Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let's Get Interactive

1 Christmas

So I look at my visitor stats and wonder sometimes how many regular readers I have. Some of you I know and others I "e-know" because we are frequent commenters on one another's blogs or IM or e-mail. Yeah, we're big ol' nerds, but I'm pretty cool with that.

So I'm curious: are you a regular reader? How did you come across this thing? What caught your interest such that you decided to keep reading? Which topics have been your favorites, or most interesting to you? I know, I'm not exactly broad...

Okay, time for some comment love!

Thursday, December 22, 2005


4 Advent
War on Christmas, Day 9

I visited the Lexington Theological Seminary to pick up some books this week.

The sign on the door bid me, "Have a Blessed Holiday."


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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Reading: Benedict XVI

4 Advent
Thomas the Apostle

I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

- Matthew 16:18-19

...At the inmost core of the [Petrine] commission, which robs the forces of destruction of their power, is the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed, and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished from within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. Behind the talk of authority, God's power appears as mercy and thus as the foundation stone of the Church; in the background we hear the word of the Lord: 'It is not the healthy who have need of the physician, but those who are ill; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'

- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI], Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996), 64-65.

The community of the Risen Christ must be understood as a community of on-going resurrection, a people who continue to experience dying and new life in every aspect of their going, doing and being in the world. We are also a people who invite others into that experience, and it is in part for this purpose that the Church is given God's authority to give freedom.

Power in the Christian Community, in the economy of the coming and present Reign of God, works for the purpose of freeing and healing people, catching them up into the life of the Holy Trinity and the new Creation. This is what Benedict seems to draw out: we are given power to bind and loose in the realms of heaven and earth because we were slaves who have been and continually must be freed.

This commission was given to Peter in the context of both his deep failures and his weak but growing trust in Jesus. We exercise forgiveness out of our own present need and the continual grace we recieve. I would suggest that our power flows from the reality of that situation and our awareness of it. It's that kind of understanding that separates a Christian's exercise of godly authority from that of the world at large.

I've also written on the matter here.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

In the Trenches

4 Advent
My Personal War on Christmas, Day 6

Someone I once believed to be quite pious wished me a "Merry Christmas" today. This quickly revealed him to be a materialistic secularist intent on diluting the faith of the Church.

I threw a snowball at him.

Bloody mail carrier.

I must go and pick up my cassock at the dry cleaner. They can expect more of the same, should I face a similar assault.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Herald Leader: "Lighten Up!"

4 Advent
My Personal War on Christmas, Day 5

I'm glad to see that the editorial board of the local paper and I are in agreement. Check out Tuesday's editorial piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader, which suggests that the whole controversy could be something of a divine joke:

Weece defended the decision to close by reminding his flock that Christmas has its roots in ancient paganism, something you'd expect to hear from some secularist sourpuss or a Da Vinci Code-waving Druid.

He also recounted how the babe in the manger grew up to clash with "misguided" zealots who valued "religion over relationships.'' This could be construed as a step toward a defense of gay marriage or support for legal benefits for unmarried couples, surprising from the Southland pulpit.

The judgmental have now discovered how it feels to be judged.

The empire-building mega-church elders declared you don't have to warm the pews every single Sunday to be righteous. Meanwhile, people who ordinarily preach tolerance were quick to condemn this particular break from tradition.

And people who never darken the doors of any worship house were outraged that this church would be closed on Christmas Day.

Maybe the lesson is this: It doesn't matter if this is the season when you celebrate the Light of the World, the lengthening day or just the twinkling lights. We all need to lighten up.

So take your choice of secular or sacred slogan -- Lord what fools these mortals be! or Peace on Earth, good will toward men -- and enjoy the holiday.

Advent is about making room for the King who is to come. When we fail to do this, he will create the space in our lives by turning our values upside down, showing the strong things to be weak and the foolish things to be wise. One thing the gospels do make clear about the coming of the Master is that it will be outright shocking to many people - so let's not be too ready to stone one another.

And by way of reminder, it's not just Southland:

"Fewer attending Christmas Services," in the Lexington Herald Leader. Hmm. I still know lots of people who will, and let's remember that those Christians who make it a habit to observe the liturgical calendar probably would have anyway.

And let's not forget the American government's War on Freedom. Shudder.

Come, let us worship the Lord, the King who is to

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Personal War on Christmas

I have decided to join the fight, and declare war on Christmas.

The upcoming Christian Feast day, commemorating the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been too long co-opted by retailers, Republicans, and that vicious greeting card industry to sell their wares, whether they be electronics, legalistic religion, or saccharine images of the Holy Mother and Child.

Some retailers and even politicians have repented this sacrilage, and to commemorate the "holidays" instead, recognizing that lots of stuff goes on at the end of the year. I appreciate their more sensitive treatment of the Christian Holy Day, along with the other commemorations on other calendars.

Besides, all these people who talk about "putting the Christ back into Christmas" need first to take the plank from their own eye and put the "Mass" back into it. If you worship with the Christian Community when the Feast of the Incarnation falls on a Tuesday, then we'll have a chat.

I have declared war. Do not wish me a "Merry Christmas." I say "Bah, Humbug!" Instead, wish me a "blessed Advent," and "blessed day of commemoration of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ." After awhile, it'll just roll off the tongue.

My first salvo, of course, was to support the closure of Southland Christian Church ...on December 25. Next, I will assemble my army!

And on that note, if anyone wants to buy me a Christmas present, you might check out my wishlist at - but it's better to buy from Bean Books!

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Casting Down Strongholds: A Conclusion

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
- 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

In the desert prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
- Isaiah 40:3-5
So what did all of that have to do with Advent? Advent isn't just preparation to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation, but a time of heightened preparation for the "King who is to come." We always await the return of Christ in glory (like it says in the Creed!) at which point he will bring to completion the salvation of the world, the Church, and each of us as individuals.

We remind ourselves of the words of the John the Baptist: "Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight and clear!" In the passage from Isaiah that John would quote, we are offered a picture of Yahweh filling in valleys and leveling in mountains, as if he were clearing a path for himself on the earth as he makes his way to Jerusalem.

We might compare it to cleaning up the sitting room in anticipation of a friend's visit. We don't want our friend to have to push shirts of the chair to sit down or kick laundry out of the way as he walks in, after all (like my friends often have, sadly!).

This is kind of what we do in the season of Advent. We have our eyes on the Incarnation of the Lord in the midst of history some twenty centuries ago, and we focus our thoughts on "The End," that moment when history as we know it will end, and the King will finally arrive to put everything to rights. In this, we also set ourselves to the task of showing him hospitality in the lives we live now, finding ways to let Jesus into the darkest places of our lives of our hearts and minds.

Speaking of cliches, I never liked the language of "complete surrender to God," or found it really practical or salutary. What I do find helpful is asking, "what are the dark places, the rough and hidden paths of my heart, specifically, that Jesus asks to walk down?" In prayer and confession, in the context of our Community life, we welcome him upon those pathways, into the secret corridors. We choose to be no longer alone in those places.

We ask ourselves, then, what are the practical and practice-able ways that we can invite the healing and revealing light of Christ into the dark places? One of my ways has been to strengthen my committment to praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the practice of centering prayer. What about you? (A. has some words about prayer, too.)

