"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Creed: Thoughts from DuBose and others


In conversations about liturgical revision (which, unfortunately it seems, will indeed be happening sooner rather than later in the Episcopal Church), one persistent topic is the place of the Nicene Creed in worship. According to the Book of Common Prayer (1979), it is to be said by all in public worship on every Sunday and Major Feast. Some would prefer we not say it as often, and some think we should not have to say it at all! At a recent forum on Prayer Book revision, the Rev. Ruth Myers "described the Nicene Creed as 'a stumbling block for many,' and wondered if a creed is necessary during the Eucharist." Several thoughtful priests and lay persons have been discussing this online. From my perspective, here are some highlights:

Fr. Robert Hendrickson writes:
In order to be included in something then something must have some sort of definable shape, belief, boundary, norm, or pattern. The notion that if we recite the Creed on Sundays then we are excluding someone somehow misses an essential point – excluding them from what?
For all the talk about inclusion in the Church the sad thing to me is that this has become a cheap thing – we are too often not including people in anything more challenging, life-changing, or controversial than a New York Times subscription. The only thing the Church includes anyone in is in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – the mystery at the heart of the Creed.
(read the rest here)

Fr. Christopher Arnold, in relating a story about a parish discussion he once took part in, writes:
The younger generations, on the other hand, felt more cordial about the Creed. I’ll divulge that I was in this group. For several of us, the Creed was something concrete and positive, a constructive statement of faith. Unlike the older Christians in the room, the younger ones had been raised in secular and skeptical surroundings. Many of our peers were dismissive or hostile towards Christianity, preferring Buddhism, neo-Paganism, or nothing. We spoke about how we had struggled to arrive at the faith that the Creed summarized. To stand and declare it on a Sunday was to affirm again the faith that we had discovered to be life-giving. I remember one young woman saying that she didn’t agree with everything in the Creed, but she respected that the Creed represented the faith of the wider church, and she was working hard to join it.
My point is not to say that one group is right and another wrong, but to draw attention to how our feelings about parts of the liturgy are possibly cultural pendulums swinging through their arcs. If the Creed is removed because one generation feels uncomfortable with it, how will the next generation get a chance to see if the Creed is necessary for the support of their faith?
(read the rest here)

And two reactions in the comments section following Fr. Chris's post:
Without the faith of the creeds, and the strong identity it ideally inculcates, even in the midst of disagreement with it, a church becomes either a poorly run social service organization, so wasteful that it should be shut down, or a boring fraternal organization, and deserves the death that ultimately awaits it. (Fr. Jody Howard)
and
The fact (that) the Episcopal Church is relatively hospitable to skeptics doesn’t mean that we don’t intend to be a branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Those who accept our relative open-mindedness and hospitality ought not to ask those of us who affirm the historic faith without hesitation to deform the liturgy by removing the Nicene Creed. (Fr. Bill Carroll)  

In reading and reflecting over all this, I was reminded of something I recently read by William Porcher DuBose. In his 1911 lectures at the University of the South (later published as Turning Points in My Life), DuBose stated:
All the truth of the Church is not yet mine: there are points of it that I know to be true, because I have been all the time approximating to them; but I am still waiting, and shall probably die waiting, for them to become true to me. Truth is not an individual thing; no one of us has all of it--even all of it that is known. Truth is a corporate possession, and the knowledge of it is a corporate process. It enters slowly and painfully into the common sense, the common experience, the common use and life of men. There is a corporate, catholic, Christianity, actually extant on this earth, which no one or no set of us holds all of, or perfectly even what we do hold ... the full actualization of  Christianity will come only with the fruition of the world's destiny, in the end of the ages. When a man learns that, he will be modest either about his own truth or about impugning other people's truth.
It is this very understanding of truth, and of the truth of the Christian faith, which led DuBose to comment specifically on the Creed, and its place in the Church:
I can accept the Church's, or the Catholic, Creed; and could with good conscience accept it, even though it were not yet all my own creed, or though I could not see my way to ever making all the incidents or details of it my own. Shall Christ not be mine, and I His, because I cannot see all the steps of my way to Him?--or all the steps of His way to me?  ...  We may confess the faith as the Church's faith and profess the life as the Church's life, but to start out with saying that either of them is all personally ours is either ignorance or hypocrisy.  On the one hand, therefore, I would say that for one to suppose that, because the general or catholic creed of the Church is not in every point and particular, in every interpretation or understanding of it, his own personal and actual creed, he has therefore at once to teach or preach against it, or else to avow and proclaim his dissent as to read himself or be read out of the Church, is illogical and unreasonable. And on the other hand, I should say that for the Church to require and demand that, ipso facto and instanter, her fully developed and complete creed should be ex animo and in every jot and tittle the personal and actual creed of every member, or of any member, is equally irrational and impossible. There ought to be, at the least, as much of divine patience and tenderness on the part of the Church toward the incomplete and even the willful believer, as there out to be of modest deference and obedience on the part of the individual believer to the reasonable and rightful authority of the Church. 
DuBose's own reasonable and nuanced thought in this regard has helped me to be more honest and charitable when it comes to discussing the Creed with those who are uncomfortable affirming it (or parts thereof)--but his approach simultaneously affirms, I believe, the fundamental importance of the Creed as "the Church's faith," faithfully leading us into the completeness of truth, though as yet "no one of us has all of it." It is for this reason that I believe the '79 Prayer Book was right to restore the confession of the Nicene Creed at the celebration of every Sunday Eucharist (previous Prayer Books had allowed for its occasional omission, provided that it was at least said on principal feast days).

