Sunday, December 24, 2006



“O happy fault!” they could cry.
“If we weren’t sinners
and didn’t need pardon more than bread,
we’d have no way of knowing
how deep God’s love is.”

- Louis Evely
(read the rest)

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

More on "catholicity"

John of the Cross

Father Alan writes below:
"catholicity" is sort of a term with a definition - unlike "emerging" - not quite up for debate I don't think. It's about being a universal Christian - one who accepts the whole Church, the whole Faith. That's what I think of, and generally, that's what it means.

Now, for Protestants who have never seen anything past 500 years ago as far as the Church and its teaching goes, that may well mean catholicity means a lot of dipping back into what came before. That might look like some Protestants are just "gussying up" to some. And it may be the case for some of them.

I do think, though, that there is something else going on, and a good bit of it in some circles of the "emerging church." People are actually beginning to see some things in some arenas, which have been hidden or "lost" for a long time. And that is a good thing. If it's just about playing dress-up, then it won't go very far, but it's not all about that everywhere we see Catholic-y stuff going on in non-Catholic churches.

So, we're not talking about "C"atholicity - which might mean, trying to be like Catholics. We're talking about catholicity, which seems to be about honestly trying to tap into the Truth of the whole Church - not just trying to imitate externals that may be attractive.

Now, there is the matter of some in the Roman Catholic arena who will say that it's impossible to BE catholic without being Catholic. I would say, I agree that it's not possible to be catholic without recognizing the Roman Catholic Church and the rich Truth contained within its borders. But I obviously wouldn't think that saying there's only one ecclesiastical "place" one can be catholic is altogether accurate.
This is what I hope the move to "catholicity" is all about - not changing around our aesthetics, but learning to drink deeply of the deeper and wider Christian stream rather than picking a particular sectarian tradition or even confining oneself to the Roman Catholic Church (which I don't mean in a negative sense). I think of something a chaplain friend told me once (I wonder who said it?), that "all theology done in schism is heretical." Kind of like, "only the whole Church can know the whole Truth." I believe that, and that's why I appreciate it when I know that Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox read and appreciate (and criticize!) one another's writings and dialog with one another.

It's also one of the major reasons I identify with Anglicanism: I believe that stance is kind of built in. Not the mainline, "liberal Christian" version, and not really the straight-up evangelical version. But it's in there. (But that's a whole 'nother discussion...!)

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

House Church: Misconceptions

Ambrose of Milan

Lots of people think that "house church" automatically means "a bunch of people prancing around like hippies and doing whatever the heck they want." I've been doing a little reading (and the Abbot has been explaining some things to me very slowly) and have discovered, much to my chagrin, that in many, many cases, those folks are right.

I had no understanding that when I say, "I'm a part of the Vine and Branches Christian Community, and we also happen to meet in a house," we are hyper-protestant, and think that each one of us is fully qualified and called by God to throw off all ecclesiastical "authority" and interpret the Bible, our only text, in the way that seems "right to the Holy Spirit and to us," and that, generally speaking, we believe the same things, like the same things, are the same ages, and do all the same stuff - a completely homogeneous group. (Check out a recent post by a friend of this blog, Darrell Pursiful, which opened my eyes to this: "When is a House Church Not a House Church?")

Holy cow! I had no idea!

Vine and Branches is quite probably the most "structured" house church you're going to find. We pray the Psalms together, discuss the lectionary text appointed for the day, make intercession for the Church and the world, and celebrate the Holy Eucharist at a small altar. We do this three weeks out of four; the other week we invite our friends for a party. See more details on Alan's blog, where he discusses "the liturgy of a small catholic church."

I'll let the Abbot speak for himself (oh, and he will!), but for my part, not having a church building has nothing to do with either throwing of the vestiges of an "institutionalized" church (that's not a dirty word to me), and certainly nothing to do with believing the ownership of a church building to be an intrinsic evil. It's about mission: in my considered judgment regarding this cultural moment (the time and place of the post-Christendom American South), having a "church building" makes us too reliant on a model of mission in which we try to get non-Christian people to come to the Church to receive religious goods and services that can make their existing lives as they already understand them to be more pleasant and happy. It's a bloody Jesus vaccine. It doesn't have to be that way, but it's very tempting for the church in this culture to do, and we gotta break out of that and instead go out and take Jesus into the world and be salt and light, not some kind of deranged religious version of a public utility.

Instead of focusing on programs or getting people to "come to church" to hear the good news, we see our mission and ministry and way of evangelism as going out to be with people who aren't believers (or apostate Christians, but that's another story) and taking the presence of Christ with us. We believe our greatest tool for spiritual growth, a gift of Christ to the Church, is learning to live together as the Church with a mission in God's world for it's redemption and recreation. We are agents of redemption and change in one another's lives, and unless we live close to one another, on purpose, in regular ways, our Christian growth is terrifically stunted. Full stop.

Can you have a building, and do that, and be about those things? Yeah, I think it's possible, but I'm not sure many pre-existing churches/congregations are really trying to do that or know how to invest the theological and relational capital. I think that Saint Patrick's Church does it, and work to do it. That's a big part of why I hang out with them. They rock. And so do we. I'm sure there are some other communities out there (and around here) that are like that as well, but these are the ones I know.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday Links

I heart Georgetown College:
Georgetown College is making a promise to five Leestown Middle School students:

Participate in a Baptist church's academic excellence program, get good grades, attend school faithfully and there will be a $40,000 scholarship waiting for each of you when you graduate from high school.

The historically white Baptist school is partnering with a predominantly black Lexington congregation, agreeing to award the scholarships to five top graduates of the First Baptist Church Bracktown's tutoring and mentoring program.

College President William Crouch will officially unveil the scholarships at Sunday morning's worship service.
Read the rest at the Herald-Leader.

Katie on criticism: "Obvious."

Richard Collins offered a great illustration of the importance of the Christian sacraments a while back.

Rowan Williams had a nice interview with the Church Times just before his visit with Pope Benedict XVI. Some highlights:
... if the Pope asked you why you persisted in remaining an Anglican, what would you say to him?

I’d say that I don’t believe the essential theological structure of the Church is pyramidal: that it has one absolute touchstone embodied in a single office. I’m certainly prepared to believe that there’s a role for the Petrine ministry of conciliation, interpretation, and mediation in the Church. I don’t see that as an executive centre; so I’d start from what would historically be called a conciliarist position.

And the thing that always held me back from becoming a Roman Catholic at the points when I thought about it is that I can’t quite swallow papal infallibility. I have visions of saying to Pope Benedict: “I don’t believe you’re infallible” — I hope it doesn’t come to that. [Laughs]

That’s how I’d answer, I think: that I’m wary of loading too much on to an individual office.

That’s why you’re not a Roman Catholic. Why are you an Anglican?

I’m an Anglican because this is — it’s what I learnt in Sunday school, really — this is the Church Catholic in this place, gathered around the word and the sacrament, exercising a canonically continuous, recognisable form of the threefold ministry, structurally slotting in with how Catholic Christianity works.

