Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pent Up Costs

I always loved Peter's proof in Acts of the Apostles 2:12-15,

"All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning."

1. The fact that he was able to stand proved that he was not falling down drunk.

2. I wonder if he meant for them to "come back later tonight" to see "serious drinking."

Today we at ECOOS had a post Pentecost meeting during which the vestry presented a brief description of the budget YTD. The good news is that heading into the summer months, we are only $500.00 short. The bad news is that attendance usually drops during the summer as does plate income. We were reminded that the budget was trimmed by $100,000 for 2009 because of a decrease in pledge income. A look back at giving trends and average Sunday attendance for the years up to and including 2007 is found here. This shows a steady rise in income despite a flat or declining Sunday attendance. There was also an interesting rise in baptised members during between 2003 and 2007 that does not jive with the Sunday attendance trend.

I don't think the nefarious and rarely attended "Not Another Episcopal Church Blog" has any thing to do with the numbers. After all, this blog started in June of 2006.

Maybe those baptised members are attending Sunday School and skipping the service. I don't think that has changed, but how is Sunday school doing? (More on that later).

Nor do I accept the rationalization that "All the mainstream denominations are in decline." The Word of God is as powerful today as it was for the Apostles at the time of the Pentecost. The "mainstream" Episcopal Church may have some hidden costs that are keeping people from coming in to hear the Word spoken, praised, and worshipped.

The late Dr. Peter Toon in "Episcopal Innovations 1960-2004" points out the changes this particular mainstream church has taken that weaken the Church's position on things such as sin, divorce, atonement, the Person of Christ, even the Holy Trinity. Many of these things lay in the current "Book of Common Prayer" which since 1979 has indoctrinated an entire generation of Sunday worshippers to a more liberal theology. One small example is the more "inclusive" language in the psalter changing the KJV "Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them." to the BCP 1979 "Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.." (Psalm 84).

Could there also be a cost to the liberal theology we sometimes hear preached such as today's quick reference during the sermon to God as mother?

Could there be a cost to the silence of the congregation when presented with the request to increase their pledge payments? Could there be a cost to the silence in response to the mention that a line of credit from the bank was considered at one point to pay the bills?

Pent up costs accumulate and some day come due with interest, especially to the disinterested.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stinking Bishop

From Yahoo News

In the "hierarchy" of the mythological Anglican "communion" the question is often asked, "Who's in charge here anyway?" Today, I propose a candidate for the position of "The Big Cheese."

"Stinking Bishop has been officially voted Britain's most pungent cheese in the nation's first ever contest.

Britain's Smelliest Cheese Championships were held at The Royal Bath and West Show in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

The Stinking Bishop, made by Charles Martell of Martell and Son in Gloucestershire, was described as smelling like a rugby club changing room.

The judging panel included Chris Rundle, a West country food and drink journalist, and Alec Lawless, perfumier and owner of Essentially Me natural perfumes.

The professional judges were joined by a group of junior judges, children aged 10 and 11 from Wells Cathedral School, who were selected for their sensitive noses.

The panel's chairman, Tim Rowcliffe of Antony Rowcliffe speciality cheeses, said: "The cheeses were all fantastically smelly but Stinking Bishop absolutely knocked us out."

Stinking Bishop is washed in a Gloucestershire perry made from a pear variety called Stinking Bishop. The pear was named after a reprobate farmer with an appalling reputation as a drunkard, who famously shot his kettle when it took too long to boil.

Mr Martell said: 'I'm thrilled and surprised to win. I hope more people will get into eating more speciality cheeses because there are so many in Britain - more than in France.'

Mike Pullin, chair of the Dairy Produce Awards and organiser of the championships said: 'This has been a brilliant opportunity to show off the creativity of British cheese-makers. We've also successfully proved that British speciality cheeses can give the French a run for their money.'

I say, put the Stinking Bishop in charge and let anyone who offends the Church have to face him/her in a small enclosed space for a theological stink off.

