Friday, December 05, 2008

Holy Scripture and Authority in the Church

Sometimes I'm asked about where I stand on the doctrine of the "inerrancy" of Scripture. As a Catholic Christian - specifically an Anglican, I have philosophical problems when I try to interact with the 1977 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here's what I can say.

I read and meditate daily upon the Bible, usually in the context of the Daily Office, and often in a practice of Lectio. My reading of the Scriptures continually guides me in understanding my own life within the larger story of God's salvation of the world and ongoing creation of his Church. In reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the Scriptures, I am challenged and directed to grow more deeply into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and to give glory to the Father, empowered by the Spirit.

A discussion of the authority of Scripture is essentially shorthand for how God exercises his authority in the Church through Sacred Scripture.* The canonical Scriptures represent the theological basis for all development in the Church's teaching and piety, and as a "norming norm," it also critiques the faithfulness of those developments in terms of their fidelity to the person and work of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. The biblical narrative offers the story of the triune God who created and loves the world, and seeks to save it through the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the sending of the Church which began at Pentecost. This narrative guides the Church in its faithfulness to this mission. The authority of the New Testament is expressed wonderfully in a statement from the bishops gathered at Lambeth in 1958:
"The church is not over the holy scriptures, but under them, in the sense that the process of canonization was not one whereby the church conferred authority on the books, but one whereby the church acknowledged them to possess authority. And why? The books were recognized as giving the witness of the apostles to the life, teaching, death and resurrection of the Lord, and the interpretation by the apostles of these events. To that apostolic authority the church must ever bow. 
Jesus Christ himself is the mediator and fullness of all revelation, and the New Testament authoritatively offers the apostolic witness to that revelation, from which we may never deviate. The Scriptures teach faithfully and without error that truth which God wished them to contain. As God sends his Church into the the world on mission, he continually calls us to receive afresh that apostolic testimony.

*See N.T. Wright's little book, Scripture and the Authority of God, or in the US, The Last Word.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thinking about Mission

Two questions about mission... any takers?
  1. What are the riskiest ventures you see being taken to incarnate the Gospel in a particular milieu, rather than attract people to "church programs"?

  2. Where and how are our people working as missionaries to the undereducated, working class, or poor? What are some contexts in which Anglican missioners are faithfully preaching the gospel and engaging the poor in the worship of God?
Regarding the first question, some of my readers will be familiar with the distinction increasingly made in discussions about Christian mission, between "attractional" and "incarnational" practices of mission. In models of the former persuasion, people set up an attractive program that strangers will find attractive. Normal practices of this might include a "contemporary" worship service designed for people who would otherwise "find church boring," billboard ads, or giveaways. An incarnational model entails befriending people and teaching the gospel from in inside rather than on the outside of a social group.

Regarding the second, Anglicanism in North America finds much of its natural affinity with more educated populations. That's not necessarily awesome.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


A (Very Brief) Introduction to Christian Hospitality

One of the creative aspects of Christian theology is learning the ways that our Jesus stories subvert the stories that the rest of the world is accustomed to telling. When I talk with people about my work, I nearly always use the phrase "Christian hospitality" instead of simply saying "hospitality." When we talk about the subject, there are two normal stories that our alternative version seeks to subvert and replace.

When people hear this word, "hospitality," they often think of the "Southern" version. This is usually understood as the practice of pretending to like people you really find annoying or distasteful, and pretending never to be inconvenienced by even the most outlandish impositions. It has a built-in "martyr complex," in which the most successful (or perhaps godly) host is the one who can suffer the greatest inconveniences with the most convincing show of warmth. This is often called mistakenly called "grace."

The other story is related to the "hospitality industry": hotels, restaurants, and related businesses that cater to traveling businesspersons. Good hospitality in these terms is associated with anticipating and fulfilling the desires of clients and customers, who are often called "guests." While these stories will in some way echo the soundings of the Christian hospitality tradition, they are different stories altogether.

Christian hospitality starts with a story about persons, relationships and space. Like all Christian stories, it starts with the Christian God taking loving initiative in the world. In the act of Creation, God made a space brimming with life in amazingly diverse forms. He filled the space with all manner of flora and fauna, and placed people in that space - people who somehow looked like a God who can't really look like anything - in order to live in loving relationship with them. In ancient Israel, the Law required the people to make allowance for strangers, widows and orphans. The prophets railed against those who betrayed the Lord by failing those who could not help themselves. Israel was in a sense meant to be both a physical as well as a cultic/religious space in which outsiders of all kinds could be cared for and taught to worship and live with the true God. This is the same God who made reconciling space and the possibility of new relationship for us by the execution and raising of Jesus Christ, and presents that reality to us continually through the liturgical life of the Church.

This is just a summary, but the point is this: Christian hospitality is the practice of creating safe, healing space for others by which and in which they are invited to move into the abundant, beautiful life that Jesus has for them. It is both a story, and a set of diverse practices grounded in the reality that God has made safe, reconciling space for all of us. It looks like throwing parties, a quiet chat in the coffee house, a beer at the kitchen table, a place to stay for the night, an unexpected phone call: all of these things that are about sharing life and creating space, both physical and relational, in which other people are valued and loved. This is something distinct from being "polite," or doing the expected thing, or anticipating desires. These things can fit into the matrix, but they are not the substance, and they are not central.

What do you think of when you hear the word "hospitality"? What are some memorable ways you've received hospitality from others, or shown it to them?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


As some of you will recall, one major and public aspect of my mission at Georgetown College is to help the community enrich it's corporate prayer life by engaging the Daily Office. Each weekday at 4:30, I walk to the student lounge below the chapel to lead evening prayers.

I'd decided that using actual prayer books could be needlessly complicated in a context where regular public prayers are an odd occurrence, so I adapted the Office readings from Celebrating Common Prayer, an abbreviated Anglican Franciscan Office. The office begins with an opening sentence from Scripture that introduces a few moments of silent reflection in the Lord's presence. With the invitatory, we invite the Lord to enable us to speak his praises:
Lord, open our lips
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise
Then we say the Phos Hilaron together. This is the oldest hymn in continual use in the Christian Church, and I used the 1979 BCP version. Chris Tomlin has done an excellent interpretation as well, which we'll use from time to time when I can snag a guitarist.

Then we continue our praises by offering a Psalm, spoken in unison.

This is followed by an Old Testament Canticle, or song. We often say this antiphonally. Traditionally it would be chanted, but hey, I want people to come back. This selection varies according to the day of the week, and I've got it in a 5-day cycle. This is followed by a short reading of Scripture that I invite students to hear rather than read, in a meditative fashion. Then we spend several minutes in silent and spoken intercessory prayer for the campus community, Christ's Church, our own needs, and those of the world God loves.

This is always followed by the Song of Mary (Magnificat), often spoken in unison. We conclude with the prayer the Lord taught us, and by giving thanks to God.

There are a few students who regularly attend prayers, and their friendship and participation is a great encouragement. I know it will take a long time to develop a culture of prayer and meditating on the Scriptures here, but I'm ready. I've also been encouraged by the friendships the Lord has given me with a number of students; I was afraid I'd be too isolated back here in my cubicle with my cataloging, but that's not been the case at all.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Politics: Please, for the Love of God, just be Good

My colleague, Fr. Thomas McKenzie, has offered a videoblog entry titled, "An Appeal to My Fellow Christians." He invites believers to vote their consciences (and presumably, not vote if their consciences so dictate), and stop demonizing people who disagree with them. Since, after all, we're called upon to love one another. If you find yourself getting a little big excited about politics lately, this is a must-listen.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stuff I Did Today

Opened the library
Cataloged and processed 5 audiobooks (this takes an amazing amount of time)
Cataloged, processed, and notified profs upon the arrival of 6 documentary DVDs
Attended a guest lecture in sociology, and had lunch with that department
Waited to assist students at the Reference Desk
Taught the use of NexisLexis to a student for speech class research

Time to go home soon.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.3

Part III: The Anglican Communion

Despite my fancy rhetoric, the limited structures of Anglicanism cannot be seen just as a slightly reformed version of the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not equivalent to the Pope, and the Anglican hierarchy is just a little more flat. Remember that I said earlier, that bishops are figures of unity. In the ancient world, for example, the Church at Carthage could be said to be in communion with the Church at Alexandria only if their bishops recognize the validity of each others' episcopal ministries; that is, they understand one another to to be properly ordained and consecrated as bishops, and that they both teach the Catholic faith as witnessed in the Bible and the Creeds.

