Keeping Holy Ground

From this months issue of Christianity Today (May 2009):

Keeping Holy Ground Holy

The average person is not at all repelled by Gothic or Romanewque architecture,” says Robert Jaeger, executive director of Partners for Sacred Places, a nondenominational nonprofit that preserves and renews historic church buildings in the U.S. “The average person finds the symbolism and the craftsmanship compelling, beautiful, and comforting.”
There’s a desire out there to connect with something ancient, something transcendent,” asays Ed Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research and author of Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them. “there’s a hunger to move beyond a bland evangelcialism into something with more historic roots.”
Last year, a LifeWay survey commissioned by the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that unchurched adults prefer Gothic church buildings to utilitarian ones, challenging the conventional wisdom that medieval-looking churches feel out-of-touch and stuffy to seekers. LifeWay showed over 1,600 unchurched adults four pictures of church buildings, ranging from mall-like to Gothic. The majority prefered the most ornate church.
“The study probably tells us that the appearance of a traditional church might not be the turnoff that people assumed in the seeker age,” Stetzer says.
Of course, Stetzer also notes that in North American and Europe, the congregations with the oldest buildings are the ones struggling the most to retain memers. THere’s a difference between admiring a building from the street and going inside to connect with a congregation”
Buildings don’t reach people, people reach people,” says Stetzer. [Nathan Bierma. 2009. “Keeping Holy Ground Holy – A new survey suggests seekers are not looking for user-friendly, mall-like buildings.” Christianity Today, May, pp. 36.]

For a generation (or two), the buildings provide us an opportunity for piquing interest and are a tangible invitation to enter in. We see this at my parish all the time. But, whether people stay or not depends on whether something is going on within the place. That “something” is not the building, not nice people, not a cornucopia of programs, not socio-political positions, but whether God is encountered in the midst of the people in the context of worship, the Eucharist. It is the encounter with God and the real change that such an encounter causes within that will cause people to stay.
What to do? Even the writing of the article reveals a passing way of thinking – “Seeker” is passé. Current day evangelicals are generally better in shifting with the times, but there isn’t the moderating influence of the Tradition. Here is the pressing problem with the Episcopal Church. We are the ones with the old buildings and a dwindling membership. Yet, we are the ones with all the attributes that should be attracting “seekers” of the younger generations.
We continue to be stuck, and for too many of us we continue to believe that it is “moving the furniture around,” programs, social activism, and many other things that bring people in and cause them to stay. Those things don’t, in most cases.
There has to be a lessening of “scheming” to “save us” and more of the simplicity of the foundational principles of the faith, the Tradition, that which has spiritually enlivened and feed people for two millennia, that which has survived – more about Jesus as the person He claimed (claims) to be and less of what we want to imagine Him to have been or to be coming from both the imaginations of conservatives and liberals. This also means, of course, that the architectural styles of church buildings are a bit moot – people will stay where their souls are touched by God.

Terminology, oy

So, I have been referred to as “Rev. Griffith” more and more lately. I perfectly understand this when coming from non-Catholic church folks because they refer to their clergy in that way. But, for Episcopalians to continue to refer to clergy as “Rev. so-and-so” just shouldn’t be (see point 3 below). It is a failure of education somewhere along the line (well, there are certain other reasons that if mentioned may cause be to be labeled sexist, but never mind – see point 5 below).
Because terminology used for various clergy levels and positions, when dealing with our hyper-individualize culture, is all over the place, The Church Pension Group (CPG) has a handy “Always and Never” sheet for employees. Here are some of the rules:
1. NEVER say, “Are you an Episcopal?”
2. ALWAYS say, “Are you an Episcopalian?”
3.NEVER, NEVER, NEVER call an ordained “Reverend.” The word “the” should always go before “Reverend.” In writing, the full and correct use is “the Reverend” or “The Reverend,” depending on usage and/or the place in a sentence.
4. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER call an ordained person “a clergy.” You might say one of the following: “He/She is a clergyperson.” “He/She is ordained.” “He/She is a member of the clergy.”
5. ALWAYS ask ordained women if they want to be called Mother, Mrs., Ms., Dean, Bishop, or another title. She just might tell you that she prefers that you use her name.
6. ALWAYS ask ordained men if they want to be called Father, Mister, Dean, or Bishop, or another title. He just might tell you that he prefers that you use his name.
There are a few more…
So, this is an older and briefer list. We received an 8 page list of proper names, titles, and the hierarchical title protocol – for example, ecclesiastical rank (titles) always take precedence over military rank (titles).
Now, concerning “The Rev.” or “Rev. so-and-so,” in the Episcopal/Anglican Church, “The Rev.” is not a title, but is an adjective. “The Rev.” is a descriptive describing something about the clergyperson – he/she is kind of like revered. So, you probably wouldn’t call me “Boy Bob,” even though I am a boy.
(If any recent people that have interacted with me read this and think that I’m referring specifically to you, please don’t. This has simple been a noticeable trend I’ve noticed over the last few years.) Call me Bob or Mr. Bob or Fr. Bob, but not Rev. Bob.