If you were starting from scratch, do you think the Anglican model works better than the Roman one?

Pwff! — by what imaginable standards would you answer that, I wonder? I don’t know, but the argument I’d give, I think, is not unrelated to what Vincent Donovan says in his book Christianity Rediscovered, responding to mission in East Africa, where he says, in a sense, you’ve got to let Churches grow out of their local setting, discover the need for recognisability, and build outwards from that. He describes the process by which some of his converts in East Africa almost invented the idea of Catholic ministry for themselves, the idea that if this is the kind of community that we are, if this is what the eucharist means, then we need that to be recognisable, and we need to know that, when we travel, it’s the same Church that we belong to, gradually accumulating like that. I think that’s a bit more Anglican than someone saying, “We’ll decide from the centre what the shape will be.”
And on the Eucharist (of course)...
I went a few months ago to give at talk at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Southwark, just down the road. And, interestingly, I was asked what I believed about the eucharist. I think my questioner was a bit surprised when I said: “Of course I believe in the real presence. I believe that Christ is active in the sacrament, and that it’s not something we do, as an act of mental remembrance. And I think he rather had the impression that that was all Anglicans ever believed. I suspect a number of Roman Catholics do think that.

... What the celebrant thinks is neither here nor there, in one way. What’s done is done. And I’m tempted sometimes to say, however much a celebrant might want to keep the real presence out, it’s still capable of coming in.
Ha! That's something Hauerwas says, too...

Ken Collins teaches us to make and use an Advent wreath.

Phil the CatholicGeek offers us some words from Chrysostom.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


The First Sunday of Advent

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 live 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.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just Things

Ordinary Time

The CatholicGeek has some thoughts on silence today.


I'm working at LTS today until about three in the afternoon, if any of you BSK critters want to say hello.

My dad doesn't like to wear his glasses. As a result, he can't tell the difference between chapstick, a sharpie pen, and a highlighter. Think on that for a moment.

My family Thanksgiving was fun.

You might have seen the recent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about the city's evangelical megachurches. Something I wish they'd discussed more was the emerging practice of creating megachurch franchises out of existing smaller churches. A friend told me a few months ago of how his parents' former church (they now attended the megachurch) had been given an "offer they couldn't refuse" - they didn't have enough money to keep full time pastors, so the megachurch was willing to buy out their property and give them a full-time minister, so long as they dissolved their governing board, let their deacons go, didn't baptize anyone. All baptisms would take place at the megachurch's main campus.

It's franchising. Seriously.

And don't get me started on Witherington's "cult of personality" comment. He's dead on.

Update 1. Oh, and check out this glowing review of Tom Wright's Simply Christian and The Last Word in the Christian Century.

Update 2. It gets better. You want to read this interview with Barbara R. Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.
What should Christians be saying about eschatology and what should ministers be teaching?

There is a sense of an end in the New Testament. I don't think the New Testament affirms a world without end. To the extent that that notion has crept into our hymnody it's a mistake. Nonetheless, our job is to care for the world and to believe that this physical earth is not about to be destroyed.

What is it that is coming to an end? That's the question. In Revelation what is described as coming to an end is primarily the oikoumene, which I translate as "imperial world," the world under Roman rule. Rome laid claim to the whole oikoumene—the lands and the seas, world without end. It's the word that's used in the Gospel of Luke's Christmas story, for example, in which Caesar Augustus decrees that the whole world should be enrolled in a census. Revelation proclaims that this imperial world must come to an end.

If we translate oikoumene as "imperial world" in a verse such as Revelation 3:10, then the "hour of trial that is coming upon the whole oikoumene" is not at all what rapture proponents claim—a general end-times tribulation that God will inflict during the earth's final seven years—but rather a courtroom scene in which God puts the empire on trial.

Two other Greek words, for earth (ge) and world (kosmos), are used more positively in the New Testament. A key verse is Revelation 11:18 in which God says, "I'm going to destroy the destroyers of the earth," not "I'm going to destroy the earth." The word for earth there is ge, which is used some 80 times in Revelation, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. God created the earth and still loves it, even though it also falls under judgment. The passages that refer to oikoumene in the New Testament are all negative. That is not case with ge or kosmos.
What do my Greek-reading readers think?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On Hospitality

The Hospitality of God

God welcomes exiles, and creates places of safety and care for those who are lost. God provides a home. Canaan was the first promised land, and now it is and will be the whole earth. Hospitality isn’t just about parties (though parties are important signs of the Kingdom), but about reconciling with enemies and creating safe spaces for those who have none. Being a community of safety and real life restoration is the primary way the Church should understand evangelism, because it is as such a community that it embodies the news about Jesus.

The Hospitality of the Church

What does it mean to be a community? What are the best books about contemporary appropriations of the Benedictine traditions? What do the Benedictines have to teach the Church about showing hospitality? Who are the people for whom the Church is called to make safe spaces?

Living the Good News...

... as a counter-imperial metanarrative.

What does it mean to embody the news that Jesus is Lord of the whole earth? Particularly against our individualistic consumer society, it would mean that we understand ourselves not as individuals seeking to make our way in the world, but members of the Body of Christ. What are the deliberate practices of belonging to one another that post-modern American Christians are engaging in?

What are some of the ways that Christians are telling that story as a holistic, life-changing movement rather than just another way of thinking private thoughts about God?

More on Evangelism

What does it look like, and what does it mean to share the news that God has reconciled the world to himself through Jesus Christ? What do we say, and what do we seek to look like when we proclaim with our lips as well as our lives that Jesus is King? What are the good and bad ways of understanding truth as an experience?

Much of what passes for ‘evangelism’ at the present time assumes that persons should place high value on personal decisions, are minimally influenced by their social relationships, and if a foundationalist argument for the existence of a personal god can be made to “make sense,” people will “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior.” If you’ve met me, you know I don’t have a lot of use for that. What is the goal of such modernist evangelism? What version of the Jesus story is put on offer? What are the philosophical foundations that such evangelists want people to believe, and what do they want their converts to do? Can any part of it be good?

I think any post-modern evangelism that is consistent with the biblical witness and the life to which God calls the church is going to present itself as an invitation to the Kingdom living that the Church is actually embodying: in essence, that some of the benefits of God’s ultimate salvation is being experienced and shared by the Church here and now, and that in friendship with the Church, individuals can see the goodness of life with Jesus in his Church.

I’m going to talk about God’s mission for his world, and how the Church fits into that. Lots of you are familiar with how this works already.

I also believe that when the Church understands that the Church is the most important medium for the Gospel message, it will place a higher value on the spiritual formation of its members as part of its commitment to evangelism.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Key to the War on Christmas

Ordinary Time

Or, Why the Culture Wars are stupid.

