Thursday, December 29, 2011


                Lately, I have been pondering the term orthodoxy, as it seems to be bandied about quite regularly.  It has become quite a shibboleth used in the various “camps” within the Church.  On one side stand “the orthodox” who use the term to self-identify and mark their distinction from the others, the “heretics.”  This brand of “orthodoxy”, often behaves as if “orthodoxy” were somehow correct knowledge, and that our primary obligation is hold the right “belief” or knowledge.  The other “camp” uses the term “orthodox(y)” to show how rigid and “unfree” the other side really is.  For them, “orthodoxy” is a stricture from which we must be loosed, and is closely bound to personal behavior. This of course, is a broad brush and made without reference to the Orthodox (think Eastern Christianity).

                It is interesting that both sides make, in my mind, a fundamental error in tying “orthodoxy” to either knowledge or behavior as a primary meaning.  While I know that traditional usage indicates a meaning of correct doctrine, it must be stated that the term, in English, is of 17th Century origin, and most reference works in their etymology take a variant read of the second part of the word.

                The term, as we have it, is a compound word resulting from the combination of two Greek roots, ortho, and doxa (although some etymologies use dokein).  Ortho, as you might guess, does indeed mean correct, straight, or right.  Some of you may have had the experience of visiting an orthodontist (one who corrects your teeth, rather painfully I might add), or wearing orthotic devices.    Doxa, on the other hand is not so easy to translate.  In fact, it appears that the difficulty of translating this word, has led to the use of a related, but inexact, term dokein, to make the definition.  Dokein, does indeed carry the definition of “believe, think”, but to acquire the requisite “x” sound it would have to be either future or aorist.  The simpler word to use, and one that most etymologies reference is doxa.  This term denotes “glory, splendor, radiance, and honor”.  This is what we read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

                I would argue, then, that “orthodoxy” is not primarily about belief, but about worship.  We are to give, to ascribe, the correct glory, splendor, radiance, honor to the Triune God.  This right glory giving occurs in our liturgy, and to assist us in so doing we have been given a set of guidelines.  The Creeds, then, list out the essential points that direct our giving correct honor to God.

                Of course, one cannot escape orthopisty (correct faith) or orthopraxy (correct action), but they are not primary.  Instead, they flow and develop from orthodoxy.  I have heard said, somewhere, “we become what we worship.”  Orthodoxy, then, is the first step of catechesis, of learning the faith, of becoming.   

We are hearing quite a bit about mission in the Church today. Of course, we are to be involved in evangelism, poverty alleviation, education, health care, and a myriad other tasks, but these derive from our being representatives of God.  How can we be representatives of God if we do not know the Triune God?  That begins in our worship, the liturgy; the mission of the Church is rooted, nay begun, in her worship, and then carried forth into the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Holy Night

The church is quiet now between services, and I am enjoying a nice cuppa and reflecting on the cosmic significance of this night.

It has become oh so popular for the culture to constantly harp that "this isn't really the night, and it was originally a pagan holiday that the church co opted or 'baptized'."  My initial response to these metaphorically challenged individuals is "who cares?"  First, according to Luke, the shepherds were told at night that Jesus was born, but it did not say which night.  It was probably even in the spring, but to focus on such "historical" details misses a much bigger theological point.

Now, the feast of Christmas was not a co opted pagan holiday.  The Romans did not institute a celebration of the Sun until Aurelian did so in 274 AD, in hopes of reviving the flagging Empire.  Dr. William Tighe has written an excellent refutation of the commonly held error that Christian's stole the pagan holiday.

This night, also, points the way to another night, the darkness of Good Friday.  The lights we light at late Mass, where the opening verses of John are read, is symbolic of the Isaiahic light to the nations, the birth of the Messiah, "the light of the world", and the Resurrection.  This connection was made early, with the belief, as Dr. Tighe puts it, of the Integral Age.  This held that the date of a prophet's death coincided with the date of their birth or conception.  So when the Western Church, albeit mistakenly, calculated the date of Jesus' death to 25 March 29, the conclusion was that Jesus was born on 25 December, exactly nine months later.  For the Church, therefore, this is not about "historical fact", but theological fact. The birth of Jesus cannot be separated from the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Finally, even the town in which Jesus is born has deep theological meaning.  Bethlehem, in Hebrew, means "house of bread."  Jesus calls himself, in John's Gospel, the bread of life, in the Eucharist we repeat Jesus' words over the bread, "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you."  Theologically, the only bread we really need to really live, was born in the town known as the House of Bread.

