Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Creed

One of most meaningful pieces of my Advent preparation is our Advent book study. We have a group of a dozen or so that meet to read and discuss a text. This year, I chose The Creed, by Luke Timothy Johnson.

The are a number of reasons for using this particular book. The presenting reason is the subject and recent discussion, in Episcopal circles, about the Nicene Creed. Several months ago, a couple of letters appeared in Episcopal Life, questioning the usefulness of the creed in the liturgy. If I remember correctly, one author opined, the Nicene Creed seems like an interruption, and one lacking comprehensiveness. In this context, I thought a discussion of the history, use and purpose of the Creed, could be profitable.

It has been a lively and interesting group. Johnson does a very nice job of sketching the history, and connecting the biblical witness. There are too many great quotes and helpful gems to list. The main point, I took away, is the Nicene Creed is a condensation of the Biblical witness, the resurrection experience of the first believers, and the reflection of the Church.
I like Johnson’s emphasis on the revealed faith of Israel, the experience of the faithful with God, and the role of ongoing revelation. So, the Creed is a complete text, yet it suggests a dynamic process, for now incomplete. We are living the Nicene Creed, now.

It is a very useful and helpful read.

Lastly, I have a link to an interesting Christmas Post. It is about changing perspectives and development, but recognizing that there is truth.

Hat tip/The Lead

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Are You Kidding Me?

Creedal Christian comments on the trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee.

Black Friday Body Count

Our desire for cheap goods is dangerous.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas Consumption


My friend Scott Gunn has a very interesting and timely post at his blog, Seven Whole Days. The post points to the rampant commercialism and consumption that have become part of Christmas. He offers the option of the “buy nothing Christmas”. This will no doubt be an appealing option to some, especially given the uncertainty about the state of the global economy. The critique, an accurate one, is that we seem to have an insatiable appetite for cheap goods. Christmas is the time, it is most visible and even celebrated.

However, our Christmas buying habits are only a symptom of a much more pervasive issue. Our relationship with currency and commerce needs to be examined. I want to understand the core issues that lead us astray.

We have seen huge shifts in economic activity over time. In a relatively short period, we have transitioned through various economic cultures. We started hunting and gathering, then we became an agrarian society. We learned to barter as a means of exchanging produce. We shifted into small-scale production of useful tools, only to explode into bigger manufacturing. A tech revolution occurred. We have seen a shift to a more service-based economy.

Credit developed as a convenience first, then became part of the speculative process of business and procurement. Capital became more available. Money flowed. Some became rich, and some did not. Land was critical in the beginning, but is less so now. Now, we look toward the next big idea.

What has happened to our thinking about money and goods? I suspect few think intentionally about this. It is easier to just roll along with the trends and expansion. Sure, some develop business plans. Others plan budgets. Some set long-term goals. Others only hope to pay the next bill. There is little philosophical conversation about money. Most conversation is about acquiring more to have more. Commerce is a religion, and we all bow down at the altar.

Short of packing it in and moving to the woods, we all have to participate in economic culture. Can we find ways to participate that reflect our faith, and honor our values? I would say yes. However, I also recognize that Jesus spent a good deal of time addressing money and property. He eschewed placing faith in wealth and property, and criticized abuse as a result of economic inequality. The Apostles, we are told, held all things in common, and gave to anyone that had need. I think it safe to say that Jesus’ criticism of wealth had more to do with the obsessive and abusive behavior of people, than material wealth itself. Yet, it is perfectly clear that Jesus was aware of the stumbling block the material world poses.

Some of the problem is garden variety idolatry, whereby we grant ultimacy to objects, and not God. It is also more complex and difficult to understand than that. We fail to se the consequences of our consumption. I want to pay x for a suit of a certain quality. The company that makes the suit can only mach my desire to pay x, if they manufacture it in Poland using underpaid workers. I feel better driving a Land Rover, than a Prius, despite the ecological implications. I want the newest MacBook Pro, even though my current MacBook Pro is a little over a year old, and meets my needs. Why these feelings, appetites and desires? They are not rational.

I think they stem from our feelings of existential despair. We attempt to fill the voids in our lives with stuff. A tangible bobble is something that can be held and, for whatever reason, it makes me feel just a little more in control and less desolate. The trouble is that that feeling is transitory. When I go that route, it is like the cycle of addictive behavior. I need more and better things, than the last time, to make me feel as good.

We are chasing something that we will never apprehend through more and better stuff. The hard part is that we do need certain things. The addict can put a drug down and stay away from it, but we have material needs. There is nothing wrong with the material world; the problem is how we have adapted to it. We are in over our heads, and the use of credit, not as a convenience, but to finance our lifestyles is a symptom. There is little differentiation between needs and wants. Our thinking needs to catch up to the economic transitions, we have experienced as people.

Ultimately, our hope resides in Christmas. We recognize and remember that our hope, against despair, became flesh. Jesus came, not to free us from the world, but to enable us to live abundant life in it, and beyond it. A new bobble need not be another graven image, threatening to replace God in our lives. A new bobble will not “make” Christmas. What if gifts were selected and given with a sacramental kind of reverence? What if gifts were not mass quantities of cheap plastic junk, but were given as real signs of affection and love in light of God’s gift to us? Gifts could be more than anesthesia, if we sought to be thoughtful, deliberate and sensible. What if gift giving weren’t a melee, but the celebration of God’s ultimate gift of God’s self, celebrated intentionally, with an exchange of tokens of love, not hinging on quantity or dollar value, but meaning?














Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fort Worth Departs


For those of you that follow these things, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave the Episcopal Church last Saturday. This Saturday, Bishop Jack Iker was inhibited. For one analysis of the situation, go to Katie Sherrod. Here is a link to Iker’s convention address. I also came across his list of issues. I would argue that Iker glosses over the nuanced perspectives, those he opposes, hold.

I will save you the link.

From the Diocese of Fort Worth: “We are contending for the Faith”



I am told that there are still some people in the pews who wonder what this is all about – what are the real issues that separate us from TEC? Allow me to provide a brief summary of just a few of them:

• Our Diocese believes in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. TEC believes there are many ways to salvation and that all religions lead to God.

• Our Diocese believes in the authority of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith and morals. TEC believes the Bible needs to be revised and adapted to meet the changing culture and that it may mean different things in different social contexts.

• Our Diocese believes that the essentials of the Christian Faith have been revealed once and for all in the teachings of Jesus Christ and are not subject to change. TEC believes in a revisionist approach that says only the votes of successive General Conventions can determine doctrinal and faith issues for Episcopalians as times change.

• Our Diocese believes that all ordained clergy are under the obligation to model in their own lives the received teaching of the Church that all its members are to abstain from sexual relations outside Holy Matrimony. TEC believes that active homosexuals and bisexuals ?should be ordained to the sacred ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.

• Our Diocese believes that marriage is the exclusive physical and spiritual union of one man and one woman for life. TEC believes same sex relationships are good and holy and should be blessed and celebrated.

• Our Diocese believes in the sacredness of human life from conception. TEC affirms abortion on demand.

• Our Diocese has endorsed from the very beginning the position of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) on sexuality, the recommendations of the Windsor Report (2004) on how to keep us together as a Communion, and the need for an Anglican Covenant that will define the limits of diversity. TEC has repudiated the Lambeth resolution on human sexuality, acted in defiance of the Windsor Report, and will only accept a future Covenant if there are no consequences for breaking it!

• Our Diocese believes that the theological issue of the ordination of women as priests and bishops is a matter of conscience and must not be forced on anyone. TEC believes this matter has been decided for Episcopalians and that acceptance of it is mandatory in every diocese.

• Our Diocese has constitutional and canonical provisions that place all church property in the name of the Corporation of this Diocese, to be held in trust for the use of each local congregation. TEC claims that all church property belongs to them, a claim first made by General Convention in 1979.

• Our Diocese believes that heretical teaching by the church causes separation and division, that unity and truth must go together. TEC believes we should tolerate heresies and false teaching for the sake of remaining together.

• Our Diocese maintains that just as we voted to come into union with the General Convention in 1982, so we have the right to dissolve that union in 2008. TEC believes our affiliation with General Convention is irrevocable.

• Our Diocese stands with the vast majority of Anglicans around the world. TEC is a declining body and very much out of the mainstream of orthodox Christianity, both here and abroad.

The list could go on and on, but I think these few examples should suffice. The choice before us is clear. Will we contend for the faith as we have received it? Or we will accept the ongoing innovations and revisions of General Convention religion?

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
October 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Credit


This came from the Faith and Theology blog. It presents an interesting view of our relationship with money.



