Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Let's Get Political, Political...

I have been trying to avoid watching the congressional hearings about President Obama's recent Supreme Court nominee because I don't think anything will change the inevitable swing to the left that the Supreme Court is going to take over the next few years (or more).

These types of hearings usually demonstrate how vigorously people want "my way" over "the other way" when selecting people for positions of leadership. My way would be to pick a constitutional constructivist, but that way has gone by the wayside these days. I imagine people like me might be in for a pretty wild ride over the next few decades.

Supreme Court nominations always bring out battles which turn the question of how a nominee will judge into a political game where our elected officials get some free air time while the nominee tries to keep their mouth shut so that no one will get to know what foundations they use to form their judgments.

The Episcopal church selects its leadership in equally strange ways, but in the case of TEC, there is a far greater mismatch in the relative strengths of the opposing parties than we see in the party percentages in the halls of Congress today, and as a result, a fairly homogenous collection of liberal clergy has come into the majority, so guess who winds up being elevated to positions of leadership such as bishop? Recent history suggests that the "democratic" (no, I don't believe that is the proper term) polity of TEC has become a means of perpetuating incompetence.

A couple of other questions come to mind when considering the long term results of continuing to follow a failing method of choosing leaders when compared with proven methods such as those recommended in the Bible (1 Timothy 3 for example). One would guess that the secular politics of the clergy would also become homogenized over time. Several questions then come to mind:

Should the Church look for political diversity in candidates for the priesthood?

What happens when a church has little diversity in the political affiliations of its leadership?

Does the political ideology of the majority creep into the life of the church?

The Institute on Religion and Democracy(IRD) led me to this article at the American Spectator by Alan F.H. Wisdom on 02/24/10 who offers his opinion.
"...where overwhelmingly left-leaning clergy often imagine themselves to be 'prophets' leading their people into a promised land of social justice and world peace. Clergy elites may possess the institutional power to impose this political agenda; however, by doing so they instigate a rift with their church members. To the extent that politics becomes a focus in church life, the divide grows deeper and more damaging. Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal described the situation succinctly: 'Red pew, blue pulpit.'"

Don't believe it? Review the Public Religion Research 2009 survey of clergy.

67% of Episcopal clergy identify themselves as Democrats, 8% Independents, and 22% Republicans.
Maybe that helps explain this:
49% of Episcopal clergy say that gay couples should be allowed to legally marry and 38% say that civil unions should be allowed.
Of course this majority might claim that politics has nothing to do with their quest for gay marriage. In fact, I have read the claim that the Holy Spirit has is guiding them to this er..., um..., position. Unfortunately, they are lying because they have failed to back up their claims by using scriptural sources. There is a good possibility that an unholy spirit is doing the leading, and that the filthy spirit of politics has a lot to do with the current course of the Church.

Politics has probably always been a problem for the Church. I call it a problem because we usually get dirty when we get political. I agree with sister Sarah that the reappraisers have been far more successful in TEC because of their political (read: church politics) activism. Of course, this makes them all the dirtier for it. Reasserters have not been as active, nor as well organized. Some, like myself, realize the dangers politics pose to the soul, and would prefer to avoid conflict, but I am drawn back by the thought that scripture would tell us that we should instead get up off our duffs, arm ourselves with the Word of God, and engage the enemy (in a non violent way of course).

So how does a minority group of church mice get politically active? I have read the proposals. I have heard the call for an economic boycott. I have listened to the cries to move my church membership to the Diocese of South Carolina. I considered the requests of those in TEC for me to leave. Of the current options, the economic boycott makes the most sense, and I have yet to see any downsides to that approach except that participation in such a scheme might limit access to certain political activities inside the Church.

In addition to no longer funding EDUSC heretics (such as paying for a full time curate to be part of the task force to develop liturgies for same sex blessings), I am considering ramping up the rhetoric, but in order to do so I have to continue my own efforts to study the scriptures in order to be a more effective voice. I never asked for this. In fact, I hate politics. I would rather the Lord lead me elsewhere, to a place of peace, quiet, and solitude like my cave, but He has left me here, in this insane thing called TEC, and I must soldier on.