In the words of CS Lewis, "...the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.  God became man for no other purpose.  It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose."  (Mere Christianity, Harper, San Francisco, 2001, 199)

This is a cosmic night.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross)

Today, in the Episcopal Church, is the provisional feast day of St. John of the Cross.  The following Biography is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library sponsored by Calvin College.

St. John of the Cross - (1542-1591), Spanish mystic, Carmelite friar and priest
Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver's daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love -- God.
When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.
After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.
After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.
His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that "Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?" and "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love."
John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include: Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ .

The following is from his work, Ascent of Mount Carmel, available at the CCEL in electronic format.
The reason for which it is necessary for the soul, in order to attain to Divine union with God, to pass through this dark night of mortification of the desires and denial of pleasures in all things, is because all the affections which it has for creatures are pure darkness in the eyes of God, and, when the soul is clothed in these affections, it has no capacity for being enlightened and possessed by the pure and simple light of God, if it first cast them not from it; for light cannot agree with darkness; since, as Saint John says: Tenebroe eam non comprehenderunt. (St. John i, 5). That is: The darkness could not receive the light.
The Collect of the Day

Judge eternal, throned in splendor, you gave Juan de la Cruz strength of purpose and mystical faith that sustained him even through the dark night of the soul: Shen your light on all who love you, in unity with Jeus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa Lucia

Today is the commemoration of St. Lucy. Lucy, or Lucia, was martyred at Syracuse, Sicily in the persecutions under Diocletian (303-304).  Her tomb may still be found in the catacombs of Syracuse, and her commemoration spread quickly in the Church.

She is remembered for her purity and gentleness and is associated with light.  Her feast is celebrated as both a church and secular commemoration in Scandanavia. 

So, for St. Lucy's day here is Enrico Caruso singing Santa Lucia.
Ok, so the song is about boats and an island in the Bay of Naples.  On the other hand, it contains Santa Lucia and is quite lovely.  And, if, like me, you do not know Italian, just pretend it is about the Saint.  That's what I do.

The Collect for St. Lucy

Loving God, for the salvaiton of all you gave Jesus Christ as light to a world in darkness: Illumine us, with your daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ambrose Bishop of Milan

His commemoration is held on December 7.

A synopsis of his life from's website:

Born the son of Aurelius Ambrosius, the imperial viceroy of Gaul,[1] Ambrose followed in his father's footsteps and became governor of Aemilia-Liguria (Northern Italy) in AD 370. He might well have remained in a political career had not dramatic events overtaken him. Ambrose had his official residence in Milan, where he was a catechumen in the church. When the bishop of the city, a pro-Arian named Auxentius died, the election of a new bishop was hotly contested by the Arian and Nicene parties within the church. The contest became so violent that Governor Ambrose was summoned to the church where the election was taking place because of reports of a riot. The story goes on to tell how someone shouted out "Bishop Ambrose!" a cry that was taken up and resulted in his being elected bishop.[2] Being only a catechumen he was hurriedly rushed through the various church orders and was ordained only eight days later, on 7th December 373.[3] Whatever the reasons for his election Ambrose proved his determination to succeed in his new position. His training and particularly his knowledge of Greek[4] set him in good stead. He devoted himself to prayer and to the study of both the Scriptures and pagan literature, rapidly becoming an accomplished preacher and writer.[5] His (sic) was able to read the works of the eastern writers in their original language and he made use of Philo, Origen, Athanasius, Didymus the Blind, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil of Caesarea, Hippolytus of Rome and the Neoplatonist, Plotinus.[6] Ambrose is credited as being chiefly responsible for the final defeat of Arianism within the Western church.[7] Familiarity with Greek also enabled Ambrose to introduce allegorical interpretation to the western church.[8] He was deeply influenced by Philo and Origen, seeing in Scripture three levels of meaning: the literal, the moral and the allegorical, but also making use of typology.[9] His hermeneutic was of great help to Augustine, who refers to Ambrose in his Confessions, in removing his objections to the Old Testament Scriptures.[10]
From Ambrose's treatise Of the Christian Faith (Book I.VIII.54)
It is plain, therefore, that the Son is not unlike the Father, and so we may confess the more readily that He is also eternal, seeing the He Who is like the Eternal must needs be eternal. But if we say that the Father is eternal, and yet deny this of the Son, we say that the Son is unlike the Father, for the temporal differeth from the eternal. The Prophet proclaims Him eternal; the Testaments, Old and New alike, are full of witness to the Son's eternity.
And from the same treatise (Book IV.XII.169)
...For after this premised, He proceeded immediately: "I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman," that you might know that the Father is greater in so far as He dresses and tends our Lord's flesh, as the husbandman dresses and tends his vines. Father, our Lord's flesh is that which could increase in stature with age, and be wounded through suffering, to the end that the whole human race might rest guarded from the pestilent heat of the pleasures of this world, under the shadow of the Cross whereon Its limbs are spread.
Ambrose also served as a Catechist for Augustine of Hippo and his Confessions (Book V.13) tell of their first encounter.
In Milan I found your devoted servant the bishop Ambrose, who was known throughout the world as a man whom there were few to equal in goodness.  At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of your corn, the joy of our oil, and the sober intoxication of your wine (references to Psalms 4.8, 44.8, 80.17. "Sober intoxication" comes from Ambrose's hymn "Splendor paternae gloriae."). Unknown to me, it was you who led me to him, so that I might knowingly be led by him to you. This man of God received me like a father and, as bishop, told me know glad he was that I had come. My heart warmed to him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I had quite despaired of finding in your Church, but simply as a man who showed me kindness. I listened attentively when he preached to the people, though not with proper intention....(Chapter 14) and while I was all ears to seize upon his eloquence, I also began to sense the truth of what he said, though only gradually. First of all it struck me that it was, after all, possible to vindicate his arguments. I began to believe the Catholic faith, which I had thought impossible to defend...
The Collect for St. Ambrose
O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Real Boxing Day (St. Nicholas 2011)

I know in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand this is celebrated on 26 December, but I'm not referencing the Bank Holiday Act of 1871.  I am thinking about good St. Nick of Myra whose feast is celebrated today.

We all know of St. Nicholas' generosity, goodwill, and godliness, but did you know he was also a boxer?  A sort of combination of Joe Frazier and St. Francis?

Here is an interesting article with a bit more on St. Nicholas.

According to one version of his legend, after Nicholas punch/slapped the arch-heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea, he was duly stripped of his bishop's panoply and thrown in jail (you could not perform violence in front of the Emperor).  That night, he was visited by an angel and his panoply was miraculously restored.  In the morning, when Constantine came to visit, he found a fully dressed Nicholas waiting for him and this miracle helped convince the council to condemn Arianism.

Of course, that is all holy legend. Really, there is not much known about him other than that he was reverenced fairly soon after his death.  Short articles on his life may be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia or in  Christianity Today.

Now I am not one to promote or condone violence, but if you feel the urge to slap a heretic today, you might be following in the footsteps of a saint. :)  (Tongue firmly planted in cheek).

Update:  Found a website promoting an independent film on the life of St. Nicholas.  It looks intriguing and I hope it can find distribution.  You may track the movie here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Clive Staples Lewis 2011

A couple of things for the remembrance of CS Lewis.

on the Clergy

It is your duty to to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other. -- Christian Apologetics, C. S. Lewis, Easter 1945

A quote to remember as I contemplate the fact that I made a vow in the Baptismal covenant to live within the tradition, and twice upon ordination.

And a nice video portraying Jack and JRR Tolkien on a memorable after dinner walk.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NT Wright on Imagining the Kingdom

The inaugural lecture at St. Andrew's University, Scotland.

The date of the lecture is October 26, 2011.

I encourage you to read it for its whole brained analysis of the meaning of the Gospels.