A guest-post by Scott Stephens (originally written for an Australian church newspaper)

Credit is the lifeblood of the modern economy. It saturates our lives – from the personal credit we each use to purchase household items or to buy our homes, to the shadier, more mysterious world of credit default swaps (CDSs) and other derivatives that commercial banks now trade like a currency.

But it’s the very ubiquity of credit that prevents us from seeing its true nature, like being unable to see the wood for the trees. Credit is, in essence, the promise of limitless, indefinite, unfathomable wealth. And we need credit is because of the kind of lives that we have become accustomed to living, or the size of the profit margins your investors demand. Credit is, like most facets of our economy, an invention, a form of technology for generating more money. But the real innovation of the last two decades has been the willingness of banks to trade debt and risk itself, and thereby to make the economy both more profitable and more volatile.

Likewise, on the personal front, it has been the availability of “cheap money” in the form of low interest mortgages, the subsequent housing bubble, and the conversion of home equity into another line of credit that has pumped billions of dollars into national economies. What we have witnessed, in other words, is a natural extension of the very logic of money, which has aimed from its very beginning at generating more and more of itself, seemingly out of nothing.

This surprisingly modern idea – money generating more money – was actually first put forward by Aristotle in the fourth century BC. He observed the introduction of markets into the first great metropolises of Asia Minor, and even described trade as “the salvation of the states.” But Aristotle was then shocked to observe that the efficiency and simplicity of the market seemed to unleash something monstrous in the human heart. As people saw how much money there was to be made, they began lusting after “profit without limit.” They traded “the good life” (namely, a life organized around virtue and the common good) for lives of excess. Aristotle concluded that, whereas trade had the potential to be “the salvation of the states,” the seemingly limitless flow of money trade introduced into the life of the city brought along with it vices or moral impairments that would be the destruction of the city.

The vices he named were: greed, an inability to be satisfied, a lack of sobriety or self-control, and the willingness to profit through usury. The great tragedy, of course, is that the very vices that Aristotle identified as most corrosive to the common good have become the celebrated virtues upon which the modern economy is built. Capitalism thrives only through these vices.

While we hope and pray that those in positions of influence will find a just and effective response to the current credit contraction, should we not also reflect on our own indulgence in the greed and uncontrolled lifestyles that have brought us to this point? Shouldn’t we hope that out of this comes a rediscovery of a keen sense of the common good, and of new forms of community that nurture the virtues that have long since seemed to disappear from our society?

The onus, then, is on the church – not merely to pray in some benign way that God would mollify the effects of this financial crisis, but really to constitute that alternate form of community. To give the formation of Christian virtue and Christlike generosity priority over misguided “stewardship” (which so often is ecclesiastical code for white-knuckled miserliness). To have the courage to tell our congregations that participation in the Body of Christ means wanting less, using less, wasting less, so that we can distribute more. To embrace those sacramental resources that have been entrusted to us to keep us faithful to our calling, and which themselves enact a radically different kind of economics to that of corpulent capitalism.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Freakonomics on Stewardship



Here in the middle of stewardship season, I came across this piece. Hmmm... Of course the trouble is that a pledge to the Church isn’t a simple financial transaction. It isn’t shopping for an efficient purveyor of religious goods and services. A pledge is more like a tangible prayer of commitment to God’s unfolding future.



Why Can’t Religion Be “Pay to Play”?
By DANIEL HAMERMESH

The most annoying volunteer job I’ve ever had is that of treasurer at my synagogue; three years at one place, and I was dumb enough to volunteer for three years at another.


Trying to eke dues out of the small number of delinquent members had bad effects on my blood pressure.

Synagogues and other religious organizations are public goods; it’s easy to enjoy the services offered (pun intended) without paying your fair share of the costs.

Many European countries do it differently. When you move to a town in Germany, for example, you are asked to state your religion at the city office. Unless you say none, you are then assessed a surtax of 8 percent on your income tax liability, and the funds are paid directly to your religious community.

With a progressive income tax, this means that the rich pay a greater share of their incomes to support religious institutions than the poor do.

No need to go harassing delinquent members; it’s pay to play.

As a synagogue treasurer, I would have loved that; as a U.S. citizen, I realize that this is inconsistent with the separation of church and state in the United States (but any more so than Bush’s faith-based initiatives?).

And I realize that it might be difficult to determine what constitutes a religious organization — a problem that has arisen in Germany.

Prof. Good on Bill Maher


Prof. Good is the New Testament Prof. at General Seminary. She is a great teacher and an interesting thinker. Her critique of Maher’s new movie is quite thoughtful. It sounds like the movie is just what you would expect. Too bad Maher isn’t interested in something more constructive. I guess the constructive doesn’t sell enough tickets.

Prof. Good

Freakonomics on the Financial Crisis


For those of you that don’t regularly read the Freakonomics blog, I want to call your attention to this one. It offers an explanation of our current financial situation. It is easy to be concerned and anxious at this uncertain time. I hope a little clarity and perspective will help us be our best selves.

C+


Guest Post

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Economy


In the midst of our current economic turmoil, there are many talking heads. I have read a number of interesting pieces. The Freakonomics blog of the NYT is always an interesting, if somewhat offbeat look at economic analysis. Steven D. Levitt's post of September 22 is interesting and contains a link to an explanation of the current situation from Doug Diamond and Anil Kashyap. He also includes a link to a brief article by Luigi Zingales from the University of Chicago. It is posted below.

Why Paulson is Wrong
Luigi Zingales
Robert C. Mc Cormack Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance
University of Chicago -GSB


When a profitable company is hit by a very large liability, as was the case in 1985 when
Texaco lost a $12 billion court case against Pennzoil, the solution is not to have the
government buy its assets at inflated prices: the solution is Chapter 11. In Chapter 11,
companies with a solid underlying business generally swap debt for equity: the old equity
holders are wiped out and the old debt claims are transformed into equity claims in the
new entity which continues operating with a new capital structure. Alternatively, the
debtholders can agree to cut down the face value of debt, in exchange for some warrants.
Even before Chapter 11, these procedures were the solutions adopted to deal with the
large railroad bankruptcies at the turn of the twentieth century. So why is this well-
established approach not used to solve the financial sectors current problems?

The obvious answer is that we do not have time; Chapter 11 procedures are generally
long and complex, and the crisis has reached a point where time is of the essence. If left
to the negotiations of the parties involved this process will take months and we do not
have this luxury. However, we are in extraordinary times and the government has taken
and is prepared to take unprecedented measures. As if rescuing AIG and prohibiting all
short-selling of financial stocks was not enough, now Treasury Secretary Paulson
proposes a sort of Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) that will buy out (with taxpayers’
money) the distressed assets of the financial sector. But, at what price?

If banks and financial institutions find it difficult to recapitalize (i.e., issue new equity) it
is because the private sector is uncertain about the value of the assets they have in their
portfolio and does not want to overpay. Would the government be better in valuing those
assets? No. In a negotiation between a government official and banker with a bonus at
risk, who will have more clout in determining the price? The Paulson RTC will buy toxic
assets at inflated prices thereby creating a charitable institution that provides welfare to
the rich—at the taxpayers’ expense. If this subsidy is large enough, it will succeed in
stopping the crisis. But, again, at what price? The answer: Billions of dollars in taxpayer
money and, even worse, the violation of the fundamental capitalist principle that she who
reaps the gains also bears the losses. Remember that in the Savings and Loan crisis, the
government had to bail out those institutions because the deposits were federally insured.
But in this case the government does not have do bail out the debtholders of Bear Sterns,
AIG, or any of the other financial institutions that will benefit from the Paulson RTC.

Since we do not have time for a Chapter 11 and we do not want to bail out all the
creditors, the lesser evil is to do what judges do in contentious and overextended
bankruptcy processes: to cram down a restructuring plan on creditors, where part of the
debt is forgiven in exchange for some equity or some warrants. And there is a precedent
for such a bold move. During the Great Depression, many debt contracts were indexed to
gold. So when the dollar convertibility into gold was suspended, the value of that debt
soared, threatening the survival of many institutions. The Roosevelt Administration
declared the clause invalid, de facto forcing debt forgiveness. Furthermore, the Supreme
Court maintained this decision. My colleague and current Fed Governor Randall Koszner
studied this episode and showed that not only stock prices, but bond prices as well,
soared after the Supreme Court upheld the decision. How is that possible? As corporate
finance experts have been saying for the last thirty years, there are real costs from having
too much debt and too little equity in the capital structure, and a reduction in the face
value of debt can benefit not only the equityholders, but also the debtholders.

