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A few days ago I read a blog post from Fr. Robert Hendrickson, friend and colleague, Curate at Christ Church New Haven, and developer of the new and wonderful ministries of St. Hilda's House, Ascension House, and Church of the Ascension in the Hill district of New Haven.  In his blog entry, we spoke about the centrality of worship as the hallmark of Anglican Christianity and the Church's experience.  From his blog entry:

I have found that this exercise has emphasized that which we have always struggled with as Anglicans - uniformity of belief. Throughout our history we have navigated the Catholic and Reformed strains and struggled with the melding of politics and religion. Through all of this, we have maintained our identity through common worship. We have prayed together, broken bread together, and listened to one another with a common language, with a common prayer.

It may sound nonsensical or naive but I truly think the most crucial task for the Church is not growth, justice, discipleship, survival, nor restructuring. The most crucial task facing the Church is worship.

Please read his entry at his blog, The Curate's Desk

This morning, I thought it might be interesting to see how Eugene Peterson (pastor, scholar, writer, and poet) wrote a couple particular chapters in the book of the Bible known as the Revelation (you know, that strange, last book of Holy Writ) in his version of the Bible known as "The Message".  Upon reading his short introduction on Revelation, I was reminded of Fr. Hendrickson's blog post above on worship.

Peterson writes,

Worship shapes the human community in response to the living God.  If worship is neglected or perverted, our communities fall into chaos or under tyranny.

Our times are not propitious for worship. The times never are. The world is hostile to worship.  The Devil hates worship. As The Revelation makes clear, worship must be carried out under conditions decidedly uncongenial to it. Some Christians even get killed because they worship.

We are wise if we heed such instruction and insight from both.
Considering what is going on in the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church right now with regard to resolutions related to changing the Church's reaching to official acceptance of the unbaptized being given Holy Communion, I want to make more accessible the piece I recently wrote on the topic.

The piece that I wrote focuses to how emerging generations (younger folks) may or may not engage this issue (topic, point of contention, disagreement, fight, or whatever-else-it-might-be-called).  Primarily, what I say is that if we make this change for reasons related to "welcome" or "inclusion" or the removal of supposed "obstacles" to new people coming to our churches, that such reasons for such a fundamental change may play well with liberal-minded, Baby-Boomer sentiments, but it will be irrelevant for younger people.  Younger people deal with such issues from very different perspectives.

So that anyone who may want to read the essay/commentary without wading through irrelevent stuff, I have made a "Page" for my 2-cents worth of commentary.  Of course, you could just scroll down.

Here is the link:
http://www.hypersync.net/mt/communion-without-baptism-emer.html

The rise of...

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A very interesting article entitled "What The Rise Of Depeche Mode Teaches You About The Rise Of Digital Design" comparing the rise of digital design today with the rise of synth-pop of the '70's & '80's (oh, how I remember "Cars" by Gary Numan!)

"After the explosion of synth pop onto the world stage, the press and industry were forced to recognize it as music and embrace it as an art form... For designers, after a pretty decent amount of struggle, we are just barely starting to see the acceptance of digital design as something people should care about."

Frankly, I see a very similar thing happening within our Church (and that would be the Episcopal Church). I can point to some folks who are doing the rising stuff and in the midst of struggle are making their way (it is, frankly, attitude, belief, and approach more than programmatic anything).  They aren't really those we hear lot about - or are more often than not put forward by the powers that be! That is just the way it is. Soon, however...

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Speaking of "Cars," here is Gary Numan in a surprise 2009 appearance at a NIN concert in London:

The Millennial generation does not imagine they are accepting or rejecting the Christian Faith--they imagine they are entering into formation for a new way of life, and they expect the Church to initiate, guide, teach, equip, and send them. 

What follows delves into how this may play out when considering the practice of "communion without baptism."

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The Lord GOD has given me

the tongue of a teacher,

that I may know how to sustain

the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens--

wakens my ear

to listen as those who are taught. (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

 

Isaiah's words ring loudly if we take up the challenge to understand our times forthrightly and consider candidly the looming debates within the Church. I humbly pray that we as a Church may be as one who knows how to "sustain the weary with a word." I pray that we all are awakened daily by the Lord with ears "to listen as those who are taught."

We should recognize, even if unable at present to understand, that within Western culture and particularly American culture, we are undergoing a profound, long-term change.   This is absolutely true for the Church and Christianity in general, also. One advantage we have in the enduring Christian Church is that we've been around for a very long time and have seen this all before. The question is whether we will learn from the past or whether we will simply repeat the past mistakes and be subsumed by the present, temporary, and thin zeitgeist. Change is inevitable, and can be very good, but we have to question and examine the reasons and means for change - why, why now, how, to what degree, what might be the unforeseen consequences?, and so forth.

One of the current travails within the Church is how to stem the tide of decline so that we might again thrive. One of the aspects of change we are examining for the Church (and here I am speaking specifically of the Episcopal Church, the institutional expression of Anglicanism in the United States) is how to engage younger generations (really, for too many people it revolves are how to "appeal to") younger generations.  One way proposed to appeal to younger folks is to remove all assumed "barriers," including the need for baptism before the reception of Holy Communion, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who are we, after all, to deny them something that doesn't belong to us, anyway, right? The problem is - that plays well with Baby Boomer sentimental thinking, but not particularly well with younger generations in the aggregate.

So, what follows are some thoughts I have about "communion without baptism" as the issue plays out in the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA this summer.

 

Introduction:

communion from the cup2.jpgThe focus of this commentary deals with how the debate within the Episcopal Church over "communion without baptism" may be conceived of within the cultural melee experienced by "emerging generations"[i] and the place, needs, and hopes of younger people. The demographic we are primarily considering is the generation known as the "Millennials" or "Generation Y" - those who are roughly 11-29 years-of-age. This is a complex generation, and even while we are all still figuring out what makes them a coherent generation, there are reliable generational characteristics that can be generalized.

When dealing with the many theological, sociological, and pedagogical considerations concerning communion of the unbaptized, within the context of Millennials there are additional considerations that need to be taken into account: 1.) The influences of previous generations on the upbringing of this group of people; 2.) The general cultural context that this generation now inhabits and how they function within it; and 3.) The foundation upon which this generation builds its understanding of life, humanity, personhood, and the world and their engagement with it - their default "faith" or worldview. Each of these will be briefly dealt with below.

These additional considerations are couched within the overarching goals of being present with young people within their constantly changing contexts so to be a witness of God's reconciling and regenerative presence and love, to learn how to translate the enduring,[ii] living Christian Faith in ways that will resonate with them, and to discover the best means for bringing the emerging generation into the mystical Body of Christ and ultimately the parish community.

Finally, over the last ten years, I have repeatedly heard and read from young people that the older "leadership of the Church does not listen to us!" We are continually trying to reconfigure the Church and its worship attempting to be relevant and accessible in ways we presume younger people will like. Yet, they are not impressed, literally. We recognize this by their growing absence. What they are seeking is something worthwhile to live for - something that proves to them that it is important enough, big enough, and hopeful enough for their consideration and devotion.[iii] Many are finding this in other expressions of Christianity, even as studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that the hope and life of historic Anglicanism is primed to take advantage of the spiritual disposition of Millennials.

"The mind of a person with understanding gets knowledge; the wise person listens to learn more." (Proverbs 18:15)

 

Influence of Previous Generations:

It has been said of Baby-Boomers (born between 1946 to around 1960[iv]) that they are the first generation to reject lessons learned from the past. There was and continues to be a generational suspicion of, if not outright rejection of, established institutions, convention, and what came before them. The generation untethered itself from the past in order to create a new world. A continuing example of this can be seen in TV commercials extolling how the Baby-Boomers are overthrowing traditional thinking and remaking retirement for themselves. Yet, Baby-Boomers were enculturated and formed as children within a society that still valued the sense of continuity and understanding that rests with tradition and elder-wisdom. There was a collective rejection of how they were raised.

It has been said of Generation X (those born around 1961 through 1981) that they are the first generation to draw meaning from popular culture. They are the "MTV" generation. This seems to be a natural progression from the Baby-Boomer rejection of lessons learned from past generations and their values. Where else are GenX'ers to find meaning, if the past is moot and untrustworthy - even dangerous? They find meaning from what is - now. Of course, the "now" is constantly morphing, particularly when considering the advent of the Internet and the continual re-framing of what is and can be known as true or final or valid - all ideas, all theories, and all concepts are equal on the Internet. Generation X is the first generation to be raised with the growing sense of being unconnected to anything sure and trustworthy.

Research reveals that the Millennial Generation (those born after around 1982 until somewhere from 2001through 2004) is the first generation where social networking and technology predominate in their everyday lives. They have access to more information and the ability for connectivity than any other generation. Members express a strong sense of abandonment by adults. As a result, Millennials have created for themselves a hidden subculture that most adults do not see or understand.[vi] Their lives revolve around fast changing, capricious, and often-manipulative fads perpetuated through a pervasive media. Underneath all the hype and hoopla, our young people are weary and wary even as they express hope for the future.

Consider that in the aggregate, the parents of Millennials (generally Baby-Boomers) are not raising their children in any particular kind of faith.  Many parents do not want their kids to be unduly influenced by what they consider to be antiquated and confining past religious expectations. This generational sensibility continues to compel adults to want young people to develop their own personal religious faith in their own time, if any religious belief at all. Yet, parents do not give much guidance or instruction to their children with respect to spiritual development generally or Christian formation specifically. A consequence is that adolescents without any formal religious education or experience arrive on college campuses or into the adult world without an understanding for making sound judgments of what is a legitimate faith expression or what is cultic, spiritually manipulative, or emotionally harmful. Thus, it is reasonable that a default, culturally generated faith such as "Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism"[vii] has developed to fill the void.

Consider that even for the Millennials who are being raised within institutional religious settings, particularly Mainline Protestantism, the general zeitgeist compels parents and adults to attempt to be more like coordinators who want to help young people discover their own beliefs rather than teachers of an enduring, consistent Christian faith. For their own good, we make our children take music lessons or attend athletic practices, but we do not make them be a part of the church. Thus, the example set by Baby-Boomer parents and adults generally does not convey to young people that this Christian Faith is important enough to teach and pass-on to the next generation. They believe Christian life is, therefore, not worthy enough for their consideration and involvement.

Consider that Millennials report having very good and important relationships with their parents. They believe in a positive future and have a sense of confidence in their abilities. They believe that the existence of the institutional Church is good and important, yet they do not believe that the Church has any relevance for their own lives. Ironically, part of the reason for this is that young people do not believe that most of those who go to church are in fact particularly Christian.[viii]

Adults rarely perceive their engagement with young people in these ways, but this is what younger people generally report experiencing.

Questions that might be helpful to ponder: Have parents abandoned their responsibility to be engaged as the primary movers in the spiritual formation of their children? Has the institutional Church relinquished its obligation to teach the enduring Christian Faith handed down from generation to generation? Has the institutional Church itself been overwhelmed and usurped by prevailing culture?  Why do we find ourselves in a situation where fewer people among the emerging generations find any relevance or alternative within the Church to what they experience in the world? 

 

The Cultural Dynamic:

The cultural environment within which Millennials have and are growing up is substantially different than any other generation in the history of the U.S. Family dynamics, the ubiquitous use of technology that enables instantaneous access to entertainment and communication, relationships that are not bound by geography or tactile presence, and the omnipresence of information and opinion are but a few significant considerations. There is the extension of the "latch-key" phenomenon of the 1980's and 90's where parents exert less and less formal oversight of and casual engagement with their children. For many Millennials, the parental project of raising their children and instilling an ethical system has been turned over to the schools. This same dynamic is occurring as parents turn over the Christian formation of their children to the institutional Church, if they engage any religious practice at all. Children are less likely to have family traditions, generational wisdom, or religious beliefs passed on to them by their parents. Finally, constant change has bred a sense of being disconnected to anything sure and a chaos that seems to rule their lives.

