Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Resolutions

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and it marks the beginning of a new Church year. I never have been too keen on New Year's resolutions as the whole new year thing always seemed rather arbitrary to me.

After all, who made January 1 the first day of the new year? Julius Caesar?  Pope Gregory XIII?

Do we really want our year's beginning be a remembrance of a two faced god?

Janus: the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.
Nope, not me, no way.

Perhaps every day should mark a new beginning, and it should demand new resolutions from us.

Nope, that would be too tough.

The liturgical year begins today, so why do we not start the year with Advent resolutions?

I can hear it now, "Are you nuts?"

Yes I am.

So this year I resolve to...

Oh God, I hate resolutions, and I hate to write them down. That makes them so permanent.

Alright, I resolve to pray daily.

Today I will pray for peace as the choir did today as they sang Vivaldi's "Et in Terra Pax".

Luke 2:14 "Gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis."




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California: The Earth and the Cosmos Are Reaching Out and Calling You

One should fully expect to see the prerequisite Episcopal delegation at anything related to "climate change" or "earth Day", so the following should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California, Marc Andrus whose Magical Mandala Tour was featured on these pages a while back (Part 1 here, and Part 2 here). The following invocation is from the "People's Climate March" and it strikes me as something that one might hear at a pagan ceremony.
Invocation for the Conclusion of the People of Faith Service
People’s Climate March
Sunday, September 21, 2014
New York City
“Who calls the clouds of Monarch Butterflies to their annual 4,000-mile migration?”
“The Earth!”
“Who prompts the Arctic Tern in the air, and the Blue Whale in the Ocean to make their 12,000-mile migration?”
“The Earth!”
“Who starts the 500-mile Serengeti Migration, beginning with 250,000 Zebras, then 1.7 million Wildebeasts, and 400,000 Gazelles?”
“The Earth!”
“And who called you to make your journeys, from Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, California, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Everywhere to come to the People’s Climate March?”
“The Earth!”
“Then you are the prayer of the Earth, you are her invocation to God! The Earth and the Cosmos have reached out and called you to make your life a prayer for healing, peace, justice and integrity!” 
+Marc Andrus
Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California 
Uh, like seriously, I mean get real Marc, ya know...

Shouldn't the answers to all of his questions be "The Lord!"? I think he has the whole thing upside down, but I guess that is the way people see things until their eyes are opened.

I hate to be one who quotes scripture to a bishop... not really, I enjoy it,
The heaven, [even] the heavens, [are] the LORD'S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men. Psalm 115:16 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Marriage Pledge and Upper South Carolina

With the redefinition of marriage spreading throughout the land, the issue has finally reached South Carolina where our state Attorney General vowed to fight to the last to uphold traditional male-female marriage, but a Charleston Probate Judge went ahead and issued six "marriage licenses" on Wednesday and our own county probate court followed suit on Thursday.

As the Attorney General appears to have failed, priests, ministers, and pastors in South Carolina face the prospect of being presented with a slip of paper from City Hall claiming that two people are "married" in the eyes of the State, and those persons may be asking for a blessing, a marriage service, or just the minister's signature.

What will our clergy persons do in this new era?

This past week saw the publication of "The Marriage Pledge" over at First Things. It reads,

"In many jurisdictions, including many of the United States, civil authorities have adopted a definition of marriage that explicitly rejects the age-old requirement of male-female pairing. In a few short years or even months, it is very likely that this new definition will become the law of the land, and in all jurisdictions the rights, privileges, and duties of marriage will be granted to men in partnership with men, and women with women. 
As Christian ministers we must bear clear witness. This is a perilous time. Divorce and co-­habitation have weakened marriage. We have been too complacent in our responses to these trends. Now marriage is being fundamentally redefined, and we are ­being tested yet again. If we fail to take clear action, we risk falsifying God’s Word. 
The new definition of marriage no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and woman. Our biblical faith is committed to upholding, celebrating, and furthering this understanding, which is stated many times within the Scriptures and has been repeatedly restated in our wedding ceremonies, church laws, and doctrinal standards for centuries. To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage. 
Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life. 
Please join us in this pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage by adding your name."  
Drafted by:
The Reverend Ephraim Radner
The Reverend Christopher Seitz

That is one way to handle it.

Here is another,

"My old man
He's a singer in the park
He's a walker in the rain
He's a dancer in the dark
We don't need no piece of paper
From the city hall
Keeping us tied and true
No, my old man
Keeping away my blues"

-Joni Mitchell from her album, "Blue"
The churches and the State have been cooperating in the marriage business for a long time, but only since 1911 have people even needed a government license to be married in South Carolina.