If debt forgiveness benefits both equity and debtholders, why do debtholders not
voluntarily agree to it? First of all, there is a coordination problem. Even if each
individual debtholder benefits from a reduction in the face value of debt, she will benefit
even more if everybody else cuts the face value of their debt and she does not. Hence,
everybody waits for the other to move first, creating obvious delay. Secondly, from a
debtholder point of view, a government bail-out is better. Thus, any talk of a government
bail-out reduces the debtholders’ incentives to act, making the government bail-out more
necessary.

As during the Great Depression and in many debt restructurings, it makes sense in the
current contingency to mandate a partial debt forgiveness or a debt-for-equity swap in the
financial sector. It has the benefit of being a well-tested strategy in the private sector and
it leaves the taxpayers out of the picture. But if it is so simple, why no expert has
mentioned it?

The major players in the financial sector do not like it. It is much more appealing for the
financial industry to be bailed out at taxpayers’ expense than to bear their share of pain.
Forcing a debt-for-equity swap or a debt forgiveness would be no greater a violation of
private property rights than a massive bailout, but it faces much stronger political
opposition. The appeal of the Paulson solution is that it taxes the many and benefits the
few. Since the many (we, the taxpayers) are dispersed, we cannot put up a good fight in
Capitol Hill; while the financial industry is well represented at all the levels. It is enough
to say that for 6 of the last 13 years, the Secretary of Treasury was a Goldman Sachs
alumnus. But, as financial experts, this silence is also our responsibility. Just as it is
difficult to find a doctor willing to testify against another doctor in a malpractice suit, no
matter how egregious the case, finance experts in both political parties are too friendly to
the industry they study and work in.

The decisions that will be made this weekend matter not just to the prospects of the U.S.
economy in the year to come; they will shape the type of capitalism we will live in for the
next fifty years. Do we want to live in a system where profits are private, but losses are
socialized? Where taxpayer money is used to prop up failed firms? Or do we want to live
in a system where people are held responsible for their decisions, where imprudent
behavior is penalized and prudent behavior rewarded? For somebody like me who
believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation
is that the interest of few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the
capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fallout Continues

Making the rounds, I found this post of the letter to Duncan. I was shocked by some of the comments. Comment 5 is extremely grown-up...They will know we are Christians by our love.

Stand Firm

Saturday, September 20, 2008

From NYT


For Wall Street’s Needy, No Separation of Church and Sanity
By JENNIFER 8. LEE

Trinity Church was founded in 1697. The current church, at Broadway and Wall Street, dates to 1846. (Photo: Bess Greenberg for The New York Times)
Trinity Church, which became an emotional refuge amid the fallout at ground zero, is offering services to its neighbors during a time of crisis: free spiritual and psychological counseling for workers who have been affected by the current Wall Street financial turmoil.

Note: Sessions are free, in contrast to the $600-an-hour therapists trying to help some of the masters of the universe who helped create this mess.

The church is offering the service of two therapists from its affiliated Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute of New York City, whose Web site is, notably, the very holistic mindspirit.org.

Dr. Mary Ragan, who has done work after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, welcomes “people to come share their experiences, questions and anxieties in a compassionate and helpful space.” Dr. Michael Bednarski, a consulting psychologist, will offer career counseling.

Therapy for money-related stress counseling has been on an uptick since the 1980s, when a wave of mergers and acquisitions created a flood of white-collar layoffs. Then came the recession of the early 1990s, coupled with war.

The loss of a paycheck can rattle a marriage and put a strain on families who need two incomes to make ends meet.

There have been financial crises before: the crash of 1987, the dot-com bust and the aftermath of 9/11. But therapists have said the current economic downturn — with its cascade of layoffs and the steady beat of grim financial news — has exacted an especially daunting psychic price. They have described a “psychological terror” that has haunted the corridors of troubled financial institutions since last summer.

Psychotherapists have said that Wall Street employees — who are often drawn to the intensity and volatility of their profession — are more prone to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other mental stresses than the general population. And because they are typically measured by the size of their paychecks — bonuses, in particular — their self-worth is deeply threatened when the money evaporates.

As this may be the worst financial meltdown since the Depression, what we are witnessing may mark the end of the second Gilded Age. (The first one ended also with a financial crisis, the Panic of 1893 that led to serious depression lasting until 1897).

The current crisis may not be as visually devastating as Hurricane Katrina, but the repercussions throughout New York City and the country — economic and otherwise — may be even more so.

All the following sessions will be held at 74 Trinity Place in the second floor parlor.

Coping With Stress in Uncertain Times with Dr. Mary Ragan

Mondays, Sept. 22 and 29, 12:45 to 1:30 p.m.
Wednesdays, Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, 5:15 to 6 p.m.
Navigating Career Transitions with Dr. Michael Bednarski

Monday, Sept. 29, at 4 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 2, at 6 p.m.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bishop Duncan Speaks

Bishop Duncan's Statement on his "Deposition"
Document Actions


It is a very sad day for The Episcopal Church. It is also a sad day for me, a faithful son of that church.

Nevertheless it is also a hopeful day, hopeful because of the unstoppable Reformation that is overtaking the Christian Church in the West. It is also a hopeful day for me personally as I am unanimously welcomed into the House of Bishops of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, an act applauded by Anglican archbishops, bishops, clergy and people all around the world.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will move forward under its new Ecclesiastical Authority, its Standing Committee. That body will carry the diocese through to our realignment vote on October 4. With the success of that vote, it will be possible that we be joined together again as bishop and people.

I offer my deepest thanks to the company of saints all around the globe who have sustained me, my wife and all who are dear to me in these days.

Robert Duncan

- Posted September 18, 2008 -

Comment:

It is sad. Deposition, for whatever reason, is no cause for celebration. Reform of the Church is a worthy and lofty goal. The demand of the Gospel is to grow in faithfulness. What we have is a disagreement as to how that should happen. There are arguments that all the voices offer that I find compelling and persuasive. The scriptures are the supreme source of authority, and are to be taken seriously. The question is how do we reconcile the Church to that authority? Are the scriptures a list of eternal dos and dont’s? Yes, but certainly more than that. Jesus’ own use of the Hebrew Bible would seem to indicate a deeper view. Do varying views justify the escalation of our conflict?

I have no particular canonical expertise. There will certainly be arguments offered based upon canon. Structure and process are important. It seems clear to the casual observer that Duncan was in the process of removing his diocese from the Episcopal Church. That is certainly what the House of Bishops found and affirmed in their vote to depose Duncan. While we are members of the Anglican Communion, attempting to take a diocese out of the Episcopal Church doesn’t strike me as being faithful to this church. I don’t question Duncan’s faithfulness to the Gospel, but it is clear that he feels he can’t remain in the Episcopal Church. I applaud him as a man of conviction, despite my disagreement with his conclusions and actions.

If you are committed to reforming the Episcopal Church stay and do it. If you feel it impossible, I understand the need to leave; go in peace. Yet, realignment for the sake of remaining in communion with Canterbury and keeping property is an, until recent times, untried and unprecedented act. Let’s not pretend it is reformation of the Episcopal Church. It is leaving it in hope of replacing it.

I long for some kind of settlement. I wish the Episcopal Church would meet with those that are, let’s face it, already gone, and work out the property issues. Surely, some property could be sold to those departed and departing. Let’s have a look at a map of parishes, measure the desires of parishes, and settle this thing. Sell some buildings to those that want to go, and keep some buildings for those that want to stay. Proceeds could be used to start new Episcopal churches, and those leaving would have a home. I wish we were as committed to the Gospel, as we are buildings.

I fear we will not settle any of this anytime soon, because we are all too busy wrapping ourselves in moth-eaten cloaks of pretentious holiness, the same type Jesus encountered.




Thursday, September 18, 2008

This in from The Lead on the Duncan Deposition


Duncan deposed
UPDATED
The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has deposed Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh for abandonment of communion. Eighty-eight bishops voted in favor of deposing Duncan, 35 voted against and four abstained according to several sources in the House of Bishops.

Two statements from the Diocese, which was clearly expecting this outcome, are here and here. Note that Geoff Chapman, author of the Chapman Memo is a member of the Standing Committee. The statement is not unanimous. The Rev. James Simons, who opposes secession, did not sign. Geoff Chapman, as you may recall was the author of the "Chapman Memo" which put forth a plan by which a group of conservative Episcopalians intended to gain control of the assets of the Episcopal Church.

As Ann Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out in a story written before the vote:

The step comes as the Diocese of Pittsburgh nears an Oct. 4 vote on whether to secede from the Episcopal Church -- the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion -- and realign with the more theologically conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America.
Here is some additional background from Episcopal Cafe.

