March 2009 Archives

Playing the Game

I'm tired of playing the game!

Re-Formation

Formation, formation... is transformation. There are a lot of things that "form" us from the very beginning. The most pronounced aspect of our formation is our national culture ("national" being of the people, not of the "State," although the State certainly contributes to the process of enculturation). We are enculturated; we cannot get away from it. We are formed by our culture and the culture within which we grow up shades our entire perception of the world and ourselves and how we understand our place.

Enculturation carries with it both the negative and the positive. Our current cultural construct is in flux and is moving ever more quickly from a form of Christendom to Post-Christendom. What this means for those who decide to follow the Way of Christ (assuming that Calvin and his followers were at least misguided), well, there must be (must! be) a recognition of those aspects of the current culture that work contrary to the good will of God. There must be the sober recognition and then the determination not to remain under their bondage. The question of "How?" always is present and problematic.

Worldly Systems of our own creating (all systems from Democracy and Capitalism to Communism and Socialism) are not the Way of Christ, even though there may be reflections of the reality of God's Way within them all. Our profound mistake is to believe so much in our own Systems that we equate the Gospel with them. Our mistake is our pride and arrogance, our vainglory. Our current mistake is to assume that we are so smart, now, today, this decade, this century, that we know enough to make eternal declarative statements - in either the realm of science or metaphysics.

So many of the battles we fight these days, for example between Creationism vs. Evolution or whether gay people are intrinsically disordered sinners or a result of God's natural order (and the examples go on and on) are nothing more than debilitating distractions to the grand vision of God presented to us through the Scriptures, the Tradition, and our own god-enabled Reason. We have always been distracted so, because people think their own or group's limited, finite vision is equated with God's limitless vision for the well being of humanity and the Creation.

We are enculturated in these days. "Christian Formation" is inviting the individual to see beyond our myopic and limited present-culture (no matter how enlightened we think we are). The invitation is to recognize the shortcomings of the Worldly Systems, to realize that the manner in which we see ourselves and those around us is deformed when compared to God's call to us - to recognize that every person who accepts the call of Christ needs to be re-formed. For the Christian to be as God intends, we must give ourselves to be re-formed.

Radical invitation is opened to all people without exception! However, to be welcomed into the fold (the process of re-formation) means that we must give up our lives completely, all pretense of correctness, all thoughts of superiority, all notions of rightness. Few are willing to do such a thing. To gain life, we must lose it.

This is the failure of current notions of "Radical Welcome," I think, because we cheapen the self-sacrifice made by Jesus and give to the newly welcomed a warped understanding of what it means to enter into the process of re-formation. We tell people that they can remain fully in their own understanding (remain within the Systems of this World) and be of God's world at the same time. We cannot be of both at the same time - be in the world, but not of it (also a Sufi saying). We cannot love God and "mammon" at the same time. They work against each other, and if we attempt to meld the two (or three or four), then the end result is a deficient experience of the Christian faith.

A problem we witness in hindsight, of course, is that Christians fall into the trap of enculturation all the time (from both the greater culture and the specific sub-culture). We begin demanding, whether consciously or unconsciously, that our own created "Christian System" is of God. Oh, we know so much these days! With the best of our gloriously self-righteous hypocrisy (no less glorious that the best the World has to offer), we place ourselves in God's stead. Will we ever learn? Will we ever truly enter into Formation? Age old problem. Persistent problem. Nothing new under the sun. Yet, all are not equal. How do we discern the best from the inferior? Such decisions must be made, properly.

What is the solution? What is love? 1 Corinthians 13:3-10, is what love is. What is required of us? Micah 6:8. We don't want this - it seems too wimpy and ineffectual. It demands way too much of us. See how we have succumbed to the prevailing culture? See how we avoid the difficult decision, the very call of God? You want a "masculine" Christianity? Love your enemy! Profoundly difficult, embarrassing, and effacing. We may actually lose everything! Don't want to be a part of that! Gimme that old-time religion.

