Sunday, June 29, 2014

Abortion and the Presbyterian church (USA)

LifeNews.com posted a headline which focused on one aspect of a resolution recently rejected by the Presbyterian church (little c) USA, now to be referred to as the Presbypalian church after their trying to one up the Episcopalians by passing a resolution approving of same sex marriage. The alarming headline read, "Presbyterian Church USA Defeats Motion to Care for Babies Born Alive After Abortion." There is more to this failed resolution than that, and in particular I would like to point out that the call for "a two-year season of reflection" is the same method used by progressives in the Episcopal church when attempting to advance their agenda. Progressives must have recognized this tactic, and therefore were quick to shoot it down when used by their opponents.

Here is the vote,

09-02 On Entering a Two-Year Season of Reflection on the Plight of Unwanted Children, and Appointing a Special Committee on Abortion Review—From the Presbytery of South Alabama.
Source: Presbytery Event: 221st General Assembly (2014)
Committee: [09-02] Social Justice Issues
Sponsor: South Alabama Presbytery
Assembly Action
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows: DisapproveElectronic Vote - Plenary
Affirmative: 465
Negative: 133
Abstaining: 0
Committee Recommendation
On this Item, the Social Justice Issues Committee, acted as follows: Disapprove[Counted Vote - Committee]
Affirmative: 50 Negative: 17
Abstaining: 0