So let's get political, political...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

National Champs

Congrats to the Gamecocks of SC for winning the College Baseball Championship in extra innings. Good game.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What to Believe

When our rector started today's sermon by saying that scripture must be understood from a historical contextual viewpoint in order to know what to believe, I recognized that this sermon should probably best be ignored. I closed my eyes, and sixteen minutes later I awoke from my reverie and resumed the group worship of the Lord.

A few bits and pieces of what was said during the sermon did break through to my consciousness. The rector tried to compare the Roman empire with America by equating the empire's love of athletics, manly behaviors, and spending more money on an army than their rivals with the current times. He went on to focus on Paul's letter to the Galatians which was one of today's readings.
Galatians 5:1,13-25
"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit."
Thanks to the wisdom of the RCL, some verses got cut out, including this humdinger,
12 "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!"
I was alerted when the rector got to the warnings of Paul. According to the rector those warnings about sexuality are "dated." I guess sexual morality has progressed to a higher state in today's U.S.A. Maybe that is why the local paper's birth announcements contain more unwed mothers than married couples as parents of the next generation. Maybe the high divorce rates amongst married people are also evidence of how highly evolved we are from the time of the Galatians. By failing to bring up these modern problems, I am afraid the rector glossed over a good comparison of life in the Roman empire with life today. "Dated" indeed! What an appropriate term to use in an historical contextual exegesis.

Later, he tried to salvage the sermon by focusing on Paul's list of the fruits of the Spirit, but he ignored the fact that you have to crucify the flesh and its passions to enjoy those fruits. I guess we should be able to pick and choose which passions we believe we should enjoy and which ones we should crucify. That has all the makings of a build your own religion by taking one from column A and one from column B. This is one of the dangers of trying to weasel your way out of a pure historical exegesis. The danger is that you can rationalize a way to ignore large chunks of very good teachings. The only problem is that when you try to make your new rewritten scripture relevant to the present, you are not staying true to the historical contextual approach. You are, in fact, attempting to move beyond the restrictions that you see the Bible placing on your desires and passions. You wish to "live into" your passions when Paul tells us to crucify them. In order to continue in your charade of being a Christian, you then have to redefine the passions of the flesh. I am sorry, but they have not changed from Paul's day. They are not "dated."

So, what do people in the pews believe? We desire to believe whatever we want. Give me a little from column A and a little from column B any day. God, on the other hand, has done His best to say to us, "That does not work. Listen to me!"

What do you believe?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Behold the Caveman

A couple of things came together in the past couple of weeks. For one thing, there was the report of Neanderthal DNA mixed into our melting pot. Scooper gave his take on that over at the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua.

Northern Plains Anglicans culled this quote from Gregory the Great and I just had to find a cartoon to fit,
"...let us turn the back of our minds on this corruption of temporal life, let us turn the faces of our hearts to the freedom of the Heavenly Kingdom. But behold, there are still many things that oppress us from the care of corruptible life. Therefore because we cannot depart perfectly, at least let us stand in the door of our cave, ready to leave at any time propitiously through the grace of Our Savior Who lives and reigns with the Father in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, God, unto all ages of ages. Amen."

I guess Gregory was expressing some of his Neanderthal DNA. He speaks to the imperfection of our earthly existence, and the hope for things to come. In order to realize that hope, we do have to stick our necks out of the caves in which we live. I discovered this a few years ago...

Behold the caveman, he only makes progress when he sticks his neck out of his cave.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: Deus ex Machina

h/t Creedal Christian

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is a term that Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton authors of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers used to describe their findings from a study of the dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States. The creed of this religion, is summarized as follows,

1. "A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over
human life on earth."
2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem."
5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

Do any of those sound familiar?

Do any of those sound wrong?
#4 made me think of this:

My High School English teacher taught us that the Deus ex machina method of plot resolution was an indication of a weak writer whose storyline had probably gotten too confused to resolve without the help of an external source. From what I can remember of those confused, conflicted, teenage years, I probably would have been happy with such a god, one who would drop in only when I was in a jam. Where was that god when I was taking the SATs?

