Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rev. Dr. Joe D. Mills

Today's services at ECOOS were notable for a couple of things. There was the ice of course, and that reduced attendance significantly. The other thing was the fact that today we celebrated 50 years of ordained ministry by Fr. Joe Mills who for many years served as Non-stipendiary assistant priest at ECOOS. Numerous guests who braved the slippery parking lot filled the pews today as Joe preached the sermon and assisted in presiding over the Eucharist. In his homily, he preached about the calling he received at age 35, and how he taught sociology and religion at Winthrop. He did provide one humorous anecdote about his late wife Eva. Joe said that when he was in the habit of saying the daily offices, sometimes he would have to say them in the car while Eva was driving. When he got to the part about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and made the sign of the cross, Eva would tell him not to do that because other drivers might see him and think that he was afraid of her driving.

Joe referred back to the passages from Paul's letter to the Corinthians that we studied today. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13:

"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

When we see Joe, we know we are loved. Let us hope he sees that we love him too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Tragedy/Drama/Comedy Address

Ever since I was talked into watching one of Jimmy Carter's State of the Union Addresses (I think it was a compatibility test), I have tended to ignore the words and await the deeds before passing judgement on politicians. If you ignore the words, one gets to see the text in the body language of the speaker and his audience. The fixed camera angle which framed President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Vice-President Biden was the predominant image presented to me as I flipped channels trying to avoid the 2010 State of the Union Address last night. I missed the early parts of the speech, and found myself fixated on Vice-President Biden's scowl on the President's right, and Speaker Pelosi's smirk on the President's left. The video clip below shows that, early on in the clip, the Veep was able to create a broad grin, but by the 2 minute mark the more comfortable scowl starts to settle in.

Was anyone else annoyed by the repeated standing ovations? I wonder if all those interruptions are really necessary, or are they just to emphasize the sound bite style of modern political pontifications. Or maybe the standing o's are just part of the show.

The rest of the night I kept seeing visions of theatrical masks.

I wonder why?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whodoo the Voodoo?

After Pat Robertson drew attention to the practice of voodoo in Haiti, a couple of things have popped up in my searches of the Internet about voodoo.

In a story at NPR entitled "Voodoo Brings Solace To Grieving Haitians," Barbara Bradley Hagerty uses as sources Max Beauvoir, "the supreme servitor of Voodoo, or the highest priest, in Haiti," Erol Josue a Voodoo priest from New York, and Elizabeth McAlister, a Voodoo expert at Wesleyan University.

Erol Josue is quoted as saying,
"Haiti is not a Catholic country," he says. "Haiti is a Voodoo country...They never made a pact with the devil, and Voodoo does not engage in devil worship. And yet, he says many Haitians are asking why the spirits, who are supposed to protect their country, let so many die. He believes the spirits are angry with how Haitians have denuded the forests and mistreated the Earth.

"Haitians believe Haiti, she's a woman," Josue says. "We believe she's a mother, and [when] that woman got that pain, she [said], 'Enough.'"

And then there is this quote from Max Beauvoir,
"After a person dies, he or she goes underwater for a year and a day, then passes on to the next life.

We believe that everyone lives 16 times — eight times we live as men, and eight times as women. And the purpose of life is to gather all kinds of experiences..."

Only male and female? How non-inclusive. At least voodoo is open to experimentation.
"During those 16 lives, a person moves from body to body, country to country, attaining wisdom until he or she merges with God."
This article does not go into much depth, and it would be interesting to see some other references as to the scope of voodoo in Haiti. The article, is rather one sided and does appear to suggest that people can find solace in voodoo. I would have preferred seeing a statement from a Haitian Christian on the subject for balance.

The article, in citing a N.Y. voodoo priest, drew my attention to the matter of voodoo in America which meant a brief sojourn into the darker corners of the web.

One web page purporting to tell the truth about voodoo is selling a book, "The Art of Voodoo: All is One."

Does any of that sound familiar? How about this quote from the,

"Vodou is one of the world’s oldest religions. While there are various forms of Voodoo in practice today, there are simple universal truths common to all forms of the religion. Although the Haitian practice of Vodou is different from the practice of Voodoo in New Orleans, there are fundamental beliefs and practices that remain the same in all parts of the world."

Yes, voodoo has denominations, and universal truths. The truth about it is that it is an indication of our propensity to worship other gods and nature. Voodoo is just another sign of our "brokenness."