Here is the full text of the resolution,
The Presbytery of South Alabama overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to do the following:
1.    Call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and member congregations to enter a two-year season of reflection upon the plight of children unwanted by human society, both born and not-yet born, and to purposefully seek to enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort, and the Gospel to those responsible for the care of our most desperate orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures): parents, siblings, church and community leaders, and the medical profession.
2.    Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk to issue statements that denounce the practice of killing babies born live following an abortion procedure, such as was revealed in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia.
3.    Direct the Moderator to appoint a Special Committee on Abortion Review, carefully balanced with members representing both pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints, to
      a. Conduct a thorough assessment of the financial, in-kind, lodgment, publicity, and staff support that the PC(USA) provides to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other abortion providers or pro-choice organizations. A similar review should be made of denominational support provided for pro-life organizations and pro-life crisis-pregnancy support centers.
       b. Review existing policies and, if needed, propose new policies that will more accurately represent the PC(USA) in its breadth of conviction about abortion, taking into account our churches’ desire to worship God in purest form (Jas. 1:27). Any new policies shall incorporate more fully the voices of pro-life Presbyterians, who have to this point largely been kept silent in denominational advocacy.
Most, if not all, of the special committee meetings should be conducted in virtual conferences using appropriate audio-visual technology. The Special Committee on Abortion Review shall report its findings and recommendations to the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
Rationale
The blood of little children cries out to God and to Christ’s Church for protection and justice.
The 2013 trial and conviction of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has placed Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and similar organizations under suspicion for tolerating medical abuse of both mothers and infants (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2013/05/30/nurses-describe-unsafe-conditions-at-delaware-abortion-clinic/).
Neither the PC(USA) Stated Clerk in Louisville nor the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office have called for corrective medical regulations (federal or state) for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, nor have our denominational representatives offered a single word of protest against the taking of innocent life at Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.
The clear teaching of Scriptures reveals that human life is sacred to God primarily because human life is created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Ancient Israel was taught to value life while it was still in the womb (Ex. 21: 22–23); the glory of the Creator’s handiwork in the womb is profoundly revealed by the Psalmist (Psalm 139); Jesus taught God’s especially tender love for innocent and defenseless children (Mk. 10:14–16; Mt. 19:13–15; Lk. 18: 15–17). Numerous Old Testament passages (Lev. 18:21; Jer. 19:4 and 32:35; Ps, 106: 37–39) clearly warn against offering children as sacrifices to please the god(s) of pagan culture (today, the gods of convenience and pleasure).
The New Testament scriptures clearly teach that the purest expression of religion in the sight of our God and heavenly Father is to care particularly for orphans and widows during their times of distress, and to keep ourselves unstained by the world (Jas. 1:27).
The Presbytery of South Alabama recognizes the spiritual duty of church councils to be faithful in carrying out their constitutional responsibility of being proactive, “warning and bearing witness against error in doctrine and immorality in practice within the congregation and community” (Book of Order, G-3.0201c)
Financial Implication
Per Capita - $580 (2014)  $42,740 (2015)  $32,110 (2016)
Per Capita - $0 (2014)  $0 (2015)  $0 (2016) - Revised
Following is the rationale used to justify the rejection of the resolution. It is quite lengthy, and to summarize it says, "Been there, done what we should, don't rock the boat, and we ain't going to go there again." I am always amazed at how many words it takes to justify rejecting the right thing to do. See if you agree.
Comment
ACSWP Advice and Counsel
The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) advises that the 221st General Assembly (2014) disapprove Item 09-02.
The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy advises that the grave moral issues raised by Item 09-02 have received, and continue to receive, significant attention, concern, and action by the church. With brevity, we describe some of these actions.
In response to (1) in Item 09-02, ACSWP advises that the concern expressed for the well-being of born children, as well as for the unborn, reflects longstanding church policies that call Presbyterians to reflection and action. In 1950 the PCUSA assembly declared the church’s responsibility for the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of children. Throughout subsequent decades, assemblies have adopted innumerable policies, resulting in programs and advocacy, directed to the multitude of conditions that compromise and threaten the well-being of children: inadequate healthcare, including prenatal care; inadequate nutrition; unsafe housing; and lack of good, affordable childcare, among others. With 22 percent of U.S. children living in poverty today, these issues remain critical.1 Recent Federal legislation cutting food stamps to low-income families reminds us of the need for constant vigilance on behalf of children and their mothers. The PC(USA) has also consistently encouraged Presbyterians to become involved in adoption and foster parenting, especially for children with special needs. (See “Adoption of Children with Special Needs,” 211th General Assembly (1999).)
While acknowledging that “we do not have substantial agreement on when human life begins,” (Minutes, 1992, Part I, paragraph 27.102) the church’s concern for the unborn is clearly stated in its current policy on problem pregnancies and abortion, “Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly,” (204th General Assembly, 1992). Here the church calls upon Presbyterians to address the concerns that bring women to contemplate abortion: “poverty, unjust social realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships” (Ibid. 27.101). In addition, this policy urges churches to support women by providing various alternatives to abortion:
Presbyterian churches are urged to consider expanding or offering such resources as adoptive services, homes for pregnant women who lack the necessary financial and emotional support for childbirth and child rearing, and pregnancy counseling. In 1986, the General Assembly of the PC(USA) took a step in this direction in recommending that resource centers be set up for alternatives to abortion within each presbytery (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 372).
In response to (2), the ACSWP advises that as recently as 2006, the 217th General Assembly clarified the churches policy on late-term abortions or miscarriages:
We affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies—those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered—ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late-term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive.2
Regardless of one’s support or opposition to legal abortion, the case of Dr. Gosnell is abhorrent to all. While statements in opposition to Dr. Gosnell’s actions would accurately reflect church policy, as well as the standards of our society and the practices of the medical community, the Moderator and Stated Clerk do not typically comment on criminal cases.
In response to (3.b), the ACSWP advises that Item 09-02 contains basic misunderstandings of the church’s policies and actions related to problem pregnancies and abortion. At its core, the church’s policy affirms that, in face of the “complicated and insolvable circumstances” surrounding problem pregnancies, it has “neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation” for women (Ibid. 27.090). Therefore, it affirms “. . . the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies” (Ibid. 27.091). The position of the church is not pro-abortion. However, the PC(USA) recognizes that there are circumstances when abortion may be a responsible choice within a Christian ethical framework. Thus, to support women’s reproductive choices, the church advocates for women’s access to family planning services, including fertility aid, contraception and, as a last resort, abortion. This position is consistent with longstanding Presbyterian affirmations of freedom of conscience informed by the Holy Spirit.
The positions expressed in the Rationale to Item 09-02 would, in fact, require a radically different policy on problem pregnancies and abortion. Perhaps for this reason, Item 09-02 calls for the appointment of a Special Committee on Abortion Review. However, the development of social witness policy for the denomination cannot be accomplished with a simple for or against discussion. Any study to reconsider the social witness policy of the PC(USA) would need to conform to the standards and procedures established for making social witness policy by the 205th General Assembly (1993). These require that the task force assigned this responsibility develop a plan for the involvement of the whole church. It must also listen to the biblical text, theological views, Reformed Confessions, sociopolitical disciplines, past policy statements, the advice of members and governing bodies, the counsel of ecumenical partners, and the insights of those who are poor or victims of existing policies. (See “Why and How the Church Makes a Social Policy Witness,” 205th General Assembly (1993)). Appropriately, this is an extensive process over several years, which in this case, would involve serious medical and theological/ethical expertise. The current 1992 policy involved a committee of fourteen working for three years. It also seems inappropriate to the subject matter and depth of concern to consider doing such a study by “audio-visual technology,” though the desire to save money can be appreciated. In fact, if the General Assembly were to approve the development of a new policy according to its current standards, which include circulating a church-wide study document and holding a consultation with representatives of all synods, the financial implications would be quite a bit higher than those attached to this Item.
We note that a similar proposal for a new study was brought to the 220th General Assembly (2012). The committee considering the proposal made the following comment describing the church’s current (1992) policy:
This noteworthy study brought twenty years of relative peace on a matter that has been a source of intense conflict in the PC(USA) for many years prior to the study. The study accomplished no mean feat in setting forth common ground that Presbyterian can gather around; common ground that eschews partisanship on either side of the cultural divide. We found insight and guidance in this document that was both eloquent and relevant to our work; therefore we do not see the need for a new study but rather commend the existing study to our church.3
The 220th General Assembly (2012) followed the committee’s advice and did not approve a new study.
Item 09-02 itself does not seem convinced that a new study would be needed. In section (3.b.), it states “Review existing policies and, if needed, propose new policies” [italics added]. While repeated General Assemblies have supported full reproductive rights for four decades, any review and proposed changes in church policy would need to be based on the well-grounded theological and bioethical discernment as noted above.
In response to (3.a), the ACSWP advises that this information is readily available. Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO) is one of the ten networks of the Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association (PHEWA), a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency established by the General Assembly in 1956 (168th General Assembly, United Presbyterian Church (USA)). One staff position in the PMA supports the work of PHEWA’s ten networks. As a PHEWA network, PARO is composed of volunteers committed to promoting, explaining, and defending the problem pregnancies and abortion policies of the PC(USA). As of the 2014 budget of the PMA, PHEWA networks no longer receive the small grants ($2,500 each in 2013) that were made available by dedicated funds which have now been depleted.
As with other social justice policies, General Assembly entities, such as the Office for Social Witness, may join in partnership with other religious and secular groups that have mutual concerns. Thus, both the PMA and PARO are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization of almost thirty member religious organizations whose denominational policies support women’s access to reproductive choices. The PC(USA) provides no financial support to RCRC. The PC(USA) has no connection to Planned Parenthood and makes no financial contributions.
Endnotes
[1] http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html
2 http://pc-biz.org/MeetingPapers/(S(10qrqypchx3hrklgoagdgrb5))/Explorer.aspx
3 http://pc-biz.org/MeetingPapers/(S(erm25jxktddw1yzrre4ykinb))/Explorer.aspx

ACWC Advice and Counsel
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns advises the 221st General Assembly (2014) to disapprove Item 09-02.
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns concurs with the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s (ACSWP) Advice and Counsel Item 09-02.
Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures Comment
“Due to the financial and staffing implications, before authorizing the establishment of a special committee, the assembly shall hear a report from the Assembly Committee on Bills and Overtures, which shall have consulted with the most closely related entity and a member designated from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, as to whether the work to be assigned to the special committee could more effectively and economically be assigned to that entity” (from Standing Rules K.1.a.).