In his summary of these findings, Smith writes,
"Feeling good about oneself is thus also an essential aspect of living a moral life, according to this dominant de facto teenage religious faith. Which leads to our next point. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace."
I wonder how much of that teenage self centered pleasure seeking is due to nature vs. nurture.
"But this God is not Trinitarian, he did not speak through the Torah or the prophets of Israel, was never resurrected from the dead, and does not fill and transform people through his Spirit. This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist—he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."
Where do teens get these ideas? Perhaps they get them from church and parents!
" seems that (MTD) is simply colonizing many established religious traditions and congregations in the United States, that it is merely becoming the new spirit living within the old body. Its typical embrace and practice is de facto, functional, practical, and tacit—not formal or acknowledged as a distinctive religion. Furthermore, we are not suggesting that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a religious faith limited to teenage
adherents in the United States. To the contrary, it seems that it is also a widespread, popular faith among very many U.S. adults. Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth."

I'll buy that argument as far as the Episcopal church is concerned with its poor track record of educating and retaining youth.
"...the elements of its creed are normally assimilated by degrees, in parts, admixed with elements of more traditional religious faiths. Indeed, this religious creed appears in this way to operate as a parasitic faith. It cannot sustain its own integral, independent life. Rather it must attach itself like an incubus to established historical religious traditions, feeding on their doctrines and sensibilities, and expanding by mutating their theological substance to resemble its own distinctive image."

I am not sure if I would have used the term "incubus," and maybe I would have opted for our current favorite term "the Borg."

And what happens when the church gets taken over by the Borg?
"...we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of “Christianity” in the United States is actually only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This has happened in the minds and hearts of many individual believers and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions."

Name those institutions, please.
"The language—and therefore experience—of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward."

We have not heard the earned reward part much at our church, but the niceness and happiness part is large part of the Episcopal package.
"It is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith."

Christian Smith is the Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor and associate chair in the
Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Smith is the director of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a research project funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc.

Thank you Christopher Smith. Now what do we do about it?

Maybe the god will drop in and resolve the problem. Unfortunately, I have discovered that particular god is constructed and controlled by human stage hands.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

There's Something Wrong with Our Bloody Lectionary Today

With apologies to Admiral David Richard Beatty who made a similar comment about his ships as they went down at the battle of Jutland.

So what is going on with our bloody lectionary? For those of you who do not engage in a daily church service or on-line worship, there does exist this lectionary thingy that over the years has evolved into what we call the Revised Common Lectionary, or RCL for short, that provides groupings of Psalms, O.T. readings, Epistle readings, and Gospel readings for morning and evening worship and for worship on Sundays, Eucharistic readings, and feasts and Holy days. For the past several years, I have been providing some humble commentary on the verses of the Bible that get left out of the Sunday Eucharistic readings. These missing verses appear in the middle of the Biblical texts and most pewsitters are unaware of the omissions as they listen or sit reading along in their bulletins. Some of these edits appear suspicious in that imprecatory, difficult, or potentially controversial verses wind up being the ones that are expurgated. I don't see as much of this going on during the week as I see on Sundays, but today the RCL tried to sneak one by me. You see, during the weekdays, the RCL usually reads straight through a book of the Bible so that you can get through the entire Gospel of Luke for example in a series of daily readings. But look at what happens to Paul's letter to the Romans between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

On Tuesday we read (or hear) Romans 1:16-25.

On Wednesday we get Romans 1:28-2:11.

Does anyone notice the missing verses???

I have heard the excuse that the lectionary shortens some Sunday readings so that the service does not run long. I think we have debunked that myth in the past when it was noted that one or two verses were all that was cut. Just yesterday I was reading an explanation of the Lectionary in the Prayer Book Society's Spring Quarter 2010 (print version not on-line) of "Mandate," and while the Rev. Gavin Dunbar gives a capable commentary on the history, weaknesses, structures, and purpose the lectionaries, there was no comment like the one I am about to make about the RCL:

There is a conspiracy to keep you from reading things that might offend the zeitgeist.

I hate conspiracy theories, and here I go starting one, but what else can I do when I pick up the Bible and read today's missing verses:

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Or as we used to hear when read from the KJV:

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

(Romans 1:26-27)

Does this rank up there with the time the RCL dropped the following from the Sunday reading of May 16, 2010 (reported here)?
"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."
(Revelation 22:18-19)
Maybe not, but when even an under the radar Bible reader like me notices that the verses that sound easy, sweet, and soothing never seem to be the ones that get sunk, is it any wonder that one's mind starts questioning the intentions of those commanding the fleet?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Who is Going to Save This Land?