Okay, here's the deal about my War on Christmas. As many of you realize, there's a lot of hype this time of year about there being a "liberal" war on Christmas. There are a lot of Christians and nominal Christians in our culture that insist left-wingers are trying to secularize this commemoration of the Incarnation. They also believe that Christians need to "take a stand" and "fight for their rights" - which apparently includes being wished a "merry Christmas" by Wal-Mart.

That is asinine. Let me tell you why.
1. I don't think it's possible to really "secularize" Christmas. Whether or not Walmart or Target the White House or any other major retailer or public entity wants to acknowledge that I celebrate the Christian Feast Day is of no concern to me at all. It is not possible for such entities to either enhance or degrade one's commemoration of the Feast of the Incarnation. If one imagines that it is, one has a Big Problem.

2. It ought to be a bigger concern to Christians that other Christians are commemorating the Feast of the Incarnation (a.k.a. "Christ's Mass," or "Christmas") by engaging in a great orgy of consumerism, buying things for one another that they often do not really need. Let's exchange gifts, but perhaps read the Book of Amos, while we're at it?

3. Most people in the United States who aren't active Christians (and some who are) do and will continue to celebrate Christmas by that name and in this way, but will not make any explicitly religious observances along with it. Might our energies be better spent in encouraging people to learn about Christmas and what it means in the Christian faith rather than insisting that atheists wish us and everybody else a "Merry Christmas" rather than a mild and generically friendly "happy holidays"? At least the people saying "happy holidays" are being friendly. What kind of person gets angry in response to that? I'm not sure we're really loving people well when we can be the kind of people who get mad at them for giving us what we consider to be an inappropriate "hello." Get a grip, folks.

That's why I wrote, "don't wish me a merry Christmas, but rather a blessed Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ." It's the same thing, and therefore a ridiculous statement - just like the insistence that someone wish me a Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays. It's satire.

4. The only legitimate way for Christians to "take a stand" in any culture is to love and worship the Trinitarian God, and to love, pray for, and even die for their enemies. Even if there's some great liberal plot to steal Christmas, the only way that the Gospel and Christian history honor is to - you guessed it - love and pray for our enemies while praising our God. Never, never, never, to return anger, hatred, or indifference in kind.

5. It is entirely contradictory to the Gospel for Christians to be talking about their "rights," and what the culture at large "owes" them. In accord with a Christian worldview, we pray and sing, "All things come of thee, O Lord," - all good things are gifts of our God, and any evil that befalls us serves as a test. This is a mysterious thing, but when do we endure trials (if you are really so short-sighted as to compare being wished "happy holidays" with the trials of martyrs), the appropriate question is to ask, "what kind of person does the Lord seek to make me in the midst of this?" If "secularists" are truly attacking us, we are commanded to pray, not to return evil for evil. Once again, it is the way of the Gospel to treat enemies as if they were not enemies.

6. There is no sense in connecting corporate policy decisions about whether to wish the American public "happy holidays" or "merry Christmas" with the wider concerns of the Kingdom of God, which prefers to shun consumerism, heal broken human lives, and engage in the transformation and recreation of God's world. No sense whatsoever.
Again, for similar thinking, see also

Joshua Hearne: War on Christmas
Dr. Platypus: 9.5 Curmudgeonly Christmas Theses
Theological Intentions: My Two Cents on the "War on Christmas"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Christians and Muslims...

Ordinary Time

... do not worship the same god.

Just because a particular religion believes there to be one "real" god, doesn't mean they all happen to acknowledge the same god as being the one. You don't suppose that all polytheistic religions keep the same pantheon, do you?

Just because modern day Judaism, Islam, and Christianity claim a connect to a guy named Abraham that people said the (singular) god spoke to doesn't mean it's true in any case.

Here's a bit of Christian Theology 101 for us to consider: Christians don't believe in "God." (Well, I don't, anyway.) Christians believe in the Trinitarian god who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians do not say, here is an idea of "God." Jesus is divine, so our idea of that "God" will tell us what Jesus is like. No, no, no! Christians believe that Jesus fully reveals the Trinitarian god: the tradition we have received about Jesus, the second "person" of the Trinity, is the foundation of any ideas we're going to have about "God."

Therefore, any statement about "God" that doesn't start with "Jesus is/was _________ so therefore God is _________," is opposed to any Christian theological statement. And yes, it is needful and right to move on and talk about the connection of that god to the god of the Old Testament, and even to use "reason" to sort out what that god might be like, but there is no valid starting place in Christian theology other than Jesus.

Any god that cannot be said to be like Jesus the Christ, and manifested in Jesus the Christ is a different god than the Christian god. Any god that is not understood as three persons in one substance is a different god than the Christian god.

That does not mean that other religious folks who worship these other gods are bad people. I don't hate them. I certainly don't dislike them for that reason, either. I would never be unkind to anyone for that reason. It doesn't mean we can't have inter-faith dialogue, and it doesn't mean we have no common ground at all. It just means that we worship and serve different gods.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wacky Episcopalians

Ordinary Time

Oh, no she didn't. Amy Welborn: "An interview that will go down in infamy." It's about Heresiarch Kate's interview in the New York Times Magazine. And the papists are pissed...

It reminds me of what our brother Stan said about making a "fetish of the family," but on the other side. The thing is, I've known many Episcopalians who are very excited about Baptists becoming unenthusiastic mainline Christians, but don't have the foggiest notion how or why anyone would convert to Christianity as such.

Oh, and Stan's point in a nutshell was this: when Christians make a fetish of the family - growing it, "protecting" it - as some kind of end in itself, that's how you can tell they don't believe in God anymore, because Christians believe that God expands and renews the Church by conversion. However, what if you're an Episcopalian and you don't care for reproduction or evangelism...? I guess you lose a million members in 20 years...

Update: Oh, wait, there's more...

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Ordinary Time

Yesterday I

made breakfast
prayed the office with my housemate
cleaned my room while watching Battlestar Galactica (very efficient, I am)
went to LTS
listened to an Internet Monk podcast
read Bonhoeffer
read Mark
read Lauren Winner
read Jean Vanier
took a nap
had dinner with two Jesses
discussed atonement theology
returned phone calls

Today I

ate breakfast with friends
read the first 7 pages of Mike's chapter
answered e-mail

Today I will

go to LTS
print notes
have Pad Thai with a friend
go to the bank
go to the post office
read more of Jean Vanier
read more of Lauren Winner
read two chapters in Mark
do laundry
pray the office
make tuna melts for dinner

Saturday, November 11, 2006

House Churches

Just to note, I hope you're following the discussions on two recent posts, in which some of the aspects of how VBCC thinks and acts as a church are getting teased out.

Community and Growth
Church and Witness
Being a Diaspora Christian

Friday, November 10, 2006

Church and Witness

If you've not read the little post I wrote on Christian community yesterday, do check it out. Following that discussion, I've been thinking about just what witness my own community of Vine and Branches offers the wider church and the culture at large.

