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Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: July 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Why millennials are leaving the church

Hah. How true.

“Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”

And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.”

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN (CNN) — At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial. I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used…

Read it all: Why millennials are leaving the church

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Beech, Station Camp to be nationally-televised

Thought this was cool, then I saw this bit:

“The contest will also have a non-traditional start time, an 11 a.m. kickoff on Sunday, August 25. It is part of the fourth annual ESPN High School Football Kickoff Series.”

When Southern High School football poo poos Sunday, you know the final nail has been placed in the Constantinian coffin.

Football season will kick off in a big way for a pair of Sumner County teams this year.

Read it all: Beech, Station Camp to be nationally-televised

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Why Americans Care about the Royal Baby

“It’s hardwired into our very being to desire a king. Throughout the history of the world, monarchy has been the most common form of government. Some people will argue that selfish strongmen imposed their will on oppressed populations, but that narrative doesn’t fit the historical record. Monarchy’s predominance doesn’t rest on oppression. It rests on the fact that for the last six thousand years most humans have been incredibly comfortable with the institution. People always preferred good kings to bad kings, but they rarely questioned the kingship itself.

We can point to a few notable exceptions. After the Athenians threw out their tyrants, they had a fling with democracy that lasted about a hundred and seventy years. Rome did a bit better. It operated without a king for almost five hundred years. Eventually the novelty of republicanism wore thin, and the Romans opted for one-man rule again. When Tiberius tried to become a private citizen, the Senate begged him not to. They needed a monarch.

We’ve flirted with those failed models of governance in America. Hearkening back to Athens and Rome, we called ourselves a democratic-republic. We had a fine run with it, but we’re getting back to our monarchical roots. In a nod to our constitutional past, we still hold elections, but we’re increasingly looking to one man to solve all our problems. We just elect our king every four years now. No one looks to Congress to accomplish anything. America’s founding fathers would be astonished at the amount of hope and faith we place in the president. They’d also be shocked by the amount of power that we’ve handed him. ***The world has never seen a mightier king than the modern-day POTUS.”***

Britain buzzes with excitement over the birth of a royal baby boy. That’s as it should be. After all, this baby is third in line for the throne. The nation looks forward to its first glimpse at the…

Read it all: Why Americans Care about the Royal Baby

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N.T. Wright – After you Believe: Why Christian Character Matters

http://www.faithandwork.org/gospelculture What does eschatology have to do with ethics? What does the new heaven and the new earth have to do with the world …

Read it all: N.T. Wright – After you Believe: Why Christian Character Matters

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Riots v. Protests

Very true:

“The conventional assumption about riots appears to be that they occur in proportion to the aggrievement of the “community.” In contrast, my impression over the last four decades is that they more occur due to “Hey, the cops aren’t a worry, let’s get free stuff!” “

From the Los Angeles Times: Though demonstrations over the Zimmerman verdict have been mostly peaceful across the U.S., California has stood apart, marked by violence in Los Angeles and Oakland, where…

Read it all: Riots v. Protests

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Are consumer brands replacing religion? | Q&A with Gavan Fitzsimons

“The marketing of brands has become so sophisticated that they can replace religious institutions by giving people a sense of community, identity and self-expression, says a consumer psychologist. This is a cautionary tale for Christian leaders seeking to grow the church.”

Could those Tory Burch sandals be undermining your faith in God? Although most believers would adamantly deny it, recent studies indicate that they could well be.

Read it all: Are consumer brands replacing religion? | Q&A with Gavan Fitzsimons

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Who, really, is our neighbor?

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Vienna Austria.

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Vienna Austria.

Studies have demonstrated that one of the ways our minds work is to save information or store an impression of places that we’ve been, particularly places that we spend a lot of time, such as rooms in our home, offices, perhaps our churches, and so forth. If it weren’t for this ability to store the memories of places we frequent, we would experience every entry into a space as though it were the first time.

This familiarity, while saving effort and preventing us from overtaxing our minds, also leads to the phenomenon of missing small changes in our environments. A book or magazine is moved, someone replaces a lamp, chairs are at different angles, or perhaps something more pronounced has occurred, like a room sporting a fresh coat of paint. Such changes may escape notice when we initially enter a place with which we are intimately familiar, and only enter our awareness when our attention is drawn to a particular detail.

There seems to be a similar phenomenon that occurs with stories with which we are familiar. We allow the details to fade out, because we remember the overarching narrative. We know what the point of the story is because we have heard it over and over again. The problem with this shorthand understanding of meaning, particularly when dealing with one of Christ’s parables, is that we can internalize incomplete or false understandings. When approaching a parable of Jesus, no matter how familiar, it is important that we listen to it with new ears, and seek to allow Jesus’ instruction to form us, as it formed his original listeners.

