Tuesday, December 11, 2007


If john piper can have 'christian hedonism,' can i have Christian sadomasochism?

Oh yah, and I'm home now. (In case you hadn't heard the angels singing)

I am so bloody tired.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Has anybody paid attention to the Anglican/Roman Catholic buzz of late? One of the "continuing churches" that formed from the Episcopal Church (which we call T(p)ECusa or TCGC, if you'll recall) when that denomination started ordaining women to the presbyterate in the late 1970s has petitioned the CDF (that's Inquisition to you guys) for entry en masse to the Roman Church.

You can find some late details on this request by the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) here at Britain's Catholic Herald. Many of you will already know that Anglican priests who wish to become Roman Catholics may usually take advantage of "the pastoral option," and be ordained as RCC priests soon after renouncing their Anglican Orders. (This is interesting to folks because the Vatican doesn't mind that many of these men are married.) And of course, any Anglican lay person is free to just hook up at their local Roman Catholic parish.

I think the reason for making the broad request is that the bishops of the TEC would like to be ordained (or "conditionally ordained") as bishops and retain oversight in their parishes - this wouldn't happen if they renounced their orders and entered the Roman Catholic Church as laymen.

h/t: de cura animarum

Friday, November 30, 2007

What's Next?

A few friends and kind readers have asked me about my plans now that I've finished my M.Th. I've been thinking about a lot of different things, but here's the outline...

I really enjoy what I do at the bookstore, and the people with whom I work. While I didn't get the marketing position I wanted, I have been given leave to plan and execute at least one author event that I've been pushing for.

The work that I do with the people of Saint Patrick's Church is very important to me, and I'm working on two long term projects in Christian education and formation.

The first project is to design a standard program of Anglican catechesis and introduction to Saint Patrick's Church. St Pat's receives a lot of interest from folks who have come from evangelical protestant denominations, and while they might have been away from the life of any church for months or years, there's still an element of "culture shock" when people are introduced to our liturgy and philosophies of ministry. While we can't make the life of our parish less weird (because we are convinced that it's weird in a good way) we can take people aside to welcome them, answer questions, and provide a basic introduction to Anglican Christianity and its peculiar grammar so that folks will have the theological tools to "read" and therefore better understand what's going on in the life of our parish. We'd like this to be a four week, informal class that we provide 3-4 times a year, as needed. I hope that after a year or two of this, we'll have some well-formed Anglo-Catholics running around the place. Ahem.

The second project is going to be less work but a lot harder: our household is getting together with some other folks in the parish to learn what it's like to share life and a common Rule together with people of different interests and demographics, but who are interested in friendship, monastic practices, and learning to love our Lord better. I'll write on that as it progresses.

Would you believe that it sounds to some folks like I'm a drifter, since I don't have a salary, a title, or an ordination planned?

I won't have a fancy title (unless Father Matthews deigns to give me one) and it's not going to be lucrative. I still have a closet full of fancy dress clothes that I'm not using at the moment. This will not put me on the fast track to the priesthood. But here's the thing: I'm not looking to be a CEO in the Kingdom of God. This is not a matter of "climbing the corporate ladder" - I'm a layman of the Church of Rwanda, so there is no bloody ladder. A friend reminded me this week that there are plenty of people in plenty of churches who have heard a call to ordained ministry, and want to get themselves put into that ontological category ASAP so they can go about the "real ministry" that they're called to do. Right here and now, however, this is the very real ministry that I'm called to do: help build the life of the Church, learn to be a better penitent, and to call other sinners to turn to Jesus and engage fully in the life of God's new Community, and participate now in the life of the world to come. I don't need to be ordained simply to do that. I'm still thinking about priesthood, but any formal process for that really needs to be on the back burners right now, because more important than any institutional process is the question of my own formation in holiness and the life of Christ's Church. Our God has much to do in and with me, and I want to bend my body such that by the time somebody lays hands on me to make me a priest, I have already been formed into the kind of man who should be a priest.

Forming character is like preparing a roast - if you try to do it fast, you end up with something other than you were hoping for.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I am pleased to announce...

I have just received the official word from the University that I have passed the degree program. My dissertation, "Encountering the Christian Colony: An Evaluation of Hospitality as Proclamation" scored in the "Very Good" range.

I am grateful for the friendship, care and support that my friends have given me as I've undertaken the program.


Kyle D Potter, MTh (Oxon)


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Catholic Converts Remain Protestant...

Let us imagine that a Protestant Christian were to sit down and read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and study for years the doctrinal differences between the Church of Rome and those of the East, and of the Reformation, and finally come to a place where he agreed with all of Rome's doctines, and finally joined the Roman Church.

That Christian would still be a Protestant.

As I see it, the central issue in Roman Catholic Christianity is not how its many particular teachings square with Scripture - for indeed, this is a Protestant concern - but whether God has given to the church the charism whereby it may pronounce infallibly upon matters of faith and morals, and whether the Bishop of Rome serves as a lynchpin for this divine economy.

This occurred to me when I was talking to a friend, and he related a question he'd asked of his parish priest: 'What are the essential Christian teachings?' The priest responded that this was a very Protestant question. Protestantism takes for granted that it is right and godly and proper for individuals armed with Bibles to continually second-guess the teachings of the broader church. See, for example, Michael Spencer's review of McGrath's new Christianity's Dangerous Idea.

Either the Church in council has the authority to pronounce in this way, or it does not. Councils doth err, or they do not.

My friend asked me why Anglicanism isn't just a stopover on my way to Roman Catholicism. I suppose that I can't know that it will never be, but I do know why it isn't now: councils doth err.

More to follow...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Small Joke

How many Anglo-Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?


A thurifur, a boat boy, 2 Torches, 2 Crucifers, 10 choristers, 3 Acolytes, 4 chalice bearers, a Sub deacon, Deacon, Curate, and a Priest.

from here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What is the Church? Questions about Ecclesiology

I've thought often about some advice given me by a colleague at Oxford a couple of years ago. He was a Canadian Mennonite who had been recently confirmed in the Roman Church. (Presumably he's still Canadian.) He suggested that I do some real work getting my ecclesiology sorted before getting anywhere near another potential ordination process.

Presumably my friends won't be free to frolic and play the whole time I'm in Oxford this month, so I'm going to do a bit of study in the RadCam. I want to do some focused reading on ecclesiology so I'll have some things to consider as I work a normal job for a little while. I want to get at the truth of what it's going to mean to spend my life as a Catholic Christian, and to do the theological work such that I'll know whether I can do that with integrity in an Anglican setting. Is there a future for Anglican Catholicism? I think it is our hope of a future, but of course I'm very biased.

So here's where y'all come in: as I consider what the Church is, what questions do I need to ask? What do I need to read? A kind Nashotah House reader reminds me not to neglect Ramsey's The Gospel and the Catholic Church, and I've wanted to dig into Radner's End of the Church and Reno's In the Ruins of the Church for some time now. I might go spend some time with deLubac's work and go back to see what my tutor has on his ecclesiology bibliography.


Monday, November 12, 2007


24th week after Pentecost
6th week of Michaelmas term
Days left in Lexington: 5

Life is good. I got to spend time with a lot of great people this weekend, and just enjoy myself. I've got just under a week left in the States. It's going to be low key; other than a trip down to Asbury to see Bishop Tom on Wednesday, I'll just be working and spending time with my friends before leaving.

I'm pretty excited about seeing Oxford folks again. I really wanted to spend an entire term there this past year, but I couldn't work out the logistics. I'll probably get a little teary-eyed at the airport. *sniff* It's going to be a great three weeks.


I've been brainstorming ways to advance the Anglo-Catholic insurgency around here. I think when/if I get some money saved up, I'll start stacking some small kneeling pillows by the entrance to the worship space, so folks can pick them up if they'd like. ... with the Rector's kind permission, of course...

I've started to notice that our Eucharistic piety on the whole seems to be increasing by way of quiet liturgical peer pressure - in the same way that all those evangelicals started raising their arms in the 80s (or whenever), these evangelicals are learning to reverence cross and altar. Lord, form your Church.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Anglicans and Reformation

Everyone heard about what +Pittsburgh did, right? I'm wondering if I'll hear reactions from Richard+ or my new Nashotah House e-buddies...