A Word about Fundamentals

I used the term "fundamentals" in my last post, and have been thinking that there might be some confusion to that idea being applied outside of the current narrow usage of the media.
The term “fundamentalist”, at worst, has become a verbal sledgehammer used to beat a religious opponent into submission for fear of having that label applied to them.  At its best, it is a way of simply dismissing an opponent out of hand as simple-minded and old-fashioned, and thus not as enlightened as the user of said epithet. Unfortunately, it is used all too often in reference to those with whom we disagree.  Rath than engaging the arguments, we engage in a soft smear campaign and invite those with whom we agree to dismiss the other as well. 
I for one used to use the term to describe my own upbringing, and since I did not want to be identified with “those” type of people, it became a very useful way of disassociating with my past.  That is, however, until I discovered that all of us have a streak of fundamentalism.

Yes, it is true.  Philosophically, a fundamental is an idea/concept, which we hold, with or without evidence, and that “must be true”.  These, generally, must be considered literally true.  These fundamentals are tied to the very definition of the self, the way that definition is constructed, and form the foundation of the thesis of our worldview.  Thus, to have a fundamental challenged, or refuted, is generally maddening.  More to the point, however, challenges to our foundational fundamentals are viewed as a threat to our epistemological system and by extension our self-identity.  Some fundamentals are malleable based on evidence, others by experience, but in general, it seems that fundamentals resist change, even if refuted by evidence, unless a radical crisis occurs that causes a re-cognition of the self.   In fact, how we even discuss the authority/autonomy of the individual is a fundamental dividing line.  Are we by nature good and reasonable, or are we by nature prone to sin and by extension human reason is corrupted?

Thus, a fundamementalist is anyone who holds to a fundamental.
In short, we are all fundamentalists.  The question is, will we be honest about it?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Brief Exposition

(Updated:  I really need an editor)

I was raised in a rather rigid religious tradition.  It was a fundamentalist protestant denomination where we were encouraged to accept “the truth” of a literal reading of the Bible and not question.  As a result, I entered my first round of seminary experience with quite a lot of “knowledge” and no willingness question.  It was not a good experience for me.  This crisis of faith, along with a crisis pregnancy (my spouse not me obviously), led to my abandoning the seminary.

Two years later, when I had matured a bit, I reentered and found a wonderful world of ideas.  I was ready to question everything and soaked up the new knowledge like a sponge.  Here I was exposed to such scholars as Spong, Borg, Crossan, Ludemanns, Pagels, Funk, & Hoover.  Reading them expanded my horizons. I became, in the rejection of my “fundamentalist” upbringing, a devotee and flag carrier for the new perspectives on Jesus and the New Testament.

Today, I find my uncritical acceptance of their work as authoritative an interesting phenomenon.  In my hurry to put away the childish things with which I was raised, I put away the beliefs.  However, I did not put away the authority structure.  Here were Ph.D.s and educated folk telling me the Truth of what Really Happened in the development of the Church, and I accepted their word for it based on the fact that they were not rigid fundamentalists.  I began to talk about the Jesus of History , the Christ of Faith, and leading Christian Formation classes on the “Gospel According to Jesus”.

Lest I be painted as anti-intellectual, let me be clear, I believe in a good, honest, and scholarly approach to the Bible and Christian Origins.  With a purely academic degree in theology, I would argue that I am qualified to do both scholarly research and to comment on the state of scholarship. I enjoy doing scholarly work, reading great scholarship, and pouring over the texts and the tradition.  I regularly do the language work and research on passages for preaching. The problem, for me, is/was not scholarship; the problem is/was the uncritical acceptance of the work of the new perspective. 

During my last year at seminary (finishing the MA), I started reading other works that challenged my new found wisdom.  These were the works of serious scholars, with international reputations, and who were interested in taking the text and scholarship seriously.  I started to read widely in Barth, McGrath, Brown, Johnson, Rutledge, and Wright, and because I was invested in the new wisdom, I argued with their positions.  This led me down a path of critical thinking and to reevaluating my “beliefs” and scholarship.  Here is what I discovered.