The Bills and Overtures Committee has consulted with staff from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and a representative from the Committee on the Office of General Assembly and finds that the work assigned to this special committee could not be done within the existing structures.


OGA Comment
The Office of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly requests that commissioners and advisory delegates carefully consider any items of business that would raise the per capita rate. The COGA made a commitment to bring no increase to the per capita rate to the 221st General Assembly (2014) by making significant reductions in the per capita budgets, which included reductions in staff. We would ask that other means be found within existing committee structures to accomplish the same task.
PMA Comment
The 217th General Assembly (2006) affirmed the monitoring report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which reviews the implementation of problem pregnancies and abortion policies. Presbyterian Mission Agency ministries preparing resources on problem pregnancies and abortion strive to reflect a diversity of opinion in the resources that are produced. Resources revised in 2010 prepared by Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries cover the range of faithful responses in these difficult situations, and they include: Problem Pregnancy: When No Choice Is Easy—For the Pregnant Woman; There’s Always A Father—Does the Father Have a Problem, Too?; When Pregnancy Involves Loss—Helping Others Face Pregnancy Loss; When You Need Wisdom—Helping Others Face Problem Pregnancy.
The 217th General Assembly (2006) reiterated the role of the church in individual and families’ lives as they face problem pregnancy issues:
The church has a responsibility to provide public witness and to offer guidance, counsel, and support to those who make or interpret laws and public policies about abortion and problem pregnancies. Pastors have a duty to counsel with and pray for those who face decisions about problem pregnancies. Congregations have a duty to pray for and support those who face these choices, to offer support for women and families to help make unwanted pregnancies less likely to occur, and to provide practical support for those facing the birth of a child with medical anomalies, birth after rape or incest, or those who face health, economic, or other stresses. (Minutes, 2006, Part I, p. 905)
The 1992 policy states,
Problem pregnancies are the result of, and influenced by, so many complicated and insolvable circumstances that we have neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation. Christians seek the guidance of Scripture in the midst of relationships and circumstances of awesome proportions that affect their interpretation and decision making.
We affirm the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, in the context of their communities of faith, to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies.
We call upon Presbyterians to work for a decrease in the number of problem pregnancies, thereby decreasing the number of abortions.
The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision. Possible justifying circumstances would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened.
The Christian community must be concerned about and address the circumstances that bring a woman to consider abortion as the best available option. Poverty, unjust societal realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 368)
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) continues to be guided by the 204th General Assembly (1992) policy on abortion and problem pregnancies and encourages the church to continue to approach this challenging issue with the atmosphere of “open debate and mutual respect” for a variety of opinions (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 374).
In 2014, there were no funds budgeted in the form of grants from the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) to any of the ten networks of Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association, including Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO). No funds from the PMA were given to Planned Parenthood or the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fired For Being an Episcopalian

If you ran a Christian school, and if you had a rule that your teachers would adhere to Christian beliefs, and if you found out that you had an Episcopalian elementary school teacher on your staff, or if you found out that the Episcopal church had left the reservation, what would you do?

You might inquire as to whether or not the teacher adheres to the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal church. You might ask if she is resident in an diocese which supports same-sex marriage. You might ask if she is subject to a bishop who promotes non-christian teachings by welcoming an active lesbian as Bishop Suffragan. You should ask if your elementary school teacher agrees with her bishop's teachings.

If the answers to all of those questions is "Yes", then you might fire that teacher.

As shocking as this may sound to some, many think the Episcopal church is not a Christian church and that her followers might pose a danger to young minds.

At least that might be what Crossroads Christian School in Corona California thinks.

In 2010 they fired eleven employees because they did not adhere to certain religious beliefs, and you guessed it, one was an Episcopalian.
The story is still subject of discussion as to the legality of the dismissals as reported by The Press Enterprise recently,
"Four years after Corona’s Crossroads Christian Schools fired 11 employees for their religious beliefs, legal experts disagree as to whether the dismissals violated the law.
In May 2013, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found 'reasonable cause to believe' that the conservative evangelical Christian school violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by dismissing the four teachers and seven other employees, most of whom are Catholic.
But the EEOC opted not to file a lawsuit, and the two fired employees who complained to the commission also haven’t sued."
"The case pits the religious freedom of the school against the religious freedom of employees.
School officials contend that, as a ministry of the church, the school should expose students only to beliefs that are in line with church teachings. With more than 8,000 worshipers, Crossroads is one of the largest churches in Southern California."
"Marylou Goodman, 55, an elementary school teacher who was fired in 2010, said she and the other 10 ex-employees never attempted to inculcate the students with their beliefs.
'When you knowingly hire someone of a different denomination and they work and do a good job and then you fire them just because they’re of a different denomination, then it’s religious discrimination,' said Goodman, who is Episcopalian."