Oh, and now Mrs. Schori is leveling the same threats (it's a form letter) at +Fort Worth. Hm.

Also, Father Pete is twriting a litle series introducing the English Reformation. Very readable. Go click.

I'm often told by folks who don't read history that Henry VIII somehow "founded" the Church of England over the question of his lust, as opposed to the "spiritual" reformation on the continent.

1. Christ founded His Church, and it spread to England.

2. Henry VIII needed an heir to take the throne, not simply another tarted up bed partner.

3. Medieval Christendom 101: the Church and what came to be known as the modern nation-state were very deeply intertwined. Lutherans certainly hold no moral high ground on the matter of local churches being led around by the nose by their secular overlords. Ahem.

4. On all sides, the Reformation was (the Reformations were?) both a political and ecclesiastical process. William Cavanaugh argues that the most staunchly Catholic territories in Germany were the ones with whom the Pope signed an agreement to keep his hands of their money and lands. Hm... (Think about it for a minute - then find the discussion in the first few pages of his recent Theopolitical Imagination.)

5. I think when we grow up a little bit, we quit trying to imagine that there is such a thing as purely spiritual causation in the life of the Church, removed from political/practical/temporal concerns. The dichotomy just doesn't work.

Okay, that's all.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Who can has Cheezburger?

Kitty decided that we were overdue for some quality time around 8 this morning, so he parked himself outside my door and started caterwauling.

The other Kyle commented yesterday, "I'll never have a pet again."

I like Kitty. Even if he does chirp, meow and purr at us continually.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Doing My Part in Parish Life

Some of my fellow parishioners have commented at various times that they become confused in the course of the Divine Liturgy, not knowing quite when to bow or kneel. I've volunteered to step up and explain it to people, taking them aside to let them know what's up - when in doubt, it's never wrong, after all, to lie prostrate before the altar of God - as kind of a "liturgical acclimation" ministry.

Father Matthews says my "not acting like a jerk" ministry is more important, though.

Oh, well.
"I carry you, living God, who is incarnate in the bread, and I embrace you in my palms, Lord of the worlds whom no world has contained. You have circumscribed yourself in a fiery coal within a fleshly palm - you Lord, who with your palm measured out the dust of the earth. You are holy, God incarnate in my hands in a fiery coal which is a body.... As you have made me worthy to approach you and receive you - and see, my hands embrace you confidently - make me worthy, Lord, to eat you in a holy manner and to taste the food of your body as a taste of your life."

Cited in Aelred Cody, "An Instruction of Philoxenus of Mabbug on Gestures and Prayer When One Receives Communion in the Hand, with a History of the Manner of Receiving the Eucharistic Bread in the West Syrian Church," in Rule of Prayer, Rule of Faith, ed. Nathan Mitchell and John F. Baldovin (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996), 63. Cited in turn by Rev. Alvin F. Kimel, Jr, "Eating Christ: Recovering the Language of Real Identification," Pro Ecclesia XIII (Winter 2004): 82-100.

Monday, October 01, 2007

What now?

I've joked to my friends that I hardly know what to do with myself, because I've not thought about my life beyond finishing the dissertation. After sending the documents to the printer in Oxford, I've spent the week getting caught up on some basic things around the house, like cleaning it.

I got to spend a little time with med school buddies for the first time in several weeks, and I've still not seen my sister in awhile; she's been working on the CPA exam. I'm traveling today to visit a friend in Northern Kentucky who's been injured; we'll swap broken back anecdotes. (He's going to be fine, but the recovery time is pretty difficult.) I'm printing up copies of the dissertation to share with some friends who will be helping me criticize it in anticipation of my viva voce exam. I'll be returning to Oxford in two months to defend my work in person (to the death!) and to vacation a little and spend time with the folks of the hOME Community.

In the meantime, I'm balancing the checkbook, paying bills, sorting and filing, selling books I want rid of, getting some auto maintenance, keeping an eye on what I hope will prove to be the resurgence of North American Anglicanism, and probably taking the cat to the vet to make sure his ear infection is all better.

Oh yeah, I'm going back to selling book really soon, as well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Still Holding My Breath

I finished the dissertation at 5pm this afternoon, bells and whistles and all of that.

As of right now, I have another 3,000 words to write for this experiential project essay, and I intend to finish it before going to bed tonight, so I can e-mail the whole package to the printer before the sun rises upon Oxford. That leaves two full business days for them to get it done up and have it ready to be picked up by a friend on Friday morning.

Update. 02:14hrs. The .pdfs have been sent to the printer, and my kind colleague Jacob will be picking them up for me, and adding the official documents my supervisor had to scrounge up at the last minute (some things you should never, ever lose) and deliver them to the exam schools by Friday at noon.

I'm going to bed. Then I'll get up, have my coffee, and call the printer after lunch (their time) to confirm the order and pay for it. Then I'll sit and try to figure out what the heck I'm doing with my life now.

Other than sitting for the viva voce exam at the end of November...! I'm really anxious to return to Oxford, so that will be nice.

Does Anybody Know...

... how to hypnotize a cat? I want to shut off his meow box, 'cause he's drivin' me up a wall.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nice Kitty

I'm afraid Kitty's getting bored with his toys. I think when I finish my paper, I'm going to go to the pet store and get him a hamster to play with.

Oh, and kill and eat.

You can read Kitty's other sagas by clicking here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rich Mullins on the Bible

Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins' memorial is coming up on 19 September; do yourself a favor and check out any of his albums. The synthesizers on the first album are nuts, but the rest is okay, and the poetic lyrics are amazing.

"The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart. It is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice. It does not so much nibble at our shoe as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from bone to bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our smaller minded questions but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask."


"I don't think you read the Bible to know truth. I think you read the Bible to find God, that we encounter Him there. Paul says that the scriptures are God's breath and I kind of go, wow, so let's breathe this as deeply as possible. And this is what liturgy offers that all the razzmatazz of our modern worship can't touch. You don't go home from church going, 'Oh I am just moved to tears.' You go home from church going, 'Wow, I just took communion and you know what? If Augustine were alive today, he would have had it with me and maybe he is and maybe he did.'"

Friday, September 14, 2007

Take that, Jeff Fugate

It's now going to be legal to sell alcohol by the package in Lexington on Sundays. On December 16th.

'Cause it wasn't before.

The funny thing was, the fundamentalist Baptists who showed up to argue against it are essentially prohibitionists - they want to outlaw alcohol any way they can. Their arguments seemed kind of strange when the city was considering expanding the existing alcohol sales, not cutting them off.
They said expanding Sunday hours would lead to more alcoholism, alcohol-related crashes and hungover employees who would not arrive to work on time on Mondays. It would also lessen the respect for the Lord's day, they said.
Lemme tell ya - as it stands, Sunday's the only day I'm sober - and that's gonna change real soon. See the thing is, alcohol goes bad if you don't drink it the same day you buy it.

Oh, wait. What?

Huh. Okay, so that's not true at all. You mean I could have been tanked at the last church picnic! What a terrible law.

Okay, I'm done. Back to the dissertation...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I'm at LTS today, looking to sort out how I'll describe these "anti-imperial" stories the Church must tell. As some of you will know, this Disciples of Christ seminary now houses the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, and a sign outside indicates this.

A couple of older gentleman strolled in and asked the library desk worker if this was a Baptist seminary now. She looked like someone had stolen her lunch money, and tried to explain to them what the Baptists were doing here.

When I returned to my table, I noticed that the bust of Alexander Campbell on the windowsill was weeping.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Autumn Memories

I once got a lecture from a family member about how things would be different once I was out of school and in "the real world" and had to look after myself.

(I don't know who she thought paid my tuition bill.)

The funny thing was, at the time, I was in a wheelchair because I'd just broken my neck/back/ribs/sternum, and my mother was feeding me soup because I couldn't do it myself. Or chew very well. Or go to the bathroom myself. Or lie down. Or sleep.