Please Lord, when you send us a new Bishop, don't send a stinky one!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Pessimist Manifesto

Pessimists can be difficult to endure, but I have often thought that there was a certain value in pessimism. For instance, when you go to a ball game expecting your team to lose, you are especially thrilled when they win, and you are not terribly disappointed when they lose as predicted. Conversely, the optimist goes to the game and is only mildly satisfied with a victory, but is seriously upset after a loss.

I came across another way of looking at this,

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.

C.S. Lewis, “The Christian View of Suffering,” C.S. Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection
(New York: HarperCollins, 1992), pp. 103–104

What he was getting at was two opposing ways of viewing the world. One in which people believe God has placed us in a spot where we are supposed to be happy and having fun all the time (a Hotel), and the other where we look around a see bad things happening, and we believe we are being punished (a prison). He is imagining that the latter position is probably better for us in the end, for the ultimate optimism is the hope for and promise of eternal life.

I personally lean towards a mixture of pessimism and optimism held in balance. Some days, the world seems to be a wonderful place full of hope for the future, and the next day Homo sapiens sapiens seems doomed to eventual self extinction.

Today is an optimistic day for me thanks to a little reading from the Bible that brought out a musical memory,

John 15:11

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

We Choose to Remember

Today we at ECOOS held a fairly traditional Memorial Day service. I mean, we heard the Collect for Memorial Day, and we did sing "My country tis of Thee..." and the roof did not fall down.

Fr. Foss gave today's sermon. After an unexpected start with the evolution controversy, (because of course we Episcopalians are beyond that)he managed to tie this in with Bishop Duvall's sermon from Thursday. Charlie focused on looking forward rather than backward (backward would be arguing about evolution and the Bible). I thought this tied in with the scripture readings where we are instructed that we shall have eternal life, but I feared we would forget that this is a Memorial Day weekend, and I am still not sure why we should dis the anti-evolution crowd.

I tried to forget last year's sermon, and fortunately Fr. Foss later remembered those who gave their lives for our freedom during the announcements. We also had the church bell to ring following the service in memory of our heroes.

I do have another bone to pick with the lectionary;
Did anyone notice the verses left out by the lectionary for today? Acts 1:18-20,

18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong,* he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms,
“Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it”;
“Let another take his position of overseer.”

I can only assume they didn't want to spoil any one's breakfast.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Confirmations

This evening we had a rare Thursday night service at ECOOS. The occasion was both the feast of the Ascension and a Confirmation service.

Retired Bishop Duvall delivered the sermon and treated those present to words rarely heard by pewsitters here. As he spoke of Jesus the man, and Jesus the Son of God, and Jesus ascended, God and man, I said to myself, "Wow." It is just that it is unusual to hear talk of Jesus' divinity in these parts. The good Bishop combined the humanity and the divinity just like he should. I felt transported to another dimension.
"You unlock this door with the key of imagination beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind, You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas, you've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."-Rod Serling

Alas, like the old TV show, this show had to end with the audience hungry for more.

Want more, read Acts1:1-11, and Luke 24:44-53.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Care about the Bishop Election?

The laity and clergy of the EDUSC recently completed a survey to help guide the search for a new Bishop. The results have not yet been released, and once the results are published my question is, "Will people care?"

The survey questions raised a few eyebrows. I took notes and will post the questions today:

Parish Name:
Your age: 16-20 21-35 36-50 51-65 65+

Gender: Male Female Refused

Marital Status: Single, Married, Partnered, Widowed, Divorced, Refused

Racial/Ethnic group with which you most strongly identify: Caucasian, Black or African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Native American, or Alaska Native, Two or more races, Refused

Do you have any children living in your household? Yes, No, Refused

If you have children living in your household, how many do you have?
Age Range Number
Under 12
12 - 18
Over 18

How long have you been an Episcopalian? Less than 1 year, 1-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-20 years, More than 20 years, Refused

