Wednesday, December 15, 2004


I visited the 12th street community

veni spiritus sanctus

on Monday, gathering with them for dinner and prayer for the first time in awhile. We ate and talked, enjoying the company of one another. We lit some candles and listened and began to pray. We prayed for one another, friends present and absent. And I thought

this is ordinary

Last night was our final Tuesday gathering for the semester. We read from the lectionary

with terrible recompense He will come and save you

and just talked. Told some inane stories and shared some frustrations, and looked to YHWH with hope,

redemption stares at you
in the mirror from behind
the glassy eyes and the
cold, barren face

becoming more and more aware that in our life together we reflect the glory of YHWH, that these moments are not fleeting, that they do not need to be protected or guarded jealously, that they are


And I see that grace does not run out, that restoration is not a weekend project, and that some things really ought to hurt and pain is not always bad

this veritable power is not transitory

i tire of the old ones the hollow men and women who being blind try to describe light behind their glassy eyes stares nothing

::the - candle::

they say
::the - candle - you - lit::
::in - the - dark - place::
::is - not - so - bright - as - you - think::

what if you were dead and nobody told you
i would tell you if you would listen but you hate when we disturb your sleep
(i'm sorry; you see, no one else ever will)

blind ghosts hiding among their pretty tombs whose whispers echo and drown the whimpers of those of us who are getting up our of our graves

i won't fear truth
i won't shirk correction
i will not deny our life

these gods need to die
these gods who do not raise the dead

In God's new world, resurrection is ordinary.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Reading Athanasius: Talking About Sin

It is also helpful to differentiate the brokenness and rebellion that spring from the corruption Athanasius describes. Our previous enmity with God emerged because of rebellion, not brokenness. He does not despise the weak. Not all sin is symptomatic of rebellion, but rather a manifestation of deep brokenness – some part of the personality still in need of Christ’s redemption. Perhaps we can differentiate between sin (as a condition of rebellion) and sins (as symptoms of brokenness or rebellion). This speaks to the insistence of some Christians that their sins yet separate them from God.

They do not.

Rebellion needs to be forgiven, but weakness requires an infusing of grace and strength. Sins (understood as symptoms) cannot separate the individual Christian from God, because in baptism one is sealed with Christ. The righteousness of the Messiah is imputed to the Messiah’s people, after all. As Athanasius illustrates, our restoration and healing are a matter of God’s honor: he has redeemed us, and there is a big sign at the trading post that says “no refunds.” (Groan) But it’s true.

If the God who knows to expect so much more failure of us than we do ourselves has already accepted us in Christ Jesus and sealed us in him through baptism, we don’t require more forgiveness just because we are more aware of our brokenness. I do all kinds of sinful things I don’t know to be sinful (just ask my friends!), but they don’t separate me from God, or my community. We confess to be known as sinners, and to appropriate healing and restoration in the dark and lonely places of our souls.

Jesus does not despise the weak. He does not find us lacking and so cast us away. He knows what we lack, and so has stood for us, and does stand, on those parts of our lives where we are unable.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Reading Athanasius: Why YHWH Redeems

For VBCC’s October schola, we read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Ancient theologians are loquacious suckers, often needlessly so. I feel a certain kinship. That aside, I found one of his arguments compelling and possibly fruitful for discussion. Athanasius argues that the salvation of humanity is required for God to maintain his personal honor. In his view, not only are the divine image-bearers sinful and rebellious, but they are descending into nothingness.
…death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again (1.4).
Since the Logos brought creation into being as a reflection of Himself, it would dishonor Him to surrender it to nothingness. Further, because sin results in the unraveling of human nature to death, it became necessary to renew and re-create human nature by exchanging places with men and bearing their deaths in his own body (2.7, 9). The Incarnation was necessary for this needful redemption:

The Word of God came in his own person, because it was he alone, the image of the Father, who could re-create man made after the image (3.13).

Athanasius illustrates this as a model posing again for the restoration of a painting. What we couldn’t be in our brokenness and rebellion, Jesus becomes for us, so that we can become like him. May God empower us to be his restored people.

In terms of comprehending the love of God and his dedication to people, this is a powerful idea that understands our help and healing as a matter of God’s honor and consistency with the works he has already purposed to perform. Those of us who have difficulty understanding how or why God would go to any lengths to love, heal and free us can see: God has staked himself on us completely.

More later.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Living in a Body

Resurrection is not the sequel to death.

It is its reversal.

— overheard in a lecture last year

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


We commonlife folks shared worship with Vine and Branches last week. We relaxed, shared a little brie, talked about our lives in Christ and engaged the liturgy.

It was good. It was good just to have that reminder that we are not the only ones doing what we do.

Something I’m trying to get my mind around – should being a presbyter be like any other profession? Is it really like being a professional counselor? Is that any more appropriate than the model of pastor as CEO?

We lit candles for significant (to us) saints at the All Saints Celebration over the weekend. I tried for a few minutes to think of a dead person whose faith and work had impacted me. I could only think of one: Geoffrey Anketel Studdert-Kennedy. I read quite a bit of his poetry while at Oxford, and was struck to find the candor with which his “rough rhymes” expressed and mourned the suffering of the post-WWI era, both of men and of God. He was called “Woodbine Willie” because he (against regulations) entered the trenches with the men on the front lines, handing out Woodbine cigarettes and saying the burial office while covered in muck. He was an early leader also of the Christian Industrial Fellowship – I’ll leave you to suppose what that was all about in 1920s England.

I was struck by something else. I read bits of theology and the history of the ancient Christian church, try to understand the stuff of the original gospel proclamation and how it first came to bear in particular cultural contexts and get excited about that work. I want to be involved in the conversation and do the needful and hard work of faithfully translating the ancient faith into contemporary practice. I want to do that as a presbyter and teacher, looking after people, offering the sacraments, helping them live into and practice God’s vision for their lives as the Body of Christ, and speak healing into dark and empty places.

I’m not sure I’ve yet seen a model of professional ministry that put those things at the top of the job description. I’ll keep giving “traditional church” the benefit of a doubt (I have been, really!), but that doubt is shrinking.

I want to be faithful, but I don’t know in which direction I ought to walk, at least in terms of professional clergydom and denominational polity.

From T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday:
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Tim LaHaye feels "disappointed," betrayed

A little bit of justice in the world: Tyndale's publishing a new fiction series founded on an honest and reasoned reading of Revelation, which hold that the book is symbolic of things that were happening in the first century.
Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind books, called the decision by his publisher "stunning and disappointing" and said he felt betrayed. "They are going to take the money we made for them and promote this nonsense," he said.
Still more:
"The Bible, in particular the Revelation of John, is open to many dramatic readings," said Harvey Cox, a professor at Harvard Divinity School. "Unfortunately, some are merely a paste-up of what the Bible actually says, a pulling from various passages to craft a theology that the bulk of New Testament scholars do not support. [Revelation] was a polemic against the corruption, debauchery and greed of the Roman Empire ... meant to be an encouragement for the people who were living under persecution. Christians were being fed to the lions. John was writing in exile, fearful for his life."

Dr. LaHaye said the viewpoint expressed in his books is backed by "300 years of church teaching." But Dr. Cox said dispensationalism was considered heresy in ancient times and suppressed. It re-emerged in the 19th century, thanks to "a New Age-y, mystical type sect in Scotland."

Read it all, courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

Thursday, November 18, 2004

christlife : not there yet

I attended the Renovare conference at Asbury with a couple of the guys two weekends ago. It helped me get my bearings on a few things, among them:

The point of discipleship is to become more like Jesus. Not prayer or good works in themselves, but to belong to him and be re-formed in his image. To show justice and mercy like him and effect healing like him, we must live like him.

The spiritual disciplines aren’t meant to be herculean demonstrations of spiritual strength. It’s not like a body building competition. It’s more like going to the gym to get in your cardio workout: it’s maintenance.

