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?"

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Anglican 'sweate' (Sudor Anglicus)

I was always taught that the English, like Southern ladies, did not sweat, they perspired. Delving into medical history we find otherwise.

Five hundred years ago, Sudor Anglicus was known as “the sweating sickness” since the hot and sweating stage of the illness occurred often before death.

The English 'sweate' (Sudor Anglicus)

A rapidly fatal viral infectious disease appeared in England in 1485, persisted for the summer months and disappeared as winter approached. This pattern of infection re-appeared in 1508, 1517, 1528, and finally 1551. The epidemic never returned. It had no respect for wealth or rank, and predominantly attacked males between the ages of 15 and 45 years. The incubation period was frighteningly short and the outcome normally fatal. The symptoms of acute respiratory disease and copious sweating were characteristic, providing the name 'the English sweating disease'. It was never in the big league of killer epidemics, such as plague and influenza, but its pockets of instant lethality in communities gave it a special ranking of horror. The infective cause of this disease remained a total mystery...
From Br J Biomed Sci. 2001;58(1):1-6. which speculates about the Hantavirus as a possible cause.
If I ever see Justin Welby sweat, I will know that the end of the Anglican Communion is near. Maybe that is why he is holding the upcoming Primates meeting in the middle of winter instead of in the heat of the summer.

From Facebook

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Traditional Marriage Apologetics

Since this Sunday's readings included God's creation on woman from Adam's rib and Jesus' words in Mark 10,
"But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
I thought it was a good time to revisit the whole marriage debate even though it seems (at present) to have been settled in the U.S. this issue is still ongoing in the U.K.

The following is excerpted from an article posted at the Gospel Coalition a couple of months ago. It provides a concise defense of marriage against revisionist arguments for same-sex marriage in the church. It was written by Darrell L. Bock who is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary.

He refutes six common claims which we have all heard and sometimes felt ill prepared to challenge,

  • Claim 1: Jesus didn’t speak about same-sex marriage, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.
  • Claim 2: The Old Testament (OT) allows all sorts of “prohibited” marriage, including polygamy and what would today qualify as incest. If those were permitted, surely monogamous same-sex relationships should be allowed.
  • Claim 3: The move to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage is like the church’s past blindness on slavery, women’s rights, and a geocentric universe—where what was “clearly” taught in Scripture is now seen as wrong.
  • Claim 4: We don’t follow all sorts of OT laws today (try laws on having sex while a woman is menstruating, or eating certain types of food), so why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?
  • Claim 5: Same-sex marriage doesn’t harm anyone, so it’s morally acceptable and people should have the right to choose what to do.
  • Claim 6: The ancient world didn’t understand genuine same-sex love, so this is a new category to consider.

I will give you two of his takedowns,

Claim 1:
"This is an argument from silence, but the silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Jesus addresses and defines marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 2:24 to parse it out. Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. With this definition, same-sex marriage is excluded. Had Jesus wished to extend the right of marriage beyond this definition, here was his opportunity. But he didn’t take it."
That is called answering an argument from silence with an argument from silence; what Jesus did not affirm, we should not affirm. I am not sure that works, but the following might,
"Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it. He was not as silent on the topic as some claim."

Claim 6:
"Apparently neither Jesus nor Paul nor even God the Father—who inspired Scripture—recognized this potential category. But this claim ignores how widespread same-sex relationships were in the ancient world. Not all of them were abusive or exercises of raw social power. This is a classic example of 'chronological snobbery,' which C. S. Lewis described as 'the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited' (Surprised by Joy, 206), and which his friend Owen Barfield explained as the belief that, intellectually, humanity 'languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century' (History in English Words, 154)."
Readers might want to get some references from Robert Gagnon on same-sex relationships in the ancient world in order to better defend this argument. See also this Facebook page of his.

In conclusion, Bock writes,

"Divine revelation gives us every indication there is something sacred about God’s image being male and female, and something profound about marriage between a man and a woman (Eph. 5:32)—something that makes marriage unique among all human relationships."

Read the whole thing here.