As I said at the beginning of the little series, I have long been concerned that these clichés we use serve to clutter up the paths of God's grace and healing into our lives. Answering personal problems with clichés (e.g., "let go and let God," "just trust God," et al.) breaks down the trust we are called to place in God and one another. Reducing the truth of our lives in Christ to soundbites (like the ones on which I've focused these articles) impoverishes our understanding of the Christian story, and hinders the growth of what we were given in baptism.

(Mind you, these are not always "mere soundbites," and are not always used to impoverish our understanding and teaching of the faith - we've discussed this in the comments, particularly here. You might also want to read Paul Fromont's good thoughts on listening.)

But ultimately, we need to remember what Isaiah sets up for us: we are summoned to make a path for our God. At the same time, this is something he himself does, on a scale that we cannot. As we do our part in welcoming him, he moves toward us, breaking down the obstacles that we cannot, and shining light into all of the dark places that we cannot face ourselves.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Antithesis #4: You Are Not Called to the Ministry

“Ministry” is the work of service by which the life of the Kingdom breaks into peoples’ lives. It is the work of the Church, and properly belongs to the whole people of God. In our building of the Christian community and acts of hospitality and words of truth and prophecy that invite others into the Christ-life, we embody – incarnate and enflesh – the Reign of God and the healing reality of the Risen Christ to those outside the fellowship of the Church.

I as an individual am not meant to be equipped to do this. We, the Church, the little communities of the resurrection, outposts of God’s reign in a foreign land, are formed for this task as we are conformed to Jesus in the life we share together.

God has made us part of his larger story of saving the world. We share that ministry together, and we are all called to that ministry by virtue of our baptism: sealed by the Spirit and empowered with good gifts for healing and restoration. There are different kinds of ministries, indeed some people are called and gifted especially for hospitality, healing, teaching, apostleship, caretaking and all kinds of things – the Spirit offers whatever is needed in the work of the Kingdom.

When folks say “called to the ministry,” they usually mean, “called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament,” specifically the teaching of the scriptures and administering baptism and the Eucharist on behalf of the community. When Word and Sacrament become “the ministry” rather than “a ministry,” all other ministries undertaken by the people of God as groups and individuals are implicitly downplayed and degraded.

And that’s plainly evil. Quite frankly. Does this one really require any more explanation than that? It's not complicated.

Say it with me. “No one is called to the ministry. The People of God are called to the ministry of the Kingdom. Individuals are called to a plethora of specific ministries. Some people are called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It is not ‘better’ than the others. It is necessary, and so are all of the others. We are not meant to sit around ranking them like some overgrown adolescents trolling for an ego-stroking.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Closed for the Holidays: In Defense of Southland

"I don't think churches should be closed on Christmas because that's the only time I go."

- Brian
How long did you think it would take for me to post on this one?

As many of you may be aware, like many other mega-churches in the country, Southland Christian Church decided a few weeks ago not to hold worship services on the Feast of the Holy Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which some of you call "Christmas" (for some reason). I call it, "The Feast of the Incarnation," for short.

You might read the follow-up article by the Lexington Herald Leader's Frank Lockwood, who broke the story. In terms of the 'Net and editorials, as usual, Get Religion provides the best coverage here and here.

These are my major points about issue itself and the ridiculousness that has ensued:
  • We live in an increasingly technocratic, urbanized and impersonal society. People move all over the place and by virtue of the jobs they have and all manner of obstacles, don't always get much travel time to spend with extended families. It is a gift for abundant life and indeed a witness to the Gospel that churches would refuse to impose religious obligations that would add to the constant break-down of relationships that are meant to be the gift of God.
  • How many hypocrites have denounced Southland for this decision when they themselves would only keep the Feast of the Incarnation should it happen to fall on a Sunday? I have news: the tradition of Sunday worship is not primary as a witness to the Resurrection. The Life we share together, seen as a whole, is far more important. It's that "abundant life" thing again. Further, in terms of ritual, the Celebration of the Eucharist is considered in both the Scriptures and the Christian tradition to be far more important than the day of worship. How many of these folks who are so scandalized intend to share the sacramental meal that is at the center of our witness as the Community of the Resurrection?
  • How can we bear witness to Jesus and our lives as part of that community if we devalue our families like the rest of the culture? Do these people really think it's so much more important to be dictating to people who aren't believers how they should celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation rather than living lives in the midst of our world that continue and extend the Incarnation?
  • Christmas rites do matter. But most of you don't do them anyway. So to avoid being hypocrites, before you harass people for "taking the Christ out of Christmas," why don't you put the "Mass" back into it?
  • And to paraphrase Christ, was the liturgical calendar made for people, or were people made for the liturgical calendar?
  • Finally, Christian mission is about living lives together in love and hospitality, and offering that life to the people around us. The folks who comprise Southland Christian Church do not owe it to anyone to break up the rhythm of their lives together in order to provide religious goods and services to nominally Christian people who have only in mind to consume them so they can feel mildly "spiritual." Further, there is nothing to stop those members who want to worship together from inviting friends over to say prayers and even celebrate the Holy Communion if they so desire.
For those folks who are not members of SCC, it's really none of our business. The people who make up SCC have a responsibility to one another and their own community to teach and live out the Gospel in its fullness, and to do so in a way that seems right to them in their missional context, and in reference to the wider Christian Church and the ancient tradition. Just like any other congregation. "In reference" does not mean following slavishly every criticism that some fool obsessed with "the Christmas Wars" throws their way.

Pray for Jon Weece, and the people, deacons and elders of Southland Christian Church.

See also: "Herald Leader: Lighten Up"

Monday, December 12, 2005

Antithesis #3: Nobody’s Spending Eternity in Heaven

If I may steal and rehabilitate a tired Gnostic platitude: “Heaven is not your home. God has something much better in mind.”

That’s right. I went there.

Genesis says that in the beginning, the Lord God created the physical cosmos. And that it was good. Every bit of it, part by part, carried the pronouncement from God that it was good. The Lord God planted a garden and created people (after God’s likeness!) to work in it. It was good. Good, good, good. This was and remains an affirmation of Creation and physical existence.

The story of the Fall is a theological statement about the created order. The entire Creation, and the relationships that it was meant to support, are now disordered. The human condition is extremely disordered and idolatrous. That doesn’t make the original idea of the Creation bad, and it certainly doesn’t make physical existence a bad thing. Only in Gnostic Duality (see the Johannine Epistles) and Rapture theology (you heard me) do we find the notion that a platonic, nonphysical, “spiritual” existence is good, and that physical life, grounded in a theology of the body and the making of people in the image of God is somehow inherently bad. To deny the goodness of creation and physicality as such is deeply blasphemous from the biblical standpoint, for it holds that the goodness of God is expressed in the Creation. In addition, God’s plan for salvation is a reaffirmation and restoration of the good work of Creation, and the good relationships that were meant to exist in it. Go read Romans 8, Paul says this is what Creation itself is waiting for: the completion of salvation. And so are we.

Salvation is not about heaven as some kind of “final destination.” Heaven is the “place” where the Reign of God is complete, and in John’s apocalyptic vision at the end of the New Testament we see a city that exists in a renewed heaven and earth. Life is physical, life is real, and life is spiritual. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive, but are rather in separable where God reigns.

