Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Artful Evangelical Dodger

When he was nominated/appointed/elevated or however one gets to be Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby was hailed as coming from the evangelical wing of the Church. The term obviously means something different in the Church of England than its meaning in the USA. Here, "Evangelical" typically means more than praying out loud and raising your arms to the sky during worship. It means someone who goes out and spreads the Gospel to unbelievers. The Episcopal church differs from the CofE in this case in that TEc does not even pretend to have an "evangelical wing".

The following article adds to the list of non-evangelical comments and behaviors we have seen from this AofC, (h/t Ancient Briton)
The Archbishop faced a number of “challenging” questions from pupils at the Church of England school (St Alban’s Academy in Highgate), where 80 per cent of its pupils are Muslim.
Answering a pupil who asked whether he would encourage him to convert from Islam to Christianity, the Archbishop said: “I am not going to put pressure on you, and I wouldn’t expect you to put pressure on me.” (BirminghamMail)
I would call that an artful dodge if ever I saw one. It certainly qualifies as an un-evangelical response to the poor unbelieving child.

I am reminded of another artful dodger,
"The Artful Dodger found the young, desperate, starving, naïve Oliver Twist and brought him home to the manipulative Fagin to begin a life of crime. Yes, the artful Dodger helps to train Oliver to become a pickpocket and then betrays him in the end." (From the Education Portal)

Funny hats and artful dodging seem to go together.

It has the makings of a great musical.

++Welby to Muslim student:

   Consider yourself at home.
   Consider yourself  one of the family.
   We've taken to you so strong,
   It's clear we're going to get along.
   Consider yourself well in.
   Consider yourself part of the furniture.
   There isn't a lot to spare.
   Who cares? Whatever we got we share!
   If it should chance to be
   We should see
   Some harder days,
   Headless days,
   Why grouse?
   Always a chance we'll meet
   Somebody to foot the bill,
   Then the drinks are on the house!
   Consider yourself our mate.
   We don't want to have no fuss,
   For after some consideration, we can state
   Consider yourself
   One of us!
   Nobody tries to be lah-di-dah and uppity.
   There a cup o'tea for all.
   Only it's wise to be handy wiv' an excuse or two
   When the Lord comes to call!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Notes From an Evensong

This Sunday's Evensong featured two selections from Dan Forrest's "Requiem for the Living." I invite everyone to scroll on the video control to 15:38 in the following YouTube recording and listen to the Agnus Dei and lose yourself in worship of the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Every Christian’s Bounden Duty: Betrayed By the Members of the Task Force on Marriage

The Episcopal church's recent report from its Task Force on marriage is out, and recommendations for the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal church are contained therein (a thorough analysis by A.S. Haley may be found here). My Bishop Waldo is a member of this Task Force, and the question for Upper South Carolinians is whether or not he upheld his Christian duty. Which duty is that?
"Though it is the quintessence of Enthusiasm to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written Word, yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written Word of God. Watch, therefore, I pray you, O believers, the motions of God’s blessed Spirit in your souls, and always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel, by the unerring rule of God’s most Holy Word." George Whitefield, Six Sermons, 3rd ed. (London, 1750), 92, cited in Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 248. h/t C.S. Lewis Institute
It does not take a theologian to tell that the attempt to reconcile homosexual marriage with Christian marriage is far outside Whitefield's idea of Christian duty. In fact it stretches the very idea of Christian theological reasoning.

In fact, the Task Force knew it was in trouble from the get go. Early on in the report, Bishop Waldo et al revise the very meaning of theology itself,
A second word on “theology”
However, before going further, it is also important at the outset to be clear about what is meant by “theology” — and what sort of theology we are addressing. Marriage is not a subject of dogmatic theology, but of moral or pastoral theology. This means that there is no core dogmatic doctrine concerning marriage,
Revisionism is an amazing tool.
… The scope of doctrinal or dogmatic theology, particularly as formed in the Anglican tradition, is limited.  Doctrine (“believed as an article of the Faith”) is constrained by that which can be proved by Scripture (Article VI of the Articles of Religion, BCP, 868). This way of looking at doctrine affirms sufficiency rather than detailed elaboration and is focused on, but not confined by, the Creeds (in particular the Nicene Creed, which is described as a “sufficient statement of the Christian Faith” in the Lambeth Quadrilateral). As with the understanding of “the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation” (Article VI), the concept is that not every theological issue need be addressed in detail, and that a set of basic guiding principles can set the ground rules within which the Church has authority to act. The Creeds, of course, say nothing of matrimony; moreover, the classical Anglican catechisms are also silent on it, while the 1979 BCP catechism gives only a brief description of it on page 861.