Although we can no longer assume everyone in our culture is familiarity with the parables, it is safe to assume that people who regularly attend church, especially those who attend church in liturgical traditions such as ours, are familiar with many of them. And of all the parables, one of the most well-known is that of the The Good Samaritan. And I would be willing to suggest that for many of us the point of the parable of the good Samaritan is that we are ourselves to be Good Samaritans; in other words we are to be good people, kind people, people who treat folks well and help those in need. And we’re not wrong.

This is indeed laudable, and is I would say part and parcel of forming a Christian character. But there is more to this parable than a calling to be kind. The call to kindness does not exhaust its meaning. Instead, it is a challenge to us from a few directions: a challenge not only to be merciful, but about those to whom we should extend mercy, and from whom we are willing, or should be willing, to receive it.

We tend to focus on the content of the parable itself–and rightly so–it is important, and it clearly strikes against some universal human tendencies. But while the content is important, we need to remember the context. As Walter Brueggemann writes “The question at the beginning is: eternal life. The answer at the end is: Mercy. […] The story functions to change the subject away from life with God to life with neighbor. […] Jesus’ story changes our life-question by plugging us into a world of violence. The subject is a street mugging, which seems far from eternal life. the great gospel questions are worked out midst the concreteness of brutality and nowhere else, brutality we work on each other, brutality we observe but in which we are, by our humanity, implicated” (Bruggemann, “A Zinger that Changes Everything, ” The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, 7).

It takes place in the context of violence. People will often make comments about Jesus and his teaching that reveal their evaluation of him as naive; that they believe he sees the world through rose colored glasses, that his teachings are nice, but not practical: “That Jesus, isn’t he nice. Love everyone… that’s a nice idea, too bad it won’t work in the real world.” But Jesus is not naive. He wasn’t whipped and nailed to the cross because he was ignorant of the human condition. This parable begins in violence, and it’s intended to show us how to live as disciples in the midst of a violent world.

The man is beaten and left in a ditch. Here comes the priest, and then the Levite–both of whom the listeners may have expected to help–only for them to see the man, and pass by on the other side, the implication being that they go out of their way to cross the road and avoid him. Their reaction highlights a failing we have all likely experienced, the tendency to allow our priorities to be turned on their head, for our closely held values to be eclipsed in the moment.

It can be hard… we talk about tyranny of the urgent, but there’s also tyranny of the trivial. Or at least, of the less important over what is of greater importance. Most things in life are fundamentally not emergencies, and yet we act as though they are, to the extent that sometimes we miss the actual emergency. Scholars debate whether the purity codes had anything to do with the fact that both the priest and levite avoid the man in the ditch, but regardless of the specifics, the parable implies that whatever they were doing was enough for them to avoid fulfilling the great commandment: to love one’s neighbor as oneself. They saw… and they passed by on the other side, leaving the man to his fate.

In contrast, a third person passes by and sees the man, and responds in a completely different way. Jesus’ listeners, like us, would’ve been trained to listen for the third example, the “rule of three” being a common device. Perhaps they already had in mind who it might be who would keep the spirit of the law and offer aid to the man. A Pharisee perhaps. If a respected priest and a respected levite passed by, perhaps a Pharisee (and remember, they were well respected), someone who devoted themselves to the study of the Law, would give aid.

But the third person, the one who offers aid, isn’t a better follower of the Law. At least from a Jewish perspective, he’s not a follower of the law at all; he’s a despised Samaritan. The priest and the levite are said to have seen the man. But then they avoid him. They haven’t really seen him. They looked at him, but they did not see themselves in him. In contrast, the Samaritan truly sees the man, sees his plight, and is moved with compassion and empathy, which motivate him to give aid.

And this reality brings us to the second issue the parable highlights: We often don’t really like to consider who our neighbor is. It is about who we should offer aid to, and the fact that we are called to extend mercy,

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man […]” Jesus asks “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37)

but it is about much more than that as well. When we ask who our neighbor is, we are not only challenged about extending mercy to all–a proposition that most Christians would at least claim to strive for–but also about who we are comfortable extending mercy to us.  One commentator on this parable noted that it might be better to call it the Parable of the Man in the Ditch. Everything in the parable points to the fact that everyone involved, save the Samaritan himself, is Jewish. How might Jewish people of the day have felt about the idea of receiving mercy and charity from a Samaritan?

When we interpret this parable only as though we will always be the ones in a position of offering aid, we miss a good deal of the point. The parable is to help us recognize that the one who has mercy, and the one in need of mercy, are our neighbors–that is, everyone. But when Jesus says to the man presenting the question “Go and do likewise” he is saying to him “go, and be willing to learn, even from a Samaritan, how to be a better follower of God.” And beyond that: “Go, and be willing to receive mercy, even from one you would have called unclean.”