The call is to be re-formed out of our understandable and normal enculturation and into a new way of knowing, experiencing, encountering, expecting, loving, and a new way of recognizing our own self... learning how to love ourselves so that we can honestly love our neighbor - and loving our neighbor is the priority, not loving ourselves.

Certain groups of people believe that if we separate and live a "pure" form of the "faith once delivered" then we will have it down pat! Oh glorious existence. Oh, how wonderful we are. Other groups believe if we simply allow everyone to fully be whatever they want to be, if we simply impose our own new-order, if we enable others to feel good about themselves, then all will be well - utopia found. How enlightened and sophisticated we are, how incredibly clever we are! There have been none like us. Fallacy... willful deception... vainglory. We are warned not to place ourselves in the place of God - to judge when God has reserved that right for Himself. Romans 2.

Enter into re-formation, which is nothing more than ancient Catechesis. The Tradition leads us, Scripture informs us, and the Holy Spirit woos and enables us.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind! Romans 12:2. This is a life-long process. There are plenty of disruptions, missteps, and pitfalls along the way - the reason why we can be nothing less than humble concerning our own understanding, perception, and knowledge at any point along the way. Judge not, yet we are to maintain Truth. We can only maintain such a thing by giving up ourselves, our lives. We gain life.

These verses often seem cliché, but do we heed their lessons?

1 Corinthians 13:3-10 (NIV)

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

Micah 6:6-8 (NIV)

With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Romans 12:1-2 (TNIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 2:1-3 (ESV)

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

The effects of technological advances upon society, our sense of group, and our sense of the individual self often has unintentional and/or unexpected consequences. Technological advances do something to us, not as if a particular technology itself acts upon us (although some technologies do), but that technological advances prompt in us or cause within us... something.

I love to play with new technology. In my previous life as a techno-geek taking care of the technology needs of an academic unit at Kent State University, I would get all excited when we got in the newest and greatest pieces of technology. The secretaries fondly laughed at me. It was great! I marvel at the advances we see now and particularly that are just around the corner.

Just like most everything in life, there are good ramifications of technological advancement and there are bad. Those who observe and foresee, it can be exhilarating and disheartening.

As our society moves more fully into a Post-Christian disposition and understanding of itself and as technology changes, there will be some interesting and perhaps unexpected results. Do we recognize even the seemingly insignificant connections between the development of social structures and systems and our perceptions of normality as many of our foundational social precepts change? The Rule of Unintended Consequences. Hindsight, again.

So, a recent commentary by Frank Skinner in the TimesOnline (UK) about Google Earth is both humorous and poignant. What I really like about the article is the author's take on being observed and the unease that it causes many people. He says that in a culture that no longer has a common grounding in the Christian faith, where we understand that God is always watching over us, the experience of "Street View" on Google Maps can inadvertently show someone caught in an act that s/he believes embarrassing or was believed to be covert, but now can be seen by anyone with a Internet connection. Street View as social commentary. He then comments on morality and what sometimes compels us to act in moral ways that we might not, otherwise. Great connection!

I think this ever-growing hysteria about the invasion of privacy in Great Britain might be a direct result of the secularisation of our society. As a Roman Catholic, I've spent my whole life believing that my every move is being monitored. God, after all, is the ultimate CCTV. There have been many occasions when this sense of being watched has led me to do the right thing rather than the easier or more pleasurable wrong one. We hate those intermittent yellow boxes on modern roads but they do, generally speaking, cause us to drive more safely.

Maybe, now that God doesn't feature in most people's lives, society need things like Street View and surveillance cameras to make people behave better. I don't suppose the citizens whose sins were exposed by Google fear they'll end up sizzling on Satan's griddle as a result but all this fuss about images of drunkenness, crime and lust does suggest a certain sense of shame.

Another picture that got removed was a naked toddler playing in a park. A few years back such an image would have been seen as a symbol of joyous innocence. Now it just reminds us of another social evil we'd rather not think about. Maybe Street View is the mirror that society doesn't want to look into.