Contemplation, for example, is not done for its own sake. It’s a way of relating to Jesus. It’s good and right to go for slow, sustainable change. Fifteen minutes a day of quiet and meditating on something true and right isn’t second best to spending three hours a day. The latter may never be feasible. If it is, great. A balanced Christian life is more important.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bozo: "The World's Only Mind Reading Dog"

And pretty much still the world's only mind-reading dog Posted by Hello

I found this being used as a bookmark in a 1933 bank ledger in the College Archives. See, I do neat things all day. More details on Bozo here.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Windsor Commentary II: Conservatives, Liberals and Gay Theology

As I read and listen to reactions to the Windsor Report given by the various voices on the 'Net (and a few I get to overhear) I am struck by a particular theme: the inability (refusal) to recognize that that not only do people on various sides of these issues have different perspectives, but entirely different worldviews.

Many on the left take for granted that a theology that will pronounce homoerotic relationships as part of God’s creative and redemptive intention for his image-bearers is ultimately an issue of gay liberation. The oppressed are finally being listened to, and that will change things. Let me clarify here that violence against others is always wrong, and that homophobia is wicked and evil. The problem is that the oppressed are being granted epistemological priority: their narrative is now to be super-imposed over everyone else’s, and it will be the overarching story into which every other story fits.

Beware the tyranny of the oppressed: forcing everyone to conform to the (felt, experiential) truth of the oppressed is not a reasonable corrective to the former practice of everyone conforming to the (felt, experiential) truth of the oppressors. What’s more, not everyone buys into the narrative of oppressor/oppressed. While you find elements of liberation in the Christian story, it must be said that classical recapitulation / Christus Victor (freeing the Creation from the principalities and powers and placing it under the headship of Christ) is not the same as post-modern liberation: God-empowered self-actualization over and against those who would keep you down.

I hear often that the decisions at ECUSA’s 2003 General Convention (encouraging the blessing of same-sex unions and confirming the election of Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson to the see of New Hampshire) represent a step forward with the Holy Spirit, and that the Africans (and American conservatives) are asking “us” to step back. Not all steps are forward or backward. I think it’s a step down from the kind of life Christians are intended to live together.

It’s not about scriptural interpretation. It’s about worldview, and whether one considers New Testament sexual ethics to be normative and binding for the Christian Church. I don’t think anyone’s questioning what the NT norms are themselves.

Check out Oliver O’Donovan’s thoughts on the left/right extremes as well as the state of “gay theology” (and see here for the entirety of his essay on the Windsor report):
Nobody reading Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 – and I am among those who read it sympathetically and appreciatively – could seriously pretend that it was supposed to represent the last word about homosexuality or about the church’s pastoral practice in relation to its homosexual members. It simply set responsible bounds within which we could approve one another’s pastoral practice in good conscience to Scripture and tradition while continuing to explore together a phenomenon of extreme cultural and anthropological complexity. The difficulty the church faces with such an exploration is that left and right wings, in almost equal measure, seem to think that there is nothing to explore. Either Scripture and Tradition have Settled it Once and for All (though how well our phenomena match those that Scripture and tradition addressed is an open question until we have learned to describe our phenomena better); or else Science has Taught us Better, (though no one can quite remember what the scientific experiments were, or what they were supposed to have demonstrated). Our greatest difficulty is that we all follow faithfully the ironic advice of Hilaire Belloc: O let us never, never doubt What nobody is sure about!

If anyone thinks that a prolonged exploration would simply hand a victory to revisionists, let me recall that in 1997 a group of British theologians (“traditionalists” as the press would call them) put some questions, chiefly about theological anthropology, to advocates of the gay cause in the churches – hoping for a reply that would bring to clear expression gay thinking about the gay position and so provide something to discuss. I was among the authors of the so-called “St. Andrew’s Day Statement” – and to the best of my knowledge the questions I and my colleagues then asked have not received the first shred of an answer. The Christian gay movement is not, by and large, a self-theorising movement. For that reason the distinctive experience it wants to attest is often inarticulately expressed, and easily swamped by a well-meaning liberal social agenda of championing all minorities in sight, an agenda which is precisely uninterested in what makes the gay experience different. All this poses a problem for the church, since it means that any possibly helpful pastoral initiative risks signing up, unwittingly perhaps, to a dogmatic revolution. In a world where nothing is clearly explained, all cheques are blank.

(The above emphasis is mine) I’ve read some theology done by the Christian gay movement, and must point out (I don’t think many people know this) that there isn’t a consensus of those thinkers that civil unions, marriages, or “long-term relationships marked by full fidelity” is what homosexual men and women ought to be striving for in church and society. Such arrangements are considered by some to be a product of heterosexist norms and to strive for those is still a way of conforming to the desires of the “oppressor.”

All cheques are indeed blank: can any of these well-heeled, educated, guilty white liberals draw boundaries on what “liberation” ought to mean?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It’s Overcast Today: Elections and the Will of God

The actions and policies of President Bush are not “closer” to the will of God than those of John Kerry. Neither would the opposite be true. Neither of these men is concerned with embodying the reign of God in their decisions, and this is evidenced by the words and actions of both men. Whether or not, then, the reign of Bush or Kerry would be “more Christian,” is a dead question. Neither would be Christian, because only the Reign of YHWH is “Christian.” There is, however, room to discuss whether or not particular policies or actions follow charity and justice. But the role of government can never be seen as a building block or capstone for the mission of the Church.

Remember that the reign of George W. Bush is not the Reign of God. Nor would the Kerry administration have been. As soon as we start using language that allies the reign of any Caesar to that of YHWH, we are guilty of idolatry.

George W. Bush is not “God’s man,” no matter what election he wins. God’s man was and is Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, who came to put to rights everything that went wrong in the Fall of Creation. He, and by extension the Christian Church, are God’s preferred, primary, and quite possibly only means for the redemption of the world. Bush will not put things to rights, and neither would Kerry.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Single People are Pathetic

Got your attention?

I have a few disconnected rants against the language of "singularity" and "singles ministry," at least as I understand it:

Whenever I've been present for singles meetings, either in Texas or Kentucky, things got around to "recognition of singles" by "the church." I don't understand what the deal is with the generation before mine wanting some ethereal entity called "the church" to bless their way of living. Is complaining about this entity some kind of parental displacement? I don't concern myself whether "the church" or "lots of people" think that not being married at age 14, 22, 30, or never, is weird. What think the people who love me? What kind of man or woman, and in what way, am I called to be?

I am not married, and I won't be soon. I am attempting to cultivate a holy celibacy, belonging to God and to my community, a local grouping of the Body of Christ. I do not need some prancing prelate priestling pontificating from a pulpit to inform me that this is an acceptable way of life. I would be insulted by the attempt. My friends and I do quite well discerning my vocation. Christianity, Inc. and assorted associates can keep their opinions to themselves.

I am not single, or alone. Lots of people, including Christians, would say that I'm single, and not in a relationship. How sad it would be if that were true! What's with this "in a relationship" language? No wonder so many unmarried people feel worthless and unloved: they choose language that gives explicit value only those relationships that in some way sexual (or at least romantic) and implicit devaluation to those that are not. "No, I'm not in a relationship." Of any kind? With anyone?

If that's the way I saw it, I would certainly feel pathetic. But I am in lots of relationships, with lots of people. They love me, and I love them, and that's important. We learn to love well. We are committed to one other through our baptism and unity in the truth, empowered to love and remain by the Holy Spirit. Sexual relations would obviously not improve those friendships (for many, many reasons), but that's what's implied by the language of "in a relationship" and "just friends." Non-sexual relationships are second-best. Everyone knows that, apparently.

Christians are picking up the world's false views on healthy intimacy and happiness, and once again failing to teach a redemptive and healthy sexuality as a consequence. I think these false views of what it means to be with others and to be alone foundational to the idea of a "singles ministry," and why I don't share the enthusiasm of some of my colleagues.

While I am not in a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone, I am not "single" in any way that is meaningful to me, and I am certainly not "alone." For that reason, I could not in good conscience do "singles" ministry. I've not met any peers at this point in my life who see the need for such a thing, because for most of us it would unnecessarily separate us from our friends in the life of the Church.

At its worst, I think it becomes a lonely persons ministry or a matchmaker gathering, meant to offer "another chance" at dating or assuage the woundedness of those who experience continual relational disintegration. It can't ultimately heal those conditions because the premise is faulty: that unmarried (celibate) people are a different class of human, and need to be treated as such. In attempting to overcome the felt alienation of singles, these ministries increase it by buying into the assumptions of the cultural and ecclesial assumptions they hope to challenge.