The group "Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh" (PEP) has released a statement and published it here.

UPDATE:
Paul Marshall, Bishop of Bethlehem, writes, in a preliminary letter to the Dioceses:
The House of Bishops voted at about 3:15 today to authorize the Presiding Bishop to carry out the deposition.
I will have a good deal more to say about this at our clergy retreat and diocesan convention. Like many bishops, I came here willing to have the matter postponed, but information revealed last night, along with other factors discussed in this morning's session, led to all four Pennsylvania bishops voting yes at the roll-call vote, which I am sure someone will publish.

It is a matter for some rejoicing that a house that described itself as "dysfunctional" in 1991 carried itself through this deeply-felt matter w/o any acrimony or even raised voices. Strong positions were taken on both sides, but with respect, charity, and restraint.

The four PA bishops also met this morning to determine ways we can support the remaining Episcopalians in Pittsburgh, and I will keep you posted on those developments as well.

Blessings,
+Paul

Reports are also appearing online that the bishops were motivated to take this step in advance of the vote by Diocese of Pittsburgh, October 4th, to avoid another situation similar to the one in the Diocese of San Joaquin. Two entities are making claims to the assets of that Episcopal Diocese. This concern was enough to motivate a number of bishops who came to the meeting prepared to defer a vote to change their minds and vote to depose Bishop Duncan at today's meeting.

epiScope has the Episcopal Church press release here including this statement from Bishop Lillibridge of West Texas:
“As difficult as this decision is for me and many others in our Church, it is important to realize that the decision in the House today was not based on the theological convictions of Bishop Duncan, but rather on the evidence presented regarding statements and actions concerning moves to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church.”
UPDATE: 9PM EDT
Statement of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on the actions of the House of Bishops, Thursday, September 18, 2008
The House of Bishops worked carefully and prayerfully to consider the weighty matter of Bishop Duncan. The conversation was holy, acknowledging the pain of our deliberations as well as the gratitude many have felt over the years for their relationships with, and the ministry of, Robert Duncan. The House concluded, however, that his actions over recent months and years constitute “abandonment of the communion of this church” and that he should be deposed. Concern was expressed for the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the face of leadership which has sought to remove itself from The Episcopal Church. In the days and months ahead, this Church will work to ensure appropriate pastoral care and provision for the members of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, so that mission and ministry in that part of Pennsylvania may continue in the name of Jesus Christ and in the tradition of the Episcopal Church.
Following are some other statements from bishops:

A statement from the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, September 18, 2008
The Bishops of Los Angeles are in full agreement with the clear reasons why the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan is to be deposed as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Title IV Review Committee certified in 2007 that Bishop Duncan has abandoned communion of the Episcopal Church, defined by the canons as "an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church ..." (Title IV, Canon 10, Section 1).

Bishop Duncan has persisted in his attempts to lead large numbers of people out of his diocese and into affiliation with the overseas Anglican Province of the Southern Cone -- even after our Presiding Bishop, and also the Archbishop of Canterbury, most recently this summer at the Lambeth Conference, called for an end to such actions.

The House of Bishops' vote calling on the Presiding Bishop to depose Bishop Duncan is a direct result of Bishop Duncan's actions, and not a referendum on his beliefs. People may leave the Episcopal Church as they choose, but dioceses, constituted by the General Convention, do not leave. Rather, the property of dioceses and congregations, given by past parishioners, is held in trust for the Episcopal Church's mission at present and for the future.

The people of the Diocese of Pittsburgh especially need our prayers at this time, and the faithful Episcopalians there need our reassurance that their congregations continue as part of the Episcopal Church. We also pray that Pittsburgh's diocesan convention, meeting on October 4, will choose a course of continuing and vital mission within the Episcopal Church.

A statement from Paul Marshall, Bishop of Bethlehem, correcting some misinformation in the blogosphere:
There is already a huge amount of misinformation and, sadly, disinformation on the web, so I will make a few points about today and leave you in peace as I go to dinner with my colleagues at the new church center in SLC.
Bishop Duncan's deposition was not approved because of what he _might_ do in October, but on account of what he has done heretofore. That was the only basis on which the PB, the Review Committee, or the House had any business proceeding.

The House of Bishops did not have the choice to say, oh, well, he should have a full-blown trial (which is actually more damaging to the defendant). Priests and lay people in Pittsburgh filed the complaint that his actions came under the meaning of the canon by abandoning the discipline of the church. We could act only on what the complainants in Pittsburgh laid before us.

Bishop Duncan was invited to come, with any witnesses and other evidence he might wish to produce, to the hearing last night and the sessions today. He could have easily purged himself of his abandonment of communion, but chose not to. I believe this attests to his basic integrity, by the way.

The House upheld the rulings of the Chancellor, Parliamentarian, and the PB, that the canons were being appropriately applied. It was deeply uncomfortable for me to observe people who have over the last decade or so personally behaved with a somewhat remarkable flexibility about the rules of the church's life suddenly emerge as strict constructionists of certain canons. I wanted to rise to the mic and discuss the Commerce Clause with them, but did not feel it would add anything to an essentially ecclesial matter. That day may come, however.

As to the canon in question (IV-9), it describes several sets of ways one may be judged to have abandoned "the doctrine, discipline OR worship of this church." None of those ways require joining another church (which Robert Duncan claims to have done as of this morning). In a later section of the canon, we learn Abandonment can consist of as small an act as performing episcopal acts for churches not in communion with TEC. Had the complainants addressed that issue, of course, the case would have been even stronger.

The House, I think, has eight lawyer-bishops in it, and certainly contains many very sharp people in terms of our history and theology, so it would be very unfair to allege, as one colleague has publicly done this evening, that the proceedings of the last 24 hours were shallow or misinformed. While I heard things I disagreed with or thought ill-founded, I find that the bishops here are all people of considerable depth, and many of them have great breadth of learning as well.

The PB's leadership was, consistent with her entire public ministry since her election, flawless. She allowed no space for anything vindictive or self-pitying, and kept us focussed on our task. I was deeply impressed by how she handled herself at Lambeth, and am even more grateful for how she conducted herself during these days.

I really will stop now. I will see many of you next week and we can discuss things further in a more dialogical way.

Blessings,
+Paul

A statement from Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas:
The House of Bishops made a decisive determination today that Bishop Robert Duncan has abandoned the Communion of The Episcopal Church. The evidence presented to the House of Bishops was meticulously assembled and irrefutable to me and to a wide majority of the House. It is never a happy task to render such a judgment, but as bishops it is our solemn responsibility to protect the Unity, Doctrine and Discipline of our church, and we have done so. I ask that you keep the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Duncan family in your prayers.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Coptic Orthodox Church


In the sermon Sunday, I mentioned meeting a Coptic Priest. There was just not enough time to tell you much about the Coptic Orthodox Church. For those of you interested...I have a link to some material.

Coptic History

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Theological Education


This has been a tough year for Episcopal seminaries. The dean of GTS issued a letter addressing the financial state of the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary. Seabury ceased the M.div. program. Bexley Hall and EDS sold off property in an effort to sure them up financially.

The latest edition of Episcopal Life has further information from GTS. In the article, an exploration of non-traditional programs is cited as a possibility for generating income. This strikes me as a sensible approach. It could be very useful in training individuals for work in and around the Church. An educated and theologically grounded staff, beyond clergy, is critical to the health of the Church. Too often, those with a real desire for active ministries, both professional and volunteer, are ill equipped. I would welcome seminary-based programs for those looking to enhance faith and education.

Some programs already exist like EFM through Sewanee. Virginia offers a program in Christian Education and Youth ministry. More opportunities would be useful, and if they benefit the seminaries, so much the better.

Thinking about preparing individuals for ordained ministry, I wonder how many persons are training for Priesthood at non-Episcopal seminaries? I know many go to seminaries and divinity schools close to where they live. This certainly can reduce the cost of educating future ordained leaders for the Church. I know, for many, it is a very practical approach. Some argue, rightly, that an ecumenical training ground is a plus. However, I have reservations about ordination track students not attending an Episcopal seminary.

Seminary is a relatively short course of study. There is barely enough time to cover the core areas. I am not sure that an ordination track student in a non-Episcopal seminary gets what he or she needs in that context. We should not forget that formation is more that course work. Something significant happens in living in community with persons sharing a common life and vision for the future. So much formation occurs through the context. I am not sure a class in Anglicanism meets the need.

