Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Old Churches, Old Battles, Requiem Aeternam

Today is the day set aside for Joan of Arc. The Psalm appointed is Psalm 144.
1 Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
   who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
2 my rock and my fortress,
   my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
   who subdues the peoples under me.

3 O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them,
   or mortals that you think of them?
4 They are like a breath;
   their days are like a passing shadow.

5 Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down;
   touch the mountains so that they smoke.
6 Make the lightning flash and scatter them;
   send out your arrows and rout them.
7 Stretch out your hand from on high;
   set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters,
   from the hand of aliens,
8 whose mouths speak lies,
   and whose right hands are false.

9 I will sing a new song to you, O God;
   upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,
10 the one who gives victory to kings,
   who rescues his servant David.
11 Rescue me from the cruel sword,
   and deliver me from the hand of aliens,
whose mouths speak lies,
   and whose right hands are false.

12 May our sons in their youth
   be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars,
   cut for the building of a palace.
This past Monday was Memorial Day, and I pause to pray that verses 11 and 12 are heard, Lord hear our prayer. So many young people have given their lives for us over the centuries that we owe it to them to pause and give thanks for their sacrifice. Cut down "like plants full grown", they remain as pillars of our country. Standing among these pillars are also those who tend to get forgotten on Memorial Day, but their graves may often be found alongside the graves of the patriots.

I recall an old abandoned church in Virginia that has been maintained as a memorial to the fallen.

Blandford Church, Petersburg

From Eastman House "Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War" 1866 comes this old account;
"Old Blandford Church," of which a view is here presented, is a great object of interest to all visitors; the cemetery surrounding it having monuments erected one hundred and fifty years ago. The walls of the main body of the building are of English brick, imported from the mother country. The services of the Episcopal Church were first performed in 1735, and continued to be read until 1825, nearly a century. Since that time, owing to the movement of the inhabitants of Blandford to the present site of Petersburg, the church has not been used, although the cemetery, now much enlarged, still continues to be the general depository of the dead. The ivy-covered walls now stand as a historic monument of what was formerly the aristocratic portion of the city. In the cemetery the stranger is not only shown the almost obliterated slab beneath which rests the remains of General Phillips, who died May, 1781, during the war of independence, but also the monument, erected to the memory of the brave volunteers from the "Cockade City," who left houses and friends in the war of 1812. The greater space, however, has been allotted during the last four years to the graves of "Our Soldiers," these words being cut on a simple wooden cross, to mark the resting place of the Confederate dead.

A somewhat eccentric sexton, whose father before him performed the same duties, is generally on the spot to enlighten visitors in regard to the history of the church, and is apparently much pleased to do so from the manner in which he enters upon his oft-repeated narrative. During the siege the edifice and its surroundings suffered but little damage from shot or shell, although the position was in front of the point of attack at the time of the explosion of the mine on the 30th July, 1864.
Church buildings may live on as memorials to congregations long departed. It is good to see this church put to an honorable use.

Interestingly, the church contains what is reportedly the only Tiffany window depiction of a Confederate battle flag.


Prayer For Joan (traditional language) Holy God, whose power is made perfect in weakness: we honor thy calling of Jeanne d’Arc, who, though young, rose up in valor to bear thy standard for her country, and endured with grace and fortitude both victory and defeat; and we pray that we, like Jeanne, may bear witness to the truth that is in us to friends and enemies alike, and, encouraged by the companionship of thy saints, give ourselves bravely to the struggle for justice in our time; through Christ our Savior, who with thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

That Helpless State of Indecision About Doctrinal Truth

This is the day we remember the Pentecost as well as beginning the part of the Church year named after this particular event. How certain are you of the truth contained in the story of the Pentecost? Can you cling to it? 

Today I present three ways of looking at the problem of uncertainty.

The first comes from a self described atheist, Adam Frank who contributed a piece to NPR on May 15, 2012 entitled "The Liberating Embrace of Uncertainty". In it he writes,

The only constant is change. It's the most basic fact of human existence. Nothing lasts, nothing stays the same.
We feel it with each breath. From birth to the unknown moment of our passing, we ride a river of change. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we exhaust ourselves in an endless search for solidity. We hunger for something that lasts, some idea or principle that rises above time and change. We hunger for certainty. That is a big problem.
It might even be THE problem.