We have probably all asked ourselves if we’d be willing to extend aid to anyone in need, and we’ve likely recognized Jesus’ challenge to do so. The question for us as we leave here with today, I believe, is this: From whom would we be uncomfortable receiving mercy? The answer to that question will present to us a new area of our lives that is ready for the scrutiny of the gospel.

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

And while I don’t know about anyone here specifically, I can say that our society, our world, has a lot of work to do in this area.

This is one reason I like to contrast the two renderings of The Good Samaritan that I’ve included in this blog post. In the one above, the Samaritan is a pleasant figure, and the whole scene is presented beautifully. In contrast, the image to the right presents the Samaritan as a Quasimodo-like figure, almost grotesque, and it depicts in a visual way the visceral negative reactions Jews of Jesus’ day would’ve had to receiving aid from a Samaritan, to being told that a Samaritan was their neighbor, and that they were therefore commanded to love them as a central tenet of their faith and obedience to God.

How would he have felt, that man in the ditch (assuming he was conscious), to be laying there, praying for help, to see his people, first a respected priest, then a levite, pass him by. Cross over the road to avoid him. Only to then be helped by a despised Samaritan.

Who is our neighbor? Who would we rather not receive aid or care from? Who do we fear appearing vulnerable with? Who is grotesque to us?

This morning (July 14, 2013), when I got in the truck to come to church, the first three stories on the news dealt with this type of division.

The first related to the court case out of Florida, where George Zimmerman was found not not guilty. I learned about the verdict last night when social media blew up with thoughts and opinions. Reading them, I was all the more grateful not to have a television, and not being tempted to listen to the thoughts of the talking heads. I know there are diverse opinions right here in this room about the case–I’ve talked with some of you about them–and I don’t need to get into that. None of us were in the neighborhood that night, and none of us were (physically) in that courtroom or the jury’s deliberation room.

That said, I don’t think anyone can honestly deny the deep divisions highlighted by this case. The anger, frustration, alienation and sadness that stands like a chasm between many of us in our society. The verdict reminded me of a picture I saw on a Facebook friend’s wall, maybe six months ago. He’s the pastor of a black church. In this picture many of his congregation’s adult members (it could’ve been all, or it could’ve been a quarter, I don’t know, but it was a lot of people) were wearing hoodies, and the caption read “do we look suspicious to you?”

That is illustrative of alienation, anger, and sadness .  It’s undeniable.

As a pastor friend of mine (@rev_david) from Texas put the question: “Who was Trayvon Martin’s neighbor? Who will be George Zimmerman’s neighbor?”

Who is our neighbor? Who will we be neighbor to, and who will we allow to be neighbor to us?

The second story was about the death of seven UN peacekeepers in Darfur, a region of Sudan that where the people have endured a genocide.

The third was about bombs going off outside of mosques in Baghdad Iraq.

Who is our neighbor? This question echoes across the whole earth among all people and in every nation. Divisions may not be punctuated by IED’s and RPG’s everywhere, but people still suffer and people still die all over the world because of our inability to see the truth of Christ’s teaching. A teaching that stems not from naiveté, not from looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but from reality. The reality of human sin. The reality of alienation. The alienation of humanity from God and from one another.

I’ve mention Canon Andrew White to you before. He’s the vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad. He shared the following comment this morning:

We prayed and hoped for less violence but in the past 12 hrs it has only increased. Scores have been killed in post Ramadan parties, the terrible thing this time is that most of the killings this were directed at the Sunnis and their Mosques. Adding to the fact that we are in a Civil War. Today we look with churches around the world at the story of the Good Samaritan. We ask the question “who is my neighbor”. My neighbor is the other Sunni, Shia, Christian. (Help us Lord to live as one)

The question: “Who is my neighbor?” is always relevant because we always need to be reminded.

How do we get beyond this division? I don’t have a magic formula–and how I wish I did–but I believe we have to start with the small things. We can start where the Samaritan did, with really seeing the man in the ditch and being moved with empathy and compassion. We can start with seeing ourselves in others and seeing them in us.

We can start with actually being neighbors in the more general sense, for one. Recognizing one another in everyday interactions. Saying hello, helping each other in small things, building up the muscles of fellowship to handle the weight of greater adversity. As Wendell Berry writes in The Art of the Common Place:

For a human, the good choice in the Great Economy is to see its membership as a neighborhood and one’s self as a neighbor within it. I am sure that virtues count in the neighborhood–to “love thy neighbor as thyself” requires the help of all seven of them–but I am equally sure that in a neighborhood the virtues cannot be practiced as such. Temperance has no appearance or action of its own, nor does justice, prudence, fortitude, faith, hope, or charity. They can only be employed on occasions. “He who would do good to another,” William Blake said, “must do it in Minute Particulars.” To help each other, that is, we must go beyond the coldhearted charity of the “general good” and get down to work where we are.

