Change

I should write a book – “The Making of a Current-Day Anglo-Catholic.”
One of the many reasons I moved away from the Evangelical/Pentecostal side of the Church and into a more liturgical/sacramental side (into The Episcopal Church) begins with what I foresaw in the later 1980’s as the co-opting of Evangelicalism by the American cultural phenomena of hyper-individualism. “It’s all about ME!” “Me and Jesus!” While lip-service is given to the communal nature of the Body of Christ, the reality is that the individual, even in the midst of a mega-church crowd, is focused on his/her self and concerned with what s/he “gets out of the service.” The consumeristic nature of modern American-Evangelical churches, the willingness to engage in schism, a worship service that is basically entertainment oriented (despite the denial of such an orientation).
This infection of American hyper-individualism in the Church will only lead to further overall ecclesial chaos and separation into ever smaller groups of narrowly focused and like-minded individuals, who will be willing to separate even more once they find yet another point of disagreement.
An essence of the “catholic” nature of the Church, this side of it anyway, is that we are bound to Christians past, present, and future, and that we as individuals and even as congregations or denominations are not isolated, are not self-sufficient, are not separate from the Great Cloud of Witnesses all around us. We, also, are not free to do whatever we want – we bring ourselves into the discipline of submission to continual-community within Tradition. This aspect of the Church universal, its “catholic” nature, is what draws me to Catholicism, particularly the Anglo-Catholic expression of it.
I am not on a path leading to the Church of Rome. I do not believe that in the Vatican is the final authority. This may smack of the same “individualism” that I am moving away from. But, I think in the various pendulum swings we go through the ecclesial structures of the Church of Rome long ago swung too far into the denial of the individual. Too much authority rests in the hands of too few men, and that authority is absolute if exercised.
In Anglicanism, in Anglo-Catholicism in particular, there is more of a balance between individualism and authoritarianism (is that the right word?), at least as I’ve experienced it thus far. There is the emphasis on the universal nature of the Church and our connection and responsibility to one another, but not to the point of demanding absolute conformity or obedience. I do know that in the current Church of Rome that there is no longer the draconian authoritarianism of times past.
So, I am in the process of becoming more “catholic.” I am being formed into an Anglo-Catholic. It is a very different way of approaching the faith, God, the Church, and one another than I experienced growing up within American-Evangelicalism. It also has some great implications concerning the controversies Anglicanism is wallowing in right now. It isn’t “all about me.” It isn’t even “all about us” as in just this part of the Anglican Communion – The Episcopal Church. There has to be balance, though, and an acknowledgement that some parts of the Church will begin the move toward right change before other parts are ready for such change.

A difference

Today, I am wearing my clerical collar to work. Frankly, it has more to do with undone laundry rather than any particular ecclesial responsibility I have today.
I was walking from Penn. station to the Medical Trust and came near one of the hundreds of people passing out hand-bills for this or that restaurant or bodega. He was a Latin-American Indian, as are most. All the implications of strange cultures and languages and customs come to bear on anyone who is a foreigner (this was made all the more apparent to me when I lived in Europe).
He was standing back against the wall of a building and not handing out many hand-bills as I approached. He saw me, or perhaps he saw a white clerical collar on this person who was approaching, and came forward to give me a hand-bill. It was obvious that he approached this collared person and not all the other people passing by him. How could I not take it, even though I knew I was not going to go to this particular restaurant-bodega? I thanked him and went on my way.
People notice. People have impressions of those in white collars, whether good or bad impressions. What are we all, we who call ourselves Christians and more particularly those who have entered Holy Orders, doing in our everyday lives that add to the sense of honor and trust of those who wear such collars so that the people feel safe coming to us, as this young guy did with me – this person in white clerical collar – in the midst of hundreds of other Mid-town people? What are we doing that may cause people to avoid us, to revile us, to mistrust us?
This is the responsibility of the clergy – to be holy even as Christ was/is holy despite the fact that we will fail more often than not. We who are the representatives of Christ on earth have this high-calling to put aside ourselves and take upon ourselves the Cross, so that when people see someone in a clerical collar they know that they are safe and free to approach us, even in confession, even in a plea for help, even in passing out a hand-bill when one is shy or afraid. This is what it means to be one who points to God.