I suppose the school should never have hired the Episcopalian teacher in the first place, but wouldn't that have been considered discrimination as well?

Is it any coincidence that the firing took place in 2010, the same year that Mary Glasspool, an active lesbian, was ordained as the eighth bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles?

Maybe it was that ordination that opened the eyes of Crossroads Christian School to the difference a denomination can make.

Episcopalians just can't see it.

Unless they check out the Dio of L.A.'s web pages,
"Bishops will celebrate at gay pride events on May 18, June 8
The bishops suffragan of the diocese will take part in gay pride events on May 18 and June 8. Bishop Mary Glasspool will preside and preach at the Communion on the Bluff at 9 a.m. on Sunday, May 18 before the Long Beach Pride Parade, in which she and her partner Becki Sander will ride as guests of St. Luke's Church, Long Beach. Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce will celebrate the L.A. Pride Eucharist at 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 8 preceding the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade. The Eucharist will take place in the Bank of America parking lot at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Crescent Heights, Los Angeles. Preacher will be Dr. H. Adam Ackley. All are invited to both events; pride tee shirts (shown in the photo at left) are available for purchase."
From their Facebook page

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Putting Away Childish Relationships

When you were a child did you ever have a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or a doll to which you were truly attached? Did you love that object so much that you thought you would be lost without it?

I remember the stuffed bunny my older sister let me have from her box of toys. For a period of time that bunny and I were inseparable. We went everywhere together, we played together, and we slept together. The advantage to such a relationship is that a stuffed animal never voices its opinion. In its fuzzy comfort, its reassuring gaze, and its silence we find the perfect companion, one who never says "No" and one who never challenges our beliefs.

As we mature, we lose our childhood attachments, but the childishness of attachment sometimes remains evident in the new attachments we have made. We see this at its worst in dysfunctional relationships where silent affirmation of one party's life and actions are the expectation of the other party.

The dysfunctional Church is one that expects, and all too often receives, reassuring gazes, fuzzy platitudes, and silence from its members who blindly follow it wherever it may go.

A functional Church then may be one in which a mature relationship exists between the Church and its members, a relationship in which differences of opinion are respected if not accepted, and a common purpose can be pursued unencumbered by struggles for dominance by one individual or group over another.

As long as those differences are not over the common purpose.

For those of us whose Church believes that our common purpose is to support abortion, to reduce our carbon footprint, to support gay marriage, or to promote one particular view of social justice, aren't we by remaining silent partners or by helping to finance the Church's new found purpose just worsening a dysfunctional relationship? Isn't this enabling?  Aren't dysfunctional relations the very things the Church should be seeking to heal? Instead, it seems like our Episcopal church is one in which dysfunction is bred, is nurtured, and is clung to like a child holding onto its love object.

I know it is childish of me to hold onto the Episcopal church after having grown to see it has lost its ears, its fuzzy warmth and its plush appeal. Maybe it is time to put it back into my sister's toy box and let it mold in peace, but I know that to do so would be to forget the hearts of the real, living, flesh and blood, soft and fuzzy, quiet pewsitters who are innocently caught up in the inertia of this dysfunctional church.

For them and for myself, the focus of our attention, and of our affection, needs to be shifted towards a different object than to what, in our immaturity, we had been mistakenly attached.
"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. ...  There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires." ~ J. R. R. Tolkien (h/t Creedal Christian)
Or, as we are reminded in today's Gospel lesson,
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." - Matthew 10:34-39

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Solstice Eucharist Round Up

"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Galatians 4:10-11 (KJV).
Rather than decreasing in numbers as the word gets out how silly and perhaps heretical these celebrations are, they seem to be spreading. This year my Google search words, "summer solstice 2014 eucharist" returned  726,000 results.
Here are just a few, and I have added two non-Episcopalian sites to the bottom of the list as evidence of the spread of this worship service.

From the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection Eugene, Oregon,
 Summer Solstice Labyrinth Walk: On Saturday, June 21, beginning at 7:30 p.m., yoga teacher, Dave Curtis, will lead a Summer Solstice Labyrinth Walk as a part of his Solstice Yoga Retreat. Contact Bryn Lighthawk for a flyer or visit www.YogawithDave.com for more information. By donation – a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Church of the Resurrection.
From St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, 4670 Congress Street, Fairfield CT,
"HOLY EUCHARIST:  Summer Solstice Eucharist on the Labyrinth
Sunday June 22, 4-5 pm
Come walk our labyrinth and experience God at the center of all.
Light refreshments will be served after the service."
From the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in NYC,
 "Join Cathedral Artist in Residence Paul Winter, with Chris Brubeck, bass trombone; Paul McCandless, oboe, English horn and bass clarinet; John Clark, French horn; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Tim Brumfield, organ; and four percussionists for an epic sunrise concert beneath Xu Bing's massive Phoenix sculptures. Together, musicians and audience will share the experience of the journey from total darkness into the dawn of this longest day of the year. The full glory of sight and sound will come alive with the light of this first sunrise of the summer."
 From St. Mary's Episcopal in Tuxedo, NY,
"Come enjoy the Summer Solstice at The Tuxedo Club Boathouse from 6:30 - 11:00 p.m. Music by Frank Tate and All That Jazz. Eat, drink and dance with friends as the stars come out. $100/person; drinks by chit or cash. Limited seating."
From Holy Trinity Episcopal in Greensboro, NC,
SUMMER SOLSTICE LABYRINTH WALK
"Welcome the arrival of summer by walking Holy Trinity’s outdoor labyrinth on Sunday, June 22 at 4 p.m.
You are invited to walk the path of the heart, in community, as we celebrate the coming of the Season of Light.  A brief blessing at the beginning will incorporate a vision of harmony and balance inspired by Native Americans’ gratitude for the abundance of the earth.  Uninterrupted walking and music follows."
From St. John's Episcopal Worthington, OH,
CELTIC WORSHIP TODAY – A Celtic service is planned for tonight at 5:00 in the Atrium. This lay-led worship time will focus on “Moving Towards the Summer Solstice: A Celtic Ritual.” Refreshments and fellowship will follow. We welcome all!
The Center for Inclusive Excellence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Illinois brings you,
Litha/Midsomer/Alban Hefin/Summer Solstice (Pagan, Wiccan, Druid) • June 21-22, 2014
A celebration of the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer. Celebration of the Goddess manifesting as Mother Earth and the God as the Sun King. For some Pagans the Summer Solstice marks the marriage of the God and Goddess, and some see their union as the force that creates the harvest's fruits. One of the eight major annual sabbats or festivals.
General Practices: Lighting bonfires and watching the sun rise.