Do you think the Episcopal church could come up with a voodoo Eucharist? Don't laugh, just look back to the Episcopal church General Convention of 2000 where David Virtue of "Virtue Online" reported,

"Consider the booklet Resources for Jubilee, which was distributed
to delegates with the commendation of convention secretary, the
Rev. Rosemari Sullivan, at the July 5 Jubilee Eucharist, presided
over by Bishop Griswold. The booklet included within it the
summer 2000 issue of Spirituality and Health, published by
Trinity Parish, Wall Street, which presented to ECUSA such
'resources' as witchcraft, voodoo and the neo-pagan pentacle of
iron. In one story, the director of Trinity Institute described
his 'shamanic journey into the underworld,' guided by a raccoon

Following some complaints, the booklet was no longer made
available at the convention, but was not repudiated."

("Spirituality and Health" is currently a non-church publication, but I get the picture).

Remember that all this Internet browsing began because of Pat Robertson's comment about early voodoo practice in Haiti perhaps being related to the recent earthquakes devastating that country. A few clicks of the mouse shows that voodoo is also alive and well in America. Exactly how many voodoo priests and practitioners are active in the U.S. is not the issue. Of course, practicing voodoo violates God's commandment, and is sinful, but we talk about it now because it is the sin du jour, the one in the news, no greater and no less than all of our sins that are not being addressed, but for which we fall under God's judgement. I am trying to point out that sin is sin and there is probably no hierarchy of sins, and when one of us sinners points out that God's wrath is being displayed against some other individual or group of sinners, we had better be on the lookout out for that wrath ourselves.

So "Whodoo the Voodoo?" If voodoo practice, or any other sin, might bring on earthquakes or some other manifestation of the wrath of God, then it is 'we'doo whodoo the voodoo (or it's equivalent), and perhaps we should start thinking about moving out of our homes and office towers and into simpler structures.

I am thinking about buying a yurt.

I hope the neighborhood association understands. I also hope that God does not send a flood.

Or maybe there is another option to undoo the voodoo of sin.

That just might be the structure I need.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What ObL Really Needs

Today's Gospel reading from Luke 4:14-21 where Jesus read from Isaiah contains a wealth of possibilities for a homily.
"‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’"

Curiously, our rector chose to create a sermon in which he spoke extensively on recent proclamations from Osama bin Laden and Pat Robertson. Weaving the disaster in Haiti into his homily, we were left with the assurance that God does not cause earthquakes, plate tectonics does, and what OBL needs is to rediscover Islam and Allah the "compassionate and merciful" by making a trip to Haiti and helping those poor people at this time. But I have to ask, is that what ObL really needs?

After hearing the Koran referenced in the sermon (and in the invocation) today my Sunday ears were alerted. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Exordium in the Koran, here is a translation:

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe,
The Compassionate, the Merciful,
Sovereign of the Day of Judgement!
You alone we worship, and to You alone
we turn for help.
Guide us to the straight path
The path of those whom You have favoured,
Not of those who have incurred Your wrath,
Nor of those who have gone astray.
(trans. N.J. Dawood)

And here is what ObL had to say recently about the recent attempt by an underwear bomber to bring down an airliner:
"The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes of the Sept. 11, America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine,"

"God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support for the Israelis continues."

I don't doubt that Bin Laden wants the U.S. to help him bring about the downfall of Israel, but is that all he wants? Does he want to live in peace with Christianity?

I am sorry Charlie, but what ObL needs is Christ. Perhaps ObL could find that in the witness of Haitian Christians if he were somehow magically transported into the disaster area. What ObL does not need is to rediscover Islam. He needs to give it up.

And where does Pat Robertson fit in the discussion? I am speculating that he was included in today's sermon as another warning from our rector of the dangers of fundamentalism.

I wanted to see what the Christian Broadcasting Network had to say about Pat Robertson's most recent controversial remarks. – VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., January 13, 2010 --"On today’s The 700 Club, during a segment about the devastation, suffering and humanitarian effort that is needed in Haiti, Dr. Robertson also spoke about Haiti’s history. His comments were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed. Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath. If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson’s compassion for the people of Haiti is clear. He called for prayer for them. His humanitarian arm has been working to help thousands of people in Haiti over the last year, and they are currently launching a major relief and recovery effort to help the victims of this disaster. They have sent a shipment of millions of dollars worth of medications that is now in Haiti, and their disaster team leaders are expected to arrive tomorrow and begin operations to ease the suffering."