1.       The “New” wisdom is not really new.  It might be dressed up in shinier cloth, but the arguments presented are not original when you boil them down to the essentials.

2.      The “New” wisdom has at least as many fundamentals as the “Old”.  The fundamentals are just different. 

      The first fundamental holds that doubt is the highest good and the standard for Christian endeavors in study.  The corollary to this is that faith, or certainty, is for the weak minded.  This holds true until you doubt the truth of the fundamental claim, at which point it becomes incumbent upon you to hold this position on faith.

The second fundamental is that if the “Church”, meaning the Historical Church (or the Church to which I am in reaction), believes/ed a proposition you are required to doubt it.  For some of these folk, this is indeed a reaction to a conservative religious upbringing.  The theme/meme, though, is constant in their work: it was the Church, and its oligarchy, that corrupted the simple pure religion and ethic of Jesus.  This is particularly true in the usual treatment of St. Paul who becomes the source of all evil and the first person to corrupt the Church. Thus, there is a push to create the false dichotomy, that Rutledge discussed in the previous post, between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith.  The former is what is yearned for as being pure and simple.  The latter is the creation of the Church, and it is up to scholarship to save Jesus from the clutches of the Church.  It should be noted here that, despite the searching and the theories, there are no written sources for Jesus prior to Paul and the Canonical Gospels.

The third fundamental belief is that no text is to be trusted.  This is true unless the text happens to align with the preconceived notions of the one studying the text.  Look up the criteria for “double dissimilarity” to get an idea of how this works. In Jesus research methodology the rules can be set to return any Jesus the scholar wishes to find.  The question not asked is, if taken to its logical conclusion, why should any text be considered authoritative. 

The fourth fundamental posits that any non-canonical text trumps any canonical text.  This is true despite the provenance of the source.  Ultimately, however, personal experience, or scholarly consensus, made up of the collective best thoughts, trumps everything.  Although the earliest Jesus experts, the Apostles and Doctors of the Church, get limited voice in the consensus as they represent the corruption of the organized Church. 

The fifth fundamental holds to a belief that there is no such thing as the miraculous, since “science has proved that miracles do not occur”.  Carried to its conclusion there can be no “real” Resurrection, just a sort of group psychosis.

3.      For the Christian, ultimately, this is a question of authority.  Do we have authority over the text, or does it have authority over us?  Does the answer lie in the middle? Does the burden of proof rest on the most recent scholarship or on those nearest the sources?  To whom do you give authority?  I guess this is a question of faith.  I have good reasons for trusting the sources and scholars like Evans, Wright, and Johnson, but those may not be acceptable to others.

In short, once I started questioning the presuppositions of the “New Quest for the Historical Jesus”, I found that they were repeating the same error of the 19th Century first quest.  This error, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer the great missionary doctor who discovered it, is that we were looking into the well of history and saw our own reflection.

Now a brief word about sources. 

There is indeed a theory of a sayings gospel called “Q” (short for Quelle or Source) that may have been used by Matthew and Luke.  This "Q" is not an extant physical document, but is the result of putting together the shared sayings of Matthew and Luke.  The sayings of the proposed "Q"alone do nothing to diminish the canonical picture of Jesus.  In fact, they would make him more of an eschatological prophet, but would have no impact on the teaching of a resurrection.  However, the fact that one could pull the sayings and create another “gospel” does not “prove” that it exists. Although, I would be surprised if there were not source material used by the authors.  In fact, the author of Luke states that he investigated the events, which sounds a lot like research to me.  Elsewhere, Eusebius writes that Papias taught that the Gospel of Mark was the preaching of Peter set down by John Mark, though not necessarily in order.

The earliest source materials we have for Jesus are the Letters of St. Paul and it appears that the Early Church found the Last Supper (with betrayal), the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection to be the essential elements of Christianity.

We have a better textual tradition, and history of transmission, for the New Testament than we do for Plato.

The so-called non-canonical, or Gnostic Gospels, that are often trotted out to refute the Canon,  Paul ,and the Early Church, are not contemporaneous to the Four Gospels.  The earliest extant copies date much later, and their internal components, if studied objectively, point to their composition after the Canonical Gospels.

That’s enough for now, I think. 

