Recently in the episcopal church Category

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/

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.

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!

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)

It isn't a matter of just employing technology, but understanding how emerging generations are integrating with changing technology. Current technology, in and of itself, is always passe among emerging generations.

I made a Facebook post a while ago about the passe nature of the World Wide Web among younger people with respect to APPS on smartphones and tablets and how they are usurping the Web. I believing that in the coming decade everything will change, again. As today's emerging generation moves into their 20's and 30's, they will access information and engage their social networks not from the World Wide Web, but they will interact with the world and get their information through APPS rather than the WWW.

Anyway, way back when I started our new campus ministry at Bowling Green State Univ., (Dunamis Outreach, part of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries) we were a part of a new church in Bowling Green, "Dayspring Church" (we had four hundred attending on Sundays in just four years). Well, I came across Dayspring's APP on iTunes.

So, were are we with respect to emerging culture?

Check out their APP on iTunes:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dayspring-church/id476240885?mt=8

New Order?

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Henry Kissinger and Chairman Mao, with Zhou En...

Henry Kissinger speaking with Chairman Mao.

The following quote by Henry Kissinger in his recent book, "On China," relates to the reasons for the profound one year change from near-war animosity between China & the U.S. to both governments preparing for Nixon's historic first visit to Mao's China. This is the "It" that begins the quote.  What lessons can we learn for our dealings with the prevalent proclivities we find in our antagonistic and animosity filled culture and the Church's engagement with it?

"It did so by sidestepping the rhetoric of two decades & staying focused on the fundamental strategic objective of a geopolitical dialogue leading to a recasting of the Cold War international order." (On China, Kissinger; p. 234).


Is such a reordering possible in our two-decades old U.S. Culture War that has perverted our governmental processes and the Christian Faith in the U.S.? 

What should we sidestep? How do we do it?  What remains of the enduring "strategic objective" of the Church - for those who claim Christ who desire to find a way beyond the hubris, the anger, the bitterness, the spitefulness, the willful ignorance, the vengeful attitudes and actions that subsume so much of what is the Body of Christ, today?

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:

Recessional at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral,...

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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

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.

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.

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.

Slipping Back

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WADI KHARRAR, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 20: Archbishop...

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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

 

Creed or Chaos?

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

A couple paragraphs:

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

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

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

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

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


Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...

Image via Wikipedia

Living in the past 

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

 -Michael Hammer  The World is Flat

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

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

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

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

Transitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.
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.'"
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.

Bishop Whalon, of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has written an excellent and I think very important opinion piece on Anglicans Online.

It is entitled, "What We Think We Are Doing," by The Rt Revd Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.

Basically, he says in very strong terms that this Church of ours has gotten the cart before the horse when dealing with the issue of the full-inclusion of gay and lesbian people. Because there has not been a clear and faithfully formulated theology supporting the relationships of gay people leading to their full-inclusion, we are acting unjustly and unfaithfully as a Church when we ordain partnered clergy and bless unions.

We have acted politically, not theologically, and we have done all this before we are able to make a cogent and thorough theological defense - particularly since we are changing the universal Church's understanding from the beginning.

Here are the two final paragraphs:

Finally, I am quite aware that changing a part of the church's teaching may be in error, and that those leaders who lead others astray will fall under God's judgment. I do not expect to get handed one day a millstone with my initials on it fitted to my neck size, so to speak, but those are the stakes, and we need to own up to it. Moreover, as a matter of justice, not to mention love, it is simply wrong, that is, unjust and unloving, to continue as a church to live into a new teaching without giving clear reasons—carefully argued and officially accepted by our own church—for doing so. While justice delayed is justice denied, the global scope of our actions is in fact hindering the acceptance of gay and lesbian people elsewhere.