Via: Titusonenine

Imago Dei

Christianity declines in the West all the while seekers of truth, of life well lived, and of a good society only grow. Those who seek such things are looking not to the Church, which claims to provide what is needed for a “good life,” but they look elsewhere. General society no longer finds the Church or Christians compelling. If they look upon us and see themselves only, why should they heed or consider what we say about God’s good life?

Civil society, with respect to the common good, continues to decay into hyper-individualism, unrestrained consumerism, conflict, selfishness, fear and loneliness. The present experience of the Church joins in… and is compromised.

If we are created in the Image of God, why do we not look like it? Why do we not treat one another as Christ calls us in the two Great Commandments? Why do most of our lives look more like the lives of people who make no claim of God, rather than the great Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith and Tradition? We worthily strive to do good works to serve and save humanity, but without the realization of the Cure of Souls the good works are empty – anyone can do good works and material good works last only for a time.

Is it that the Systems-of-this-World are too alluring and seductive for average people to recognize their fallacious promises? Is it that too much energy or effort is required to turn from the fallacy to a way of living that is so contrary to our current culture all wrapped up in the Systems? Is it that average people see no real alternative? Is it that Satan or the Enemies-of-our-Faith are too strong? Is it that we misunderstand what it means to be Christian in Western society - in the similar way that the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ time misunderstood what it meant to live out the Covenant with God? Is it that there really is no God and we deceive ourselves? Could it be that we have never really experienced God or the life God grants to us in the first place? It is a seditious life God calls us to – we are given a radical invitation, but few pick up the call. Have I?

If those who are yet to find God do not see something different and compelling about our lives (the essential nature of how we consider ourselves and the dispositions we possess and the way to treat one another), then why should they consider what we have to say? If there is no discernible difference between “us” and “them,” than are the claims made by Christians of a better way of life misguided, naïve, duplicitous, false? What?

The two Great Commands of Jesus compel us to live in such a way that we find life, that we find freedom, that we find healing. If these claims cannot be experienced honestly by even those who insist they are true, then we must ask why not? Why does the Church not grow? Because of us?

This is not an attempt to reform The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, or anything other than ourselves – our souls and bodies. We come together and are tired of the internal fighting that destroys the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body; we are tired of the continual accusation and hubris as we take upon ourselves the role of Judge; we are tired to the incessant compulsion to attempt to jettison tradition and remake the Faith in our own image rather than trust the lived experience of faithful men and women of over 2,000 years. Here is what we want to do: Live life to the full as God intends. We, as Anglicans, used to be able to recognize that desire in even those with whom we vehemently disagreed and with whom we still broke bread together even in the midst of great debate and argument.

We have been co-opted by the Systems-of-this-World and are blind to their deteriorative effects upon us – to the detriment of the call of God for a better world that can only be realized through the regeneration of mind, heart, and soul. We recognize it, and we strive to be not a part of it any longer so that we can be for our own good and the good of the world a people. It starts with me, with you, with each of us that seek God in truth and candor. Let us be about the Cure of Souls.

Diocese of Long Island

From the Diocese of Long Island:

Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

March 21, 2009 The Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano was elected Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island at the diocesan election convention March 21, 2009, which convened at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, NY. Father Provenzano was elected on the second ballot.

I was so terribly glad the process went very well. This is one time I'm quite proud of the diocese. We had a very good Eucharist directly out of the Prayer Book. A great hymn sing, mostly for LEVAS, while waiting for the results of the first ballot. The singing was rousing, the decorum of the people joyous and respectful, and a big majority vote for Provenzano on only the 2nd ballot! (Even though I couldn't vote, this was the man I hoped would win.)

It was good!

Interesting news, of late:

It seems that the highest consumers of on-line pornography reside in "conservative" states. The state with the highest rate of pornography viewing - Utah! You have to be careful not to extend the interpretation of the data too far, but it is interesting nevertheless!

From the article.

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.