Salvation is not limited to an overused courtroom metaphor. Salvation is God’s restoration of relationships and the restoration of the Creation to wholeness. In the Kingdom, those at enmity begin to love. The Church is the community that springs from this Kingdom work, and it is that re-creation and restoration into which we seek to live.

Resurrection is not a sequel to death, a second non-physical life that takes place in another dimension. Resurrection is the reversal of death – all death – in this physical world. This will happen when the vindicated and exalted Christ returns from that “Place” where God reigns to fully consummate the reign that we find sneaking into our lives here and now.

Nobody knows what happens when a person dies, but the Christian hope is that now and then we are waiting for God to raise us up like he raised up Jesus.

See also "Debunking the Rapture" and my little Rapture fantasy from last spring.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Antithesis #2: Jesus Christ is Not My Personal Lord and Savior. Or Yours.

I have a personal computer. I have a friend who works as a personal trainer. Executives (and some pastors!) have personal assistants. Some people have personal shoppers. In the Old Testament narratives, pagans had personal gods, called “household gods,” a.k.a. idols. Folks loved to steal them from one another (See these passages and ask yourself what I’m trying to do).

The clear connotation of the word “personal” as we normally apply it to people and things is that those things serve our own individual needs as we understand them and wish to have those needs met. We would even refer to them as my personal ________.

And in terms of the biblical narrative, it is a grave thing to refer to the living God with such language.

Colossians 1:15-20:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Philippians 2:5-11:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Daniel 7:13-14
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
(You might also check out Revelation 4:11, 5:9-13, as well as 15:1-4, but I don’t want to belabor the point)

It seems rather clear, doesn’t it? If we take seriously the Bible’s language about the King of the Universe and the Christ who rules it, we don’t get to say that Jesus is anybody’s "personal" anything. Note particularly the "cosmic Christ" of Colossians: the entire creation is put back under the headship of Christ. It's not just people, and not just you or me that he was after, and that he's after still.

Now we can talk about “getting personal with God,” or having a “personal relationship with Jesus” in the sense of having a friendship with God. That’s valid. It can be very problematic, however, as that language quickly gets confused with the other kind of “personal” language.

I think we would be far better off to talk about the Ruler and Savior of the world who loves us collectively and also knows us as individual personalities whom he adores. In turn, we offer our total allegiance and seek to love him with reckless, embarrassing abandon. That is, I think, what we really want to convey with the “personal Lord and Savior” language, but it gets lost in the lexicon of a consumer society. So instead, let’s say what we mean rather than assuming that our shorthand phrases really convey what we wish them to convey.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Antithesis #1: Jesus Christ Does Not Want to Come Into Your Heart and Live

No, really. Stay with me for a few moments, and feel free to leave a comment at the end. Also remember that the point is not just to deconstruct an idea that's bad for us, but to replace the lie with something true (i.e. biblical and orthodox).

First, I’d like to make some generalizing remarks about ideas of conversion in the Scriptures. They are simplified and they are debatable, but I think they could be well supported if you push me.

In the Old Testament, the prophets of YHWH talk about turning away from idolatry, cultic pollution, and injustices against one’s neighbor and turning toward himself, seeking to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with [one’s] God.” Oh, and some stuff about orphans, widows and strangers.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus and the Baptizer call people to believe the Good News of the Kingdom, which I’ll argue (but not right now) meant that the coming Reign of God was breaking into the present in and through the work of Jesus. The call seems to be something like, “believe, repent, be baptized to identify with the remnant of Israel, follow Jesus, and adjust your ethics accordingly” for the disciples, and “believe, repent, and get ready for your ethics to be adjusted” for others. In John, Jesus calls people to place faith and trust in himself.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the thrust appears to be, “Jesus was and is the Reign of God, and has been exalted as his viceroy over the earth. Repent (turn around) and be baptized for initiation into the community of that Reign.” Israel has been redefined not by a particular way of obedience to the Torah and the temple cult, but rather identification with Jesus. Paul talks about an identification with Jesus and union with God’s work in him through baptism, and enactment of Christ’s death and resurrection.

One popular contemporary notion that is conspicuously absent from any of this is that Jesus might want us to “ask him into our hearts,” whether “by faith” or any other way. It is biblically unfounded, and I maintain that it is at best pastorally inconvenient, and at worst, dangerously misleading.

There is one occurrence of a similar phrase in the New Testament when Paul prays that "Christ [might] dwell in [our] hearts through faith,” but this is shaky ground for the language of conversion and discipleship. It can even be harmful because it a) fails to do any justice to the richness of Christian faith and b) lacks the content of biblical notions of conversion.

One metaphorical motif that Paul is much more fond of is the idea of “putting on Christ,” or being “baptized into Christ,” “being found in Christ,” etc. The believer is safely seated with and in Christ, according to the New Testament, and is even sealed by the Holy Spirit. The “personal decision for Christ” is still implicit, but while “asking Jesus into my heart” and an over reliance on the idea of “Christ in me (which has a little more biblical support) places one’s security in Christ upon one’s subjective feelings about Jesus, being placed into Christ builds one’s identity on theological reality that one is clearly incapable of critiquing on the basis of feelings.

The language of being “in Christ” is far healthier emotionally, and better grounded biblically.

Finally, the language of “asking Jesus into my heart” is devoid of biblical concepts of repentance and union with the Christian Church and so necessarily a workable concept of discipleship. Any individualistic language in religion is inherently anti-Christian (but we’ll talk about that next time).

I suggest, therefore, that Jesus does not want to come into our hearts to live. He rather calls us to believe, to repent, to identify with him and join the Christian Community in baptism, then sends the Holy Spirit to catch us up in the life of Holy Trinity for our transformation and abundant life.

“Feeling” any of that is purely optional.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Casting Down Strongholds: On Christian Platitudes

Ornery (adj.) : having an irritable disposition : CANTANKEROUS
- or·neri·ness noun

see also
Potter, Kyle: "We simply must kill any gods who are incapable of raising the dead."

see also Creech, Alan.

Now that we're on the same page, let's have a chat. I have been given the grace for the last eight years of my life to be apprenticed to Jesus in the fellowship of his Church. I love the way God sees us, and what he has made us. I am always learning to love us as we are, "warts and all." Note that I will not talk about Christ's Church as if it were somehow an institution or group of people who live separately either from me or from him. I have been baptized into him, together with everybody else who's been dipped or sprinkled or splashed in the name of the Trinitarian God. We're all bloody well stuck with each other. So understand this, if nothing else: any criticism I'm offering, I do so in the context of committment.*

I want to make a suggestion about Christian clichés, some of the unfortunate phrases we use when trying to offer spiritual counsel to one another. Many of our Christian communities fail to provide a safe place to be real and vulnerable because of the unhelpful language that fills the air. When folks are threatened by the doubts and struggles of others, they will sometimes say things like
"Just give it over to the Lord"
"Just trust God"
"Have faith"
"Surrender more of your life to Jesus"
"Let go and let God" [Josh W.]
For many of you who have been raised in faith communities, it can be hard to realize how vacuous, how literally empty of meaning that these phrases are. Eugene Peterson suggests stronger language still in a discussion about "fear-of-the-Lord":
... There is ... something about the sacred that makes us uneasy. We don't like being in the dark, not knowing what to do. And so we attempt to domesticate the mystery, explain it, probe it, name and use it. "Blasphemy" is the term we use for these verbal transgressions of the sacred, these violations of the holy: taking God's name in vain, dishonoring sacred time and place, reducing God to gossip and chatter. Uncomfortable with the mystery, we try to banish it with clichés.
- Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, 42.
It may not be immediately obvious, but when people offer these phases, these stock answers, it sends a clear and demoralizing message: "I don't take your struggles seriously, and I'm not prepared to muster the theological depth to share them with you."