And I thought to myself, "Man, I'm glad I'm not out there in the real world. Things must be pretty fucking tough out there."

I'd have been angry if it wasn't so ludicrous.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

How to Shop for Churches

The other Kyle can't go with us to afternoon Mass at St. Patrick's Church because of his work schedule. In the meantime, we've been sniffing around for a service of divine worship that he might attend on Sunday mornings. There's a local, large Reformed church that I'd heard good things about (in regard to its liturgy), but when I asked a friend who attends, his first comment was that the preacher really loves to talk about homosexuality and abortion, which surprised me. That's probably not a congregation any of us is going to get excited about.

I mean, what business does a pulpiteer have talking about abortion or homosexuality of nobody in the congregation is doing or about to do those things? Why is it interesting? Why is it important? Are preachers at these large evangelical churches really pacing back and forth talking about how non-baptized people should live?

That's not to say that anybody wants to attend a mainline denomination so they can hear about the war in Iraq, either...

Okay, back to the dissertation...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Creation and Imperial Aggression

Will and Michael have commented on the Imperial Administration's expanded regulations to encourage mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Here's a quote from Wendell Berry I came across the other day.
"Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into Heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the economist that 'economic forces' automatically work for good and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that 'progress' is good, that it is good to be modern and up with the times. It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of Creation. For in these days, Caesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities, and nations. He is a contradictor of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world. He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?"

Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, pp. 114-15

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I'm a jerk. Anyway, back to work...

Monday, September 03, 2007


Fr Matthews keeps telling me about this "Protestant Reformation" business. In response to some things I said last week, he wrote a post confessing that he believes in the "Reformation version of justification by faith." The thing is, I know lots of self-identified "protestant" Christians who wouldn't use the language that the good father does. Ever. Under any circumstances.

This suggests a couple of things to me.

First, just because a contemporary Christian says that they consider themselves to be heirs of the Protestant Reformation doesn't mean their words about God and the Faith have anything in common with those of the Reformers. I'll take Pete's word over any random 50 Protestant laypeople or preachers you'd like to present to me, quite frankly.

Second, I really need at some point to take seriously what I've read and heard about the Reformers seeking to return to the Bible and the Fathers. To the extent that contemporary Protestants have forgotten that last been, I suspect they've co-opted the Reformation for own uses. I'm sure it happens all the time.

I think when I get this thesis done, I'll start thinking about such things.

Don't get your hopes up, though. I'll still probably think "formalism" is a positive label...!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Osteen Again

As an employee of a normal, "secular" bookstore that keeps a well-stocked religion section, and tries to carry the books that will sell, I understand a little bit of profit motive. One wants to stay in business. But I have a harder time understanding the pure profit motives of so-called "Christian" businesses, which are supposed by their very nature to keep a few doctrinal and moral standards.

Christian Book Distributors is actively promoting Joel Osteen's new book. If you really want to read a nice self-help book that isn't Christian, but really will help you in your Christian life, I can show you a few titles. Pick up Byron Katie's Loving What Is, or something. But for the love of God, the Christian one, don't by Osteen's book. And don't buy from CBD.

I pick up their sale items sometimes. Now I won't. Go read as Michael Spencer rips them up.

Oh, and as you'll see, a LifeWay employee informs us that their stores don't carry Osteen's book. I had wondered, but not gotten around to calling or visiting. This heartens me - truly a boon to ecumenical relations...

Friday, August 24, 2007


If 21st century Christians in the West were to take the prayers and practices of the ancient Church as their model, their first response to the government's War on Terror rhetoric would be, "How can I die well?" rather than, "How can I live the safest life possible?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Joel Osteen's book has just been released on paperback. I'm going to deal with it like I did the popularity (among aging liberal 60-somethings who were raised in fundamentalist churches where they were told that God hates short pants) of John Shelby Spong's Jesus for the Non-Religious: displayed books on Christianity all around it. Heh.

While we're on the topic, Christianity Today had a worthwhile article on the prosperity gospel in Africa a couple of months back, "Gospel Riches."

Joel Osteen is not a Christian teacher. He might be a Christian man, but he does not teach Christianity. If you'd like a brief explanation and critique of the prosperity gospel, I direct you to this post by the Internet Monk, as well as his criticism of Joel Osteen himself.

Thinking About "Salvation"

Michael Spencer riffs on a post from the White Horse Inn considering whether evangelical Protestants really believe in justification by faith. If you want to find out the truth, apparently, just ask them what happens to Christians who die with unconfessed sin.
I could tell these stories all day. If you ever take a group of evangelicals who have heard the gospel for years and ask them to explain it to you as if you’d never heard it, get ready for a real wake-up call. If you apply a question like the WHI folks did- “What if you die with unconfessed sin?”- you’ll hear a cafeteria of works, merit, synergism, cooperation with God, credit for good intentions, God waving the standards, points for sincerity and so on.

What will really shock you is how seldom Jesus is ever mentioned. I hear testimony after testimony from people who have grown up under Baptist preaching- preaching that I know is about Jesus a good bit of the time- and they speak of God in terms most any Mormon, Jew or Muslim would not find particularly offensive. The person and work of Jesus is like wallpaper. We know it’s there and we don’t have to talk about it.

The big question is this: Why are evangelicals so ignorant of the basic, fundamental concepts of their own gospel of salvation? How is that so many of them sound like they’ve been catechized in a pre-Vatican II Catholic setting?
He then offers a list of reasons why many evangelical Christians have no idea what justification by faith is and means, and I think he's right.

It makes me wonder - do I believe in justification by faith? I can only guess what some of my readers think, and others make it more clear, but I think I do. I happen to believe that participation in the fellowship and the sacramental practice of the Christian Church is absolutely necessary for our ongoing healing and sanctification/transformation on this side of death, but I believe that justification comes by trust in Jesus. But I wonder, do the other things I believe undercut that?

I believe that unbaptised persons are not-yet-Christians, regardless of who or what they trust. I do believe baptised babies are going to be alright if they die. Baptising babies kind of makes sense to me.

I also believe that apostasy is possible - not the idea that someone can be a complete moral failure and God will damn them for it, but rather that choosing over against God is in itself a choosing of the things that destroy our humanity and degrade us to the point of "damnation."

Hm. I'll think of more later. What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oooh, snap.

People have been asking me whether I am a liberal or a conservative ... my stock answer is that these are two denominations of a religion to which I do not belong - besides, when one is anti-consumer capitalism, anti-communism, anti-nationalism, anti-abortion, anti-war and all of these because one is convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation, fully human and fully divine and that the self-giving love of the Trinity is a more truthful model for human beings than the laws of supply and demand or even democracy, one isn't invited to too many parties thrown by either liberals or conservatives.

- Father Rhodes, in a comment below.
Amen, amen, amen.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Anglican Imagination: Liturgy and Worship

Lester: "I don't get tired of kissing my wife, and I don't get tired of the liturgy."

Me: "Ooh, I see. Liturgical revision is like adultery. I agree."

I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to say that, but still...

Friday, August 03, 2007


When I don't have time to write, I just tell you to visit Michael Spencer? What's that about? But it's an occasion for a little rant and I wonder what the rest of you might think about it.

At the end of his Internet Monk Radio Podcast #66, Spencer starts criticising the propensity of many folks to fail to see that the Bible is about Jesus. He's recently spoken with someone who was bemoaning the fact that a couple of "great Christian young men" in his family had gotten their ears pierced. the iMonk says,
How long do you have to be around the Bible and church and sermons and prayer meetings before it finally gets through to you that Jesus isn't concerned with that kind of rule keeping? ...

There's no way you can read the gospels and [see] Jesus nagging people about getting tattoos and getting piercings and playing cards and going to the movies, you just don't see that... That whole trip, of the Bible as a set of rules, a set of principles and it's really important that we conform our lives to all these principles, and Christ isn't at the center, that's a dead end.
Which leads us to my rant.