I remember when I was working with Chi Alpha, the campus ministry organization of the Assemblies of God. During the 1980's, a friend of mine was the campus pastor at Missouri State University in Springfield, the headquarters city for the Assemblies of God (Mecca, as we jokingly called Springfield back then). The Assemblies have two college in Springfield - the liberal-arts Evangel University and Central Bible College. A doctor approached my campus pastor friend about a problem the doctor's clinic was experiencing. The doctor asked my friend what in the world was going on at the two Assemblies colleges because of the incredible number of girls from the schools that were showing up for abortions! You got it, not so much from the 21,000 students of Missouri State, but the born-again, spirit-filled students from the two little Assemblies of God colleges.

My friend told me that the two colleges knew of the problem, but never broached the subject or tried to deal with it. Why? Because to admit such a thing by dealing with it would bring shame upon the schools and lower enrollment. After all, what God-fearing parent would want to send their child to a "safe Christian college" when there was an outbreak of fornication and abortion. This is the corner American-Evangelicalism (or Mormonism) has painted itself into. A lot of what passes for religious faith-informing-behavior in the U.S. comes out to be nothing much more than hypocritical blathering. I have no doubt that the adherents truly want to live as they proclaim they do or how that demand we all should, but the "system" that they've developed and hide behind just doesn't bear out - it just doesn't work, no matter how loudly or stubbornly it is proclaimed to work. Just like reparative-therapy just doesn't make homosexuals into heterosexuals.

A lot of what religion claims to be just doesn't match up with reality. (And, I believe that we are called to live holy lives and that God does enable such lives to be lived!)

Oh, those Moravians

The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops is meeting. On the agenda is the subject of full communion with the Moravian Church. They are an interesting Church. According to their history, they began 60 years before Martin Luther and 100 years before the establishment of the Anglican Church (CofE). I first remember seeing the Moravians when I helped a graduate school colleague move to Allentown/Bethlehem, PA. The Moravians have a school and seminary, as well as their U.S. headquarters, there.

Like religious Quakers and Anabaptists, there is something that I am drawn to in Moravian "systems" or disciplines or ways of thinking and doing.

From the Wikipedia entry for them:

Spirit of the Moravian Church

An account of the ethos of the Moravian Church is given by one of its British Bishops, C H Shawe. In a lecture series delivered at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Shawe described the Spirit of the Moravian Church as having five characteristics. These are simplicity, happiness, unintrusiveness, fellowship and the ideal of service.

Simplicity is a focus on the essentials of faith and a lack of interest in the niceties of doctrinal definition. Shawe quotes Zinzendorf's remark that 'The Apostles say: "We believe we have salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ ...." If I can only teach a person that catechism I have made him a divinity scholar for all time' (Shawe, 1977, p 9). From this simplicity flow secondary qualities of genuineness and practicality.

Happiness is the natural and spontaneous response to God's free and gracious gift of salvation. Again Shawe quotes Zinzendorf: 'There is a difference between a genuine Pietist and a genuine Moravian. The Pietist has his sin in the foreground and looks at the wounds of Jesus; the Moravian has the wounds in the forefront and looks from them upon his sin. The Pietist in his timidity is comforted by the wounds; the Moravian in his happiness is shamed by his sin' (p 13).

Unintrusiveness is based on the Moravian belief that God positively wills the existence of a variety of churches to cater for different spiritual needs. There is no need to win converts from other churches. The source of Christian unity is not legal form but everyone's heart-relationship with the Saviour.

Fellowship is based on this heart-relationship. Shawe says: 'The Moravian ideal has been to gather together kindred hearts ... Where there are "Christian hearts in love united", there fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook. ... Fellowship [in Zinzendorf's time] meant not only a bridging of theological differences but also of social differences; the artisan and aristocrat were brought together as brothers and sat as equal members on the same committee' (pp 21,22).

The ideal of service entails happily having the attitude of a servant. This shows itself partly in faithful service in various roles within congregations but more importantly in service of the world 'by the extension of the Kingdom of God'. Historically, this has been evident in educational and especially missionary work. Shawe remarks that none 'could give themselves more freely to the spread of the gospel than those Moravian emigrants who, by settling in Herrnhut [ie, on Zinzendorf's estate], had gained release from suppression and persecution' (p 26).