This might be a harsh assessment, but this is a great problem, and worthy of such consideration. If you use these Christian platitudes, these unholy clichés in your care for your brothers and sisters, I urge you to carefully consider dropping them. If you find your friends using them on you, forgive them, then challenge them. Muster some courage and tell them you find those words to be theologically empty and pastorally cold. It's the only way we're going to grow and learn to struggle together.

Let's respect each other enough to never be satisfied with platitudes.

Instead, let's struggle together, ask God the hard questions, and learn the peace that comes with honesty. Truly, for Christ's sake and for the care of his Church, let's be honest.

For my part, I will over the next little while share my thoughts on four common Christian platitudes, and offer ideas as to how we might replace them with more honest and clear attempts to tell the story of who we are in Christ Jesus.

Captain Sacrament's Antitheses
[16 December 2006, N.B.: I am pleased to clarify at this point that these articles are not meant to be exhaustive treatments of the topics at hand, to say nothing of chapters in a systematic theology. They're talking points. Theology is a work of the people of God together. I can tell you about how I choose to talk about these things, but not in any definitive way how you should. That's for you to discern and share if you see fit.]

And don't forget to read the conclustion of the series, "And the Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed," in which I seek to clarify just what this has to do with Advent, and making space for our coming King.

*Which, incidentally, is why my complaint about ECUSA is quite out-of-bounds at this point in my life. I'm committed to those folks in theory because of their baptism, but there is no longer an "on the ground" outworking of that nice platonic ideal.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

ECUSA: Not "the Church"

The time change is killing me. I am trying to stay awake, but I don't think I can for much longer. This is a bad time to blog, i.e., since I'm tired and cranky, you get an odd little rant. Hooray. Heck, I'll probably take it back down in a couple of days (unless somebody links it!), but I know you depend on me for fresh content during your finals week, so here we go.
Dear Episcopalians,

Please stop referring to your little 2.3 million member denomination as "the Church." Maybe you can try, "the Episcopal Church," or even "a church," but not "the Church." Nobody seriously supposes for a single moment that this tiny splinter of warmed-over christendom somehow exists as the Church Catholic in its fullness - at least, outside of a few revisionist parishes and dioceses. Do other people talk like this? Certainly good Anglo-Catholics wouldn't; they know "the church" is the whole people of God. Let's open our eyes just a bit to see a wider world out there, poor dears. That's kind of what the Global South has been going on about, you know. I should tell Archbishop Akinola that sometimes, you've got to start with baby steps.

I regret the use of such direct language (it's so unenglish!), but some of y'all just don't take hints. Next time, I might have to write a strongly worded letter. Don't think I won't.

P.S. While I'm at it, "Episcopal" denotes an institution overseen by a bishop, and if capitalized, the Episcopal Church. One would not refer to a person as being "episcopal." The church is Episcopal, the people are Episcopalians. If we're going to be snooty WASPs, we must also be good religious grammarians.

P.P.S. Please discontinue that tract with the title, "The Episcopal Church: The Church for Thinking People." Do you not realize that the clear implication is that you think all other Christians are stupid? Even if you don't change your minds on that point, you really should be more subtle. It's just good manners.

Captain Sacrament
I also just kind of want people to notice me. I never knew the difference between good attention and bad attention.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Sign of the Cross

Josh Hearne and I have recently corresponded regarding the saying of the Night Office, "Compline." In getting down to the "nitty gritty" of the how and why of saying the offices, It occurs to me that many Christians don't have a clear idea of why so many other Christians "cross themselves" during prayer and worship. So here you go.

In both private prayer and public worship, Christians have for many centuries (since the early third) "blessed themselves" with the sign of the cross. In public, you might see folks doing this at the beginning of prayers and at the Gloria ("Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit..."). This has been part of my devotional practice for the last three years or so, and I can enumerate perhaps three reasons why.
  • Worship is physical as well as intellectual and emotional (we want to think holistically, remember?) and this is a physical remembrance that I am sealed by the Holy Spirit into the action and benefits of Christ's atonement. All the benefits of Christ's passion and death have been granted me, and in my life with him, I continue to appropriate and await the full benefit of his resurrection.
  • One ancient and helpful way of understanding the Trinity is the metaphor of divine dance: the divine persons indwell and encircle each other (Gk. "perichoresis") as different but united personalities. The Holy Spirit catches us up into this dance, and enables our participation in the life of this divine community. Among many other things, our prayers, and concretely this action, comprise our "steps" in the dance. Therefore, as my life is caught up in the eternal dance of the Holy Trinity, making the sign of the cross as acknowledgement of who I am and to whom I belong is one of the steps I make as we dance together.
  • Should I be in a Pentecostal exorcist kind of mood, it reminds me and any nearby demons that I am marked as Christ's own forever. But in all seriousness, in addition to bearing witness to my life in Christ, it is an invocation of the Holy Spirit, the ruach Yahweh, the very creating power and breath of God who sweeps in to re-create and renew the people of God. If I may be unnuanced, it's about summoning the power of God to bear upon one's own life.
So what do you make of that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Proposed Treatment: Doctrine, Context and Practice

I'm giving this one a test run:

'We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread':

A Theological Evaluation of Eucharistic Ecclesiology and the Practice of Community in Early Churches as expressed in Catechetical Content and Practice between AD 100-400, and its Lessons for the Contemporary Church.

In surveying the content and practice of instruction offered to new Christian converts, c.100-400, I will examine catechists' ecclesiology and prescriptions for the Church's common life with particular focus on community identity in the context of the Eucharist. From both the conceptual and "practical" teachings regarding the community's shared life, I hope to identify how early Christians understood the ways in which the disciplined practice of community life guided spiritual formation. Finally, I will discuss the challenges those values and practices present to contemporary churches in their own programs of catechesis and basic Christian formation.

I enjoy some long titles.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Michaelmas, 8th Week

Monday, 1 Advent

This was a very nice weekend. On Friday I finished most of the conceptual work done for my essay in the "Doctrine, Context and Pratice" module, so I'm excited about getting more focussed reading and writing done during the next week and over the break. I might elaborate about it a bit in this space should you and I both be bored enough.

Nobody said anything utterly ridiculous in seminar on Friday. You know what that means; it must have been me...

It's hard to believe that I'll be on Kentucky bluegrass again in 7 days. I'm expecting a parade.

