Friday, September 30, 2011

My Patron Saint's Day

After taking the quiz in the sidebar of this blog, I found my patron saint and today is his day.

September 30
St. Jerome (345-420)from

Most of the saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he had a very bad temper and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God and his Son Jesus Christ was extraordinarily intense; anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.
He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine said of him, "What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known."

St. Jerome is particularly important for having made a translation of the Bible which came to be called the Vulgate. It is not the most critical edition of the Bible, but its acceptance by the Church was fortunate. As a modern scholar says, "No man before Jerome or among his contemporaries and very few men for many centuries afterwards were so well qualified to do the work." The Council of Trent called for a new and corrected edition of the Vulgate, and declared it the authentic text to be used in the Church.

In order to be able to do such work, Jerome prepared himself well. He was a master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic. He began his studies at his birthplace, Stridon in Dalmatia (in the former Yugoslavia). After his preliminary education he went to Rome, the center of learning at that time, and thence to Trier, Germany, where the scholar was very much in evidence. He spent several years in each place, always trying to find the very best teachers.

After these preparatory studies he traveled extensively in Palestine, marking each spot of Christ's life with an outpouring of devotion. Mystic that he was, he spent five years in the desert of Chalcis so that he might give himself up to prayer, penance and study. Finally he settled in Bethlehem, where he lived in the cave believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. On September 30 in the year 420, Jerome died in Bethlehem. The remains of his body now lie buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.


Jerome was a strong, outspoken man. He had the virtues and the unpleasant fruits of being a fearless critic and all the usual moral problems of a man. He was, as someone has said, no admirer of moderation whether in virtue or against evil. He was swift to anger, but also swift to feel remorse, even more severe on his own shortcomings than on those of others. A pope is said to have remarked, on seeing a picture of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, "You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you" (Butler's Lives of the Saints).


"In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was" ("Letter to St. Eustochium").

Patron Saint of:


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"We shall never get re-union with them."

Today's Gospel reading reminded me of the following comment by C.S. Lewis,
"The world of dogmatic Christianity is a place in which thousands of people of quite different types keep on saying the same thing, and the world of 'broad-mindedness' and watered-down 'religion' is a world where a small number of people (all of the same type) say totally different things and change their minds every few minutes. We shall never get re-union with them." C.S. Lewis in "God in the Dock", 1970 Erdmans Publishing p. 60.
"What was the Gospel reading," you ask?
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Matthew 7:13-21
The "broad minded and watered down" Christian path is a wide road that is so tempting to follow. It is a superhighway full of attractive pipers playing new tunes and their happy followers who seldom miss a chance to belittle those on the path of dogmatic Christianity. The pipers are the proverbial wolves in sheep's clothing, but their disguise is so good, and the path so easy, that those who do not pay attention to dogma are quick to follow them and to accept their false teachings. While they are always welcome to step off the superhighway of death and destruction, forget trying to re-unite with them. Superhighways and footpaths don't work well together. The intersections are deadly.

 You can't change a wide and constantly changing gate into a narrow, steadfast one either.

(From ReverendFun)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lectionary Psalter Slasher Strikes Again

Most folks I talk to are glad that the readings from the Psalter that we are given each Sunday are shortened. I, on the other hand, am a fan of the Psalms and hate to see them changed in any way. The lectionary frequently edits the psalms in addition to the other readings, and I have often questioned the rationale behind such edits. Today, I would rather focus on the effect on the casual churchgoer of what might initially seem to be meaningless changes to Psalm 78 (today's chosen psalm). 
First, read and digest the appointed verses:

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the  Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 

(You may have noted that verses 5-11 were missing from today's psalm.)

12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers. 

Taken on its own, this psalm fragment points to a glorious God, who worked wonders, delivered and provided for the Israelites in the time of Exodus. God is great. People are...well, there ain't a whole lot about people in that version. Maybe they left that part out. Now, where might they have put it? Maybe in those missing verses?

5 He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. 

 9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. 
11 They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them

 As far as lectionary edits go, this one might seem rather minor, and it does leave us with a nice uplifting message, but think about the cumulative effect of hearing only the positives. If one does not hear about how we still resist and offend such a wondrous God, won't we get to feeling a bit too good about ourselves. Doesn't anybody think that there could be lasting harm in this?

I hesitate to speculate again that the goal of the lectionary editors might be to make people feel good about themselves so that folks not leave church feeling guilty, but that does seem to me to be an recurring theme.

The church that tries to teach only positive things will inevitably find itself face to face with people doing negative things. What is such a church to do? How can it turn to scriptures for help if those scriptures have had the wonderful examples of our ancestors' negative behaviors expunged?

And what were they thinking when they make this cut right after verses 2-4 in which we heard that we will not hide these things from future generations?

The net effect is a quiet ruling, "We need to hide that from the coming generation!"