Time for a little light reading.  The Brothers Karamazov anyone?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Best Ever

Short explanation of the fallacy of the Borg approach to Jesus.  (Update:  I'll leave the language of the previous sentence, but may have been too harsh in pointing out one individual, though that is the point of Rev. Rutledge's post.  This is actually the common fallacy of the "Quest for the Historical Jesus").

From The Rev. Fleming Rutledge who is one of my favorite theologians/preachers.  I wish there was a way to havee her visit St. Matthew's for a preaching mission.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Science and Religion

I love the conversation.  I found this video from EWTN this afternoon of a Notre Dame physicist discussing the science v. religion "tension".  I particularly enjoyed his comments about St. Auggy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


What would you think of a retailer with the following stats for its domestic outlets over the last five years?
1.      A loss of 300 store fronts
2.      A loss of 11% of its card carriers
3.      A loss of 16% of its regular active customers
4.      A business model where 68% of its stores had less than 100 customers per week

Would you be willing to invest in this business?  If you were an investor, would you be concerned?  Would you be satisfied with a mantra that “All is Well?”, or we are just rightsizing to our market/niche?  Would you demand a change in the business model?   

Now, what would you say if I told you those were the numbers for The Episcopal Church (domestic dioceses) over the last five years?  Here are the raw numbers 2006 & 2010:
1.      Parishes and Missions: 7095  & 6794
2.      Active Baptized Members: 2,154,572 &  1,951,907
3.      Five Year % Change in Active Members: -7% & -11%
4.      % of Congregations growing 10%+ in past five years: 28% & 25%
5.      % of Congregations declining 10%+ in past five years: 41% & 42%
6.      Total Average Sunday Attendance (ASA): 765,326 & 657,831
7.      Five Year % Change in ASA: -11% & -16%
8.      % of Churches growing 10%+ in ASA in the past five years: 17%
9.      % of Churches declining 10%+ in ASA in the past five years: 57%
10.  Median Active Baptized Members: 158
11.  Median Average Sunday Worship Attendance: 65
Note ASA is calculated on Saturday evening services and all Sunday services, including Easter Vigil and Christmas Eve (when it falls on Saturday, as it will this year).

I know it is a lot to take in, so I should let the numbers speak for themselves, but I will not.  The stats do not look good, and what we have to do is realize that we have a “burning oil platform” problem in the church.

If you are on an oil platform that catches fire, you have only two options: get off, or put the fire out.  You cannot run around and say it will all be ok, or it is all going to plan.  Agreed?  Mixed messages will not do, and that is what we seem to be getting from our leadership.  “Membership and attendance may be down, but we’re doing mission so it’s all ok!”  I am sorry, but healthy organizations grow, and well…

I am not getting off this oil platform, I love it and I pray for it.  It is burning, but I am not leaving.  Despite the challenges, I have great hope for the future.  God has revived the Church and can do so again. Therefore, I guess I am part of the fire brigade.

There may be (and are) many reasons why this platform is burning and decline is occurring, and of course, these will be debated based on which wing of the church one chooses.  However, I think that is one of the problems, while we are denying, debating, investigating, and fighting over where it began and what hoses to use, we forget to turn on the water to put the fire out.

So what are we to do?  The first thing necessary is to recover a belief that the Gospel truly transforms lives and is the best we have to offer to our friends, neighbors, countrymen, and the world. The second is to be faithful in our prayers, study, and attendance on the Sacraments. The third is to recognize the state in which we find ourselves.  The fourth is to recognize that the old structures may not hold, that culturally more people are not Christian than are.  The fifth, is to develop a passion for those not in the faith.  All of this comes from a recovery of the centrality of the Crucified and Risen Christ, a prophetic vision for the Church, and her place in God’s economy.

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

This is why I was enthralled with Bishop Daniel’s vision address at our Diocesan Synod.  It is a challenging vision of hope with a passion for the Gospel, all while realistically looking at the current state of the church and our culture.  It delineates a clear clarion call to put out the fire, to rethink our structures, and empower us to bring the Gospel to all corners of our Diocese. 

