Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: November 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

The Living Church: Reviving the Quadrilateral

The following are some revised remarks I gave at The Living Church reception at General Convention this year.  They’re been published in the Dec. 13th issue of The Living Church.  See what you think:

compass rose2In times of change and conflict it is unsurprising that voices arise to point out the inevitable failure of this or that institution or program. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon in the political realm; during George W. Bush’s presidency, some who opposed his policies did so with the conviction that he was charting a path of destruction for the nation. A quick survey of talk radio reveals plenty of people who believe the same about President Obama’s leadership.

As in secular politics, there are passionate people within the church who allow their strong feelings to lead them into making pronouncements that seem based more on fear or frustration than fact. In the case of the Anglican Communion, the voices crying out that the Anglican experiment is over may be one example. Anglicanism as an institution is certainly under strain, but does that void the entire tradition? The accusation that the Anglican experiment is over should motivate us to reflect upon what that experiment (if it’s right to use that term) has been, and what it — what we — have to offer to the broader church catholic.

Last June 29 marked the end of the Year of St. Paul. At the time I found myself reflecting on the Apostle and his ministry quite a bit. Specifically, as I considered the current conflict in the Anglican Communion, I recalled Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

We don’t often hear the phrase “all things to all people” in a virtuous light today. When it is used, it is often presented as a critique or an accusation that someone is trying too hard to please others. While Paul was speaking specifically of presenting the gospel, Anglicanism has taken upon itself a similar calling in the service of Christian unity, which is a gospel imperative.

There have always been plenty of voices within and outside of Anglicanism that have accused it of an ill-conceived attempt to be all things to all people, and thus of being impure, haphazard, or uncommitted. “Complete the Reformation and do away with the vestiges of papist idolatry,” some would say. “Reject the inherently heretical and schismatic nature of Protestantism,” others would admonish, “and return to full fidelity to the ancient churches of Rome and Constantinople.” Anglicans must choose, according to these critics, past and present. In the words of Walter Cardinal Kasper during the runup to last year’s Lambeth Conference:

Does [Anglicanism] belong more to the churches of the first millennium — Catholic and Orthodox — or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions (The Catholic Herald [London], May 6, 2008).

{Read it all}

About Southerners: Random bit from The Last Gentleman

Bonnie Blue Flag

.Bonnie Blue Flag.

Like many young men in the South, he became overly subtle and had trouble ruling out the possible.  They are not like an immigrant’s son in Passaic who decides to become a dentist and that is that.  Southerners have trouble ruling out the possible.  What happens to a young man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open?  Nothing of course.  Except war.  If a man lives in the sphere of the possible and waits for something to happen, what he is waiting for is war–or the end of the world.  That is why Southerners like to fight and make good soldiers.  In war the possible becomes actual through no doing of one’s own.  –Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman

Family ties to Nashville

I just discovered something interesting as I was looking for an old letter of my great grand-father’s.  It seems that one of his brothers (a half-brother actually) lived in Nashville in the early 1900’s.  He wrote the following letter to my great grandfather, William Massey:

420 South Front St. Nashville Tenn

Aug 20, 1901

Mr. Bill Massey

Dear Brother

Your letter received and as usual was glad to hear from you.  I am well as common.  Bill, I will send them saddles to Marshall this week.  I will ship them Friday and if you are at Marshall Saturday go to the freight depot and see if they are come.  They all three will be in one box with your name on it and the box will be marked saddles.  I will pay the freight on them here so it will not cost you any thing to get them.  The price will be on each saddle.  I send one for $[illegible due to smudging]-one for $5.50 and one for $[illegible due to smudging].  You said not send any for more than $6.00 but I could not make the $6.50 for any less.  Watch the depot everyday till they come and let me know when you get them.  If you sell them all right, and want more let me know and I will send them.

Will close for this time.

Write soon,

Your Brother,

Dave Redman

Unfortunately there is no longer a South Front St. in Nashville.  I’ll have to see if I can find any old maps at the library.  If anybody has any info, I’d appreciate it.

