Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Shared Conversation (Facilitated Groups) Exposed

If you are ever asked to participate in a "facilitated" discussion about an issue in the Church, please study up on what others have learned about such schemes. When I blogged about the first and only "Theological Council"  held in Upper South Carolina in 2011, I purposely left out details of my table's conversations which were facilitated. Our facilitator was a push-over and not very capable, but I suspect that other tables' conversations were not allowed to drift towards scripture or theology both of which were forbidden topics (for more details on that debacle, see my post from 2011).  My conclusion is that facilitated tables only exist to create the appearance of an attempt at solving a problem for which the outcome has been predetermined.

Students of the process should check out Ian Paul who blogged about his experience with "Shared Conversations", the latest attempt by the Church of England to muddle through its same-sex marriage mess. First, he explains what I call "the set up" or the plenary session,

"The worst plenary session of all was the first one, and it was very telling that what many view as the most important theological question—what does Scripture say and how should we make sense of it—was the one most badly misjudged. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to describe it as an absolute travesty of process. There were three speakers, one of whom supports the current teaching position of the Church, the other two arguing for change. The first person stayed within the brief, and spoke for seven to eight minutes; the second appeared to ignore the brief and spoke for 17 minutes, without intervention from the chair; the third spoke for 12 minutes. So we were offered 8 minutes on the Church’s current and historic teaching, and 29 minutes on why this was wrong. And the dynamic of putting the ‘orthodox’ position first meant that, as in all such debates, the advantage is handed to the others. Added to that, the first speaker, whilst eminently qualified in other ways, was not a biblical scholar, whilst the next one advocating change was. There was no voice from a Catholic perspective, engaging with the reception of Scripture within the tradition, and the ‘orthodox’ view was repeatedly labelled not as the Church’s teaching, but as ‘conservative’."
I will skip the details of the falsehoods proclaimed by those in favor of same-sex blessings. The main point Ian Paul makes is there was no way to refute them.
"But the format of the presentation precluded proper exploration of these authoritative claims. It felt to me like a serious power play, and I felt I had been subject to an abuse of expert power."
Let's move on to the table discussions,

"This was exacerbated for me by the facilitation in groups. Several times we were reprimanded for actually trying to discuss the issues involved, and understand what each other believed and why, and what the differences were. We were not supposed to be discussing this, but only talking about how we might talk about it. When questions were raised about the process itself, this was clearly out of bounds, and our facilitator responded by using emotional language—’I am disappointed…I am sad.’ The fundamental problem here was the underlying approach—that there are no right answers, and no given positions, and so what is needed is a juxtaposition of different views so that mutual respect can emerge. This might be just right for a position of political conflict, where there is no ‘objective’ position which can act as a reference point. But how can this be right in a context where the Church itself already has a committed position, one that has the weight of history behind it, and a position which, in theory, all the clergy and the bishops have themselves signed up to believing, supporting and teaching. Any group which included clergy in same-sex marriages would need to face the asymmetry that they have in their midst people who are disregarding the teaching position of the Church, and that cannot be an insignificant factor in shaping the debate. That is not a reason to avoid listening to the whole range of views. But it is a reason for thinking that we are not working with a tabula rasa, where we are simply doing theology de novo as if there is not a deep and broad theological legacy to wrestle with."

All of this seems to confirm my impression that when the Church tries to have these types of "conversations" the outcome has already been written. I believe that the main goal is to create the appearance of a conflict-free Church in hopes of preserving the institution.

What should you do if you are asked to participate in a "shared conversation"?

Here is my list,
  1. Know that the die has already been cast.
  2. Pray over the invitation.
  3. Decide to accept or decline the invitation.
  4. If you accept, document the event and how it was structured as well as how it was facilitated.
  5. If you decline, document your objections and publish them.
  6. At the event, do not be afraid to direct the conversation away from the limitations of the facilitator. After all, what power do they have over you?
  7. Speak up, but don't expect to change the outcome.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"For this I toil and struggle..."

This Sunday's reading from Colossians will probably be ignored by most preachers in their sermons today as they will be more drawn to the story of Martha and Mary as related in  Luke 10:38-42. 
Paul's letter contains much meaty theology which should not go neglected since this was the message that Paul was preaching in the earliest days of the Church, but unfortunately his teaching is something that most pewsitters may not pay attention to because they, like Martha, are anxious to get on with the church service and the business of their lives.

