Recently in foundational principle Category

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:

The Next Step...

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As we continue along the societal path leading us further into the "Post-Constantinian-Era" of the Church and society in the West - and I'm thinking primarily of those in the U.S., in more urban areas, and substantially those under 30-years of age - the way we go about doing church, the way we go about influencing society for the good and the beautiful, the way we go about the doing of Jesus' two Great Commands, and particularly the way we go about evangelism/witness - by necessity will and must adapt and change.  This isn't change for the sake of change, change to attempt to be all hipster-like, change to be on the presumed cutting-edge, or change to accomplish personal or group agendas, but rather change that should naturally come from careful observation, study, participation, and discernment with regard to the dynamic morphing of generational, cultural, perceptual, and/or ambition-al sensibilities and understandings we have of ourselves, our cohorts, and our world. After all, while we are called not to be of the world, we are certainly not called to be other than or out of the world!

So, what does this all mean?  Since we have entered into the cultural milieu where a Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity, our world, and our place in it is no longer the foundation upon which our society revolves with regard to so many things - ethics, morals, sense of purpose, how we relate to other people(s), concepts of freedom and integrity, material things, and our inner-selves - let along God - we must understand and re-engage the central purposes of the Church - the institutions that embody the Mystical Body of Christ in the world.  What are the purposes of the Church to be re-engaged?

I posit this: to begin, that which has endured through the centuries of testing - there is gravity here.  What purposes have been tested and shown to endure? The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God and be present with God in His desire for the good of the created order.  Secondly, the Church is to be the primary conduit through which people come into a salvific relationship with God through Jesus Christ, period.  Thirdly, the Church is to be the place where people are formed and re-formed into the Life-in-Christ by way of the transformative working of the Holy Spirit in our individual and collective lives. This happens as we give ourselves individually to the practice of the enduring Christians Spiritual Disciplines and as we collectively provide place for the learning of, the habitation of, and the practice of such disciplines. The Church provides for the practice of these disciplines. Once these three enduring proposes of the Church are engaged heartily, even if imperfectly (which is inevitable), then we become the image of God and go about being a witness for Christ's desire among the people we engage every day.  The way we are a witness - doing evangelism - changes, naturally.  The way we care for the poor and needy will change, organically.  The way we campaign against injustice changes, fundamentally.

The authentic Christian response to the profound needs of the outcasts and marginalized and the way to come against injustice can only happen after we come to love God with all of our being - then we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The central purposes of the Church are not social work and political activism - sorry.  Those things are born authentically for the Christian out of worship, formation, and self-denial. Frankly, the world does not need the Church to care for the needy or to champion justice.  There are plenty of NGO's and non-profits (religious or secular) that are very good at this. The world does need the Church to know God and to be transformed for living "life to the full."

Worship/Prayer, Formation/Discipleship, Selflessness/Self-Denial, Witness/Evangelism are the watchwords, and IMHO the more helpful progression for action.

I am convinced that once we re-engage the core practices of the Faith, we will realize again the Church's positive influence for the shaping of the world by God's design, which is good, beautiful, and peaceful. Although, for the time being as we rebuild trust and authentic alternatives to the prevailing world systems to which we have become beholden, growth will be small and under the radar (because we need to regain our sense of purpose, value, and worth not born out of the seeking of societal approval and affirmation).  For those of us who are after such things, we will need to stay under the radar to a degree because such challenges to the status-quo always gather together those who oppose and resist.  So be it. We work with and along-side all who wish God's purposes to be realized, but the next step in the reshaping and reforming of the Church will take place with or without us - I want to be part of the reshaping!

I think here, in this messiness, is where I want to find situated the Imago Dei Initiative!


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It seems, and I experience, that within the Christian Faith, which is by nature relational (contra to the religion that developed around it), the more questions that are answered or settled the more we realize what we don't know and what is yet to be understood and discovered! It is invigorating and confounding at the same time. It is infinite.

This, I think, is a similarity to the exercise of science.  Together, these both are the seeking of truth and knowledge, even though on different plains of experience, explanation, and understanding.

