Recently in theology Category

Considering what is going on in the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church right now with regard to resolutions related to changing the Church's reaching to official acceptance of the unbaptized being given Holy Communion, I want to make more accessible the piece I recently wrote on the topic.

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

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

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

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/

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...

@daylife

"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."


Faith was a gift...

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

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

Creed or Chaos?

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

A couple paragraphs:

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

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

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

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

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


Religion vs. Faith

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

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

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

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

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

This from Fr. Tobias Haller:

No New Revelation

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

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

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

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

I truly like the way he put this.

Making Decisions in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 2:1-16

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

History & Experience

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

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

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Doctrine, the need for...

Marks makes some good points about the "feeling" focus of Christianity that has prevailed for a while now, and within my experience has culminated in the crisis of the Faith we are now experiencing in this country.

"...This is a Christianity of self-experience.

"In this sense, Western Christians are children of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the 19th-century Enlightenment thinker who built his theological system on the foundation of spiritual experience... A theology grounded in experience ultimately fades into soft moralism, humanism, or, in the unique case of American Christianity, a civic religion wherein God and country are easily confused...

"At the heart of Schleiermacher's work lay an important quest: to understand how to be faithful in a particular context. Schleiermacher and his progeny wanted much to be relevant Christians. The problem is where he started.

"Schleiermacher thought that the essence of Christianity was its spiritual impulse, not its doctrine, which seemed to cause most of the problems...

"Schleiermacher began with internal experiences of God and built theology around those experiences, reconfiguring doctrine as needed. He assumed that by starting with ourselves and our desires, we would glimpse a purer vision of God and perhaps a more relevant church. But how did the project fare?

"With some 200 years of hindsight, we see that the ramifications were immense...

"In this trajectory, Jesus becomes a sage who, among others, came to tell us about our potential and awaken our religious sensibilities... Church becomes a kind of group therapy we attend to be told we are all right, to share in the piety of Jesus' example. There is much positive here, the question remains whether God matters as the agent of changed lives. In the final analysis, core Christian beliefs, even those about Jesus, have to feel authentic or they are discarded...

"The emphasis on spiritual experience put us, not God, in the driver's seat.

"As far as we remain the children of Schleiermacher, we either unconsciously or actively transform Christianity into something that, while seemingly relevant, is bereft of spiritual vigor.

"...this theological method inverts Schleiermacher's. We do not start with 'my spirituality' and then identify core beliefs. Instead, we begin with core beliefs - those discovered by the church as it has intellectually wrestled with the truth of Scripture in the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs, which come from outside myself, correct and shape my spiritual experience.

"For the past 200 years, many parts of Western Christianity have labored as Schleiermacher's Children. The mainline traditions have hoped to achieve relevance. The evangelical and free-church traditions have hoped to read the Bible unadulterated and alone. Both traditions, however, have made our feelings - which are, be definition, slippery and transitory - primary. Mainliners have eschewed theology for fear that it imposes another's context and assumptions, while evangelicals have eschewed theology because it might compete with the pristine Bible or become a rigid boundary. Both traditions forget that theology is a kind of memory that allows us to hear God's Word by clarifying our experiences."

[Marks, Darren C. (March 2010). "The Mind Under Grace: Why theology is an essential nutrient for spiritual growth." Christianity Today, 24-26.]

Icons not Doctrines

Over at "Sarx," the author details 10 points and asks us to "Discuss." I think they are very well written concerning what is the basis, the foundation, the essential (whatever word is best) for our Christian experience. I might use a different word than "icons," only because of the Eastern understanding of them, but I get the point... and it is a good point.

Read all 10 here.

Mainstream Creationism?

What became of more mainstream ideas that "God created..." An overview of the development of the recent, literalistic "Creationist" mindset by PZ Meyers on his blog, entitled, "Ron Numbers—Anti-evolution in America, from creation science to Intelligent Design." He puts the beginnings of current day literalists around the 1920's. My dad is a "gap-theory" adherent (or at least was, I haven't talk to him about it in quite a while).

"These early creationists had no bone to pick with geology at all, and were unperturbed at the thought that the world was hundreds of millions of years old. The two dominant explanations were the day-age theory, which stretched out the time-span of creation week to cover the whole of geological time, and gap theory, which argued that between the creation of the world mentioned at the beginning of Genesis, and the account of the 6 creation days, there was a long undocumented period of time in which geological history occurred.

"The mainstreaming of literalist creationism occurred in the 1960s, when John Whitcomb and Henry Morris wrote The Genesis Flood. It's basically the same nonsense he Seventh Day Adventists were peddling, but Whitcomb and Morris were not SDAs, making it possible for conservative Christians, who regarded Seventh Day Adventism as a freaky cult, to coalesce in the formation of the Creation Research Society. These people had no ambition to convert the research community, but instead wanted to wean bible-believers away from what they considered the compromises of day-age and gap theory."

Just to be clear, my stand on evolution vs. creationism is that "God created..." How God created and the means or processes or time-lines He used in beyond my pay grade, and frankly we simply do not know beyond faith in a theory. I have no problem with evolution. I don't think it impinges on "God created..."

Via: Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish

Ritual and...

Just to be clear, I'm not trying to cast dispersion on a group of people or play into stereotypes, but I am wondering about attitudes of groups of people I've encountered over the years. I also know that "Ritual Studies" is not a discipline that I know a whole lot about, and I've forgotten a lot concerning Behaviorism and Behavior Modification.

Part of this comes from just seeing "Equus" on Broadway with Radcliff and Griffiths and what might be understood as a commentary on religion, worship, and psychosis (among other things). Part of this comes from thinking about the "vestal virgins" that brought in and ceremonially poured the "waters of baptism" into a giant font in the National Cathedral during the enthronement of Katherine Jefforts-Shori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Part of this comes from witnessing what seems to be a need to create all kinds of different and new forms of ritual within what is supposed to be a Christian context but often lacking any resemblance to norms of Christian Tradition and liturgical forms. Are we bound by "trendiness" and pop-ideas of "relevance?" I don't know.

What would prompt the designer(s) of the enthronement liturgy to incorporate this kind of thing in the liturgy? In other contexts, what prompts priests or bishops or liturgists to depart from TEC Canons and the Book of Common Prayer that we vowed to uphold and abide by? Some say rebellion against convention or Tradition, some say boredom, some say a determination to remake Christianity in a new image (Spong-ish), some say a loss of faith, some say sincere interest in... you name it.

I don't know their intent or their thought processes, so I'm not going to make some kind of declarative statement concerning their spiritual well-being or such things. Yet, why in the case of the enthronement liturgy, when they could have used a much more Anglican/Episcopal/Traditional "bringing in the waters of baptism" or something that was not perceived by many, Anglican and non-Anglican alike, as being indicative of paganism, did they use that form? Use women exclusively in the ritual, I don't care, but why the quasi-Roman/Greek "vestal virgin-esque" dressed women carrying large urns of water? I know many people, liberal and conservative, that simply laughed at the spectacle. It was a joke, which I am pretty sure wasn't the intent of the designer(s) of the liturgy. What was their reason or motivation? What was in the minds of those who loved it?

Anyway, it makes me wonder about the spiritual condition of people I've encountered in the past and still encounter today, particularly if I see my place as a priest to be about the "cure of souls." I know I've mused about the generational shift taking place and the demographic differences between the desires of and worshiping "sense" of the upcoming generations contra the Baby-Boomers, but I'm trying to get beyond all that and trying to figure out foundational motivations, the conditions of the heart, the psycho-social-spiritual dynamics that prompt people to do or say or believe. When it comes to Christian worship, apologetics, theologies of all kinds, and personal experiences with the Divine, how does our "stuff" work its way out for good or for ill concerning the cause of Christ, deficiencies in Christian experience, and...

I wonder, and this is just wondering, whether groups of people may not be so much "Christian" in the traditional sense, as they are perhaps Ritualists and Behaviorists finding expression within Christian forms and traditions. This is an Anthropocentric rather than Theocentric focus or foundation.