Bishops function as shepherds and teachers of the Faith in the context of their wider college of bishops, united under an Archbishop, Metropolitan, or Patriarch. The five ancient Patriarchates were located in the cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Bishops who had departed from the Faith might be deposed and replaced by an orthodox bishop, but usually not without a fight, a colorful trial, and a banishing.

The point is, in the ancient churches, in Anglicanism and (I believe) in Orthodoxy, a bishop is a bishop is a bishop. The bishop is the chief shepherd of his diocese, and his priests function there by his will and in his name. The college of bishops might depose a bishop as a heretic or correct him in a council, but outside of that, bishops function in a flat organization, and the episcopacy is a ministry that they share together. This is why Anglican bishops outside of the Church of England don't swear obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury; it would not be expected, nor asked for, nor in any way proper.

Wherever the British Empire planted a flag, the Church of England planted a mission. In many places, indigenous churches emerged, and were especially active in evangelism in the wake of decolonization: this is why the most representative Anglican today is a black woman living in the two-thirds world, even though the word itself used to mean "English person."

The Anglican Communion was established by default, when the first British colony gained independence (sometime around 1776, I think). I think you can guess when the other member churches were established. The Communion consists of 44 member churches across the world, each with its own bishops and system of canon law. There is no unified church law across the Communion, and there is no binding decision-making body. They do have the Bible, the Creeds, the Councils, and the 39 Articles of Religion (the principles of the English Reformation) - and some member churches hold them more loosely than others. Does the problem become apparent?

Next: Re-Alignment

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.2

Part II: Anglican History, the Reformation, and the Struggle for Anglican Identity

I am occasionally asked how (in the hell) Anglicans can think of themselves as Catholics, rather than another stream (or splinter!) of protestantism. Here's a basic outline (yes, it's way simplistic):

Once upon a time, Christianity came to England. The Celtic church flourished.

Rome's claims for the supremacy of the papacy grew in scope, and over time the English church submitted to the secular power of the Bishop of Rome. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, English bishops started doing their homework and took a good dose of courage from a certain Father Martin Luther. And decided to mark a big "return to sender" on the papal supremacy package.

Make no mistake, the "Reformation" wasn't an organized, monolithic event. The rebellion against a corrupted papacy went to different extremes in different places, and reform in the teaching and practices of the Church went in very different directions, too. The English Reformation was heavily influenced by both Luther and Calvin, and Cranmer especially was sympathetic toward Luther.

(Don't forget the one thing they all managed to agree on was the necessity of executing Baptists. Ugh. I'm not saying it's right; I'm just saying y'all shouldn't kid yourselves about how awesome either the Romans or the Reformers were or were not.)

Anglican reformers had a lot of discussion about what God thinks monarchs are for, compared to what popes are for, that I find frankly embarrassing and very wrong. It happens.

Anyway, what you have at the end of the day is meant to be a Reformed Catholicism. The Church of England didn't throw out the apostolic succession and its order of ministry, nor run head-long into the rationalism that Geneva represented. It worked out a political compromise in support of an essentially conservative version of the Reformation. The nature of this political compromise sets us up even today for the problem of how the Anglican Church can accommodate people who see themselves as essentially Protestant, as well as those who understand themselves as Catholics (although it becomes harder for the latter group by the day).

And yes, I'm still calling for the reform of the institution of the papacy, along with a few hundred million other Christians. Remember that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian communion, but the the second and third largest, the Orthodox and the Anglicans, still think we have a bone to pick over that whole thing.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.1

As some of you may recall, I started designing a parish-based course on Anglicanism last summer. I don't teach all of the sessions, but I thought I'd share my outline for them.

Part I: The Formation and Mission of Christ's Church

Missio Dei / the Mission of God

When Jesus ascended to the Father, to reign from that dimension where God lives and reigns (a.k.a. "Heaven") he left behind his band of followers to apprentice others to the Jesus way of living with God in the world, and invite them to be joined to His own Life through baptism. The Church is the new Humanity: a community of persons who are meant in their life together with God to demonstrate what it looks like "when God is in charge." Followers of Jesus have stories to tell about how God has saved the world - and saved them - in and through Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to this charge, our lives will have the transparency to demonstrate what it looks like when God heals, restores, and loves people.

Jesus calls the Church to continue his ministry of teaching, healing, meal sharing, and exorcism.

Divine Gifts

God created a physical world, and called it good. God continually affirms the goodness of creation by mediating his presence and power to his people through the Sacraments. The Church itself is offered as a gift to the world, a community in which people can find healing and an "abundant life" - the kind of life Jesus came to give. In this the Church actually becomes a vehicle of transformation as we learn to live with God. The Church is also gifted with particular orders of ministry, specific ways in which Christians serve the world and one another, and are invested with holy power for these purposes.

The Laity, or "people" of God, is the first order of ministry. We are called to engage spiritual disciplines in our life with God in the Church, and to teach the faith and guide others into the Christian way.

A deacon, or "servant," is a minister oriented to carrying for the poor in the name of Christ's Church, and to guide and empower the whole People of God in their service to the last, least, and left out. This order emerged in the middle of the first century, when Stephen and several others were set apart for service to the community's widows based upon the servants' reputation as being "full of the Spirit, and wisdom" (Acts 7). For this reason deacons are often called upon to serve in a ministry as teachers of the Faith.

The order of presbyter, also known as "priest" or "elder," is established to preside over each community's sacramental rites, to guide community members in their spiritual development, preach the Good News of God in Christ, and teach the Faith in its fullness.

The "local church" in place is typically understood as the collection of local congregations in a particular geographic area. A bishop is called to serve as a figure of unity, to teach the Faith, guard the flock of Christ from heresy, and to represent Christ as shepherd to the churches in his care. The bishops of the Catholic Church share this charge, and the unity of Christians with one another is bound up on the mutual recognition of episcopal ministries.

Next, Part II: The History of the Anglican Church, the Reformation, and the present Anglican identity crisis...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daily Wages in the Kingdom of God

The meditations that follow are adapted from the homily I preached at Mass last week. It is the normal practice in my tradition for a congregation to hear a set of readings appointed for the day. This schedule of readings, or lectionary, helps ensure that the teaching of the Faith in a local parish is based upon a broad selection of Scripture. In each passage, the character of the Christian God is demonstrated to stand over against normal standards of fairness.

The Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) reading comes from Jonah 3.10-4.11, one of the “minor” prophetic books in the OT. This book is unusual for the literature in that it recounts the prophet’s story rather than his prophecy.

God sent Jonah to Nineveh, that great heathen city and enemy of Israel, to warn of God’s impending judgment upon their immorality. Jonah was more than a little reluctant, and he ran as far as he could, but finally submitted to the prophetic call and preached to that alien people.

Jonah’s mission was a success, and he was furious.

Perhaps he feared his reputation as a prophet – after all, if you threaten fire from the sky upon the city brothels, but everyone gets a soft rain on their sackcloth, it’s a good indication that either the prophet is a crackpot, or that the prophet’s God is merciful and loving. Jonah is likely more concerned for his own reputation than that of the Lord – to say nothing of all the time and energy he wasted. I know that if I were going to a strange land to make threats in public, I’d want to see a much bigger body count. It doesn’t help either that, in general, good news for big pagan cities was bad news for little Israel.

God, for his part, seems quite upset that Jonah has not seen fit to emulate God’s attitude toward the roaring pagans of Nineveh. It almost seems like he spits his words at the Lord, as beautiful words of praise are intended as a stinging rebuke “…I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” If God is so capricious, so shallow and fickle, thinks Jonah, as to take the pious playacting of the pagans as evidence of real repentance, let him kill Jonah now, because that makes for a pretty untrustworthy God. Jonah, you understand, was being something of a drama queen.