I think it offers a witness for the community of Christ, and against religiosity. We meet in a living room. We involve ourselves in one anothers' lives and learn to care for one another, and to be a blessing to our neighbors. We don't have big religious events. We don't offer free turkeys to the first 200 families, or whatever. We seek to be a cohesive Christian community that steadily offers the gift of presence and care to the people around us as well to each other. No big worship services or pep rallies for Jesus. And there is absolutely no chance that 150 new people are going to come to our liturgy next week to "get excited about the Lord" in some vague way. But what we are - and I think this is far more important, or else we wouldn't be this - is a group of people that will know your name. When people visit, they're going to be spoken with. Folks get to know us a little, and we get to know them. There can be no slipping in to for the dispensing of religious goods and services, and then slipping out again anonymously. It's a big risk, and it's very deeply real. I think that's one of the reason what we are actually intimidates many Christians, whether they're lapsed or not. It's not the "big things for God" that make or break churches or the Christian life as a whole: it's the little ways that we dedicate ourselves to our common discipleship and God's ongoing redemption of his world. The little things are an every day thing, not special occasions - that's why it's a real transforming experience, and not merely a religious high.

As for the wider culture, we are a Christian community that seeks to love others well. It's important to me that folks who are not Christians (or who are lapsed Christians) to see us as a blessing to the world around us. I'm not sure if we've got that wired, or if we ever will, but it's a matter of process.

Do come back at me on this; I'm interested to know what you think. Also, you might talk to me about your own church experience, and even introduce yourself if you've not done so before. Are you involved with a Christian community? What's the biggest reason you're involved with the community you are? If you aren't, what's the primary reason you aren't? And no, I'm not going to harass you, but I'm curious.

Peace be with you all, and thanks for reading.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Community and Growth

Ordinary Time

I've started reading Jean Vanier's Community and Growth. I'm finding it... provocative... on a personal level. So far he's talking about how people in our culture find their security and sense of identity through accomplishment in the absence of belonging and acceptance. One notion that's resonating with me particularly well is that living as part of a real community on a day-to-day basis is going to show us how really unloving we are:
"As we live with people daily, all the anger, hatred, jealousies and fear of others, also the need to dominate, to run away or to hide, seem to rise up ... While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny to others, how closed in on ourselves we are" (p.26).
So many of us, when we begin to have really deep friendships, realize how terrifically bad we are at loving. It's not just us - it's all of us. We have to learn to stop protecting ourselves and learn instead to keep open hearts and risk getting hurt. The trick is that many people don't find out how bad they are - and therefore never get good at it - because they don't change their lives so as to let people in that closely. After all, how much easier is it to live with such a personal distance (even if we live and work and play alongside others) that we don't cause offense or get offended ourselves?

I am convinced that it is the work of the Evil One that anyone would live really alone. Humans were created to be in communion with God and one another. I think immediately of two kind of isolation: one can live alone, and share a household with no one, or live with others but remain closed off, to keep one's own counsel, and to really live only for oneself.

I am trying to live counter to that kind of culture that is everywhere in our society and our churches. I have insisted that my own church be a primary "point of reference" in the way I live my life. I don't attend the Liturgy because I "get something out of it" (not that I don't), but because I'm dedicated to being with those people in that deeply meaningful way. And do you know what? Enacting that dedication, moving it from theory to concrete practice, is transformative for me. It makes me more concretely and practically God's, moving from being the overseer and director of my own life to being homo ecclesiasticus.

We aren't together, either my church or the people in my household, because of common affinities or interests. Those things are there, and those things help, but we have been called to be with one another and to learn to love one another well. Only when we learn to make one another a steady point of reference, choosing to deal with those people on a regular basis and to take completely for granted that they have a place in our lives, are we going to be the kind of community that Jesus is shaping us into. That's what cooperation with Jesus looks like.

So what do you think?

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Real Ultimate Power?

Ordinary Time

Jared sent this my way a little while ago: REAL ULTIMATE ANGLO-CATHOLIC POWER!

I have a pork shoulder to cook for dinner. Any suggestions?

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Importance of Being Polite

Ordinary Time

I'm working a short shift at the bookstore today. I like the bookstore.

I had a job I didn't like, once. A co-worker was leaving, so there was a reception at the workplace. I was cornered by an older woman I'd always seen as rude.
"So has this job been a good experience for you, Kyle?"

"Well, it's definitely been an interesting experience. I've seen some things I wouldn't have otherwise, and I've learned a lot."

"But would you say you've had a good experience overall?"

"I've met some people I'll always remember, and I've been able to do some helpful thinking about my life and career direction..."

"Yes, but has it been good? Are you glad you came?"
Just then someone else walked up to join the conversation. I got out of it by asking that person a leading question, and excused myself before it could get back 'round to me again.

I thought the exchange belonged in an awkward dinner party scene in a whimsical Victorian play.

Freedom of Speech?

Ordinary Time

You may have heard of the upcoming documentary on the Dixie Chicks, "Shut Up and Sing." The producers of the piece fancy it a commentary on the "sad state of freedom of speech in this country" or something asinine like that.

Let me explain something to those of you who have clearly never read the United States Constitution. It insists that (within certain boundaries I don't feel like enumerating, but it has to do with treason and shouting 'fire' in crowded buildings and things like that) the Government may not interfere with an individual's right to political protest and self-expression.

It has nothing to do whatever with how private citizens may or must react to the bitter ramblings of another private citizen. Contrary to popular belief (or at least the convictions of the Dixie Chicks) the United States Constitution does not compel me to buy their albums even if they piss me off. If the Dixie Chicks say that they are embarrassed by President Bush, the liberal democratic tradition does not insist that I must say, "Well, it's great they have an opinion!" It encourages me to say that the Dixie Chicks are unpatriotic and stupid, simply because I believe it.

The US Constitution does not compel their dwindling fan base not to be alienated by the foolish things they say. If the FBI knocked on their doors, we could talk about "freedom of speech" issues. But if they say something that's offensive to approximately 49% of the US population (and probably 99.56% of country-western fans) and they choose not to purchase their albums, this is not a "freedom of speech" issue. It's an issue of words and actions carrying consequences.

Anybody who uses the phrases "Dixie Chicks" and "freedom of expression" in the same sentence without irony or outright mockery is a moron who needs to take 9th grade civics again.

Full stop.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Edition

Willibrord, Bishop and Missionary

Why I Will Vote

No, I don't believe that any human government will bring about God's rule on earth. I don't need to believe that in order to vote. The American Empire invites me to exercise a small voice in its leadership. And I want to influence things just a little.

Alternatively, here's why Christians perhaps ought not vote...