I am afraid that the leaders who guide us with Sunday worship resources are in danger of acting "like those forgotten ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. "

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Secret of Christian Sanctity

Today's Gospel reading leaves us hanging with a call to perfection in Matthew 5:38-48
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
A lot of tough rules for life in that one. As a youngster, that last line always bothered me most. How in the world could I be perfect? One look in the mirror would be a strong argument for the impossible nature of carrying out that order. Not once during my school years did I receive an evaluation that said "Perfect," "Nearly Perfect," or even "Making an effort to be Perfect."

I also remember singing that classic hymn, "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" with the last lines that go, "God helping, to be one too", "why I shouldn't be one too", and "I mean to be one too."

It took a while to understand how totally incapable I am to sanctify myself. It is a common stumbling block, and was commented upon by the late John Stott,
"(Archbishop) William Temple used to illustrate the point in this way. It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can't. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a live like that. Jesus could do it; I can't. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like that. And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like that. This is the secret of Christian sanctity. It is not that we should strive to live like Jesus, but that he by his Spirit should come and live in us. To have him as our example is not enough; we need him as our Savior." John Stott "Basic Christianity," 1958 (p 128 second ed. IVP Books, ISBN 978-0-8308-3403-7)
Self actualization classes will continue to sell, books and television programs aimed at living a happier life through exercise, diet, money making, or political activism will keep seducing millions, but the real secret to happiness has been given to us freely, it is not of our creation, and is not a secret at all.
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." John 14:16-17 (KJV)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

That's Not Fair!

Ever say/hear that one? No? Then you must have thought it at least once. Today's readings give two good examples of how the Lord deals with that underapprecited minority, the complainers.
First, Exodus 16:2-15 presented us with God's gift of manna,

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’

and Matthew 20:1-16 contained the story of the last being first and those upset first workers,

Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
Thankfully, the Lord listened to the Israelites and fed them in the wilderness. Mercifully, he paid the early bird workers, gave them a good explanation (not what they wanted, but what they needed), and didn't toss them out for their complaint. I know that it is "nice" to not complain, but we have a Lord who listens to our complaint. I am not using that as a justification for all of my complaining, but it might provide some solace to you squeaky wheels out there as you squeak against forces beyond your control.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PB Airlines: A Higher Pluralistic Plane

I had a low key 9/11, and intended to keep it that way, but from the head honcho of the Episcopal organization comes this from her 9/11 sermon (h/t T19) just in time to rile me up:
" ...Pray for those who perpetrated the violence of September 11th. Picture their mothers holding them as babes, filled with hope for their future. Pray for those who have sought vengeance for the terror of September 11th or earlier terrors, and pray for all the torturers and terrorists among us. Imagine them sitting in a vineyard, feasting in the late afternoon sun, laughing and making music with former foes, in a land where no one is afraid any more. Pray for families and friends of those who died ten years ago, and envision them as living memorials, bringing greater life and healing in this world, building peace among strangers. Can we recognize the hopes that all parents have for their children? Are we willing to look for the reflection of those infants on the faces of our enemies? Can we recognize the common desire of all the world’s faithful peoples for peace in their own day? Will we claim the same human yearning in our own hearts? Those are all choices we can make – they are not accidents. When we can love our enemies enough to see a different possibility, our own hearts have indeed begun to heal – and God’s kingdom is coming. Amen. So be it. May our hearts be turned toward our enemies. Shalom, salaam, may your peaceful kingdom come, O Lord, in our hearts and in this world. 
Inshallah.* God does will it, for this is the only road to peace."
          The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, and Primate The Episcopal Church

As much as it might upset us, yesterday's reading from 1 Kings 21 shows that the Lord will have mercy even upon those who do great evil... provided they repent.
"I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.” Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.’ (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.) When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.’"
I know that God can heal all wounds, but I am having a hard time imagining sitting down with a unrepentant Mohamed Atta in God's vineyard, listening to the Hallelujah chorus, and downing a cool one while chatting over the good old days. Katherine Jefferts Schori wants me to imagine it. She knows I can do it on my own, just by recognizing our common hopes and dreams of peace.

 Maybe the P.B. is on a higher spiritual plane than I, but I need some help here, and more than she is capable of providing.

While her sermons are pathetic panderings to pluralism, in this case the furtherance of the mission of Allah's followers, we continue to pay her salary. Well, at least she speaks a mean Arabic (although she may not be fully up to speed in the vernacular).

