Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: January 2009

From Psalm 50

This selection of Psalm 50, read this morning at Morning Prayer, always stands out to me:

16     But to the wicked God says: *
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and take my covenant upon your lips;
17     Since you refuse discipline, *
and toss my words behind your back?
18     When you see a thief, you make him your friend, *
and you cast in your lot with adulterers.
19     You have loosed your lips for evil, *
and harnessed your tongue to a lie.

20     You are always speaking evil of your brother *
and slandering your own mother’s son.
21     These things you have done, and I kept still, *
and you thought that I am like you.”


BBC NEWS | Health | Chemicals 'may reduce fertility'

Chemicals commonly found in food packaging, upholstery and carpets may be damaging women’s fertility, say US scientists.

A study published in the journal Human Reproduction measured levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in the blood of 1,240 women.

Those with higher levels were more likely to take longer to become pregnant.

UK experts said more research was needed to confirm a link.

PFCs are useful in industry because they are resistant to heat, and have the ability to repel water and oil.

However, high concentrations have been linked to organ damage in animals, and the chemicals have the ability to persist for long periods in the body.

{Read it all}

Rowan's Rule

Archbishop Williams

Archbishop Williams

Since taking office, Archbishop Rowan Williams has been faced with near constant criticism from every direction.  For liberals he seemed a traitor to their cause, while conservatives viewed him with suspicion or down-right disdain.  Not much has changed in this, though in a best case scenerio his leadership could be seen as providing space for the formation of a moderate coalition within world-wide Anglicanism which has a chance of making it through the current conflicts and affirming the Anglican Covenant while shedding the folks on the extremes of left and right.  While many have hammered Williams for not leading at all, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is, in fact, leading and leading in a manner that is consistent with his theology–not an easy thing for anyone to do, let alone an Archbishop in an established Church and head of a conflicted Communion. What is clear is that Archbishop Williams has inhabited Lambeth Palace in a time of definite change, challenge and transition.  It has been a period of setting course into the future, even if the destination will remain murky for years to come.

In his new book, Rowan’s Rule Rupert Shortt begins the long process of reflecting upon Williams’ tenure on the Throne of St. Augustine and while this process will certainly continue, and perhaps won’t begin in earnest until his retirement, Schortt lays a solid foundation to build upon.  Jordan Hylden of First Things provides the following insightful review, stating that while there ha been a tendency among the less well-versed on both the left and right to consider Williams a run of the mill theological liberal,:

In fact, Williams is best viewed as part of the rebellion against the rebellion of the 1970s, working alongside his colleagues Oliver O’Donovan and N.T. Wright to bring the Church of England away from the arid liberalism of Honest to God and Don Cupitt and back to its roots in Word and sacrament, prayer and worship, tradition and Nicene-Chalcedonian orthodoxy. While many of his professors busied themselves with demythologizing the gospels and re-presenting Christian doctrine as anthropology, Williams insisted that Christianity at its core is answerable to God’s initiative, and most particularly so in the unique revelation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Very much against the grain of British academic theology of the day, Williams’ first book, The Wound of Knowledge, showed through relating the history of Christian spirituality that “the theologian,” as the fourth-century monk Evagrius said, “is the one who prays”—which is to say that theology must always grow out of the encounter in worship and prayer with the surprising and extra nos Word of Christ, rather than taking its agenda from modernity. And in his second book, Resurrection, Williams showed that the church’s message of forgiveness and new life rests entirely on its real encounter with the risen Christ, who unexpectedly returned to his disciples from beyond the grave.

Likewise, although critics have pointed justly to a certain degree of fuzziness on the sources of authority (Scripture, but not quite? Or the church’s tradition and language, but what parts from which church?), Williams has always been forthright that the church’s authority is God in Christ, who speaks through Scripture, sacrament, and our ongoing reception of the same.

Arguably, it is just here where Williams parts company most with theological liberals—he insists that the first task of theology is to listen to God’s revealed and redeeming voice, and he truly has sought to hear this voice in Scripture and tradition. By thus placing Williams in his proper theological context, Shortt has performed a genuine service to those who would prematurely write off Williams as just another Anglican liberal. While Williams does not always line up with traditional positions, Shortt shows that it is simply misleading to view him as of a piece with the standard liberalism represented by Gene Robinson and Katherine Jefferts Schori.

All that is not to say, of course, that Williams is beyond criticism. Shortt certainly does not regard him as such, and points in particular to Williams’ views on politics and economics. One friend of Rowan’s, according to Shortt, averred that Williams’ politics “have always come out of a different and less sophisticated part of him.” The chief trouble, as Shortt sees it, is that Williams has not shown himself to possess a particularly subtle voice on the right use of state power, or a very helpful understanding of the genuine benefits of free-market economics for the welfare of the world’s poor. More often than not, Williams is prone to broad condemnations of war and globalization.

