Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: August 2008 (Page 2 of 3)

An old passion…

When I was growing up I never had the opportunity to know my paternal grandfather. I was born in December 1980 and he died in March of 1981. While it had later ramifications, from one perspective it was probably a blessing that I was born prematurely (my due date wasn’t until sometime in March from what I’m told) so that, at the very least, he got to hold me before he died.  He was a house painter and died in his later 50’s after a struggle with leukemia.  My dad has always suspected that something in the lead-based paint that he worked with for so many years as he worked himself to the bone to raise eight children contributed to the disease.  I don’t know if there was or even could be a direct connection, but doubtless the way he lived his life did contribute.  At any rate, because he passed away when I was just a baby, I knew my dad’s dad primarily from stories, family pictures, random comments and two collections he left to me.

One of the things my grandpa left me were a number of 50¢ pieces and silver dollars.  He also left me something else.  He was a knife collector and while he didn’t have very many valuable knives, he did have an assortment that was interesting and unique.  As I was growing up, I would often get the old ammo box that my dad had stored the knives in and use what strength I had in my young limbs to move it to the middle of the floor in my parent’s bed room in order to deposit the contents on the floor and look at the different styles, materials and inlays.  When I was very young, of course, I wasn’t allowed to actually carry a pocket knife… at least not one that I could open.  Instead, my dad found one that had aged shut and was impossible for my small fingers to pry apart, so I carried that one until I was in kindergarten, when I got my first real (and very small) pocket knife.  I still remember the time I got in trouble in Kindergarten because I forgot to take the knife out of my jacket pocket from the weekend and wound up being discovered armed with a deadly weapon at school.  The horror.  Luckily, I had a wise and experienced teacher (I didn’t know it then of course, but she had actually already taught education at the university level before she began teaching elementary school again).  Rather than calling in the police, she confiscated my blade and told me I could have it back at the end of the year.  I was a fretful child though, and didn’t like being in trouble, and was so flustered by the experience that I missed the announcement for my bus and wound up having to be driven home by said Kindergarten teacher, who of course told my very surrprised mom what had happened.  Of course, neither of these things would happen today.  The world has changed since 1985 and now I would’ve probably been tazed and taken into police custody… if my teacher had decided to give me a ride home in today’s environment, the same thing would happen to her.

Benchmade McHenry & Williams Limited Edition.

Benchmade McHenry & Williams Limited Edition.

Over the years, I’ve been amused at the horror expressed by some people at the prospect of someone carrying a pocket knife as a child.  I recall being especially amused when our home econimics teacher in the eight grade couldn’t grasp the fact that one of my hobbies at that point was knife collecting.  “Your parents let you have knives!?” she said.  Well, maybe that was more a comment on me than anything else. :-p  But really, it shouldn’t have been surprising given our location in the South and in the mountains.  I would’ve been odd in my family to not carry a pocket knife.  I was strange enough because I didn’t hunt.

All that  is to say that carrying a pocket knife is a cultural, familial and personal tradition for me, and only reluctantly do I not carry one with me.  I still have my grandpa’s collection, to which I add special collectors items to every so often.  But rather than the standard Case XX or other traditional folder, I’ve come to appreciate modern folders like those produced by companies like Gerber, Spyderco and especially Benchmade.

This past June, Anna and I made the trip to California for my brother-in-law’s wedding, and somehow my knife disappeared from our checked baggage on the return flight.  After a few weeks of frustration at reaching to my side pocket in order to get my knife out to open a box or perform some other task, I decided it was time to find a replacement to the Benchmade Griptillian I’d been carrying for several years.

After looking around a bit, I settled upon the knife pictured above: the Benchmade McHenry & Williams 707 Sequel limited edition.  The specific version I have was sold only by Bass Pro Shop.  Overall, I’ve been very happy with it.  It’s light, but still feels substantial enough in the hand, the drop-point blade is well designed at at a little under 3″ is just the right length.  Above all, the blade is extremely sharp and holds an edge quite well.  I especially appreciate the wooden inlay and the finish on this model as it makes it look a bit more formal than some of the others.  If you’re in the market for a new pocket knife, I recommend it highly.

So now you know a bit more about one of my old passions.  Let me know if you have any of your own.

And, as someone else put it: every man should carry a pocket knife.

Buy your own

That a child might live…

Theotokos: Life-giving Spring

Theotokos: Life-giving Spring

As if the world of medical ethics were not convoluted and strained enough, our technology allows us to continue pushing boundaries while raising moral questions that were not even on the radar screen 100, 50 or even 25 years ago. Thankfully there are those who still ask the questions begged by various procedures–but such voices seem to be crying alone in the wilderness at times.