And that's what I think about that.

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Monday, October 25, 2004

An Emo Installment: And I Don't Think I'll Miss Her at All

Fall Break has come and gone, but I think I made the most of it. I visited the folks at Vineyard Central this weekend; I feel pretty encouraged in terms of my discernment. There are indeed folks in the last couple of generations who are actively discerning what faithfulness to the Gospel means in terms of their ecclesiology and common life. It’s probably arrogant of me, but I was starting to think it was just me and a handful of friends. The gathering at La Roca a few weeks ago was good for that, as well.

Reading the first thirty pages of the Windsor Report as well as Mission Shaped Church from the Church of England has reminded me that mission and a catholic, missional, sacramental ecclesiology just might be in the Anglican DNA. This in spite of what I’m experiencing with rank and file Episcopalians. Maybe they’re mutants?

I showed my face at "church" for the last time yesterday. I had been growing tired of trying to make friends in a group of people with whom I couldn’t sustain a conversation of more than two minutes. I didn’t care about receiving the Eucharist or the music, (consuming or producing religious goods and services), but was only there to make friends with people. Three months of laborious coffee drinking later, and I still have to nearly pounce on people to have a quick, superficial conversation. Of course, it might just be my age, or values, or personality. I wear some pretty bright shirts, for example, and Jeremy (my roommate, the house god of snappy banter and fun times) says that they can be intimidating.

To say nothing of what I saw in vestry meetings. I’ve alluded to that before, so I’ll leave it be.

If a church ever tells you they’re a friendly bunch, know that they’re lying. Ask somebody who’s visited their house, instead.

I’m trying to drop angry language though. The whole thing just hurts, y’know?

I feel like I’ve broken up with a girl, from an odd kind of relationship in which the idea of romance was nice, but neither one of us was really into it. Or more like it, I just had a crush that was in no way reciprocated. Why keep crushing? What did I want to get out of it? I mean, anybody could have said she wasn’t my type.

What was the point of that little experiment? I don’t know. I’ll think about it and get back to you.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Opinion on the Windsor Report

For my part, I'm on page thirty-something of the sucker. So far it looks to me like it's staying that there are various reasons that ECUSA should not have "consecrated" Canon Robinson, the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster should not have approved a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions (to say nothing of declaring them to have official "sanctity") and that ECUSA bishops should stop performing marriages/blessings of same-sex couples. (Which, by the way, at least the bishop of Vermont has refused to do, and the bishop of D.C. has refused to stop his priests)

Gene Robinson says that he's glad to report doesn't say he shouldn't have been consecrated. I'm thinking he's not read it, as paragraphs 33 and following say that "present problems have reached the pitch they have" because ECUSA practiced theological innovation

1. without doing proper foundational theological work (33)

2. without following existing procedures for consulting with other Anglicans in that work (35)

3. ECUSA and the Diocese of New Westminster "hold to the opinion, at least by implication, that the questions they were deciding were things upon which Christians might have legitimate difference, while large numbers of other Anglicans around the world did not regard them in this way" (37). And you know, it's not like they weren't told this by many voices long before they did it.

4. The above parties "assumed...that they were free to take decision on matters which many in the rest of the Communion believe can and should be decided only at the Communion-wide level" (39).

Catholicity is a major issue (we'll leave aside the authority of scripture, just for the moment). If you want to make an formal innovation to Christian theology, you must consult. You don't get to just decide as if the Church of Jesus Christ were a local franchise that you get to run as you please. The bigger a question (or challenge) is, the wider one must consult. In regard to this de facto alteration of the Church's teaching on sexuality, the wider Communion (and the Church universal) has spoken against it. No, says Griswold, we're just a local franchise, and it only affects us.

I'm still reading. I'll get back to you on the rest...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Eugene Peterson: Spirituality and Commitment

Shun spirituality that does not require commitment. Personal commitment to the God personally revealed in Jesus is at the heart of spirituality. Faddish spiritualities, within and without the church, ignore or deny commitment. Evangelical counsel places the Lord's commands - believe, follow, endure - at the core of all spirituality. A lifelong faith commitment to God as revealed in Jesus Christ is essential to any true spirituality.

"Ecstasy doesn't last," wrote novelist E.M. Forster, "but it cuts a channel for something lasting." Single-minded, persevering faithfulness confirms the authenticity of our spirituality. The ancestors we look to for encouragement in this business - Augustine of Hippo and Julian of Norwich, John Calvin and Amy Carmichael, John Bunyan and Teresa of Avila - didn't fit. They stayed.

Spirituality without commitment is analogous to sexuality without commitment - quick and casual, superficial and impersonal, selfish and loveless - eventually a parody of its initial promise. Deprived of commitment, sexuality degenerates into addiction, violence, or boredom. Deprived of commitment, spirituality, no matter how wise or promising, has a short shelf life.

– Eugene B. Peterson, Subversive Spirituality

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Athanasius: We are being raised

When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark. Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Savior’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is he Himself who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to his victory in his own disciples.

– Athanasius of Alexandria, 296-373, On the Incarnation, 29.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

McGrath: Experience and Theology

Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word – it must be judged and shown up as deceptive and misleading. The theology of the Cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in his world, quite independently of whether we experience him as being so. Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day.

– Alister McGrath, The Mystery of the Cross (Zondervan, 1990)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mark Greene on the Sacred/Secular Divide

Mark Greene argues that “we set a lower educational standard for the way we teach kids in our churches than the standard set in the school room.”

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile: my experiences in most local churches thus far has made it clear that high schools expect a higher level of thought work from teenagers than churches do of adults at any point in their lives.

He blames “the sacred-secular divide: the pervasive belief that some parts of our life are not really important to God – work, school, leisure – but anything to do with prayer, church services, church-based activities is.”

He continues:
In sum, we teach our kids very young that what they do between 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, is not important to God. And we also teach them that their minds don’t really matter to God either. So it was that the national leader of an evangelistic ministry said, “We teach gentle Jesus, meek and mild to teenagers in church. Meanwhile in the world they’re studying nuclear physics.” That’s SSD – setting a lower standard of educational expectation for church teaching than for school, treating adolescents like kids, communicating to them that thinking matters in the world but not in the church [emphasis mine – KP]. That’s SSD, treating church time as if it we are primarily in an entertainment environment, rather than in a vigorous, worshipful, learning environment.

From the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Tom Ehrich: Life Wasn’t Better in the ‘50s

Have you ever listened to somebody long for purer, simpler times? You know, when Western Civilization wasn’t crumbling around us? I took a history degree, and it’s my considered opinion that it’s always been crumbling. Pick out bits of literature from any given generation, and you’ll find laments about how the younger generation was going to destroy them all.

It’s not a new phenomenon. And it’s similarly silly when people go on about how the values of consumerism, materialism, et al. that have been spontaneously generated by my peers is going to destroy us all. No generation spontaneously generates its own values. We receive them and build upon them.

Here’s a bit from Tom Ehrich, though I do recommend that you read the whole piece.

Having experienced the 1950s, both as idyll and as truer stories encountered later, it perplexes me when that decade is held up as a golden era, a model of what modernity ought to be, as though everything would be right in the world if we reclaimed neighborhood schools, restored women to the kitchen and male dominance in the workplace, if churches "got back to basics," if diversity and immigration could be discouraged. And everything were made simple again.

It wasn't simple then.

It only seemed simple because we were children. In fact, the 1950s were as odd in their own right as subsequent decades, the only difference being that post-war Baby Boomers experienced the 1950s as children, the 1960s and 1970s as adolescents, and the years since then as adults vulnerable to uncertainty.

Besides, not all Americans in the 1950s were safe and serene, as gossamer stereotypes insist. Many experienced the '50s through Jim Crow laws, broken marriages, unacknowledged incest and alcoholism, an artificially induced arms race and pillaging by the wealthy, which would bear horrific fruit in later decades.

The retro yearnings of our day claim to be a search for better ethics, better religion and better citizenship. In fact, they are a search for lost childhood.

We were young, naive and safe. We lost that seemingly golden era, not because communists, secular humanists, moral relativists, situational ethicists, Presbyterians, hippies or liberals stole it from us, but because we grew up. And no amount of anti-modernist yearning will put Humpty together again.