Nobody bothered to plan a bop for Friday, so after dinner and coffee in the SCR, I joined some of the undergraduates to watch Return of the King in the JCR. I worked hard this week, and wasn't in the mood for anything extremely social. On Saturday morning I wandered out at the crack of 9am with Jen and James to collect for Kashmir Earthquake relief on the street under the auspices of Christian Aid ("We Believe in Life Before Death") and spend a couple of hours having coffee with them in the MCR. They're wonderful people: they laugh at my stories.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening at the Bevins' flat on Saturday cooking and eating Thanksgiving dinner. I roasted the turkey (I used a fresh garlic, salt, rosemary and basil rub) and made a dressing and a large dish of Sweet Potato Puree with Bananas and Roasted Pecans. It was beautiful, and fortunately I didn't have to say so myself (wink). And lets not forget, some 37 pounds of mashed potatoes. It was a potluck, but as usual, I got a little carried away. I think perhaps 18-20 of us came. One of the guys (Captain Sulu's nephew!) helped me out with a good deal of it, which made things a lot easier. It was a great time, with good company.

Last night one of the girls had a birthday party, so I went into college to spend time with those folks. Somehow I ended up in the JRC afterwards watching "BASEketball" followed by "Mean Girls" until 3am.

I also have a new place to live when January comes around; I'm pretty excited about it.

The washing machine is still broken.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Advent: Eschatological Expectation

Simply put, during the season of Advent, the Church prepares for the commemoration of the Incarnation (Christmas) by anticipating the Second Coming of the Christ as Judge.

Before I go too far with that word, "judgment" or "judge," let's clarify what that means. Metaphors from human legal systems start to break down pretty quickly when dealing with Yahweh and his creation. His justice is restorative. The anticipation of judgment is not a simple picture of faithful people being rewarded while the unfaithful and faithless recieve punishment (most of us have a very thin, medieval idea of this, anyway) but one of the Judge of all the earth showing up on center state to "put things to rights."

In his return, God's Viceroy will consummate the restoration of humanity that was begun at the Incarnation and continues now in his Church.

Living in anticipation of this is not a matter of simple excitement or holy dread, but continuing to cooperate and welcome his healing as it flows from the future into the present. It means naming the dark places of our lives in the fellowship of the Church, and allowing our confessions of brokenness to be taken up into our sacramental life while the Spirit rushes in to fill the voids and re-create what has been destroyed.

This is the whole point, dear friends; this is what justice of God means. It is the complete restoration of all human life, in all aspects, to its fullness.

I offer a previous reflection, "The Advent Hope." Peter White reminds us that the dating of Christmas isn't just about supplanting a pagan festival, but maintains a marked theological agenda: "This is the day the tide turns." Finally, while + Alan isn't dealing with Advent specifically in this, he offers us some good reflections from Karl Rahner on sanctifying time.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Vocation: I am really awfully Right and Reverend

The "physician of souls" is concerned with "the diagnosis and cure of our habits, passions, lives, wills, and whatever else is within us, by banishing from our [body and soul] everything brutal and fierce, and introducing and establishing in their stead what is gentle and dear to God."
- Gregory Nazianzus, Second Oration, 2.16, 18.

I had a recent conversation with Josh about vocation and ordination, so I thought I'd share some of my musings. An excerpt:
Josh: I'm having some difficulty with the title "reverend"
Kyle: Why's that?
Josh: It just seems so...
Kyle: ... I think it suits me
Josh: ... pretentious
Kyle: Like I said
I believe that I have a vocation to the presbyterate. This is something I’ve discerned in and with my community, in the context of a shared life, over the course of several years. I should note that by “my community,” I don’t just mean the Vine and Branches, but also the people who have shared the “Jesus journey” with me over the course of my short life. I very strongly suspect that our Trinitarian god is forming me as a pastor and priest, and has gifted me with the requisite charisms: prophecy, teaching, and “shepherding.” I look after people, and I seek to shape the way my friends look after one another.

I’ve been reading what some of the ancients have to say about such a calling, and I’m batting around the metaphor of “physical therapist in the care of souls.” I might unpack it later, but right now I’m just kind of “tasting” the idea.

Now here’s where it gets really challenging. Let’s say that I do have an honest-to-goodness vocation to the presbyterate, the office of “elder” that’s described in the (English) New Testament. Out there in the world, lots of people who hire and fire people called pastors (despite the rebukes of 1 Clement!) have ideas in their head (shall we call them “job descriptions”?) that are less than spiritual, or biblical, or any good thing you might want them to be. Aspects of this job can include getting bigger temples built, mastering the art of the technologically slick liturgy, making sure everybody’s found “purpose,” and getting more and more strangers to attend to the worship of the community. Never mind the upward mobility inherent to the position for those pastors who are appropriately skilled at it!

This conception, which is at best a poor relation of the “shepherd of the flock of God,” certainly seems ubiquitous in American Christianity. But that doesn’t mean that it is. The pastors who are really religious CEOs or therapists are plentiful, and their sycophantic followers never in short supply. I do, however, have anecdotal evidence for Christian communities that are Christian communities, rather than modernist monstrosities, and for pastors who really are pastors. They make think I could be one. They make me think we really could do this Jesus thing together, and that it really could be redemptive. That this really is what the New Testament is getting at when it keeps accusing Jesus of saving the world.

I’ve faced two temptations regarding this promise.
  • The first has been considered fairly respectable. It would be to say, “All of these random Christians that I don’t even know (and too many that I do) say that being a pastor means xyz, and since I cannot be and do xyz, I am not fitted for nor called to the pastoral office, so I will flee to the academy (because I am called to be a theologian!) and try to live in the orbit of some group of Christians who “get it.” They are out there, after all.
  • The second is patently bizarre, and stems from my affinity for Anglicanism and also accounts for some of the occasional non-comprehension of my friends. I decide that in the midst of post-modern, (sub)urban North America, I can be the parish priest in some rural village, or the noble presbyter of a beleaguered Christian congregation in a city of the 3rd century Roman Empire. This isn’t as ridiculous as it may sound. Think about it: this eschatological community plucks people out of the superstition, materialism, and injustice of the society at large, and lives together as a sign of God’s peace and rule under the shadow of the cross. Schism is taken seriously, biblical and theological literacy are of unquestioned value, and dividing lines are clear. There are shades of their world in ours, and a number of similarities that I find frankly haunting.
These are unsatisfying alternatives:
  • The first option would be honorable, and fulfilling in its way. The problem is that I don’t see it as my call. In the midst of my community, in the life I live with Jesus, the call I sense seems to be different. My passion is rather to learn and teach together with the people of God, but to do this in the context of shaping our common life according to our ongoing discovery of the truth. Teaching at a college or university, or doing this as a layperson in a typical (?) congregation seems just a step removed from where I think I am being formed to stand. There’s something about effectual nature of teaching and guiding in an office that has authority to do those things. And no, I’m not afraid of that word. But still, being a teacher is not to have the cure of souls as such.
  • Second, I live here and now. The challenges are the same, and they are different. The identity of the Christian Church is the same (happily, such things are not decided democratically) and the challenges are very much the same, because – lets be honest – the dividing lines were not so crisp on the other side of the world seventeen hundred years ago, and the things I’d like to imagine were settled, really weren’t. I didn’t train as an historian for nothing.
So what am I going to do? I suppose the same thing that I do now. I’m going to try to be faithful. Maybe I am called to the “platonic form” of the Christian pastorate. And the religious CEO will never be a real pastor. And to be a religious therapist is to be just that. And just because millions of Christians on that silly continent think otherwise, doesn’t make anybody right.