Wither the Church

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I contend that a primary reason for the withering of the Church within the public mind is resultant of the Church - liberal and conservative - capitulating to the zeitgeist. When we simply mirror the prevailing culture or system whether political, economic, philosophical, whatever, we lose our significance, our voice, our purpose, our justifiable reason to be noticed.

For Christianity to offer a true alternative in society, it does NOT mean that we mimic back to the culture itself, though dressed up in churchy garb or verbiage, in order to try to make people feel good about themselves or out of the Church's collective insecurity regarding the culture.

Religion vs. Faith

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

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

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

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

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

New 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.

To be the imago Dei

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Thomas Merton

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"Men have not become Trappists merely out of a hope for peace in the next world: something has told them, with unshakable conviction, that the next world begins in this world and that heaven can be theirs now, very truly, even though imperfectly, if they give their lives to the one activity which is the beatitude of heaven.

"That activity is love: the clean, unselfish love that does not live on what it gets but on what it gives; a love that increases by pouring itself out for others, that grows by self-sacrifice and becomes mighty by throwing itself away.

"But there is something very special about the love which is the beatitude of heaven: it makes us resemble God, because God Himself is love. Deus caritas est. The more we love Him as He loves us, the more we resemble Him; and the more we resemble Him, the more we come to know Him."

-- Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe

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.

Noble purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentic service

I've heard from time-to-time that much of the "social justice" work done and the "social services" given by "White folks" to the "needy" (who in these instances generally mean Hispanics and African-Americans) are nothing much more than attempts at expunging their "liberal White guilt" and in the end accomplish not so much the "empowerment" of these groups but actually contribute to continued "dependence" on these "good White folks." The "good White folks" feel all good about themselves because they've helped the "poor people who cannot do it for themselves due to so much institutionalized injustice and oppression" (which does exist!, but perhaps not as the imaginations of those suffering from liberal White guilt conjure up).

As I've heard, what these "good White people" do is not so much enable poor or disadvantaged people to fish, but just give them fish so that the downtrodden people have to continue being dependent on and accept the "good White people's" pity. This kind of thing, this way of "helping the poor and disadvantaged," smacks too much of paternalism and "liberal White hubris!"

Is there truth in this kind of accusation? Well, that is debated, but when "good White people" suffering from "liberal White guilt" need ways to alleviate their guilt feelings and find ways to make themselves feel good about themselves, it isn't beyond the pale that even subconsciously there are devised methods of keeping the status quo as it is in order to continue to provide relief for "liberal White guilt" for those who suffer from it.

I really don't know, but I wonder! I have seen such things in action, particularly in Academia. I do think there is legitimacy in the idea, whether or not a majority of "Liberals White people" act out in this way is up for debate.

But, the question arises - What is authentic service, or Good Works, from an enduring Christian understanding? The following is quote out of the book I'm reading entitled, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry, by Mark Yaconelli. The particular chapter, thus the quote, is actually by Frank Rogers, Jr. as he details the real-life experience of the Youth and their sponsors from Lake Chelan Lutheran Church. They were on a youth ministry trip to Nicaragua.

Their first three days in the Nicaraguan capital only solidified their concern for the poor. They saw firsthand the insidious web of social structures, bureaucratic process, and cultural prejudice that conspired to bar the peasants form access to universities, opportunities in the business world, or voice in the government. By the youth were bused to the countryside for three days of living with peasants in their homes, their indignation was high and their sympathy deep as they burned to made a difference.

When they pulled into one struggling settlement, the teens were horrified to see a group of women, some pregnant, some elderly, hacking through hardened soil in the day's heat to dig trenches alongside withering coffee plants. Moved by their plight, the teens swarmed over and insisted that they relieve the women and dig the trenches themselves. The women, surprised at the youthful zeal of the Norte Americanos, stepped aside. Some of the teens were athletes strengthened by modern regimens of weight training, most were amply well-nourished on North American abundance; all were bolstered by the nobility of their Christian convictions and the invigorating rush when taking care of those in need. Within an hour they were ready to pass out. Exhausted by the labor and beaten down by the heat, they guzzled draughts of water, then napped in the afternoon shade. The peasant women smiled as they refilled the teen's buckets. They they retrieved their tools, and dug throughout the rest of the day.