I'm defining the following words, thusly:

"Ritualists" - simply, I'm thinking about those who put a great deal of stock in social or personal "rituals" and the significance of such rituals in creating meaning, rites of passage, and providing for interpersonal connections and social order and cohesion.

"Behaviorists" - those who believe that through some kind of behavior modification we can "reconfigure" people's attitudes, feelings, and actions in such ways that bring about personal and social peace, harmony, and meaning.

"Christian" - the traditional notion that there is a personal, Trinitarian God, engaged with His creation, and who has provided a way for the restoration of personal relationship between humankind and God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos. Liturgical forms of Christian worship - rituals - are designed to help encourage and foster deeper encounters with the Divine.

It seems to me that there are people who gravitate to Ritualism, or a sensing or believing that in ritual people(s) find psycho-social expression and/or cultural meaning and order. By creating rituals, there is developed cultural "touch-points" that help the masses be included in the overall social context. Then, there are behavioralists that strive to use ritual to bring about their notions of what is best for society and the Modernist ideas of a continual and forward movement and progress of humanity to more Utopian expressions of society.

The people in this group, whoever they may be, at least in the West, were probably raised with a sense of at least cultural-Christianity, so they find ready expression of their ideas within the ritualistic forms of Christianity, yet without the foundational expectation or experience of personal relationship with God. As such, Christian traditions provide a means or structure for ritual and behavior modification without the emphasis on mystical ideas of the Divine. Again, a human focus rather than a Divine focus. Form without the power.

So, there may not be a necessity for abiding by Christian Tradition or norms, or a need for theological reasoning for the doing of any particular ritual beyond the temporal outcomes hoped for. Consideration of Divine intend, if present and accepted, is of lesser importance. What is their apologetic for what they do? Sometimes, the apologetic doesn't go much beyond social ideals of identity politics or political correctness - all that we do is to make people feel welcome, included, good about themselves, and increase their sense of satisfaction or self-actualization (perhaps a la Goldstein or Maslow?).

From an anthropocentric perspective, we can do anything ritualistically that we think achieves our desired personal or social outcomes. From a Theocentric perspective, there is something else that comes into play - the desire of the Divine (as much as we are able to understand such a thing). I've come to truly appreciate Tradition - that which has survived over time and in many cultures - as something that might suggest a "realness" or legitimacy that new forms lack. Does God provide for ways of ritual that are given or revealed to humankind through Scripture and Tradition and are purposed not for social outcomes, but for nothing less than restoration of relationship between God and Man?

A cunning disguise...

The Simple Massing Priest (otherwise known as Malcom) posted this video on his blog with the observation:

I sometimes wonder if Alice were a theologian, whether she'd say that the Incarnation represented God in a cunning disguise.
Yes, in quite a cunning disguise!

Popcorn

Orthodoxy

Here is the sad truth (at least as I see it, and of course the way I see it is of the utmost importance, right?):

If you stand in a middle place where you can recognize the validity of arguments or positions concerning touchy issues held by opposing groups spanning the theological divide, you are called a “heretic” by the howlers standing on the edges of the opposing ideological cliffs. The considered middle-way gets you little respect in war zones. It is hard to hold a position between hyper-individuality and group-think. You can't win, at least as the world defines "winning!"

Anglicanism has traditionally straddled the divide between Continental Reformation and Roman Catholic ideologies/dogmas, and of course it has been skewered by both Protestants and Roman Catholics, by Evangelicals and Ritualists, by conservatives and liberals alike.

Anglicanism can't "win" on the world stage because most of the world demands certainty, conformity, and capitulation - but we don't. At least we haven't, generally. Well, at least it has continued on fairly successfully up until now, and we don't know what will happen next. Will we now capitulate to those that demand conformity and certainty, whether they are yowling on this or that cliff side?

Nothing says such things as democracy, rationality, love/good-will, or even good manners will rule the day. Anglicanism survives - not as the largest expression of Christianity, not as the smallest, but it survives uniquely.

I read stuff put out by both sides of the angry and bitter theological and pietistic battles going on in The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism. I hold positions and opinions that some will call conservative or traditionalist and that some will call liberal or innovationist. I could be wrong on all of them. When some demand that I "choose this day" with whom I will align unquestionably, I say, "No, I'm not going to jump onto a conformist, sectarian cliff." I'm determined to remain an Anglican with strong opinions but without desire to boot those with whom I disagree. I still have choice.

I can agree with many conservatives who say that The Episcopal Church has been going down a path that leads it into a wilderness of quasi-Christian belief and experience. I agree that by going down this path we lose the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we lose our power - rather the power of God working through the Church to transform lives - and we loose whatever it is that compels people to want to find and experience God within our walls. People may find nice ideology or music, but they may be hard pressed to find God, despite the verbiage. So, put me on the rack.

I agree with those who say that we are not a dogmatic or confessional Church, and that we should not become one! I agree that we can simply (and I do mean simply) choose to stay together. I agree that ambiguity and doubt are not twin evils. I agree that there can be a generous orthodoxy, and that the messiness of Anglicanism that stems from its refusal to codify certain sectarian or dogmatic statements is not giving ourselves over to the culture. I believe I have not be blinded by Satan for thinking such things (I can still verbally pronounce "Jesus is Lord" without conflict, so there!). I believe there can be legitimate and honest differences of opinion over biblical interpretation and application or pressing issues (over issues of homosexuality or women's ordination, for example) without giving up the faith or giving up our catholicity. Pull the ropes tighter.

I, for one, wish we would obey Jesus in his two great commandments to love God with all of our selves and to love our neighbors as ourselves. All those standing on the edges of opposing cliffs demanding absolute assurity of opinion and position would rather shriek across the divide "HERESY" with fang laden smiles than love their enemies. It feels better.

Well, here is a statement, or a quote, that I read this morning from the blog of Fr. Jeffrey Steel. The post is entitle, "The Old Orthodoxy and a Fight." The blog seems to be of the kind that is a bit reactionary and "Catholic" (as opposed to the reactionary and "American-Evangelical" variety). I readily agree, however, with what is written. I see it.

"It can always be urged against it that it is in its nature arbitrary and in the air. But it is not so high in the air but that great archers spend their whole lives in shooting arrows at it -- yes, and their last arrows; there are men who will ruin themselves and ruin their civilization if they may ruin also this old fantastic tale. This is the last and most astounding fact about this faith; that its enemies will use any weapon against it, the swords that cut their own fingers, and the firebrands that burn their own homes.

"Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church. This is no exaggeration; I could fill a book with the instances of it. Mr. Blatchford set out, as an ordinary Bible-smasher, to prove that Adam was guiltless of sin against God; in manoeuvring so as to maintain this he admitted, as a mere side issue, that all the tyrants, from Nero to King Leopold, were guiltless of any sin against humanity...

"We do not admire, we hardly excuse, the fanatic who wrecks this world for love of the other. But what are we to say of the fanatic who wrecks this world out of hatred of the other? He sacrifices the very existence of humanity to the non-existence of God. He offers his victims not to the altar, but merely to assert the idleness of the altar and the emptiness of the throne. He is ready to ruin even that primary ethic by which all things live, for his strange and eternal vengeance upon some one who never lived at all."

Orthodoxy

I would not agree with Fr. Steel (or the original author), however, if he believes that to save the catholicity or orthodoxy or validity of this Church Anglican that there can be little allowance for differences of opinion over hot-button issues, resulting in the demand to capitulate to a sectarian certainty (be it Roman Catholic or American-Evangelical, conservative or liberal). That kind of attitude is to attempt to beat into submission Anglicans that do not hold to the same dogmatic certainty demanded by all those standing on the edge of their own cliff, all the while yelling, "give us our own freedom." It just isn't Anglican (or maybe it is too Anglican??).

What to do...

I've written before that as Christians, despite what cultural Christianity or the religion of it all might imply, we are not to behave as the World does. Reminds me of Austin Powers, international man of intrigue, when he says, "Oh, be-have!" Anyway, left or right, conservative or liberal, the way society or politics deal with troubling issues and the ways people behave towards one another are not the ways we in the Church, "conservative" or "liberal," are to behave. We need one long, loud, and consistent, "Oh, be-have!"