Even coming from northeastern Kentucky, I am continually shocked to learn about how much religious people care about the way other folks dress. Is it possible for me to say with charity, that anyone who's going to be interested in my ears cannot possibly have anything interesting to say about Christ?

My thought is that if someone has been formed as the kind of person for whom wearing earrings or not is a key gospel or lifestyle choice, they really cannot have a good grip on what a gospel lifestyle is.

And of course, I have four earrings. I'm not sure if anybody I know under the age of 50 ever notices, but I know it seems to infuriate anybody over 60. And frankly, I enjoy that, but it's certainly not why I wear them...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Anglican Catechesis: Tradition

We were thinking and talking about the popular notion of "scripture alone"* in one's faith and practice last night, and I've been working through various ways to properly express the problem. Just say that Friend X and I are members of the local Baptist congregation, and we're hanging out and studying the Bible (we're good members of the local Baptist congregation, thank you very much). Suppose that Friend X says to me, "you know, I've been reading Acts and 1 Corinthians here, and I really think that it's proper and right that our church services include periods of public prayer and prophecy by lay people, and as long as it's done decently and in order with appropriate interpretation, some of that prophecy and prayer will be spoken in unknown tongues." We'll have a nice chat about whether the norm in the Corinthian church was glossolalia or xenoglossy (essentially, whether the unknown tongues were human or non-human languages), and then by the end of it, I say to Friend X, "No, gifts like that passed away with the apostolic generation."

(You know that he and I would never really have this conversation, right?)

Here's the problem: Friend X and I have each offered a particular reading of Scripture. It doesn't make any sense to talk about one being "more scriptural" than the other, because we're both two people who worship with the same community, read the same scriptures, pray together, and bring that formation and our broader account of the Bible into our reading. We're each trying to make the most sense out of the biggest part of Scripture as well as we can, and we're good enough friends to assume good faith of one another. As "scripture only," evangelical protestants, we would be unable to appeal to any authority to adjudicate between these positions. There is no authority to declare either reading in or out, because there is not authority that can set boundaries on the reading of Scripture.

The Scripture itself does not tell me whether this disagreement is over core issues, or adiphora - is it something about which we can agree to disagree? The congregation cannot both engage in public prophecy in the manner of 1 Corinthians, and not do this. What authority can say to us, you must stay together as friends and fellow bible readers, or that you must walk apart?

Each one of us is holding onto a particular reading of scripture - an interpretive tradition.

In one sense, tradition is (as Tom Wright says) the history of the Church's Bible reading. It's a very long and quite diverse history, with people running around every which way. When we look for a Tradition (note the capitalization), we're asking the question, "In the long history of the Christian Church, which readings of Scripture have seemed to the broadest parts of the Church to be most faithful to the entire Biblical narrative, and most conducive to the growth in holiness and Christlikeness of the Church's members? In the broadest consensus of holy men and women in the Body of Christ through time and space, which readings of Scripture have been disastrous for the Christian life, and which have been a boon?

If appealing to the "Bible alone" were practically sufficient, we would not need to divide over diverse readings of scripture.

*I didn't use the popular Reformed phrase sola scriptura because I don't have any Calvin or Luther to hand, and it's not the Official Reformation Christian Doctrines® I'm disputing - we can go around all day about What the Reformers Really Meant (as if it matters) and never get back 'round to what real people in real churches really do to the Bible and to each other, and the entire discussion would bore me so badly, I would lose the will to exercise bladder control.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Latin: Public Response

Lisa Takeuch Cullen's short opinion piece, "I Confess, I Want Latin," (link) can be found on the last page of the July 30 issue of Time magazine. Her reason is simple: "I want to hear Mass in a language I don't understand because too often I don't like what I hear in English." She tells of growing up the daughter of a laicized priest and a Japanese woman, and sitting through Masses in an unknown language. Cullen enjoyed the experience, she says, because it was meditative: it compelled her to slow down and think about God.

The English Masses she would later attend stand in sharp contrast to this, because she had to sit and listen to a priest dictate the congregation's political involvement and pontificate on "controversial" and divisive issues. She grew tired of hearing sermons taken from from the priest's Netflix queue (zing!). She longs for a return to sacred space in the liturgy, and desires to hear comfortable words "in a world unmoored by violence and uncertainty." Indeed, I am sympathetic to some of her arguments, particularly when she pleads for Padre's film choices to take a backseat to Eucharistic devotion: "With your back to the congregation and speaking in a dead language, you find it difficult to tell me how to vote."

She pleads, "Allow me to experience the joy of communion without the anguish of our modern day differences. Bring back the Latin and bring back an embattled believer."

Let's take 'er down. Though I'm not a Roman Catholic, I think you'll see shortly why I bothered with this.

The Good

I think Cullen is right about one thing: there are better sources for moral avatars than inane Disney films. If somebody's going to really listen to you talk about God for 20 minutes every week (or even half-listen), surely one can do better than offer a version of the New Testament according to Eddie Izzard: "Don't do bad things, only do good things, never put a sock in a toaster, never put jam on a magnet, and never lean over on a Tuesday..."

When a priest says Mass and reads the Gospels aloud, he has already created an imaginative world in which to invite people to see themselves. What the hell does he need a film for?

The Bad

Honestly, I think this woman has been to as many Latin Masses as I have: zero. But from what I've read in history and liturgical rubrics and such, I'm pretty sure that sermons are always in the vernacular, and I'm pretty sure that any bishop worth his salt would beat down a presbyter guilty of political opining or even extemporaneous speech during the consecration. Therefore, some of Cullen's cuter comments don't make any sense: one could still hear a bad sermon or a "political" sermon at a Latin Mass, and no priest is going to be sermonizing while at the altar, anyway.

The Ugly

It is not the purpose and end of religion for it to be a comfort to those in need of it. The Christian narrative is a story that subverts and displaces other stories. If one wishes to engage in Christian practice - particularly the liturgy, which can and should crack open imagination like a bolt of lightening - one should open oneself to the possibility that other stories will be assaulted, and make much less sense before long.

One of those stories is the separation - even the alienation - of one's "spiritual" and "political" commitments. May the Triune God save us from the schizophrenia of modernity!

Cullen's piece is ultimately a paean to consumerist religion: I want a particular good that the Church can offer me, and in exchange I'm willing to do them the favor of consuming that good. I am not willing to offer my self, my imagination, or even, in Cullen's view, my full attention.

I'm sure any Christian pastor would be pleased to help someone like Cullen enter a Christian fellowship, share life with the Body of Christ, and begin the work of being transformed by the renewing of one's mind - but not on the terms she has offered.


A friend tells the story of a conversation with his gym teacher in high school.
"What religion are you, son?"

"I'm a Christian, ma'am."

"Well, I'm a Baptist, and those two are very close!"

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Storefront Churches

The main story in last week's Faith and Values section of the Herald-Leader was Providence Christian Church's temporary storefront location (link), coupled with an article on the popularity of storefront churches in Florida (link).

I would really enjoy reading an article on all the local storefront churches that are starting up in Central Kentucky. I have particularly noticed in Georgetown that it seems like a new one opens up every six months or so. I'm not one for watching church planting trends, but if there's anywhere in the world that wouldn't seem to need more congregations that are just like the others, it's this place. Why do you folks think these churches are opening?

I've heard that storefronts appeal to the poor, because dedicated buildings can seem pretentious or intimidating. For many of these Christians, of course, it's the cheap first step to megachurch status, and they don't to meet in homes because they want to grow numerically through an attractional model of mission, i.e., "come to see and experience this neat thing we're doing." I don't like to call that "mission," but there you go.

I also don't take for granted these churches are having the financial or numerical success that they would like; I know that a recent Baptist church plant has been meeting in the Regal Cinemas for almost two years now. Everybody says they offer something "different" from all the other existing churches; I have to say that in many cases, if they have leadership under 50, they are indeed something different.

My favorites are the billboards for the Pentecostal churches that offer more entertaining worship, and the Baptist church plants that see themselves as necessary because the other churches are too entertainment-focused.