So, sit at Paul's feet, forget about the cares and troubles of your day, and choose the better part of Colossians 1:15-28,
"He is the image of the invisible God,"
"He" being Jesus,
"...the firstborn of all creation;"
A bold claim, but bolder stuff is to come,
"...for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him."
 As 21st century Christians with a lifetime of attending church services, we should "get" this, but for 1st century Christians, new converts, Jews or Gentiles, Paul's claim that Jesus is God would have been a difficult teaching.
"He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
If Paul lived in the age of soundbites, these would be some of the words the media would choose to publish.
"He is the head of the body, the church;"
 How many times do we forget that simple fact?
"...he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything."
 Never miss a chance to mention the resurrection.
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross."
We have in Paul's teaching a summary of the Christology being taught in the early Church. It is a timeless and precious legacy, and we must thank those ancient Christians for preserving it for us.

Next he explains what it means to us,
"And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel."
Next he tells what it means to him as well,
"I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints."
Finally a note to spread the word,
"To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
For some odd reason, the lectionary chose to omit the last verse of Colossians 1 from today's reading
Colossians 1:29
"For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me."

It is important to remember and proclaim the source of our strength. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

GAFCON Chair: "The challenge of the Anglican Communion today"

Anglican Ink posted a Pastoral Letter from the Chairman of GAFCON, Nicholas Okoh who nails the crisis facing the Anglican Communion to the doors of Lambeth, 815, and St Andrew’s Cathedral, Inverness.
‘What is tragic about all of this is not just the divisions within the Anglican Communion. What is most tragic is that because of false teaching, millions of souls will not hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, or they will hear a Gospel that appears to be the Gospel, but in reality is contrary to the very Word of God – which is no Gospel at all. Souls are at stake. Lives are at stake. Eternity is at stake. It reminds me of what the prophet Isaiah said to the people of his day: 'Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.’ (Is.5:20, ESV).
This is the challenge of the Anglican Communion today. The message of the Bible is being turned upside down by those for whom ‘my God’ means the God I want."
I appreciate the sense of urgency conveyed by his words.

I lament the fact that a majority of  leading American and Scottish Episcopalians, as well as large numbers of leading Candian and British Anglicans don't get it.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Bloody Ramadan versus the Parable of the Good Samaritan

This Sunday as we recover from a particularly bloody Ramadan, many Christians will sit and listen to Luke 10:25-37 and the parable of the Good Samaritan,

 "Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ 
 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’"
How I wish that this simple rule, "love your neighbor as yourself" and the parable that follows were taught in the mosques, madrasas, and by the internet purveyors of death who instead teach violent jihad. If it were better known, then maybe there would be fewer terrorist acts.

What chance is there for those who dwell in countries where Christianity is suppressed or persecuted? They will never hear the words of Jesus unless we tell them.

I doubt that any will stumble upon this lowly blog. My visitor map rarely sees any traffic from Islamic nations.

After a brief web search, I came back disappointed by how difficult it might be for a Muslim to get the support on-line they might need to learn more about the Jesus that we Christians have come to accept as Lord.

It looks like boots on the ground are going to have to do this the old fashioned way winning one soul at a time.

“I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.”―C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory) h/t Sarah
During the course of my daily Bible studies, I found some parallels between the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46,
The Sheep and the Goats“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
When I think of all of those who have been deprived of the Good News of Jesus, I can picture them as beaten and bloodied by their lives without Christ, in desperate need of a Samaritan to bind their wounds and help restore them to health through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think the Good Samaritan of today will be counted among the sheep.

I'll give you one guess as to who will be among the goats. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Presiding Bishop Curry Carries His Straw man/woman/person to the Bathroom... Bill

The Episcopal church's Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, wrote about North Carolina’s bathroom bill and "The Living Church" published it last week.

Curry basically has a straw man/woman/person argument that somehow those of us who feel the way we do are doing so out of fear, and he drags in so many non-sequiturs in building his case that the whole thing falls apart.