In all of our Episcopalian and Anglican fighting over the last 6 years, what battles within me comes from two angles. The first comes from my American-Evangelical-Holiness and Arminian upbringing that says that belief in what we know as traditional Christian teaching and concepts are vital to real faith and relationship with God. There can be corruption of belief and a self-caused falling away from grace and salvation. We must guard against such corruption and be holy as much as it is possible with us.

The second comes from my knowledge of the effects of cultural inculcation upon our ability to understand Scripture and God's instruction to us, and of the co-opting of the Way of Christ by the Systems-of-this-World. We so easily mistake cultural conviction for the Gospel. The Culture assimilates the profoundly contrary message and call of Jesus Christ and warps it so to justify its own existence. We fall prey to its allure. So, most of the Christian experience in most of our churches tends to be profoundly deficient. (And one wonders why fewer and fewer people find the Church to be compelling or a something worth much attention.) Given all that, our human fallibility, and our tendency to need to justify our own desires and proclivities, we tend to want to impose our myopic concepts upon all, demanding that all others capitulate to our sectarian theological precepts (or our national interests). We tend to loose trust that God will be God, God will be judge, God will be saviour, God will be sustainer, God is perfectly capable of managing His Church, and that the immediacy of NOW does not impinge upon God's ability to do as He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases. We are so short-sighted. We are so insecure in our faith. We lack trust in the very God we proclaim.

I fight between wanting to demand people believe “this way” (force acceptance of a check-off list of doctrines or tenants that makes things nice and neat) and the freedom realized from a willingness to allow people their own way and for God to make His own judgments about who is in and who is out. (Surely, God does make decisions based on His criteria alone about who is in and out - the choice is given to us and by our decisions we opt out ourselves.)

What do I want to say? I find it hard to let go! To let go of the fear I have of being wrong, the fear I have of the corruption of the Gospel, the fear I have that other souls will be lost because false teachings concerning the necessities of the Gospel overwhelm us. There are reasons for such fear, truly. But the question is the response to the reasons! The battle for the right response rages within me. Sign this covenant, this declaration, use these exact words, accept this precept, or else... or realizing that God works beyond my ability to rightly categorize, philosophize, theologize, and all that.

Beyond my Evangelical background and the experience of God I discovered through it, I have learned of the vital importance of the Tradition. That which survives over time, over millennia, among a vast array of cultures, can be trusted. I am becoming a Traditionalist, not because I demand conservation of prior institutional systems and doctrines of the Church catholic, but because that which lasts and changes lives is worthy to be proclaimed and intensely listened to.

We are too American. We are too haughty. We are too insecure. So, of the details of the Moravians above, I draw into myself ideas of a quite simplicity, happiness, un-intrusiveness, fellowship, and add to it Anglican comprehensiveness and a willingness to trust God that He will sort out our differences - differences that are probably based on internal stuff that doesn't really come close to Jesus' simple and profoundly difficult command to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbor as God enables me to love myself.

It isn't that I have a problem with the traditional beliefs of the conservatives or the latitude and rebelliousness of the liberals, but I have a problem with either side demanding that they "really know," that they are "absolutely right," and their propensity to condemn outright the other side. The joy of the Lord is my strength, not my ascendancy to the 39-Articles or the Jesus Seminar. Anglicans used to strongly believe that "fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook." We are loosing our ability to be in the via media. I fear that in full-communion with the Episcopal Church, we may infect the Moravians with our disease of vainglory, division, and hatred.

Anglican Maladies

Good Fr. Haller on his blog, In a Godward Direction, has posted Anglican Maladies.

Here are just two examples:

Loopus episcopaliensis Malady in which the patient thinks he can believe anything he wants. Condition becomes critical in bishops, causing them to turn purple and burst, spreading the infection further. (See Benign Spongiform Episcopalitis)

Myopinia Inability to see beyond ones own opinions. Condition has reached pandemic level in recent years; spread by the internet. Often produces unsightly growths known popularly as “blogs.” Efforts to produce a vaccine have so far been unsuccessful, as the virus mutates quickly or migrates to facebook or twitter. Seldom fatal but very irritating.

