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.