Chris Roslan
Spokesman for CBN

This sounds like a bit of spin control, but it succeeds in reminding me to fear the wrath of God, and leads me to reflect on the power of God, and the sinfulness of not only those who make pacts with the devil, but the sinfulness of us all. In fact, each and everyone of us is sinful enough to have God make the earth open up and swallow us just as He did to Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16:
Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.

Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt."

As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, "The earth is going to swallow us too!"

And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

This should give us pause to realize that we, being sinners in God's sight, are all subject to His power and judgement as much as any other sinner in this world. Who will be our advocate? The answer is fundamental and simple.

I need Jesus,
Pat Robertson needs Jesus,
and Osama bin Laden needs Jesus.

In their absence, may I exercise "blogger's privilege" to pray;

Lord, Bring us all the Good News, open our eyes to the Word made flesh, and free us from our oppression.
Through Christ Jesus we pray.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Creating Your Own Religion

In my previous Wednesday's post, I said that I had never heard of anyone making the leap from Adam to "A Dame" so that a lesbian marriage could be justified. In so doing, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire altered God's order as established in Genesis and went beyond revisionism and leaped to creating his own religion.

One could argue that Bishop Robinson is merely hijacking a pre-existing sinking denomination to advance a singular personal obsession, but statements such as this show that he is not satisfied with the Bible and is working on a his own version.

Episcopal bishops seem prone to this particular heresy. This past Sunday's post presented the nefarious retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong and his book "Eternal Life: A New Vision, Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism" showing up as recommended reading for the ECOOS adult Sunday school class.

How these bishops became so enlightened, and how the church deals with them will be a subject for future scholars of heresy. For the present, I would like to look at ways that those of us who remain unenlightened can become liberated from the bonds of theism and create our own religion.

When one is starting their own religion they should follow certain steps. (I am making these up as I go, so feel free to request revisions).

The first step in creating your own religion is to prioritize.

1. Of primary importance is the "your own" part.
Your own religion will be unique and tailor made to fit you. This frees you from the demands of others. Fortunately, this also frees you from having someone else's God tell you how to live your life because you will develop your religion from your own experience and reason. Unfortunately, you must expect that your own religion will not fit others so well. That is their loss, don't waste time with them.

2. Deal with the problem of right and wrong.
a. One way of handling this is to claim that there is no right or wrong. If this works for you, cool, just don't complain when you get robbed, cheated, or injured, and don't ever say anything about "justice."

b. If you don't feel comfortable with 2a, it is okay to work things out on your own. As you have gone through life you have been given innumerable life experiences which you have either rationalized and justified, or which you have rejected and condemned. These you can file under "Virtues" and "Sins" repectively. For example, it is virtuous to follow your personal desires, and it is sinful to suggest that one should subordinate those desires to the will of an almighty god

3. Deal with the question of life after death.
a. Assume there is no life after death because you have not personally witnessed anyone coming back from the dead. In this case, have a nice life.

b. Choose to believe in a life after death.

i. You can choose to exclude certain people from your afterlife.

ii. You can include all in your afterlfe, this works well with 2a above.

iii. Wait until you get there, and then do what feels right.

4. Decide if you are going to have a god.
a. If you create a god, great. You have solved all kinds of future issues. Just don't catch yourself worshipping any other god but yours. If you do, try to adapt your god to the new thing.

b. Say "No" to a god. This is liberating, and works well with 3.b.ii.

5. Decide if you are going to share your religion with others.
a. Don't tell anyone and let your own religion die with you.

b. If you choose to tell people about your own religion, be prepared for criticism. Upon hearing criticism, debate a little, but in the end, feel free to call your opposition names. This effectively ends all discussion. Possible names you can use are "small minded," "narrow minded," "closed minded," "unenlightened," "bigoted," "misogynistic," "homophobic," "literalist," or "fundamentalist."

6. Decide if you can live your religion as a member of some other religion.
a. If you want to go it alone, great, that eliminates all sorts of conflict. It does present the problem of loneliness. If you get lonely remember, that as an enlightened being you have no need for others.

b. If you choose to join another religion, remember first that you are the one doing the choosing, you are not being called by an external force. So study up and do your homework first. It really helps if you can find a small, weakened, indecisive, religious denomination where you can play dress up at least once a week and engage in 5.a. without having to worry about pulling out those discussion ending terms too often. Look for a place with pretty smells and bells, long flowing vestments, nice music, and a good endowment. Hopefully, you can get a job, a pension, and a publisher.