I was recently contacted over the MySpace by the worship leader of a storefront start-up in Georgetown. They're trying to put together a combination worship space, coffeehouse, art gallery, and music venue. The funny thing was, the coffeehouse wasn't open for regular or any posted hours, and the Saturday night live music they're promoting is "Christian Rock," and carries with it a $5 cover charge.

This really doesn't help those ugly rumors that Pentecostal preachers are in it for the money. But seriously, I would assume it's because they need to pay the rent on the space in the Georgetown Outlet Mall, and can't wait until they have adherents to do so. Do they really expect Scott County kids to come streaming in with fivers in hand on Saturday nights to listen to an Audio Adrenaline cover band?

The implication is that a church is a meeting space before it is a group of people covenanted together, and that it's a worship band before it's a liturgy. The slogan: "A Non-Denominational, Relevant, God Glorifing, Body of Believers!"

I would have stopped in to meet them and see if I can learn what they're about (Roger and I were feeling feisty that night), but I didn't want to pay $5 for the privilege. I drove by another time out of curiosity, but there were just a couple of bored kids sitting at the door waiting to take money, and nobody inside. They advertise "freedom," too. Oh dear. I need to share with them the gospel of ritualism...

Anytime one of these groups introduces someone to a journey with Jesus, that's great. It really is. But I always wonder, how many people are going 'round those parts because they're offering something more relevant or exciting? Do they ask them to return to their previous fellowship? If they don't, they probably deserve them, now that I think about it.

Can you imagine what kind of parish priest I would be?

"Yeah, we really want to come to your church - the sermons are much more relevant than our other church, and I really feel like I'm in the presence of God here."

"I'm sorry my dears, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you not to return. You see, we're very exclusive here..."

Ha ha.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Instructions for Worship Leaders

No, really. I am gonna help you folks out quite a bit today.

First new rule: Stop talking about "God." Tell me which god you're referring to, and maybe do a little teaching on why and how we worship that god as opposed to some of the other gods, such as the cosmic Santa Claus most nominal Christians believe in. If you're not capable of that, please resign. Right now.

Here's a neat little story from Tom Wright that illustrates the point nicely:
It is important to begin by clarifying the question. When people ask “Was Jesus God?” they usually think they know what the word “God” means, and are asking whether we can fit Jesus into that. I regard this as deeply misleading. I can perhaps make my point clear by a personal illustration.

For seven years I was College Chaplain and Worcester College, Oxford. Each year I used to see the first year undergraduates individually for a few minutes, to welcome them to the college and make a first acquaintance. Most were happy to meet me; but many commented, often with slight embarrassment, “You won’t be seeing much of me; you see, I don’t believe in god.”

I developed stock response: “Oh, that’s interesting; which god is it you don’t believe in?” This used to surprise them; they mostly regarded the word “God” as a univocal, always meaning the same thing. So they would stumble out a few phrases about the god they said they did not believe in: a being who lived up the in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally “intervening” to do miracles, sending bad people to hell while allowing good people to share his heaven. Again, I had a stock response for this very common statement of “spy-in-the-sky” theology: “Well, I’m not surprised you don’t believe in that god. I don’t believe in that god either.”

At this point the undergraduate would look startled. Then, perhaps, a faint look of recognition; it was sometimes rumored that half the college chaplains at Oxford were atheists. “No,” I would say; “I believe in the god I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.” What most people mean by “god” in late-modern western culture simply is not the mainstream Christian meaning.
- From "Jesus and the Identity of God," and re-told in various places.

Some of you might lead worship in churches that don't actually, literally dance in the presence of God, or actually, literally kneel. I particularly find the latter omission to be deeply problematic, but even so, - and this is the second new rule - please stop singing songs about how you are dancing or kneeling in the Lord's presence. If you're not really doing it, it's a bloody lie, and such base prevarication is beneath baptized people.
"No, son, it's our fault. We forgot to teach you shame."
- Hank Hill
The last time I was in an evangelical megachurch, I remember thinking at the lyric "We just wanna kneel in your presence, Lord," (or some such) thinking, "Oh, no. If I don't find a way to actually kneel in the eight inches of space between my chair and the one in front of me, the fruitcake on stage will have made a liar out of me!"

It's not pleasant.

Remember the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist: terrorists negotiate.

The helpful illustration is from Dave Walker at CartoonChurch.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Justice in the Burbs

Check it out at Will's blog. I hope you'll be able to pick this up at Joseph-Beth by the end of the week. Also note that Publisher's Weekly has called Lisa Samson "one of the most powerful voices in Christian fiction," and you can pick up her new Quaker Summer at JB now.

Mike Stavland suggests why you might not bother reading the book.

Finallly, they've done an interview with the Relevant magazine folks.

Sojourners Magazine: Jesus of the Cul-de-Sac.

Learning and teaching the art of being human again is part and parcel with the Gospel proclamation and the expansion of God's Kingdom. Kevin Rains makes some very practical suggestions.

Noakes reminds of us a word from N.T. Wright. From his sidebar:
"Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, stewards of the new day that is dawning."
Have a nice day.

Sleepy Cat is Sleepy

He's exhausted.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Vatican News

... In which I explain to you recent news from the Holy See in terms that non-Catholics will understand.

First, let's consider this Latin Mass thing. After the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church translated its liturgy into local languages. On the one hand, it was great that some bishops and cardinals realized that despite their best(ish) efforts at education, many of the planet's Roman Catholics couldn't make heads or tails of Latin. Attending masses in one's own language meant that even if one still didn't understand what was going on, one could at least understand the words being used (ha ha). In addition, the move from Latin to whatever vulgar alternative language was in many cases forced upon clergy and laity from the top down, which was apparently a pastoral disaster that ranked a 8.5 on the Righter Scale (Episcopalians will get my little joke).

Rules of liturgical revision:

1. Don't.

2. No, really. Don't do it. Put the pen down.

3. If you really really must absolutely, unavoidably revise a liturgy because the very voice of our Lord is entreating you, do it slowly and carefully.

So up to this point, the celebration of Masses in Latin has required the special permission of diocesan bishops. I understand that many would not permit this, which makes old people very sad. And everyone knows that bishops should not make people sad.

Now the Pope has said that priests can say Latin Masses if they want. Traditionalists hope that this means hippie folks masses, or masses said while in a Barney costume, will decline. One can only hope. Stupid traditionalists are relieved to know that they can go back to praying in a language that Jesus will actually understand.

Some Catholic liberals fear that English Masses will disappear overnight. I doubt that.

Watch this video Fr. Richard passed onto me for an idea of what this is about:

Now, as for this whole "Protestants are outside the Church" thing. It's probably not what you think.

What people (and stupid media people) think the document said: "Protestants are not Christians." If you think that, smack yourself on the nose. Right now.

What the document really said: "Ecclesial communities out of communion with Rome are indeed instruments of salvation, but not Churches in the fullest possible sense, because to be Churches in the fullest possible sense requires communion with Rome."

Ecclesial communities? Instruments of salvation? That language is very loaded with good things, theologically, and it is much, much more generous than what I hear many Protestants say about each other or the Roman Catholic Church. If you don't get that, smack yourself on the nose right now. Then read Peter and Alan's take on it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hallelujah, Sing to America!

... hers the scepter, hers the throne?

There was an awkward moment in my mission assignment last week when we'd gotten 'round to the end of the afternoon. In the last 30 minutes of our time at the assisted living facility, we sang hymns with/to the residents. If you've ever stood alongside me in Christian worship, you understand that I may have missed my calling as a Baptist deacon: I'm not always on key, I have only one volume setting, and I know every single song in the Baptist Hymnal, especially the older editions. I was by default a lead voice because I know the songs and I'm not shy (it's really amazing to me how much congregational singing doesn't actually include congregational singing).

When at the end of the session our group decided to sing "America, the Beautiful," it was just a little awkward when my voice was so noticeably absent.

Submitted for your approval, a quick explanation of why it's inappropriate to sing to "America" in Christian worship.

In Christian worship, thanks and praise and supplication are offered to God the Father, through the Son, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. This is the trinitarian understanding of the relationship between God and God's people.

