Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: October 2007 (Page 2 of 2)

From "In Spirit and Truth:" Baptists on Baptism Baptist style.

I ran across a new blog recently entitled “In Spirit and Truth.”  The author has quite a few interesting posts up.  Here’s a selection from his discussion of a Baptist panel’s discussion of Baptism:

Finally, Thomas Nettles said “The Old Covenant was promising that the New Covenant would be a circumcision of the heart,” in an effort to emphasize his belief “that circumcision under the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant not by baptism, but by regeneration.”


This is an interesting position, although I believe Holy Scripture soundly undermines such a view. The distinction between a circumcision of the “flesh” and a circumcision of the “heart” is not exclusively a new covenant emphasis — it is an old covenant one. The Old Covenant did not “promise” that, someday, the New Covenant would be a circumcision of the heart — it exhorted to Israel that it should be of the heart, right then and there. The sign should always correspond to the reality of what the Sacrament signifies about the person. This is why Moses says to a circumcised Israel in his second giving of the Law, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12),” emphasizing a holistic faith, along with “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn (Deuteronomy 10:16).”  The promise of Abraham, fulfilled with the incarnation of Jesus Christ when the Word became flesh (John 1:14), was not annulled by the Old Covenant, as Paul teaches so plainly in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:17-18). The Old Covenant very much emphasizes the everlasting covenant that God made with Israel (cf. Genesis 9:16; 17:7,13,19; 2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Chronicles 16:17; Psalm 105:10; Isaiah 24:5; 55:3; 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26), so that Moses could say with full confidence to the people of Israel, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:6).”


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"Sorry about the torture; we thought you were one of the terrorists"

During the Clinton presidency I recall the cries and warnings of pseudo-conservatives, especially folks like Rush Limbaugh, that our freedoms were being taken away, big brother was coming to enforce libertine ethics on our families etc… Fast-forward to today, and many “conservatives” have prostituted themselves and any legitimacy they may once have had to defend policies and decisions that–if made by an administration they hadn’t staked their political futures on–they would have decried as leading to the end of the freedom and virtue this nation was founded upon.

Take the following examples. Ten years ago, how would people have responded to stories of our government kidnapping people–even criminals or terrorists? Have we become so set on safety and survival that we not only give up our own freedoms for it, but are willing to do things that are unquestionably evil (and I use that term deliberately), practice the vices of governments that for years we have chastised, abuse people in ways that the US was established to oppose? And yet still we sooth ourselves with the mantra that we’re a “good people” and a “great nation” and that “they hate us because of our freedom,” as “America’s Mayor” has trotted out for the press so often. If that’s true, then they won’t have reason to hate us much longer. It’s a brave new world, and the freedom we so often parade has shown itself to be it’s own means of societal control–a counterfeit liberty.

Take for example the response of the Republican candidates to questions about the use of torture in one of the debates earlier this year. Of the field, only one candidate stated definitively that he would not authorize the torture of prisoners to get information–John McCain. To be fair, I’ve since read that Ron Paul has also stated he would not use torture. The rest of the candidates said flat out that they would use torture or tried to play games with the question rephrasing it to sanitize it by using the term “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

John McCain was not just morally right when he said he wouldn’t resort to torture, he was also correct from a utilitarian perspective when he said that information extracted under torture is notoriously unreliable. He’s also correct when he says this: “It’s not about the terrorists, it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are.”

Or, to put it another way, in the reimagined sci fi series Battlestar Gallactica, Admiral Adama says that their fight with their Cylon enemies is not just about survival, but deserving to survive. Perhaps thats a question we need to ask ourselves as we defend our way of life: does what we’re doing make us more or less deserving of survival?

Consider that as you read this editorial, “Sorry about the torture; we thought you were one of the terrorists.”

Here’s the problem with Guantanamo Bay – and secret CIA prisons on foreign soil – in a nutshell: If the prisoners being held there are illegal enemy combatants, then most Americans believe they do not deserve all the procedural niceties afforded by the Constitution. But the only fair way to figure out if a prisoner qualifies as an illegal enemy combatant is to follow the procedural niceties guaranteed by the Constitution.

And the Bush administration hasn’t even come close.

Take Khaled el-Masri. He was kidnapped by American agents while he was vacationing in Macedonia in 2003. He was beaten, stripped, dressed in a diaper and sweatsuit, and then chained, spread-eagle, to the floor of an airplane. He was flown to Afghanistan – where he was held incommunicado and, he says, tortured in a secret prison for five months. By then, U.S. agents realized they had the wrong guy. Khaled el-Masri was not, in fact, Khalid al-Masri, the terrorist. Whoops, sorry about that! El-Masri was then dumped in Albania and left to find his way home.

ON TUESDAY, citing the state secrets doctrine, the Supreme Court said el-Masri could not bring a civil suit in U.S. court. Germany’s parliament continues to investigate the episode.

If el-Masri’s were an isolated case, that would be one thing. But it is not. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kidnapped by U.S. agents and spirited to Syria, where authorities tortured him for 10 months. A subsequent inquiry by Canadian authorities determined “categorically” that there was “no evidence to indicate that Arar has committed any offense.” El-Masri and Arar are not alone.

How do Americans know the prisoners held captive in Guantanamo are not also victims of the fog of war but are, as the Bush administration claims, the “worst of the worst”? We don’t.