Take a gander.

Argentine Floggers

There is an interesting article in this morning's New York Times about a new-ish (these things happen so quickly these days that the time frames are all askew) Internet celebrity, Augustina Vivero - a.k.a. Cumbio.

It seems this 17 year old came to fame through flogging - the phenomina of posting photos of oneself and friends on photo sites (like Fotolog or Flikr) to generate comments from others. Of course, marketing people picked up on all this, which didn't hurt her catapult into fame. Did I say that she is 17? She wrote a book about her life... documentaries are being produced... her film producer brother is working on a reality TV show of her and her friends. Thousands show up when she is around.

The article is entitled, In Argentina, a Camera and a Blog Make a Star

As the article explains, people are used to someone becoming famous through TV or sports, but not the Internet. Well, yes, for older folks that may be the case. For younger generations where the Internet or online culture is like breathing air, nothing strange. Even terms like "online" make little sense anymore. The reality of the no longer noticed or phenomenal interface between people living within wireless systems is simply taken for granted - always has been, always will be, what's the deal?

What is going on with the hoards of teens involved in this? According to Cumbio, "People don't understand what this is all about... where people are posting photos and bringing people together and having fun." Floggers are not "like hippies or punks, who had ideals of fighting to change the world," said Maria Jose Hooft... who wrote on the Argentine youth subcultures. "Floggers don't want to change the world. They want to survive, and they want to have the best possible time they can."

Here is the kicker quote, I think, about the phenomina around Cumbio from the documentary maker: "'What the floggers really want is the opposite' of their online relationships, 'to have that touch, that contact with each other.'" That's why there are regularly upwards to 25 or more young people hanging out in the family home (a working class home).

"The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention."
- Kevin Kelly

How do we engage this? Do we hear the music of life?

"'I'll have fun with this while it lasts,' she said, 'When it ends, well that's that. I'll still have the photos.'"

Integrity

And we cry, "Hypocrisy!" See it in myself, first.

The Noble Purpose

"And what if it was true that the Sisterhood no longer heard the music of life?" (342)

"Without noble purpose we are nothing." (344)

Quotes from "Heretics of Dune," part of the Dune series by Frank Herbert.

What is the Church? What is the noble purpose presented to the Church? Has the Church lost its ability to pursue the noble purpose? Does it no longer understand what resonates within the hearts and desires and pain of the world? Does the Church no longer hear the music of life?

Again and again, when we so entangle ourselves within the systems of the world, mistakenly thinking that they are the conveyors of the noble purpose, the justifications for the noble purpose, or the reasons to continue in the noble purpose, we have already lost, already failed.

It is first the discovery of the One behind the noble purpose, and in so discovering firstly we will understand true and not contrived justifications of, reasons for, and ways for conveying the noble purpose that prove that we have not lost the ability to hear the music of life.

There is no real solace in thinking that our purpose rests in purely temporal form or purpose. The Cure of Souls is the first priority. All else, while vitally important to the noble path, are secondary. The second cannot occur without the first, and the first cannot be fully realized without the second. We try and try and try to reorder the process differently according to our own design born of limited understanding, but in the end we get no where. The noble purpose is clouded and diminished, stripped of its power, and we are left deaf.

It's Bible!!! That settles it!

The way we engage and use Scripture is consequential to the way we deal with one another and experience this thing called the Christian life. If one believes that the Bible is divinely inspired (in whatever form) or that it simply has profound impact on a lot of people within the Christian faith (and to an extent Christian-influenced culture), then the way the Bible is interpreted and applied is important, perhaps of the utmost importance. When dealing with the deep differences of belief concerning the interpretation and application of Scripture, there are rarely stolid arguments or debates. As a matter of fact, as we witness in our own society in these times, the debates are more often than not full of vitupertive accusation and condemnation. (Usin' new words soes I don't forget 'em)

The machinations that we witness between this Christian group and that one, this Diocese and the rest of them, that Province and the other bunch over any number of theological and social issues imbibe deeply from the worst of human proclivities. We act as if we know little about or understand little of the meaning of God's directives to us in Scripture - how are we to treat other people? How are we to be a different example of a different way to the rest of the world that revels in negativism and destruction?