Religions are often built around this heartache for certainty. In the face of sickness, loss and grief, a thousand dogmas with a thousand names have risen. Many profess that if only the faithful hold fast to the "rules," the "precepts" or the "doctrine" then certainty can be obtained.
Fate and future can be fixed through promises of freedom from immediate suffering, divine favor or everlasting salvation. Scriptures are transformed into unwavering blueprints for an unchanging order. These documents must live beyond question lest the certainty they provide crumble. When human spiritual endeavor devolves into these white-knuckle forms of clinging they become monuments to the fear of change and uncertainty.

Notice how his second paragraph contains a strawman construct based on his prejudices against religion. 

If only he could be shown how to satisfy that "hunger for something that lasts". 

I submit this response from the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool,

H/t Erik 
Do you want to understand what the times require of you in reference to your own soul? Listen, and I will tell you. You live in times of peculiar spiritual danger. Never perhaps were there more traps and pitfalls in the way to heaven; never certainly were those traps so skillfully baited, and those pitfalls so ingeniously made. Mind what you are about. Look well to your goings. Ponder the paths of your feet. Take heed lest you come to eternal grief, and ruin your own soul. Beware of practical infidelity under the specious name of free thought. Beware of a helpless state of indecision about doctrinal truth under the plausible idea of not being party–spirited, and under the baneful influence of so–called liberality and charity. Beware of frittering away life in wishing and meaning and hoping for the day of decision, until the door is shut, and you are given over to a dead conscience, and die without hope. Awake to a sense of your danger. Arise and give diligence to make your calling and election sure, whatever else you leave uncertain. The kingdom of God is very near. Christ the almighty Savior, Christ the sinner’s Friend, Christ and eternal life, are ready for you if you will only come to Christ. Arise and cast away excuses; this very day Christ calls you. Wait not for company if you cannot have it; wait for nobody. The times, I repeat, are desperately dangerous. If only few are in the narrow way of life, resolve that by God’s help you at any rate will be among the few.~ J.C. RyleTract: Needs of the Times

The third way is a little something I got from the readings from John 16 today,
12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  
We have the promise of Jesus that the Spirit of truth will come to guide us. A lot of time, prayerful thought, and the voice of the Spirit has already been received. Sadly, there are still those who cannot bear to hear what has been passed down to us by the Gospel writers and the Church fathers. People are always eager to reject what once passed for the truth and to claim their new found truth as having come from the Spirit. I guess the older truths must have been from some other spirit.   

Beware of a helpless state of indecision about doctrinal truth. That particular cross, doctrinal truth, is not impossible to bear.  

Beware of false spirits, those that through their contradictions of the Gospel of Christ do not glorify Him nor declare to us that which is His. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Screwtape Letters to be Performed in Charlotte

I saw this off Broadway, and I highly recommend it to those in the Charlotte area when it comes to town on. Here is the date and time.

June 29 - 30, 2012
at the  KNIGHT THEATER at Levine Center for the Arts,
430 South Tryon St.
Charlotte, NC 28202 

I posted my review in a previous post, and I repost it here:
This play was a dramatic rendering of CS Lewis' classic book (which I had read several years back). I really enjoyed this presentation, in part because it brought to life the very real presence of a tempter in our lives. It also showed a contemporary audience the cosmic battle over souls that we so often deny in this day and age. As far as the battle goes, we know Who will win, but poor "Uncle" Screwtape is doomed as he will never be able to figure out God's strategy. Screwtape holds fast to his hypothesis that God must have something up His sleeve when He says that He loves us "hairy creatures." God can't really mean that! The penultimate schemer, Screwtape is incapable of understanding God because Screwtape only understands scheming and understands "purpose" to mean something that is driven by selfish desire. Agape is incomprehensible to these tempters.
To quote the theater's description,
"C.S. Lewis' brilliant novel The Screwtape Letters, reveals spiritual warfare from a demon's point of view. A sold-out hit in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., this funny, provocative, and wickedly witty theatrical adaptation starring Max McLean as Screwtape will change the way you think about how demons influence your everyday life.
Performance includes special after-show talkback with Max McLean."
When we saw it in NYC, it was not exactly sold out, but that helped us get seats within spitting distance of the demon himself.