Despite the claims of many, there has never been a single, consistent, or "handed-down-for-all-time" interpretation or understanding of scripture and its application. There has been an always occurring process as we go year to year, decade to decade, century to century trying to understand and apply scriptural principles to life as God intends. Certain understandings and interpretations have become "official" and carried forward, but before they became "official" they were enmeshed in controversy influenced by different cultures and the way the different cultures infused the various interpretations and application. The Creeds are examples of the process - centuries of process and progress. In new controversies will probably follow the same process - whether schism results or not.

Yet, the way we deal with each other is of primary importance and will mark the difference between Christians and non-Christians. We all have failed, terribly. During these recent years past we have failed the experience of Anglicanism, terribly. I have to ask myself how am I to deal with those with whom I disagree despite how they deal with me. How have I dealt with them? How do I take their concerns, their beliefs, their proclivities, what I consider to be their misunderstanding or mishandling of scripture, or their opposition of me and my beliefs - how do I deal with them all as Christ would deal with them - in honesty, in forthrightness, in sincerity, with compassion despite how I feel, with integrity?

The Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Sudan, Daniel Deng Bul, during the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, addressed the issues of Gene Robinson and homosexuality in a rather long press conference. Here is the weblink to the videos of the press conferences. Listen to what he says - you will need to click on the reports on the ENS website separately.

Sudanese Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul addresses the media, Part 1 (07/22/08)

Sudanese Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul addresses the media, Part 2 (07/22/08)

There was a question asked by the Brazilian Episcopal Church press reporter concerning the place that cultural plays in the hermeneutical process of understanding scripture. The Archbishop replied:

"It is not the Bible that should be changed by the culture, but the Bible that should change the culture."
Well, ideally yes, but... Either he does not understand that culture does and cannot but influence us as we interpret scripture or he knows and does not care or he refuses to admit that his own culture does effect his understanding and interpretation of scripture and how it is applied in the same way that American (Western or Northern) culture(s) affect our own understanding and interpretation and application of scripture.

His opinions cannot be dismissed, nor can they be excused. If I want to wrestle with it all honestly and if I am to respect the dignity of every human being, then I must respect his dignity, his opinion, and deal with him in ways that move beyond identity-politics, political-correctness, therapeutic-models, or culturally derived impressions and influence - I must deal with him as a fallible human loved dearly by God in spite of my own proclivities and fallibility. How? I feel no animosity towards him, although I definitely think his is wrong and his interpretation of scripture and its application are damaging concerning our pressing issue(s). How do I live with him - even if he will not live with me? He has seen more trouble, oppression, danger, heartache than I can imagine, yet...

This thing, this being a Christian, is not easy. Sometimes is just sucks. Funny how some think it is just a crutch for weak-willed people.

LOST and the timeline of Jesus

I heard it said a while ago that Gen X is the first generation to draw meaning from popular-culture. I believe it.

Dr. Andrew Root, professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and a LOST geek, has written an article about LOST, a theory that might explain what is actually going on, and God/Jesus and God's work.

The article appears on the website, Next Wave: Church & Culture, a website that seems to cater to more Emergent types. The article is entitled, "The TV Show Lost and Eschatology."

Do we heed history's lessons?

It is said that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. I have argued numerous times that we can look back in our history and find situations very similiar to what we are now experiencing concerning the cultural and religious changes we are fighting through in the Culture Wars, primarily over homosexuality and by extention same-sex marriage.

I have been told numerous times that the social and religious experiences of Americans leading up to the Civil War over the slavery issue is not a valid comparison to what we are now experiencing in the Culture War over homosexuality. I've said again and again that I am not comparing homosexuality to race or same-sex marriage to the emancipation of the slaves, but rather the way Christian Americans used and interpreted Scripture, demanded that and then fought over narrow and often sectarian application of Scripture, and how we dealt with one another and our differences. The religious dynamic over slavery back then is, in fact, very, very similiar to today.

So, now I am reading histories of the time period. Here is a rather lengthy quote from my current read, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, by Mark A. Noll.

Does this not sound so very familiar as our country, and more specifically our Anglican church, is pulling itself apart?

The Bible, or so a host of ministers affirmed, was clear as a bell about slavery.

The Bible, for example, was clear to Henry Ward Beecher, the North's most renowned preacher, when he addressed his Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, NY, on January 4, 1861, a day of national fasting to have people pray for the country's healing. In Beecher's view, the evil for which the U.S. as a nation most desperately needed to repent, "the most alarming and most fertile cause of national sin, " was slavery. About this great evil the Bible could not speak with less ambiguity: "Where the Bible has been in the household, and read in the household, and read without hindrance by parents and children together - there you have had an indomitable yeomanry, as state that would not have a tyrant on the throne, a government that would not have a slave or a serf in the field." (1)

But of course, the Bible spoke very differently to others who also rose to preach in that fateful moment. Six weeks earlier... the South's most respected minister, James Henley Thornwell, took up before his Presbyterian congregation in Columbia [South Carolina] the very same theme of "our national sins"... To Thornwell, slavery was the "good and merciful" way of organizing "labor which Providence has given us." About the propriety of this system in the eyes of God, Thornwell was so confident that, like Beecher, he did not engage in any actual Biblical exegesis; rather, he simply asserted: "That the relation betwixt the slave and his master is not inconsistent with the word of God, we have long since settled... We cherish the institution not from avarice, but from principle." (2)

The fact that Beecher in the North and Thornwell in the South found contrasting messages in Scripture by no means indicates the depth of theological crisis occasioned by this clash of interpretations. Since the dawn of time, warring combatants have regularly reached for whatever religious support they could find to nerve their own side for battle. Especially in our postmodern age, we think we know all about the way that interests dictate interpretations. It was, therefore, a more convincing indication of profound theological crisis when entirely within the North ministers battle each other on the interpretation of the Bible. In contrast to the struggle between Northern theologians and Southern theologians, this clash pitted against each other ministers who agreed about the necessity of preserving the Union and who also agreed that the Bible represented authoritative, truth-telling revelation from God.

Thus only a month before Beecher preached to the Brooklyn Congregationalists about the monstrous sinfulness of slavery, the Reverend Henry Van Dyke expounded on the related theme to his congregation, Brooklyn's First Presbyterian Church, just down the street from Beecher's... But when Van Dyke took up the theme of the "character and influence of abolitionism," his conclusions were anything but similar to Beecher's. To this Northern Presbyterian, it was obvious that the "tree of Abolitionism is evil, and only evil - root and branch, flower and leaf, and fruit; that it springs from, and is nourished by, an utter rejection of the Scriptures." (3)

An even more interesting contrast with Beecher's confident enlistment of the Bible against slavery offered by Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, who on the same day of national fasting that provided Beecher the occasion for his sermon, addressed the Jewish synagogue of New York. Like Van dyke's, his sermon directly contradicted what Beecher had claimed. Raphall's subject was the biblical view of slavery. To the learned rabbi, it was imperative that issues of ultimate significance be adjudicated by "the highest Law of all," which was "the revealed Law and Word of God." ...Raphall's sermon was filled with close exegesis of many passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Significantly, this Northern rabbi was convinced that the passages he cited taught beyond cavil that the curse pronounced by Noah in Genesis 9 on his son Ham had consigned "fetish-serving benighted Africa" to everlasting servitude. Raphall was also sure that a myriad of biblical texts demonstrated as clearly as demonstration could make that slavery was a legitimate social system... Raphall's conclusion about the scriptural legitimacy of slavery per se reflected his exasperation at anyone who could read the Bible in any other way: "Is slaveholding condemned as a sin in sacred Scripture?... How this question can at all arise in the mind of any man that has received a religious education, and is acquainted with the history of the Bible, is a phenomenon I cannot explain to myself." (5)

One of the many Northerners with good religious education who know the Bible very well, yet in whose mind questions did not arise about the intrinsic evil of slaveholding, was Tayler Lewis, a Dutch Reformed layman... a professor of Greek and oriental studies... Professor Lewis complained that "there is... something in the more interior spirit of those [biblical] texts that [Van Dyke] does not see; he does not take the apostles' standpoint; he does not take into view the vastly changed condition of the world; he does not seem to consider that whilst truth is fixed,... its application to distant ages, and differing circumstances, is so varying continually that a wrong direction given to the more truthful exegesis may convert it into the more malignant falsehood."(7)

So it went into April 1861 and well beyond. The political standoff that led to war was matched by an interpretive standoff. No common meaning could be discovered in the Bible, which almost everyone in the United States professed to honor and which was, without a rival, the most widely read text of any kind in the whole country.

Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 2-4.

Are we condemn to repeat our past mistakes? It seems so, at least concerning this issue of homosexuality and how we handle Scripture, its application, and how we deal with one another. I've heard people say that we truly are in a national and cultural state so similar to the leading up to the Civil War that the possibility of yet another large scale civil conflict coming out of the Culture Wars (Red and Blue states mentality) could well come to pass.

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1.) Henry Ward Beecher, "Peace Be Still," in Fast Day Sermons; or, The Pulpit on the State of the Country (New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1861), 276, 289.
2.) James Henley Thornwell, "Our National Sins," in Fast Day Sermons,48, 44-[??]
3.) Henry Van Dyke, "The Character and Influence of Abolitionism," in Fast Day Sermons, 137.
5.) M.J. Raphall, "Bible View of Slavery," in Fast Day Sermons, 235-236.
7.)Tayler Lewis, "Patriarchal and Jewish Servitude No Argument for American Slavery," in Fast Day Sermons, 180, 222.

Fr. Tobias Haller over at In a Godward Direction picked up on my post below about Radical Welcome. Several people commented on his blog and one of his responses I thought is very important to remember as we think about High Church liturgy, Anglo-Catholicism, Tradition, young people and Baby Boomers:

I intend to spend a little time this afternoon working (and praying) on an icon of St James of Jerusalem -- but want to take a moment to second what Phil observes here, as it is well in keeping with the sentiments of the Epistle of James. Orthodoxy is useless if it doesn't lead to orthopraxy; and our worship of God is empty (however beautiful) if it doesn't impel us and nourish us for service to Christ's suffering body in the world.

This really was the classical impulse of the Anglo-Catholic movement in the hands of such as Pusey --- not simply solemn worship, but serious mission and ministry as well. There is an untapped vein of the Spirit waiting to be opened: youth today are rebelling as much against the self-satisfaction of the Boomers as the acquisitive success orientation of their children. God willing, the church is ready to enter a new age of service and worship and mission and ministry. Christ is honored in all of these, but most especially in the ministry to the living icons who populate our cities' streets, and labor in our fields.

The proof is in the puddin' and if we don't do the stuff that Jesus called us to do, as another commenter mentioned, the authenticity that is so important to younger people will be lost. Do we mean this stuff, or not? Really, do we mean it...

Today's L'Abri

There are a couple interesting articles in this recent issue of Christianity Today (March, 2008). One article has to do with L'Abri - a "retreat" established by Francis Schaeffer and his wife in the Alps of Switzerland. Lots of '60's - '80's young people flocked (relatively speaking) to L'Abri to debate and then sit at the feet of Schaeffer as he discussed and commented on Christian life within the West and within "Modernism." L'Abri was a haven for those disaffected young people who had a difficult time with the common Evangelicalism and the Christian religion in general.

Schaeffer died during the 1980's and over the years L'Abri has changed from a strongly Evangelical community within the Modernist approach to knowledge and Truth to a now Post-Modernist community that is very different from the place that Schaeffer established when he was at the helm.

I can remember back as an undergraduate in the early '80's dreaming of going to L'Abri. I have to admit that I still want to spend time there even as I have changed and can now feel the inner drive and throb of seeking that many a student deals with (after all, we are always students, are we not?). Frankly, I would love to have such a place here, now, and be part of such a community! It fits well within my notions of "intentional community." The idea of being about the living of an authentic life in Christ as we strive together to not be bound by cultural convention but to understand the unplumbable depths of God's Way.

Anyway, here is a couple paragraphs I think are insightful concerning younger folk:

[Thomas Rauchenstein, a youngish Canadian and a current L'Abri worker, commenting on Schaeffer's presuppositions when making his arguments] "Presuppositionalism can appear to be humble, but actually it's quite arrogant... It says, 'You can't critique my assumptions.' students today have the despair of having lost that certainty." The postmodern critique of objectivity has saturated them. "We're at the transition point, philosophically," said Peltier. "People talk in the language of postmodernism, but what they want from Christianity is very much modern."

In other words, when students say they seek authenticity, what they really want it certainly, an inner knowing. Convinced that they won't find it intellectually, many pursue that feeling of conviction through experience: in the communal life and worship at L'Abri; in the books by emerging church authors that are popular with many students, and in the charismatic worship style that - though Pentecostals have never been a significant presence - is no longer taboo here."

I might suggest that for a significant segment of the student population, the traditional forms of worship - in the sacramental and liturgical - also enable this population to "experience" God in ways that their former/current church-culture did not provide them.

The Hermeneutics Quiz

So, I took "The Hermeneutics Quiz" offered by the people of Christianity Today and Leadership magazines. I came out having a "Progressive Hermeneutic." This surprised me, frankly, because I do think I really am more moderate than progressive, unless one can be a "Progressive-Conservative," which is what I've called myself politically since high school. Of course, that probably pans-out to be a plain ole', ordinary, and boring "Moderate."

So, here is where you can take "The Hermeneutics Quiz."

And, here is the related article in the Leadership Journal magazine (online): Click here

Arminianism: Simple Particulars

"Arminianism stems from the teachings of Jacob Arminius of Holland, who reacting against high Calvinism and rejecting many of its distinctive tenets. He and his followers, known as the Remonstrants, denied Calvin's monergism (salvation determinism) and opted instead for a self-limiting God who grants free will to people by means of the gift of prevenient grace. God allows his grace for salvation to be resisted and rejected, and determines to save all who do not reject it but instead embrace it as their only hope for eternal life. Christ's atonement is universal in scope; God sent Christ to die for the sins of every person. But the atonement's saving efficacy extends only to those who embrace the cross of faith. Arminianism confronts monergism with an evangelical synergism that affirms a necessary cooperation between divine and human agencies in salvation (though it places them on entirely different plains). In salvation, God's grace is the superior partner; human free will (nonresistance) is the lesser partner. Arminius and his faithful followers reacted against high Calvinism without propagating any new doctrines; they pointed back to the Greek church fathers and to certain Lutherans. They were also influenced by Catholic reformer Erasmus." (Olson, Arminian Theology, pp. 62-63)

Random and vague thoughts

Rambling and vague thoughts:

My late systematic theology professor back in Ohio commented on the beginnings of the process of forming a systematic-theological perspective. He said that most people who actually produce a systematic theology (very few!) default the beginning of their system to the point of faith that seems most important to them. My professor, a Lutheran theologian, for example, began his system with the Ascension. So, since that class I've thought about where I would begin my system (of course, I am completely unqualified to do any thing vaguely resembling systematic work!!!).

1. My system, I think, would need to begin with "Free-Will." I'm obviously not a Calvinist (low or high). For me, I cannot get around believing that we have true potential for independent choice. Lots of things hinder and impinge upon our realization of the potential for making honest/real choices, but I have to believe that we have it. Without the ability to make free choices - the ability to choose contrary to what was chosen - then to me we are all simply automatons. What's the point? I don't think being made in the image of God results in a completely determined life without recourse.

I'm a synergist, and thus not a monergist. Chalk it up to my Arminian upbringing.

My understanding of the ideas of "free-will" for Calvinists is that God has already instilled in us our desires. So, when we act we act "freely" because we act according to our desire. Yet, our desire is determined for us already by God even before Creation. I don't think that results is "free-will." To have true "free-will," I think it a necessity to be able to choose contrary to what might be or has already been chosen.