... also Alan Creech: "white flag"

How I Will Vote

I'm going to vote a straight Democratic ballot. I don't care about where these people stand on abortion, particularly because I'm not aware of any upcoming legislation that's going to further liberalize the laws. What I do know is that contrary to what a lot of religious Republicans would like to believe, there isn't a single Republican Senator that's ready to sacrifice his or her career to set up a federal amendment to limit or outlaw abortion. Doesn't it strike you as a little sick that there's widespread support in this country for a ban on gay marriage or civil unions, but nobody's going to make it illegal to kill a gestating human? The anti-abortion stances of such politicians are not in any sense "pro-life," but merely a strange breed of conservatism that doesn't really have anything to do with a Christian commitment.

I want the United States to have leaders who are honest and responsible about the Iraqi Occupation. The Bush Administration and its remaining Republican supporters clearly are not. I want to give Democratic candidates a shot.

I'm voting for Newberry in Lexington's mayoral election. The present mayor takes the Bush administration's cue: "I've not made a single mistake in office." Yah, except for the city council, you know, hating her.

I'm voting for the condemnation of the Kentucky American water company. It's foreign-owned; I'd prefer they at least call it the Franco-German water company, or whatever. That's where the profits go. I prefer local control and administration of local resources, and for the money it generates to go back into the local economy.

Update: I almost didn't get to vote. I've mislaid my drivers license, and the lady at the poll was very suspicious of my United States passport. She nearly turned me away, but between my University of Oxford student ID and my VISA card decided that counted as legitimate. Just not the US Passport.

She said if I needed ID, I could go downtown and have them make one for me.

Go figure.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Uh oh. A Rant.

William Temple


Hm, evolution and stuff, at Real Live Preacher. Nice essay (HT: Addison Road).

Oh, and I don't use swear words much, but I have absolutely no moral qualms about using them. Just so you know.

If you cared. But you know what's sad? I've seen seminarians who don't know shit about Christology argue about that to the point of ridiculousness. Stupids. People are all too happy to offend the people they think are pagans by packaging their version of the gospel in the most offensive ways imaginable, but all hell will come down on you if you dare to use a naughty word and offend some white-haired old biddy who loves the Lord. Or doesn't love the Lord, for that matter.

Hm, I think it's bedtime.

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William Temple

We stopped at the grocery today, and among the usual purchases, we picked up two hachiya persimmons and a pomegranate. Happily, I have Dr. Richter's Fresh Produce Guide to tell me what to do with them. I also picked up a "What To Do with a Pomegranate" pamphlet. I am not making that up.

While at work (at the bookstore), I came across a religious tract in the Gay and Lesbian section. I found one next to Sun Tzu's Art of War about a week ago in the Eastern Religions section.

I threw them away, in case you were going to ask.

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Monday Links

William Temple

Antony's Attic: Imperial History of the Middle East

Ben Myers: African Creed

Richard at Sub Ratione Dei checks out Proclaim Peace: Christian Pacificism from Unexpected Quarters, and reviews Faith and Politics After Christendom: The Church as Movement for Anarchy.

The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, has recommended Olsen's Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

Also, Sven realizes that "the biblical way to defeat evil and violence is" Way to go, Wayne Grudem.

The Internet Monk offers wise words regarding the Haggard controversy here and especially here:
Many of today’s pastors are entrepreneurs, not spiritual men at all. The are running organizations, living in front of an audience, talking about style and technology. They are shallow, ambitious and over-worked. Their families are on the stage. They are supposed to fill a dozen major roles. They are celebrities and motivational speakers. Peterson rightly points out that God is merciful to show us this is not what a pastor is to be or what a church is to do. Lord, deliver us from what we want, and show us true shepherds and sheep of Christ.

There’s a reason for all the ministerial moral failure: they are burned out middle aged men who don’t know what is happening to them. ...
I don't think that a married Catholic priesthood would lessen the incidences of abused children or ministerial affairs, though Witherington is trying to defend that notion this week (HT: Ben). If he could have had a woman, he wouldn't have had a kid? No. However, he does make some good points about the need to reverse a church culture that sees sexuality generally as bad:
Its time for the whole church to stop sending mixed messages like "Sex is dirty and unholy, save it for the one you really love and marry". The message needs to be "sex is a beautiful and precious gift of God. There is nothing remotely unholy about it. Indeed it is such a precious gift that it should indeed be saved for the context of unconditional love and an unlimited life time commitment." Unfortunately, however this great truth about human intimacy is one even much of the church and even too much of the clergy can't handle as things now stand. So what shall we do about this malaise? Inquiring minds want to know.
I maintain that there's a lot of house cleaning along those lines to be done in evangelical churches before we start fixing up Rome.

Can we say also that Haggard's problem is that his church has held him to an unrealistic standard of monogamy in a stiflingly heteronormative culture? No, I didn't think so.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Ordinary Time
22nd Sunday After Pentecost

The cool kids were doing this awhile back...

Pretty exciting.

Desk Meme

Ordinary Time

Ben tagged me way back when, but I've gotten around to it. Ta da!

Messy desk. This was when I was writing my last essay.

Nice, neat desk. Isn't it great?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


All Souls Day

As this is All Souls Day, when we pray for the ongoing purification of those in Purgatory (and if we're smart, the purging that we're supposed to be getting now), I present to you a list. Come and listen to wisdom, my friends.

Update: Purgatory Explained. Check out Aquilina's "Soul Food" for the history.

5 Ways I Would Change the Contemporary American Church

1. No more TV preachers. I am convinced that no good comes of them. And even if it did, Joel Osteen burns my nostrils so badly that I don't think it even makes up for it.

2. Protestant rapprochement with Rome. Most of the Protestants I know only think of the Catholic Church in terms of medieval stereotypes. It's perfectly valid and even needful to have calm, fair, accurate criticisms of another church, but at least base it on something real.

Case in point: how many real Protestants really know that papal infallibility doesn't mean that the Pope is believed to be sinless?

3. I'd like to see church-going people stop all of their religious activities and vet them all according to one single, all-important question: will the thing I'm doing really make me (and us!) more like Jesus?

4. No more labels. Most of these people out there don't know what liberal really means, or what a heretic really is.

See also

Why "Liberal" Really is a Dirty Word and Heretics: Watch Your Damned Language.

5. Quit insisting that people affirm certain code words as a litmus test for biblical orthodoxy. Instead, let's look at the lived practice of the Christian commitment, and then ask whether somebody seems to have a high view of Scripture or not.

See also Nothing Could Be Closer to the Truth

What do you think? Am I on or off? Do you have a list?

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Book Review: The Great Mortality

Ordinary Time
All Saints

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, by John Kelly. HarperCollins, 2005. 364pp.

John Kelly’s history of the Black Death is carefully researched and eminently readable. The first chapters examine the origins of the plague and discuss how it was transmitted from fleas to humans and carried across Europe by black rats and international trade. The scientific discussions are well-written for a lay audience, giving the reader a good understanding of how and why the plague spread as quickly as it did. The work is fast-paced and rich with anecdotes about medical practices of the middle ages and the reflections of those who lived through it – or did not.