Lastly, DuBose's understanding that "truth is a corporate possession" is reinforced by the '79 Prayer Book's restoration of the plural form ("We believe in one God ..."), which is true to the original language of the Creed (previous Prayer Books had read, "I believe ... "). The wisdom of this language was demonstrated to me recently when a clergy friend was recounting an experience he had as a young ordinand. Nearing ordination, he admitted to his spiritual advisor that he did not think he could in good conscience fully affirm a particular article of the Creed. His advisor replied, "Affirm it, and I will believe it for you, and you may trust that one day you will believe it, too." This, to me, is a beautiful illustration of Charles Williams' idea of "coinherence." So, for example, when St. Paul writes that we are to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2), there is a deep spiritual truth discerned--we are, mystically and truly, bound together in Christ, in all things. And so one now truly, like Christ, suffers with and for another, rejoices with and for another, believes with and, at times even believes for, on behalf of, another who is in the midst of doubt. And so the Church, composed as she is of such diverse individuals, is increasingly being brought to unity in and by Christ, as she confesses, "We believe ..."  


Peace of Christ.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Rejoinder on the Essential Catholicity of the Episcopal Church, and the Importance of Relationships

While searching, out of curiosity, for Episcopal Church parishes that have altars set against the east wall, I stumbled upon an Orthodox blog post regarding an event about which I previously wrote (here). The event served as an opportunity for that blogger to opine that "the Episcopal 'Church' is simply apostate," that ecumenical dialogue between Orthodox and Episcopalians should cease, and that Orthodox jurisdictions should no longer recognize Episcopal sacraments, including baptism. Further elaboration followed in the comments. Given that opening volley, and considering the premium that I place upon incarnate relationships (according to which, I often question the value of relatively impersonal conversations online), I'm not sure that I had any real cause to comment; for whatever reason, I felt compelled to do so.

My response became too extensive for a mere comment, so I have posted my thoughts here (with an invitation, of course, to the originator of the criticisms to read them and respond, if he is so inclined). I offer them without animosity as the reflections of one who desires greater understanding, charity, and unity among Christians of varying traditions.

The assertions with which I must contend, and my responses:

"The simple truth is we have no idea what is happening in (Episcopal) baptisms. We don't know what is being said, what is being intended, and so on. In theory they are bound by the Book of Common Prayer. In practice this is often not the case."
I should begin by saying that I view adherence to the BCP as of utmost importance, and while it's true that we have priests who don't do this as strictly as they should (and as they are bound by their ordination vows to do), it must be said that such aberrations are exceptions, despite the press they receive. I think this is even truer with regards to the baptismal rite; as a lifelong Episcopalian, I've witnessed a fair number of baptisms, and I've never seen (or heard of) one that would be considered invalid according to the doctrine and practice set forth in the BCP. At a minimum, the baptism must be "with water, 'In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' (which are the essential parts of Baptism)" (1979 BCP, 313). Any baptism meeting this basic criteria is recognized as valid by the Episcopal Church as constituting "full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble" (BCP, 298). Accordingly, the Episcopal Church does not re-baptize, and firmly argues against a theological understanding of baptism which would necessitate such a practice.
     As for baptisms administered in the Episcopal Church, in addition to meeting the above essentials, they are normatively in accordance with the full baptismal rite contained in the Prayer Book. In that rite, the candidate renounces Satan, evil, and sin, and affirms Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and the one upon whom all hope is cast. The candidate proceeds, with the whole assembly, to affirm the faith in the words of the Apostles' Creed. After prayers, the candidate is baptized in the Triune Name, and anointed with Chrism ("you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever"). Then the newly baptized is charged by the whole assembled household of God to "Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood." (BCP, 301-308). One may dispute the finer points of the BCP rite itself, but I must contend that it is simply unjustified to state that "we have no idea what is happening" in Episcopal baptisms--what is happening, with near if not actual universality in such baptisms, is the rite as contained in the authorized liturgy of the Episcopal Church.

