Monday, January 29, 2007
But in our Adult Forum, we had the beginnings of a lively discussion (only the march of the clock prevent it from being fully a lively discussion) on the first line from the appointed Epistle reading from I Corinthians 14 (vss.12ff): "Strive to excel in building up the church."
What a loaded piece of advice! Building up the church is not something Christians are particularly good at. When we are, it's seen as remarkable, a welcome exception to the norm--the norm being malicious gossip, passive aggression, turf battles, power plays, oneupmanship, and other assorted games. This takes place within local congregations and between local congregations, and at regional, national, and global levels. None of us actually endorse this sort of behavior, and we lament it regularly. Of course, it is much more visible to us in others, especially those who are on the other side of divisive issues, than it is in ourselves and in people who think like we do. So it goes on unchecked.
What would it look like if we actually did strive to excel in building up the church? Here are a few from-the-hip shots at an answer to that question:
We would all, leaders and parishioners alike, develop a self-image as "providers" rather than "consumers" of whatever it is the church "produces." An image I have found compelling is that of a cruise ship: If the church were a cruise ship, would we think of ourselves as passengers or crew members? The preferred answer should be obvious. The fact is, there are no real passengers on the ship we call the Holy Catholic Church. There are only crew members and stowaways. The job of the crew is to persuade the stowaways that they have a job to do, and to get at it. This invariably involves serving them. Problems arise when both the servants and the served get such a payoff from the relationship that nobody is motivated to promote the movement from stowaway to crew member.
An example of this attitude: At the ubiquitous post-liturgical coffee hour, do we think of ourselves as on our own time, "off the clock," or are we proactively on the lookout for visitors and newcomers and anyone else who is standing alone?
A consequence of this would be a reduction in the restlessness that is sometimes referred to as church shopping. Sure, when a family moves to a community, they need to find a new church home, and this appropriately involves visiting whatever alternatives that exist within the range of their prior commitments. But then, absent something really compelling, they should settle down. "I'm not being fed" and "my feelings got hurt" rank pretty low on the list of excuses for itchy ecclesial feet. (I often wonder whether Episcopalians in the U.S. should have adopted a more formal system of parish boundaries, such as our C of E cousins have.)
We would also have to develop the habit, and then constantly practice it, of giving the benefit of the doubt. We would learn to assume the best, and not the worst, about other people's motives and intentions. This is hard, particularly when our feelings are hurt. It's also risky, because sometimes people do have harmful intentions! So we leave ourselves vulnerable to getting hurt even further. But it is an essential habit to cultivate if we not only want to build up the church, but excel in doing so.
Building up the church sounds like such a worthy project--who would not want to embrace it? Yet, it demands exceptional spiritual and emotional maturity and mental discipline. It is a call to walk the way of the cross, and through that journey be part of the fully built-up church that is presented without spot or wrinkle, as a bride to her bridegroom.
This is the sermon I did not preach. But it still needed to be said.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Just about everyone who uses the internet has had the experience of clicking on "Send" and then sometime later, maybe immediately, going "Oh, s**t!" I've been there. It's not fun. I say this in all honesty: My heart goes out to Canon Kenneth Kearon, head honcho at the Anglican Communion Office, whose private email to Dr Louie Crew has been made public. Because it might just has easily have been me in the hot seat, I do sincerely wish it had never happened.
But it did, and it's already been duly exploited, and I'm not going to lose any sleep tonight for simply observing that an important truth has been smoked out, even if under unfortunate circumstances, to wit: The Anglican Communion Office, which is supposed to be the administrative and publicity arm of the Anglican Consultative Council, has been, so to speak, "in bed" with a very partisan faction of the Episcopal Church, and, in doing so, has put itself at odds with the ACC itself, the Primates' Meeting, and the teaching of the Anglican Communion as expressed through the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The gaffe has also compounded the already delicate situation in which the Archbishop of Canterbury is in.
Good can come of this. At least we all now know where some energy in a critical part of the Anglican Communion infrastructure has been directed. Canon Kearon should now seek another ministry, post haste. A more honest broker could then be appointed to replace him. The ACO is a servant of the Instruments of Unity, and should be on the same page with them.
Friday, January 26, 2007
As a professed High Churchman, I am constrained to pay due honor to the "institutional" tone of the epistles to Timothy. Unlike the earlier and undisputed letters (those to the Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Romans inter alia), which didn't emphasize church offices and institutional structures because it was thought that the return of Christ would happen any day, the later Pauline epistles take a longer view, and lay a foundation for a church that would survive beyond the generation then living--the church of scriptures, creeds, sacraments, orders of ministry, councils, and the like; in other words, the kinds of things Christians are still concerned with.
It is a meeting of bishops, one of the orders of ministry the roots of which can be found in I Timothy, that the eyes of the Anglican world are turning toward for the next three weeks or so. The big news for the last couple of days has been that the Bishop of Pittsburgh and the Bishop of Western Louisiana have been invited to represent constituencies in the Episcopal Church for whom the actual primate, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, cannot adequately speak. Moreover, it is not simply for a pre-meeting meeting, as was announced earlier, but to be on the agenda of the actual meeting itself. Speculation is rampant that, before everyone heads back to the Dar es Salaam airport, Bishop Jefferts Schori's status in the Primates' Meeting will have been degraded in some way, and that a more permanent place will have been made for Bishop Duncan or Bishop McPherson or someone like them.
At the same time, there is a leaked story all over cyberspace about a tense exchange between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, Canon Kenneth Kearon. The good canon laments that he is not one of the Archbishop's "advisors." This is a big "hmmm."
Those on the port side of the Anglican ideological spectrum cannot be very happy about these latest developments, even as they have been complaining bitterly about nearly everything that happens on the international front. Things are not breaking their way presently. Trust me, I know how it feels.
Can orthodox Anglicans handle this much good news? We'd certainly like to try. Yet, I will repeat my earlier caution: The Tanzania meeting will disappoint those who are looking for absolute clarity immediately. There will be a step forward, but it will not be as conclusive as many are hoping.
Blessed Timothy and Titus, pray for us.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I'm channel surfing (not yet five minutes ago as I write) while I digest my dinner. Comedy Central comes up. It's not a place I stop very often, but before I can press the "channel up" button again I hear the words "catholic church." That gets my attention, so I pause. The show is called Mind of Mencia. I don't know anything about the dude, but he's apparently a latino standup comic with an attitude.
He's going off on the Roman Catholic Church for electing a German as Pope. Benedict XVI's past as a member of the Hitler Youth is brought up, supplemented by a graphic of a toddler wearing a white cassock and sporting a Hitler-style mustache. Then there's the advice that they should have elected a "beaner" because everybody knows that the Virgin Mary never appears on a sauerkraut; she prefers to reveal herself on tortillas. I'm missing some of the details, but you get the gist.
