Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Was The Most Reluctant Convert?

I used to think that I was the most reluctant convert. As a teenager, I fought the Lord, and the Lord won. My struggle lasted seven years, but C.S. Lewis' lasted much longer as I learned this past weekend after attending a play in Charlotte,

This production by Max McLean was much like his earlier excellent dramatizations of "The Screwtape Letters" which I saw in NYC and "The Great Divorce" which I also saw in Charlotte.

In "The Most Reluctant Convert" C.S.Lewis speaks to the audience and relates his early life and upbringing through the time of his conversion which occurred after he was established at Oxford. I found myself relating in some ways to Lewis' struggle, but while he was an intellectual whose private education grounded him in literature, Greek, Latin, and logical discourse, my education was in the American style in which all are forced to study a wide range of subjects: science, mathematics, social studies, English, foreign language,  etc. We excel at creating "masters of none" in American High Schools. Our young folk must look to specialize after they gain admittance to a university, and even then young adults usually have to take required courses that are not in their major field. I have always assumed this is intended to produce a more well-rounded adult. I am not sure that is always desirable. C.S. Lewis turned out okay in spite of or because of his more directed educational experience.

Although Lewis' arguments against Christianity as presented by McLean were not identical to mine (in large part due to our differing upbringings, education, and natures), I found myself relating to the forces influencing the young mind to keep up its opposition to God. No matter what argument an apologist tries on a reluctant, or like Lewis and myself, a combative potential convert, something has to happen to that individual apart from the action of the apologist. Max McLean presented that something using his hands demonstrating Lewis having his heart opened by God. Following that, McLean stated that Lewis did exactly what I did. He got down on his knees and for the first time really prayed, confessing the sins against God and his Word and accepting his forgiveness.

For me, the take home message of the story is that God comes to each of us as individuals, He might use our friends, and He breaks down our defenses in a highly individualized way, using the Gospel, but we always must accept Him on his terms, not ours.

In the course of the play, there was much, much more to chew on, some of which was serious and some of which was presented with a touch of humor. I highly recommend this show to Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike. Indeed, the audience in Charlotte contained a large number of church groups from denominational as well as non-denominational congregations. I believe most attendees were not Anglicans.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can't Hear What Ain't Been Said

You probably didn't hear it if you attend a church which uses the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), but Jesus quoted Isaiah in the verses that got cut from this Sunday's Gospel reading where the prophet accuses the people of being blind and deaf in their ability to perceive God and his directions. Regular visitors to this blog would have spotted the omission in  the RCL selection, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, right away.

First, we will read the passages as they were presented in church today which contained the parable of the sower and its explanation,

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’....
...‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Now I will admit that it flows nicely once you cut out the missing verses, but look at the challenges contained in the section that got the ax,

Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:“You will indeed listen, but never understand,   and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull,   and their ears are hard of hearing,     and they have shut their eyes;     so that they might not look with their eyes,   and listen with their ears,and understand with their heart and turn—   and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
Here are some of the challenges that the average preacher will not have to address,

  •  To the average listener, knowledge of the kingdom of heaven has not been given.
  •  From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
  •  The people are blind, deaf, and can't understand Jesus' message.
  •  The people are not blessed because they have dull hearts, deaf ears, and shut eyes.
  •  All the people need to do is open their eyes and ears to understand and be healed.
  •  The disciples are blessed because they have been open to Jesus' message.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this chapter of Matthew, takes up the challenge and preaches the words that most pewsitters in RCL churches will never hear,

That seeing, hearing, and understanding, are necessary to conversion; for God, in working grace, deals with men as men, as rational agents; he draws with the cords of a man, changes the heart by opening the eyes, and turns from the power of Satan unto God, by turning first from darkness to light, (Acts 26:18). 2. All those who are truly converted to God, shall certainly be healed by him. “If they be converted I shall heal them, I shall save them:” so that if sinners perish, it is not to be imputed to God, but to themselves; they foolishly expected to be healed, without being converted. 3. It is just with God to deny his grace to those who have long and often refused the proposals of it, and resisted the power of it. Pharaoh, for a good while, hardened his own heart (Exod. 8:15, 32), and afterwards God hardened it, Matt. 9:12; 10:20. Let us therefore fear, lest by sinning against the divine grace, we sin it away.

While we might try to scrape by with the excuse that, "We never heard about that", in this day and age, there is no excuse. Keeping the Bible shut is just as bad as keeping your eyes shut to the sight of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Episcopal Priests Gone Bad

In the current issue of "Episcopal Priests Gone Bad", we have a North Carolina rector cruising through Florida in his Corvette accused of pulling a handgun on someone in an apparent road rage incident.
"William Rian Adams was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon this past July 5th in Martin County.
Adams listed his occupation as a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher, North Carolina.
According to an FHP (Florida Highway Patrol) incident report, Adams was driving a newer model Corvette and attempted a brake check in front of the victim’s Silverado.
As the victims attempted to pass the Corvette, FHP says Adams pointed a semi-automatic hand gun at the victim." MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. (CBS 12)
A look at Calvary Episcopal's web page shows that they are proudly "Welcoming and Affirming". Pointing a gun at another driver is neither welcoming or affirming.

To the uninitiated, "Welcoming and Affirming" means that they are all on board with the LGBT agenda. The consequence of this stance is falling attendance, and as the stats below show, the parish average Sunday attendance has dropped from approximately 210 in 2005 to approximately 140 in 2015.

Such a precipitous decline should be enough to enrage anyone.

Still, it is a good sized parish by TEc standards, and it is doing well enough for the Rector to afford to drive a Corvette.

My advice to anyone visiting this church is to be sure to empty your wallet when the offering plate is passed around because the ushers might be packing heat, and the rector's discretionary fund is going to need more cash.

I wonder, how do they practice passing the peace? 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Did You Miss Hearing Jesus at His Sharpest This Sunday Morning?

This Sunday's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) selection for the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:16-19,25-30, provides another example of how the RCL removes verses which the docile Sunday morning sheep might find offensive. First, read the Gospel as most pewsitters heard it,

"‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
   we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’"
I suspect most preachers will focus on the last verse because it fits with the current trend to picture Jesus as a softie who never threatens people with damnation.