"There is no real article of faith to which one must subscribe to be (an Episcopalian)."
See above. To me, this criticism sounds like a stereotypical Roman Catholic (or generally Western) criticism of Eastern Orthodoxy: "How can anyone be sure what those Orthodox really believe? They have no Pope! They have no systematic catechism! They are so enamored of divine mystery! It's just too messy!" It can indeed be messy, but that by no means negates the deep substance to be found in a tradition. To be baptized or received into the Episcopal Church is to affirm the ancient Creeds, and to submit to be continually formed by the liturgy of the Church as authorized in the BCP, which is the clearest and most authoritative source of "the doctrine and discipline" of the Episcopal Church. If one has questions about the faith professed by the Episcopal Church, read the BCP. Again, one may quibble over various details, but I don't see how anyone could claim that the BCP as a whole is not a formulary that is elegantly and powerfully catholic and reformed, solidly orthodox, and unambiguously Trinitarian. (And it's so handy, too!)

"Are there Christians in TEC? Certainly. But the organization itself is not Christian . . ."
Again, see above. This reminds me of conversations in my younger days among evangelical Protestant friends:
"So, do you think it's possible for a Roman Catholic to be a Christian?"
"Well, I guess so, if they have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. But I don't know why they would continue to stay in that pagan, idolatrous 'church.' They should find a real church that's Bible-based."
"So, do you know many Roman Catholics?"
"Well, not really. But I just read this book by a former Catholic who got saved, all about what Catholics really believe . . ."

Lastly,
"And of course the few who are as a matter of personal faith still Christian are in full communion with the likes of Jack Spong. You are who you are in communion with."
To begin with, I should say that I'm no fan of John S. Spong. I tend to be pretty generous, but having read some of his stuff, I honestly don't know how (or why) he maintains a Christian self-identity. I should also note that some of his ablest critics have been his fellow Anglicans, including the recent Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (he truly took him to task for his "12 Points"--look it up for a good read). There are still Episcopalians who seem interested in what he writes, but in my experience they are generally older and of decreasing number (i.e. Spong's heyday, to the extent that he had one, has come and gone). But more to the point, I would speak to the claim that "you are who you are in communion with." If that is how communion works (i.e. negatively, the "worst" of us infecting the "best" of us), then no doubt we are all, in every tradition, hopelessly lost. But there is a sense in which I agree--I believe that by God's grace in the sacraments (particularly Baptism and Eucharist), Christians are brought into union with one another in ways no less real for our inadequacy to describe the mystery. I would not say, though, that "I am who I am in communion with"; rather, I would assert that I am becoming, that I am being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, and into greater union with God and God's people.

To conclude, I would reiterate that I think relationships are key--if a Christian from a different tradition finds it inconceivable that an Episcopalian could be both sincere and well-grounded in his personal Christian faith and also convinced of the essential catholicity of the Episcopal Church, I would encourage such a one to seek to develop some relationships with some actual Episcopalians. I myself have been greatly blessed by my involvement in the Eighth Day Institute, a local ecumenical endeavor founded by a devout Orthodox layman and supported by the local Orthodox Cathedral of St. George (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America). It is a truly remarkable and wonderful source of Christian fellowship and education.