Shortt also notes, however, that Williams has elsewhere been quite critical of the “childishness” of utopian politics, which wrongly supposes that hard choices do not have to be made about the distribution of scarce goods, and that peace will simply break out when social constraints are removed. The puzzle, for Shortt and many other observers, is why Williams has not followed through on his own best insights.

Williams has also been criticized for lack of emphasis on the central truths of the Christian faith, and for pointing too much to how the gospel unsettles our judgment and not enough to the blessed assurance given to the saints. Shortt quotes Eamon Duffy, who argues that Rowan’s version of the Christian tradition at times “can seem like a never-endingly argumentative seminar, constant upheaval without any point of rest or leverage.” The judgment is, to a certain extent, sound. Particularly before his enthronement as archbishop, Williams’ work gave great weight to the apophatic moment in theology—to the need for our words about God to be open to judgment and the possibility of saying more.

But in his new role as the most visible Christian bishop in a very secular and uncomprehending England, Williams appears to have taken this criticism to heart. As Shortt points out, his recent book Tokens of Trust is a clear and winsome introduction to the basics of Christian faith; his short guide to the desert fathers, Where God Happens, was very well received; and his most recent book on Dostoyevsky’s fiction is (viewed from one angle) a profound apologetic for the Christian faith in response to the shallow and naively optimistic atheism of Richard Dawkins. Williams the archbishop, it appears, is not the same man as Williams the professor.

This has also shown itself to be true in Rowan’s conduct during the ongoing Anglican struggles about homosexuality. It is well known that as a professor Williams had been quite forthright in his support of same-sex relations, but he changed his tune after becoming archbishop. Many liberals have seen this as Williams’ great betrayal of their cause, charging him with giving in to conservative bullies or of sacrificing truth and justice for unity. Shortt, for his part, makes it clear that he believes Williams ought to have taken a firmer line on the advancement of same-sex unions. But all the same, he does step back and allow Williams to make his defense.

As a bishop, Williams believes that it is his responsibility to teach what the church teaches. “The bishop,” Rowan argues, “does not make decisions, doctrinal or disciplinary, alone: The church decides, and the bishop’s unique role is to guarantee all that the church decides.”

{Read it all}

Rowan's Rule

More Rowan Williams Books:
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Bishop Bakare wins Swedish human rights prize

Bishop Bakare from Zimbabwe was named winner of a Swedish human rights prize for “having given voice to the fight against oppression.” Bishop Sebastian Bakare was also cited for his work to promote “freedom of speech and of opinion in a difficult political situation.”

For Folks Arriving via Google

For those of you arriving at this page via an internet search, I apologize that you’ve arrived at my front page rather than the page you were probably looking for. I am in the process of changing my web address and all of my pages are not forwarding to their new URL’s at the moment. Please consider using the search box in the upper right of this page to find what you were looking for.

People are strange…

When I worked with my dad as a private investigator I came across a lot of strange antics. One of the oddest was the time a guy hired dad to see whether his girl-friend was cheating on him. The only thing was, she was already married to someone else. Like I said to dad “what are you supposed to do, report if she goes out on a romantic date with her husband? It’s not like she’s demonstrated the highest moral character anyway.” Well, the office touches on a similar situation, captured in this clip:

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Something old, something new…

Anna and I have decided to combine our blogs and other internet endeavors together on one domain,  The new URL for Quo Vadis will be:  Quo Vadis will continue as it has–though hopefully with more regular updating–and there also some new things in store.  I look forward to your continued comments and emails.

God bless,


Rowan Williams: Communities of the Resurrection

In his book Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel Rowan Williams makes the following observation about churches as communities of the resurrection:

The church’s work of judgment, its critical role in the world, is a nonsense (and worse) if criticism is not built into its own life and structures.  Only a penitent church can manifest forgiveness–a tautology, perhaps, but worth saying.  A merely critical Church can reproduce in horrifying forms precisely those oppressive and exclusive relations which it exists to judge.  it will pass sentence upon those beyond its boundaries, and so will be concerned about those boundaries and their exact definition. It will, explicitly or implicitly, see ‘belonging to the Church’ as a matter of fulfilling conditions of membership; so that it possesses criteria by which some believers can be cut off when necessary from its life. It thus encourages that attitude between believers or groups of believers which is almost preternaturally alert to failure and delinquency. I am not speaking simply of certain kinds of Irish Catholicism or Welsh nonconformity (such as have been immortalized by James Joyce or Caradoc Evans); soi-disant ‘ radical’ Christianity is capable of the same level of pharisaism. a former Archbishop of Cape Town has written searchingly of the temptation, in a situation of acute political strain in conflict, to ‘bludgeoned’ the opposition with accusations designed to engender guilt rather than (in the widest sense) conversion, and converted action. The exposed situation of the prophetic or protesting group often seems to require for its security the firm projection of guilt on to the dissident or lukewarm; and any sense of judgment and grace or hope flowing together from the awareness of forgiven-ness and the prophetic group is pretty elusive. (Williams, p 46-47)

Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel

From First Things: Gay Marriage 1, Religious Freedom 0

The First Things blog has posted a comment about a recent court ruling in New Jersey in an ongoing (I think this has taken several years to get to this point) legal battle between the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and a lesbian couple.  The court ruled against the Association which had denied the couple’s request to rent their facilities for a civil union ceremony saying that in doing so the Association had violated the public accomidations provision of the state constitution.  Now, I’m not a fan of the ruling, but I believe an important aspect of this was left out–which is why the Association was having problems in the first place–my understanding is that, as an historic site with a high degree of needed maintenance, they took public funds.   This, my friends, is why the government’s faith-based initiatives are a horrible idea if you want to maintain full religious freedom.  As the saying goes: You take the man’s money, you play by the man’s rules.  This is the same lesson that Catholic Charities learned (in Massachusetts, I believe) when they were forced to provide medical coverage for contraception for their employees, despite their religious beliefs.  Because they had accepted public funds, they were bound by public expectations.  Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these things before you go out to start your own charity and take public money.

We’ve written multiple times on the coming clash between religious groups that do not recognize the legitimacy of gay marriages or civil unions and gay couples and activists who think they should be forced too. A recent court decision in New Jersey serves as a case in point:

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ruled that the refusal of the church group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist organization that owns a square mile of beachfront property in Ocean Grove, near Asbury Park, to rent the spot to the couple violated the public accommodation provisions of the state’s Law Against Discrimination.

While the ruling decisively favors the couple, Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster, it does not end the case, which has become a major symbol in the gay rights battle in New Jersey and beyond.
An administrative law judge still must decide on a remedy for the parties.

“What this case has always been about from my client’s perspective has been equality,” said Larry Lustberg, a lawyer for the couple.  He said they would seek an order that required the pavilion to be “open to all on an equal basis.”

Brian Raum, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., group that represents the Camp Meeting Association, said his clients would resist allowing civil unions on the property.

“Our position is the same,” he said.  “A Christian organization has a Constitutional right to use their facilities in a way that is consistent with their beliefs.”

Update: Evidently, my memory was correct.  The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has been accepting–lobbying for–quite a bit of public money over the years.  Here’s a bit of an article from 2007 (I believe it may be the original one I read) that details the situation:

Further, according to U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (D-Monmouth), whose constituents include those in Ocean Grove, the Camp Meeting Association has been lobbying him for years–quite successfully I might add–for federal and state funds (when he was a state senator) that have gone directly into the community. When the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove needed a new roof, Pallone helped get the Camp Meeting Association $250,000 from the state. Later, those same Methodist leaders would go to Pallone and ask for federal dollars to fix the Ocean Grove boardwalk, which was damaged in a 1992 storm.

So let me get this straight. The Methodist leaders in Ocean Grove say they are a private religious entity that has every right to prohibit civil unions from taking place in the community’s pavilion, but at the same time they want to make sure they get as much PUBLIC money as possible to keep taxes down and keep the community resources in tact–using tax dollars from citizens outside of Ocean Grove. Talk about wanting it both ways. The Camp Meeting Association doesn’t have a leg to stand on in their suit against the state saying that their first amendment rights are being violated because civil unions go against the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.

{read it all}

Also, note that the couple in question wanted to rent a pavilion.  Should that be treated the same way as a chapel or Church?  Just curious what folks think.

How does the Church get in the way?

It is easy, I have found, to get angry at the somewhat amorphous entity known as “the Church.” The Church is responsible for a lot, it is true, but just as “the government” all of us malign at some point, and accuse of this or that evil deed, the body we are attacking actually includes us. We have met the enemy, as they say, and it is us.

But how, specifically does the Church become the enemy? I have some ideas about it, but I want to ask the readers of this blog for their insights. Specifically, I’d like to look at it from the perspective of the Church somehow hindering people’s access to and relationship with God. I was recently reading the comments related to this post over at The Internet Monk, and one stuck out at me. The commenter, posting under the name of Edmund Pevensie, was relating how he had found his experiences within the Assemblies of God and the Episcopal Church to be alike in that each had:

“too many man-made systems imposed between man and God, restricting access for both.”

This is a serious charge. About the only time in scripture that we can see Jesus become overtly angry is when he cleanses the Temple (Mark 11:15-19), and that was largely motivated by the fact that those folks were getting between the people and God. So, I’m curious as to how you see the Church coming between people and God rather than doing what we ought to be doing…

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