And thanks to the RCL, the Sunday sheep missed Jesus at his sharpest. Just read the omitted text,

"Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,will you be exalted to heaven?   No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’"
An important part of the Gospel message that churchgoers should be hearing is, "Repent or else", but instead all they hear on a typical summer Sunday is something similar to, "Don't worry, be happy".

Always remember to read the whole Gospel, not just the bits and pieces someone else wants you to hear.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

S.O.S.: Sinking Diocese Grabs Millstone

Okay, imagine you are on a sinking ship. Most of us would be trying to secure all watertight doors, minimize flooding, unload ballast, and prepare the lifeboats. Who in their right mind would want to add more dead weight to the bridge? That would seem to increase the risk of capsizing and taking all hands down to Davy Jones' locker.
"In some stories, evil and wicked sailors who died at sea were locked up in the chest (locker) by Davy Jones and had to spend eternity trapped in there."
Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Diego may be headed in that direction because their diocese is such a sinking ship. Just take a look at the following plot of membership and Sunday attendance from 2005-2015 (source the Episcopal organization's statistics page),

During much of this time period Katharine Jefferts Schori served as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal group (2006-2015), and during her tenure her Episcopal organization shrunk dramatically. At the same time, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego shepherded approximately 7000 members into lifeboats while their Sunday attendance sank by 3500 souls.

So what is the logical thing for Episcopal San Diegans to do in response? This, of course,

"Katharine Jefferts Schori to be Assisting Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego"

They are so pleased that they released the following statement to the world,

"We are excited to announce the selection of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as our assisting bishop. Bishop Jefferts Schori will begin her tenure with us on August 13. She will serve three-quarters time performing episcopal functions such as visitations, confirmations, ordinations, and receptions. She will share with the standing committee the task of providing leadership and vision for the diocese and shall generally perform the functions of a diocesan bishop as delegated to her by the standing committee in its capacity as the ecclesiastical authority during the transition. She will work closely with the executive council as well."

So instead of reaching for a life ring, the sheeple of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego are grasping for a millstone.

They should have signaled the Carpathia with an S.O.S.

I heard a sermon once in which the rector went on and on about how dumb sheep are. I thought then that the rector went overboard, but observing the sheer stupidity of the sheeple of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, I see that he was right.

Or maybe that one needs to be re-written as "All we like lemmings".

Wallace Hartley where are you when I need you? 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Slaves of Righteousness

This Sunday's Epistle reading is from Romans 6:12-23. In it, Paul reasons that even though we are saved and no longer under "the law", we are slaves of righteousness and therefore should not fall to the temptation of sin.

"Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Alas, I think we are still slaves of sin. This should make us desire all the more to serve Christ as slaves of righteousness, and it should make us all the more grateful for his tender mercy.

Or as Paul goes on to conclude in Romans 7:24-25,

"Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Do the Trans-gendered Need a Special Church Ceremony?

The Church of England will hold a General Synod from July 7 - July 11 this year, and one of the topics subject to debate is how to create ‘baptism-style’ services to celebrate a transgender person's transition all because someone who was going through that process felt that God might not recognize him/her/it.

The paper to be presented can be found here. The motion that is up for discussion is being presented by The Revd Chris Newlands,

Welcoming Transgender People: 
"That this Synod, recognizing the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition."
 "The Blackburn Diocesan Synod Motion was prompted by a pastoral encounter with a young transgender person that took place in Lancaster Priory. I will call him 'George' (not his real name) as he does not wish to receive any unwanted attention at this time. George was wrestling with the spiritual dimension of what was happening to him as he was coming to the end of his process of transition from inhabiting a female body since the time of his birth to his present state as a man, following the long process oftransition. He felt the need to “reintroduce himself to God, with his new name and gender identity.” 
In addition there is a separate background note from the Secretary General of the Synod. In it he states that if anything gets approved, it won't be a "re-baptism",
It is a fundamental belief of the Church that baptism can only be received once. There is therefore no possibility of the Synod approving a form of service for there-baptism of transgendered persons in their new gender who have already beenbaptised. Nor could material to that end be commended for use by clergy inexercise of their discretion under Canon B.5.2 - Canon B.5.3 since these Canons make clear that all forms of service used under that provision “shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”.
He comes up with a clever but potentially dangerous "generous pastoral response",
"The Common Worship library of Church of England services already includes an
authorized form of service for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith.
This service refers to the fact that the individual has already been baptised, asks them to repeat their baptismal vows and re-affirm their faith. The focal point of this service is on the individual’s faith in Jesus Christ, rather than on the individual’s name or gender
– regardless of whether or not it was different from when they were baptised."
Most importantly we can't have it look like a second baptism,
"This provision responds to requests for more vivid recognition of post-baptismal experiences of personal renewal and commitment withoutgiving any appearance of a second baptism."
So is he ruling out the possibility of coming up with a new liturgy for those "transitioning"? In typical CofE style, not entirely,
"If the Synod passed the Diocesan Synod Motion as drafted, the House of Bishops would need to consider whether some additional liturgical materials should be prepared to supplement what is already provided for in Common Worship. One way of achieving that could be by the House commending prayers and other suitable material for use by the clergy in the exercise of their discretion under Canon B 5 – an approach which would not involve any formal process beyond a decision being taken by the House. Alternatively the House might conclude that existing liturgical materials provided sufficient flexibility to meet this pastoral need ,as in paragraph above."
Why, in the Church, is so hard to just say, "No"?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Go Tell It On the Roof Top

This Sunday's Gospel reading, Matthew 10:24-39, contains more of Jesus' instructions to the twelve who he was sending out to the lost sheep of Israel. Like last Sunday, preachers are presented with some challenging material and it will be interesting to see what they choose to expound upon and what they choose to ignore.

"‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 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.'"
The gist of the message is for the disciples to proclaim the Gospel whatever the cost. If we take seriously the costs listed in the verses above, most of us might reconsider our level of commitment to the Church. After all, this passage comes on the heels of Mother's Day and Father's Day here in the U.S., and now we read that we have to love Jesus more than we love our parents! I am sure that was just as hard for the twelve to swallow then as it is for us today. To modern ears, ears that have heard of the dangers of cults and how cult leaders get their followers to separate themselves completely from their parents, Jesus' teachings might sound scary. If anyone needs reassurance, let me make it clear that Jesus is not advocating separation. He is asking us to love Him above all else, and what that means in practice is that we will love others more than we ever could have before we were born anew.

So go tell it on the roof top, that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Annual Summer Solstice Service Roundup

Each year I do a brief search for Episcopal parishes that celebrate the Summer Solstice. These services just don't seem to go away. There is a growing trend to call the gathering a "Celtic" event. In fact, it seems that Episcopalians are fascinated by the idea of "Celtic spirituality" without any idea of what Celtic spirituality really is. According to Britannica, what we know about Celtic religion is from syncretism between the Romans, the Celts/Gauls, and Christianity. Episcopal attempts at further syncretism are probably not going lead any druids to Christ but may keep progressive Episcopalians happy for an hour or two.

Oh yes, did I forget to mention that you have to have a labyrinth to have a Summer Solstice service these days? Not exactly Celtic, but a nice touch. ;-)

Celtic Celebration of Eucharist for Summer Solstice
by St. David's Episcopal ChurchDESCRIPTION:
The Fire in Our Hearts
Invigorate your spiritual journey as we give thanks for the longest day of the year by sharing an evening of prayer, song and Christian Communion.
Enjoy fellowship at the potluck snack reception which follows.
Saint Boniface Episcopal on Siesta Key SUMMER SOLSTICE LABYRINTH WALKLet us celebrate Summer Solstice on June 21 at 7:00 p.m. at our labyrinth.  Bring your journal, if you use one, or something in which to write.  We'll walk the labyrinth and ponder this question: "We are all spiritual beings. How is God calling you to express your spirituality?" Not walked a labyrinth before, but are curious about this?? Come along! We will help you get started.

Saint Andrew's SeattleSummer Solstice Labyrinth WalkJune 21 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pmGather in Parish Hall or at the LabyrinthCome celebrate the Summer Solstice by experiencing God’s presence as you walk the sacred path of our beautiful St. Andrew’s Labyrinth on the First Avenue side of the church grounds. June 21 is the day of the year where the sun is at the highest point over the equator and, hence, the longest day and the shortest night. We can think of the solstice as a spiritual time reminding us of God’s eternal light and the gift of new beginnings. As we walk the labyrinth, we open ourselves to whatever gifts or lessons the labyrinth may offer. It is an opportunity to slow down and become aware of the beauty and tranquility that can be found both within and outside of us. For those who would like it, there will be some brief instruction in the Parish Hall at 6:30. You are welcome to walk the labyrinth at any time.
Facilitated by ****** *****, St. Andrew’s parishioner who has long loved labyrinths and who served on the Sacred Grounds Labyrinth Design Committee.
Chapel open for silent prayer during Solstice Labyrinth WalkOn the night of the labyrinth walk, June 21, the chapel will be open for unfacilitated silent prayer from 5:30-8:30 pm. You are welcome to sit before and/or after your labyrinth walk.

St. John the Divine Episcopal Burlington Wisconsin is looking for a priest so,
 The 2017 Summer Solstice Auction and Celebration has been rescheduled for June 2018.

St. Giles Episcopal Summer Solstice Labyrinth Walk - June 21
We'll gather to walk the labyrinth (south end of the property, behind the education building) on the evening of June 21 at 7:30, to welcome summer and celebrate God's gift of seasons. All are welcome! Look for upcoming announcements of future walks later this summer!  

St. Brigit Episcopal Frederick CO.
Ait Caol Summer Solstice ServiceWe invite you to indulge in a very special time of spiritual sanctuary and renewal as we celebrate the longest day of the year! Our service will offer prayer, live Celtic music, and a walking meditation to various sacred spaces, including our outdoor labyrinth. *In the Celtic Tradition,  "thin place" is a location where the wall between this world and the next is very thin, where the holy is palpable.

As I explored the web pages of parishes that are holding these services I noticed that most of them declare that they are "welcoming" (meaning pro LGBT agenda) and some even listed Gay Pride parades on their event calendars.

I don't think this new-age syncretism will survive long as the Episcopal organization continues its slow death spiral towards becoming just a footnote in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

You received without payment; give without payment

Today's Gospel reading from Matthew 9:35-10:23 contains Jesus' instructions to the twelve disciples on how to minister to the lost sheep of Israel along with his warnings to them of the dangers they were going to face.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ 
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town. 
‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
There is so much in these verses that I suspect many preachers will just focus on a point or two. What they omit may be the most telling. I for one cannot recall having ever heard a sermon in an Episcopal church in which "shaking the dust from one's feet" was even mentioned. I guess those preachers were afraid that to do so might result in a mass exodus from the pews.

Similarly, I have never heard, "You received without payment; give without payment" included in any of the approximately 3000 sermons that I have endured.

I guess that is because the sermon is delivered before the plate is passed around and the preacher didn't want to give the pewsitters any ideas. ;-)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Surprising Research Result: Fear of Loss of Autonomy is the Primary Motivation for Euthanasia; Is that fear a sin?

Whenever I read a research article about euthanasia, A.K.A. Physician Assisted Dying (PAD) or Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS), I get the feeling that I am reading a report from Dr. Mengele. Canadian researchers recently reported their experience with what they call "Medical Assistance in Dying" (MAID) which is legal in Canada. The movement in the U.S. to have similar laws passed by individual states has been gaining momentum, and my worry is that Medicare, the U.S. version of government-run healthcare, will start paying for euthanasia in the states in which it is legal and the system will eventually be forced to extend the "right" to euthanasia to everyone. The Canadian report, "Medical Assistance in Dying — Implementing a Hospital-Based Program in Canada" in the May 25, 2017 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is chillingly cold and clinical, including a flow chart outlining the process in order that other hospitals might replicate the program. The report is available only by subscription so I cannot provide a link, but the important conclusion they reached was this,
“Those who received MAID tended to be white and relatively affluent and indicated that loss of autonomy was the primary reason for their request,” the report states. “Other common reasons included the wish to avoid burdening others or losing dignity and the intolerability of not being able to enjoy one’s life. Few patients cited inadequate control of pain or other symptoms.”
This was unexpected since most of the campaigns for euthanasia, PAD, or PAS that I have seen emphasize the relief of uncontrolled pain and suffering as their primary goals. I have yet to hear a pro-euthanasia proposal that puts autonomy at the top of the list of factors as to why people should support legalization of these procedures.