Interesting link round up

For those who are interested, here are some interesting things I’ve been reading over the past few days:

  • Image Magazine: Episcopentecostalianism, Bradford Winters laments the fact that there aren’t more places where one can find this combination.  “I will say that I’ve seen enough evidence of each to determine that the Holy Spirit is often needed as much to temper the ‘raving saved’ as to excite the ‘frozen chosen.'”
  • The Internet Monk deals with the question of why many evangelicals seem ill-equipped when it comes to the pastoral care of the dying: Chaplain Mike Mercer: Evangelicals And The Pastoral Care of the Dying: The IM Interview.
  • The New York Times has an interesting story about the fall of communism in the Czechoslovakia: Velvet Revolution’s Roots Remain a Fog 20 Years Later.
  • Peter Liethart reminds folks that Constantine may not have been so bad after all.
  • This American Christianity–“Bait and Switch” from the Mockingbird blog.


The Road: Initial Response

Earlier today I attended a special screening of The Road the new film based upon the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name.  Let me say first that I am inclined to like McCarthy’s writing.  Although he was born in the north and now lives in the southwest, he spent many of his formative years in Knoxville Tennessee and his writing has many of the hallmarks of Southern Gothic, though not all of his works take place in the South or involve Southerners.  Though I haven’t read much of what he’s written, I plan on giving it a go, starting with The Road beginning this week.

But just because your inclined to like someone’s writing, that doesn’t mean you’ll like the way their work is adapted and depicted on-screen.  Having seen The Road film, and without having read the book yet, I can tell you that my initial reaction is very positive.  I thought the film was very moving and powerful.  It is also a very dark film over all–but there are hints of something better.  I say hints, because “glimpses” would even be too strong a word.  No, the world of The Road is indeed post-apocalyptic and human society hasn’t just been left in tatters, it’s as though it never existed.  While the mood of the movie never quite hits the depths of despair that some films touch on, I would say the “default setting” is darker for a longer period than I can remember seeing in any other film.  And then, just as there is some glimmer of hope restored–just a glimmer–the film ends.

At this point I would recommend the film highly to certain people.  What do I mean by that?  Well, if you appreciate movies that deal with dark subjects in interesting and thoughtful ways, movies that encourage interior questions and provoke thoughts about morals, ethics and the nature of humanity, then you will appreciate this film.  I say appreciate purposefully, because I’m not sure “like” is ever an appropriate term for something that deals with these subjects.  You’re not going to “like” The Road the same way you “like” chocolate chip cookies; it’s not dealing with a few of your favorite things, but questions that strike at the heart of human nature in not very comfortable ways.

I will be going by the library tomorrow to check out a copy of the book, and when I’m finished I hope to write a review talking about both the book and the film, and reflecting on the themes I see there.  Until then, and until November 25th, when the film opens, maybe you’d like to read the book as well.  I’d be interested in folks’ comments.

The following is the review of The Road from Publishers Weekly:

Violence, in McCarthy’s postapocalyptic tour de force, has been visited worldwide in the form of a “long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” that leaves cities and forests burned, birds and fish dead and the earth shrouded in gray clouds of ash. In this landscape, an unnamed man and his young son journey down a road to get to the sea. (The man’s wife, who gave birth to the boy after calamity struck, has killed herself.) They carry blankets and scavenged food in a shopping cart, and the man is armed with a revolver loaded with his last two bullets. Beyond the ever-present possibility of starvation lies the threat of roving bands of cannibalistic thugs. The man assures the boy that the two of them are “good guys,” but from the way his father treats other stray survivors the boy sees that his father has turned into an amoral survivalist, tenuously attached to the morality of the past by his fierce love for his son. McCarthy establishes himself here as the closest thing in American literature to an Old Testament prophet, trolling the blackest registers of human emotion to create a haunting and grim novel about civilization’s slow death after the power goes out.