I am not sure why this is rated PG-13.
"The performance is appropriate for ages 13 and up; children under 4 will not be admitted into the theatre."
Since no one among the audience of this blog is likely to be under 4 years of age, I guess I am safe in encouraging all my readers to go to the show. This would be a good outing for an adult Sunday School class.

For ticket information click here: Blumenthal Performing Arts, Belk Theater, Knight Theater, Spirit Square, Charlotte, NC - The Screwtape Letters

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ascension Sunday

This Sunday we celebrated Jesus' ascension in a service led by the youth. The Gospel reading was,
Luke 24:44-53
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Over the years, the numbers of youth in the Episcopal church has declined along with the decline in overall numbers. Locally, this is seen in the fact that our congregation can boast of just two graduating seniors (HS) this year.

Our homily today was given by the one graduating senior in attendance.

Who will be there to spread the Good News and proclaim "repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name" in years to come?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Timeline of Episcopal Legislation on Homosexuality: Excerpts from L' Episcopal Livre, "Fifty Shades of Bleu"

Every three years the Episcopal church holds a convention, and delegates to that convention get a copy of something called the "Blue Book." Commitee reports, reolutions to the convention, the proposed budget and much more gets included in this publication. The book once had a blue cover, and that is where we get the name. But like the horse of a different color, and like doctrine in TEc, the book cover keeps changing color. This year the book cover appears to be an off-pink, which is appropriate given the legislation that is being proposed this year. The whole 300 plus pages are available online where you can download it as a .pdf file.

                         (Not this book but you gotta dig the picture)

If you want GC 2012's "Blue Book" you will have to go to .

My computer initially gave me a pop-up warning that this file may contain harmful material. I guess the same scrrening process that is keeping the recent book, "Fifty Shades of Grey" out of some libraries has spotted something morally offensive in the Episcopal Blue Book. What to do? To quote the linked article, "But sexually deviant or not, the book is still a book."  I have an old computer that I wouldn't mind replacing, so I downloaded the Episcopal version anyway. If, after reading this post, you believe that I have been harmed in anyway, blame TEc.

After studying the liturgies for same sex blessings (which happen to be in the same section with updates to the blessings of animals), I found the following summary of how we got from point A to point B in the course of my lifetime. This was presented to the people of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina as part of Bishop Waldo's "Preparation for General Convention 2012."

I feel it should be posted more widely as a warning to any Christian denomination that is dipping its toe into this water.  I hope others will see that once you deny the sin, someday you will find yourself called to give it a blessing.

A Review of General Convention Legislation (pp275-278)

The legislative history here shows the development of General Convention deliberations about the place of gay men and lesbians in the life of the Church, particularly with regard to the blessing of their faithful, monogamous, lifelong relationships. Successive conventions have both acknowledged the work of their predecessors and reached new decisions. Resolution texts are from the website of the Archives of the Episcopal Church:

Minneapolis, 1976
For the first time, General Convention adopted a resolution that acknowledged and affirmed the presence of persons of homosexual orientation in the Church.
Resolution 1976-A069
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.

Anaheim, 1985
General Convention reaffirmed the 1976 resolution and encouraged dioceses to deepen understanding.
Resolution 1985-D082
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 68th General Convention urge each diocese of this Church to find an effective way to foster a better understanding of homosexual persons, to dispel myths and prejudices about homosexuality, to provide pastoral support, and to give life to the claim of homosexual persons “upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral care and concern of the Church” as recognized by the General Convention in 1976.