But wait. There's more.
Our entertainer then introduces "the man they should have chosen--Pope Cheech I." In walks none other than the venerable Cheech Marin, vested in a white papal cassock, complete with outsize pectoral cross, "blessing" the audience. A merciful combination of deteriorating short-term memory and a vestigial sense of good taste prevent me from telling you more, but I don't expect that's a problem.
Now, there is a vast array of things you can call me and be within a stone's throw of the truth, but "prudish" isn't one of them. The handful of people who forward me internet humor know that there's virtually nothing they have to censor for fear of offending my delicate sensibilities. I have a pretty high tolerance for coarse language, sexual content, and even ethnic stereotyping. There isn't much I can't laugh at.
This is all by way of context. For me to say that I found the limit of my sense of humor is pretty much a news flash. So...I have found the limit of my sense of humor. In fact, it pretty well pisses me off that Christianity is somehow outside the jurisdiction of the usual political correctness police. Not religion in general. Just Christianity. Can you imagine a standup comic taking on Judaism or Islam in the same sort of way?
I can't either.
If I could issue a fatwah against Comedy Central, would I? No. I wouldn't even participate in an organized boycott of its sponsors. Yeah, I'm angry, but this isn't anything worth staying angry about. Welcome to a post-Constantinian world. There will be more of the same. A lot more.
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake."
You can bet I've changed the channel, though.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I kind of feel the same way about free church evangelicalism, the ecclesial tradition in which I was raised and formed until I was midway through college. Obviously, I left that community, and for reasons that I still consider compelling. I have long since made peace with my religious past, and think of it very fondly. Two years ago this week it, while back in that world to bury my father, it was a luminous moment for me to sit down at the organ console in the Baptist church of my youth and help accompany the singing of that marvelous hymn, "When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'" I tear up thinking about it.
So, while I have reserved the privilege for myself of making critical comments about evangelicals, I tend to get a little testy when others do so--particularly those who are not and have never been a practicing evangelical Christian. I'm suspicious of any critique of any church, sect, cult, political party, or philosophical position that is not launched from a place of empathy, from the experience of an insider. With respect to Christianity, this seems to be a challenge that the savants of popular culture, including the news media, have not shown themselves up to.
I'm already on record (here and here) as to my observation that Hollywood falls short. Today I ran across this article about a young documentary film maker by the name of Alexandra Pelosi. Yes, she's related to that Pelosi, which is her good fortune, since now her work is likely to get a lot more attention. Miss Pelosi has produced a film called Friends of God, two years in the making, in which she explores what might be called the "evangelical subculture." Her principal guide for the endeavor was recently discredited Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard.
For Reuters reporter Barry Garron, she was not keeping a sufficient distance from her subjects. He chides Pelosi by excoriating them:
Still, the parts of the film that were most troubling were not about abortion or gay marriage or even the incredibly pathetic attacks on evolution. Rather, it was the willingness of evangelicals, young and old, to accept as figurative and literal gospel anything and everything fed to them by authority figures. They appear as automatons, unable or unwilling to question the pronouncements of their leaders.
Also difficult to watch were those who, despite having elected a born-again president and established giant radio and TV networks and a political power base second to none, still feel they are a persecuted minority. If Pelosi's intent is to show that evangelical faith suffocates reason, the point is well-made.
Tell us how you really feel about Christians, Barry!
I haven't got a problem with evolution as the most plausible scientific theory as to the origins of life in general and biodiversity in particular, but the level of vitriol against "creationists" and advocates of "intelligent design" here makes me think Mr Garron has other "issues." And I continue to hang out with evangelicals enough to know that the "automaton" rap is a baseless slur. And evangelical faith suffocating reason? I know of evangelical scholars in just about every academic discipline who could expose that as a pure confection.
Now let's talk about "born again." This is a category that the media really don't get. Part of that is not their fault. The phrase, of course, is from John 3, and Jesus' nocturnal chat with Nicodemus. The concept of spiritual new birth, or regeneration, has been part of Christian theology from the get-g0. In the Catholic tradition it is more or less identified with the moment of baptism. From that perspective, all Christians are "born again." There is no other kind; there is no such thing as a non-born again Christian. This is my own view.
The theology of some of the Reformation churches, however, tends to look for either a conscious moment of decision ("accepting Christ") or an overpowering experience (Wesley's being "strangely warmed") as the sign of new birth. The phrase "born again" came (and I think this is pretty much a twentieth century phenomenon) to be used as a mark of distinction not only from non-Christians, but between Christians. Some groups see the conscious decision or the overpowering experience as the authenticator of one's Christian faith. Someone who has not been "born again" in that way is not, in fact, a real Christian.
So the media were originally misled. But they've since upped the ante. They have taken the label "born again" and honed it to a sharpness beyond that of even the most devout evangelicals. They apply it as a marker by which they sort irrational, fanatical, conservative social agenda-driven, Bible-toting Christians from reasonable, educated, liberal "persons of faith." It's not insidious so much as it's just plain silly, and reveals how little the media really understand about Christian theology, history, and spirituality. It makes me wince.
A word to journalists who would presume to cover the religion beat: Put in the work to get it right. You're just making yourselves look like idiots.
Monday, January 22, 2007
We are in the middle of the Octave (or it may be just a "week" now) of Prayer for Christian Unity (the eight days between the feasts of the Confession of St Peter and the Conversion of St Paul, inclusive). Christian unity is on my heart, and I'm involved with it on a grassroots level where I live, in both "Catholic" and "Protestant" directions, Anglican that I am. It is on my heart because the fact that Christians are divided is tragic on two levels: It abrogates the will of our Lord, who prayed that all his disciples be one, and it is the single greatest stumblingblock to the prosecution of the Church's mission of reconciling all people to God and one another in Christ.
I count myself more blessed than some of my clerical colleagues in the Episcopal Church. My parish has not (yet, at any rate) suffered crippling division over the controversial issues that beset us. But the flow of visitors to our services--newcomers who are "checking us out," looking for a church home--is down. Way down. I can't help but think it's because the Episcopal Church has been so much in the news of late, and for all the wrong reasons--because of conflict. Without knowing anything about St John's, ignorant of the quality of our worship and preaching and teaching and life together, people are deciding to not even give us a try. Based on what they've heard, I can't say that I blame them.
And that's just a small local contemporary example of the cost of our divided state--ironically, the cost of division between those who, technically, are able to gather at the same altar and share the Eucharist. But that division is dwarfed by the fragmentation experienced by the wounded Body of Christ over its entire history, but particularly for the last thousand years or so. It really is a scandal, a huge scandal. Yet, most of the divisions between Christian bodies are so deep and so wide that the possibility of overcoming them seems unimaginably remote. And in the meantime, those divisions are serving nobly as a pretext for keeping the gospel and the church at arm's length. I have had members of my own extended family cite the multiplicity of Christian denominations as a principal reason for their refusal to embrace (or return to) Christian faith.
