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.