From the Texas Baptist Standard

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Nothing Could Be Closer to the Truth

The Holman CSB Posted by Hello

Please notice my new slogan. Please note that it's not a proclamation of my exegetical infallibility (I'll let you conclude that on your own) but rather a parody of something almost as ridiculous.

Check this out: The Holman Christian Standard Bible. All of the translators came to the Greek and Hebrew texts with a pre-existing doctrine of the Scriptures called "Inerrancy." Aside from being a silly idea, it is a recent invention, and in my not-so-humble opinion, a product of Enlightenment thought. I will craft a polemic on this some other time.

But because of this doctine, the Holman CSB carries this slogan: "Nothing Could Be Closer to the Truth." Instead of trying to avoid particular sectarian biases, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention as made it an attractive marketing point.

The SBC has joined the ranks of the Latter-Day Saints, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Roman Catholic Church in producing their own denominational bible translations.

And the Holman CSB is wholeheartedly endorsed by Pat Robertson.

So with that said, I present to you, "Captain Sacrament: Nothing Could be Closer to the Truth."

Monday, September 20, 2004

+1 Mace of Tertullian

God bless those early writers and their blunt instuments:

We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of the truth.

Tertullian, c.197, 3.252-3

It is unlawful to assert that the apostles preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as being improvers of the apostles. For after our Lord rose from the dad, the apostles were energized with power from on High when the Holy Spriit came down [upon them]. They were completely filled and had perfect knowledge. They departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things sent to us from God.

Irenaeus, c.180, 1.414.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Word "Love" Is Inadequate

At some point in recent Episcopal history, the innovators, who were now much more interested in new morality than new theology, starting dropping all their
prophetic, ground-breaking, barrier-breaking, new world exploring rhetoric -- the rhetorical mode that had sustained skeptical Christianity for the 20th century, most used, or most loudly declaimed, in the 1960s and early 70s -- and started talking about themselves as if they were perfectly orthodox believers. I suspect the same happened in other mainline denominations.

This, they obviously thought, would provide some excuse for doing what almost everyone recognized as ground-breaking and barrier-breaking, if not (opinion was divided on this) prophetic and new world exploring. Some felt that the barriers being broken were like corsets oppressing women yearning to breath free, others that the barriers were like guardrails keeping reckless, foolish, inattentive, or suicidal people from driving their cars into the Grand Canyon.

The liberals' problem was convincing everyone else that what had once been universally held to be wrong was now as mainstream as American cheese in suburban Sioux Falls, Iowa, and as bland and inoffensive as beige carpets. Hence the appeal, which the Rev'd Ms. Russell adopts, to a high but abstract principle derived from a Dominical teaching taken out of context.

Thus the moral innovators could claim to be "biblical," because the principle to which they claimed allegiance was indeed found in the Bible, without having to trouble themselves to find, or to obey, what the Bible actually said. Making the word "love" the sole authoritative principle without further definition destroys all possibility of reason, and therefore of challenge.

The word by itself suggests wisdom, insight, sensitivity, even godliness, but by itself means nothing practical, nothing specific. It is a bag into which one can put anything one wishes and get it through customs, a get-out-of-jail-free card any criminal can use, a magic wand that makes all problems disappear. [emphasis mine -kp]

Except that what Ms. Russell calls absolutism, fundamentalism, and puritanism simply articulates what the Bible tells us about reality. More to the point, it articulates what God has graciously told us about reality because on many matters, like the nature and exercise of sexuality, we don’t want to see what we should see, what is indeed right in front of us. We need the details, not just general instructions to “love.”

From David Mills, in Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Problem with Sola Scriptura

The translation and interpretation of Holy Scripture is the task of the Church brought into being by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the written Word. The protesters who broke with Rome cannot have foreseen the fissiparous nature of their enterprise. In rejecting the authority of the Pope the Western reformers did not abolish autocracy but rather set in train a process the logical end of which is that every man is a pope in his own parish or in his own front room. The ‘idolatry’ of Rome was replaced by the idolatry of self, social group and nation in swift order. Reformation hopes gave way to puritanism. Parts of Europe descended into the fierce joylessness of Calvinism, others to the excitements of Anabaptism, revivalists, iconoclasts, Pentecostalists etc, each seizing upon an aspect of the faith and overemphasizing it to the distortion of the whole. The upshot is hundreds of ‘churches’, most of them with their own bizarre subdivisions (low, strict and particular, Southern, open etc, etc). In addition, there are thousands upon thousands of one-man band conventicles brought about by the falling out of Brother Smith with Pastor Jones. Pastor Smith, as he has now appointed himself, has the ‘real’ truth and hopes shortly to be needing to rent a bigger Scout Hut than the gravely misled Pastor Jones, his former guru. While both (and millions like them) claim, sola scriptura, the authority of the Word, they are in fact claiming merely a personal authority to interpret God’s Word with no reference to the historic and living community of faith. It is little better than theological piracy and insupportable vanity. It is the rejection, all too often, of the teaching of the Church in favour of the cult of private opinion. In an age which has so comprehensively rejected traditional forms of authority and embraced the highest good as individual gratification, it is scarcely surprising that disintegration is gathering pace.

From Robbie Low, "Divided We Fall," in New Directions, August 2004, pp. 17-18.

Monday, August 30, 2004


The word “judgement” itself has slid down the semantic scale towards “judgementalism”. We don’t like the caricature, so we reject the reality, losing the plot, and the party, along with it. We alter our texts and adjust our lectionaries. We tiptoe around lest we upset someone by saying something definite that they might disagree with. Is it a coincidence that that last sentence describes the Dome as well as the mainstream Church — and what happened when the two got uneasily together?

At the heart of it is the lie that saps the moral and theological energy of the Church, the pseudo-gospel from which judgement has been carefully excluded. “God accepts us as we are.” Yes, but God’s acceptance does not leave us where we are. I heard the other day of a church in America (soft target, I know, but that’s where it was) which, reading the story of the woman caught in adultery, omitted the clause “and sin no more” from Jesus’s words of forgiveness. There is all the difference in the world between acceptance and forgiveness.

The former means learning to embrace a prejudice-free tolerance-for-all; the latter means recognising and confronting evil, dealing with it, and making a fresh start.

N.T. Wright, "The Grinch Who Stole Advent," in The Church Times

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

My +3 Apostolic Succession beats your Spell of Arius

I'm going to write for the next couple of weeks on my present musings on orthodoxy and ordained ministry.

In the first couple of centuries after Pentecost, one of the Church's primary concerns (aside from local or generalized persecution by the Empire) was defining and guarding orthodoxy from various streams of false teaching, especially Gnosticism. You can see early attempts in the NT Canon, as John the Elder warns that anyone who doesn't teach that Jesus had a real body is antichrist (2 John 1:7).

Try not to read our post-modern "repression fables" back into that time and place. Gnostics and Arians and various hetrodox Christians may have meant well, but bad theology is bad for you. The early Christians ultimately decided that a Christ who did not come in the flesh cannot save, nor can a Christ who is not God. (The arguments and their refutations are quite a bit more complicated than that, so forgive my oversimplification.) I don't think the orthodox bishops were simply well-appointed, well-educated men who were trying to get it over on their politically weaker colleagues.

The scriptures themselves were not as much help in combating heresy as one would like to think. It was clear to Christians of that time, even as today that one can pull out random bits of the Bible and insist that it evidences any personal interpretation presented. From what I've read, here are a couple of solutions put forth at the time.

Apostolic Succession. Simply put, it's a second century teaching (by Irenaeus of Lyons, c.180) that maintains that the only valid bishops of Christ's Church are the ones who were ordained by other bishops who were ordained by other bishops who were ordained by apostles. This is important as the episcopate developed as a teaching office. You could trust their teaching to be truth and apostolic because they were trained by people who were trained by the apostles, who were with Jesus themselves.

I'm not sure if I can see this as a helpful or meaningful authority structure in this time and place.

First, what could be a reasonable idea during the first few generations after the Resurrection of Jesus is stretched a bit thin now. Just because all the right people laid hands on other people is no guarantee that contemporary bishops have been discipled or trained in a Christianity the apostles themselves would honor or even recognize. Extreme example: Anglicans claim the succession, but bishops such as Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania is widely quoted as arguing that Jesus himself was a forgiven sinner. The Marian dogmas of the Church of Rome certainly are no teachings that the apostles or the next several generations would have affirmed.