Ephesians 4:1-6
Pax Christi.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Derek Olsen on Catholic Anglicanism: Christology and Sacramental Theology Matter


Dr. Derek Olsen, who blogs at haligweorc, recently posted some thoughts on the future of Anglo-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church. In response to a comment on that post, he offered another clarifying post. As I've come to expect, he nails it: 

What do I care about? Resurgent Arianism in the church really bothers me; approval and promotion of teachers who suggest that Jesus was just an enlightened revolutionary teacher rather than God Incarnate bothers me. Casual modalism bothers me. Indeed, causual modalism implying that Jesus has no role as Creator or Sanctifier further reinforces Arian tendencies. Insidious Gnosticism and the notion that the faith is about an individual’s intellectual assent to a set of ideas rather than the communal living of embodied beliefs bothers me. Disconnecting the sacraments from a life of discipleship bothers me. The Eucharist is a sacrificial meal of reconciliation that draws us deeper into our baptismal vows and commitments. It is a sign of and for the baptized community and those who wish to receive it should be invited into the community through the font. Concerns about Christology have real, practical, pastoral implications; sacramental theology matters in how we see God at work in the world around us. This isn’t a “superior version of the faith”—it’s the faith as we’ve been taught it. I have a duty to teach it to my children and, by extension, to have confidence that the other members of the church who are teaching my children hold it too.

Read it all here.


Peace of Christ.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Heschel: The Supremacy of Pathos

From The Prophets, by Abraham Heschel:

"The central achievement of biblical religion was to remove the veil of anonymity from the workings of history. There are no ultimate laws, no eternal ideas. The Lord alone is ultimate and eternal. The laws are His creation, and the moral ideas are not entities apart from Him; they are His concern. Indeed, the personalization of the moral idea is the indispensable assumption of prophetic theology. Mercy, grace, repentance, forgiveness, all would be impossible if the moral principle were held to be superior to God.  God's call to man, which resounds so frequently in the utterances of the prophets, presupposes an ethos based, not upon immutable principles, but rather upon His eternal concern. God's repenting a decision which was based on moral grounds clearly shows the supremacy of pathos." 

Frankly, it is a thought provoking passage for me, because the pathos of God is something I sometimes struggle with. I must admit that my image of God (and, I think, the Church's understanding of God from a very early date, and hence the image most Christians have) has been formed for better or worse not only by Holy Scripture but by ancient Greek ideas of God (not popular Greek religion, but the philosophers). Specifically, Greek ideas about God's immutability (i.e. "unchangeableness") can be supported by some specific verses, but looking at the whole of Scripture I think it is not possible to state confidently that God is "unmoved." In other words, God as depicted in the Bible does indeed seem to change his mind, to "relent concerning calamity" out of his mercy and love for us, notwithstanding the demands of strict justice.

This is seen particularly in the prophets, where God often seems overcome by pathos. We may say that this simply represents a human attempt at understanding the infinite God, but it is Scripture nonetheless, so I feel compelled to attend to it. A great example is Hosea, where the recurring image is one of "God, the jilted husband"--an emotional image if ever there was one! A climactic passage comes in Hosea chapter 11. After ten chapters of indictment against Judah and Israel for unfaithfulness justly deserving God's imminent wrath (occasionally punctuated by seemingly contrary assertions of tenderness), the LORD declares, "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? . . . My heart is turned over within me, all my compassions are kindled. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again" (Hos. 11:8-9).

At the risk of sounding crude, the image of God in Hosea strikes me as almost "hormonal," which is not how I would ordinarily think of God. Yet, as Heschel argues, without the supremacy of the pathos of God over immutable moral principles, there would be no mercy, forgiveness, grace--and so I must confess profound gratitude for such pathos! 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Herbert: Welcome Dear Feast of Lent


Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not temperance, or Authority,
     But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
     To ev'ry corporation.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It's true, we cannot reach Christ's forti'th day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
     Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior's purity;
Yet are we bid, Be holy, ev'n as he.
     In both let's do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
     That travelleth byways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
     May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
     As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
     And among those his soul.

~opening and closing stanzas of "Lent," from George Herbert's The Temple


From the start, George Herbert's poem is apologetic. He assumes that there is a need to justify to the reader the benefit and appropriateness of this penitential season. It is a reasonable assumption, for who loves discipline, penitence, and soul-searching? Yet, we are reminded "the Scriptures bid us fast"--there are numerous and significant examples of fasting in the Bible, including the example of our Lord (Mt. 4:2, Lk. 4:2) as well as his specific injunction (Mt. 6:16-18). And since we do not dispute the general appropriateness of granting authority to those people or organizations to whom it is lawfully due, how much more willing should we be to honor, in the case of spiritual discipline, the authority of the Church, wherein we have been born to new life?