Autonomy (per Wikipedia) is derived from the ancient Greek word: αὐτονομία autonomia from αὐτόνομος autonomos from αὐτο- auto- "self" and νόμος nomos, "law", and means "one who gives oneself one's own law". I believe it originally used to refer to the autonomous rule of the city-states of ancient Greece.

"Autonomy" to the modern Canadian and American probably means something similar to "one who gives oneself one's own law".  It is somewhat akin to social relativism and moral relativism in that each individual makes his or her own rules and the rest of us are supposed to be supportive no matter what the end result might be. In practice, it means that "I am in control of every part of my life including my death even if it means you (the doctor or nurse) must insert the needle and/or prescribe the drugs". Autonomy has become a modern virtue, and the loss of it is felt by those seeking euthanasia to be a fate worse than death.

As Christians, autonomy may mean something completely different. We have accepted Jesus as Lord, and we recognize that we are no longer in control,
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?" 1 Corinthians 6:19 (NRSV)
See also,
"and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20 (NRSV)
Why do people fear a "loss of autonomy"? Maybe it is a just primitive instinct that they are unable to overcome, maybe they are agnostic or atheistic and have been operating under the delusion that they have some sort of control over their lives, or maybe they are Christians but have not fully given things over to God and have never completely accepted that God is the one who is in control, and that is not a place Christians should want to be. 

Bill Muehlenberg  in his commentary, The Grievous Sin of Autonomy (Apr 10, 2014) wrote that such autonomy is a horrendous sin,
"But in the biblical and spiritual sense, autonomy means something quite different: it is not a virtue at all, but a horrendous sin. The biblical worldview posits a God who is there, who has created all things, and expects of his moral creatures a loyalty, dependency, and obedience at all times.
The essence of the Fall, and of all sin, is personal autonomy – the idea that we do not need God, that we can pretend we can live a life totally apart from God, and that we in fact are the centre of the universe. That rejection of reliance upon and complete dependency on God is the height of what sin means – a radical independence of God and his standards."
It would have been helpful if the Canadian researchers had included a spiritual assessment in their study so that we could see if there was any association between religious affiliation, church attendance, or faith in God and the fear of loss of autonomy.

The growing acceptance of euthanasia (no matter what the euphemistic acronym) is evidence that the world is in desperate need of the Good News that God is always with us, and He is in control, not us.

And yes, we will die, but we have nothing to fear as long as we have given our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls to Him. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday vs the Great Commission

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and the reading is from Matthew 28:16-20. While we hear Jesus announcing the Holy Trinity, this is more about spreading the good news of that Trinity.
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’"
This passage should be committed to heart as it provides a scriptural basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, and it contains our marching orders to make disciples. to baptize, to teach obedience. and to remember Jesus as a continuing, living presence.

I am curious as to how much emphasis today's preachers placed on the Trinity vs the Great Commission.

Many might shy away from the Great Commission because of the difficulties and perils involved in carrying out Jesus' final instruction. For one thing, our own house is not in order. If we could get baptized Christians of today to agree on how we obey Jesus' commands, then maybe we could go out to the nations more effectively.

We Anglicans are a royal mess led by Welby the Weak who can't seem to spread the Gospel when he meets persons who do not share the Faith. He needs to study this passage the next time he speaks to the Muslims of his nation.

I confess that I need to do better in my own encounters with unbelievers.

Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Leftovers: Embryos Turned Into Jewelry

"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best." Judges 21:25 (NAB)
The modern world seems to be operating like we were still in the time of Judges 21. Fewer and fewer people attend church regularly, fewer still read the Bible regularly, and more and more people are left to figure things out for themselves, particularly when it comes to sticky ethical issues. Left to their own devices, the things folks come up with can be frightening. 

Now I have been totally creeped-out. An Australian company is making jewelry out of unused embryos. These are the extra in-vitro fertilized embryos that were to be implanted if earlier attempts at pregnancy were unsuccessful. What to do with these embryos has always been an ethical issue with the whole in-vitro deal. I do not know the belief system that the following person is operating under, but I assume this is not something the Church would teach. Here is her rationale, 
“Donating our embryos wasn’t an option for us and I couldn’t justify the yearly storage fee."
“I’d heard others had planted them in the garden but we move a lot, so I couldn’t do this."
“I needed them with me.”
“My embryos were my babies - frozen in time."
“When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them."
“Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.”
If it were me, donation of the embryos to another couple might be the only option that I can think of that I would be able to live with.

Donation for research would be unacceptable.

Planting them in the garden or turning them into jewelry are just two different ways of destroying them.

Wearing them around my neck is just plain creepy.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Glitter Pentecost: "Pentecost is all about diversity"

This Sunday we recall the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded 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."
Around here, folks traditionally wear red when they attend church on the Day of Pentecost.