So, in the venerable tradition of manufacturing virtue out of necessity, what we have done is normalize the anomaly. Instead of sinful division, we have healthy diversity. We have Catholics and Lutherans and Assemblies of God and Freewill Baptists and each of the other 25,000 (or is it 52,000--I can't remember) denominations because each one has a particular charism, a particular ingredient in the grand recipe that makes up the Church of Jesus Christ.
That's a nice idea, but I'm not buying it. Yes, there is an element of truth in there somewhere, but if we try to use that truth to disguise the tragic reality of our divisions we will have perpetuated a fraud. No, I do not want an anesthetic to take away the pain. I want it to hurt. I want it to hurt when I worship with my Orthodox brother in his church and can't receive Holy Communion. I want it to hurt when I can't invite my Presbyterian pastor friend from up the street to stand at the altar with me as a colleague on a special occasion. I want it to hurt when I have to advise against the celebration of a nuptial Eucharist when my parishioner marries a Roman Catholic. Because only it if hurts will the realization be kept fresh that something is wrong. Something is desperately wrong.
It's been said (from a decidedly occidental perspective, I acknowledge) that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can set in motion a chain of events that causes a storm to hit the west coast of the U.S.--long after that butterfly has seen the end of its days, of course. Better minds than my own have spent themselves trying to find the path to visible unity among all who profess and call themselves Christian. So I will not presume to know where that path lies. In this week of prayer for that unity, all I can do is continue to flap my butterfly wings, and hope others are doing the same. In God's good time, that storm will yet arise.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I am an Anglican, pure C of E,
I am high church, and low church, In communion with Canterbury.
Not a Methodist, not a Lutheran,
nor a Baptist, white with foam!
I am an Anglican, just one step from Rome!
I am an Anglican, via media, A-men.
When I opined on another blog (see previous post) that I would not be interested in a reconfigured Anglican province in America whose liturgical discipline is based on either the (English) 1662 or the (American) 1928 Prayer Books, one commenter asked me, "Then why are you an Anglican?"
It's a fair question. I didn't answer there (it would have been comment #2 billion or so on the thread) and that (award-winning) blog doesn't seem to reveal email addresses, so I hope maybe that person finds his or her way here.
The first and last answer to the question is that I am an Anglican because I am an Anglican. I'm not trying to be cute, but to make a point about what I see as a virtue flowing from the old Benedictine discipline known as "stability of place." I think there's a presumption in favor of staying put, ecclesially. That's not an absolute dictum. I made a big ecclesial move (from free-church evangelicalism) in my early adulthood. But it's a presumption, a starting point. The burden of proof rests with the impetus to leave the church fellowship in which one finds oneself at present. If there's not a compelling reason to leave, then it's best to stay.
Here it would seem helpful to say that I am not an Anglican by conviction. I am a Christian by call, a Catholic by conviction, and an Anglican by choice (and an Episcopalian by expediency--more on that in a bit). I do not believe the Anglican take on the Christian faith is the most true or the most pure of the available options--theologically, liturgically, spiritually, morally, socially, or in any other sense--except that at this time it is the best option for me. It is not better Catholicism than the Roman or Eastern Orthodox versions, and it is not better evangelicalism than the Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, or Congregational versions.
I embrace Anglican Christianity because it has an ethos that quickens my soul, stirs my spirit, and makes my heart sing. I am an Anglican because the last verse of "Once in Royal David's City" with a treble descant and an organ reharmonization transports me to the suburbs of Heaven. I am an Anglican because the rhythm of daily Morning and Evening Prayer has worn grooves like wagon-wheel ruts in my soul for three decades. I am an Anglican because of a tradition of pastoral care that is "homely" (in the best sense of that word) and practical. I am an Anglican because it has an ascetical practice that treats grownups like grownups--with a lot of generous guiding and suggesting and precious little prescribing. I am an Anglican because of a collective habit of intellectual spaciousness that recognizes that all truth is God's truth, no matter where it comes from. I am an Anglican because Anglicanism has no peculiar beliefs or practices of its own, no distinctive doctrines, no "founder" (other than our Lord himself), but mediates the faith and life of the Catholic Church throughout the ages. I am an Anglican because, gathered at the altar with other Anglicans, I have known the Risen Christ truly present in the celebration of the Eucharist. I am an Anglican because of the stated intention of Anglican churches to "forego all preferences of our own" in the quest for visible Christian unity. I am an Anglican because of the very provisional self-image of Anglicanism; in its own ideal world, it would disappear as a distinct identity.
Enough said? Probably.
But a bit more, perhaps: I love the Cranmerian liturgical idiom. In fact, by my lights, Cranmer was a much better liturgical draftsman than he was a theologian. I'm glad that I get to preside at a Rite I liturgy every Sunday (the early said Mass). But, out of regard for the Cranmerian spirit (that liturgy should be celebrated in a language "understanded of the people"), I believe it is essential that the liturgical norm in most parishes be contemporary English. It doesn't have to be bad contemporary English. And I would suggest that the 1979 BCP is, for the most part, good liturgical draftsmanship. Compared with the Roman or Lutheran parallel texts, it is often downright literary and poetic. It is very much within the Cranmerian tradition.
Finally, I am wary (I have said this before, and recently, but it bears repeating) of any attempt to tie Anglicanism to a narrow formulary, either confessional or liturgical, that is rooted in a particular time in history, and therefore transports the polemical baggage of that time into our own. That was then; this is now. I want to see an Anglicanism that is affirmatively orthodox, joyfully embracing the creeds--yes, veritably loving even the Definition of Chalcedon!--while remaining intellectually supple and always in touch with its own soul. That's an Anglicanism in which I can happily live and work for the realization of our Lord's prayer that "they all may be one."
P.S. I'm an Episcopalian because that has been the normative manner in which an American can be an Anglican. In the event that the Episcopal Church is not fully and presumptively in unimpeded communion with the See of Canterbury, my interest in being an Episcopalian will evaporate.
(NOTE: Non-Anglicans, and even Anglicans who are not liturgy geeks like me, may find this a bit arcane. Feel free to move on. My site meter has already clicked!)
The Anglican Mission in America, which was formed just a few years ago and consists of some 80 or so congregations, is technically and canonically part of the Province of Rwanda. The news has just been released that they have authorized (for optional trial use, apparently) an edition of the Book of Common Prayer that is essentially the 1662 English book (still the lawful Prayer Book in the Church of England) with modernized language (no Elizabethan verb endings).