But the Lord grows a plant to shade the fuming Jonah from the heat of the sun. And then he kills it. Jonah rails against God, renewing his righteous indignation against an arbitrary deity. God continues his Socratic questioning: “You care about a plant. You care about the plant because you find it useful. Those people and those animals – they’re not doing me any good at all, but I care very much for them. The cows, Jonah! I think about the cows. Which one of us is really arbitrary? Which one of us really cannot be trusted to be faithful?

Today’s words from Paul in 1:21-27 in his Letter to the Philippians offer a stark contrast to Jonah’s resentment. Whereas Jonah suffered because of his rejection of God’s love for the undeserving, Paul suffers because of his willingness to preach the good news about Jesus, the world’s true Lord, to even the Imperial Household! Jonah despaired of death because he despised the mercy of the Lord, finding it unfair and by his own standards, arbitrary. Paul, however, was a man transformed by God’s mercy through Jesus Christ and was so grateful for this that he was pleased to spend himself to share that experience with others. Paul welcomed death because of his real suffering, and Jonah’s suffering stemmed only from his choice of ingratitude.

In our gospel reading, Jesus offers us a parable of economics in the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of which Caesar’s empire is only a parody. In biblical literature, vineyard workers usually signify the people of God living and working according to God’s rule in the land of Israel. In our story, God is represented as a vineyard owner who pays only fairly to those who work all day, and is much more than fair to those who come around later: he gives them all the same wages. Jesus’ story would have had particular resonance for somebody like Paul. Though as a Jew, his people – the first vineyard workers – were included first in God’s Kingdom project. Gentiles were hired later, as it were.

Paul himself was a latecomer to the Movement. He had persecuted the fledgling Church with vigor, and having received forgiveness was eager to proclaim the same grace to a pagan people that didn’t know the God of Israel. We could safely say that at least one purpose in the Matthean context was to place Jewish and Gentile believers on equal footing.

Attempts at contemporary application for the parable can be murky, however. One popular interpretation of the parable reads it in the context of conversion and the Final Judgment, arguing that it demonstrates full validity for the last-minute, deathbed conversions of raucous sinners. Without directly challenging the time-honored practice of snatching sick sinners right from the very maw of eternal hell, I will argue that we cannot use the parable for this purpose. First, such an interpretation that offers equal eschatological rewards for unequal efforts directly contradicts the previous paragraph in Matthew in which Jesus states that everybody’s going to get paid back a hundredfold for everything they left behind for the Kingdom. Second, I’m reluctant to consider this a parable of judgment, because when Jesus tells those, he’s usually alluding to his own rejection and God’s vindication: in Jesus’ parables of judgment, the owner usually comes home and burns the vineyard and kills the wicked servants. This parable is not presented as a parable of judgment, but an illustration of everyday life under God’s reign: this is what the Kingdom of God is like. After all, a denarius is a daily wage, and a subsistence wage at that. That doesn’t sound like a hundredfold return to me, or much of a “final reward.” It’s more than an little out of place to represent eschatological judgment in this fashion: “Oh, you’ve come to the restoration of heaven and earth. Here’s a days’ worth of food; do try to make it last.”

So as we put aside the usual interpretations, how do we hear this story? As Kingdom people – a community that lives presently under God’s Reign, we “tend the vineyard” by living according to his rule and carry out his Mission. Cyril of Alexandria offers his reading:
“He gives to all ‘their single denarius,’ which is the grace of the Spirit, perfecting the saints in conformity with God and impressing the heavenly stamp on their souls and leading them to life and immortality.”
As we do this work, each of us is offered the same necessary grace and supply of the Spirit for faithful work.

Some of us are “early hires” in the work of the Lord. We show hospitality. We teach to any who would listen, the Christian message of God’s reign established in Christ. We are faithful to study the Scriptures, pray the Office, work the disciplines and cultivate a life of forgiveness toward our friends and blessings for our enemies. We have spent years learning to dedicate ourselves to holiness and the work of God in his world. People like us can be easily tempted to think like Jonah and the other early hires of whom Jesus spoke: ready to say how and when and why God should show generosity to others. We can be quick to consider our accolades, awards, degrees, reputations, and expect that a good God will make sure everything is fairly apportioned.

This is Jesus’ call to his faithful ones: “Set aside your symbols of accomplishment, and let go of your comparisons to others. Step away from each talisman of security and worth, and really trust me. Trust that I love you. Trust that even while I delight in your faithfulness, I don’t love you because of it. Trust that I simply love you.” We always begin to lose our way when we imagine that we can earn or deepen the love of God.

Some of us might think of ourselves as “late hires.” Perhaps we’ve only met Jesus late on our lives, or only recently began to get serious about discipleship. Maybe we’re not seriously dedicated to the Kingdom yet at all! Some of us come from alternative religious traditions in which we were told lies about God, and so we’re more than happy to keep Jesus at arm’s length for awhile. Maybe we stand at the far end of a lot of years or an entire life in which we didn’t do anything that we meant to, and find hopes and our dreams for our selves, our families, our religion and our careers to be dashed upon a rock. Nobody’s going to pick us first for kickball, vineyard tending or dog catching. Some of us strive after those accolades and degrees, looking for a rationale to talk other people into loving us, and to talk Jesus into saying we’re good enough. We desperately need to believe that Jesus really does love us and will love us and will heal us regardless of our accomplishments, because we just don’t have very many of those.

Here is good news: he offers all of us the same grace, and the same hope of transformation, whether we are 18 or 80, faithful or failing. Jesus is our host. He invites us all to the same table to get what we so desperately need: to eat his flesh and drink his blood in these holy mysteries, and to receive the supply of the Spirit in order to amend our lives and to carry on the work of his Kingdom. “Come to me, all you who are weak, and carry a heavy burden. I will place my yolk upon your shoulders, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Holiness is not a function of what we avoid, or even the good works we perform. Christian holiness means that we belong to Jesus, and seek to grow in love. We progress in that life by confessing our failings and confessing our trust in the one who can and will do a good work in us for the sake of his love. One of the most urgent questions in the life of the ancient Christian churches was how to understand the reality of the Church’s holiness through its mystical union with Jesus Christ as well as the reality of its members’ sinfulness. Some argued that the Church could only be holy if its members always maintained their moral purity, always resisted sin, and never denied the Lord through their words or actions. All of those who fall short after baptism must be put out. Saint Augustine maintained that such a stance placed the Church over against the teaching of Jesus, who entreated us daily to ask forgiveness for our sins – we would do poorly to prefer our perfectionism over Jesus’ merciful realism. [1]

Christians do not grow in holiness because they avoid everything that’s bad for them, and make all of the right choices. If this were true, we’d simultaneously be growing in pride. It’s not about checking off all the right boxes and obeying all the rules. Holiness comes through ongoing exposure to truth – the truth about ourselves and the truth about Jesus Christ. As the Lord and the Christian Community reveal our sins to us, we confess them and place our trust in the forgiveness and generous mercy of Jesus Christ. We are made holy through our receptivity to the truth, and our admission of our own need for healing and forgiveness, and continual trust in God to restore us.

Last week the Church commemorated one of her martyrs, a pastor named Cyprian. Cyprian was made bishop of the Church at Carthage in the year 250, just in time for a short but vicious persecution of Christians at the hands of the Empire. In the face of torture, exile, and loss of property, many Christians kept the faith, and refused to deny Christ. Some lived and some died. Others gave into the pressure of the persecution and denied the Lord. When the persecution ended, there was great controversy over the fate of the lapsed who wished to rejoin the Christian community. Rigorists insisted that the lapsed had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit in denying the Lord, and should not be re-admitted to the community. Cyprian was one of the bishops who insisted upon modeling the Lord’s mercy, and maintained that He welcomed all who repented and turned again. The lapsed were required to undergo a long period of penance before admission to the Lord’s table – a period of fasting and spiritual disciplines, in order that they would be strong enough to confess the Holy Name.