Presbyters are presbyters in the Christian community. People aren’t meant to be priested for kicks, and then left to their own devices. Careerism is no better. Christians need to read theology. They need to know history. They perhaps even should read the Bible, provided that they’re careful with it. Any community to which I joined myself (especially in that capacity) would have to a pretty similar ethos about our life together as the Church. We used to have denominations to put hedges around folk so one could make some basic theological identifications before jumping in. We don’t have that anymore.

But do you know what? Any community that’s being formed together in the likeness of Christ as that sign and foretaste of the reign of God just might have some pretty healthy ideas and practices going on. So I’m going to keep on with the journey, and we’re all going to keep learning to talk about our vocations (“professionally religious” or otherwise) in the context of our reading of scripture, history, and our healthy, healing experiences of Christian community.

Speaking of Right and Reverend, check this out.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rowan Williams: Unity and Exclusion

Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the bishops present at the Global South to South Encounter in Cairo on the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." Out of the various insightful things he did say, one of the news reports that came forth was that his Grace apologized that the export of Hymns Ancient and Modern into the mission field was an act of "making cultural captives." Some fools promptly construed this as an apology for mission. Those folks are probably the type that think that the only real Christians speak English, and are over the age of 40.

So just for fun, I read the speech, and thought I'd share the best bits with you. The full text can be found at +Rowan Cantuar's site here. And I won't defend the "cultural captives" thing, because that's a Missiology 101 issue that would make sense if read in the context of the speech. I'll get to that later.

On Unity
We are part of a body whose failures are our common failures. It is always a temptation to say ‘We are the true church, they have abandoned us’ and yet even as we make necessary disjunctions and separations, there is a point at which we must remember in our prayer, this is our suffering; this is our loss, we are together in sin as well as in grace.
I've probably spoken before about the salutary effects of excommunication, and my advocacy of same as a responsible and necessary pastoral practice. It comes from really meaning business about the salvation of another, and willing to take drastic measures for their restoration. Here are some examples of offense I would think worthy of excommunication:
  • harrassment and harmful behavior towards brothers and sisters in the community
  • hate crimes
  • being Jerry Falwell
  • gossip and talebearing
  • parents who throw out a daughter upon learning of her abortion
People like to talk about "church discipline" these days; it's very popular. This is why Williams' comment caught my eye: the only way such discipline can be healthy rather than destructive, and godly rather than authoritarian, is if we really do take our baptism this seriously, knowing ourselves to be "together in sin as well as grace."

We must be prepared to affirm by our lives that our companions' pain and joy is our own, and that we are indeed our brother's keeper. I am his, and he is mine. If my sister grieves, I grieve, and if my brother stumbles, I take a skinned knee as well.

If that isn't the case, don't bother getting all up in somebody's face to tell them what they should and should not do, and what is and is not holy.

See also:

Excommunication and Redemption
The Minimum

Saturday, November 19, 2005


+ Athanasius of Alexandria

Peter and I have been reading some good stuff lately.

Sapience is
engaged knowledge that emotionally connects the knower to the known.
[. . .]
Sapiential truth is unintelligible to the modern secularized construal of truth. Modern epistemology not only fragmented truth itself, privileging correct information over beauty and goodness, it relocated truth in facts and ideas. The search for truth in the modern scientific sense is a cognitive enterprise that seeks correct information useful to the improvement of human comfort and efficiency rather than in intellectual activity employed for spiritual growth. Knowing the truth no longer implied loving it, wanting it, and being transformed by it, because the truth no longer brings the knower to God but to use information to subdue nature. Knowing became limited to being informed about things, not as these are things of God but as they stand (or totter) on their own feet. The classical notion that truth leads us to God simply ceased to be intelligible and came to be viewed with suspicion.

From Ellen T. Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine, pp. 4, 236.
I agree with Charry's assessment. May God save us from reading the Bible so that we merely believe right things.

Friday, November 18, 2005

VBCC: On Being a Diaspora Christian

I was charged with writing a bit for the community letter this month. I was pretty pleased with it, so I decided to expand the ideas a little.


In the ancient church, communities called one another "resident aliens" as they wrote to encourage, correct, and share stories. As in, "the Colony of Resident Aliens, God's people sojourning at Corinth, to the Colony at Philippi," that sort of thing. Diogenetes wrote about how even while Christians do obey local laws and follow local customs, they have a different citizenship -- they find their self-identity not in their political circumstances, but in their allegiance to Jesus. Colonies in the Roman world existed as outposts of imperial power and civilization in "barbarious" lands. The appearance of a colony (just as in the Americas) meant that the imperial power was moving in to take ownership, and soon enough would remake the place according to its own will.

There is a certain irony, then, that Christians considered themselves to be colonists for the Kingdom of God in the Roman Empire. These communities understood that Jesus was Lord and Caesar was not. The emperor would find this out soon enough, but in the meantime, converts to Jesus would no longer treat the State or any earthly citizenship as being a meaningful catagory. They would of course pay dearly for this refusal to participate in the imperial cult.

(I could go on, but many of you know where this would go. If you'd like to see me chase it, see the articles under Patriotism: Before the Altar of Caesar on the right sidebar.)

I try to keep these ideas before me, and it helps that in Britain I am a stranger twice over, and I remember this every time I misunderstand an accent or eat a funny meal. Make no mistake, I enjoy the hospitality and friendship of many people, and consider myself to participate fully in the life of the college, but I am a stranger.

I'm not British. But then, in terms of the things that make me me, I'm not really American, either. In the Church of Jesus Christ, and in light of the coming Kingdom, it's simply not a meaningful ontological catagory.

I belong, therefore, in the context of the Church, and the world that God is colonizing. But this affirmation also runs counter to the gospel of modern religion, which has told me that I am an individual, autonomous self, who makes decisions with myself as a primary reference point. That's just not true.

I am baptized into Christ, and a member of the Church catholic. I share this life with the Vine and Branches in the Eucharist, common prayer and hospitality. We do not live together as a community because we have the same hobbies, or because we agree in our theologies down to the last detail. Hell, I'm not even on the same continent! We are a community because God has called us together as such, to bear the life of the Risen Christ together in the world around us. Our choice to love one another - to struggle with that and to learn what it means - is our response to God's gracious call.

Even on the other side of the world, I am supported by the love and care of God's new community, both within and outside of that particular fellowship. I am bound to my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, by our baptism, shared allegiance to Jesus, and in prayer. This is not mystical and abstract, but mystical and concrete. This reality has lots of faces and voices. They speak in unity a promise from God that I do not stand or fall on my own, and I never will.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


It's been a nice weekend, but I'm afraid I've come down with a cold again. My body aches. I think I'm going to sleep quite a bit tomorrow. It's a shame, too, as I've just started to do a bit of jogging.