Are any more of our bishops following these steps?

It just might be easier to pick up a copy of the LoL Cat Bible.

Genesis 2:18-25 Lol Cat Bible

"An Ceiling Cat sed, 'teh boi is alown an dat iz bad; he needz frendz so i wil maek him a gud helpr.' So Ceiling Cat made farm animulz and birdies frum durt. An Ceiling Cat brot them to teh boi to c wat he wud naym them: an teh animulz wur calld wutevr teh boi calld them. If thay didnt liek it, tuff tamales, thay wuz stuk wif it. An teh boi naymd all thoze animulz, but nun of dem wuz a gud helpr. So Ceiling Cat gived teh boi invisible sleepin pill an did sum surjerie an tuk owt wun of teh boiz rib bonez. Ohyeah, an Ceiling Cat put teh skin bak on, so teh boi wudnt freek latr. An Ceiling Cat transformd teh rib bonez into a perty gurl. Ceiling Cat tuk teh gurl to teh boi, then watchd teh fun begin. Teh boi sed, 'Her boddy caim frum my boddy? Sweet! I callz her 'Gurl' cuz she caim frum a boi, an it sowndz betr than 'Frumboi'.'

Thatz wiy a boi leevz his mommy an daddy an getz mareed to a gurl.

Teh boi an gurl wared invisible fur, an didnt fink it wuz bad."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Sign at Cana

John's account of Jesus turning water into wine in John 2:1-11 was the subject for our Deacon's sermon today. Deacon Rick briefly alluded to alternative explanations for how Jesus did it, but wisely did not support those explanations. I have heard it said that the water jars in the story must have held wine before, and that is why the water tasted like wine. This and other such explanations are said to help the modern mind accept the story because the modern mind cannot accept the supernatural. In this case, removing the supernatural miracle turns Jesus into a parlor magician and promotes His human nature over His divine nature. John's account leaves little room for these alternative explanations. There were "six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification." It is not likely that these jars were used for anything but water. Jesus ordered the jars be filled with water. Note that Jesus did not do the filling, so there was no room for a slight of hand trick. Then the "chief steward" checked the new wine out and judged it better than what they had been drinking. To my mind, the only thing a reasonable modern mind can do is either to deny the miracle altogether, or to believe that a miracle occurred.

There is of course a retired bishop of the Episcopal church who has gone beyond a simple denial of the miracle. +John Shelby Spong went so far as to suggest that the wedding at Cana was Jesus' own.

In 2000, David H. Lane President of the Wellington Christian Apologetics Soc. wrote in "APOLOGIA" The Journal of the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society vol. 7(2/3) 2000, an excellent piece entitled "Redefining God In Man’s Image (I), A Critique of Bishop John Spong’s Revised ‘Christianity’" and described Spong's theory,

"Jesus was quite probably married, most likely to
Mary Magdalene. The account in Scripture of the
Wedding at Cana of Galilee is a record of His own
marriage as ‘proved’ by the fact that He attended
it with His mother. His case is based on the fact
that the only wedding Spong has ever attended
with his mother was his own." (p.18)

It would take a miracle to make me believe John Shelby Spong.

Incredibly, the adult Sunday School class at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour is buying copies of Spong's latest book "Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell" to study this semester. (Chapter 1 is available here) I wish they all would read that entire 139 page "Apologia" vol. 7 and arm themselves with a strong defense beforehand.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This Really Gets My Goat

I am not kidding.

One of the great things about living in Rock Hill is the exciting local news in our daily paper the "Rock Hill Herald." A year or two ago, the story of the stolen wiener sign was the talk of the town. Today, everyone is talking about the stolen life sized, anatomically correct, goat statue. The story is on-line at the Herald. Christy Mullins reports that,
"Bob last was seen late on Jan. 6 wearing a red knit hat and scarf — which he had begun wearing Dec. 1 to keep warm."
He had been the the victim of pranks in the past, but the usual suspects are claiming innocence.
Neighbors and Bob's owner, 53-year-old Madeline McDonald, had a running joke about moving the goat statue late in the night. He could be acrobatically dangling from the crape myrtle tree or tastefully straddling the wrought-iron bench, depending on who visited last.
But McDonald woke one day last week to find that her goat statue wasn't nuzzling the bushes, tail out, as he had been the night before, near a planter box in her front yard.
He wasn't tossed on a tree branch or masquerading near the sidewalk.
McDonald even looked on the roof, where neighbors had rumored they'd move Bob next. And just in case the wind had blown hard, McDonald looked in her back yard and neighbors' yards, too.