Some have said that the moratoria will end when we act to end them. Such an action, undefended, would only perpetuate the present anomie, and raise a real question about a “General-Convention fundamentalism”—“the majority voted it, therefore God said it, and that settles it.” Rather, we need to continue to keep "gracious restraint" until we have done the necessary work in order to end it. We do not have to wait for the rest of the Communion to approve our arguments, of course. But it is terrible that we as a church have continued to avoid that work, and all therefore continue to pay a heavy price, both within and without The Episcopal Church. If we go on blessing same-sex unions and consecrating people in those partnered relationships, and yet continue to refuse to do that work, will that mean that we cannot justify our actions? And if we cannot, then what — in God's name — do we think we're doing?


I highly recommend the article.

The Church must change?

How often I hear these days that "the Church must change or die." I think this kind of talk comes generally from people bent on institutional survival when things don't look very good for the coming years. Funny thing, most of them seem to be anti-establishmentarians. I think it comes more from a place of insecurity and a lack of assurance that the Tradition has any longer much to say to contemporary culture. I could be wrong. I think they are wrong.

Of course organizations and institutions change. But the question I have to ask is what must change - everything, organizational structure, teaching, belief, attitude, expression, etc... Perhaps all, perhaps one, perhaps none.

Here's the thing... When I hear that "the 'top-down' authority structures have to change or else the Church will die." I don't believe it. Why? Because the world totally functions within a "top-down" authority structure. There is nothing wrong with it, but then again there is nothing pre-ordained about it either. It simply is, and it is neutral. When I read or hear this kind of assertion, what I come away with is an experience of bad leadership. Rather than focus on helping leaders - be they priests, bishops, CEO's, mayors, or any other authority of rank - be better leaders (which isn't easy, I know), we would rather tare down the structure and replace it with what?, something we imagine will be better?

Here's another thing... When I hear that "the teaching of the Church must change or it will die!" I don't believe it. Why? Because the core teachings of the Church have flourished, when given an chance, in more cultures and languages than can be counted for over 2,000 years. There is something reliable there, folks. I think the panic comes from people who have lost their sense of imagination. Of course, there have been a whole lot of adiaphora forced onto the Church from centuries past that was (is) never necessary, and these things should perhaps be let go of, but this is a different matter.

What the Church and its members do need to do is learn from the enduring understandings and experiences of the Church in Christ and from the lives of countless Christians over two millennia. Too many of us, I think, have a somewhat vague notion of what a Christian is supposed to be like intellectually, but too many of us do not have the experience of God that enabled martyrs to endure their suffering and death, the down trodden to endure their hardship with a semblance of self respect, the grieving to somehow have joy, the pained to rejoice. This knowledge comes only through relationship, however too many of us have dysfunctional relationships with God. The problem is that we too often demand to stay in our dysfunction. God has other ideas, however, but He will respect our decisions.

What the Church does need to do, I humbly assert (and of course the Church is only individual people), what we need to do is learn how to translate the Faith and the Tradition and the Experience that have endured for all these centuries to emerging generations.

Our problem is a translation problem! Our problem is that we don't translate or reflect the imago Dei very well in these times and in our own contexts. Many do, of course, and they don't seem to have the same kind of "change everything" panic that tares at the heart of what enlivens the Church and enables Christians to be.

Three-dimensional thinking

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave the Presidential address to the Church of England's General Synod, yesterday.

Of particular interest, aside from his more balanced thinking on the whole LGBT issue and of the troubles within the Anglican Communion, of particular interest to me was his explanation of the distinctiveness of the Christian understanding and definition of freedom and liberty. (this starts around the 17:51 minute mark)

I also find very interesting his presentation of the concept of "three-dimensional thinking." In many ways, he is presenting something that should be natural for Anglicans - really it is a re-presenting of the Via Media extended beyond the original middle way between Roman Catholicism and the Continental Reformation.

"Seeing something in three dimensions is seeing that I can't see everything at once: what's in front of me is not just the surface I see in this particular moment... So seeing in three dimensions requires us to take time with what we see. It may help us look more critically at solutions that seek to do too much all at once; and perhaps to search for structures that will keep open the ability to learn from each other." (Source)

This is something I want to thank more about.