I find Kelly’s account of medieval anti-Semitism to be particularly challenging. It is a sad fact of Church history that very soon after the separation of church and synagogue that debate gave way to vitriol and violence between the Jewish communities of the Diaspora the increasingly Gentile Christian churches. Teachers and leaders on both sides were threatened by the other because of the competition for converts (or reverts), and several church Fathers stand guilty for supporting or even encouraging violence against Jews as “Christ Killers.”

It’s preachy life-lesson time.

As a result of this culture in Christendom, anytime something disastrous happened to Christian Europe, it was certainly the fault of the Jews. Pope Clement VI condemned the killings as well as the hysteria and imputation of collective guilt upon which they were based, but this seemed to matter little. Holy Week pogroms were a traditional observance for Christian Europe, which would reach their height in the Final Solution of Nazi Germany.

Because of this shameful and inexcusable history, I am increasingly convinced that any observance or remembrance of Jesus’ execution must be made in the wider context of the New Testament witness, which insists that the Church must bear these wounds in its own Body. Jesus came to suffer, and so the Church must suffer. Jesus did not seek vengeance, and neither may the Church that bears his name. This is a question of what we consider the Church to be, at its very foundation. It is a suffering body like that of Jesus, or it is nothing that has anything to do with God or his Christ.

Further, any notion that Jews then or Jews now have some kind of group complicity in the events surrounding Jesus’ execution is just stupid. For whatever else it might say, the New Testament is convinced that God wanted it to happen, and that it would have happened one way or another.

Finally, anti-semitism is stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The other life lesson? Man cannot and God does not guarantee the health and survival of any civilization. All of the accomplishments we pride ourselves on, and the progress we hope to make as a cohesive society can be rolled away pretty quickly. Ultimately, remembering how the 14th Century saw mortality rates around 30% or as high as 50% during these various plague outbreaks makes me far more grateful for the people in my life who aren’t dying of something.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Introverts Gone Wild

Reformation Day
Vigil of All Saints

My boy Antony's talking about blogging and conflict. He prefers to avoid it, and I obviously don't. See, I'm a bit introverted. Really. I'm also deeply introspective. I think about myself all the time - wouldn't you, if you were me?

Folks deal with bent toward introspection in different ways. Some people keep their own counsel, while I craft a public persona (and what a persona it is!). Introspection can be a kind of self-obsessing, or it can be helpful for our growth, depending on what we do with it. It has become a very important tool for me to practice examining my presuppositions. Say that I did think that conflict and disagreement (as such) were Bad Things. What would I have to believe in order to think that disagreement and controversy are bad? I don't know your answers, but mine would be:

1. People don't respect people with whom they disagree
2. If people really disagree with me, they won't love me
3. I have to say the right things in order to belong
4. People only find me interesting because they agree with me.

Again, those would be my answers. So I have to ask, are these things true?

Roger Jasper is one of my best friends. (photos here) Roger is clever, spirited, and well read. He is fiery, and as Anabaptist as anything. I'm certain that he respects me very much, but he's never afraid to say, "Kyle, that sounds like a lot of bullshit to me. Where is that in Scripture? Come on, now." We're close together on "baptist" things, but farther apart on "catholic" things. We're each exploring the catholicity of the Church in our thinking and reading, in our own contexts. But we talk about this stuff, and agree on things and disagree on other things and ask and answer and listen. It's great fun. I try to have him and Jessica (and the genius baby) over for dinner every couple of weeks.

I can name all kinds of issues about which I disagree strongly among my closest friends. But they're my closest friends. We have to be careful when we talk about these things so we don't hurt one another, but it doesn't mean we can't or don't talk about them.

That takes out #1-3 in my little list. As for the last, I know I've got a lot of blog readers who disagree with me, but think I'm interesting and hilarious (Come on, you know you do). Do they "totally" disagree with me? Probably not. But if we all knew and thought the same things, we'd be quite bored with one another. The conversations on my blog rarely get ugly these days, and not because of an absence of disagreement and contradiction. I think part of it is the tone I try to set as well as being a good moderator.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

The Black Death... and some links

Ordinary Time

I'm still in Colorado this morning, suffering from a bit of a cold. It's been a good time, though. I slept and watched Shaun of the Dead yesterday afternoon while my family visited the local aquarium, but managed to get myself off the couch for buffalo burgers. It was pretty sweet. I think we're visiting the US Mint this morning, and I think my sister wants to work in a Celestial Seasonings factory tour before dropping us at the airport around lunchtime.

I've been reading John Kelly's The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. I enjoy how HarperCollins thought it necessary to put that little explanation in the book's subtitle. It's pretty interesting. General mortality during Europe's plague outbreaks was about a quarter to a third, but in some places could reach 40 or 50%. That's incomprehensible to me. It made me quite a bit more grateful for the life that I live; I mean, I just have a cold, and that's that. When I go back home, my roommates will likely be alive, and none of them turned into zombies.

And that's just the way I like it.

The Legal Alien at Gladly Suffering Fools has posted cute photos of his "filthy beggar" children.

Josh Williams discusses his journey "From Guilt to Grace."

According to the American Family Association of Kentucky, you should vote entirely based upon superstition, rather than ethical reflection. Frank Lockwood: "Did Clinton Save America from God's Wrath?" I've told you guys why Baptists hate Clinton, right? 'Cause he got away with things that they don't even get to think about. It's envy, not righteous indignation. Tee hee!

Oh, and here we go... Gladly Suffering Fools: "Homophilia."

Speaking of which, Geoff at Sparkgrass is Not Happy about about early reports of the new guidelines for ministering to gay and lesbian Catholics. I've not read them yet, but if you want to get a jump on me, get to it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Theology of Vestments?

Ordinary Time

Let's talk about vestments: specifically, the pretty frocks that priests and acolytes wear during the divine liturgy as it is performed by traditional congregations. Just to say, I realize that from the way I talk and write, folks often assume that I'm censing the high altar at a cathedral every weekend. While I certainly think that would be fun and poignant, I don't. I am, when it's all said and done, part of a house church. And alas, we have no liturgical dress, and won't be getting any anytime soon.

Why is special dress for the celebrant and assistants (essentially the "lead worshippers," if I might use the language of evangelicals) a good idea? I think the answer is both theological and anthropological. People engage in ritual for important observances. Particular modes of dress are part of that: it expresses reverence (or irreverence!) and makes the statement: "this is something extraordinary we're doing, and it deserves to be attended to in an extraordinary way." To simply refuse special rituals and dress for special observances is to make a particular political statement - one that I disagree with rather vehemently. When some people complain about liturgical dress, it sounds to me like, "Why should we act like the Eucharist is some kind of special observance?"

That being said, when I visited St. Aldates (Oxford) and a young woman ascended the platform in a sweater and jeans and started chatting, and by the end of the little speech she had moved into the prayer of consecration, I was shocked. It's not merely because she was wearing "civvies," or that the words she spoke were to some degree improvised and extemporaneous (I don't think there's anything wrong with those things as such), but because the way I "read" the entire action was, "I don't think this is a big deal, and you guys shouldn't think this is a big deal either." For a reason I can't quite put my finger on, it seems to me that in a larger, more "public" setting, reverence must be far more intentional than that to be really reverant.