However, dutiful obedience is not the heart of the poem. Rather, Herbert sees the Lenten season as a gift, "an occasion" (he says in another stanza) of which "true Christians should be glad." Indeed, he begins rather provocatively by calling Lent, the Great Fast of the Church, a "dear feast." In what sense is Lent an opportunity and a feast? It is an opportunity to emulate Jesus, and in so doing to meet him. We do not travel the Lenten road of discipline for the purpose of self-improvement, but to identify with and meet Jesus; "Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone, is much more sure to meet with him." And Lent is a feast, not for the body, but for the soul. Herbert's final stanza alludes to Isaiah 58, in which the LORD describes a true fast:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
                                  ~ Isaiah 58:6-7

In thus "banqueting the poor" we banquet also our souls. Those who choose to enter into the wilderness for these forty days may be apprehensive, and that is understandable. But it is in the wilderness that we may expect to find our Lord. And choosing intentionally to starve our incessant preoccupation with ourselves and our desires, which is after all our natural inclination, frees us to turn our energies to bless others. And so we both fulfill God's desire that we care for one another, and find that it is in such care that we are truly made full.

"Welcome dear feast of Lent."


Peace of Christ.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Christian Reflection on Abortion: Welcome, Relationship, Responsibility

When I saw the headline in my Facebook feed about a church "celebrating abortion" I half expected what I would find. "Of course. Abortion. Kansas. The Episcopal Church. Of course." Much as I love the Episcopal Church, there is no denying that we have a particular knack for majoring in really terrible PR (and that not due solely to ignorant or hostile press, though there is that). And oh, Kansas--nary a dull moment for the culture wars!

The parish church that is hosting the event in support of a local Planned Parenthood clinic (which provides women's health services, but not abortions) is one with which I am personally acquainted. Though I have never been a member there, my family and I have attended services occasionally, as well as diocesan and community events there. It has been a place of blessing for us, a community in the household of God in which sincere love and discipleship are evident. I can say that confidently as one who has experienced it as a reality. Accordingly, I was disappointed (though not surprised) by the inflammatory invective that a quick online search turned up: one columnist allowed herself to speculate wildly about parishioners as neo-Moloch worshipers ecstatically tossing children to the flames.1 Separately, a YouTube activist introduced his video by referring to the parish as an "apostate yoga practicing baby-killing loving church" (alright, I did have to chuckle at that one). Such characterizations can only come from people who apparently have no desire to see "the other" as anything but fanatical. There seems even to be no hint of their viewing "those people" as perhaps well-meaning but misguided--no, they are nefarious apostates bent on evil. No shades of gray here. It is a way of thinking not so far removed from the oft-heard accusation that pro-lifers don't actually care about preventing abortions but simply want to control women's bodies.

Though steering well clear of such rhetoric, the view from the other side in this case is not so generous as I had hoped for. I don't find particularly helpful a statement such as, "The Episcopal Church says you can form your own opinion about reproductive justice and you can be against it or for it."2 Such language feebly attempts to give an impression of open-mindedness while asserting that there is nevertheless an obvious right answer. While I don't subscribe to a post-modernism that admits of the futility of being able to assert anything (the gospel certainly makes assertions, and the Christian life is a way of life demanding decisions, not merely an intellectual exercise), still I do acknowledge that there are many exigencies of human life which are complex and upon which thoughtful people disagree. Political rhetoric from left and right notwithstanding, abortion is such an issue.

I think it is unfortunate that this issue has become so politicized that it is difficult to have meaningful conversation about it. Both sides speak in loaded language, the simplistic language of politicians seeking to win the votes of citizens who don't have time for the complicated details. But such should not be the language of the Church. As Stanley Hauerwas has said, “The church must refuse to use society’s terms for the abortion debate. The church must address the abortion problem as church.”3 In my own attempt to think through the abortion problem outside of the truncated parameters in which it is typically framed, I would describe myself generally as pro-choice and anti-abortion (though undermining a mutually exclusive view of the terms, I am aware that I am still using the language of the debate; it's a start). And in fact, such a designation is consonant with the public stance of the Episcopal Church: General Convention Resolution A054 states the Church's opposition to government action that would abridge “the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy.”4 Such decisions are too complex, important, and morally fraught to be decided by partisan legislators. However, the same resolution boldly proclaims that “all human life is sacred from its inception until death,” and therefore “all abortion (has) a tragic dimension.” Accordingly, the Church states that "we emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience." In light of this, a woman with an unplanned pregnancy should expect the full support, in counsel and resources, of the Church. That is easier to say than to do.