Take Australian David Hicks, the first Guantanamo prisoner to be convicted under the 2006 Military Commissions Act. According to press reports, “The high school dropout, Muslim convert, and al-Qaida recruit fought for two hours alongside the Taliban before he sold his rifle for taxi fare and was captured trying to escape Afghanistan in December 2001.” He was held at Guantanamo for more than five years before pressure from the Australian government led to a plea agreement – in which Hicks was sentenced to all of nine months’ imprisonment, on condition that he stop alleging that he was physically abused.

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Something from my wife…

I don’t know how I forgot to do this, but I want to point your attention to my lovely wife’s blog, and her post “Rules for listening to your spouse’s sermon.”  While it’s hilarious, there’s also a great deal of truth there… at least I know that I’ve sometimes caught an odd expression on her face and wondered “Oh no… what sort of heresy have I spouted unintentionally!” 😉

I might add that it takes almost as much effort to get used to preaching to a congregation that includes your significant other as it does to get used to hearing them preach.

Breaking America's harmful addiction to oil…

I ran across a new blog for conservatives who are concerned about the environment and conservation. It’s called Terra Rossa, and they’ve posted this interesting video on their site. Our dependence upon oil has caused America untold grief (indeed, dependence upon other countries for energy has caused a number of conflicts–and, in addition to general imperialism–motivated Japan in many of its conquests prior to and during the second World War, given that Japan has such a dearth of natural resources). President Bush is the one who said that America is addicted to oil. Addicts do harmful and foolish things to themselves, their families and friends, as well as other innocents, in order to feed their addiction. If we can’t break our addiction, we will certainly wake up from our oil induced trance down the road and look at what we’ve done and be ashamed–with reason.

Those who are not indifferent

Sermon Notes for Proper 21, 18 Pentecost, Year C
Scripture: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 6:11-19; Luke 16:19-31

Lazarus and the Rich manThe other day I had a conversation with the guy who cuts my hair, and he asked me if I’d heard about or had read the book entitled The Secret. I told him that I had heard of it but that I hadn’t read it (I didn’t tell him what I heard about it), and I was interested to hear what he would say. So he tells me his impression of this book. “It’s about energy” he said, “and everyone has positive and negative varieties. When you focus on bad things, bad things are attracted to you. When you focus on good things, good things come to you.” “So” he says, “you want a nice car, you just have to be positive and think that you’ll get that car and you’ll find a way to get it.” So things like getting sick and other bad things that happen to us are because of our negative energies.

You can see, probably, why such a belief would be popular in modern America. It’s practical, simple, easy to understand, and if something good happens, you get to take all the credit. And we have a lot of opportunities in our country for good things to happen to us. I’m not sure this idea would be so popular with or comforting to a cancer patient, or someone who’d just lost a loved one or had any number of bad things happen to them. “Too bad you’re going through that, guess you didn’t keep up on your positive energies.”

The whole frame of thought that The Secret and other examples of the “new thought” movement come out of is profoundly negative because it encourages people to self-aggrandizement, and to take credit and responsibility for things that are, in the nature of our world, largely or entirely out of our control.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea…you may have thought it sounded a bit like Karma in Hinduism, but it also bears similarities to some ideas that are present in scripture.

That’s right, these are biblical ideas. What I mean is that they are in the Bible, not that they are held up as good or commended. But we see examples of this when Job’s friends insist he must have sinned and brought his calamity upon himself. We see it in the Gospels when Jesus is asked about the man born blind: who sinned, this man or his parents? Of course Jesus doesn’t confirm their prejudices but instead sees it as an opportunity for the grace of God to be made manifest.

But people in that time, as much or more than people today, believed that people’s status in life and especially any disease or physical affliction they might have were a direct result of their (or their parents’) own moral fault or sin. That’s certainly what Jesus’ hearers would have been thinking when he started telling them the story of Lazarus and the rich man that we find in our Gospel reading this morning.

“Surely,” they’d think, “the wealthy man is blessed by God. Not only can he afford to wear white, but purple cloth as well–and cater such a feast daily! He must be truly holy.”
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From the Vicar's desk #2

Cross posted from St. Francis Church.

Last Sunday I preached the first in a planned series of sermons that will focus upon various aspects of the Church. I plan to focus on one detail of what it means to be the community known as the Body of Christ each week until we reach Advent. In the midst of this time we will have much to reflect upon and give thanks for. This Sunday as the Bishop visits we will see several of our members either confirmed or recieved. In a few weeks on All Saint’s Sunday we will be blessed with a double Baptism as Levi and Luke Waites are made one with Christ through water and the Holy Spirit. These are all exciting things, but they all raise questions about the nature of the Church and exactly who it is we are supposed to be as Christians.

These questions are only magnified by the current state of American Christianity. It is easy at the moment to get bogged down in the conflicts wracking the Episcopal Church, but we are not the only denomination experiencing conflict. Our sister church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has recently entered the same arena of conflict as the Episcopal Church in the area of human sexuality. Indeed, our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church are probably not far behind. After a convention which saw alternative names given to the Trinity, The Presbyterian Church, USA has begun to splinter with congregations leaving to join other Presbyterian bodies.

But such conflict isn’t limited to the old-line “liberal” denominations. Conservative Christian churches such as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Southern Baptist Convention have also endured doctrinal conflict and splits, and the troubles of the Roman Catholic Church often mirror our own even as their hierarchy takes a firmer stand. And of course, many of their dioceses are still reeling from the after-shocks of the sex abuse scandal.

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