If I go to an ice-cream parlor and I am confronted with 31 flavors of ice-cream, a Calvinist might claim that I freely choose chocolate from all the other flavors. The first visit, I choose chocolate because I desire it. The other flavors are there to "choose" from, but I "freely" choose chocolate because I love it so much. My second visit, well, I choose chocolate because I desire it and love it so. The third visit, well, I choose chocolate, of course. God determined that I love chocolate ice-cream and while I "freely" choose it, it is determined so that I can choose no other.

An Arminian might describe such a situation thusly: I go to an ice-cream parlor and am confronted with 31 flavors. In my God-given make up, I just love chocolate ice-cream and desire it. My first visit, I look at all the flavors and choose chocolate. My second visit, I choose chocolate, but then "decide" to change my mind and get strawberry instead (or Jamoca Almond Fudge!). My third trip, I choose chocolate. I have the ability to choose something other than what my desire dictates. I understand that a Calvinist might suggest that God already predetermined that I would choose strawberry that second time, but I just don't buy this seemingly determinist explanation of "free-will."

2. Well, I think about what it means to be made in the image of God. There are lots of people throughout the ages who have postulated all manor of explanations of what that might mean. To me at this point, being made in the very "image" of God connotes "attributes" of God. For me, this suggests the ability to Create and the ability to "Decide" freely between honest choices. To be made in the image of God is to have true potentiality for Free-Will decision making and to Create (obviously not ex-nihilo). In these two aspects, I think we can find poignantly God's image in us. All of this has been corrupted by our free-will decisions to choose contrary to our own well-being and the continued suffering of the consequences of our wrong/bad decisions.

I'm not convinced that the whole episode of the Garden and Adam and Eve's eating from the Tree of Good and Evil is as we commonly assume. I'm sure there is a heresy somewhere in these thoughts of mine, but they are what they are at the moment. In giving us honest free-will, we have to have honest choices - to do or not to do, between opposing things. The eating of the fruit of the Tree was not the downfall. There had to be true choice. We had to "exercise" that choice to realize that aspect of being made in the "image" of God.

God knew already that we could choose contrary to our own wellbeing. God risked being rejected by and rebelled against by His creation (Open-Theism?). I'm sure he well realized that in giving us that ability that humanity would choose to walk in ways contrary to our wellbeing and against God's desire for us. That we would sin. That we would estrange ourselves from God and His ways.

The downfall occurred in our rejection of the wisdom of God and thinking that we knew better what to do - we were seduced into thinking that we knew what was best for us. We rejected God, and we bear the consequences to this day. We are no longer innocent, by a long shot.

Yet, because we are created in the image of God, God allows us to continue exercise our ability to freely choose between good and evil, right and wrong, what is good and healthy for us individually and collectively and what is not good and healthy - between killing and forgiving, between gluttony and caring for the hungry. God allows us to choose whether we will take up what is right for us: "To love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly with our God," or not.

To me, this gets at the heart of the problem of Theodicy. Yes, God could well stop all this evil, but in so doing He would work contrary to His creative intent for humanity - that we would bear His image. We would be left as automatons. I get frustrated by those who fight against Christianity by using the issued of evil in the world - "if there really was a God and if this God was really good, then why does this God allow all this evil and killing and destruction? I can't believe in a God like that." Well, if God ended all that kind of stuff arbitrarily and unilaterally, then we would no longer have free-will. What would be better, truly?

Would most of the people who raise the problem of theodicy as the reason why they refuse to or can't believe be willing to forfeit their free-will (whether realized or only in potentiality) to end the suffering caused by the wrong decisions of fellow human beings? Would they be willing to have their lives "determined" for them by God? I don't think so. They might wish the way things worked in the world or in us were different all together, but what is the actual end result of the demand that a truly good God, if one existed, would not allow evil or harm or destruction to exist at all?

I realize that this is very complex stuff, but we could stop human suffering caused by famine, war, etc., if we wanted to. We could mitigate the suffering caused by natural disaster. We don't want to badly enough. We chose that which is not the good, the beautiful. We choose to be selfish. We choose sin. This is why we are in need to atonement, a savior, forgiveness, and why we needed a way to be made for reconciliation with God, one another, and all of Creation. I think it really is up to us, and I do believe that those who do not know God have the ability to what is right - feed the poor, forgive, do no harm. That doesn't mean they earn their way in the afterlife. It simply means that on this planet, those without knowledge of God still bear the image of God and because of this they can choose to do what is right, even if doing what is right does not result in salvation. I'm not a Pelagian or a semi-Pelagian. It is only by the first work of God through the Holy Spirit that we are able to understand our need for God's salvation and can we realize right relationship with God.

Just random, incomplete thoughts. I think I need to start with the honest ability to made choices between even contrary things. This, I think, is part of the "image" of God within us - to freely choose.

Communion without Baptism

A continuing discussion over at Daily Episcopalian/Episcopal Cafe covering Sacramental Theology and the surrounding issues, particularly addressed in this essay is Communion without Baptism (or Open Communion, as some refer to it).

The following is a portion of an essay written by Derek Olsen:

You see, Anglican—Christian—sacramental theology is the logic and theology of intimacy. Even the metaphors Scripture uses for the relationship between God and believers bespeak this intimacy: to abide, to dwell with, to remain within. The prophets and poets of sacred page have used time and again the figure of bride and groom in scandalous and sometimes shocking ways to communicate both the depths of intimacy (Revelation and the incomparable Song of Songs) and intimacy’s betrayal (Ezekiel and Hosea). Remembering the logic of intimacy, remaining faithful to its vision of life in relationship grounds our ritual ways, our liturgical practice, in a theology that honors the God who has chosen to be in relationship with us.

At the heart of intimacy is commitment. Nothing more—and nothing less. Intimacy is not instant; it grows over time. Intimacy is a process of growing into knowledge, love, and trust gradually—and its gradual nature demands that those growing remain committed to the process and to each other. It grows through hearing promises, then seeing those promises come true; through sharing truths, then recognizing and confirming those truths embodied in the patterns and rhythms of everyday life.

In our sacramental life, the moment of commitment is baptism. Like promises exchanged between lovers, like the promises made before the altar in marriage, baptism is a covenant relationship. God is constantly inviting us into relationship, simultaneously presenting and fulfilling the promise to be in relationship with the whole creation and with each individual member of it. In Baptism, individuals—or those presenting them—both recognize the call of God and return the commitment, recognizing the identity of God as it has been revealed to us in the baptismal creed and promising to be faithful to the relationship with God. This, we believe, is an everlasting covenant....

Coming from this perspective, Communion without Baptism misreads the logic of the liturgy. It demands intimacy without commitment, relationship without responsibility. To apply this same logic to another sphere of human relationship, this is the logic of the one night stand—the logic of the “meaningless” fling. Is this the relationship that we wish to have with the God who knows us each by name and who calls that name in the night, yearning for our return to the Triune embrace?...

The seekers, the strangers, the wanderers in our midst—they are the ones in view here. And here is my question; this is what we must answer to the satisfaction of our own consciences: Do we have the right to choose for the stranger and the seeker a relationship contradicting the logic of intimacy without offering them a yet more excellent way?

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a very good lecture to seminary students in Canada. He lectured on the Church's dealings with Scripture - it seems a fair and evenhanded treatment and a good corrective.

From the Archbishop's 16th April 2007 Larkin Stuart Lecture, Toronto, Canada, entitled,

‘The Bible Today: Reading & Hearing’


"Popular appeals to the obvious leave us battling in the dark; and the obvious – not surprisingly – looks radically different to different people. For many, it is obvious that a claim to the effect that Scripture is ‘God’s Word written’ implies a particular set of beliefs about the Bible’s inerrancy. For others, it is equally obvious that, if you are not that savage and menacing beast called a ‘fundamentalist’, you are bound to see the Bible as a text of its time, instructive, even sporadically inspiring, but subject to rethinking in the light of our more advanced position. As I hope will become evident, I regard such positions as examples of the rootlessness that afflicts our use of the Bible; and I hope that these reflections may suggest a few ways of reconnecting with a more serious theological grasp of the Church’s relation with Scripture."
Read the entire lecture.