A lack of discipleship and teaching in the apostolic vein as evidenced by heretical teachers are a pretty big strike, to my thinking.

Second, I can think of a number of communities that meet other standards of apostolicity, catholicity and missional living that don't have the benefit of bishops on the apostolic succession. Does that make their presbyters second-rate? I don't think so. I'm no Donatist, but what's the point of being ordained by a bishop that doesn't believe in Jesus in any meaningful way compared to being appointed by one's own local community?

Apostolic succession wasn't a teaching of the apostles, either. It was a helpful teaching of the Church in a particular time and place. If it no long does what it was intended to do, and is not a gospel imperative, what's the point?

Further, do bishops create Christians or do Christians create bishops? Yeah, that's a rhetorical question...

More to follow...

From the Fathers

Random Thought
If the Word's divine actions had not been performed through the body, man would not have been deified; and if the properties of the flesh had not been attributed to the Word, man would not have been liberated from them at all.

Athanasius, Against the Arians III, 33.
In Documents in Early Christian Thought, Eds. Wiles & Santer

Monday, August 02, 2004

When is a Church No Longer a Church?

Uh, when this happens, for starters:

In keeping with the understanding that the Holy Spirit moves people in different ways and at varying speeds, St. Christopher’s by-the-Sea is one of several Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Southeast Florida that offers Baptism “with no strings attached.”

Anyone who seeks to be baptized, or to have a child baptized, is welcome without regard to their church membership, their faith tradition or other factors. Our parish baptized 22 new Christians during 2002, a new record and a strong response to our first year of "open baptism."
Discipleship on one's own terms is no discipleship at all.

Do you know why they're doing this "open baptism" and "open communion" stuff? These particular Episcopalians (like many mainliners) do not understand the Church as God's new community. They see it as an organization that dispenses religious goods and services. Baptism is not the initiation into a new life in Christ marked by repentance, healing, transformation and a common life. It's a warm fuzzy. Eucharist is not a channel of healing, a re-committment of both Christ and those who make up his body. It's a warm fuzzy.

And if the complete content of the gospel is to be "open, welcoming and affirming" people, than we must share all of our religous goods and services with everyone, and be no respectors of persons. This, for them, is hospitality, because they have no concept of the common life. They can give bread and wine to folks who sin against the community without repentance, but will they even invite people outside of their normal, comfortable social circles to dinner?

They have instead sought to remove theological significance from the cultic meal (or at least re-write it) instead of developing an ethos for a common life. Eucharist is for those who are part of the community, who are committed to Jesus -- and the Church -- in repentance and faith. Those who are not, are to be shown hospitality. But when all you have is the cultic practice, and not the life it's supposed to grow out of or give impetus to, you're left with stuff like this.

The Pontificator makes some great points on his blog:
Oh how I wish I could in conscience practice “open baptism”!

End of rant. :0)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I'm sorry I took your lunch money

I attended a psychic fair a couple of Saturdays ago with a friend. I had high hopes for some pretty extreme weirdness, but it was more "middle class boredom" weird than "somebody call an exorcist" weird. It wasn't very heavily attended by people who weren't selling things, but what they lacked in numbers that compensated for with enthusiasm.

I really did pay $5 to get into the show to look at the people and various pagan acoutrements. There were various ceremonial daggers, phallic crystals, tarot decks (for every particular occultic proclivity you might have), "holy water," and even vials of "bat's blood ink." Yeah, I should have bought that.

I often call myself a peripheral charismatic: I do believe that Christus Victor dethroned the dark powers of this present age and continues to do so. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in an empiricist's philosophy, as it were. I believe that most people are spiritually sick. I think when people get to screwing around with the occult, life can get pretty dangerous. I can say this, of course, because after 9/11 it's cool to talk about evil again.

This wasn't evil. It was really just kind of silly. Lots of old guys with white ponytails. Middle-aged women whose faces lit up when the tarot or palm readers asked them questions about themselves and really listened to them like they mattered. One of the pastoral epistles mentions something about weak-willed women laden with sins and carried away by desire. And a bit in Ephesians about "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."

I think I see what was meant.

The men and women there are certain there's something around them, behind them, underneath them and above them that they can't see. They think it's very important. But they play with it, because the accessories are trendy and cool.

Man, I'm glad our churches aren't like that.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

"But will it work for me?"

Our inclination to put faith in any suggestion that promises quick healing is so great that it is not surprising that spiritual experiences are mushrooming all over the place and have become highly sought after commercial items. Many people flock to places and persons who promise intensive experiences of togetherness, cathartic emotions of exhilaration and sweetness, and liberating sensations of rapture and ecstasy. In our desperate need for fulfillment and our restless search for the experiences of divine intimacy, we are all too prone to construct our own spiritual events. In our impatient culture, it has indeed become extremely difficult to see much salvation in waiting.
- Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 129
"Jesus thrown everything off balance."
- The Misfit, in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
"I want what I want, and the sooner I get it, the better."
- Me, in an honest moment

Spiritual disciplines are hard not because they require a herculean effort (what does it mean to "pray really hard," anyway?) but because they require consistancy. It's not even the task of praying every day, meditating several times a week, or confessing our sins that is ultimately so daunting.

What makes it really hard is that we are called to follow after Jesus even though it doesn't appear to be "working" immediately. Meditating three hours a week on Gospel passages and sitting down to pray every day will not make us SuperChristians in a few weeks time.

The disciplines ought not to done like dieting. Everybody picks a diet, tries it for a couple of weeks, doesn't lose ten pounds, quits, then looks for a new diet. Changing one's eating and exercise habits on a permanent basis is considered a patently ridiculous idea. The idea of the disciplines, hell, being a disciple, is not to find a panacea to every expression of brokenness in our lives, but to live out a permanent change in our habits and values. That outer transformation of behavior and change of mind (what do you think "repentance" means?) put us in the way of God's transforming power.

We get crazy goals in mind. We pray hoping we'll somehow like prayer more, and read the Bible hoping we'll like it better. We do all kinds of things hoping we'll quit liking sin. How many times have I confessed sin, and actually apologized for liking it so much? Oh, when one day I get holy enough not to enjoy sin, than I'll be a really kick-ass Christian. That's just silly. Being holy means offering myself to God even though there are eighteen million other things I'll actually enjoy more. God can deal with our mixed motives. They are not, however, acceptable excuses for disobedience: "Jesus, I'll quit telling controlling people and gossiping about them when you make me not like it anymore."


Jesus' goals for our life in him aren't necessarily the same ones we come up with. Most of our besetting sins will always be fun and bring some sort of perceived respite, bad for us or not. Putting the "old man" to death and killing our pride will always be a challenge. I don't think God is so interested in greater church attendance or the hours we spend in prayer or that we're always studying more and better, but rather that we do these things to be in his presence so he can transform us. Christ must be formed in us. The things we do ought to work toward that end.

I must drop my search for the quick fix. Lives don't get transformed quickly. It will be no one conversation, or prayer, or bible study that changes our lives, but the presence of Jesus in all of the above. As Foster said, those are the ways we put ourselves in the path of his transforming work.

It'll make us like him. Will it make us more what we think of as "spiritual"? Never enjoying sin again and always enjoying the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices? Probably not.
Pray, study, confess and fellowship anyway.

Monday, July 19, 2004

God's Model T?

I'm still enjoying my summer sabbath. I'm excited about moving back to Georgetown, though, from one guest room to another. It's like I'm the Kato Kaelin of the Episcopal Church. Hmm, that was an obscure reference.

I don't have many adventures to talk about; I've just been having good conversations with good people. The neighborhood community is bringing its own challenges. Having expectations of other people (or not) is a sure way to make or break friendships, I think.

I've been thinking about the Pauline phrase, "until Christ is formed in you." The New Testament talks all over the place about how we are positioned with God in Christ, in a right relationship so we can be transformed to be like Jesus. What should we focus on, then, in making disciples?

