April 2011 Archives

Creed or Chaos?

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Very good opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times.  He uses the new musical, "The Book of Mormon," as his backdrop. This notion of speeding away from anything that distinguishes us or makes us peculiar or diminishes the rigors of the Faith will in the end result in nothing but decline and a faith that has little real impact on the world, particularly for the cause of Christ. 

A couple paragraphs:

The only problem with "The Book of Mormon" (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn't actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

That's because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don't have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own.

The religions that thrive have exactly what "The Book of Mormon" ridicules: communal theologies, doctrines and codes of conduct rooted in claims of absolute truth.

Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality. These maps may seem dry and schematic -- most maps do compared with reality -- but they contain the accumulated wisdom of thousands of co-believers who through the centuries have faced similar journeys and trials.

Rigorous theology allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally. Many people want to understand the eternal logic of the universe, using reason and logic to wrestle with concrete assertions and teachings.


Religion vs. Faith

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I'm starting to make a distinction between the "Christian Faith" and the "Christian Religion."

The "Religion" deals more with cultic practices and asking what I must know about stuff. The "Faith" deals with being - who must I be & how must I be with God, with one another, and with myself.

Perhaps, too, this deals with a too intense focus on "revelation" in our understanding of God's dealing with humanity (or even if there is anything to such statements). Too much of a focus on revelation can too easily lead us to simply asking the question of what we must know in order to be right with God, rather than how we must be or what we must do to be right with God. I think the focus on being is much more in line with the great commands of Jesus - and even the Law.

"I am a practitioner of the Christian Faith," which in my mind places the emphasis on being and relationship. I don't think it is the same as saying, "I am a practitioner of the Christian Religion," with all is rituals, dogmas, etc.  (Believe me, this is not an attempt to downplay the importance of such things as ritual or doctrine, etc., in human life or in the practice of the Faith.)

This may touch on the divide between being "spiritual" vs. being "religious."

New Comments

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So, I installed a new commenting system, today. Hopefully this will work far better than the old HaloScan, JS-Kit/Echo (at least on my blog).

With the crash of the hosting companies servers a while ago, my lack of posting, and the problems with comments all added up to less hits and all that. Now, getting tons of hits isn't my goal - as I say in the Notice at the top of my sidebar - but I know at least a few people do read this from time-to-time and in the past have made comments.  So, the old comments are gone.

This from Fr. Tobias Haller:

No New Revelation

When addressing controverted subjects, we are called to look back on the Scriptural text for guidance in dealing with things about which those texts are themselves silent. The issue is not, "What would they have said?" on a topic about which they did not speak; but rather, "What do we say based on what those texts say about other things, using natural reason and knowledge gained since their writing to interpret old texts for new principles."

This is not about any new revelation. As one important story from rabbinic history shows: Revelation is now closed, but interpretation is open -- even a voice from heaven, even from God, cannot contravene the findings of the living interpretative community because, "It [i.e., the Law] is not in heaven" -- that is, God has given the Scripture to the people of God and it is up to us to wrestle with it.

People may well disagree about the outcomes of the wrestling match. And the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not entirely out of place, but has to be asked by positing Jesus not of his time, but as he is with us in our time -- as I believe he is, in his church, through his Spirit, which is now engaged in addressing challenges he did not address in those earlier days. There is no new revelation, but there is always new understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

I truly like the way he put this.

Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...

Image via Wikipedia

Living in the past 

"One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past.  Same with countries.  You don't want to forget your identity.  I'm glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now.  When memories exceed dreams, the end is near.  The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh."

 -Michael Hammer  The World is Flat

 While I can certainly agree with the above statement, there are worthy and good things from the 14th Century that are worth keeping. I suspect what Hammer is getting at is what we might describe as "Tradition" as opposed to "traditionalism."

"Traditionalism" tends to be the clinging to ways of doing, being, or thinking as they have "always been" even when it is evident that those things, those traditions, no longer effectively engage the emerging culture and the emerging generations.

"Tradition" tends to be those things that endure from generation to generation and through multiple cultures and through trial and persecution. Those things or aspects as part of the Tradition prove their worth and pertinence through such challenge.

Within the Imago Dei Society, I and we continue to investigate emerging generations and culture because we need to understand how to translate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how to pass on the Tradition to those who come after us. What we don't need to attempt to hold on to or pass on are those things that are tied closely to traditionalism.  The "fresh start" is something we need to be about, always.

Transitions

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These past couple of months have been a bit traumatic.  Thankfully, no one has died or been harmed in any way. I was called upon in November of 2009 to lead an effort to study, understand, and establish new ministries that are present with emerging generations and within emerging culture. The initial focus of the effort was the neighborhoods of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn (the 11231 zip-code). I began the world on January 8, 2010. The sponsorship of the Red Hook Project and Imago Dei was to be for three years, after which we would be on our own.