We are all enculturated from birth into ways of thinking and being within our social environs and within common culture. Enculturation normally occurs unconsciously as the prevailing social norms and expectations are conveyed through media, educational systems, family influence, and peer relationships. Religious institutions are playing far less of a positive role than in the past. Enculturation can "form" us positively and negatively. We are "formed" unknowingly, but for the Christian a process of intentional "re-formation" is important in order to identify and heal those aspects of enculturation that are negative and harmful to our individual and social good.

The reality we face as Christians living in the second decade of 21st Century America is that young people are "formed" by aspects of popular culture that work contrary to their spiritual health - the way of life we are called to by Jesus Christ that enables a sustainable society full of beauty and at peace. This is most significant because they lack basic understandings of Christian truths formerly communicated through the common culture of Christendom that mitigated aspects of negative enculturation.

Taking into account the coming and going of various Christian movements over the past sixty-odd years, we have seen great change in American Christianity. We are now reaping the results of Mainline Protestantism of the '60's through 70's and American-Evangelicalism of the 1980's with the resulting politicization and polarization of religion coupled with the ending of Christendom.[ix]  Church practice has developed into a kind of "therapy" church - within the churches it has become more important to try to make people feel good about themselves (and the Church) than to teach the enduring Faith tradition or challenge people to strive for the amendment of life through Christ. This kind of "church" has resulted in little Christian growth and maturation.[x]

We are well past the "Seeker/Church Growth Movement" of the 1990's as a phenomenon primarily among Baby-Boomers with its reaction against institutional Christianity and tradition. We are now beyond the "Emergent Movement" coming into its own during the 2000's, which was and continues to be a phenomenon among primarily GenX 'ers engaged in figuring out how to be the Church within Postmodernism, which among other things opens again an acceptance of mystery. 

Among Millennials, we are realizing the phenomenon of the end of the "Constantinian-Era" of Western Christianity - a "Post-Constantinianism." Aside from changes in technology and some social structures, we have entered into a social construct that has much in common with the way early Christians experienced life within prevailing cultures that were at best indifferent and at worst hostile to Christian faith and life.

The questions to ponder within current cultural contexts are these: How does the Church respond within a culture that no longer supports Christian notions of the human being, of ethics, of our world, and of our place in the world?  How does the Church respond to a generation of which the majority of members have no formal religious education and very little meaningful religious experience? How should the Church respond to younger people who seek a kind of "spirituality," but have little notion of what that means or how to attain it outside of cultural trend, whim, or fickle personal feelings?

 

The Default Faith of the Millennials:

The "National Study of Youth and Religion"[xi] reveals that younger people have developed a sense of spirituality that the authors define as "Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism." This is not just another variant of the Christian Faith, the authors stress. It is an uncritical something-else that has developed among younger people as a result of their enculturation. They are usually not able to coherently articulate this as a spiritual belief-system, yet it well describes their sense of a supreme-being and how they engage with such a supreme-being and how that supreme-being engages them, including how they are to behave. This god is out there somewhere, doesn't really have concern for human affairs, but is expected to hopefully bail us out of trouble when we need it, and the highest moral ideal is to be nice (which is not the same as loving your neighbor as yourself).

Regrettably, the authors write that this default "faith" of younger people is not a result of churches teaching the Christian Faith badly. This is, in fact, the "faith" that primarily Mainline Protestantism is now teaching by example to its young people.[xii] As a priest recently said, "My church is full of unconverted people." It is very difficult for those who do not effectively know the Christian Faith and the life resulting from such a Faith to instill in the emerging generation a meaningful and consequential Christian understanding and experience. We are collectively living a deficient form of Christianity, and young people know it.

Consider that with respect to religious or spiritual beliefs, an understanding of the self, and knowledge of Christian faith and praxis among emerging generations, research reveals the dire need for clear and consistent teaching from the Church. We need to reengage our teaching ministry - the process of catechetical formation among people who know little about the Faith. In these days, an institution that cannot clearly articulate its beliefs, its purpose, and its uniqueness will quickly lose the interest of younger people. Too many other things are gaming for their attention.

Questions to ponder as we think about faith development among younger people: If the culturally inspired, default spiritual understanding of a growing majority of Millennials is no longer built upon a foundation of historic Christian thought and practice, how must the Church respond? What is the teaching responsibility of the Church when approached by those who know little or nothing about the Christian understanding of humanity, the world, and God's call to us? How do we live in ways that bear witness to a God who is personal and comes among us, who is engaged with us through history, and who desires us to come into the fullness of Christ?

 

Final Considerations:

Consider that there is a difference between respectful listening so to learn how to better engage and teach emerging generations and, alternately, a kind of listening that ends up relinquishing the obligation to teach so to avoid controversy or perceived affront. It is always easier and less controversial to be an impassive spiritual guild rather than a forthright teacher.  We tend to think that being less demanding and more vague will mean more interest and participation. This way of thinking is continually shown to be false.

Consider, too, that there is a difference between giving the consecrated elements of Holy Communion to unbaptized people for pastoral reasons and the giving of the elements to unbaptized people as a matter of course for reasons surrounding hospitality or inclusivity. As is evident in the aggregate, that emerging generations are not responding to an increased focus on "hospitality" and "inclusivity." There is a desire for community, fellowship, and diverse environments assuredly, but these things are not understood by Millennials within the same concept of "hospitality" or "inclusivity" that is proffered by many leaders within the Church at this time.

Consider that notions that emerging generations are not interested in their spiritual lives, in church attendance, or learning about the enduring Christian Faith are all simply myth, often used by leadership to make excuses for the absence of young people from the Church. There are a plethora of churches and Christian groups that are growing and thriving among Millennials. The problem is that our Church, along with many, have all lost the collective ability to not only experience the fullness of the Life in Christ among present members, but have relinquished the project of learning how to translate and pass on the enduring Christian Faith and practice to the next generation in ways that resonate with them.

Could it be that we no longer listen to learn, effectively? Could it be that we no longer are able to give comfort with a word in ways that emerging generations can receive?

 

Conclusion: Bringing it all together -

The churches in which I grew up considered both baptism and the Lord's Supper to be only symbolic. We were baptized at an age of accountability only as an outward sign of a decision already made. We received communion crackers and grape juice only as a remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection. There was no sacramental understanding and no "means of grace" held within the elements. The church in which I spent eight years as a lay campus pastor before becoming an Episcopalian is growing with over a million more members in the U.S. than the Episcopal Church (with probably two million more showing up on Sundays) and approximately 70 million members worldwide - nearly as large as the entire Anglican Communion. Yet I can say authoritatively that the continued growth in these kinds of churches is not because people have a warm feeling of welcome as a result of being allowed to take communion regardless of where they are in their personal or spiritual lives. And, these are not churches where the members leave their brains at the door.

Most all indicators among younger people point in a direction where clear teaching, rigorous yet fair expectation, and deeply held beliefs-proven-over-time are what they are seeking. They do not want to be told what to believe out-of-hand. This can help explain their declining interest in Evangelical and Roman churches. Yet, they seek something efficacious by which to be challenged - not just the same, old thing they experience in a wearying common culture.

We know that there is an increasing sense of loneliness and narcissism among emerging generations.[xiii] Technology is passé. Moving forward, an important ministry of the Church will be to re-teach in word and by example how to have and maintain low-tech, tactile, supportive, and multigenerational relationships.

Millennials are seeking something that is not bound by the chaos of constant change. Those who are truly trying to find God and develop a spiritual understanding of life are seeking examples of real alternatives to the morass of prevailing culture among people who claim this enduring Faith. They are seeking something that is not trite or superficial and something that proves to be profoundly consequential.

Changing the Canons and teaching of this Church to provide as normative communion without baptism will have profound consequence concerning what this Church has taught and lived for centuries as part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and for our ecumenical relationships, but such change will not cause a re-engagement of Millennials with this Church. It will not provide for younger people collectively an example of vibrant and significant belief. It will have little consequence for the Church as it tries to attract a new generation of faithful Christians.

By providing an open invitation to come and explore this radical Christian reality, we give young people who have little real knowledge of Christian belief and practice the freedom to seek and question and wrestle with the implications of this Faith. When they believe themselves ready to heed the call of Jesus to enter into more formal relationships with God and other parishioners in the context of the mystical Body of Christ, we make available to them baptism - the initiation into the Church. Finally, when they believe that they are ready to take upon themselves the profound significance of Christ's death and resurrection through the reception of the consecrated elements of Holy Communion, they have a good understanding of what they are getting themselves into. They have then determined for themselves that this life in Christ is truly what they seek.  This is not an effort to usher them into an exclusive club, but to meet them where they are as they seek that which remains sure and true over time and demonstrates a way of being that is life altering, with immense and eternal consequences. Centered on Christ, this is a word that sustains the weary.

(Special thanks to The Rev. Amy Coultas for the beginning summation!)

Respectfully submitted for consideration by:
The Rev. Robert Griffith, SCP
Imago Dei Initiative
Brooklyn, NY



[i] By using the term "emerging," there is recognition and expectation that the process of understanding a new generation is forever a process in flux, always emerging along with the young people who are growing up.

[ii] By using the word "enduring," there is the recognition that within the deep and ancient stream of Christian Tradition are aspects that remain constant over time, through trial and persecution, within a plethora of cultures and languages, and that always inspire the worship of and relationship with Almighty God.

[iii] Research studies are numerous, but consider the "National Study of Youth and Religion" (NSYR) and the Barna Research Group findings as examples. For a brief list of research organizations and for a short bibliography of articles and books pertaining to changing culture and emerging generations, see http://imagodeiinitiative.org/inquiry.  (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[iv] Dates based on Strauss-Howe Generational Theory. See for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss-Howe_generational_theory (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[v] See the research findings reported in the books: Clark, Chap (2005). Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers; and (2011) Hurt 2.0. Grand Rapids: Backer Academic.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] See below for a fuller explanation of this default "faith."

[viii] See the report from the Barna Research Group: Kinnaman, David, & Lyons, Gabe (2007).  unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. See: http://www.unchristian.com/ (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[ix] For our purposes, we are defining: "Post-Christendom" as the end of official social institutions supporting and encouraging a Christian worldview; "Postmodernism" as the philosophical system that has come to predominate educational and social understanding, but more specifically expressed on-the-ground and within everyday life; and "Post-Constantinianism" is recognized when even the culture and social-fabric no longer support or encourage a Christian worldview and when within local contexts Christianity becomes the minority belief system.

[x] See the article: "When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity," Christianity Today Online; posted June 8, 2012. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/june/when-are-we-going-to-grow-up.html?utm_source=connection-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=2407189&utm_content=128084430&utm_campaign=2012 (Last accessed 6/16/12)

[xi] NSYR website: http://www.youthandreligion.org/ (Last accessed Apirl 19, 2012)

[xii] See - Dean, Kenda Creasey (2010). Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press. For more information: http://kendadean.com/almost-christian/ (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[xiii]Marche, S. (May 2012).  Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved April 13, 2012, from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/8930/

We keep hearing so often how we must change our structures - change our organizational, institutional way of being - because the structures of the organization are failing us.

I don't have a problem with organizational change, but it is too easy to believe that the problem is with the structure itself. Sometimes it is, but more often than not the problem comes down to the people inhabiting the structure! The problem is us!

WE have to change, and if we do change the old structures may well work just fine. If we don't change within ourselves, all the restructuring in the world will make little difference!
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke in Wales recently. On March 26th, 2012, the Archbishop visited the National Assembly of Wales and delivered a keynote address on the subject "For the common good: what is it that turns a society into a community?". Earlier in the day, the Archbishop joined a debate with a group of 14-18 year olds who were l
WADI KHARRAR, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 20: Archbishop...
looking at the theme of identity.  He summed up what he heard after a number of the young people gave speeches and presentations of their experiences and thoughts.