The financial state of Episcopal seminaries might improve if all students preparing for ordination attended the Church’s seminaries. It would mean some creative restructuring, but If more funds were available to the seminaries, there could be more available for scholarships. As a Church, we must seek to stabilize the financial state of our seminaries that they are able to educate leaders for the future. This should be a front burner issue for us. I wish parishes, dioceses and our national structure would look to our common life, connected to the seminaries. Otherwise, we will be watching seminaries disappear, and the Episcopal Church lose some of its marvelous breadth.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Creed


In the August edition of Episcopal Life, Fr. Butcher, I will try to avoid the easy joke, says the Nicene Creed compromises the flow of the eucharistic liturgy. He suggests deleting it from the celebration. Creedal Christian has all the details and some well-reasoned commentary.

Yesterday at services, we heard a very good sermon from Fr. Ned Mulligan, the new chaplain at the St. George's School and a Priest Associate at St. Columba’s. The sermon started with a careful analysis of the “who do you say that I am” text. It then flowed into the need, we have, to know God through the scriptures. Fr. Mulligan also pointed to the Nicene Creed as a place to know God. Through the Creed, we find God, as revealed in the Bible. The Creed tells us who God is. From there, we seek understanding, belief and shift to proclamation.

I have in no way done justice to a very fine sermon.

But, I really like the notion that the Nicene Creed illustrates, for the eucharistic community, the identity of God. I mean this in no limited, container like sense, but in a way that points to the revealed nature of God. After we hear a sermon focused on a piece of scripture, it is important to hear the Creed and reflect on the bigger picture of God, as Trinity. If we parse the lines of the Creed, we find them rich with meaning. I think we are better served by examining the Nicene Creed for meaning, than calling it clunky and tossing it away. It is time for some teaching on the Creed.

Fr. Butcher, I wish you the best. Don’t carve up the liturgy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

First Real Christian President of the United States?


Andrew Sullivan gives us some food for thought. The question reminds me of Jon Meacham’s book, American Gospel.

Jon Meacham


Sullivan blog

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Authority


What is the Ultimate Authority in Matters of Faith

Quote:

Bottom line is that Christians should submit to the leadership of their local church in so far as they are submitted to the word of God. That is why there should be a plurality of godly elders and not one sole “leader of the church.” One man can be easier led astray than a group of men. Once the elders begin to stray from the authority of the word of God, then it is up to the church body to rebuke their elders. It’s as simple as this: The word of God is inerrant and infallible. God’s word does not lie, nor when rightly understood does it lead astray. Men can, and often do, err. We make mistakes; we are neither inerrant nor infallible. Which would you rather have to be the rule for Christian living, fallible men or the infallible word of God? The choice is quite simple.


Comment:

Inerrant and infallible are not terribly helpful terms, when considering the scriptures. The “doctrinal” arguments surrounding these terms are only a couple of hundred years old. They, probably, are more bound to the perceived threat of the Enlightenment and Modernism, than anything truly theological.

That said, the Bible is the ultimate authority in matters of faith, but not in a vacuum. It contains the revelation of God throughout history. The Bible is a record of God’s desire to be in a relationship with all facets of the created order, and the ups and downs in the unfolding process. The Bible communicates the love of God, most fully expressed, in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

It is the purview of the Church to interpret the scriptures. Often, the meaning of a text is quite clear. Sometimes, the truth within a passage is more obscure. Communities of faith, throughout history, have sought God through engagement with the scriptures. The Bible portrays witnesses that serve as examples of faithfulness and dedication to God. We see how the first followers of Jesus sought to proceed, in light of their experience and transformation, by virtue of his presence in their lives.

The scriptures provide a picture of the Christian life. We use the biblical witness to shape ours. Discussions of rules seem to be more about existential reassurance, to me. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a proper Christian person. There are boundaries, but isn’t the Christian enterprise about putting your life and hope in the hands of the living God?



I love the Bible, but it is not to be used as an infallible, inerrant rule. The Bible points beyond itself to the “real” ultimate authority, the living God.




Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Christian-Muslim Dialogue


Reuters Text


The Lead, an Episcopal blog, posted a story about Yale hosting a dialogue between Muslims and Christian scholars. The dialogue is intended to promote mutual understanding and peace. The conversation was initiated by mainstream Muslim Scholars. The link above contains all the details. I find it a hopeful development in the relationship between Muslims and Christians. I am surprised so little attention has been devoted to the gathering. It is a big deal, the first of this type. I often hear how we don’t hear from mainstream Islam. The lack of media attention to this very positive development in Muslim-Christian relations makes me wonder, what else we might have missed from mainstream Islam?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bishop Howe Writes His Clergy

This strikes me as sage advice. A document rarely conveys the sense of a gathering. Frankly, I don’t often publish sermon texts. A text loses so much from the moment of delivery.

Chris+

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Fourteenth Lambeth Conference has come to an end. The "Reflections Paper" I described to you yesterday has been released (all 44 pages of it!), and the Archbishop of Canterbury has just concluded his Third and Final Presidential Address, stating unambiguously that Jesus Christ is, indeed, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and that we find our unity in him.

Shortly the "Reflections Paper" will be available online (Anglican Communion web site, also the Episcopal News Service web site).

In our Indaba group this morning we discussed our discomfort at the thought that this Paper might be read as if it had the character and (moral) authority of the Reports and Resolutions of previous Lambeth Conferences. We drafted a brief Introductory Statement that we wish to be attached to the Paper. (Note: this is the Statement of OUR group of 40 Bishops, not that of the Conference as a whole.)

Nevertheless, if you download (or otherwise receive) the "Reflections Paper" it would be my hope, personally, that you read it in the light of the following Introduction:

"The statement which follows cannot hope to capture the mood and experience of the Lambeth Conference 2008.

"Cold words are inadequate to express the quality and passion of the journey we have shared. We have listened intently to one another, we have laughed together and wept together. We have discovered in our Bible Study and Indaba Groups the kind of friendship and fellowship which is life-changing.

"This statement represents a distillation of insights and opinions, not from a single group but from 16 Indaba Groups and it therefore takes the form of a patchwork which no editorial process can make seamless without creating a garment that never existed.

"In order to read this document with appreciation you must allow yourself to imagine that you are in a safe space with others whom you have come to love and whose opinions you have grown to respect at the deepest level. Only the reader can breathe love, humor, tears, admiration, urgency and imagination into this document so that it can truly live, and so that the experiences that gave it birth can be seen to have animated our renewed relationships."

Again, my profound thanks to all of you for your prayerful support of the Bishops gathered here in Canterbury for the past three weeks.

Warmest regards in our Lord,

The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Senator Obama's Prayer at the Western Wall


Pensito Review

The prying eyes never relent, if you are running for office. I Join the rabbi in outrage, that someone would steal the note to publish the content. Obama’s or not, it is a poignant prayer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Proposal from Bishop Ackerman


Bishop Ackerman, Diocese of Quincy, says cancel The Episcopal Church General Convention 2009

From Hans Zeiger in Canterbury for Virtue Online:

A leading orthodox bishop of The Episcopal Church has proposed canceling the 2009 Episcopal Church General Convention in order to fund the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Following the Thursday march on London by over 600 Anglican bishops and their spouses in support of the MDGs, the Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman, Bishop of Quincy, said that "there should be no General Convention this year, and all the money for the convention should be sent to fund the goals."

Ackerman furthermore called for The Episcopal Church to "cancel all meetings that require face to face and conduct nothing but video conferencing." He said that the American wing of the Anglican Communion should "donate its money to churches that would be positively affected."

Though leaders of The Episcopal Church have stated their commitment to the MDGs and made their biggest stand yet in London on Thursday, Ackerman has doubts that The Episcopal Church has yet made a true commitment.

"If the church is absolutely, totally committed to these goals, there are three things it needs to do," Ackerman said.

"First, place the goals in the context of the Gospel itself.

"Second, leaders must make the necessary changes in their own personal lifestyle so that they can make their own commitment to model what God wants done.

"Third, the church must corporately find a way to fund this."

In response to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's invitation to African bishops to join her for drinks at a Canterbury reception (despite the Sudanese bishops' abstinence from alcohol), Ackerman offered a specific MDG funding proposal. "Do not invite the Sudanese to a reception. Cancel the reception and give the money to the Sudanese church."

Comment: An interesting idea. I am not perfectly clear about the motive behind the proposal. There are all sorts of reasons that GC is necessary, but I have often wondered about the real impact of GC. The administration of TEC is important and worthy of significant attention. It is work that must be done. This is true on all levels of the Church. However, I wonder about the stewardship of our time and resources.