When in the course of the liturgy, the people of God cease to address the Father, and instead address prayers and praises to the nation-state, we have ceased to celebrate Christian liturgy. While we might pick up the Christian liturgy again after that song, this is an unacceptable foray into another religion. Instead of Trinitarian harmony we've offered pagan cacophony.

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

Update: You've seen this, right?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

PASSways, Day 3: Rules for Youth Ministry

If a kid is getting on everybody's nerves because he doesn't know the difference between good and bad attention, the best course of action is to completely ignore him.

Kids respect you more if you're aloof, so it's best not to smile around them, or laugh.

It's important that praise mean something, so it's best to use it sparingly. (Ecumenical note: Baptists often use the same logic for Holy Communion.)

Believe it or not, kids actually do a pretty good job of policing themselves. Allowing the bigger kids to lock the irritating little ones in closets is a really effective way of calming everybody down.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

PASSways, Day Two

Okay, so it's not really fat camp. I'm glad nobody chose to comment on that one.

It's an ecumenical Christian camp (but primarily consisting of CBF-type baptists) that's a spin-off from the Passport camps that many of my fellow Georgetown College alums will remember. This is the first time I've worked in a ministry project with Baptists since that ill-fated Kosovo trip in 2002. (I have snarky things to say, but I'll hold back.)

I've been quite pleased with the liturgies so far: meditating on scripture, responsive readings, Ignatian meditation, and centering prayer. Yes, I know. I'm really getting on well with the students, and it's wonderful to spend time with Josh and Jessica. We've been talking about the "monastic future" and Josh and I have been working on "Christian-baiting," wherein I invite Josh to lead the kids in the Pledge of Allegiance, and he invites me to explain to them my "snack-pak" theology. The bumper sticker version: "If Jesus can't smell himself on your breath, he's not letting you into heaven."

I will probably murder him in due course.

My afternoon ministry project is to visit an assisted living facility to make crafts and sing hymns with the residents. There was a little bit of unpleasantness this afternoon when in spite of being warned previously about racist jokes (never mind that today's camp theme is acceptance and inclusion) a couple of the students stepped in front of me and sought to amuse me with certain behaviors that would have been right at home in a WWII propaganda film. I didn't expect to become so angry, so quickly. I addressed all the students in a very loud voice and told them that racist jokes were not funny and would absolutely not be tolerated. The kid quickly apologized. I spoke briefly with him later and apologized for being so harsh, and felt better about it. That kind of behavior cannot be tolerated to any degree or in any fashion, but I didn't mean to publicly humiliate the kid, either. It doesn't make much sense to talk to the students about treating other people with respect and as brothers and sisters in Christ if I can't treat a student with respect even while chastising him.

Today an older black woman requested a couple of songs that weren't included in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal, so she was kind enough to sing them for us. It was a blessing - I was reminded that we weren't just being "charitable" toward these folks, they are (many of them) our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they were welcoming us into their home to share in common worship.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Kyle's Camp Experience

Hey Everybody, this is Josh.

I'm posting on Kyle's blog to let you know that I have sent Kyle to Saint Stephen's Camp for Gluttonous Little Girls (We couldn't afford an age or sex appropriate fat-camp so we took what we could get). He'll be sweating to the Oldies and enjoying a chance to socialize with girls his age in an energetic environment.

It all centers around his Snackpack (tm) theology and his idea that you can consecrate a Krispy-Kreme.

You can send him letters but please don't send him snacks.


P.S. Ask Kyle about his Baptist party experience.

Friday, July 06, 2007

On Hating America

I believe that Christians are called to faithfully love, serve, and even potentially be killed by the people who live in the time and place called America.

I just don't happen to believe in the story called "America." That's the difference, and it is often called "hating America."

But it's not, really. And I'm comfortable with that.

Mindless, Anti-Christian Jingoism

Okay, so it took me a little time, but I've decided to come 'round and write a couple of my obligatory "patriotic holiday" posts. It's just that whenever people burn incense before Caesar, my nose begins to get really itchy, and I gotta scratch it.

Because Roger likes to see me vexed in my righteous soul, he will sometimes send along to me the worst of the e-mail forwards he gets from patriots. Here's a recent schtick:
A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was a vowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, "God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I'll give! you exactly 15 minutes."

The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, "Here I am God. I'm still waiting." It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his Chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold.

The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence. The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, "What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?" The Marine calmly replied, "God was too busy today protecting America 's soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid sh_t and act like an a__hole. So, He sent me."
This is verbatim. Let's take it apart; feel free to chime in.

A marine in class, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan? Clearly the man is meant to be a badass - I wonder if the people who pass this stuff on stop to question what use he had for book larnin' anyway? And what, boys and girls, is the antithesis of a patriotic American badass? A smarmy, simpering atheist academic who has an ACLU card in his manbag. I think, as a public service, I'm going to start blogging new stories I find in which the ACLU defends Christians' first amendment rights against the encroachment of government entities. They really are out there, kids.

How interesting that atheism should be shocking! The founding fathers of the US were deists (what do you expect from Episcopalians, wink wink), so at least atheism is honest. Clearly this took place in the South, but I'm surprised that nobody included the detail that the prof was a Yankee. Furthermore - and let's move now from the cultural aspects to the theological ones: it must be noted that the "God" supposed in this story has nothing in common with the Christian god.

The story assumes that the existence of a god could or should be confirmed or denied by that god's "intervention" into the Laws of Nature, and further, that this god would find this at all a desirable activity.

In the assault, we see a version of the myth of redemptive violence - that the right kind of coercive violence, exercised by the right people in the right ways, is going to yield a good result. In addition, it is supposed that there is a "god" who tells this story right along with the Empire's good citizens. This is a strange take on that bit in 1 Kings when Elijah faces down the prophets of Baal - when Baal cannot show himself to be a player in space/time, he teases them that their god is sleeping, while Yahweh is living and active. Strangely enough, when the professor challenges the class that their god is not a player in space/time, the Marine responds that his god is sleeping indeed, and that he will defend that god's honor by enacting the story of redemptive violence.

And of course in the closing remarks, we read the argument that an imperialist war halfway across the world is protecting the profs freedom of dissent even while the imperialist warrior has physically abused the prof for exercising it. One wonders if in a sequel, the Marine won't burn down the professor's house and perhaps rape his wife in order to encourage gratitude for the Marine's protection. It's just that kind of passionately vicious activity that this parable glorifies.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Getting Ready for Next Week

"So tell me... what do you think that the religion depicted in these "praise choruses" might have in common with the religion of the martyrs who died for the name of Christ?"

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Question of the Day

Is it acceptable for anabaptist Christians to view fireworks displays if they offer the apologia, "I'm not a patriot, but a pyromaniac?"

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Friendships and the Gospel

Or, "The One Roger's Been Waiting For."

I wrote:
I have for a long time believed that it is anti-gospel to jettison non-reciprocal friendships. I no longer believe this.
I attended Georgetown College. It's a small school, and a very large percentage of the student body is involved in a social organization, i.e. fraternities and sororities. Many who are not, are athletes or heavily involved with the "campus ministries" clique - though these groups are not mutually exclusive.

I made the mistake of remaining independent.

When I began my relationship with the school, I saw a lot of Greeks being fake with freshmen. These men and women were only interesting if they would make charismatic additions to the organization. That happens. What I didn't understand is that at Georgetown College, many, many of the people who remain independent never learn how to make friends, and never learn how to sustain friendships. After a few years of reflection, I have realized that my friends in the fraternities learned something that many of us don't learn in families or churches: that sometimes, we make decisions on what kind of people we're going to be, and that means we are stuck in a particular social situation with particular people, and that we must learn to fight things out and make up with one another like adults. If we don't do that, we never really become adults in meaningful ways.

In the past few years, I made the mistake of trying to maintain friendships with people I knew in college who don't have friends. I invested myself with these folks, caring about them and praying for them and spending time with them even though my other friends kept explaining to me, that there's a reason they don't have friends already, everybody thinks they're weird, etc.

