Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Living in a universal story without a universal storyteller

One of the themes that seemed to come out of last week's "Mere Anglicanism" conference (detailed notes on which can be found at the Anglican Curmudgeon's pages) was the need to find a way to present the story of Christ and Christianity in an increasingly aggressive anti-Christian, secularized world. 

The process of secularization has degraded our western culture's common narrative into a confused and ever changing mix of stories that is being fed into the minds of our children by media, educational systems, parents, and sometimes the Church itself. 

Of course the process began well before the modern media and educational institutions began, but it seems to have accelerated thanks to our obsession with technology, entertainment, and distraction.
"If there is little mystery about where the West got its faith in a narratable world, neither is there much mystery about how the West has lost this faith. The entire project of the Enlightenment was to maintain realist faith while declaring disallegiance from the God who was that faith’s object. The story the Bible tells is asserted to be the story of God with His creatures; that is, it is both assumed and explicitly asserted that there is a true story about the universe because there is a universal novelist/historian. Modernity was defined by the attempt to live in a universal story without a universal storyteller."—Robert w. Jenson, “How the World Lost Its Story” (HT: Tim Massaro)
All one has to do is watch a "modern" person with their smart phone or computer to see that we are addicted to something that these devices provide. 

Yes they provide entertainment, gossip, news, even direction, but more than that, they provide the modern narrative. 

"What narrative," you ask?

Obviously a very confusing one, and it is a narrative that also gives no meaningful direction or moral guidance to this generation... with the expected consequences to society.

What the world and our children need is the narrative that only the story of God we learn from the Bible and his coming to us as Jesus can provide.

The power of "Story" must be harnessed by Christians in order to transmit the Good News to a people whose world is already filled with a daily supply of an infinite number of new and temporarily entertaining stories, unlike previous generations to whom the number of stories to remember was limited to a smaller number of important and memorable ones. 

As with most addictions, our addiction to bathing in this tsunami of new stories is going to be tough to treat. Add to that the sheer numbers of people afflicted and you can see the scale and scope of the problem ahead.

We believe that we have been touched by the universal story teller. We may have even heard His call. 

How do we get people to remove their ear buds and listen to the most important story ever told? Can we ask them to repeat it, to pass it along, for that is how "Story" becomes memory for individuals and how it finds its way into the collective memory of society.

God help us to get it right.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Parish Budget Blues Reprise

I got into all kinds of trouble last year over my post "Parish Budget Blues" in which I presented our local Episcopal parish's plan for a deficit budget and suggested the following advice,
The Sunday Budget Blues are not unique to this time or place, so I am sticking with what I wrote in 2009,
"If you preach the Word of God, it will come." 
The corollary is also true,
"If you preach any other gospel, you will be left singing the Parish Budget Blues."
And how much does it cost to preach the Gospel of Christ?
"If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel..." (1 Corinthians 9)
Last year, the budget for 2014 projected a $53,710 shortfall. Fortunately, money appeared in the last quarter to provide a surplus, thus leaving $11,710 to be carried into 2015. At this year's parish meeting, the vestry presented another deficit budget with a predicted shortfall (factoring in last year's surplus) of $47,670.

Here we go again.

The risk of doing this year after year is that sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost.

Solutions anyone?

As I said last year, cut out the money you send Bishop Waldo. He has proven to be the purveyor of false teaching as regards to his "Curriculum on Same Sex Blessings" which he has asked every parish in the diocese to study before we meet in convention in October.

That's really going to help those parish budget blues!

The utter failure of the new revisionist, all inclusive, radical centrist gospel to lead people to Christ is reflected in the numbers of pewsitters, baptisms, and funerals that we saw in our annual parish report.

Recall 2013's stats:

  • Attendance dropped 17.8% from 8,482 in 2012 to 6,970 in 2013. 
  • Baptized members dropped 22% from 454 to 353. 
  • Baptisms fell from 6 to 2. 
  • There were zero confirmations, 
  • zero reaffirmations, 
  • zero weddings, and 
  • 12 funerals in 2013. 
  • 2 people transferred in and 
  • 14 transferred out and 
  • 55 were moved to inactive status.  
Here are 2014's numbers:

  • Attendance dropped 10.1% from 6,970 in 2013 to 6,265 in 2014 (despite one additional Sunday). 
  • Baptized members dropped 11% from 353 to 314. 
  • Baptisms were steady at 2. 
  • There were zero confirmations, 
  • Zero reaffirmations, 
  • One wedding, and 
  • 10 funerals in 2013. 
  • 6 people transferred in and 
  • 7 transferred out and 
  • 22 were moved to inactive status. 
Some might say that the rate of decline is slowing, but that may be because the deeper the auger buries itself, the slower it seems to turn. But one must not forget that the deeper the auger buries itself, the harder it is to pull the auger back out.

