Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Another Year, Another Resolution: Continue in Prayer

New Year's Day is when we often make resolutions for the next year. Usually, these resolutions have about as much positive impact on our lives as resolutions from the Episcopal church's General Convention. This year we should resolve to do better than the Episcopal church and engage in daily Bible study, prayer and worship.

Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) had something to say about prayer that I would like to pass along in hopes that it may encourage us to keep our resolve this year.

"Continue in prayer."—Colossians 4:2
It is interesting to remark how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, 'Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord;' and just as we are about to close the volume, the 'Amen' of an earnest supplication meets our ear.
Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob—there a Daniel who prayed three times a day—and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elias; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises.
What does this teach us, but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in His Word, He intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If He has said much about prayer, it is because He knows we have much need of it.
So deep are our necessities, that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Dost thou want nothing? Then, I fear thou dost not know thy poverty. Hast thou no mercy to ask of God? Then, may the Lord's mercy show thee thy misery!
A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian.
If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father's face, and live in thy Father's love. Pray that this year thou mayst be holy, humble, zealous, and patient; have closer communion with Christ, and enter oftener into the banqueting-house of His love.
Pray that thou mayst be an example and a blessing unto others, and that thou mayst live more to the glory of thy Master. The motto for this year must be, 'Continue in prayer.'"
--Charles Spurgeon, “January 2 — Morning” in Morning and Evening (Geanies House, Fearn, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 1994),  12.
Inspired? If you are, and if you resolve to up your prayer game next year, just remember that there are other people out there who are praying for you and they have been at it non-stop for 100 years.

The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, commonly called Pink Sisters

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Are We No Longer Subject to a Disciplinarian?

This Sunday's Gospel reading, John 1:1-18 combined with the expurgated reading from Galatians, 3:23-25,4:4-7 presents an opportunity to see both John's theme of light versus dark and the oft repeated errors that thinking that one is living in that light might create (i.e. those foolish Galatians in 3:1).

First look at John 1's wonderful introduction,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 
 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 
"He gave power to all who received him to become children of God" is another of John's recurring themes.

Next think back to the partial, cut up reading from Galatians 3 and 4,
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Generalization of, "we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian" from its specific reference to Old Testament law to mean a universal freedom is perhaps the most egregious error that those who have been adopted as children of God can possibly make. I have heard it said by former members of the Episcopal church's Executive Council that this verse can be taken to mean that we are free to make up our own rules according to how we feel rather than to study scripture. The corollary to being free to make it up as we go is that we no longer have to worry about the consequences of creating laws that go against God's word.

But as children, we should honor our Father, for when we dishonor Him, we should expect there to be consequences. At least that is how it works in my family.

The Bible is full of references to those consequences, and the most damning come from the mouth of the Son of God Himself.

Matt. 5:22, "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."
Matt. 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell."
Matt. 10:28, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
Matt. 23:15, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."
Matt. 23:33, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"
Luke 12:5, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!"
Matt. 11:23, "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."
Luke 16:23, "and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side."

We may be no longer slaves, but as children, more is expected of us, and while we may not be subject to all of the O.T. laws, we are now subject to the lawgiver Himself.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Three Christmas Wishes

As a child, I used to wish to receive toys as Christmas presents (I was naturally disappointed to find that some gifts were clothes). I remember sneaking into the living room after midnight when everyone else was asleep and sneaking a peek at the presents under the tree (which remained lit all night long on only that special night). Sitting near the heater vent, I imagined what could be in those wrapped packages and which ones might be for me. I usually crept back to my bed where I tossed and turned until dawn and the time came when the rest of the family arose.

As I have grown older, my Christmas wishes have changed. There was a time when I wished that school was finally finished and I would have enough money of my own to buy presents for my parents and siblings. Later there were the Christmases when I wished that I would not have to be at work, and then there were the Christmases when I hoped my own children would sense the same anticipation that I felt of Santa Claus' arrival, and that they would experience the same thrill of finding Santa's footprints by the fireplace and presents under the tree.

Now I am just thankful to be present for another Christmas, and my only wish is for you, my dear readers, to have a blessed Christmas and to praise God for his gift of a Saviour to you and to me.

CS Lewis once wrote of three Christmas wishes which offer a good correction to us when we dare to ask for too much on this day,
THE NATIVITY  C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (New York:  Harcourt Inc., 1992), p. 122.

Among the oxen (like an ox I'm slow)
see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox's dullness might at length
Give me an ox's strength.
Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;
So may my beastlike folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.
Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!
Thanks be to God! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice Services 2015: The Christian and the Pagan

Each year I do a brief run down of winter solstice services in the church. The Episcopal church has top billing because out of all the "mainline" denominations, they seem to be especially prone to this sort of syncretism.

First up is repeat offender, St. Brigit Episcopal Church in Frederick, Colorado.
"Áit Caol (pronounced atch qweel) – Gaelic for A Thin Place. Please join us as we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Áit Caol began in 2012, and this will be our fourth Winter Solstice Service. These services are created to offer the community an experience of God through a unique liturgy, which combines ancient tradition with contemporary language. They include specially designed meditation areas, reflecting the Scriptural lessons, and sacred music with an ethereal sound.
If you’ve never attended an Áit Caol service, this is a great time to start! The services have been featured in the Colorado Episcopalian and often attract people from as far as 50 miles away."

Next up is Saint Anne's Episcopal Church in Minnesota,
"Winter Solstice Service: Honoring the darkness, welcoming the light with scripture, poetry, silence and song. Afterwards we'll have a bonfire, cookies, and cocoa. Monday, December 21, 7 p.m." 