How long have you been at your present parish? Less than 1 year, 1-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-20 years, More than 20 years, Refused

Have you ever been a member of another denomination? Yes, No, Refused

Of what other denomination(s) have you been a member?
Roman Catholic
Church of Christ
Seventh Day Adventist

I attend Services: Regularly, Occasionally, Rarely, Refused

If clergy, are you:

If laity, check any on which you have participated:
ECW (Episcopal Church Women)
DOK (Daughters of the King)
Altar Guild
Diocesan delegate
Other parish ministries
Diocesan Executive Committee
Other diocesan ministries
Diocesan commissions/committees

Please give us your opinion, as a parishioner in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, on the following statements. For each item, indicate whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, have no opinion, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree.

1. Our diocese should encourage and support domestic and foreign outreach programs.
2. We are effective at evangelizing and bringing the un-churched to God.
3. Within our diocese, we effectively identify locations for new missions and congregations.
4. In these troubled times, the Church (both at the diocesan level and at the national level) should do all in its power to ease the financial demands on congregations.
5. Our diocese is of one mind in matters of theology, faith, tradition, liturgy, music, etc.
6. The range of available worship styles / liturgies, including music, offered in my parish is satisfactory.
7. The variety of worship traditions in this diocese should be consistent with the Book of Common Prayer.
8. Our parish youth programs offer opportunities for learning, for participating in the life of the parish and for meeting other youth in our diocese.
9. Currently, many of our parish teenagers are participating in non-Episcopalian- sponsored youth programs.
10. Our bishop should be an advocate for the well-being of clergy, particularly with regard to their need for adequate compensation and benefits.
11. We effectively support and retain ordained clergy.
12. We effectively recruit, train, ordain and assign deacons within the diocese.
13. The diocese would benefit from having a bishop who has an understanding of the cultural dynamics of South Carolina.
14. It is important for the Episcopal Church to remain in the Anglican Communion.
15. Our current Bishop and the diocese, in convention, have affirmed that we are a Windsor Diocese. In that light, I believe our next bishop should be supportive of the Windsor Report and the ongoing Windsor process.
16. I support the blessing of civil unions (as opposed to marriage) between gay and lesbian persons in the Episcopal Church.
17. I support the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian persons in the Episcopal Church.
18. I believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation.
19. Divisiveness in the wider Church is beginning to cause problems in our diocese.
20. I believe the current problems within our denomination should be resolved by reasonable negotiation between and among the various constituencies.
21. I support the marriage of gay and lesbian persons in the Episcopal Church.
22. All persons should be welcome to receive Holy Communion regardless of whether or not they have been baptized.
23. Gender is not an issue for me in the context of ordination to the priesthood.
24. Being divorced and remarried should be a consideration in the selection of our next bishop.
25. I believe the Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of Christian faith.
26. I accept the theology and doctrine found in An Outline of Faith: The Catechism (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 845-862).
27. Our next bishop should always stand on Christian principles, even if he stands alone.
28. Our diocese needs leadership that is willing to consider carrying out its ministry in a more cost effective manner.
29. I feel parishes should have greater control over the acquisition / disposition of their properties.
30. I would like our next bishop to be a strong preacher / orator, fully committed to evangelism and outreach to the unchurched.
31. Our next bishop should understand and support traditional liturgies as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.
32. It would be desirable for the next bishop to make a tangible effort to bring the Gospel to the issue of race relations in South Carolina.
33. Diocesan communications keep me adequately informed as an Episcopalian.
34. Our next bishop needs to commit time, talent and treasure to re-energize the diocesan commitment to the mission in Cange, Haiti, and other outreach missions of our diocese.
35. Our diocese welcomes those of all races and different national origins.
36. Maintaining unity and focus on mission within our diocese is important.