It is interesting that the Task Force mentions the 39 Articles but they ignore the gist of Article XX which I quote below,
XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation. 
In order to try to prove that what they are about to do is not "contrary to God's Word written", the Task force will have to rely on twisting the clear language of scripture to mean what they want it to mean.
While a simple reading of scripture is always possible, a simple reading of the task force's work is impossible as the following section on "Complementarity" demonstrates,

Complementarity considered:
Jesus’ juxtaposed reading of the Genesis creation accounts has contributed to a relatively recent thread that sees in Christian marriage the fulfillment of the created meaning of male and female. And although Jesus’ comments on marriage do not address procreation (again, he declines to cite Genesis 1:28: “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it”), the above referenced passage (and its Markan parallel) has been paired with other key texts to ground the meaning and significance of marriage in binary sexual difference as well as in the human capacity to procreate. In this way, the unitive quality of marriage has at times been coflated with the procreative capacity that many, though not all, couples possess.
 The question of how the vocation of marriage takes up and expresses the wider Christian call to growth and generativity will be addressed more fully below, in section 6. Here, however, the question is whether the vocation of Christian marriage must center on the binary sexual difference of male and female.
Christian theology has a long tradition of reading marriage through the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Indeed, Christian “nuptial theology” tends to unfold the mystical interface of our Christology and our ecclesiology through the lens of marriage, dwelling in particular on the imagery of Ephesians 5, as well as on Christological readings of the Song of Songs. The task force paper exploring marriage within a wider theological arc treats the Ephesians passage at some length. The analogies between Christ and the Church, husband and wife, male and female have long been interpreted in ways that limit marriage to heterosexual couples and that instantiate an asymmetry between husband and wife. In recent decades, some Christian theologians have framed this line of thought as “sexual complementarity” or simply “complementarity.”
This is an instance where the Greek term anthropos, often translated as “human being,” when paired with gyne, “woman” or “wife,” becomes gender specific “man.” Further, unlike in English, in both Greek and Hebrew the terms for “man” and “woman” can also be translated as “husband” and “wife.”
As Adrian Thatcher has noted, while this idea can be nuanced in different ways, including in egalitarian modes, complementarity is usually used to argue that “God has planned and ordained heterosexualmarriage as the sole framework for legitimate, holy, sexual relations.”  In different ways and with distinct emphases, this idea has emerged in some Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian writings. It has also begun to appear in some Anglican contexts. These contributions reveal how our conversation about marriage interfaces with and activates our broader understanding of the human person. Should the basic organization of Christian marriage privilege sexual difference — more specifically  a strictly dual understanding of sexual difference as male and female — over other sorts of human difference?
Should marriage work to contain or channel human differences into a basic nuptial binary of male and female?
Mystery of new humanity
Here, from the fifth chapter of Ephesians, the mystery that characterizes Christ’s relationship with the Church may offer a further way in which to understand the significance of difference in the union of marriage. After a call to “be subject to one another” in marriage (as also addressed in “A Biblical and Theological Framework for Marriage”), the author of Ephesians concludes with a quotation of Genesis 2:24, the same one cited by Jesus in Matthew 19: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” The letter then continues: “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.” The heart of marriage, that is, is a mysterion.
The concept of mystery expresses several key linked ideas in Ephesians. In its first chapter, the author uses the term to speak of the Good News itself: “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery [to mysterion] of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” In chapter three, the author proclaims that “this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10).
The content of the Ephesians' proclamation is “the boundless riches of Christ” and “the wisdom of God in its rich variety.” This wisdom is instantiated in Jesus Christ who, in chapter two, is described as having broken down the dividing wall, “creating one new humanity [kainon anthropon] in place of the two” — that is, eradicating the divisions between Jews and Gentiles (2:14-16). Marriage, then, comes to reƪect this mystery in chapter five as it symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church.
The mystery in which marriage participates, which it images forth or typifies is of a new humanity, a union that simultaneously upholds and uplifts differences that extend beyond the sexual binary. Indeed, this mystery stretches across the rich and wise variety of creation itself. Read through this lens, marriage reflects in a distinctive manner the new humanity inaugurated by and in Christ. And in this way, once more, marriage evokes our baptism: the vocation of marriage in its own way reflects and activates the new Christic humanity into which we were baptized. We are said to have “put on Christ” in our baptism (Galatians 3:27), an act through which the  Genesis specified binary of “male and female,” as well as that of Jew and Greek, slave and free, is in some sense “no longer.” In “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” Christ is said to have “adorned this manner of life by his presence and miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee” (1979 BCP, 423).
The union of affinity and difference at the heart of marriage might be understood most fruitfully as a mystery at the heart of humanity and, indeed, of creation itself. In marriage, our vocation is not to erase our distinctions, even as we become “one flesh” Difference is neither eradicated nor “overcome” or transcended, but it is transformed. Our unique humanity is creatively activated, that the couple may be united one with another, becoming a new creation while simultaneously remaining two, distinct. This interplay of difference and unity in Christian marriage need not be limited to male and female, but it can be activated by all manner of human differences.
Indeed, as the Task Force paper, “Marriage as a Rite of Passage” explains, the union of difference in Christian marriages can serve as a prophetic crucible in contexts of communal strife and division. Adrian Thatcher has further asserted that “it is helpful to see the author [of Ephesians] beginning a trajectory towards a real Christian theology of marriage, which for its completion needed further time … Being ‘subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph. 5:21) is starting to change everything.” Marriages of same-sex couples can also play an important role in dispelling any notion that one spouse could ever represent Christ, or the Church, more than the other. The “Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” liturgy also signals the full equality of the couple as they carry out their role as “co-ministers.”
Therefore, although the vocation of Christian marriage has historically been limited to heterosexual couples, the mystery it illumines arguably need not require this. Marriage’s unambiguous and unambivalent embrace of the full spectrum of human differences including that of sexual orientation, can enable it to image forth the rich variety of creation more fully that it has been able to in centuries past. 