And you can't forget the grandaddy of them all, The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine NYC,
"People practiced special rituals intended to entice the sun’s return. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live on in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of the earth’s renewal.
These traditions reflect our need to come together in times of extended darkness. We celebrate not only the rebirth of the sun, but the community of life on earth.
Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice celebrates the spirit of the holidays within the extraordinary acoustics of New York’s greatest Cathedral. A dazzling extravaganza of music and dance, these performances offer a contemporary take on ancient solstice rituals, when people gathered together on the longest night of the year to welcome the return of the sun and the birth of the new year. The event has become New York’s favorite holiday alternative to the Nutcracker and Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular."

“An immersive, multimedia extravaganza, as grand and expansive as its location.”
– The New York Times
“Feasts for the ears and eyes”
– Wall Street Journal
“We dare you to keep a smile off your face as Theresa Thomason belts gospel tunes and the giant earth ball soars to the ceiling of the spectacular Byzantine cathedral.”
– Gotham Magazine
“Fueled by Winter’s soaring soprano saxophone, the annual concerts unfold as a spectacle of theatre, dance and music from around the world.”
– National Public Radio

Next we have to check out the Unitarian Universalists, First Parish in Hingham, MA, Unitarian Universalist, known as Old Ship Church,
"Winter Solstice Poetry Circle:This season's Crossing Time is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year which heralds the return of light. Leave the busyness of the holiday rush and come share and replenish creative energy. Bring a poem to read or speak or simply come and listen. The choral quintet Crossroads will perform some winter carols and poetry set to music. Come and bring a friend. All are welcome.
Next up is the Unitarian Universalist Society of Fairhaven,
"Tuesday, December 22 at 7pm. We each take a candle, walk the spiral, letting go of the attachments of the year. We light the candle from the chalice in the center of the spiral, then retrace our steps as we ponder the possibilities of a new year and find a spot to lay the candle along the spiral. After all candles are lit and placed, we experience the magic of light and possibility. If you wish to help build the spiral with us, bring your winter greens at 6 pm."
And we have the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Kennebunk, Maine.
“Spirit of Darkness,” 7 p.m., winter solstice celebration with drumming and dancing.  Free and open to the public. All ages welcome. Bring drums and finger foods to share along with a nonperishable food for the York County Shelter Programs and the Community Outreach Services.

And it would be non-inclusive of me to leave out the pagans of the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in the southwestern Wisconsin.

"Pagans today can readily re-Paganize Christmastime and the secular New Year by giving a Pagan spiritual focus to existing holiday customs and by creating new traditions that draw on ancient ways. Here are some ways to do this:"
  • Celebrate Yule with a series of rituals, feasts, and other activities.
  • Adorn the home with sacred herbs and colors. Decorate your home in Druidic holiday colors red, green, and white. 
  • Convey love to family, friends, and associates. 
  • Reclaim Santa Claus as a Pagan Godform.
  • Honor the Goddess as Great Mother. Place Pagan Mother Goddess images around your home. You may also want to include one with a Sun child, such as Isis with Horus.
  • Honor the new solar year with light. Do a Solstice Eve ritual in which you meditate in darkness and then welcome the birth of the sun by lighting candles and singing chants and Pagan carols. 
  • Contribute to the manifestation of more wellness on Planet Earth. Donate food and clothing to poor in your area. Volunteer time at a social service agency. Put up bird feeders and keep them filled throughout the winter to supplement the diets of wild birds. Donate funds and items to non-profit groups, such as Pagan/Wiccan churches and environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace. Work magic for a healthier planet. Make a pledge to do some form of good works in the new solar year.
For those who continue to try to justify these services as either too deep for me to get or too harmless to pay attention to, let me leave you with a bizarre winter solstice prayer complete with flaming pentagrams in the video below.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Origins of Magnificat

This Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke details the meeting of two expectant mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, and includes what is called "The Magnificat".

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’And Mary said, 
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
Also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary, there are many beautiful musical renditions available, and the video I chose for this blog today is one that I highly recommend.

Sermons today will not be able to dodge the Magnificat although some may try use it as a way to work in a plug for the social gospel message. I would advise listeners to such sermons to focus on how Mary's hymn points to the Lord's greatness, strength, mercy, and trustworthiness (He keeps His promises) and how we respond to our realization that He is present in the world.

I have always wondered about how the author of Luke came to know the Song of Mary. It must have been well known at the time.

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops comes this speculation,

"Although Mary is praised for being the mother of the Lord and because of her belief, she reacts as the servant in a psalm of praise, the Magnificat. Because there is no specific connection of the canticle to the context of Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat (with the possible exception of v 48) may have been a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story. Even if not composed by Luke, it fits in well with themes found elsewhere in Luke: joy and exultation in the Lord; the lowly being singled out for God’s favor; the reversal of human fortunes; the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The loose connection between the hymn and the context is further seen in the fact that a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker."

Elsewhere, we find in 1 Samuel 2 Hannah singing a song of praise which is very similar to Mary's song:

Hannah also prayed and said, "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."
Notice the parallels,

Hannah: My heart exalts in the Lord; I rejoice in thy salvation.
Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Hannah: There is none holy like the Lord.
Mary: Holy is his name.

Hannah: The bows of the mighty are broken but the feeble gird on strength.
Mary: He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree.

Hannah: Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
Mary: He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Similar events may elicit similar words of praise, or Mary was applying the themes she had learned from Hannah's song to her own.

When we praise or give thanks to God, don't we usually paraphrase what we have heard before either in collects, hymns or Psalms?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Inconsistency Cannot Be Removed Surgically

Some readers may not have heard the shellfish argument as currently used by those who support same-sex blessings and/or marriage. It argues from Leviticus and goes like this, “If you oppose same sex marriage because the Bible says it’s a sin, how come I see you eating that shrimp po-boy?”

