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Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: March 2006 (page 2 of 3)

A Wonderfully insightful and funny read…

Eric, from Pietist, recently commented on the citation from The Catholicity of the Reformation, from whence I meandered over to his blog and started reading. He has a lot of interesting things on there, but the following is a selection of one post that really caught my eye. It’s from a sermon by Eric’s friend Samuel Zumwalt entitled The Christian Home: Holy Sex. You really should read the whole thing and check out Eric’s blog.

Forensic pathologists of the Bible will usually point out that God’s commandment against adultery functioned early on in Israel’s life together as a control mechanism to insure that male owners of property (which includes the woman) could be assured that they wouldn’t leave their physical property to some other man’s offspring. Hence, forensic pathologists of the Bible say that a patriarchal God didn’t want men to have to worry about another rooster in the henhouse.

I won’t go so far to call all forensic pathologists of the Bible bigots, but I will say that such comments on the reason for the commandment against adultery rather miss the obvious point. Please refer back to Genesis 2 where God reveals His original will for women and men. Women aren’t created to be a man’s property or his concubine or even one among his serial or harem of wives. One woman is created for one man and vice versa. If women and men are running around changing partners as if life itself were the same as what takes place on the prom dance floor, they will never be able to have the kind of intimacy for which God created them. And…they will create the kind of hell we have today where kids are often introduced to the surrogate parent or partner du jour.

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From N.T. Wright: Decoding The Da Vinci Code

N.T. Wright has a wonderful wit, especially when put in the service of bringing clarity… here’s his take on the cultural phenomena the Da Vinci Code is a symptom of:

Let me sum up this lecture in the following way. The Da Vinci Code is a symptom of something much bigger, a lightning rod which has throbbed with the electricity of the postmodern western world.

One of the basic fault lines in the contemporary Western world is the line between neo-Gnosticism on the one hand and the challenge of Jesus on the other. Please note that, despite strenuous attempts to make this line coincide with the current sharp left-right polarization of American culture and politics, it simply doesn’t. Nor, for that matter, does it coincide with the polarizations of British or European culture either. So what is this real, deep polarization which runs through our world?

Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search. But this is not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says “I’m really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly” — the theme of half the cheap movies and novels in today’s world. It appeals to the stimulus of that ever-deeper navel-gazing (“finding out who I really am”) which is the subject of a million self-help books, and the home-made validation of a thousand ethical confusions.

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The Direction of the Anglican Communion: Evangelical vigor, charismatic passion, sacramental spirit, catholic polity

Hm Foot Logo

The Chinese have a saying: may you live in interesting times. These are definitely interesting times for the Anglican Communion. There remains little doubt that the Episcopal Church, USA will not embrace the spirit of the Windsor report, nor will General Convention repent of the church’s actions in 2003. Yet, I remain hopeful that the bulk of the communion will not follow ECUSA into the dark night of liberal sectarianism. Indeed, the dialogue in the communion has moved beyond the issue of human sexuality (Archbishop Williams in laying out his vision for Lambeth 2008 has stated that there will be no revisiting of the stated Communion teaching in Lambeth 1998 resolution I.10, i.e. that homosexuality is incompatible with Holy Scripture and the Christian life). Instead, the conversation within the broader communion has moved into the process of reception of the Windsor Report and the process of considering what an Anglican Covenant as suggested by the Windsor process would look like.

The Church of Nigeria has already given its response to this by iterating a commitment to the historic Book of Common Prayer, 1662, the classic ordinal and the 39 articles of religion. Other provinces and individual theologians are working furiously to provide input and direction for such a covenantal statement among the churches of the Communio Anglicana. Because of this, I’ve decided to write my honors paper on ecclesiology in Anglicanism. In particular my interest has been piqued multiple times over the past several years by a historical school of anglican thought termed “High Church Evangelical,” “Evangelical High-churchmen” or the “Reformed Catholic” position. I would say that this position formed the bulk of the High Church party, especially after the recusants left the Church of England, seeing that their hopes of steering the C of E back to Rome were ill-founded. This party remained as the primary expression of the high-church position within Anglicanism until the 19th century and the rise of the Oxford Tractarians and Anglo-Catholicism.