It's been a pretty rough week; I was quite struck this morning when I glanced at an icon of the Emmaus encounter, and realized with deeper comprehension the grace of the God who comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Luke 24 presents to us a mystical theology of the early Christian communities: the God who made himself known to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth now makes himself known to us in hearing the Scriptures and sharing at the Table. By the words of God we were created, and by the one Word of God we are recreated, and offered the "medicine of immortality."

In the midst of everything, whatever that might be, we who claim the sign of the cross are caught up in the life of the trinitarian god. We are given a safe place to mourn, and a place to receive healing and restoration in ways we might not expect. Over and over again, thanks be to God.

Yesterday I did quite a bit of reading, and in the evening I joined some of the students at the college chaplain's house for dinner. I heart fish pie. Who'd have thought? The lot of us ate very well and had a good time, discussing ethnic differences (the poor, poor Welsh!), politics, the idiosyncrasies of American religion, and of course college gossip. Oops. But I learned more about the college in 2 hours than I have in five weeks...!

The illustrious guests included a German astrophysicist, so I got to learn some details about the life span of a star (of white dwarfs, red giants, planetary nebulae and the like) and than naturally a bit of science fiction. Big ol' nerds. But not as nerdy as the people in the JCR right now who are talking about the Lord of the Rings with greater interest than their viewing of the actual film. I thought I was bad for talking through movies...!

Did I mention going to a debate last week? I think the title really was "Evangelical and Liberal Anglican Vicars Go Head-To-Head." It was fairly bland, until Richard Dawkins got up and embarrassed the evangelical; he wanted to know, "Is there any room for doubt in your understanding?" Apparently not. Or at least, he prefers to keep such things private, which is quite sad. I disagreed with both vicars, what does that say? I'm all like, "guys, you're just a couple of modernists anyway. It doesn't really matter." My favorite question from the audience: "My husband doesn't attend church, but he's a really moral man. Will he go to heaven, or does he need to go to church?" The response: "Madam, I fear dreadfully for your husband on the day of judgment."

And I'm all like, "Way to go, Captain Bring-Down."

I got to visit my friend Holly and her (relatively) new husband today; we'd not seen each other for over three years, so that was a lot of fun. I enjoyed their hospitality. And got to see duckies! And seagulls, I didn't like the seagulls so much.

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke with us on the road?"

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Dear People of God

It was only a matter of time before I had to admit that I have more anathemas to issue than I have time to write. If not for my other studies, I could keep up, but that's just not tenable at the moment. So I have prepared a form letter threatening excommunication. You may be getting one soon, with all the appropriate selections highlighted, but if you evidence humility and eager submission by contacting me with a confession beforehand (thereby saving me trouble and possibly international postage), restitution will be accordingly light.

My dear (choose one)
  • unrepentant sinner
  • flaming heretic
  • erring sister/brother,
As you are doubtless aware, it is the solemn and rightful duty of a bishop, as a gentle shepherd, to guide and sustain the Church of God in its sojourn as it awaits the return of its Lord and the inauguration of his Kingdom. Though presently in exile, I still claim this office as the Bishop of the Georgetown See of the Free Catholic Church.

It well said by John Gauden in his Slight Healings of Publique Hurts (1660), that the Church of God should be overseen
"not by the dominion and the pomp, luxury and tyranny of bishops, nor yet by the factious as refractory humours of presbyters, much less by the schismatic sauciness of people, who cast off both bishop and presbyters; but by the fatherly gravity, prudence and eminence of godly and reverend bishops; by the brotherly assistance, and son-like subordination of suber and orderly presbyters, by the service and obsequiousness of humble and diligent deacons; and by the meek submission of Christian people to the care, monition, counsel, and respective superiority of every order; as sheep to their chief shepherd, and their assistants."
Bound up in this vocation is the responsibility to correct erring persons, to quench the destructive flames of heresy, and enjoy regular pay raises.

It is a matter of no small concern to me that you have recently (choose any that apply):
  • taken up the false and vile doctrines of the Campbellites
  • given hospitality and/or been polite to Mormons
  • suffered the odious practice of popish devotions
  • oppressed the poor in spirit, particularly ____________.
  • taught heterodox or unduly harsh ideas regarding sexuality
  • repeatedly trounced his Lordship in Halo
  • propagated the doctrine of double predestination
  • officiated at or participated in a patriotic church service
  • dissing Georgetown College
  • Other: ______________________________
These actions are like stench rising from the earth into the nostrils of the Most High God, and in addition have had the effect of (choose any that apply):
  • irritating his Lordship
  • inflaming the local peasantry to riot
  • scandalizing the nobility
  • offending the piety and consciences of the faithful people of God
  • stirring up undue guilt in the parishes outside of stewardship season
  • decreasing diocesan revenues
You are hereby given notice of your responsibility to acknowledge and repent this/these error(s), and offer suitable penance on pain of excommunication and anathema. Appropriate penance will include (choose one):
  • purchase of a new crozier for his Lordship
  • public renunciation of said errors
  • a reconcilation offering of $___ or £___
  • making dinner for his Lordship, with a nice cheesecake for dessert
  • submitting to be offered by the Church to its merciful and loving God through the medium of being burned alive at the stake until dead, at which point your ashes will be scattered on unconsecrated ground.
You have (choose one): 10 30 60 days to respond to this letter before the appropriate sentences of excommunication and anathema are issued.

Love and kisses,

+ Kyle Georgetowniensis

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Historical Jesus

Last night after dinner I joined some friends for a debate on the Historical Jesus at the Catholic Chaplaincy, starring Henry Wansbrough and Geza Vermes. I agreed with one more than the other, but not a great deal with either!

I remain convinced that Jesus' temple action just before the Passover was not a cleansing, but rather a judgment enacted against it. The argument runs that the presence of money changers and sellers in the temple courts was normal, and the work of the temple was dependant upon people being able to change their money and buy animals for sacrifice. Jesus was not angered at that state of affairs specifically, but rather sought to symbolically halt the action of the temple.

The difference is significant because if it was indeed a judgment against the temple, it puts Jesus more in the light as an apocalyptic prophet who believed he acted with the authority of Yahweh rather than a mere reformer. To judge the temple of course implies that kind of authority, which only Yahweh had.

If I did a short series of posts on "issues in historical Jesus research," would anybody find that interesting? "Blogworthy," as it were?

Afterwards we drank tea and talked for a few hours, covering subjects as diverse as fundamentalism, contraception, marriage, church and state separation, and exorcisms.

I do love me some exorcisms.

I'm going to a lecture now on Theology in the Church of England. As I always say, it sounds quite optimistic: supposing there was some. So far the English "reformers" are working in terms of political theology and theories of (royal) sovreignty rather than anything remotely "biblical" in its concerns.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Have I ever told you about Potter's first rule of evangelistic practices?

It states that no matter how theologically bankrupt and pastorally retarded a particular "evangelistic" practice might be, as soon as I speak up to criticize it, there will be in the room at least one person who supposes they (or they momma) "got saved" by its influence.

The Independent's Andrew Gumbel took a tour of a Hell House in Texas, and shares with us his observations:
It's called Hell House, which sounds ordinary enough. What makes it peculiar is that it is run by a right-wing evangelical church, and its aim is, quite literally, to scare the bejesus out of impressionable teenagers and shock them into signing up for a life in the service of Christ.
My favorite line:

Some of my fellow Hell Housers lose it completely. "Get me out of here! Get me out of here!" screams a girl a couple of coffins down.