For example, I checking my RSS feeds today and came across this piece via Touchstone’s “Mere Comments” blog.  It seems that California courts have determined that it is illegal for doctors who perform in vitro fertilization procedures to refuse their services to homosexuals.  Don’t import your (private) ethics into your (public) work, the message goes.  Of course, the real question is, as James Kushiner rightly notes, why these Christian doctors (and evidently those protesting universal access to fertility and conception services are Christians of some variety or other) are performing such procedures in the first place, “Artificial insemination should never been accepted by Christians doctors in the first place,” he says “so the moral issue here lies further downstream.  On the face of it, the court decision might force Christian doctors to reeducate their consciences by learning what real Christian medical practice is.” (read his complete comment here)

But this wasn’t the only ethical quandary lurking in my blog-reader today and the second issue hits somewhat closer to home.  It seems that some doctors up in Denver have just released the findings of their government funded research in which they experimented with removing the hearts of severely brain-damaged babies shortly after their hearts stopped beating, but before total brain-death was pronounced.  As the article puts it:

Surgeons in Denver are publishing their first account of a procedure in which they remove the hearts of severely brain-damaged newborns less than two minutes after the babies are disconnected from life support, and their hearts stop beating, so the organs can be transplanted into infants who would otherwise die.

It just so happens that a family with close ties to St. Francis Church has a child who is in the hospital as we speak awaiting a viable heart transplant match.  What is one to say to this family, hoping against hope that prayer and modern medicine work together to bring their child a long and happy life.  The task to even think about this topic almost becomes too heavy a burden when one has not been in their situation, praying for one’s own child.  But is it their hope that puts this situation into a moral gray area, or is it the eagerness of doctors who, in their desire to save some may be depriving others of their lives (and it is murder to take life, even a life that would otherwise have ended minutes or seconds later without interference).  Again, from the Washington Post article:

Critics, however, are questioning the propriety of removing hearts from patients, especially babies, who are not brain-dead and are asking whether the Denver doctors wait long enough to make sure the infants met either of the long-accepted definitions of death — complete, irreversible cessation of brain function or of heart and lung function. Some even said the operations are tantamount to murder.

I don’t have an answer to every question, but I do wonder sometimes why we as Christians avoid such important issues and instead find ouselves locked in heated battle over what color the carpet in the foyer should be.  I’m not certain Christians would be as divided as we are on moral and ethical issues if we actually talked, as Christians, about them.  As it is, we are divided about large issues because we focus on and become defined by much smaller differences of opinion, so that we are no longer schooled in the Christian tradition that is meant to form us as followers of Christ.  As Kushiner says “Isn’t it time to establish an alternative, and moral, traditional Christian medical practice around the country? The fault line is already there, but we’ve got Christian doctors standing on both sides of it.”  That pretty much describes the relationship of Christians to every moral issue out there.  There is no unanimity among Christians on these topics.  And without a willingness to approach them, there never will be.

So here’s the hard question for us: what lengths are available to us from a Christian perspective in the creation of life, or in the preservation of life.  What are the legitimate actions to take so that a child might live.  Are we prepared to say that another must die–even if only a bit sooner than otherwise.

Out of Africa: A Kenyan missionary sets his sights on Manchester

Six years ago, when Cyprian Yobera moved into Clevedon Street, one of the five, this enclave in the north-east of the city had seemingly been forgotten by everyone but the dealers, the prostitutes and local gangs. The council’s preferred solution was to knock it down. “About 50 per cent of the houses were boarded-up and covered with graffiti,” recalls Yobera, who comes from Nairobi in Kenya. “There was rubbish behind the unused houses, young people making them into dens, drugs being done, needles left lying around and petty crime was thriving.”

An odd place, then, to relocate your family from halfway across the world. But 43-year-old Yobera, his teacher wife Jayne and their two small daughters did not arrive by accident in an area designated in 2004 by a government survey as the most deprived in England in terms of income, unemployment, health, education, housing and crime. They believe they were called there by God.

Yobera is an Anglican priest and came to Harpurhey as part of a revolutionary project organised by the Church Mission Society. Once, dog-collared missionaries set out from Europe to convert the “heathens” of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Today, the traffic is no longer one-way: Africa is sending men such as Yobera back to minister to “heathen” Britain.

“Kenya has material poverty,” Yobera tells me, “but we saw poverty here in a new way – a spiritual poverty. All sense of community was missing. Our minds were blown by that. Missionary work in Kenya is easy. You stand on a street with a guitar and a crowd will come. People there are very sympathetic to the gospel message. Here, even the basic Bible stories are absent. People only know Jesus as a swear word.