It starts with us.  Will we be among the number who are passionate for Christ and formed for the ministries necessary?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Bishop's Address

I will be posting my thoughts about this, and Synod, over the next couple of days, but until then here is a link to the Bishop's Address:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To Speak or Not to Speak...

that is the question.

This coming Friday and Saturday, I will be attending the Diocesan Synod.  The question before me is to whether or not I should speak on the Title IV revisions.
For those who may not know, at General Convention 2009 a new set of Disciplinary Canons (Title IV) was passed with only 15 minutes of debate, and we are voting on bringing our Diocesan Canons into line with these changes.

In some quarters there are concerns about the constitutionality of these canons that revolve around whether or not a sitting Presiding Bishop has metropolitical authority over the Bishops of the Church.  Metropolitical authority means that a Presiding Bishop has the same power as a bishop diocesan in matters pertaining to Title IV violations.  It is the authority that is wielded by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy and the Eastern Orthodox Hierarchy.  Lest you think that these concerns are only due to the current occupant of the Office, ask whether you would agree to these changes if a member of the “other party” were to hold that Office.   While a lot of digital ink has been spilled in the debate over the constitutionality of these canons, I am less concerned with that on a Diocesan level. 
My concern revolves around the application of the new canons.  Will all the possible infractions be enforced equally?  Will any breach of the standards of conduct be treated with equal gravity as stipulated by the canons?  Will such breaches as failure to, “conform to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer;” or “holding and teaching publicly or privately, and advisedly, any Doctrine contrary to that held by the Church”, or “knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese”, be prosecuted with equal fervor as are violations of professional ethics and/or crimes?

One other major change makes a cleric accountable for not reporting an offense (either self-reporting or reporting on others).  In other words, if a priest observes a colleague doing anything that could land them in trouble, and does not report it, the first cleric is just as liable as the offender.  I am guessing that the civil legal idea is “accessory after the fact.”  Do we really like the sound of that, regardless of our respective church “wings”?  In addition, will this be enforced across the board, or will some rule violations be more actionable than others?

So, does anyone know of a cleric that openly espouses, or practices, Communion without Baptism?  Denying the Resurrection? Not using, or using a creed different from, the Nicene at the Eucharist?  Changing the Baptismal Liturgy? Using different prefaces, even if published by Church Publishing? Adding to, or changing, the Eucharistic Prayers?  Using alternative texts at the principal Sunday Eucharist?  Saying “Alleluia!” during Lent?  Having a different lesson than those appointed at a marriage?  It is easy to move from the sublime to the ridiculous, but all these are violations.  Anyone else wish to play informants, or is this designed to keep folk quiet lest dust is found in their houses?

One more question, since Communion without Baptism (it is against the Canons) is practiced openly, or at least is an open secret, in some places, where are the charges for those who allow it?  Alternatively, where are the charges for those who know it happens, but have not reported?  Or, does that answer my questions above?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feast of St. Luke

"Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."  (Book of Common Prayer 1979)

"Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed."  (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV)

Two thoughts.  The first is that the "book" of Luke seems to have been written as a sort of manual for continued formation and discipleship after catechism. It is the "Want to Know More?" link. This does not mean that it has no use in evangelism, but rather expounds on the basics taught in catechism.  If that is so, why do we expect to give people a book and then expect them to come to faith after reading it?  Reading is the supportive act, but for evangelism to occur we must have book of our life, we need to be ready with the words and witness of faith.  In short, we need to have our "elevator speeches" ready and understand them to be important elements in catechesis/evangelism, as the two are inextricably linked.

Secondly, as the preface to Luke makes abundantly clear, Christianity is a religion of "facts" requiring investigation and decision. It seems to me the three primary facts with which Luke is concerned are: The Incarnation, The Crucifixion, and The Resurrection.  Without these we have no Christianity, and in the words of St. Paul, "are most to be pitied."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Back in Black

No, not AC/DC (although I was disappointed I couldn't download some of their stuff on iTunes (R)  as it would have come in helpful whilst calling Liam's football games).

No, it's back to making this thingy a regular/semi-regular thing. 

I hope.

We'll see.