From the following list, please select what you consider to be the five (5) most important issues / opportunities in this diocese:

Programs for children and youth
Programs for college students and young adults
Evangelism and outreach with sensitivity to our changing demographics
Programs that minister to multiple generations
Planting new missions / congregations
Expansion of the role of convocations
Administration and financial management
Improving communications within the diocese
Ordination of celibate and/or partnered gays/lesbians (either for or against)
Same-sex marriages or blessings of same sex unions (either for or against)
Declining membership
Declining Average Sunday Attendance (ASA)
Effective representation to the National Church and Anglican Communion
Commitment to the Windsor Process
Recruiting, training, developing, ordaining and retaining clergy
Confirmation and annual church visits
Other: please specify

From the following list, please select what you consider to be the five (5) most important strengths / characteristics of a new bishop:

Deeply spiritual and prayerful
Commitment to the traditional creeds of the Christian Church (e.g. Nicene Creed)
Flexible / open minded
Possesses sound judgment and wisdom
Relates to youth
Consensus builder
Dynamic preacher
Able administrator / fiscally responsible
Possesses and exhibits humility
Sense of humor
Strong theological background
Embraces technology
Strong marriage (if married)
Commitment to Anglican Communion
Strong leader in the House of Bishops
Other: please specify

In my opinion the only eyebrows that were raised were the eyebrows of folks who don't want to know that the person in the next pew might have a different opinion on same sex "marriages" or that there might be divisive issues such as "ordination of celibate and/or partnered gays/lesbians (either for or against)."

Is asking the question divisive?

When we ask ourselves as a diocese, "What kind of Bishop do we want?" we should also investigate the various Bishop types and their legacies. On one end of the spectrum would be the former Bishop of Newark, John Spong. The author of "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism," "Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile," and "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born," has left quite a legacy in his former diocese as evidenced below.

Wannbe Anglican directed me to this fine example of the "inclusive" Episcopal church of the Redeemer in Morristown NJ. For those of you who don't want to go there, here is a taste of what the future might hold if you do not choose your Bishop well.

1. Both the Episcopal Prayer Book and an Inclusive Language Eucharist are celebrated each Sunday.

2. All people, regardless of their tradition or age, are invited to receive communion.
No formal church instruction is required to receive communion.
Grape juice is consecrated in consideration of those people who do not wish to receive wine.

3. One of the three Sunday lessons is taken from either a secular source or from the sacred writings of a tradition other than Christianity.

4. Collects in the inclusive language service are taken primarily from Janet Morley’s All Desires Known and often end with the wording “through Jesus, our Christ.”

5. Rather than the Nicene Creed, the inclusive language service often includes a musical setting of the very first Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord,” as a meaningful way of expressing our belief.

6. The celebrant always receives communion last to model servant leadership and to discount images of hierarchy.

7. Female imagery and references to God are used in conjunction with male imagery and references.

8. Lay and ordained people from various religious traditions are invited to preach in the Redeemer pulpit. In addition, members of the parish on a regular basis tell stories that illustrate God’s liberation within their lives. They speak as women, African-Americans, people in recovery, Holocaust survivors, gays and lesbians, and people living with AIDS.

9. Redeemer intentionally uses the traditional form of The Lord’s Prayer, but begins with the words, “Our Mother, our Father.” People often join hands during this prayer.

10. Redeemer performs sacramental marriage for both same-sex and opposite sex couples. These events are duly recorded in the official parish registry, which the bishop examines. The vestry resolution regarding same-sex weddings reads as follows:

“We, the vestry of the Church of the Redeemer, support the inherently sacred nature of the covenant and commitment two people make to one another to enter into a life-long relationship, regardless of the gender makeup of the couple. Therefore, we the vestry, recognize the commitment of any two people in a life-long relationship, be they of the same or opposite sex, to be a Sacramental Marriage.” – adopted at May 10, 1999 Vestry Meeting

11. Leaders and members of Redeemer may come from traditions other than Christian and Episcopalian.

12. A Worship Committee reviews and revises the contemporary liturgies, ever striving to make them speak more clearly to Redeemer’s mission and vision.