And not to be outdone by some secular school, the Catholic Church in Ireland brings you from St. Mary's Dominican Retreat House Tallaght, Dublin, Ireland,
DANCING THE SUMMER SOLSTICE, JUNE 21
“IF THE LIGHT IS IN YOUR HEART YOU WILL FIND YOUR WAY HOME” RUMI
Come explore the summer solstice, a peak moment that is both a celebration of the longest day of the year and a tipping point as the days get shorter and the nights get longer.
Let our dancing and movement bring us into this special time
Dance the Sun within
Dance the Sun outside
(No prior experience of dance is necessary)
If St. Paul's advice in his letter to the Galatians is not enough warning, here are some more recent warnings to stay away from the house of the rising sun,
"If I had listened to what mama said,
I'd be at home today,
but being so young and foolish poor girl,
let a gambler lead me astray..." House of Rising Sun (1937) - Georgia Turner


  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Trinity Shines Through

This was Trinity Sunday, and in our church the job of preaching the sermon on this day is typically given to the most junior clergy member as senior clergy have come to dread preaching about the Trinity... or so I have been told.

Lacking any junior clergy in our parish, the job fell to a new High School graduate.

We didn't hear much about the theology of the Holy Trinity (not that I expected to), but our college bound preacher did a good job anyway.

Given the added time to reflect on the Sunday readings on my own allowed my personal light bulb to go off.

1) During Easter season we heard a lot about Jesus.

2) On Pentecost we heard about the Holy Spirit.

3) On Trinity Sunday, in the longest reading Genesis 1:1-2:3 we heard about God the Father and how He created the heavens and earth and the first vegetarians (Gen 1:29-30),
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
This is the one time that the lectionary made sense to me. The pattern does kinda suggest the Trinity, which around here is often referred to as celery, bell peppers, and onions.

From  http://globalgrub.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Who Needs a Shared Theology When We Have Relationship

There is no refuge for those who would like to avoid the same-sex marriage/blessing issue facing today's Christians. Even the Southern Baptists are losing ministers to the LGBT phenomenon. Al Mohler discussed this last week in his post, "There Is No ‘Third Way’ — Southern Baptists Face a Moment of Decision (and so will you)" about a renegade pastor in suburban L.A. who wrote to his congregation,
“I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality,” and said that his aim was to see the congregation “allow for grace in the midst of disagreement,” and to  “agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another.”
Does any of that sound familiar?

In a vote (remember this is a congregational church) which is probably more reflective of personal affection than theological discernment, the church is standing by their man,

...the church voted on May 18 not to dismiss the pastor and “to instead become a Third Way church.”
What in the world is a "Third Way church"? A quick internet search will show you that a number of groups and denominations have used the term "Third Way" to mean any of a number of different things.

I suspect the "Third Way church" in the present context is a Utopian dream. The dream is that love and relationship can hold a church together despite the deep differences in theology which come from two very different gospels.

Albert Mohler spots a flaw in the Third Way model right away,

The impossibility of a “third way” is made clear in Pastor Cortez’s own letter.
In one paragraph, he writes:
“So now, we will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship. We will choose to remain the body of Christ and not cast judgement. We will work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences. We wee that this is possible in the same way that our church holds different positions on the issue of divorce and remarriage. In this issue we are able to not cast judgement in our disagreement.”
But in the very next paragraph, he writes:
“Unfortunately, many who voted to remain traditional will now separate from us in a couple of weeks. We are in the period of reconciliation and forgiveness. Please pray for us in this. Then on June 8, we will formally peacefully separate, restate our love for one another, and bless each other as we part ways. It has been a very tiring and difficult process.”
Sometimes the loving thing to do is to tell someone that they err, and if they agree to disagree, then to shake the dust from your feet because there is no third way, and in the long run, any church that tries it is doomed to failure.

From a separate post at the Gospel Coalition,
“It’s an unwitting decision to think that we don’t need to be held together by shared theology and a shared understanding of the gospel, but by relationships, shared institutions, and a general sense that we all want to do good in the world.” University Reformed Church (URC) in East Lansing, Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung. 
I have yet to encounter a church that can stay together when its theological framework starts separating from the central picture. Love can keep us from coming to fisticuffs over our differences, and love should keep us from going to the secular courts, but can love really keep a church together if we are loving a different gospel?



Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Pentecost Blues

It is a rainy Sunday here in Upper South Carolina and I'm feeling a little blue.



In the typical Episcopal church, Pentecost marks the beginning of the low attendance season as families head out of town on summer vacations once the school year ends and the kids are freed from the bondage of their studies.