I do not mean to kick a bishop when he is down, but I must point out an bishop's error in reasoning. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church recently said (before he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma) the following with reference to refugees from Syria,
"In the Book of Leviticus, God says to the people of Israel that, "the foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt." Accordingly, we welcome the stranger. We love our neighbor. The Episcopal Church has long been committed to resettling refugees in our own communities fleeing violence and persecution." Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry
Isn't it strange that he would invoke Leviticus in this case when he ignores it in the case of same-sex marriage in which case Leviticus comes down hard on homosexual activity.

Or maybe it is not all that strange because that is the way revisionist reasoning handles these things... inconsistently.

Using Bishop Curry's logic, the moral code that forbade same-sex intercourse has to be obeyed. If he were to be consistent in his application of Leviticus, I would expect him to say, "Accordingly, we forbid same-sex marriage."

While we can expect Bishop Curry's speedy recovery after his hematoma is evacuated, don't expect his revisionist thinking to have been evacuated along with the clot.

Inconsistency like this cannot be fixed by a few surgical bore holes in the skull..

Sunday, December 13, 2015

And the Good News is... "The Chaff He Will Burn"?

As we continue in Advent, this Sunday's Gospel reading is Luke 3:7-18.
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
Wait one second! Is that any way to preach? How negative of him. Haven't we been told that fear mongering and scare tactics don't work to lead people to Christ? Surely John can't have been an effective evangelist!

Thinking that, the next verse made me chuckle,
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people (v18).
All I can say is that John the Baptist's method of spreading good news worked then, and it should still work today. I wonder how many pewsitters heard his tough words expounded upon today. Not that it should take a whole lot of explanation, but it seems that a good many of us have forgotten this simple fact:
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom..." Psalm 110, Proverbs 9
As Matt Kennedy+ noted recently on Facebook,
 "The dominant American theology: God is love. I am good. There’s nothing to worry about."
Nothing to worry about except his winnowing fork and that unquenchable fire.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Episcopal Public Policy Network: C'mon Man!

The following recently came to my inbox from the Episcopal Public Policy Network, and I challenge my readers to find the theological flaw contained therein.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

in Our Communities

Violence in America has reached epidemic proportions. In 2013 alone,16,000 persons died through homicide, and 41,000 committed suicide.During the first decade of the 21st century, 335,609 Americans were shot and killed, a total that exceeds the population of St. Louis, MO, Pittsburgh, PA, or Orlando, FL. Each year, an average 293,066 persons in the U.S. are victims of rape or sexual violence. The statistics are both disturbing and overwhelming, and it's difficult to know how address such a monumental problem.
"Breaking the cycle of violence" is a commonly used phrase, but what does it really mean? This phrase might bring to mind peace talks in the Middle East, nuclear nonproliferation, or universal background checks on firearms. While these are the better known examples, the definition of violence expands beyond these causes to also include bullying, sexual assault, hate crimes, suicide, and many other types of violence.
These forms of violence that can become a vicious cycle often begin within our communities and our homes. While policy is a useful tool in breaking the cycle of violence, we must also consider personal responses that we can undertake at this very moment to supplement and reinforce official legislation.
The first place to begin is at home. What movies, television shows, or video games are accessible in your household? Do these media lift up peaceful values or do they glorify a culture of violence? We can't protect our children from all forms of violent media, yet it's important to have anhonest conversation with them about the violence that they witness onscreen or in everyday life. Even if you do not have children, you can cultivate a peaceful household by using nonviolent communication with your partner, parents, or roommates.
Beyond the household, there are many ways you can address the culture of violence at the community level. Getting to know your neighbors, hosting community forums on violence prevention, and cooperating with local law enforcement to educate and include young people in preventing crime are all excellent ways to become involved. Engage your congregation in a service for nonviolence or join faith leaders in a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend on December 10-14, 2015. The more you work together with your neighbors to raise awareness and promote open dialogue on violence prevention, the stronger your effort will be.
Our Episcopal tradition calls us to oppose violence at every level of common life, and to build just and nonviolent relationships throughout the world. Next time you hear the phrase "breaking the cycle of violence,"remember that you have the agency to break the cycle right now through monitoring media, building relationships, raising awareness, and communicating carefully. Only then can the "cycle of violence" be countered by a "spiral of peace." This spiral begins in your home and moves outward, circling family, neighbors, and your world community in compassion, education, and awareness, so that one day "violence shall no more be heard in thy land."

DId anybody see what I saw (or didn't see)? Comment below.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Does Anyone Remember St. Nicholas Day?

Fellow blogger Churchmouse Campanologist posted a lengthy history of St. Nicholas Bishop of Myra, c. 342  and his feast day, December 5.

Myra is in modern day Turkey. Wikipedia has this picture of St. Nicholas' original tomb in Myra,

St. Nicholas Day is rarely celebrated in the Episcopal church, but there is a traditional prayer for the day one can find on the lectionary pages,
Almighty God, who in thy love didst give to thy servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray thee, that thy Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
For more details, go to the Churchmouse's site. As for me, I will put our St. Nicholas ornament on the tree today.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

New Zealand Church, Like The Episcopal Church is Dropping Like A Stone

Bosco Peters is an Anglican priest in New Zealand, and while I do not agree with his take on most church controversies, I did appreciate the fact that he included his diocese's statistics in a recent blog post.