Phoenix, 1991
General Convention affirmed the traditional understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman, and acknowledged “discontinuity” between that teaching and the experience of many members of The Episcopal Church.
Resolution 1991-A104
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirms that the teaching of the Episcopal Church is that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous “union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind” “intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer; and be it further
Resolved, That this Church continues to work to reconcile the discontinuity between this teaching and the experience of many members of this body; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention confesses our failure to lead and to resolve this discontinuity through legislative efforts based upon resolutions directed at singular and various aspects of these issues; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention commissions the Bishops and members of each Diocesan Deputation to initiate a means for all congregations in their jurisdiction to enter into dialogue and deepen their understanding of these complex issues; and further this General Convention directs the President of each Province to appoint one Bishop, one lay deputy and one clerical deputy in that province to Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music 276
facilitate the process, to receive reports from the dioceses at each meeting of their provincial synod and report to the 71st General Convention; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention directs the House of Bishops to prepare a Pastoral Teaching prior to the 71st General Convention using the learnings from the diocesan and provincial processes and calling upon such insight as is necessary from theologians, theological ethicists, social scientists and gay and lesbian persons; and that three lay persons and three members of the clergy from the House of Deputies, appointed by the President of the House of Deputies be included in the preparation of this Pastoral Teaching.

Indianapolis, 1994
General Convention added sexual orientation, along with marital status, sex, disabilities, and age as categories to which non-discrimination in Church membership is assured.
Resolution 1994-C020
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That Title I, Canon 17, Section 5 be amended as follows:
No person shall be denied rights, status [in], or [access to] an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, [or] ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by [this] Canon.
General Convention also called for a study of “the theological foundations and pastoral considerations involved in the development of rites honoring love and commitment between persons of the same sex.”
Resolution 1994-C042
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 71st General Convention direct the Standing Liturgical Commission and the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to prepare and present to the 72nd General Convention, as part of the Church’s ongoing dialogue on human sexuality, a report addressing the theological foundations and pastoral considerations involved in the development of rites honoring love and commitment between persons of the same sex; and be it further
Resolved, That no rites for the honoring of love and commitment between persons of the same sex be developed unless and until the preparation of such rites has been authorized by the General Convention; and be it further
Resolved, That the sum of $8,600 be appropriated to support this work, subject to funding considerations.

Philadelphia, 1997
General Convention reaffirmed the traditional understanding of marriage and called for continuing study.
Resolution 1997-C003
Resolved, That this 72nd General Convention affirm the sacredness of Christian marriage between one man and one woman with intent of life-long relationship; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention direct the Standing Liturgical Commission to continue its study of theological aspects of committed relationships of same-sex couples, and to issue a full report including recommendations of future steps for the resolution of issues related to such committed relationships no later than November 1999 for consideration at the 73rd General Convention.Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

Denver, 2000
General Convention acknowledged relationships other than marriage.
Resolution 2000-D039
Resolved, That the members of the 73rd General Convention intend for this Church to provide a safe and just structure in which all can utilize their gifts and creative energies for mission; and be it further
Resolved, That we acknowledge that while the issues of human sexuality are not yet resolved, there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships; and be it further
Resolved, That we expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God; and be it further
Resolved, That we denounce promiscuity, exploitation, and abusiveness in the relationships of any of our members; and be it further
Resolved, That this Church intends to hold all its members accountable to these values, and will provide for them the prayerful support, encouragement, and pastoral care necessary to live faithfully by them; and be it further
Resolved, That we acknowledge that some, acting in good conscience, who disagree with the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality, will act in contradiction to that position; and be it further
Resolved, That in continuity with previous actions of the General Convention of this Church, and in response to the call for dialogue by the Lambeth Conference, we affirm that those on various sides of controversial issues have a place in the Church, and we reaffirm the imperative to promote conversation between persons of differing experiences and perspectives, while acknowledging the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

Minneapolis, 2003
Acknowledging continuing differences, General Convention recognized “that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.”
Resolution 2003-C051
Resolved, That the 74th General Convention affirm the following:
1. That our life together as a community of faith is grounded in the saving work of Jesus Christ and expressed in the principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: Holy Scripture, the historic Creeds of the Church, the two dominical Sacraments, and the Historic Episcopate.
2. That we reaffirm Resolution A069 of the 65th General Convention (1976) that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”
3. That, in our understanding of homosexual persons, differences exist among us about how best to care pastorally for those who intend to live in monogamous, non-celibate unions; and what is, or should be, required, permitted, or prohibited by the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church concerning the blessing of the same.Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music 278
4. That we reaffirm Resolution D039 of the 73rd General Convention (2000), that “We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God,” and that such relationships exist throughout the church.
5. That we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.
6. That we commit ourselves, and call our church, in the spirit of Resolution A104 of the 70th General Convention (1991), to continued prayer, study, and discernment on the pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons, to include the compilation and development by a special commission organized and appointed by the Presiding Bishop, of resources to facilitate as wide a conversation of discernment as possible throughout the church.
7. That our baptism into Jesus Christ is inseparable from our communion with one another, and we commit ourselves to that communion despite our diversity of opinion and, among dioceses, a diversity of pastoral practice with the gay men and lesbians among us.
8. That it is a matter of faith that our Lord longs for our unity as his disciples, and for us this entails living within the boundaries of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. We believe this discipline expresses faithfulness to our polity and that it will facilitate the conversation we seek, not only in The Episcopal Church, but also in the wider Anglican Communion and beyond.