AD257 saw a new persecution in North Africa, at which point Cyprian re-admitted all of the lapsed to the table of the Lord. He entreated other bishops to do the same, for reasons he describes in a letter to the Bishop of Rome:
“…Now peace is necessary, not for the sick, but for the strong…. And, as the Eucharist is appointed a safeguard to those who receive, we need it in order to arm, with the protection of the Lord’s abundance, those whom we wish to be safe against the adversary. For how do we teach or provoke them to shed their blood in confession of his Name, if we deny to those who are about to enter warfare the Blood of Christ? How do we make them fit for the cup of martyrdom, if we do not first admit them to drink, in the Church, the cup of the Lord by right of Communion?”
Jesus Christ and his Church call us to be faithful workers in the vineyard by cultivating holiness and growing in faithfulness to mission. In baptism, we receive a work of grace by which we no longer belong to ourselves, but to Jesus Christ and one another. In this initiation sacrament there is spiritual power as we are made alive in Jesus to stand against sin and death, both in our own lives and the culture around us. In the sacrament of Holy Communion we receive “the medicine of immortality” by which we overcome fear, addiction, selfishness, and all the snares of the evil one. In study of the Scriptures, we learn the truth that sets us free from all the lies we may have believed about God and ourselves. Steps of obedience in the life of the Christian community and faithful study of the Christian tradition will teach us to walk with integrity and wisdom, and to be more faithful to our identity in Christ.

All of this, of course, leads us on in mission as we seek to be vineyard workers faithful to the vision of the vineyard owner. We have been sent to speak and enact an alternative story of love and forgiveness in the midst of a people who are determined that everybody should have just what they deserve. We are a people who will bless our enemies, pray for those who use us, and lavish forgiveness on those who want to hurt us. We will offer people what they need regardless of what they deserve: a relationship with Jesus Christ and a place in his new humanity.

So draw near to God by making faithful and honest confession of your faults. Come to the table praying forgiveness for those who have wronged you, and blessing for those you can’t stand. Come and share mystical communion with the risen Lord by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Receive power to be Jesus People.

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

[1] This paragraph is adapted from a great discussion in the second chapter of Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past? The Quest for the Historical Church, Eerdmans, 2005.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rich Mullins, d.1997

Today we remember Rich Mullins, a musician and song writer. He was influential for my faith as I learned how Christians relate to God. Rich, ora pro nobis.

And may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky
Little keepers of the promise
Falling on these souls
This drought has dried
In His Blood and in His Body
In the Bread and in this Wine
Peace to you
Peace of Christ to you

- "Peace (A Communion Blessing from St Joseph's Square)"

"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.'"
Here's a remembrance by Jason Boyett.

Terry Mattingly: "Enigmatic, restless, Catholic."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hiding Bodies

While the stone tablet went out of vogue some time ago, printed matter retains an almost mystical sense of permanence for some people. Up until the last few years, people even saw books with the same reverence they have for the Internet: if it's in a book, it's got to be true.*

Writing a book carries a sense of accomplishment that people often describe with the language of giving birth - look what I did! That's a little part of me, unleashed upon the world! We even try to nurture in our young a sense of wonder and awe for printed matter so they won't grow up to be thick and illiterate - a kind of Reading Rainbow mythology. Books are wonderful! All kinds of books! Books hold wonderful, magical worlds of surprise and joy!

Of course, like everything else beautiful and innocent, this mythology gets deconstructed in the cold, hard world of the academy. Eventually all who walk these hallowed halls must learn the terrible truth: not all books are really Worth Something. That molding, discombobulated text about cancer treatments, published in 1913? It has no academic value to our institution, since we don't have any medical history doctoral programs. It's worthless as an antique, since it's falling apart and gross. We must dispose of it. Here's a hardcover thriller from 1995 somebody dropped off. We already have a copy in the stacks, and the 112 copies of it on offer at are listed at $1 each. We just need to get it out of the way.

Here's the problem: because of this strange reverence for the written word - any written word - getting rid of a useless book is like hiding the bodies in your backyard. If anybody sees you disposing of it, you're in deep trouble. The general reading (or non-reading) public is horrified that a librarian would destroy any book that retains 65% of its pages. "Hitler burned books," they are quick to accuse. It doesn't matter that Hitler burned important books by prominent Jewish scientists, and that I'm throwing away a dog-eared John Grisham paperback with water damage. Hitler burned books, I'm throwing books away: we're pretty much the same person.

Our library doesn't have as many volumes as we'd like. I imagine that this is true for any library with a book-buying budget, instead of say, a book maintenance budget, or a candy bowl budget. If people see me getting rid of a set of World Book Encyclopedias that contain the most up-to-date articles on trade between Rhodesia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, they will say, "We don't have enough books as it is, and they're just throwing them away!" It doesn't matter that it's a 1978 textbook on building circuits that happens to be written in Esperanto. What matters is that I'm "throwing away" books, as if all books were equally valuable. It's a really quick way to get called a Nazi, one way or another. Most academic libraries never accept donations in order to avoid the difficulty of disposing of books they can't use. Our institution gladly and gratefully accepts donations, in the case of items like the ones I've mentioned, it raises the problem of getting rid of the bodies. It has to happen under the cover of night, with no witnesses.

Heaven help you if you stumble upon a librarian in the woods with a shovel. I promise you that only one of you will walk back down the mountain.

*Whenever I want to convince our housecat of the veracity of my arguments, I tell him I read it in a book. He can't read, so he always believes me. Makes me feel a little bit like a jerk, though.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Upon the Feast of the Holy Cross

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
- Jesus
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It is presently popular in our culture to construe the Christian religion as a system of spirituality designed to make bad lives better and good lives great.* Here's the problem: Christian theology finds its genesis in stories about persons and relationships, beginning with the Trinitarian God. Christian truth does not begin with the stories we tell about our own lives or our assessment of our own problems, but rather the story that God tells about Himself, and about us. It's not a story about affirming our desires or giving us the lives we always wanted, but giving us the good things that we were never capable of desiring, and the life with God that we never believed possible. God's stories about us have a plotline. All of the stories - God's hopes and dreams for us - find their climax in the Cross.

Jesus is unlike any other man, and unlike any other God. He is the God/Man, and at just the right time he showed up to bring Israel's story to its climax and to enable our lives to flow into that great Reality. As a man always obedient to the Father, he walked into the place of Damnation for us. Abandoned by his own people and subject to the power of Roman justice and Roman control, he was executed as the Godforsaken and damned. Those of us who never knew the name of the True God were loved by that God so creatively so strongly by Him that he absorbed into himself the full force of our alienation and rebellion - bore our sins in his own Body.

Our problem is not that we have poor self-esteem, or that we don't know the 5, 7, 12, 14 or 21 habits, laws, practices, or secrets for a better life. We do not need a spirituality that will make us highly successful versions of the people we already are. We do not need "our best life now." Indeed, the very last thing we need is a magician god who will make all of our most selfish fantasies come true. Some Christian thinkers have defined Hell in just that fashion. I know that some of my desires lead me away from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and I would bet that some of yours do as well. Our problem is that we find ourselves cut off from the life of God, and are often so mired in our selfishness that we cannot see the way he's made to bring us back to himself.

We give thanks for the Cross of Christ, because we realize that we are a people of disordered loves. Our motives are mixed, and not always clear to ourselves. We treasure attitudes that kill the life of God in us. We nurture habits that lead us further way from the People we were created to be. The bitter joy comes when we realize that while there is much in us that needs to die, the God of Jesus Christ is out of his great love ready to kill the habits and attitudes and stories that are killing us. This is good news, because the love of God is not a love that abandons us to the darker aspects of our personalities. It is a love that brings healing and new life, but for new life to flourish, there must be a death.

May God save us from a religion that seeks only to affirm us, and not to change us.

Check out Josh's work on the theme: "United in Repentance."

*The most spectacular and egregious offenses, of course, are committed by Joel Osteen, a popular self-help guru who preaches a version of the Christian religion that removes its power and purpose by denying the reality of the Cross. You can read more on him from the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Collect for the Catholic Church

I'm going to Toledo for the next two days to spend some time with the Heart of North America network, our colleagues in the Anglican Mission. I am, God willing, to be given the canonical standing of "lay catechist" in the Church of Rwanda, with the apostolic commission to preach the Gospel, seek wandering sheep, teach the Faith, and otherwise function as a pastor.

It's an interesting thing to do, just after GAFCON, and during the Lambeth Conference. I wouldn't have seen this in the summer of 2002, that's for certain.