The reason that recent conversations within the communion have directed me more and more toward this historical Anglican position is this: It is clear that provinces of the Anglican Communion share a commitment to the three-fold ministry of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. Additionally, they have a high sacramental theology, especially as regards the Eucharist (indeed, I think an argument can be made that while the Episcopal Church, USA has a rite which suggests a high eucharistic theology, in practice the eucharistic theology of her sister churches of a more evangelical stripe is higher–witness their insistence on breaking table fellowship with Frank Griswold and Gene Robinson). This high ecclesiology and sacramental theology however is paired with a broad-based foundation in Evangelical theology. The result is a Communion that doesn’t quite fit within the predominant expressions of Protestantism yet it does not embrace the Roman Catholic understanding of the Church either. This unique ecclesiology is founded in the experience of the English Church prior to and during the reformation.

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Doug LeBlanc on Rowan Williams’ Video Apologetics

Archbishop Rowan Williams has made both conservatives and liberals in the Church angry with him because of his refusal to play church politics by their rules, both sides at times accusing him of remaining too much in the realm of theory and not engaging the “reality” we live in. Yet, the more I read and hear of him, it seems that the apparent abstraction of his theological thought belies one of the keenest minds for cultural criticism since the late Neal Postman. While I often find myself at odds with Williams on politics and his pursual of relations with Islam, he can always be counted on to bring up thought-provoking points. His critique of our culture’s objectification and sexualization of children is second to none (check out “Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement” for an example). In 2003 Williams gave a series of interviews for Britain’s Channel 4, this is from Doug LeBlanc’s take on them…

Rowan Williams has continued his predecessor’s friendly relations with the mass media, and arguably improved on them. Conversations With Rowan Williams, hosted by former Independent editor Ian Hargreaves, appeared on Britain’s Channel 4 in September 2003. It features 30-minute conversations on four broad themes: “Playing God,” “Rights and Responsibilities,” “Bringing Up Children” and “Faith, Politics, and Tradition.”

In each episode, Archbishop Williams welcomes two guests into a pleasant room at Lambeth Palace. Hargreaves introduces the topics, tosses some icebreaking questions to Williams and — true to his decades-long experience as a journalist — politely asks Williams for more specifics when the archbishop offers a bit too much abstract theory.

Each episode creatively pairs Williams with guests who feel passion for the topic. In “Playing God,” Williams brings his doubts about embryonic stem-cell research into conversation with Sir John Sulston of the Human Genome Project. Sulston invokes ensoulment — the debate about when a developing baby acquires a soul — in explaining why he’s uncomfortable with limiting such research.

Williams responds that ensoulment “is, to me, a rather artificial question, since I think good theology always tells you that the body and soul belong together, at whatever point you talk about a body.”

Williams also talks with Shahana Hashmi, a Muslim who is relying on in-vitro fertilization to create a genetically screened baby. (Stem cells from that child’s umbilical cord would help her young son, Zain, fight off an otherwise fatal blood disorder.)

Mrs. Hashmi is reflective and unapologetic about her efforts to help her son. She says she’s absolutely opposed to genetic screening for cosmetic reasons, and would not consider any technique that meant harm for the baby she hopes to create. When Williams raises concerns about whether the life-saving baby will feel valued as a person, her response is uncharacteristically casual: “Any child, any teenager, finds something to rebel about, whether it be shoes, hair clothes, or ‘You’ve brought me into this world to save my brother.'”

In “Bringing Up Children,” Williams talks with Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, fierce critic of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and one of the stiffest-necked atheists in all of the United Kingdom. Williams keeps Pullman’s claws sheathed, however, by concentrating on something they share: an appreciation of children’s imaginative life.