13. The Blessing of the Animals Service takes place as part of a Sunday morning Eucharist in the Creation season. Animals in attendance at the service each receive a blessing. An Animal Memorial Garden has been created on the parish grounds.

14. Healing Prayer, including the Laying On of Hands, is available in the side chapel during the Eucharist.

Do any of these look familiar to you?

We have that animal service as a separate "Thang" on a Sunday afternoon closest to the Feast of St. Francis.

We have a healing service on Wednesday.

#7 has on occasion been uttered.

Three down, eleven to go!

But there is more if you can stomach it...

The Redeemer Church School curriculum emphasizes our Judeo-Christian roots but also includes more contemporary liberation stories. Although Christianity is taught as our family story, other faiths are also honored. Emphasis is placed on the fact that the same God is the source of all major religions.

The liturgical year has been altered to include an eight-week Creation Season that points to the presence of God within all of creation, not just within human history.

During the Creation Season, gifts from nature—water, rock, grasses, fire, earth, branches, vegetables and fruit—are presented at the offertory. Gifts of nature remain on the altar.

A large painted banner often hangs in front of the church, advertising: “It’s a Come as You Are Party.”

Members of the parish, both gay and straight, march behind the Redeemer banner in the New York City Gay Pride Parade.

This last one is the best,

Redeemer does not designate senior or junior wardens, nor a rector’s or people’s warden.

(Don't let our vestry know about that one)

Absolute freedom corrupts absolutely!

The numbers show that this approach has not been a positive one as far as church growth goes. Here is the chart for the Diocese of Newark's growth over the past ten years, and here is the Church of the Redeemer's trends.

Does it all flow from the Bishop's crook? Or am I to accept the excuse that the Bishop is just a reflection of the Diocese?

Will people care? They should.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Love Redux 2

Not that I am stuck in a springtime daydream or anything, but today's lessons and the Sunday sermon continue the theme of the past few posts. That is to say, the theme is love. What better theme for the spring? Having barely recovered from Wednesday's post, Love Redux, I was treated to 1 John 5:1-6,
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth"

and John 15:9-17.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Fr. Foss' sermon tried to stay on this theme, and only got us in trouble a couple of times. He correctly reviewed the changes we all go through over the years as we "grow into" our faith. He mentioned that at one point in his career he was, according to Gwen, a bit difficult to endure. This got a few chuckles.

But, did anyone notice the smug chuckles coming from the congregation after his characterization of other preachers who point their fingers and warn people that they may go to Hell?

Why do we disparage that style of preaching that points out sin and its consequences? Why make fun of something which may, for some, provide a route to salvation? Have we Episcopalians moved to a higher spiritual plane?

As Charlie pointed out, we all go through phases in our walk with the Lord. Before we laugh, we might want to respect the person next to us who may be in need of hearing about sin and its consequences. The person behind us may need to renew their love for Christ. The person in front may need to renew their love for their neighbor, and I may need to hear the preacher say, "Cut me some slack."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Love Redux

I was reading an article by J.I. Packer on Mother Teresa's long walk of "Holiness in the Dark" published by the C.S. Lewis Society in the Spring 2009 issue of "Knowing and Doing." I quote from him here,

"There is a problem in the life of holiness
that for many does not arise at
all, for some emerges intermittently,
but for a certain number—more, I suspect,
than ever acknowledge it in any public
way—is virtually lifelong. It is the problem
of felt abandonment by God, the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit, within the frame
of full commitment to God: in other words,
the desolation and seeming desertion of the
deeply devoted."
After an initial twenty years where Mother Teresa felt united with the Lord, there followed a period of fifty years during which she was separated from Him. It was as if the Love of her life had walked out on her. Her letters to her spiritual advisors reflect the struggles of someone who feels that something or someone is missing. She did not want anyone other than her counselors to read these letters, and she had requested that they be destroyed. They are that personal. It is rare to have such a glimpse into the heart of a Saint. Now read her words,

“They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God.
In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss—of God not wanting me—of God not really existing (Jesus, please forgive my blasphemies—I have been told to write everything)…
not a single thought of heaven enters my mind—for there is no hope”

I do not think she felt that she had left Him, rather that for some reason He had gone.