I wrote another collect last week. I like to read them during the Prayers of the People (the intercessions), and I always have them approved by the Rector, since they are intercessions with particular theological content.
Loving God, you founded your Church on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ to experience and implement your plan for the world's redemption, and gave us the Scriptures and the Creeds to guide us in your Truth. Grant us the gift of your Spirit so that we would always continue in that religion which is both Catholic and Biblical.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Collect for the Memorial of Mary Magdalene

Some of the things I find in Lesser Feasts and Fasts are not as theologically rich as I would prefer. If you're going to commorate something, do it write. So in true LOLAnglicanz fashion, I duz it bedder.
Almighty God, by your deep compassion you delivered and healed Mary Magdalene from the affliction of demons. Secure in your love even after the Crucifixion of the Lord, she emerged from the night of shattered hopes to anoint the Body of your Son at the morning light. Upon her encounter with the Risen One, Jesus sent her as an "Apostle to the Apostles," proclaiming, "I have seen the Lord!" For the sake of your mission and this same compassion, we beg you to heal us from the dark forces that keep us from abundant life, and set us free to love you with undivided hearts and preach with boldness the Resurrection of your Son.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Collect after the Commemoration of Benedict

Lately, whenever the commemoration/feast day of a saint comes 'round, I take time to write a collect that highlights the way a particular sister or brother served God's purposes, and ask God to give us a measure of the same Spirit. I offer it during our free intercessions, which is where we put in any "extra" collects beyond the Proper for the day.
Almighty God, you desire all your people to walk in holiness, and to know the transformation of our lives that comes with the continual renewing of our minds. You moved your servant Benedict of Nursia so long ago to establish communities that would shine as “schools of the Lord’s service,” and offer a beacon of hope in a dark culture. Give us this same grace, to order our houses and our common life in such a way as to cultivate holiness and love for our neighbor. Make us faithful and fruitful like your servant Benedict, and cause us to persevere in disciplining our desires, until the Day when, through your mercy, we may with Mary, Patrick, Benedict, and all your saints, attain to your eternal joy.

Lord, in your mercy

Hear our prayer

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Christian Education Projects

I'm back, I think. Anybody still out there? I've started my new job at library technician at the Georgetown College LRC, and I've been appointed as missioner for the college and town. You'll see my promotion soon at LOLAnglicans (a-puh-STOL-ik Xianity: let me show you it).

More on that to follow. In the meantime, here are some of the sessions I've been working on for our occasional Christian education work:
  • Fear and Loathing in the Spiritual Life: How to Practice an Incredibly Rigorous Fast

  • Listening: The Practice of Centering Prayer

  • Respect Your Mother: Praying the Angelus

  • Respect Your Mother, Session 2: Building a Grotto

  • Lectio Divina // Holy Reading

  • "Intinction Cup? What Intinction Cup?" An Introduction to Eucharistic Piety

  • Ora Pro Nobis: Sucking up to the Saints (bring $15 for holy cards and Chinese-made ceramic statues)

  • Praying the Office

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right

A middle aged man in a polo shirt stopped by the table of my Christian author friends to ask where they "go to church." They told him. He responded, "If you ever want to go to a church that really knows how to rock, check out Quest." Then he walked away. Quest is increasingly notorious for trying to evangelize people who are already committed Christians.

I spoke to a Disciples of Christ minister who told me he was thinking of using Tolle's A New Earth (think new age teacher that Oprah loves) in his church to "expand their horizons." I thought about suggesting he teach them the Christian religion, but decided to leave it alone (I was at work, after all).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Some reading

Mormons are not permitted access to Roman Catholic baptismal records. For obvious reasons.

In case you suffered religious abuse this weekend, and were subjected to a sermon about mothers rather than the Feast of Pentecost, go read Alan's reflection on the day. For penance and healing and such.

(Once again, say it with me - I am a Church calendar fundamentalist. Very good.)

Mothers are wonderful things, and my own mother is quite wonderful. It would just be a much better idea to honor them on a liturgically appropriate day, like one of the several commemorations for Our Lady. Why, we could even pass out bumper stickers in the parish hall that say, "Respect Your Mother," and kill two birds with one stone. Um, as it were.

Recovering the lost language of lament: Michael Spencer asks, "Can a Christian Sing the Blues?" Make sure you follow this link to Michael Card's lectures on the topic at Southern Seminary.

And if you're following the discussion on why the whole question of contemporary/traditional worship is bad (mmkay?), Bryan reflects on a line in the Mass. Okay, I think that's what the topic is about. Not everybody else. But just to be fair, here's a word from a friend who does believe that creativity has a place in the liturgy.

To Live and Die in the Catholic Faith

Cardinal Kasper recently challenged Anglicans to ask themselves whether they belong to the ancient Churches of the first millennium, or the Protestant churches of the 16th century. The Dean of Nashotah House, Robert S. Munday, responds with a short post on the nature of Catholicity (think Vincentian Canon) and the nature of Anglican protesting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Notes on Christian Worship

Note: I first wrote this with small group home-based worship in mind.

Worship as Response

Simply put, worship is the response we make to the Lord's initiative in our lives. He created us to live joyfully in community with him and one another. Because of the Fall, this is neither natural nor intuitive. Happily, the Christian story is all about Jesus winning us back to God and giving us his own Spirit that we might learn to walk in the ways he originally intended. We can simply be with him.

I often keep a cluttered space at home, and when someone comes to visit, I have to pick up all the clutter, coats and clothing off the chair so they can sit down. Worship is somewhat like this – making a space for God to enter, by quieting our hearts and being still. The liturgy we use - whether simple or complex – is a way of knocking away the clutter and inviting Jesus in.

Creating Space for the Presence
“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

— Ephesians 2:19.
Christ dwells in our common life. We are the temple of the Living God; we are the Body of Christ. He is here among us not because of any good and right things we say, or bad things we don’t do, but because of who we are.

That means the pressure is off. Choose to waste time. Don’t try to figure out anything new, either in regard to him or yourself. Don’t worry about saying the right things, or saying anything at all. You can speak to him, or just sit and listen. We will create an open space for him to simply be, for no particular purpose. This is a wasted time, wasted energy that could be spent getting something done. This blesses him.


Jesus will come to be among us. He enjoys our presence, and desires that we would enjoy his. Several of us may not. We’ve been forced to sit with destructive, exploitative images of God and sitting with Jesus while those old ideas are still banging around in our hearts can be uncomfortable. He’s really very much okay with that. Where Jesus is, he heals.

Avenues into the Presence of God

Invocation. Jesus comes to be with us because he loves us and because we need him; that’s why he first came to us. We can invite him into our midst on that basis; we need no other.

Praise and Thanksgiving. Sit. Remember the works of Yahweh. Acknowledge the good things you have received as being his gifts. Cite those moments of the day when some word, action or remembrance reminded you that you are loved and cared for. Thank him. Say, “I love you, too.” Tell him he’s wonderful.

Confession. Welcome him into the dark places. Don’t try to fix them up. Certainly don’t keep him out of them. Ask forgiveness only for actual sins: brokenness and need are not sins, and do not require apology. If you’ve got an incredible problem that you can’t seem to work out, tell him about it. Not that it will fix anything necessarily, but we need to cultivate a habit just being with Jesus in those places where we are uncomfortable being ourselves. If you’re not sure what to say to him because you just realized he’s not the horrible trickster god you were brought up with, say so. You don’t have to talk beyond that. Don’t make promises, just be there with him.

Listen. Read the scriptures. Let your friends affirm and challenge you. Sit and receive.

I utilized Richard Foster’s chapter in Celebration of Discipline to cover the bases.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


With this new 2008 Anglican Prayer Book, I have a +1 traditionalism, and a +4 Anglican cantankerousness. It brings a -2 debuff for all stats on nearby Episcopalians. It does however give me a -1 ecumenism and a -3 relevancy.

However, if somebody plays the "contemporary worship" dilemma card, the lower relevancy stats will double my clerics' XP.