Below are a few paragraphs from his comments that deal with "identity politics." I particularly like his idea that the pendulum is swinging back to where we need to refocus on what we all have in common and how that shapes our identities and how it helps us live together in common concern...

"Identity is a very slippery word, as everybody has brought out.  I heard some voices raised, I think very importantly, against what people now often call 'identity politics': this is who I am, these are my rights, I demand that you recognise me.

"Identity politics, whether it's the politics of feminism, whether it's the politics of ethnic minorities, or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last ten or twenty years.  Because, before that, I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome.  And so minorities of various kinds and - not that it's a minority - particularly a group of women, began to say 'well, actually we need to say who we are in our terms, not yours'.  And that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and the legislation that followed it. 

"We're now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back, and saying: well, identity politics is all very well but we've got to have some way of putting all that together again, and discovering what's good for all of us, and, as I said at the beginning, sharing something of who we are with one another so as to discover more about who we are. 

"That's just one point that struck me in listening to this excellent conversation - identity isn't just something sealed off and finished with. Identity is something we bring to the task of building up a fuller identity all the time.  It's always a work in progress, always a project, never something done with.  Once we start saying 'This is my identity and that's it,' then I think we're in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to."

For those who have ears to hear! The following quote comes by way of Kendra Creasy Dean in her book, "Almost Christan: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church" (2010), p. 70. Dean was one of the researchers for the "National Study of Youth and Religion."

"Creeds are articulated beliefs. The theologian William Placher defends the importance of creeds by citing Lionel Trilling:

'It is probably true that when the dogmatic principle in religion is slighted, religion goes along for awhile on generalized emotion and ethical intention -- morality touched by emotion - [but] then it loses the force of Its impulse and even the essence of Its Being...

'Even if I have a warm personal relationship with Jesus, I also need an account of what's so special about Jesus to understand why my relationship with him is so important. If I think about dedicating my life to following him, I need an idea about why he's worth following. Without such accounts and ideas, Christian feeling and Christian behavior start to fade to generalized warm fuzziness and social conventions.'"

Find the book on Amazon.

An article on the HuffingtonPost, by Arianne Huffington, entitled, "Virality Uber Alles: What the Fetishization of Social Media Is Costing Us All."  Below are some paragraphs that I thought summarized the gist of the article...

Going viral has gone viral. Social media have become the obsession of the media. It's all about social now: What are the latest social tools? How can a company increase its social reach? Are reporters devoting enough time to social? Less discussed -- or not at all -- is the value of the thing going viral. Doesn't matter -- as long as it's social. And viral!

The media world's fetishization of social media has reached idol-worshipping proportions. Media conference agendas are filled with panels devoted to social media and how to use social tools to amplify coverage, but you rarely see one discussing what that coverage should actually be about. As Wadah Khanfar, former Director General of Al Jazeera, told our editors when he visited our newsroom last week, "The lack of contextualization and prioritization in the U.S. media makes it harder to know what the most important story is at any given time."

Our media culture is locked in the Perpetual Now, constantly chasing ephemeral scoops that last only seconds and that most often don't matter in the first place, even for the brief moment that they're "exclusive..."

Michael Calderone about the effect that social media have had on 2012 campaign coverage. "In a media landscape replete with Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs and myriad other digital, broadcast and print sources," he wrote, "nothing is too inconsequential to be made consequential...

"We are in great haste," wrote Thoreau in 1854, "to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." And today, we are in great haste to celebrate something going viral, but seem completely unconcerned whether the thing that went viral added one iota of anything good -- including even just simple amusement -- to our lives.... We're treating virality as a good in and of itself, moving forward for the sake of moving. "Hey," someone might ask, "where are you going?" "I don't know -- but as long as I'm moving it doesn't matter!" Not a very effective way to end up in a better place...

"But as Twitter's Rachael Horwitz wrote to me in an email, "Twitter's algorithm favors novelty over popularity."

"Indeed, to further complicate the science of trending topics, a subject can be too popular to trend: In December of 2010, just after Julian Assange began releasing U.S. diplomatic cables, about 1 percent of all tweets (at the time, that would have been roughly a million tweets a day) were about WikiLeaks, and yet #wikileaks trended so rarely that people accused Twitter of censorship. In fact, the opposite was true: there were too many tweets about WikiLeaks, and they were so constant that Twitter started treating WikiLeaks as the new normal."

So, the question remains: as we adopt new and better ways to help people communicate, can we keep asking what is really being communicated? And what's the opportunity cost of what is not being communicated while we're all locked in the perpetual present chasing whatever is trending?...

These days every company is hungry to embrace social media and virality, even if they're not exactly sure what that means, and even if they're not prepared to really deal with it once they've achieved it.

Or as Sheryl Sandberg put it, "What it means to be social is if you want to talk to me, you have to listen to me as well." A lot of brands want to be social, but they don't want to listen, because much of what they're hearing is quite simply not to their liking, and, just as in relationships in the offline world, engaging with your customers or your readers in a transparent and authentic way is not all sweetness and light. So simply issuing a statement saying you're committed to listening isn't the same thing as listening. And as in any human relationship, there is a dark side to intimacy.

"The campaigns can sort of distract reporters throughout the day by helping fuel these mini-stories, mini-controversies," said the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. Mini-stories. Mini-controversies. Just the sort of Twitter-friendly morsels that many in the media think are best-suited to the new social media landscape. But that conflates the form with the substance, and we miss the desperate need for more than snackable, here-now-gone-in-15-minutes scoops. So we end up with a system in which the media are being willingly led by the campaigns away from the issues that matter and the solutions that will actually make a difference in people's lives.  [emphsis mine]

Read the whole article.

What might this say for the Church and its obsessive, and at times pathological, preoccupation with social media?  Are the same observations written in this article true for us?  I hear from so many sources of younger people that older leadership in charge simply do not and will not listen (see the bold paragraph, above).

The enduring aspects of the Church in her liturgies, her patterns-of-life, and her foci mitigates against such trendy irrelevancies, yet many of us seem to think that everything must change now, often, and quickly, for its own sake, or we will be become irrelevant. Too often we think that which has endured must be sacrificed for the sake of trendy popularity. We willingly sell our patrimony for a bowl of desperately sought affirmation.

If you pay attention to what younger people are actually saying (in the aggregate), even if it isn't what we want to hear, we might learn something that actually helps our situation. What I hear and see in the arrogate, and tell me otherwise form sources other than your own opinion, is that younger people are seeking after time-tested substance that is proven by its ability to endure and survive over time (and over time doesn't mean over the last 30 years). We are tired of the chaos of constant change devoid of substance.  What is sought are examples of real lives that demonstrate a sense of proven surety built on consequential relationships focused on something other than self.

Virality doesn't give such things - the type of things that give meaning to one's life and a sense of true accomplishment and worth.
A colleague of mine, Fr. Robert Hendrickson, writes in his blog, The Curate's Desk, about the recent phenomena of "Ashes-to-Go" that seems to have caught on in our Church. I think he is correct in asserting that this type of quick and temporary experience does not actually allow people to experience the power behind the form, or the act of having ashes placed on one's forehead. The power comes from the fullness of the RIte, from the intentional, persistent, and slow working within us by the Holy Spirit as we give ourselves to the effort.  Without such intention and effort, having ashes placed on one's forehead can be simply an activity, like putting on blush, although for a presumably understood (but not likely so) different purpose.  Here are a few paragraphs from his blog... a full read is well worth it!

"I worry that we are sharing only the mark of our separation from God rather than our conviction that God dwells ever with us and that this very dust that we are may be hallowed, sanctified, blessed, and even assumed. This reconciliation of ourselves to God brings with it the welcome to live in the fullness of the Christian life. We are given the hope that "being reconciled with one another," we may "come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food" and receive all of the benefits of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. Ash Wednesday is not about our sins alone but about our life in and with the Triune God who calls us into true life - a life free of the mark of death.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22:  Marked with a c...

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"This simply cannot be communicated in a drive-by encounter. The sign of death is decisively stripped away in the Sacrament - it is that encounter with the Christ made known in the Body at the Altar and in the Church that is the point of Lent as we are brought into Communion and community.

"My worry about Ashes-to-Go is that it reinforces the privatized spirituality that plagues much of the Church. "I" do not get ashes. "We" get ashes so that we may know ourselves, as a Body, to be marked for a moment but saved, together, forever...

"On the plus side, I think it is absolutely vital for the Church to find ways to engage the changing world. This may be one such way - yet I cannot quite get comfortable with it. I am increasingly leery of the Church's desire to find ways to make the work of the Christian life easier or faster - especially as it pertains to this most sombre and needful of seasons.

"My hope though is that Ashes-to-Go really can become an entry point and that those who receive these ashes will be drawn to the Church in a fuller and deeper way. Perhaps this brief encounter can catalyze some movement of the Spirit that calls the recipients to newness of life. I look forward to talking with my friends about their experience of the day and pray that their efforts have shared something of the fullness of the Christian life."


When does it all end?

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When God sets about renewing his Church (whether a part of the One, Holy and Apostolic Church or a Protestant denomination - or all of it as the Body of Christ), it is more often than not a very messy, nasty undertaking. Entrenched interests, "conservative" or "liberal", fight mightily to stop it (look how the religious leaders of Jesus' day tried to stop him and the Apostles). There comes a point through the name calling, the casting of dispersions, the casting into outer darkness, and the utter unChrist-like actions, when those most entrenched in the fighting become irreverent to the new thing that God is doing. This happens because, I think, those most enamored with their own positions become blind to what is really going on around them, under them, above them - anywhere but with them. Renewal may mean the death of everything - the end of it all. No more money! Then, perhaps, the reshaping - starting in the very hearts of very real folk - can begin in earnest.

This little rant of mine comes out of this news report of a parish that was once an Episcopal parish that decided to pull-out of the Episcopal Church, tried to keep the property that did not belong to them (according to the very Canons that they agreed to and lived under for for nearly 30-years, particularly considering the vow taken by the then Episcopal priest in charge).  They lost the court battle, were told to vacate the original Episcopal congregations building, but couldn't leave it at that.

Now, I think that much of the way all this has been handled by the national Episcopal Church, dioceses, bishop, priests, and the laity in many of these conflicts has been terrible, but this kind of thing takes the cake, so to speak.

Here is an article describing what happened in: Diocese says Elm Grove's church's alter vandalized by evicted group ( ElmGroveNow)
Here is the photo on Facebook of the proud perpetrator of the action: the apse and alter - (Kelsie J. Wendelberger)

The New "Anglicans"?

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When I was in seminary (2002-2005), Gene Robinson was consecrated the new Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. I don't believe this was any kind of "political move" or a decision by the diocese for reasons of political-correctness, but the people of the diocese voting for a priest they knew, had faith in, and considered to be faithful to the Gospel. The fact that he was gay and had a partner didn't keep them from voting for him. There are, of course, lots of opinions about him, the diocese, and act of consecrating him a bishop in The Episcopal Church.  A whole lot has happened since then.

One aspect of the outcome has been the leaving of many Episcopalians to other Christian bodies and the creation of the Anglican Church of North America - a place where disaffected Episcopalians could flee and where some of the other "Continuing Anglican" bodies could affiliate. The hope was/is that this new church would replace the Episcopal Church as the official Anglican Provencal institution. This hasn't happened. IMHO, many of the actions taken by the four dioceses, the parishes, clergy, and people who left the Episcopal Church and their motivation proves to be very American, but not very Anglican.