"Image forth?"

A lot of words wasted before reaching the preordained conclusion.

This work of the Task Force on marriage should be preserved as evidence for future historians studying the decline of the Episcopal church. Tack the names of the members of this Task Force upon the Episcopal wall of shame.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Living Into the Tension By Creating More Tension

How does the approval of the rite of same sex blessings in some parishes of a diocese but not in others affect the relationship of people from those parishes when they meet together in convocations or conventions? How will they interact as individuals meeting in committees or executive councils of the Diocese?  There will be a tension that needs "to be lived into" when the chairperson of a committee has been a participant in a same-sex blessing either as one of the blessed couple or as the priest presiding at the service. Other members of that committee could see such acts as anathema. Or what if both blessed partners happen to serve on the same committee?

Imagine the scene: Prior to the beginning of your meeting, you see people congratulating and hugging the happy couple. What do you do? Stand in the corner? Then as prayers are offered at the opening of the meeting, someone offers a prayer of thanks for the recently blessed ones? Do you say, "Amen"? As the meeting progresses and people talk about budgets, plans, things going on in their parish, and how things are going so swimmingly well, do you think, "Who are they kidding?"

The above hypothetical situation certainly sounds like it would create an uncomfortable tension.

If you know that your presence might make them uncomfortable, does your participation violate the "love one another" rule?

Non-participation might be the best option, but you should in some way make it known to the powers that be that your refusal to participate is based on a "love thy neighbor" rationale.

Your communication will not change the behavior of those who endorse same-sex blessings or marriage, but might open the eyes of the uninformed that such blessings and marriage are contrary to scripture and the Church has no business performing them.

Love your neighbor so much as to not enable behaviors that may lead others into sin.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Radio Free South Carolina: Behind the Ecclesiastical Iron Curtain

Traditional or conservative Episcopalians living in my part of South Carolina sometimes feel cut off from their brothers in the lower half of the state. News of what our friends are up to is never, I repeat never discussed except perhaps in mocking terms overheard at coffee hour. The last time I heard a high ranking clergy person in Upper South Carolina try to say anything nice about the "lower diocese" it was with a slightly derogatory tone, "I'm from there, but I can't work there."

Unless an Episcopalian reads the blogs, they will remain clueless.