Let's dissect this.
"We all know that some things in holy Scripture can be confusing, hard to understand, or open to various ways of understanding."
This does not exactly instill confidence. When the leader of one's organization starts off a letter by saying that our foundational documents are confusing, be he is instead creating doubt.
"But some essential teachings are clear and incontrovertible. Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, and he tells us over and over again not to be afraid (Matt. 10:31, Mark 5:36, Luke 8:50, John 14:27)."
Oh yeah, he also said that in Matthew 19:4-6,  “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
That sounds pretty clear and incontrovertible to me.
"There’s no confusion about what Jesus is telling us, but it often requires courage to embody it in the real world. Again and again, we become afraid, and mired in that fear, we turn against Jesus and one another."
The only confusion is in what Curry and Jennings are telling us, and just in case you missed it, you've just been served up a dose of strawman pie, The straw person is "Fear".
Chew on the "fear" angle as you read the rest of Curry and Jennings' letter.

"This age-old cycle of fear and hatred plays out again and again in our broken world, in sickening and shocking events like the massacre targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Orlando, but also in the rules we make and the laws we pass. Most recently, we’ve seen fear at work in North Carolina, a state dear to both of our hearts, where a law called the 'Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act' has decimated the civil rights and God-given dignity of transgender people and, by extension, drastically curtailed protections against discrimination for women, people of color, and many others."
"Decimated civil rights and God-given dignity"?  It should be a civil right to be able to pee or to change one's clothes without having to worry about some pervert sneaking a peek.
"We are thankful for the prayerful and pastoral public leadership of the North Carolina bishops on this law, which is known as House Bill 2."
Thanks loads... let's get back to building that strawman,

"North Carolina is not the only place where fear has gotten the better of us. Lawmakers in other jurisdictions have also threatened to introduce legislation that would have us believe that protecting the rights of transgender people — even a right as basic as going to the bathroom — somehow puts the rest of us at risk."
Next time I drive through a state with an open restroom policy, I ain't stopping. I'm not afraid, its just that I think that folks with boy parts should use the Boy's room, and folks with girl parts should use the Girl's room.

Next, Curry and Jennings play the slavery card,

"This is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to discriminate unjustly against minority groups. And just as in our painful racial past, it is even being claimed that the “bathroom bills,” as they are sometimes called, ensure the safety of women and children — the same reason so often given to justify Jim Crow racial segregation."
If you agree with me that the slavery argument is a bit of  stretch, then try the fear card again,

"But we believe that, as the New Testament says, 'perfect love casts out fear.' On June 10, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church stood against fear and for God’s love by passing a resolution that reaffirms the Episcopal Church’s support of local, state, and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression and voices our opposition to all legislation that seeks to deny the God-given dignity, the legal equality, and the civil rights of transgender people."
I suspect that almost anything you can imagine might be included as a civil right under the Curry/Jennings administration.
"The need is urgent, because laws like the one in North Carolina prey on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities — some of the very same people who were targeted in the Orlando attack."
Here they are using the recent mass murders at a gay night club in Orlando by a self-proclaimed jihadist to gin up fear! And I thought fear was the very thing we were supposed to cast out!
"In a 2011 survey, 78 percent of transgender people said that they had been bullied or harassed in childhood; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide; 35 percent had been assaulted, and 12 percent had suffered a sexual assault. Almost half of transgender people who responded to the survey said they had suffered job discrimination, and almost a fifth had lost housing or been denied health care due to their gender identity or expression."
And how many were pissed off because they couldn't find a place to pee? This whole thing seems like a non-issue to me.

"In keeping with Executive Council’s resolution, we are sending a letter to the governor and members of the North Carolina General Assembly calling on them to repeal the 'Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.' When legislation that discriminates against transgender people arises in other places, we will also voice our opposition and ask Episcopalians to join us. We will also support legislation, like a bill recently passed in the Massachusetts state legislature, that prevents discrimination of all kinds based on gender identity or gender expression."
They have bought into the "gender identity" meme.

"As Christians, we bear a particular responsibility to speak out in these situations, because attempts to deny transgender people their dignity and humanity as children of God are too often being made in the name of God."
Oh, so now we are denying their humanity too! This is how progressives/church liberals/etc through their "arguments" paint a picture in which those who disagree can be portrayed as not only (insert appropriate prefix)-phobic, or Jim Crow racist bigots, but also "inhumane".
 "This way of fear is not the way of Jesus Christ, and at these times, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our belief that Christianity is not a way of judgment, but a way of following Jesus in casting out fear."
Wait a second Bishop! Didn't you just judge all of those who hold an opinion differing from yours? Didn't you just create a bogey-man/woman/person that your followers will fear?