My how things have changed. Religion News reports that more colors are being added by our LGBT friends,

"Fast forward to today’s Pentecost, add a specially crafted liturgy, prayers, blessings and bags of red, gold, orange and black glitter to make what Parity, a New York-based LGBT advocacy group, hopes will be a way to affirm LGBT Christians.
The Pentecost project is a 'collaboration' between Parity and Queer Virtue, an LGBT-affirming organization founded by Rev. Elizabeth Edmund, an Episcopal priest and activist. 
'Pentecost’s liturgical color is red, but the other colors are there to represent diversity, which is what Pentecost is all about,' said Marian Edmonds-Allen, Parity’s executive director. 'It is about the diversity in the church, which is beautiful, just as all of us humans are beautiful in our diversity.' 
As Edmonds-Allen says and anyone who has ever cleaned up after a glittery craft project knows, glitter 'never gives up.' It has a special power, she said, when applied to the forehead by another person. 
'People love to experience the personal touch, especially people who are queer and haven’t been to church in a long time,' she said. 'They haven’t had someone look them in the eye and say, God loves you, just as you are, and when they do, it is very powerful.'”
Oh yeah, Pentecost is all about diversity. It has nothing to do with the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit. "Diversity" demands of  God to "love me just as I am", a sinner in no need of a Saviour.

I am still looking for a scriptural reference for that one.

If anybody assaults me with glitter this Sunday, I'm filing charges!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Welby the Weak

In 2015 I noted how un-evangelical the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, acted when speaking to a group of mostly Muslim school children.  
The Archbishop faced a number of “challenging” questions from pupils at the Church of England school (St Alban’s Academy in Highgate), where 80 per cent of its pupils are Muslim.
Answering a pupil who asked whether he would encourage him to convert from Islam to Christianity, the Archbishop said: “I am not going to put pressure on you, and I wouldn’t expect you to put pressure on me.” (BirminghamMail)
So I was not surprised when in May of 2017 he posted a video message to Muslims a few days after the terrorist attack in Manchester blessing them and wishing them a "very good Ramadan".

The appropriate Christian response to Islam is to correct its error and to spread the good news of Jesus as Lord. To do otherwise is to deny the Trinity. Weak responses to Islam such as wishing people a "very good Ramadan" only serve to legitimize the heresy. 

When he was announced as Archbishop it was said that he was an "evangelical". 

The word must mean something different in England.

From now on, he will be announced as "Welby the Weak".

Sunday, May 28, 2017

I am not asking on behalf of the world

This Sunday's reading is from John 17:1-11, and in it Jesus prepares his disciples for his ascension,

"After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.'"

Jesus' prayer to God for his disciples,
"...protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
has been considered somewhat problematic since Jesus is leaving out the rest of the world,
"I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me"
Readers should not be dismayed because by the time we get to John 17:20 (not heard today in church) Jesus adds,
"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;"
Matthew Henry in his Concise Commentary puts it this way,
Christ prays for those that are his. Thou gavest them me, as sheep to the shepherd, to be kept; as a patient to the physician, to be cured; as children to a tutor, to be taught: thus he will deliver up his charge. It is a great satisfaction to us, in our reliance upon Christ, that he, all he is and has, and all he said and did, all he is doing and will do, are of God. Christ offered this prayer for his people alone as believers; not for the world at large. Yet no one who desires to come to the Father, and is conscious that he is unworthy to come in his own name, need be discouraged by the Saviour's declaration, for he is both able and willing to save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him. Earnest convictions and desires, are hopeful tokens of a work already wrought in a man; they begin to evidence that he has been chosen unto salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. They are thine; wilt thou not provide for thine own? Wilt thou not secure them? Observe the foundation on which this plea is grounded, All mine are thine, and thine are mine. This speaks the Father and Son to be one. All mine are thine. The Son owns none for his, that are not devoted to the service of the Father.

Reading the whole chapter always helps. Just the same, the prayer is for Jesus' disciples and those who will come to believe in him thanks to the ministry of those disciples and not for those who are unrepentant and who reject him. For them we shall pray to be given the strength and courage to spread the Gospel ourselves to that unbelieving world which lacks the protection and unity that we have in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Anti-Semitic Films Shown at the Washington National Cathedral/Mosque

The National Cathedral in Washington DC is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and has been dishing out the Kool-Aid of progressive, revisionist theology for years. As a physical structure, it is an impressive sight, but due to the cancerous theology slowly eating away at its foundations, I can no longer visit the building. The contents of today's blog post nailed the lid on the coffin for one of my friends who has also cordoned off the site as a "no-go zone".

"The Occupation of the American Mind" is an 82 min film that was shown on March 05, 2017 in the Perry Auditorium of the Washington National Cathedral. This film's theme is that Americans have been lied to and brainwashed by the media (who are mere pawns in the hands of Zionists) and that it is the Jews who are the bad guys in the Middle East. 

Reports from Jihad Watch are that this was just one film out of a series promoted by the National Cathedral that follows the same theme. It is unconscionable that any Christian group sponsor such anti-Semitic propaganda. The possible intent of these presentations may be to weaken Episcopalian resistance to any "Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions" (BDS) resolutions that might be brought forward to the next General Convention (GC) of the Episcopal organization thirteen months from now. 

At the last General Convention, resolutions that would have started the Episcopal organization on the slippery slope towards BDS were rejected, much to the chagrin of the Rev. Winnie Varghese (Trinity Wall Street) whose comments can be found in her Huff Post article of 07/10/2015 titled "Episcopal Bishops Did Not Reject Divestment from Israel"
"We didn’t mention Boycott, Divestment, or Sanctions because we don’t believe that is where we are as a church."
(Readers please note that whenever a revisionist uses the words "where we are as a church", what they really mean is "where we need to be as a church")
"However, those who oppose any criticism of Israel, ever, made sure to claim that it was Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions that was being considered every time they spoke of our resolution. It was dishonest, but they were successful. They even got a headline that The New York Times picked up. Maybe a grateful lobbyist will get them another first class airfare to Israel and those awesome international frequent flyers miles."
 Doesn't that sound a lot like what is being preached in "The Occupation of the American Mind"?
"We have been targeted as a church before because of the perceived impact of mainline Protestants on public morality. The Institute for Religion and Democracy targeted us for a decade to try to force a split on sexuality. They are currently targeting other mainline traditions. The tactic is to keep us from hearing our own members and acting on our own beliefs, and it tends to be successful.
We are currently being targeted by advocacy groups whose agenda is to insure no public criticism of Israel, none, not of occupation; illegal settlement; or illegal attack." 
Remember the Rev. Winnie Varghese? She is an Episcopal lesbian Indian-American who was featured in the past at the Huffington Post in a piece called,  "Celebrating The Holy: Marriage Equality As Sacrament." 