In his essay, "Abortion, Theologically Understood" Stanley Hauerwas makes the argument that Christians should not understand the abortion debate as one of rights (i.e. "right to life" vs. "right to choose"), but of responsibility. And responsibility is difficult, risky, costly. It may mean Christians working to profoundly change structures in our society so that women can feel confident about having the support to give birth to a child in difficult circumstances. But even closer to home, it may mean Christian communities being willing to make real sacrifices to welcome life into the world, radically offering hospitality both to "unwanted children" and to the women upon whom society, in the name of privacy, would dump the total burden of responsibility. What such a welcome would look like would vary: it could mean more Christians being willing to adopt, or to welcome pregnant women into their own homes, or parishes taking communal responsibility for the long-term care of women and children. In any event, it would not be easy, but such is the call to welcome life as a gift of God. The Church also must ever offer grace and forgiveness, and to seek to be understanding of the frailty of human nature and the sometimes overpowering sense of circumstance. The resources of the Church significantly include her liturgical life: among the authorized liturgies of the Episcopal Church are "A Rite of Repentance and Reconciliation for an Abortion" and "A Liturgy of Lament and Remembrance," as well as associated litanies and prayers.5 I believe such pastoral services represent the right approach in what is a difficult and extremely important ethical issue.      

I don't mind saying that I would not be comfortable supporting a fund-raiser for a Planned Parenthood clinic on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Whether intended or not, it seems to imply a celebration of abortion that is bound to invite controversy, and any work around this issue should be concerned to de-escalate sensationalism. But I don't have all the answers. And so, criticisms notwithstanding, I won't condemn a church parish that is seeking to build upon relationships in their community to enhance women's health and options, and so decrease the market for abortions. On the contrary, it represents an attempt by a particular community of Christians to address the complex realities of human life in their local context. And knowing that particular community of Christians, I am willing to trust that they are acting prayerfully and according to the dictates of a conscience formed by a life of discipleship to Christ. Different churches will come to different conclusions about how they can best minister to their own communities, but I do believe that concrete local involvement and grace-filled pastoral care should be hallmarks of the work of the Church regarding such issues. The demonization or dismissal of "the other" will help neither women nor those they carry in their wombs. But building relationships and being willing to make costly sacrifices for the good of one's neighbor are steps along the way of our Lord.

LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
     you know my sitting down and my rising up;
     you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting places
     and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
     but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

For you yourself created my inmost parts;
     you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
     your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
                                                   ~ Psalm 139:1-3, 12-13

The God who is Creator of us all has made us to be known. May the whole Church receive wisdom and courage to step out boldly to forge relationships, even when costly. It is only in community, in knowing one another, that we may hope, by God's grace, to approach the justice of the Kingdom of God.
Peace of Christ.


Notes:
1. American Thinker
2. The Wichita Eagle  
3. "Abortion, Theologically Understood" from The Hauerwas Reader, Duke University Press 2001
4. Archives of the Episcopal Church
5. Enriching Our Worship 5

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A New Chapter: Seminary

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. . . .
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ . . .
~ from "A General Thanksgiving," The Book of Common Prayer pg. 836

Since August of this year, I have been enrolled as a Master of Divinity student at The School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee. This three-year degree program of education, training, and spiritual formation is part of the ordination process in the Episcopal Church.

I began this blog primarily as a place of discernment. It has been quite useful in that respect, providing me a place to take time to intentionally process some thoughts and reading reflections. It has also provided a way for me to learn more about the broader shape of the Episcopal Church. I have been able to correspond with new friends of varied opinions and experiences; they have helped me immensely over the past few years, as I have continued down the long and winding road of the ordination process. For their insight, counsel, and encouragement, I am most grateful. If you, dear reader, are one of these, I thank you and pray God bless you.

This post is not intended as a bookend, but more of a place marker. I will leave this blog active, and I hope to continue to post from time to time. But as is evident from the date of my previous post, I have not been devoting much time to this space lately. As a seminarian, I do not currently lack for intellectual and theological conversation, nor am I wanting opportunities for reading and writing (that's a bit of an understatement).

Peace of Christ.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thornton: St. Anselm, a Guide for Anglicanism Today

 
    Come now, little man,
turn aside for a while from your daily employment,
escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts.
    Put aside your weighty cares,
    let your burdensome distractions wait,
    free yourself awhile for God
    and rest awhile in him.
Enter the inner chamber of your soul,
    shut out everything except God
    and that which can help you in seeking him,
    and when you have shut the door, seek him.
Now, my whole heart, say to God,
       'I seek your face,
    Lord, it is your face I seek.'