I just got finished watching President Obama's speech from the Oval Office about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I recall that last week he said he was trying to find an @$$ to kick.

For some reason, a Randy Newman song from his 1974 "Good Old Boys" album came to mind. Around the 1:38 mark of the video comes the following line:

"Who took on the Standard Oil men
And whipped their ass
Just like he promised he'd do?
Ain't no Standard Oil men gonna run this state
Gonna be run by little folks like me and you

Kingfish, Kingfish
Friend of the working man
Kingfish, Kingfish
The Kingfish gonna save this land"

I don't know why, but Randy Newman's dark humor about the populist Louisiana Governor Huey Long seems appropriate right now. I don't know if Louisiana ever recovered from the first Kingfish. Let us pray that God will save this land.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Heaven on Earth

In hopes of clearing away any distractions, let's start off by reading the bit of the story of Nathan's prophesy to David that got cut from 2 Samuel 12 by the RCL.

11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.

12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

Once again we are left wondering why these edits are being made. Was the prophesy too sexy for Sunday? The story of David and Bathsheba already had enough of that in there as it was. Leaving out the rest of Nathan's prophesy might lead us to forget the sexual sins in 2 Samuel 16,
22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

The stories of David and his problems are powerful reminders of sin, repentance, punishment, and alas, recidivism.

Today's sermon at ECOOS was given by our deacon, Rick Hanners, who did a fine job of sticking to the Gospel (Luke 7:36-8:3). The story of Jesus' dinner at the Pharisee's house where the sinful woman washes the Lord's feet with her tears, and then dries them with her hair, has often been mis-spun by preachers who are distracted by the sensual overtones. Fortunately, the bishop's deacon stuck to his guns and spoke of sin, forgiveness, and compassion.

Freed from distraction, worship today was, like Jesus's dusty feet were for the sinful woman, Heaven on Earth. In a little "Godincidence," "In My World" was playing in my car as I drove home from church today. Here is a solo version from Justin Hayword:

The Moody Blues version was released on "Long Distance Voyager 1981." (Amazon Link)

Even though you often have to ignore a phrase or two (I struck through one below), sometimes secular love songs have amazing parallels to the love we experience with Jesus.

In my world
It's heaven on earth when you're close to me
I could see
That moment of truth when you spoke to me
In my world
It's never too late we can both be free
In my world
It's heaven on earth when you're near

If you knew
The changes I feel that you put me through
And you do
I see in your eyes that you really do
And it's true
It happened so fast that it must be true
In my world
It's heaven on earth when you're near

And I'm only just beginning
To believe what you have done
How you turned it upside down
This world of mine
And it seems while I was looking
It was right in front of me
All the time

In my world
It's heaven on earth when you're close to me
I could see
That moment of truth when you spoke to me
In my world
It's never too late we can both be free
In my world
It's heaven on earth when you're near

'Cos I'm only just beginning
To believe what you have done
How you turned it upside down
This world of mine
And it seems while I was looking
It was right in front of me
All the time

If you knew
The changes I feel that you put me through
And you do
I see in your eyes that you really do
And it's true
It happened so fast that it must be true
In my world
It's heaven on earth when you're near

As far as love songs go, when Heaven comes down to Earth, I tend to get teary eyed too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Cardinal Doctrines of Modern Liberalism

From Chapter 6 of Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen originally published in 1923 (Macmillan, NY). A cardinal doctrine of modern liberalism is that the world's evil may be overcome by the world's good; no help is thought to be needed from outside the world.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

No More Tiers

With all the recent buzz about the Archbishop of Canterbury starting to apply his principles of a two tiered approach to thinking about an Anglican Communion, I had the image of a wedding cake come to mind.

The Archbishop is not looking at things through a broad enough perspective. He should realize that there are endless possibilities when making a tiered structure. Simply dividing things into two levels seems rather arbitrary, and he might be limiting the potential of the communion. I am sorry if I am being facetious. Just imagine adding more tiers until you wind up with something like this,

Oops, too many tiers bring division don't they?

My point is that I think the Archbishop's two tiered approach to a communion of churches just ain't gonna cut it.