Anaheim, 2009
The General Convention directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to “collect and develop theological and liturgical resources” for blessing same-gender relationships.
Resolution 2009-C056
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, devise an open process for the conduct of its work inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion; and be it further
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further
Resolved, That the members of this Church be encouraged to engage in this effort.

It is expected that the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will be accepted and promulgated after GC 2012 this July.

What has really led to this seemingly inevitable sequence of resolutions? Many theories abound, but clearly the bishops and priesthood of TEc have, as a majority, pledged allegiance to a non-traditional interpretation of Scripture, and this is what is being taught in the seminaries. We call this a revisionist approach to the Bible. Once revisionists take over, it is only a matter of time before all kinds of strange ideas gain credibility among the clergy and their followers in the pews.

Don't let the kids see the Blue Book, or what I call "L'Episcopal Livre Bleu."  It contains way too much sexually deviant material to be kept in your library.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Was Thinking Most of You

One thing my mother always taught me was to love my enemies. Loving your enemies was something our preacher alluded to when giving a sermon based on John 15:9-17, which was really about loving your friends, but never mind that.

Mother also taught me that you should love your enemies, but don't stick around when they are out to get you.

Dad backed her up but suggested I get at least one punch in by advising me that "he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day."  (Demosthenes 338 B.C.)

Since I am unable to thank her in person for the advice that has carried me thus far (with only minor wounds to show for trying to follow Dad's advice), I will offer up the bastardized version of "Just Before the Battle, Mother" I learned back in grade school.

I remember the look on her face when I sang this,

Just before the battle, mither,
I weren't thinking t'all of you. 
When I heard the Rebels coming,
To the rear I quickly flew,
Where the shirkers and the cowards,
Thinking of their homes and wives
'Twas not the Rebs we feared, dear mother,
But our own dear precious lives.

Farewell, mither, for you'll never,
See my name among the slain,
For if I can only skedaddle,
Dear mither, 
I'll come home again.

I hear the bugle sounding, mother,
My soul ain't eager for the fray.
I guess I'll hide behind some cover
And then I should be okay.
Discretion's the better part of valour,
At least that's what I've heard you say,
And he who loves his life dear mother,
Won't fight if he can run away.

Fare well, mither, for you'll never,
See my name among the slain,
For if I can only skedaddle,
Dear mither, 
I'll come home again.

Thanks Mom!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Taking Care When Proclaiming "God is Love"

How many people heard a sermon this past Sunday based on the reading from 1 John 4:7-21 ?

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
I don't know about you, but I sure have heard a whole lot about "God is love" in past sermons. I sometimes was left wondering if the preacher was talking about "Love" with a capital "L" or not.  God as love is actually a bit harder to get your mind around than it would seem. Our typical frame of reference when thinking about this subject is based on our peculiar human experience, but there is another frame of reference, and that is found when we consult the witness of Scripture as to "the why" we come to the conclusion that God is Love. John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 - 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, and he gave a warning to those who might preach on this matter,   

 H/t Erik.
"Let us proclaim to all the world that God is love. But let us carefully remember that we know little or nothing of God's love which can give us comfort, excepting in Jesus Christ. It is not written that God so loved the world that He will take all the world to heaven—but that He so loved it, that He has given His only begotten Son. He who ventures on God's love without reference to Christ—is building on a foundation of sand!" ~ J.C. Ryle Tract: Do You Believe?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Playing the Holy Spirit Card

Ever since the arrival of our new priest, the Sunday bulletin no longer prints the rubric, "All baptised Christians are welcome to recieve Communion" (or something to that effect). Our new priest now verbally instructs those in attendance that "All are welcome" to come up for Communion. Knowing that the Episcopal left is leaning toward Communion of the unbaptised or Communion without Baptism (CWOB), and that many of them believe this to be the next great move of the Holy Spirit, one that is sure to bring boatloads of people streaming into the Church, and that a resolution to the Episcopal General Convention will be proposed this year in favor of CWOB, I have been waiting to hear some hints from our new priest about how we should view the matter.