Can the administration of TEC be carried out more effectively and efficiently. My question arises not out of a sense of scarcity, but from a desire to be an effective Kingdom partner for God. Is all that we do directed to further the Gospel?

As I work, I try my best to keep mission and ministry my ultimate priority. Consideration is given not only to what I do, but how. It is not always easy, but necessary.

Monday, July 21, 2008

BBC Picture of Anglicanism


Anglicanism Around the World

The BBC has a nice colored map with arrows and such, giving us the demographic picture of much of the Anglican world. I love a map, almost as much as charts and graphs.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

From Bishop Pierre Whalon


Below is quote from Bishop Whalon’s Lambeth blog. He asserts that the PB was elected when a group of “conservative” bishops cast their lot with Bishop Jefferts-Schori. Now, this is a rumor that swirled around her election. I have not heard anyone seek to confirm it like Bishop Whalon has. He says their reason is a matter of speculation.

If it is true, I would think the motive is fairly obvious. Bishop Jefferts-Schori was the choice likely to create the most controversy. Her gender would create a challenge for many most upset with TEC, both for those within TEC and in other parts of the Anglican Communion. Those disenchanted with TEC could also point to her relatively short tenure as the Bishop of a small diocese.

The motive for such collusion would seem to be destabilization. It would seem to be a move made in hopes of undermining the House of Bishops and TEC. I am thankful that it hasn’t worked out that way, and that is a testimony to Bishop Jefferts-Schori.

This kind of collusion and sabotage, if true, is very disheartening. An action, designed in hope of harm, to further one’s agenda is truly sad.



“Hmm... first of all, some truth needs to be told, namely, that Bishop Jefferts-Schori was elected Presiding Bishop when a group of conservative bishops switched their votes in the last rounds of balloting. “They even brag about it,” said one highly-placed Anglican Communion officer to me. Why they did this is a matter of speculation. (If they thought they were electing someone they could push around, they were sorely mistaken.) But to tag the election of Bishop Katharine (as I call her) as the House of Bishops’ “stamp of approval” of radical theology is, on the face of it, completely wrong.”

Entire Entry-Is this Woman a Heretic

Lambeth

For those interested, there are a number of vehicles to keep informed about the Lambeth Conference. Fr. Scott Gunn is in England and will be painting the picture. His blog is Seven Whole Days.

Fr. Gunn/Seven Whole Days

Also, There is a blog for bishops called the Lambeth Journal.

Lambeth Journal

Trying to avoid pat phrases about our “small world” and “communicating at the speed of light”, it is an awesome thing to have access to information as an event of this magnitude unfolds. Speed, however, is dangerous. It is too easy to accept a sound bite and extrapolate meaning and intent, and find that you are quite wrong.

As people, we often fall prey to the temptation to process the information, we have received, as efficiently as the transmission of it. You get the email, read it, reach a conclusion and back with a response. This is great for many simple decisions: Where are we having lunch? But, our zip bang way of operating often compromises the more subtle dimensions of trying to understand, what someone is attempting to communicate.

I am going to practice caution as I seek Lambeth news. If I see the phrase, “bishops comment on life on Mars,” I am going to want to know much more, before I fling myself off the deep end. Speed is great, but not at the cost of understanding.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Holiday


I am enjoying a summer respite, but still following the aftermath of GAFCON. Father Jones, linked on this blog, is providing sound commentary. Also check out the Creedal Christian, linked on this blog as well. He has a post with links to several good sources of commentary from all over the spectrum.

I will be back in about 10 days.

Keep the Faith.
C+

Thursday, June 26, 2008

GAFCON


I don’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but here are a few links. Who knows?

Fr. Dan Martins

Positive Trajectory

Ruth Glendhill-The Times


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Muslim/Priest?


Many of you will remember the case of the Episcopal priest purporting to be simultaneously a Muslim and a Christian. The clergy of the Diocese of RI received an update about the situation this morning. Rather that write an entry, I am pointing you to my clergy colleague, Fr. Scott Gunn and his well-done piece. Seven Whole Days on Muslim/Priest



Monday, June 23, 2008

Oh No


I received a disturbing report from our summer nanny. My 5 year-old, who wishes for Christmas all year long, has some interesting ideas about the birth of Jesus. According to him, Jesus is born on Christmas. No problem here. After Christmas, Jesus re-enters the womb of Mary, and waits to be born again at Christmas next year. I am afraid we have combined Groundhog Day and the Nativity.

It is clear that I have some work to do on my son’s Christian education.

However, for me, this is a really hopeful sign. It tells me that my son is soaking up what he hears. He might not fully understand, or be capable of integrating what he is being taught. The foundation is taking shape. The fact that he brought this up, as a topic of discussion, makes this father happy.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hispanic Ministry


Last night, the council of the diocese met at St. George’s, the site of a growing Hispanic congregation. In addition to our regular meeting, it was an opportunity to see and hear about that particular ministry. It was very impressive.

We were told about a program the Hispanic congregation has started. The congregation has embarked on a healing ministry. Members of the congregation go out in groups to the homes of those suffering from illness. They start with an opening prayer, sing a hymn, do a house blessing and read a Gospel passage. Those present are invited to comment on what they have heard.

This ministry started out of a desire to offer care for a few ailing members. After that, individuals in the parish and the larger community began to request these visits. At this point, teams are going out about twice a week to offer services of prayer and healing.

One of the team members spoke eloquently about the presence of God felt at the services. She said that it was palpable, and that people were hungry for the Word of God. It sounds like the hunger is being addressed in this ministry.

Good for the congregation seeing a need, and devising a way to meet it. Good for those in need accepting the offer of the support of the Church. Good to see the Gospel in action.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What Now?


In the past, I have read a number of books and articles about the challenges that face the Church. A good bit of what I have seen focuses on the post-Christendom reality we face. The argument usually cites “blue laws”, the existence of rivals to worship on Sunday morning, and shifting expectations.

Clearly, Sunday morning is no longer sacrosanct and the sole province of the Church. It is easy to bemoan the changes, but it would miss the point. Obviously, we must understand where we are, but I don’t like using a changing world as justification for decline.

The larger issue, in my mind, is how we respond to the new situation.

Jesus appealed to his first hearers in ways that had resonance. His message and identity changed the world and history. Jesus methodology was related to his appearance in history, in a particular time and place. Jesus’ style of debate and use of parables are very connected to his context.

What Jesus taught was old and new in various ways. His teaching was very connected to Torah. In some ways, Jesus counseled to uphold traditional interpretation of Torah, and in other ways he was seen as the fulfillment of Torah. The point is all this happened within a framework of current understanding.

The challenge of our time is the proclamation of the Gospel in ways that work, now. It is bigger than using streaming video and hip music in worship (not exactly my cup of tea). It is more philosophical than that. How do we communicate the essential message of the Gospel of Jesus to a world that no longer thinks the message matters?

We are in the process of losing a framework for understanding. Sin, salvation, justification, redemption are all words losing their meaning outside of “churchy” contexts. The concepts represent essentials, but the understanding of the essentials is shifting.

I don’t have any real answers. I am note sure I understand my own questions. I am clear that business as usual is not working.

Clinging to the past, out of fear, will not be an effective strategy. Nobody is buying buggy-whips.

Throwing out the old for the new always creates unintended loss, and good, meaningful things disappear.

What Now?





Saturday, June 7, 2008

4th Sunday after Pentecost


To really understand the Gospel, one must understand the history of Judaism. Occasionally, I will hear someone say something like, “I am a believer of the God of the New Testament. I don’t go in for all that Old Testament stuff.” The trouble with that perspective is Jesus makes absolutely no sense stripped of his Jewishness. Jesus is the continuation of the ancient story of Judaism.

Judaism gives us the story of creation and the first people. Judaism also introduces us to the primordial problem of human separation from God via free will run amuck. The Old Testament then tells the story of God’s efforts to restore creation to the original state. We are offered the stories of God working with people, like Abraham and Moses.

Abraham receives the promise to become a great nation. This nation will have a role not only in the calling of Jews to be the chosen people, but in the salvation of the world and all people. This relationship is sealed through a covenant.

Moses receives the law, Torah. Torah is one of the defining features of God’s chosen people. According to one scholar, “ Israel’s God gave his Torah to Moses, and one of the most characteristically Jewish Activities is to study it, both for its own sake and so that one may bring oneself, and those whom one can influence or teach, under the leading of that which has been identified not only with the divine wisdom but with the tabernacling presence of YHWH himself.-(Sanders 1990a) Torah contains instructions for circumcision, dietary codes, sacrifices and Temple worship. All designed to maintain Israel’s distinctive relationship with God and role in salvation history.