From the Diary of a Lake Nerd

Such losses are unsustainable and the question is, "Has the Episcopal church augered itself so deeply into the barren, unforgiving world of Gospel denying, liberal causes that it can never back out?"

I just returned from the 2015 Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston, SC, and I can say with confidence that there is a way out. It will require correction of erroneous teaching, and those who will not accept correction will have to be let go. It will require new teachers who can communicate the incredible true story of God and his only Son our Savior Jesus to an unbelieving world. It will mean abandoning the stakes that the Episcopal church have driven into the ground, returning to the source of all creation, and heeding His call to drop everything, including the Episcopal church's sacred cow: the revisionist sexual agenda, in order to follow Him.

And if that means we have to stop paying salaries to bishops and clergy who each year continue to lead fewer and fewer people onto the thin ice of revisionism in hopes of fishing for men, so be it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

That Institution No Longer Represents a Spiritual Belief System

As some Episcopalians prepare to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, providing yet another example of how the church has gone astray, I would beg the church to abandon its marrige to the godess of modernity and return to its Creator, because in the absence of correction, the Episcopal party will remain just that, a left wing political party playing dress up on Sunday mornings, or worse...
“Religion is founded on a notion that it has teachings or scriptures from a divine (supernatural) source, and this source provides insights into ultimate truths which can not be discerned by mere mortals investigating nature.
Any religious institution which believes it needs to modernise its beliefs is admitting that its beliefs have never had such a divine source – they are man-made and, like all man-made things, need to be modernised periodically. Consequently, that institution no longer represents a spiritual belief system, but is simply a political organisation which pretends to be founded on spiritual beliefs.” -Comment by LingoStu on a Telegraph article on Justin Welby.

"Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." Jeremiah 31:15

"Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O Lord, And that a foolish people has blasphemed Your name.
Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast! Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.
Have respect to the covenant; For the dark places of the earth are full of the haunts of cruelty.
Oh, do not let the oppressed return ashamed! Let the poor and needy praise Your name.
Arise, O God, plead Your own cause; Remember how the foolish man reproaches You daily.
Do not forget the voice of Your enemies; The tumult of those who rise up against You increases continually." Psalm 74: 18-23

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Voices Heard, Voices Unheard

Last Sunday we heard about the Baptism of Jesus and a voice from Heaven saying,
‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Mark 1:11
This Sunday's lessons offered more examples of listening to God's voice in 1Samuel 3,
"Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, 'Samuel! Samuel!' And Samuel said, 'Speak, for your servant is listening. [Then the LORD said to Samuel, 'See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle...'" 
and in John 1:43,
"He found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.'" 
Our preacher today did a good job expostulating on listening for God's voice, but I wonder how many ears were listening to the words from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians that was also read aloud today?
 "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:11b-20
I wonder how many preachers incorporated Paul's instructions into their sermons today?

Not ours, and if you are an Episcopalian, probably not yours either.

In the sermon we heard, we were told that we should follow a voice if that voice comes from an authoritative person.

I tend to suspect that Paul's letters are no longer considered authoritative on matters of sexual morality in the Episcopal church, and that is why he got the short shrift today.

We ignore the Saints' voices at our own risk.

As an example, I hold up the example of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland where their Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook is charged with killing a bicyclist due to driving under the influence while texting.

Bishop Cook, who is not married but has instead a male "companion", had a previous DUI prior to her election, and at that time marijuana paraphernalia was also in her vehicle.

If the words of the Epistles were known, heard, and understood as authoritative by those in charge of reviewing her nomination, perhaps she would never have been placed in such a position, a position which might be too much for an alcoholic (she has checked into a treatment center) to handle, and just maybe the accident would never have happened.

"What words?" you ask.

A female, “companioned” bishop candidate with a history of a DUI would not fit the historical Biblical qualifications:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine… 1 Timothy 3 
An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness… Titus 1:6-7

If only the diocese had not departed from following the advice of the Saints...

If only someone had dared to question the “companion” statement at her election...

If only we listened to the voices...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

President Reagan's Proclamation 5147, Jan 13, 1984 -- National Sanctity of Human Life Day

"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "1 Corinthians 6
I provide the following as background for the upcoming National Sanctity of Human Life Day, a day which will likely not be mentioned within the walls of most Episcopal churches, some of which are busy preparing Chili cook-offs with Planned Parenthood in a sick take off called "Chili for Choice" on what should be a day on which we cloth ourselves in sackcloth and ashes and beg for forgiveness from our Creator. St. Paul's words, which are taken out of context from the reading appointed for the second Sunday after the baptism of our Lord, should be taken to heart by all of those who shrug their shoulders and mutter, "Roe vs Wade is the law of the land" and lead them to put down their spoons.  Please note the parallels between our Baptismal Covenant and President Reagan's words in the fourth paragraph. (highlights mine)