One such new institution is the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). This group actually left the Episcopal Church earlier, over women's ordination, I think.  They ended up being under the authority of the Anglican Church in Rwanda.  The Rwandan Church consecrated new bishops to oversee this new church institution.  The Rev. Church Murphy, former Episcopalian, was one of these new bishops.  He now leads/led this group of churches.

So, now, some things have happened between the House of Bishops of the Rwandan Church and now-bishop Murphy that raises the ire of Murphy and some others in the AMiA.  The Primate of Rwanda went about disciplining Murphy, which, of course, Murphy didn't like.  An ultimative was give to Murphy and the consequences for non-compliance were spelled out. A couple days ago, Murphy and the other AMiA American bishops affiliated with the Rwandan Church have announced that they are splitting with the Rwandan Church. Who knows what will finally play out, but it seems that Murphy and company may end up creating yet another Protestant denomination in the U.S. - another sect.

When I moved out of American-Evangelicalism and into Anglicanism (via TEC) in the mid-1990's, I recognized that there was a great deal in common between American-Evangelicalism and Anglican-Evangelicalism. One issue that wasn't really dealt with in my parish was the difference between the two. I've come to learn the difference. There was a real failure among priests to teach "Anglicanism" - whether Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, or Broad Church - and how it is distinct and different (yet similiar) to the other traditions. I think this is an underlying issue among a lot of folks who left, who stayed, who broke-off, etc. It is my opinion that this is a primary reason underlying the actions of Murphy and others.

Anglican-Evangelicals are Catholic! American-Evangelicals (within which I was raised) are not.  As a matter of fact, they are often anti-Catholic (both in polity and with respect to the Roman Catholic Church). I think many American-Evangelicals who came into Anglicanism through the Episcopal Church, like myself, never learned the difference between Anglican- and American-Evangelicalism. When the going got tough within the Episcopal Church, many of us reacted just like American-Evangelicals, which means there was no issue or problem believing we could simply break-off and start our own thing, since to divide is the time-honored American-Evangelical way of "solving" or avoiding problems. They, we, I, didn't act like Anglican-Evangelicals, who because we are Catholic, simply don't separate, break-off, or form a whole new church. There are times when conservatives are in the ascendency and times when liberals are, but it seems to me that a fundamental difference within Anglicanism is that we suffer through if we have to because the Church is the Church Catholic, period, and cannot be divided.

Chuck Murphy and those of the AMiA who now spurn Rwanda are simply following the path they set out on and doing the very American-Evangelical thing. It is expected.  That is how American-Evangelicals react to so many of the interpersonal and authoritarian problems. I say this not out of anger or bitterness toward my former tradition, because I am very glad of it, but out of a real desire to be authentically "Anglican."



From the Episcopal News Service, November 28, 2011, reported the conclusion of the disciplinary charges made against the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence:

"The Episcopal Church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops Nov. 28 said it cannot certify that Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of the church.

"'Based on the information before it, the board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the church,' the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr., board president, said in a statement e-mailed to Lawrence and reporters."


Link to the article details...

I am thankful for this. After working 20 years in higher education, I can say that I've found (pseudo) liberals (in name only) to be particularly exclusive and spiteful despite their demand for the right of radical "inclusion." Whether I agree with this bishop is not the point - the point is that if we truly, honestly want a Church in the Anglican tradition of allowance of different perspectives, then he and his diocese have the absolute prerogative to be included. Whether I am personally gleeful, hurt, thankful, angry, or whatever emotion I might have related to their perspective is irrelevant. We are not a fundamentalist Church, whether the fundamentalists are liberal or conservative.

Inner Man

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"But even if one is content with a certain high usefulness in his chosen field, there is another phase of the whole matter. The Church has some useful information for that man which his inner being craves.

"The Church believes that the man wishes to know why the great gift of life was given him, how he may see beyond the affairs of the moment, what is expected of one so richly endowed in mind and heart, what shares he has in the improvement of the race, what  he must do to enrich his own living, what thoughts he must think to understand his own relation to God and the world, what efforts he must make to gain real and durable satisfaction, what he may do to avoid the devastating sins, to whom he may appeal to quiet his conscience, how he may gain comfort in time of loss, how he must estimate necessary sacrifices, what powers he may appropriate to expand life and purpose, what unfading compensations there are for righteous effort and finally what his destiny is to be. 

"The Church is the guardian of all this knowledge. Imperfectly as it may teach such traits, nevertheless that truth is its treasure."

- George P. Atwater, "The Episcopal Church: It's Message For Men Of Today;" pp 175-176. 

Purpose

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In the continuing saga that is this book I'm dipping my foot into from time-to-time, the author picks up the ideas of the Church needing men and men needing the Church - the why, how, for what purpose, and all that.  Here is a bit from the author concerning what the Episcopal Church in its Anglican Faith has to offer men for today (well, "today," as the author wrote, was 1917 through the final publishing date of the book, which was into the 1940's) and why men should be a part of the Church:

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"...And because, if they do not [participate], they will lose sight of the central fact of Christianity and that is the life, work, and death of Jesus Christ, who reveals God to man.

"The Church believes that the man wishes to know why the great gift of life was given him, how he  may see beyond the affairs of the moment, what is expected of one so richly endowed in mind and heart, what share he has in the improvement of the race, what he must do to enrich his own living, what thoughts he must think in order to understand his own relation to God and the world, what
efforts he must make to gain real and durable satisfaction, what he may do to avoid the devastating sines, to whom he may appeal to quiet his conscience, how he may gain comfort in time of loss, how he must estimate necessary sacrifices, what powers he may appropriate to expand life and purpose, what unfading compensations there are for righteous effort and finally what his destiny is to be.

"The Church is the guardian of all this knowledge. Imperfectly as it may teach such truths,
nevertheless that truth is its treasure.

"If this treasure of truth is drawn upon, men will enlarge their vision and fortify their lives."


Now, I will certainly say that all the above is as appropriate and applicable for women as for men, but this book is addressed to men, specifically. 

I will also say - which will be a bit of a counter to so much of what I experienced in my career in higher-education working with those enthralled with and dominated by identity-politics - that if we are to know fully how all this works and to realize it all in our lives truly, we need to admit that there are unique ways of appropriation and experience for men and for women.  The sexes do not experience things the same and if we demand that they do then we lesson the full human experience.

Primitive Tradition

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"Therefore the idea of primitive tradition is not only a preservative idea, but a quest for reform. It is a demand for the restoration of, or re-emphasis upon, those beliefs or practices approved or authorized by antiquity but wanting or fragmentary in the present age.

John Keble (* 25. April 1792 in Fairford (Glou...

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"'Is there not a hope', asked Keble, 'that by resolute self-denial and strict and calm fidelity to our ordination vows, we may not only aid in preserving that which remains but also may help to revive in some measure, in this or some other portion of the Christian world, more of the system and spirit of the apostolical age? New truths, in the proper sense of the word, we neither can nor wish to arrive at.  But the monuments of antiquity may disclose to our devout perusal much that will be to this age new, because it has been mislaid or forgotten, and we may attain to a light and clearness, which we now dream not of, in our comprehension of the faith and discipline of Christ.''

Writing about John Keble and the Tractarian movememt - Owen Chadwick, "The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays;" p.29. 

Split Ends...

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"A church split builds self-righteousness into the fabric of every new splinter group., whose only reason for existence is that they decide they are more moral and pure than other brethren. This explains my childhood, and perhaps a lot about America, too.

"The United States is a country with a national character of a newly formed church splinter group. This is not surprising. Our country started as a church splinter group. The Puritans left England because they believed they were more enlightened than members of the Church of England, and they were eager to form a perfect earthly community following a pure theology. They also had every intention of some day returning to England, once they had proved that something close to heaven on earth could work, and reforming their "heretical" fellow citizens.

"America still sees itself as essential and as destiny's instrument. And each splinter group within our culture - left, right, conservative, liberal, religious, secular - sees itself as morally, even "theologically," superior to it's rivals. It is not just about politics. It is about being better than one's evil opponent. We don't just disagree, we demonize the 'other.' And we don't compromise."

Frank Schaeffer, "Crazy for God;" pp 30-31

Faith was a gift...

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"He [Keble] was altogether out of sympathy with the school of rational theology which treated Christian truth as though it were a philosophy of life, God as though He were a theory to be demonstrated, and faith as though it were the assent of the mind to proven, or to highly probable, propositions.  Faith was a gift, its source the Holy Spirit acting through the authoritative teaching of the Church, its medium the sacraments of the Church."

- Owen Chadwick, "The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays;" 1990, p. 24.

The Real Mission

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"It must not be supposed that the Church considers this the fulfillment of its mission [providing good, wholesome opportunities for entertainment, diversion, and leisure in Christian fellowship to help provide for the natural desires and for the benefit of the people]. It is but one of the attempts of the Church to serve the real needs of the community. The real mission of the Church is
WAVELAND, MS - APRIL 17:  Worshipers gather in...

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never lost sight of, that is, to bring individuals into the Kingdom of God and to make them realize their personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Saviour. The Episcopal Church is not apprehensive of the effect of its social emphasis because it has its foundation most firmly rooted and does not distrust its people.  It believes that social service is a natural outcome of its fundamental principles. Its whole structure is comprehensive and not exclusive.

"The Church's message truly presents vision of that greater democracy for which the righteous nations of the earth are yearning. It is a democracy whose fundamentals are justice, righteousness and the abundant spirit of service that will secure for the people what no form of economic democracy will ever achieve. For nations seeking national and social salvation from the ills that afflict them, as well as for individuals, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Gospel of Christ is the only national Character of Liberty that can guarantee national salvation, the only power equal to the task of exalting a nation.  The Church presents this Gospel."


George Parkin Atwater, "The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men Today," 1950, pp. 167-168. (Originally published in 1917)
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I think we all too often let everything else usurp the "Real Mission." Frankly, the real mission isn't politically-correct and is disconcerting to many, yet life to so many others.  If we, as the Church, are a unique organization offering real and honest alternatives (not just for the sake of offering alternatives, for then we are resigning our responsibility), then there must be something alternative about us.

If the "Kingdom of God" is a real thing, it must be evident in the lives of those who claim to be citizens of such a Kingdom. If the image of such a Kingdom is not evident in the lives of the citizens of the Kingdom, then what use is it as a real alternative? It isn't, and that's why far too many people - particularly younger people - no longer consider the Church or Christianity as viable for or pertinent to their own lives.  We too often give up our real mission for the sake of expediency or popularity. As a result, all too often those who claim to be citizens of the Kingdom of God no longer reflect the high values of the Kingdom. Too often, we are usurped by socio-political ideology whether conservative or liberal, the lust for power, and greed (among lots of other things).

The way to realize such an alternative for the good is not easy, is not particularly popular, and as such is ignored, ridiculed, and rejected by many.  Yet, the real mission of the Church is to call people to this Kingdom recognizing that we are imperfect, but our own imperfection does not change the way for realization of the Kingdom. Here, we proclaim, is the path to the Kingdom of God, born by the work of Jesus Christ, already realized by multitudes from the vast array of cultures and peoples over centuries - we proclaim this truth to all who wish to follow.  We are on our way and extend the invitation to all who wish to join us.

Is it real, this Kingdom, this life? Only our experiences within it and the image of God revealed through us by way of such experiences will tell.


Absolutely beautiful setting for Evensong!

Power to the People!

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When Scripture and the liturgies were first presented in the language of the people, and for our Church that occurred with the Church in England broke with Rome and the first 1549 Book of Common Prayer, it was vigorously opposed by the Roman Church authorities because of the presumed loss of control of the Church over the people.  There were legitimate concerns that the common folk, who were by in large uneducated, would not understand the intent and meaning of Scripture (determined by the Church, of course).  Yet, much of the opposition to Scripture and liturgies in the vernacular had to do with control.