Wish Fulfilments

Here are a few paragraphs from an Easter message appearing in the TimesOnline (UK), that religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill describes as an example of “Radical Orthodoxy,” by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham.
The Church must stop trivialising Easter

“The stories of the Resurrection are certainly not “wish-fulfilments” or the result of what dodgy social science calls “cognitive dissonance”. First-century Jews who followed would-be messiahs knew that if your leader got killed by the authorities, it meant you had backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: give up the revolution or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying that he’d been raised from the dead wasn’t an option.
Unless he had been. Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn’t have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: “I think he’s still with us in a spiritual sense” or “I think he’s gone to heaven”. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.
“The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn’t defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon – He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.
“Let’s be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn’t mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God’s life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect – and in the whole world…”
“Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn’t fit our prevailing world view. For at least 200 years the West has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves.
The split between God and the “real” world has produced a public life that lurches between anarchy and tyranny, and an aesthetic that swings dramatically between sentimentalism and brutalism. But we still want to do things our own way, even though we laugh at politicians who claim to be saving the world, and artists who claim “inspiration” when they put cows in formaldehyde.
The world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant or, for that matter, the anarchist, and resurrection indicates that this weapon doesn’t have the last word.”

Kerygmatic Vocation

“Our Christian faith — and correlatively, our account of apologetics — is tainted by modernism when we fail to appreciate the effects of sin on reason. When this is ignored, we adopt an Enlightenment optimism about the role of a supposedly neutral reason in recognition of truth. (We also end up committed to ‘Constantinain’ strategies that, under the banner of natural law, seek to build a ‘Christian America.’
“To put this in more familiar terms, classical apologetics operates with a very modern notion of reason; ‘presuppositional’ apologetics, on the other hand, is postmodern (and Augustinian!) insofar as it recognizes the role of presuppositions in both what counts as truth and what is recognized as true. For this reason, postmodernism can be a catalyst for the church to reclaim its faith not as a system of truth dictated by a neutral reason but rather as a story that requires ‘eyes to see and ears to hear.’ The primary responsibility of the church as witness, then, is not demonstration but rather proclamation — the kerygmatic vocation of proclaiming the Word made flesh rather than the thin realities of theism that a supposedly neutral reason yields.”

James K.A. Smith, PhD., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?; p. 28.
I wonder whether a lot of this modern/postmodern stuff is a replying anew the differences between Platonic and Aristotelian thought? Between Augustinian and Thomistic thought?
The latter is being played out in this new world of Post-Christendom, particularly within the context of the American Culture-War dynamic. What do we make of this?
Frankly, as I continue to move into the idea of re-formation out of the “Systems” (City of the World) and into some sort of “other than” (City of God) — perhaps a move out into the desert, metaphorically speaking — the rethinking of how we perceive and live out this Christian Life in our changing national context (really this ground shift of perceptional foundations within the culture), the more I am drawn to pre-Constantinian examples of Christianity. A “kerygmatic vocation.”


“… I want to suggest that, quite unlike the anti-institutional mentality of postmodern “spirituality,” it is actually a robust, vibrant, liturgical church that speaks meaning in and to a postmodern world.”
James K.A. Smith, PhD., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, Series Preface, p.9