You would think Pentecost would have the opposite effect and would see people filling the pews wanting to hear the good news of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

On this the Sunday of Pentecost, Luke recounts the events of the day in Acts 2:1-21,

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Maybe our congregants are seeing portents of doom and are heading for the hills, the beaches, or their grandma's as they begin their summer vacation from Sunday churchgoing.

Or maybe the Pentecostal fire has died.

Back when I was studying foreign languages, I always wanted a little bit of that Holy Spirit the apostles were filled with back on the first Pentecost, especially when I was struggling through Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours par Jules Verne (en Fran├žais). Needless to say, the Holy Spirit never gave me the fluency in French I desired, but I think the Spirit did come to me one night and said something like, "I am not going to do this for you. I gave you a brain, now exercise it!"

Thank you Holy Spirit for the Award in French that year!

It is not unusual to hear people attribute various occurrences, ideas, movements, or social and cultural trends to the action of the Holy Spirit. In fact, a few years ago one Episcopal Convention election saw an orchestrated "mighty move of the Holy Spirit" to help further a certain candidate's cause.

Short of hearing our friends and family suddenly speaking fluent Mandarin Chinese, how can we tell when the Holy Spirit is at work?

  • Is what I am seeing just a reflection of personal desire?
  • Is it is accordance with Scripture?
  • Will I still feel the same way about this tomorrow?
  • When looking back after a period of time, what have been the long term results of this "work".

For Luke, the answers might be, "No, Yes, Yes, and Truly amazing."

For those of us following the mighty moves of the Holy Spirit in the Episcopal church over the last half century, the answers might be, "Yes, No, No, and Truly horrific."

The underlying cause of the innumerable wrong moves made by the Episcopal church is the mistaken feeling that the church is being moved by the Holy Spirit time and time again to do a new thing, to fulfill a small group's personal desires, to bless what is not blessed, to ordain the unordainable, to preach the unpreachable, or (shudder) to sing the unsingable.

You will never convince someone who feels they (or the church) are being led by the Holy Spirit to change their mind. They will always "feel the same way about this tomorrow," and that any negative long term results will be rationalized away.

Does the Holy Spirit put blinders on some people's eyes?

You have to wonder.



Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Upper SC Curriculum For Parishes Considering Same Sex Blessings, or Not

The Bishop of Upper South Carolina, Andrew Waldo, is urging all of his congregations to undergo a series of facilitated conversations on same sex blessings whether they want to have such blessings or not. The Bishop has admitted that  these "meaningful conversations" will not change people's minds (see earlier post).

So what is the point? The unstated purpose is to keep people from leaving the Episcopal church. With that in mind, one might expect to hear soothing words that might further the goals of such an exercise. "Staying in relationship", "respecting differences",  "being together in mission", or similar catch phrases might come to mind.

Since those old catch phrases never worked in the past, perhaps our Bishop has a new plan.

The following text is from just one of the several sessions Bishop Waldo wants his people to go through.  I think it provides a good illustration of how the game is played.

1) Ask a question or two.
2) Present carefully selected background material from opposing sides in order to create the impression that there is no right or wrong answer to the question.
3) Cite "Prominent theologians" and present clearly heterodox views as if they were theologically equivalent to orthodox ones and worthy of equal consideration.
3) Provide carefully worded summaries with just enough information to confuse the average lay person.
4) Avoid answering the original question, and don't repeat it in the final set of questions.
5) Make sure that the final questions for discussion have zero relevance to most of the people who took time out of their lives for these conversations.