The great task given us in this parable is nothing less than that of getting down to work where we are, and with the people God has placed in our path, and in whose path we have been found. Amen.

Rachel Held Evans: Literalist Gluttony

This post made me think of something by John Cassian I read in the Philokalia several years ago and shared in the Lenten devotional in our parish.

The way we ignore issues like gluttony, as well as other traditional vices, is another way that contemporary Christians, particularly American Evangelicals, have a tendency to turn the tradition on its head… mostly because they’re not aware that there *is* a tradition.

Traditionally, Christianity has seen self control in relation to food as a prerequisite for self-control in other areas. In this way, you might consider gluttony a “gateway sin” :-p.

The Philokalia was written by various monastics, but much of it is not solely for monastics or “super Christians,” but instead, for all Christians. The following section was written by St. John Cassian, considered the father (or grandfather) of Western Christian Monasticism. You might also notice a critique of some other things that were considered vices by earlier generations, but which are lifted up as virtuous by many Christians today.

I admit to wondering if the reason our society has so many issues with sexuality–and I don’t specifically mean homosexuality, but a warped relationship with sex and our bodies generally–is related to issues of plenty, consumerism, and general overindulgence. I haven’t fleshed that out yet, but it’s worth thinking about:

“A clear role for self-control handed down by the fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied. When the apostle said, “make no provision to fulfill the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14), he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning us against self indulgence. Moreover, by it’s self abstinence from food does not contribute to perfect purity of soul and unless the other virtues are active as well. Humility for example, practiced through obedience to our work and through bodily hardship, is a great help. If we avoid avarice not only by having no money, but also by not wanting to have any, this leads us towards purity of soul. Freedom from anger, from dejection, self-esteem and pride also contributes to purity of soul in general, while self control and fasting are especially important for bringing about that specific purity of soul which comes through restraint and moderation. ***No one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity.*** Our initial struggle therefore must be to gain control of our stomach and to bring our body into subjection not only through fasting but also through vigils, labors and spiritual reading, and through concentrating our heart on fear of Gehenna and on longing for the kingdom of heaven.”

(The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Compiled By St. Nikodimos of The Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, Volume One, p73-74)

Read it all: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/literalist-gluttony

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“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control

The militarization of police has been ongoing for decades and deserves at least as much attention as the whole NSA fiasco.

“Sal Culosi is dead because he bet on a football game — but it wasn’t a bookie or a loan shark who killed him. His local government killed him, ostensibly to protect him from his gambling habit.

Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that’s when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn’t slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi’s heart.Sal Culosi’s last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: “Dude, what are you doing?”

In March 2006, just two months after its ridiculous gambling investigation resulted in the death of an unarmed man, the Fairfax County Police Department issued a press release warning residents not to participate in office betting pools tied to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The title: “Illegal Gambling Not Worth the Risk.” Given the proximity to Culosi’s death, residents could be forgiven for thinking the police department believed wagering on sports was a crime punishable by execution.

In January 2011, the Culosi family accepted a $2 million settlement offer from Fairfax County. That same year, Virginia’s government spent $20 million promoting the state lottery.

The raid on Sal Culosi was merely another red flag indicating yet more SWAT team mission creep in America. It wasn’t even the first time a Virginia SWAT team had killed someone during a gambling raid. In 1998 a SWAT team in Virginia Beach shot and killed security guard Edward C. Reed during a 3:00 AM raid on a private club suspected of facilitating gambling. Police said they approached the tinted car where Reed was working security, knocked, and identified themselves, then shot Reed when he refused to drop his handgun. Reed’s family insisted the police story was unlikely. Reed had no criminal record. Why would he knowingly point his gun at a heavily armed police team? More likely, they said, Reed mistakenly believed the raiding officers were there to do harm, particularly given that the club had been robbed not long before the raid. Statements by the police themselves seem to back that account. According to officers at the scene, Reed’s last words were, “Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book.””

SWAT teams raiding poker games and trying to stop underage drinking? Overwhelming paramilitary force is on the rise

Read it all: “Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control

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California Prisons Were Illegally Sterilizing Female Inmates

Just another way we’ve been covering ourselves with glory in our treatment of people who are incarcerated:

http://buff.ly/1a54vNP

Over the course of several years, two women’s prisons in California signed pregnant women up for permanent sterilization to be performed after they gave birth, without following the required state approval…

Read it all: California Prisons Were Illegally Sterilizing Female Inmates

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