Here are some of his numbers,

Receiving Communion at Christmas
Year       Received Communion
1990       19,784
2000       15,492
2010       13,411
2014       10,542
Total Church Attendance
Year                               Total Church Attendance
1990 (Sundays only)     472,025
1996 (Every Day)            584,703
2000                                  560,901
2010                                  451,889
2014                                  356,290
My only knowledge of New Zealand comes from a limited exposure to their prayer book during a service foisted upon me by a priest-to-be of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and another NZ Prayer Book service at a picnic service by our former curate, and Bosco Peter's blog. My first impression is that the church in New Zealand's decline may be due to the same revisionist thinking that infects the Episcopal church in the U.S.A.

"Progressives" in the Church are currently those pushing for prayer book and hymnal revision, same sex marriage rites, gender neutral language, communion of the unbaptized, and what ever else tickles their fancy. This sounds like the same path that the Episcopal church and the Church in New Zealand have tried in the past. The results of going down that road are reflected in the declining numbers of Sunday worshipers and the tiny fraction of members who are involved in prayer groups and Bible study groups. I guess the current crop of church leaders are hoping for a different result this time (most of us would call that the definition of insanity). CS Lewis in The Case for Christianity had something to say about such "progressive" thinking,

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on” ― C.S. Lewis

How far down the wrong road does one have to go before realizing that one has made a mistake?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

For the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, this Advent Brings Captivity

This the first Sunday of Advent, and for members of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina their Bishop, Andrew Waldo, has declared that Advent 1 will announce the coming of blessings of same-sex marriage in several of the churches under his jurisdiction. At last count, only six or seven parishes had completed the required curriculum to perform these rites, and the question for the rest is not whether or not this represents the coming of a new religious freedom that is to be tolerated and accepted, but whether or not this represents a new religious restriction on traditional practices regarding marriage. 

It is not hard to imagine that the few remaining traditionalist rectors and their flocks in Upper South Carolina may be marginalized, excluded from positions of leadership, exiled, and held for ransom until they submit to the Bishop's new teaching on human sexuality. Rector search committees will be encouraged to seek a "Priest in Charge," a process which produces candidates that have been carefully vetted by the diocese prior to being included in any list given to parishes in need of a priest.

Given this new Advent, will any priest who believes in traditional marriage even be interested in coming to Upper South Carolina?

What is there to look forward to?

Never before have the words of "Ve­ni, ve­ni Eman­u­el" meant so much to pewsitters in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. 
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Guess Which Denomination Has The Lowest Level of "Highly Involved" Members

According to the Pew Research center the Episcopal church at 13% has the lowest percentage of highly involved members of all the mainline denominations. The Anglican church did a little better at 26% while the Presbyterian Church USA scored 31%.

"Evangelical" churches fared better with the Southern Baptists hitting 44% and presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson's Seventh Day Adventist's scored an amazing 56%.

Roman Catholics only hit 16% looking very much like the Episcopal church in this analysis.

One might think that the good news is that most people in the low hanging churches are at least moderately involved, but...
Pew explains that this is “in part because while many of their members attend religious services, they do not participate in a prayer or Scripture group on a weekly or monthly basis.”
Unfortunately for most Anglicans and Episcopalians, it appears that they are punching the time clock on Sunday and doing little else in the way of prayer and Bible study. As detailed here on numerous occasions, this means that their exposure to the Bible is extremely limited and all too often consists of the watered down version of the truth provided by a Sunday lectionary that either avoids or expurgates most of the difficult passages. Plus, the lectionary cycle commonly used repeats on a three-year cycle so that pewsitters wind up hearing a limited set of Bible stories and often hear the same sermon every three years. With so much of the Bible going unread, this must have long lasting effects on such things as the ability to spread the Gospel message and to make moral judgments based on solid theology. This no doubt explains in part the numerical and moral decline of the Episcopal church.

What would the Episcopal church become if a greater percentage of its members became more involved in Bible study, evangelism, prayer, and worship? The current progressive bishops and priests who make up the majority of clergy in TEc would be in trouble. Imagine masses of previously uninformed pewsitters waking up to the falsehoods being foisted on them. A lot of Episcopal clerics would be filing for unemployment.

Those priests and clergy have something to be thankful for this year because it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

All the Tribes of the Earth Will Wail

Today's reading from Revelation 1:4-8 contained the line in the title to this post. "Wail" has also been interpreted as "mourn" as wailing is a form of mourning in many cultures.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
   every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
   and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. 
All the tribes of the earth will wail/mourn/beat their breasts because there is no tribe that is so righteous that it has nothing to fear. I wonder how many sermons glossed over this point.

Gill's Exposition explains it this way,

"And all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him; all the wicked, in the several parts of the world, will lament, and wring their hands, and express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment of all their wicked words and actions; will dread his wrath, and tremble at his righteous judgment:
even so, Amen, says John, and so say all true believers; what the wicked lament, they rejoice at; they desire the coming of Christ, they love it, look and long for it; they believe it shall be, and wish it may be quickly, as in Revelation 22:20; And all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him; all the wicked, in the several parts of the world, will lament, and wring their hands, and express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment of all their wicked words and actions; will dread his wrath, and tremble at his righteous judgment:" 

John Gill (1697 – 1771) preached in the same church as C. H. Spurgeon over one hundred years earlier, Wikipedia notes that he
"...was an English Baptist pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian who held to a firm Calvinistic soteriology."
That Calvin reference will probably make some readers immediately dismiss Gill's point because too many assume that it is the other guy or the member of the tribe or church down the street who is the wicked one.

