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.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lenten Antics

Kitty is covered in soot and hissing at his bowl of kibble.

He hates fast days.

Sex in the Church: A Glossary

The rhetoric of the culture wars has made it increasingly clear that many Christians and Christian denominations lack a theology of marriage. Just pick up the paper or turn on the television, and you can uncover all kinds of contradictory rationales as to how marriage ought or ought not be defined - and indeed, who should define it. I remember when George W. Bush announced to the nation that "marriage is a sacrament;" I wondered if he was making the statement in his capacity as the President of the United States, or as a United Methodist layman.

Amusingly, many Christians don't know how to talk about not having sex, either. With this in mind, I'm going to draw out the meaning of three distinct words that are often used interchangeably in Christian circles: abstinence, chastity and celibacy.

Abstinence is the state of refraining from sexual relations. Some people are abstinent by choice, and others by commitment - it's a very broad and general word. This is not the same as chastity or celibacy. Married people might practice abstinence during a period of fasting, or single people who are dating but not "hooking up" could be called abstinent. It's the answer to a yes or no question, and is not indicative of an overall lifestyle choice, while the other words are.

Chastity is a Christian virtue. Those who are chaste engage in sexual relationships only within the boundaries offered by a Christian moral vision. For married people, that means they only engage in sexual relations with one another. For those who are not married, this means not engaging in sexual congress at all. Chastity is a Christian obligation for all baptized persons, whether they are single or married.

Celibacy is a vowed state, as marriage is a vowed state. An unmarried Christian person who practices abstinence is not considered celibate - rather, they are chaste. Vowed or not, in a Christian context celibates are people who have closed the door to the possibility of marriage in response to a call from God. Therefore, while a chaste single Christian might go on a date, a celibate Christian would not. Celibacy and marriage are like bookends in the life of the Church. They are alternative states of life that are protected by vows to which Christians seek to be faithful.

Does that clear some things up?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Beginning Great Lent

This is my standard introduction to the practices of the Christian season of Lent.

I realize that not all of my wonderful readers are familiar with the purpose and practice of the Lenten season. Stay with me as I indulge myself (and perhaps you) in a little bit of history and theology.

Where it Came From

In the earliest Christian centuries, once the Christian mission moved past Palestine and the "god-fearing" Gentiles (those familiar with and disposed toward the story of Israel's god, like Cornelius in Acts 10) and into the wider Roman world, it became necessary to catechize potential converts - to be intentional about teaching them the story of Israel's god, his people, his world, and his Christ, from beginning to end. Catechesis was a time of ethical reformation, as members of the church discipled these soon-to-be Christians in the way of God's New Community.

Much of the theological instruction for this one to three year period was put into the period of 40 days before the Great Vigil of Easter. The forty days brings echoes of Moses conversing with God on Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments, the forty years of temptation in the wilderness that refined Israel, and the forty days when Jesus entered the wilderness for his communion with God and to prepare for his own testing. Forty days is a time of refining and of being with the Lord.

At the season of Lent, Christian converts receive intensive theological education, accompanied by prayers, confession and exorcisms - it is indeed an intense time of being with the Lord. The rest of the Church also walks through this time of penitence and learning and self-examination.

Walking with Jesus

It also has a place in the overall narrative of Jesus' life: At Epiphany, we commemorated his appearance to his people, and realized that he is the light that scatters our darkness. At his baptism, he was revealed to be the Son of God, bearing divine favor for the people. At the reception of John's baptism, he identified himself with the faithful remnant of Israel, and began to reconstitute the nation in terms of loyalty to himself by his calling of the Twelve; now enter the story of the last days of his ministry, when he begin to orient himself and his disciples to his vocation of suffering and death for the sake of the people. The story has taken a dark turn, and we join the Master as he sets his face resolutely toward Jerusalem. In solidarity with him, we begin the time of sorrowing for our sins and his suffering, walking into the darkness of our broken humanity in the hope of Easter's light.

So the matter of Lenten disciplines or practices is this: what can I do to set my own face toward Jerusalem? What in my personality and my life with the Church in the world needs to be put to death, and what does God wish to be raised up? I think we find the answers to these questions by putting ourselves in an intentional posture of listening: making a quiet space in our routines to hear from the Lord.

This is not meant for Herculean efforts of spiritual zeal - like boot camp for Jesus - but for a time of greater intentionality. We learn to be quiet and make space, preparing for the conviction of sin, and to offer our brokenness for his healing, so that when we do speak and act, we will do so as a grateful and repentant response to the Trinitarian God who leads us into truth.

We rededicate ourselves in practical ways to prayer, to seeking and listening to the counsel of our brothers and sisters, and in learning more deeply the Way of Life. In this practice-able, regular actions - these ways of making space - we invite the Lord to purge our personalities of the dross of the old nature, and to refine us more and more as part of the new creation. Repentance, it must be remembered, is a change of attitude, a new way of seeing that sends us walking in a different direction. Sometimes the turning is slight, and sometimes it's one hundred and eighty degrees. Our goal is not a particular spiritual experience or to start or stop a particular habit necessarily, but to be with the Lord and offer to him our readiness to turn in unexpected directions, to listen to words we would not have anticipated, and answer yes to him in ways we would not have imagined.

The time of Great Lent is upon us. May it be a holy one as we walk into the dark places of ourselves and discover that the Lord Himself leads us into the stillness of our solitary fears, to sit with us, to heal us, and to absorb all of our darkness into the Darkness of his Cross and the Light of Easter Dawn.

So how do we make this concrete?

Saying the office is a way of making space in our day that will sanctify the rest of it, and letting the Scriptures teach us how to offer our hearts to the Lord.

Centering prayer enables us to quiet ourselves in a deep, purposeful way, to stop the noise and stop the thinking and just stop … and wait for the Spirit of the Lord to come and do what it will. It's about giving him space to do the deep works he needs to do, but doesn't really need to tell us about.

Attending to the holy mysteries, and receiving the mystical body of Christ into oneself - does that need explanation? Salvation, after all, isn't only or even mostly in our heads. Salvation is performed, and salvation must be eaten.

Peace and blessing be upon you as you begin the journey of Lent in God's Church.