Let the reader understand.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Liturgical Issues

Last week before Mass as I was ironing the lace cottas, a couple of our parishioners approached me about starting something they called a "contemporary worship service." I couldn't make out all of what they were saying, but I understood the gist of it to include guitars and Hawaiian shirts. I spoke to the clergy about this later, and we puzzled over it for some time - "contemporary worship" seemed like an oxymoron at least, if not some kind of practical joke they were going to play on the MC.

We finally decided that they had gotten their words confused, and that after our recent reaching series on Christian mission and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, this was part of a groundswell of people panting after a fuller experience of *Eucharistic adoration.* We had an emergency meeting with the liturgists in the cloister, and started putting together a basic sketch for a Service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

I couldn't find mention of these "guitars" or "Hawaiian shirts" anywhere, though, and for some reason I could only find Benediction rubrics in liturgy books that date back a few hundred years. I was wondering if any other AMiA parishes have already developed some "contemporary" version of these rubrics for your own Eucharistic adoration that we might lean upon?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You Want It

In case you've missed my cantankerousness...

I continue to be disturbed at my recent discovery that in our present ecclesial culture in the United States, Christian worship is a spectator sport. It's not an issue at Saint Patrick's Church, but if I were the rector of a congregation that refused to participate in congregational singing, I would eliminate the music program. I'd also put the choir/worship band/charismatic worship leader in the back of the nave rather than the front.

Hell, who am I kidding? I might celebrate Mass facing east, for that matter.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"After all, you have a degree in God-bothering."

Today, I shall return to thinking and writing about life with the Christian God. The other stuff was very boring for me.

Saint Patrick's Church made a retreat in southern Kentucky this weekend. I was able to spend a little time with some of the people that I usually don't see apart from Sunday mass, and of course several folks that I see very often. I really enjoyed the opportunity to "get with nature" and just relax with friends.

I took the opportunity to think on some difficult things, that I'll be ruminating over for some time. I've come to the slow realization over the past few months that much of my spiritual life has been characterized by a certain degree of self-pity. About two years ago, I was deliberately sabotaged by a friend who decided his role as a Christian leader and God's self-appointed representative (a protestant layman!) was to expunge me from the life of God's Church.* It grieved me tremendously that I had somehow turned this individual's dedication and camaraderie into hatred over a very very short span of time. I say "sabotage," because it worked. It got to the point where my friends in Oxford asked me not to correspond with anybody in the United States. I learned over time that the reason this hit me so hard was that both I and my friends already struggled deeply with the evil that this fellow thought he'd so doggedly uncovered in me - it was like telling a drowning man that he shouldn't have gotten so close to the tide.

The reason I was so vulnerable - aside from distance, culture shock, and the stress of my studies - is that someone I had trusted decided to speak God's condemnation into an aspect of my life where I was already desperate to receive God's healing. My problem - the real one, I think - is that I took it as a word of condemnation from God, even as my theological mind rebelled against it. Over a period of many months, I gave into the temptation to abandon myself, as I was no longer certain that God had not. Many of my decisions were colored by self-pity, and ambivalence toward this Christian God, whom I had believed up until this point to be saving me.

I had bought into the evil things that others had spoken into my life - not just this one Christian leader, but the evil things that several people had prophesied over me. I faltered severely in my discipleship, and struggled for quite some time over whether and how I would pick up the pieces. At some point, I changed my mind. As I continued in the life of the Church and in encouraging friendships, I gradually changed my mind. If I have hope, and if I have a future, it's with the Christian God. Over the course of the last several months, I've finally been able to articulate some of the things I'm learning in this.

1. It's really difficult to think of oneself as being self-pitying. I couldn't deny it, however, when all of my rationalizations for sin and sloth sounded just the same, and I realized how totally self-centered and coddling of myself I had become. Poooor Kyle. When self-pity offers a story, it sounds like The Sordid Tale of that Awful Thing Someone Else Did. I found that much sin in my life that, serendipitously, could be traced back to The Sordid Tale of that Awful Thing Someone Else Did. Why am I skipping evening prayers tonight? Really, when it comes down to it, I'm justified/excused/allowed because we remember back in the Sordid Tale of That Awful Thing Someone Else Did, much greater evils were perpetrated, so really there's no big deal at all.

It was in our Lenten reading of the Orthodox Christian penitential text, the Canon of Saint Andrew, that God invited me to take full responsibility for my own actions - all of them - and to really think about what that means. This is when I realized that all my actions seemed to hinge upon That Story. When I got up, when I laid down - I might have put it down on a scroll and put it on my forehead like the Pharisees of old. I realized that I had to quit recounting The Sordid Tale of that Awful Thing Someone Else Did. Yes it was awful. No, they weren't sorry. No, I don't imagine that I've been vindicated just yet. It's not that it wasn't evil, and it's not that it wasn't an injustice - rather, I had given That Story power as an explanatory narrative.

2. The other Important Lesson clicked into place for me this weekend. Lots of people in this world will claim to represent God. Some people are even supposed to. Many people will call themselves "fathers," and for some, their fatherhood will be derivative of the fatherhood of the Christian God. For many, it will be derivative of the Evil One. Here's the rub: any representation or interpretation of a "god" that doesn't look like the man Jesus nailed to a cross in suffering love for broken people is a lie. The saints and martyrs stand with the Christian God in judgment against any explanatory story that depicts God as any other than a God who loves sinners with deep and passionate love. Our priest pointed out to us yesterday as well that any faithful proclamation of this God will be Eucharistic - men and women allowing themselves to be broken like the bread and poured out like the wine in gratitude to God, and for the sake of the world.

More will follow, but that's enough for today.

*Don't try to guess who, because you won't. I've never mentioned him on the blog, and only about 8 people know the details of the situation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Unity of the Church, part II

Seriously folks, read this and come back at me - I know this is muddled, so help me out.

We discussed in a previous post how catholic Christians understand the unity of Christ's Church in terms of church order and doctrine. I now intend to expand that to cover mission and sacraments, but first let's consider why it's even needful to have the conversation. Catholic Christians by definition have a particular vision for the unity of the Church: in every place, there is a "local church," understood as the diocese. This is the whole Christian community in a particular geographic area with one pastor, the bishop, with subpastors (his priests) holding the charge of particular congregations/parishes. This community as a whole is understood to believe, practice and teach the Catholic faith as found in the Bible, the Creeds, and the Councils, to celebrate the Sacraments (chiefly baptism and Eucharist) and to engage in mission and Christian formation. We seek to become like Christ, and to invite others to be part of God's plan for saving the world.

Here's the awkward question: what shall be our view of other religions, like Methodism?

But seriously: remember that I started the discussion by insisting that everyone should be scandalized by Christian division, because it is a scandal. Everyone should be scandalized by any instance of people who take the name of Christ treating other people in unloving or destructive ways. It should go without saying (but I shall say it) that inter-denominational fighting and punditry is something I have no time for whatsoever, as it hinders both my transformation and yours. You will not hear me sitting around talking about "those awful benighted ______s, who are scarely Christians at all." Not. Interesting.

(Now exposing the deep poverty of certain dessicated practices, like the care and cultivation of praise bands, is another matter all together. People need to hear that.)

Keep in mind, then, that I share the concerns of the folks whose opinions I'm about to criticize. Many well meaning Christians conflate Christian charity and fraternal love with the rationalization of division by saying something like the following: "We all have different ways of worshipping and serving God, so it's okay if I go the Baptist church and you go to the Lutheran church, and they go to the Methodist church, as long as we all love Jesus and preach the gospel." This is a charitible stance, and the intent is worthy of respect. However, it is an unintentionally dishonest statement. Even if we imagine that there is some form of "the gospel" that we can understand both outside of and within our own culture and language, all of these separated Christians who want to affirm each other in their separation are actually testifying by their own choices that all of those groups understand the story of the Gospel and its demands for discipleship in radically different ways, and that these ways are radically different enough to be Church divding.

The unity of Christ's church has never been predicated upon warm feelings, but rather unity in teaching the faith and living according to the Christian story. If I really agreed so wholeheartedly with my separated breathern that we teach and live what is essentially the same Christian religion, why we do we consider our Christian communities to be different churches?

To live in separated churches, we have to have a particular reason to do so that we consider more important than the basic blanket demand for Christian unity that we find in John's depiction of Jesus? In the above example, the particular reason is ... personal preference. Does anybody really think it comes down to that?