Outlook India once did an article on her in which they wrote, 

"Winnie would like to see activists again on the steps and in the graveyard of St Marks like in the sixties, and in the days leading up to the Iraq war. 'Spirituality for me is very embodied. It's who we are on this earth, and how we treat each other on this planet.'"
"Divestment" in anything owned by an Israeli will probably be on the Episcopal General Convention agenda again in 2018. A task force will have to be appointed, and "The Occupation of the American Mind" will likely become part of the curriculum at Episcopal seminaries.

"Boycott" will be saved for 2021 and a resolution to create materials for congregations will be passed. The film series shown earlier at the National Cathedral will be asked to be circulated at the parish level.

"Sanctions" will be tabled until 2014 after which time activists will once again be seen on the steps and in the graveyard of St. Mark's.

If anyone is in the business of spreading lies and trying to brainwash people it is the clergy and staff of the Washington National Cathedral/Mosque by showing these anti-Semitic films.

The more the Cathedral staff continues to promote the Islamic worldview, the closer the Washington National Cathedral comes to becoming the Washington National Mosque. How their liberal minds can side with the same folks who provide us with suicide bombers and ISIS is a mystery to me.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The World is Blind

This Sunday's Gospel reading was John 14:15-21
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because it is blind and ignorant.

As part of the world I find that frightening.

Knowing Jesus, I am no longer frightened for myself, but worry about the world.

Too many Christians want to make the world a better place through social activism, but that just deepens the blindness of the world.

It should be obvious that we need to open people's eyes to Jesus, and to teach them his gospel so that they, as part of this broken world, can have the Spirit of truth abide in them too.

Now that would be world changing.

Please turn on your speakers, sit back and relax as the Cambridge singers under John Rutter perform "If Ye Love Me" by Thomas Tallis from 1560,

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Duke Divinity School professor of Catholic theology resigns after calling out the "illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies" of diversity training

As someone who has been required to attend a "Diversity Training" exercise, I have to agree with Duke Divinity School professor of Catholic theology Paul Griffiths that such "training" is a colossal waste of time, and while being good-intentioned, it often teaches a liberal ideology which must be accepted and followed if one wishes to remain employed.

The story from the Washington Times.
"The theologian created a firestorm on the Durham, North Carolina, campus this year when he responded to a facultywide email, sent by associate professor Anathea Portier-Young, that encouraged attendance at a two-day anti-racism program."
“I exhort you not to attend this training,” Mr. Griffiths wrote in the Feb. 6 email. “Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, cliches, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show.”
The dean of Duke Divinity School, Edith Heath, confirms those "illiberal and totalitarian tendencies" in the following words,
"She condemned Mr. Griffiths for using mass email 'in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree.''The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution,' she wrote in the email, also sent Feb. 6.
I would consider calling Professor Griffiths a racist, a sexist, and a bigot, offensive and unacceptable, especially from someone in charge of a Christian institution. Her character assassinations add to a complaint from associate professor Anathea Portier-Young (who had sent out the original e-mail encouraging participation in the diversity training),
Ms. Portier-Young filed a complaint with the Office for Institutional Equity claiming the use of “racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace,”
In addition, Valerie Cooper, Duke Divinity School associate professor of religion and society. accused Professor Griffiths of "academic malpractice",
“As you read Prof. Paul Griffiths‘ complaint, below, please bear in mind that Duke University has a clear statement in favor of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Ms. Cooper wrote on Facebook this month. “Because this statement *is* Duke University policy, being against diversity isn’t an issue of academic freedom. It is academic malpractice. If you can’t abide by Duke’s policies, you shouldn’t work for Duke.”
"Diversity" at Duke Divinity School obviously is noninclusive and nonequitable when it comes to diversity of opinion.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Slaughter of the Psalms

Once again I must say a few words about the faults of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The selections from the Bible that are read on Sunday mornings in churches that follow the RCL are often shortened. or chopped up and rearranged such that the average pewsitter is not given a chance to think about the original contexts and traditional understandings of scripture.

This Sunday is no exception.
31 In te, Domine, speravi 
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
4 Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, for you are my tower of strength.
5 Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me,O Lord, O God of truth.
15 My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies,and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me."

That is what we call around here, "Sunday Morning Sweet Milk". The pewsitters have no clue as to why the psalmist has to take refuge in the Lord. There is just one mention of the psalmist's enemies, and no mention at all of the retribution that will face them. For that, you have to read the complete psalm.

1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold;
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
4 Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength.
5 Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me, 
O Lord, O God of truth.6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols, and I put my trust in the Lord.
7 I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy; for you have seen my affliction;you know my distress.
8 You have not shut me up in the power of the enemy; you have set my feet in an open place.
9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow,and also my throat and my belly.
10 For my life is wasted with grief,and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction,and my bones are consumed.
11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies andeven to my neighbors,a dismay to those of my acquaintance; when they see me in the street they avoid me.
12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot.
13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;fear is all around; they put their heads together against me;they plot to take my life.
14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. I have said, "You are my God. 
15 My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine upon your servant,
and in your loving-kindness save me." 
17 Lord, let me not be ashamed for having called upon you; rather, let the wicked be put to shame;let them be silent in the grave.
18 Let the lying lips be silenced which speak againstthe righteous, haughtily, disdainfully, and with contempt.
19 How great is your goodness, O Lord!which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have done in the sight of allfor those who put their trust in you.
20 You hide them in the covert of your presence from thosewho slander them; you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
21 Blessed be the Lord! for he has shown me the wonders of his love in abesieged city.
22 Yet I said in my alarm,"I have been cut off from the sight of your eyes." Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreatywhen I cried out to you.
23 Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful,but repays to the full those who act haughtily.
24 Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.

Words like, "I hate those, let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in the grave, let the lying lips be silenced", are considered imprecatory verses, and these are the kinds of things that are typically not included in the Sunday church services of most mainline denominations.