The Holy Communion (pp. 85-87)

[The Rector said...] "Here is a book. It is so much paper, pasteboard, cloth, and ink. Yet it brings from one mind a value to thousands of minds. It is sacramental, an outward and visible sign of inward value. A book may make you cry or laugh. Really it is the author who does so. The book is the effective means of conveying truth from the mind of the author to the reader.

"So with our food. A few acres of land will sustain a man's life. How? Does he eat the earth? No! But he prepares it and plants wheat. He gathers the wheat, grinds it into flour, bakes bread and eats the bread. The loaf has gathered up the chemical elements in the earth and air and sunlight, and conveys them to man to sustain his life. The loaf is a sacrament: it is the outward token of invisible values.

"God's grace toward man, His love toward man, are universal. But He has established certain ways by which men may be assured of God's favor. Jesus Christ ordained the Sacrament of Baptism by which men are incorporated into His Kingdom.

"Jesus Christ died for men. That men might receive the value of His life and death. He instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

"The consecrated bread and wine are made the very sacraments of the value created for men by the death of Christ on the Cross, and they are the very means by which the power and efficacy of His body broken and His blood shed are conveyed to each individual soul.

"Of course, he who receives them must receive them with a heart prepared to accept them for what they are. There is no magic in them. The individual must be prepared to welcome Christ, His power and love, into his life. The Bread and Wine then become the food for the soul, by which we become partakers of Christ's most blessed Body and Blood.

"Then the sacrament, instead of being an unusual and exceptional method," said the Doctor, "is merely the most natural method, having a counterpart in every process by which life is upbuilt."

"That is quit true," answered the Rector. "The exceptional element is not the method, that is, the charging of bread and wine with some further function, but the exceptional thing is the nature of the value that is conveyed by them. Christ instituted this method and pledged His word that in the Holy Communion there should be the value created by His death on the Cross for men."

[The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men of Today, George Parkin Atwater; New York: Morehourse-Gorham Co., 1950; 85-87.]

We are called...

Because we are called to love one another, we seek to learn from the wisdom and the experiences of God of those who have come before us over the past two millennia.

Because we are called to love one another, we give ourselves to be made into the image of God for the sake of those we encounter in our daily lives.

Because we are called to love one another, we strive to be formed as God intends in order to pass on this wisdom and these experiences to those who will come after us.

The foundation for the developing Rule of Life for the ImagoDei Society and the Red Hook Project.

The Apostles Creed (pp. 76-81 )

"... I believe in the Holy Catholic Church: The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of Sins: The Resurrection of the Body: and The Life everlasting. Amen."

"I am not sure that I understand all that it means," said the Doctor.

"Possibly not at the first reading," agreed the Rector, "for there are several phrases here whose meaning is not quite apparent. A little patient study, however, will make them plain. I always explain these phrases to those who enter my confirmation classes.

"You must understand, Doctor," continued the Rector, "that this Creed is centuries old. It is the collective judgment of the Christian Church as to the fundamental facts. It is as much a corporate expression of the whole Church as it is a personal expression. An individual might not understand all the bearings of these facts. He would scarcely be expected to believe the Creed as the independent conclusions of his own thinking. He might never have discovered some of these facts by himself. The heart of the Creed is this. First, that God is the Father: that Jesus Christ is His Son and was born into this world and died for men; and that the Holy Spirit of God is now active and present to bring men into relation with God. If all that you feel about God and Christ is toward these conclusions, then you may, with real integrity, say you believe facts of the Apostle's Creed. No man can do more than believe toward this great expression of fundamental Christianity."

"But it does not explain anything," urged the Doctor.

"It does not. But it is an expression of allegiance toward God and Christ. The teaching Church instructs the attentive mind. But this teaching, as I said, imposes no obligation except as all truth demands credence by its very nature. What I mean is that in the Episcopal Church you do not commit yourself beforehand to a body of doctrine which prevents your own thinking. The Creed does not restrain your liberty of thought, but enlarges it by giving you some basis of fact upon which thought may exercise itself. You have complete intellectual freedom in the Church.

August 2012

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