                                 *

       O Lord my God,
    teach my heart where and how to seek you,
    where and how to find you ...

                                 *

    I confess Lord, with thanksgiving,
    that you have made me in your image,
so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you.
But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
    so darkened by the smoke of sin,
    that it cannot do that for which it was made,
    unless you renew and refashion it.
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
    which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
    but I believe so that I may understand;
       and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.

~ excerpt from Chapter 1 of the Proslogion by St. Anselm of Canterbury


Saint Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 11th and early 12th centuries.  Among his writings is the Proslogion (meaning colloquy, or conversation, in this instance between Anselm and God).  The full title given to the work by Anselm himself is Faith in Search of Understanding.

Martin Thornton, in his book English Spirituality, identifies Anselm as the father-founder of the "English School" of Christianity.  In Anselm, we have the first great exemplar of the "affective-speculative synthesis" in theology.  By this, Thornton means that we find in Anselm's writings neither solely passionate, emotional, experiential religious devotion (the affective), nor a coldly logical, purely rational philosophic pursuit (the speculative); rather, we find a true synthesis of the two.  Thornton writes,
The affective-speculative synthesis does not mean an exact fifty-fifty balance, nor is it attained either by adding an occasional devout phrase to a theological work, or by interposing one or two quotations from the Fathers in an affective meditation.  It is a synthesis, not merely a mixture, and the true synthesis is possible to different temperaments.  Everyone has a natural bias to one side or the other, and spiritual health is attained by allowing this bias to be permeated by the other aspect through mental and emotional discipline. 
St. Anselm is often misunderstood precisely because his critics fail to grasp this synthesis, and instead want to peg him as a philosopher in a more post-Enlightenment sense.  For example, the famous, much debated and often criticized "ontological argument" (God is that than which nothing greater can be thought) comes from the Proslogion.  But it was not intended to be a proof of the existence of God in the modern, philosophical sense.  Rather, it was a spiritual-intellectual insight born out the experience of fervent prayer, a desire to know and love God better: faith seeking understanding.  As Thornton puts it, we may well imagine the affective theologian preaching to an audience with a desire to elicit an emotional response, while the speculative theologian is alone in his study, in company only with his books and the keenness of his mind, "but whatever one reads of Anselm, he can only be visualized on his knees, not trying to do anything but worship God.  Approached in this way, Anselm still has much to say to modern English spirituality."  

For St. Anslem, the journey begins with the gift of faith, and continues by and in that faith.  This point is fundamental (I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand).  But it is not a blind faith.  It is a faith that sincerely and fearlessly seeks understanding.  Truly, we are in need of the example of this saint now as much as ever.  Thornton concludes,
Thus Anselm speaks to modern Anglicanism: we are right to grapple with the deep mysteries of the faith; "blind faith" is not loyalty but sloth.  If doubts arise in the mind, they are to be calmly faced and resolved as the struggle continues, they are hurdles to be jumped as we progress toward understanding and love.  That is truly Anglican, for it is neither "free thought" in the sense that anyone has the right to believe what he likes, nor does it make dogma anything but dogmatic, but it does not impute sin to honest inquiry.
Thus the pastoral answer to intellectual doubt is not that it is wicked to doubt the dogmas of the Church, nor that it does not very much matter.  The answer is in the acceptance of a creative challenge.  So, to a spiritual guide, such difficulties should be neither shocking nor unimportant.  They should be seen as positive not negative, a call to further action: it should be "let us see how to use this" rather than "oh but you must trust the Church" or "try not to worry".  What Anselm is saying, in Sunday school language, is when in doubt go and tell God about it, and keep on arguing: the result could be another Proslogion.
The Anglican Church, therefore, is wise not to promulgate a series of new dogmas, to be held on pain of ecclesiastical censure.  It is very unwise to allow contrary opinions on fundamental doctrine.  Anglicanism needs no Index of prohibited books, not through lack of discipline but because of its Anselmic spirit.  But it is both foolish and unfair not to give positive pronouncements as to what Baptism, Confirmation, the Real Presence and the Virgin Conception really mean, because such dogmatic statements, rather than inhibiting reason and understanding, are the basis of them.  One cannot "believe in order to understand" when one does not know what to believe in the first place; one cannot even indulge in the creative process of doubting.

Peace of Christ.