When the people do not have access to Scripture, the worship of the Church, and the Church's documents in a language they understand, they by default are subservient to the hierarchs.

Considering the Church's current drive to go further down the path of full-liturgy bulletins, projection or display of hymns/songs, liturgies, and prayers overhead, even if justified by making it easier for new people or suffering from the assumption that books are passé, what actually ends up happening is the dumbing down of the people.  Perhaps, what actually happens is the making of the people subservient to the priestly cast! Does this end up being an issue of control?

If people are able to read Scripture for themselves, they are empowered!  If people are introduced to, taught how to use, and encouraged to engage with the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), for themselves, even if in the pews on Sunday morning, they are empowered!  They learn for themselves the liturgies, the prayers, the theology that is actually espoused and maintained in the BCP.  They are able to then hold accountable the clergy cast who find it far too interesting and edgy to play around with time-honed and tested liturgies for the sake of being novel or out of their own boredom.

In the parish I've been a part of, a several years ago a bishop was conducting his episcopal visit.  The bishop was in the pulpit preaching when on of the matrons of the parish stood up, in the midst of him speaking, and said, "Bishop, that is not the teaching of the Catholic Church."  She challenged some "edgy," novel teaching he was espousing.  He stopped, turned around, exited the pulpit, and his sermon ended then and there.  If this woman had not been taught the Faith, if she did not engage with the BCP regularly, if she did not know Scripture for herself, she would not be able to hold accountable those who are supposed to guard the Faith.  She was empowered!  She challenged the hierarchy when they deviated.

Change will always occur, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with change.  There is nothing wrong with LCD screens projecting everything.  Yet, the reasons for change whether in theology, use of technology, or praxis are very important.  The more we encourage, teach, and bring people to engage for themselves Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer, and the documents that inform our faith and life in Christ, the more empowered the people are to take control of their own faith and life in Christ.

My desire is to work myself out of a job, our of a position, out of a place of a determining authority by teaching people to think for themselves, to know their own texts (whether a physical book in the pew, on an iPad, or whatever).  In so doing, I provide for them the knowledge and ability to know for themselves.  There are specific acts and responsibilities that are given to me by virtue of my priesthood and will only be done by a priest, yet the more I enable people to be independent (in the context of community) in their thinking the more able they are to live a full Christian life.

I've come to believe that doing it all for the people ends in the impoverishment of the people, a dumbing down of the people, and a renewed control of the clergy cast over the people. My experience tells me that people are more attracted to a way of living the Faith when they know as much as they can, not in an deluded attempt by the clergy cast to make them feel welcome by doing it all for them.

Craven

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"Attentiveness to peculiar narrative identity seems to me an urgent practical enterprise for a religious community that is often so bland that it loses its raison d'etre. The issue is to practice a peculiar identity that is not craven in the face of the moralisms of the right or the left."

- Walter Brueggemann, quoted in "Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church"; by Kenda Creasy Dean; p. 61.

Slipping Back

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"Because in fact, we are slipping back fast into something like the ancient world.  We are slipping back towards a world of narrow tunnel vision of religions and superstitious practice, a world where lots and lots of people have their lords and god, their practices and their mysticisms, that do not really relate to each other.  We are slipping away from the idea that there might be a faith that would bring all human beings together. We are slipping back socially and internationally into the assumption that there really are such differences in human beings that we can forget about God's universal righteousness."

Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, during Bible studies delivered at the 13th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, Nottingham 2005

Kenda Creasy Dean in her new-ish book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, describes the primary "faith" of American teenagers as "Therapeutic, Moralistic, Deism" rather than a form of the enduring Christian Faith.  This description of the faith-system (as much as it can be a formal "system" at this point) comes out of the results and analysis of the National Study of Youth and Religion project.

Both with Rowan and Kenda, these are pictures of where we are culturally, particularly among the emerging generations, and what is to come within the culture and within our individual lives as believers or not.  How are we ready?

Sparkhous

 

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)

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Copies of The Chri...

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The Christian Science Monitor published an opinion piece online March 24th, 2011. The piece is by Jonathan Merritt and entitled,"Evangelical shift on gays: Why 'clobber scriptures' are losing ground."

I've been watching this shift over the last 20 odd years. I'm still amazed at the length certain anti-homosexual groups go to attempt to reinforce their positions, even while the arguments they use are constantly changing over time because their arguments of justification loose their persuasive force as the blanket exaggerations or misinformation of gay people become all too clear.  It does them no good nor their argument when what they say no longer seems to line up with what more and more people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives.

They've lost the emerging generations, already. In Barna Group's research project that resulted in the book "unChristian," one of their primary findings suggests that emerging young people find Christianity in the U.S. to be profoundly anti-homosexual, and it doesn't jib well with their own beliefs or experiences.

(Now, I will say that much depends on how one defines "homosexual" or how one believes homosexuals think or act in the aggregate. The primarily Religious Right anti-homosexual groups try to persuade people that most all homosexuals are sex-crazed alcoholics who will just as soon molest your young son as have a coke at the corner dinner. Spreading this kind of misinformation is simply baring false-witness against a whole class of people, whether one believes those people need saving, healing, or death or not.  As a Christian, I will say that much of what is presented as normative in the urban gay subculture by certain gay interests - hedonism - isn't the kind of life that is conducive to our own personal best interests.  But, the gay people involved in living their lives in such a way are no different than what I witnessed in my 20-years working in higher education with students who happen to be in the straight Greek system - unabashed hedonists.)

Back to the issue at hand and speaking of "clobber passages"... I've particularly noticed how Bible publishers have been dealing with the issue.  As might be known, the term "homosexual" never appeared in an English Bible until the mid-to-late 1950's - that's approximate 450 years without such a term in English Bibles. Over the years, as their arguments against all forms of homosexual relationships continue to gain less traction, the anti-homosexual groups attempt to reinforce their position by becoming even more specific and detailed in their demand of and translation of Scripture to attempt to bolster their failing arguments. 

For example, the length that the English Standard Bible goes to attempt to make specifically clear that the obscure Greek words found in I Corinthians 6:9 are absolutely about homosexuals, but not just homosexuals, but about men, and not just men, but in the footnote pertaining the to two Greek words, men who are the passive AND the active partners AND both giving consent.  The ESV translates the Greek words, "nor men who practice homosexuality," with the footnote clarifying the mean with, "The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts." 

The King James version translates the words this way, "...nor effeminate, or abusers of themselves with mankind."  The New International Version translates the words this way, "...nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders."  The New American Standard Version translates the words this way, "...nor effeminate, nor homosexuals," with the footnote specifying, "I.e., effeminate by perversion."  (How is one "effeminate by perversion?")The New Revised Standard Version translates the words this way, "males prostitutes, sodomites..." 

The truth is, whether it supports a socio-political position or agenda or not (conservative or liberal), we simply do not know what Paul meant.  Yet, in order to tow the anti-homosexual line, Bible publishers cave into the demand by anti-gay Religious Right organizations to take a anti-gay stand in the translation of these words. (I Tim. 1:10, is another example) I've witnessed big campaigns that demand the Bible publishers publish the translation even more specific, as we witness in the EVS. 

After all, we have to make the Bible absolutely specific in order to keep ignorant people from being deceived by Satan (through the liberal Bible "scholars") trying to make homosexuality not a sin, make in normal and celebrated in the public mind, when we know that the end of this will be death and the end of Western Civilization by the punishing judgement of God.  Right?  You see why the anti-gay zealots have to exert a great deal of pressure on the Bible publishers to be absolutely specific that God condemns in no uncertain terms everything homosexual, whether we know the Greek words used by Paul actually mean "homosexuals" or not.

The problem, as the opinion piece details, these kinds of arguments are no longer persuading the emerging generations.  It isn't that the fags are winning in the deceiving of young, impressionable minds (although there is some truth in the assertion that the pro-gay message has more traction than the anti-gay message), but that the justifications and "proofs" for the anti-gay arguments are being shown to be fallacious.

I want to be clear, as a Christian and as a priest in this Church, our role and goal is not simply to affirm different groups of people, including homosexual people.  Our goal is always and for everyone - everyone - the cause of Christ for salvation, reconciliation, and restoration calling us into such a life that we become free of so much within our world that binds us, deadens us, enslaves us, deceives us, and causes our lives to be separated from God and estranged form one another.  This means that I call homosexual people as another other people into the reconciling relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  This will transform us and cause us to be different - not tied up in knots by giving ourselves to the hedonistic culture.  This does not mean, however, that homosexuals stop being homosexual.  Gay or straight, we are called to be with God according to God's ways and not simply according to the dictates of the prevailing culture or our own proclivities.

The anti-gay Religious Right will not win in their quest and crusade, because their positions cannot be sustained according to the truth that we know.  Yet, they will become even more demanding and stringent as they lose influence, as their arguments fail.  Unless, of course, as we are witnessing, people change their positions.  This has already happened for the majority of younger people.

Church and Sect

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The Scripture lessons for Sunday worship in the Revised Common Lectionary during this time after the Epiphany come from the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew, particularly focused on the Sermon on the Mount.

Reading through a commentary yesterday, I came across this description of the difference between a "Church" and a "Sect."  Here are a couple paragraphs:

"In spite of the need for many corrections in his details, my [Ulrich Luz, the author of this commentary] most helpful conversation partner has been Ernst Troeltsch.  He makes a sociological distinction between church and sect.  They are characterized by certain types of piety and theology.  While the 'church' as an institution of salvation and grace is characterized by s piety of redemption and a religion of grace, the 'sect' is a 'voluntary society, composed of strict and definite Christian believers,' who emphasize 'the law instead of grace, and in varying degrees within their own circle set up the Christian order based on love.'  In the sect Christ is 'the Lord, the example and lawgiver of Divine authority and dignity,' rather than primarily the redeemer.  Realizing holiness is central for the sect; 'the real work of redemption' takes place only in the future through  judgement, 'when He will establish the kingdom of God.' Very often the piety of the sect is Jesus piety, while Paul is decisive for the church type."

- Ulrick Luz; Matthew 1-7, Hermeneia Series; Editor, Helmut Koester, James E. Crouch, Translator; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 178.

I suspect that using these definitions by Troeltsch, one might make the argument that the new "Anglican Church in North America,"  the break-away group from the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada made up primarily of American style Evangelicals (as opposed to Anglican-Evangelicals) and Charismatics (with lessening numbers of more strict Anglo-Catholic types), is a "sect" and no longer a "church."  Their reason for being is to become more "pure," according to their own definitions, and a piety that is far more strict.   Sociologically speaking, this Troeltsch fits, I think.

New or New Again

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Part of the mandate of the Imago Dei Initiative is to understand emerging culture and emerging generations so that the Church can meet people where they are - outside the prevailing, some call "normal," walls of the Church and ways of thinking about life and faith.

This isn't easy, often times, because pouring new wine into old wine skins more-often-than-not results in the rupturing of the old wine skin.  This makes people nervous!  This makes institutions nervous, even while the people that are the institutions know that change will occur regardless of thought, comfort, or even permission.

Currently, the Imago Dei Initiative is experimenting with a few different things under a tag-line that goes something like this: "Finding new ways of living a profound Faith in simple ways."  Again, more-often-than-not, these "new" ways are really the discovery again of the ways that have resonated with the human heart and soul from generation-to-generation.  All things are made new again.

If we pay attention to the demographic data, emerging generations are seeking out those kinds of faith expressions that demonstrate something that is tried, is proven, is not trendy, that actually proclaims a belief in something specific, and is lasting.  There is an expectation for questioning and wrestling with the issues, but there is an appreciation for honesty and being up-front about what is believed and proclaim to be true.