Monday, June 13, 2011


As a former Ohioan, and one not real happy about LeBron's ship jumping last year---Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks!

The larger message may be that the grass is not always greener.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A New Definition

of irony...

Bought HRH Charles, Prince of Wales' book Harmony this afternoon (with a gift card, thank you).

The book is about sustainable living in, you guessed it, harmony with nature.

It was my only item, and they...



Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This is cool!

Jesus is risen!  Flashmob from Beirut, Lebanon singing the great Easter Anthem.

Shadetree Mechanic

I spent Friday doing a bit of work on my beloved's vehicle.  She was stranded the night before when the engine died out on her.  Thanks for family who went to her rescue and got her (and the vehicle) home.

Anyway, the job involved replacing the battery and the alternator.  Not really a big deal.  The battery was simple, the alternator looked simple.  The alternator was held by three bolts tightened to 47n/M.  Easily enough removed.  Should have taken 10-15 minutes.

Should have.  In removing the alternator I discovered I had to release the tension on the serpentine belt and slide it off the alternator pulley.  No worries, right? Not so fast.  Having never done this before I automatically came to the conclusion that if I loosened the belt tensioner bolt the arm would swing counter-clockwise and release tension.  Sounds reasonable right? It doesn't work that way, believe me, never loosen a bolt without knowing what you are doing.  I almost lost the whole tensioner and that would have been a major repair.

Next, I looked at the tension arm and saw a small hole.  Push with a screwdriver, thinks I.  Doesn't work.  Now I'm baffled.

At this stage I finally download a manual.  I discovered that it takes a 3/8" ratched drive to release the tension.  Just insert into the tensioner, push down, and voila the belt is released. 30 seconds later the belt was off, and 10 minutes later the job was done.  Easy.

Lesson?  It always helps to have a manual to give instruction.  For a Benedictine there are two:  Scripture and the Holy Rule.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Final Product (for now)

With the help of a friend the last patch of garden was finished on Friday.  For those interested, here are some pictures of the final product.

First 4x36 box planted with square foot gardening.
Contains tomatoes, peppers, brocolli, cabbage, peas, beans, turnips.
Second box (same size)
Cucumbers, hot peppers, peas, beets, radishes, lettuce, okra, carrots, onions.

Squash garden about 14x20
Zucchini, Yellow Neck, Acorn, Hubbard, Watermelon, Pumpkin
Sweet corn sowed between squash mounds.

Now we water, fertilize, and wait to see what happens.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


What should it be?  We are far enough out that we do not qualify for the classic suburban mantle.  Exurban doesn't seem to fit.

So, since the suburbs are usually small cities of a larger city, I think subrural fits.  Our neighborhood consists of older (60s-70s) homes on at least one acre lots.  In many ways we are smaller rural holdings on the edge of true farming operations.

I grew up on a small farm.  Eighty acres is not much, but it was enough to sustain us. At least when we added the 500 hogs that we raised.  I've always wanted to return to the farm.  It was a lot of work, especially as an only child, but it all seemed so much simpler, closer to the earth, and natural rhythms.  I know I can be accused of romanticism here, but there is truth to the closer to the earth/natural rhythms piece.

Our subrural farming experiment is to see how much production we can achieve in this small space (without annoying our neighbors in the process).  So far we have 288 square feet of garden planted.  Using a modification of Mel Bartholomew's "Square Foot Gardening" we have six 4'x12' boxes (made of 2x6s) filled with a combination of perlite, compost, and topsoil.  I will be adding vermiculite and peat moss to them over the next year.  I do not know how this will work, but it will be fun to try.  If our calculations are correct we should be able to can quite a bit for use this winter.  Or, so I hope.

See you around.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Here We Go

Welcome to Benedict, Birettas, and Beets!

This blog exists for a very simple reason--an experiment.

I wanted a place to keep track of my thoughts, insights, readings, learning, and sundry other things that occur in my life.

Most posts will either be block quotes of my reading or a sort of stream of consciousness writing as I reflect on things.  So, it may be that something will be controversial, and I may change my mind from time to time.  If you wish to engage in dialog with me, you are welcome to do so.  Just remember that we should always be civil and write out of Christian charity.

See you around.