that “nothing whatsoever can be neutral, [and] nothing lacks sacredness” (John Chryssavgis, Light Through Darkness, p. 111)? Or shall we treat the world and the living beings in it as an impersonal, chance collection of matter propelled by blind forces that we can manipulate as we are able and see fit?

For the guy who deliberately ran over the turtle in front of my house, the turtle was just a thing, just matter in motion, there to be used or abused and killed as we humans see fit, and without any second thoughts or qualms of conscience. After all, it’s just a turtle.

But is that how God sees it?

Perhaps you recall a few weeks ago when we heard John 3:16 read in our worship service. The first part of that verse says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” God so loved the world. The Greek word for “world” in that verse is kosmos, meaning everything that is: the universe, stars, galaxies, planet Earth, rocks, glaciers, trees, oceans, clouds, rain, frogs, slugs, bugs, dogs, cats, people, turtles – you name it. If it’s a part of creation, God loves it so much that he gave his only Son.

God’s creation is good, but it’s held in bondage to decay due to the pervasive effects of human sin. The Good News at the heart of the Christian faith is that everything in the world is redeemed, sanctified, and glorified by the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus come among us in the flesh as the unique God-Man, crucified and bodily raised from the dead, shows us what God desires to do, not just for Christians, but for the entire kosmos. God wants to redeem, sanctify, and glorify the whole world. And in Christ raised from the dead, we see the dawning of God's new, redeemed creation. God's kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Justice will be done. Peace will prevail. Eternal life will swallow up death forever. Sin and evil will be no more. Physical creation will no longer be subject to decay. And in this new, redeemed creation, even a lowly mother turtle will be safe to lay her eggs.

Our unique task as stewards and caretakers of “this fragile earth, our island home” is to participate in the unfolding of God’s new creation inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 370). We fulfill that high calling when we use “the power of [our] love to bring the world alive, to give things the love, care, and use they need for their fulfillment” (Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars, p. 108). We do it when we live lives of simplicity rather than extravagance, responding to ugliness with beauty, and combating hatred with love. And we do it when we care for the least of these among our fellow human and non-human creatures, treating not only human beings but all living things and the earth itself with gentleness and respect.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” the Psalmist writes (Psalm 19:1), and “the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth” (Psalm 33:5). The whole world reflects the divine mystery of God’s loving providence and God’s desire that all creatures great and small thrive. As stewards and caretakers of creation, may we have eyes to behold the divine mystery of God’s glory reflected in this world. May we have ears to hear the groaning of creation for redemption and hearts filled with the infinite love of God for a good but fallen world. And may we always be willing to respond with the self-giving love of Jesus in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s great plan of salvation: a renewed creation in which “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habbakkuk 2:14).

Friday, April 20, 2012

Musical Interlude with The Band: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

In loving memory of a truly great American musician and vocalist, and son of the South:

Levon Helm (May 26, 1940 - April 19, 2012)

Recorded on November 25, 1976 at The Band's last concert with their original lineup, Levon plays drums and sings lead vocals for this one (and who else could possibly sing this song with more soulful integrity and authenticity?):

Check out the fitting remembrance of Levon Helm on NPR. And there's more from Rolling Stone and from Bob Dylan.

May light perpetual shine upon Levon. And may the music never end.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We Can't Be Sure Jesus Was Male

Say what?!

A feminist theologian is claiming that Jesus may have been a hermaphrodite.

Dr. Susannah Cornwall, a professor at Manchester University's Lincoln Theological Institute, wrote in a recent paper that the idea that Jesus was male is "simply a best guess."

She made the comments in response to an ongoing debate in the U.K. over having women bishops in the Church of England.

In her paper, titled "Intersex & Ontology, A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision," she states that it is impossible to know "with any certainty" that Jesus did not have both male and female organs.

On her blog, Cornwall notes that, "About 1 in every 2,500 people is born with an intersex condition which means that their body varies from the typical male or female pattern. It's therefore possible that Jesus – in common with many other people whose sex is never called in question – had a hidden or 'invisible' intersex condition."

She goes on to note in her paper that because of this, "It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness. There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions."

Cornwall also argues that because Jesus is not known to have had children, this also makes his gender status "even more uncertain."