We look, we see, we observe images flashing, ever flashing before us. Time continues, images pass, this is our context. “Reality,” we say, for this is all we see. “Truth,” we say, for this is all we know. Shadows, all.
Up is down, right is left, wrong is correct. Orwell has his day. When all we know is shadow, unrecognized perhaps, all that we understand develops as distortion. When we point and say, “freedom-questioners,” it is the distorted shadow we choose to see passing along the wall – torturers, real. We don’t know the truth. Worse yet, we willfully turn away from the real because we like the shadows so. We are in darkness, and the light is not within us. If we say, “Do unto others whatever is necessary to make us feel safe,” who are we, really?
How can those who claim Christ justify the use of torture? When what we believe we are as a people turns to be only a shadowy distortion of the Christian Life, then what? It isn’t even just a pale image of the real dancing before us, but a further distortion of the shadow of the real as we are chained to the deleterious influence of a culture that is moving ever more steadily away from the principles of Christ, which is not and has never been Christian in reality. Do we turn to freedom or do we stay chained? Too often, we willfully choose to imbibe the misshapen dark shadows and call them… good, call them real, call them of God.
If we are to ever turn to leave the cave that is the distorted life, we must realize the need to leave behind much of what we have been enculturated to accept as a given and what we have become, inwardly. We hear cries, “America is a Christian nation…” I don’t know what to do with that statement when related to a justification of torture, unless I face that fact that too many of us want deception, want dark shadows because for some warped reason they feel “right” and “safe.”
We must be re-formed out of the corruption of our individual and common souls. Our understanding of our imagined faith in this time and within this cultural context has been left wanting, and it has resulted in a deficient faith. We see the result in a people who believe themselves to be good, god-fearing, and patriotic claiming that treatment of other people, enemy terrorists they may be, in ways that if turned upon these god-fearing people would be deplored by them as horrific and unjust, but this distorted faith has brought them to a point of willfully condoning torture. The question is not, “What have we become,” but asking whether there will be a turning from the distortion by realizing that this is what we have made of ourselves. God help us.
Update, from The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan:
The Abuse of Religion:
I’m going to read the full Senate report this weekend but I am struck by one footnote a reader directed me to. It’s a memo related to the torture of Qahtani in Gitmo, written January 17, 2003, and documented that he had been “forced to pray to an idol shrine.” One recalls similar abuse of religious freedom at Abu Ghraib, which the Senate report unequivocally blames on official policy at the highest levels:

One Muslim inmate was allegedly forced to eat pork, had liquor forced down his throat and told to thank Jesus that he was alive. He recounted in broken English:
”They stripped me naked, they asked me, ‘Do you pray to Allah?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They said ‘F – – – you’ and ‘F – – – him.’ ” Later, this inmate recounts: ”Someone else asked me, ‘Do you believe in anything?’ I said to him, ‘I believe in Allah.’ So he said, ‘But I believe in torture and I will torture you.’ ”

This from an administration more deeply committed to public Christianity than any other in recent times; and from a military one of whose commanders had publicly pronounced:
“We’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian … and the enemy is a guy named Satan.”

The future looks like the past…

“The future is around all of us, and it looks very much like the past.” – Mother Superior Sheeana, at the founding of the Orthodox School on Synchrony
[From: Sandworms of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin Johnson; pg. 539.]
In the context of the book, the above is a positive statement. Again, in my mind, it brings up aspects of our present culture that work contrary to our future well-being. One of those aspects is a generation’s disposition to believe that the past is bad or a least a negative. I keep coming back to this 2,009 year-old thing we call Christianity. The past is full of horrific atrocities and glorious accomplishments, but all that humanity has been through over these past millennia within the Christian experience presents to us today, from that which has survived and still speaks, a wisdom that we need to pay attention to.
In my context, with our gasping attempts to save this Church we flail around with the same attitudinal mistakes that led us to this place. We think that in our modern and sophisticated age we can create with our own new thoughts in our own way the solutions for a new dawn, a new order, a Utopian vision of our own making. We fail to realize that the Tradition provides us with what we need as a solid foundation upon which to build, because within the lived experiences of people over thousands of years is wisdom. That which speaks to the deepest part of us remains, survives, and calls out deep to deep despite our tendency to look upon past understanding and experience as pedestrian, antiquated, primitive, unenlightened, and not up to the challenges of 21st. century existence. What has survived for 2,000 years will survive another 2,000 years. Technology changes (and I’m glad of that), but the human “heart” remains the same.
Our challenge is to see the wisdom in and understand the ancient-future process of steady re-formation within ourselves as we give ourselves to this faith, die to ourselves and live to the life God sustains. How do we do it in this time, within this culture, recognizing that our lives are of an ancient-future dynamic – we receive from ages of ages and pass onto world without end.

Babies, bathwater, balconies

The best line from the whole book:
“No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to use one of your ancient clichés,” Erasmus said. “I threw a baby off a balcony once. The consequences were extreme.”
From: “Sandworms of Dune,” by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson; pg. 500.
Okay, so I suppose I should give a bit of context… Erasmus is a “thinking machine,” or an Artificial Intelligence, so “emotion” isn’t one of its/his stronger attributes. I was reading along and hit this and just cracked up.