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.