Whatever happened to the idea of engaging in a listening process, or to the idea of sitting down with someone and learning more about them? Isn't that what we have been told to do when faced with people holding different views on human sexuality and how it relates to the Church?

I guess the listening process is unidirectional.

As proof, I offer the following evidence: Each year, lay people, priests, bishops, and archbishops gather in Charleston South Carolina for a conference that goes by the benign sounding name of "Mere Anglicanism." These conferences offer lectures featuring guest speakers from around the world on topics which should be of interest to all concerned Anglicans, and I include all concerned Episcopalians in that group. Last year the topic was Homosexuality, and this year it was the Christian response to secularism. Three years ago I sat with one concerned Upper South Carolina clergyman, and that was the last time I saw any of our Upper South Carolina Episcopal priests in Charleston. From this I can only conclude that the listening process only moves in one direction, or there are no concerned Episcopal priests remaining in Upper South Carolina, or the word has come down from above that they dare not reveal themselves.

In effect, we need a Radio Free Upper South Carolina to keep us informed.

Diocese of Upper South Carolina (shaded)
In the course of my last visit to Mere Anglicanism, I traded notes with one or two others who had sneaked under the "Columbia Wall" to get a peek at what spiritual freedoms might be found in the Diocese of South Carolina, freedoms which Episcopalians have been led to believe do not exist under the primitive, fundamentalist, and iron fisted rule of the nefarious Bishop Mark Lawrence. What we discovered is that life not only exists there, it thrives, and we left inspired with the feeling that biblical Anglicanism, when properly led, will not only survive, but will be coming to towns near us eventually.

I also had the opportunity to hear stories about the Ecclesiastical Iron Curtain that Bishop Andrew Waldo has raised to keep his priests separate from their brothers and sisters in Christ. The saddest story of all involved the refusal of Bishop Waldo to allow one of his former priests, a former close associate, and a recently made "free agent" (who Bishop Lawrence readily picked up for his team) to officiate at the funeral of a close friend in spite of the absence of the rector of the recently deceased. No, a substitute priest who did not know the family would have to be called upon. Protestations fell upon the deaf ears of +Upper South Carolina.

Fortunately for us, T19 operated by Canon Theologian Kendall Harmon and his elves exists and has yet to be successfully silenced by the jamming devices that can sometimes be seen rising from Columbia's Trinity Cathedral,

I wonder what others might say of our plight? Just change a few words in President Kennedy's statement in support of the radio broadcasts of truth and justice to the formerly oppressed people of eastern Europe to get an idea,

Bishop Waldo, tear down this wall!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Would You Let This Woman Serve You?

Today's Gospel lesson was Mark 1:29-39, and the healing of Simon's mother in law raised a question in my mind.

29 And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.
I suspect she went to the kitchen and prepared some refreshments.

If you were there, would you have accepted her food and drink?

This month measles and flu are breaking out along with the typical winter time coughs and colds, people are wearing masks on the street and in the doctors' offices, and anyone who has close contact with an influenza case is advised to take Tamiflu.

Jesus does not need any of those precautions. He takes Simon's mother in law by the hand. He and his followers have no need to fear because Jesus' healing is complete.

Give me a dose of that... TODAY!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Bad Decisions

This past Sunday's Super Bowl game was decided after a last second interception by the New England Patriots' defensive unit at their own goal line. All around the country cries went up about how stupid a play call it was that the Seattle Seahawks had chosen.

If it had worked, everyone would have shouted out, "Brilliant call!"

Watching people analyze the Seahawks' decision reminds me of the times that I have been involved in "Root cause analysis" of unfortunate outcomes. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, here is one definition,
"A root cause is a factor that caused a nonconformance and should be permanently eliminated through process improvement.
Root cause analysis is a collective term that describes a wide range of approaches, tools, and techniques used to uncover causes of problems.
The root cause is 'the evil at the bottom' that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect chain causing the problem(s)." (From here)
The root cause usually involves a bad decision.

It is interesting that "evil" is used above to describe the root cause. Evil is something that we learn about from our religious upbringing, but it is rarely considered as a root cause in today's Episcopal church, a church in which we are often taught that we are born good and that Satan, the Devil, and even the concept of capital "E" Evil might be human constructs.