People need to be taught how to live in right relationships with God and other people. Not how to earn God's favor, or be continually more certain of one's eternal destiny, but how to love God, and receive love from God. Read your Bible. Pray. Sure, why not? But prayer isn't instinctual. Why else would people buy so many books about it and still not do it? I don't think it ever quits being hard. We need to pray with and for one another so we can learn that even though it's always hard, we can do it. It'll get less hard that way, but only if we do pray. What our prayer lives need not a book called Prayer Made Easy that will live up to its promises, but rather for us to stick with it.

People need to figure out how to use the Bible. It's not a rulebook, a collection of true/false propositions to which deeply analytical types need adapt our formulas for living. You can't treat it like the user's guide for your iPod. Yes, our habits and worldviews need complete conversion, but I really think the apostolic witness conveyed in the Scriptures seeks to mediate a relationship that we can really live in, not hand down regulations for proper church governance.

The Church is the prototype for redeemed humanity. We call people to get with the Kingdom program before the King returns to kick ass. We can start by calling the Christians to it. So we learn to love each other. Not perfectly, but well. Our love is stunted, and clumsy, and messy, and subject to all sorts of mixed motivations. But we can learn to love well as God changes us. He will change us.

I'm trying to focus just on praying right now. I'm not worried about constructing my systematic theology, or figuring out just what the Fathers meant by some odd phrase or another (though I am having fun with it) or even having good spiritual conversations with people. I want to love Jesus by praying the Psalms to him. I want to love him by quieting myself and letting him speak in the place normally full of neurotic activity. I want to do that with my friends, and learn to love them well, and let them learn to love me. It's not really about me, anyway. It's about us, and it's about Him. It's about learning to live that way.

Just what I'm thinking about tonight.

Monday, June 28, 2004

What is Truth?

As mentioned previously, this certain bishop said that the great thing about the postmodern era is that people "realize there are multiple realities." He then proceeded to talk about "living into the questions" and ambiguity as a Christian value in itself. However, this idea that every truth must be balanced by an equal and opposite "truth" in order to find God's truth is logically silly, and indicative of a worldview shaped more by Foucault than Jesus.

I believe it was the former who taught the last couple of generations that any claim to an absolute truth is actually an attempt by the powerful to solidify their control over those with little or no influence. In other words, power is knowledge, instead of the other way around. Therefore in a purely pomo worldview, to claim an absolute truth is to assume the role of an oppressor.

Jesus, however, said that the truth would make us free. He said that he is the truth. I think it must be both relational and propositional. And I think the truth can only be and do what the truth is and does if it is those things over and against other "truths." That is, lies. In other words, can we have a truth if nothing is a lie?

Frankly, I live my life among men and women who know their sexuality only as a curse, not a blessing, and their close relationships as power struggles and sources of pain instead of wholeness. Why? Because we believe all kinds of lies about God, ourselves and the world. If there is not an overriding truth that will reveal others "truths" to be the lies they really are, nobody's going to be healed.

Is there a word from God that is definitive? That can be trusted? That will enable us to cling to him when all of the lies scream at us so much louder than the truth?

I'm betting that there is, in the apostolic tradition. The faith once delivered to the saints. That the original communities' experience with Jesus can really be normative for us. How can we translate it faithfully instead of merely copying customs and mindlessly repeating ancient creeds? How can we own it and live it? I hope to find out.

But I'm not afraid. I don't have to try to "live the questions." The questions come out of the life I live anyway. It's the answers, and ultimately the Answer who is Christ that I am working to live into.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Heresy is Bad For You

I'm not sure what this week did for my cynicism. The jury's out, I suppose. I got to hear the (figure)head of the denomination talk about "ambiguity" as a Christian value in and of itself. How did he support this as being an integral part of the faith?

He actually prooftexted the Chalcedonian Definition.

Yeah, that's what I said. The document was approved at the 451 Council of Chalcedon to frame and somewhat settle the Christian Communities' conception of Jesus the God-Man, specifically that Jesus Christ is both human and divine.

His point? That the great thing about pomo (look, I'm trendy) society is that people "realize there are multiple realities," and that we live in a "both/and world." This is apparently a classical Christian value, since the Church used both/and language back in the day while trying to figure out a metaphysical question.

The problem being of course that in the case of the C.D., we have an affirmation of faith that is paradoxical, not the mixing of paradoxes in an attempt to create an affirmation of faith. The Community's faith is that Jesus is both divine and human, so they had to tailor their theological and philosophical formulations so they could have paradox but not contradiction. This is not the same as gathering up contradictory worldviews and insisting that God's truth is a paradoxical amalgam of all voices just because the people talking got sprinkled when they were infants.

According to many of the fine minds of the Episcopal Church, Christian values and teaching are to be determined by adopting and affirming all of the contradictory worldviews and opinions of everybody who ever was baptized. So long as they don't try to keep someone else's worldview out of the mix.

This is instead of converting people to an altogether different worldview (based on scripture or tradition) that proclaims all the lies they've ever believed to be just that -- lies. There is, however, one over-riding principle that stands over and against other truths and serves as a corrective: "love." Not agape, not that which can think critically and choose the best things for people and choose to be a servant even when all natural affection and caring has bled away in the face of human brokenness and evil,

This "love" affirms everyone's opinion, and insists that you must never keep someone else from the pursuit of what they think will be happiness by speaking a contradictory or corrective word.

I don't think God is doing a new thing. He's doing the same thing he's always done.

more later...

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Klein on Recriminations

It is more profitable to do something with the past than to be depressed about our inability to do a great deal about it. All our lives we shall be redeeming the past.

Walter C. Klein

Friday, April 16, 2004

"God has not commanded me to love a bloodless abstraction"

The observant Christian discovers anew every day of his life that holiness is compatible with the continuance of irritating personal traits. The devoted human personality remains embedded in nature. If I want God's love through my brother -- and for my own good I ought to be delighted that I am not likely to get it any other way -- I must take it with my brother's moldy jokes, his asinine opinions, his halitosis, and his maddening mannerisms. God has not commanded me to love a bloodless abstraction. Constructive love cannot flourish between me and a human being stripped of the features and ways that repel me and remade to my liking. In loving the work of my own hands, I should merely be loving myself, and in this there is no gain. God is the author of all idiosyncrasies, whether they exist in me or in my neighbor, and in each of them He has wonderfully and inimitably blended the elements of our nature. Simply because the makings of a man are assembled in my brother as they have never been assembled before and will never be assembled again, he has a peculiar grace to communicate to me. I shall never obtain that grace unless I love him, not as I should like him to be, but as God has willed him to be.
From Walter C. Klein, Clothed with Salvation, 1953

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Resurrection Begins the Story

From (N.T.) Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham:
"Easter is about the beginning of God's new world. John's Gospel stresses that Easter Day is the first day of the new week: not so much the end of the old story as the launch of the new one. The gospel resurrection stories end, not with "well, that's all right then", nor with "Jesus is risen, therefore we will rise too", but with "God's new world has begun, therefore we've got a job to do, and God's Spirit to help us do it". That job is to plant the flags of resurrection - new life, new communities, new churches, new faith, new hope, new practical love - in amongst the tired slogans of idolatrous modernity and destructive postmodernity."
Sadly, the link is dead now.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Holy Saturday

Christ in the Tomb

A Prayer for Holy Saturday

O faithful, come, let us behold our Life laid in a tomb to give life to those who dwell in tombs. Come, let us behold him in his sleep and cry out to him with the voice of the prophets: 'You are like a lion. Who shall arouse you, O King? Rise by your own power, O you who have given yourself up for us, O Lover of mankind.'

Click here for a short meditation on Holy Saturday, by Simon Jenkins of Ship of Fools.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Maundy Thursday 2004

I've been gifted to preach at the footwashing tomorrow, so I wrote this dramatic monologue in lieu of a traditional sermon. +Dallas was even kind enough to lend his crozier for a prop!

(You can listen to the audio version here)

Maundy Thursday, 2004

It is good to be with you. My name is Simon Peter. I lead the community here in Rome. We tell a lot of stories this time of year, to remember the death and new life of our King. We tell stories to learn who we are.

When we celebrate the Passover meal, we remember that we were created by God’s saving act. We who were slaves became a nation when Yahweh moved his mighty arm and delivered us from the hand of Pharaoh hundreds of years ago. We became his special people all over again thirty years ago when our Master Jesus became the Passover for us and by his resurrecton saved us from the darkness of sin. Many of you who were not of Israel became his because of this. We have been created by his saving act.