For example, churches all over the place that are full of young folks are picking up the Book of Common Prayer and are finding in its ancient forms and liturgies something intriguing, life-giving, and that has been missing in most of their faith experiences.  The Anglican Tradition of the Christian faith is well situated for this generation - an openness to difference, debate, and questions; simple belief assertions that get at the core of the Faith; and the slow, formative elements of ancient liturgies.  Although, the preoccupation of political and theological warfare going on in the Episcopal Church (and the break-way new "Anglican" denominations) right now does little to draw younger folks to the institution that is supposed to be the  holders of the Anglican Tradition in the U.S. - the Episcopal Church.  We've got to experience again is not politics or social-agendas, but the experience of God in relationship.

Younger folks also think very differently about pet issues that the Church has been wrestling with for the last 40 years (since the rise of the 1960's/Baby Boomer mentality).  Younger folks don't look with disdain and mistrust upon institutions.  There is a draw to that which is ancient in the Tradition.  Younger folks do not think the same way about issues of race, sexism, homophobia, political and social liberalism or conservatism.  These are not the issues most younger folks dwell on (with exceptions, of course) - and not that these issues are unimportant.  

For example, most younger women I've encountered and talked with don't have the same issues with gender-inclusive language as do Baby Boomers.  Younger women realize that the Scriptures and the Tradition were developed in a different time under different circumstances, so if male pronouns are used today (in accordance with the actual Greek or Hebrew word in Scripture that is male) there isn't the same feeling of disenfranchisement or diminishment or exclusion or an expectation of subservience to males.  Their womanhood is not threatened by male language or imagery in their original forms.

So, considering all this, how does the Church do things differently without a preoccupation with trendiness?  We focus on Christian formation within our relationships with God and one another.  Another way is to rediscover or relearn the ancient forms of the Tradition - that which has survived through persecution and trial among a multitude of cultures throughout the past 2,000 years.  This is what we are trying to do. 

How?  Well, here are a couple things:

1. The Imago Dei Sunday Evening Service at St. Paul's Church - we are a new and still small gathering of people who wish to experience the presence of God in contemplative and meditative ways.  We use the tried and true form of Evening Prayer (perhaps Evensong at some point) with lots of time for silent/quiet contemplation.  We hear the Word of God, we pray for our needs - most importantly we desire to grow closer to God.  We end our time together with the celebration of Holy Communion in a very simply form.  We meet Sunday evenings at 5:00 PM and the service lasts almost an hour.  We attempt to form a spiritually conducive atmosphere with candles, bells, incense, quiet, and a beautifully rich physical space.

2. The Imago Dei Red Hook Gathering - we are organizing a small group of folks in the Red Hook neighborhood that come together to support and challenge one another to live more fully into our Christian Faith in simple ways.  The main purposes of this kind of gathering is to build relationships, to hear how we are growing in our Faith, and to support one another in all the challenges we face in our chaotic world.  We are meeting in a more public space twice a month for about an hour and a half.

3. The Imago Dei Home Group in Carroll Gardens - this is similiar to the "Gathering" mentioned above, but we meet in a member's home.  This affords us the ability for a little more privacy and intimacy.  We spend time catching up on each others' lives as we gather together, we transition into a time of quiet, of prayer, and then we discuss how Scripture interacts with our lives.

4. 2nd Saturdays for Good Works Initiative - every second Saturday of the month (well, almost every one - see the Events page for updates) we come together to do some sort of good work as we give of our time and talents to serve others.  Fundamentally, the purpose is to help us grow in our own faith by better understanding God's will for our lives, but other people receive the benefit of our work.  This past year, we adopted Coffey Park in Red Hook as our project.  We helped the permanent gardener (John Clarke) and community folks who volunteer to help keep the park in good shape.  It is great exercise, a good time to meet new people and grow closer to people we know, and it is good for the soul.

5. The "Faith meets Art meets Space" project - this is a formation project for artists of all kinds that focuses on how our Christian Faith influences our creative impulse. How does our faith and the physical space influence our art?  The goal is for the artist to create something new while investigating how faith and space inspire them.  There will be during May 13-15, 2011 exhibits and performances at St. Paul's Church that presents our new art.

6. "The Church and 'Post-Constantinian' Society?" The Imago Dei Society in cooperation with other groups is planning a conference during the late-fall of 2011 to discuss how we live as individuals and the Church within a culture and society that is becoming "Post-Constantian" - a culture that no longer supports a common Christian understanding of life and our place in the world.  More info coming...

These are just a few things that we are doing and would like to do.  The goal of an intentional-community where residents live for a time to help develop the habits of the Christian Spiritual Disciplines is in the works.  Anyone is welcome to help in this project of discovering new ways of living the profound Faith in simply ways.

Every now and then I catch up on what is going on with the controversies within the Anglican Communion among the bloggers who are most prolific. Mark Harris (Preludium), a priest in Delaware and member of the Episcopal Church (TEC) Executive Council and Kendall Harmon (Titusonenine), the Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, are two of these.  Over the past couple of years, and despite my respect for much of what he has written in the past, Harris has become more typically Baby Boomer-ish (those who believe they are given an unique charge to remake the world in their own image and bring in the age of Aquarius by the dismantling all that came before them) and particularly stereotypically American (those who expect their will to be done around the world simply because we are Americans, so smart, so progressive, and so right).  After all, we just want what is best for the world and its people, and we know exactly how everyone needs to act and what they need to believe.

All these machinations we are hearing from the leadership of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. concerning steps being taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) and the governing structures of the Anglican Communion because we snub our nose and refuse to abide by a couple requests made of us by those bodies, increasingly smacks of people who are used to getting their way, but no longer can.

Now, honestly, I have to admit that abiding by these two requests will impact my life, but only minimally. What I have to acknowledge is that I don't always get my way, I don't have a "right" to anything within the Church or the Body of Christ, and that I consider myself to be part of a Church that is Catholic - all of these things cause me to recognize, acknowledge, and abide by things I don't like, think is fair, or consider to be right. It isn't all about me or my group.  By saying that, I do not even consider that I stop advocating for myself, my group, what I think to be God's will, what I believe to be right for the good order, safety, and benefit of all, and an advocate for those who are terribly abused by other Anglicans around the world and demand that they stop their abuse.

Soon, "imperialist" America will have to deal with the rest of the world standing up to us. How will we as a people and as a nation act when this really starts to happen in earnest? Will we join the rest of the world as equal partners or... will we continue to act like imperialists and attempt to force our will on the world or... will we retreat into isolationism?

The Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church are a foreshadowing of all this and how Americans will probably act.

So many of our reactions in TEC (at least among many of its leadership) smacks of an "imperialist" Episcopal Church that generally got its way within Anglicanism (because we were Americans and we had the money), but now has to deal with foreign people standing up to us and saying, "our views count and we aren't going to let you get away with this anymore." 

Now, we may absolutely disagree with them and actually may be absolutely right - but we are still being stood up to.  We don't like it, so we laughingly do things like accuse the ABC of acting like a colonial authority when he, completely within his right, "interferes" in TEC, which claims to be an Anglican province by definition in communion with him. We just can't stand being stood up to.

How are we going to act, now?

Are we going to join the rest of the Communion as equal partners and recognize that all (but a few) have requested that we don't do a couple things and that as equal partners sometimes we have to give a little (while still being ardent advocates of our position) or... are we going to attempt to force our will one very one else (something like Spong's attack on African bishops) or... will we simply retreat into isolationism and claim we don't need the rest of the Communion and gloriously declare that we are our own sect?

I keep hearing all the above from our leadership, except, really, that we see ourselves as equal members of the Communion and that sometimes we don't get our way.  Send no more money to them... we can do just as well on our own and who needs them - these are the attitudes I hear and read the most.

Differences

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So, I'm attending the Episcopal Village East (EVE) conference in Baltimore.  I attended the TransFORM East Coast conference in May. I said to a few people as I left Brooklyn that I wanted to see how the two conferences compared with each other.  Here is a first observation: People at TransFORM where tweeting and blogging all through the conference - and it was encouraged by the leadership - while at the first pre-conference session for EVE everyone was writing with pens and pencils on notebook paper.

The people at TransFORM, which describes itself as a "missional community formation network," seemed to be people of and ensconced in the communities they are trying to reach. The people at this EVE session seem to be those who are trying to learn about the same demographic group of people, but are not of them. Does that make sense?

It is terribly difficult and takes an immense amount of energy to try to understand the constitutional make-up of a different group of people.

On Social Media!

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On Social Media. This is the reality, where are we as the Church in the mix? Do we understand (I mean honesty, really understand) the fundamental shift that is happening and the right and good role the Church can play in both the digital and tactile worlds? For the Cure of Souls? For peace? For an alternative?  How can we be the imago Dei among all of this?

How it's done!

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stthomas-250.jpgFrom this month's issue of the Living Church, an article on St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hollywood, CA.  As the article says, the only Anglo-Catholic parish in Los Angeles.  The article, "Apolitical Inclusion at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, CA"

In terms of reviving a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition (and I simply love the "apolitical inclusion" bit), a couple paragraphs from the article:

"The Rector, The Rev. Elliott Davies, restored the altar to an eastward facing position and celebrates Mass with his back to the congregation in lieu of 'the bartending position.'"  I love that - "the bartending position." Continuing, "Ensign recalls UCLA students fascinated by the celebration [Gregorian chant, lots of incenses, etc.]  - as opposed to 'that old hippy crap our parents like.'"  Out of the mouths of babes. And, continuing, "'One guy had never seen a pipe organ,' Ensign said. 'For us baby boomers what was so meaningful, relevant, and rebellious is so old hat. What's old is new again.'" [emphasis mine]

"St. Thomas has a tradition of social activism in the surrounding area, including among the homeless in Hollywood and gay and lesbian residents in West Hollywood... But Proposition 8 [California's marriage amendment] has never been preached about,' Ensign said. 'Preaching is always gospel-centered and Scripture-based.  We're here to worship Almighty God.  If you want to be political, join a political group.'" Did we hear this!  In the Anglo-Catholic tradition of social activism, the parish tends to the needs of those disadvantaged and marginalized, yet they recognize that their focus is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to worship Almighty God, not to be a political action committee or a social service organization.  The Good Works happen because the people are taught to love neighbor as the love themselves, but tend to their relationship with God first.

"'I got suckered in by Fr. Carroll Barbour,' Ensign admitted.  'Urban legend goes: in the early 1980's St. Thomas was downgraded to mission status.  The bishop called Fr. Barbour in - then in his late 50s, and serving in Long Beach, with a checkered past, a history of alcoholism - and said, basically, it was make or break for both.'

"'He took the parish Anglo-Catholic in theology, teaching, and ritual, and threw the doors wide open,' Ensign said. 'He held his ground when parishioners left, then went to work.  There was little money, no answering machine, let alone a secretary.  No organ, no choir.  Just a mock English gothic building in a so-so location.'

"'He was a little guy from North Carolina; a real jackass,' Ensign said. 'But he was no-nonsense, and a real priest.  Not a social worker, or politician; always humble by the altar.  The priesthood was most important in his life.'
"'He was a broken man.  He often said, 'God loves broken things. We break bread, and broken people are ready to listen,' Ensign recalled.'"

Making Decisions in the Church

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Over the last few decades, within the institutional Church (and my Church, The Episcopal Church), the way we as the Church have made decisions about our beliefs, our advocacy, and our governance has become increasing influenced by the prevailing sociopolitical cultural patterns.  The result has been an increasing dependence on arguments resting squarely within a secular, psycho-therapeutic, and civil-rights based ethos, rather than by the means given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know this is really nothing new, but the extent to which this now occurs within both the conservative and liberal Church structures has overwhelmed even our conceptions of what the Gospel compels us to do. 