While not directly taking on the challenge of CWOB today, our priest laid the groundwork for what I foresee to be a future assault on the issue. The reading from Acts 8:26-40 was about Philip's conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, a story which makes no mention whatsoever about CWOB, but might have been used to prep us for the subject. We heard all about Philip being guided by an angel, by the Holy Spirit into a new thing, inclusion, radical departures from the norm, all of which might be appropriate when talking about Jesus' call for us to repent, to be healed, and to be baptized, but then our priest included the story of a certain Sara Miles, an Episcopal priest who our priest considers to be a Theologian, and I started getting worried. The story itself was about a rather unusual baptism Sara Miles performed in San Francisco, but the name "Sara Miles" rang a bell. I afraid it was my CWOB alarm bell.

Last year there was a posting on about the CWOB controversy. That is where I first saw the name "Sara Miles." You see, our priest's "theologian" claimed that an initial CWOB led her, an atheist, to later be baptized. So why drag her into the sermon? Maybe to get us to blindly accept her as a reference. Maybe not, but at least I know what our priest is reading. Here is a sample:

"My first communion (at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco) was an entirely unexpected experience of the risen Christ in bread and wine: it knocked me upside down and drew me inexorably toward baptism. While my own conversion might not represent the way things are supposed to happen, it's the way they did happen.

"I hesitate to draw broad conclusions about what that experience means for others, and I agree that individual experience is not the point here. But as someone who's been baptized now for ten years, and continues to share communion with unbaptized people, I'd like to offer some observations.

"I completely agree that the secular rhetoric of "inclusion" or "welcome" is inadequate to explain what's happening sacramentally during communion. Offering communion in order to be friendly, polite, or socially broadminded toward the unbaptized quickly reduces a mystery of God to being about our niceness.

"The pastoral reason for offering communion to everyone without exception strikes me as being far more about the spiritual health of the baptized partakers––we who say repeatedly that we're not worthy to receive the meal, and yet frequently pretend that we're somehow prepared for it. I think it's good for Christians to eat bread and wine alongside people who incarnate the truth that nobody gets communion because she deserves it––or, for that matter, understands it. It's good for Christians to see that we can't control who is going to hear the good shepherd's voice, or when. It's good for Christian churches to feel themselves hungry and in need of something they cannot manage.

"It's one thing to pride myself that, from a privileged position of correct belief, I'm generously sharing communion with unbaptized outsiders to make them feel "welcome." It's a very different thing to have to witness God's extravagant love for the unprepared, the unworthy, the laborers who show up at the 11th learn that God might be using foreigners, the unclean, the Gentiles and even the wicked to save me and my tribe, and to show us something about the wideness of his grace.

"Grace is not sequential. It frequently shows up at the wrong time, to the wrong people. It doesn't follow the logic of the world. I'm not sure how we will discern the movement of the Spirit in our present struggles over communion before baptism. But I'm pretty sure it's a mistake to imagine the Spirit tidily walks everyone through a ladder-like curriculum of spiritual development before she decides to blow."
Never mind that she has been breaking the rules of the Church for ten years and has not been disciplined, but consider what may become of the highly touted 1979 BCP Baptismal Covenant.

But before that consider a little history.
In Jesus' day, He himself was baptised, preached repentance and forgiveness, baptised others as did his followers, Jesus healed, forgave sins, and gave up His body and blood for us.

The apostolic order as illustrated by Philip and the eunuch was inquiry, instruction, acceptance, repentance, baptism, and new life as a member of the Body of Christ.
The pre-1979 BCP  Episcopal order of business was Baptism (usually as an infant), instruction and acceptance followed by Confirmation as teenager, and then Communion.

Post 1979 the order was Baptism, Communion, and maybe Confirmation later.