Pullman sounds downright conservative when explaining why he believes today’s children are “deprived in a sort of sensory sense”:

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From The Catholicity of the Reformation



“The Catholicity of the Reformation” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

The following is from “The Reform of the Mass: Evangelical, but Still Catholic’ in The Catholicity of the Reformation by our good Lutheran friends, Carl Braaten and Robert Jensen. In this essay, Frank C. Seen makes many interesting points, but I thought the following was especially pertenent to our own day. In talking about the order of service of the early church which the liturgical movement attempted to recapture, he has this to say:

This historic order can no longer be presumed to be intact in the churches of the Reformation (except in the Episcopal/Anglican churches in which the use of the prayer book is required by canon law). the pressure is great for these churches to devise “alternative” or “creative” liturgies that will be “seeker friendly.” What these well-intentioned efforts run the risk of doing, however, is undermining orthodoxia–the “right praise” of trinitarian worship that is expressed in the texts of the historic order of service. The “glory and praise” choruses and Jesus-songs in neo-evangelical worship (usually called “celebrations”) do not offer the same sturdy articulations of the trinitarian faith expressed in the texts of either the Latin chants or the chorales of the German Lutheran song mass (Lied Messe). No matter how conducive to engendering liturgical enthusiasm the “glory and praise” choruses might be, they are theologically unequal to the Gloria in excelsis Deo or Allein Gott in der Hoh sei ehr. The experience of the Reformation teaches us that the forms of public worship are not matters of indifference (adiaphora) because prayer (especially sung prayer and praise) forms belief; or as the church fathers would have said, the lex orandi establishes the lex credendi. It is not adequate to claim the evangelical freedom to change forms of worship if those changes diminish expressions of the ecumenical dogmas of God the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Christ on which Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, and the Council of Trent were not in disagreement. The catholic faith requires catholic worship.

The experince of the Reformation also teaches us that when liturgy goes awry the problem may be less with its form and content than with the way in which it is celebrated and interpreted. Today historic forms of worship are being jettisoned in favor of “alternative liturgies” that employ popular-type songs and dramas with the argument thattraditional liturgy is boring or meaningless to occasional (and sometimes even regular) worshipers. Almost invariably this argument is put forward by pastors who have little competence in presiding at the liturgy in a knowledgeable or compelling way and who may even be insecure in the role of presiding minister.

This ritual incompetence includes not only poor public performances by ministers, musicians, and congregations but also poor judgment on the part of worship planners in deciding what to add to or subtract from the orders provided in the authorized worship books. Many liturgies get bogged down in extraneous details not specified by the order, or go in uncertain directions ritually and therefore also theologically. It is little wonder that they fail to engage contemporary worshipers.

On Welcoming Children in our lives…

The following is from The Japery, all the way back in December, but I thought it deserved a look… I hope you’ll read it all.

It is reasonable to ask and expect people to turn off cell phones (I heard several), to remain quiet, and to escort potentially noisy members of their entourage to the rear and adjoining rooms where they may be treated (at this venue) to massive images of corpulent Franciscan-friendly popes. There is no need for a special prejudice against children, who are often quiet, if not asleep. What about adults who acquire a hacking cough, a sneezing fit, those with certain mental handicaps? Why is their potential menace so less a matter of concern?

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The Cloud of Unknowing

The centering prayer movement is one that has continued to gain popularity among many of my seminarian classmates. At the same time, there are many people who are uncomfortable with the practice because of its resemblance to trancendental meditation (some of the most vocal opponents of centering prayer are those who have come out of the transcendental meditation movement in the past). While I understand their concerns with centering prayer, and share many of them, I am also concerned that in their zeal to avoid syncretism and evil influences they may throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is a contemplative tradition in Christianity, and many forms of Christian prayer–Hesychasm for instance, such as the Jesus Prayer–were inspirational to other religious traditions (there is no doubt that Byzantine monasticism had an impact on the Sufi brotherhoods for instance.) I do not think we can afford to reject aspects of our tradtion because others have adapted it for themselves and it has taken on the conotations of those traditions. Indeed, I believe we should emphasize truly Christian practices and traditions so that people in my generation realize that Christianity isn’t one dimensional or 10 miles wide and an half inch deep. To that end, I am posting my reflections from my first year of seminary on the anonymous spiritual classic from 14th century England The Cloud of Unknowing. Soon, I will post my own concerns about centering prayer and highlight what I think are the significant differences between traditional Christian forms of contemplation and the current fads.