At the same time, I never see the way hOME or VBCC attends to the Mysteries to be anything less than reverent - even though there are no vestments in sight. In the smaller setting - kind of public but actually quite intimate - full on eucharistic vestments would seem out of place. For some reason, I think that "simplicity" is reverant in a small setting, but irreverant in a larger one. Does that make sense?

As for the pastoral issue, let me explain that it's not "pretty frocks" that I'm really talking about. Priests generally wear stoles when performing priestly functions. Visualize a simple stole here, rather than a medieval carnival. I think it is at the very least pastorally useful because it makes the statement that the chief consecrator is functioning as a priest. In those moments, the celebrant isn't just my friend (let's call him) Bill, but Bill the priest. Bill's personality isn't erased (now, who would want that?), but ritual action and vestments are visual indicators of the theological reality that this man through his functioning as a priest empowers and even enables the people to present themselves to God in the Sacrifice. As chief consecrator Bill the priest has a divine authority to ask God to do what he does in that moment for the Church that has nothing to do with whether he's a nice man or if people like him. Vestments, then, are a kind of pedagogical tool to remind us that we're Catholics and not Donatists.

I guess I don't get all that hot and bothered about it (really!) because I know that someone can be both my friend and my priest, and that sometimes the most spiritually efficacious thing is that he is my priest. Some people complain that this creates a harmful division between clergy and laity. And for all of that, I'd think I'd answer that there's a difference between a clergy/laity "distinction" and a "division." It's not an Indian caste system, and if we let ourselves talk about it like it is, we only hurt ourselves. When we ordain people, we create a distinction. What we do with it, how we talk about it, how we understand it - that's the question. The distinction is there as soon as we say that one person can consecrate the bread and wine, and another can't. As soon as somebody is to any extent "in charge" or a facilitator of religious activities, that happens. Happily, it's the way of the Church to ordain people so that we can be upfront about it and learn to be healthy about it. I'm reminded of all the Baptists I've known who refuse to say they have a theology of ordination or even of ministry, but will affirm that the Holy Spirit comes upon the preacher when he enters the pulpit. Saying the distinction isn't there doesn't make it true, it just keeps us dishonest and schizophrenic in our theologies.

I have yet to meet anyone bothered by vestments whose church uses them. The people I hear protest (ahem) the loudest are in traditions and churches that do not, and would not use them. Why are those people so certain about what the practice means and what it does to people?

Update: See also Dr. Pursiful's post.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Books Again

Ordinary Time

One of the odd things about working at the bookstore is that really simple things can become difficult. One takes for granted the meaning of certain phrases that realy need to be expounded upon with the aid of charts and diagrams.

Customer: Do you have any copies of Book X?
Me [checking computer system]: No, I'm afraid we don't.
Customer: Why not?
Me [continuing to check computer]: My information describes that title as out of print.
Customer: So can you order it?
Me: No sir, I'm afraid I can't.
Customer: Well, you should carry more books by Author X.
Me: Of course, sir. We try our best. However, since Author X is local and uses small publishers with a small print run, his/her books tend to go out of print fairly quickly. The only thing I can get copies of is the newest book, Book Y.
Customer: Barnes and Noble could get it for me.
Me: No sir, they couldn't. I know that for a fact. I'm happy to recommend some local used book sellers, or some websites if you wish, but I'm afraid I can't help you any further than that.
Customer: No, I'll just go to Barnes and Noble.
Me [smiling cheerily]: Very good. Good day, sir.

Here's the thing. I am happy to spend 5-10 minutes with anybody who comes to the Help Desk, trying to hook them up with the book they're looking for - even when it doesn't exist. What I never do is stand and listen to someone pout that they can't get their way.

Another (apparently) painful experience of cognitive dissonance sets in when I have to explain to someone that the book they're so certain they need does not in fact exist. I always try to break the news gently. Interestingly enough, the older someone is (and presumably the more shaky their memory) the more certain a customer tends to be that they have the book's author and title exactly right.

Customer: Do you have the new book by Author A?
Me [checking computer]: Let me see. Are you sure it's not Author B (who shares a surname with Author A)?
Customer: No.
Me: I'm sorry, I can't find that name. Would you please spell the last name for me?
Customer: Well, it's not hard. [spells]
Me [thinking about how my education really probably does make me better than this person, then feeling slightly badly about it, then checking Google and Wikipedia to see what I can find out about "Author" A]: I'm sorry, but the only records I'm finding for Person A is either a cartoonist who died in 1951 or a recently retired Canadian MP.
Customer: Well, that's not him.
Me: Clearly. Do you know the title of the book?
Customer: [names an approximation of the title of the new and popular book by Author B, who shares a surname with Author A.]
Me: Yes, that's by Author B.
Customer: No, I'm sure that's not it.
Me: I'm sorry, but I don't believe the author you're looking for exists.
Customer: That's okay, I'll just go to Barnes and Noble.

Yah, we'll see how long they put up with either one of you.

You know, I'm pretty sure of myself. I'm a graduate student, and I've worked in a bookstore for many months, and as a library tech for a year. I was trained to catalogue this stuff. It's not a Master of Library Science, but it's not nothing. If I say a book does or does not exist, I'm right. If I tell you the best way to aquire a certain title, I'm right about that, too. Just that much - it's not exactly hard. I wonder if there's a T-shirt I can wear to get this idea across...?

It gets even more sensitive when I must interfere with the logic of "I think Book C should exist, therefore someone did write it and a publisher did print it, and all bookstores must therefore have it.

Okay, that's all.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Deconstructing Christian Clichés

If you will indulge me, I'm re-introducing a piece I wrote last Advent. Let me know what you think of the piece, and if you want to revisit the original discussion, click here. If you don't know me, let me introduce myself.

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."

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 have offered my thoughts on four common Christian platitudes, with suggestions 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
N.B.: 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 if you do want to share, that's what the comments are for.

And don't forget to read the conclusion of the series, "And the Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed," in which I bring the discussion back to the Advent context - making space for our coming King.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Various Things

Ordinary Time
Philip, Apostle and Deacon

I'm back at LTS today. Before me rest several issues of the International Review of Mission, some recent Christian Century editions, a Bible, and Samuel Wells' Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. To which blogs or publications do you turn when you want book reviews in theology and popular religion? I just found Christian Book Reviews.

As Roger likes to say, "Kyle. Back to ecclesiology." We've been talking about how we've really got to do business with the Fathers, because they are the first interpreters of the Christian witness that would later become Holy Scripture. We can't just assume that we're going to read better or more faithfully than they did. However, acknowledging that the Christian tradition develops (and is to a considerable degree developed by the Holy Spirit!) doesn't mean it can't go back to go forward in some ways. Like the canon, or the creeds of the first five centuries. You can re-interpret, but you can't replace or re-write. Sorry.

