Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Episcopal Priest All in for the "Second Axial Awakening"

This was not what I had in mind for the Wednesday in Holy week , but Peter Ould tweeted this story yesterday, and my head has been spinning ever since. The article was posted by an Episcopal priest serving in a tiny church in Brewster New York at "The Contemplative Journal" web page and was reprinted at a certain "progressive" Episcopal blog. If you are familiar with the time-line of the decline of the Episcopal church, you should be able to understand how this type of teaching has come to be so acceptable that it is celebrated as revealed wisdom by progressives in the church.

Here are a few excerpts from the "Second Axial Awakening,"

"Slowly we are beginning to discover that there is ultimately no separation within the field of existence—only one seamless dance. We belong deeply to this world, interwoven fully into its fabric.

This realization is forming the headwaters of a Second Axial Age, another great shift in consciousness equal in weight to that which gave rise (roughly between 800 and 200 BCE) to the impulse that eventually manifested as our existing great religious structures. With that first great turn of the wheel, we opened to the beauty of the individual and the possibility of the Transcendent, and a new human journey began. But in the process we lost much of an earlier, collective sense of belonging rooted in tribe, and a deep, felt sense of connection to Earth.

In this next great turn in the spiral dance, we are picking up what was lost—no longer at the tribal, but at the global level. We are entering a period of deep integration, weaving together the primal, collective, and cosmic with the rational, individual, and transcendent—binding together Heaven and Earth. The Divine Heart is moving towards the fullness of its expression in form. With this new turn of the wheel, we release our sense of exile and settle in for the work at hand. Our Second Axial awareness begins from a new starting place: union. We have never been separate: not from one another, not from the Earth that holds us, not from the Infinite we long for...

...We see it in the birth of Christianity, directly in the life of Jesus, who rejected a First Axial ascetic path in favor of one that fully embraced the world—he feasted, danced, and wept, all the while associating with those designated outcasts and sinners. He refused to recognize the expected divisions between sacred and profane. This full on embrace of phenomenal existence was enshrined in Christianity’s core doctrine of the Incarnation—that “the Word became flesh” in the world “God so loved”—but the Second Axial impulse of its founder was repeatedly roped back into the existing First Axial road maps.

I believe that our hope still lies in our religions, and that we abandon them at a great loss. They hold much of the wisdom we will need in this next great transformation. But the invitation now is to a dance, not a lecture. The traditions will no longer be only the teachers, but the students as well. As they teach us, we will teach them. The evolution, like all such dances, will be mutual. The wheel will turn once more and the waters will flow powerful and strong, the Divine Heartbeat loud and full."

In that last paragraph, he touches on one of the important tenets of Episcopal revisionism, and that is the notion that the Church has more to learn from us moderns than we have to learn from the Church.

The rest is such inordinately showy, colorful, non-revelatory New Age Episcobabble that it leaves me feeling oh so very happy that I'll never, ever be able to write like that.

I think most of us would agree that this priest has found his niche.

The fact that this kind of thing is not merely tolerated by the Church but is celebrated is both cause and effect of the following,

Episcopal Church Decline in ASA 
I say "effect" because the increasing homogeneity of the church into a little group of biblical, social, and political liberals leads to the placement of priests with this type of revisionist mindset smack down into small town parish ministry.

You may rest assured that the Episcopal church's decline into niche or "boutique" status will continue well into the next "Axial Awakening". 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Would Palm Sunday by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

This Sunday many churches celebrate "Palm Sunday" which is a bit of a misnomer for in today's assigned reading, palm branches were not the greatest honor bestowed on the "King" of "daughter Zion."
"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road." Matthew 21:8 
Spreading one's cloak on the road was probably a great sacrifice, because cloaks were probably quite valuable and the roads back then were pretty nasty what with all those colts and donkeys coming and going.

So why don't we call it "Cloak Sunday"? Probably because it would not smell as sweet.

People have tried to lobby for such a change, but it never caught on. I guess folks are not too willing to toss their Sunday best into the church aisle for the priests, acolytes, and choirs to walk all over in a recreation of the event.

If you ever get tired of calling it "Palm Sunday" and are not ready to make the sacrifice of  "Cloak Sunday",  here are a few of the various names used historically and around the world for today's commemoration (derived from the Catholic Encyclopedia).