"Don't worry, Sarah," one of her friends shouts above the din. "We're Christians, we're going to heaven!"
And of course one must "seal the deal:"

Thoroughly shaken, we were taken to one last room where a pastor called Larry invited us to choose between two doors - one plain one marked "Exit" leading straight to the night-time air, and another leading into a "prayer room" where Hell Housers could sign up for the church and talk, if they wished, with a counsellor.

"The question is, if you were to die tonight, where are you going to go?" Larry asked. At least three of the teenagers trembled visibly. "The devil is trying to stop you going through the prayer door," he asserted. And, he told us, calling yourself a Christian was not enough protection from eternal hellfire. "Who does the devil want most? Those close to him, or those who got away?" he asked. The teenagers murmured: "Those who got away." Larry thundered back: "And what are those who got away called? That's right, Christians!" Every single member of my party went through the prayer door. Some of them rushed through.

The whole thing was crude and manipulative, of course. Hell Houses have attracted plenty of criticism - not just from homosexual rights and feminist groups, but also from less extreme evangelical churches who feel it is entirely inappropriate to inspire religious feelings through blank fear.

The most lasting impression, though, was not the insidious way in which the usual Christian right talking-points on abortion, homosexuality and extramarital sex were hammered home so much as the kind of world constructed by Hell House and the way it spoke to its target audience - young, impressionable church-goers from lower-middle class communities.

It was hard to shake the feeling that the drugs, alcoholism, pornography, child molestation, rape and gun violence depicted in the show were a real part of everyday experience in this part of the world, whatever one thought of the way the issues were interpreted and twisted to fit the distinctly unforgiving Christian message.

Note that last bit closely. Here we have a group of would-be Christians who think they understand what the world is like: evil is afoot. What kind of hope do they believe in? What hope do they presume to offer the rest of us? Do they join with Christ and his Church in the suffering, healing and redemption of God's world? Do they throw their lot in with people who struggle under the weight of these things?

No. This is the message they have for a world God loves: that if only you do the right things, and pray the right prayers to the right gods, many of these things somehow will never happen. And if they do, it's all just fine, because Jesus will transmit you to some pie-in-the-sky, mythical land called heaven.

Neither of these things is true as such. A religious attitude that insists to people that they need to clean up their lives to avoid the supposed vindictiveness of one's deity puts a lie to the Gospel.

This is the good news that the Church bears: that all the things that separate people from God have been taken up in the Cross, and that as Lord of the World, he is bringing healing and restoration to the entire Creation. The Church is a sign and sacrament of that redemption, and a community that bears it to the world.

That means that the Church cannot be an outside observer to any pain and brokenness to the human condition, that in all of these scenes of sin and death where people would suffer alone, the Church makes its habitation, just as Jesus did and does. The identity of Christians is bound up in continuing the Incarnation, and bringing love to bear in every situation we can find.

Is "sin" harmful? Of course it is. But that's not the point, that's not our business. Judgment is God's business. Restoration is ours.

Waiter Rant offers a related story, of his godfather's speech at an anti-abortion rally. The old man knew something about the Incarnational character of the Church:
…..and shuffling into the pulpit, resplendent in his Byzantine vestments, my godfather looks over the top of his glasses upon the congregation.

“I have heard many of you talking today about God’s punishment, His wrath. How you’re good Christians because you hate abortion. But, after listening to the people gathered here, I can’t help but notice that some of you harbor a vituperative attitude towards the very women you want to help.”

People start shifting in their seats uncomfortably.

“I know many of you, like me, are here because you want to defend the unborn. Some of you are motivated by the deepest conviction.”

Another pause.

“But some of you are here because you love to hate.”

Shocked silence.

“Are you here because you really want to help the unborn?” my godfather asks. “Have you taken an unwed mother into your home? Feed her? Cared for her baby? Or are you here because this is where your friends are? Are you here to indulge in a comforting sense of moral superiority? Smug in your certitude you’re not going to hell?”

Everyone is listening now.

“Let me tell you about something about Hell,” my godfather says, “We know there’s a hell because Jesus said there’s one. But we don’t know if anyone’s actually in it.”

My godfather lets that thought sink in.

“What’s more,” he says, “Jesus never liked hypocrites. He once said, ‘They do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? No! Every thing they do is done to attract attention!”

Now some of the congregants look angry.

“Let me ask you something. Are you relieving these women of their burdens? Or are you adding to them with your self righteousness? Are you helping or hurting? Because if all of your fervor is directed towards feeling good about yourself, if it’s about getting attention, if its about how you’re better than someone else - YOU ARE WASTING GOD’S TIME!”

Amen, Amen.

"Welcome to Hell" - Andrew Gumbel in the Independent
"All Hallows Eve" - Waiter Rant

Monday, October 31, 2005

4th Week

The term is nearly half over! Who saw that one coming?

Today I get to start sorting out what my essay titles might be for Mission and for Doctrine of God. I only have a few vague ideas at the moment, but perhaps I'll have something more intelligent to say about it after I've read a bit more and brainstormed with my advisor.

I took most of the weekend off. Friday of course was Formal Hall, and the partying was completely off the chain: after dinner I joined the other graduates and tutors for tea in the SCR, then wandered off with some ministry students to the Royal Oak to talk for a bit. Somehow I ended up sitting in McDonalds (you heard me) with some undergraduate friends in the later part of the evening. We felt like cool kids.

One of our seminar hours consisted of a discussion group on feminist theology. At one point the discussion degenerated into something more silly than even I would have thought of: after we discussed hierarchy and the Trinity for a bit, and what "inclusion" in the Trinity might mean, we stopped to consider, "So why couldn't Jesus have been a hermaphrodite?"

"What?" someone asked.

"What?" thought the rest of us.

It got a little... intense.

It wasn't quite, "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin," but it was the next best thing at that moment. Crazy modernists.

I should also note that the little exchange is not representative of the course or the seminars as a whole, or really at all. I'd have been driven batty by now were that the case.

On Saturday I went out to see and support the Regent's football game against Somerville; I was recruited as a sub, but unfortunately didn't get the opportunity to play. That's just as well at the moment, since I can't actually remember how to play football. Casually asking other college members, "Soooo... Remind me, what's the off-sides rule?" doesn't instill confidence, by any means.

Next time: What if I told you that I'm discerning a vocation... to be a megachurch pastor? Hahaha, I slay me. And so will Josh.

Reformation Day

Given that living in England is more expensive than I thought and that various incidental expenses have put the crunch on my wallet, I've decided to sell indulgences.

That's five pounds for venial sins (naughty things you did but you really didn't mean to be naughty), and ten pounds for mortal sins (things you did deliberately to upset God).

Or you could be a bit more precise about it, and pay me one pound for every century you want taken off your time in purgatory. Why centuries? C'mon now, have you met you?

For my generous (though mildly sinful) American friends, you can of course send checks. E-mail me and I'll give you details. I will also offer my prayers for those of you kind enough to link this post in your blog and support my ministry of religious quackery ... I mean, soul saving.

much love,

+ Kyle Georgetowniensis

Bishop of Georgetown (in exile)