(Finger wants to have an open discussion on that here.)

Roger says I'm just afraid of becoming a Baptist again. Maybe I am. Afraid, that is. I'll write more on that later.

Blake's offering more discussion on the liberalism thread. I'm pretty proud of this post, if you've never read it.

Jen and I have been discussing the nature of "testimonies." She's also introducing you to some of my favorite people in Oxford. I miss them so. *sniff*

Andy Goodliff cites Colin Gunton on renaming the Trinity.

I mostly don't talk about this stuff anymore, but Internet Monk just says it so well...
There is nothing I resent more than the insistence that I cannot find Jesus genuinely present in other traditions or in the lives of Christians with whom I disagree. The attempt to “launder” and purify evangelicalism down to a “100%” error free expression of the true church is a project I want nothing to do with. I do not need a theo-babysitter to keep me away from Christians, books and expressions of the faith that might be tainted. This is, in my view, little more than human pride and the desire for power over others expressing itself in the denouncement of all who are not identical to our own current level of understanding.

- "What is a Post-Evangelical?" (Part 2)
Holy cow.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

"Evangelicals and Catholics Together"?

Ordinary Time

Well, more or less.

Everyone, we have a new blog friend. Best behavior, now.

SaintSimon writes Normal Life Adventure, which is about just the things you might suppose. He's a Church of England ordinand trainee reader in the charismatic tradition (like evangelicals, only happy), and active in a parish. Since Anglians like to "round out" the churchmanship of their priests, he's doing a placement in a local Anglo-Catholic parish, which seems pretty dead (franky!). It's probably not the best advertisement for an unfamiliar tradition, but it sounds like he's making the best of it. He's expressed warm appreciation for the content here and at Elizaphanian, and contributes thoughtfully to discussions.

I recently asked him to share his reflections on his placement, and with his kind permission, I'm reproducing his comment here as a discussion starter. He definately comes at this stuff from a different direction than I do! I'll offer my responses, and I'd like to know what y'all think as well.
You are right that I would classify myself as Evangelical. I would say Charismatic rather than Pentecostal as it is less denominational.

To be honest, I am struggling at the ‘Oxford Movement’ church.

This Sunday I was asked to carry a chalice. I was told off for being in the wrong place in the procession, implying seniority over the licensed readers. I caused comment when I stumbled slightly while carrying the chalice. I got a bit muddled as to who was taking the wine. But these are peripheral issues. My main problem is that it seems to erect so many barriers between God and his people. ...
Wow. I'm reminded of what Jesus said about the Law being for the people, and not the people for the Law. And wasn't there something about choosing the lowest place at table? Ritual acts have purposes, and anytime the purpose is forgotten or that purpose is so unabashedly unchristian, the acts need to be dropped - at least in that particular context. I guess I just want to go on the record saying - and this as a sacramentalist who believes strongly in the value of a proper and ordered liturgy - anytime a "mistake" in the liturgy is worth getting upset about, there is a big spiritual Problem in somebody. Nobody has any business organizing a procession according to "importance." That's just gross. Same thing with "commenting" about stumbling. You don't want to drop it, they don't want you to drop it. It's not worth "comment." Some people do indeed have some disordered values.

And about dropping the chalice? Or the Host? As Endo wrote, "it was to be trodden upon by men" that Jesus came into our lives. He's cool with that. He knew what he signed on for, to be frank. We ought never to be cavalier about the Mass, but failing to get the choreography just perfect isn't about respect or disrespect. And more importantly, it is blasphemous to make a show of respecting the Eucharistic Presence to the exclusion of respecting Christ's Presence in my brother. Full stop.
I also worry that the object of the faith has been diverted away from our Lord onto the various symbols. I resent having to bow to a man-made wooden altar when I have a living Lord. It feels idolatrous. I resent the altar rail, when the veil in the temple was torn at the crucifixion. I resent the vestments setting apart some members of the church and creating an outward beauty which seems so distant from scriptural exhortations to make inner beauty the priority. I resent the raising of the circular wafer – reminiscent of sun-worshipping paganism. Etc. etc.
The purpose of Christian symbols is to direct both heart and mind to the Lord. Honestly, I try to keep this so much in mind, that I'm not sure what it would feel like to be really meticulous about the liturgy and not consider it to be a way of loving Jesus well together as the people of God. If it's not that, it's just stupidity. Honestly.

A catholic/sacramental theology maintains that anamnesis, "remembrance" in the biblical sense is a kind of "making present again." It's a reenactment of God's saving act in the present that both brings the acts saving efficacy from the past into the now, and is an invocation for God to continue that saving action into the future. When the Church gathers around the Eucharist, we are joined with the hosts of heaven, the angels, martyrs and departed elect before throne of God. If you're a science fiction fan (I stole this from Alan), you might think of it as offering a wormhole between heaven and earth. The Church is gathered in both places, and divine power is mediated to the Church through the Eucharist. When one bows to the altar, one is bowing to Christ. No thing at all, and no one else.

The altar rail, from what I understand, was a medieval invention meant to keep out chickens. And probably people. I don't like it myself, and don't have a defense for it.

As far as the vestments are concerned, I see them as a kind of uniform, that helps make the celebrant's personage fade and the action take center stage. I see it as a form of reverence. If that's not what's going on in a particular setting, it should probably all be abandoned in that time and place.

I'm pretty sure the Host is elevated because that's reminiscent of Christ being lifted up upon the cross, in turn reminiscent of Moses lifting up the broze serpent in the wilderness.
Also, although the popularity should never be the test of sound doctrine, why is there only 5 people in the congregation [not including the service team] on Sunday and Wednesday night? If reverence is the focus of the church’s worship, surely the first reverence is to actually turn up?
Ooo, burn. :0)
However, there is some good stuff – the way for the gospel reading the Bible is carried in procession to the centre of the church and the congregation stands to hear it – we need more reverence of the Bible in our church. And if I am OK with this, perhaps I can extend it to other things? But even so, surely reverence of the Bible consists primarily in doing it rather than just parading it around.
Again, definately, and I like your consideration of that. Liturgy is about enacting - performing - the faith in anticipation that it will give rise to further performances outside the liturgical setting. You know, like out there in the world.
I came to this church with a genuine desire to be open minded, and to learn, and to find out for myself rather than relying on prejudices passed down to me from my family background. For this reason I will be having a meeting later with the Sacristan who is keen on all his stuff and will explain its meanings to me. I still feel there is an opportunity for me to get under the skin of this thing and understand where it is coming from. I really don’t want to criticise something that is a true or at least acceptable expression of the faith. I don’t want to criticise anything that is genuinely given by God. Neither do I wish to teach as doctrines of God traditions of men that fly in the face of God’s intention. (Matt 15v9)
Sounds like that won't be a problem. Anybody want to chime in?