There are already more than 100 comments in the Stand Firm thread. The vast majority express hope that the reconfigured American Anglican province that is coming will embrace a liturgical discipline that will closely resemble either the 1662 English book or the 1928 American book, certainly in structure, and, in the hopes of most of the commenters, in diction and grammar.
My strong suspicion (hope?) is that those who have participated in the thread are not a representative sample of those who will be taking counsel together when it comes time to authorize liturgical rites for the new province. The level of historical, linguistic, and technical ignorance that one can see there is disturbing. I hope the actual project will be in more competent hands. But a real nerve has been struck. The responses are visceral. That passion will have to be dealt with.
In my post of a couple of days ago, I posited that for the Covenant Design Group to ground its work in the notion of a formal confessional standard for Anglicanism would be to create something "smaller" than what Anglicanism actually is. It would make us a denomination, a sect, and not a church. The opposite of "Catholic" is not "Protestant," but "sectarian." (Ironically, the Church-of-General-Convention--aka the Episcopal Church--is trying very hard to become a sect, and a boutique version of one, at that.) If some future American Anglican province were to adopt either the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Book as normative, it would be doing the same thing. Rather than trying to locate and freeze genuine Anglicanism at some moment in time, like an insect preserved in amber, we would be much better served to do the harder work of finding our liturgical voice within the choir of the larger Catholic tradition. For what it's worth, this is what I think the 1979 Prayer Book has accomplished. It has not done so perfectly, but it has done so well, and it deserves to be the starting point for future revision.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I have two observations--one in passing, and the other in more detail:
First, this has been a hot-button incident in the Catholic-Protestant debate in western Christianity. The Church of Rome cites Jesus' response to Peter--"You are Peter ("Rocky"), and on this rock I will build my church"--as the foundation of its claims for papal supremacy. Many Protestant apologists have countered with something like "It's not Peter but Peter's faith that is the foundation of the church." I'm not going to get into the exegetical maelstrom, but this much seems evident: Whether it's Peter or Peter's faith that Jesus is talking about here, the New Testament makes it clear that Peter is "first among the apostles" (language of today's BCP collect). He isn't just one of the bunch; he stands out. Making the connection from Peter to the office of Bishop of Rome is a project in itself, but the burden of proof rests on those who would deny that there is a "Petrine" ministry in the Body of Christ.
Secondly--this is ultimately, of course, a feast about Jesus, not about Peter. "Who do you say that I am?" is probably the most important question any person or community can answer. Last week in my parallel universe (aka the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv) I had an exchange with a senior priest from a mainstream Episcopal diocese. This is part of what he had to say:
"I understand the Doctrine of the Incarnation to mean that God is to be found 'embedded' in all of creation--which includes current culture (wherever that is to be found); I think that phrase 'the scandal of particularity' probably applies here."
To which I replied:
"The faith of the Church with regard to the Incarnation is that the infinite and eternal God took finite and temporal human flesh in *one* person--Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. That is the 'scandal of particularity.' Without further nuancing, what you have articulated strikes me as pantheism, or, at best, panentheism. To be sure, there are certainly corollaries that have traditionally been drawn from the fact that the Word became Flesh, corollaries that have to do with what has been called the 'sacramental principle,' that is, that God apparently, as a matter of 'habit,' so to speak, chooses to use matter and form as vehicles of knowledge and grace. But that is considerably less comprehensive than your statement that 'God is to be found 'embedded' in all of creation.'"
To which my interlocutor replied, in part:
"I do think that god [sic] inhabits 'culture' (a word I take to decribe the totality of the world we live in in the broadest possible terms) and that, as god has declared us good, so god declares all creation - all culture (who else but god - through human agents -is to be credited for creating 'culture'?) - god declare all creation to be ultimately good. God's incarnational activity is modeled by Jesus, but Jesus is not the only manifestation of god's incarnational activity [emphasis added]."
At that point it seemed that continuing to engage him on theological substance would soon invoke the law of diminishing returns. But what he is stating is heresy, pure and simple. (I'm not saying that he is personally a heretic, a distinction that, while subtle, is important.) It cannot be reconciled with the Nicene Creed, among other things. I find it poignantly ironic that I and others who wholeheartedly believe and teach the faith of the Episcopal Church are desperately trying to hang on to the fringe of the institution, while this priest and others who openly teach contrary to that faith swim comfortably in TEC's institutional mainstream.
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Over at (the award-winning) Stand Firm there are two items that have generated a fair amount of traffic in the last couple of days. One is an upstream excerpt from my own humble blog that they picked up on. The comments took a turn in the direction of what it is, really, to be a Christian. Is it purely a matter of belief (faith) in Christ? Commitment to Christ? Exhibition of Christ-like behavior? Is it as simple and observable as being baptized or not? The other was this post by Matt Kennedy+, in which he expresses his hope that the in-process Anglican realignment in America will coalesce around the likes of Bishop Duncan and the Anglican Communion Network rather than Bishop Wimberly and the "Windsor Bishops."
I'm already on record as having High Church theological convictions, which I explained here. That would incline me to answer the "who is a Christian?" question by the objective measure of baptized status. If you're baptized, you're a Christian; if you're not, you're not. And the Church, per the catechism (1979 BCP) is that "body of which Christ is the head and all baptized persons are the members." Of course, by this standard, there are a whole lot of pretty bad Christians out there, including some professed atheists, no doubt. And certainly also some genuine believers in Christ who are not, technically, Christians.
Of course, the necessary codicil to this definition is the acknowledgment that being a Christian--that is, being baptized--is not a free pass into the beatific vision and an eternity in the nearer presence of God. One priest I spoke to on the phone this week likened baptism to a bus ticket: It gets you on the bus, but not necessarily to your destination. For that, you have to stay on the bus. Baptism gets us on the ark, and we know that those on the ark will be saved when the waters rise. But that presumes we don't go on any unauthorized midnight swims.
The reason I like this definition (aside from it being the one embraced by traditional Catholic theology) is its objectivity. The emphasis is on God's sovereign grace ("the bond that God establishes in baptism is indissoluble"--BCP) rather than on experience or feelings. It leaves room for everything from Wesley's crisis wherein he felt "strangely warmed" to full-blown charismatic manifestation of the "power gifts." But it isn't grounded in any of those places. I celebrate and honor the various experiences of "conversion" to which Christians bear witness. I believe whole-heartedly in a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Indeed, I have one. But having such an experience should not be confused with "becoming a Christian." That happens in the font.