I think that Professor Cornwall's "argument" can safely be put in the same category as Jesus Seminar silliness.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Easter Message and Christian Hope

In a recent Easter message, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, recounts a story of Christians "confessing before the rulers of this world the great Name of [God's] only Son" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 381):

Ninety years ago, following the Russian Famine in 1922 around 33 million people were in danger of starvation in Soviet Russia. A story is told that Nikolai Bukharin, head of the Communist International, was sent from Moscow to Kiev to address a vast anti-God rally. For an hour he abused and ridiculed the helplessness of the Christian faith and all its convictions, until it seemed as if the whole structure of belief was in ruins. Questions were invited.

A priest of the Russian Orthodox Church rose. He faced the people and gave them the ancient Easter greeting, CHRISTOS ANESTĒ EK NEKRŌN, “Christ is risen from the dead”. Instantly the whole vast assembly rose to its feet, and the reply came back like a crash of breakers against the cliff, "He is risen indeed".

Nikolai Bukharin's mistake, and the mistake of many people, then and now, is to treat the Christian faith like an ideology. Looking for Jesus Christ among the dead.

But the truth of Easter is not to be found in the grave of past experience, of pre-conceived expectations, it’s in the joy and constant surprises of new life, which Jesus brings us.

What a powerful reminder that the Easter message is so much more than sunny weather, pretty new clothes, colored eggs, and chocolate bunnies. On the contrary, it's a message of hope with real-world ramifications. And it has the power to change lives and inspire courage and heroism in the face of suffering and tyranny.

To paraphrase N. T. Wright, Jesus Christ risen from the dead robs bullies and tyrants of their last weapon: death. And for that very reason, the resurrection entails a political message that puts bullies and tyrants on notice that their days are numbered. Christ raised from the dead reveals that God's new creation is dawning. God's kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Justice will be done. Peace will prevail. Eternal life will swallow up death forever. And so we who share the victory of Jesus Christ's resurrection by virtue of our baptisms need never trade in hope for fear.

For Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death.
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

"In God whose word I praise, in God I trust and will not be afraid, for what can flesh do to me?" (Psalm 56:4)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Shocking Truth about Christian Orthodoxy

Thanks to Bosco Peters, a lecture given by Orthodox priest Fr. John Behr on March 23, 2012 in the auditorium of St. Paul University as part of the annual Augustine College Weston Lecture series is making the rounds. Fr. John is dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary and a patristics scholar. Here's how Bosco summarizes the lecture:

The lecture is an hour long – but/and worth it. Fr John challenges the pulp and popular positions that early catholicity was monolithic, autocratic, homogeneous; despoiling the liberty, diversity, and fulness of life that Jesus brought. Early catholicity, he expertly explains, was what the word means – catholic: diverse. It was the heretics who could not remain in the dialogue of this diversity, who went and took themselves away to form monochromatic communities where everyone would agree with their particular narrow perspective.

Fr John stresses that we cannot access the historical Jesus “neat” as it were. We always receive him interpreted. And the interpretation focuses around the Scriptures and the Eucharist.

Fr John provides refreshing perspectives on much in this lecture, including on what it means for the scriptures to be inspired; that all knowledge, whatever the sphere, ultimately rests on an act of faith; and ultimately provides a moving interpretation of the salvation we have just been celebrating, and which Orthodox will celebrate this week.

Fr. John's lecture is a wonderful antidote to some of the silliness that passes for scholarship these days.

Watch it all:

G. K. Chesterton: "The first day of the new creation"

"On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of the new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in the semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jesus Seminar Silliness

Today I came across an article about a Jesus Seminar event held in March at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. The speakers were Bernard Brandon Scott (Darbeth Distinguished Professor of New Testament at the Phillips Theological Seminary, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma) and Joanna Dewey (Harvey H. Guthrie, Jr. Professor Emerita of Biblical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA). Here are some interesting portions of the article:

Early Christianity was an oral culture launched by an illiterate Jesus Christ, according to two liberal New Testament scholars who spoke recently at a Jesus Seminar event in Washington, D.C.

The claim was one of several bold assertions made during a recent March workshop in which the prevalence of Evangelical Christianity was bemoaned and scripture was “reimagined” from a feminist perspective. The Salem, Oregon-based Jesus Seminar dismisses scripture’s historicity and draws from sources outside of the Biblical canon in order to produce what they claim to be a more authentic view of Jesus than the church teaches. ...