Have you ever had your heart broken?

The love that you thought you had together is abruptly removed. “Come over, we have to talk." "It would be best if we not see each other." "Don't call, don't write, it just is not going to work out, ever." "I don't think this relationship will work." "I am doing this for your own good." "I know that I am hurting you, but you'll get over me.” Door closed.

You don't get over them. You cry. You mourn. Another day dawns, followed by another and another. Life goes on. Years pass, but you know you would take them back in a heartbeat if they ever knocked at your door. She must have loved God this much. The pain of her loss must have been great. Their reunion must have been glorious. That glory resounded in the world in the love expressed by people after her passing.

Kinda makes me think about

God loves me this much and more. He takes me back every time I knock, even when I've hurt him dearly.

Some say that God closed the door on Mother Teresa so that she would look for him in the faces of the poor. When one door closes, another one opens. She cared for them as she cared for Christ.

Back to J.I. Packer

"Was her experience then disciplinary in a biblical sense, that is, planned by God to enhance the quality of her discipleship? Kolodiejchuk seems right to urge that it was.
There are two possibilities here, maybe overlapping (it is not for us to be dogmatic on this point). The divine discipline might be devotional, aimed at deepening the relationship between God’s servant and the triune Lord, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And it might be diaconal, aimed at qualifying the disciple more fully for particular works of ministry to others. The interpretation of Teresa’s experience as devotional discipline seems dubious. What Teresa underwent was certainly not the transitional dark night of the soul as John of the Cross described it, a condition paving the way to deeper union with God, whatever correspondences there may be between the quality of the two experiences as such. For her experience followed a deep-level, years-long enjoyment of union with, in particular, Jesus, the Lord whom she loved, and whose 'little bride' she had seen herself in her youth as being, and once the dryness, desolation, and sense of divine withdrawal had come it was
permanent. But the reality of this as diaconal discipline seems clear. “I really believe,” wrote a counselor, 'that the reason Mother Teresa had to undergo so much darkness in her life is that it would bring about a greater identification with the poor.' Surely so."

Does God ever forsake us for our own sake? Did He shut off His relationship with Sister Teresa so that she would look for Him in the poor?

Would that I could love Him as much as she did them, as much as I loved then, or as much as He loves me.

"I prefer to spend my time in solitary ways
Keeping myself to myself
Can’t pretend that it’s been easy since you went away
Livin with somebody else

If you should change your mind
If you would turn around and look behind
If you could see me the way I used to be
At the risk of bringing back the sorrow and despair
I would do it all again
Holding on to memories and pretending not to care
Knowing that the show was soon to end
If only I could change your mind
If only you would change
If I had the chance I’d do it all again
I would do it all again

I remember windy shores on melancholy days
Drifting along with the tide
And the joy of simple things and ordinary ways
Taking it all in my stride

If you should change your mind
If I could let you see what lies behind
If you could see need me the way it used to be

Even for a moment of the happy times we shared
Living in my dreams since then
At the risk of losing only castles in the air
Come with me and we can try again
Oh, if I could change your mind

Can’t pretend it’s not been lonely since you went away
Oh, if only I could change your mind"

Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons, Alan Parsons Project "Eve" Album 1978

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Feeling Unloved

Today's sermon at ECOOS was provided by Fr. Foss. He did a good job in speaking about 1 John 4:7-21, and John 15:1-8 (he did not bring in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)). He even told a couple of choice personal stories from his youth. One of these was the story of his time in Houston staying with a Christian couple who were visited by a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses. The witnesses were treated with respect, and were not corrected, nor were they chastised as being heretics during their 30 minute stay. The message of loving your guests by not challenging them in their faith was not forgotten by the young Charlie Foss.