      The Cloud of Unknowing was written in the 14th century by an anonymous monastic and the character of the work is definitely marked by the monastic ideal. The highest ideal of the Cloud is the contemplation of and eventual union with God. Two things were most striking about the text, the first being the constant theme of lifting oneself to God and the next being the practice of ridding oneself of extraneous thoughts during the contemplation of God.

      While conjecture and theories as to the identity of the author of The Cloud abound, it is the safest course to continue to refer to the author as anonymous. It seems that the strongest possibility is that the author was a Carthusian, though some believe him to have been a Cistercian. While the exact identity or order of the author is a mystery, the monastic context is apparent from the beginning when he writes the following admonition to the reader:

You are not to read it [the Cloud] yourself or to others, or to copy it; nor are you to allow it so to be read in private or in public or copied willingly and deliberately, insofar as this is possible, except by someone or someone who, as far as you know, has resolved to be a perfect follower of Christ. (p 101)

At this time a “perfect follower of Christ” would have been a monastic. Throughout the work the active and the contemplative life are continually juxtaposed as the author upholds the contemplative as the higher. Organizing the Christian life into four degrees, the ordinary, special, singular and perfect the author also breaks down the two types of Christian life, the active and the contemplative into four groups: “Active life has two degrees, a higher and a lower; and the contemplative life also has two degrees, a lower and a higher.” (p 115-116, p 136)
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From Communiosanctorum: Arminians Have Their Reasons

Paul Owens of Communiosanctorum (which incidently is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite blogs), a convinced Calvinist Anglican has recently posted one of the better defenses of Arminianism that I have seen. Take a look-see:

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a Reformed Anglican, who gladly owns the Augustinian theology of the Reformation. I am not an Arminian. I do not believe that God only intended to make salvation possible for every human being by means of the death of Christ. I do not believe that election to salvation is in any way conditioned on the faithful response of individuals. I do not believe that any person who comes to a true knowledge of the grace of God will fail to be eternally saved. However, I will gladly admit that I am a great admirer of Arminius and Wesley. These men were gifted theologians and ministers, whom all “Calvinists” should revere. Arminian theology deserves our respect; and we should never give the impression that Arminians are incapable of handling our Calvinist prooftexts.

The following are a few examples:

John 6:44: Arminians have no problem with this verse. They agree that no man can come to Christ unless God draws him. It is God’s gracious call which makes it possible for a person to come to Christ. They also agree that God will raise that person up at the last day–if they meet the condition stated in this same verse. If they respond to God’s call by coming to Christ, they will be raised up at the last day. It is not eisegesis to insist that the end of being raised up is contingent upon meeting the condition for being raised up that is stated in this very verse. The question is simply: Does the gracious, drawing call of God make it certain that the person will come to faith, or does that call only make it possible for the person to come to faith? The verse can accomodate either view. Arminians can cite verse 45 and simply say that those who still refuse to “learn” from the Father will not come to Christ.

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[Listening to: Shelter – Ray LaMontagne – Trouble (4:36)]

Flashback from Whitehall: Jaques Derrida and the Gift of the Cross

I was galavanting (is that how you spell it?) around the archives of various blogs I visit when i came across this great sermon from Fr. WB at Whitehall. Check out this little gem–but you really should read the whole thing:

[…]

As many of you know, Jacques Derrida was a French intellectual famous for inventing or discovering Deconstruction, a technique by which literally everything is called into question and turned on its head. During the evening of Friday, October the 8th 2004, in a move of uncharacteristic certitude and clarity, Derrida died. A friend of mine broke the news to me in an email the following day, concluding “I suppose if he died in Christ, even his death can be called into question.”



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