 * Inshallah (from Grapeshisha)
"You must have heard it once in your life if not multiple times daily. Inshallah literally means 'If Allah wills it', or generalized to 'God-willing', but really it is a term of fatalism, which you can't really express in English, and it will be used to express an event in the future. This means that you could hear it peppered throughout conversations on a daily basis, since the future could mean in few minutes as well as tomorrow as well as next year. Let me give you an example: 'I will see you tomorrow, Inshallah'. Or 'We will work together, Inshallah'. However, be aware, the term is not always used in this way, and in many instances when there is not a hope in hell of something happening, it is thrown in for good measure. 'We will sign the contract tomorrow, Inshallah' or 'Inshallah, you will get a pay rise', implying that Allah does not want it so you don't get it. It can even cover uncertainty - 'Inshallah, the engineer will come tomorrow between 4 and 6'. That means you do not know if he will come before 4, after 6, at the allocated time or even at all! And if there is a pause between the end of the sentence and the Inshallah, it means either that the person is not so sure any more or really can't be bothered. Bukhra means tomorrow - combine it with Inshallah, and you have 'Inshallah, Bukhra' the severe form of Spanish termed 'manana effect'. It ain't gonna happen."
Sitting under the grapevines someday with Mohamed Atta, getting down to the celestial vibes of the heavenly orchestra? Inshallah, Bukhra!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Message From the Front Lines

Prophetic words from an old soldier:
"The enemy has not yet thought it worth his while to fling his whole weight against us. But he soon will. This happens in the history of every Christian movement, beginning with the Ministry of Christ Himself. At first it is welcome to all who have no special reason for opposing it: at this stage he who is not against it is for it. What men notice is its difference from those aspects of the World which they already dislike. But later on, as the real meaning of the Christian claim becomes apparent, its demand for total surrender, the sheer chasm between Nature and Supernature, men are increasingly 'offended'. Dislike, terror, and finally hatred succeed: none who will not give it what it asks (and it asks all) can endure it: all who are not with it are against it...

...I think - but how should I know? - that all is going reasonably well. But it is early days. Neither our armour nor our enemies' is fully engaged. Combatants always tend to imagine that the war is further on than it really is."
C.S. Lewis on "The Decline of Religion," in "God in the Dock", 1970 Erdmans Publishing pp 222-3.

I love his long term perspective on things, yet, for the foot-soldier, there are battles to be fought, burdens to be shouldered, and miles to be marched, but to what end? Is the end even within the capabilities of our vision?

This war is likely to be a lot longer than we can possibly imagine.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Deep Church = Mere Christians = Those Supernaturalists?

One buzzword that the modern church likes to use is "relationship." Very often the meaning of the word tends to reflect human interaction and neglects the unique relationship of Christ and the individual. When misused, "relationship" is employed to obscure the particular issue of the day over which we might have a serious disagreement with our fellow churchgoers. Today's readings from Philippians 2:1-11 and a little C.S. Lewis help me to see more clearly the things that bind us together.
"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross." Philippians 2:1-8
That which separates us from the present World should be this faith that God became man for us. This is not something that children will be taught in the secular classroom, nor is it something that we will hear in our day to day work or activities. How un-scientific an idea, "being born in human likeness." Who could possibly believe that? Yet, large numbers of otherwise reasonable modern people still identify themselves as "Christian." Doesn't this indicate that there is a deeply held view of the supernatural as something that is "real" and not the stuff of the imagination? In other words, in spite of all of its efforts, modernity has yet to extinguish the belief in things that it would label "supernatural" or "unbelievable." C.S. Lewis recognized this separateness not just from the modern worldview, but from what he calls the "non-miraculous version" of Christianity that continues to plague our minds, our pulpits, and our seminaries (as evidenced by the recent announcement that the Episcopal Divinity School is having John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark (retired) as the 2011 lecturer for their annual Fall meeting of the Saint John’s Society).
"To a layman, it seems obvious that what unites the Evangelical and the Anglo-Catholic against the 'Liberal' or 'Modernist' is something very clear and momentous, namely, the fact that both are thoroughgoing supernaturalists, who believe in the Creation, the Fall, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, and the Four Last Things. This unites them not only with one another, but with the Christian relgion as understood ubique et ab omnibus.
The point of view from which this agreement seems less important than their divisions, or than the gulf which separates both from any non-miraculous version of Christianity, is to me unintelligible. Perhaps the trouble is that as supernaturalists, whether 'Low' or 'High' Church, thus taken together, they lack a name. May I suggest 'Deep Church'; or, if that fails in humility, Baxter's 'mere Christians'?" -C.S. Lewis "God in the Dock", 1970 Erdmans Publishing p 336.
The attempts to further a non-miraculous version of Christianity will continue to be something that we shall have to deal with, but I have confidence that as long as people of faith turn to the Gospel, as well as prayer and humility before God, then Christians, empowered by their Creator, will reject the false teachings of the Spongs of the present and the voices of his disciples who are to come.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

If the Armour of Light Fits...

Today's reading from Roman's 13:8-14 contained the following in vs 11-14,
"Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."
I was reminded of how before we put on the "armour of light", we have to let Jesus into our lives in the first place. In addition, the idea that "the day is near" brought to mind the following picture.

Holman Hunt - The Light of the World 1853 Keble College, Oxford and St. Paul's Cathedral.

The image has been thought to have been inspired by “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me”. – Revelation 3:20

After reflecting on the image as well as Romans 13, I conjure up thoughts of the time when I peeked out from behind the garden door.

My door was covered with ivy. I had kept it closed for a long time. It had no outer handle for strangers to force it open.

Who was this person outside in the dark?

Why did he want to come in?

He wants me to do what!?

Put on THAT!?