Proclamation 5147 -- National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 1984  
January 13, 1984
By the President of the United States of America 

A Proclamation 

The values and freedoms we cherish as Americans rest on our fundamental commitment to the sanctity of human life. The first of the ``unalienable rights'' affirmed by our Declaration of Independence is the right to life itself, a right the Declaration states has been endowed by our Creator on all human beings -- whether young or old, weak or strong, healthy or handicapped. 
Since 1973, however, more than 15 million unborn children have died in legalized abortions -- a tragedy of stunning dimensions that stands in sad contrast to our belief that each life is sacred. These children, over tenfold the number of Americans lost in all our Nation's wars, will never laugh, never sing, never experience the joy of human love; nor will they strive to heal the sick, or feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the first and most basic of human rights, and we are infinitely poorer for their loss. 
We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual. To diminish the value of one category of human life is to diminish us all. Slavery, which treated Blacks as something less than human, to be bought and sold if convenient, cheapened human life and mocked our dedication to the freedom and equality of all men and women. Can we say that abortion -- which treats the unborn as something less than human, to be destroyed if convenient -- will be less corrosive to the values we hold dear?
We have been given the precious gift of human life, made more precious still by our births in or pilgrimages to a land of freedom. It is fitting, then, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that struck down State anti-abortion laws, that we reflect anew on these blessings, and on our corresponding responsibility to guard with care the lives and freedoms of even the weakest of our fellow human beings.
Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 1984, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon the citizens of this blessed land to gather on that day in homes and places of worship to give thanks for the gift of life, and to reaffirm our commitment to the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of each human life. 
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 13th day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eighth. 

Ronald Reagan
[Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 10:24 a.m., January 16, 1984]
How does that chili taste now? 

Just another spoon full of tissue huh?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Extinction of Words

Since our preacher today chose to recycle portions of a sermon we heard two years ago, I will recycle much of my post from that day. I will remind everyone that today's Gospel reading was Mark 1:7-11,
He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Two years from now I hope that whoever is preaching on the subject of Jesus' Baptism will address the heresy of Adoptionism since the Baptism of Jesus is one of those passages that can lead people into that heresy. Since I doubt that Adoptionism will ever be the topic of an Epiphany sermon in our parish, I will try to make it subject of a future post.

The message in her sermon today and two years ago was to imagine a future where the words "Baptism" or "Resurrection" lose their deeper meaning. To illustrate this, she suggested that one half of the world's languages will die by the year 2100 (she may have been referring to the National Geographic Society's Enduring Voices Project which can be found here).

Our priest told us that languages tend to die once a population shrinks to less than one million people who speak that language. Given the fact that the average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal church has been below that threshold for more than a decade and is dropping like a stone (TEc research shows that the average Sunday attendance across the church in 2013 was 623,691 U.S. compared to 856,579 in 2000). Could it be possible that Episcospeak and its related tongue, Episcobabble, are in the process of going extinct?

Anyone familiar with the rambling letters of our bishops, and the sometimes difficult to comprehend social activist rants of our priests, will see that this extinction business might not be a bad thing. Lest they protest that I am hoping that their revisionist language go the way of the dodo, I should remind them that they themselves sought to eliminate another language, and that was the language of my parents and my youth when they came out with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

I might also remind them that the very words that our priest fears might die have already been hijacked and have seen their meanings revised. The following are taken from the "Revisionist Dictionary By Irenaeus First Edition—August 2007" published in five parts on-line at StandFirm in Faith. (I posted the entire thing two years ago with updates and revisions).
(1) Traditionally, the covenant made at baptism by which we repent, renounce sin, accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and become members of Christ, redeemed by his atoning sacrifice. “Obdurate sin grieves the Holy Spirit and violates our baptismal covenant.”
(2) For Progressives, two related ideas: that baptism irrevocably confers good standing in the church so neither “sinful” conduct nor heterodox belief disqualifies any baptized person from holding church office; and that baptized persons need little trouble themselves about “sin”*, repentance*, or amendment of life*. “A moratorium on ordaining noncelibate homosexuals would betray our baptismal covenant.”

RESURRECTION: Feeling that Christ is alive. Formerly, the crude notion that Christ rose bodily from the dead.

And don't forget the biggie that we recite every time we say the 1979 Baptismal Covenant and the one that shows up in any argument about human sexuality and the Church,
JUSTICE: P.C.* outcomes, by any process. “The 1959 revolution did much to establish justice in Cuba.”
"Justice," in Episcospeak, also has the deeper meaning: "My will be done, not Thine."

In another earlier post I quoted CS Lewis on the "Death of Words," and it bears repeating in this context,
"What is the good of deepening a word's connotation if you deprive the word of all practicable denotation? Words, as well as women, can be 'killed with kindness'. And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten to say."