So, I was wondering how Christians during the 1800's dealt with the divisive and destructive issue of Slavery. How did Christians deal with Scripture? How did they deal with one another in their different interpretations and applications of Scripture? How did all of this work through society? If we remember the Civil War, we will know. There are lessons to be learned from the history of this period that play out in our own controversies in these days, particularly dealing this the gay issue that is tearing apart families, communities, denominations, and whole Communions.

This rather lengthy quote from Mark Noll's book, "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis," published in 2006 by The University of North Carolina Press. Noll is a professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College (a bastion of American-Evangelical higher education, a good school!) currently the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

"This mode of argument became more elaborate and more definite when other Bible believers took up Scripture to attack slavery. Crucially, as Larry Tise and others have pointed out, biblical defenses of slavery were once widespread throughout the Western world; they were put forward by both Catholics and Protestants, both Europeans and North Americans. Nonetheless, by the mid-nineteenth century, the force of the biblical proslavery argument had weakened everywhere except the United States. There, however, it remained strong among Bible believers in the North as well as among Bible believers in the South.

"It was no coincidence that the biblical defense of slavery remained strongest in the United States, a place where democratic, antitraditional and individualistic religion was also strongest. By the nineteenth century, it was an axiom of American public thought that free people should read, think, and reason for themselves. When such a populace, committed to republican and democratic principles, was also a Bible-reading populace, the proslavery biblical case never lacked for persuasive resources. Precedents provided by the books of Leviticus and Philemon were only part of the picture. [Earlier, Noll detailed Thompson's defense of slavery using passages in the above two books that detail the relationship between Hebrews/Christians and their slaves.] Protestants well schooled in reading the Scriptures for themselves also know of many other relevant texts, among which the following were most important:

  • Genesis 9:25-27: "And he said..." (For the sin of Ham, who exposed his father Noah's nakedness, Ham's descendants through his son Canaan were to be owned as slaves by descendants of Noah's two other sons.)
  • Genesis 17:22: "And he that is eight days old..." (God sanctioned and regulated the slaveholding of the patriarch Abraham, father of all believers)
  • Deuteronomy 20:10-11: "When thou goest forth..." (God sanctioned the enslavement of Israel's enemies.)
  • While Jesus abrogated many of the regulations of the Old Testament - for example, those allowing for polygamy and easy divorce - he never said a word against slaveholding.
  • I Corinthians 7:21: "Art thou called..." (While a Christian slave may welcome emancipation, that slave should net chafe if emancipation is not given.)
  • Romans 13:1,7: "Let every soul be subject..." (The Apostle Paul urged Christian believers to conform to the Roman imperial system, which practiced a harsh form of slaveholding.)
  • Colossians 3:22, 4:1: "Servants, obey..." (The apostle regulated the master-slave relationship, but did not question it.)
  • I Timothy 6:1-2: "Let as many servants..." (The apostle explicitly taught that the conversion of slaves did not provide cause for even Christian masters to emancipate those Christian slaves.)"
There is no end to how we manipulate and contrive meaning from Scripture as we force it to support our already conceived beliefs and convictions. How are we to treat others, again? How will they know we are Christians, again? How do we "rightly divide the Word of God," again? And Americans, here we go again (or rather, why don't we learn our lessons the first time rather than God having to put us through the same situations again and again until we do?).

Another viewpoint

In response to the Internet-spread article "The Collapse of Evangelical Christianity" by Michael Spencer (read his response to the controversy he started) that I blogged about yesterday, comes this piece by Mark Galli, the senior managing editor of Christianity Today, and a professed Anglican (although I don't think he remains in The Episcopal Church).