If he had chosen to bring in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, Charlie might have had to explain the work of the Spirit in Philip's evangelism. Philip started with the scripture and recited the good news of Jesus, converting and subsequently baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch at the nearest watering hole. In a way, Philip was the eunuch's guest, and the eunuch listened and did not argue.

The problem with today's sermon came when Fr. Foss said that "The word behind orthodoxy is unlove." By singling out this group in this way, we are presented with one of the perils of heterodoxy. That is, the inclination to belittle or to call names. This is a tactic we have also seen carried out in the political arena where liberals have used negative language to label conservatives or their views. That all began with "Hawks and Doves" in the Vietnam era and may have reached its zenith with the famous "vast right wing conspiracy" comment of Hillary Clinton.
This name calling has an amazing one way street aspect in that it is okay for Fr. Foss to pin the label of "unlove" on the orthodox, but it is another for the orthodox to ask out loud, "Now, who is being unloving?"

What Fr. Foss should have asked in his sermon was,
"What was the 'word' behind the orthodox friends in Houston?" You remember... the Jehovah's Witness story. What kept Charlie's friends from evangelizing back to their quests, and what kept Charlie's friends from being converted to Jehovah's Witnesses? Firm in their faith, Charlie's friends would not be swayed. The power of love that lies behind orthodoxy held them fast, and maybe helped them bite their tongues, and that love reduced the possibility of starting a small religious war in their kitchen.

If Charlie's friends had shown tough love and gotten into a lengthy argument with their guests, would it have done any good? How do you show love to those of different faiths? To those of us who are poorly practiced and poorly trained in evangelism, to get into a serious theological debate with someone who has the practice and training is a daunting prospect.

I am drawn back to Matthew 10:11-15,
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
And when ye come into an house, salute it.
And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Tough love is scary stuff. Maybe there is more to this love business than meets the human eye.

Besides the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, Fr. Foss left out any discussion of John 15:6,
"Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned."

Does Jesus' tough love for us go too far to be discussed on Sunday morning? I fear that in our quest to feel good about our religion that we don't talk about consequences. We would rather feel that "whoever fears has not reached perfection in love," (1 John 4:18) and we know that must be those unperfected, mean spirited orthodox.

In his article "Perfect Fear Casts Out All 'Luv'" , Peter Kreeft makes the following points,

"God is love. And love is not "luv." Luv is nice; love is not nice. Love is a fire, a hurricane, an earthquake, a volcano, a bolt of lightning. Love is what banged out the big bang in the beginning, and love is what went to hell for us on the cross.

The difference between love and "luv" is the difference between the prophetic model of religion and the therapeutic model. In the prophetic model, God commands us to be good. In the therapeutic model, people use religion to make themselves feel good.

Not only are we missing something when fear is absent from religion, but (far worse) we are sinning grievously. For the absence of the fear of God is arrogance and pride. How dare sinners sashay up to God as a chum without first falling down in repentance and fear and calling on the Blood of Christ to save us?

This is not a private opinion; it is the teaching of the Bible, the church, and the saints.

Perfect love casts out fear,
but unless we begin with fear, we cannot progress
to perfect love."

Does the Episcopal Church fear the orthodox? Some of those who will be gathering at the General Convention this summer do. Here is what one priest had to say recently (names redacted and spelling unedited),

"One last thought though. The important thing for us to realize is the conservative fundamentalist evangelicalism is dead. The body is still flopping about, but the coming of age American public has rejected it as mean spirited and homophobic. The largest growing denomination is 'no religious preference' and the proximate cause of that is not the liberal agenda. In fact that group is quite further to the progressive end than TEC. The growth of the unchurched is because Christianity is now represented by its loudest adherents: the Conservative-Fundamentalist-Evangelicals. The path to Christian growth is to better get the message across about a church which has the capacity for more generous reading of scripture and public positions. As a church TEC needs to stop fooling around with mollifying the C-F-Es and become visibly present and clear about its offering of the Good News. The conservatives that .... worries about do need to be part of the discourse and shaping of TEC, but not the C-F-Es. Time to say good bye to them and 'best of luck to you in all your undertakerings.'"