By being so overwhelmed with secular, sociopolitical ideologies, we have lost our ability to present to the world a different way being together, of resolving conflict, and of making decisions for the common good.  We within the Church alienate and marginalize like the best of them, even as we declare, at least on the surface, that we are all about inclusion and welcome and the common good.  Do people seeking a different way find anything worth considering in the Church, today?

When I hear that the Church should do this or that or be engaged in one thing or another, too often the reasons given sound more like justifications devised by social-justice organizations, overly sensitive psychotherapists, or political action committees rather than from a body of people who place at their center the commands of Jesus.  The central characteristic of all decision-making within the Church should rest squarely, and in most cases exclusively, on the two great commands of Jesus:  1). Love God with all of your being; and 2). Love your neighbor as yourself.  Both 1 & 2 must be emphasized, because #2 is not possible in and of our human selves without #1.  For a long while now, and I can only guess due to an overactive need for affirmation by the secular culture, we have moved increasingly along a trajectory that tries to relativize or relegate #1.  This doesn't work, and over time experience has proven that it does not.

For example, it seems that in our fighting against injustice, the way we conduct ourselves is justified by Latin American infused Liberation Theology, which is based more on Marxist ideology than on Jesus' command to love our neighbor (at least as it is worked out on the ground).  Loving one's neighbor requires us to put our lives on the line for the person subjected to the injustice, but the reason is not for political liberation within a geopolitical state.  On the other side, when we suggest that something like free-market Capitalism should be championed by Christians, because of the belief that the State should stay out of the affairs of individual citizens (in this case, expressed in the economic enterprise), we more often than not base the arguments on such things as personal greed, materialism, or consumerism rather than a desire for the betterment of both the common and the individual good - as well as for the benefit of our competitors.

When we argue for emigrant reform, when we argue for full inclusion of gay people, when we argue for strengthening and sustaining the family, when we champion sustainable agriculture, when we advocate for low-wage earners, as we champion individual freedom and individual responsibility, as we campaign against hatred, prejudice, and bigotry, when we call for reform of any kind, as Christians the only foundation upon which all these arguments or positions should be based is upon those two great commandments.  Social-action groups make their arguments based on individual "civil-rights" language and concepts.  Arguments based on individual civil-rights are not the arguments of the Church. They automatically lead to alienation and tend to not change the hearts and minds of opponents. The Church works to change hearts and minds, not to enact or enforce a myopic and often trendy political-correctness.  Loving one's neighbor as one loves him or her self is upon what we base our positions, our arguments, and our advocacy.

In the Church, if I use civil-rights based arguments that a woman or a gay person has the "right" to be a deacon, priest or bishop, I have already lost the case with regard to the Gospel.  I have already alienated and marginalized groups of people with whom I disagree.  No one has the "right" to be a bishop, priest, or deacon - not matter what gender, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, race, etc.  "Rights" based language does not change hearts and minds and does not preserve unity.  There are losers and winners - or rather, there are just another and different a set of losers and winners.

I am not suggesting a mushy sentimentality when I speak of loving one's neighbor.  It is very, very difficult to love an opponent, even more so an enemy.  No matter what decisions or statements we make, some people will be put-off or offended.  We cannot always help how others will respond, but we can help how we act, respond, and react. To abide within the two great commands of Jesus necessitates humility, a willingness to understand the other side of issues and arguments, and the willingness to compromise when needed for the benefit of all, and even for the other.  We can be strong and vigorous in our advocacy, championing of things, and in our arguments - no need to be a welcome mat - yet our concern is always for the betterment of not only the ones or the issues we support, but for our opponents as well.  We, those who call upon the name of Christ, should consider the wellbeing of the other before we consider ourselves.

Philippians 2:1-16

If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care-- then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death--and the worst kind of death at that--a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth--even those long ago dead and buried--will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully--no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for nothing.

Mindset of the Class of 2014

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Every year for some time now, a couple professors at Beloit College compile a list of characteristics of the new incoming freshman class.  This list gives insight into the cultural events and social influences that contribute to the way of thinking and the way of seeing the world and their place in it of the Class of 2014.  It is interesting to read - some years the lists are better than others.

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Here is the list:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall--the Class of 2014--were born in 1992.

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. "Go West, Young College Grad" has always implied "and don't stop until you get to Asia...and learn Chinese along the way."

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. "Caramel macchiato" and "venti half-caf vanilla latte" have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus's folks on Parents' Weekend.

10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren't afraid of immigration...unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.

14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.

17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn.

22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech.

23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.

24. "Cop Killer" by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording.

25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.

26. Unless they found one in their grandparents' closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

28. They've never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

30. "Viewer Discretion" has always been an available warning on TV shows.

31. The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.

33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.

34. "Assisted Living" has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always offered an alternative to the hospital.

35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an "Annus Horribilis."

38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

39. Pizza jockeys from Domino's have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

42. Potato has always ended in an "e" in New Jersey per vice presidential edict.

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.

48. Someone has always gotten married in space.

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States.

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.

51.  Food has always been irradiated.

52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.

53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn't he? 

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy.

55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

56. They may have assumed that parents' complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife. 

58. Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog.

59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola's new Tab Clear, it was gone.

60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.

61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies' withholding tax, or else.

62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine. 

63. Their parents' favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.

64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.

65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church.

67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

69. It seems the Post Office has always been going broke.

70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.

71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

72. One way or another, "It's the economy, stupid" and always has been.

73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated.

74. They've always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi (SYFY) Channel.

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

Here is a pertinent paragraph from the Wikipedia entry for "Millennial Generation."  This observation/assertion is that the Millennial's generational thinking and attitude and ascetics that run quite counter to the whole counterculture and anti-establishment nature of the Baby Boomers. 

For the Church, this means that those who are still convinced that to save the Church is to get rid of everything that was (standard theology, doctrine, traditional architecture or music or language or liturgies and on and on) are now acting not for the future welfare of the Church, but for the perpetuation of their generational ideology.  My experience with younger people suggests that even things like "inclusive language" is passe - particularly among the women.   When we think about how to form or re-form the emphases or methodologies of the Church for future generations, we must do our best to truly understand emerging generations.  If not, we will once again "miss the boat."  We've missed the boat so often... 

Here is the paragraph:

In some ways, the Millennials have become seen as the ultimate rejection of the counterculture that began in the 1960s and persisted in the subsequent decades through the 1990s.[62][63] This is further documented in Strauss & Howe's book titled Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, which describes the Millennial generation as "civic minded," rejecting the attitudes of the Baby Boomers and Generation X.[64] Kurt Andersen, the prize-winning contributor to Vanity Fair writes in his book Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America that many among the Millennial Generation view the 2008 election of Barack Obama as uniquely theirs and describes this generational consensus building as being more healthy and useful than the counterculture protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s, going as far to say that if Millennials can "keep their sense of entitlement in check, they might just turn out to be the next Greatest Generation."[65] However, due to the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, at least one journalist has expressed fears of permanently losing a substantial amount of Generation Y's earning potential.[66]

The "E" word

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This recent article from the Episcopal News Service has prompted me to think again about the "E" word - you know, "evangelism".  The article is entitled, "Mobilizing for mission: Seminarians organize for young adult evangelism."  I have a lot of respect for this group of Episcopal seminarians in their effort to engage in evangelism, but to what are we calling people?  Is there an enduring aspect to what we are calling these young adults?

When I ask myself that question, here is what I keep coming back to: The Church needs to reclaim one of its primary purposes - to be about the Cure of Souls.  That means we call people to God through Jesus Christ first and foremost.  But, why should anyone be compelled to heed such a call, particularly if they take an account of our lives as examples of what we are calling them to?  How is our witness?

Within certain circles of the Christian Church in the U.S., and I suppose everywhere, the "E" word is avoided with a passion or simply redefined to fit particular sensibilities.

Growing up in American-Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism, evangelism was supposed to be at the center of my experience of the Faith.  We believed that we and all Christians are charged by God to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." We believed this because, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16). 

While I certainly upheld this call to us all to preach the gospel, the problem I had with all the evangelism stuff was the preferred and accepted method most often used by American-Evangelicals, particularly in my context, which was the college campus.  The method used was often refereed to as "Confrontational Evangelism".  In a more crass and defamatory description, some people referred to it as "bible-thumping."

I was uncomfortable with evangelism all together because this was all I knew.  This method to me seemed fake, contrived, and forced in a way that didn't leave room for dealing with real and honest questions and doubts.  To me, it did not seem to respect there object of the effort.  Paul, as described in Acts 17, often said something like, "Come, let us reason together...", but there was no real reasoning within confrontational evangelism.  It seemed overly superficial.  Yet, I personally knew people who came to be reconciled to God ("saved," in good Evangelical verbiage) through this method - God works as God will work!  Who are we to get in the way of the Spirit because of our own likes and dislikes!

I was drawn to another concept of evangelism during those days - "Friendship Evangelism."  This method seemed more natural and respectful.  We befriended people simply because we wanted to be friends, although added to the mix was our desire for the person to also be a friend of God.  The problem was the constant tension between being "in the world," but not "of the world." 

Being friends with a "worldling" sometimes seemed to ran counter to God's demand that we, "come out from among them". (2 Corinthians 6:17)  How could one just hang with a non-Christian and be okay with that when being with him/her may be a bad influence on one's own struggle against sin and striving for holiness?  Besides, their eternal soul hung in the balance and it was up to us to do something about that.  Pressure!  Pressure that made real friendship nearly impossible.  That's why these "friendships" rarely lasted.  When the object of our efforts didn't get saved, we dumped her/him and moved on to another prospect.  This was our witness of "friendship" among many non-Christians.  Some kind of friendship, eh?

This was why I hated "evangelism."

Within American Mainline Christianity, there took hold among some an idea that "evangelism" wasn't so much converting people to Christianity, but doing things that helping the poor and down trodden and then hoping that those helped would like us.  I remember while in seminary a representative from our Church's Foreign Missions office declared that we no longer try to convert people, because that is disrespectful of their culture and religion, but we simply help them be all that they can be.  To what are we calling people? 

Today, for much of the Mainline, the "E" word has been redefined. "Evangelism" is simply helping, and then perhaps someone might like to help us help other people.  Helping others is a very good thing, but is it that to which we are to call people?

I can't get into this kind of "evangelism," either.

Within the Imago Dei Society, we center on Formation and Witness.  The Imago Dei Initiative is the means for helping us to live lives that reflect God, that reflect the transformational nature of God's work within us, and that reflect something compellingly different within the surrounding contexts of our lives that get people's attention.  What we hope gets people's attention is not due to marketing, gimmicks, or manipulation, but simply the way we live - "There is just something compellingly and delightfully different about these people!"  The difference, if seen, is due to our relationship with God first and foremost and the re-formation of heart and mind that results. 

In a society and culture that is increasingly similiar to  the pre-Constantinain environment, "evangelism" comes about because something about our lives and example attracts the attention of those seeking something other than the status-quo.  If we can be the "image of God" with integrity, with honest, and with humility in our everyday lives among the people we encounter regularly, we will be doing "evangelism."  We will be a good witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We do "evangelism" whether we want to or not.  The question we have to answer is whether the image of God and the Christian life we portray is on target (as best it can be in success and failure) and whether we call people to be reconciled with God before anything else.  Do we?

We hope to call people to two things consistently - be reconciled to God and with one another.  Take up your relationship with God and discover how you are transformed to live "life to the full". (John 10:10)  It isn't easy, and that is why we need one another to keep on. 

 

In the "Inventive Age"

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Here is the quote:

"I think there is something much bigger going on than finding a niche market and asking how should we position this product of the gospel so that those people will appreciate it, and will like it, and will accept it. We're really asking a deeper question about who we are in a changing cultural environment when it comes to the way think, the values we hold, the tools that we use, and the aesthetics that are meaningful to us." -Doug Pragitt (describing the concepts behind his new book, "Church in the Inventive Age")   Pagitt is the pastor of Salomon's Porch Church.