This applies directly to a rhetorical battle that erupts from time to time among Episcopalians (and recently former Episcopalians). Even this week there have been passionate exchanges on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv about whether the leaders of the Anglican Communion Network, particularly Bishop Duncan, have said that top leaders in the Episcopal Church, including the Presiding Bishop, are "not Christians," or something to that effect. By my lights, the Presiding Bishop is definitely a Christian. The leaders of the Episcopal Church are all Christians. They indeed do say things that are not compatible with Christian teaching--heck, even the teaching of the Episcopal Church--but they are still themselves Christians. I counsel my theologically orthodox confreres who are of an evangelical stripe to mind their rhetoric, and keep it in line with Anglican theology as it is actually articulated in the liturgical rites that they employ in their worship.
I would also freely wear the label Anglo-Catholic. This is a more elusive definition. Like High Church, it conjures up all sorts of liturgical associations, and in this case that is actually within the ball park. But it's not the whole story. And it is precisely here that one aspect, at least, of Father Kennedy's observations runs into...well...foul territory. He calls for an reconfigured Anglicanism that has an explicit confessional basis, something like the Augsburg Confession is for Lutherans. He suggests that the Articles of Religion should form the foundation for said confessional basis.
This I have a problem with because it is fundamentally un-Catholic, perhaps as fundamentally un-Catholic as could be imagined. It makes Anglicanism into a denomination rather than either a church or a community of churches. One of the hallmarks of Anglicanism is that it claims to be nothing unique, nothing substantially distinctive, only incidentally so. It is simply an expression of the one holy Catholic and apostolic church of the creeds, with no peculiar beliefs or practices other than those of the ancient undivided church. As soon as we add conditions or qualifications to that identity, we have made a new thing--in fact, a much "smaller" thing, a particular thing, no longer kata holos, no longer "of the entirety."
Being truly Catholic is risky and uncomfortable. Many of Father Kennedy's commenters expressed their concern that unless the Anglicanism-that-is-to-come has an explicit confessional basis, it will be susceptible to the same sort of theological drift that has infected the Episcopal Church, making it sick perhaps unto death. They may be correct. There are no guarantees (although the Anglican Covenant that is now taking shape--which I expect will be more a relational than a theological document--will probably be an effective check). It's a risk we just have to take.
If we fail to summon the collective nerve to take that risk, I fear that Anglican orthodoxy in America will sink back into the old High Church-Low Church (Catholic vs. Evangelical) wars and consume itself in revolutionary fervor.
Monday, January 15, 2007
The dialogue is occasionally less than stellar (remember, I'm a fan of The West Wing), and some of the plot details are not plausible. (I don't think I've ever seen Jack Bauer put a bite of food into his mouth. And I'm familiar enough with the urban geography of southern California to know that it takes a lot longer to get around than one would infer from CTU's exploits.) But the concept ("real time") is intriguing, the suspense is magnetic, and the main character has an heroic dimension that is irresistible.
Without straying too far into armchair psychology, which is beyond my competence, I'll make two observations about the possible cultural significance of 24:
- The whole enterprise--virtually every scene of every episode--would be completely impossible without cell phones. The elements of suspense and rapid plot development could not be successfully executed without this now ubiquitous technology. And the internet is only a nose-length behind in terms of integral necessity. Does this not say something about our growing expectation of instantaneous gratification of our most mundane desires? We have no tolerance for mere infrastructure getting in the way of what we want. One can only wonder how this bodes for the Christian virtue and spiritual fruit known as Patience. Spiritual directors of the world, take note.
- 24 forces us, through the experience and behavior of Jack Bauer, to explore some morally shadowy territory that, in our direct conscious awareness, we avoid assiduously. A popular book in the early 1980s explored the theme of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Agent Bauer draws us into the questions that arise when such "good people" are forced to do "bad things." Most of us will never be in the position of needing to choose between lopping off someone's fingers with garden shears one by one to get information or sitting back to enjoy a nuclear holocaust. We just pay others to be in that position on our behalf. 24 makes us take ownership of the behavior of our contract employees.
The 2007 Annual Parish Meeting of St John's, Stockton took place today. What follows is a substantial portion of my State-of-the-Parish address, wherein I offered some reflections on the state, not only of the parish, but of the larger church.
Now I’m going to ask you to turn your attention for a while to a subject that is a source of some anxiety, but which we can’t just ignore, which is the state of unrest that the Anglican world, and the Episcopal Church, and the Diocese of San Joaquin are in. It’s too big a subject for me to cover in detail right now, but I do want to share with you something of my own heart and my own mind as relates to how we as a parish might respond to all that is going on.
First, while the secular press gives the world the impression that the dispute is really all about sex, it really isn’t. Sex is only the match that lit the fuse. But I do want to say this much about sex, and I’m not trying to pander to anybody; I’m just trying to be as transparent as I can. I have what are, by any account, traditional views. But I try with all my might to hold those views humbly and compassionately. My heart truly aches for those who, by no choice of their own, find themselves able to bond intimately only with persons of the same sex. I am not closed to the idea that something of holiness might be reflected in some such relationships. I want
But, like I said, it’s not really about sex. It’s about the nature of Anglican Christianity, the nature of authority, the nature of mutual accountability under that authority. Perhaps because it is an American church, the Episcopal Church has a fiercely independent streak. The actions of the last two General Conventions have pushed independence to the point where it has collided head on with mutual accountability between the 38 Anglican provinces. Virtually since the close of convention in Minneapolis in 2003, whatever gravitational forces that have held the Episcopal Church together since 1789, and colonial Anglicanism for 182 years before that—those gravitational forces have steadily weakened on an almost daily basis. As a result, even those who support General Convention’s actions acknowledge that the Episcopal Church stands a very real chance of losing what might be called the Anglican “franchise” for the territory it now covers.
You have the right to know where your Rector stands in all of this, and even as I shared my heart with you with respect to the presenting problem of human sexuality, I will try to be equally transparent in discussing these strategic and political concerns. That fact is, I’m very torn, and I wrestle with the question daily, almost hourly. You know, I once aspired to a career in politics. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to go that direction, because I would have been a terrible politician. It’s very hard for me to think in absolute, black-and-white terms. It’s relatively easy for me to see both sides—several sides, in fact—of most any given question. I know that this is frustrating to some of you, who are eager for me to exercise clearer leadership.
Friday, January 12, 2007
This is my blog, so I can let my inner English teacher run free from time to time, and deliver an etymology lesson. Think in Greek: epi (outer, over--as in "epiphany") + skopos (view, see--as in telescope, microscope) = episkopos ("overseer", or if you are in a Latinate mood, "supervisor"). We find the word seven times in the New Testament, where it refers to an ecclesiastical office in the nascent Church, an office that quickly took a specific and enduring shape in the decades immediately following the apostolic era.
As words and languages evolve, try imagining a process like this: the initial 'e' and the inflected conclusion 'os' fall by the wayside, leaving "piskop." As they are often wont to do, the opening 'p' morphs to its consonantal cousin 'b'. Then the 'sk' softens into a consonant blend, 'sh'. Voila, we have "bishop."