Covenant and Torah are vehicles of God’s action to restore the creation.

Jesus encounter with the Pharisees brings all this into play in that interaction. The Pharisees are a party within the Judaism of Jesus’ day. They understand the covenant of God with Abraham. They feel that the current situation in the Temple is not great. They view it as somewhat compromised. The Pharisees are totally invested in Torah. They understand that they are in the promised land, they have a Temple, yet they are still dominated by the Roman occupation. Torah is the only thing that can be trusted to bring about God’s redemption. The Pharisees occupy themselves with it, in hope of God’s restoration.

So when they question Jesus about his apparent violations of Torah, it is not with disinterest or pettiness. They want to know why he would stand in the way of God’s redeeming work, that they believe, can only happen through devotion to Torah.

What was incredibly difficult for them to grasp is that the ongoing story would unfold in an unexpected way. Torah will not, ultimately, bring about what they desire. It will be the actual presence of God, in the person of Jesus, that will make up the next chapter. It will be the Son of God, who will set creation back on course.

That is after all what we claim. God’s plan for the salvation of the world rests in the hands of the Son of God. But, you will doubtlessly admit, the world seems just as messed up as it was in Jesus day. Maybe the solution is in the story of the two healing stories that follow the controversy with the Pharisees. In both instances, faith is displayed. The hemorrhaging woman believes that she just needs to touch Jesus to be made whole. The synagogue leader knows Jesus touch will give his daughter life. Both individuals are open to the fact, God is free to write the ongoing story, and they were free to become part of it.

The Good News is that we are free to become part of this chapter, not only as St. Columba’s, but as individuals. We are free to make the choice. We can close the book before it is complete, or we turn the page to participate in the life that God offers the Church and us, next. We are free, through the grace of God, to turn the page. Through Christ, we are free.






Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sermon on the Mount


In the Sunday sermon, I talked about faith and motivation, identity and practice. The text was from Matthew 5-7. I am haunted by Jesus’ message in those few chapters. They represent Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God and our role as members of it.

Karl Marx is quoted as saying, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” The quote implies that religion is anesthesia for adherents living in a painful world. I would argue that while some use religion as such, it is not the intent of Christianity, and certainly misrepresents the intent of Jesus.

Jesus’ teaching, distilled in the Sermon on the Mount, is that a new world is coming. The new world has been inaugurated by the arrival of the Christ. Jesus fleshes out the shape and marks of this coming kingdom. Comfort and hope come from recognizing the deep love that God has for the world, as expressed by God’s will to continue the creative process for the perfection this world.

We face a decision. Do we want to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, or do we prefer to prop up the existing order? The existing order offers certain comforts; the coming kingdom promises much more. God’s purpose contains a certain amount of risk because it will be different. It will mean transformation of the old, but it is born out of God’s perfect love for us and the desire for the reconciliation of all.

Do we want to be numb, or alive?

Friday, May 23, 2008


Fr. Scott Gunn has an excellent post over at his place. It is making the rounds on the blogs today.

He strikes at the core of the Church. We do good works by virtue of the faith that lives in us. Good works are no substitute for for genuine faith.

Ultimately, faith is trust in God, and the Church is the community united in that trust. We act out of our trust that God cares for us and this world.

Fr. Gunn puts it well.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go-with Apologies to the Clash


Martin Marty wrote this sharp article about the decision to remain within your parish or leave. Very timely.

Pewless


Skeleton of Trinity Sunday Sermon 2008

The German theologian Karl Barth said that theological work begins with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Barth was sending a not so subtle message to the Church. The Church is not a refuge from the world. The role of the Church is to engage the world through the lens of faith.

As the Church, there are countless ways we seek to disengage from the world. This is especially true in the United States. We have internalized the separation of Church and state to mean that faith is purely a private matter.

As individuals, some view the Church as a filling station. We gather once a week to fill up on feeling good, so we can make it through another week.

I am not suggesting that there are not limits to the proper exercize of faith. I am not suggesting that the Church is a place of individual sustanance. What I am saying is that there is more, and that a well-rounded has more. I am saying is more.

This is Trinity Sunday. It is the Sunday when we give thanks the various persons through which God has revealed God’s essence, and our recognition that each of the persons is bound together in unity. On this same Sunday, we accept the essence of God’s will for us. We are to go into the world and make disciples of all nations baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To accept the nature of God and answer God’s call, we must get over our obsession with private. We have to decide that we are citizens, first, of God’s kingdom, but also reside within the present order. The question is how do we do both.

Jesus commandment is not to go into the world and make the nations Christian. His command is to make disciples. If the world were full of nations of disciples. The present order might be very different.

Last week, the paper ran a story about the charitable contributions of Americans to the natural disasters of the last several years.

1. Asian Tsunami (Dec. 2004)
220,000 deaths
$1.92 billion

2. Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 2005)
1,577 deaths
$5.3 billion

3. Pakistan Earthquake (Oct. 2005)
73,000 deaths
$0.15 billion ($150 million)

The article postulated that altruism always reflects some personal concern. The author suggested that in the case of relief efforts, the personal concern is Americans are more generous with other other Americans. There is a greater sense of identification with people like us.

I understand this dynamic, but don’t find it to be congruent with the Gospel.

This Trinity Sunday we mark that God is revealed to us as three persons united in a relationship. The implication is we are called to partake of God in relationships as well. We are called to recognize that we are interconnected. In the Great Commission, barriers between public and private break down, as well as the national boundaries and distinctions that separate us.

The message of Jesus is God could not be contained by Israel. The chosen people have a role in the salvation of the world. We were grafted onto the same vine, but the extension of God’s grace does not stop with us.

The Good News is that the Church is a kind of school, where we learn to practice the love of God that exists between three persons in unity of being. This love is offered to us, but it is too abundant to stop with us. The heart of the Gospel is the grace and love of God are for all.







Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reconciliation


The link is to a very moving news story about post-genocide work in Rwanda. It reminded me of the Truth and Reconciliation work in South Africa. It is impossible to know how one would respond in this kind of a situation.

The world is broken, and God knows it. It is not surprising the Christ spent so much time speaking about forgiveness. Where there is reconciliation with God and one another, there is hope.

The quote:

Mukantabana admits it was difficult to forgive. She said she did not speak to Bizimana or his wife for four years after the killings. What put her on the road to healing, she said, was the gacaca process.

"It has not just helped me, it has helped all Rwandans because someone comes and accepts what he did and he asks for forgiveness from the whole community, from all Rwandans," she said.

Bizimana said he did just that.

"You go in front of the people like we are standing here and ask for forgiveness," he said.

But despite his confession and apology, Iphigenia said reconciliation would not have happened unless she had decided to open her heart and accept his pleas.

"I am a Christian and I pray a lot," she said, the pain etched in the lines on her face and around her sad eyes.

Woman opens her heart to the man who slaughtered her family


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

St. Basil the Great-On the Holy Spirit


        Even as bright and shining bodies, once touched by a ray of light falling upon them, become even more glorious and themselves cast another light, so too souls that carry the Spirit, and are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and send forth grace upon others.
        This grace enables them to see the future, to understand mysteries, to grasp hidden things, to receive spiritual blessings, to have thoughts fixed on heavenly things, and to dance with the angels. So is their joy unending, so is their perseverance in God unfailing, so do they acquire likeness to God-most of all-do they themselves become divine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Caring for the Fallen


A holy task indeed. I am sure it does take a toll.

Science, Symbolism Mix in Army Mortuary Training

Science and Theology

A fascinating look at neuroscience and religion awaits you in this op-ed piece The Neural Buddhists by David Brooks.

Hat tip to the Creedal Christian

Who are we?


The Freakonomics blog at the NYT is so rich. If you do not subscribe, drop everything and do it.

This piece is about the economics of specialization related to human labor. The are some marvelous quotes, even one from the Babylonian Talmud.

We see each other in various ways. We wear many hats. How does God see us, and should that cause us to see each other differently?

Specialization


For those willing to work a little...

Talmud

Evangelical Manifesto


Executive Summary of Evangelical Manifesto

An interesting group of academics and professionals comprise the Evangelical Manifesto. The goal seems to be a return to the heart of the evangelical movement. It sounds pretty good. No matter where you are on the theological spectrum, the document raises thoughtful questions.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Spirit


The Holy Spirit is the most difficult member of the Trinity, for me, to conceptualize. In many ways, it is part of the territory. A spirit is devoid of form and identifying characteristics. A spirit is more of a presence than a form. I suppose it is no mistake that the Spirit is the final member of the Trinity to be dealt with in the Nicene Creed.