The new proposed order is inquiry, Communion, and hoping the Spirit will "take". I guess baptism will be optional.

The argument our priest used for Philip's breaking of the norm and his baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch was the action of the Holy Spirit.

I am afraid that the argument for CWOB will be similar. I call it "playing the Holy Spirit card."

The problem I have with playing the Holy Spirit card for novelties such as CWOB is that once the card is played, anyone who has a different opinion is automatically cast as being opposed to the Holy Spirit, non-inclusive, and un-welcoming. Most passive Episcopalians would rather let those led by a new spirit go ahead and row their own boat as long as nobody drowns in the process. The problem is that by letting the misled row the boat, a whole lot more people may get lost than initially imagined.

Imagine what happens if an opponent of the new thing stands up and claims that they are the ones being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Mexican standoff right? That would certainly seem like the time to stop rowing and do the necessary theological work.

Well, that did not happen with the debate over homosexual behavior in the priesthood, same sex blessings, and it is not going to happen here.

Sound, theologically based arguments can never prevail in today's Episcopal church against the religious left's ace in the hole.


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Is There a Right to Sexual Self Gratification? Adding Letters to LGBT

At Bishop Waldo's recent "Preparation for General Convention" I listened as people testified to the need for blessings of same sex relationships. I heard the voices of those who believed that only when this was accomplished would they feel gratified, fully accepted, and fulfilled.

Since we humans seem to jump from one desire to the next, and each desire is something we honestly believe will lead to us being self-fulfilled, I wondered with a silent shrug how the approval of same sex blessings would make someone's life complete.

What about those with other sexual orientations? What would help them to feel fully accepted? Don't they have a right to "full inclusion" if they attest that they are in a committed monogamous relationship?

I give you an extreme example.

There was a story from last year in the Detroit News via Gawker: An inmate in the Macomb County Jail accused of bank robbery filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court in Detroit against Gov. Rick Snyder and the state of Michigan, so that he and other prisoners may,
"possess erotic/pornographic materials along with personal televisions, video game consoles and radios."
You have to understand that this man suffers from
"chronic masturbation syndrome and severe sexual discomfort,"
and that
"Sexual deprivation has been used against plaintiff in a way as to both sexually frustrate the plaintiff, deprive the plaintiff of any sort of sexual gratification, and deny the plaintiff his right to sexual reproduction."
I am not sure how the lack of pornography denies one of the "right to sexual reproduction." I was also unaware of another form of human reproduction other than sexual reproduction. Cloning isn't legal... yet.

The lawsuit went nowhere because this guy ignored the basic lessons to be learned from church politics.

First of all, he needed to find a scientific or pseudo-scientific paper to support the idea that his particular syndrome was being mislabeled as a disorder when it was actually a normal and healthy behavior. Then he could have painted anyone who did not go along with the researcher's point of view as close-minded and onaniphobic. Once he had set himself and those like him up as members of an oppressed group, he could then use the fact that there is only one debatable verse in the Old Testament that might speak about his "issue" and garner the support of those liberal clergy who are out there looking for a cause. He could even recruit a certain former Surgeon General's support as well. Thus armed, he could set out to right the terrible wrongs done to him by the Church and society.
Pressure from the streets could lead to anti-discrimination laws being passed, and eventually this guy would be properly understood to have a "right" to sexual gratification. In order to atone for our corporate guilt, he would be given a private cell, access to those cable channels that you and I won't pay for when we go to a hotel, and a place in "Holy Men, Holy women"... oops I was not being politically correct, it is "Holy Women, Holy Men."

Someone might even propose to bless this sexual orientation.

And once he got out of jail, he would not have to go back to robbing banks. I bet he would be invited to appear in movies, speak to collections of bishops at Kanuga retreats, be in photo shoots, and he might get to stay at a certain unnamed mansion, all in order that he live into his authentic self.

Bishop Gene Robinson, whom you may recall once said it was time to move beyond speaking simply of "GLBT" (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered) orientations: "there are so many other letters in the alphabet," he said; "there are so many other sexualities to be explored." He did not elaborate as to what those other sexualities and other letters of the alphabet might be. Little did he suspect that the letter "O" might be his missing vowel.
We haven't fallen that far have we?