  • Kyriake
  • Heorte ton baion
  • Heorte baiophoros
  • Lazarus Sunday
  • Dominica in Palmis
  • Dominica Palmarum
  • Dies Palmarum
  • Dominica Hosanna
  • Pascha floridum
  • Pâques fleuries
  • Pascua florida
  • Dominica florida
  • Dies floridus
  • Flower Sunday
  • Olive Sunday
  • Branch Sunday
  • Sallow Sunday
  • Willow Sunday
  • Yew Sunday
  • Blossom Sunday
  • Sunday of the Willow Boughs
  • Blumensonntag
  • Blumentag
  • Secundus floricultus (Armenian seventh Sunday after Easter)
  • Secunda palmarum dominica (Armenian seventh Sunday after Easter)
If you have as busy a Sunday as I have planned, you might agree to call it "Whew Sunday".

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"Jesus is Muslim" Billboards Popping Up in Ohio

A group of Muslims in Ohio have been waging a billboard campaign to spread their unconventional ideas about Jesus in hopes of helping Christians and Muslims get to know each other better (see the story and photos here).

The "Odd News" story provides a link to the "Ask a Muslim" web site which provides the following rationale under the heading:
Want more? Here is a sample of how they came to these odd conclusions.

"For starters, Muslims are Christians – if 'Christian' means someone following the teachings of Christ, so by learning about Islam you are not disobeying Jesus.
For example the Quran forbids Swine, (Holy Quran 2:173) and so too does the bible (Deuteronomy 14:8). This is also the case with interest whereby it is forbidden in the Quran 3:130 and also in Deutronomy 19:20. This is the case of many others as well. So why is it that Muslims are the only one’s forbidding swine and forbidding Interest – as Jesus taught?
Muslims are following the teachings of Jesus, while most Christians have began to follow the Church – this is why the Quran needed to be revealed. (Holy Quran 9:31)"
I won't quibble with the grammar since I mess up all the time, but I don't understand their reasoning either. I guess they are not familiar with Peter's dietary vision in Acts 10.

Let's see how they answer questions about Jesus being the only son of God since that is something that Islam traditionally denies.
"For starters the word begotten has officially been removed from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
John (5:7) For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
John (3:16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(These verses do not exist anymore in the RSV)."
Actually the "begotten" word has been cut from John 3:16 in the RSV and not the whole verse so they are still stuck with the part about "his only Son". The first reference should be from 1 John 5:7 which becomes 1 John 5:7-8 in the RSV, "7 And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. 8 There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree." And  no, I don't understand their reasoning here either.

As if that was not bizarre enough, read on...

"Jesus has said that 'Every spirit (meaning every prophet) that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in flesh is of God' (John 4:2). Muhammad did indeed confess Jesus Christ as a messenger of God.Muhammad is also mentioned by name in (Song of Solomon 5:16). In the original Hebrew transcript it clearly states the word 'Muhammad' when Solomon is talking about His 'friend' and 'how sweet his words are'.
Once again the author meant 1 John 4:2. As far as I can tell, the name Muhammad does not appear in the Song of Solomon. Let me quote from the following,
Some refer chapter 5:16, of the Song of Songs, to Muhammad, simply because in the Hebrew the word mahamaddim, "delights," "delightfulnesses," occurs there, and is derived from the same root ([1], [2])
But we find that the word in Hebrew is a common, and not a proper noun (i.e. not a name), as the use of the plural here shows.
The same word occurs again as a common noun in Hosea 9:6,16; 1 Kings 20:6; Lamentations 1:10,11; 2:4; Isaiah 64:10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Ezekiel 24:16,21,25. In the last passage (Ezekiel 24:16, "the desire of thine eyes") it is applied to a woman, Ezekiel's wife (compare verse 18), and to the sons and daughters of the idolatrous Jews (verse 25). It would be just as wise to apply the word to Muhammad HERE as in the Song of Songs.
In Arabic many words are formed from the same root , but they do not on that account denote Muhammad. An ignorant Muslim might just as well assert that Muhammad's name occurred in Surah 1, Al Fatihah, verse 1: Al hamdo lillahi Rabbi 'lalamin ("Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds"). In the same way a Hindu might assert that the name of Ram or some other of his deities was mentioned in the Qur'an, because in Sura 30, Ar-Rum, verse 1, we read " the Romans have been overcome," where Arabic dictionaries give "Rum" as if derived from the root "ram". This kind of argument is unworthy of men of learning and judgement.
A newsgroup article in regard to that:

      Song of Songs 5:16                       shyr hshyrym 5,16
      his mouth is sweets                      Hkw mmtqym
      and all of him is delights              wklw mHmdym
      this is my love                              zh dwdy
      and this is my darling                   wzh r`y
      daughters of Jerusalem                bnwt yrwshlm
      Song of Songs 5:16 is no more a reference to Muhammad than it is to
      Mumattaq or to David.  Finding the name of Muhammad is child's play.
      Because Arabic and Hebrew share a cognate word [Hmd], there are of
      course several other similar occurrences in the Hebrew scriptures.
      The New Bantam-Megiddo Hebrew & English Dictionary lists...
              Hmd (yHmwd) p           covet, lust after
              Hmd z                          delight, loviness
              Hmdh n                        desire, object of desire
              Hmdnwt                        covetousness, lustfulness

What follows next is a bit about Jesus' promise in John 14:16, "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever." I guess that Comforter = Mohammed. Once again, I cannot figure out how the author gets there, but  I believe the ultimate conclusion is this,
"His teachings are in tune with the Quran, the Quran IS the final testament. So what is stopping you from accepting Muhammad, when Jesus told you to. I hope I have shed light on this."
"Please remember Islam = following Jesus. Muhammad confirmed Jesus."
Oh yeah, that is clear as mud.

Clear enough to stick on a billboard?

Can't the truth in advertising statutes be applied to this?

Let us pray that no souls are duped into believing this deception.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Out of the Deepest Depths of Lent

Today's Psalm (130) seems well suited to the depths of Lent, and while I prefer the KJV to the NRSV that was used today in church,

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.  
Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 
If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 
I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. 
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: 
I say, more than they that watch for the morning. 
Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. Psalm 130 (KJV)

I would much rather have heard the John Rutter interpretation from his Requiem entitled, "Out of the Deep" which begins with a dark and gloomy cello solo in a minor chord (C minor) at the lowest note the instrument can play but changes into a more comfortable and hopeful C major by the time we hear of the Lord's "plenteous redemption". In those chords I hear and feel the promise of Jesus to redeem us from those deep and dark iniquities from which we have been so vainly trying to cleanse ourselves these past five weeks.

Listen for yourself and remember that even in the depths, there is hope, and we need to trust in Christ as our Lord to pull us out.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Bishop Gamaliel?

Should a bishop take Gamaliel's approach when he is faced with the question of whether or not to permit individual parish churches to conduct rites of blessing same sex relationships?

Our Bishop, Andrew Waldo, discussed his much delayed but soon to be released (May 2014?) theological statement on the matter during a visit to our parish last Sunday. During the process of saying that he was not sure where God was leading, and that both sides of the argument over same sex blessings had valid points, and that parish churches will soon be able to decide for themselves whether or not to conduct a modified version of these blessings after participating in a curriculum that the Bishop's Task Force on Unity will soon release, the bishop referenced our friend Gamaliel by indicating that God would eventually sort all this out in His own time,
"And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

Acts 5:38-39
So the churches of our diocese that opt to perform same sex blessings are to be pitted against the churches that don't, and God will sort it out by allowing one to come to naught. Is this leadership?
It sounds more like a trial by ordeal or a Darwinian experiment in survival of the fittest. I am reminded of one late dictator who before shooting himself 69 years ago said that because his people had failed that they "deserved to perish." Our Bishop obviously does not see this as a matter of life or death, but the redefinition of one particular sin through the approval of rites of same sex blessings will lead to the creation of a set of privileged persons in the Church who will be misled by the Church and may be judged later as unrepentant sinners boldly standing before the seat of Judgement claiming, "We did nothing wrong. We were blessed!"  This is the cruelty of the Gamaliel approach, that the people of one church may be condemned because they will never hear the same Gospel being taught in a sister church just down the road.

Is this Bishop-like or shepherd-like behavior?

What kind of shepherd divides his flock, allowing one to graze in the pasture of modern sexuality and the other to feed in the time tested pasture that scripture advises, and then sitting back waits to see which flock flourishes and which one perishes?

A shepherd like Gamaliel is probably not what the Church fathers had in mind when they listed the qualifications of a bishop or overseer.