This is the melee in which I desire to be and where the Imago Dei Society has a real place within the greater arena of Anglicanism. Well, actually, this whole way of considering and thinking has had a place within Anglicanism, but to understand how we continue to do this thing called Anglicanism (this Christianity) in emerging cultures and with emerging generations are the questions we need to continually ask!

I came across one of the ministries that has as its purpose (or its obsession) the condemning of the "Emergent" side of the Church as being heretical. I don't know whether it is simply their inability to understand enculturation and that we are all raised within a cultural system that forms us in the ways we collectively think, the way we understand the world around us and our place it in, what we consider to be aesthetically pleasing or appropriate, and even what we consider to be moral and ethical.  I don't know whether they are simply ignorant of disciplines like anthropology, sociology, etc., or what is really going on within them.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine Logos do not change, but we certainly do, our cultures certainly do, and what we consider to be self-evident truth certainly does.  So, groups like this, I suppose, either honestly not to understand, are being willfully ignorant (and as a former teacher, this is an astounding tragedy), or are intransigent in their beliefs - fundamentalists, in other words. 

What is this particular ministry, you might ask?  Apprising Ministries.  I don't know anything about this, really, and perhaps much of what they do is really good, but with regard to Emergent stuff, they have a thorn in their craw!  So, make up your own mind. 

What type of service

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Fr. Dan Martins in his blog, Confessions of a Caricoa, posted an entry entitled, Missional Notes.  He is writing about the services of the Church and their connection with people of varying degrees of knowledge about or commitment to Christ.  He is wondering about the growing population of people who are very much in American post-Christendom and what can be understood in these days to draw people into relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the Church.

One thing mentioned is that a service like High Solemn Mass (which we do at St. Paul's during the regular season) might be over-kill to someone without a church background - the uninitiated or unconverted.  Fr. Dan writes, "Solemn High Mass is solid food, and is likely to induce spiritual indigestion in those who haven't been carefully and gradually prepared for it. Where's our version of breast milk, strained carrots, and Cheerios?"

How do we configure and do "Church" in Post-Christendom and in a culture that is becoming far more pre-Constantinian than post? 

We can no longer assume that new people coming in the door of whatever service or activity the Church engages in know anything about the Christian Gospel, Jesus, or the worship of the Church beyond often trite sound-bytes.  Something like a High Solemn Mass can be very intimidating, and if we actually obey our vows to uphold the Canons of this Church we cannot assume they are baptized Christians, so they may not be able to participate in the central act of such a service.  (They can, of course, come up for a blessing, which is exactly what every unbaptized person to whom I have explained the requirement for communion and why has done once they know they can come forward for a blessing.)  Perhaps this kind of service is for the initiated, while something else may be better suited for these post-Christian seekers.  A fine, well done choral Morning Prayer or Evansong may well fit the bill.

And, how do we configure and do "Church" differently in ways that resonate with younger people and still remain faithful to who and what we are as Anglican Christians in the Episcopal Church?  After all, they are looking for that kind of faithfulness.  An interesting thing about the demographic research - the majority of GenY'ers would rather us say up front who and what we are and clearly delineate what we believe.  They are looking for people and groups who are clear and unafraid to stand for what they believe, as long as we can deal with their honest questions, opinions, and doubts forthrightly and graciously.  With many in the younger generations, it comes down to a matter of rebuilding trust before we can earn the right to speak into their lives.

These are the very questions that I envision the Imago Dei Society dealing with - a charism to research and analyze emerging generations and the emerging cultures so we can meet them in authentic ways that resonate with them without jettisoning the Tradition, both in liturgy and in belief.  Then, taking the knowledge and engaging in "experimental" worshiping communities to see what sticks and what doesn't.

New Troubles

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I know I shouldn't get into this, even before I start.  I have decidedly not been visiting all the Anglican/Episcopalian blogs very often, because, basically, they were truly causing me a lot of angst and distracting me from other important ministry stuff.  I have two brain cells, and when one and half of them is dealing with how this person doesn't like what that bishop said or whatever that other Primate declared, well, that only leaves 1/2 a brain cell to deal with the rest of my life - just too much to do.  In the end, all this stuff in the Church will come to nothing more than distraction within our culture and defamation of the cause of Christ.

Yet, when I hear this new line of reasoning and affront coming out of the leadership of this Church - whether lay or clergy - I just can't help myself.  When I hear people attempt to use a line of argument around the Episcopal Church's sense of "colonial victimhood" when the Church of England's & the Anglican Communion's Archbishop of Canterbury makes decisions that spank or put into "time-out" this Church for its self-centered actions, well, that is just beyond the pale.  It really is.  When I hear the leaders of the provinces in Africa making the "colonial victimhood" accusation against the "Western" provinces, I can understand their justifications for such accusation (even while I think they use that accusation for convenience and to attempt to justify their own actions of rebellion within the Communion).  (Before God, we will all give an account for what we do and say according to the attitudes of our hearts, and if any of us do things and then justify those doings with fine sounding arguments that are not the attitudinal reality within our heart - lying, in other words - then we will give an account to our final Judge and jury.)

This Church in the U.S. has absolutely no right to claim colonial victimhood!  

We as a Church act in the world with respect to the wider Anglican Communion just like the Bush administration acted politically and militarily in the world.  We expect that we have the right to do whatever we want unilaterally because we are so developed and so enlightened and so absolutely correct and our "prophetic" doings are so righteous. We can do anything just so it is justified in our own minds no matter what hardship it may cause for anyone else. In our hubris and the resulting blindness, we actually believe that it is "good for them." 

Then, when we get pushback, or spanked for our childishness (which ++Rowan is doing, now) by those foreigners, then we start to act with petulance.  It is laughable that we attempt to rebuke the English Church because we were once a colony of England - nearly 300 years ago!   We, at this point in our ecclesiastical decline as a Church, can no longer really act this way, but we still do so because this generation of leadership doesn't know how to act in any other way. We are blind to our own "colonizing" attitudes and "imperialistic" actions with respect to the rest of the Communion, and particularly those "poor, backward" Anglicans in most of Africa (except Southern Africa, because they agree with us). 

The time is coming sooner than later when the rest of the world will stand up to the United States politically, economically, and militarily and say, "No more!"  Just wait until that happens and see the epileptic fits this country will go into.  We will become truly dangerous during the transition from world dominance to a far lesser status.  We will assert our dominance, in the mean time, by brute force if need be because we have lost our moral authority as a great nation and beacon of freedom.  This is what is happening to the Episcopal Church, our Church, within the Communion and with many of our former ecumenical partners.  We may not lob physical bombs (or money, in our case); we will simply not listen to anyone else, hands over our ears. We will simply not face up to reality and our place in the world Communion.   Oh, we want diversity and multiculturalism all right, just so long as they believe just like we do or pretend to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

We have to come up with fine arguments or attacks against those English colonizers in order to attempt to save face, but we continue to act in ways that do nothing much more that prove that we are not trustworthy and unwilling to listen to the plight of those less fortunate than our own American selves.

It isn't that I disagree with women being clergy or LBGT people being members, priests, or bishops of our Anglican Churches. It isn't that I don't think we can or should be advocates of such things around the Communion or the greater Church. What I absolutely disagree with is the way this generation of leadership in our Church has been conducting itself with respect to institutional change and the "controversial" issues.  We treat those issues as civil rights causes and make decisions in like manner.  This is not the way the Church should handle things. 

Now, because our leadership makes decisions in such a political or social manner (they know no other way), we are losing the knowledge of how to made decisions as a the Body of Christ, internationally.  And herein lies the problem of trust and "faith and order" as the other provinces attempt to order their lives when they cannot ignore what the Americans' are doing without much regard for their plight.

History & Experience

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Comments by Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, on the place of history and experience in Biblical Studies and the working out of theology in the Christian life:

"I would like to end by suggesting that holding the appeal to history and to experience in balance is really the key both to New Testament studies and to theology as a whole.  In theology, where the history of God in Christ is so central, we must appeal to experience in order to be credible: the experience of the first Christians, of Christians down through the ages, and of ourselves.  And in the area of New Testament studies, we are trying to find out what really happened.  What was said and done by the Sea of Galilee? What was said and done in the streets of Jerusalem, and on the hill of Calvary?  But we are also concerned in New Testament studies with the experience of those first witnesses to Christ the Savior that caused them to write at all -- the tremendous experience that left them and us exclaiming, 'My Lord and my God!'"
(Michael Ramsey, The Anglican Spirit; Dale Coleman, editor; Boston, Cowley Publications, 1991, p. 93)
Ramsey, in this lecture, is commenting on Charles Gore and Liberal Catholicism, in its Anglican form.

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This from The Very Rev Dr John Shepherd is Dean of Perth, Australia, in the TimesOnline (UK). In an article entitled, "Credo: Trite music blocks our ears to the divine in the liturgy,"  Dean Shepherd writes about the importance of art, and not just are but good art, within the Church, particularly when it comes to our music in the liturgy.

It is in the liturgy that we are able to enter into another consciousness, probe a deeper reality, strive for a sense of transcendence which lifts us above the mundane, and in the words of psalmist, sets us on a rock that is higher than ourselves. Our worship enables us to enter another time and another dimension -- a realm of experience beyond our ordinary human experience, beyond all our known thoughts and understandings.

In monastic terms, the liturgy is the path towards an exalted "ecstasy", a flight into the cloud of unknowing, the place where God is, and where the true contemplation of the creative stillness of God is possible.

And this is a reality which is beyond the ability of historians, theologians, linguists, biblical scholars or even pastoral liturgists to express. Their contributions may even hinder rather than help. The intensity and intangibility of this experience can only be expressed through the arts.
The whole article is good to read!
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missio Dei

I came across this quote attributed to Rowan Williams, ABC, and wanted to use it for the Imago Dei and Red Hook efforts.

I googled the quote to try to find the original source for a citation. It seems from an address given by The Rt. Revd. Dr. Steven J.L. Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, that Williams was not the originator of the quote. So, in the larger context of the address, Croft was speaking of missionary theologians who spent most all of their ministries in mission contexts and who later reflected on their experiences and wrote down those reflections. Croft mentions a few that to him have had a great impact on Anglican mission ideas. It seems the quote came from , The Rev. John Taylor. Here is the quote in its small context:

John Taylor was a CMS missionary to Africa and former head of the Church Missionary Society. His books, particularly the Go Between God are a clear articulation of a theology for mission which have influenced a generation of theologicans, bishops and practitioners in the United Kingdom. It is John Taylor who first articulated the wonderful phrase which is now widely quoted in Anglican documents on mission:

“Mission is about finding out what God is doing and joining in”.

One of the key elements in the cluster of ideas around missio Dei is that the Trinity is already at work in the world outside the church. God continues to reach out, to call, to love those he has created. We therefore go, as the Apostles went to Philippi so long ago, confident that we will find those who are seeking.

I hope I have said enough in this section to convince you that the movement to develop fresh expressions of church by the Church of England has deep roots both in the recovery of a sense of the missio Dei in world theology; in biblical studies and in our recent practice and exploration. It is the logical and practical outworking of shifts in our theological perspective which go back now a generation. It is not the mindless pursuit of the trendy or of consumer Christianity.

The entire address of Bishop Croft can be found in his address to the General Synod of the Church in Norway; 18th November, 2009; entitled:

The Mission of the Triune God Shaping Congregations Today Working towards a Mission-shaped Church
The Rt. Revd. Dr. Steven J.L. Croft, Bishop of Sheffield

Here is the HTML version (don't know if it will work in all browsers):
http://tinyurl.com/yktjurd

The PDF for download came be found here: http://www.kirken.no/?event=downloadFile&FamID=102589

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