People's eyes are always drawn to the top of the cake. That's where the doll images of the bride and groom are usually found. The top of the cake bears the symbol of union and is usually reserved for the newlyweds. In this analogy, the dolls symbolize the union of Christ and the Church. But don't forget about the lower levels. Those are the ones that the guests get to eat.

The following was sent to me last month by the C.S. Lewis Institute. I saw some similarities between these cake tiers and Lewis' class structure. Lewis' piece stands on its own without the need for supporting comment, but I think there is plenty to chew on. I usually have to slow down and concentrate when reading his thoughts, so I have separated some of Lewis' writing into paragraphs which might help you to stay focused on his individual points. I have added emphasis as well to things that struck me.

h/t C.S. Lewis Institute.

"The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them.

In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time 'on parade' and 'off parade,' 'in school' and 'out of school.'

But the third class is of those who can say like St. Paul that for them “to live is Christ.” These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us enough to live on. As long as we are in this class we must either feel guilt because we have not paid the tax or penury because we have. The Christian doctrine that there is no 'salvation' by works done according to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. .

If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us."

C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns: Essays by C.S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper (Harcourt Bruce, 1986), p. 21-22.

If all those wants and desires of the natural self desert us in the end, why do we who live in that great second class continue to follow after them? Why can't we overcome our selves? What keeps us from being part of that third class?

Thankfully, God's mercy is not restricted to those in the third class or the top tier. There is plenty of work to be done in the second tier. We can't all be saints... can we?

The messy Church in which we live and pray is all too often stuck in the second tier at its best, and in the first tier at its worst. To be a force that instructs and incentivizes people to gain the bridal cake should be the Church's goal.

Begging to love Him with all my heart, all my mind, and all my soul, and that I might yield all those possessive "mys" unto Him...

So I won't have need for tiers...

So I can eat some cake!


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Spit Not, Hit Not

This week's sermon at ECOOS was an excellent example for newcomers to the Episcopal church to hear how the social gospel of justice, when applied to current issues, and projected by an unqualified speaker, can be twisted into a distasteful, tangled, political diatribe that in the end causes harm to the body of Christ.

Today's lengthy homily is blessedly fading from my memory, but to summarize, errors began right off the bat when the rector said that both Elijah and Jesus were prophets but failed to explain any differences between the two. This is very bad teaching because it might lead us simple pewsitters into the heresy of Arianism. I suspect most pewsitters let that pass without notice, but it seemed like a lost opportunity to examine the difference between a fully human prophet and the Son of God, and how important it is to our salvation that there is a difference between the two.

Later, the sermon deteriorated into a tirade against people who "hate the government." These people are bad because the government provides for the widows and orphans and pensioners through our wonderful social safety net and social security system. The rector, in an increasingly agitated state, vociferously said he wanted to "spit upon" those who hate the government. Hmmm...I seem to recall that he himself was in the government hating group during the years of the Bush administration. Is this "change we can believe in?" Next, the rector went on to bash the state of Arizona and its recent laws regarding how police should manage a certain category of law breakers. To top it off, he reiterated his desire to spit on people once again.

I am trying to remember that new fangled baptismal covenant thingy that people like to throw at me...Let's see...Oh yes, p. 305,
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Throughout the ages, being spat upon has been a powerful act of degradation, an act contrary to the principle of respect for human dignity.
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. Matthew 27:30 (KJV)

Sometimes I picture myself in that crowd, spitting upon the Lord my God, I later kick myself, and then bow down in prayer for that same God to save me. Once I felt my feelings of indignation mount today, I made sure to confess those feelings before ascending the steps to the altar rail for communion. I was reminded during my confession of Article XXVI of the Articles of Religion that I should accept the bread of life from someone who is, after all, just another fallible face in the crowd.

Still, I can't shake the feeling that such preaching is not only degrading, but harmful to the body of Christ. It appeared that way to at least one visitor today who, like earlier visitors, left clutching his Bible on the way out the door.