In the course of the Bishop's visit, he was asked how we might "market" our church. This elicited a fairly standard response about greeting people and learning more about them as well as sharing what God has done for oneself. I, for one, thought back to Bishop Waldo's pledge that the
 "way forward (to unity despite same sex blessings) must be deeply rooted in the evangelical imperative..." (link here).
That made me think about what a lousy evangelist and apologist Gamaliel would have made.

Seeker: It looks like this is a welcoming church.
Gamaliel: Thank you. How about some coffee? They have regular and decaf.
Seeker: Umm... No thanks.

Gamaliel: How about some ice tea. They have sweet tea and unsweet.
Seeker: Umm... No thanks.
Gamaliel: Did you like the service?
Seeker: It was very traditional.
Gamaliel: They also have a contemporary service on Wednesdays.

Seeker: Oh, I am not into guitars and tambourines.
Gamaliel: They offer a clown Eucharist four times a year.
Seeker: Oh my.

Gamaliel: And they have special services for the Equinoxes and Solstices.
Seeker: We never had that at my old church.
Gamaliel: This one does a lot to help in your spiritual development.
Seeker: Tell me more.
Gamaliel: This one's priest guides us as we walk the labyrinth once or twice a year.
Seeker: Okayyyy.... Do they do the same things at the other Episcopal church down the road?

Gamaliel: This one is probably more progressive.

Seeker: In what way?
Gamaliel: Well, just the other day the priest conducted a baptism in which the little one being baptized had two fathers standing as his parents, one male godparent, and the only woman present was the priest.

Seeker: And the other Episcopal church wouldn't do that?

Gamaliel: No, and in fact they will not do same sex blessings either.
Seeker: And both churches claim to be Episcopal?

Gamaliel: That's right. The Episcopal church is a "big tent."
Seeker: What does being Episcopal mean then?
Gamaliel: It means that we have  a hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons.
Seeker: And different beliefs that COEXIST, right?
Gamaliel: Correct.

Seeker: That is a wonderful concept. I wonder why nobody ever tried that before.
Gamaliel: Actually, I was the first one who proposed it a long time ago...
Seeker: But which church is right for me and my family?
Gamaliel: Heaven knows! That is not for us to decide.

Gamaliel the Evangelist is stating some things that might convince a few liberal minded seekers to nod their heads in agreement, however this is not evangelism, nor will it work when applied to apologetics. It would appear to me that Gamaliel's lack of certainty would fail to win many converts to Christ especially when pressed with other questions such as how such "coexistence" leads to the acceptance of certain Episcopal churches that deny the atonement and entertain preachers who deny the physical resurrection of Jesus.

And how does Gamaliel answer the modern seeker when he invariably questions the exclusivity claims of Christ being the way, the truth and the claim that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6)? Does he refer the seeker to the church down the street? Apologist Gamaliel cannot answer the question. He can only suggest to wait for God to sort things out.

After the Bishop's performance, the restroom conversation was mostly about how he seemed to be playing both sides like a politician. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), who was quoted in the BibleGateway summary of Gamaliel, nails both the renowned Doctor of Jewish law and our bishop,
"Digging beneath Gamaliel’s able and successful performance before the Council at Jerusalem, Alexander Whyte feels that he was only a 'fluent and applauded opportunist' and warns young men against his presentation. 'He was a politician, but he was not a true churchman or statesman. He was held in repute by the people; but the people were blind, and they loved to be led by blind leaders, and Gamaliel was one of them.' With all his insight and lawyerlike ability, Gamaliel turned all things completely upside down when he sat in judgment, and gave his carefully balanced caution concerning the Son of God, comments Dr. Whyte."
"Perhaps the renowned author of Bible Characters is right when he suggests that Gamaliel made the tremendous and irreparable mistake of approaching Jesus Christ and His cause on the side of policy, handling Him as a matter open to argument and debate. But Christ is an Ambassador of Reconciliation, and we are not permitted to sit in judgment on God, and on His message of mercy to us. Without apology Dr. Whyte pronounces Gamaliel as 'a liberal long before his time.'" (From Biblegateway)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Lectionary Turns a Blind Eye to the Morality in Ephesians 5

This Sunday's Epistle reading, Ephesians 5:8-14,  was passed over by our preacher today (Bishop Andrew Waldo), and I suspect it got the short shrift from many a pulpit throughout the Church as folks tend to get a bit of tunnel vision when faced with preparing a homily based on the story of Jesus healing the blind man from the rather lengthy Gospel selection for today,  John 9:1-41.