Lord forgive us when we wail.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Local Churches Slowly but Surely Dropping Boy Scouts

I was in scouting as a youth in the days before Boy Scouts of America cracked down on homosexuality in the ranks and in its leadership. Ours was a large inner city scouting program based at a Presbyterian church. Our city also had a large homosexual community, and I was unfortunate enough to witness first hand the dangers to youth and to the scouting program that the presence of gay leaders creates.

Our local rag, The Herald, ran a reasonably well balanced article recently about a large Presbyterian church in our current town that made the decision to drop its sponsorship of a Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop (full story here).
"Westminster Presbyterian Church, sponsor of Boy Scouts for nearly three decades, has decided to sever its ties with the organization after a national policy change earlier this year that lifted the ban of gay men serving as volunteers..." 
"Westminster has been home to one of York County’s largest Boy Scouts troops and plays a central role in many local youth organizations. In a statement this week, Westminster church elders called their move to not renew the church’s charter agreement with the Scouts 'one of the most gut-wrenching decisions we have ever had to make.'" 
I am familiar with this church's elders, and I am sure that they made the decision after study of scripture and following much prayer. They are not the only local Presbyterian church to do this,
"Westminster is the second local church to drop its charter with the Scouts since the summer. There are nearly 140 children who participate between Troop 205 and Cub Scouts Pack 205 at Westminster." 
"In August, First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lancaster announced its decision to drop its sponsorship of Boy Scouts – also over the Boy Scouts of America vote to allow gay volunteers. That church said the 63 Scouts affected by the decision were invited to join troops with other sponsors, or join the church’s newly formed Trail Life USA – a Christian club with a similar outdoor activities focus as the Boy Scouts." 

Here are a couple of interesting statements from the local scout leadership,
"Despite the adults debating the issue, Leitch (Greg Leitch, Scout executive/CEO of the Palmetto Council) says the BSA and all local volunteers take serious that discussions of sexuality are never appropriate with children involved in Scouting programs.”
Tell that to the scout leaders in Seattle who let their boys march in that city's gay pride parades.
'We are a character education program that develops young people to achieve their full potential in adulthood. Leaders who violate the behavioral standards of the BSA by discussing these issues will be removed from Scouting.'"
I am confident that the current adult leaders of Troop 205 are doing their best to raise their boys right, but what assurance do parents have that their children will not be exposed to risk at regional or national scout gatherings?

Word on the street is that a large local United Methodist church will take in the homeless scouts. Pity, because there are alternatives to Boy Scouts of America.

One of these is Trail Life which has a 127 acre camp in Greenville, South Carolina. Their web page shows their Christian foundations reflected in the following,
Our vision is to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens.
Our mission is simple and clear: to guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure.
“Walk Worthy”
Colossians 1:10  “… that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;…”
On my honor,
I will do my best
To serve God and my country;
To respect authority;
To be a good steward of creation; And to treat others 
as I want to be treated.
Local churches that stand firm will stand apart from churches that don't.  Churches can expect negative press and worse when they reject BSA troops, but the Boy Scouts have left them with no choice. For the Church the question is, "Who will you follow, Jesus or the Boy Scouts?"

Maybe this is a litmus test for our churches.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For Nation Shall Rise Against Nation

This Sunday's Gospel reading was Mark 13:1-8,
"And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:  for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows." Authorized (King James) Version 
How many wars has mankind endured since Jesus spoke those words?  No one knows the answer to that one, but I expect they are too numerous to count, and these are just the beginnings of sorrows.
Most of those wars were local or regional conflicts and only two have been so big that they earned the name of "World War."

I believe that WWIII has recently been openly declared in Paris even though we have been in this war for many years already. This world war is with radical Islam, and if history tells us anything, this war will have to be fought differently than the last one. I can only pray that the battles will be smaller in scale, and it does look like they might be as bombings and shootouts in which casualties are measured in the dozens or hundreds will be the manner of war that will be brought to us (as long as our enemies do no acquire weapons of mass destruction).

How do we defend ourselves in these times of sorrows? I have heard voices calling for violence and voices calling for prayer, and yes prayer is what we should do at all times and at all places, but what should we pray for?

Psalm 21 came up in my Bible study today, and I suggest that this is a good place to start (with emphasis on verses 8-13).

1 The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord;
and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2 Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,
and hast not withholden the request of his lips.
3 For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,
even length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great in thy salvation:
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.
6 For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.
7 For the king trusteth in the Lord,
and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.
8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9 Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath,
and the fire shall devour them.
10 Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their seed from among the children of men.
11 For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device,
which they are not able to perform.
12 Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.
13 Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power.
WWIII is going to be as much a spiritual war as a physical one.

Pray for Divine Justice, and in the meantime, consider how best we might defend our families, our nation, and our freedom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego: A Positive Spin on a Death Spiral

Over at Anglican Ink, they have posted the Bishop of San Diego's statement regarding the closure of one church, one mission, and the change in status of another church to mission.

The Diocese of San Diego has seen a drop in Sunday worshipers of about 33% over the past 10 years. In any other business, this type of disaster might result in the firing of the CEO. This never happens in the Episcopal church.