In the Church, we often speak of the Spirit as the ongoing presence of God. In chapter 14-16 of the Gospel according to John, Jesus repeatedly promises that the Holy Spirit will come to the disciples. The Holy Spirit seems to be about guardianship. Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (Jn 14:18)

This guardianship seems to be at work in the context of love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (Jn 14:15-17)
Jesus indicates that the presence of the Spirit is bound up in reciprocity. In the community of love, distinct from the world, the Spirit is present to those who keep Jesus’ commandments.

The promise of the Spirit is articulated a few more times through Jn 16. Then in Jn 20: 19-23 the Spirit comes. The Spirit comes just after Jesus offers the disciples peace. “Peace be with you” is Jesus’ greeting, as he appears to his disciples. It is as if, freedom from anxiety is the harbinger of the Spirit.

Now, the Holy Spirt is cited some 97 times in the Scriptures. The citations seem to indicate the presence of God, the presence of otherworldly wisdom, and discerned action. These are all clues as to how our forbearers understood the work of the Holy Spirit. The understanding of those before us is useful. But, I also think looking at the connection of the Spirit and the recollections of the Christian community to Jesus are good guides.

I also find the advice of 1 John 4:1 to be useful. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Testing comes into play, when we think about the prophetic realm, which is also a work of the Spirit. As we think about testing, the entire witness of the Scriptures and the experience of the Church comes into operation.

I think the quest for “peace at any price” is not indicative of the presence of the Holy Spirit. But real peace forged by seeking understanding, free from anxiety, in love, is a mark of the Spirit’s presence. The seeking of truth can only happen in the context of love, which is essentially the fulfillment of Jesus’ commandments.

I see lots of parties claiming the presence of the Holy Spirit to justify particular actions, but I also see lots of anxiety, so much so, I wonder if the Spirit would deign to appear. If I saw a little more freedom, fewer threats and more wisdom sought, I might be a little more optimistic about our ability to recognize the Holy Spirit in our midst. Nonetheless, that is the Church’s task, to discern the will of the Spirit, and accept the strength offered.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Confirmation


Check out my post over at the Anglican Centrist.

Confirmation

Friday, May 9, 2008

Let the Children Come to Me

Luke 18:15-17

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

The issue of children in church comes every so often in most parishes. Children can be noisy and restless, we sometimes are very aware of their presence. Some think it obvious that children should be elsewhere on Sunday morning.

I understand that perspective, but don’t share it. I have had too many experiences with children grasping in profound ways the content of worship. As a curate, I remember a particular Sunday Eucharist. A very devout family was in attendance with their daughter. During the Eucharistic prayer, at the words, “ take eat, this is my body which is given for you,” the little girl piped in “unless you are a kid”. We were all stunned at her feeling of exclusion. The parents thought they were doing the right thing having the child wait to receive communion, until she could understand. She received communion the following Sunday.

Children have a place in Church. They are offered the same grace, through the mercy of God, we all are offered. I hate to think that a child would ever feel less than a full member of Christ’s Church.

Of Course, two dynamics have to be in operation. Parents have to be sensitive to the fact others are worshipping. Parent’s have to determine when our youngest members have become too disruptive. Second, we have to be tolerant as a community. We have to remember that the Eucharist is a gathering of the whole community. It is not a service of meditation for those capable of understanding what God is doing in our midst. Otherwise, none of us could be there.

We all know the Church is the family of God. We are committed to taking care of each other, because we are family. We are individuals and families, young and old, from different places and backgrounds. Yet, we are one in coming together. We all have to do our part.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Taking Up the Cross


This one is tough, but important.

Incidentally, the blog linked below is not a social activist site, but a site dedicated to scholarly, theological debate. The issue highlighted warrants significant theological consideration.



http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2008/05/valmae-beck-on-care-of-criminals.html

Christ and Culture with Apologies to H. Richard Niebuhr

From the earliest periods of Christian history, there has been debate about how followers of Jesus are to exist in the world. Some fled society to live lives of solitary dedication to God. Some have sought to make the present order Christian. Most of us, I suspect, live somewhere in-between.

I think in-between is a fine place to be. In Christ and Culture, Niebuhr put the options as: Christ Against Culture, Christ Of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox and, get ready for it, Christ the Transformer of Culture. Christ transforming culture has always made sense to me.

Transformation avoids a remote Christ, and a vision of Christ that merely justifies, or resists the present order. Transformation fits with the Gospel witness of the ministry of Jesus. Transformation might also help the faithful avoid some bad music and tacky t-shirts... :)

Pop Goes Christianity

Wonder


This business / science article is about choice versus possibilities. It is a fascinating glimpse into human functioning.
The money quote:

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’ ” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

How I wish we could be more open to exploring the possibilities of the Gospel. The danger of institutionalizing anything is that it can become stuck in one methodology. I am no radical, but I often find myself longing for more from the Church.

This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The lessons focus on the power of God becoming present and empowering the followers of Jesus. It is clear that we are talking about a new phase of creation. It is a creation of cooperation and connection. It is a creation of mutuality and understanding flowing from the very essence of God.

I would love to see more of that.

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Politics of Happiness


This article explores happiness and considers the religious dimension. You will be shocked...

Happiness part 2

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury


It would be interesting to have the leaders of the three historic branches of Christianity gather...Having two assemble is not bad.

Vatican lends hand

Father Tony Clavier Asks Important Questions


Governance and structure are significant in any institution. Both communicate core values, but neither really strike at the heart. Governance and structure are vehicles to accomplish the goals of the institution. It seems obvious, every now and then, we ought to examine our forms to insure they effect what matters.

Isolationism

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mark Galli Weighs the Pros and Cons of Liturgical Worship

The article really speaks for itself. I found it interesting. My thought is that there is something positively countercultural about liturgical worship. I expect the time in worship to be different, and not look like every other moment of our week. Powerpoint and cute little ditties, which all sound the same, would leave me hungry, but that is just me. Seeing people, representing the variety of the human condition, united in Christ in worship is powerful. The transformational quality is bound up in the temporary subversion of our individuality to be one in Christ.

A Deeper Relevance

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ascension Reflection

Easter is not Just a day in our life together in he Church; Easter is a season. This season is a block of time that begins with resurrection day but it continues until Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. But, we don’t get the Spirit until Jesus makes his final exit in the ascension.

You see, from the resurrection through the ascension Jesus continued to appear to his disciples. Jesus appears first to the women at the tomb, then on the road to Emmaus, then in the locked room, and along the shore at the sea of Galilee. In these appearances Jesus shows them that the promise of resurrection is true. He renews the sacred meal with the disciples. He continues to offer them instruction and, in the case of Peter, he reverses denial in favor of affirmation.

Then, perhaps in the climactic scene in the entire New Testament, Jesus departs. Rather than stay forever, Jesus leaves. Jesus gives the final instruction to take the message to all nations, blesses the disciples, the first time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus blesses them, and ascends out of their sight. Their response is somewhat unexpected. They are filled with joy and offer praise and worship. This is the first time in Luke’s Gospel they offer Jesus worship. They then head back to the Temple.

The firsts of blessing and worship are punctuation. All Has been fulfilled. All has come full circle. This Gospel that begins in the Temple ends there. This Gospel that begins with God becoming flesh, ends with flesh returning to God. The entire action is complete.

Humanity has been restored to a state of grace. God has made the restoration known in the acceptance of flesh. The distance that once separated God and humans has been bridged. It is only now left to humans make use of the bridge.

Think about the language of the Eucharistic Prayer from Rite One. We invoke not only Christ’s death and resurrection, but his ascension as well. They are all part of the same action of salvation. Together, they bring us to the new place of celebration, for the end is the starting point.

The end of Jesus’ ministry is the beginning of ours. The Christ accomplished in death, resurrection and ascension, what we could not, and now we are empowered to accomplish the mission that is uniquely ours.

Seven Marks of a Healthy Church

I came across this resource created by the Anglican Diocese of Southwark. I commend it to you for reading and reflection. It is dedicated to the seven key features of healthy churches. I will list the seven points and, below, provide a link to the full document. The full document explores each mark in greater detail.

Despite the fact that this distillation of healthy practices is not rocket science, I think it is spot on. Together, they insure growing in faith, sharing faith and remaining flexible. It is pretty good.



Seven Marks of a Healthy Church
1)  A Life Giving Spirituality
2)  Engagement in God’s Mission
3)  Building up the Christian Community
4)  Expectation of New Christians
5)  Faith Development of Children and Young People
6)  Leadership that Enables Lay Ministry and Witness
7)  An Openness to Change Experiences

7 Marks