Stick it to the MAN

I love the way Jesus handles people – sometimes with the utmost compassion and gentleness and other times with withering sarcasm, accusation, and challenge.
Take, for example, this bit of writ:
The Authority of Jesus Questioned

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
(Matthew 21)

Doing things “right”

I read this morning a press release from the Anglican Communion Network, the organizational network of several churches and a few dioceses opposed to the controversial decisions coming out of The Episcopal Church’s 2003 General Convention (basically, the full inclusion of gay people in the life and leadership of the Church). The Network announced their initiative for planting new churches.
As I have written (and said) many times that so much of my life and focus is in agreement with a lot of what the Network holds to, but on some very important and strategic issues we are in disagreement. Regrettably, in those disagreements the division seems almost insurmountable (at least for them – as much as it is possible with me, I will be at peace with all people despite how they respond to me).
Here, in this announcement, I have to say that the Network seems to be doing things right. Time will tell. The Episcopal Church Center has their “20/20 Vision” project to double the attendance in Episcopal churches by the year 2020. From what I can see, despite the good efforts of well intentioned people, the project is going nowhere (which may be unfair of me to say, but that is the way I perceive it). The Network at least seems to have “in its genes” the understanding and desire to expand and spread the Gospel through the pioneering of new churches.
Good for them – go for it. I wish, however, that a more open attitude with less triumphalism was also “in their genes.” Only hindsight will tell us whether their effort will be a success. Much of the leadership of the Network still seems to be more intent on division and “winner take all” then on working together for the advancement of the Gospel to all people. They would disagree, of course.

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Jesus loves porn stars

Julie posted a comment on one of my previous posts about mercy, and in it she mentions a company that makes t-shirts with one of the printed sayings being “Jesus loves porn stars.”
“Mercy,” “Grace,” “Love,” “Forgiveness,” and all such notions are profoundly beyond our ability to comprehend. Truly, Jesus does love porn stars – and the vilest sorts we can imagine. Jesus loves the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, the Jeffrey Domers (sp?) of the world; He loves the multinationlists, the corporate raiders, the CEOs; He loves the child molesters, the rapists, the murderers; He loves the liars, the cheats, and the selfish – and Julie and I. In our self-righteousness, we can hardly conceive of it, even though with our words we profess it and condescend to it.
We grapple to accept it. We try. We fail. Yet, it is always present with us.

A New Catechumenate Process

I’ve been thinking for a while now that we need to institute a new catechumenate process within the Church that moves us away from “punch your card” kind of emphasis on “salvation,” and moves us to a more ancient pre-Constantine notion of journey and process leading up to a mature and informed decision to join the Church, to become a Christian, to devote one’s life to Christ.
I came across this blog entry from Tim Neufeld, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, via Kendall Harmon’s website, Titusonenine.
Here is the blog entry:

This Side of 313
“Something remarkable happened in A.D. 313: Our understanding of conversion was radically shifted. When Constantine granted most-favored status to Christianity, social frameworks and religious paradigms shifted almost overnight. Those who were once persecuted, the Christians, were given status in the new world, and those who once held positions of power, the pagans, became the outsiders. Everything that was once at the center was now at the margins of society, and all that was on the edges was now given status. Christendom was born.
“In a pre-Constantinian world conversion was a long, extended process. It typically took three or four years to gain membership in a church. Early church fathers developed a four-phase catechism that moved the initiate on a journey of discipleship. While there were elements unique to the different geographic areas of the second and third century church, a general pattern did emerge. At the beginning of the journey a young candidate would be mentored by an older believer, often two or three times a week for up to two years. Not until the disciple had proved faithfulness through mentoring would he or she be allowed to join the local house church. Even when admitted to a congregation the new attender was dismissed before the Eucharist (communion); only baptized members could participate in this most sacred of rituals. The next phase of the catechetical experience was a series of classes and exorcisms that led to the culminating act of baptism on the night before Easter. Finally, the believer was allowed to participate in his or her first communion on Easter Sunday, enjoying the full membership of the body of Christ.

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