The Road

We’re from the Government/corporation and we’re here to help…

Many of you will have heard of several eminent domain cases over the past several years that upheld and expanded the rights of local governments to condemn private property and sell it to private developers if it seemed to be “in the public interests.”  Of course, as our economic situation and response has shown, often the “public interests” is not so much about you or me, but about what lines the pockets of politicians and the corporations that fund their campaigns.  Sorry if that sounds cynical, but I think it’s objectively true.

Well, here’s an example of what can happen when the government foregoes the common good for short sighted agreements with corporations that then fall through:

When Pfizer announced on Monday that it was closing its global research and development headquarters in New London, Conn., the news reverberated far beyond the struggling seaport city. The project, part of an urban renewal effort to bolster the local economy, was the basis for a 2005 Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. New London, upholding government’s eminent domain rights to take private property for public use.

But the New London redevelopment never got off the ground, even after the local and state governments spent more than $80 million to buy and demolish private property to pave the way. Now comes the blow from Pfizer: how will its withdrawal affect future eminent domain battles in redevelopment projects? What are the lessons learned for urban planners and local governments?

{Read it all}

Strength & Weakness: An example of the former becoming the latter

A while ago–perhaps a year or more–Dean Kevin Martin of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas visited the Diocese of Tennessee and gave a presentation about evangelism at one of our congregations.  During his presentation, Dean Kevin made several important observations that have recently been highlighted for me.

First, he noted that most people know very little about the Episcopal Church.  Indeed, most people know very little about any church.  It is often particularly hard for Episcopalians to consider the fact that the goings on in our church do not draw the attention of everyone else (except for quite a few journalists).  His argument was that most people with a negative view of The Episcopal Church, whether because of our liturgy, or culture war issues, were usually not non-Christians, but were instead Christians who had been formed in traditions hostile to the Episcopal Church in some way.  Point taken.  For non-Christians, or those who have spent a very long time away from church, the association most have with The Episcopal Church is that “it is a safe place.”  They expect that it’s somewhere they can go and worship and not be assaulted in some way, spiritually or emotionally.

This perception is a good thing.  It’s not just a good thing for those from non-Christian backgrounds, but often for those from Christian backgrounds that are more overtly vocal about the lives of individual members. This seems to be the case for Mrs. Abby Johnson the former Planned Parenthood director who has made news by resigning her job after watching a video of an abortion prompted a change in her views.  You see, Mrs. Johnson is a former Southern Baptist who found the Episcopal Church when it was made clear that her involvement in planned parenthood meant she was not welcome in Southern Baptist Churches.  The fact that Mrs. Johnson was able to feel welcome and be involved in the life of a local Episcopal Church is something that I believe we should feel proud of.

In contrast to some other traditions that have attempted to ensure that the visible church is made up of only of the pure, Anglicanism has instead seen itself as being open to all the people–to being a place where people can come and hear the Gospel and have their lives transformed.  This paradigm difference could be expressed in the contemporary world by the difference between different placement of the “three b’s”, believe-behave-belong.

Many congregations that operate out of the model of the believers church, place the order this way:




Other traditions place the order differently, as did the sub-apostolic church, which seems to have emphasized the behave, believe, belong order in many situations.

In contrast, what many people engaged in reaching out to our non-religious contemporaries are finding is that a more effective (and, I would argue, in many ways more biblical) model is this:



Ideally, this is what the Episcopal Church’s traditionally “welcoming” attitude allows to take place.  It may have been the initial response Mrs. Johnson received when she began attending the local Episcopal Church.  However, as GetReligion has noted, now that Johnson’s opinions on abortion have changed and she has become pro-life, some members of her congregation seem to be reacting negatively to her.  The details of the story are still murky, and I don’t want to draw conclusions about what is actually happening–congregational conflict, especially when the media gets involved, can be very hairy and full of miscommunication, innuendo and assumption.

However, regardless of the details of what is or isn’t happening, it is clear that Johnson no longer feels as welcome at her congregation as she did before:

Continue reading

Archbishop Rowan Williams’ sermon at All Saints’ Margaret Street, London

Sunday 01 November 2009

For the 150th year of the consecration of the church, All Saints’ Day.

Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-65:25; Hebrews 11:32-12:2

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us.’ (Hebrews 12.1)

When Etty Hillesum the young Jewish writer who died in Auschwitz, was on her way via the transit camp in Westerbork to the train that would take her to the death camps, she scribbled a few last notes to friends. And in one of those notes she tried to explain what she believed was going on: ‘Someone [she said] has to take responsibility for God in this situation. That is, someone has to behave as if God were real. Someone has to make God credible by the way that they meet life and death.’ And she — at first sight a very unlikely candidate for this dignity – attempted to do just that to make God believable by her life and her death.

Witnesses establish the truth by giving evidence. It really is as simple as that. When we celebrate the Saints, we celebrate those who have given evidence, who have made God believable by how they have lived and how they have died. The saints are the people who recognise that arguments will finally not win the day. God does not make himself credible by argument. God does not respond to our doubts, our intellectual querying, our uncertainty, by delivering from Heaven a neatly annotated list of logical propositions with which we cannot disagree. (I’m afraid that Professor Dawkins can bang on the doors of Heaven as long as he likes if that is what he expects to happen.) God deals with us by our life and a death, by Jesus. And God continues to deal with us by lives and deaths that make him credible, that make Jesus tangible here and now. All those people who flocked into Westminster Cathedral a couple of weeks’ ago to pay their respects to St Therese of Lisieux were recognizing that in her Christ became tangible for her generation and for ours and that is what the Saints do.

{Read it all It’s worth it.}

A Thank You to Veterans

Veterans Day 2009

.Veterans Day 2009.

I encourage visitors to this blog to remember the veterans in their lives–in their families and communities–today.

I also especially want to thank my own family members and friends who have served or are serving now. God bless you and uphold you:

O judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Things: The Drama of Hallowmas

I thought this was an interesting reflection on the worldview that underlies Halloween, and the importance of celebrating All Saints & All Souls days following.  I will admit to having been majorly put off by most contemporary Christian attempts to somehow “deal” with Halloween (Hell houses anyone?) that reveal nothing so much as an ignorance of our own history and deep seated fears of death:

As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air—all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart. To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone—or something—other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think.

This narrative disturbs a lot of people, as the proliferation of church-sponsored “autumn festivals” and “trunk-or-treat” parties suggests. To some of those who worry about it, Halloween is either a thoroughly secular or a thoroughly pagan observance, to be avoided by serious Christians. In the Halloween aisle at Dollar Tree, you’ll certainly be hard-pressed to find anything remotely Christian on offer, unless you count glow-in-the-dark skeletons and black plastic skulls as memento mori designed to remind you that you are not Darth Maul, but dust.

The secular commercialization of Halloween bothers people far less than do its roots in the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, which the Romans, after the conquest of Britain, eventually conflated with their own Feralia, a feast honoring the dead. When, in the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV instituted the feast of All Saints, to fall on the first of November, the eve of that solemnity coincided with the date of the ancient festival. The addition of the feast of All Souls in the eleventh century completed the three-day Hallowmas, dedicated to the memory of the Christian martyrs and honoring all the faithful departed.

{Read it all}

Update: There’s also a good post up at the Mockingbird Blog relating to Halloween, and responses to it:

What has interested me about Halloween is its intersection with culture, and especially Christianity. Growing up in the church, I’ve seen churches attempt to do all kinds of things with Halloween, from ignoring it completely to throwing elaborate competing “Harvest Festivals.” My favorite Christian/Halloween story comes out of Eden Christian Academy of Pittsburgh, PA (slogan: Pretending People are Perfect since 1983). A dear friend worked as a teacher there, and experienced this first-hand. Presented with the problem of what to do about Halloween one year, the faculty went back and forth: Use it as a teaching moment to communicate about the occult? Embrace what has become a harmless evening of candy-getting rather than a celebration of pagan ritual? Of course not. So afraid were they of dealing with the Halloween “problem,” they did the least productive thing they could have: They cancelled school.

{Read it all}

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