Our state makes about 1.8 million dollars a year from marriage license fees, and will be reluctant to get out of the business.

Maybe now is the time for clergy to follow the advice of Bishop Gene Robinson who in 2009 suggested the churches get out of the civil marriage business altogether.

Sarah Hey, a fellow Upper South Carolinian, has encouraged us to spread the pledge and to pass it along to conservative clergy members.

Since there aren't that many of those left, I think we should send it to all of our non-conservative clergy as well.

I did.

So far, I do not see any Upper South Carolina clergy as cosignatories.

C'mon, there has to be one or two still left, or has the purge by our bishop been complete? 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

++Welby: "The Flourishing of the Church of Those Who Disagree"

As the CofE moved this week to ordain female bishops, the money quote unwittingly came from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby himself, (via AFP)
"Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together,"
"We will also continue to seek the flourishing of the church of those who disagree."
The results of the  Episcopal church's experiment of being the church of those who do agree (re: female bishops) suggests, the future of the CofE is likely to be one of steady decline.

This vote ensures that the "church of those who disagree" will indeed flourish (as long as it continues to hold true to the Biblical teachings on the nature of bishops).

Thanks for giving it a kick start Justin!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Words Too Strong For Sunday Ears?

I am quite certain that nobody will notice the omission from the Gospel reading today which was Matthew 25:14-15,19-29,
 Jesus said, "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, `Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, `Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, `Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master replied, `You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."
No, the important part that went unheard was not verses 16-18. It was verse 30,
"And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." AKJV
(Addendum: This verse was mentioned in today's sermon, but it was immediately qualified as we were told that surely the cast out would be let back in next Sunday. I never knew Hell had a revolving front door.)

This Sunday, the pewsitters may have been spared the awful ramifications of being unprofitable, but next week they should get a redeeming dose. For those who do not take the danger of being cast out seriously, or who think that Jesus could never have meant eternal separation from Him, or who presume that the devil does not exist, Our Lord continues in Matthew 14 and separates the sheep from the goats as He says,
 "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.  Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?  Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.  And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." Matthew 14:41-46
 That would make three Sundays in a row (link to last Sunday's post) where consequences too terrible to imagine are described by Jesus himself to those who are unprepared, lazy and unprofitable, or lacking in mercy.

Do you think He is trying to send us a message?

As Colin Smith points out at Bible Study Tools,

“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” 2 Thessalonians 2:9 
"To be shut out from God’s presence and from His power is to be without hope and without love forever. This is one of the hardest truths in the Bible. But here’s something I’ve discovered—the hardest truths can produce the most tender hearts. If you grasp this most difficult of doctrines, God will use it to soften your heart today."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Phillip Jenkins: "America’s last Episcopalian walks among us today"

The Midwest Conservative Journal directed my attention to this article at Patheos.

"My own Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) just released its annual statistics, showing a rate of decline that would be truly amazing if it were at all unexpected. Between 2012 and 2013, the denomination’s membership fell by 1.4 percent, to 1.87 million, while Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) fell by 2.6 percent. Those percentages may not sound like much, until you realize that these are figures for a single year, and they closely echo the percentage drops for several preceding years.  
If we extrapolate that rate into the not-too-distant future, then the number of people attending Episcopal churches on a typical Sunday will be negligible by mid-century, typical of a tiny sect rather than a great church or denomination. It won’t reach zero for a while, but in effect, the church will cease to exist. 
That mid-century date is really not far off. In fact, the baby baptized at my church last Sunday will by that point only be a young adult in her 30s.  
Non-attending notional members will persist for a few years longer, but by the end of the century, we should be talking total disappearance. 
In that scenario, America’s last Episcopalian walks among us today." - Phillip Jenkins

As I have mentioned before, the causes of the rush off the cliff are legion, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the calculations as to the trajectory of the Episcopal church.

My comment at the MCJ,

The shift is nearly complete from being called the Republican party at prayer to being the Democrat party without a prayer. Playing dress up on Sunday with phony clerics who don’t really believe the source documents of Christianity just won’t bring people to Christ.

Is there a way to reverse the trajectory? Of course there is, but nobody on board the starship Episcoprize seems willing to toss the captain and crew out into the vacuum of space and make the passengers study the owner's manual in order to find out how we should have been flying this thing in the first place.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014



'TWERE heaven enough to fill my heart
If only one would stay,
Just one of all the million joys
God gives to take away.

If I could keep one golden dawn,
The splendour of one star,
One silver glint of yon bird's wing
That flashes from afar;

If I could keep the least of things
That make me catch my breath
To gasp with wonder at God's world.
And hold it back from death,

It were enough; but death forbids.
The sunset flames to fade,
The velvet petals of this rose
Fall withered-brown-decayed.