One of the reasons for our blindness to the letter to the Ephesians is that the Sunday church crowd is presented with a partial picture of Paul's message. It is what was unseen that I found myself reviewing today.

Here is the text that was read today,
"For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’" 
Ephesians 5:8-14
Expose "the unfruitful works of darkness"... hmmm.

How can we know what those might be? Maybe we should read what precedes and what follows this fragment of Ephesians.
"But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them." (verses 3-7)
"Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit," (verses 15-18)
Why are we blind to these evil things? It can't just be that the modern church doesn't like to talk about them. Is it that we have been led to believe that we have already been brought into the light, and those shameful things are no longer present? Isn't the denial of sin just another form of blindness?

One characteristic of the new eyes which our Lord has blessed us with is that we are able to see beyond the limitations of our lectionary. We are now keen to see that there is more to the story than the picture that gets painted each Sunday morning by the artists in charge of the church service.  

Open the Bible today, and let the light pour in.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Death of Truth

"Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, 'I find no fault in Him at all.'" John 18:38
Several blog posts recently highlighted the all pervasive notion that there is no "Truth" that anyone can ever hope to grasp, and reminded me that for most people today, "my truth" is just as good as "your truth." One consequence of this philosophy is that its corollary is often assumed to be just as acceptable. When "your truth" is just as good as "my truth", I become subject to following whatever proposition I cannot totally reject out of hand. The error of Pilate, which was to initially find no fault in Jesus but to later accept the crowd's finding of fault as sufficient justification for legal condemnation, might also be explained by this philosophy. While we see some of this same error playing out in legal cases today (the accuracy of eye-witness testimony to the truth is increasingly called into question), the larger problem occurs in the public arena before issues become cases for the courts. For example, our society gets tangled up in all kinds of problems and issues such as same sex marriage in part because people try to pull moral judgments out of the vacuum of moral relativism in which we live. The consequence of that for many bloggers is as Bill Muehlenberg points out,
"If there are no objective moral absolutes, then to make a moral judgment is seen as the height of intolerance and bigotry."
The problem runs deeper than the periodic moral dilemma of the day. It strikes at the core of our belief in God, in Jesus, and in the Apostolic witness. How can modern Christians proclaim the truth of the Gospel to a world that is hostile to the idea of "Absolute Truth"? To the world, "Gospel Truth" = "Intolerance and bigotry," and as such, the deeper meaning of truth must be eliminated from the minds of men.

Turn next to the philosophers who have been doing their best in the war on truth. The following was posted by Kendall Harmon on March 3, 2014 at T19,
If you study any philosophical treatise of our present era you will with almost absolute certainty not encounter the concept, and much less the expression, “the truth of all things.” This is no mere accident. The generally prevailing philosophical thinking of our time has no room at all for this concept; it is, as it were, “not provided for.” It makes sense to speak of truth with regard to thoughts, ideas, statements, opinions—but not with regard to things. Our judgments regarding reality may be true (or false); but to label as “true” reality itself, the “things,” appears to be rather meaningless, mere nonsense. Things are real, not “true”!  
Looking at the historical development of this situation, we find that there is much more to it than the simple fact of a certain concept or expression not being used; we find not merely the “neutral” absence, as it were, of a certain way of thinking. No, the nonuse and absence of the concept, “the truth of all things,” is rather the result of a long process of biased discrimination and suppression or, to use a less aggressive term: of elimination.
--Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989 E.T. of the 1981 original), pp. 95-96
I posted the following comment at T19,
"I guess any meaning one might give to Philippians 4:8 has been 'eliminated'.
'Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.'
C.S. Lewis would probably classify the elimination of the concept of "the truth of all things" under what he called 'the death of words.'"
If there is no truth, nothing pure, then nothing is praiseworthy, and there is nothing upon which to meditate.

Let me expand on that comment by quoting Lewis,
"But the most important sense of a word is not always the most useful. What is the good of deepening a word's connotation if you deprive the word of all practicable denotation? Words, as well as women, can be 'killed with kindness'. And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten to say."

C.S. Lewis, "The Death of Words" From (C.S. Lewis On Stories, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982, p. 107)
And all of this may lead to why mankind appears to not spend much time thinking about this,
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6