During one session of her presentation, Dewey donned a head covering and dramatically sought to “re-imagine” a female-centered telling of Mark’s gospel, performing as an imaginary late first century woman.

“I think something like this could have happened,” Dewey proposed, titling her performance “the Gospel of Ruth.”

The Episcopal seminary professor described such a “reimagining” of Mark’s gospel as an important step in countering alleged sexist distortion of Biblical history. Women, Dewey argued, would be at center, rather than periphery, of any actual gospel events.

Scott agreed, asserting that “These days, unless you are a right-wing conservative, a feminist reading of the Bible is typical.” ...

Sweeping claims by Scott and Dewey, including an assertion that monastics rejected episcopal authority, went mostly unchallenged during the workshop at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill. Scott at one point suggested to the audience of 40 mostly elderly participants to “make up your own canon” of scripture.

“I would trade the book of Revelation for Hamlet any day,” Scott announced, adding that he would swap the Pastoral Epistles for any two Emily Dickinson poems. “We’d be way better off.”

The United Church of Christ layperson also categorized Revelation as the book of “a left-wing bomb thrower” violently reacting against the violence of Rome. ...

Both Scott and Dewey shared their dismay at the continued worldwide spread of Evangelical Christianity and the failure of liberal religious thought to gain widespread traction. Both of the Jesus Seminar speakers complained that the prevalence of evangelicalism led to assumptions that it is the only viewpoint of Christianity, resulting in either adherence to evangelical belief or a rejection of Christianity altogether.

Mainline Protestants also earned Dewey’s scorn, as the retired Episcopal seminary professor expressed frustration at “pressure still there to preach [Bible] stories as true.”

“We’re not just talking about Evangelicals – but liberal, east coast Episcopalians,” Dewey fumed. Scott agreed, sharing that he no longer revealed to fellow airplane passengers that he was a New Testament scholar out of frustration with preconceived notions he encountered.

“We have lost the public battle for what it [scripture] means, and that’s unfortunate,” appraised Scott, with Dewey adding that the church was going through a “profoundly anti-intellectual” period.

Where does one even begin to engage the multiple levels of caricature, oversimplification, hubris, and just plain silliness in all of this? Fortunately, David Fischler has offered critical remarks in response to this event that are worth a look, so read it all.

I'm reminded of an observation by one of my clergy colleagues who characterized much of what passes for "progressive" theology these days as Tinker Toy or Play-Doh Theology. The presupposition is that there is nothing given via revelation for theology to deal with, no substantive content to the Christian faith that makes a claim on our lives and loyalties. So if you don't like the configuration of tinker toys you find in the Church, you simply take them apart and make something new that better reflects your personal theological, ethical, and political views (this was called "constructive Christian theology" back in my divinity school days). And if you don't like the shape of play-doh that you find in the Church, you simply mash it up and reconfigure it into whatever shape(s) suits your fancy.

But what if you don't like tinker toys or play-doh to begin with? No problem. You simply throw them out and find other "toys" to play with. Like throwing out the Book of Revelation for Hamlet, or the Pastoral Epistles for a couple of Emily Dickinson poems. Or (in the case of another scholar), you throw out the Gospel according to John for Gnostic Gospels like Thomas. You could even make up your own canon of Scripture!

Although his posting on the Jesus Seminar was not in response to this particular event with Professors Scott and Dewey, I'll give Robert S. Munday some of the last words:

For those who aren't familiar with The Jesus Seminar, it is made up of religion and theology faculty members in liberal institutions who have already evidenced skepticism about the Bible before they even get to join. They then analyze the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and vote on how few of those words they think he actually said.

It is a remarkable way to make a living. Skeptical academics write skeptical articles and books that are peer reviewed by other skeptical academics, and everyone gets paid.

Jesus Seminar "scholars" make a career of disputing the authenticity of Jesus' words when there is absolutely no way anyone will ever be able to verify objectively whether they are correct (at least not in this lifetime). This would never pass for scholarship in the hard sciences or even as a worthwhile achievement in most professions.