She only asked to keep one thing,
The joy-light in his eyes
God has not even let her know
Where his dead body lies.

O Grave, where is thy victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory is ev'rywhere,
Thy sting's in ev'rything.

Studdert Kennedy

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Would You Have Lent Them Some Lamp Oil?

Today's Gospel reading was from Matthew 25:1-13,

Jesus said, "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, `Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, `No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, `Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
No one would help out the poor foolish ones? I can hear it now, "How unChristian of those wise ones!"

The door that is shut is often considered the difficult part of the parable, and a part that might have been glossed over in many a sermon today, or it might have met with some revisionist interpretation.

It contains a warning that should not be minimized: "Be prepared. Your souls depend on it."

As I listened, a few other tough questions came to mind.
1) If you were one of the wise, would you have lent the foolish some oil?  
2) Would you, the wisest of the wise, have asked for a small contribution of 1/6th of each person's oil to help at least one of the poor foolish ones?
3) Would you, the wisest of the wise, have warned the foolish to keep their lamps unlit until the bridegroom was announced?
Taken in inverse order,
3) Warning the foolish usually is to no avail. 
2) Saving one fool would likely cause a riot amongst the rest of the foolish, the end result (torn and dirty clothes, ruined hair, nails and make up) of which the bridegroom would not particularly like. 
1) The danger of lending the foolish oil (treasure) should seem obvious from the outcome of the parable.
I guess this is something else to consider as we fill out our pledge cards.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Your Pledge Dollars at Work: Pledging to Engage in Spiritual Warfare

This is the time of year when Episcopal parishes run "stewardship" campaigns and seek promises of money to pay for next year's operational costs, salaries, insurance, etc., but some of that money will go to their Bishops and their bloated staffs, while some of it will go to the larger Episcopal church to use as it pleases.

No matter how well you think your local parish is doing, ask youself this question,
"Has the Episcopal church been a good steward with our money?"
Based on the decline in membership, the continued support of abortion, the slide towards gay marriage, the mixed up theology of many bishops (including our own) and confused ramblings of our Presiding Bishop, I would say, "No."

Something else to consider when filling out that pledge card is the money wasted on litigation.

The recent rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court of an appeal by the Episcopal church to review two breakaway cases in Texas, one involving a parish and one involving an entire diocese, may signal a bellweather moment in the course of the Episcopal schism (see the Anglican Curmudgeon's post). It would appear that the unilateral imposition of a trust by a denomination on individual church properties will have to meet the property statutes of each state in the Union and churches wishing to split from a denomination will have to duke it out in state courts (unless there is some gross negligence on the part of the state). For Episcopal parishes this means that any attempt to leave their diocese will still face the likelihood of a long and expensive legal battle, but that the probability of a favorable outcome is higher than ever. For any diocese that wishes to depart, the stakes are higher, but the legal basis for a favorable outcome appears stronger.

People have questioned why the Episcopal church has pursued the departing groups so aggressively (to the tune of 20-40 million dollars) when the primary basis for the Episcopal church's claim on departing properties is a questionable "implied trust" hastily added to the Canons when the first hints of schism started to appear.

Some have said that it is all about money. Property = Money in their eyes.
“The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so.” - Screwtape― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

I would argue that it is not about money, and the fact that the Episcopal church is burning through money in pursuit of a lost cause is proof enough.

No, this must be about ideas. More than that, it is about who controls the promulgation of ideas to the pewsitters.

Control is obtained through manipulation of the discernment process for those called to ministry, through control of the seminary educations of those discernees, through manipulation of local parish rector searches, through careful grooming of lay delegations to diocesan conventions and General Convention, and through intimidation.

Intimidation in order to maintain control of what goes into our Sunday morning mind numbed brains is what all the litigation is about.

As far as the Episcopal church sees it, as long as it keeps the vestries and pewsitters in line, absorbing their twaddle from the pulpit, and sending in their pledge cards, all the time talent and treasure spent on litigation is is not money wasted.

Of course, in the long run such a strategy is doomed because the ideas found in scripture will never be trumped no matter how hard revisionists try to present an alternative view through sermons or through canonical machinations.

As much as our bishops and priests would like to deny it, this present war of ideas is just a small battle in a much larger and longer spiritual war.

Let's face it.

We pewsitters in the Episcopal church are being played as tools of fools on the battlefield of what will ultimately prove to be the losing side of a great, ongoing spiritual war.

Now that is something to consider when filling out that pledge card.