One wag has joked that Anglicans have a high view of episcopacy and a low view of bishops. Given what I've been seeing from the port side of Anglican cyberspace over the last two or three years, I'm thinking it's probably not a joke. We hear a steady refrain that, if I can paraphrase in a summary fashion, goes something like this: "Sure, we have bishops in the Episcopal Church, but they are not really our leaders or representatives or policy makers or spokespersons. They duly confirm and ordain and preach and write and give pastoral care, and sometimes we let them preside at diocesan conventions, but otherwise we keep them on a pretty short leash."
This is democracy run amok. It is American, but it is not Anglican, and certainly not Catholic. There are good bishops and (God knows) there are bad bishops, but in a church that calls itself "Episcopal" there's no escaping them--that is, there's no escaping their primacy of authority in interpreting, teaching, and transmitting the truth of God, and in exercising godly authority, and in articulating the mind of the Church. That's what we elect and ordain them for.
Of course, those who are complaining, those who are trying to tighten the circle of episcopal influence, are reacting to decisions made by bishops, and groups of bishops, that they don't like. One thinks here of the Primates' Meeting (the Dromantine Communique sticks in the craw of General Convention supremacists), the Lambeth Conference (I.10 from 1998 is the offender here), and the Camp Allen group of "Windsor Bishops" (the mere fact that they met without the sanction of General Convention, and took counsel together for the future of Anglicanism, is a big no-no).
I don't have to work very hard to envision being in a situation where I am annoyed by what bishops do, either individually or collectively. But I don't willfully ignore the long theological tradition wherein a bishop is thought to encapsulate in his person the church which he serves as chief pastor, and is therefore qualified to speak on behalf of that church (diocese). I am, for that same reason, comfortable with the idea of the Lambeth Conference as speaking the mind of the Anglican Communion. I may not like what they say, but I am conscience-bound to give it the benefit of any doubt, and weigh it carefully, before discarding it.
That this principle is still operative within Anglicanism is evident in all the talk about "communion with the See of Canterbury." I personally have immense regard for the current occupant of that See, but it's not about communion with Rowan Williams, it's about communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, because he is a personal microcosm of the diocese and province of Canterbury, and of the authority that office has held for some 1,400 years.
I don't expect the General Convention supremacists to back down from their position anytime soon. But it's good to be clear that, from the vantage point of broad Christian tradition, they are on thin ice.
Decent respect for the opinions of faithful Christians of all communities and communions requires that we should declare the reasons for our belief that The Episcopal Church is and always has been a freely gathered community of faithful Christians.
I'll resist the temptation to comment on the Jeffersonian tone of Father Harris' prose, but simply observe that he is articulating a classic Low Church position. The key words are "freely gathered community." This is a church-as-voluntary-association view, as distinguished from a church-as-organic-family view. His remarks also bolster my point about the American predisposition to Low Churchmanship.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Archbishop Laud believed in the divine right of kings. That's pretty much how he kept his job...and how he lost his life. But his principal legacy is as an exemplar of what came to be known as the High Church position within the Anglican theological spectrum.
High Church is a widely misunderstood term. Nashotah House, my seminary alma mater, has (or at least had when I was there) a "fight song," pulled out once a year on the occasion of the annual football contest with Seabury Western, known affectionately as the Lavabo Bowl. (For non-liturgy geeks, a real lavabo bowl is what is used when the celebrant's hands are washed at the time the altar is prepared for the Eucharist.) The song goes like this (sung to the tune of "On Wisconsin"):
On Nashotah, down with all those lib'ral Protestants!
Our position on tradition is our best defense. (Hail Ma-ry)
On Nashotah, sacerdotal Cath'lic liturgy,
High churchmanship leads us to victory!
The last line is a stretch, because we were soundly trounced all three years I was there. (I understand fortunes have reversed in more recent years.) The whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek caricature of Nashotah's reputation as an Anglo-Catholic institution, and I sing it with gusto with only the slightest provocation, and no alcohol is necessary.
Unfortunately, it perpetuates the misconception of what High Churchmanship is about. Most people think it refers to liturgical accoutrements such as candles, vestments, incense, bells, chanting, and the like. These are all wonderful things, and I heartily indulge in them. But they have little or nothing to do with being High Church.
High Churchmanship has...well...a high view of the nature and significance of the Church. It sees the Church as the sacrament of Christ, even as Christ is the sacrament of God--a sacrament being an outward and visible sign. High Churchmanship is reluctant to make too sharp a distinction between the mystical Body of Christ and the institutional Body of Christ. At the fringes, they are distinguishable, but between those fringes, there is a great deal of overlap where they cannot be effectively picked apart. To touch the institution is to touch the Mystical Body, and there is no contact with the Mystical Body except through some institutional expression. (I tell adults whom I baptize that they are simultaneously becoming a Christian, an Episcopalian, and a member of St John's; the three dimensions cannot be separated.) The "being" of the Church is prior to the "being" of her individual members.
A Low Church view, by contrast, sees the experience of the individual members as logically prior to the reality of the whole. A person meets Jesus, and therefore wants to hang out with others who have met Jesus, for all sorts of good reasons, but the main thing is that 'I' have met Jesus. The institutional dimension is just a matter of expediency.
Americans are, I fear, hard-wired toward a Low Church position. Voluntarism is a core value in our national DNA. Membership in the Church, speaking institutionally, is not qualitatively different from membership in a bowling league or a service club or a fraternal organization or a political party. We join when it suits our purposes and we leave when it no longer does so.
Of course, Anglicans of a Catholic bent are pre-disposed toward High Church theological views, and Evangelical Anglicans are given to Low Churchmanship. It has been thus for going on five centuries. Just ask William Laud and Oliver Cromwell. But in the present ecclesiastical wars, I seem to notice that even some self-styled Anglo-Catholics tend to forget to think like Catholics, and have become de facto Low Churchmen. Among Episcopalians who contend for a traditional understanding of authority and sexual morality, there is a divide between those who are eager to separate institutionally from the Church-of-General-Convention and those who are alarmed at the very prospect. I think the former are thinking Low Church, and the latter are thinking High Church.
This is a theme worth developing.
Blessed William Laud, pray for us.
Monday, January 08, 2007
I strive religiously (after all, how else would a priest be expected to strive?!) to follow this advice. Sometimes I do well. At other times I don't. But I keep trying nonetheless. It's important. And it's difficult. In my effort to be non-anxious, some might think I don't care. The temptation is to get sucked back into an anxious state. Anxiety, like misery, loves company. My job in those moments is to have a high tolerance for people's disappointment with me. I serve them best as a leader and pastor when I don't come to the rescue--theirs or my own.