But tonight I want to tell you a story a little less grand, but no less important to who we are. It was our last Passover with Jesus on the night he was betrayed – by all of us. We gathered in an upper room to share the meal. Our feet had gotten dusty, and needed to be washed before we gathered at table. We were talking, cutting up and just enjoying being together. It had been a dark week, and we needed to celebrate. But then we suddenly quieted; we could have heard a feather hit the ground. Not many things can silence a room of rambunctious fishermen. I looked about to see what had happened. Jesus had taken off his robe and put on a towel. He filled a basin and began to wash our feet. We were completely speechless, and I was incensed. We had gathered to celebrate our identity as the free people of God, and he was doing what would have been disgraceful even for a slave!

He came to me, and I asked him just what he thought he was doing. “You don’t understand now,” he said, “but later, you will.” I refused him: “You’re never going to wash my feet!” He was patient and adamant as always. “If I don’t do this, you can’t be my disciple.”

I was shattered. I had spent three years of my life with this man, given up everything to follow him. But... if refusing this meant refusing him, clearly I had missed something. But I loved him, so I did the smartest thing I think I ever do: I obeyed, even though I didn’t understand.

As the rough hands of the carpenter cradled the rougher feet of this fisherman, I was struck by the tenderness of the act. Feet are very basic things, right? They’re just there. But as his fingers moved between my toes to wash, I was devastated by the intimacy. I began to understand. On that night in a little room in Jerusalem, just before all hell would break loose, this is what it meant to love us to the end. He was dedicated to me and to each of us. There were no lengths to which he would not go to love us, heal us, and set us free. This lowly service showed me the very heart of God.

He told us that this would be the pattern for our lives. This is a symbol of how he bears us up in all of our sins, failings and idiosyncrasies.

We remember this tonight. We confess our needs and submit to his washing—submit to his tenderness. We will leave and remember that our brothers and sisters have dusty feet also. We will wash them.

So in this story, learn who you are.

Let the Lord be with you in the weak places, in the dirt. Then go, take up your basin and towel, and be who you are.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

On the Eucharistic Life

In the Middle East, the sharing of a meal is deeply significant act that creates and maintains communal life. As Dr. Power reminds us from time to time, in that culture, sharing a meal with someone makes them family, and this act carries all of the blessings and responsibilities of that kind of relationship. It is in that culture that the Passover meal became the Eucharist.

One of the oldest Eucharistic blessings includes this prayer: “As this broken bread was once scattered on the mountains, and after it had been brought together became one, so may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory, and the power, through Jesus Christ, forever” (Didache 9:4).

In the Eucharist, we rehearse the redemptive act whereby God created a people for himself. We join in that action to receive the blessings and accept the responsibilities of being that people. Taking the bread and wine is a deeply political act, proclaiming for everyone, “Who I am is not determined by my culture or job or the dictates of society. I am in Christ, and my identity is determined by His words and the life of the Community, which is his Body.”

The Eucharistic celebration is a renewal of Jesus’ commitment to us, collectively, as his Body, the people he has redeemed for himself. It is a renewal of our commitment to him and one another in being that. We are the scattered grain that has become the one loaf of bread, offered to God at the altar to be the Body of Christ. “We behold what we are; may we become what we see.”

To what extent do we really take responsibility for our brothers and sisters with whom we celebrate the Eucharist? What does it look like when we really commit to a deep, familial sharing with people who may have no more in common with us than the decision to attend a particular parish? What can be done to create that kind of “community culture” when we often attend churches full of people who have no such concept?

I don't have many answers yet, just more questions. But I'm working on it. Any suggestions?

Saturday, March 20, 2004

On the Parable of the Sower

Jesus seemed to have a confidence in his preaching that I probably shouldn’t emulate: “if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, it’s because you’re predetermined to be unspiritual.” Riiight. I’ll try it one day and let you know how well it goes over.

Jesus has a lot of work to do in teaching us to see our world and ourselves as God does, and he uses stories to get the point across. He often presented to people very commonplace dilemmas, but with unexpected twists. He leads us to ask, “who am I in this story?”

When his disciples asked about the stories, Jesus told them that they reveal “the secret of the Kingdom of God,” what the rule of Yahweh looks like when ordinary men and women enter into it. Jesus identified himself by word and deed as the Jewish messiah, so was developing quite a following of folks who expected the immanent reign of God. We have to understand, however, that in this culture, entering the reign of God was something one did with a big knife: Isaiah called Messiah a mighty warrior, and there was plenty of war to be made. Israel was under foreign domination, and the Pharisees were always struggling to maintain the integrity of Jewishness in a sea of Gentile idolatry.

But Jesus doesn’t tell them of battle and destruction at this moment. He tells them about a farmer, haphazardly throwing away seed. Not meticulously planting each one, apparently even plowing. He just throws it out everywhere and waits to see what happens. The kingdom is coming, but not through the immediate vindication of Israel, but by the transformation of lives. The poor hear good news, broken hearts are bound and prisoners are released from darkness. A Roman centurion’s servant is healed, a little girl is raised from the dead, and demons vacate the oppressed spirit of Mary Magdalene.

This is what grows up all around us when the Word finds good ground. As we journey deeper into the Lenten season, deeply aware of our own mortality and fragility, we ask, how do we receive the word? Do we live our lives in a listening way, putting down roots when the Word comes down to us? Do we lose ourselves in the addictions of media and materialism, allowing the Evil One to steal away what we’ve been given? Does our desire for comfort choke our growth into vulnerability before the Lord and obedience to his call?

Dust we are, and to dust we will return. We come before the Lord of the universe with ashes on our foreheads, dirty hands that cradle too many regrets to name, and fearful hearts that harbor deep brokenness. But that’s alright. He, in Himself, is enough for us. We come to his table to receive the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, trusting that he will impart his wholeness to us. Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else will heal us. We wait, together, in the stillness, in the dark, for his word of compassion and healing. This altar is set up in the darkest parts of us, where shame, guilt, and our continual inability to “get it together” remain the core values of who we are. Lord Jesus, meet us here.

His word will heal us and set us free. This will not be a matter of immediate, whiz-bang “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel rubbish, but a process that will flow out of his commitment to us, and ours to him. We have re-order our lives so to be “good ground” to receive the love that he throws around like great bags of seed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Powers and the Death of John

Text: Mark 6:13-29.

Mark’s narrative gets strange here. He tells us the big thing God’s anointed is doing next, but then he remembers there’s a background story to share with us, and a pretty disturbing one at that.

John the Baptizer died for a very stupid reason. Herod had been afraid of him, and rightfully so. John had come on the scene preaching repentance with quite a following, while Herod was a minor ruler serving an oppressive power but had lofty pretensions to being called the King of the Jews. He feared John as a man of God, so he knew that silencing this popular prophet would bring God’s wrath, as well as kill the last of his credibility with his people. Even when John attacked his “family values,” that fox kept a respectful distance.

But then Herod had a birthday party, and probably quite drunk and not a little lusty, asked his niece to dance for his assembled guests. She must have been quite a diva, because afterwards he blustered a promise to reward her with whatever she wished, up to the half of his kingdom. Still feeling the humiliation of the Baptizer’s rebuke, her mother Herodias knew just the thing: John’s head. So Herod’s moral weakness and pride picked up where his resolve had failed. He had John executed.

John was the greatest and last prophet of Israel, Jesus said. He announced the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, and began the work of ushering them into the Reign of Yahweh, warning that “the powers that be” were coming to an end and that people who responded to Yahweh and those who kept serving the powers would be separated like wheat and chaff, and once the chaff started burning, wasn’t nothing gonna put the fire. The forces of greed, lust, domination and oppression, were about to be dethroned.

And yet.

We see Herod and his family and friends, people controlled by the “principalities and powers,” wallowing in their own excess and dispatching John on a drunken whim.

There is no Hollywood ending to wrap it all up very neatly. Perhaps John recovers while in hiding, and makes Herod pay, or Jesus and the crew show up and break down his palace to rubble. But that doesn’t happen.

His disciples took the body and laid it in a tomb. How melancholy.

What is God’s response to this? Let’s recall what reminded Mark to tell the story.