Out of Africa: A Kenyan missionary sets his sights on Manchester – Features, The New Review – The Independent

The Anglican Spirit: Theology

Archbishop Michael Ramsey

Archbishop Michael Ramsey

“First of all, the close connection between theology, doctrine, and Christian worship is very powerful in Hooker. He describes what we believe very much in terms of how we worship. That has remained a characteristic of Anglican theology right into the present century, and German theologians, very rigorous in their academic method, have sometimes laughed at Anglican theologians for doing their theology to the sound of church bells. Well, continue to do theology to the sound of church bells, for that is what Christian theology really is all about–worshiping God the Savior through Jesus Christ in the theology of the apostolic age.”(The Anglican Spirit, 8-9)

The Anglican Spirit

Proxy Wars and A Missionary’s Perspective on Lambeth

I just ran across the following blog post from an Episcopal Missionary in Tanzania regarding the recently concluded Lambeth Conference.  In this section we see just one of the many possible ways the debates in the West regarding human sexuality are already affecting life throughout the Communion.  Is there any doubt that, should division continue, such situations with increase and worsen?

As many of you know I am serving as a missionary in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, which is a very large diocese in the Anglican Church of Tanzania. Now as a missionary I am here at the invitation and under the authority of the diocesan bishop here. This bishop is moderate and believes in dialogue and communicating with the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) and so he is willing to invite missionaries from there. The former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Tanzania was strongly opposed to the actions of the Episcopal Church USA and he refused to accept money or aide from that Church.

This clear difference between the views of the former Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Tanzania (ACT) and the bishop of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika (DCT) has played out in a very ugly way. A few years ago, very conservative Anglican Americans (formerly Episcopalian) decided to establish an Anglican university in Dodoma. They put together a great deal of money and sent it over here to create and fund a university who would be headed by the former archbishop of ACT who condemned ECUSA as ignoring scripture and being sodomites. One of the main functions of this university was to train leaders for the Anglican Church, but ignores one major fact. In the 1960s DCT established Msalato Bible College (now Msalato Theological College) to train leaders for the Church. Msalato has been raising up and educating leaders for decades in the same place that American Anglicans established this new university, which is called St. John’s. The people who established St. John’s hoped to supplant Msalato forbade cooperation between the two institutions. The backers of St. John’s established huge scholarship funds and were able to successfully lure away all but one of Msalato’s first class of degree students with promises of free education. At the same time many churches and some diocese in the Episcopal Church have increased their support for Msalato and DCT.

Historians would call this a proxy war. One in which two larger powers use local leaders to wage a war against each other without risking any of their own people. Proxy wars were very common during the Cold War and were fought throughout the developing war. This is a sad and tragic development. A perversion of the Church and a bastardization of mission theology. The Church should not look to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the conflict between the Contras and Sandinistas, or the Bay of Pigs invasion to find tactics or ethical support.

Day’s Daze in Dodoma » Blog Archive » A Missionary’s Perspective on Lambeth.

Ross Douthat on Joseph Bottom on the Death of Protestant America

Recently Joseph Bottum wrote a very interesting essay in First Things entitled “The Death of Protestant America: A Political theory of the Protestant Mainline”, PSA+ turned me on to Ross Douthat’s response over at the Atlantic, and I think he’s teased out something important here:

The Norman Vincent Peale bit, I think, is particularly telling, because it gets at something that I think is often missed about the current religious landscape: Namely, the extent to which Schori’s theological premises are shared across the culture-war divide, by Christians who oppose gay marriage and abortion and voted eagerly for George W. Bush as well as by liberal Protestants who consider the contemporary GOP an abomination. Peale’s heirs occupy the pulpits of what remains of the Protestant mainline, but they preach from the dais at numerous evangelical megachurches as well. The people who read Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and The Prayer of Jabez may be more politically conservative then the people who read A Wing and a Prayer, and read certain passages of Genesis and Leviticus more literally, but the theology they’re imbibing is roughly the same sort of therapeutic mush. Indeed, the big difference between the prosperity gospel that Osteen and his ilk are peddling and Schori’s liberal Episcopalianism has less to do with any theological principle and more to do with what aspect of American life they want God to validate.

Ross Douthat (July 24, 2008) – The American Heresy (Religion).

Alan Jacobs | more than 95 theses – Archbishop Rowan

Alan Jacobs is a professor of English at Wheaton College and I often read his contributions to The American Scene and Touchstone.  He attends an Anglican Mission in America Congregation.  I would like to share some of his recent reflections on Archbishop Rowan Williams with you:

Yet I must say that, like many Anglican traditionalists, I have often been frustrated with Rowan in his role as Archbishop. Primarily it is his apparent passivity that has frustrated me: I have wanted him to take action, to do things, to shape events for the cause of orthodoxy, but he has persistently refused to intervene in the life of the Communion, and to some extent in his own Church of England, in clear and overt ways — in political ways. I and many others have wanted him to be a leader and this above all seems what he has refused to be.

But in these past few days I have been wondering whether there might be a method in Rowan’s madness — or rather in God’s. Might it be possible that while Rowan is most certainly not the kind of leader we want, he is precisely the kind we need? That his leadership is not that of a Churchill but rather a Desert Father? We want decision, action, clearly set plans; Rowan offers prayer, meditation, stillness, silence. He models those disciplines for us, and in so doing (silently) commends them.

What if that is what we Anglicans actually need?

{Read it all}


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