Ethics: 
Are same-sex blessings the right or wrong thing to do?  Does God bless same-sex relationships?   (This material may be used for one or for two sessions.)  
Background: As Bishop Waldo notes: “That the Church seeks in all things to find its way faithfully and in accordance with God’s will matters. The historic tradition of the Church is and should be a cautionary  reminder  of  dangers  along  the  way.  Secular  influences  that  are  decidedly  not Christian  are  always  striving  to  pull  us  off  the  path,  whether  we  are  “conservative”  or “liberal.” Voices raised in faith and out of the pain of experience, however, remind us that God may be speaking a word to us that we have not yet heard, for whatever reason” (In Dialogue  with  Sacred  Tradition:  A  Pastoral  and  Theological  Reflection  on  Same-Sex Blessings, p. 24).
As  Bishop  Waldo  noted  in  his  Pastoral  and  Theological  Reflection,  the  1998  Lambeth Conference  of  bishops  reiterated  the  traditional  doctrine  of  Christian  marriage  in  its Resolution 1.10: “In view of the teaching of Scripture, [this Conference] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.”  While the resolution went on to advise against the “blessing of same sex unions,” nevertheless it committed to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons” and assured such persons that they were “loved by God” and “full members of the Body of Christ.”
There are, Bishop Waldo suggests, a number of ethical questions that have been raised: “Are same-sex  blessings  equivalent  to  marriage,  such  that  the  two  should  share  the  same rite?
Are  they  similar  in  form  but fundamentally  different,  requiring  distinct  kinds of  rites?  Are they mutually exclusive, with marriage between one man and one woman the only faithful option?” (Background Note, In Dialogue with Sacred Tradition: A Pastoral and Theological Reflection on Same-Sex Blessings, p. 5). 
Narrowed  down,  the  central  question  seems  to  be:  Does  God  bless  lifelong, committed sexual  relationships  –  characterized  by  fidelity,  monogamy,  affection,  and  holy love  – between two Christians of the same sex?    
The following readings are designed to give us tools drawn from Holy Scripture, and from theological reflection upon Scripture, to help us as the Church respond faithfully to these pressing and difficult questions. (Note: While this document contains only summaries of the readings,  fuller  excerpts  from  these  texts  can  be  found  on  the  diocesan  website  in  an appendix.)  
Reading and Summary: 
“The Radical Hope in the Annunciation: Why Both Single and Married Christians Welcome Children,”  The  Hauerwas  Reader,  ed.  John  Berkman  and  Michael  Cartwright,  (Duke University Press, 2001).
Summary:
In this essay, Stanley Hauerwas, a prominent theological ethicist at Duke who serves as Canon Theologian at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in Nashville, reminds us that Christians don’t  “get  to  make  up  what  sex  is  for.”  Instead,  we  start  with  the  church’s historic practice of marriage, as it has been shaped by Holy Scripture.  We do this, rather than start from a “general account of human sexuality,” because we as the church are called to live together as Christ’s disciples. The church is called to be a witness to the world of what it looks like to live together as disciples of Jesus, full of fruits of the Spirit such as love, hope, peace, patience, gentleness, forgiveness and faithfulness. That means that when we think about sex, we have to think about where sex “fits” into the church’s overall character and mission.
As the church, we live as a people of faith and hope. Even when it seems like suffering and sin may have the upper hand, we have faith in the victory that Jesus won over sin and  death,  and so we  can  live  patiently  in  hope  until  the  day  when  Jesus  returns  to establish his Kingdom of love, peace and justice forever.
Marriage fits inside that larger vision. God will be faithful to his promises to save and renew his church, even when we are unfaithful to him. As we learn to respond with our own faithfulness to God’s deep and abiding faithfulness, we discover what it means to love  this  God  who  so  loves  us.  As  we  learn  how  to  respond  in  love  and  faith  to  this faithful  and  loving  God,  we  also  learn  how  to  live  with  our  spouses  in  love  and faithfulness. The church’s practice of marriage requires us to be faithful to our spouses “till death do us part,” even though we can’t possibly know what we’re getting ourselves into! But the promise of faithfulness gives us the time to discover what this love really means. And by God’s grace, knowing that God in Christ is forever faithful to us, we are able to live up to this promise. In this way, the love of our marriages reflect the love and faithfulness of Jesus.
Children fit within this vision, too. We have been given a very great hope in Jesus, so great that we believe the church is called to bear witness to it over many generations. Even our own individual deaths cannot swallow up this hope; Jesus destroyed death on Easter morning. We bear, raise and baptize children as a sign that even though we shall die and someday our children shall die, too, the hope we are given in Jesus is stronger than  death  itself.    We  raise  children  to  pass on  this  hope  and  faith to  those  who  will come after us.
The practice of marriage, then, as “unitive and procreative,” is one facet of the church’s larger  witness  in  the power  of  the  Spirit  to  the  love  and  faithfulness  of  God in  Christ. When we think about sexual ethics, we have to start here.    
Reading and Summary:
John Milbank, “Gay marriage and the future of human sexuality,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation Religion and Ethics, 13 March 2012 (http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/03/13/3452229.htm)
Summary:
The  prominent  Anglican  theologian  John  Milbank  argues  that  male–female differentiation and procreation are an essential part of what Christian marriage means. He appeals to our created nature. As the popular book from several years back had it, Milbank  thinks  that  men  are  from  Mars  and  women  are  from  Venus—they  have significantly different ways of viewing and acting in the world. He rejects the common, older  view  that  women  thus  should  stay  in  their  place,  or  are  somehow  lesser  than men—men  and  women  are  of  equal  value  and  worth,  partners  that  need  each  other precisely in their difference.  And marriage, he thinks, is the ancient social institution that grew up in large part to bring men and women in all of their differences together, in a common project on equal footing. A key element of that common project, for Milbank, is bringing up the next generation. As  an  ethicist,  Milbank  is  concerned  that  severing  the  natural  link  between  sex  and childbirth will lead to deep and unwelcome cultural changes.  Most of us have a sense of,  and  deeply  value,  the  family  ties  that  go  back  generations—some  part  of  me,  for instance, is carried forward from the old homeplaces and traditions of my ancestors. And most of us can know that we were created in love by two persons and received as a gift, rather than made in a lab to precise specifications for a price. Milbank thinks that these basic, natural realities are at risk. In the complete essay, he argues (unlike Radner) that the church ought to accept same-sex blessings!  But he holds it is important to view them for what they are, as something valuable but distinct from marriage, so as not to efface the distinct value of traditional marriage itself.  
Reading and Summary: 
Ephraim Radner, “Same-Sex Marriage is Still Wrong,” The Anglican Communion Institute, 17  July  2013):  http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.com/2013/07/same-sex-marriage- is-still-wrong-and-its-getting-wronger-every-day/. 
 Summary:
This  excerpt  places  marriage  in  the  context  of  where  Christ  calls  us  to  follow  him  as disciples.  The  prominent  Episcopal  theologian  Ephraim  Radner  sees  “suffering procreative love” as deeply joined to what it means for humankind to follow our Lord in the way of the Cross. We are born to die, but marriage is a little red flag of love and hope we wave in the face of death: through the pain of childbirth and the great sacrifice of childrearing, we will pass along the deep goodness of life itself to the next generation. We will do this out of a love so strong that it’s willing to suffer great pains and losses; out of a sacrificial, agape love that’s faithful for the long haul, come what may. Out of this love comes the next generation; only out of this love will the next generation flourish. This Radner sees as deeply connected to walking in Christ’s footsteps as his disciples, as it images the suffering love of God in Christ that created and redeemed the whole world.
Marriage,  then,  Radner  understands  as  essentially  bound  up  with  this  “suffering procreative love,” with the project of men and women to bring forth and raise up the next generation. That is the deep logic to why Christian tradition has historically viewed procreation as essential to marriage; it “fits” with the whole story of how God in Christ has created and redeemed the world.  To make procreation an extra add-on rather than a  fundament  of  marriage  would,  then,  change  marriage’s  meaning  altogether.    As  a Christian ethicist, Radner reflects upon Scripture: what does it mean to say that marriage is a sacramental reality that somehow images “Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32)?  This is his explanation of the Christian tradition’s answer to the question, and he does not think revisionist views are capable of “fitting” nearly so well with the story of Scripture. 
Reading and Summary:
Deirdre Good, Willis Jenkins, Cynthia Kittredge, and Eugene Rogers: “Marriage begins in eros, and ends in caritas,” from “A Theology of Marriage Including Same-Sex Couples: A View from the Liberals,” Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2011. 
Summary: For these four Episcopal theologians, the love that is essential to marriage has nothing to do with male–female differentiation, nor does it necessarily involve the procreation of children.  Rather, marriage most basically is a “school for virtue” that teaches its pupils to grow in love: from eros, the erotic, romantic sexual desire of one for another that’s often the spark that first lights the marital flame; to caritas or agape, the love that loves the other as one’s own self.  In other words: the path to marriage might begin with seeing a  very  attractive  young  woman  across  a  crowded  room,  and  end  with  tightly holding that same woman’s hand 60 years later as she’s dying.  From eros, to caritas—not leaving eros behind, but eros growing into something deeper. That, these theologians propose, is what marriage is all about at bottom. It shapes our loves well, in the pathway of Christ. We might begin as amorous teenagers who “love” every cute movie star and pop idol we set our eyes on.  We are led by marriage to love our spouse for his or her own sake, rather than for the sake of our own sexual pleasure alone.  Marriage  is  thus  a  school  for  our  sanctification,  for  growing  in  holiness  as  our loves  grow  more  Christ-like.  Gender  differentiation  just  doesn’t  come  into  play,  and procreation  isn’t  essential  to  the process.  Same-sex  couples  do  this  just  as  well. They need marriage to sanctify their loves, just as opposite-sex couples do, and the church needs their own particular witness to Christ-like love. 
Questions for discussion:  
1. Why  does  Milbank  think  that  same-sex  marriage  will  change  the  basic  meaning  of marriage?  What does he think is risked in doing so?
2. How  might  it  be  argued  that  same-sex  blessings  won’t  change  the  basic  meaning  of marriage?  Are there ways in which one might argue that marriage and community would actually be strengthened?
3. Are there elements of “lifelong, committed sexual relationships characterized by fidelity [and] monogamy… between two committed Christians of the same sex” that are aspects of God’s creative purposes?  If so, what should be the response of the Church to preserve and encourage the growth of these elements?
4. Within your parish, what is at stake in your response to question 3?
5.  What further questions have been raised for you by this discussion?
These summaries do not help the average pewsitter to answer the questions posed at the very start of the exercise. It appears that the readings don't give the lay person "tools drawn from Holy Scripture" as promised by the Bishop. There is only one scriptural reference quoted, and that was from Radner, and that has at best only a tangential bearing on the question of same sex blessings. What the selected readings actually do is to pass along false teachings to the people, and that is precisely what a bishop is not supposed to do.