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From the, From the Anglican Journal, Anglican Church of Canada:

Williams bemoans loss of listening to Scripture
Marites N. Sison, staff writer

Apr 17, 2007

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has lamented what he called the lack of “rootedness” in the Anglican approach to Scripture and said “we’ve lost quite a bit of what was once a rather good Anglican practice of reading the Bible in the tradition of interpretation.”

He added: “We read the Bible less in worship. We understand and know it less…(we’re) either underrating it or misrating it, making it carry more than it’s meant to, as Richard Hooker says … We don’t have a very clear sense that we’re reading the Bible in company with its readers from the centuries and indeed, at the present moment.” Archbishop Williams made the observation in response to a comment about a seeming lack of theological tradition among Anglicans, following a Larkin-Stuart lecture delivered April 16 before an audience of mostly theology students from Wycliffe and Trinity Colleges in Toronto.

Archbishop Williams also said that he wished the current debate on sexuality that has bitterly divided the Anglican Communion would be framed in terms of “biblical justice and biblical holiness” instead of the prevailing conservative view of “biblical fidelity” and the liberal view of justice.

“I share the unease about simply opposing biblical fidelity and secular justice,” he said, adding that what was needed was a “proper theological discussion” of the issue.

In his lecture (named after Canon Cecil Stuart, long-time rector of Toronto’s St. Thomas’ Church, and its benefactor, Gerald Larkin), Archbishop Williams examined the current practice of reading the Bible and said Christians need to be reminded that, “before Scripture is read in private, it is heard in public.”

Those who assume that the typical image of Scripture reading is a solitary individual poring over a bound volume should remember that for most Christians throughout the ages and in the world at present the norm is listening, said Archbishop Williams. This, he said, “underlines the fact that the church’s public use of the Bible represents the church as defined in some important way of listening: the community when it comes together doesn’t only break bread and reflect together and intercede, it silences itself to hear something.”

Archbishop Williams also described the “fragmentary reading” of the Bible as “highly risky,” citing as an example Saint Paul’s use of same-sex relationships (Romans 1:27) as “an illustration of human depravity – along with other ‘unnatural’ behaviours such as scandal, disobedience to parents and lack of pity.”

He said: “What is Paul’s argument? And, once again, what is the movement that the text is seeking to facilitate? The answer is in the opening of chapter 2: we have been listing examples of the barefaced perversity of those who cannot see the requirement of the natural order in front of their noses; well, it is precisely the same perversity that affects those who have received the revelation of God and persist in self-seeking and self-deceit. The change envisaged is from confidence in having received divine revelation to an awareness of universal human sinfulness and need.”

There is a paradox in reading that Scriptural passage “as a foundation for identifying in others a level of sin that is not found in the chosen community, “ Archbishop Williams said, adding that this “gives little comfort to either party in the current culture wars in the church.”

It is “not helpful for a ‘liberal’ or revisionist case, since the whole point of Paul’s rhetorical gambit is that everyone in his imagined readership agrees in thinking the same-sex relations of the culture around them to be obviously immoral as idol-worship or disobedience to parents,” he said. “It is not very helpful to the conservative either, though, because Paul insists on shifting the focus away from the objects of moral disapprobation in chapter 1 to the reading/hearing subject who has been up to this point happily identifying with Paul’s castigation of somebody else.”

Archbishop Williams said the point he is making “is not that the reading I propose settles a controversy or changes a substantive interpretation, but that many current ways of reading miss the actual direction of the passage and so undermine a proper theological approach to Scripture.”

Before his lecture, the Archbishop of Canterbury received honorary doctor of divinity degrees from Wycliffe College and Trinity College during a joint convocation.

In my Christianity Today daily e-mail news update, there was a short article entitled "Re-engineering Temptation" about the controversies resulting from the blog entry by Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, on possible Christian responses to ideas of preventing homosexuality through hormonal therapies that prevent prenatal homosexuality or negate the sexual temptation for one's own sex in adulthood.

This short article dealt with the Christian ethics if a true biological component is confirmed in the establishment of a homosexual orientation (not preference).

In the article, the author mentioned a five years study being conducted at the Oregon Health and Science University by Dr. Charles Roselli. This paragraph really caught my attention, for one reason that the author of the article didn't attempt to refute it.

"The story begins at the Oregon Health and Science University, where Charles Roselli studies homosexual sheep (about 8 percent of rams are gay). His research, now more than five years old, has confirmed a link between brain chemistry and sexual preference. But his data does not indicate whether chemistry or preference comes first."
At least this seems to suggest that if we look to nature for signs of right theological definitions and concepts, then we will need to conclude that within nature, homosexuality is present and a normal part, even if in small percentages.

So, here are two links to press releases by the university concerning the research of Roselli:

BIOLOGY BEHIND HOMOSEXUALITY IN SHEEP, STUDY CONFIRMS

BRAIN DIFFERENCES IN SHEEP LINKED TO SEXUAL PARTNER PREFERENCE

If science is done well, it will tell us what is observably and verifiable factual. What we choose to do with that information, those theories, those facts, is the realm of ethics and theology.

Alan Chambers, president of the ex-gay umbrella group "Exodus International" commented in the article:

"People like me who struggled with it and found freedom are more than sufficient proof that we can overcome our genetics," he said. "Science will never trump the Word of God."
Frankly, I agree with him, with a caveat. Science and theology deal with two different realms of knowing. Each, rightly construed, should inform one another, not conflict. After all, good science will help us understand what God has wrought. Good theology will help us understand what to do with the knowledge.

Science will never trump Scripture, but Scripture rightly understood will never contradict good science. This was the thought of those ancient Christian monks who developed the beginnings of our modern understanding of science and the observation of the world as it is.

What science may well do is help us understand whether we have rightly interpreted and understood the Word of God! In this case, if science gives us reliable and verifiable evidence that there is in fact a biological determinate concerning homosexuality, then the way we approach, understand, and apply the Word of God concerning this issue may well need to change - not because God changes or the Word of God changes, but because we are wrong in our traditional understanding and application of the Word of God.

After the science, then theology comes into play. What shall we then do?

Just wear a patch - take the gay away

The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, has become a prominent voice in conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity in the U.S. I have seen him quoted not only by Southern Baptists or Pentecostals but even by conservative Episcopalians. He is articulate and unapologetic concerning his particular view of what Christianity is and what is not - and along with that who is and who isn't a Christian. He is a Fundamentalist.

Last week, we wrote an article in which he seemed to acknowledge that homosexuality will probably be proven to have a genetic or physiological link - not just a decision made by sex-crazed guys. This caused quite a stir in-and-of-itself among a slue of conservative-religious-politicos. He also stated that while he will probably be against some sort of gene-tinkering or therapy, he might be inclined to support a "hormone patch" to be worn by the mother during pregnancy in order to change the unborn baby's homosexuality.

The Washington Post reports that Mohler in a Friday interview stated:

In an interview on Friday, Mohler said that Christian couples "should be open" to the prospect of changing the course of nature -- if a biological marker for homosexuality were to be found. He would not support gene therapy but might back other treatments, such as a hormonal patch.

"I think any Christian couple would want their child to be whole and healthy," he said. "Knowing that that child is going to be a sinner, we would not want to make their personal challenges more difficult if they could be less difficult."

Since it will be a terrible thing to know that one's child is going to be a "sinner," then we should do all we can to make sure that doesn't happen. Imagine, being able to weed out the sinfulness of us all! Wouldn't that be great - we will no longer be "sinners." If we can do it for the sin of homosexuality, why can we not do it for all sins? Lying, adultery, hypocrisy, murder, gluttony, pride, sloth, not loving God with our whole heart nor loving our neighbors as ourselves - all could be done away with through a patch or genetic/hormonal tinkering. Man will truly be his own salvation at that point, right?

I wonder what that will do with the whole issue of the necessity of Grace, Salvation, and the Passion-death-resurrection of Jesus. God should have just waited until our science progressed to the point where we could genetically or hormonally "change nature" to rid us of sin, rather than Jesus' self-sacrifice on our behalf. Oh well. I know this is not what he means or intends, but it is a logical progression of the idea, is it not?