The Anglican world will be a source for plenty of anxiety over the next few weeks for those who are looking for it. Today it was announced that the heretofore do-nothing Panel of Reference actually did something. It essentially vindicated the Diocese of Fort Worth with respect to their position on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate--in short, that their position is within the bounds of Anglican theology, that they have the right to hold it and practice it without being subject to sanctions from the Episcopal Church, that they have the right when the time comes to elect a bishop who will continue that position and to have that election consented-to by the rest of the church, that their arrangement with the Diocese of Dallas for assisting women with their discernment of a call to priestly ministry is a commendable example, and that the matter itself is indeed in a process of "reception" that will probably not be concluded during the lifetime of anyone currently active in the debate.
This is fairly big, but its bigness has to do not so much with the actual issue of women's ordination, about which nothing will really change, as with the notion that offshore Anglican authorities (such as, in this case, the Panel of Reference) are acting legitimately when they hold particular provinces (such as, in this case, the Episcopal Church) accountable to a measure of discipline that transcends that province's own constitutional formularies. The predictable voices are already crying "Foul!" They are anxious, and understandably so. This is not a defining moment of mega-importance, but it is one more link in a chain of events that bolsters my continued confidence that real Anglican realignment is in the offing, and that a new thing is being done.
The second Camp Allen meeting of "Windsor Bishops" has come and gone, with only a brief and not very informative statement finally being issued today by Bishop Wimberly, the host and convener. Speculation is rampant, but futile. I'm not showing up to that party. It does raise anxiety all around, however.
But the real anxiety producer at the moment is now scarcely more than a month away, and it's the next meeting of the Anglican Primates, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Many are expecting, and many more are hoping, that this will be truly a defining moment. Decisions are being delayed in view of potential outcomes from that meeting--decisions by individuals, decisions by congregations, and decisions by dioceses. We now know that the Presiding Bishop has been invited. But, once there, will she be allowed to stay? What effect will the Dromantine Statement have on the level of her participation? We now know that there will be a "pre-meeting" involving TEC bishops other than the Presiding Bishop. Who will they be? Will they include Bishop Duncan, the putative "shadow primate" of the Network? Will the larger group of Windsor Bishops be represented? Once the actual meeting begins, will either or both of these be invited to stay? Alongside Bishop Jefferts Schori? In place of her? Will there be some formal word of "discipline" for the Episcopal Church? Will any details from the developing Anglican Covenant be revealed? Will there be any hint of who will and who will not be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference?
Can you feel the anxiety rising?
I think those who are looking for Dar es Salaam to be an unmistakable watershed in Anglican history will be disappointed. Important things will happen there, but the sort of unambiguous clarity that many are looking for will not materialize. Rather, it will be another link in a long chain. When we look at history, we find that, in the vast majority of circumstances, clarity only emerges in retrospect. We look back at events and can discern directions and trends and patterns. But we don't know it in the moment. There will be no moment when the Anglican world holds its breath and experiences realignment. It will not be either a Pauline "Damascus Road" experience or a Wesleyan strange warming. Instead, somewhere in the process of muddling through, it will dawn on Anglicans--not all at the same time, no doubt--that things have changed, that the shift has occurred.
I am on record as believing that it will be a good shift. I continue to hold that hope. I'm trying not to be anxious.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
The substance of my observations about the significance of the omission, however, remains intact.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
This is not a neutral assertion. It is controversial. As recently as this past week, there was a flap in the Anglican blogsphere over a detail in the Washington Cathedral station of President Ford's peripatetic funeral. One of the standard lectionary choices for a Prayer Book burial service is John 14:1-6. The final verse reads "Jesus said to [Thomas), 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me.'" Only when the lesson was read in the service, the final phrase ("no one comes...") was omitted.
To my knowledge, nobody has claimed credit for this bit of latter-day redaction. A source who may be in a position to know asserts with confidence that it was the decision of John Chane, the Bishop of Washington, on whose turf the rites were taking place. In turn, his behavior may have been prompted by the fact that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is still feeling the aftershocks of her pre-installation remarks in the press to the effect that Jesus is one way to God, but there are others.
It's tricky to sort out the substance from the reactivity in all this. My own take is that the P.B. has wandered off the reservation on this one. Maybe she would like to slip back in under the fence if she could do so without being noticed. But she's clearly out of bounds, as a Christian leader, in her assertion that there are pluriform and equally efficacious routes to reconciliation and communion with the Creator of all things.
Nonetheless, I can appreciate where she and others get some of their animus. There are Christians who give Christianity a bad name by taking verses like John 14:6 and turning them into cudgels with which they bludgeon the very souls Jesus wants to save. They are more interested in the precise nature of Hell and who actually goes there than they are with preventing its overpopulation.
As a matter of logical necessity, I believe in the existence of Hell because I believe in free will. I tend to believe that Hell is actually populated, because I've known of some people who were so immersed in evil that they seem to have lost any semblance of humanity. I know that faith in Christ and communion with his Church is the sure and certain route to Heaven, and that it is therefore of the essence of the Church's mission to constantly and winsomely invite all people--yes, even Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Wiccans--into her fellowship. But I certainly don't try to shackle God's love by pretending to know what God has not actually revealed. If He wants to save some who have never "professed and called themselves Christians," then that's His business. More power to Him.
Shine, Jesus, shine.
Friday, January 05, 2007
That would make this evening, of course, Twelfth Night, an observance that inspired the title of Shakespeare's play. It is the Eve of the Epiphany, one of the seven occasions styled Principal Feasts in the (American) Book of Common Prayer. Our liturgical celebration of the feast at St John's will take place tonight, with a Mass and dinner.
Among other things, Epiphany is a celebration of the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The significant descriptor of the Wise Men (the primary symbol of Epiphany in western Christianity) is that they were not Jews, and, hence, represent all who are not Jews. Even though God is in a covenant relationship with the people of Israel, and his Messiah--the anointed One, the Christ--became incarnate as a Jew, what the Christ accomplishes is for the sake of all people everywhere in every time. One of the marks of the Church is that it is "catholic"--from the Greek kata holos, "according to the entirety." That mark is diminished to the extent that we fail to find ways to effectively communicate the gospel across languages and cultures.
One of the candidates for ordination that I helped examine this week is a young man from an Asian country--his English is passable but not fluent--whose primary ministry at this time is doing front line evangelism among a specific Muslim population in a California city. I am completely in awe. Since my subject area for examination is Liturgy and Church Music, I questioned him some about how he uses music in settings where the Hymnal 1982 would be a virtually worthless resource. He acknowledged the power of music in the process of evangelization and faith formation--a fact which Christians have recognized at least as far back as St Augustine of Hippo--and said he tries to find music that is already part of the culture in which he is working and see if it can be adapted to his purposes. It's a tricky endeavor, because one never knows what unspoken associations people may have with the music that might turn out to make its use counterproductive. Yet, Martin Luther used the same technique, adapting popular German drinking tunes to sacred texts. They became the chorales that Bach turned into high art some 200 years later.