Friday, June 04, 2010

"Let the Galled Jade Wince "

A little Shakespeare came to mind after studying the recent exchange of Pentecostal letters: the first letter was from the Archbishop of Canterbury who indicated his advice to remove the Episcopal Church from certain councils because of the continued ordination of non celibate homosexuals, and his advice for members of the Anglican Communion to agree to the "Anglican Covenant," and the second letter was from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church who claims to be going with the Holy Spirit while ignoring her catechism:
Q. How do we recognize the truths taught by the Holy
A. We recognize truths to be taught by the Holy Spirit
when they are in accord with the Scriptures. (BCP p. 853)

Okay, I promised you a little Shakespeare, so here it comes,

Ham. Madam, how like you this play?

Queen. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Ham. O! but she’ll keep her word.

King. Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in ’t?

Ham. No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i’ the world.

King. What do you call the play?

Ham. The Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna: Gonzago is the duke’s name; his wife, Baptista. You shall see anon; ’tis a knavish piece of work: but what of that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act III. Scene II. William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

There are so many fitting lines in Act III that I lost count and settled on my first impression from the play within a play. Pick your favorite and see the parallels between Hamlet and Rowan and Katherine.

Some readers might not be familiar with the earlier Acts or the players in the modern tragic play that we might call "T.E.Churchlet." The play itself is part of a series of tragedies from the same author (another puzzle for you to solve). As some comments in the above links have noted, the author uses the human tendency to sin to full advantage in shaping his characters and their actions. Even though I am familiar with the plot, I remain puzzled as to why the lady doth protest too much. Is she doing this out of anger at the great Archbishop? Is she hurt? Is she merely trying to appease her minions? Is she trying to place the blame elsewhere, or is she revealing her own guilt?

"'Let the galled jade winch, our withers are unwrung:' i.e., let the one who has a guilty conscience wince; not us, who don't have guilty consciences. A 'jade' is a bad horse, one that is hard to control. A horse that is galled has a sore, caused by the chafing of its saddle or other tack. If the sore is on the withers (the ridge between a horses shoulders), the withers are wrung, rubbed sore."(from notes)

The Archbishop's "action" might start to marginalize the Episcopal Church on the Aoc's "second track," but that alone should not stop the lady from continuing in her spirit (little "s") led path. That path will lead to several sequels for our viewing pleasure, the first of which will be the "liturgization" of blessings for same sex relationships. The background resources for these "blessings" are currently being gathered by a task force on which our young curate has been selected to serve. This task force was authorized by the passage of resolution CO56 by the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal church, and the task force is to report the materials it has gathered to the 2012 General Convention.

Unfortunately, we pewsitters have roles in the tragedy as well. It is we who are financing the next installment in the tragic series. Our pledges, which were made with the intention of building God's Church, will buy us tickets to its destruction.

Alas, poor church! I knew it, Horatio, a church of infinite
patience, of most excellent fancy. It hath bore me on its back a
thousand times, and now how abhorr'd in my imagination it is!
My gorge rises at it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Lily's Last Stand?

Landsford Canal State Park is one of South Carolina's secret destinations this time of year. A 20 minute drive from Rock Hill, the park is home to a huge stand of "Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies." These interesting plants live in the middle of the Catawba river and thrive in the shallow, running waters at the site of a early 19th century canal project. May is the season for these flowers to bloom and I am reminded of part of today's lectionary reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15,
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

There was an time for canal building in America. That time has past, and as the writer of Ecclesiastes might say, "All was vanity." The canal itself no longer exists, but the stone ruins of its guard locks can be viewed just a short walk from the park entrance.

Taking the nature trail for another half mile would lead to a lookout area to view the spider lilies,

but the canal trail looked quiet and inviting.

Maybe next time. This was May 29th and the lilies were in bloom. I am afraid that my pictures don't do the vista justice.

Lilies have been associated with funerals which I suppose is because they symbolize the purity and innocence of the redeemed Christian soul.

These lilies, constantly bathed by the flowing waters of the Catawba seem especially appropriate symbols of our eternal life and the means of our redemption.

Another way to see the lilies is by canoe or kayak. Just put in at the park picnic area, float downstream, and take out at the lower parking area. Because the waters are shallow and rocky, (hence the need for the canal) it is best to use an older vessel for your voyage. Next year I am going to bring the kayak I bought at a city auction a few years back, the one with "Rock Hill Rocks" printed on the side and plenty of dings in its bottom.

The spider lilies also can be found in Columbia,

but the "wow" factor at Landsford Canal State Park is worth the trip. See you next May!

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them).