Their discussion that evening reflected upon the paternalism that permeates U.S. attitudes toward the poor, particularly within the church. A conversion of thinking took place among the teens. Their notions of poor and wealthy, service and empowerment, were turned upside down. They saw how taking care of another, however well intentioned, can mask arrogance and reinforce dependency. For the rest of the trip, the young people allowed themselves to be served by the vibrant Nicaraguan people, sharing in the wealth of the Nicaraguans' culture and sense of community, their dreams for a better world, and their hopes fueled by festive faith and active organizing. The teems no longer tried to rescue the peasants. They simply asked how they might become their allies. They were learning about authentic action - action spurred by visions of justice and mutuality, chastened by the shadows that motivate us all, and energized by a commitment to birth power, not dependency. By maintaining hearts that were attentive, open, and vulnerable to the Nicaraguan people and their situation, the youth of Lake Chaelan gained a new awareness of both the struggles of the poor and their own privilege." [Yoconelli & Rogers, pp. 175-176]

What can and should we learn from this? When I think about Good Works for the Red Hook Project and the Imago Dei Society, it is authentic ministry coming from a Christian perspective - not fueled by "Americanisms" but as much removed from our American enculturation as possible. How are our Good Works to come out of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Man?

This is going to be a rambling journey through a variety of stuff, I think. That, I suppose, isn't so unusual, but as I'm trying to make connections and put things in some sort of rational order so to make an argument (or statement) that makes some kind of sense, this is just what I have to do. I process "out loud."

I attended the first week of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I had a great experience seeing people, witnessing a process that can be tedious, but always precise. Our polity is different and regrettably hard for some around the world to understand.

I watched this video on YouTube for Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror."
(not available to embed)

So much of our current culture drives us down a path that belittles and denigrates in one way or another our humanity and common good for the purposes of power, privilege, and greed. I can't but head the words and the images of Jackson's song and this video and say that this world desperately needs a different way of ordering itself. I think the Gospel of Jesus Christ presents us a way, but it is a voluntary way, a very difficult way, a costly way, a humbling and self-denying way, a way that will not be accepted by entrenched interests that thrive on maintaining the status-quo even if it means the death of the common good.

This different way in a Christian understanding is a way that is not possible by our own means or determination, but first by the transforming of our souls (the Cure of Souls) by God. It isn't just institutional evil that causes and perpetuates our human ills, but firstly the evil that resides within all of our hearts - our rebellion against God's good way, as the 1979 Pray Book Catechism stresses. We see from history that even religious institutions can often be humanity's worst enemy!

Atheists and non-Christians do great charitable things, and we see many providing a far better example of the "caring for the least of these" than do many Christians, yet the way of which I speak comes only from God's restorative work within our own souls. From that beginning point, institutions are changed by the people within them, our processes are improved, and our world is made better.

Some in this Church of ours (and the greater Body of Christ), have allowed themselves to be co-opted by some Systems of this World. This is true of liberals as well as conservatives, just in different ways! For example, I think that many people within The Episcopal Church have taken to an idea that the foundation of our work is a sort of psycho-therapeutic model that strives to make people feel good about themselves, a sort of institutional purpose that promotes self-esteem or being well-adjusted. If we make people "feel" welcomed, esteemed, and good about themselves then we have succeeded in fulfilling our Gospel mission. It is as if God is the great therapist in the sky (or the new-age kind of daddy-guru figure), rather than the great redeemer and restorer of souls.

For many, this way of thinking has replaced, for whatever reasons, the idea that the Church is to be about the "Cure of Souls" (predicated on the understanding that humanity has been impossibly burdened and bound by ways of thinking and being that separate us from God - sin - and irrevocably destroy true relationship with one another absent the restorative work of the Holy Spirit). I believe giving ourselves to this way of thinking and being has caused the Church to give over its vital purpose for a lesser one, to lose its reason for being (which might be shown by fewer and fewer people wanting to be a part of us). For people seeking a faith community of restoration, I think they recognize that in many ways our Church doesn't look much different from the World - from those systems that perpetuate division, hatred, uncompromising attitudes, and the impoverishment of soul and the common good (even as we do some good works).