It is, indeed, a remarkable way to make a living!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Raymond Brown: "Christians can and indeed should continue to speak of a bodily resurrection"

From a critical study of the biblical evidence I would judge that Christians can and indeed should continue to speak of a bodily resurrection. Our earliest ancestors in the faith proclaimed a bodily resurrection in the sense that they did not believe that Jesus’ body had corrupted in the tomb. However, and this is equally important, Jesus’ risen body was no longer a body as we know bodies, bound by the dimensions of space and time. It is best to follow Paul’s description [in 1 Corinthians 15] of risen bodies as spiritual, not natural or physical (psychos); he can even imply that these bodies are no longer flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:50). Small wonder he speaks of a mystery! In our fidelity to proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we should never become so defensively governed by apologetics that we do not do justice to this element of transformation and mystery. Christian truth is best served when equal justice is done to the element of continuity implied in bodily resurrection and to the element of eschatological transformation.

The understanding that the resurrection was bodily in the sense that Jesus’ body did not corrupt in the tomb has important theological implications. The resurrection of Jesus was remembered with such emphasis in the church because it explained what God had done for men. Through the resurrection men came to believe in God in a new way; man’s relationship to God was changed; a whole new vision of God and His intention for men was made possible; the whole flow of time and history was redirected. Nevertheless, a stress on the bodily resurrection keeps us from defining this resurrection solely in terms of what God has done for men. The resurrection was and remains, first of all, what God has done for Jesus. It was not an evolution in human consciousness, nor was it the disciples’ brilliant insight into the meaning of the crucifixion–it was the sovereign action of God glorifying Jesus of Nazareth. Only because God has done this for His Son are new possibilities opened for His many children who have come to believe in what He has done.

h/t Matt Gunter at Into the Expectation

Sunday, April 8, 2012

St. Athanasius: "By the grace of His resurrection"

"Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, when He had fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell: "In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside"

"Jesus dies. His lifeless body is taken down from the cross. Painters and sculptors have strained their every nerve to portray the sorrow of Mary holding her lifeless son in her arms, as mothers today in Baghdad hold with the same anguish the bodies of their children. On Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, God is dead, entering into the nothingness of human dying. The source of all being, the One who framed the vastness and the microscopic patterning of the Universe, the delicacy of petals and the scent of thyme, the musician’s melodies and the lover’s heart, is one with us in our mortality. In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside."

Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

John Chryssavgis on the Scandal of the Cross

"On the cross, we encounter the struggle between the power of love (as it is revealed in Christ) and the love of power (as it is perceived by our world). The powerlessness of Christ has always threatened the powerfulness of the world. And the silence of the cross is the most eloquent sermon about the power of love. Despite what we know in ourselves and whatever we see in our world, the cross proclaims what love can and will achieve. The scandal of the cross is that, in spite of our wrongs and the wrongdoings of our world, God loves us to the point of death, even death on the cross."

Friday, April 6, 2012

N. T. Wright: The Death of Jesus is the Fulcrum Around Which World History Turns

The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God's future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.

Nothing in all the history of paganism comes anywhere near this combination of event, intention, and meaning. Nothing in Judaism had prepared for it, except in puzzling, shadowy prophecy. The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel's destiny, the fulfillment of God's promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.

Christianity is based on the belief that it was and is the latter.

~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian (2006)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Emil Brunner on the Scandal of Christianity

"The scandal of Christianity exists as a scandal only so long as we are full of ourselves. To believe in the cross of Christ is no scandal for those who have seen how perverted is their own wisdom, the wisdom of natural man. It is the very corrective for this perversion of our sight, it makes us look straight again, who by sin have become cross-eyed. The foolishness of the gospel is divine wisdom to all those who have been healed of the perversion which consists in making man’s reason and goodness the judge of all truth, that perversion which places man instead of God in the centre of the universe. The gospel is identical with the healing of this perversion, which in its depth and real significance is diabolical. It is the victory of God’s light over the powers of darkness.”

~ Emil Brunner, The Scandal of Christianity (1951)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Heart Will Be Left to the Episcopal Church?

That's the question that Fr. Robert Hendrickson asks in a moving blog posting entitled "A Church's Identity: A Visit to General Seminary with Thoughts on Modern Disputations, Controversies, and Sundry Matters Ecclesial."