Link to the Washington Post article

Link to Truth Wins Out commentaries over this issue. TWO was founded by Wayne Besen, author of “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth” (Haworth, 2003).

Link to Albert Mohler's original article: Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?

Link to Albert Mohler's follow-up article

THEOSIS IN CHRYSOSTOM AND WESLEY:

Hard and complete scholarship

Tobias Haller, priest, member of TEC's Executive Committee, offers some thoughts on Ash Wednesday and the call of the Primates for adequate response by The Episcopal Church on his blog, In a Godward Direction. Read the post and the comments!

One thing I find encouraging about ++Katherine is that she comes from the "hard” physical-sciences and not the "soft" social-sciences. What I mean is that when she looks for justifications for positions or to prove a hypothesis she will look for actual data, thorough research, complete scholarship, etc. Too many of us from a social-science background or from within the Humanities over the last 30 years have resorted to arguments based on "feelings." We must do this or that because it "feels right" or so that we do not damage the "feelings" of others, etc. The tendency is to do some studies, but only enough to give us enough confidence to press our point, not enough to persuade critics. Simplistic, I know, but that is a beginning. I have been through too many classes concerning social and personal "develop theories" and listened to too many people give justifications for doing this or that thing based no little more than "feelings."

This issue of whether TEC has given good and rigorous and complete theological and Scriptural justifications for our attempts to change thousands of years of Tradition and Scriptural interpretation concerning the morality of homosexual relationships has come back to us with the answer of, “NO!” I agree, and I don't think we have. I think there are too many people in the leadership of TEC (staff-priests-bishops) who wish to make justifications for our actions based too much on "feelings" (reflected in such subjective “proofs” as issues of justice, inclusion, and the like - as important as they are), rather than on hard, rigorous, and complete research and scholarship. The result is that we have been woefully lacking in our response to the challenge of the wider Christian community to our attempts to change Christian Tradition and understanding. We have not done our homework well – perhaps just enough to make ourselves feel good about our effort.

We have acted with hubris, not because our actions are intrinsically wrong, but because our attitudes are paternalistic towards all those "homophones" that refuse to accept our "enlightened" new understanding. It is time for hard theological work, hard research, and hard scholarship! Frankly, because of our arrogance it may be too late to persuade anyone. This is the legacy being realized my too much attention to “feelings” and not hard data and thorough scholarship over the last 40 years.

The hard work is what ++Katherine will hopefully demand of us, as she would demand of someone proposing a new theory concerning octopuses.

Then, from the comments, is the following:

When I was in college, there were several racist incidents on campus. House meetings were held, and campus-wide meetings were held. One of the African-American students in my house said something that struck me to this day. We were talking about how to understand each other better, how to bridge cultures and learn from each other. Several women suggested that we needed to hear from our African-American sisters, hear their stories and learn from them.

This particular lady stood up, crying, and said "WHY do I have to teach you? Why is it incumbent upon ME to educate you about this? I live it, I'm tired of it. Go out for yourselves and find out what we, as black women, are talking about. Take classes, read history, study it yourselves. It is not my job as a black woman to educate you all about racial injustice."

As a lesbian, I'm feeling much the same way. There are myriad resources for these bishops, priests and congregations to use to educate themselves about our theological position. Why should we have to continually answer the call of "PROVE it to us!" They don't want it proven to them. They don't open their ears to hear, or their eyes to see the oppression of GLBT people in the church. I have had to educate MYSELF about this subject, they can, too. The bishops have the same resources (even more, I'll bet) than I do. They are intelligent and learned. But their hearts and minds are closed.

It is a two-way-street, and what do we do when the other party has no interest in learning or any further study?

It's all your fault!

There is a thread on Titusonenine to which I've posted a couple comments. One particular poster, who can argue well, posted something along the lines that "we," meaning those who oppose the inclusion of gay people in relationships in the Church, did not start this mess, and it is the fault of the "innovators" or "reappraisers" or whatever-term-one-wants-to-use, who will not listen to the wisdom of those who will not accept the reassessment of Scripture and Tradition concerning this issue.

Phil Snyder wrote:

"One of my biggest problem with this whole 'We spending too much time on sexuality when there’s poverty and AIDS and hunger to fight” argument is that the reasserters did not bring this up. We are not the ones who insisted we fight this. We are not the ones who refused to listen to the Anglican Communion. I wish this had never been brought up and that we were able to spend our energy on fighting hunger and poverty and AIDS in America and around the world. I weep when I think of all the money and time that we have spent fighting each other so that a very small group of people will not have their feelings hurt by having their behavior labled “sin.”

If you want to work together to fight hunger and eliminate poverty and work with Africans to solve the problems in Africa, then stop pushing these new innovations in Christian belief and practice and repent of pushing them to start with and learn to listen to the wisdom of people who live in these countries on how to solve their problems."

My responses follows:

I remember reading various sermons and essays by Christians during the slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights battles in this country. I remember the language used and the accusations made against those who advocated and fought for the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, or equal rights and those who opposed such “innovations.” The attitudes of so many during the slavery battles, and then again during the civil rights era were the same as you have stated above. If we just ignore injustice and let things remain as they are, not rocking the boat of centuries of Tradition and “correct” Biblical interpretation, then there will be no need for battles or problems or division, etc. God’s truth will reign in glory everlasting.

The Episcopal Church was pretty much silent about the slavery issue during the Civil War. Some may say that was wise, most now claim that it was not. I really can’t say, only that there does come a point where decisions need to be made and “innovations” like the end of slavery (a biblically justified condition for up to near 1,800 years, despite a very small but growing minority that championed for an end of slavery of various kinds) need to be advanced.

The Church is doing battle right now over what it considers an injustice concerning the inclusion of gay people - those who are chaste and those in mutual, life-long, and monogamous relationships - in the life of the Church. If we understand our history and don’t try to overlay our own current-day perceptions upon those people back then, the comparison between attitudes and actions now (gay issue) and back then (slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, etc), will show that the battles were as venomous and/or virtuous then as they are today over this issue.

Time will tell who is right. Time will also tell whose interpretation of Scripture will prevail and as God’s will is always done, whose opinion is truly “on God’s side” and whose is not. (Frankly, I doubt any of us are right at this point!) But, to say with incrimination that “our side” did not start this battle and that “we” are right in “our” demand to remain as the Church have always been, is like saying that those who self-justifyingly supported the continuation of slavery or the denial of women’s suffrage or racial discrimination virtuously didn’t ask for the fight and social tumult during those battles, but rather sought peace or truth or the continuation of the “Tradition” over the “innovation.”

Process - Free-Will - Postliberal

From the book,


"This widespread disaffection with Enlightenment rationality opens the door to other approaches to theology. For postliberals, it means that contemporary culture is no longer the norm for Christian thought. Accordingly, the primary concern of Christian theology is not to find other language with which to express the Christian message, but to employ the narrative form of Scripture. In doing so, it reverses the tendency of modern theology to accommodate itself to culture. Instead of letting the world absorb the gospel, its goal is for the gospel to absorb the world. 'Rather than translating Scripture into an external and alien from of reference, which devalues and undermines its normative position and eventually produces an accommodation to culture, the postliberals call for an intratextual theology that finds the meaning of the Christian language within the text.'

"Evangelical theologians who share the conviction that theology's primary concern lies within the text will have reservations about Wheeler's call to employ process philosophy in hopes of getting a larger hearing. IN particular, they will question the very ideas of an independent perspective that corroborates the biblical perspective. As they see it, our most important concern should not be to find conceptual, philosophical ways of expressing the Christian message, but to let the primary symbols and narratives of Christian faith speak with their own power. To make the case he wants to for process thought, Wheeler needs to take into account the shifting theological scene."

Richard Rice, Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists, editors: John Cobb & Clark Pinnock, p. 158.

In all of our (The Episcopal Church & Anglicanism) troubles of late, all the vast theological and pietistic controversies and differences, it is impressed upon me more and more of late that what Anglicanism provides more than anything is a sustained and impressive tradition of Orthopraxy.

This is the Prayer Book Tradition; and its contribution to world Christianity is still being realized and debated.