I have to ask what kind of foundation the current structures of this Church are being built. Are the structures able to withstand the test of time or the trials that inevitably come as the Systems of this World work their best to overcome and destroy the Way of God? I consider our current troubles and watch the actions and resolutions of General Convention, and I have to ask upon what foundation are we making our decisions. Do we consider the well being of the whole community as vitally important - in the U.S. and around the world - or do we continue to simply concentrate on our own limited and myopic goals and special interests? (It isn't that I am not supportive of the desired outcomes of most of what is being proposed by General Convention as an example, but I question whether the reasons for the proposals are based on Christian precepts - understood through time and trial - or trendy precepts that have their origins in systems that in the end only perpetuate our continued boundedness by sin.)

Why do we do what we do? The injustice that infects this world, the bigotry and exclusion that overwhelms our societies, the selfishness that enables starvation, the myopic vision that encourages war and deprivation - all of these need to be called out and confronted, even unto death. Yet, why and how do we as the Church pursue the remedy of these things? For the Church, I don’t think the “why” or “how” rests on trying to make people feel good about themselves, to be self-actualized, or to be esteemed. That kind of psycho-social work is important and we should encourage and support it, but it isn't the work of the Church. Our progressive sense of wellbeing, from a Christian perspective, comes from the results of a transformation of the soul. What good is it for a man or woman to inherit the world, but lose his or her soul? For the Church, we are to be about the Cure of Souls - salvation, forgiveness, restoration of relationship between God and man and between one another. It is profoundly difficult to give up one's life in order to gain life. It is a long and hard row to hoe for the Church to stand in prophetic opposition to the Systems of the World, predicated on the salvific and restorative work of Jesus Christ.

What was (is) our motivation for BO33 or DO25? What is our foundation?

The Narrative Character

The Narrative Character of our Faith

"Too many Christians are just pious versions of Ulysses Everett McGill protagonist in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou]; that is, too many Christians have bought into the modernist valorization of scientific facts and end up reducing Christianity to just another collection of propositions. Our beliefs are encapsulated in 'statements of faith' that simply catalog a collection of statements about God, Jesus, the Spirit, sin, redemption, and so on. Knowledge is reduced to biblical information that can be encapsulated and encoded. And so, in more ways than one, our construal of the Christian faith has capitulated to modernity and what Lyotard calls its 'computerization' of knowledge, indicating a condition wherein any knowledge that cannot be translated into a simple 'code' or reduced to 'data' is abandoned. But isn't it curious that God's revelation to humanity is given not as a collection of propositions or facts but rather within a narrative -- a grand, sweeping story from Genesis to Revelation? Is there not a sense in which we've forgotten that God's primary vehicle for revelation is a story unfolded within the biblical canon?"

James K.A. Smith, PhD., Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?; pp. 74-75.

Lyotard's "computerization of knowledge" reminds my of Polanyi's "Tacit Knowing."

"This is why the Scriptures must remain central for the postmodern church, for it is precisely the story of the canon of Scripture that narrates our faith... The narrative character of our faith should affect not only our proclamation and witness but also our worship and formation. ...we need to know the story, and that story should be communicated when we gather as the people of God, that is, in worship. That is why the most postmodern congregations will be those that learn to be ancient, reenacting the biblical narrative. Just as Lyotard's account of narrative knowledge shows a link between premodern and postmodern, so worship in postmodernity (which appreciates the role of narrative) should signal a recovery of liturgical tales -- the narrating of creation, fall, redemption (as well as crucifixion, burial, and resurrection) in the very manner in which we worship." (pp.75-76)
They kept saying, "Show us a sign. Give us proof. Then, we will believe." And He responded always, "No."

July 2012

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