Having posted about such concerns on this blog many times under the heading of "Anomic Anglicanism", I cannot help but quote Fr. Robert at length. He just says it all so much better than I ever could:

I joined a church that valued tradition and yet was engaged with modernity. I joined a church that embraced the timelessness of dignity and beauty. I joined a church that was engaged theologically and reasonably rather than emotionally in issues of doctrine and order. I joined a church that was a true blend of Catholic and Reformed. I joined a church that valued the uniformities of the Prayer Book even as it explored how to plumb its depths in manifold ways. I joined a church that was sacramentally grounded. I joined a church that believed that how we pray says something about what we believe.

Just as when I went to General [Seminary], finding the Episcopal Church was a joy and it felt exactly like where I was called to be. I felt at home and it was a place that made sense because there was a there there.

I am not sure where the there is now.

As I talk to priests too happy to ignore rubrics and ordination vows to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church because they have decided their sense of “welcome” is more important than the church’s call to common identity,

as I attended a Diocesan Convention at which we sang treacly hymns with narcissistic lyrics,

as I talk to priests in pitch battles in their dioceses about baptizing in the name of the Trinity,

as I attend Eucharists where priests make up the Eucharistic Prayer on the spot (“meal of power” not Body and Blood and “the systems of the world are broken” at the Fraction),

and as I watch the Church one more time hurtle into a divisive squabble, I am feeling profoundly out of place.

The Church that is slashing funding for Christian formation and youth ministry while hurtling toward “Open Communion” is not the Church I thought I was joining. The Church that has a diocesan convention at which we sing “Shine, Jesus Shine” and ignore the Prayer Book is not the Church I thought I was joining. The Church that is defining sainthood as anyone who has done something good and worthy rather than someone who has done good and worthy things because of their faith in Christ is not the Church I thought I was joining.

The “debate” over Communion without Baptism is opening, for me, a sense of cognitive and spiritual dissonance. It is one part of a broader shift. There are wonderful churches that do manifold things differently than the Episcopal Church. You can make up Eucharistic prayers, communicate anyone who walks through the door, and baptize in the name of whatsoever contortion you wish to make of the Trinity, you can do all of that in other traditions, churches, and faith communities.

That is not what we have done. It is not what marks us as a Church. It is not what gives us an identity. Those things are part of the life of other traditions.

My question for people who wish all of these things is “Why this Church?” Why choose this tradition when those things are available free of charge and canonical responsibility in other places? I would suggest that we are having difficulties as an Episcopal Church because we are, in too many ways and places, forgetting how to be Episcopalians. ...

I realize that perhaps I joined my idea of the Episcopal Church rather than its actuality. ...

There are boundaries within which one says “that is x.” In the past, we have used the Prayer Book to do just that. We have said, this is what we believe. Yet we are not only redefining “x,” we are deciding “x” is irrelevant. We no longer desire to have any sense of boundary, discipline, or conformity. Those things which mark us as a community and a people of faith are being undone with incredible rapidity. Over and over, I hear the language of the narcissistic world that wants its way right away creeping into the language of the Church.

What heart will be left? As we reconfigure the definition of sainthood, dismantle the Sacramental tradition we have been handed from the first Christian communities, ignore the Prayer Book, second guess canons on a parish by parish and priest by priest basis, and so much more, what heart will be left to the place?

A clergy colleague in another part of the Anglican world shared the following in response to Fr. Robert's posting:

Essentially discipline is breaking down ... in each sense of the word (learning, accountability, responsibility, restraint). There are signs of it in our church so I do not feel I am reading about this as in a better place. In the end the thing will have to continue to work its way into churches that collapse through lack of numbers.

It is precisely the breakdown of discipline in the Episcopal Church (and elsewhere) that fosters an ethos of tolerance for false teaching. I'm becoming increasingly aware that this ethos continues to make too many gifted and valued lay and clergy persons in this church decide that they can no longer in good conscience remain Episcopalians. But I've also been told by some that such collateral damage is the price for "progress" in Christianity.

Entering Holy Week with these thoughts on my heart, I am reminded of the portion of the Solemn Collects for Good Friday in which the Celebrant prays:

"Have compassion on all who do not know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; let your Gospel be preached with grace and power to those who have not heard it; turn the hearts of those who resist it; and bring home to your fold those who have gone astray; that there may be one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 280).

Lord, have mercy upon us.