Verses 9-14 remind me of the afflictions of Job,
9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow,and also my throat and my belly.10 For my life is wasted with grief,and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction,and my bones are consumed.11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies andeven to my neighbors,a dismay to those of my acquaintance; when they see me in the street they avoid me.12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot.13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;fear is all around; they put their heads together against me;they plot to take my life.14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. I have said, "You are my God. 
These were not included in Sunday's expurgated version of Psalm 31. In them we see the reasons why the psalmist takes refuge in the Lord. To our fault, it is usually only in times of despair like those the psalmist is experiencing, that we turn to the Lord, and this is a lesson that is lost when the psalm is mutilated.

The Sunday sweet milk is not what we should be seeking. As we are reminded in the opening verses from another of today's RCL selections, 1 Peter 2:2-3,
2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 
3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Lord forgive us for our sins of omission. Give us wisdom to drink from all of your holy words.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Death of Words: "Religion" and "Religious"

One of my favorite themes to look out for in our ever changing culture is the changing meaning of words. The changes occur subtly and gain a momentum such that most people are unaware of the fact that they are playing a role in a far greater game than simple word-play. 

The following example across my desk recently,
"Religion is for people who are scared to go to Hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there." - Bonnie Raitt.
The singer/song-writer has defined "religion" for the modern age.

The Oxford Dictionary explains that the word has an older and perhaps now lost meaning.
"Middle English (originally in the sense ‘life under monastic vows’): from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence’, perhaps based on Latin religare ‘to bind’."
More commonly but still in Oxford usage the word means,
  • "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods."
  • "A particular system of faith and worship."
  • "A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion."
 Bonnie Raitt and the zeitgeist follow the popular notion that religion, and I presume she is including Christianity, is built on fear of eternal punishment, damnation, and the fires of Hell rather than trust in a God who loves us so much that he would go through Hell himself to save us.

Yes we should fear Hell, but to assume that those who are "spiritual" have already been there and are not setting themselves on a path to go back there is a bit of a stretch.

Again, let's reference Oxford,
Spiritual: Adjective
  • "Relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things."
  • "Having a relationship based on a profound level of mental or emotional communion."
  • "(Of a person) not concerned with material values or pursuits."
  • "Relating to religion or religious belief."
As we see, in the older sense, "spiritual" and "religion/religious" are related.

To the modern singer/songwriter, and to many people today, they are totally unrelated things.

I think this is a change which creates a negative association with "religion" as opposed to the positive connotation given to "spirituality".

The Barna group has studied the "spiritual but not religious" group and concluded,
"By definition, the 'spiritual but not religious' are religiously disinclined, and the data bears this out in a number of ways... 
...It’s one thing to be disinclined, but it’s another to claim harm. The broader cultural resistance to institutions is a response to the view that they are oppressive, particularly in their attempts to define reality. Seeking autonomy from this kind of religious authority seems to be the central task of the “spiritual but not religious” and very likely the reason for their religious suspicion."

"Secondly, as functional outsiders, their view of religious distinctiveness is much looser than their religious counterparts. A majority of both groups (65% and 73%) are convinced that all religions basically teach the same thing, particularly striking numbers compared to evangelicals (1%) and practicing Christians (32%). Again, the “spiritual but not religious” shirk definition. The boundary markers are non-existent, and that’s the point. For them, there is truth in all religions, and they refuse to believe any single religion has a monopoly on ultimate reality."
I think that Bonnie Raitt may be claiming harm from religion, and in so doing she is guilty of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Christian religion has so much to offer, and to throw it out based on a stereotypical assumption that "religious" Christians are obsessed by the rightful fear of Hell is a very dangerous thing to do.

Matthew Henry centuries ago described the baby this way,
“The Christian religion is the religion of sinners, of such as have sinned, and in whom sin in some measure still dwells.
The Christian life is a life of continued repentance, humiliation for and mortification of sin, of continual faith in, thankfulness for, and love to the Redeemer, and hopeful joyful expectation of a day of glorious redemption, in which the believer shall be fully and finally acquitted, and sin abolished for ever.”― Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

When I mourn the death of "religion", I am mourning the loss of the older meanings for the word, for as C.S. Lewis wrote,
"And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten to say." - C.S. Lewis, "The Death of Words" From (C.S. Lewis On Stories, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982, p. 107)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

You may have a fence and a gatekeeper, but bad guys will still get in

This Sunday's reading from John 10:1-10. In it, Jesus tells a story about how sheep are kept safe from predators by keeping them in a gated pen and how sheep and the shepherd interact once the shepherd comes to lead them out to pasture. His followers didn't get it and needed more explanation,
"‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them."
"So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.'"
The gatekeeper's identity is not clear, but we shouldn't worry too much about this because Jesus is the gate and can open himself. Still, a gatekeeper is in the story and various commentators have their opinions. Matthew Henry in his "Concise Commentary" names the "Spirit of Christ" as the one who opens the gate,
"Here is a parable or similitude, taken from the customs of the East, in the management of sheep. Men, as creatures depending on their Creator, are called the sheep of his pasture. The church of God in the world is as a sheep-fold, exposed to deceivers and persecutors. The great Shepherd of the sheep knows all that are his, guards them by his providence, guides them by his Spirit and word, and goes before them, as the Eastern shepherds went before their sheep, to set them in the way of his steps. Ministers must serve the sheep in their spiritual concerns. The Spirit of Christ will set before them an open door. The sheep of Christ will observe their Shepherd, and be cautious and shy of strangers, who would draw them from faith in him to fancies about him."
All of us sheep need to learn how to recognize the shepherd's voice. As far as I can tell, the best way to do this is to study the Bible in the company of other faithful Christians. This also helps us learn how to recognize the thieves and bandits who are always finding a way into the sheepfold around the gate and the gatekeeper.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Rubicon of Homosexual "Marriage"

"Homosexual marriage is the Rubicon that biblical Christians may not cross under any circumstances."Gavin Ashenden
When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river in 49 BC, it marked a turning point in the history of the world. For Caesar, there was no turning back. When Christians cross the Rubicon of homosexual marriage, they leave the "One holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" in which they once professed belief with every recitation of the Nicene Creed. Unlike Caesar, they can cross back over their Rubicon, but how many will do so? Inebriated with the power of going along with the masses, it is unlikely that they will submit themselves to the rule of Christ.