So let us ask together: what are the important church-dividing issues? What are the ways that our different communities have of teaching and living the Gospel that justify our separation? If we can find no justification, what shall we do to end the separation?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Unity of the Church, part I

Catholic Christians understand the Unity of the Body of Christ to be a primary concern for all Christians. I have written before that I believe many folks to be "inappropriately scandalized" by the fact of Christian division. If you are a baptized person, it should bother you. Lots. At least enough to do something about it.

For evangelical protestants, the unity of the Church looks like people getting along and sharing prayers and ministry. This is as true and important, as far as it goes. I think many evangelicals would also say that doctrinal unity - specific assent to particular theological points - is an important aspect of unity (perhaps the most important) and is a prerequisite to shared mission in many cases and perhaps a prerequisite to sharing a life of prayer and friendship.

Catholic Christianity is concerned with doctrine, mission, and getting along, but for us, it looks very different - it looks like questions of church order. Of course sacramental validity fits in there as well. For evangelicals, the thing we understand as church order often seems arbitrary, but I'll try to explain.

While it may seem to many that the ancient church consisted of a "mixed economy" of alternative and competing Christianties (much like today's Protestant milieu), from the very beginning churches were differentiated by geography, not by their particular version of the Faith. The "local church" was the assembly of all Christians in a particular place, not a small "congregation" grouped by preference or affinity. Within the first several decades after Christ's Ascension, an order that historians call the "monarchical episcopate" had emerged - instead of the local church in each city being ruled by a college (or council) of presbyters, there emerged one overseer, or bishop, from that college. He was understood to present Christ as shepherd to the Church, and became a focus for unity of the wider Church. It also quickly became important that these bishops have the right relational pedigree; in an age where teachers of alternative Christianities kept cropping up and claiming special revelation or access to secret teaching that had been passed down from Jesus through some shadowy characters in a fashion that was impossible to confirm, it was important to know that a bishop had been discipled (apprenticed or formed in the Christian faith) by someone who was known to be a close associate of the Apostles. The bishop's power and prerogative to ordain was considered to be derivative of the authority Jesus invested in the Apostles, and when priests acted in Christ's name to preside at the Eucharist and to grant absolution of sin, they were understood to derive their authority from their bishop. It was also understood that these bishops and therefore their priests would have been formed according to the Rule of Faith, which later became known as the official creeds of the Christian Church - I mean specifically the so-called Apostles' Creed.

When a community could claim that pedigree, one knew that the community in question professed and practiced the true Christian faith, and that this was a community that Jesus transformed by his ongoing action through the sacraments.

So when we consider the question of Christian unity, we believe it to have several expressions:

1. Is this a community of Christians that derives from apostolic continuity, or did it spring up from someone else's peculiar Bible reading, or particular version of Christianity? Unity in the Church requires continuity with apostolic Christianity.

2. Do the bishops of particular communities recognize one another as teachers of the apostolic faith, who have been consecrated in the apostolic succession?

3. Does the community profess and teach the Bible according to the Creeds?

After answering these joint questions of doctrine, church order and sacramental validity, then we concern ourselves with what it means to get along well with one another, and to recognize one anothers ministries as Christian communities, and start agreeing together about what it means to be Christian people.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Saints, Mission, and the Prayers of the People

A long title for a short post.

As you may have noticed by now, our parish's patron is Saint Patrick of Ireland. You may also have intuited by other things I have said, I might well be the only person in the community who refers to the good Bishop as "our parish's patron." I have no problem with that. I have been thinking of late about why it is that we have patron Saints, and what that means for our worship. In the narrative of the Christian Church, we look to particular people who by their lives and teaching give us upstanding examples of how to grow in faithfulness and conformity to Jesus Christ in all manner of instances. We discover in Christ a vision for redeemed humanity at peace and union with God, and we discover in the "Communion of Saints" what it can look like for ordinary people to be healed and redeemed into this new humanity that looks so much like Christ. Essentially, the Church teaches that holiness requires some imagination, and the examples of those who have gone before us serve to fire it up.

One of the reasons our community has Saint Patrick as a patron - as a model of discipleship to Jesus - is that he was a certain kind of missionary in a particular culture. We believe that we need to be a similar kind of missionary in a similar kind of culture. I'll talk about just what I think that means later on. I've been thinking how we can put the life of Patrick more "up front" in our life together as a parish, so I've decided to add this collect adapted from the BCP to our intercessions at Mass:

O Almighty God, who has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of thy servant Patrick the missionary, may grow in love for those with whom we share our lives, and earnestly work and pray for their healing and salvation. Make us faithful and fruitful like Patrick, and cause us to persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with Mary, Patrick, and all thy saints attain to thine eternal joy; Lord, in your mercy -
- hear our prayer.

Or, "...through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

So great a cloud of witnesses The language here is from Hebrews 11, which invites us to see those who have gone before us as companions and fellow travelers. These brothers and sisters in Christ enjoy the full presence of God now, and as we worship, we join our own prayers with theirs and Christ's. Their companionship should be seen as encouraging, and the example they offer teaches us that holiness is something that we can know and experience - it's not just a pipe dream; we really can belong to God in every aspect of our lives.

healing and salvation We have a proclamation - a story - about how the Creator God has saved and healed the world through Jesus Christ. that work of healing and restoration is ongoing, and we mean for everyone in the Christian community, as well as our "neighbors" who are not part of that community to experience the benefits of same. Jesus seeks to make us into a people who fervently desire abundant life - a life that is cleansed and healed of bitterness, addiction, and fear - for everyone.

Mary, Patrick, and all thy saints We look to our Lady as a model of discipleship. As she said to the angel, "Let it be unto me according to your word," so we also learn to say to God, "Let the good news of your dominion so form my own life, that I might also become a God-bearer, a conduit of healing and restoration for my friends and enemies alike." Like Patrick, we wish to be missionaries who approach our culture lovingly, nurturing a counter-culture that engenders (are you getting this yet?) healing and restoration.

Father, send your Spirit upon your people, that we might burn with love.
Lord Jesus Christ, continue the work of new creation in us.
O Creator Spirit, come and draw forth that creation in our lives.

O holy Theotokos, pray for us sinners, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Patrick, bishop and elder brother, pray to the Lord for us, that he would continue to form us as healers, teachers and apostles.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Easter Week

Holy Week and the Triduum was a marvelous experience for our Saint Patrick's community. I was unable to make it to Maundy Thursday observances because of a work commitment, but we shared that liturgy with Apostles' Church at their meetingplace. On Friday we had a joint Tenebrae service with South Elkhorn Christian Church. The liturgy was well done, and SECC has some friendly folks.

I was very pleased with our Easter Vigil; I'd spent a great deal of time practicing to chant the Exultet, and by the time I finished it, I thought I was going to pass out by the end of it, but happily I remembered to bend my knees a bit halfway through the 6 minute song. Here's an excerpt:
This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!
I was honored and even humbled to lead our people into the Easter Vigil and celebration in this way. I spent part of Holy Week listening to Kallistos Ware's lectures on the meaning of the cross (scroll down the page for links), and one of hte things that occurred to me as I practiced is that many protestant Christians are - how can I put this - inappropriately sorry for the death of Christ. I've read some devotions regarding the execution of the Lord that speak as if it were entirely a terrible, terrible things, and really it would have been better if the whole thing could have been avoided. This is not true, of course, for the death of Christ was an extravagant act of love by God. We thank the God who so wonderously created, and more wonderously redeemed>!

This is a Western hymn, so I do find some of the theology a bit problematic. The song reads, "
For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!"

As Bishop Kallistos puts it, it is biblical to say that Christ paid the ransom, but we must remember that this is a concept that only goes so far. We can not take it so far as to say what the Scripture does not, i.e. that Christ paid the ransom to the devil, or that Christ paid the ransom to God, because neither was really "holding us for ransom." Rather, the emphasis is on the healing and freeing work of Christ: it is as if we were slaves, and Christ laid down payment to purchase us for himself.