I've spend the last year doing the hard work necessary to get this sort of thing going - an entrepreneur, a project manager, a researcher, a community organizer, etc. I've meet  and talked with numerous community and religious leaders.  I've conducted focus groups of current residence of the neighborhoods, particularly in Red Hook, of artists, of young people of various ages. I've interviewed students, and the list goes on.

I studied, read, and researched adolescent development, traits of the emerging generations, and the particulars of emerging culture. My goal/intent has always been to understand the contexts in which we live not just right now, but to also understand as best we can were things will be in the 2020's. I'm doing the work for the Church to be able to meet the culture and young people head on - to be present with them where they are - rather than trying to play catch up and doing a terrible job at it.

The Church has a terrible time being "on-time." We tend to always be 15-20 years behind the curve, yet we think these "new" things we are suddenly enamored with are cutting-edge, when they simply aren't. The positive side of the slow crawl of the Church is that it should be able to ride through in a good way the crass trendiness that simply overtakes everything for the moment and then is nothing, again. The is a difference in trying to be trendy in order to attract people and understanding where people are in their understanding of themselves, their world, and their place in the world and trying to be present with them in the mix. When the Church decides to ride the trend waves, all is lost. We stop being authentic to who we are and what we are.

The Church is always "other," with respect to the prevailing culture. Why are we afraid of that, unless we have lost confidence that we have anything worthwhile to say or contribute... let alone the whole stuff about the Cure of Souls and salvific relationships with God.

Anyway, starting in January 2011, this past January, we began in earnest the doing of ministry. Because the genesis of the Red Hook Project came out of St. Paul's Church in Carroll Gardens, and because of the formation I received within this parish, and since St. Paul's has carried on ministry in Red Hook for over the last 18+ years since the diocese closed the parish in Red Hook (foolishly), the beginning efforts for new ministry starting out of St. Paul's.  In addition, since we are unable to afford a space in Red Hook (the foolish part mentioned above - selling property in New York City), St. Paul's provides the space we need to begin ministry and to experiment with what has been learned over the past year.

Currently, we have the "Imago Dei Sunday Evening Service" that is currently meeting at St. Paul's (which at times has a larger attendance than some of the established parishes in the area).  We have the "2nd Saturdays for Good Works" that began last August (our first ministry effort).  There is the monthly Imago Dei "Red Hook Gathering" at a local Red Hook eatery and pub (Rocky Sullivan's) where we have a bit of food, a little drink, and talk about life, faith, and how it all fits together. We have a "Home Group" meeting in Carroll Gardens with nine members.  By February, we had a very good start resulting from all the work beforehand that set the foundation upon which the new efforts rest. In addition, last month we started the "Faith meets Art meets Space" project for artists (another target group for the Red Hook Space) to intentionally investigate how their faith influences their art with the rich space of St. Paul's nave as their backdrop.  We intend on having the exhibition and performances the first of June.

Then, in February, I was told it was all ending.  Ending because of money issues, ending because of opposition to the effort others in the diocese, ending because the will to do something new outside the convention boxes was not there.

This is a very big blow.  There have been mixed signals since February about what exactly will be stopped and what might go forward. I've continued working as if the project would continue beyond the June 1st cut off date, hoping that they would find the money and have the will to continue. It hasn't happened. I was told that as of June 1st, it all ends.

What in the world do I do, now? I am fighting a real melancholy - a mix of disappointment, anxiousness about attempting to find a new place of ministry, real concern about the people who have a stake in this effort and now will be left high and dry, a profound sadness about suddenly leaving the people of St. Paul's and the lone priest for a growing congregation in a lurch (I've been ministering in this parish for 7 years). In a month and a half, I'm gone.

Ideally, I would love to continue working at St. Paul's to continuing implementing all that I've learned this past year, all the ideas and plans that have been developed and are ready for implementation, to continue ministry development in Red Hook, etc. But, the parish doesn't have the money for a second priest and the diocese will not "pay me to be at St. Paul's."

There are several of priests I am in conversation with who know that pouring new wine into old wine skins just doesn't work. I had great hope that this project might be an exception, but it is not. The Imago Dei Initiative and the Red Hook Project are new wine efforts, and the wine skins of the present institution will not make space for them at this time.  What then do we do?  Do I try to find a secular job to support myself and continue doing the work, anyway? I did that sort of thing for four years, and it is very unhealthy, but that may be the sacrifice. These priests (and lay people, too) know that we are going to have to do something on our own.  This is just the way the Church is and the lessons of history bear this out.  What am I willing to do?  Right now, I'm depressed and anxious. Do I just take anything that may come along, even if I sense that it wouldn't be right?