In case the wind had blown hard????

There is a reward for the return of the goat. Check out the article for more details.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Way, Way East of Eden

From Edith Tucker at the Berlin (NH) Reporter:

h/t Greg Griffith at StandFirm in Faith
"BERLIN — An historic first took place on Saturday, Jan. 2, in the 'City that Trees Built.'

Elizabeth 'Betsy' Hess and the Rev. Eleanor 'Ellie' McLaughlin, both of Randolph, were wed in a civil ceremony near the entrance to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on High Street.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, blessed their rings and their Christian marriage at the altar. The blessing ceremony followed the civil marriage ceremony, which was jointly performed by Randolph Town Clerk Anne Kenison and Justice of the Peace Anne Jackson of Lancaster."

Don't worry, this was just a "generous pastoral response (GC2009 CO56)" by a simple country bishop.

"Ms. Hess, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Montana at Missoula, maintains a private practice in Berlin, and the Rev. McLaughlin, who earned a Ph.D. in medieval history at Harvard University, is the retired rector of St. Barnabas and a parishioner at St. Paul's, Lancaster.

They described his role as an 'unspeakable honor — a thrill.'"

And that is after they listened to his dimwitted sermon.
"Bishop Robinson said he understands that having both a gay bishop and a gay priest means that some in Berlin call St. Barnabas the gay church.

'Yes, we're gay,' he said. 'We welcome people of color, people in wheelchairs, the mentally disabled — all of God's children.' Elaborating on its inclusivity, he also noted that the Rev. Fran Gardner, the rector who succeeded the Rev. McLaughlin, is also gay.

He reminded everyone of Christ's eighth beatitude: 'Blessed are they who are persecuted.'"

Drop the persecution thing already, you've won! Go ahead and say what you really think about marriage, and give us some solid Biblical exegesis while you are at it.

"In his homily, Bishop Robinson explained that when God created 'the human thing' in the Garden of Eden, which He called 'A-dam' — (which the bishop pronounced with a long 'A' and 'dame') — He wanted to make him happy, so He provided him with a helper, a partner, a soul mate.'

'It was not right that A-dam should be alone,' Bishop Robinson said, noting that this is nothing new."

Oh, I get it. Bishop Robinson is saying that God created a dame for a dame in Eden. Stop the presses! Did it really say that in Genesis? Doesn't the passage read,
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh

Genesis 2:18-24

I think Bishop Robinson is putting a little 'Broad'way (excuse me) into his Bible with that "A-Dame" wisecrack.

I had never heard of anyone making the leap from Adam to "A Dame." To do so in order to alter God's natural order as established in Genesis goes beyond revisionism and into creating a new religion.

One could argue that Bishop Robinson is merely hijacking a pre-existing sinking denomination to advance a personal obsession, but statements such as this show that he is not satisfied with the Bible and is working on a new one. "Unspeakable" indeed. Oh, there was more including this,

"'Marriage is also crazy,' he said. 'It's hard to live up to when the institution of marriage is in such trouble,' Bishop Robinson said."

Particularly when one's own choices create more trouble. Someone ought to tell the Bishop to stop knocking an institution when it is down.

Is it any wonder that Sunday attendance in the Diocese of New Hampshire has dropped by almost 20% in the past decade?

As bad as the Bishop's homily was, the town clerk reminds us that the focus is on the new secular worldview:
"Randolph Town Clerk Kenison read an historical account, written by the Rev. McLaughlin that is informed by the work of the 'boundary-breaking interdisciplinary work' of Professor Nancy Cott of Harvard University, on the changes that have taken place from the days when the State and the Established Church were one. 'In colonial society, the State established and defined both moral and economic boundaries of the marriage contract, by which the husband was provider and unitary authority and the woman, mother and wife, was the dependent and obedient subject in law to her husband.' These gendered and hierarchical arrangements of the human family have ceased to be normative. Civil Marriage has been 'disestablished'…. The Marriage here solemnized is grounded upon current values and interests determined and enforced by the State, supported and respected by Civil society."

Excuse me Ms. Kenison, but did you just say that the State created bad standards of marriage in the past, but the current the State's values are okay? Do you trust the current State as our moral agent when earlier States got it wrong?


Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Cold Was It in South Carolina?

So cold that I am attributing another miracle to St. Francis.

Walking on the water (okay, in its solid state).

Hey, this actually happened; I took the picture myself as I went outside to split some firewood.

Yep, I was fooled too.

Sweet Talking Our Way Eastward?

In today's sermon we were given a soft spoken appeal to move towards a more Eastern Church view of sin. Most pewsitters were probably convinced by the rector's appeal that the sweet innocent babies we baptize are not necessarily sinners by birth, but when he used John Calvin's name as the cause for the Western Church's current view of sin, I had to question the thesis of the sermon. I knew that Calvin did not invent the concept of original sin, nor did he have anything to do with the separation of the Eastern and Western Churches. In summary, the impression I got was that Calvinism is bad and judgemental, and the Eastern Church is good and loving. I am no expert on the Eastern Church, but I don't think one escapes the concept of our sinful nature by looking eastward. Unfortunately, the sermon did not go into much detail, and by gently bashing Calvinism, many pewsitters would quietly nod and move on.

By avoiding a scholarly discussion of the histories involved, we missed out on so much. We missed the story of Augustine versus Pelagius. We also missed the Council of Carthage to Investigate Pelagianism in 418 and its famous first 8 canons:
Canon 1 “If any man says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he sinned or not he would have died, not as the wages of sin, but through the necessity of nature, let him be anathema.”

Canon 2 “If any man says that new-born children need not be baptized, or that they should indeed be baptized for the remission of sins, but that they have in them no original sin inherited from Adam which must be washed away in the bath of regeneration, so that in their ease the formula of baptism ‘for the remission of sins’ must not be taken literally, but figuratively, let him be anathema; because, according to Romans 5:12, the sin of Adam (in quo omnes peccaverunt) has passed upon all.”

Canon 3.1 “If any man says that in the kingdom of heaven or elsewhere there is a certain middle place, where children who die unbaptized live in bliss (beate vivant), whereas without baptism they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, that is, into eternal life, let him be anathema.” [The authenticity of this canon has been brought into question, though there is some reason to believe that it was part of the original canon listing. In some manuscripts Canon 3.2, listed below, is listed here.]

Canon 3.2 “If any man says that the grace of God, by which man is justified through Jesus Christ, is only effectual for the forgiveness of sins already committed, but is of no avail for avoiding sin in the future, let him be anathema.”

Canon 4 “If any man says that this grace only helps not to sin, in so far that by it we obtain a better insight into the Divine commands, and learn what we should desire and avoid, but does not also give the power gladly to do and to fulfill what we have seen to be good, let him be anathema.”

Canon 5 “If any man says that the grace of justification was given us in order that we might the more easily fulfill that which we are bound to do by the power of free will, so that we could, even without grace, only not so easily, fulfill the Divine commands, let him be anathema.”

Canon 6 “If any man understands the words of the Apostle: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,’ to mean that we must acknowledge ourselves to be sinners only out of humility, not because we are really such, let him be anathema.”

Canon 7 “If any man says that the saints pronounce the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ not for themselves, because for them this petition is unnecessary, but for others, and that therefore it is, ‘forgive us,’ not ‘me,’ let him be anathema.”

Canon 8 “If any man says that the saints only pronounce these words, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ out of humility, not in their literal meaning, let him be anathema.”

All that anathema stuff is so Western and judgemental.

In the end, Pelagius somehow sweet talked himself out of trouble and moved on.

Augustine is quoted as saying: “it was not heresy, that was there acquitted, but the man who denied the heresy.”

Some of Pelagius' ideas linger still as they contain a basic appeal. After all, my sweet precious baby can't possibly be a sinful creature, can it?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Secular-Utopian Kingdom of God

Can we humans create Utopia? Can we bring about the kingdom of God on Earth? If not, what should we be doing with our lives in the meantime? These are the type of questions that keep us simple pewsitters awake at night.

Matthew 24:14
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Time and time again, history tells us that mankind cannot do so, but we keep trying to create heaven on Earth. Why do we persist in pursuing Utopian dreams, and who do we think we are? The other day I was reading excerpts from “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI, and I heard echoes of something that I think is buzzing around our pluralistic culture.

“ is claimed, we must now move toward ‘regnocentrism,’ that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This, also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future. ‘Kingdom,’ in this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It means no more than this. This ‘Kingdom’ is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the ‘Kingdom.’ They are of course perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the ‘Kingdom,’ a world, in other words, where peace, justice and respect for freedom are the dominant values."