Instead, we get statements like these excerpts,
"I am deeply grateful for their faith, perseverance, and resilience as faith communities. They have embraced the challenge with joy, honesty, and hard work, and they make me proud. It is notable that the vestry of All Saints' is committed to the mission action parish process. The people of St. Anne's and All Saints' will have new opportunities to continue their mission and ministry through creative structures of Christian community."
Translation: I hope you know how to swim because I am pushing you into another leaky lifeboat.
"Funds recovered through the sale of property will be re-directed toward expanding ministries where we believe God is calling us to stretch and grow, and to ensure that we offer ongoing pastoral ministry to those most directly affected by these decisions. As this process unfolds, we will draw significantly on financial reserves to care for the communities of St. Anne's and All Saints', and to help them, and other congregations, to grow in new ways."
Translation: More successful parishes thank you for the cash. If there is any left over, we may send some back to you.
"I anticipate additional actions and unifications in the coming months. In several cases, I imagine that small, struggling congregations will forge partnerships with neighbors in ministry such as the recent collaboration between St. Paul's Cathedral and St. Luke's, San Diego. Some of these partnerships may lead to actual mergers of congregations."
Translation: This is a warning to others, "You may be next."
"I dream of an assembly of strong congregations of various sizes. I see us expanding our presence by developing communities that hunger and thirst for justice and knowledge of God. I see us growing stronger as we adapt to changing conditions. This will not necessarily translate into building new buildings. It may mean that we use our current buildings more, but differently - in greater collaboration with the community and our ecumenical partners."
Translation: I know that is not going to happen, but it sounds good, and if all else fails, we can let our Muslim friends use the buildings.
"Each of our congregations will be surrounded by small communities. Reminiscent of house churches of the first century, they may be drawn together by shared ages and locations, or by a rule of life, or by a missional focus. We will have fewer institutions, but more communities, more people gathered around altars, more people involved in ministry, and more souls touched by Jesus."
Translation: How many chairs do you have around your breakfast tables?

I don't know what the Bishop has been smoking in order to dream like this, but whatever it is, I wonder if they pass it around at Episcopal seminaries because it seems like most Episcopal bishops share the same dream.

Fret not, San Diegans, the upcoming Prayer Book revision will solve everything, and it will equip you to spread the good news of the welcoming church to an unwelcoming world.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

My Two Cents Worth on, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Or So Said the Captain of the Good Ship TEC

This Sunday's Gospel reading was from Mark 12:38-44. and contained a warning against the teachers of the Law, and the story of the widow's offering,
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” 

As I watched the grand procession of the bishops of the Episcopal church at the installation of +Curry as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church last Sunday, I couldn't help but think of my last two posts on clerical fancy dress and what Jesus might say if he were to add a comment to one of the numerous Facebook posts I saw on the service.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
As the TEc elite fly to Washington to beat their drums and strut their stuff as an offering to God, I think about the poor conservative priests working in small, struggling parishes somewhere in post-industrial middle America. Their sacrifice is of far greater significance to God than all of the excesses of his or her superiors.

After reading the text of Bishop Curry's sermon delivered at his installation, I can't help but put in my two cents' worth.

1st cent's worth: Over and over again Presiding Bishop Curry repeated, "Don't worry, be Happy," which is a reference to a hit song from 1988 by Bobby McFerrin. Wikipedia notes:
"The song's title is taken from a famous quotation by Meher Baba,  The Indian mystic and sage Meher Baba (1894–1969) often used the expression 'Don't worry, be happy' when cabling his followers in the West. However, Baba also communicated variations of the sentiment; fuller versions of the quote – such as, 'Do your best. Then, don’t worry; be happy in My love. I will help you' — incorporate responsibility with detachment, as well as the master/disciple spiritual relationship."
I for one won't fawn and fall until he stops the lawsuits against fellow Christians, until he disavows same-sex marriage and abortion, and until he sweeps 815 clean of all the flowing robed wolves who have been devouring the Church from within. Then and only then will I stop worrying and be happy.

2nd cent's worth: Over and over again he repeated. "And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet." 

Since every progressive move of the Episcopal church over the past 40 years has been justified as "A movement of the Holy Spirit", and since those forty years have seen a disastrous decline in membership and regular Sunday worship, you have to wonder just what it is that God is doing, and whether or not He is finishing off the Episcopal church. Yes, God is not finished with the Episcopal church yet, and if the past is an indicator of the future, He won't be finished with it until the last parish church is shuttered and put up for sale.

TEc loyalists are fawning over +Curry, and I wonder what hold he has over them.

To me, it looks like the same policies in a new dress.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Where Do Those Crazy Liturgical Costumes Come From?

This is a follow-up on my last post on clerical costumes.

Challwood Studio is one of the sources Episcopal clerics go to when looking for new ways to express themselves. If you visit Challwood's web page, you may see some familiar outfits including Presiding Bishop Schori's miter, Bishop Gene Robinson's garb, and other monstrosities.

A little digging turns up the fact that the name "Challwood" is the result of the fusion of the last names of the two partners in the studio, Paul Woodrum and Victor Challenor who are also fused at the hips.
"The Rev. Paul Woodrum is a retired Episcopal priest who lives in Brooklyn, NY, and supplies in the Dioceses of Long Island and New York. Since 1985 he and his husband, Victor Challenor, have been partners in Challwood Studio, designing and crafting contemporary liturgical vestments and ornaments." (Episcopal Cafe
This explains a lot. It is more than fitting that a gay, married, retired Episcopal priest is the go to guy for our inclusive, progressive leaders. It is also telling that the vestments our priests and bishops go for all scream, "Look at me" for narcissism is at the heart of the gender identity confusion that has swept the Episcopal church off the mainline of Christianity and onto its current trajectory.

From now on, whenever I see our bishops and priests wearing these overly expressive and distracting garments, I will hear the words of "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" by The Kinks coming to mind,

They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he's got to buy the best,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
And when he does his little rounds,
'Round the boutiques of London Town,
Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He thinks he is a flower to be looked at,
And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight,
He feels a dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
There's one thing that he loves and that is flattery.
One week he's in polka-dots, the next week he is in stripes.
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
They seek him here, they seek him there,
In Regent Street and Leicester Square.
Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on,
Each one an dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
His world is built 'round discoteques and parties.
This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly.
In matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
He's a dedicated follower of fashion.
He's a dedicated follower of fashion.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

"Ye Fearful Saints, Fresh Courage Take..." William Cowper, 1774

This Sunday many churches will celebrate a combined All Hallowed/Saints/Souls Day by singing, "For All the Saints", listening to the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and by reciting the names of our beloved friends and families who have entered into God's kingdom while waiting for coffee hour to munch on candy left over from last night's trick or treating.