Another ordinand was an older gentleman who already has a thriving prison ministry, and believes himself called to continue that work as a priest. This is a demographic segment that, for the most part, will not naturally be drawn to the Anglican ethos at such time as they may rejoin mainstream society. Once again, I am in awe. I would never be able to come close to doing what either of these guys is up to for the sake of the Kingdom, bearing witness to the universality, the catholicity, of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And this all puts me in mind of a question that has gnawed at me for some time. North American Anglicans are not very good at being a "peasant" church. We don't know how to be "blue collar." It isn't so much lack of desire or conviction. It's simply that, with some local exceptions, we just don't know how. We have a lot to offer those who are college educated, those who have an affinity for the fine arts, as well as English majors and Anglophiles. We minister among this demographic segment naturally. We could do it in our sleep. But with the Country & Western, or Hip-Hop, or Mariachi crowd (I'm not talking about musical tastes with these categories as much as a holistic cultural vocabulary), we're clueless.
Doubtless some will say, "Get yourself a praise band and sing praise choruses." But I'm not really talking about the sort of folk who are flocking to Willow Creek and Saddleback-style mega-churhes. A lot of them are educated professionals. I'm talking about people who are, by reason of education or ethnicity or economic status, more marginal than that. I don't know of any liturgical-sacramental church that does a good job evangelizing and retaining large segments of such populations. The Roman Catholics, of course, do so to some extent, because of cultural interia among Hispanics and some Asians (and, to the extent that any are still culturally marginalized: Italians, Poles, Irish, and Germans). But even they are nervous about the inroads made by Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
I'm a "High Church" Anglican. I'm not talking about an affinity for certain liturgical practices, but a conviction that an ecclesial culture that is fully sacramental, eucharistically focused, and episcopally-ordered represents the fullness of what God wills for his people, and that churches that lack any of these elements are impoverished for doing so. With such convictions, there is no option of simply saying "different strokes for different folks" and letting the Assemblies of God have all the cowboy Christians, while we wait on the sidelines to skim off the few who pick up a book on church history and "get it." Episcopalians have too long been ecclesiastical scavengers in that way.
If we take seriously the message of Epiphany, and the importance of Catholicity, we will find a way to do better.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Happy Ninth and Tenth (and maybe Eleventh) Days of Christmas.
I'm shortly off to our diocesan conference center, where there is a wireless network signal, but I won't really have any time. Then, on Thursday, our son and his wife will be arriving for a brief visit, and I will be appropriately consumed with picking them up at the airport and visiting.
I will be spending tonight and all day tomorrow (until about 10 PM) participating in the oral examination (no, we won't be looking into their mouths, but will be interested in what words come out of them) of four future priests of this diocese. I chair the Board of Examining Chaplains, and serve as the examiner in the subject area of Liturgy and Church Music. (The others? Church History, Christian Theology, Scripture, Ethics & Moral Theology, Church & Contemporary Society, and Theory & Practice of Ministry). I grant that it will be grueling for the candidates, but their ordeal will be over in three hours. (Well, they did spend three days last week with the written portion, the results of which will form the basis of our "conversation.") But it is exhuasting for the examiners, as we will be spending twelve hours of total face time with the four of them. I walk away from each of these events thoroughly drained, but grateful for the opportunity to take a part in the academic formation (yes, there are teaching moments even at this late stage) of these ordinands.
Now...does anyone else notice a problem? There are ten Lords a-Leaping but only nine Ladies Dancing. One of the Lords is going to be a little miffed.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Among the churches that follow a liturgical calendar, there is some variation as to what this day is. For Roman Catholics, it is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. For Episcopalians (and Anglicans in some, but not all, other provinces), it is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. (Apparently, from my short internet search, the RCs now keep that observance on January 3rd.)
In former incarnations of the Prayer Book Calendar, it was the feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ--a religious ritual act that was prescribed for the eighth day of a boy child's life. Some have contended that the by-product of that event found its way to a church in Italy, where it has been an object of veneration for centuries. Alas, it has recently been absconded with. What a scandal!
The name Jesus (aka Joshua, aka Yeshua) means "the LORD (Yahweh, that is) saves." The whole notion that names actually mean something objective is foreign to most contemporary Americans. Instead, we see naming as an opportunity to either honor family tradition, or a family member (my nephew and his wife just named their newborn daughter after her aunt), or, more and more frequently, to exercise creative autonomy, making up names from whole cloth not because of what they mean but because of how they sound--and spelling them any old way; there was a recent spate of letters to Dear Abby on this subject, and she stepped to a few toes!
As a society we are treading new ground in thus trying to be original, and, I suspect, unwittingly impoverishing ourselves. Other cultures retain the sense that a person's name is a sign of some aspect of that person's essence. I still recall being struck in the film Dances With Wolves how a woman was named Stands With a Fist, in token of her capacity for self-assured confrontation. (And, of course, the movie's title is the name given the main character by the Indians he befriended.) What have we lost in our social discourse by discarding the connection between names and meaning, turning the process of naming into a form of abstract expressionism? I don't know that I can say for sure, but my intuitive hunch is that it's significant.
I'm grateful for having had the opportunity to study some Hebrew while in seminary, and learning the precise breakdown of my own given name. "Daniel" is usually explained as "God is my judge." More literally and pedantically, it is "judge of me--God." For what it's worth, if you're into the Myers-Briggs thing, I'm an INTJ, which means, among other things, that exercising judgment comes very naturally to me! A former spiritual director once told me I had a "ministry of boundary setting." If I had an animal totem, it would undoubtedly be the Border Collie, which is perhaps why I find myself jealous of the attention my wife pays to her dog, who actually is a Border Collie.
A name means something. Even if we don't know what that meaning is, we still want people to get it right, pronounce it right, spell it right. If if means nothing else, my name at least means me. I regularly get junk mail addressed to "David Martins." No offense to anyone named David, but it ain't my name. More frequently, the final letter of my surname is omitted. It irks me every time. For similar reasons, it annoys me greatly when people use the holy name of Jesus as a casual expletive. I'm not a prude about vulgar language. Very little in the lexicon of words that would arouse the attention of the FCC offends me. This one does, and when I hear it, I want to cover my ears and say, "Oh, that hurts. Please don't do that."
Blessed be the Holy Name of Jesus.
Oh...in the secular calendar, it's also New Year's Day. So Happy 2007 to everyone in that small but elite group who look at this humble blog!