“They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

Jesus disarms the powers not by fighting puppets like Herod, but by undermining them. The principalities and powers, and those that serve them, can control with lies. They cannot make free by the truth. They can hurt. They cannot heal. They can inspire hatred or lust, but love is beyond them. Jesus and his disciples, however, could do these things.

So how will we live under the rule of Yahweh when we’re surrounded by fear and the domination of “the powers that be”? We will listen for and speak to one another the prophetic words that there is nothing in life, death, heaven, hell, sickness, poverty, or any fear that can separate us from the love of God that has been demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ. Nothing at all. We will approach the altar of God as free people and receive Jesus again into ourselves, and trust in his love and dedication to us, the promise that our life is in Christ.

Then we will go. We will carry the peace of God with us and give it away to others by our words and the tender works of our hands. The Kingdom is coming, and nothing will stop it. It is here among us now. Amen.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Discipline of Community

Provocative reading.
3. Fellowship can only be on the surface because we are all way too busy to invest real time in each other. In addition, we have no clue how to have real relationships because we have been through so many bad ones, and biblical principles for confrontation, reconciliation and restoration are rarely followed (because we don't want to offend anyone).

4. People have become immune to church initiatives geared toward making them feel welcomed into and part of the church. Sadly though, these are mostly "programs" to promote a "healthy, growing church" and focus more on the church's interests than on the interests of the people to whom they would minister.
From Why churches are REALLY dead..., Diana Baldwin

Points 3 and 4 of Ms. Baldwin's essay resonate deeply with my own experience in churches, and help me to articulate just why it is that I am so desperate to discover a communal Christian discipleship we can rightly call "apostolic" instead of the comfortable, consumer-driven church culture that pervades North American Christendom.

We put together attractive programs in our churches and water down the call to discipleship as much as we can in order to make it easily digestible. We hope people will reorder their lives just enough to make the "Sunday event" a regular, positive experience. "We got them in." This is the important part, you say. That's evangelism. Is it? One of my buddies would be quick to quote Augustine to me: "It's the walls that make a Christian, then?"

No. It's not the walls. It's a changed life. We aren't going to offer the evidence of Christ in our midst by creating glitzy worship "experiences" or clever programs designed to offer the gospel as a "yes/no" proposition as convincingly as possible.

People are not out there so we can convert them to an institution. Our institutions, our ways of doing things, exist to faciliate and challenge our life together as the Body of Christ, God's New Community. We're only going to draw people to Jesus if we lift him up in our lives by loving people in the hard ways.

So what would it look like if I were to really re-order my life so that I could learn the Way? I would use language as a tool for sharing, rather than trying to make people think I'm clever. I'd be friends with people who don't seem to "get me" all the time. I'd invite people over and cook for them more. I really think I would give up the addiction of having my own way all the time. I would talk more with people that I know will challenge me. I'd stop being too afraid to challenge them. You can do that when you love and know you're loved, after all, this idea of saying hard things.

These are just some of the things I've been thinking about, and some of it I've been living into.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

On Spiritual Disciplines

I've been reading Dallas Willard and Richard Foster in preparation for a three week teaching series on "Spiritual Disciplines." I chose to teach on the topic because I've sensed for quite some time that I need to learn about this stuff.

Willard's got a pretty tough proposition he sets forth in his Spirit of the Disciplines: we don't live like Jesus (the way he called us to live) because we don't order our lives like he did. We assume that a "spiritual" life is one divorced from the "real" world around us. To the contrary, the spiritual life is one lived in the real world according to principles of God's Kingdom instead of those of the world around us.

Kingdom living means choosing deliberate solitude, intentional community, time for prayer, meditation, and fasting. It means living a life of premeditated submission to the people around us and serving them, washing feet like the Master. It's a different way -- a redemptive way -- of living life in the world, not a way of stepping out of it.

My biggest thought right now is that "gee, I've got a lot to change if I'm going to recieve the Kingdom." But I don't think that a big, unsustainable life change is the point. It's the smaller, sustainable changes that will create a place in our lives for the Master. The purpose (says Foster) is to live in continual communion and obedience with the Lord, free to love and live in joy. The Disciplines are a matter of how we get there from here.

So I'm going to do it, bit by bit. I can take twenty minutes out of the day to pray for people who matter to me. I can take thirty minutes a few times a week to sit in silence, to let empty places form without seeking to fill them with noise. I can meditate on scripture, and invite Jesus into those places. It's those little things, that way of arranging my life -- not being morally perfect -- that will bring about a life lived under the Reign of God.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Lenten Meditation

Meditation for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday
John 17:20-26, NIV

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. While the stark reality spoken at the imposition of the ashes echoes in our minds, our Master prays that we would receive his glory. Who does Jesus think he’s fooling? He of anyone should know how our best intentions too often disintegrate in the fires of our jealously, faithlessness, and obdurate wandering after false gods: Wednesday’s ashes are the remains of Palm Sunday’s jubilation. But Jesus knows that the glory of God is greater than our failures. In biblical usage, the word “glory” denotes the visible presence of Yahweh in the midst of his people. This is why John speaks so often of Jesus “glorifying” the Father by his signs: in them, Jesus revealed the true character of Yahweh.

Jesus says that he has glorified the Father, and given that glory to his disciples and those who would follow. That glory will bring unity, and through it, the world will see the Father’s love. How can we walk in this truth? Jesus glorified the Father by healing and embracing the broken and outcast. He spoke love and truth into shame and disorder. He emptied himself of pride and took the place of a servant, washing the feet of his friends as well as his betrayer. He died bearing our sin and disorder, looking to God to make it right.

If unity is a matter of glorifying the Father and the Son through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will not achieve it by fighting to preserve or save our religious institutions. It will be a gift that comes from glorifying our Master. So let’s grab a basin and towel and get to work.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Civil War Adventures

It's been a pretty quiet few days. "Kmart" came to visit me the week after Christmas, but alas we both ended up getting some kind of nasty flu varient. So we put off our sight-seeing until the last bit of the weekend. We went to Corsicana and saw a towel soiled with the blood of Abraham Lincoln.

Yeah, that'll give you nightmares.

I'll be teaching at the end of February on "Understanding Christian Fundamentalism." I'm really excited about it, because exploring that stuff is of course one of my best hobbies. I intend to focus on helping folks make sense of words like "charismatic," "evangelical," and "fundamentalist" so they'll not only be able to "get" people of those persuasions (even if it's just a little bit) but also be a little less prone to use those words entirely interchangably, which is the habit of a number of folks around these parts.

See, it's all about what irritates me. :0)

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Epiphany

Epiphany. John 6:30-33, 48-51, NIV

Jesus’ disciples were people on the fringes. They felt adrift in their society, deeply feeling their powerlessness in a culture characterized by foreign oppression, political unrest, and a crushing fear of what the future held. Jesus gathered people together and promised them that through his own ministry, God’s saving power was breaking into their world here and now, and that it was bigger than all the institutional evils they could name, as well as their own pain and doubt.

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, the realization that the light Jesus brings into our lives will eradicate the darkness and fear. God has moved his salvation into our dark world with the force of a blazing star. But we understand, as did the first disciples, that this work is not accomplished all at once. There remains uncertainty and crippling fear. So as they did, we ask Him, “Show us a sign. We believe you, but we need something to hold onto, something more than just words.”

“I am the bread of Life,” He says, “come down from heaven.” The love I show you, the sacrifice I make for you, will be your sign. It will be the foundation of your life, so much that you will commemorate it with the most ordinary of observances, the eating of bread and wine.

In impoverished first century Palestine, bread and wine were the basic elements of a meal. Had the incarnation occurred in Africa, he might have given us rice and water. Here, he might have told us to remember him with coffee and donuts. The point is that the ordinary things have become reminders of His love for us and His promise to heal us and set us free.

So as we acknowledge and lift up to Him our hurts and our fears, let’s give thanks for the ordinary things that are reminders of Him, those graces that empower us to keep waiting for His salvation. God’s redemptive and healing movement in our lives will take many forms: an embrace, an encouraging note, a garden, a good meal – any number of things. What is He placing into your life to empower and heal you? We thank Him for those things, and ask Him to give us more of Himself.

Our sign is in the ordinary things. Hear the words He spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “I am God now and forever. No one can snatch you from me or stand in my way” (43:13).