Our sense of loss over the death of friends and family is natural, but as Christians it is softened by the knowledge of the promise of forgiveness and of eternal life.

In spite of our intellectual knowledge that everything is part of God's plan, we are not comforted when someone near to us dies and we are offered the words, "It is part of God's plan" by a well-meaning friend.

God's plan usually remains hidden to most of us, especially during times of grief, but over time we can sometimes come to a better understanding of His intentions.

For this All Saints Day, I would offer up the following as we remember our loved ones along with the saints of old and as we ponder God's mysterious ways.

"God Moves in a Mysterious Way" from,

"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
- William Cowper, 1774
For those interested in learning more about William Cowper, here is a link which tells the story of his battle with mental illness, suicide attempts, interesting associations with important Christians of the time, and finally, his hymn writing. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Clerical Costumes: Too Silly for the Modern Age?

This is the season of Halloween, and costumes are flying off the shelves. In 2014 it was estimated that Americans spent 2.7 billion dollars on Halloween costumes. What is it about putting on funny or frightening outfits that appeals to us?

Most of us are slaves to fashion in one way or another. If we are not among those who are required to wear a certain style of clothing "appropriate" for our workplace, we still find a way to fit in with the people with whom we associate. Even the young rebels of each generation seem to find togetherness in fashion no matter how foolish or outlandish it may seem to the older generations.

Museums are good places to study past fashions as depicted in portraits and when hung on hangers or mannequins.

Episcopal churches and seminaries are other places you might visit to see strange characters in historical costumes.

With apologies to Bishop Dan Martins and his friends, I maintain that certain clerical costumes have lost their historical significance and instead send the message that the wearer is someone who you shouldn't take too seriously.

Defenders of elaborate robes and funny hats go through all kinds of mental gymnastics in order to justify their penchants for continuing to play dress up well beyond their childhood years.

Of course, this issue is not limited to the Episcopal church. Back in 2008 the Roman Catholic Fr. Dwight Longenecker presented his justifications of priestly attire in an article at entitled, "Why Wear All those Robes?…"
"The priest’s vestments are a ceremonial costume. They are meant to effectively obliterate the priest’s personality. They are also, by the way, meant to be unobtrusive. They should not be creative or clever or call attention to the smart vestment designer or the wonderful seamstress. They are simply to dignify the office of the priest and dignify and beautify the celebration of Mass."
Unfortunately, many of the costumes we see our clergy wearing draw more attention to the celebrant than to the Mass.
"If the Mass is the Royal Marriage Feast of the Lamb, then the priest should dress up for his entrance into the royal court. The robes should therefore be regal in their dignity, their simplicity and their style. As much as possible their beauty should be shown, not by cleverness of design or ornamentation, but through quality materials and fine workmanship."
Holy jeans won't cut it. I will grant him that.
"Why should the priest dress like a king? Because he reminds the whole people of God that they serve Christ the King, and the priest is in persona Christi."
Actually, the priest serves in persona Christi. That does not mean that he has to dress like a king. If anything, it might suggest that he should wear sandals and a simple robe.
"Furthermore, they remind the people of God that they too are a chosen people, and a royal priesthood. The priest focuses in his own person and ministry the royal priesthood of the people of God."
 That is one reminder that never made its way down to this pew.
"Furthermore, when the priest dresses in fine robes he symbolizes the riches of grace bestowed upon the people of God." Over the black cassock of his sinful human condition the priest wears the white alb–the symbol that he, (and his people) are clothed in the righteousness of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Over that he wears a splendid chasuble to show that the final state of the Christian is not just the white robes of Christ’s righteousness, but a share in Christ’s own royal priesthood. Each of the faithful are princes and princesses–adopted into the royal family."
That is his story and he is sticking to it.

Fr. Dale Matson over at the Soundings blog recently wrote, and I take this out of context because I think elaborate costumes do something to the wearer's sense of humility,
"Good theology is God centered. Theology that is man centered makes God in the image of an idealized man. When man is god, the material earth becomes his kingdom and it is more important to save the earth that humans may "flourish" than to save souls for the Kingdom of God."
Do our fancy dress up clothes make us think we are king-like. or do they reflect an inner desire to be God-like?

While I have heard some Episcopal clergy complain about the cost, the weight, and the warmth of their elaborate outfits, I don't see many of them ditching the fancy dress for something more practical and less silly looking.

Maybe they just like playing dress up, and that leads me to another of my pet theories: "Is there a certain personality type that is attracted to ministry in the Episcopal church that might explain why our priests and bishops wear those silly costumes and might this also explain why the church is prone to drink from the cup of alternative sexual identities and novel marriage arrangements?"

What if the more virile type is attracted to the robes,

Just don't get me started on the personality profiles of female bishops.

Whatever you decide to dress up as this week, after reading this, I'll bet you won't dress up as a bishop.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Do We Talk About Miraculous Healings?