If you are pledging to engage in spiritual warfare, whose side are you going to be on?

"The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighbourhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.” Screwtape ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Cheap Sainthood?

Of my many pet peeves, All Saints Day is one of them. Looking back through my blog roll, I found several posts on the subject.

One thing that bugs me is the way we read a LONG list of names of the dead, a list that seems to grow longer each year. This from my post in 2011,
"On this Sunday we recite a long list of the dearly departed. Names are submitted by the congregation and printed in the bulletin. I do not contribute to this list because I don't want to add any stumbling blocks to the impatient. My list this year includes ten names. If we average 100-120 people in attendance on Sunday, and each has ten people in mind, then the list to be read aloud would include 1000-1200 names."
Since we now appear to have less than 100 in attendance on most Sundays, my hypothetical list would only be 800 names long.

I know that I am a party pooper on this, but this thing can get way out of hand. Bishop Dan Martins of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield recently posted the following on Facebook which I believe supports my point,

"The celebration/observance of whatever is going on liturgically/socially at this time of year has gotten way out of hand, IMO, and this is primarily because we've lost track of how it all evolved historically and at the same time gotten confused theologically.
In brief ... way back in the day, every local church (read: diocese) had its favorite heroes and/or martyrs that it liked to commemorate on the anniversary of their death. In time, as these local churches shared their memories with one another, certain of these heroes/martyrs began to be commemorated more widely, even, in some cases, universally. After a while, the calendar got too crowded, so there was an impetus to pare it back. Let the local churches continue to celebrate their local heroes, but the larger church would focus on a chosen few (relatively). As a compensation, there would be a feast of *All* Saints.
Of course, there is a sense in which "saint" can refer to any baptized person, in this world or departed from it, but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about heroes, those whose witness to the gospel has been of such magnitude that the community discerns them to have reached unimpaired communion with the Holy One and formally capitalizes the 'S' in 'Saint' in front of their name.
Of course, somebody eventually said, "What about my Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe? They were no super-Christians, but they were faithful and were good folks. Can't we remember them too?" And that's how we got All Souls' Day (November 2, unless supplanted by Sunday), the commemoration of All Faithful Departed. This is for Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe and others like them ... which is, in effect, all but a small percentage of the community of the baptized.
In short: All Saints Day is when we appropriately invoke the prayers of those presumed to have achieved the Beatific Vision. All Souls Day is when we offer our prayers on behalf of those who have gone on before us marked with the sign of the cross, but whom we guess might be yet on the Purgative Way. These are "the departed" for whom we are required by the rubrics to pray in every Eucharist.
Sadly, IMO, these two observances--the Principal Feast of All Saints and the optional commemoration of All Faithful Departed--have gotten conflated, sentimentalized, and trivialized in many people's minds and in the practice of many Christian communities.
And this lies behind my biggest objection to the RCL provisions for All Saints. The RCL has drunk the revisionist KoolAid and repurposed All Saints to a sort of Grand Funeral Liturgy. Just compare the relevant sets of readings and you'll see what I mean. But I'll stop the crank here."
Since +Martins brings up the "S" vs "s" saint problem, let me point out how this was handled in our rector's sermon today,
"Once you are baptised, you are all (S)saints."
We were not told if we are big "S" Saints or little "s" saints or whether or not there was any such distinction, but we were told that what we do with our God given (S)sainthood is a matter of our choice, and that there were "trillions" of us.

I suspect this is the expected result of living in a society in which little boys and girls play sports and in the end everyone gets a trophy.

This reminds me of my time with Pelagius, and perhaps my time with Huxley.

Call me a crank too, but Sainthood is both a title granted by man as well as a visible sign of the free gift of the grace of God having been received exceedingly well.

A world with trillions of Saints sort of lowers the value of Sainthood doesn't it? A world full of cheap Saints is almost like a world without heroes.

I think Gene Simmons of KISS wrote something about such a world being a "pointless thing devoid of grace",

"A world without heroes
Is like a world without sun
You can't look up to anyone
Without heroes
And a world without heroes
Is like a never ending race
Is like a time without a pace
A pointless thing devoid of grace
Where you don't know what you're after
Or if something's after you
And you don't know why you don't know
In a world without heroes
In a world without dreams
Things are no more than they seem
And a world without heroes
Is like a bird without wings
Or a bell that never rings
Just a sad and useless thing
Where you don't know what you're after
Or if something's after you
And you don't know why you don't know
In a world without heroes
There's nothing to be
It's no place for me"
Excuse me while I crawl back into my cave and remember my dear departed loved ones and pray that God holds them as dearly as he does the (S)saints.