The abolition of "Evil" from our collective minds leads to a worldview that may itself be one of  root causes for bad decisions.

Using the Episcopal church as an example, consider the following bad decisions,

The "censure" of Bishop James Pike
The election and consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson
the promotion to Canon Theologian of Marcus Borg
Innumerable vestry choices of a revisionist rector to lead untold numbers of parishes
Countless pointless resolutions passed at diocesan conventions
Endless dreadful resolutions passed by the Episcopal church's General Conventions
The list goes on and on...

The latest example was the election and consecration of Bishop Heather Cook who is charged in the death of a bicyclist/hit and run as a result of driving while intoxicated and texting. The fact that a prior arrest for DUI was known prior to her election is compounded by new facts coming to light that she was in a state of intoxication at festivities held prior to her consecration, and that this was recognized by those who should have known better than to proceed with the consecration.
"The timeline, which the Diocese of Maryland said Monday it had added to its Web site, says the head of the national Episcopal Church was made aware that Cook may have been drunk during her installation celebration. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was the leader of the Sept. 6 service that consecrated Cook, or made her a bishop.
Bishop Eugene Sutton — who oversees Episcopalians in much of Maryland aside from the D.C. suburbs — suspected Cook was 'inebriated during pre-consecration dinner,' the timeline says, 'and conveys concern to Presiding Bishop. Presiding Bishop indicates she will discuss with Cook.'” (See StandFirm in Faith discussion)
We all make bad decisions, and I am no exception, from which I can only conclude that we are either flawed creatures that have not evolved into a higher state (a naturalistic view), or that we are flawed creatures under the influence of something that we are powerless against (a spiritual view).

To understand that our decision making process is flawed due to whichever cause is to understand that we cannot get away with blaming others, blaming circumstances, blaming society, or blaming God for our mistakes.

It will be interesting to see the Diocese of Maryland's root cause analysis of the Heather Cook election and consecration disaster, but I am willing to bet that the Episcopal church's tendencies toward teaching revisionism, Pelagianism, and cheap forgiveness for all things (except for conservative viewpoints and rebellion) will not be part of the conclusion.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Great Expectations

Today we celebrated Candlemas which for some means absolutely nothing, for others it means that it is time to take down the Christmas tree or what's left of it, but for some of us it means (from the Catholic Encyclopedia),

"The Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Greek Hypapante), Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Observed 2 February in the Latin Rite.
According to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification"; for a maid-child the time which excluded the mother from sanctuary was even doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to 'bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin'; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
Forty days after the birth of Christ Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:22 sqq.). No doubt this event, the first solemn introduction of Christ into the house of God, was in the earliest times celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. We find it attested for the first half of the fourth century by the pilgrim of Bordeaux, Egeria or Silvia. The day (14 February) was solemnly kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2:22 sqq., and the Holy Sacrifice. But the feast then had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after Epiphany. This latter circumstance proves that in Jerusalem Epiphany was then the feast of Christ's birth.
From Jerusalem the feast of the fortieth day spread over the entire Church and later on was kept on the 2nd of February, since within the last twenty-five years of the fourth century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity (25 December) was introduced. In Antioch it is attested in 526 (Cedrenus); in the entire Eastern Empire it was introduced by the Emperor Justinian I (542) in thanksgiving for the cessation of the great pestilence which had depopulated the city of Constantinople. In the Greek Church it was called Hypapante tou Kyriou, the meeting (occursus) of the Lord and His mother with Simeon and Anna." 
Simeon and Anna were described in today's sermon as examples of great patience,
 "...He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah." - Luke 2:25b-26
 "...She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four..." - Luke 2:36b-37a
They were waiting on the Lord both in the sense of waiting for his arrival (Simeon) and waiting by serving Him through prophecy, prayer, and worship (Anna).

What are we waiting for, and what should we do while we wait?

Are we waiting for the Church to change to appease our desires?

Are we waiting for people to change?

Are we awaiting the day of His coming again in glory?

Are we considering the effects of our desires for change on how the Gospel will be passed along to future generations?

Are we expecting people to change without providing them with knowledge of the life changing Gospel of Christ?

Are we preparing people for when He returns?

The examples of Simeon and Anna remind us to be righteous and devout, to wait patiently, to worship night and day, and to always be fasting and praying.

And just maybe we will be blessed like Simeon and Anna were.