So just what is this narrative that our Bishop is trying to stitch together?


Like Odysseus'  Penelope, our bishop weaves and un-weaves his tapestry, presenting to the assembled crowd a work that will remain perpetually unfinished.
He may rely too long on Athena’s gifts –
talent in the handicraft and a clever mind:
so cunning... (apologies to Homer)
Clearly, Bishop Waldo does not want his congregations to come to a conclusion as to whether or not same-sex intercourse is blessed by God, or whether or not same sex blessings are the right thing to do (of course the answer to the latter should be based on the answer to the former). The goal is to convince enough people that there is no consensus from the experts, that there is no right or wrong answer, and that we can go on with this deception forever. With no end in sight, one might be easily persuaded to think, "What's the harm in offering a blessing?" and one might vote to allow their parish priest to perform the rite.

It will be interesting to see how this curriculum plays out in the various congregations in Upper South Carolina in the upcoming months. Given the underwhelming response the Bishop's curriculum has generated thus far, I suspect the diocese will muddle along with continued slow attrition as elderly, conservative minded folks die off and the hoped for flood of people coming in seeking same-sex blessings fails to appear.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Why is it that the Ascension of Jesus gets the short shrift?

In today's well prepared and deliberately delivered sermon based on Acts 1,
"So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’" Acts 1:6-14
our guest preacher, Fr. Diggs, repeatedly attacked those who would demythologize the ascension of Jesus. One phrase our preacher used that caught my ear was, "The Ascension is the Incarnation in reverse." This scored big points with yours truly, but some were put off by the 22 minute length of his sermon.

The Ascension and its feast day are neglected by many as evidenced by our tiny Sunday attendance and our lack of a dedicated service on the day itself. Easter and Christmas pack 'em in, but the Ascension Sunday parking lot usually has plenty of open spaces.

Sad...

Why is it that the Ascension of Jesus gets the short shrift? One has to look at the modern worldview:
1) Heaven is no longer considered to be a place in the sky.
2) The early Christians made the story up.
3) People don't rise up into the sky without a rocket motor.
I'll give our guest preacher two thumbs up for his apologetic.
As he reminded the congregation today, "You say it every time you repeat the Nicene Creed, 'He ascended into Heaven.'"

How can the same people who claim to believe in the incarnation deny the ascension?