It seemed to me that the way of Jesus is to keep being emotionally available for people who had no interest in supporting me. I being to realize over time, that I really felt used (this was not a recent decision). I realized there were several people in my life that I might see every few weeks, but I really cared about them more than I should have. Over Lent 2007 I decided to stop. I decided that I would stop reaching out to people who lied or me or only dealt with me through intermediaries or gossip. I decided with my friends, especially the ones with whom I gather at table, that I would quit trying to reach out. I would accept repentance, but I decided that it was silly and counterproductive to invite to repentance persons who weren't actually in the covenant community with me.

And I feel free. When I think of the people who used to be my friends, I say a prayer for them. And then I move on to something else. I wasn't sure anymore if I was trying to be like Christ - who pours himself out for the healing of friends and enemies alike - or if I was trying to be liked, or just trying to think of myself as Christlike. It's a dangerous uncertainty, that.

I don't know if this makes sense to any of you, but I imagine my usual readers and wise interlocutors will have some insightful things to say. Writing it makes me feel a little more bitter than I thought I was, so we'll see.

"Out of the Closet" Meme

That's pretty funny. Anyway, Rob has tagged me for Ben Myer's new meme. Sigh. I'm going to take the opportunity to say some potentially argumentative things. I'm tired and cranky, what do you want?

So these are 10 confessions: some things that you may or may not know about me, and stances that may or may not be defensible.

I confess the following...
  1. I don't have an opinion about the ordination of women.

  2. I once turned my hair orange, and that I might do it again.

  3. I would break or avoid fellowship with other Christians on the issue of Eucharistic practice before I would on matters of doctrine, theology, or morals.

  4. The reason I am not an Episcopalian has very little to do with the current controversies over the blessing of same-sex unions or the consecration of Gene Robinson.

  5. I have for a long time believed that it is anti-gospel to jettison non-reciprocal friendships. I no longer believe this.

  6. I confess that I have a strong prejudice against Christians who are teetotalers out of alleged conviction rather than any sense of propriety. I usually believe them to be prideful and arrogant, and it takes time for me to become convinced otherwise. If it really weren't a matter of pride, I wouldn't know they're teetotalers...

  7. I believe that people who get upset and angry about the English speaking-abilities of Hispanic immigrants are racists.

  8. I would be perfectly happy to never hear a "relevant" sermon again.

  9. I have long since decided that if I were to visit a church but no one there cared to learn my name or engage me in conversation for at least 3 minutes, I would never return. And then I would talk about them.

  10. If I had to look at an American flag during Mass, it would be really hard for me to concentrate on anything else.
I thought Kim Fabricus' contribution was fun.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Today I am...

Working out details of the upcoming Anglican Catechesis program
Cleaning the house
Reading and writing on monasticism
Meeting with someone to discuss her church's hospitality
Making a simple dinner
Sucking down more coffee than could ever be healthy

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ecumenism Revisited

I was discussing with a friend yesterday how common religious relativism has become among conservative and liberal Christians. No, I mean that seriously. Christian unity is important; indeed it is imperative. It is a good and right thing for Christians to engage in conversation, friendship, and common mission across denominational and confessional lines. However, there are really unhealthy ways in which to talk about it.

"I'm a Baptist, because that's what I think is right for me. I'm glad that you're a Methodist, because that's what God has called you to be. It doesn't really matter because we all love Jesus."

Such sentiments mean well, but they are problematic. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, truth is not. God may very well call people to build their lives in particular denominational traditions, but I believe that if Jesus is faithful to his own prayer for unity in John 17, the trinitarian God has a trajectory in mind for all churches, that at least in the eschaton, we'll all be one. The way to build such unity is not through relativism.

When I say, it's good and of little consequence for me to be a Baptist or Anglican or Lutheran, and I say the same about your affiliation as a Pentecostal or Catholic or Methodist, I might be playing nice, but I am not being respectful. When I downplay the significance of such things, I also deny the value of those traditions.

If I am to say that the Baptist tradition has something real and meaningful and important to offer the rest of the Church of Jesus Christ, I must first say that it is of some significance for folks to be Baptists. If there is anything good in a tradition, I must first say that it matters.

Would it surprise you to hear me say that I am an Anglican Christian because I think it is the most faithful way, in this time and place, to respond to and embody the fact of God's reign in Christ? If I believed otherwise, I would certainly go and do something else. I would certainly be surprised to hear a friend confess that they did not believe their tradition to be a more faithful way - otherwise, why would they be involved as they are? However to say this is not to say that other Christian traditions are not faithful - such binary thinking gets us nowhere, and is as uncharitable as it is untrue.

I only treat my own tradition with integrity when I say that it matters that one is part of it, and that it offers particular gifts for Christian faith and practice, and that - heaven forbid - people should get on board with it.

When I can say this, I can then dialogue critically with other traditions: I can learn them, and receive the challenge they offer to my own, and how I live and understand the faith, and offer challenge to them in return. I can acknowledge the ways in which they can teach me to strive toward a move faithful obedience to Christ, and be warned away from pitfalls. If I also believe such things matter, they can learn from me and criticize me as well.

My point? We don't have tell ourselves that our differences don't matter in order to play nicely together, and it's only when we know that our differences matter very much that we can learn from one another.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What I've Been Doing

Becoming a Catholic Church: Designing a program for Anglican Catholic catechesis in a Kentucky congregation.

Saint Patrick’s is a recent church plant of the Anglican Mission in America. While some of its fifty members were previously members of the Episcopal Church, many were previously members of evangelical protestant denominations. Kentucky’s Bible Belt culture of anti-Roman Catholic rhetoric and pietistic revivalism presents particular challenges for Anglican formation. Because of their previous church experiences, many are caught between the false dichotomies of scriptural authority against tradition, extemporaneous worship against ritualism, and justification by faith against sacramentalism. After worshipping with the people of Saint Patrick’s Church for several months, I will in cooperation with the rector devise a small group teaching and discussion series that will expound the Anglican witness to the catholicity of the Church. The goal will be to offer Anglican identity as a way of being a “catholic Christian.” The series will focus on catholic ecclesiology, the role of sacred tradition, sacramental theology, and the practice of liturgy. Sessions will connect those layers of the Christian narrative to the congregation’s practices of worship, community life, spiritual formation, and mission. In my reflection, I will analyze participants’ beliefs about the Bible and tradition, the Eucharist, and their worship practices before and after the teaching series.

The bibliography will include but will not be limited to:

Oden, Thomas. The Rebirth of Orthodoxy.
Radner, Ephraim. Hope Among the Fragments: the Broken Church and its Engagement of Scripture.
Ramsey, Michael. The Gospel and the Catholic Church.
_____. The Anglican Spirit.
Reno, R. R. In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity.
Sykes, Stephen, ed. The Study of Anglicanism.
Wilkin, Robert L. Remembering the Christian Past.
Williams, Rowan. Anglican Identities.

Questions, comments and suggestions are quite welcome.

Update: I should clarify that this bibliography is for my own conceptual work and the 7,000 word reflection paper I'll have to write on the experience. It's not the reading list for the little catechetical course, and I'm not sure I'll be asking participants to do any reading. Maybe selections from the Apostolic Fathers, who knows...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Odin said it, I believe it, that settles it...

Has anybody ever said to you, when you've commented, "Oh, I'd never want to do that," like, I dunno, offer street preaching to equine dentists, and then they're all like, "Now don't say never, or the next thing you know, God will call you to do just that!"

That's happened to me more than once. And I think, "No, you've really confused Jesus with Loki, the trickster god of Norse mythology." And really, when somebody's done that, I might as well not get after them for their liturgical abuses - 'cause when you're praying to Loki, I mean, hell, who am I to say you're doing it wrong?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Corpus Christi: The Christian Thanksgiving

Tantum Ergo Sacramentum

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! The Sacred Host we hail.
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
Newer rites of Grace prevail:
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To The Everlasting Father
And The Son Who reigns on high,
With The Spirit blessed proceeding
Forth, from Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.