The piece is entitled, "On the Lasting Evangelical Survival"

There is plenty of statistical work that shows that the post-Baby-Boomer Evangelicals are departing from what has become American-Evangelicalism - the politicized Religious Right advanced socio-political agenda and perspective or feel-good mega-churchism. See Barna's research in the book "unChristian." (There is a lot more evidence, but I just don't have reference on me.)

I agree with Galli, however, that there doesn't seem to be significant evidence that these disaffected Evangelicals are migrating en mass to Orthodoxy, The Church of Rome, or even as Galli would like to see, Anglicanism. A slow counter-movement of a good number, yes (I'm one of them), but not mass movement. Some are delving into Emergent stuff and House Churches, etc. Regrettably, what generally happens is that young people leave to no other church, but simply drop out.

I've been saying for some time now that American Evangelicalism will enter a significant decline, if not collapse, in the near future. I say this primarily because American Evangelicalism has aligned itself with political conservatism - a wedding of conservative theology with conservative socio-politics. (Equally so, conservative politics via the Republican Party has been absorbed into the politicized Religious Right. To be a Christian one must be a far-right Republican. To be a "real" Republican, one must adhere to the Culture War social agenda.)

This kind of thing has already happened in the past with Mainline Protestantism - a merging of liberal theology (Social Gospel) and liberal politics (more currently manifest through identify-politics and political-correctness). Mainline Protestantism collapsed because the social and political overwhelmed or actually replaced the theological - social action became more important than relationship with God and the worship of God.

Interestingly, the Democratic Party did not fall pray to liberal theology in the same way that the Republican Party has been overrun by the Religious Right. It was a different time.

American-Evangelicals have not learned the lessons of history, and now they are condemned to repeat it.

There is an interesting article in The Christian Science Monitor - once and perhaps still a Gold Standard for the international social and political reporting - entitled The coming evangelical collapse

The article begins:

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.


I want to comment on a couple points brought up by the author:
• The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.
I don't think this will happen! For one thing, those involved in the Emergent Conversation are Evangelicals, even if of the next generation of post-modern different-kind-of-Evangelical than that which is reflected in the Cultural War prone Religious Right. Mainline Protestant liberals are entering into a "Post-Christ" existence that looks far more like Unitarian Universalism than a traditionally understood Christ-centered Christianity and that won't stop (even as their ever dwindling numbers drive them further into obscurity) - the Emergent folks aren't going there.

• Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions.
I think this is where Anglicanism can play an increasingly vital role, if we are able to maintain our Christian distinctiveness and not fall prey to the dividing and reactionary forces - if we resist the compulsion to become like American-Evangelicals or Liberal Protestants! Frankly, were not doing a very good job resisting the temptation. (Much of our current Episcopal Church leaders certainly fall in line with Liberal Protestantism and are unrelenting in their push to remake the Church in their own image, but many of these people are entering retirement age! The next generations of Episcopalians are not like them, thank goodness, as the post-Baby Boomer Evangelicals are not like their parents in their religious experience and expression.)

Faith in American will certainly look different in the next 20 years (and I think 20 more than 10). The triumphalism of Baby-Boomer American Evangelicalism will certainly take a beating. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy will maintain, if not grow, but I doubt they will have a significant impact on the unChurched and increasingly secular people - they will not be viewed as a place to explore faith due to their dogmatism.

Again, by the nature of Traditional Anglicanism where a historic Gospel is proclaimed and seeking and questioning are truly engaged and dealt with and were a comprehensiveness is welcomed in our common life, this seems to fit well with the sensibilities of up and coming generations. Will we be able to take advantage of this for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of us all to God, or will we continue down the road we are currently on to our own division and destruction?

Six things, no seven

Proverbs 6:16-19 (English Standard Version)

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:

haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,

a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

Patience

"In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these."
— Paul Harvey

Whether times like these in our national, cultural life or our ecclesial lives.

Patience, patience, patience.

April 2011

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