Those of us who continue to blog about same-sex "marriage" are often told to shut up and accept defeat. If we give up the fight and stop discussing the subject, no one will hear the good news that there is a better way and that Jesus told us this when he preached about the male-female relationship.
 “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.” Matthew 19:4-6
 If no one reminds former Christians of these things, few will turn back from their march towards the decadent future that awaits those who cross the Rubicon of homosexual "marriage".

So, we must continue to shout in order to be heard over the roaring waters of this modern day Rubicon in hopes that some might cross back over to Jesus' side.

John Frame of the Reformed Theological Seminary puts it this way in his review of Al Mohler's "We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong",
"For all of this, the rebuke we receive in the title of Mohler’s book rightly commands us to action. I hope that the Christian community will hearken to it. As Christian citizens, we must bring God’s word into the present deplorable situation, lest we be prevented from speaking it at all."

Sunday, April 30, 2017

To Emmaus and Back

This Sunday's Gospel reading was from Luke 24:13-35 and tells the story of two followers of Jesus who met the resurrected Lord as they walked away from Jerusalem, but they did not recognize him.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles (sixty stadia or 7.5 miles and some texts say one hundred and sixty stadia) from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Fifteen miles in one day is a good hike. Sixteen miles on a mountain trail is the most I have done.

The average walking speed of a human is 3.1 miles per hour. So let us say, 7.5 miles to walk to Emmaus, 1 hour for lunch with Jesus, 7.5 miles back to Jerusalem. Total elapsed time for Cleopas and his companion was 5 to 6 hours. Total time with Jesus is not so clear, but for him  to expound on the scriptures and how he was revealed in them probably took a couple of hours. Lucky guys, or were they both guys?

In John 19:25 we see a reference to someone with a very similar name,

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

John spells the name differently. but he may be referring to the same person. Perhaps Cleopas was accompanied by his wife on the road to Emmaus.

I wonder what ever happened to Cleopas, and his wife?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Collective Guilt: Apologizing For Something You Did Not Do

I never will understand why people and organizations feel the need to apologize for somebody else's behavior especially when the actions in question occurred several generations ago and when all of those involved have been dead for a century or more. Yes, the organization may live on, but to whom is it going to apologize (assuming an organization can apologize)? 

I have seen this behavior carried out in the Episcopal organization time and time again, first with apologizing for not ordaining women, then apologizing for any role the church and its members played in slavery, and most recently over the treatment of LGBTs. Two items in the news recently raised the question in my mind, "What does all of this accomplish?"

First, we see in New Orleans the removal of historical monuments related to the War of Northern Aggression. The current mayor, who once was a neighbor to my folks, removed the first of these monuments this week with the eventual goal of removing a prominent statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from what is currently named "Lee Circle". Gen Lee is not alone as other monuments are slated for relocation with him to a dark warehouse somewhere.

One carnival organization took the mayor to task during its Mardi Gras parade with this satirical float which I photographed in their top-secret den prior to its rolling down St. Charles avenue,

Needless to say, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's revisionist actions have raised the ire of historical preservationists while gaining him support from his political base, making him feel good, but polarizing the city, a city that has a long history of avoiding race riots and other consequences of racial divisiveness. Attempts to revise history by erasing the past are just one manifestation of the collective guilt virus.

The apology virus also appears to have infected the Jesuits in which the disease has resulted in a “contrition liturgy". The following is from the Religion News Service,

WASHINGTON (RNS) The leader of the Catholic religious order that helped found Georgetown University addressed more than 100 descendants of slaves and sought their forgiveness.
“Today the Society of Jesus, which helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say: We have greatly sinned, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do,” said the Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.
Georgetown has recently acknowledged it benefited from the sale of more than 250 slaves in 1838 to pay off its debts. On Tuesday (April 18), it apologized for its role in the slave trade during a formal “contrition” liturgy.
Some of the descendants of those slaves spoke during the ceremony, jointly hosted by the school, the Jesuit order and the Archdiocese of Washington. One of their representatives said penance is required, even as forgiveness is sought.
“Penance is very important,” said Sandra Green Thomas, president of the GU272 Descendants Association. “Penance is required when you have violated God’s law.”
In 1838, the school was involved in the sale of 272 slaves who worked on Jesuit plantations in southern Maryland. The sale benefited that state’s Jesuits and paid off debts at a precarious moment for the nation’s oldest Catholic university.
The “Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope,” was steeped in symbolism of time and space. It was held two days after Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and a day after Emancipation Day, a holiday that marks the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862.
CS Lewis dissected the problem of repenting for another when he considered the growing expressions of "national guilt" in England over the possibility that governmental policies may have pushed Germany into starting WWII.

 Young Christians especially last-year undergraduates and first-year curates are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England hears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?
    If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happening) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society. When we speak of England’s actions we mean the actions of the British Government. The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbour. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing but, first, of denouncing the conduct of others. If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity. Unfortunately the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature. By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not ‘they’ but ‘we’. And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called ‘we’ is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice. You can say anything you please about it. You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practising contrition. A group of such young penitents will say, ‘Let us repent our national sins’; what they mean is, ‘Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet. whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.’
C.S. “Jack” Lewis, “Dangers of National Repentance,” The Guardian, 15 March 1940,
Cited from God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 189.
The false sense of having done something good by "repenting" of the sins of an ancestor, an organization, or any remotely related entity to oneself masks the sin of failing to repent of one's own sins.

The present rush to express collective guilt is either a form of madness or as Lewis might put it, it is an abominable play on our emotions suggested by Satan himself.

The only things pulling down historical monuments or issuing apologies in the form of contrition liturgies accomplish are a feeding of the ego and an undeserved a sense of pride in doing what might temporarily increase one's popularity among a constituency.

And the last time I checked, pride was still one of the seven deadly sins.