- Thomas Aquinas

Our words about the offering of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Mass only makes Christian sense if we speak and enact it in the broader context of God's love for the world and his desire to heal it. The rite itself seeks to make sense of our own lives as part of God's action of self-giving love.

If we fail to attend to the Mass with reverence and fear, our lives will unravel from Christian meaning - as the rite binds us to Christ's sacrifice, so it also teaches us to re-imagine our own lives in the four-fold action of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.

Check out Matt's meditation.

See also "On the Eucharistic Life"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Do Bishops Really Matter?

Brad Drell unravels Episcopalian double-speak.

Update: Captain Sacrament translates for Brad Drell.

Orthodox/traditionalist/reasserting believers within the Episcopal Church (TEC) have been complaining that the majority of TEC's leadership has been creating bishops that do things that bishops ought not do, such as engage marital-type unions with same-sex partners, perform the rites of Christian marriage for same-sex partners, or deny the divinity or sinlessness of Jesus the Christ. When they do complain, the liberals/heterodox/reappraisers respond that the office of bishop doesn't really matter - the bishop is nothing more than the local leader of a local church, and it's no one else's business who is elected to someone else's diocese.

When conservatives respond that, no, really, the office of bishop is a symbol of unity in the wider church, and that bishops themselves have a responsibility to exemplify core Christian ethical commitments, this assertion is simply denied by the other side. The office of bishop isn't really meant to be all that.

The rest of the bishops of the Anglican Communion has called upon the House of Bishops of TEC to make some Difficult and Important Decisions. The liberals complain that under "our polity" (a fancy word for "according to our interpretation of the rules we done wrote") bishops are simply not that important, and that the EPISCOPAL CHURCH is not actually governed by bishops, and so the HOUSE OF BISHOPS is not constitutionally authorized to make decisions for the entire EPISCOPAL Church.

You were supposed to laugh at that, it's really funny.

The joke, you see, is that the word EPISCOPAL means "governed by bishops." Everyone go look it up. I'll wait.

The argument is that, like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church is not a true and complete decision making body until one week in the summer when everybody gets together to vote.

That wasn't a joke, but it's surely very funny.

As far as liberals in TEC are concerned, bishops govern the Church like the Queen rules England. Just for fun, just for show, and only to justify pretty gowns.

Until... somebody violates the authority that a liberal bishops wants to assert. When another bishop sends a missionary priest without diocesan permission, or a parallel Anglican jurisdiction is set up to replace that of an apostatized diocese, then the offended bishop rails about the ancient, venerable EPISCOPAL polity of the Anglican Communion and "of this Church," blah, blah, blah. Or when they can brag about having the first partnered gay bishop or the first girl Archbishop, and so on. Then the episcopal office seems to really matter.

The point: when somebody says, "it's not in our polity," that's a cop-out.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Thought for Trinity Sunday

"Since the days of the apostles the worship of the church was meant to serve as a critical vehicle for imparting doctrina, that is, ordered teaching, about the Christian faith. Christian leaders found that worship was too good an opportunity to waste on anything but supplying the believer with concrete foundations of how to think and live Christianly. Hence there was a reciprocal relation between worship and doctrine, between the act of praise and the task of theology."

D.H. Williams, "Similis et Dissimilis: Gauging our Expectations of the Early Fathers," from the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Joshua Hearne: "On the Gospel of Niceness"

My friend Josh, a third year student at Duke Divinity School, was recently ordained a Baptist minister. This is his contribution to a recent discussion on Mormonism, and whether it's "Christian" to be "nice"... His blog,
Not Quite Getting It, is high-quality, but currently on hiatus.

One of the comments that I quote most often is a paraphrase of Kyle: “When you become a Christian, you give up the right to be a jerk.” I absolutely agree with this. I think that you’ll agree with it, too, if you really think about it. When we convert from the systems of the World to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, something important happens as we are transformed into the image of our crucified and suffering Lord. As we remember that Jesus reigned from a cross, we must constantly forfeit our rights to ourselves.

If you’re a Christian, then you don’t have the luxury to escape the commitment when you want to.

But, on this thought we turn to what Kyle asked me to write about: Is our Gospel a Gospel of “niceness?”

We have to understand that there are many stories and many “gospels” in the world. They and their tellers are competing for our belief, assent, and commitment. Some gospels and/or stories admit the possibility of believing in others, as well. To make myself clear: When somebody tells you something like: “You have to look out for number one” or “If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?” then they’re preaching a gospel of self-interest. They’re telling you a story about how you should view the world. When they talk about how “what the World really needs is…” they’re telling you a story that narrates their life. They’re telling you a gospel. When they tell you what you need or need to do to be happy, they’re telling you a story. They’re telling you a gospel. There is a multitude of stories and gospels in the world.

“If you are financially stable, then you’ll be happy…” “What the people of America really need is universal healthcare…” “What those Iraqis really need is democracy…” There is no shortage of ways to describe and explain the world.

I have a fear, however, that the Christian Gospel has become a gospel of “niceness.” If we’ll only be “nice” enough, then people will get along. I’ve heard people describe “nice” people as acting “very Christian.” I’ve heard people talking about a conversation with Mormons and commenting about how “nice” they are (which they are, typically). Because of their niceness, I know people who believe that Mormons must be Christian because they’re nice.

They’re buying into a gospel that isn’t the Gospel.

Furthermore, I’ve met people who respond to my insistence that this isn’t the Gospel with a response of: “The Gospel is hard to define, isn’t it? What do you think it is?” Typically, I find this question hard to comprehend but, usually, I respond by saying:
“…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
It’s right there in 1 Corinthians 15:3b-8.

What does all this mean for us? Let me put it in a language that makes sense to me (it’s the best I can do, probably). If you’re a Christian, then you will be nice (at the very least, you’re being redeemed into a nice person). I’ll express that as: If C, then N or C>N. If you know any logic (I applaud you, by the way), then you know that just because C>N does not mean that N>C. In other words, you can’t say that being nice is a sign of Christian-ness. So what does it mean? Yes, Christians are “nice” (or are becoming “nice”) but this is not their Gospel. The gospel of niceness won’t do. It isn’t salvific. It isn’t Jesus’ message. It isn’t the Kingdom. In other words, it’s an idol.

We have to dump idols, even when they’re nice and make us feel good about ourselves. Admit it, part of the appeal of a gospel of niceness is that it makes us feel good about ourselves. If the story is that niceness is the solution, then we’ve missed the point. This argument isn’t an excuse to be a jerk (see my first paragraph) but it isn’t a false gospel, either.

Niceness won’t save you. The life, suffering, death, burial, and resurrection of a crucified God will. Anything else is an idol and a false gospel.

More on Mormons

Several weeks ago, two customers asked me for a book recommendation for their uncle. They were Christians, but uncle was getting baptized in the Mormon church. I of course assumed that they wanted some appropriate anti-Mormon literature that might coax their wayward family member back into the fold. I was a little confused when they said they had called LifeWay, and were told that since it was a Baptist bookstore, they wouldn't have any Mormon materials.

"That's very odd," said I. "If there's any bookstore in the region that's going to carry anti-Mormon apologetics, it's going to be LifeWay!"

Whoops. They wanted LDS literature: some kind of Mormon version of what you'd give a Christian upon baptism or confirmation. I apologized for my misunderstanding and said that he probably already had a Book of Mormon, and the only other thing of interest we had would be the new biography of Joseph Smith - which is surely not LDS-sanctioned. We didn't carry the LDS version of the Bible, either, and we had now established they would not be interested in a copy of Kingdom of the Cults.

My customer said that his family had been converted three years ago at the local evangelical megachurch, and only heard them mention Mormonism once, and that's when a teaching pastor said that they weren't Christians. The gentleman said that didn't seem a very kind thing, to talk about other religions that way.

That afternoon I got a call from Josh Hearne about a radio program he'd just heard; there was some discussion on how it was bizarre that Evangelical Christians consider Mormons not to be: they certainly "seemed Christian enough." Oh, boy. I wrote a post questioning this "cult" appellation, and asked Josh to write one on this niceness deal. That essay is below.