Does this sound familiar? I have heard it most often when soft spoken pluralists are trying to keep us pewsitters focused on "good works" as the mission of the church. The implication being that all of our differences will disappear as we work to build God's Kingdom through service. The Pope adds a new spin. I never really thought about secularists using religion to further a political agenda. In order to do so, secularism would have to accept and support religious pluralism (at least for a while). Are Christians to accept and support religious pluralism also in order to hasten the Secular-Utopian Kingdom of God? I don't think it is what the Gospels tell us, and I was curious to see what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in his further comments:

“This sounds good; it seems like a way of finally enabling the whole world to appropriate Jesus’ message, but without missionary evangelization of other religions. … On closer examination, though, it seems suspicious. Who is to say what justice is? What serves justice in particular situations? How do we create peace? On closer inspection, this whole project proves to be utopian dreaming without any real content, except insofar as its exponents tacitly presuppose some partisan doctrine as the content that all are required to accept.

But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious ‘traditions’ claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count for nothing. Faith and religions are now directed toward political goals. Only the organization of the world counts. Religion matters only insofar as it can serve that objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation."

The third temptation is found in Matthew 4:8-10:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Now I am distracted by a different thought, "Serve Him only," and I am reminded that "Service to mankind" is part of what Christians do, for in so doing we care for Him:
Matthew 25:31-36
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "

Can't Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, do all those things? Aren't they sheep at the King's right side as well? The pluralistic answer is "Yes." The secular-utopian answer is "Yes." Working together can't the people of the world bring in the Kingdom of God? If so, who needs Jesus, the cross, and who needs the resurrection?

” … Our main criticism of the secular-Utopian idea of the Kingdom has been that it pushes God off the stage. He is no longer needed, or else he is a downright nuisance. But Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, not just any kind of Kingdom.” Pope Benedict XVI (pp. 53-55)

Not only does the secular-Utopian idea of the Kingdom push God off the stage, it introduces a new concept, "The Kingdom of Man." Religions will be used to help bring about this Kingdom of Man, but don't ignore the fact that they can be discarded once Utopia is achieved.

Most of us understand that the Kingdom of Man is a failed proposition. Still, humans fall for the temptation of Utopia every time it is presented. The most recent version of the temptation is the Secular-Utopian one. The radically secular state and the false notion of it being the "all caring state" when combined with the gullibility of an all dependant people leads to this new Secular-Utopianism. We don't need God to save us when the State will. This vision sounds lovely and has a wonderful, loving, peaceful religious pluralism, but it is a vision that ultimately abandons God. Looked at this way, I am going to side with the Pope and conclude that a Christian response to secular-utopianism needs to be voiced.

I am going to keep it simple by returning to my first question, "Can man bring in the Kingdom of God?"

I have to respond, "No, but we have been some down to earth tasks in the meantime, and a stern warning."

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:45-46)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Another Curious Lectionary Edit

At ECOOS this Sunday, we celebrated the Epiphany a few days early, and as a result we used the lectionary readings for January 6. Psalm 72 verses 1-7, 9-14 was assigned and for the life of me I cannot understand why verses 8-9 were left out. Maybe someone out there in the blogiverse can help.

Psalm 72 verses 1-7,9-14

1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

5 May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
11 May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.

12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Fair enough. A lot of stuff in there about a just king who loves the little guy and saves them from oppression. Nothing offensive there except maybe that part about "crushing" the oppressor. So what got left out?

Psalm 72 verses 8,9

8 May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.

Is it that sea to sea dominion thing? It must be too imperialistic sounding for Sunday morning. Maybe the lectionary editors recalled the bad rap given to the notion of "manifest destiny?"

Maybe it was the "lick the dust" prayer that had to be editted. I believe that is a reference to the king killing his enemies in battle. Other synonyms within context found at Webster's Online include:

split upon a rock,
break one's back,
have the ground cut from under one,
come to grief,
go to the dogs,
go to pot,
bite the dust,
be defeated,
have the worst of it,
lose the day,
come off second best,
not have a leg to stand on,

and my personal favorite:
fall between two stools.

How does this sound?
May his foes bow down before him,
and his enemies fall between two stools.

Sounds like something that happened to a friend of mine at Pat O's one night.

Anybody out there have any better ideas? I got the worst of this one, and I don't have a leg to stand on after I fell between these two verses.