Another consideration is that I've made a life here in NYC.  It has only been the last several months that I've felt that I have friends with whom I have enough history and comfortableness to not feel terribly lonely. It has taken me six years to get to this point.  The prospects of moving to another city, another place where I will have to start all over again at this point in my life just is not something I want to do.

Yet, there may be a very good and real opportunity to put into place what I have been dreaming of and planning for over the last couple of years in another diocese, city, and state.  Is this of God?  Is this the next step? Do I simply forget about the relationship issue and go? I don't know.  Right now, I'm not emotionally in a particularly good place to be making these kinds of decisions.  I'm very thankful for the support of friends and family.  We shall see what happens over the next month and a half.


Where are we?

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coptic_web.jpgSometimes, groups within the Church (whether the larger Church universal or this Church, as in the Episcopal/Anglican Church), come to feel as if they are sitting by themselves in the midst of a wilderness.  Sometimes, the reasons for such feelings (or realities) are do to geography and location, sometimes are because of sociopolitical or theological issues of disagreement, sometimes they are because the greater organization just doesn't get what the groups are doing and to one degree or another ostracizes the various groups.

What can be done? There are a lot of things that can be done, but one of the "solutions" that is almost always and only destructive is separation. When a Church or parish or family or even friends separate, failure has already occurred.  We can attempt to clean up the mess by giving all kinds of justifications for why the separation, the split, is good or profitable or better than the alternative.  Well, we can try to spin the separation all we want, but we have already failed.

Within this new kind of ministry, the Imago Dei Initiative, outside the walls of current experiences of "church," it is too easy for people to attempt to force us into already established modes of operation and definition that are no longer working very well. These modes of operation and definition are tending to fail in these days because the center of gravity - the very purpose for the existence of Church - has been overwhelmed if not usurped by the prevailing culture. As the whelming continues and as we continue to lose members and lose the interest of growing percentages of the population as a result, we like to lob bombs of accusation against those "godless liberals" or those "fundamentalist conservatives" and spin, spin, spin how it is all those other peoples' fault.  But, the very act of conceiving of and wanting to throw bombs is, again, already a sign of failure.

Is it true - I mean truly true - that new wine cannot be poured into old wine skins? I want to think (believe) that there is a way, with God's help. I wonder - more than wonder at this point and suspect not. Not much of what I witness and experience leads me to believe that it is possible.  Where, then, does that leave "new wine" kind of Christian communities and ministries within the greater structures of the Church (and I'm specifically thinking about Episcopal/Anglican Churches)?

All I can say at this point is that we are called to be faithful. I content that that to which we are to be faithful firstly is God and the restorative, reconciling relationship made possible again through Jesus the Christ. We are able to do this by the enabling of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. I find it quite true that we can take confidence in the "enduring Christian Tradition," and for us that enduring Tradition is in the Anglican form. 
 
I say "enduring" because it helps us jump out of the never-ending, swirling, swirling eddy of chaos that we find ourselves as we continually lob bombs and accusations about theology and politics and piety and all the rest.  That which is "enduring" is not bound by ideas that call themselves conservative or liberal.  It is apolitical, or should be.  For me, and for what I envision for the Imago Dei Initiative, "enduring" is that which has survived through 2,000 years of persecution, trial and tribulation, through countless cultures and languages.  That which has survived and continues to thrive is "enduring Christianity."

Our call to ourselves and to others is to begin to experience anew the Tradition - those aspects of the Faith that have gravity and traction in the tactile world which help people to experience their Christian faith as consequential. We call people with intention and persistence to give themselves to the practice of the enduring Christian Spiritual Disciplines.  These habits are simple and straightforward - the study of Scripture, the practice of prayer, the fellowship of believers, the worship of Almighty God transcendent and eminent, and the giving of ourselves for good works.
 
A problem we often run into is that we take up perhaps one or two of these and end up - even with only two - practicing them halfheartedly. Our busy world works against such discipline. When we do this, we end up experiencing a profoundly diminished form of the Christian faith. This is where much of American Christianity finds itself. All aspects of the Disciplines are important equally and need to be held in right balance, which means that as Christians our lives will by necessity look quite different from most other peoples' lives.

How do we avoid throwing bombs, becoming disillusioned, ending up angry, being ostracized? How do we avoid separation and splitting up? Commit to the development of the Disciplines. Love God with our entire being. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Profoundly difficult stuff to do, but with God's help we are able. Find like-mined people for support, encouragement, and accountability.

We want to find and bring together these kinds of people - these like-minded people who desire to be the imago Dei, the imago of God, where we work, play, study, help others, and have fun. The fields are ripe for harvest.  People everywhere are seeking God and the significance found in a restorative relationship with God. In the emerging culture, it will be this kind of witness by consequential Christians that will make a difference.

This is how and what we want to be.  God help us.

(Photo: The Coptic Christian chapel at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. @Copyrite 2011 by Bob Griffith, all rights reserved)

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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