What a fine example of heterodox love. Perhaps after being ousted, a few Conservative-Fundamentalist-Evangelicals (C-F-Es) could knock on a certain church in San Diego's door and hand out some literature. The writer of the above quotation might not treat them as nicely as Fr. Foss's friends treated the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Lord, bestow your love upon us. Help us to keep the Faith you have given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit and through Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. That Faith as shown by and taught to us by the apostles. When the world comes knocking, give us the words to speak for that Faith, and give us the strength to say the word again and again, every time the world knocks it down. Love. In Christ's name we pray.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Can Someone Please Point These People in the Right Direction

After all the money we spent in renovations to our sanctuary, just imagine what these folks are going to have to do to upgrade their worship space:

From Yahoo News UK/Ireland

"Muslim worshippers at about 200 old mosques in Mecca have been praying in the wrong direction for decades because the mosques were not built correctly, a Saudi newspaper said on Sunday.

Mecca residents and experts have suggested that the errant mosques install inside a correct indicator of the qibla, or orient their prayer rugs more exactly in the direction of the Kaaba, the Saudi Gazette said.

Another suggestion is that laser beams be installed in the tall minarets of the Al-Haram mosque built around the Kaaba to help mosques and worshippers establish the correct qibla direction."

I always wondered how someone in a space craft in low Earth orbit travelling at roughly 27,400 km/h could keep their prayer rug oriented towards the Kaaba. And, since the space person would be experiencing "weightlessness" can they kneel at all? For that matter how would I bow down before the Lord, or fall to me knees to pray?

Laser beams! Brilliant! Just tell it to this little guy who looks like he already knows that direction doesn't matter when it comes to prayer,

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Baaa...hd Omissions

Today's blog is dedicated to the One Good Shepherd. May we be bold enough to declare His name.

Today's sermon was provided by the Rev. Mary Cat Young (probably because Fr. Foss is recovering from the flu). On a Sunday when the readings included Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

And Acts 4:5-12 where Peter claimed:
"This Jesus is
'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.'
12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

And 1 John 3:16-24 where we hear,
23 "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us."

And John 10:11-18 where the Lord says,
14 "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

we heard a sermon that focused on our sheep-hood. There was a little in there about the shepherd's job, and a bit on the importance of the upcoming Bishop search and selection in our Diocese (Upper SC), but not one word on the issue of exclusivism which is what these lessons led me to consider.

There are four basic ways to handle the claims that Jesus is the One Good Shepherd. One is the way of exclusivism. This seems to be the claim of Peter, and he was bold enough to proclaim this even though it would eventually lead to his own death crucified upside down in Rome.

Another approach is inclusivism. This approach would have us believe that God, somehow will lead all to salvation.

The next approach is pluralism where there is an underlying reality to which all religions lead.

Pluralism seems to be the majority position among Christians that Jesus is only one way by which people are "saved."
According to the Pew Forum survey 83 % of members of "mainline" protestant churches along with 79% of Catholics feel this way.

And then there is parallelism where each religion stands as saving in its own context(this reminds me of the jokes about separate heavens for each religion).

No discussion would be complete without mentioning Universalism. This would be to say that a good a good Wiccan, or even a good agnostic, can have everlasting life.

There are elements of universalism in pluralism, parallelism and even in inclusivism. I myself have wandered into these territories. They are very tempting, but today's lessons lead me out of my "inexclusivism" (Jesus can make himself known to those who do not have the chance to know Him in this lifetime hinted at in John 10:11-18) and towards exclusivism.

Did I hear anything in today's sermon to lead me out of the pasture of mainstream universalism?

Have I gone astray?!