"In the face of the violence and injustice we see all around us, what can we do? We can start by choosing to get to know one another. TransEpiscopal, an organization of transgender Episcopalians and their allies, has posted on [its] website a video called Voices of Witness: Out of the Box that can help you get to know some transgender Episcopalians and hear their stories. Integrity USA, which produced the video, and the Chicago Consultation are two other organizations working for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Their websites also have online materials that you can use to learn more about the stories of transgender Christians and our church’s long journey to understand that they are children of God and created in God’s image."
If these folks were really opposed to violence and injustice, they would be holding sit-ins and handing out Bibles outside of Islamic centers and mosques.

"When we are born anew through baptism, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Today, transgender people and, indeed, the entire LGBT community, need us to keep that promise. By doing so, we can bear witness to the world that Jesus has shown us another way — the way of love."

Echoes of that old 1979 BCP Baptismal Covenant where people pledge to respect the dignity of every human being. The meaning of "dignity" has become so perverted that today when any of our selfish desires is denied, it amounts to an attack on our dignity. If a man says he is a woman and you say "No, you are a man", you guilty of not respecting his dignity.

I suppose to tell a bishop and a deacon that they are taking a strawman/strawperson to the bathroom is disrespectful too.

I just wonder which bathroom the straw person would choose to use?

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Pentecost Lectionary Readings: Hopping and Skipping Through Galatians Part 6

This week we finish our Pentecost readings from Galatians with most of the final chapter, Galatians 6:1-16,

"My friends (brothers), if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.
"Gentleness" is not always evident in Paul's handling of those who cross him.
Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.
All must carry their own loads, hmm... But don't forget to share,
Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
I wonder if Paul is referring to himself when he asks for sharing with the teacher?
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Work for the good of all, especially for the family of faith.

Paul sums up his argument towards the end,
See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God."

For some reason the conclusion to Galatians gets omitted,

From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters (or simply "brothers"). Amen.
Galatians 6.17-18

The "marks of Jesus" which Paul carried may refer to the beatings he had taken.

This ends the Pentecost readings from Galatians. The next time you go to church on Sunday and feel that you are only getting part of the story, take the time to sit down with the Bible (they are everywhere) and read the rest!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The "We Are All to Blame" Argument

In the wake of the mass murders of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, there were several attempts to lay blame on various causes other than Islamic radicalization.  

At The Islamic Monthly, Hina Tai wrote,

"...blame is relative. We are all to blame.
Blame is on those who say homophobia is solely a Muslim problem, in order to further the cause of Islamophobia rather than recognize America's historic oppression of LGBTQ people... 
Blame is on our political leaders who continue to think gun control is up for debate while Obama gives his 18th presidential address in response to a mass shooting... 
Blame is on us who shamed LGBTQ Muslims and made them unwelcome in their own mosques and communities rather than promoting inclusivity.... 
Blame is also on us who while condemning the violence purposefully erased the identities of LGBTQ from their statements... 
Blame is on those who will use this opportunity for political capital... 
Blame is on us who do not recognize that this shooting comes at an intersection of many different issues: homophobia, Islamophobia, (political-religious) extremism and gun violence — all issues that transcend religious and political lines."

In a letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News, one reader echoed what many are saying,
 "...we are all to blame for our complacence in the face of out-of-control gun violence."
The blame game's goal is to make three of our fingers point back to us. While self-evaluation is important after any disaster, it is more important to examine the external forces at work. In a culture awash with moral relativism and non-judgementalism, to blame anyone or anything other than oneself is to commit a social sin punishable by public denunciation and name calling, and that has the chilling effect of silencing meaningful analysis of the root cause for whatever disaster it was that took place. In addition, as the examples listed demonstrate, the blame game fails to identify anything helpful towards reducing horrific acts of violence such as the one that occurred in Orlando.

It is abundantly clear to this observer that combating homophobia without dealing with the religious component will not stop the problem, and banning guns will not deter those who are bent on the destruction of Western civilization.

Only a change of heart can do that, and there is only one power in the universe that can change hearts. That is the power that changed Saul from a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus into a Christian saint. How can we invoke that power to change the hearts of radical Islamists? By teaching them that there is a better way, a way revealed by God in a story that the Qur'an does not tell.

In the end, I guess I am going to support one "We are all to blame" argument:
We Christians are to blame for our failure to effectively spread the Gospel of Jesus to the Muslim world. 
We can do better, and we must pray for the courage to do so.