We do what God calls us to do in the world - love God, love our neighbors (even our enemies), care for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed, share the Good News of God's accomplishment and offer of reconciliation with God, with one another, and with all His creation. Have four Episcopalians, and you will have five ideas of what all that means and how to accomplish it all. Our theological positions are hard to pin down and we argue incessantly about it all. This, to Evangelicals anyway, is not a very confidence engendering quality that indicates the "orthodoxy" of The Episcopal Church or Episcopalians.

We do the work of common worship. From one Anglican church to another, the particulars may be different but the form, structure, and purpose are the same! The doing of worship in the Prayer Book Tradition is our way of bringing the Body of Christ together - world before, world present, and world to come - as one body as we worship God and receive from Him our strength and renewal.

Anglicanism, since the Elizabethan Settlement at least, seems more about orthopraxis than a confirmed and official theological orthodoxy. Too many Anglican groups, despite their numbers, are demanding a codification of their understanding of a God ordained, unquestionable and timeless theological orthodoxy - whether the demand is coming from the hyper-conservative or hyper-liberal camps. Yet, what Anglicanism has offered and promised is only this: Orthopraxis as we seek together God and God's will for us, the Church, and the world. There is an allowance of difference in theological opinion, or at least there has been.

So many people within The Episcopal Church these days, and so, so many within Evangelicalism, what to focus squarely on issues of expressed theological orthodoxy - having everyone all at the same time believe all the right things, but Anglicanism has never been about that.

This aspect of a focus on what we do as Christians (the putting into action what we believe - actions speak louder than words!) rather than all believing the same thing is very attractive to me. I don't question that there is ultimate Truth, and that the Truth resides with an infinite God, but we as finite creatures cannot fully understand that Truth until we see Him face-to-face. As a few Evangelical pastors like to say, "That's Bible!" This is also why I really do like the Emergent Conversation!

In a post-modern world and among a majority of people who are skeptical and cynical with regards to the Christian Church in the U.S., and who are looking for authenticity and integrity, our expression of our faith through orthopraxy is only proving and making manifest, real, and visible the Truth we claim to be seeking and living out as best we can, with God's help. We can say whatever we want, we can demand others or even attempt to force others to believe what we believe, but I think it is only in our doing that we prove any validity to our understanding of things and our words.

A quote from Peter J. Leithart, professor, pastor, Presbyterian.

Well??? Considering my Evangelical past and considering my present, I can agree with him!

Unbearable burden of Evangelicalism


"Anti-sacramental, anti-ritual evangelicalism emphasizes a personal relationship with God, but tends to encourage what Anthony Giddens calls "pure relationship," a relationship that is not tacked down with external anchors and supports. A live-in relationship, without benefit of the rites and legalities of marriage, is a pure relationship. Evangelicalism tends to encourage a live-in relationship with Jesus.

This is wrong, a departure from Christian tradition, and unbiblical. It also places unbearable burdens on the soul. Tempted by the devil, Luther slapped his forehead to remind himself of his baptism. His standing before God was anchored in Christ, to whom he had been joined by baptism.

For evangelicals, assurance cannot be grounded in anything so external and objective. Spontaneous enthusiasm is the test of sincerity, and the source of assurance. But eternal, self-scrutinizing vigilance is necessary to ensure that the enthusiasm is really spontaneous.

Enthusiasm was supposed to liberate the soul from all the dead forms, but it comes with its own set of chains. "


Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 06:55 PM

via: Titusonenine

A real change?

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Considering past discussion on "open communion" and whether the Eucharist is simply a memorial or having something to do with "real presence," here is a snippet of an interview by The Catholic Herald in the UK with Archbishop Rowan Williams.

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The American Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor was once invited to a New York literary salon. Over dinner the hostess, who had the power to make or break writers’ careers, said that she believed the Eucharist was merely a “symbol”. Flannery O’Connor replied: “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” Later, O’Connor wrote that there was no other answer she could have given, because the Eucharist “is the centre of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable”.

I think that is a wonderful quote and I want to stand and applaud it.
Is that also true of you?
I think so, but I might want to refine the language a bit. Of course, the Eucharist is a symbol, but I think what Flannery O’Connor was saying is that if it is just a symbol in the sense that it is something detached from what it is about, and it is just working in your mind -- well, no, that’s not it. The Eucharist is not a visual aid and it’s not a jog to memory. It’s an event, an encounter. And if it is not an event in which some utterly earth-shaking change occurs, if it is not an encounter with the risen Christ, well, indeed, to hell with it. It just becomes something that we do as opposed to something God offers or does. That’s at the centre of my own feeling about the Eucharist.

But how close can Anglicanism get to transubstantiation?

I think partly because of the Thirty-Nine Articles giving transubstantiation a very bad press, Anglicans don’t especially want to go down that route. In spite of a lot of very interesting work – P J Fitzpatrick’s book – on the Eucharist, I still think there is a problem being bound to that particular theory of what happens. What I want to say: the bread and the wine, the sacrament, become fully and perfectly the carriers of the agency of Jesus, as fully as his literal flesh and blood are the carriers of his agency and identity. And what that means and how that happens, I am not sure we can carve up quite as neatly as St Thomas.

Read the whole interview.

The Mystical Christ

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Here is an interesting essay from Fr. John-Julian Swanson, founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich, on the mystical nature of Christ. This comes via Fr. Jakes Stops the World.

How can we say this and not be Universalists (with a presupposition that Universalism is incorrect, rightly or wrongly)? How do we consider what Fr. John-Julian has written juxtaposed with John 14:5-7:

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Money quote, perhaps: "That same Jesus Christ died not for some, but for all, and he has brought the potential for the fullness of salvation to every human soul..."

Re-post, just 'cause

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Timaeus by: Plato

"We must, then, in my opinion, first of all make the following distinction: What is that which always is and is untouched by becoming? -- and what is always in a state of coming-to-be but never is? Now that which intelligence grasps by way of a rational account is what always is self-identically; while that which is the object of belief by way of non-reasoning sense-perception is that which is coming into being and perishing but never in the proper sense is. Everything, though, that is coming into being must necessarily come into being by the agency of some cause; for it is absolutely impossible that anything should be in a state of coming-to-be apart form some cause."

"Godself"

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An interesting post and article on Pontifications about the use the term "Godself" as a non-gender specific variant of the the traditional pronoun "himself." I could say, rather: the attempted enforcement of political-correctness by a small group of people who think that refering to God in the masculine encourages violence to women - or even wife-beating, so says some Church of England clergy. As the Ponficator writes, send in the folks of Monty Python - this is all getting a bit silly.

Read the article.

via Titusonenine

On the other hand, this need among some to make sure that we never refer to God in any way but the masculine is equally problematic, and in my humble opinion absurd. God, in creating us in His/Her/Godsown image, created us male and female. Doesn't that suggest that God is both and neither exclusively?

I tend to think that we simply cannot competently or correctly demand God be what we want God to be. I may use "He," with a capital H, but that doesn't mean I must believe God is completely male. It doesn't mean I cannot accommodate those who refer to God in the feminine, except maybe when those other people insist that the only way I can refer to God is the way they demand I refer to God. Ya know what I mean? God is my father in heaven, therefore I image God in the masculine, but that’s just me.

The donut

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This is a good story sent to my seminary class' Internet group - by Renee Feener, a classmate and now priest at the Cathedral in St. Louis (a great woman!). What I like about the story most of all is the creativity of the professor - whatever it takes to get this stuff across to the next generation. The story itself is somewhat hokie, but good nevertheless.

----- The story...

There was a certain professor of religion named Dr. Christianson, a studious man who taught at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught a required course in Christianity at this particular institution. Every student was required to take this course regardless of his or her major.

Although Dr. Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the Gospel in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing more than required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously. This year Dr. Christianson had a special student named Steve. Steve was only a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going on to Seminary. Steve was popular, well liked and an imposing physical specimen. He was the starting center on the school football team and the best student in the class.

One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him. "How many push-ups can you do?" Steve said, "I do about 200 every night."

"200? That's pretty good, Steve," Dr. Christianson said. "Do you think you could do 300?"

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