C.S. Lewis, "The Death of Words" From (C.S. Lewis On Stories, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982, p. 107)
We should not pass on to our children through any "Faith Formation" process words that have been "killed with kindness," or words that have been so perverted that they have not only lost their ancient meanings but have taken on new and more dangerous ones.

Whether or not Episcospeak and Episcobabble deserve to die, they will if the statistics are accurate. The attempt by Episcopal revisionists to change the meaning of words in order to foster and justify the social and moral changes popular among the majority of clergy of the Church was doomed from the get go as were the ancient heresies (although it took a lot of time and effort to debunk those once popular beliefs).

When Episcospeak goes extinct, don't blame people for not teaching it to their children.

Instead, blame "The Word" for the death of "those words".

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Why Church Conservatives Always Seem to Lose in the Court of Popular Opinion

I used to wonder why "conservatives" always seem to come out on the losing side of modern church disputes, but after careful consideration of the mathematics involved, I have come to the conclusion that our unworthy opponents have an equally low probability of winning any argument.

Let me explain using the following hypothetical debate:

1) Imagine a revisionist bishop at one podium and an informed pewsitter at another.
2) A moderator presents a question such as, "Is same sex marriage an example of sexual immorality in the Church?"
3) The hypothetical revisionist bishop will argue that it is not an example of sexual immorality.
4) The informed pewsitter will argue that it is.
5) The crowd will serve as judge.

It would seem like a simple yes/no argument in which one side must be right and the other must be wrong which should give each side a 50% chance of winning the debate, but given the fact that this is a theological argument, and that the court in which this argument is being held is made up of people and not God Himself, there is a chance that both parties are wrong, there is zero chance that both parties are correct (although some revisionist bishops have been known to attempt to prove just that), and there is a chance that the human judges will be wrong.

If you total up the odds, there is only a 25% chance that either party's argument will be "Right" while there is a 75% chance that one or both arguments are "Wrong".

So how does one's argument carry the day if an undecided, uninformed, and possibly disinterested audience is the judge?

The informed pewsitter would insist that the power of a well structured, scripturally based, theologically sound, and logical argument should carry the day.

He/she would be wrong.

The undecided, uninformed, or disinterested, and humans in general, feel before they think, or at least this is what brain researchers are currently saying. Many decisions are thus made before the logical mind gets a crack at it.

The revisionist bishop will always win such a debate because he/she will primarily appeal to the heart in his/her argument. For example, a common theme we hear runs something like this, "I have seen/witnessed/felt the love present in these relationships," or, "I have experienced God's presence in these relationships."

Game over.

I witnessed something like this during the last election of a bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Delegations from every parish in the diocese were called together to receive the report of the selection committee and to watch video presentations from each candidate (except for one who petitioned to be put on the ballot later). Being the sensitive soul that I am, I could feel the emotional impact that each candidate had on the audience. Andrew Waldo's video caused several of the female delegates around me to nearly swoon, and then I "knew" that he would ultimately be our next bishop. My favorite candidates may have lost either because of their looks or because they went for the head before they went for the heart.

Deliberately Inflammatory Question: Assuming a gender difference in the emotional component of decision making, does the increasingly female presence in the ranks of clergy and convention delegations affect how decisions are made, and are male clergy members through selection bias already more like their female counterparts in this respect?

Non-Inflammatory Question: So how can the incredible string of revisionist victories be stopped if easily swayed humans are to serve as judges?

Those who hold traditional values must learn how to show that they first care about others, and that is why they care about good solid theology, doctrine, and tradition. We know that when people lose contact with those things and go chasing after the ever changing winds of Biblical revisionism that souls are in danger because we understand and accept that there is at least a 75% chance that God's judgement will be, "You were wrong."

"Oh Pewster," you ask, "You are always so sure of yourself. Who are you to talk?" (emotionally charged statement)

"You are so right!" (emotionally defusing response to be followed by ideas aimed at the conscious mind's logic processing areas) "I feel that if that is true for me, it is true for you. Can we talk about what scripture has to say about same sex relationships?"

You can guess what kind of response that would get, but if it does not feel like it comes from the emotional mind, then maybe you will have a chance of scoring a few points before the conversation drops back down to emotionally based feelings and assumptions.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

If Jesus loves me just the way I am...

If Jesus loves me just the way I am, why does he ask me to change, to repent of my sins, and to follow Him?

"The Lord Jesus loves me just the way I am, but He loves me too much to leave me the way that I am."

"The good news of the gospel is that Jesus doesn’t loves us just the way we are, he loves us in spite of who we are. 
...if Jesus sees us for who we truly are, people ravaged by sin and consumed by selfish desires, yet chooses to not only love us, but to die for us anyway, then his grace, forgiveness, and salvation truly become good news and Jesus truly becomes one worthy of our love and worship."
As much as I hate to admit it, some change is good.