To say that Christ paid the ransom to the devil brings us a place of theologizing about "the devil's rights" over humanity before God. That is deeply, deeply problematic, and it is an error made by some patristic writers (apparently) and many Pentecostals (obviously). To say that God was enslaving us and that he needed a ransom paid to himself does two problematic things: 1) it presents God as capricious and evil, because in such a conception it becomes God who keeps us enslaved to sin and death. 2) It places a wedge between Christ and the Father, and the redemptive work of Christ is depicted as something that he performs over against the Father. That's a problem. This is a mistake that some patristic writers made (apparently) and many Baptists make (obviously).

Is that enough for today? I think it is.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday

Christ in the Tomb

A Prayer for Holy Saturday

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

We await the Great Vigil.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Choosing a Church

I read a wonderful bit of wisdom on Amy Welborn's blog today. Marcel Lejeune shared this on a comment thread:
A friend recently asked me what I “need from the Church”. My response boiled down to - I need the Church to make saints. Not in naming someone a saint, but rather in calling us all to holiness and perfection. Making modern-day saints out of the ordinary. We have a crisis in holiness in the Church. Holiness would solve every problem.
There is a great temptation to think about the work of the Church (caring, healing, celebrating and teaching) as equivalent to some kind of service industry or retail job. At the bookstore, I want the place, and particularly my religion section, to be the kind of place to which people will want to come and spend time and buy books. There is a needful and legitimate extent to which I have to think about what people want, and try to have that on offer. It's my job to sell books, and other concerns are secondary. I do have the opportunity to serve in some creative ways: there are a number of books in Joseph-Beth's selection that I make sure we carry, and do indeed sell, that you're not going to find in other places, and that we wouldn't have if I didn't put them there. If you want them, you will come into the shop and find good Christian books that are good for you. It will not be hard to find them. This is not true at chain stores or Christian bookstores (depending, of course, on who you trust to declare something "good.") Of course, you will also find Joel Osteen's stuff. I work for a "secular" business, not a confessional one. I don't go out of my way to get book that I think are bad for people just because I think they'll sell. But I don't try to prevent the stocking of titles that already sell. And of course if I'm indifferent about a title, I want to carry it if it will sell.

The work of the Church ought not to follow the same logic, however. "Give the people what they want" is a sound business practice and marketing strategy, but it is deadly to the life of any church that seeks to organize itself in such a fashion. The shape of the liturgy is not decided by popular vote, and we must not be interested in doing things because they are "neat." The Church has a reason to exist that comes before anybody else's agenda: it is the People of God, the new humanity that has been created in Jesus Christ to worship the Father along with Him, and to participate in the renewal of Creation in the power of the Spirit.

The Church doesn't exist in order to bring a large number to its Sunday gatherings for any reason, or to be "useful" in the social order or to split up responsibilities for poor folks with the government. The Church is called to give people Christ through the Sacraments, and Christ through their own presence in the dark and broken places of human life. The Church is called to mimic and extend Jesus' own ministry of healing, teaching, meal sharing and exorcism. That can look like all kinds of things, but the Church is not at liberty to make up activities unrelated to those things, and call it "ministry."

This is why it is dangerous to choose which group of Christians you'll make your life with on the basis of musical tastes, your "enjoyment" of the "worship experience," or the activities they put on offer. In most cases, those things will have very little to do with whether you can find healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ along with that community, or whether they are a people who can or will come alongside you to stay in the dark places of your life.

We need to be involved in communities that will participate actively in God's work of making us all saints - bringing us all to completion of who we really are.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Christian Worship Lingo

I had a good conversation with a friend yesterday about the teaching implicit in different liturgical styles. For example, in some churches, the "worship band" is illumined by stage lights in an otherwise dark auditorium. In the context of Christian worship, the implication is that the band are objects of veneration.

Seriously. Otherwise, why would it be important to see them? This is improper, and you should all stop it at once.

In other congregations, however, the worship band/music team/whathaveyou doesn't have a script. They don't talk. The entire congregation has a script it follows as it learns to talk to God the Father along with Jesus, who is the real "lead worshipper."

And of course, when my own parish meets in a place with fancy lights, we illumine the altar, because that is the dramatic focus of the entire movement. And yes, you may venerate it if you wish.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Just for fun

Of course, sometime in the next 5 years, I'm thinking about planting a new Anglican parish in Georgetown, Kentucky, to bring the Catholic religion to that poor benighted land. Now, you may be aware that it is traditional for protestant groups to name their communities after numbers, or the streets along which the meetinghouse sits, or something that shows good marketing sense while resonating with the language of Scripture (e.g. "New Hope" or "Living Water, and so on). The Catholic churches (Rome, Canterbury, and the East) will often name their communities for notable saints, or events in the life of Christ. While there's not a hard and fast rule, many hardcore Anglo-Catholic churches will pick the latter option. For example, Church of the Advent in Boston is so "high up the candle" that the local Roman Catholic Archbishop gets a nosebleed when he passes on the street.

While I might have fled to the Church of the Holy Hierarchical Authoritarianism, I've got enough tra-la-la tree-hugging namby-pamby egalitarianism in me that I'd probably go in and start the "Georgetown Anglican Fellowship," and then when we numbered around a dozen, start discerning an appropriate name/patron/commemoration for the parish. But just for fun, here are my top five name choices for a new parish I'd like to start, somewhat in order.

  1. Saint Clement of Rome. We have one document extant from this early leader of the Roman Church, his Epistle to the Corinthians in which he lovingly chides them for their disunity. The community had recently overthrown their college of presbyters and apparently brought in some upstarts to replace them. I've written on the Epistle here. I believe that American Anglicanism has an ecumenical and unifying mission in the life of the Church as it seeks to live and share the Gospel, and looking to Clement and his writing as an example would be good for a young parish.

  2. Saint Mary Magdalene. Mary is known for her loving dedication to the Christ who exercised and healed her of demonic oppression. In a neurotic, materialistic suburban culture, we need this model. Also, this is the name of a famously exuberant Anglo-Catholic parish in Oxford. Which is braggable. Heh.

  3. Church of the Resurrection. This really shouldn't need any explanation at all. We need Jesus Christ, the second Adam, to heal us and make us alive.

  4. Saint Cyprian of Carthage. Haha, not really. I just wanted to see who was paying attention.

  5. Church of the Incarnation. Take that, latent gnosticism! Meditation on the Incarnation will guide us to sacramental and catholic imagination, to understand that matter can and does bear the glory of God.
What do you think?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why Ecclesiology is a Rough Subject

As soon as one decides that the nature of the Church is a first-order rather than a second order question (see here), things begin to get very difficult. One can no longer say that the constitution, identity and practices of different Christian communities amount to a matter of preference. If one believes that one's life in the Christian community (what kind of life, and what kind of community) will impact the nature or extent of one's connectedness to Jesus, then comments like, "I go to x church because I like the music and you go to y church because you like the education program ceases to make any sense. Preferences, no matter how fastidious or well-meaning they are, are not the reason for the Church's existence.

For better or worse, I always need a reason.

I find that when I am no long prepared to speak about preferences as a theological category, I quickly have to start pinning down what the concrete attributes are of those concrete communities that are connected to those communities started by Jesus. As I work these things out, I find a two-edged sword.

1) If I really get hardcore about this, I'll have to face up to the real and potential inadequacies of my own (adopted) tradition. The Roman, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformed Christian traditions all have particular criticisms of what Anglicanism would seek to be, even at its best. I have to do business with those criticisms, and I might well find my "spiritual home" lacking.

2) In the same way, if I were to write about this journey, I would have to admit the ways in which I believe other Christian traditions to be lacking. I've not often been shy about this, but I don't believe that it's necessarily an edifying discussion to have. Surprise, even the folks to look to me for encouragement or challenge in the Faith (in this space or otherwise) are not eagerly awaiting any pronouncements on which churches are real churches. I'd probably end up sounding like the Pope, but with different conclusions, i.e., the requirements for being understood as fully and properly "the Church" are ABCD, and while it's nice that you've got BCDE over there, if you don't have A, you're Christians but don't experience the life of the Church in its fullness. I suspect the Holy Father and I would just pick different letters.

I might talk about what I think those letters consist of later on, or I might not. We'll see.