This Sunday's Gospel reading is from Mark 10:46-52,

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
I wonder how many pewsitters listened to a sermon today that focused on how Jesus opens the eyes of those who are spiritually blind, or those who are blind to the poor or the needy instead of the simple facts of this Gospel message. Let me break it down,

Bartimaeus son of Timaeus
Here we have a person who was healed by Jesus identified by name and family. This is not typically done in the Gospels. I can think of just three others, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and Peter's Mother-in-law. The fact that the Gospel writer and his church knew the formerly blind beggar's name would indicate that this was a verifiable story and not a fable, a story that could be checked out by those familiar with the man or his family. That is not what one would want to happen if this were a fabrication or a parlor trick.
 ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 
Mark's Gospel lacks the genealogies of Luke or Matthew with the exception of the testimony of Bartimaeus. The blind beggar loudly proclaims Jesus to be the Son of David.
Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’
Jesus did not go directly to Bartimaeus, instead he had others transmit the message of his call. Maybe there is a message for us today in this simple fact.
Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Unlike last week's story of James and John, the sons of Zebedee  who tried to demand their wants be satisfied, here Jesus creates an opening for any kind of request.
The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’
Bartimaeus was not born blind. He once had sight but lost it. What disease or accident caused his blindness we will never know. Doubters might opine that he had psychogenic blindness, but we now know this to be a very rare condition. In Jesus time, blindness due to disease or trauma would have been far more likely.
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’
His faith in Jesus made him well. No laying on of hands by Jesus, no prayer to the Father, just Bartimaeus, Jesus, and faith. How many of us who wore glasses as children prayed to awaken with 20/20 vision only to be disappointed in the morning by opening our eyes to a blurry world?
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Unlike many Jesus healed (like nine of ten lepers), Bartimaeus followed Jesus. This may be why his story recalls him by name.

It is a simple, short story of a miraculous physical healing. A story that needs no meanderings into other types of blindness to engage the pewsitters. We need to focus on the undeniable fact that the God who created the universe can do these things, and He did when he came to us as Jesus. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta Photobombed at Gay Pride Parade

The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta (Rob Wright) recently handed out water and gave high fives to marchers in a gay pride march. One awkward photo demonstrates how much inclusiveness includes,

From Diocese of Atlanta Facebook Page
Check out the area above the bishop's right thumb.


Take care Bishop Wright to not become the company you keep.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Left, Right, First, Last, Does it Matter? Just Be Thankful to be Invited to the Party

Most churches heard the Gospel of Mark 10:35-45 today. Here we see James and John trying to extract a promise from Jesus that they will be his favorites,
"James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’"
That certainly is a bold demand, but isn't that the way we all sometimes pray to God, for His positive response to our demands?

Instead of saying, "Excuse me?", Jesus lets them dig their own hole,
"And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’"
So, shovel in hand, James and John dig in,
"And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’"
To me, this is an echo of Elisha's request to Elijah in 2 Kings 2:9,
"And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me."
At this point in his ministry, some felt that Jesus was Elijah (although he corrected his disciples in Mark 9:9),
‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’
So, one might expect his close followers to request a special inheritance like Elisha begged from Elijah. Jesus' disciples always seem to need a bit of correction.

Jumping back to Mark 10, rather than saying, "Get behind me Satan", Jesus uses this as an opportunity for a lesson.
"But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’" 
We don't get to see the reactions of James and John. Instead, we see the reactions of the others,
"When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’"
This is a reiteration in some ways of something we heard in last week's Gospel, Mark 10:31,
 "But many that are first shall be last; and the last first."
What if Jesus had said,
"Left, right, first, last, does it matter? Just be thankful to be invited to the party."
No, that just doesn't make the same impact.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Episcopal Parish Sign Goes "In Your Face" to Neighboring Roman Catholic Church and School

All Saints Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, PA is right across the street from Saint Katherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church and Elementary School (link to Google Map). This past week, the Episcopal parish posted the following announcement on their roadside message board,

This is not what I would call "being a good neighbor". For one thing it has not been the church's habit to display wedding congratulations for their heterosexual members. It is clearly an attempt to say, "Hey look at us!" It also sends a message to children being ferried to and from the R.C. elementary school across the street that the R.C.'s teachings on same-sex marriage should be questioned.

Never mind the fact that this parish has lost 38% of its Sunday pewsitters over the past 10 years.

One reason might be that their social activism includes distributing 1,000 packets of information on The Episcopal Church at the Philadelphia Outfest this Sunday.

Naturally, their web page proudly displays this,

I wonder if they would welcome those who disagree?

Seeing as how the rector, in a not so welcoming gesture reportedly recently ex-communicated one pewsitter who questioned some goings on in the church office (personal communication), I kinda doubt it.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Strained Camel Soup

From ReverendFun
Today's Gospel reading is Mark 10:17-31 which contains the story of the man with many possessions who asked Jesus,
"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" 
He then got a "tough love" answer,
"Go, sell what you own, and give (many heard the word "money" inserted here) to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
This message was not meant just for that one man,
 'Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
No, your smartphone cannot get you into the kingdom of God.
They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’
Indeed, how many of us have given up all of our possessions? We live in a time when even those the government classifies as poor are probably wealthier than most, just look at the obesity problem we have among the poor today. There is a certain universal condemnation in Jesus' words that tell us that he is not just talking about the wealthiest.

What hope then for those of us in wealthy nations?
Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
The God who created heaven and Earth most certainly can do anything. Thankfully, he sent his only Son so that all who believe in him might have eternal life. That may sound impossible, but it is true. Still, it raises questions,
 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’ 
Wait a second! On the one hand we are to leave everything to follow Jesus, but on the other hand, we are to be blessed with some wealth in this age. I can see where some might mistake this as a "prosperity Gospel". Yes, these things may come, but along with them will come persecutions.

It seems that we can't win for losing.

I say, "I want it all!"

Jesus says, "Care for a bowl of strained camel soup?"