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.